Asia Kyoto Japan to Singapore
4th October to 25th November 2000
from Japan, I left Cairns one day behind schedule, on 4th October and in
style, en-route for Japan via Malaysia.
section of Odyssey 2000 has been fraught with complications. The transfer
of 240 bodies, bikes, plus luggage ran into problems before we left
from this our Malaysian Boeing 747 took the bikes and us to Kuala Lumpur,
where we were split into two schedule Japan Airline flights to Osaka.
days later we were informed that the bikes were still in Malaysia. There
was also a possibility that if they were brought into Japan there was no
guarantee they could be taken out on the date we were due to leave for
Hong Kong en-route for China.
initial reaction of all concerned after 9 months and over 40 countries was
that we are about to undergo a major culture shock, not just in Japan but
also over the next 5 weeks.
the benefit of those not familiar with this area Japan consists of 4 major
Islands, which stretch less than 1000 miles. 80% of the 124 million
population (just under half the USA) reside within the central Island of
Honshu, which is where our itinerary takes us.
the time of writing this I am still in Japan, where a coach tour with 230
cyclists was something none of us anticipated.
our arrival in Japan at Kansai International Airport at Osaka we were
faced with a 2 hour plus coach journey to our Hotel in Kyoto. This was one
stretch of road, which very few cyclists would wish to venture on. The
bulk of this journey covered a densely populated and industrialised area.
first impressions of Kyoto as with other major Cities in Japan are the
glare of neon by night, and large-scale urban ugliness.
Kyoto has it's eyes on the future, it's past is very much in evidence. It
was the Imperial Capital from 794 to 1868. There are more than 2000
temples and shrines, 3 palaces and dozens of gardens and museums.
are always aspects of life in a new country which one cannot fail to
notice. In my case it was that drivers of one fleet of taxis are very
smartly dressed with white gloves and bow ties. The other aspect was that
the doors to hotel bedrooms are considerably smaller than those in Western
Hotels. Then there are the restaurants, which display the menu and price
in the window in the form of a plastic meal. In our case it meant taking
the waiter to the window to indicate our choice.
itinerary from Kyoto took us to coastal Town of Amanohashiddate on the
North West of the island. This we were told was a popular tourist
attraction; with another rest day ahead and with no bikes it was time for
some serious walking.
paid our 800-yen entry fee (Approx 5 pounds) we were ushered to the rear
of the Hotel and the entrance to the Bath House. At this point we were
required to remove our footwear and given a pair of sandals. We then
passed into the male changing rooms where ALL of OUR clothes were placed
into a basket and exchanged for 2 large and 1 small towel.
this point I began to feel rather vulnerable but as I was not alone, so I
thought 'when in Rome (or Japan)' etc.
It was then into a large room with marble tiles to the floor and
walls. Around 3 sides of this room were shower fittings 1 metre above
floor level, with a mirror above? and below was a low plastic stool
together with 2 containers of body soap and shampoo.
In the absence of other bathers we would have been dubious as to
the next procedure. Luckily for us there were numerous honorable gentlemen
of all ages sat at the stools in various stages of soaping and showering
their bodies. Some were shaving, hence the mirror.
a relaxing 15-minute soak, our curiosity got the better of us and we
ventured through the sliding door. At
this point I did rather feel that one bath indoors was OK, but to go
outside for another did seem to be overdoing it. Having said that the
surroundings were very relaxing. There were a bench seats scattered around
an open courtyard with senior Japanese businessmen deep in conversation
with nothing but a very small towel to cover their modesty.
The hot bath to one side of the courtyard was oval shaped with
fountains and rocks. There was a sloping garden and trees beyond, all of
which was floodlight.
all agreed at the end of our second soak in the open that this was indeed
a very civilised and sociable way to spend an hour or two.
were 2 more days left of our coach tour in Japan with the penultimate
night stop at an idyllic island by the name of Miyajima. This island is a
very short ferry ride from Hiroshima where we spent 3 hours to visit the
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which I found to be a very moving
under 10 years of age on 6th August 1945 (I was 13 on this date) can be
forgiven for not knowing that at 8.15 am on this date Hiroshima fell
victim to the world's first atomic bomb.
the end of 1945 when the effects of radiation had subsided it was
confirmed that up to 140,000 lives had been lost.
a contrast from Japan, there are major social and economic problems facing
both countries which one cannot fail to notice.
Chinese road during Rush Hour
on the other hand has a population explosion to the extent that family
size is restricted to one child. That is difficult to appreciate
considering the thousands of young children we encountered in the first
few days here.
Japan there are very few cars on the road more than 3 years old. In China
there are very few cars (per head of population).
was our final night in Japan that the Odyssey 2000 party went up in the
World, LITERALLY. We arrived by coach at our Hotel close to Osaka Airport
in the dark around 9 pm. We
were allocated 2 or 3 to a room, and having collected our room key, John
and myself made our way to the 4 th floor looking for room 561. Strange we
thought, as we could only locate conference rooms.
to reception we were told, you are in room 61 on the 45th floor. So it was
back to one of the many high speed lifts to one of the best rooms we have
had on Odyssey. This must be near the top I thought, but no there was
another 11 floors above ours with the restaurant at the top. As you can
appreciate the views we had by night and day were stunning to say the
least. We were advised that this Hotel was in fact the second tallest
building in Japan. So full marks to TK and A for the final night of luxury
Greetings from Hong Kong.
The following morning it was a schedule flight to Kuala Lumpur, (one of the most modern and sophisticated airports we have passed thru) en route to Hong Kong. We had 36 hours in which to experience the many delights, which Hong Kong has to offer the first time visitor.
WORLD'S LARGEST FLOATING RESTAURANT. HONG KONG
Hong Kong must be one of the most dense populated regions in the World,
with a total approaching 7 million in the territory and almost 2 million
on the island of Hong Kong. The Island itself has some of the most
expensive real estate in the World. As most readers are aware it was on
1st July 1997 that Britain handed back to China the lease that we had held
for 99 years.
agreement reached between the UK government and China was that Hong Kong
and the New Territories would remain a special administrative zone of
China for a period of 50 years.
on Sunday 15th October the Odyssey cavalcade (complete with bicycles)
departed from Hong Kong for the 4-hour ferry to Zhaoqing. This was
followed by another 4-hour journey by coach to the town of Wuzhou, from
where we resume our pedaling after an enforced break.
guidebooks describe this region as the Sensuous South. We shall see just
how sensuous in my next up date. My previous update ended on my
impressions on life in China as we are finding it. Life here is so
different to anywhere else that we have been in the world.
I did also reflect on what life might have been like if Democracy
and capitalism had been allowed to flourish.
have since read that the state has now eased its grip on economic activity
to the extent that it now ONLY employs 50% of the working population. It
is also encouraging foreign investment.
standard of driving is very poor, and the right of way at a junction
appears to go to the largest vehicle. This I had proved to me 2 days ago
when I was almost knocked off my cycle by a vehicle coming out of a
turning on my right. At home I would have had the right of way, not so in
China. The ironic coincidence of this incident, is that the truck had
written on it's side door AND IN ENGLISH: 'NEVER LET AN OBSTACLE STAND IN
have witnessed 2 road accidents in 3 days both involving coaches, two
Odyssey riders narrowly missed the second in which there were some
fatalities including children. Speaking of children, and on a more
cheerful note. There has been a universal interest in Odyssey 2000 from
children in almost every country we travel. But here in China we have been
astounded, almost embarrassed by the interest and reception we are getting
from the younger generation.
It has for me been an experience which I will not forget to see these
happy cheerful young children who line the road in thousands as we pass
through each village and town. The amazing thing is that many of these
children, as young as 3 years old can speak English, not very much, I must
admit. The first and most common greeting we get is “HELLO,” which is
sometimes followed by “HOW ARE YOU “?
And if you listen carefully you may hear a GOOD BYE.
one evening as we stepped out of our hotel after supper young autograph
hunters besieged us. Another aspect of life in China which has made me
reconsider my diet, in that until we return to Western culture I have
decided to become vegetarian.
back to our itinerary which took us to the towns of Yangshuo and Guilin,
both of which are in the center of the second most popular tourist region
in China which attracts over 3 million visitors a year
Monday 16th October, Odyssey 2000 caused a minor sensation, when they
prepared to depart the town of Wuzhou.
On the morning of our departure a large crowd gathered outside our hotel as gear trucks were loaded and bikes prepared for the road (after 2 weeks in storage). One female member of the party, who had to replace an inner tube before starting, was assisted (Chinese fashion) by at least 15 local men of all ages. Not quite sure if it was the inner tube being replaced, or the young lady in shorts that was the centre of attraction.
FIND A BIKE!!
back to our first day on the roads in China, it was (on paper) a modest 95
Kilometers to the town of Xindu with a few rolling hills. At the end of
the day we all agreed that it had not been a normal 95 Kilometers. It was
at 20 Kilometers into the ride there was a 50 Kilometers stretch of our
road, which was under reconstruction. There is a big difference in the way
that China repairs it's roads, and the way we are used to having our roads
patched up in the West, where one stretch of road is repaired before work
starts on the next.
sure if this happens nationwide in China but on our 50 Kilometers stretch
of road we had small gangs of workers toiling mainly (by hand) on their
own little bit of the road. It was a hot, dry day, so not only were we
riding on long stretches of unmade road but every vehicle that passed us
we would be enveloped in a cloud of red dust. So we were glad to get back
on normal roads the following day.
FOUR WHEEL RURAL TRANSPORTATION
think we are all well aware in the West that the quality of life in China
is way below that found in most of the Western World. We have in our
travels this year seen some depressed regions but nothing to compare with
what we are now travelling through.
21st October was a layover day in the featureless City of Guilin, which
has a population of 350,000. It is the surrounding area, which attracts
over 3 million visitors a year. So to see exactly what it is that attracts
those visitors, 50 Odyssey folk including yours truly decided to take a
4-hour river cruise.
cruise took us along the River Lijiang where we saw at close quarters some
strange limestone mountains, which we had seen from a distance for several
days. It appears that nature laid the foundations of Guilin's present day
attraction over 300 million years ago, when the region was under water.
Then the water receded and exposed a limestone plateau, which over the
years has been eroded away.
remains are the strange karst peaks which today rank among one of China's
main tourist attractions. Which all went to make our 4 hour river cruise
to Yangshuo a very memorable experience.
appeared that the total resources at the town of Binyang were not able to
cope with such a large number of visitors in one go. Arising from this
after a shower and supper the entire Odyssey cavalcade were taken by coach
the 86 kilometers to Nanning where we arrived around 9.30 pm on day 300
There is pollution in every possible form, in the air exhaust fumes from every vehicle, coal fires, both domestic and commercial are contributing to the contamination. Rivers are polluted and this gets worse, close to urban areas. Sanitation is very poor in rural areas and not much better in urban locations. In spite of the poverty and pollution I found the Chinese to be friendly and industrious.
the system still has both men and women working on the most menial (and to
me soul destroying) employment. It is common to see women in the country
cutting grass along the roadside, one blade at a time. Many of the road
sweepers are female. It was the tremendous reception given to the whole of
the Odyssey 2000 party in China, which has left a lasting impression on
was not uncommon to see a large group of locals (mainly children), and the
center of attraction would be an Odyssey rider changing an inner tube or
having a snack. This in fact became embarrassing at times, as I found to
my cost one day when I stopped for a call of nature. There was not a soul
in sight as yours truly turned off the road into the privacy of a
crossed the border into Vietnam at 16.40 on Sunday 29th Oct. It took 4
hours by coach from our hotel in Nanning to reach the border. It was
another 4 hours to process the whole Odyssey party through the Chinese and
Vietnamese immigration and customs.
the Chinese border we had to unload all luggage and cycles, all vehicles
that had been with us throughout China could not be taken across the
border; so new vehicles were awaiting us in Vietnam. Having been exited by
the Chinese authorities we then had to walk with our bikes and luggage
through 400 metres of nomans land to the Vietnamese crossing.
I had read recently that there have been moves for the restoration of
diplomatic relations (severed in 75 by the US) between the USA and
Vietnam. So I did not express my private thoughts as to what effect the
arrival of over 200 American cyclists might have on the future of those
talks. My fears were unfounded, because we were met with a welcome banner
and given a label for our coach and luggage, which was taken from us.
coping with the currency in the 40 plus countries we have visited this
year has been a challenge to say the least. Italy and China were two in
particular but Vietnam (with the dong) I found to be the greatest
challenge. It is not always possible to establish the rate of exchange in
advance of my arrival.
in Hanoi, before I could even locate a bank or find the exchange rate I
was informed by reliable source that I would have to pay 14,500 dong for a
small bottle of beer.
arrived at the bank by taxi before it was open; this is not a problem I
said confidently to John, as I pointed to the 2 outside ATM 's one of
which was in use. So John drew his cash with no problem, and said that he
would wait for me in the taxi. I then inserted my visa card only to be
told that the PIN was incorrect.
I trust there will be no computer error when the withdrawal hits my
account at home, because at 20,000 dong to one-pound sterling I anticipate
having drawn a modest 75 pounds. Now where was I before all that money
went to my head? ah yes in Vietnam. So for the benefit of those who are
not familiar with the geographical and political background to this
beautiful country, this is my information.
entered Vietnam in the extreme north from it's communist neighbour China.
On the western border is Laos, and Cambodia.
SOUTH CHINA SEA VIETNAM
the guidebooks say are many beautiful and untouched beaches. This I can
confirm as we did travel along this coast by train for several hours on
our journey south. In addition there are caves, grottoes, and architecture
to explore, if you have the time. (Which we did not)
the country and its people have suffered turmoil and conflict from 1894 to
1954 when the French occupied them. Then again (as most will know) from
1963 to 1975 with the unsuccessful attempt by the USA to prevent the
Communist North Vietnam from it's take over of the democratic South
Vietnam remains a one party state and while there has been some economic
reform there is no sign of this spreading to the political scene.
However, after many years of stagnation the economy is growing with
recent offshore finds of Oil and Gas. Rice production has expanded to the
extent that Vietnam, once an importer is now the world's third largest
exporter of rice after the U.S.A. and Thailand.
spite of all that Vietnam is still a poor country. The United Nations
estimate that 51 % of the population live below the poverty line.
It is hoped that economic development, and foreign investment will
continue to eliminate large-scale poverty.
look out for update # 42 for my thoughts on Hanoi, Hue, (early capital of
Vietnam) and our 30 hour train journey to south Vietnam where I hope to do
ROYAL PALACE CITY OF HUE
Just one 4 hour tour will confirm why Hue is so popular to travellers with
it's Royal Palaces, pagodas, historic building complex, and a tradition of
culture and art.
I am concerned to see on the C.N.N. international news how Britain has
been hit by storms and floods, I do hope that no one reading this will
have been hit by this freak? weather
they have a Tesco, a Boots, and we are back to cycling on the right (left)
side of the road. Yes we are still very much in Asia but in a country with
some western influence.
JAMES BOND (007) ISLAND
our ride from Phuket went north then south towards the north east coast of
Malaysia via Krabi (day 317). Then on to the town of Trang where we were
welcomed at our Hotel with an individual garland of flowers and a glass of
fruit punch from the hotel staff.
Later that evening we were treated to local entertainment by Thai dancers and musicians. This was followed by a welcome speech from the town mayor and tourist board.
On day 322 (17th Nov) after just 40 Kilometers we arrived at the short ferry crossing which took us across the border and into Malaysia. This was a short day with a total of 70 Kilometers to the coastal town of Kota Bharu.
What no Odyssey rider was prepared for was the reception we were given on our arrival in Malaysia, and for the remaining 6 days. As we cycled off the ferry, up to the terminal and immigration office a large banner could be seen hung across the road. The wording on the banner read as follows: -
This was something we had not experienced on any other border crossing this year. Now whenever Odyssey enters or exits a country there is always a line (queue) at the immigration and customs. The length of the line and speed it goes down will vary on the country and how we arrive.
In this case there was a ferry every hour through the day, so that our crossing was spread over several hours and there were around 40 riders on our ferry. The wait at the immigration window was not too long, but beyond that was another line? What’s the hold up this time we asked? The answer came back " we can't move till we are all here because we have a Police escort". As we only had 35 Kilometres to ride to our hotel we assumed there was some diversion or road construction.
This was not the case; there were at least 12 motorcycle police who escorted the party of 40 odd riders all the way to our hotel at Kota Bharu. There was no need to refer to our route sheet, there was a motorcycle policeman at every junction holding up the traffic and waving us through. This treatment was special to say the least, and made us feel like royalty or the Tour de France peleton.
One could only assume that the crime rate in the area was very low, or the local tourist office was anxious to make an impression on 200 potential future visitors. The escort took us right to the entrance of the Renaissance Kota Bharu Hotel where the staff was waiting on the steps to greet us. Following our check in each rider was handed a good morning towel with which to clean his or her bike.
top of all this it appeared that the hotel had been open just 2 weeks and
we were the first major booking. The next few days, our route followed the
225 Kilometres coastline south through the state of Terengganu. This is an
area endowed with a wealth of natural and charming landscapes. There are
miles and miles of white sandy beaches, lush virgin tropical jungle, and
quaint fishing villages and offshore (for those who had the time) are
several exotic islands.
So to conclude our final days in Malaysia, a country, which gave us a far greater welcome than any other, we have visited. In fact all on Odyssey 2000 will remember the whole of our itinerary in Asia for a long time to come. In particular the happy cheering children.
It was on our third day in the Malaysian state of Terengganu (population 1 million) that we passed through the state capital of Kuala Terengganu. It was mid morning and just 50 Kilometres into the day, it was also raining hard and we had been warned to expect some delay that morning.
There was no indication of what the delay might be, but as we came into town there was a Police roadblock for all traffic, except Odyssey riders who were waved through. 200 metres on there was a band playing with a large marquee (tent) on either side of the road. In one open tent was a large group of Odyssey riders tucking into a buffet with coconuts and fruit juice.
In the other marquee were a dozen official looking folk, press and TV cameras plus the Odyssey Tour organizer. It soon became evident that this was an official welcome to Terengganu by the State Governor, and the Tourism Board. After several speeches of welcome a presentation was made and the official party crossed the road (complete with umbrellas) to meet individual riders.
Two days later on 24th Nov (day 329) we took the 45 minute ferry into Singapore and the end of stage 12 with fond memories of Asia in general but Malaysia in particular. The DRG (daily route guide) for that day indicated the itinerary statistics to be;