Day 27 Ban Kok to Na Noi

Day 27 Ban Kok to Na Noi
100km. 6 hours but with a lift at the end. I love the police.
Large areas with no habitation just jungle and steep up and down. Sometimes no houses at al for 20km and only one other vehicle an hour or two and that usually a small motorbike. It started off hazy but brightened up when I whipped the sun block off my sun glasses. Sweat poured out of me and ran down my arms dripping off my little fingers. If I coud have attached a pipe from my fingers I could have refilled my water bottle. In places there were a lot of pot holes. When faced with pot holes going down hill it takes anticipation, decisive action, good bike handling skills and lightening reactions. I managed to hit most of them.
It was a slog but I was managing but water became a problem in the last 30km. I carried 3 litres but needed at least five. There was no water pipes to tap into or streams. In fact I did not even see any muddy ponds. Just road and jungle and hills. I started taking a swig of water every 10 minutes to try and conserve some but it was getting a bit serious. I needed to eat for energy but even the green cream bun with black sesame seeds bought 4 days ago from 7/11 was not tempting. I may have managed those last 30km but I would have been in bad shape without any water and mostly up hill. Then a SUV pick up passed. I wished I had shouted, ‘Nam paw’ (water). It stopped 200m further up the hill for the driver to have a piss. I could not get there fast enough before he got back in and my mouth was too dry to shout (bit like the Ancient Mariner). Then he came back out of the car waving a bottle of water. I gave the thumbs up and put in extra effort to get there. I followed the civilities of greeting him and thanking him and then grabbed the bottle and consumed it in three seconds. He brought another bottle and the another that went the same way. He asked if I wanted a lift to Na Noi. It didn’t take much thinking about. I had 21 km to go, six of which were up hill without water and there was no habitation for 15km. He explained he was a border policeman. Now some people in the past may have been a little critical of the police but I have always maintained that they are wonderful humanitarians with hearts of gold and in some cases nice pick ups with good AC. So from slogging, de-hydrated up a mountain 30 minutes previously I found myself standing outside a shop selling chocolate chip ice cream and cold drinks confusing the smiling owner with my Thai.
Na Noi is bigger than the Ban Kok with at least three banks ATMs, shops, a few places to eat, a market and a couple of nice bars plus a few resorts. Nanoi Resort (400B) was great with some style. It even had blue disinfectant come into the toilet bowel when one flushed. It doesn’t get much posher than that. So a good meal and a cold beer in a quaint open air bar. I am wondering if one gets a badge or at least a certificate when one becomes a real cyclist.

MK Resort Ban Kok.

MK Resort Ban Kok.

What genius thought of painting over the kilometre posts? '

What genius thought of painting over the kilometre posts? ‘

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One of the many police check posts as near Lao border. This one nearly took my head off.

One of the many police check posts as near Lao border. This one nearly took my head off.

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The new popular fashion accessory for serious cyclists. a yellow towel around the head

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Yellow towel from another angle

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Road ahead. Down but then up again over the mountains

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Yellow towel again

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brow of another bloody hill

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only sign of life for hours except for crushed scorpions and snakes on the road

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not the Mekong. Rivers are often in valleys so knew more climbing ahead

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Nan Noi resort. one best stayed in

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A bit of style. The wash basin not my washing in it.

Day 25 Chiang Khan to Na Haeo

Day 25 Chiang Khan to Na Haeo
120 km. 9 hours. Hell and really had to push myself.
When the owner of the guest house in Chiang Khan said help yourself to water I don’t think she anticipated my drinking 10 bottles. She brought some deep fried oily pastries for breakfast. I thought they were only for me. Don’t believe those who say that when cycling one can eat and drink what one likes. I think I am putting on weight. I told her where I was heading and she said, ‘ooh, ooh’ a lot and gestured with her hands steep up and down a number of times while saying, ‘ooh’ again. In fact think she over did the ‘oohing’ a bit but did prove accurate.
Longest I have ever cycled. Last 15km when stupidly turned to Na Haeo instead of left to Dan Sai was 2 hours of steep up and down with hills. 40 min hills of hell not your easy 5 min hills or what I used to call hills until a couple of days ago. It just went on and on. Looked at the open sided huts that locals rest in when working in their fields and nearly stopped and stayed in one. It was nearly the emergency tin of sardines scenario (see http://www.cycnicalsnippits.wordpress.com). Road varied from mess of potholes to a tarmac road with double yellow lines etc.
Asked a man dozing in a hammock directions. Think he was a policeman. Was just lounging in a hammock and not to bright so pretty sure he was. As the route near the Lao border check posts at most road junctions. Noodles near La Thai and then road deteriorated. Why the hell did I choose the mountain road to Na Haeo instead of the slightly longer road to Dan Sai? I thought that the hills marked on the graph of http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com were passed. immediately hit a hill that just went on and on for 40 min in lowest gear cranking the bike up. Just what one wants after 7 hours riding in 40c at 4pm. For every hill there was a down with a pot hole at the bottom. Perhaps an analogy for life. Thought or rather hoped each hill was the last. It wasn’t.
Arrived at 18.10 just as getting dark and found a guest house. I tried to bargan but was not convincing and and it was the only place for about 50km. Then my luck changed when I met Joy who had studied a masters in geology in Plymouth, UK and was then doing his PHd on that area. He looked at the map with me and we came to the conclusion that I was stuffed in a place where only way out was over nasty mountains. He then said he could give me a lift to the top one of the mountains the next day and became my best friend. He likes the British. I like him. Thank goodness he had not been to a Glasgow pub after a Celtic/Rangers match. Many Thais favor the UK as the more civilized option for study. Then a small open air restaurant with a cheery lady and good food with a cold beer and life looked better.
Did I say it was 120km and 9 hours of hills? Forgot about cycling through the storm.

not very busy roads

not very busy roads

just a small village in the middle of nowhere.

just a small village in the middle of nowhere.

typical house. more bamboo in this area

typical house. more bamboo in this area

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not all have SUVs here

not all have SUVs here

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seems to be a place for cyclists to sleep

seems to be a place for cyclists to sleep

nice ladies i bought water from. I tend to buy 4 litres at a time and impressed them with drinking 2 immediately

nice ladies i bought water from. I tend to buy 4 litres at a time and impressed them with drinking 2 immediately

found this place just as a storm hit and no guard dogs. Storm got its revenge later!

found this place just as a storm hit and no guard dogs. Storm got its revenge later!

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another possible place to sleep

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can anyone tell me what this is about?

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not the Mekong. Left that although it mimics the border at a distance. Wonder why

a bit of good road that randomly came across when storm hit again.

a bit of good road that randomly came across when storm hit again.

Na Haeo could never be called a bustling place. The only place to eat. Not complaining

Na Haeo could never be called a bustling place. The only place to eat. Not complaining

 

Day 24 Sankhom to Chiang Khan

103 km. 6.5 hours. 50c

First time done over 100km. Twisting and undulating following Mekong. Pretty with small sleepy villages. Some had ice cream. Plenty of accommodation/resorts with two nice looking ones 8km before Pak Cham. One with camping. Few resorts 2km before Pak  Chom for locals to pop out to if the need arises.

Stopped at the first place selling BBQ chicken in Pak Chom and drank a couple of litres of water. My thermometer is from the UK so not made for these temperatures. It only goes up to 50c and had not expected to get much past 30c. Refueled after lunch I felt like a the need of a hammock rather than a bike for another 45km. After 103km arrived in Chiang Khom. Nice enough but discovered by Thai tourists meaning that the accommodation is not such good value for the price. 400B with AC but shared bathroom. Town is mostly wooden. ‘I love Green’ restaurant back on the 211 has great food at low prices and good service.

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Mekong

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Pretty clear I thought

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The proof

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Best sign on the road

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Bamboo and Wat

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Chiang Khom

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a hotel. mine was not as nice as this

Got number of a Dutch tour leader living in Chiang Khon and asked him advice of best route to Nan in the north. He gave me a route but on checking it is 116 to 135 km a day over bloody mountains. I will try 116 tomorrow with the mountains and see how I get on with the hope that there is accommodation a long the way. The pain between my shoulder blades and general tiredness from today does not ode well. ImageImageImageImageImageImage

Day 23 Nong Khai to Sangkhom

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for those of you who need further help in identifying the honey in 7/11

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I just came across this garden. Fantastic.

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I congratulated him with my newly acquired Thai. I may have said hey were delicious

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I overtook him and got two baguettes (French are not all bad). He watched me try the first and say, ‘delicious’ to which he smiled and carried on

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Happy cyclist who has discovered the first hill is down hill

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a resort

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Mekong

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Noodles as second meal in evening. They give you all the water you want free.

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I hope the violent monks of Myanmar don’t influence those in Thailand

Day 23 (24/4/13) Nong Khai to Sangkhom
82 km 5.5 hours. flat and busy moving to undulating quieter and scenic. Now cycled total of  999 km but with the cycling in an out of town must be over 1,000 km.
Eventually managed to leave! Left to the smell of grilled chicken along the street but resisted. Some times road had no hard shoulder and traffic busy so shouting and waving ones hand a lot became necessary and seemed to work. Plenty of accommodation along the route and not all of the pink variety. Stopped to see some great topography of animals. Great views of the Mekong after 50 km and for most of the next 23 km. Best accommodation seems to be 1 km before town. I got a place a bit further on the right after the river overlooking the Mekong.
Do Thais dislike falangs?
Many expats will say, ‘yes and they steal from you too.’ Others just see nice smiles and think they are very fond of falangs. The question is of course simplistic. Thailand is a fairly homogenous country rather than the bastardized race the British are for example. I think this tends to make the likelihood of xenophobia more likely. Experience of  variety of customs and thinking is very limited. When walking down Khao san road in Bangkok to feel superior I listened to a problem between some waitresses and a young English couple. They apparently had ordered some food and then cancelled the order but with a different waitress. They then left and two other waitresses came running after them. They started to shout at the startled couple who explained what had happened and suggested that it was poor communication between the restaurant staff. Very quickly the waitresses started telling them that ‘This is Thailand not your country’ and swearing at them. The female tourist seeing how this was going said ok we will paid so distressed they returned and paid for the food they had cancelled. I then did some goggling and read a few accounts and it seems that if a falang is in a dispute with a Thai he has lost. If it is physical then he has a large group against him. If a legal matter even with good Thai contacts he/she has little chance of success.
Aui likes falangs. I met teacher Aui while having dinner by the river with three kids. Two were her pupils and the three year old was her son. He looked like his father; white freckly skin and western nose. Aui had four Thai boyfriends who were all interested in either drinking, gambling, fighting or whoring or all four. She was going to get married to, ‘a pharmacist which is a good job with a good salary’ but just a few weeks before the marriage a girl rang up to say she was expecting his child. Her first falang boyfriend was a Bolivian American who was very jealous and not wanting her to teach, have friends and checked her emails so he went. The next one gave left her three months after she gave birth to their son who he has not supported but wants to see occasionally. ‘He is in Chiang Mai looking for another girl to look after him’ she said. She wanted to know how long I would be staying and what my job was and the level. About 10 minutes.
Tip:
If anyone suggests you look at the website http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com or something similar beware. It can lead to pessimism and despondency. Google maps will just give you the distances and route. This one gives you a graph of the gradients which showed where I had cycled was very flat and easy and where I am going is mountainous and a nightmare. It does not tell you how to the avoid the worst mountains so one then has to buy a topographical map and spend hours planning routes around hills. ImageImageImageImageImageImage

Day 22 Backpackers

ay 22. 23/04/13
Backpackers
They are of course not all the same but there is the herd instinct and they do tend to dress very similar, go to the same places and talk about the same things. Costs and how to save money is a popular topic usually over a few expensive beers in bars that Thais don’t go to. Tattoes, a few peicings, shorts, singlets or T shirts and carrying a bottle of water. Some get carried away with the peicings and also go for dreadlocks and walk bare foot. That is really cool. They quickly set up little communities based around certain guest houses or hostels. They do some organised trips with others in the hostel and sit around a lot talking about the prices of things in places they have been before. The hostel becomes the home. If it has any dogs or cats they learn the name of them and treat them like their own bringing them snacks and saying what great animals they are. They are willing to venture our into the country outside the hostel especially if in couples but prefer to go out in a group. ‘Hey we are all going out to the Tex bar tonight. Are you coming?’ Inevitably it is a place where there is very little risk of meeting locals and where one can feel at home while complaining about the price of things and drinking overprised beer. There seems to be very little interest in the culture, language or politics of the country.
Then one has the really strange like Yusuf. Dreadlocks, hat, scruffy and drunk. He had already upset all other guests at the Mut Tee garden before I arrived to use their wifi. He joined me and was great company. He was Morrocan who also had a Japanese passport and wife. He had a problem having walked through Thai immigration without a stamp in his passport or rather that was his story. He now wanted to leave Thailand and wanted advice. I suggested as the Mekong was low he could easily get back to Laos and then be illegal in two countries at the same time. More seriously I suggested he go to the immigration office and explan what had happened. Not a very difficult idea to come up with but he was very impressed and based upon this and the fact that I was the only person who had talked to him for more than 5 minutes without getting upset and leaving he asked me to represent him at immigration. I said of course no. He was disappointed and wanted to know why. I explained that the idea of going with him drunk to immigration and interceding on his behalf was not my idea of a restful afternoon. Then a small woman came in to the garden shouting in Japanese at him. He gave me his beer and said, ‘It’s yours isnt it?’ ‘No it’s yours’ I replied deciding that this was not a fight I wanted to be in the middle off. He answered her in Japanese with the tone of a naughty boy. She hit him around the head a couple of time and then dragged him away by the arm and that was the end of the Moroccan.

Day 21 Still Nong Khai

Still in Nong Khai but not a bad place to be.

Tips:

  • how to impress Thais? Eat raw chillies. They will love you and believe you to be Thai with a falang body
  • for the gradient of your trip try the site bikeroutetoaster.com. It’s a bit depressing and does not tell you how to avoid the hills.
  • how to eat noodles? Sit close to the table to avoid half of the bowel on your trousers. Don’t suck them up too quickly especially if you have used a lot of chilli. The ends are prone to flick up in ones eye.

Met a young girl serving in a restaurant whose father died and now has a Swedish father who adopted her. He is apparently very calm but her mother is, ‘an angry woman’ . Her father is going to take her to live in Sweden and study in university there. Interesting how something good can come out of personal tragedy.