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Cycling without a map

Cycling without a map does not have to be a disaster as the following story tells you. Usually you will be able to find a map, good or bad as happened in north Iran with me. It took me a few days in Iran to find a map in Farsi! In China and Thailand I used frequently maps in local language too.

No map needed?
Cycling in Iran, No map needed?

I had cycled through East Turkey. No problems with that. I loved the area. Turkey is a beautiful country for cycling. Especially the east is still quite wild.

From Erzurum I had gone further east in the direction of the Iranian border, a town called Dogubayazit. Roads are good here but and in general the traffic was not a problem.

It was just the buses that make the life of a cyclist sometimes difficult since they are not giving you much space.

I had taken some sideways, camped in the middle of nowhere only disturbed by animals who probably never had seen a cyclist camping. In fact I had been sometimes cycling without a map although I had one with me!

Cycling without a map through the desert? No map needed, there's just one way!

I had tried to buy a map of Iran in Istanbul and later in Ankara but I had failed to obtain one. All I had was a memory of Tehran which would lie in central north Iran and Esfahan which would be more south. Further I knew roughly the shape of the country.

And with that knowledge I crossed the border. I hoped against better, I would be able to get a map in the next town. That should be Tabriz as I was told. However, Tabriz was still along way and not easy to cycle in one day.

I stayed a night in a little town just after the border. The next morning I left and soon I came at a junction. The road I was cycling on was not very busy but the junction gave me an option to go south on a more remote road. The map I had seen in Dogubayazit showed a road going south, to the Iranian province Kurdistan.

Bujang Valley
Without a map I wouldn't have been able to find the Bujang Valley in Kedah, Malaysia

Why not go into the deep and go south? There was a town mentioned: Orumiyeh. So I took that direction. It was a small town. I hoped to find a map here. So I was cycling without a map south into the unknown.

To my surprise there were quite some people who spoke English. They directed me to a little bookstore. Here I found a map. The map was rough but good enough for my purpose with one slight disadvantage: I couldn't read it! It was in Farsi.

During my journey through Iran I found many people willing to help me out to translate the names on the map into English. And since the road-signs were in English too, I had further no problems to find my way around. In fact, I even gave up to get an English map here.


Chinese maps

I used the same trick as in Iran. In China I found the local Chinese provincial maps (in general) much more accurate then the Nelles maps I was used too. The Chinese maps, in Chinese of course, gave me much more and better details of the roads.

No map needed? Cycling in Iran
Somewhere in the desert of Iran, no map needed? Forget it!

In China therefore I used the Chinese maps in general and the Nelles maps as a back up to check town and city names. It was an excellent way of getting my information.

I came at a junction. There was a road to the left and a road straight. There was also a board with a sign Kunming straight and a small town to the right!. Now, there wasn't a road going to the right! I had a problem. In general you can decide to take the biggest or the best looking road. I had tried that before and apart of one time, it had always worked well. Here however I had no idea. Both roads looked identical. Both roads could be ok.

Cycling in north Laos
On roads like this you would wish you had a map but you already know
what it would tell you: no alternatives.

The road to nowhere, no map needed?
The road to nowhere, no map needed?
This is a road in Cambodia

Fortunately there was a little house nearby. A man came out but walked away, probably to shy. Then two other men came out of the house.

I asked them in my best Chinese where to go to Kunming. They looked at each each other and stared at me.

They obviously had no idea what I was talking about. Probably my tongue was wrong as Mandarin is a tonal language and I hardly mastered it.

But I showed them the map. Immediately the faces relaxed and they started to talk now. The map was in Chinese and I had showed them the characters for Kunming.

They told me I had to go to the left since the continuing road would end up in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

So I asked them again: Kunming? Again they stared, they said"... meio, meio... (no no) Kunming" and waved in the exact same direction as I had done. Apparently I had not used the correct tones for the word Kunming.


But at least I had my answers. The map had helped me out. The men were so excited to be able to help me, I couldn't leave without eating something with them. And so I did, and so I had my information based on the map in Chinese and the men would be able to tell their friends about a crazy white man on a bicycle! All of us were happy.

So, what does it tell you? Maps are not only useful in planning your journey, it's also a form of communication in countries where you don't speak the language.

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A meeting outside Simao

When cyclist meet they stop and exchange experiences. On my way from Jing Hong to Kunming (my first time), I met only one cyclist, a Chinese from Yining, far west of China, here is the story

The Chinese cyclist


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