UPDATE COMING SOON - I'LL TRY! Now that you are here on this site, it may be worth your while looking at the pictures. I should finish this post before the end of the current century.
I needed a haircut. As I cycled along this busy dusty "fumy" and noisy road - I spotted what I thought was a barber shop. OK, yes it was a barber shop. The diminutive barber was not yet at office, but the carpenter who shared the premises called, and he soon made an appearance. Very interesting, although I feared for my life at times. It seemed that he could not stop cutting, and even the beard trim ended in a smooth shave. Scary! He used an old style "cut-throat" razor, which he sharpened every now and than.
Once I had obtained the Vietnam visa in the Laos capital, Vientiane, I headed through Southern Laos. I crossed into Vietnam at Lao Bao, sort-of Central Vietnam, and a major border between these 2 countries. The following gibberish is a daily record of the distances I cycled in Vietnam:- Cam Lo 60 km; Phu Viet 77 km; Ba Don 85 km; Ky Phong 86 km; Vinh 62 km; Dong Ha 64 km; Hoa Chau 75 km; Kim Lien 49 km; Ninh Binh 49 km; Phu Ly 31 km; Hanoi 71 km; Noi Bai (airport and back etc) 71 km; Ha Dong 69 km; Miew Mong 45 km; Hang Tram 44 km; Cam Thuy 48 km; Thong Nat 55 km; Xuan Tho 76 km; Anh Son 71 km; Con Cuong 33 km; Quang Ten 44 km; Mxien 73 km; and Nam Can (Vietnam/Laos border) 22 km. Total distance cycled thus far is 166 995 km.
Hello Again! I am currently back in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, for the second time in as many months. After leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) in early September I cycled the central route North to the Thai Highlands and then I proceeded on down to the Mekong river. This was a route I had not taken before, and I had only seen this part of the river from the opposite banks in Laos.
To reach the main border from Thailand to Laos I traveled East before crossing and proceeding to the Laos capital, Vientiane. I had sent out some requests for sponsorship so I could complete my route through China. I was hoping for some money to drop from the sky (the best response was "God Bless You"). After I realised that there was nothing forthcoming from above, there was no point in wasting my meagre funds on a Chinese visa, and I saw another 2-month visa for the return to Thailand as the most viable option. However, due to all the previous Thai visas in my passport, I was denied another visa at this time (Vientiane has so far been the easiest place for people making a Thai visa run - so I guess they are tightening up their policy). And so I was off to the Vietnamese visa office where I was duly granted a month's visa (a bit expensive though).
I still had enough time, so I headed through Southern Laos towards the Lao Bao border, and into Vietnam. The past rainy season had taken its toll on this busy road. Now it was dry and breezy, and the broken road had turned into a dust bowl.
And so I was off to Vietnam for the first time in about 9 years (see that post for details). On my way back from Vietnam I crossed into Laos at a relatively remote border, at Nam Can. This border is situated in the NE of Laos, a rather mountainous region. I took it fairly easy along there, as bike parts were wearing out like popcorn. I also did not want to become part of the "popcorn festival" by wearing myself out. There was no need to rush, I had plenty of time (my problem was that I had no idea where to head next). So I made my way back towards Vientiane where I hope to get some clarity on my options.
I passed through Phonsavanh, a touristy town in the otherwise remote NE mountains of Laos. The reason for all the tourists is the famed "PLAIN OF JARS" (ancient large carved stone jars). I found this town somewhat disturbing. In a relatively isolated region, suddenly hordes of foreign tourists pop out of the woodwork. Busses, mini-busses, taxis, etc, are hauling the Farangs in from Vientiane and Luang Prabang cities. I am not at all fond of this place, as I was twice ignored as a customer (obviously I'm a small time player). The road is broken and terribly dusty (certainly muddy in the rainy season). Looking at the countless fancy hotels and guesthouses one may imagine that there is enough money for road maintenance. Anyway, those jars are about 10 km out of town.
On the way to another touristy town, Vang Vieng, I came across a rather interesting milestone (see the pic of the sign, the template for painting the name was probably used back-to-front, and the KM sign upside-down). Perhaps the sign was painted by one of the hordes of revelling young travellers (some who seem to get stuck here in VV).
My previous trip through Laos had been in the Rainy Season, and the Rice Planting effort was in full swing. Now, it was the start of the Dry Season, and the Rice Harvest was in the swing of things.
I stayed in the "Back-Packer Hangout" of Vang Vieng for a couple of days (cheapest room that I could find). Myself and my equipment were all in a mess, after an awkward period of time lately. Technically there is wi-fi, but it came and went at will (at least the hot shower worked, and I was in there for half the day). A highlight there was the Italian T/A Pizza shop next door, and I became their number-1 customer. While in Vang Vieng I replaced an O-ring seal on my stove (nearly caused unintentional arson recently!), and repaired the door zip of my tent (free game for mozzies).
Now I am back in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Two months ago I was prevented from applying for another Thailand tourist visa because I already had too many of those in my passport. After the whole Vietnam rigmarole, a number of thousands of KM on the bike, and the "almost" flight back to South Africa, GUESS WHAT?! Inexplicably my visa application was accepted. But my joy was short lived. Two days later I cruised over to the Thai Consulate to pick up my visa, but to no avail (the visa had been denied for the same reasons as before). There are always options, but those are rather slim, and not my preferred choice. Anyway, relax and look at the pictures. The photo below of Vientiane was taken across the Mekong river from Thailand (Still about 80 km via the border and back to what you see in the pic).
I had crossed from Thailand into Laos at the Nong Khai border-bridge across the Mekong river. On the following day I was at the Laos capital, Vientiane, about 30 km from that bridge border. For visa purposes etc I had to hang around in the vicinity, so some of these distances are not at all phenomenal, but mainly a search for accommodation. Then, from Vientiane I cycled through Southern Laos towards Savannaket, and then East up towards the Vietnam border at Lao Bao. Daily distances from Vientiane on this occasion are:- Nongtaeng 33 km; Nongkhankou 36 km; Mai 31 km; Vientiane (again) 27 km; Mai 25 km; River Watt 37 km; Mixay 26 km; Naxon 52 km; Paxxan 80 km; Pakkadan 50 km; Vieng Kham 72 km; Thakek 85 km; Ban Nao Nua 75 km; Dong Hen 76 km; Kethamouak 78 km; Ban Dong 80 km; Lao Bao (Vietnam) 23 km. Total cycled by this stage is 165 635 km.
From Vietnam I returned to Laos via the relatively remote Nam Can border post. After the 20 km climb up to the border the previous day, I was expecting some respite, perhaps even some downhill. Not to be! Still early in the day, but after torturing my poor overladen horse on the relentless uphill (sometimes over 10% gradient) on a somewhat broken road, I called it a day at Nonghet town. So distances into this mountainous part of Laos, from the Vietnam border, were:- Nonghet 18 km; Ban Pakho 32 km; Kham 41 km; Ponsavanh 43 km; Nongtan 59 km; Hinsua 54 km; Phoukoun 45 km; Kasi 42 km; Vang Vieng 59 km (and 3 days onwards to Vientiane). Total distance cycled is 167 550 km.
UPDATE COMING SOON - I HOPE. Until then here are some pictures for you to look at.
Distances cycled since leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) on 10 September are as follows:- Bang Saen 66 km; Phanom Sarakham 74 km; Nakhon Nayok 72 km; Saraburi 79 km; Lam Narai 75 km; Bueng Sam Phan 83 km; Lom Sak 102 km; Hill Watt 69 km; Huai Lat 57 km; Chiang Khan 85 km; Pak Mang 61 km; Tha Kathin 77 km; Salakhamtai (Laos) 74 km; and Vientiane 24 km. Total to this point is 164 749 km (exactly 1000 km since leaving Pattaya).
I had been relaxing at Leana's condo in Jomtien Thailand for a couple of weeks. During this time I was able to update this blog, as well as work on my bike (fitting new road tyres, packing wheel bearings, and so forth). Leana returned after guiding a bike tour, and then it was time for me to get on the road again. After some uncertainty I had decided on heading down to the NE border of Malaysia, which would take 2 weeks at best.
I had traveled South through Thailand a number of times before, so this time I took a slightly different route along the Gulf of Thailand coast. This also involved taking a small car ferry across the inlet to Songkhla. The pics in this post are along this route, Surat Thani, Ban Lad, and Prachuap Kiri Khan (amongst others).
At a petrol station close to Surat Thani city, these 2 ladies had stands in the on-site food court. They noticed me filling my water bottles from the "unsecured" tap, and decided to "help" me. They fed me from their respective stalls, and went to buy me T/A meal from KFC next door. Truly wonderful people, and I am just as thankful. Just wonder, how terrible did I look? (It was late PM by that time!). A day or 2 after that the monks at a seaside temple close to Nakhon Si Tamarat gave me a small brass Budha, which they saw me looking at when they brought me breakfast. I tied the icon to my front luggage rack with plastic zip ties, but there were times when I noticed people (mainly small village children) trying to rip the thing off from the bike. I was not going to take any chances about losing that Budha, so I removed it from public view. (Now I have properly secured the little statue with a hefty brass pipe clamp, through a cut which I made in the back of the little piece).
My Eastern route also took me through the predominantly Islamic regions of Pattani and Narathiwatt. Then "IT" happened! Cycling in the rain close to Pattani city, my front wheel slipped on a ridge in the road and before I knew it I had gone down rather hard. I immediately knew that I had broken my arm (just below the shoulder), as I could not even bend down to try and pick my bike up. Luckily somebody helped me, probably a policeman as this accident happened at a permanent police check point.
After the crash I somehow managed to make it into Pattani, thinking that I would find a big mosque where I could spend the night and think about my next course of action. Instead I found a very fancy Budhist temple (resembling a shopping mall) where I camped on their covered basketball court. People there could see that I was injured and suggested I go to hospital, but I did not have money for that kind of treatment. (So they gave me some medicine to ease the pain). The following morning I was invited into their fancy dining area for breakfast, and that is when "IT" happened again.
One of the big "temple dogs" probably did not want me sharing his breakfast, so he executed a meaningful bite into my leg just below the knee. Suddenly I was spurting blood all over the polished white tiled floor! It was then that the senior community people in charge rushed me to hospital, as a dog bite can quickly become infected (as far as I know, dogs don't brush their teeth). I had the necessary treatment and injections, and at the same time these people also paid for XRays which confirmed my broken arm (just a "crack" really).
With only a couple of days left of my Thailand visa, and many km still to go, I had no choice. Cycling with a broken arm was extremely uncomfortable, I had to rest very often, and I did not make it all that far in a day, but at least I was moving. I crossed the closest border to Malaysia, via the estuary from Talat by means of a ferry, sharing the ride with lots of motorcycles and commuting merchants pushing their carts/trolleys. I just managed to make the crossing to Malaysia in time (late afternoon on the day my Thai visa expired). In case you were wondering, if you overstay your Thai visa for a short time you get fined, and a long overstay will get you fined and banned from returning to Thailand. In extreme "overstay" cases the foreign offender will be imprisoned until such time as he can raise the money to pay the (by that time) hefty fine, and pay for his own flight out to his home country. Then he will be escorted to the airport, never to return to Thailand. It is crazy to even understand how things could get that bad, but I had met people in Bangkok who had overstayed their tourist visa by as much as 14 years!
Daily distances which I cycled on this leg of my travels are as follows:- Chonburi 74 km; Samut Prakan 80 km; Samut Sakhon 72 km; Bang Lad 100 km; Pranburi 85 km; Prachuap Kiri Khan 76 km; Bang Saphan 76 km; Ta Sae 86 km; Pac Tako 75 km; Chaya 96 km; Kanchanadit 81 km; Nakhon Si Tamarat 107 km; Ranot 105 km; Singhan Nakhon 81 km; Chana 45 km; Pattani 60 km; Police Station 25 km; and Bacho (end of Thailand) 55 km. Total distance up to this stage is 156 993 km. (This leg through the S of Thailand amounted to 1 379 km).
After a number of transits it is my opinion that the Laos/Thai land border at Chong Mek (40 km West of Pakse in Laos) is the "least hassle" of the borders between these 2 countries. With a bike you can enter Thai through the car gates quick and easy (avoid weekends and holidays, and if you have a visa then all you need to do is fill in the entry/departure card).
Once again, soon after the border I camped at the Marine Police on the Mekong River at the town of Khong Chiam. This was quite a spectacle as the river was at its highest in about 10 years (look carefully at pictures taken now, and on previous visits, from the same 2 view points). I am guessing, but possibly 15m to 20m higher water now (see the concrete paths and steps leading down, as well as the islands and exposed rocks).
The picture above shows the chief monk at a very nice temple off this road (Buri Ram district). He treated me very well, and I am thankful. He could possibly be a good guest house manager.
And then I stopped off at Pannee's house on the farm in Ubon, not far off my intended route. The tent which I had been using lately was becoming rather thin underneath, causing a wet sleep each time a floor was flooded by rain water (somewhat unpredictable). I had arranged with Pannee to swap this tent with the other tent I had left there last year when I also left her (she does not usually live on the farm, and was not there on this occasion). However, she did instruct her Mama to let me stay in the house for a night or 2, while I adapted the tent and did some maintenance to my bike.
Daily distances cycled from Laos through Eastern Thailand to Pattaya have been as follows (total for this stretch is 852 km):- Khong Chiam 38 km; Ban Trakan 82 km; Kantararam 89 km; Samrong Thap 73 km; Non Daeng 85 km; Nang Rong 86 km; Lam Nang Rong 59 km; Wattana Nakhon 84 km; Phanom Sarakham 89 km; Chonburi 96 km; and Pattaya (Jomtien) 71 km. My grand total distance since leaving Cape Town, South Africa, on 27 March 2007 is now 163 749 km.
The picture above shows the front entrance to Pannee's house on the farm (and I did tell her that I would paint the door the next time I went to the place). Tropical weather is harsh.
On the day which I arrived here in Pattaya, a car slowed down alongside, and the woman in the passenger seat handed me this pair of genuine RayBan sunglasses. I was going into a stiff breeze, in bright sunlight for a change. They simply drove away after that donation, so "thank you". ALSO NOTE:- Please excuse the unsightly ULCER on my nose. By the time I arrived here in Pattaya my whole body was full of these festering sores! It started from mosquito bites and heat rash, and when my defence was low due to weeks of diarrhoea while I was exerting myself by cycling, the bacteria nailed me. I have since been on a heavy antibiotic course, and things have drastically improved (so I end off with this good news).
I was keen to know if I could somehow get back into Thailand without a visa (refused at the consulate in Georgetown, Malaysia). I charged North to Pedang Besar border in the NW of Malaysia, and arrived around mid-day on a Saturday. Absolute chaos, as the traffic was jammed all the way for about 5 km along the main road through the town, to the border. Even on a bicycle it took some skilful manoeuvring to squeeze through. Malay exit works on a quick and easy system, but at the Thai entry there were hundreds of people in disorganised que's, so I took up my place at the back. Soon an organising official approached me, looked at my passport, and escorted me to an office inside the immigration building. There I was given a 30 day entry into Thailand (the huge signs on the walls stated that I needed to show THB 10 000 in cash, but nobody asked). So, now I planned to head straight North through the longest section of Thailand - and I figured that I could pull off that move in a month.
In Malaysia the Thai visa is rather more expensive than a place such as Laos, and I was rather pleased to be given half of that time in the country at no charge. So, off I went on my way to the North. I was feeling fairly strong, healthy, and happy.
At this time of year, whatever breeze there was, was mostly behind me. However, it rained pretty much every day in the South of Thailand, and sometimes I had to dress up because I felt rather chilly. My broken arm was not yet properly healed, and whenever the temperature dropped that discomfort would increase. I usually found a dry camp at night (temples or wherever), but it can become a bit miserable waking up to pouring rain, dressing in wet cycling gear, packing wet bags, and heading off into another grey and soaking day.
I still had a problem with spokes snapping on the back wheel of this bike (great - having to remove brake disc as well as cassette to do a spoke replacement). I had run out of spares, and at Phatalung I found a bike shop which had my size of spoke so I bought 20 (turned out to be only 19 - why would they cheat me with 1 spoke?). My Pattaya tyres were wearing out, so before I hit the big Laos Mountains, I fitted good new tyres at Lampang city.
The pictures in this post are just an assortment from this leg of the trip through Thailand. The cave temple is in the Thung Song district, where I have camped before. I was totally unaware of the caves, I did not explore because of the rain (as before). But this time the monk called me from the hall where I was camping, to have breakfast. He lives in the spectacular cave, and also gave me so much T/A food that I had to refuse much of it (too much to carry).
I relaxed a little on the cycling effort for the last few days as I approached Laos in good time. From Chiang Khong town in Thailand I crossed over to Huay Xai district in Laos on 4 July. I was rather peeved at having to pay a hefty price for the shuttle bus across the Mekong bridge between the 2 immigration check points (I had previously cycled across this bridge in the opposite direction). The bus fare seriously swallowed up a good proportion of my survival pennies. It was a very quiet week-day, with no pickup truck traffic from whom I could beg a ride. Now the big hills and huge mountains of Northern Laos awaited me!
Daily distances which I managed to cycle on this leg from SW to NW Thailand (2 025 km):- Hat Yai 95 km; Phatalung 85 km; Thung Song 78 km; Wang Sa 120 km; Lamae 146 km; Chumphon 105 km; Pak Klang 52 km; Huai Yang 117 km; Pranburi 102 km; Phetchaburi 92 km; Potharam 91 km; U-Thong 99 km; Chai Nat 128 km; Khong Wilai 130 km; Tak 110 km; Don Chadi 113 km; Lampang 95 km; District 15 km; Huai Luang 22 km; Luang Nuea 65 km; Chun 97 km; Thoeng 92 km; Chiang Khong 50 km. Total distance thus far is 161 192 km.