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Ban Gioc Waterfall & Nguom Ngao Cave

After spending almost a week in Hanoi I headed to Cao Bằng city in Northern Vietnam. Part of Cao Bằng Province, which lies along the mountainous border with China, the city is a great base for exploring the dramatic geography and karst landscape of the region. I visited specifically to observe the nature and during my visit would take one of my favorite nature walks of all time around Ban Gioc Waterfall and through the Ngoum Ngao Cave system.

Mountains near the border with China.

My night bus from Hanoi was way ahead of schedule and I arrived in Cao Bằng city at about 5 a.m. Marching the darkness from the main bus station to my lodging Primrose Guesthouse, I began wishing I’d booked a later bus. Not only was I visiting during the winter dry season, it was also during a particularly cold January for all of Northern Vietnam so I was not looking forward to waiting outside until opening time. At 7 a.m. sharp the guesthouse owner pulled up the screeching metal doors to let me inside. Although the room was not yet available to store my things, I was led to a comfortable couch in the foyer with several blankets where I could catch up on sleep before formally checking in. Once feeling cozy, I fell quickly asleep, not waking until around 11 a.m. As I checked in my host asked me what I wished to see and do in the area. I responded by saying I came to see Ban Gioc Waterfall, and at that he grabbed me by the arm and whisked me out the door and onto a moped while explaining that the last morning bus would soon be departing towards the waterfall and he could get me to the station just in time to catch it. I went without question, deciding to just go with the flow and see where it would bring me. I did want to see the waterfall after all and had a few hundred thousand Dong in my pocket and a mini backpack with a full water bottle and rain gear. We arrived to the station in time and I boarded a mini bus full of local people. I paid a round trip fare for the 90 kilometer ride (about 4 USD and I believe I paid the “tourist” fare).

It took two hours with the road climbing steadily higher into the gorgeous karst landscape of Cao Bằng Province towards the Quay Son River. Although it was just a local bus used by regular people to go about their lives, for me it felt like a special nature tour. The views from my seat were really amazing and not just because of the hills and rocky peaks but the small towns and farms along the way. I had spent a week in Hanoi, home to around 8 million people and now was curious to see the rural, calmer areas of Vietnam.

Ban Gioc is located at the end of the bus line and when I exited I noticed an emptiness. Although it was the winter dry season I expected more traffic at this well known nature site. There were no big tour buses and only a handful of people making their way either in or out of the gates. I could clearly hear the roaring water but was still not able to see the river. After paying the 40,000 Dong entry fee (about 1.5 USD) I walked down a dirt path through a series of wooden stalls filled with souvenirs and packaged snacks. Once out on the open bank I could see the 30 meter waterfall (technically it’s two that sometimes combine streams in rainy season). I wandered over to a raised area set between the two flows for around an hour enjoying the colorful surroundings. One of the two waterfalls had slowed to a trickle and thick vegetation grew on the rocky bed in every shade of blue and green. Even though the sky was overcast the water was beautifully colored.

Blue-green pools and vegetation along the banks of the Quay Son River in Cao Bằng Province.

After leaving the falls, I began walking 4 kilometers to Nguom Ngao Cave, or, Tiger Cave. The route is by no means a hiking path and simply followed the shoulder of the highway going West, the direct back to Cao Bằng city. The stretch of road was not especially scenic but the overcast sky created a mood somehow unique and beautiful. After about 2 kilometers a road branched off to the South, with multiple signs indicating the entrance to the cave. I assumed there would be a trickle of visitors flowing to and from the cave that I could follow but again, it was an empty road. The cool, misty air gave the valley a bit of a creepy feeling and made me question whether I was headed in the right direction but after about 15 minutes I arrived at the entrance gate. My ticket cost 45,000 Dong (2 USD) bringing my total cost for the day tip to less than $10.

Ban Gioc Waterfall in dry season.

Formed by an underground river, and weathered by rain and wind, Nguom Ngao (Động Ngườm Ngao) is home to stunning and sparkling stalactites and stalagmites formed by the interaction between the limestone mountains and water over time. About 1 kilometer of the cave is open to the public and it sometimes felt like it would go on forever. The system is a very comfortable temperature, and I felt significantly warmer than I has outside. The smooth surface of the pathway was sometimes slippery and a few chambers required me to bend down to get inside (and I am a very short person). I didn’t mind being inside almost totally alone but I got the feeling some people might find the environment claustrophobic. My biggest fear in life is snakes so I had been on high alert for part of the day and I admit it was very unnecessary with the cold weather. However, I would have preferred to have other tourists around me more often. I took my time walking all the routes to see the formations from various angles. I had arrived about an hour before the closing time, so I made sure to keep my visit within that time frame. The most interesting formations came in the final third of the walk. I took a couple shots of the Silver Tree and Lotus but didn’t do much picture taking – the lighting in the cave didn’t photograph well and it felt better to just enjoy what I was seeing in the moment verses trying to document it. Looking back I am really glad I hadn’t seen photos of the inside prior to the visit so the formations were surprising.

Outside the wonderful Nguom Ngao Cave.

The ride back to Cao Bằng was a little tricky; to reach the falls, I simply rode to the “end of the line” but hadn’t noticed any official bus stops along the way. I wasn’t sure if I could just flag the bus down or needed to locate a specific pick up point in order to board. My host had explained the basic timetable and with it being the winter low season there were very few buses running taking away the chance I would end up on the wrong bus. I barely made it to the highway in time to manically wave my arms and get the driver’s attention. I was asked to take my rainy shoes shoes off (this is normal in north Vietnam to keep the floors clean) and shown a seat next to the driver who insisted I share in his sunflower seeds and chips during the ride. I was pretty happy about this since I hadn’t eaten in a bout 20 hours time and was running off just knockoff Red Bull purchased at the falls and bottled water. Outside a cold rain fell onto the windshield while I watched the countryside go by in comfort and I really enjoyed just observing the karst hills and farms along the way.

In total I walked about 8 km including the cave system and around the falls area. If I had started my day earlier I would have visited Truc Lam Phat Tich Pagoda Pass, very close to the waterfall. This trip is very affordable and easy if you make time for a conversation with your guesthouse host to discuss buses and get their input on any little side things to see along the way. The bus system is not confusing but the language barrier may make fixing an error on the fly very challenging. Dress for the weather and wear good walking or hiking shoes. I recommend bringing your own food in wintertime.

I spent about 5 weeks in Vietnam during my travels and the day I visited Ban Gioc Waterfall & Nguom Ngao Cave was one of the most memorable. The landscape made a big impression on me and I would love to come back one day for a more thorough visit of Cao Bằng Province.


Bodensee Part 1 – Bregenz to Konstanz

One of the largest lakes in Europe lies at the foot of the Alps connecting Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The Bondesee, known as the Lake of Constance in English, is encircled by a fantastically maintained flat cycling route which also extends down to Rheinfall, one of the most powerful waterfalls on the continent. At a total length between 270 – 310 km, depending on the exact course, it can be covered in anywhere from one day to an entire week. I decided to bikepack the route as a long weekend trip during a visit to Austria and began in Bregenz with a basic mountain bike. Riding in a counter-clockwise direction first to Germany, the goal was to ride 118 kms to Konstanz (Constance) and Reichenau Island over two days using the third to cover 119 kms to Rheinfall (Rhine Falls) with the final day moving through 70 km on the Swiss side back to Bregenz.


After recently completing self designed long distance bikepack trips in Portugal and Spain  I was definitely ready to take it easy and follow a very well marked and maintained route in one of the most well-developed areas of the world. Cycling and camping is the most affordable way for me to visit new places and this would be no exception. The budget for four days and three nights of campsites, meals and small admission fees to sites like churches was 100 Euros. Cash is the preferred method of payment in most of Germany so I didn’t bother to bring a credit card and packed a bank card in the case I needed to visit an ATM. Fortunately many shops in Swiss towns along the Rhein segments of this ride accept Euros, so there was no need to keep multiple currencies.

On the northeastern stretch the route passes vineyards, orchards and shoreline with dazzling views of the snow-capped mountains. After just 13 km I stopped on the island of Lindau to make my first break and walk around. Although small, the city has a beautiful old light house, a cathedral and a few other buildings worth checking out. On the shores the atmosphere is a bit carnival like: slow moving crowds, smells of fried food, beer gardens, ice cream shops, fruit stands and little paddle boats for rental. People come here to make holidays and sounds of languages from all over the world float in the air. Lindau is common starting point for cyclists doing the lake because it’s an end point to the Königssee-Bodensee route begins connecting to Upper Bavaria.

Reichenau Cathedral

UNESCO World Heritage site Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

In the late afternoon I continued on and passed through Friedtichshafen with a short stop to pick up some dinner items and beer. I was not all that interested in exploring since it felt like just any other modern city. It was badly damaged during World War Two and most buildings are relatively new. During the war it functioned as a major industrial site where slave laborers taken from concentration camps in the region where forced to work while simultaneously being a resort area of sorts for the Nazi Party members.

For accommodation I chose Campingplatz Schloss Kirchberg, one of several similar campsites scattered on the shores. Although it was late June, I simply showed up asking for a tent site for the price of about 12 Euros. There were actually no sites per se but a large field with tents were placed randomly and children running and playing games in the spaces between. A shower cost 2 Euros and a little snack cafe had drinks and small items available outside of quiet hours. The first day’s journey ended just past Immenstaat at 45 km and left my legs feeling completely fresh. Well designed cycling infrastructure allowed me to build up momentum and speed by not halting at each road or intersection. Even when going straight through very crowded tourist towns people respected the cycle lane and didn’t use it for jogging or strolling.

Meerberg Fountain

Details of the Old Castle, Meersburg

In the morning I packed up and headed out to have coffee a half hour away in Meersburg. The official Bodensee Route passes right into the beautiful old city.  After breakfasting in a small cafe in from of the old city gates I took a self-created walking tour of the historical landmarks. Although I’ve visited Germany many times before, never had I stopped in a place with all the typical architecture Americans associate with the country – half-timbered homes, medieval gates, cobbled streets and castles. Meersburg translates to Castle on the Sea and the city centers around the Old Castle built 1,400 years ago – one of the oldest surviving castles in Germany.  The historic areas of are really lovely and the different building styles lend it a real personality. I enjoyed a lot of places on this trip but Meersburg was my favorite stop on the north side of the lake.

After a two hour exploration and several dozen photos I picked out lunch items to take along to my next destination. I had all afternoon to cover 60 km on the way to the next campsite just outside of Konstanz. While many visitors chose to use the ferry and avoid the  quiet Überlinger Arm of the lake, I wanted to explore ruins scattered in the area. I chose a random sampling to visit, all of different sizes and conditions. My favorite was Burgruine Homburg and my favorite walk into the woods brought me to Ruine Burg Hohenfels. Both sites were empty and the peace of a quiet forest felt great compared to the crowded lakeside. I recommend checking out these small traces of the Middle Ages if you’re into history and culture. An interesting aspect of this bike ride was seeing the different layers of history laid down on top of each other; Millenia old castles and cathedrals are a stones throw away from modern cities with some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world.

By late afternoon I was in Konstanz to see the old town. I spent an hour or so wandering the twisting streets looking at the different architectural styles and walking the medieval bridge over the Rhine. My favorite sites were the striking Imperia statue at the waterfront, the old Schnetztore (city gates) and the massive cathedral. Konstanz is not as clean or new looking as the other cities along the route; due to it’s proximity to Switzerland it largely escaped WWII bombing. Everything is much older than most of what I’d seen over the last few days. I liked the look and feel of everything and seeing a structure several centuries old butted up against a brand new building. It’s a authentic layered look that I’m not used to seeing in Germany.

Reichenau Abbey

Reichenau Abbey

A long June day allowed enough sunlight to ride to through Reichenau in the evening.  It’s lake’s largest island and UNESCO World Heritage site preserving the Reichenau Abbey founded in the 8th century and Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Calm and with a completely different feeling than the other areas of the tour, the island created a nice transition between a fast-paced and long day and a tranquil evening along the shore. Before settling in to my campsite for the night I was treated to a chorus of birds. The calm of the little island was the perfect place to recharge.

Thank you for reading!

Punakaiki – Where Mountains Meet Sea

Three months on the West Coast have come and gone. Punakaiki, my home for one New Zealand summer, is a beautiful place framed between the Tasman Sea and the lush rain forest of the Paparoa mountains. Nature has kept me very busy yet relaxed and joyful – I sleep well, eat well and feel great.


Typical look of the West Coast.

In early January I arrived to the small settlement of Punakaiki to begin three months of casual work and living on New Zealand’s West Coast. The nature-lover in me was curious to live near rocky ocean cliffs, lush forests, caves, and golden-green Paparoa mountains. Initially concerned about living in a very remote area, this place has made quite an impression on me and I am sad to leave it. Lucky for me, I had scored a job with a six short work days, meaning I had loads of free time to hike (I averaged 13 kilometers a day in February), cook (I can bake bread now), learn about the ocean, read (my favorite leisure activity) and study a foreign language.

Here are some of the highlights of my time, and why, if you have the chance, you ought to stay a while in Punakaiki:

To the annoyance of my roommates, a beloved morning activity was hiking into the Paparoa National Park to watch the sunrise. Watching the light flow the Pororari favorite river canyon is indescribable. Sunsets were just as stunning. The area hosts an unbelievable amount of great viewpoints for the twice-daily show put on by mother nature. I have traveled a lot and my eyes have experienced some very special lighting and color but in Punakaiki I was always impressed. The sky color was so varied with clouds sometimes cast in light opposite the color wheel.


Purple tidal pools during sunset.

Orange is the color of summertime along the West Coast. A mix of Nasturtiums and Montbretia flowers grow in the grasses separating the sea from the limestone karst formations that dominate the landscape. Early January, at the height of summer, was a bit hard on my eyes – the bright New Zealand sun and the flame orange flowers up against a blue sky was a huge contrast. Even in rain and fog the bright floral hues decorated the landscape.



On the West Coast just a five mile hike can take you from a rugged seaside with diverse ocean wildlife to a tussock mountainscape with views of snow capped alps in the distance. New Zealand has felt very safe to me and I always feel empowered to take off on the trails. It’s very freeing and I have been more independent than ever. Some days I just walk out the door with no plan and wander until I have to turn around in order to make it home by dark. This picture is from the Croesus Track, one of my favorite walks from my time in New Zealand. To get to the starting point required hitching hiking and I really appreciated the local people that bothered to pick me up and helped make an incredible experience possible. Many other times local people shared stories and route suggestions with me or helped me in other ways. Some of the things locals would talk to me about, like working hard jobs or farming, and spending free time hunting, fishing and camping reminded me a bit of Minnesota, so maybe I related to it a little more than I expected. I had heard a lot of negative stories about the West Coast and but I’m glad to say my experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

I did Croesus Track as a day hike as some of the trail is being incorporated into New Zealand’s next Great Walk, Pike29 Memorial Track and not open to the public. I was so sad to learn the opening of the great walk has been delayed. The original opening date was March 2019 and I would have loved to have done the walk while living in Punakaiki; I know it’s going to be a gorgeous route. Heading up the thick forest of the mountainside was a challenge with chest high grass reclaiming part of the trail and few downed trees to climb over. Once above the treeline the path i more rolling with occasional stretches of loose rock. The views are stunning and it’s completely worth the hard work.


Happy with the fantastic view.

In the past I’ve fallen in love with the the karst landscapes of Southeast Asia and Europe even though I was not able to spend time exploring them in depth. Walking into the canyons, caves and caverns of the West Coast was one of my favorite activities and requires a lot of respect for nature. The landscape is mysterious and dangerous – deep caves, snaking rivers that suddenly disappear underground, and high tree-lined cliffs. Staying on route is key. My favorite hike followed the Paparoa National Park’s Inland Pack Track to Fossil Creek and finally to the Fox River. This was an intense full day of treading on slippery and muddy trails, climbing over downed trees stranded in the creek and wading through 20-ish river crossings for 25 kms. I loved every minute of it and spending so much time in cool knee high water prevented leg soreness – I’ve never felt better after a full day hike.


It was a very interesting experiment seeing how I spent all the free time that came with my situation. I’ve always been a nature-lover but my respect for natural systems has only increased here. I have never in my life spent so much time near a healthy coast. When I needed peace and quiet I went watch the tide pools during evening low tide and observed a whole new underwater world. Each night hundreds of small creatures make their way by; of all colors, in all shapes and at every speed. My neighbors are yellow, orange and red starfish, anemones, crabs, jellyfish and even dolphins. I was pretty ignorant about things like tidal cycles and sea creatures when I arrived but now I can tell you exactly how tides work and what different animals eat and how the move, all from observation. I have been so lucky to be able to use my free time this way and it’s been a lot of fun. The big hold out for me are the Penguins. Apparently they live in the area but I am yet to spot one, or even their little tracks in the sand.


Punakaiki is know for unique rock formations called the Pancake Rocks. A lot of visitors blow through the area and spend an hour checking them out. I’m not the best at describing geological processes but these formations are what happens when limestone is eroded by waves, salty air and other beachfront forces and there are varying layers of sediment and matter within the rock.

The Pancake Rocks may be the big draw but just to the south on a beautiful beach similar but more colorful rocks stand open to exploration at your own pace. I particularly liked visiting the rocks in the evening when sunset aligned with low tide. It’s an odd place that feels a bit out of this world but very memorable.


The Truman Track beach was essentially my backyard. The steep pebbled beach has a waterfall, rocky cliffs, caverns and is a joy to explore at low tide. Iwas treated to two super moons while in Punakaiki. On both occasions I got up very early to observe a combination extreme low tide and sunrise. The seaside is truly a privileged place to watch the sun, moon and stars. Many animals are especially active at dawn and dusk and as tides are effected by lunar events it made watching nature really cool and colorful. In what for me will be a once in a lifetime event, I witnessed Hector’s dolphins swimming during a sunset (I only saw them once).


Aside from the nature I’ve had a busy time learning languages, meeting people and learning how to cook awesome food. I am sad to be soon leaving to explore more of New Zealand but know more magic is on the way.

Thanks for reading about my temporary home. If you think you will ever visit New Zealand, I recommend the West Coast. The nature will blow you away and if you visit for long enough you will fall in love with it.

I want to give a special thank you to the people who suggested I go to New Zealand as a worker in the first place, I would have never thought of the idea on my own, as well as everyone who is enthusiastic about hearing what I’m up to. It’s really hard to leave your home at the age of 31 to go live the backpacker life on the other side of the world and it requires knowing that your friends and family are your cheerleaders. 🙂


Month 1 in New Zealand

After traveling on and off for a few years, I finally took the leap to “live” and work in a foreign country – New Zealand. I began the journey by staying in Auckland for three weeks. A welcoming place for young people, New Zealand ranks high regarding shares of foreign-born residents, especially in the largest city, which is at 40%. Auckland in particular is a great gateway for those setting up a (temporary) new life. A strong community of foreign students and residents, and temporary workers flourishes in the city – we live together, work together and assist one another in navigating our new home – even my banker said she started her life in New Zealand on a Working Holiday.

Every place has an atmosphere that feels different to a visitor, however Auckland has familiar vibe, as if it’s some American coastal town (minus the accent). Like every major city there’s a business center and tourist hub situated in the heart with a few distinct neighborhoods clustered around it, each with their own flair. Outside of this urban core are a network of suburbs complete with green athletic fields, Crossfit gyms and little malls. Driving a personal vehicle is very popular and there are plenty of big trucks and vans. Things look like home but sound differently. A bit like Minneapolis, there are many green spaces for people to just be outside while in the city. I enjoy people watching and these little areas make it so easy to enjoy an ice cream or coffee and see what’s going on in the neighborhood. It’s also great to just be able to get me-time (a backpackers dream) and relax while still being in a public space.


A sunny weekend on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland. I cycled the hilly roads, sipped local wine and read a book on beach.

Yes, some things are different here, but it’s been easy to adapt. One of the first things I did after arriving was buy a bicycle in order to get around quickly and get acquainted with the layout of Auckland. I must say the cycling here is horrible – poor infrastructure and dangerous drivers put the city, in my experience, as the worst Westernized urban area I have biked. This broke my heart a bit since it’s my favorite way to travel but hopefully I’ll stay safe when I do go riding.

So what am I doing in New Zealand? Working in tourism- absolutely unrelated to my professional background. Not on a long term work arrangement, I have a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) which qualifies foreigners age 18 – 31 for non-permanent jobs all over the country. This visa is normally used by travelers to fund their time exploring more deeply than a simple holiday and provides cheap labor to the New Zealand economy. The experience can be just for fun and personal growth or be thoughtfully blended into, or begin, a career path. Occasionally a WHV-holder is offered a normal working visa through a sponsor employer but the vast majority are here to try new things and meet people. So far I have meet WHV’ers from sixteen countries and have been brushing up on my foreign language skills, and even learning new vocabulary (and I don’t mean Kiwi English, which is it’s own thing)!

Bethells Beach, a gorgeous day trip from Auckland.

After staying three weeks in West Auckland volunteering with a hostel, I will soon begin work near Paparoa National Park. I will bake bread and treats and do whatever other help is needed at a retreat (basically a nice lodge with many cabins set in a rain forest). A low stress, part-time job perfectly situated for outdoor recreation was exactly what I had in mind when I sought a New Zealand WHV. There will be enough time and energy in the week to socialize with and get to know local people and live the “kiwi lifestyle” and I will walk away with enough cash to go camping and hiking for a few weeks when the position wraps up. Although it’s been fun, I am ready to step away from the backpacking community for a bit and immerse myself in a routine more typical to a New Zealander and be in a setting more Kiwi than foreigner. I came to experience how life is here and hope to learn a lot about New Zealand culture, work-life balance and all the little things that make it unique.

Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom and part of Mordor, is the crown of the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Before starting my job, I have been making my way down the North Island, enjoying hikes and the outdoors. New Zealand’s wealth of varied landscapes is impressive. Native bird songs, the strong breeze and occasional rains set a relaxing mood and outside of Auckland weather has been great. I especially liked the glistening blue waters of Lake Taupo and milky-white, thermally active Lake Rotorua. My absolute favorite place has been Tongariro National Park where I completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19 km hike through three volcanic peaks, across wide craters and around jewel-colored lakes. The hike is extremely popular with nature-lovers and the Lord of the Rings fandom, as the park was used as a set and inspiration for many scenes in the films. The South Island nature is also impressive and I’m really excited to see it for myself. Spotting a penguin in the wild is one of my dreams and with some luck it could come true in the next few weeks.

Thermally active Lake Rotorua.

I invite you to follow my journey in New Zealand. I will be living and working near Paparoa National Park in the South Island for several weeks. If you’ve been to New Zealand yourself, I would absolutely love to hear what you did and about the overall experience. As always, thank you for reading.


Prachaup Khiri Khan, Thailand

After spending three months in Southeast Asia, Prachaup Khiri Khan was one of my favorite places to visit. The small city, along a series of crescent shaped bays, is a perfect place for a solo traveler in Thailand. The laid-back feel, beautiful beaches, adorable monkeys (as well as some naughty monkeys) and a modest travel scene create an unparalleled atmosphere. It takes just a half day train ride from Bangkok to reach this paradise and it’s absolutely worth it!

I sort of stumbled on this location while researching hikes in preparation for visiting Thailand. I read about an amazing trek up Khao Lommuak that offers a magical view of the surrounding bays and islands. Unfortunately the grounds are only open to the public on special weekends and holidays, none of which occurred during the time I would visit Thailand. However, after reading a little about the adjacent town, Prauchaup Khiri Khan, I decided to visit anyway. The proximity to the sea, as well as multiple national parks was really attractive and it seemed less crowded than Hua Hin, the busy tourist town to the north which has similar features.


Every night offered a watercolor sunset along the bay.

If you ever get to this part of Thailand, you must visit Kui Buri National Park! Seeing wild elephants was an experience I will remember forever. For about $30 (round trip taxi and entrance fee) myself and a few ladies from my hostel traveled to Kui Buri National Park. Once there, with guides in a truck, we played “hide and seek,” driving slowly with binoculars glued to our faces. The deal is that you pay to go into the habitat along a few dirt roads and if any elephants are spotted the trucks will pull over to let you observe (from a safe distance, for you them). If the animals can’t be spotted, that’s just bad luck. They are respected as natural beings and never forced out for visitors and you must keep a distance of at least 100 meters  (no elephant selfies). Patrons are allotted a few hours but many trucks will stop the tour after one or two sightings, thinking that guests have gotten their money’s worth. Fortunately, some of my companions were really outgoing and kind and somehow talked the staff into giving us our full three hours even though we saw a lot of elephants in the first hour. I’m glad she was so smooth because it was one of the best nature tours I’ve ever done and I didn’t want it to end. Also, after visiting a few national parks in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, this one was one of the most professionally run and the staff seemed to really like what they were doing and dealing with foreign visitors (that’s not always easy). No outside guide is needs to take you into the park in order to get a full experience, fees are upfront and simple, facilities clean and customer service is great.


Elephant family in Kui Buri National Park.

Animals can also be found much closer to the city; adorable, natural monkeys live aside the gorgeous Kao Lom Muak. The Dusky Langur monkeys are small and shy but will show themselves to visitors. Their location provides some protection to them as their status is close toThey are found specifically in Wing Five of the Air Force Base where visitors are allowed in for free, one passport required per group. . This is adjacent to Ao Manao Bay, one of the cleanest beaches I saw in Asia. It is very much worth a visit to just run around in the sand and sea without worry of bottle caps or sharp trash. I was able to bike to the spot from my hostel in 20 minutes.

Now a bit of a warning: beware of the naughty monkeys in the northeast area of the city around “monkey mountain,” another hill with a temple on top, formally known as Khao Chong Krachok. The view of the islands and bays from “monkey mountain” is great but the monkeys living on it are a little creepy and aggressive. They are mostly known for stealing flip flops off feet and taking food – nothing horrible – but their waste litters the site and some are very obese and loaf in the center of stairways or sun shelters. They are known to some as the “bad” monkeys, while the Dusky Langurs are the “cute” monkeys. Maybe it’s not a fair label but it’s worth confirming which kind of monkey you will encounter while exploring the city. The “cute” monkeys will not steal your items or scratch you.


A Dusky Langur

As with Kanchanaburi, Prauchaup Khiri Khan had a lot of solo travelers but this town attracted much more people in their 30’s – 50’s. This constantly shifting group of people were great to explore with and get to know. The city isn’t exactly out of the way or challenging to reach for foreigners but most of those visiting all had a lot of time devoted to seeing Thailand or the region. Some had awesome stories (one had biked there from the Netherlands!) and great advice about things to see and do throughout the country.

I absolutely never felt alone and met a lot of people at Safehouse Hostel. We went on bike rides along the bay (all day rentals are everywhere for about $2), ate delicious and spicey dinners ($1 – $3) or out for Thai Whiskey and music.  No matter where you stay everything in the city is in walking distance. The experience in Prachaup Khiri Khann was the perfect balance of fun and relaxation. Although I was not able to visit them during my visit,  both Khao Sam Roi National Park and Namtok Huai Yang National Park are realistic day trips from the area and provide even more opportunities for nature and exploring.

All these wonderful things made staying in Prachaup Khiri Khan of the best experiencesI had in Southeast Asia.  Originally, I planned to stay just two nights but extended my time into four. I wish I could have stayed longer! If I visit Thailand again I will have go back.

Thank you for reading!



Bikepacking Spain: Andalusia

Spain is one of my favorite countries – the amazing array of cuisine, music, language, art and traditions. Each region has a distinct culture and history, making exploring the country a rich experience. The natural side of things is just as diverse; Spain is home to lush forests, winding rivers, rugged coasts, natural sandy beaches, expansive savanna, snow capped mountains, an island volcano, and even a desert. On top of that, most of the country is at a high altitude, which, combined with the Mediterranean climate, means very strong distinct seasonal changes.

I wanted to travel Spain by bike in order to cover more ground than a hiking trip but also remain in close contact to my surroundings. Although I have visited many times before, I had never made it to Andalusia in the southern area of the mainland. After looking at a few sample itineraries pulled from commercial cycling tours (I do this a lot – a great way to get a template), I decided on a route hitting major historic cities (Seville, Córdoba and Granada) and mixing in a variety of landscapes (orchards along rolling hills, curving river valleys, arid plains full of cacti, rugged mountains and maybe even some snow in the Sierra Nevada). Sticking with about 80 km a day, I would have the freedom to stop and linger in a place, wander a bit off course and keep enough time to camp and hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains all in eight days time, a realistic international vacation length for an American. The route gains about 2,400 meters in elevation, the bulk of that on day five, the second half of the leg between Córdoba and Granada.

Seville to Córdoba

I took off from Seville where I arrived the previous evening. One night was enough to eat a delicious dinner, walk about the old city center and get to know a few other travelers in my hostel. I departed from the beautiful city in early afternoon after zipping around the old quarter for sightseeing by bicycle before a Friday tourist crowd began to build. Seville is very bright and cheerful with a classic historic area, picturesque narrow and crooked streets and a massive bull fighting arena. The most interesting place for me was the Plaza de Toros, the famous bull ring and museum. I’ve visited much of Spain over the last few years yet haven’t seen an active bullring. Within the building, sits the Museo Taurino, a small museum decorated with old posters and images of past events and I enjoyed the photographs and artistic renditions of bullfighting.

The Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza

As predicted getting through the suburban build up of Seville was a bit of a pain using roads suitable for a road bike. However, once out of the city, the 90 km route to Palma Del Rio felt easy on the legs and pleasantly flat, winding through farm fields and orange groves the entire way. Cacti grow aside the dusty roads along with colorful wildflowers adding some variety to the scorched fields. The area reminded me very much of southern California.

Many of the fields looked empty but I eventually passed a large orange grove in harvest with workers filling massive bins. Many wore a plain blue baseball cap to protect from a strong May sun. By early afternoon the air was thick with serious heat and my white t-shirt was soiled from sweat the dusty air. After battling to keep dry and warm in Portugal, Spain felt entirely different and like a whole new world.

My camping spot for the night was supposed to be in a park near Palma Del Rio. However, after arriving to the site around dusk, I found that camping was no longer offered and the park closed. Due to fatigue I just spent the night wild camping on a river bend just outside of the city. I had no interest in roaming around looking for guesthouses so late an in a transitional season.

Castillo de Almodóvar del Río.

Day two continued from Palma Del Rio to Córdoba after lazily drinking coffees at a cute cafe in the city watching elderly people out on walks, playing dominoes on picnic tables and just enjoying their Friday morning. After an hour or so resting in the town I started back along highway 431 headed straight to Córdoba.

It was foolish to start the day so late and I ended up feeling the heat quickly. Inland Spain doesn’t have a lingering spring like Portugal and leaps right into summertime heat. At round three in the afternoon when the sun was strongest, I noticed a bright blue baseball cap in the ditch near the road. I stopped to pick it up and gave it a once over and noticed what looked like some paint stains and minor use but it looked clean enough to be my new cap! My previous hat was lost to the sea winds between Sintra and Lisbon a week earlier and I very happy to shade my face with my harvester cap.

Some very friendly goats decided to investigate my bicycle.

Not long after, looking into the distance I was able to make out a very steep and high hill with a castle almost cartoonish in its size and appearance; it looked like something out of a movie. As I cycled closer a very well-preserved castle with Moorish details came into view. I decided to check it out and take a break to lunch in Almodóvar del Río. Through a brief conversation with the local townspeople, I found out the castle is 1,300 years old and got some major retouching about 700 years ago. The good condition of the structure has allowed it to be featured as setting for some television shows.

About 25 kilometers after my lunch break I reached Córdoba and went directly to one of the many squares for cake, coffee and people watching. Afterwards began a very difficult and long ascent to Los Villares Park for a night of organized camping. Only nine kilometers out of the heart of the city, the road to the park was incredibly steep and took any remaining energy I had left. I reached the hilltop park at about 9 pm and felt immense relief seeing cars in the parking lot and a small lit building. However, I was a month too early for camping season! The night workers were very kind and said that since I came all the way up on bicycle and darkness was fast approaching, I could pick a spot in the park for the night free of charge. Although that meant no amenities like a shower or a bathroom after the park closed at 10 pm, it was a welcome comprise. The park looked like a gorgeous place to explore and I tried to see as much of it was possible before heading back down to Cordoba the next morning.

A shot from historic Cordoba.

Spain ended up being a tricky place to camp on-the-fly: sometimes “camping” signs with tent icons really meant a site just for RVs or caravans. Many campsites with full websites online didn’t have information about when their season would begin or had possibly never been updated since the previous summer, making it seem open for business. Overall the camp accommodation scene felt a bit disorganized, especially coming from Portugal, where every location was up and running and any campsite located on major mapping apps were in fact campsites. I wrongly assumed camping and outdoor sports would be more common in May before the brutally hot Spanish summer set in. I ‘d recommend planning to stay in guesthouses, hotels or some other form of accommodation in this area in April and May.

I enjoyed grabbing a coffee and just walking the streets and seeing the Moorish-inspired building details in Granada and Cordoba.

Córdoba to Granada

After spending a full day wandering Córdoba and successfully camping (yay!) in El Brillante, actually in the city, it was time for a two-day challenging ride to Granada. Approaching Granada was like entering a magical world. For the first several hours of riding, olive tree fields hug close to the road and go on as far as the eye can see. The terrain slowly changes from flat to dramatic slopes with sudden sharp peaks. On these peaks usually perch fortresses and castles with little medieval towns below. The white red-roofed buildings sit in crooked rows along streets softy coiling around the hill. Highway 432 route passes many of these picturesque towns-Alcaudele, Alcalá al Real, Espejo, Baena. Only in Granada would I hear the term “pueblos blancos” used to describe these places, which apparently makeup a tourist route of sorts, connecting the major cities of Andalusia. I had no idea to expect this kind of scenery and really enjoyed the surprise.

The enchanting Sierra Nevada mountains are visible from far very away and provided a sort of motivation for the toughest part of the trip. It did take a while for me to notice them because snowy white peaks against a very bright sky create an illusion of jagged clouds. It is a strange visual but when you know to look for mountains, it becomes clear. The area between Cordoba and Granada is beautiful and it’s a lot of fun to just ride while enjoying the view.


Scenes from a wonderful few days in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The feel of Granada was unique among the Spanish towns. The “old town” is fairly spread out so although the entire neighborhood is dependent on tourism, there is no claustrophobic feeling or huge crowds like the old parts of Seville or Barcelona. There is a small shopping area in the center but it’s less youthful and trendy than Madrid, so there’s a bit less madness. I fount it clean, inviting, relaxing and characteristic of much of Spain, and especially Andalusia.

I initially passed through on the way to the Sierra Nevada but would return to Granada to close out the journey. The first three nights in the area were spent up in the mountains at Los Lomas sitting about 500 meters above Granada near a large reservoir with a wonderful view. Cycling up was tough but very much worth it. The area was just beautiful, refreshingly cool and near a nice network of hiking trails (some going deep into the mountains). Camping for a few days provided a bit of rest and recharging after five days of cycling.


An archway in the Alhambra. I highly recommend a visit if you are near Granada.

After a few days it was time to go down to the city and see some sights. Andalusia is full of Moorish architecture but Granada is the single best place to see these buildings, along with many courtyard gardens and quaint homes along little streets winding up the hillsides. Even the adorable hostel where I stayed had an open central courtyard! In Granada I really took it easy. I spend a day visiting Alhambra, a palace with an amazing display of 14th-century Moorish architecture located on al-Sabika hill. I normally don’t do things like visit the inside of palaces, temples, etc. but I had a feeling this would be special, dazzling and different. The Alhambra was just lovely and each area had detail and color to appreciate; the visit took a long time and was a great experience.

Two days in Granada went by quickly and thus brought an end to a wonderful journey cycling through Andalusia, Spain.

Thanks for reading!

Bikepacking Portugal (Part Four)

Riding the final 40 km stretch of highway N120 to Lagos went quickly with the last half downhill. I rode straight to the little harbor and to Castelo de Lagos. From there I walked the bike to Miradouro Praia da Batata to enjoy a view of the cliffs before headed to my guesthouse.  Ten days after leaving chilly Porto I’s finally reached the end of my journey through Portugal. Over the last week and a half I’d covered 700 km and it was time to enjoy a break from cycling, to swim in the ocean, put my feet up and eat more delicious Portuguese food. Although I was anticipating colorful waters and rugged coast, I did not expecting to love it so much. This little stretch of Portuguese coast was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The cliffs of Lagos, specifically Ponta da Piedadel, are just breathtaking. The colorful and massive rock formations are dramatically set against the blues and greens of the shallow ocean. Trekking paths intertwine along the cliffs above seven beaches (more if you’re brave).


Aside from the beaches and cliffs, Lagos also has historic old town, enclosed by massive old city walls that have seen several centuries of ups and downs. Lagos has a long history, some of which is tragic; the first African slave market in Europe was in the city and the original building remains. The city played a big role during the Portuguese Age of Discovery and was destroyed during the same earthquake and tsunami that decimated Lisbon in 1755.  Most of the historic sights are clustered around the waterfront near the Castle and can he visited in one day.

The city feels distinctly touristy and is very much a resort town. The contrast between both Lisbon and Porto is striking – the human made infrastructure, the local culture and the natural features. The cliffs, caves and beaches along the waterfront and free and open to enjoy. Visiting at low tide will give more access to all of the natural features while going early in the morning avoids the crowds. In mid-day when the sun is strongest, the water takes on different jewel tones.

Lagos made a nice ending to a long cycling trip down the Atlantic coast. Even though it was early May, most of the five rest days had warm weather and sunshine. The beaches were not yet fully packed and guesthouses charged off season rates.

With full sunshine the waters are bright blue and green.

What began as an attempt to ride along the Eurovelo 1 down the coast turned into a completely independent and self directed tour of Atlantic Portugal. At times a bit chaotic, I really enjoyed the journey.  Update: Two years after this trip, I am told that the Eurovelo 1 now has markings along the Portuguese sections. I don’t know if this is true, or how clear these signs are to see. I would highly recommend fixing your own back up course in the case that the route is not easy to follow.

Thank you for reading!

Bikepacking Portugal (Part Three)

After a day of cycling through Lisbon from Cascais and taking a ferry south across the Tagus River we reached Parque Natural da Arrábida. The quiet preserve consists of two main forested peaks and cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a pleasant surprise so close to the city. We set up out tent in the cozy wooded Picheleiros Campground which was home for two nights and relaxed with a barbecue and settled in to the first day off from cycling (yay). Although some stretches of the ride so far have been through nature, those sections have been uncommon. The bikes are always on a paved road and the sounds of traffic and daily life are usually around. Inside the park was the first chance to really get away for a meaningful amount of time. It felt great to put down our things, rest our legs and just stop carrying things. A hike up to the Nook Arrábida for a view of the sea was enough for me.

Flowers on the cliffs of Parque Natural da Arrábida.

After two nights and a full rest day we rode downhill from Parque Natural da Arrábida to Setúbal and took another ferry over the Rio Sado and adjacent marshes. A ticket for the ferry is just over three Euros and bikes are allowed for free. After boarding I was struck by how many cyclists were on our connection. The riders seemed to have come from all sorts of places and ranged from day trippers from the Lisbon metro area to long distance travels who had cycled from across Europe.

From the landing in Troia we followed a flat highway road for almost 50 kilometers. Not having stop to check the map for so long took away a lot of stress and freed up my mind to wander and take  in the landscape. To our right sand dunes reflected the afternoon sun and the noise of the sea crashing against cliffs droned on. To our left a patchwork of agricultural plots layered in front of inland hills. I loved the scenery and found it more relaxing and beautiful than the constant string of resort towns between Porto and Lisbon.

Colorful spring fields lined the route.

Our day of travel ended at a campsite near Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e Sancha. Known for the various birds that call it home the lagoon is a beautiful contrast to the wild sea and I made an evening visit at low tide and wandered around in the ankle deep warm water. Just as I was headed back to the campsite it started to rain and the absence of the sun made me feel suddenly cold. Since it being mid April and very much still low season, the little town was near empty and there wasn’t any place to get food. The last grocery stop had been made just before reaching the Arrábida reserve two nights ago. Fortunately the campsite had a modest cafe and bar with a mock living room set up. The place was full of mostly British retirees who spend the winters living in caravans at the grounds and everyone was happy to be sitting inside enjoying a pint with a book or watching the football game on the TV.  We had been very lucky over the last week or so and hadn’t experienced much rain so I couldn’t be upset about the weather turning.

Zambujeira do Mar

Preservation areas like Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Nature Park protect the shoreline from development. This also means the bike route occasionally intersects both the Rota Vincentina and Fisherman’s Trail. I saw traveler(s) many days in a row as we passed each other on our respective journeys.

The rocky coast just north of Zambujeira do Mar was stunning in both hard evening rain and the following morning’s sunshine.

Springtime weather in southwest Portugal is mixed and changes quickly. Everyday had an hour or two of both hard rain and strong, full sunshine. Sometimes wind was strong enough to push the bike around while other times very still. It was tricky to figure out how to dress for more than a few hours at a time and the back end of the bike always had discarded clothing pieces strapped down, flapping wildly as I went along. Mornings usually began with a dread of leaving the warm tent and stepping into cold or rain but I got used to it and learned to laze around a little waiting for the late morning burst of sun and temperatures as high as 23/74.

Looking down at Aljezur from within the old castle walls. Monchique hills in background. I especially liked visiting the cliffs and beaches at Zambujeira do Mar and climbing to the 700-year-old castle ruins in Aljezur.

After ten days following along 650 kilometers of the Atlantic coast it was time to cut inland towards Lagos on the southern coast for a long break in the Algarve region. I’m excited to tell you about it soon.

Thank you for reading!

Bikepacking Portugal (Part Two)

Our fourth day of cycling started in Nazaré, a delightful resort town with scenic cliffs and huge breaking waves. In the late morning we rode to the old Nazaré Lighthouse (Farol da Nazaré) where visitors can view the cliffs and both Praia do Norte and Praia da Nazaré. The weather was inspiring and the sky clear, so we sat and observed the beaches and the waves while eating breakfast. This part of  Nazaré has some historical buildings, a square with vendors and people wearing traditional clothing from the area and just felt like it had a lot going on. We decided to stay the whole morning, walking our bikes through the little streets and stopping for coffee.

While we were leaving the city, I realized a pattern emerging; navigating though large towns and cities presented the biggest challenges so far. These places are crowded, complicated and safety becomes a concern. Turning left is really hard and we have to take care to both make it through traffic lights and keep to our distance from the cyclists biggest frenemy, buses. In cities it’s not easy to just stop and check for directions and sometimes the road we had planned to follow looked too chaotic for cycling and we had to change course. It reminded me a bit of hitchhiking, where it’s almost better to avoid a city and take a ride around it then taking your chances of smoothly going in and exiting. During our morning break we decided to make an effort to go around cities unless there was a special reason for visiting.


Protecting myself from the sun, salty wind and chilly temps.

Out of Nazaré we followed a small road coast-side of Hwy 242. In the afternoon the wind really picked up and a sprinkling of showers fell- the first of the trip – although gentle enough to still enjoy the winding path along the Silver Coast. I actually enjoyed the rain to a degree. The rugged coast really seemed to come alive and command respect and attention. It’s so easy to think of a beach as a place for watching sunsets and digging toes into sand and not as the wild and dynamic place that it is.

Before reaching the Óbidos Lagoon we headed inland and spotted the famous castle from almost 10 kilometers away. I found this really exciting and loved the classic medieval architecture; when I imagine a castle, something exactly like the shape the of the Óbidos Castle comes to mind. We rode up the curving road past the almost thousand year old complex and stopped at a cafe to enjoy the view and rest our legs. Thinking about all the history surrounding us was a really powerful experience. Not just the millennia of human activity but also the slow processes nature; seeing the rugged coast slowly shaped by wind and waves provokes you to really think about time.

That evening we found a campsite south Peniche and picnicked on fruit we bought from a roadside stand. Although we were in the mood for something more substantial, it was a Sunday and markets and many cafes were closed. It was the only night we really didn’t get a nice dinner but it was still fun and filling with all the fruits and the last of the bottle of port we picked up in Porto.

My favorite sights were the small beaches of Santa Cruz and São Lourenço with layered and colorful rock formations where the sea and land come together. Eventually the route wandered away from the coast and passed through orchards, vineyards and around castles, really completing the picture of this beautiful country.

A view from a nice resting point on the Silver Coast.

It only took me five days to get lost. Trying to follow a network of different trails and routes is exhausting. In an effort to save time on the way to Sintra, we turned onto highway N9 – not at all scenic but it allowed us to move quickly and not worry about navigation. I followed the road until I was able to see Castelo dos Mouros, the 9th century Moorish castle of Sintra looming high, appearing very detailed and imposing, and much closer than it actually was. Assuming I was very near Sintra, and with my travel partner far ahead of me I turned off of N9 and planned to follow whatever little roads seem to head towards to the castle (I usually have a great sense of direction). This approach actually took a few hours and instead of spending the day off the bike, trekking deep into the nature park, I arrived to Sintra at about 6 PM. pretty grumpy, tired and too late to check into almost any accommodation in the area. After some running around, I found The Blue House, a very cute and wonderful hostel. The owner was really cool about letting me keep my bike on the second floor patio and gave me some great ideas for dinner and wines to try while I recovered from the long day. My cycling partner ended up in a different place that night and I was able to meet other travelers and have time to myself and it was a really lovely evening. I hadn’t realized how tired and stressed I had become the preceding days. Cycle touring is very fun but having to deal with all the little things of planning your own cross country tour builds up a lot of stress. It was great to be shaken back into a nice mental space.

Sunny Sao Lourenço Beach.

Today, on day number six, I have a flat and easy ride from Sintra to Lisbon via Cascais and it will have a lot of snack (and also wine) stops. Aside from a few infrastructure and navigation issues, things are actually going really well. My bottom is finally getting used cycling (thank goodness). I’ve seen a few other bike travelers and a handful of what looks like long distance hikers. It’s encouraging to see these people and enjoy a chat with them; there is a magic in seeing other regular people doing challenging things too and makes me feel a bit more sane about just deciding to bike across a foreign country.

Thank you for reading!

Bikepacking Portugal (Part One)

Bom dia from Nazaré, 250 kilometers into a dream cycling journey along the Portuguese coast from Porto to Lagos.

My second visit to this beautiful country and my first time backpacking is off to a great start passing along the beautiful coast and through adorable villages, enjoying warm dinners and sunny coffee breaks. I’ve found Portugal is a wonderful and affordable place to explore on your own, especially on two wheels.

I’m touring on a racing bike borrowed from a friend, doctored to accommodate a rack purchased from Decathlon. The light frame and fit will help me maintain a steady pace along a patchwork of roads that loosely follow along the coast and in south, the Fishermens Trail, also know as the Rota Vicentina. The ride is meant to be simple with the freedom to dismount and take day hikes or explore on foot in villages or beaches. A tent, sleeping bag, pad, spare tubes, pump, odometer, power bank, lock, tarp and small supply of clothing are in tow. For ease of travel and to experience the local cuisine along my path, I decided against carrying cooking supplies; Portugal is a great place to find cheap, delicious meals and fresh produce and my route never strays too far from the beaten path. I am however, carrying a wine bottle opener and utensils.

A dinner of Francesinha and wine in Porto.

Planning the route was a challenge as there is no single cycling coastal route. While waiting for the bikes to arrive (shipped from Austria) my travel companion and I explored Lisbon by day and examined maps and organized our itinerary by night. The biggest issue with the planning was eliminating some dream stops from the trip – for me this included Coimbra and Sagres. There are simply too many historical and alluring sites in Portugal for one trip but once we acknowledged this, it was easy to agree to a rough path. The itinerary is loose enough to add days in places we loved, or to wait out bad weather and make small detours if something amazing or unexpected showed itself along the way. We decided to research multiple places to stay each night and pick the option that made the most sense on the go. Our route began in Porto and hits Nazaré, Obidos, Sintra, Parque Natural da Arrábida, Aljezur and Lagos. When cycling paths are available we will follow them but we are also using major roads in some stretches to save time. The journey also includes a train trip from Lisbon to Porto, our starting point, and two short ferry rides, one over the Tagus in Lisbon and the other from Setúbal to the Troia Peninsula. The route will cover about 700 kilometers in total over two weeks.

You could say things officially began in a north suburb of Lisbon where we assembled our bikes and then boarded a train to Porto. We found our tickets a few days in advance on the Rail Europe website. One way to tickets were about 30 USD and the bicycles were free to transport, however, we had to chose a seat on a train that still had room for the bikes. Before leaving we made a stop off at a suburban Decathelon to buy spare tubes, a mini pump, bike rack, sleeping pad and padded cycling bottoms. These items were cheaper than they would be at home and the quality was appropriate for our needs.


The bike all packed up.

Porto is an interesting city to explore and has it’s own feel, much different than Lisbon. We found a cycling-friendly hostel not far from the train station and after securing our bikes inside we wandered around the Baixa neighborhood and riverfront. The beautiful weather and springtime air added the perfect touch to a lovely evening of rich food and lots of port. I almost wanted to delay the trip to spend more time in the city but I knew I was likely to become attached to every destination and would have to learn to move on – something I always find hard while traveling.

The following morning we crossed the Ponte Luis and took an immediate right onto the Av. Diogo Leite. A bike friendly riverfront road follows along the Douro until the Atlantic coast at the Douro Estuary Viewpoint. We then took off south along the coast on a well marked and maintained cycling path. Cafes and markets are everywhere on the first 100 kilometers and most communities have bike parking and a welcoming vibe to cyclists. It felt largely suburban and was a good opportunity to tweak the bikes and the packing system before we were far from civilization. If we were to have forgotten anything or needed a change it would have been easy to find a bike shop or hardware store.


The first of a few unplanned wild camping nights. I would recommend spending a few bucks on international or Skype calls to confirm campgrounds are truly operational before showing up.

The first night of camping was a dream staying on sand near Reserva Natural das Dunas de São Jacinto, about 70 kilometers south of Porto. The sound of the sea and the soft sand was very comforting to me and I was really grateful such a wonderful place was our stopping place for the night. Although the day’s terrain was flat, navigating the continuous urban landscape was tiring; we were almost constantly checking our map app to ensure we were on the right course. We made so many errors and took “the long way” several times so that our odometers read 90 kilometers when we made camp. Navigation is a big frustration of going your own way but something we were mentally prepared for.

About 150 km south of Porto, the modern buildings and bright seaside settlements thin out before Nazaré and the landscape is dominated by forest. It was at this point we realized how unfamiliar we were with Portugal itself. We had seen a forested camping area on the map and decided it would make a nice place to camp that night, however, unknown to us it had been destroyed a year before in a devastating wildfire. The entire area around Marinha Grande was ashen and grey, it was honestly frightening to see. Although a few long sections followed an even cycle path, even the roads are damaged (as of 2018) – partially melted and with a rough riding experience similar to cobblestone. Fortunately, some patches are already starting to recover with wildflowers and shrubs in every color bursting through the soil and deer exploring the hollows.

After two nights of camping we wanted the third night spent indoors at Nazaré Hostel and take it easy. The city is absolutely gorgeous, known for it’s massive waves and extreme surf competitions. Nazaré is what I imagine when I think of Portugal – dramatic cliffs and oceanscape with a little town set along a hill dotted white washed houses and red roofs (thanks Sue and Brian for suggesting this pretty town).


Nazare in the evening.

After three days what do I think of the route? We arrived in Portugal directly from a three month trip in Southeast Asia and managing our private belongings and working with what we already have dictated the way we packed. I have a 40L backpack strapped to the bike rack and am not using actual panniers. This works well most of the time and forces me to travel light but on uneven roads it jiggles loose. My travel companion is was able to get two of his own bikes shipped to us from his home for about 50 USD. The trade off with the huge savings is that the bike I’m using is a little too big and not meant for rough roads. It does seem to be working well for what we have done so far. A nightly ritual is chaining the high value bikes up with a padlock to keep them protected. Edit: at no point in the trip did anyone attempt to take the bikes. We felt the peace of mind was worth carrying around the lock and chain. Drivers seem attentive and we feel safe on the road,  however aggressive dogs have caused us problems. I was actually bitten in the leg south of Nazaré on a busy public road but had enough thick layers on to prevent puncture. Edit: To us, dogs ended up being the most threatening part of the trip, which was overall very safe.

If we enjoy our adventure on the Portuguese coast we will immediately follow up with a two week trip through southern Spain. I look forward to updating you!

Thanks for reading!