Cycled away

2 weeks after our departure from Tokyo, we are pleased to present the tenth video clip of our bicycle trip 🙂

100% Japanese, these excerpts filmed mainly in Kyoto and in the central mountains of the island of Honshu will give you an overview of the (good) road conditions, the facilities (bike paths of the lakes of Mount Fuji, special edges in tunnels, etc.) and the the fall weather. All colorful and at a good pace!

12 days cycling from Kyoto to Tokyo

In 12 days of cycling on Honshu (interspersed with 10 days of volunteering), we covered 800km and 10km of vertical drop in total.

The regions crossed, from Kyoto to Chiba and finally Narita, simply offered us splendid landscapes at every turn and a new change of scenery in the middle of autumn. The weather (as often in Japan) was sometimes capricious but the roads remained pleasant in almost all circumstances! Just like our guests, whom we still thank warmly. Here’s our story day by day.

Day 1: Kyoto-Toyosato (80km)

Kyoto is a small paradise for cycling and tourism. Bike paths are plentiful and it is very easy to get around during the day, from Nishiki Market to philosophy path and multiple temples. G
etting out of the city is quite easy, Maps.Me gives us the opportunity to discover a first tiny road in the forest and we reach Lake Biwa. Reputed because bordered by a cycle road (200km of periphery!), we unfortunately do not enjoy much because the weather is bad. Headwind and intermittent rain, we arm with courage and we end up reaching Toyosato, its cultivated areas (rice, soy, etc.) and its haven of peace at Jacquelyn, our host Warmshowers.

Day 2: Totosato-Sakahogi (90km)

We are heading to our first mountains in Japan. On Jacquelyn’s good advice, we sinued between the woods following streams. Zen atmosphere and a little cool ness. In the afternoon, we reach Gifu and its multiple commercial areas. Not very sexy to pedal and we have to slalom between medium-sized roads not too dangerous and sidewalks shared with pedestrians. Camping, charming lying simple and free, is a nice reward.

Floor rice fields in the Gifu Mountains

Day 3: Sakahogi-Nakatsugawa (70km)

The night was cool and the dew takes us half an hour to find the tent. We go back to the East and our first real passes. Always lots of forests and some beautiful descents, we reach Nakatsugawa at 4pm. Wild camping spot in the municipal park and pubs to watch the Japan-Samoa rugby match. From the pasta to the stove as a feast and then a half at the bar nearby (500 euros …), a very nice evening.

Day 4: Nakatsugawa-Iijima (90km)

3 big passes on the day’s program, we tackle it quite early and the day goes smoothly. The roads are almost deserted and quite steep. Before the descents, a brake check is necessary and sometimes you have to wear a small wool. Drew, from Seattle, with his vintage road bike, catches up with us at the second pass and stays in our mini peloton until mid-aprem. A very nice meeting.

Day 5: Iijima-Suwa (80km)

On the way to Lake Suwa! The roads are not pleasant because they are too busy but you get by by sailing “on sight” on Maps.me. The weather gets worse as we approach the lake and we will end up going around it on its bike path a little in spite of us to find affordable housing. An “adult only” hotel will do the trick, a hot shower and in bed.

Pause in front of the geyser on the edge of Lake Suwa

Day 6: Suwa-Fujimi (30km)

The exit of Suwa is a bit painful: the commercial areas follow one another and we spend a lot of time slaloming on the sidewalks because of the lack of a pleasant bike route. We still end up finding a parallel road on a balcony that takes us to Fujimi where we dive towards the river and its Michi-no-eki (rest area) adjoining. We take advantage of heated public toilets and wifi and then we set up the tent below at the front.

Wild camping on the banks of Fujimi’s Michi-no-eki

Day 7: Fujimi-Minami Alps (40km)

Last pedal strokes for this first week. The weather is sublime, we do rather well to “grab” pleasant roads. Around noon the Fuji appears in the distance and we begin a gentle and long descent to Kofu, witnessing the passage of the rice harvest (by machine, we are far from the artisanal methods of Laos!). M
inami-Alps here we are. Our environment for the next 15 days will be made of apple trees, cherry trees, persimons and irrigation canals lined with micro-roads ideal for the “bike-taf” HelpX that awaits us!

A few more cables before Minami-Alps

Day 8: Minami Alps-Fujikawaguchi (60km)

With our heads full of memories and delighted with our volunteering experience, we leave Minami Alps in the late morning until the heavy downpours of Typhoon 20 calm down. Past the Kofu basin, we begin a long climb, passing first in a few deserted villages and then in a forest path lurking with dead leaves, supposed to be closed in prevention of typhoons. The fog makes the atmosphere really special and we are relieved to finally find the pass. A few dozen kilometers of bumps and a tunnel (not very reassuring by bike but well lit) and we finally reach Lake Fujikawaguchi! Mount Fuji is well hidden behind the thick cloud ceiling…

Day in the mist…

Day 9: Fujikawaguchi-Hadone (70km)

At dawn, on the roof of our hostel, we discover the Snow-capped Fuji. It’s sublime! Until the early afternoon, this landscape will captivate our winding roads towards the second Lake Yamanaka, bordered by a very pleasant bike path.

Fuji here you are!

After a good break, we set the throttle to Hadone where our American hosts Warmshowers Rich and Joan are waiting for us. The descent is really dizzying (often 15%) and we are not dissatisfied with doing so. We arrive at night and spend a great evening chatting bike, Japan, work, etc.

Our hosts and their two adorable cats

Day 10: Hadone-Miura (60km)

Departing 9am from Hadone, we follow a fairly convenient canal to the bay. The marine atmosphere of the Pacific Ocean is exotic after more mountainous days. Surfers are very numerous although the waves are quite rare! As we approach Miura, we choose to use the centre of the peninsula rather than the coast. It’s a bit hilly and full of tunnels that fortunately have wide sidewalks. The weather is getting worse and we are getting lost in Miura because we have not properly placed the gps coordinates of our host. Fortunately, Stephen eventually locates us and tells us the way forward. Relieved, we arrive at night and enjoy an excellent meal prepared by his partner Kyoko.

Day 11: Miura-Chiba (80km)

We will remember this 25 October for a long t
ime… It’s rainy day in Miura, and the sky doesn’t pretend. Waterspouts and gusts of wind but we have no choice: we have to reach Chiba so we don’t have to risk missing our plane the next day. We put on our k-ways, our rain pants and let’s go. After 10km, soaked to the bone, we take the ferry to cross Tokyo Bay. 40min later it’s left for 70km of non-stop shower. Sometimes the rain stops but it starts again and floods appear on the outskirts of Chiba. We take refuge years a department store and finally arrive at their destination at 6pm. Aya and her son Kai welcome us, then Yujio comes home from work. They are charming and especially experienced cyclists: South America, Central Asia, their photo books make you dream. And the meal we also share!

Photo stage under a great sun with Aya, Yuji and Kai already as on wheels

Day 12: Chiba-Narita (50km)

Last day, we have to close the loop. The temptation was great to put our bikes in the car trunk of Yujio towards the airport but we decide to rally the last 40 kilometers on our mounts. The road is pretty good, apart from the dangerous tunnels on the outskirts of Narita. 1pm, we have 3 hours to disassemble, pack our bicycles to check in and then board for Los Angeles!

Interview with Kazu, from Nakagomi Orchards (résumé)

We finished two great weeks of volunteering at Minami-Alps, joined in our daily tasks by 3 Frenchies, an Australian and Singaporeans. From the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji to Typhoon 19, including days of weeding, we didn’t get bored! As a review, we wanted to know a little more about the activity of the orchard and its current issues with its manager, our host, Kazu.

What is the history of the orchard ? What were the milestones? The dates? When did you start to work in this place and to manage it ?

History ? I don’t know. Maybe some thousands and thousands years. 

In Japan, it’s opposite to United States. We were always here. Our parents, grandparents, great great parents, always were here. 

So it’s a family farm. Your parents had this farm and they already had peaches, apples…?

No. Talking about the fruit growing in Japan as a mainstream, the fruit growing started in mostly 1960s. Some people still doing before that. It was 70, 80, 90 years ago. But as a mainstream, fruit growing started in mostly in 1960s.Before, people weren’t growing fruits, they were growing rice and then mulberry trees. Mulberry trees to feed the silk worms. But what happened was in 1974. China and Japan got that official diplomacy. And then Chinese ships started to go in Japan and trade. That forced Japanese farmers to stop growing silk worms. So mostly they changed activities in the 70s and 80s. People have started to grow more and more fruits and also Japanese have started eating fruits. They liked it. But then in late 80s while people were growing lots of fruits the price went down. That was international, in many country. Then we were forced to start fruit picking, like a leisure business.

Break time for Kazu and volunteers !

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Japanese atmospheres

Following its reputation, Japan has enchanted us as it is full of mystical facets, endearing people and harmonious landscapes. Here are some atmospheres gleaned by Cléa to try to convey the flavors of our many Japanese discoveries.

As soon as we arrive in Kyoto, we visit the covered market of Nishiki, very different from those encountered in Southeast Asia, animated by commercial announcements and exchanges between employees across the shelves. In addition to the ubiquitous plastic packaging and typical Japanese meals (suchis, bentos, skewers…), it is above all the sounds of the place that immediately put us in the mood!

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Very quickly we leave the urban areas towards the forests. There, among the huge resinous and their Arachnean tenants, only the chimes of villages, the wind and the streams pierce the silence.

In forests in the Japanese Alps

In Suwa, we discover the hot springs and the associated public bath. A geyser installed behind the tourist building just a stone’s throw from the lake, spits out every hour and a half its water in front of onlookers.

Announcement and show of the geyser at Lake Suwa

While we have often camped in the open countryside, we have also ventured into the city. At least to try local bars that broadcast the Rugby World Cup! Like this Japan-Samoa, on October 5th…

Japan rugby match, with a win!

The train, as in every country where we have been able to use it, is also of a special sound character. The villages are announced regularly but we still need time to locate ourselves. Fortunately the controller, very attentive, checks our destination and tells us the fare that will have to be paid at the arrival station!

On board the Minobu Express

Finally, of course, the temples that are innumerable all over Japan. Their architecture is splendid and the rituals that take place there are also impressive. Here is a ceremony that we attend by chance during our visit to Fujinomiya.

Ceremony at Fujisan Sengen Temple in Fujinomiya

Passengers in Vietnam

For this ninth video episode, we’ve put together the best of our Vietnamese adventures. From Ninh Binh with friends to Hanoi, via the island of Cat Ba, the roads were hectic but still charming! Not to mention the highlight of the show: the packaging of our cycles before we fly to… Japan 🙂 Let’s go!

Border lines

Borders are an inexhaustible topic of discussion for all long-haul travellers. Before we left and since we were in Southeast Asia, we read and re-read dozens of tips, tricks, warnings about this or that change of country. So here, after more than two months on the bike, in the chronological sense, our humble experience on the subject. Scoop in the key!

Singapore🇸🇬-Malaysia🇱🇷: Easy busy!

  • Place of passage: Johor Bahru
  • Date: June 18, 2019
  • Visa cost: €0
  • Duration: 30 days

The approach route is quite simple, we double dozens of trucks at a standstill and then we put in line with scooters and motorcycles. It rolls at pace to emigration and then all of a sudden everyone accelerates on the huge bridge 2-4 lanes, we do not make the smarts by bike. Malay immigration is quick and simple. A little intimidating as a bike trip but you get away with it.

Malaysia🇱🇷 Thailand🇹🇭: Quiet Emile 🙂

  • Place of passage: Sungai Kolok
  • Date: June 30, 2019
  • Visa cost: €0
  • Duration: 30 days

Despite its reputation, this border was a banality for us. We park the bikes, make the exit of Malaysia in a first building and then the entrance in a second a few meters further. Nothing sorcerer and no incident related to religious tensions or our means of transport.

Thailand🇹🇭-Cambodia🇰🇭: The Wild West

  • Place of passage: Poipet
  • Date: July 26, 2019
  • Visa cost: $30
  • Duration: 30 days
  • To provide: 1 photo

In Poipet, the “trouble” begins. We are asked to pay US$30 to enter Cambodia except that we do not have any, that no bank offers directly back and that we have Bahts to sell. We therefore choose to try the option of paying in Thai currency with the rate of the day: $30 equivalent to 900 THB. But when we arrived at the visa office, the official did not lose sight of it: it was 1
200 THB, no less. We insist on 900 and then wait 1/4 of an hour before the official comes to ask us 100 thB more for his pocket probably … In the end we paid 1000 THB per person while we were asked 1200 when we arrived. It’s always $5 saved but a small victory for corruption.

Cambodia🇰🇭-Laos🇱🇦: The tenacious bakchich

  • Place of passage: Nongnokkhiene
  • Date: 12 August 2019
  • Visa cost: $30
  • Duration: 30 days
  • To provide: 1 photo

At the first counter, which looks serious, we fill out the form and pay $30 official and posted. At the second wicket, two officials announce dagy: “$2 each for stamp”. We categorically refuse, Cléa pretends to call the Embassy and then explains to them with composure that no, we will not pay their bakchich. We wait (no luck for them, it rains and we are in no hurry) and the youngest of the soldiers finally gives in after 15min: visas stamped in pocket, and this time without concession!

Laos🇱🇦-China🇨🇳: Game over

  • Place of application: Ventiane then Luang Prabang
  • Date: 19 and 26 August 2019
  • Visa cost: $30 (from Laos)
  • Duration: 30 days
  • To provide: scanned passport, current visa scanned, 1 photo, detailed itinerary, hotel reservation, A/R plane tickets, 3 latest bank statements, proof of insurance…

Before we even left, we were not reassured by the Chinese visa… Many friends have been denied their applications in third countries (from Iran for example) for obscure geopolitical reasons.

In Vientiane, we make a first attempt: in the hustle and bustle of the Embassy, the official examines our file and coldly announces “you don’t work in Laos, no visa for China“. We ask him when this measure was “2 months.” Disgruntled (we were not aware of this condition, mentioned on any official website), we leave empty-handed and ask the French embassy who refuses to help us. We are trying to call the Chinese Embassy to find out more: to no avail.

In Luang Prabang, 1 week later, we retry and arrive in front of closed doors and a terse statement: the Consulate is exceptionally closed this Monday, August 26. Having no assurance that it will reopen the next day, and knowing that the application is processed in 3 working days minimum with a local festival interspersed, we finally abandon this project to enter Yunnan in September.

We finally chose to head northeast, to the Houaphan region and then Vietnam. Recently, it is possible to apply for an e-visa for land borders, in this case Na Meo. In 48 hours, we received a positive response! Fingers crossed to make sure everything goes smoothly at the border and we can’t wait to discover this new country with a thousand and one facets by bike!

Laos🇱🇦 Vietnam🇻🇳: J-10!

  • Place of request: Online
  • Date: 09 September 2019
  • Visa cost: $25 (e-visa)
  • Duration: 30 days
  • To provide: scanned passport, 1 photo scanned

Resources

Eating time (but without plastics)

During the trip, we balance between cooking by our own means and small roadside restaurants.

On a daily basis

In general: tea, oatmeal (or biscuit if you can’t find it) and bananas for breakfasts. Sylvain loves these little red fruit-scented milk bricks to go with it all. Lunch and dinner in local “boui boui” are cheaper than shopping in supermarkets. Almost everything is cooked there the same day and sometimes directly in front of our eyes. Furthermore, we discover flavors and tolerances that we didn’t know each other.

Taro doughnut after a local soup

We sometimes trust “guides” or websites (like TripAdvisor), with some nice finds!

Spring rolls in Siem Reap in a restaurant supporting local projects

Another solution is to use our gas stove. Not easy for preparing dishes with local ingredients (and not having the utensils for), we find ourselves buying ingredients known in Europe, which is more expensive, not local and has a bad carbon impact. We therefore reserve these meals for exceptional situations and mainly for pasta dishes. On the other hand, we find local vegetables at the markets, because in small towns and villages they are unaccustomed to selling vegetables and fruit outside the production season. It’s pretty convenient and it avoids having to hang around the market with our seasonal fruit and vegetable calendar 😉

Market vegetables

The third solution is the on-the-go meal in the market. The problem of meals in night markets and floating markets is plastic. Everything is pre-packaged and then over-packaged (plastic bags), often individually. It is difficult to make the seller understand that you do not want to be served in disposable packaging. Their reflexes are very fast, more than ours at first.
So we get into the habit of watching every move to avoid ending up with a useless plastic bag.

Dried fish and packaged spices, Vientiane market

Zero waste solutions

Buy bulk, bring our containers (in plastic for a bicycle weight issue).
But in the markets, few stalls still sell in bulk. And there are almost no bulk stores except in the shopping malls of the capitals crossed, which does not allow us to make regular “refills” but just a one-time purchase of a reasonable weight.

Drinks issue

We no longer buy plastic bottles and fill our bottles at the water fountains available in some guesthouses or at the tap after passing through our filter pump. It’s tedious (2 minutes per bottle) but it seems to us the best alternative, much better even than hygienic solutions like Micropur. We stop from time to time to drink an iced tea served in a large plastic glass of course….

Iced green tea, ready for a bike ride!

So I insist that we take care of them in order to reuse them almost infinitely. My glass has already crossed two countries and we have acquired bamboo straws!

However, even when we drink iced tea in a real restaurant, we are sometimes served in plastic glasses again.
Never let your guard down!!

Plastic Lobby 1 – Cycloclock 0

Hard to convince

I defend my point of view on the drastic reduction of our plastic consumption with maximum reuse of containers or utensils collected inadvertently. It is important to clearly separate your needs and desires throughout the trip to determine what margin of error we are willing to accept in our waste production.
My arguments sometimes seem futile because plastic packaging is embedded in the daily lives of the inhabitants looking for everything practical, ready, all consumable. But I think it’s important to be vigilant about our consumption of plastic, cans and glass bottles and pay attention to our wastes. In particular, we try not to throw anythinh in the garbage cans of isolated areas, but in more crowded areas where the garbage will be picked up by trucks and transported, we hope, to a collection centre or even sorting.

Wall painting promoting waste collection in Vientiane