Posts Tagged ‘roads’

Cycling through the Gobi Desert – an overview

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Most of you reading this will not even be contemplating cycling through the Gobi, yet there may be a few ‘adventurous souls’ (read: crazy people) out there who are now tempted by the idea. Not cos it’s easy or fun, but because of the challenge involved. So here is a quick overview of the route and our journey to give you an idea. If you want more detailed info, please contact us directly.

“The Gobi measures over 1,610 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south. The desert is widest in the west, along the line joining the Lake Bosten and the Lop Nor (87°-89° east). It occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 km2 (500,002 sq mi)[2] in area as of 2007, making it fifth largest in the world and Asia’s largest. Much of the Gobi is not sandy but is covered with bare rock.” (From Wikipedia)

Cross the Chinese border at Erlian by train or jeep and you will arrive in Zamyn Uud, Mongolia.

Zamyn Uud is a well stocked town and you’ll be able to buy vegetables, chocolate, fresh bread and vegetables, toiletries, tuna, milk, fresh cream cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, sausage meat, tins of beef meat and of course water. In the building left of the train station there are ATMs and  a mobicom shop where you can buy sim cards and phone credit. There are a number of hotels, not much of a water supply for showers though, and places to eat. In fact coming from China we were pleased to see food that we hadn’t seen for ages, like cheese and pasta sauce. We stocked up with 8 days of food here and 30 litres of water. Leaving Zamyn Uud you’ll be on tarmac, however after the first kilometre it rapidly turns to sand and dirt track. It is very flat and quiet though.

There is a new road being built all the way to UB, and you will see it as you go. It is not sealed yet (June 2011) and ends abruptly or has big mounds of sand and dirt every few hundred metres. However it does go all the way to UB, so you can use it as a guide.

Ulaan Uul (102km north) – make sure you change the bearing on your compass in order to find this town. We missed it completely as we were headed for Sainshand and we heard reports of other missing it too and having to get a lift! There are NO road signs or markings of any kind and people you ask give very vague waves of the hands in one or more directions. Ulaan Uul is a place to stock up on water and food supplies, and fuel if you need it. If you do miss it and end up going to the west then you will see a small settlement about 20km after you’d hoped to see Ulaan Uul and you’ll be by the new road. You may be able to buy water from the people living there, we did, but it depends on their supply. They didn’t have any fuel (petrol) though.

If you see signs outside yurts or makeshift buildings saying ‘XOON’ that means food, so you could stop for something to eat and some milk tea if you needed to.

As you approach Sainshand (100km north of Ulaan Uul) you’ll reach a 20km stretch of new road that is tarmaced. It goes up and down and is a nice respite for the bumpy road. You can’t see Sainshand as you approach as it is just over the top of a ridge and well hidden from sight. The climb up is really quite steep, however there is a road going off to the left that is more gradual and takes you a more direct route in Sainshand too! Sainshand is the provincial capital and a strategic town historically and now. It has lots of small shops and supermarkets so you’ll be able to get whatever you need there. We can highly recommend the Dornogobi Hotel, although it’s not cheap, it has hot water and all mod cons – ask to put your bikes in one of their garages. The restaurant is great and has a menu in English too. As you enter the town you’ll see Best Restaurant on the right hand side. This is also good and the staff speak some English. Good mobile phone reception and wifi in the hotel. ATMS here too. Watch out for power cuts!

The road out of Sainshand is very sandy and bumpy. Tsaagandorv is the next stop, about 110km north of Sainshand. This town appears after you climb up and down for a while and then cross the railway track. The small centre has various shops and a butchers where you can buy big hunks of fresh meat. You can buy most things here and the locals are very helpful and friendly, if a little surprised! Couldn’t see anywhere to stay here. Good mobile phone reception.

About 20km on from there is Tsomog, a very small settlement that has a shop. It is just after the mine/industrial site. The shops sells fresh bread some veg, water, coke, chocolate etc and the girls there speak some English. You’ll see a sign for Ulaanbatar saying 300km as you leave. After this a you climb for a while, the the route is very up and down, not steep just rolling.

About 40km before Choyr you will see the new road like a scar across the landscape. Eventually you’ll see the tarmac road going up a reasonably steep hill. Once you reach the top, Choyr is about 6km from there. At the petrol stations turn left up the hill and follow the road into town. It’s not a very nice looking town but there is a nice hotel by the station. It’s not marked but ask and people will help you, particularly the kids as they can speak English. There are no showers or hit water in this town form what we could find. There is an ATM at the station and good mobile coverage. There are shops and places to eat.

From Choyr the new road goes all the way to Ulaanbatar, 230km north. The first 160km is all flat or mostly flat. There are several very small towns along the way where you can restock and get water or food, although not all shops were open. Then the following 30km is up and downs some spectacular hills. Not too bad though, and the scenery is a welcome sight after the desert. Once you reach the military compound at the top of a hill you’ll see a town to your right and UB is ahead of you. It is pretty much all downhill to UB for the next 30km.

The road into UB is busy and trucks and cars don’t have much idea about giving bikes room, that said they are ok and most were pleased to see us. As we got nearer the centre into the heavy traffic we found that behaving as if you were car was the best tactic – just sit in the centre of your lane and stay behind the car in front. The traffic moves slowly so this was fine. We wore our reflective jackets though and used our bells a lot, particularly for the buses, to let them know we were there. Plus we have a mirror each. Head for Peace Avenue to find beer, nice food and guesthouses! Look for the big blue sky tower, shaped like a half moon at the top.

Relax and enjoy!

Oh and by the way…  in May the wind is very bad and blows constantly. Apparently in June it is better. Some recommend going at the end of winter, early spring as the ground is still hard and easier to cycle on, however the weather can be very changeable and you’ll still get extreme temperatures and snow. In summer it is very hot, despite the Gobi being called a cold desert, it’s still flippin’ hot by most people’s standards!

On the whole route, there are no bikes shops or places to buy anything vaguely bike related – come prepared! Don’t leave your stuff unattended, possession is 9 tenths of the law here in Mongolia and a handful of people think it’s ok help themselves. That said, the people are lovely and will help you out without any fuss!

Top Tip – Bring a toothbrush for the zips on your tent – the sand trashes everything and you’ll need to brush your zips each day if you want to keep your tent doors working! And bring baby wipes… need I say more!

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All the way here…

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Leaving Ranong we set off in the rain, donning waterproof trousers for the first time in months, in the hope that my cycling shorts would not get wet (therefore avoiding chafing issues!). Being so hot I decided to roll them up and make them waterproof shorts…

We cycled along, the road was very new and took us up and up a winding route, with the water pouring down the gutters and drains like small rivers as we rode. Reaching the top we then whizzed down the hill and passed a sign saying ‘Scenic Area’ – with the cloud so low and the rain and spray so dense, it was hard to see anything scenic at all, but I’m sure it was a great view! We both enjoy cycling in the rain, it’s very refreshing and quite good fun, not too different from stomping in puddles with wellies on!

We stopped along the road side for a Beng Beng and a cheese sandwich made with the little bread and cheese we had left – felt like old times, cheese sarnies by the side of the road in the pouring rain.

The road continued to go up and down but through very pretty, leafy, lush areas, before we came to Kra Buri. I zoomed ahead and then realised I had lost Chris. I waited for a while then turned the bike around and went back to see if he was ok – probably stopped to chat to someone. But no he had a puncture. After fixing the puncture it was about 4pm, so we went to get a hot meal and come up with a plan. We decided to stay in Kra buri and went to Pannika Resort, which is a small place off the highway with little ‘bungalow’ rooms, that look like gingerbread houses from the outside. The lady who runs it has lots of cycle tourers staying with her, it’s in one of the Dutch guidebooks I think, so she was used to people turning up on bikes and spoke great English, making us feel very welcome.

Chris promptly fell asleep and then later we watched Bridge over the River Kwai on the laptop – we are going to Kanchanaburi, where the bridge was built, Chris had never seen the film so we downloaded it to watch.

Acts of kindness and a disaster

Next day we had breakfast, which ended up being free and the lady gave us a bag of sugared mango strips to take on our journey to Chumpon – so kind!

The road was flat compared to yesterday and we speeded along, once again with the threat of rain. We reached the Kra of Isthmus which is where the border with Burma meets Thailand and you can see Burma across the river. We stopped briefly as it was now raining quite heavily!

The rain cleared however and we stopped to have a small rest near a house. As we were leaving the lady of the house came out and gave us a bag of mangostine fruit, with a smile and then rode off on her scooter. The fruit lasted us days and is similiar to lychees.

We were making good progress, Chris was ahead of me slightly on the fast roads and as i approached an Army checkpoint (for vehicles, drugs testing) I smiled and prepared to carry on through. One of the solider signalled to me to stop and pull over, slightly bewildered I looked around and saw that Chris was already sat with two Army guys  -  they had invited us to join them for coffee! I sat down and had a cup of tea ( not being a big coffee drinker). We chatted to them for 10-15 mins, Chris smoked a cigarette or two with them and we explained about our trip before heading off again. Chris has said how nice the coffee was and before we left, the army man gave us a big bag of coffee to take with us!  What an amzing day this was turning out to be, people everywhere were so friendly and welcoming.

As we set off I knew i needed to stop somewhere to go to the loo. Public toilets are very uncommon in Thailand, so I usually just dive into the bushes, behind a tree or something. So I said to Chris that I would pull over and go now, but that i would catch him up. After a quick wee I hopped back on the bike and pedalled to catch him up. As I came round the bend in the road I saw an accident up ahead. My first thought was that Chris was involved, and I felt the panic rise in my stomach, however as i got close I saw that it was two vehicles. I looked ahead and couldn’t see Chris ahead of the accident, he must have got further along the road. The two cars (4×4 style) were right across the road, smashed into each other, with glass and debris everywhere. I stopped my bike and got off. As I did the driver of the vehicle most badly damaged, staggered out of his car through the broken windscreen and I saw his face pouring with blood. Chris carries our main first aid kit, but i carry a small one too. I quickly opened my bags and found it, my hands shaking as i did. I wanted to help, and having done two first aid courses I knew the basics, but it’s still the first time I’ve actually had to use it. I found a large swab bandage, good for applying to a wound with pressure to stop the bleeding, but i had no gloves and little else except plasters and wipes. As i turned around i saw that there was a passenger in the car too, the driver opened the door and I saw  a young woman, conscious but she fell forward and was helped out of the car.  I could see she was badly hurt, her head and eye was badly bruised, swollen and bleeding. Several Thai people had stopped by to help and they took her to the back of a pick up truck and lay her down there, with a pillow for her head. I passed the large bandage to one of the people helping and pointed for them to help the woman. But with virtually no Thai language other than words for food and greetings, I wasn’t really able to explain much and there was so much blood – it was hard to tell where her injuries were. The injured man got in beside her, obviously in shock and his nose still pouring with blood.  They lay her on her back and so I gestured for them to turn her on her side into something of a recovery position, and mimed breathing and pointed to her mouth, they turn her on her side but I don’t know if they understood about her airway and to check she was breathing as they travelled. Then before i had chance to do anything they sped off. The nearest hospital was 30km north, same place we were heading, I could only hope they would get there and that she would be ok, hoping that it all looked worse than it was.

The man in the other vehicle was fine and I stopped to ask him if he was hurt, but he motioned that he was ok. His vehicle’s air bag had deployed but the others weren’t so lucky. I cycled away, feeling a bit wobbly myself. The roads here are very good, fast and wide but this road has many sweeping bends. They are blind bends, yet the Thai regularly overtake on a bend, at speed, and I can only think that that is what happen here. I was cautious as i continued and stayed close to  the left side of the hard shoulder, watching the traffic in my mirror constantly. I really wanted to catch up with Chris now, but with stopping to help, he was probably quite ahead of me. With my adrenaline still pumping I pedalled hard, going about 26km an hour,  and caught him up, relieved to see his relaxed, smiling face – he has stopped to wait for me. I told him what had happened and that i was worried that the girl might stop breathing and no-one would know what to do, maybe I could have done more to help, but it all happened so quickly? We stopped for some food and a drink, before continuing so that I could calm down a little.

As we got closer to Chumpon the  roads were straighter and busier and it was like entering a city. At the lights we saw a monkey on the back of a coconut truck, he didn’t look very happy.

As we continued I saw several hospitals and was glad, I knew that the injured couple would be there somewhere, being looked after.

In the hussle and bustle of Chumpon we looked for some accommodation. As we did the heavens opened and we got soaked in under a minute. It sure does rain heavy here! We found accommodation and I was relieved to stop to sleep after such an eventful day!

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Hello mis stairrrrr! (1/4/10)

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The next morning we had a slow start and Ryo was keen to get going and headed off – after 2 days with us, going at Liz pace i think he was keen to make the most of the cool temperature of the morning and get some kms done. We hoped that we would catch up with him later in the day.

east java

Now on the main highway to Surabya, the traffic was very heavy with dirty trucks, demon driving coaches, bemos and scooters, old rickshaws and slow bicycles. The noise, dirt and plumes of black smoke do not make for very pleasant cycling conditions. Everyone beeps when they overtake, to tell the person ahead that they are overtaking, so continuous beeping alongside the roar of the traffic and ‘hello mistairrrs’ is quite full on. Many of the trucks and cars exhausts fumes are black and i hold my breath as i cycle through it, concerned for my lungs! It’s pretty busy and you need to concentrate a lot, oh and did i mention that the road quality varies, with whole stretches covered in bumps and potholes – fun!

I remember my brother commenting on Marc Beaumont’s BBC documentary (cycled round the world in record time) saying that he spent too much time talking about the condition of the road which was a bit boring, but i can see why he did. It’s the only thing you can think about when you are on a bumpy road, it’s all consuming… thoughts like ”why don’t they resurface it? how did it get to be so bumpy, how long will it last, I hope my panniers don’t come off, why don’t they build some proper roads, ah a smooth bit, oh no more bumps…” rattle round and round your head.

On the upside, lots of people wave at us and smile as they pass us. People on the back of trucks wave and smile, getting very excited to see us, especially when we wave back. Bus loads of school kids wave and shout to us, bursting into fits of giggles when we reply to their questions ‘How are you?’ ‘Bagus!’ (good). The best one is the groups of young punks, all dressed in back riding the back of trucks looking too cool for school who then unexpectedly give us big grins and ask us questions. Plus we see so much either side of the road too. So it’s quite a crazy, albeit interesting, cycle ride with all that going on!

kids swimming in river

We reached Probolinggo and stopped for lunch. It was really hot and we had cycled about 60km. Probolinggo is a busy, bustling town, not very pretty and quite dirty and dusty (from what we saw). After a spot of supermarket shopping, a barrage of enquiries from everyone and some unsuccessful searching for accommodation, we finally found Hotel Bromo and checked in. I was hot, dirty and tired by now, and to be honest in a bit of a bad mood, feeling short tempered and in need of some peace and quiet. Having camped with an audience for the last 3 nights, I just wanted a bed, a fan, some privacy and a chance to wash some clothes – even a small basic a hotel room gives you that. We did a heap of washing, with a scrubbing brush, some soap and cold water, then strung up a washing line in the room and hung everything up to dry – ah clean clothes. It was nice to shut out the world for a bit too and have some time to myself, nice as it is to have so many friendly encounters, a girl needs her space! After some food it was time for some sleep.

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