I came up with the idea of cycling across Asia completely randomly, during my master studies in Paris. After one year, I landed in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. 15000km across 18 countries, different cultures, mountains, and deserts, with an altitude ranging between -118 in Kazakstan and 4715m.n.p.m in Pakistan, the temperature ranging between -10 in China and +40 in Cambodia, and the daily distance between 30km in Bulgaria and 472km in Kazakhstan. I slept in my tent, guesthouses or hosted by kind people. No matter the place, the daily distance or the culture, I found kind people everywhere.
Vietnam / Cambodia
I started in Ho Chi Minh City and on the first day I reached Cambodia. I remember two things about this country: the immense heat and plenty of kids cycling to and from school every day. The heat was painful, but the kids made me smile by shouting: Good Morning Sir! When I stopped at the school I was soon surrounded by 100 kids or more 😉I also took part in a local wedding and the married couple did not want to let me go 😉
After crossing the border in Pailin and passing the first mountains on the route, I reached the popular coast in Thailand. Cycling on the coast relaxed me, but the same day I decided to continue over the night to Bangkok, to apply for a Chinese visa before the weekend. I was chased by numerous dogs, but finally, after 294km, I reached Bangkok. Finally, I had to take a bus to Vientiane in Laos to organize my visa (I recommend this place). On the way to Birma, I was hosted by Buddhist monks in their temple. No one spoke English, but everyone was happy to have me there. It was a great experience.
Birma / Myanmar
Birma was completely different. I could feel the tension everywhere: soldiers with big guns on bridges and mountain peaks, obligatory registration in selected, not cheap hostels, and huge, empty roads in the capital – Naypyidaw. They are huge to play a role of the airport in case of an uprising and evacuate the ruling army. I finished my South East Asian stretch by visiting Bagan, the temple sanctuary. After cruising on Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, I took a plane over the closed border to India.
India – Asam / West Bengal
I spent only three days in Assam and West Bengal, two Indian states. The experience of cycling on a highway with practically two-sided traffic, used by literally everything that could move, could not overshadow my admiration to nature – huge rivers and vast wilderness. The only negative: people overstated all prices for a foreigner and I was more tired with negotiating than with cycling. It was unpleasant when they tried to force me to order more than I needed in a restaurant to spent more or begged for money.
Fortunately, it happened less frequently in Nepal. I added to my cycling across the valley in the south by visiting Chitwan National Park, the kingdom of elephants. I left the valley to climb to Pokhara, a very nice city at the foot of Himalayas. 2d-break for paragliding, rowing in the lake and mountain biking was what I needed. While getting back to the valley, I had a big climbing day – over 3km of altitude gain. This way I got to Lumbini, the Buddha birthplace visited by many Indian tourists. Back in the valley, I saw numerous accidents. I will come back to Nepal, but will never take a bus there.
India – Hariana, Punjab
After getting back to India, I set a new record: 320km from the border to New Delhi in 15h. Credits to the good highway and the strong back wind. New Delhi is a huge city with a very long history, you could spend 3 weeks there and not get bored. Unfortunately, my 4d long stay ended up with diarrhoea. With this problem, I got back on the road across Haryana and Punjab to Pakistan. Closer to the border, I felt less the stench of garbage laying everywhere in India. On the way, I was hosted by the army officer. I got to know his son by a happy accident when he was drinking Whisky together with his friend at the car park. I joined them and in this way, I got to know about arranged marriages. In India, you could be killed by your parents if you did not marry the person they picked you. As they told me, everything they could do is drink Whisky and forget 😉
The first stop in Pakistan was Lahore. Warmshowers hosts, two brothers, hosted me in the most comfortable conditions I had on the route. They even involved me in their family gatherings. After that, I cycled to Islamabad. Here I finally finished 9d of cycling on Sprite and, in the clean and modern hospital, I treated my diarrhea. My Couchsurfing host insisted on paying for me. I was not left without human kindness on Karakoram Highway, where police officers cooked for me, told me about their families and were proud that I came to Pakistan. Shopkeepers gave me discounts and random people bought me food. And of course everyone wanted to have a photo with me 😉 The road itself is amazing, it’s the 8th wonder of the world for a reason. Somewhere in the halfway to China, I turned to Fairy Meadows, a base north to Nanga Parbat. Cycling on a narrow road with a 300m abyss just a few meters from me, being evacuated by police and wild camping high in mountains was the most dangerous and the most memorable experience of the whole trip. I finished cycling in Pakistan by climbing to Khunjerab Pass at 4715masl, the highest point of the trip and the highest border pass in the world.
On the Chinese side, I stayed on Karakorum Highway till the end of this road in Kashgar, the city of Xinjiang Province. I still had breathtaking views: the road was following the wide valley and the mountains looked completely different than in Pakistan with a variety of colors on their sides. The weather got harsh: it was freezing and snow was falling all the time. Police controls happed 3x more frequently and they lasted longer as people do not speak English there. However, here I was also warmly welcomed by local people: I spent the night at the Kara-Kul lake in the big yurt of construction workers. They stopped their work only to take me to the small bar for a dinner. Leaving the country was problematic: waiting 4 hours on the border until their “lunch break” will end and being forced to take a taxi for the last 200km
Kirgizstan was the most silent country of the trip. I enjoyed this silence so much that I even stopped listening to the music. I also met plenty of horses grazing in the wild. In India, a young kid would parents for a motorcycle. In Kirgizstan, he/she would ask for a horse. After passing Sary-Tash, I got on Pamir Highway and in the morning the next day, I was on another border.
The border guard at Kyzylart Pass was the most interested in my iPhone, so I filled in the immigration card on my own. Low population density and vast mountain plains separated by passes made Pamir my most favorite wild camping site. The Pamir Highway was completely different to Karakorum HWY: the tarmac was occasional and the quality of the surface was poor so cycling was hard and slow. The detour to Wakhan Valley allowed me to look into Afghanistan on the other side of the river. I even shouted to some Afghans, but English and Dari are not very similar. The stay in homestay and visit to hot springs gave an opportunity to get to know few locals. People are used to cyclists on Pamir Highway, but they are still very interested and welcoming. All kids in valleys always shout: Hello. How are you? Where are you from? Like in Cambodia. And the same as in Cambodia, the power is concentrated in one person, the glorified president, whose photos are everywhere 😉 After one week stay in Dushanbe, I got my Uzbek visa and soon replaced mountains with deserts.
Uzbekistan is famous for its well maintained Silk Route Cities: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva. I was even more delighted with Kyzyl-Kum Desert. The horizon visible all around, fighting with the front wind and the feeling of being alone and free. The only disgust of the Uzbek stretch was the trip to the Aral Sea. The irrigation system fuelling cotton fields dried Syr-Daria and Amu-Daria and, as the result, also the 5th biggest lake in the world. When I visited Nukus, I felt like after the rain at the sea. Pesticides and salt from the old depth are blown over the country and cause many illnesses. On the Kazakh side, people had to relocate hundreds of kilometers to the east. The history of the lake shows how humans can threaten their own existence.
Kazakhstan welcomed me with the lack of electricity on the border. As a result, I struggled to reach Beyneu on the same day, which is 80km of a shitty road from the border. And again, people helped me. I raised a hand and immediately the car stopped. My bike on a roof, me inside, and at the end of the lift the big hug from the man and the son. The next day, I changed the direction and finally had a back wind. I was so happy that I did not stop for the night and cycled 472km to Aktau in 25 hours. In the middle of the night, a car driver stopped and gave me a coke. The small act of kindness which I remember forever. In Aktau, together with other cyclists, I took a ferry to Azerbaijan. The river 60yo ferry, which fortunately did not collapse like its sibling a few years ago.
Azerbaijan and Georgia
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was the most dangerous place I have been in. No driver cared about a cyclist, I was close being hit at least two times. It was better in the picturesque north, where I was again hit by the heat. Helpful drivers stopped to give me water. Georgia was not much different: the heat and kind people. I tried „scrubbing” in Tbilisi – a quite unique experience, and visited Stalin museum in Gori. The best was the last cycling day over the mountain pass, where all my electronics stopped working. I finished in Batumi, where I decided to not cycle south to Turkey on a boring highway and took a ferry to Bulgaria.
Bulgaria and Romania
Europe was the rest time. I felt that I did it – I traveled across Asia. I cycled along the Bulgarian coast pitching the tent on wild beaches. I met many Bulgarians who spent half of their life on the beaches. And they appreciate that these beaches are still non-commercialised. In the north, I was hosted by a Polish family, which built a house there. I stayed on the coast in Romania and, with a stop at Vadu beach, reached Danube Delta. The intense silence, a very kind people in villages and plenty of birds. And legal camping on the Black Sea beach. I appreciate this place even more than the Transfogarasian Road, where I headed from Delta with the stop in Bucuresti. The great mountain road where I could cycle very fast, but too popular among tourists. After enjoying cycling on Transylvanian mountainous roads and across historical Maramures region, I got to the border.
Ukraine is the country where everyone was surprised that the Polish guy could enjoy traveling by bike. A bike is a mean of transport for poor people, it cannot be your free choice 😉 People were a little bit rough, but still very helpful. In the first day, my front dynamo hub damaged. Few boys first helped me open it and next, when it turned out we cannot fix it, they hosted me and we made a small home party. When the next day I bought a new wheel (worth 1/5 of my hub alone) I could continue to Kamieniec Podolski, the old fortress for a period of time belonging to Poland. Another time in Vinnitsa, I was arguing with the driver of the bus to Odessa to take my bicycle (I did not want to cycle “back to Vietnam” 😉). The big guy came out of the crowd, told few words to the driver, and there was no problem anymore. He even helped me pack. People are great everywhere around the world. I followed the highway from Odessa via Kiev and Lviv to Poland. Opposite to the other roads, they have good (and boring) highways and you can cycle on them.
Two days of cycling in Poland proved that the driving culture in Poland is way better than anywhere in Asia or Central Europe. I spent the last night on the campsite in Nowy Sącz for free, hosted by the kind owner. The next day I was in my home city – Bielsko-Biała. It was good to be back.