The feeling of freedom, independence, joy, light-heartedness; travelling by bicycle is truly a way of discovering and getting to know the places you travel through.
By bicycle, you travel at a slower and more human pace, better suited to encounters and to sharing, ideal for taking photos or dwelling a little longer on something that really catches your attention.
During our 10 months cycling around Southeast Asia, we got to know five different countries that were as close to one another geographically as they were diverse in terms of traditions, cuisine, landscape, people…
Of the enormous Thailand, I remember with fondness the smiling, sunburnt faces of the Karen in the villages of the north east, on the Burmese border.
A little girl with a basket full of dirty laundry on her head, singing, to me, incomprehensible words as she walked along to the creek to do her washing in the long pool of water. Her dark eyes were lost on the horizon, searching for I cannot imagine what.
A few days after that moment, in Chiang Mai, they held Loy Kratong, the lantern festival, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It wasn’t easy to capture the festive moments: the dark night formed the perfect frame for the great lanterns, lit up and ready to be launched into the sky, but this low light didn’t help us in creating good quality photographs.
In such situations, I would advise you to use a fairly luminous lens, to increase the ISO levels a little and to mount the camera on a tripod to keep it completely still.
We tried to take pictures of a monk who was preparing a lantern for its flight, using fast enough exposures so as not to end up with a blurred photo… we found the result pretty good!
Cycling eastwards, we crossed the Mekong on narrow barges, with our bicycles wobbling dangerously; I won’t deny that we were a bit scared of losing one in the river and watching it being carried to shore by the currents.
Laos is an incredible place: the roads are dusty, steep, fun to cycle.
We went for miles without seeing any towns, but just small villages where, taken in by local families, you end up making good use of your mat and sleeping bag. There are numerous guest houses in the more touristy towns and they are the cheapest in the whole of Southeast Asia, as is the food. Travelling by bicycle, you also save on transport costs. The unspoilt Nature, rich with colours and fragrances, is the true queen of this land of a million elephants, as Laos is known. In the forests, there are still tigers, other non-European mammals and birds with iridescent plumage.
The little town of Luang Prabang, the mysterious Phonsavan Plain of Jars and the Bolaven Plateau with its inebriating aroma of freshly roasted coffee, are a few of the pearls of Laos that you can reach by bicycle and take the time to visit properly.
The Cambodian jungle appeared before us like lightning across a cloudless sky: red dust, roads with no signposts, hoopoes, ancient Khmer temples. Everything smelled of magic.
From the window of our guest house, a little way from a floating village on Lake Tonle Sap, you could sense a great hustle and bustle. When dusk was nearly upon us and temperatures were more bearable for already-sunburnt skin, we could see whole families going out to do the last few errands of the day. Scooters and bicycles: as well as being very useful during rush hours, these forms of transport make the ideal subjects to be photographed using the panning technique. Having found a position parallel to the subject you want to capture on film, you have to set a fairly slow, but not excessively slow, exposure time (1/40-1/30, depending on the speed of the subject in question !). At the moment of taking the shot, the camera must follow the subject at the same speed. With panning, we were able to take a few photos of carefree people pedalling off to unknown destinations.
They went by at speed, avoiding obstacles, going on their way… It’s never been easy to create a good panning shot and you need to practise a lot to be sure of perfecting your technique.
Southeast Asia, excluding the big cities, is a fabulous place to travel around by bicycle because you can go for thousands of miles without ever meeting any serious traffic. The people are welcoming and always smiling, you eat well for very little. It is important to travel with spare brake pads, as they are very difficult to get hold of outside of the capital cities and a few other places.
From the land of the Khmer, we decided to cycle on through the infinite tea plantations of Malaysia and the majestic Indonesian volcanoes, which seemed to touch the clouds with their cones.
It is a wonderful feeling to enjoy a cup of hot tea whilst looking out over the vast green expanse of the precious plant itself…
We walked under a full moon to reach the Kawah Ijen crater by dawn and have the privilege of admiring the sunrise just over the ancient mountain lake… in Kawah Ijen, dozens of sulphur carriers walk for over twelve miles a day, laden with heavy wicker baskets full of the yellow mineral.
We repeated this magical experience at dawn, with the volcano of Mount Bromo, one of the most famous on the island of Java. Indifferent to its hundreds of spectators, it began to send out copious amounts of smoke.
Cycling around Southeast Asia was an incredible adventure, though without our camera and tripod to help us create indelible memories of our journey, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same…
Leo and Vero
Leo and Vero are two tireless travellers who love to discover the world by bicycle. After ten months cycling through Southeast Asia, they returned to Italy, but still dedicate their every spare moment to cycling, travelling and photography. They have travelled far and wide but are convinced that the best journey is always the one they have yet to make… “Because travelling is to remember the past, live the present and dream of the future.”
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