So long, SEA

Back in Thailand. I love finding random bungalow resorts in small towns. Great stays with great views for great prices

Oh, hey there! It’s been a while. I kind of ran out of things to say in long form and just never felt like trying to force a post out.

Anyway, my time in Southeast Asia has come to an end. Six months of riding around never understanding more than the ubiquitous “hello!” being yelled as I ride by, or the odd word here or there that I managed to learn. It’s been a very quiet six months. To the point that a few times I didn’t converse with people for so long that when I finally did, it was a stumbling affair of jumbled half thoughts. Very much like what goes through my head while riding. Obviously, if everyone was me, the tiny threads that link all of these thoughts for me personally would clarify my meaning for them. Alas, for better or worse, I’m the only me. 

Laos is one beautiful mountain view after another. Ride your bike there soon!

Touring southeast asia has been nothing like Europe. In Europe, I might ride for three or four days alone, and then be somewhere with lots of other foreigners traveling alone or in loosely cobbled groups always ready to add one more to the festivities. In Asia I’m alone. When I’m not alone I’m ussually surrounded by couples who aren’t looking for a third wheel. There have certainly been exceptions. I’ve met some great people (local and travelers), but they are just what I said, exceptions.

I’ve been what most would call “emotionally independent” and self-reliant for a long time, but I feel like SEA took that to a whole new level. At least to some extent. In other ways it’s revealed the complete opposite. Seemingly, every time I was in a situation that just couldn’t be tackled alone, someone came to my rescue. We never spoke the same langauge. We never looked like each other. We were never in similar economic situations, and we were certainly not the same religion. But, I wasn’t alone. 

That’s probably the most important thing I’ll take from SEA. When you feel the most alone, or when you are at your wits and physical limit, you’re never really alone; you’re just not asking or signalling that you need or want help. People are good. 

Now for a brief review of each country related to cycling/touring, and then my personal ranking.

The route started in Phuket and looped counter-clockwise through south snd east Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and then northern Thailand back to Ayutthaya to pack up before flying from Bangkok. 6,000+ miles of roads covered, and I barely touched Southeast Asia.


Nan in the valley below this monastery. I happened to be up here on “Buddha’s birthday” as the monks came up for their ceremonies.

Thailand has the best infrastructure for cycling of the four I visited in SEA, and potentially of all the countries I’ve been to in the last 14 months. The roads are amazing all the way down to the 3rd tier and sometimes 4th tier. They often have good shoulders on 1st, 2nd and sometimes 3rd tier roads. The drivers are courteous, and cycling is booming with the local population so you’ll never have trouble finding the parts you need for your top-of-the-line western machine. 

The food is awesome and can be extremely cheap if you eat what and where the locals do; which is part of why you go touring in the first place. Right? 

Accomodation is cheap by western standards, with an air-conditioned bungalow with hot water going for 350-500 baht ($11-15) per night. 

The terrain can offer you anything you want. Wanna climb? Go north and west. Wanna set land speed records on pan-flat, glass-smooth blacktop? Stay south, central, and east and go for days. 

The famous white wat in Chiang Rai.  The amount of detail and the way the light reflects off it aren’t captured by any picture I took.

The one niggle is the ungodly heat and humidity. It exists everywhere in SEA. I hear you can escape it in the north during the winter months, but I never caught a break in Thailand. In every other country there were areas that were relatively cool. Maybe not parka weather, although sometimes it certainly was, but at least a little respite from the torturous conditions that dominate the region.

If you are like me and go from zero to dripping sweat and soaking through your clothes in no time; all of SEA can be a little tough for tourist activities off the bike. On the bike, sweat. It’s part of cycling anyway.


More mountains and valleys in Laos. So beautiful when the vegetation opens up allowing an unimpeded view.

Laos is challenging. There is a ton of investment in the infrastructure happening which has led to some absolutely marvelous roads. However, it’s still developing so roads can go from pristine blacktop to massive potholes and gravel in the blink of an eye. There are not many roads with much of a shoulder, only the primary roads might have them. But, there is very little traffic in most of the country, and the drivers are very accomodating. Maybe even the nicest/best in SEA. Modern bike shops are only found in the largest cities, as far as I know. 

The food is good, but more plain and generally there are fewer choices than in Thailand. Food, with the exception of beer and water, is also more expensive than the other countries. Beer is pretty cheap, and Beer Lao is the best you will find of the big beers manufacturers in SEA. Drink up!

Delicious noodle soup and delicious Beer Laos. I will miss those for sure.

Accomodation is cheap. Cheaper than Thailand in most places and ussually runs $7-10. However, what you get for that $7-10 varies widely. For the same price I have had a nice room with A/C, hot water, and a king size bed; and I’ve had a room with no electricity, a small bed with a mosquito net, a squat toilet outside and the village’s water spigot to shower under. It all depends on where you are.

The north of the country is all mountains. It is common to climb in excess of 3000 meters in 100-125km, and unless you have camping gear and food/water, oftentimes it’s necessary. ATMs are few and far between for a cyclist. Carry more money than you think you need to get to the next biggish town.

Water falls outside of Luang Prabang. Before this trip, I had no idea how common the blue-water waterfalls were. This is the 3rd set I’ve been to. Spain, Croatia and Laos. 

In 3-5 years, basically the time between completing a few more road upgrades and more traffic appearing, Laos could be a touring paradise with its amazing scenery, challenging terrain, relaxed pace of life, and wonderful people. For now, it’s still a work in progress in some ways.


One of the most beautiful sunrises I saw in SEA. I’m sure my Cambodian saviors, discussed in a previous series of posts, thought I was crazy for more than one reason after watching me standing and staring out for what seemed like an hour.

Challenging for completely different reasons. You will be scared on the roads, specifically in towns and cities. You will be rattled to bits on dirt shoulders, dirt roads, paved roads, basically anywhere you ride that isn’t the main highway linking a major border crossing to Phnom Phen. Even those roads aren’t guaranteed to be good the whole way. 

It is fairly flat for most of the country, so when you get smooth road sections you can cover ground quickly, and I recommend doing so. Most of the country is not very scenic in comparison to its neighbors except for the Cardamom mountains and the beaches, if that’s your thing. The beaches are nice, but not really representative of most of the country or of the heartache you’ll undoubtedly feel when traveling through the rural inland areas (95% of the country, maybe). Which leads me to the biggest challenge of Cambodia. The emotional toll of cycling through a country with the most helpful and welcoming people all while constantly being reminded of the hardships they endure on a daily basis and the relatively recent horrors of genocide. The scars are visible, and in some ways almost palpable. The rusting and faded signs for UN and nonprofit organization projects line the rural roadsides, signifying the successful completion of their missions a decade ago… There is so much more help that could be given that it’s overwhelming. So much so that I felt lost and helpless for much of my time there. By the end of my month I had resorted to riding, and then more or less confining myself to my accomodation except to get food and drinks.

Being alone in rural Cambodia is hard. 

Having said that, it’s where my most personally impactful memories of the trip come from, and likely where I learned the most about who I am. 

The other details: Everything is cheap. There are guesthouses in all semi-major towns. ATMs, which dispense US dollars, and banks are in most modestly sized towns. People freely accept US dollars as payment, but because the country is poor don’t expect to walk up with your fresh $20 bill and buy a $0.50 drink or bowl of noodles and get change. Typically I paid for accomodation with USD, and they gave change in a mix of USD and Cambodian Riel. The exchange rate was pretty fair when doing this, and it gave me some Riel for buying drinks and food. Alternatively you can exchange money at banks etc., but bills larger than $5 better be mint condition or straight from the ATM. They are really picky about acceptable condition of USD. On the other hand, their currency can be in tatters and be acceptable.

Good modern bike shops can be found in Phnom Phen and Siem Reap for sure, and likely Sihanoukville and Koh Kong town. In general, exercise for the sake of exercise (except soccer) is not popular. For more affluent people in cities and places with more western exposure it is slightly more common, but I was asked many times why I would ever ride a bicycle instead of buying a motorcycle. The idea that I could like the exertion and challenge, for only that reason doesn’t make sense to someone who works hard by pure necessity. It’s a really interesting constrast in mentality regarding how we expend our nutritional energy that highlights massive socioeconomic differences. I can waste calories riding aimlessly around the world, but they need to use theirs with purpose…

Food and drink stops are plentiful and you feel like you’re actually contributing to someones livelihood.


Pretty much sums up Vietnam. Coffee, and a land that excedes imagination.

The roads are a mixed bag. The drivers are crazy and only follow one rule. The biggest vehicle wins. Period. Everyone pulls out onto the road with no regard for the traffic currently on the road; which is why it is common to see lines drawn on the road outlining the trajectory and resting place of a motorcycle and sometimes rider. Stay alert. Somehow they didn’t kill me. 

Food is delicious. Coffee is everywhere and delicious. They have weather for everyones tastes. The middle of the country has awesome roadside stops with hammocks and coconuts to drink. ATMs and banks are everywhere. Accomodation is cheap, plentiful enough, and of a reliably acceptable standard throughout the country. Acceptable is pretty relative, and I’ve certainly taken up the mantra of “I can sleep anywhere for one night.”, but overall Vietnam has a pretty good basic level of accomodation throughout the country.

The scenery is varied, and stunning from the north to south, and east to west. Being a long narrow country means that you can be high in the cool mountains or down on a warm beach within a day’s ride in most of the country. By the way, it is a very long country; a little longer than the distance between Vancouver and San Diego, or equivalent to Copenhagen, Denmark  to Madrid, Spain assuming you stay within Vietnam and don’t cut through Laos and Cambodia. Being so long and having vast altitude variation means there are large differences in weather througout the country. There is probably something for everyone here. The western highland and northeastern mountain areas have much less traffic, and awesome mountain views. The northwest is also very beautiful, but tends to have a bit more traffic than the northeast. 

The people are friendly and helpful in my experience as a cyclist. I can’t count the number of times people invited me to have a beer, coffee, tea or shot of alcohol even though we couldn’t really communicate. Rural teenagers often like to practice their English when you stop for lunch or snacks, and children are almost universally excited/surprised/frightened to see you. 

Side note: Asian children are definitely the cutest kids on earth. Handsdown. Not even a competition. But, the expressions and reactions specifically from rural Vietnamese children when seeing a westerner are absolutely heart-meltingly adorable. End of side note.

Most tourist have stories of being taken advantage of in Vietnam. I have one such experience, but it was when traveling by bus back to Dien Bien Phu from Hanoi after getting my bike fixed. Basically, when I was a normal tourist… Otherwise, I never had any issues or felt the need to haggle over prices.

If you ride a bike with 26″ or 27″ (not 27.5″ or 700c) wheels you will likely never have an issue with tires or wheel availability. 700c, 650b etc. are probably only found in the largest cities or places with large expat populations. 9-speed and 10-speed chains are easy to find. 11-speed are only in big cities.

Personal ranking:

And now for a meaningless ranking of four countries which have each been wonderful in their own ways. In order of most to least likely for me to make a return trip. 

Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia.

Why Vietnam over Thailand? Thailand is nearly perfect for cycling and living. Why would I choose a country with so many little flaws, and terrible drivers? It has more to do with feeling than anything. The imperfections make it feel more real and comfortable. Thailand feels like I’m always on vacation, while Vietnam feels like I’m riding around my home region in some ways. Sort of a “I’m not home, but I’m comfortable with the people” kind of thing. Sometimes I equate the feeling as the difference between being treated as a customer and being treated as a guest. Both instances are friendly, and helpful but one just feels a little more genuine. 

Specifically, I like Da Nang a lot. There are good riding spots along the coast or into the hills and mountains. Two big tourist spots are to the north and south (Hue and Hoi An respectively) which keeps Da Nang relatively quiet, and if you stay in the actual city away from the beach, you can almost entirely escape tourists and find yourself just… kind of at home. If you need some western socialization it’s reliably close by. I felt like the residents didn’t care that I was a tourist.  I was just a person in Da Nang, and they treated me that way. No hassling or trying to sell me things, just letting me do my thing. It’s a good spot to unwind for a while.

Rambling goodbye complete. So long, SEA. I love you long time! 😉 

Hello, Eastern Europe. Round 2!

That’s how I feel sometimes. Full of hot air, but light and free. Onwards and upwards!


Published by: Andrew Monfort

I am a former engineer who decided to follow my dreams. After 9 years of working as a process engineer in the oil & gas production and refining industries, I decided to follow my passions (cycling and travel) to see where they lead.

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