1800km on the clock and Goodbye to Thailand and ‘Sabaidee’ Laos!
Wow what an incredible 48 hours we have had. Departing the absolutely delightful town of That Phanom 2 days ago and cycling 57km to Mukdahan our final town in Thailand. The first 30km of that ride was possibly our least enjoyable being chased yet again by dogs, no shoulder on the road and a head wind. That’s all part of the fun though and the last 27km into Mukdahan was a breeze.
Found a great new hotel in Mukdahan ‘Bird Day Boutique’ and it was awesome with a great brekki, even had KFC next door. Oh the excitement of being able to have a break from rice and noodles. This was short lived when we went to order our up sized zinger burger meal deal only to be told. ‘No more burger……all gone’. They were however serving rice and corn in a bowl with chicken. What would the Colnel think of that?
Today we hit the pedals from Mukdahan 7km to the Laos border and received the Thailand exit stamp no sweat. As you can’t bicycle over the Friendship Bridge our next task was to wave down a ute to get our bikes and us through to Laos. 8.15am waiting, waiting, waiting. This border is so quiet it’s crazy. 9.45am we were in action and a ute pulled up to immigration and we loaded the bikes on the back and squeezed into the ute and got the ride across to Laos immigration. Loaded with US money for our visa and a further bunch of US $1 bills (as we had been informed the price can vary depending on how they feel on the day and the bribe money they may want to take). We were in action getting our Laos Visa for US $30 and no additional money required. Yahoo we are in Laos and that was a breeze! Cycled out of immigration now biking on the right hand side of the road biking a further 10km to Savannakhet. Such a slower place of life it’s like we have stepped back in time.
Straight to the Vietnam Consulate to apply for our visa we will need in 10 or so days time. Got there 5 minutes before it closed for lunch break and pick it up tomorrow, we are on a roll. Everything going to plan checked into our great little guesthouse and biked around Savannakhet getting a feel for this sleepy town. Here we will be for a couple of nights before making our way across rural Central Laos to the Vietnam border. Changed our money and we are instant millionaires with the Laos kip.
Now that we have had to say goodbye to our friend Leo we will have to try and hunt down a Beer Laos tonight as crikey it’s hot!
After 2 nights in Sakhon Nakhon we were itching to get back on the bikes to get to That Phanom. So yesterday (after one day of rest from the big hot day climbing the mountains) we hit the road early. What a pleasant day riding in overcast conditions and just managed to avoid the rain all the way, often biking on wet roads but never saw a drop of rain. Flat terrain, with stunning scenery and rural Isaan villages. Arriving That Phanom and so cool that across the MeKong River we can now see Laos.
Had to hunt our friend Leo down on the black market yesterday as Buddha Holiday. Felt like a couple of teenagers walking home with Leo wrapped in newspaper! (Not that we ever did that!!)
Today in That Phanom we find out that it is still a public holiday and it is their biggest day of the year with ‘Candle festival’. That Phanom has a large Wat (Temple) that brings 1000s of people to visit at this time of year – a Budhist Celebration. We heard the festival concludes with a street parade. With nobody speaking English in this town we struggled to find the start time. We eventually heard 1pm so being punctual and with nothing else to do we were sitting in the heat at 12.30 ready for action. 1pm passed and……….. nothing We were then told 2pm that also came and went so time for an ice cream! Waiting, waiting, waiting we were told 3pm. In the distance we heard the banging of drums and a few started to congregrate close by. We were in action and for the next 2.5 hours we think half the population of the Isaan Province passed us by. This parade was massive and a definite true Thai experience. Plenty of laughs for sure from lady boys dancing, school kids parading, old ladies on plastic chairs on the back of utes, pimped up tractors, Miss Candle contestants with huge fake eye lashes and bouffant hairstyles with the guys holding the sun umbrella for them. Entertainment at its best Thai style. We definitely had to find our friend Leo after that and once again soon realised we had to hunt him down on the black market.
All that aside this is the most amazing town. So quaint with a real mix of Thai, Laos, French influenced architecture. Once again the people are so lovely and we are having an amazing time and will stay at least a day or 2 more.
Yesterday was a leisurely ride to Somdet but still the heat was soaring. We weren’t even 100% sure there was a hotel in this small town but we found TN Place and what a find for 400b. The people all so friendly, so much so that a lady rocked up on her scooter saying she would deliver us takeaways tonight. Not sure how word got around town that 2 farang (Westerners) were in town. Maybe someone had told her we didn’t eat the offal we were served for lunch….! Note the offal on rice at lunch was the one and only bad meal we have since being in Thailand and that was purely our lack of Thai when ordering. The hotel owner phoned through our takeaway/delivery order for dinner and Bingo it was awesome!
Today Somdet – Sakhon Nakhon 88km
On the bikes by 6.15am and already not a cloud in the sky so was going to be a hot day. We had read up we were going to get some hills today but bloody hell this made the Whangamoas seem like a walk in the park. We thought we had one Mt pass to negotiate, however after knocking that over and celebrating we were greeted with a further 40km of grunty hill climbs with the odd descent.
I know we keep going on about the heat but it was stifling. Our clothes were completely soaked with salt stains, our faces dripping like taps constantly and once again a battle to keep the fluids up.
As crazy as it sounds we had a blast and loved it. 10km out from Sakhon Nakhon we experienced the true kindness of strangers spirit. Literally being waved off our bikes 3 people were giving away free drinks to anyone on a bike. The timing for this was perfect as we gulped down the super sweet iced blackberry drink, and then another one, and then one drink bottle was filled with it and our water bottles all replaced. We all tried to converse with each other and 30min later we were on our way buzzing about another cool Thai experience and having pretty much our only flat riding of the day for the final 10km into the city. Found a hotel, had a late lunch, cold shower and stayed into the aircon to try get our body temps back to normal. I think that friend Leo will be popping around soon to see if we are OK!
We loved our posh 5 star digs so much at Mantra Varee in Khon Kaen that our 2 night stay turned into 4. Was a good break off the saddle and we enjoyed our sleep ins, buffet brekki and exploring the city.
Up early this morning and got the pedals turning arriving in Kalasin around midday. Really good ride being off the main Highway and onto a secondary HW. Significantly less traffic and lovely scenery all the way through small villages and towns and rice paddies all the way.
Found our digs in Kalasin and our standard of accommodation is back to being a cycle tourist. Can’t complain at all as the main priority is aircon as it is still incredibly hot.
This afternoon on the main street of Kalasin was a really colourful parade which went for about an hour. All ages dancing/walking in lovely costumes, music pumping out the back of trucks as the heat soared down. We have absolutely no idea what it was celebrating but think it may have something to do with the Thailand public holidays here Monday and Tuesday (Nam from Nelson you may be able to tell us)?
Departed the lovely Phimai about the same time the monks were collecting their Elms and had a head wind for 10km back out to the Highway. After that a really fast ride, maybe it was the tail wind, maybe the couple of days rest or maybe the excitement to be back pedalling moving forward into the unknown.
Arrived Phon and found the only hotel in town, well so the owner said but we were sure there was another. Anyway we weren’t worried as was a great hotel at 590b ($23.50) inc brekki. Chilled out in the air con for a bit then did some exploring. We absolutely loved Phon, the people so friendly, and the streets so quiet. Very few Westerners would visit Phon and those that do would be males either looking for love in the Isaan Province or visiting their loved ones families, so Western females a definite novelty.
We had the true Isaan hospitality last night whilst having dinner and a beer. As we were about to leave and paying the bill the man got the calculator out to do the tally and the total for one big beer and 2 dishes came to 125b ($5). When we tipped him 25b it was like he had won lotto. He struggled to accept it and in return gave us a large bottle of water worth 12b. This was so sweet and made us realise how fortunate we are to be having this amazing experience with these lovely people. Also puts life in perspective when many of the Thai people only earn 300b ($12) per day, others we pass daily on our bikes walking the side of the highway picking up plastic bottles to scratch out a living.
76km Phon – Khon Kaen
Up early and already the heat was packing a punch. Hearty brekki of fried eggs on toast to hit the road. Traffic was heavy all day and 10km into it we saw our first of 2 crashes for the day, a trucks trailor rolled over on the road. When we arrived it looked like nobody injured just feeling sorry for himself.
The heat and humidity was scorching today and at one stage I had to check I didn’t have a flatty as the pushing was such tough going. Struggling to get the fluids on board to keep up with the rate they were exiting the body and with what seemed to feel like uphill all day arriving Khon Kaen was a welcome site. Navigating the busy big city we found our hotel but not before seeing a lady getting knocked off her scooter and almost doing the splits as she fell. She was fine but scooter a little damaged. We decided to splash out in Khon Kaen and booked a room for 1200b. ($48 Inc brekki) Maybe the receptionist saw how buggered we looked but we ended up getting an upgrade to the ‘Suite’. Hmmm now that’s cycle touring in style. Maybe a little posh for us sweaty, dusty kiwis but hey we will lap it up for the 2 nights and maybe even extend a 3rd.
64km uneventful ride yesterday but we were a little late getting on the road as it was still pouring with rain when we woke up. It wasn’t long before it cleared and the roads dried out in no time and it was time to load the panniers and navigate out of the big city of Nakhon Ratchisima. The heat intensified combined with the humidity and we wanted to get to Phimai before the next storm hit. So we blitzed the ride on the highway with a nice tail wind and arrived at this beautiful little town of Phimai. Phimai has a lot of old ruins with them being of similar design to Angkor Wat due to the Khmer (Cambodian) influence.
We have decided to stay here 3 nights as it is such and easy place to hang out, and they aren’t wrong when they say the people in the Isaan provinice are super friendly. We have great accommodation at the Amatara Hotel and even had toast and marmite for brekki!
Had lovely dinner of noodle soup at markets in Pak Chong and good sleep at ‘At Home Guesthouse’. Bit of a sleep in as short day on road so toast for brekki at the guesthouse and hit the road to Sikhiu at 8.30am. More rolling hills along the highway before we saw the turn off to Sikhiu which is really nothing more than a small dusty Thai town. Our good luck continues with our hotels and tonight we stayed at ‘River Apartment’ which was fantastic despite no river to be seen. Bit of R & R this avo before the rain rolled in.
Haven’t seen the sun in a few days now which makes it perfect for riding and our riding pattern seems to be riding in a fine mist before late afternoon rain/storm. Humidity incredibly high but temps generally around 33deg.
43km Sikhiu – Nakhon Ratchisima
We have not long cycled our way into Nakhon Ratchisima the south/west part of the Isaan Province, the largest province in Thailand which makes up more than half of the land mass of this amazing country.
Busy riding again today and not without drama. Half way into the ride a scooter coming towards us on our shoulder (wrong side of road which is normal) swerved to give us room and his scooter caught the raised edge of the highway causing him to go sideways onto the highway and BOOM hit by a scooter going same direction as us. This all happened approx 30m in front of us and the lady cartwheeled through the air landing on Highway not moving at all. We ditched the bikes and first aid came into full swing of course very difficult with language barrier. Once more cars pulled over to help and ambulance called Andy was on traffic duty for about 20mins before we got on our merry way with Thai bystanders very grateful for our help. Both were OK thanks to their helmets with minor injuries and 2 completely wrecked scooters and just a very bad luck accident with a very lucky outcome.
So here we are for one night before hitting the road tomorrow to Phimai where we will spend 2 nights.
It really is an unreal feeling departing a city and having absolute no idea where you are heading and today our internal compass wasn’t working and neither of us could get a sense of direction. Maybe it was the fact the air was so thick with humidity at 95% therefore no sun and trying to drizzle. Either way every direction we turned we seemed to have a head wind and we really did feel like we were riding in circles. What was supposed to be a 53km ride turned out to be 66km with the GPS bike mode trying to send us on roads that didn’t exist so had to change our path after 25km. All was good though and we got to see a lot more than we would have otherwise.
We arrived Saraburi and yet another busy town. Checked into our great digs and walked out and round the corner was a mall with KFC. They say when you are bicycle touring you can eat what you like and man it tasted good being the first taste of Western food we had eaten in over a month!
64km Saraburi – Pak Chong
Downstairs by 7am for complimentary chicken and tuna sammies and hot drinks for brekki. Owners wanted photos of us so happy snap time first thing before on the road.
Highway riding all day today and OMG we had hills for the second time in a month and we loved it. Who would have thought we would get so excited about the challenge of grunting out the hills and man they were steep. Everything that goes up must come down and down we did at 48km top speed. For some reason everytime I get up speed Whoo-hoo just yells out at full voice. Heaps of trucks and buses on the busy highway as we wound our way through the hills and arrived at Pak Chong. Once again we have hit jackpot with our guesthouse. Absolutely awesome lovely Young Thai owners and looking forward to exploring the night markets for dinner later.
So here we are on our way up Central Thailand making our way up to the Isaan Province where if all goes to plan 600-700km later we will be crossing into Laos.
Wow can’t believe we have just clicked over 1000km today on this awesome crazy cycle adventure.
Let’s back up to yesterday where we departed our ‘love shack’ dirty no name bungalow off the Highway on the outskirts of U Thong. On the road by 5.45am and even needed our bike lights on. Was great to get on the bikes early and got some good kms under our belt before the heat intensified by 9am. We knew we were in for a long day and decided to take the country roads. We were rewarded with stunning scenery, biking alongside rice paddies on quiet rural roads for the first 60km despite having a head wind most of the way. Got lost once where we were having a bit of a communication mishap with gps and ended up in a tiny village in someone’s backyard, getting chased out by their dogs, where we are positive they had never seen another westerner let alone two on a bike in fluro. This set us back 3omins or so as we backtracked and got ourselves back in the game.
The final 35km were back on a highway and was a lovely tail wind but the temps were now high 30s and we needed heaps of rest stops and an ice cream to get us into Ayutthaya. 98km later and we arrive at our guesthouse which is just awesome.
We didn’t really know what to expect of Ayutthaya but this old capital of Thailand is absolutely lovely. Ruins are amongst the town and today we have spent the day on our bikes exploring and yep we clicked over 1000km! Think we will be celebrating that effort tonight. We are going to stay in Ayutthaya another 2 nights to soak up this lovely town and all of its history.
Departed Kanchanaburi this morning and loved the roads today. Not much traffic at all, dogs all well behaved, and plenty to look at. Seemed to be a lot of sugar cane being grown around this area. Was probably our hottest day biking today so heaps of drink stops required but we were struggling to get enough water on board for the amount we were sweating out.
We had planned on staying in a small place called U Thong but once we arrived there we couldn’t find the hotels anywhere. Despite a lovely man showing us a dive of a place and another couple at our lunch stop saying they owned a hotel we decided to head up the road a little further. So we think we are about 3km out of U Thong at some random guesthouse on the side of the road. We were kindly given clean towells, soap and a condom so think we are all sorted for the night! Hmmm don’t think too many Westerners stay at this place.
We will hit the road tomorrow and possibly push through 90km to Ayutthaya, depending on the weather. Nice storm starting to come through now which is cooling us down.