The Road to the Yulao Lookout (宇老觀景台))

North Cross Highway (北橫公路,台7線) to Sule (蘇樂)

3:30 am, Saturday. The alarm rings. I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth and gather my things: Garmin, phone, charger, water etc. It’s 4:00 am, time to leave. I kiss my wife goodbye. She doesn’t stir. The cats do and give me their “are you crazy” look. I am out the door.

Outside my house two drunk girls are making weird noises sitting on the steps outside the bar opposite my house. At the 7-11 a group of foreigners are in a circle making toasts. It is still dark. For them, Friday isn’t finished. For me, Saturday has come.

Why the early morning? I was riding to Mt. Yulao in Hsinchu County, a 200 km round trip. I was going to summit from the North Cross Highway (Provincial Highway 7) and descend into Neiwan. I had read about this trip on the BikeExpress blog. They had left Yingge at 7:00 am and were forced to descend in the dark, which according, to them, it wasn’t pleasant. They started in Yingge, I was starting from Taipei. I figured an early start would be wise.

At 4:00 am the roads are empty. I drifted up Keelung Rd. Turned left onto Roosevelt Rd and quickly arrived in Hsin Tien at the intersection for the 110 to Sanxia. The Hsin Tien side of the 110 is usually a chaotic jumble of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and everything in between. At 4:30 am, it was empty! From here to Sanxia is about 20 km.

I pedaled past the welcoming neon signs of the convenience stores, gas stations and betel nut stands, the only open businesses at this hour and soon arrived at the only (little) climb on this road. I was quickly over it and drifting through the dark, passed the small villages that are scattered along this road. A group of motorcyclists passed me. Were they setting off on a Saturday outing, or ending Friday night? I had no idea. I was in Sanxia.

I turned left on Sanmin Road (三民路). I didn’t stop, I was chasing time to Sanmin (三民). As I edged away from Sanxia, the sky brightened, I didn’t need my light. I looked over my left shoulder. The sun was rising and I was riding under pink candy floss clouds. Beautiful. I stopped! My first picture of the day.

I pushed on for Sanmin (三民). The road started to rise. I still hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. And halfway between Sanxia and Sanmin (三民) a sudden, crippling abdominal cramp nearly dragged me off my bike. I stopped and drank, but I didn’t have food. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! The pain persisted, so did I. I refused to quit (although I thought about it). I focused on the beautiful mountains and trees and river running next to me. It eased the pain. The road got higher, the pain was still there but was fading.

It was 6:00 am and I was in Sanmin (三民). I turned onto Provincial Highway No. 7 (台7線) and headed to Sule (蘇樂), an important milestone. Sule (蘇樂) is the tiny village where you split off from the No. 7 and head to Mt. Yulao. On the BikeExpress blog they had only left Sule sometime between 13h00 and 14h00, which meant they only summited Yulao in the early evening. I didn’t want to do that. I aimed to be in Sule (蘇樂) by 11:00 am. I was making great time.

As I turned left on Road 7, I looked right and saw the Sanmin (三民) 7-11. I should have stopped. Stupid me! I needed food and water, but I wanted a real Taiwanese breakfast. I wanted egg rolls and hash browns and ice-tea. I wanted a Mei Er Mei, a JSP, a My Warm Day. Fat chance. Sanmin (三民) was still sleeping. Only the 7-11 was open. Too late! I was already 3 or 4 km further on in Fuxing (復興). I wasn’t going to turn back.

The lower reaches of Road 7 from Sanmin (三民) to Sule (蘇樂) is beautiful. It undulates through the mountains with no huge climbs, nothing terrifyingly steep. I passed through Fuxing (復興) and headed up a small hill. I looked up and there saw a Hi-Life. The promise of nourishment sucked me up the hill. And to my right was a beautiful valley bathing in the morning sun.


Laos Journal - Our Puppies in Vang Vieng

I have already raved about the Eco Lodge in Vang Vieng in two of my previous posts (see here & here) but one of the reasons we were so happy staying there were because of the four puppies that were living under our bungalow. Queenie grew especially attached to them and spent a long time playing with them and loving them everyday. The puppies were only a few days old when we arrived (so we were told) and were small, crinkly and cute. We are both animal lovers and while we have two gorgeous cats, we have no dogs so we felt truly blessed and lucky to be a part of these young animals' lives for a few short days. We still miss those puppies but I am sure we wouldn't recognize them now because they grow so quickly.

Puppies Under Our Bungalow


Laos Journal - COPE - No. 1 Destination in Vientiane

Any responsible citizen of the world has to visit COPE when they go to Vientiane. It is the NUMBER 1 thing to see in that city. COPE - Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise - is an incredible organization that is trying nobly to empower and enable those whose lives have been drastically altered due to the loss of limbs caused by un-exploded ordinance (UXO) during the Vietnam War. COPE now has a wider scope where they are trying to help people with any/all disabilities establish meaningful lives. It is one of the most eye opening experiences you will ever see and it is very personal too. We first heard about COPE from one of our friends who has a long association with Laos. Also, on my way to Vientiane I happened upon an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that convinced me to go. Unknown to me Queenie had also looked at some Chinese websites and when I mentioned COPE to her she said that those websites also recommended COPE as the NUMBER 1 THING TO DO IN VIENTIANE. So we went and WOW did we learn! If you are in Vientiane you just have to go. No debate!

Entrance to COPE Visitor Center


Laos Journal - Kayaking in Vang Vieng

Our latest Laos travelogue is about our kayaking trip down the Sung River in Vang Vieng, a small town just North of Vientiane. We were staying at a great place called the Eco Lodge (will write more about this awesome place later) where we met a retired Australian couple, Rose & Gary and young French couple, Jeremie & Abby. They told us they would be going on a kayak trip that would start at the lodge and end in the town (about 10 km). Queenie decided we should join them and of course we had a great time. The kayaking, which included two guides and all the gear, worked out to be KIP100,000 (or USD12.50) per person. Not too bad for a lazy jaunt down the river.

The Sung River


Laos Journal - Temple Lunch in Vang Vieng

Our latest Laos Travelogue sees us sharing lunch with worshipers in a small local temple near our Eco Lodge Hotel 6~8 km from the center of the small (party) town of Vang Vieng. We decided to go for an early morning walk and spent sometime drifting through the village, meeting local kids in a school and stopping for some drinks along the way. We saw the small temple on a hill and decided to visit. When we went inside there were four people sitting on the floor watching two Monks eat lunch. They invited us in to join them. We sat on the floor and watched them chatting (of course we didn't understand anything) and then after a while, when the Monks had finished eating, the shared the food with the worshipers. They invited us to join and so I did!

Devotee & Monk


Laos Journal - Zip Line over Tad Sae Waterfall, Luang Prabang

We love zip-lining: plain and simple. No ahs or buts! We love zooming down a wire at considerable speed. Last year in South Africa we did one in Karkloof. When we saw them advertising zip-lines in Luang Prabang we decided to do it. It looked like reasonable fun even though it didn't look as high or as fast as the Karkloof Canopy Tour. We weren't expecting too much and with low expectations we were not disappointed. We had a lot of fun doing it. Because the zip-lines were lower and not so fast we were more relaxed and more able to enjoy the rides. Also, because they weren't so fast we were able to enjoy the scenery a little more. The scenery was also a little more diverse and we did land up going over the waterfall and some elephants in the park below. That was a lot of fun. It wasn't the fastest zip-line, it wasn't the highest zip-line but it was still fun.

Queenie on the Zip-Line


Laos Journal - Carrying Firewood near Ban Nam Dee (Namtha)

We were on our way to the small village of Ban Nam Dee, about 6 km outside of Namtha, a town in the Northern part of Laos, when we went down to the river and quite by accident saw this lady silently carrying a big pile of firewood on her back. She carried it from afar, across a field, through a river, up the steep river bank and then back down towards the village. We were amazed at her strength, resilience and evident dignity. We silently watched and desperately wanted to offer a helping hand but knew this would be rejected as it is something that is done day in and day out over the course of her life. All we can do is pray that their lives will improve and offer help and assistance where we can.

A heavy load


Laos Journal - Fire in Luang Prabang

On Friday 31 January, after a challenging day all around, we were on our way home and saw this huge fire that had already engulfed one building and was about to start burning the buildings next to it. It was tragic to watch. Fortunately there were no injuries or deaths that we could see but sadly whole lives had been destroyed. What was especially gut wrenching was watching people run into their homes to rescue their few possessions. It was a very sad night.

Building on Fire in Luang Prabang


Zip-lining in South Africa - AWESOME STUFF

In February 2013 we returned to South Africa to visit family and friends. While in a coffee shop we saw a flyer advertising the Karkloof Canopy Tours, which turned out to be a zip-line over one of the largest remaining indigenous forests in South Africa. Queenie and I have long wanted to do the flight of the Gibbon in Thailand, but to date haven't had the chance. This was the perfect opportunity to try zip-lining AND IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!

Getting Ready to Fly


Laos Journal - The Most Efficient Airport in the World

We recently spent two weeks travelling in Laos. One of the most amazing features of the trip was our arrival at the Wattay International Airport (shown below) in Vientiane which, on first appearances, appeared to be the most efficient airport in the world.

Wattay International Airport

Laos Journal - 2014

In 2014 we spent two incredible weeks in Laos PDR. We spent a couple of nights in Vientiane before flying North to Leung Namtha to meet up with an old anthropologist friend of ours. From there we went South West on a bus to Huay Xuay, spent two days on the Mekong River (over nighting in Pak Beng) to the old Royal Capital and World Heritage City of Leung Prabang. From there we drifted down to the party town of Vang Vieng and hung out in an eco lodge and bathed in the Sung River from the locals. Our final day was spent back in Vientiane before flying home to Taipei. We had an amazing time. We saw temples, had challenging days, nearly adopted some puppies and saw some tragedies too. We learned many lessons on this trip and we are happy to share some of those stories with you below.

Beautiful Sunset on the Mekong River near Pak Beng


Joining Toastmasters - The Journey Begins

Queenie and I have both recently joined the TGIF Christian Toasmasters Club here in Taiwan. We are really excited about this opportunity and certainly hope to learn a lot from the experience.

So far we have only done some Table Topics talks and we seem to do OK with those. We are both looking forward to doing our first speeches. Queenie has also had the honor of being the timer and the AH counter and two separate meetings. She has done a great job on both occasions.

Joining has so far proved to be one of the most positive experiences in our lives for a long time. It is a very warm and welcoming club and everyone is welcome. I always love what our President Lester Lin says every time: We treat every guest as if God himself sent that person through our doors.

Anyway, look forward to a long and fruitful affiliation with this group.


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