Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eight is Great!

Unbelievable! Lovethefold has turned 8. In Chinese culture, the number 8 symbolises prosperity and I am not sure how this word fits into my present world of cycling and foldies. But if anything, I am certainly very grateful for the joy that my passion of cycling, and more specifically adventure touring brings. From a peak of 103 postings in 2011, I feel slightly ashamed to say there has been only 24 posts this year and almost all are focused on my trips.

Perhaps as one gets older, my interests have shifted from what is the newest, fastest or best-est to the simple pleasures of just cycling with people. After all, it is not gadgets or gidgets that give me lasting satisfaction, but sharing the journey itself with old and new friends. One may cynically and rightfully comment that when the bike stable exceeds 12 (and that is already quite a legful to manage) and therefore there is very little need for another bicycle. The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns can also lend support here but my personal take about this seemingly fading interest in things per se is maybe I have finally learn the true meaning of contentment. This is defined as "the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are." 

This is not to say I don't keep up with the exciting developments in the cycling world. I will toy with electronic shifting when the prices become a little more down to earth as my conversations with friends who use them seem very positive. But I wonder if that technology will be able to withstand the rigours of all weather touring?

One gadget that I picked up recently is a waterproof/shockproof Nikon AW130 camera. I have always enjoyed using the Canon Ixus super compact camera until a canoe-ing trip revealed it's limitations in a very expensive way. Though the pics of Smartphones today are very respectable, nothing beats whipping out a camera from your back pocket to snap those impromptu moments on the saddle. I am also impressed that the Nikon has a built in GPS as well as the ability to send photos thru WiFi when I eventually figure that out. These are features that seem very useful on a bike tour and I'm excited to test it out. 

2015 began with a trip to Betong Thailand with KC. I've always been fascinated by the history of the Malayan Emergency where the communists were battling the British post WW2 to gain control of Malaya. Betong was their last hide out and the chance to cycle there from Kuala Kangsar presented itself. After all the last bomb that went off was a few months ago so if you believe lighting shouldn't strike twice like I do, it's probably safe to go.

I believe that good things must be shared in order to fully enjoy and newbies VT and Claudine, friends of YC asked if they could have an intro tour. I was only too glad to organise one, this time to Batam and Bintan. I wanted to try the new southern highway of Bintan and Berenda, Judith and YC tagged along too. It was a great trip except that Claudine was and still is "shell-shocked" by the very rustic and basic accommodation of Shady Shack! Don't get her started on the toilet...

I had church camp in June at Malacca and took the opportunity to cycle back to Singapore with the honourable George Kee. We had fun cycling down 210km in 2 days but I thought I would die from heat stroke. Food is very important and I discovered a really cheap and yummy spicy anchovy bread bun made by Gardenia. For US 40 cents, this is the cheapest way to taste heaven!

August saw us continue our South Thailand Ride Adventure. This was part 2 of 3 parts. Last year we did Phuket to Chumphon. This time we went deep south starting from Langkawi to Krabi and had a wonderful time enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the people. 10 of us really had an amazing time together riding in the monsoon and it was great to have the usual suspects, Papa, KC, George, Wendy, YC, Celia and newbies VT, Claudine and Lance tag along. 

Cycling in Perth continues to be very satisfying given the beautiful weather most months and the unbelievably good bike paths. It however seems to be a season of endings and goodbyes. Our Wed usual rides with Rod and Uncle Ken which I have enjoyed since coming to Perth in 2009 came to a sad halt when Rod moved to Busselton.  

Yvonne who rides with us quite regularly also just moved back to Korea. It was also a sad time for Singapore with the passing on of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding father. I do not handle goodbyes well but we all have to learn to accept the seasons of life.

One unfortunate incident that happened was a recent bike accident where one of our dear friends fractured her leg. I feel really bad as we were cycling side by side when it happened at such a slow speed. It is hard to make sense of such an incident as she was training for our upcoming 321 ride in January. But times like this, we need to roll with the punches and keep our chin up. Misfortunes have a way of turning itself around into beautiful ways in God's timing, wisdom and grace. 

One new tour we did this year was exploring Northern Thailand in the winter month of February not on bicycles, but on scooters for a change. The mountains of Mae Hong Son left us winded 2 years ago on our foldies and I wanted to share the scenic beauty of this area to more people. Not everyone enjoy cranking on granny 12km uphill on one steep gradient after another. The 125cc Yamaha scooters made easy work of this and our group of 8 truly enjoyed this 900km trip so much.

Just in 2 days time, we shall be doing this again. Scootering Northern Thailand this time for an even longer ride - 1200km with an even bigger team of 11. This trip we shall be doing the loop anti-clockwise and going eastwards towards the Mekong to see the Golden Triangle. Pete and Jan Roscoe who did it 9 months ago have signed up again while the rest of the team is new. I look forward especially to spending time with Alastair, my mentor and dearest friend.

Next year promises to have some very new and exciting trips lined up. In January we shall be doing the 321 ride. This starts in Thailand, through Laos where we will explore the Bolaven Plateau as well as the 4000 islands, then pop into Cambodia where we end our ride with a weekend at Cosi Orphanage in Phnom Penh.

Feb there are plans to do a much overdue Singkep Linggi visit. These Indonesian islands lie far south pass the equator and the Japanese Battleship Yamato took refuge here during WW2. A long 2 ferry ride but the purpose is to see my friends Hardi and Dewi who has a new adorable addition. 

March should see me doing a trip to Taiwan this time exploring the southern western tip. August will be our Final South Thailand Ride from Chumphon to Bangkok. One exciting trip planned is in Oct where we hope to cycle South Korea from Seoul to Busan, then ferry across to Japan.

Looking back, my heart is very grateful for yet another eventful year that has gone by for Lovethefold. The privilege to get to know people who then become my good friends through the common passion of exploring new lands on small wheels is something that I feel very blessed to be able to do. All this is also possible because of my lovely wife who I will gladly carry her panniers to the ends of the earth.

In that sense, I feel a deep sense of contentment and gratitude on this 8th anniversary of Lovethefold. May I thank you readers and followers of LTF for your much appreciated support. It is my hope and prayer that this little bicycle blog can inspire you to go out on your bike and explore the world. In doing so, let us also bring a bit of cheer and love to the people we meet. As Burt Bacharach once sang, what the world needs now is love, God's love if I may add. The joy we get from that really is what makes life worth living! 

Wishing you God's blessings and tail winds. Ride safe ya?

1 Timothy 6:6-8 – “But Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

VSTR Day 7-9. Post Cycling Adventures in Ko Lanta and beyond

Time did not allow us to cycle to Krabi some 80km away and we all wanted to visit the famed Emerald Pool as well.  Since Plan A to ferry to Krabi did not work out, Plan B involved hiring 2 minivans to do the job through the Mook Lanta. Their charges were reasonable and the slight detour to the Pool was a bonus. 

We spent the next day exploring Ko Lanta on a Toyota Hiace double cab pickup and had so much fun. Everyone wanted to sit behind, and it was a good break from cycling. The rental divided by 10 of us really made this peanuts!

We so wanted to see the Lanta Animal Welfare sanctuary for George's sake but somehow, that proved too illusive. VT volunteered to drive and did so ever so careful. We explored the island clockwise and stopped firstly at a beach. The weather was not in our favour, all wet and windy but that explains the low season. Still, that did not dampen our spirits!

Driving around the island to the eastern side, we came across a lovely village selling satays!  The smell and smoke captivated us and we had to stop, park and sample the delicious sweet, skewered meat. 

We were also mesmerised by the Lanta Old Town which had quaint shops all facing the sea. It is possible to take a ferry to go to Pak Mong Beach from here. The Hammock Shop captivated us with its colourful offerings and many of us parted our bahts in exchange for such comforts back home. 

One highlight of Ko Lanta was Diamond Cliff where we enjoyed coffee/tea/ice creams at the restaurant there with the amazing view. They have rooms here and certainly, it is a place I would like to stay next time I come.

We went down to the beach and had wonderful time like children. We were all catching hermit crabs and soon, the thought of having a hermit crab race came. Lining all these lovely creatures, off they went and it was great that my particular crab kept winning!

Dinner that night was at May's Kitchen. A Melissa recommendation and it seemed all the long stay expats were there. They were doing a thriving business and for good reason. Food prepared from the heart, how can you go wrong?

The next morning we tucked into our hearty British breakfast of bacon and eggs, with the works! Although it was pouring cats and dogs, it didn't affect our appetite one bit. Papa finally got his order correct this time unlike yesterday - nothing would do but the one with all options ticked! It was a well deserved breakfast as we all had cycled 400km!

Our 2 vans came and we were all packed and ready despite an earlier fiasco. The heavy rains had raised the water level and that in turn had raised the sewerage level. Without going too much in detail, let's just say we were glad to leave!

It was strange re-routing the journey through the 2 ferries and the familiar terrain to Highway 4 inside the comfort of an airconditioned van with the heavy rains blasting. But in my heart, I would not have minded cycling back. 

Emerald Pool lived up to its expectations and the beautiful green coloured waters were too inviting not to jump in. And we all did, and did a jump out picture too. Lots of local tourists were there and it felt a bit too crowded for me.

We all pulled into Krabi at about 3pm and checked into the Lada Hotel. There what awaited us was the 10 bike boxes I pre-ordered from Champion Bike Shop. Very grateful that they delivered on their promise. 

Lada is excellently located smack in the heart of Krabi town and night markets abound. The team went on an own-time-own-target exploration trip predominantly checking out the billions of food available. VT and Claudine went in search of an optician and successfully fix his broken glasses for nearly next to nothing. Dinner was at Le Gateau French restaurant facing the river and the food was really magnifique.  Coffee/tea was enjoyed at a nearby road side stall where truly, they do the most amazing brew.

Nobody wanted to sleep that night and after packing our bikes into the boxes and sealing it, some of us went for a massage while others went for more eating till the wee hours of morning.

On our last day, we had breakfast at a Roti Chanai eatery before heading to the riverside for one last hurrah. Before our eyes were a grand procession for the Queen's birthday and hundreds of school children all dressed up in colourful and shining costumes and dress, got ready for their performance. As much as we wanted to stay and watch, we had a flight to catch.

Tee and Na from Champion Bike Shop came promptly at our agreed time. One tuk tuk for 10 of us, and a pick up to take our bike boxes. We had to of course dropped into Champion for last minute bike parts shopping and Tee was kind enough to give us "special" discounts.

Checking into the airport was less troublesome than I expected especially with our 10 bike boxes. We soon found ourselves in our $80 one way flight back to Singapore in disbelief that our Very South Thailand Ride has come to an end. As the song by Eurythmics goes, "sweet dreams are made of these" kind of moments and I couldn't agree more. My hearfelt thanks to VT, Claudine, George, Wendy, Ying Chang, Lance, Papa Mike, KC and Celia for an amazing 9 days of fun and laughter on our small wheels! See you guys at FSTR in Aug 2016,