Cycle-touring is for me the best way to visit a country and get to know it, other than living there for a long period.  It takes you off the tourist trail, in among real people, not insulated as you are in a car, moving quickly enough to cover the ground more effectively than walking, but slow enough to take it all in.  In most countries - not all - people are friendly, welcoming and curious about cycle tourists.  I've toured in several continents, starting with baby-steps in Europe:


Somewhere around 1978, went to Eire with my then-wife and hired bikes in Dublin, cycling south to the Hook (?) covering 20+ miles a day which we thought was quite good.

Fast fwd a few years to early 1980's, now divorced and I took my own bike on the ferry from Liverpool across to Dublin, cycling across country to Donegal.  Interesting though a touch featureless and especially bleak over some mountains near the border with the North.  Resolved not to do the cross-country again!

A couple more trips to Ireland, especially one to Galway, and on up to Sligo, all quite beautiful in spite of variable weather.

Continental Europe - Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, France

Mid-1980's took the ferry across to the Netherlands, cycled up to Amsterdam, across through Luxembourg to edge of Germany (Black Mountains?), then back down into Belgium to see Brugges, met two Dutch cycle-tourists, mother and daughter, in a soggy campsite and exchanged contact details.  Corresponded occasionally and returned following year to stay at their house for a couple of days before heading north, aiming for Denmark, but weather appalling so took train down to Antwerp and south into northern France.  Not a great tourist area!  But wonderful working-class family in a very basic camp-site helped me get tent up in the rain and insisted I join large extended family for supper and drinks.

Spain and up the French coast to the Channel, 1997

Launch of a Plymouth-Santander ferry service with cheap deal for foot passenger saw me take that option.  Almost wiped-out by a bus in Santander, pulling out and squeezing me against a car - various bits of bike bent but no real injury, and all fixable at the side of the road.  Thereafter a great trip following the coast as near as possible until Brittany where I cut across to the Channel.  Spanish section a little tricky just because it was June and few campsites fully open, if at all, and also couldn't really follow the coast-line.  France far easier, following often beautiful cycle-tracks right on the edge of the beaches.  Just one horrendous suspension bridge with no proper cycle provision and no way round.  Various highlights like the oyster-catching section, and the salt-beds.

Spain again - Pamplona and the Pyrenees, 1998

Enjoyed Spain so much the previous year decided to return to same area, this time heading over to Pamplona, where I arrived a bit sickly due to a dodgy pot of local yogurt (cuajada?) the previous night.  Took a flat for 3 days to recover, and explore the city.  Then off into the Pyrenees, where I found why the Irati forest is the biggest and lushest in Europe - it rains a great deal!.  Found Spain's only (?) 'vegetarian campsite' where the laid-back hosts finished their game of outdoor darts before ambling over to greet me.  Great food.  At the highest point, I was higher than Ben Nevis, which seemed good enough.

Kerala in southern India 2006

Quite a few years went by, then with new partner Cathy, a more adventurous and widely-travelled tourer, we went to Kerala, flying in to Cochin Airport, then about 50 miles in searing heat to 'Hornbill Camp' run by the region's greatest bird guide, next to a major reserve.  We're not birders but still enjoyed his tour, and 3 days there was the perfect recuperation from the long flight.  Then up hill for two long days to Munnar, an old hill-station and still centre of huge tea-plantations.  Only problem was endless hassle from Indian men, younger men especially, and as likely to be affluent middle-class as anyone else.  Bad enough to put us off ever cycling there again.  But apart from that a great holiday.  A day excursion took us to 'Top Station', where there wasn't actually much to see, other than impressive views of course, and refreshing local pineapples prepared in front of you.  On then to Periyar and the Tiger Reserve, which was closed for the annual Tiger Census (a debatable exercise) but that just meant we used unofficial guides.  Saw tiger scrapings on trees, heard leopards, saw magnificient Great Indian Hornbill just a few metres above our heads.  Then on back down to the Backwaters at Alleppey, for another few days total relaxation in a little cottage run by a very nice local couple.

Thailand, Laos and Cambodia 2009

Flight to Bangkok, then local flight "Royal Silk Class" with silver service to Ubon Ratchatani, where people were surprised and delighted we had chosen to start our trip there.  Found a local cycle repair man to straighten my new back wheel, mangled by the first airline - he fished out a truly ancient wheel-jig, and also made use of the u-channel for the sliding door to bend the rim.  Two days across eastern Thailand showed we should come back some time for a full tour within the country.  Lovely people, yet the Laos turned out even lovelier!  Friendly, interested, courteous, never hassling us at all.  First stop Pakse, then headed south alongside the Mekong, crossing over to Champasak for second stop and a day at the ancient temple site.  Then south again along dirt roads that turned into an epic, as the road disappeared where a new bridge was being built, then beyond that all habitation ended.  And the map didn't match the road.  We had got used to the idea we were going be benighted (though going off-road still dangerous due to unexploded mines).  Finally came upon a small town by the Mekong, which we crossed again, foollishly thinking we could make Don Khong island before nightfall.  Instead a hair-raising ride of over 30km in the dark, through dense clouds of insects at dusk, nearly hitting a water-buffalo and calf, then later an unlit moped.  Still we made it and the hotel by the quay proved fine, with an old Laos landlady who spoke good French, from colonial times.

After a few days there - it's mainly a Laos holiday destination - including the day-trip to see the Irrawady Dolphins - we went south to the Cambodian border, where we had to pay a modest fee to be screened for bird flu.  Then we decided to negotiate a place on a coach to get straight to Siem Reap.  A strange experience, showing we were missing nothing by not backpacking!  Endless karaoke videos, coaches that stopped anywhere and suddenly appeared ready to dump us all many km from Siem Reap, till the experienced westerners threatened to block its departure anywhere else.  Arriving in the early hours of the morning, a precarious tuk-tuk took us to an adequate hotel but we just stayed 1 night, finding a far better place nearby.  There followed several days of cycling round to numerous temple sites, including of course Angkor Wat.  Quite brilliant.

And thence by another coach to Phnom Penh for a couple of days, staying at a little guest house run by an expatriate Scandinavian.  Cycling south out of the capital horrendous due to diesel and 2-stroke fumes, but felt safe despite the dense traffic - very considerate people.  Two stages took us to our final destination, the old colonial holiday resort of Kep, very run-down after destruction by the Khmer Rouge, but now recovering without being over-run or over-developed (yet).  Once again landed on our feet with lovely place to stay - one of a group of chalets on a hillside round a 

Thailand 2014

Another flight to Bangkok, delayed many hours and arrived 5 am to find our pre-booked car cancelled by Spanish airport taxi website as their foreign office had just advised against travelling to B'kok because of civil unrest.  Just as well we'd allowed a couple of days to recover from flight as we needed it. Familiarisation ride around northern side of city next day found us accidentally in miles of anti-government protests and blockades, but everyone very friendly and apologetic for stopping us repeatedly.  Finally caught train out of Don Muang station up to Ayuttaya, where we had a couple of days sight-seeing and gentle re-adjusting to prolonged cycling in sweltering heat.  Then it was off properly north Chiang Mai, over a couple of weeks, with several stops of more than one night in interesting places, above all the magnificent Sukhothai.

The first few cycling days were quite relentless, into what we should perhaps have realised before we started was the prevailing wind, at least at that time of year.  Plus it was quite rolling terrain, which added up to quite a lot of height gain each day.  As we progressed northwards we got more hills, including the highest and most challenging, almost within sight of Chiang Mai, where weary/thankful travellers had built a huge roadside shrine of plaster (?) animals - elephants, cockerels, tigers, donkeys and much more.  We felt fitter than we had been for many, many years at that point.   Little did we know what was to come ...

After several enjoyable days in Chiang Mai, we once more got on the train, this time a sleeper to Bangkok.   Managed to get an hotel room for part of a day opposite the central station, to recover from a somewhat sleepless night.  Then south to Prachuap Khiri Khan, where we had another couple of nights, though there's not too much to it apart from the revered, and decidedly cheeky, monkeys.  So it was time for the second leg of our trip.

It was mostly great cycling territory, provided you don't mind meandering as we spent quite a lot of time going east or west to avoid the main road south.   Then disaster, just as we were only about 15km from our destination, the Bay View Beach Resort at Ban Krut.  While pedalling at top speed along the edge of a main road, fortunately in the cycle / moped lane, my front wheel disappeared without the slightest warning, pitching me straight onto the tarmac, my arms outstretched.  Travelling too close behind, Cathy said my bike seemed to burst apart, and altthough she swerved past, a moment later she too was on the ground, having turned round too far to see if I was OK.  Neither of us was OK, though nothing too serious!  Local people were fantastic, several rushing out of the ramshackle little shops that line so many roads.  They could not have been kinder, more considerat as they shaded us from the sun, applied temporary bandages, collected up and stored our scattered belongings and of course called an ambulance.

Apart from the usual 'road rash' and assorted cuts and bruises, I had a very messy looking shoulder but an X-ray cleared it, plus swollen left hand & wrist, gashed ankle (probably from the front mud-guard) and dislocated shoulder, while Cathy had the same array of cuts and bruises, and cracked or broken ribs.  The local state hospital was kind and efficient and amazingly the hotel-owner turned up to help us, fetch the bikes and take us to our little 'villa'.  We'd booked 2 nights but stayed the rest of the week.  No possible way either of us would cycle for a while, so we put that behind us and enjoyed exploring the miles around on foot.

Thailand 2016

Once again, the trip ended with flashing blue lights, sirens, ambulance, hospitals ... but not before we'd had another great tour!  More details soon ... and I must start adding some pictures here.