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Painful oBike Ride in Taitung, Taiwan

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
– Ernest Hemingway

While I took a break from Taiwan’s capital city, I decided I’d take a coastal bike ride during my stay in Taitung on the east coast. This was the farthest south I had been in Taiwan and I wanted to see the landscape and breathe some fresh air.

taitung train

Old Taitung Train Station (now an art village)

This is the part where things didn’t go as planned because I once again did not do enough research. I checked some maps to see about riding a bike from the center of Taitung along the coast–there’s a large stretch of park to the north and I figured there’d be plenty of bike paths to enjoy a view of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. I also figured it’d be easy to rent a bike, just as it was when I visited Hualien to took a long bike ride along the coast.

My hotel had free bikes for guests and I was told to help myself to one should I desire a ride. I found no staff available after check-in, but I was able to contact them via LINE. My questions included “Is there a lock for the bike?” and “Do you have any bikes with adjustable seats because all of these are much too short for me?” The answer to both questions was “no.”

obike taitung

Finding the oBike and contemplating whether to download the app

As I certainly wasn’t about to kill my knees riding a bike with a seat that was at least five inches too low, I wandered around in search of a bike rental shop. It seemed that all the shops opened much too late in the day (this was early morning) or only rented to guests of hotels attached. I was directed to the oBike, the bike-sharing program of Taitung that is also available in Singapore and Malaysia (and now Taipei).

Unlike the lovable YouBikes in Taipei, oBike does not have a specific station. It uses an app to unlock and lock the bikes and users can leave the bikes anywhere. After throwing down a $30 deposit, I was ready to take the bike for a test ride.

taitung resort

Mata Indigenous Cultural Resort

The first thing I noticed was that the bike is fixed gear, which isn’t so great for someone who’s at least used to a three-speed public bike on the flat roads of Taipei. “Well,” I thought, “at least the coast is mostly flat.” I regret that thought.

The second thought I had as I began riding the quiet streets of Taitung was “Damn, this bike is heavy.” That is an understatement. It felt like riding a two-ton behemoth…through wet cement. These bikes weigh about twice as much as the YouBikes, and the YouBikes are not at all light. And yet, I figured it’d be fine for a leisurely ride along the coast.

taitung obike

First stop was at this swimming pool

That’s when I discovered that the bike path was a lane along the highway set a decent distance from the coast. Sure, there were a few rest stops where I could take in the view, but it was a long ride with trucks, cars, and motorbikes and absolutely no shade in sight–did I mention it was hot and the sun beat down on me the entire way? I’m proud to say I remembered to cover myself with plenty of sunscreen before heading out on the ride.taitung mountains

The ride from the old train station in Taitung began leisurely–the traffic in the small southern city was light and the drivers obeyed traffic laws (it made me wonder what the hell is wrong with drivers in the rest of Taiwan).

I forced to take Highway 11 over Taitung Forest Park, and that’s when I realized that this was not the ride I had expected. I turned off before crossing the Zhonghua Bridge as I search for a more bike-friendly path. I took in the views from the turn-off–a man-made lake and some shade to relax for a few minutes before heading back to the road.

zhonghua bridge taitung

View from the bridge

As I looked at the map, the one-lane highway I was on appeared much closer to the shore, but the view was entirely obscured. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for the sun blinding me.

taitung golden cock

Why is there a giant golden rooster on the highway?

I rode for a while before seeing a turn-off for Xiao Yehliu. I figured I’d have a look because I had already been to Yehliu Geopark in northern Taiwan and it was beautiful. The problem with this coastal viewpoint was the lack of bike trails and additional oBikes–I was a bit worried that I might lock the bike, walk around a bit, and return to find I had no ride back to town. As the main lookout point wasn’t all that impressive (certainly not as impressive at Yehliu), I didn’t feel like I missed out on much.

xiao yehliu taitung

The rocky coast at Xiao Yehliu

I continued riding in the heat because I thought sooner or later I’d find an actual bike path along the coast and be able to enjoy the scenery of southern Taiwan. As it was, I could admire the mountains to the west–the views kept my tired legs from giving out.taitung view

I finally stopped at an aboriginal rest stop with some sculptures and vendors. Most importantly, I found shade. Despite sweating profusely, I decided it would be wise to attempt to reapply some sunscreen to prevent my skin from turning to bacon.

taitung sculptures

Aboriginal sculptures

After a short break while admiring the sculptures and scenery, I headed out on the road yet again–there were beautiful mountains and a rocky coast ahead of me that I wanted to reach. Unfortunately, I then noticed that the road took a long, gradual descent toward those scenic views.

taitung view

I want to ride out to those mountains

“No,” I thought, “There’s not a chance in hell I could ever get this two-ton bike back up the hill and manage to make it back to Taitung.”

I turned around and headed back to town where I could take some other local roads to see some sights (though I was too exhausted to appreciate much of the scenery at that point). It was time to find lunch, which consisted of noodles across the street from my hotel, and then take a nap in the comfort of air conditioning.

taitung ship

I don’t know why this was on the roadside

A bike ride around Taitung and even the surrounding area would have been a great experience if I had planned ahead and rented a decent bike. Public bike-share programs are not intended for 20-plus-mile bike rides.

Biking through Bagan

You fools who ask what god is
should ask what life is instead.
-Ko Un, Asking the Way

Most people see Bagan in a day or two while on tours through Myanmar. Due to my careless monetary planning (and bank foul-ups), I got five days in the land of pagodas.

On my first day, I rented an e-bike as I had to take a long ride to find the bank that supposedly would exchange my US dollars or possibly accept my debit card (there was another branch closer to the hotel that I didn’t see until my final day). That day I learned just what the tour books meant by bumpy roads in Myanmar. I thought about how people use GoPro cameras and what an adventure the ride through the dusty streets of Bagan would be to watch. Alas, I have no such camera nor any device to mount a camera on  a bike.bagan pagodas

After breaking down far from my destination after taking a wrong turn on one of the four main roads in Bagan, I found the Nyaung U Airport Hotel. The friendly staff helped call the people I rented from to come fix the e-bike–they also offered me a place to rest and some water.bagan pagodas

Later in the day, I met Erin, an American living in Ireland who was on an extended journey through Asia. She had similar banking problems as I had. She also chatted with me while I waited again for help with my broken-down e-bike. After I was ready to go again, we headed around to find a spot for sunset. As we ran low on time, we stopped at the first pagoda with stairs to a terrace for slightly obstructed view.

For the next two days I rented mountain bikes, which were quite a bit easier to ride through the sand-paved roads that branched off those four main roads toward the pagodas and villages. I turned down whichever path that passed for a road caught my attention, sometimes with beautiful results.Bagan Pagodas

I headed out early in the day to avoid the intense midday heat, along with the crowds, though I usually stayed out well past lunch to see a bit more. I rode out again to watch the sunset from various points in the area (my favorite was from a restaurant at the end of Kayay St. overlooking the Irrawaddy River in New Bagan, probably because it was the clearest sunset of my stay as well as the least crowded).irrawaddy sunset

I avoided riding bikes much after sunset as the streets are poorly lit within the towns, even with my bike light that I was grateful to have remembered to pack as bike rentals do not include such necessities for nighttime riding. Even walking at night wasn’t the easiest and required me to carry that little LED light as a safety precaution.

It’s easy to fall in love with Myanmar while riding a bike–the moderate pace in the heat as the sun gleams off the ancient pagodas, making them appear golden, brightens the spirit no matter how difficult the situation may be (or even if you’ve managed to screw up your travel plans). The expanse of the plain with the endless pagodas is as beautiful as any scene I’ve witnessed in my travels, and finding the quiet perches atop some of the less visited pagodas only improves the view.

Pagodas sans tourists

Pagodas sans tourists

Just like the e-bike I managed to break down, but only once after sunset when I got a flat tire and the front wheel locked up–it was only a ten-minute ride back to my hotel, but I couldn’t even walk the bike back with a locked wheel. Fortunately, multiple locals stopped to help me out–one tried to fix the bike, another called the people I rented from, and two more offered help that I no longer needed (I couldn’t imagine people anywhere else being more friendly and helpful).

A pagoda different from all the rest. No others had animal sculptures outside

A pagoda different from all the rest. No others had animal sculptures outside

On my first day of biking around with an aimless agenda, I took turns onto the sandy roads leading away from the sparse tourist crowds. At one pagoda, a family showed me the food they were preparing for breakfast–they even invited me to join them in a little while. I had just finished a huge hotel breakfast not long before, and I wasn’t sure about cleanliness of food prepared along the road, so I politely declined. I was, however, tempted by the spicy sauce they prepared.

It looked and smelled delicious. I was tempted to return for dinner

It looked and smelled delicious. I was tempted to return for dinner

As I rode toward what I thought were interesting non-pagoda structures, I encountered a new friend on a solo bike ride through Bagan. Klara, who runs a tour organization in Prague (Prague Extravaganza Free Tour), joined me for the rest of the day on our dusty journey through pagodas and vistas.

I was checking out this abandoned building before I met my new friend

I was checking out this abandoned building before I met my new friend

If it wasn’t for Klara, I might not have known how to get to Myuk Guni and reach the top terrace to watch the sun. She led the way for sunset, which became my alternate destination for sunrise the following day.

We rode around Bagan aimlessly–through various streets and paths, occasionally walking the bikes through the soft, deep sand. We had time to see everything that wasn’t on the official tours, though we still stopped at the larger temples.

View from Myuk Guni before sunset

View from Myuk Guni before sunset

We parted ways after our sunset view with other tourists at Myuk Guni. It wasn’t until my final day in Bagan that I ran into Klara again–I was riding an e-bike past the market on the way back from Nyaung U when I spotted her on a bike in the opposite direction. I shouted her name to get her attention. We ended up having lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in the market before she had to head back to the airport.

Road through Bagan

Road through Bagan

We shared adventures from the previous two days–the advantage of digital cameras. When I mentioned bringing something back to share with my coworkers, she suggested buying a huge bag of tamarind wafers that handed out everywhere in Myanmar (how could I go wrong with such a simple gift?).

The rest of my time in Bagan was spent semi-aimless riding with stops at nearly every pagoda I came across. I met plenty of tourists who wandered through some pagodas with me, but none who seemed to be headed in the same direction afterwards.

View from Myuk Guni

View from Myuk Guni

I didn’t mind riding alone through the sand of the town–it provided time to reflect on my travels and take in the atmosphere at my own pace. It’s the same with hiking–quiet contemplation and the ability to go faster or slower depending solely on my mood. I was able to ride down whichever side streets I wanted and admire the construction of the local bamboo houses, as well as get lost in the aisles of the Nyaung U market as I searched for souvenirs with my leftover kyat on the final day.

This bike served me well, and deserved a Mandalay beer afterwards

This bike served me well, and deserved a Mandalay beer afterwards

On my final day of biking (I rented the e-bike on the last day in Myanmar because I was too tired), I ended my day with a stop at an open-air restaurant just on the edge of New Bagan at the opposite side of the town from my hotel. At this point I was just looking to relax with a cold beer–I wanted to try Mandalay Beer, but almost all the restaurants in town only served Myanmar Beer. The owner of this restaurant went out to get a bottle of Mandalay Beer for me. It was a fitting end to all of my biking through Bagan.

Biking to Osaka Castle

A few days in Osaka was more than enough to see everything in the city–there really isn’t much to do there. It did, however, provide me with more time to relax before heading back to Tokyo. Besides, Ema, the Italian owner of Vitti Lodge, was quite friendly and made staying in a cramped hostel room more bearable. (I realized that hostel dorms in Japan are much smaller than what I’m used to.) He also provided guests with free bikes to ride around the city (and the bike was a million times more comfortable than the broken one I had to pay for in Kyoto).osaka-castle-moat

I decided to not make the same mistake as I did in Kyoto and walk a few too many miles to see the sights and took the the bike on about a three-mile ride to Osaka Castle (actually, the ride was probably longer because I wasn’t sure where to turn and ended up on the wrong street).osaka-castle

The park around Osaka Castle is beautiful, with plenty of locals and tourists enjoying the paths on a sunny day. There are also small festivals every now and then with performances and food–I was fortunate enough to find such food on my bike ride after walking around the castle.

Osaka Castle is a picturesque building that attracts every tourist to Osaka, because there isn’t much else in the city other than that and food. This is a modern reconstruction of the castle on a smaller scale. The original Osaka Castle, which was constructed in 1583, was burned down and the structures that surrounded it were also destroyed. Only a few other buildings have been reconstructed on the grounds.

The largest stone was too big to destroy

The largest stone was too big to destroy

The castle first burned down in 1660 when a supply of gunpowder was struck by lightning. It was also destroyed in the 1800s during civil conflicts. It was again damaged during an Allied bombing raid in 1945. Other than the outer walls and moat, there is nothing left of the original structure. There are some huge stones that make up the fortification walls. Still, it’s a beautiful sight to see on a clear day. osaka-castle-crowd

Visitors are instructed to go to the top of the castle for the panoramic views of the city before walking down to each floor for exhibits about the history of Osaka Castle and the families that went to war for control over the country. The views of the city are spectacular, but you have to go to the nearby museums to get a better view of the

The museum is educational, but it can be difficult to go through all the exhibits with all the tourists visiting at the same time–it would be better to get there as early as possible to avoid the organized tours that pass through. Most visitors walk up to the top for the views of the city and quickly walk through the exhibits. Most Japanese tourists will read through the history on display.

Have you been to Osaka? What did you think of Osaka Castle?

Painful Bike Ride to Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion

On my second full day in Kyoto I decided to rent a bike from my closet hostel to see the sights as I had walked too many miles the day before. I saw a sign that said the bikes were 500 yen, but it turned out to be a late-day rental price; I had to wait until 9 am when the front desk opened so I could rent a bike at the full-day price of 1000 yen.

kinkakuji ticket

The ticket to Kinkaku-ji

The bike rental didn’t go as smoothly as expected. The bike was so rusted that I had a difficult time raising the seat to an appropriate height. I realized then that all bikes in Japan are about an inch too short for me to ride comfortably all day (I’ve had this experience with three other bikes), but I struggled through the discomfort in my knees. Unfortunately, that was not the only discomfort I experienced during the day–after riding my first 10 miles and walking around my first temple of the day, I discovered that beneath the cover on the seat was an exposed spring, which would explain the sharp pain in my ass.

golden pavilion

First glimpse of the golden pavilion

My first stop of the day was Kinkaku-ji, the temple that is home to the golden pavilion. It may have been my return to Japan, and I hadn’t been to any temples in a long time considering the month of churches I encountered in Italy, but I was already suffering from temple fatigue. Call it leftovers from my previous months spent traversing East Asia and visiting temples almost every weekend. At least Kinkaku-ji had one interesting aspect to make my bike ride and pain in my ass worthwhile.kinkakuji

Most of Kinkaku-ji is a beautiful Zen garden, but everyone visits to behold the golden pavilion–it’s a beautiful sight from any angle despite the crowd that descends on the temple.  The golden pavilion was the oldest building surviving from the original temple, which dates back to 1397, but the pavilion was destroyed in arson committed by a novice monk in 1950.kinkakuji

The golden pavilion is covered in gold leaf that shimmers in the sunlight and creates a beautiful reflection in the pond that surrounds it. Visitors, however, cannot enter the pavilion, probably because so many tourists would put a serious strain on the structure.

There are other shrines at Kinkaku-ji. One of the shrines allows visitors to swing the rope to ring the gong for luck after prayer. There are even vending machines for fortunes–and they dispense English fortunes for tourists like me who can’t read Japanese. Kinkaku-ji provided me with the best fortune I’ve received from a temple, but it still was more or less a meh-quality fortune (it was better than the one from Sensoji Temple that told me I’d have to work to succeed).

kinkakuji fortune

An English fortune for about a dollar. Why not?

I returned my bike a few hours later–I made a couple more temple stops (to be written about later) before heading back to the hostel in the hope that I could return the bike. Of course, the hostel front desk was closed from 11 am to 3 pm, which left me with time for a nap while wondering where to go should I procure a more comfortable bike (an unlikely event because my ass was in such pain that even a more comfortable bike would be painful). I managed to get another bike when I found a hostel employee before 3 pm, and I went out for another ride.

Biking Taiwan’s East Coast

The day after my tour through Taroko National Park, I decided to rent a bike and ride along the coast. I had read about the coastal path that runs south and north from Hualien. As I wasn’t prepared to ride through the mountains of Taroko Gorge, I settled on the flatter ride that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

bike path hualien

The view from the bike path in Hualien on the way to the Pacific

The Coastal Bike Path is only about 15 km and runs to Qixing Lake (no idea why it’s called a lake when it’s a coastal beach). However, there are other roads around the area and I turned off the path a few times to find other interesting destinations and sights along the way. There were a lot of helpful tourist signs pointing to various places of interest, although some of the names were misleading and sometimes the signs disappeared as the destination approached (explains why I got lost a couple times).

hualien lighthouse taiwan

First view of the ocean. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ride out to the lighthouse

Ease of renting a bike in Hualien

I rented a bike from Giant just outside the train station for about $10–they provided a helmet and lock. It was a much better bike than the one I rented in Siem Reap when riding around Angkor Wat. Unlike that 40-mile ride along dirt roads, this time I only managed about 23 miles (though that number could be higher because I really don’t know some of the roads I turned down).Hualien coast

The route to the coast

The ride started out through the town of Hualien and onto a narrow path along the river that led to the ocean. I soon reached the end of the coastal bike path as I headed south–it looked as though they were extending the path, but I haven’t seen any information on it. I saw other bikers either heading further south along the busy road or heading north from there. I decided to turn around and head toward Qixing Lake, which is an odd name for a beach on the ocean.

Qixing Lake

On the way down to Qixing Lake

By the time I made it to the town around Qixing, I was a bit tired. I had been riding for close to two hours in the sun and I hadn’t had lunch. I didn’t notice any food that looked too interesting and settled on an ice cream shop instead–it’s been a long time since I was that desperate for ice cream. For a touristy area, the ice cream was surprisingly cheap and quite good.

Hualien beach

The coast near Hualien

As I headed back toward Hualien, I decided to take other roads to see what else was around. I found small roads that lead to open spaces overlooking the Pacific. I also found plenty of industry/commercial shipping areas that made for rather dusty riding.

Stopping for a drink

For a while, I noticed signs pointing toward Hualien Winery–I had to find it. Unfortunately, the winery turned out to be a traditional liquor distillery. It wasn’t all that interesting and there weren’t even areas to sample the products–just a shop, which was full of mainland Chinese tourists.

The Monkey King loves his beer

The Monkey King loves his beer

I was excited when I arrived at the so-called winery because I saw signs for “craft beer.” I thought I’d get my first taste of Taiwanese microbrews. It was another letdown. The brewery was just for Taiwan Brewery, and they didn’t have anything that I hadn’t already seen at 7-Eleven or my local restaurant.

Craft beer sign Taiwan

False advertising

From there, I got a little more lost as I rode in the general direction of the Hualien train station. I had to turn around a few times as the streets didn’t go where I thought they did. I returned the bike an hour or so before the store closed and walked back to the hostel to rest before heading out for some tasty xiaolongbao.

Delicious xiaolongbao

Delicious xiaolongbao

The whole ride was pleasant but the sun was intense along the coast. I wore a lightweight long-sleeved shirt to avoid sunburn, but forgot about my hands. The backs of my hands were bright red and in pain by the end of the day (but my fingers were still white to add a humorous contrast). After returning the bike, I immediately headed for Watson’s to buy some aloe. The clerk took one look at my hands and ran to find a bottle for me. I definitely learned my lesson.

hualien mountains

A last look at the mountains above Hualien

YouBike on Taipei Riverside


It’s a little heavy, but the YouBikes are comfortable for sightseeing

I’ve been planning on using the YouBikes, Taipei’s public bike share, since my first week here. Unfortunately, unless you have a cellphone to connect to your EasyCard, you have to use a credit card to rent the bikes, which means you lose out on the free first half hour of use. So, I broke down and bought the cheapest smartphone I could find from Taiwan Mobile–this thing is so cheap that the camera is only 3 megapixels and doesn’t have a flash (I didn’t know such phones still existed).

I rented a bike from Linsen Park, which is just around the corner from my Airbnb apartment. On Saturday I rode down the street and took a few turns off the main road. I found some new restaurants and shops that I would have to return to, including an American chain brewpub. I had no destination in mind Saturday, and ended up getting a little lost at times just because I didn’t care where I went. For around two hours on the bike, I paid about $1.

taipei riverside park

I wish there was a bike route app

Sunday I made more of a plan. I was determined to go for a ride along the Keelung Riverside Park. This was a little more difficult than I expected–entrances to the park aren’t as easily recognizable or plentiful as I thought. There’s a high concrete wall around the park and only a few entrances–fortunately, I found one of them by the Rainbow Bridge, which was not as interesting as I had hoped.

rainbow bridge

On Rainbow Bridge

From Rainbow Bridge, I rode out to Dazhi Bridge and crossed the river before making a return trip. There was some light rain and some strong wind, which made the ride a little less enjoyable. Had I found this route the previous day in all the bright sunshine, I would’ve been much happier (and more sunburned).

riverside park

Taipei 101 from the opposite side of the Keelung River

I had expected more trees in along the paths, but they might have obscured some of the photos. I was also surprised at the number of baseball fields in the area–and they were all being used. There was even a graffiti wall (there was a sign encouraging people to use it instead of defacing public property), which had some decent art.

dazhi bridge

Dazhi Bridge

According to the estimate from (the map doesn’t follow the roads/bike paths exactly), my ride on Sunday was a little more than 14.5 miles. I couldn’t calculate my ride from Saturday because I really don’t know where I was.

Yuanshan Hotel in the distance

Yuanshan Hotel in the distance

The YouBike is my new favorite way of seeing Taipei. They even have lights for riding at night and it’s common, and sometimes easier, to ride on the sidewalks. Traffic can get hectic, but I really didn’t have any problems with drivers like I used to have back home in NJ.

Finding Quiet Views in Hanoi

It’s not easy taking photos in Hanoi with the throngs of tourists and locals constantly getting in the frame. And even without all the people, it’s still difficult to get around the trees, power lines, and other obstructions. But, sometimes you can get lucky.

Quiet view of Truc Bach Lake from the cafe

Quiet view of Truc Bach Lake from the cafe

On a walk to Trúc Bạch Lake and West Lake on my last weekend in Hanoi, I found a rather quiet street right along Trúc Bạch Lake on Tran Vu. The street was had a pedestrian walk along the lake and plenty of cafes on the opposite side (I had a filling lunch of a huge plate of spring rolls for about $1.50). There was very little traffic on Tran Vu, which made sitting on the sidewalk for lunch even more pleasant–it was an oasis just outside the busy Old Quarter of the city.woman-bike-hanoi

Paddling Through Nam Coc

During my final weekend in Hanoi, I decided to take book a day-trip outside the city through my hotel, Rising Dragon Villa–I saved one day for seeing the sights of Hanoi that I hadn’t yet seen, which left one day for either Ninh Binh or the Perfume Pagoda. As I really haven’t been impressed by any of the temples in Vietnam, I decided to head for a little more nature that surrounds Ninh Binh at Nam Coc.Nam Coc

The highlight of the tour was Nam Coc, a lake surrounded by the karst mountains of the region through which tons of sampans filled with tourists float through caves for almost two hours.

Nam Coc is just outside of Coc Phuong National Park, but only two-day tours go into the park, so I had to settle for this version of tourist adventure. The whole region is referred to as “Halong Bay on land,” which is why it reminded me more of Yangshuo without the cool tourist town.

Nam Coc

Boats at Nam Coc

My guide gave us a little speech about tipping the sampan rowers–he said we should generally tip about 20,000 dong per person in the boat (usually two people). However, sometimes they stop and switch rowers and request tips at that time, but we were told to wait until the very end. We were also told to not even consider looking at any souvenirs from the rowers unless we were actually going to buy something–and they were rather persistent in their sales pitch.

Our first rower didn’t last long–the elderly man with a long beard stopped at home after about 10 minutes to let his wife take us. After another 10 minutes, she handed me an oar and told me to help out, which I did for the rest of our time in the boat. We even had a third rower, the daughter-in-law, who jumped from her boat that carried four people to our two-person sampan.

nam coc

Going through one of the three caves

It was fun to see all the other boats, with rowers using their feet on the oars while texting on their cellphones–true multitasking ability.nam coc sampan

It was a rather relaxing day in the boat. It also included pleasant conversation with an Australian woman from my tour.

When we got out of the boat, my Australian companion thought our tour guide said 50,000 dong per person and thought we should tip a total of 100,000, which isn’t outrageous considering it’s about 21,000 to $1. Unfortunately, our rower wanted more and asked plenty of times for more, but we refused. I was tempted to say that I was paddling most of the way and deserved a tip as well.nam coc

The expectation of the tip reminded me of the Malaysian couple on my cruise of Halong Bay. They had mentioned that their guide for the Perfume Pagoda expected a tip, and demanded more after they had given her a decent tip. When the guide gave the money back and demanded more than double, the couple kept the money and walked away. Everyone who heard the story applauded their reaction. I don’t mind giving tips, but I don’t like being pressured into giving more.

After our boat ride, we got on bicycles and rode along a narrow, bumpy dirt path through the farms and mountains. The bike was more comfortable than the one I had around Angkor Wat, but the brakes weren’t as good. It also wasn’t anywhere close to 40 miles this time around.

Biking the Road Less Traveled in Angkor

On my third day in Siem Reap, I decided to take a bike tour of sorts. I met a Dutchman on my tour the day before who happens to live in China, so we had lots to talk about, and we decided to take a long ride on New Year’s Eve. The ride turned out to be about 40 miles, which was more than I expected and about double my longest previous ride.

bike cambodia

I was smiling because I no longer had to ride the bike after 40 miles

I rented a bike for $5 down the street from my hotel–the hotel had a secure parking lot for bikes overnight as well. I almost rented a bike for $3, but the $5 bike was a little lighter, which made it more appealing for a long ride in the heat of Cambodia. In hindsight, I probably should’ve changed bike seats as the $5 bike was not as comfortable.

My Dutch biking companion planned out our route for the day–we were going to ride from downtown Siem Reap to the Landmine Museum that was up near Banteay Srei and then head back into town via Angkor Wat. I didn’t realize that he had mapped out a route that went around the traffic through Angkor Wat on the way to the Landmine Museum–it was a pleasant surprise.

road angkor wat

Where is everyone?

While the road we took was more or less deserted, it was also a dirt road. We took that road for almost an hour before turning onto a main paved road that led to the Landmine Museum. We stopped a few times to enjoy the view on the dirt road–we also waved to all the children who shouted “hello” to us (something that doesn’t happen inside Angkor Wat or in Siem Reap). We saw no tuk tuks or cars on that road, only a few local bicycle riders and even fewer motorbikes.

road angkor wat

We decided to walk the bikes across this bridge. It was surprisingly sturdy.

As we got to the main road, there were still few other vehicles–we left early enough on the ride to avoid the crowd that would be headed to Banteay Srei (our tour stopped there the previous day just before lunch and we arrived at the Landmine Museum a little before 11 am).

road angkor wat

Watching the locals work on the road

The Landmine Museum was much more interesting than I expected. There was a lot of history about landmines and how they spread across Cambodia. There was also the story of Aki Ra, who started out as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge before defecting to Vietnam and then returning to Cambodia to begin de-mining the country on his own. The tour of the small museum was given by Aki Ra’s partner at the Landmine Relief Fund, Bill Morse. Besides clearing landmines in Cambodia, the organization provides education to orphans and college scholarships to even more Cambodian children.

landmine museum

Collection of landmines recovered by the Landmine Relief Fund

After a small lunch next to the museum, we got back on our bikes and road back toward Angkor Wat. The ride back was definitely more difficult as it got hotter and we were beginning to tire.

By the time we got near Angkor Wat, we began searching for roadside vendors with pineapple or other fruit. We managed to find one that was in the opposite direction of most tourist routes and much cheaper that the vendors closer to the entrance. The Dutchman showed just how out of practice I am with bargaining–I was so impressed by how much he talked the vendor down, I bought a whole pineapple on a stick and a couple bottles of water for less than $2 (probably would’ve cost twice that closer to the entrance).

siem reap

Maybe this will be my life

As we got to Angkor Wat, we realized that it was much better to arrive when we did–it was much less crowded than when either of us had previously visited. We quickly discovered that the inner area of the Angkor Wat was closed for tourists (as are most tourist destinations during the lunch hour).

angkor wat

The inner temple of Angkor Wat

By the time we got back to downtown Siem Reap, I was exhausted and my ass hurt from the bicycle seat. I just about fell over when I returned the bike–I was excited to get off the damn thing and got my foot caught as I jumped off.

I still managed to make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I had to go to sleep shortly after so I could wake up for my boat ride to Phnom Penh.

I should mention that I had a face mask that I bought in Hanoi to avoid breathing exhaust fumes on the ride. It also kept dirt off my face. I highly advise using one in Cambodia (it’s also useful for riding in tuk tuks).

Jersey City on a Bike

Sunday was the 4th annual Bike JC Jersey City Ward Tour. Starting from Exchange Place, the 600-plus cyclists (I assume since my bib number was 624–I can’t find official numbers) leisurely rode 15 miles through the streets of Jersey City to see each of the six wards.Bike JC

Like last year, it was well organized (even started on time this year) with the police and volunteers blocking intersections for the participants to ride safely.

I decided not to stop anywhere aside from the three designated meetup locations for photos. Last year I ended up at the end of the crowd because I kept stopping for photos that really didn’t come out that great anyway.

Sure looks like a lot of people. And I think i was in the middle.

Sure looks like a lot of people. And I think i was in the middle.

Though it was a bit warmer than I would’ve liked, the weather was great for the ride–the huge thunderstorm didn’t roll through until much later.wardtour_exchangeplace

And at the end of the ride, it was nice to hang around Exchange Place and enjoy some empanadas and beer while watching the local bands on stage.

Story of a Bridge

This past weekend, Jersey City unveiled its new footbridge linking Liberty State Park with Jersey Ave. The old, worn, lopsided bridge was washed away by Hurricane Sandy. This new bridge came with a price tag of $800,000.

This bridge really cost $800,000 of taxpayer money

This bridge really cost $800,000 of taxpayer money

As you can see, this pre-made bridge looks like something you can buy at Home Depot. I understand that some work had to be done on the roadway to be able to install the bridge properly, but $800,000!? I don’t care if the federal government is picking up most of the tab. I’m still wondering who pocketed the other $700,000. Our mayor-elect is taking credit for the bridge, but doesn’t seem to care about the price tag.

Prior to being installed. It just sat there for a few weeks

Prior to being installed. It just sat there for a few weeks

Anyway, Memorial Day provided some great weather for a bike ride through the park. Of course, after a few days of rain and cold temperatures, everyone decided Monday was a great day to spend in the park. There was a lot of traffic. Not being one for crowds or really slow bike rides, I decided to cut my ride short and enjoy a little grilling.

Beautiful day to enjoy the park

Beautiful day to enjoy the park

I didn’t take any photos of my grilled dinner, but it was delicious. Marinated steak with dried chili peppers, mirin, soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic, and a little oil. Wonderful flavor and spice.LSP-skyline1

In the Summer Streets

GehryAugust 4th marked the beginning of New York City’s summer streets. Every Saturday during August, the city closes the streets between Foley Square by the Brooklyn Bridge and Park Ave. and 72nd St., which runs right into Central Park.

Last year was my first time taking part in the ride, just shortly after purchasing my Dahon Eco 3 folding bike. I woke up early rode from the World Trade Center and stopped along the way to pick up a free bike helmet to replace the old one I got from my brother. By the time I arrived at Central Park, my brother and his friends were just leaving Jersey City, which gave me plenty of time to ride a loop around the park. When they finally arrived at the park, I had been waiting in the shade for a while, and they convinced me to take another loop around the park before heading back downtown. In all, I rode about 22 miles.

This year I didn’t ride quite as much. I didn’t wake up nearly as early as last year (it’s a little difficult waking up early when I work nights), and I encountered a few other problems. I met a coworker downtown in the heat and humidity (I swear it wasn’t nearly as humid last year) and we took a leisurely ride up to Central Park.GrandCentral1

One of the coolest parts of the ride is the point at which Park Ave. goes around Grand Central Station. When the street is open to traffic, it’s not really possible to get these photos without getting screamed at by angry drivers.GrandCentral

As we began our ride around the park, I got a call from my coworker. I thought he was just riding slow; turns out his chain came off as he tried changing gears. I turned around to try to fix his rented bike. Unfortunately, the chain was wedged behind the wheel guard and we couldn’t fix it on our own. There was a bike rental stand in the park across the street, but even they couldn’t help us, which meant we had to take the bike back to 55th St.

Welcome to Matt's bike towing service

Welcome to Matt’s bike towing service

Unfortunately, because the chain was wedged behind the wheel guard, the rear wheel wouldn’t move, which made it difficult to move along the street. I figured out a way to use my rear bike rack to tow the broken bike.

After returning the bike to the rental shop, I headed back downtown to the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, after 1 pm the city reopens Park Ave. to traffic, which makes it much more dangerous to ride along. To avoid that hazard, I took a roundabout route mostly down 5th Ave. There was plenty of traffic blocking my way, and I managed to move between the stopped cars to make it back to the PATH station much faster than if I had driven.

Weather permitting, I will try to take the ride again this month. I’ll do my best to return to the PATH station before 1 p.m.

Biking Jersey City

bikeJCSunday was the Bike JC ward tour. The 15-mile ride looped through all six wards of Jersey City–much of which I hadn’t seen before–and ended with music, beer, and crafts at Exchange Place. My total ride was probably a little more than 16 miles since I had to begin at my apartment, but again the MapMyRide app didn’t work properly (there’s most likely a weak signal with the GPS on my phone). I prepared for the ride with another 10-mile ride around Liberty State Park on Saturday.

I was surprised to see that unlike at the Summer Streets in Manhattan, no one was dressed in crazy costumes or had a decorated bike. But, there were plenty of people riding through the streets. We even had a police escort to block traffic.

It was a rather easy ride with very few hills. Unfortunately, it was a slow ride with a few stops in between that weren’t worth a photo. In all it took about two hours, but I could’ve finished it much faster.

Exchange Place with a view of Manhattan

Exchange Place with a view of Manhattan

After the ride, I sat with friends for a beer and some empanadas. And we met someone from the Humane Society walking around with a dog for adoption. I was tempted to adopt her–she was quite friendly.

Wouldn't you want to adpot this dog?

Wouldn’t you want to adpot this dog?

The weather was perfect for the ride, but a violent, brief thunderstorm put an abrupt end to the festivities at Exchange Place. I rode home once the rain stopped.

Cycling Season

LibertyStateParkThe inconsistency of the weather has made it difficult to go for bike rides around town (unless you count my daily commute). Yesterday was an exception. The sun came out and the temperature reached the mid-60s, which convinced me it was a better idea to ride around Liberty State Park than spend an hour in the gym.

Of course, I didn’t realize it would be so windy as I rode through the park. I probably should’ve worn slightly warmer clothes. At least the wind kept a lot of people away, so the waterfront path was rather empty, making it easier to ride.

The views of Manhattan, the Jersey City waterfront, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty make this bike ride enjoyable on clear days.

I decided to make my ride last a little longer by peddling through the city. I stopped at the intersection of Grand and Greene for this shot of the new World Trade Center.WorldTradeCenter

I tried using my new mobile app for MapMyRide to see how long my bike ride would be. Unfortunately, the GPS did not work properly and it cut out most of my ride (the route it showed does not exist–you can’t ride over water where there is no bridge). I guess I’ll give the app another shot.

And when I arrived home, I had good news waiting in my email. My media pass was approved for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic that starts Saturday and runs through next week (of course, I’ll have to miss Sunday’s events for Mother’s Day, but I’ll survive).