Day 76 Pattani to Narathiwat. Lots of security

100km/5hrs. 42 road and later 4136 coast road towards Mai Kaen. 42 was not too busy with hard shoulder and tree shaded and country road was much nicer. Follow signs to the airport.

 

Slept badly and too little but the correct sized inner tube at LA bike shop made me feel better. Means that I have security if one of my inner tubes is unrepairable.

 

Saw blue sky and sun for the first time in days. Only managed 35km before an early lunch and 1.5 lites of water. Now cycled over 2,000km fron Chaing Mai and over 3,600km in total. Only planned to cycle about 1,00km to Nong Khai but then just continued.

 

Locals waved, thumbs up, grins and shouted hello. Don’t think they get many foreigners around here especially cycling through villages. A couple of boys on a motorbike swore at me but that is just teenage boys. A big military presence and a number of check posts. Most soldiers in black (not sure it that means a particular regiment) and grinned, put thumbs up or saluted me. Seemed very nice people. The sort you would not mind having a beer and a chat with. Unfortunately the Thai military has a bad reputation and was recently criticized in a US State Department report for human rights abuses, summary executions and rape. US military ironically trains them. As the largest arms dealer in the world America does not ignore Thailand especially as their raising economy means they can afford more weapons.

 

Saw a wat with a military post inside and barbed wire covering it but a short distance on a wat that had monks and was open. Some military look out towers again with grinning young soldiers. One soldier asked where I was going but only to then wish me a good trip. Saw a couple of helicopters over head. Security seemed tight.

 

Just as I was thinking that dog attacks were a thing of the past a few dogs started running after me and two more joined them. I speeded up and they kept following but silently without the usual growl or bark. I then took a stone from my old pocket bag and threw it back in their direction and they stopped. So the dog saga continues. If they knew I have not managed to hit one dog with a stone so far they would be less wary.

 

Narathiwat: charming small town with two main parallel streets. One next to river and other leading to clock tower. Few roads linking these. Pacific Hotel is near the clock tower o n Worakakhampipith road (try asking for that in Thai)and costs about 500B. Ocean Blue Mansion is right on river. 400B for non river view and 500B for great river view where one can watch the fishing boats as one dries ones socks on the balcony (see photos). They also sell beer.

 

Everyone seems to speak Malay here which makes it easy for me. I can again interat and joke with locals rather than struggling over a few Thai words badly pronounced. Chatted to receptionist who said he hears many stories but just stays in the middle and says nothing. His way of staying safe. He just wants peace and get on with his life which is 12 hours on reception and then with his family. I suspect that is what most want. It was interesting that he was looking around to see if anyone could hear us talking.

IMG_1262

fortified wat

IMG_1263

check post

IMG_1264

unfortified wat with monks living here

IMG_1265

a dead end but it isn’t raining

IMG_1266

typical scene

IMG_1268

decided against this road

IMG_1269

clock tower, Narathiwat

IMG_1267

empty beaches

IMG_1270

view from ocean blue mansion

IMG_1272

view from hotel window

IMG_1273

fishermen preparing for nights fishing

IMG_1274 IMG_1275 IMG_1276 IMG_1277 IMG_1278 IMG_1279

 

Day 23 Nong Khai to Sangkhom

Image

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

Image

I just came across this garden. Fantastic.

Image

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

Image

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

Image

Happy cyclist who has discovered the first hill is down hill

Image

a resort

Image

Mekong

Image

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

Image

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 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.

 

Day 20 Nong Khai

IMG_0283

Tourists posing

IMG_0284

Lao temple across the Mekong

IMG_0287

Guess it was love at first sight

IMG_0288

So it can be just like home

IMG_0289

Buddhas on roves seems to be popular

So I have arrived and stayed at my destination. Now what and where? I must be back in Bangkok in 17 days to pick up my new passport and to leave the country or extend my visa. I could cycle west and then south towards Bangkok or I could cycle along the border with Laos and head up north where there are serious hills and then take a bus back to Bangkok. Going south looks much easier but the north is the challengeIMG_0281 IMG_0282 IMG_0286

Chinese foundations are to great extent business clubs

Chinese foundations are to great extent business clubs

IMG_0291

This is what I call a real bike shop

IMG_0292

Makes one feel proud

monk in military equipment shop.

monk in military equipment shop.

IMG_0294

For those not too observant I better explain. This is not saying Don’t drink and drive but drink as an alternative to driving.

IMG_0295

1B water machine

and I am not sure I am fit enough to manage it. Also ‘Thundershowers with gust in this period.’ is the weather forecast for the north of Thailand and temperatures of 40C. Looks clear which way I have to go.
A typical Sunday in Nong Khai with quiet streets, the western drunks listening to country music in their favorite bar while eating their favorite British food. Who would want a Thai green curry when you can have a steak pie?
My new Mormon friends waved in their white shirts, ties and smiles. Nice people. Don’t know why people dislike them. Absolutely charming.
In all the time I have been cycling (not that long actually) I have not met another cyclist touring until today when I met a very nice couple cycling around Indochina while taking on line courses. I think I need to spend another day to give them some technical tips.
Tips:
when possible get water from the machines often found on streets. This reduces the amount of plastic waste you are creating and saves you money for other essentials such as ice cream and beer.

 

Day 18 Phon Phisai to Nong Khai

Day 18 Phon Phisai to Nong Khai
46 km. 2 hours. Busy and not very interesting road with trucks and buses, some with luggage compartments big enough to take a bike. Recorded temperature of 48 C.
Ruan  Thai Guest house 400B. Nice family run place.
It was like arriving at a big city in comparison to previous destinations. Mania bike shop had been recommended. A boy was working on an expensive carbon fiber bike and indicated that I would have to ask the boss about a service and then went on with his work. I suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea if I met the boss then. After some encouragement he went back to the back of the shop and soon a man, obviously not a cyclist or an advocate of physical exercise, shuffled in rubbing his eyes. His disinterest was palatable so I apologized for and left him to go back to sleep.
Nong Khai has been discovered by quite a few elderly men of who fell for its quiet location on the Mekong and have  then spend most of their time looking at the bottom of a beer glass.  At 1pm I observed one who could not even sit up being helped by his wife/nurse or rather soon to be beneficiary. It has bars  such as /Billy’s Beer Belly’ advertising meat pies and fish and chips full of puffy faces. Luckily there is a clear demarcation of establishments so one can relax in a Thai bar/restaurant by the river listening to live music without discussions about Swansea football club, or the best brothels.
In one guest house garden I listened to some guests talk of the food and the animals in the guest house whose names they knew. They fed them and worried about their health. They also discussed friends and family and western culture. I suspect this helped their feeling of belonging.
While cycling back for a relatively early night I thought I would just pop into a nice looking bar. Story of my life.  I met some British teachers who live in a world  between  the locals and the drunks. They earn about $500 a month which they say is plenty to live on in a nice house. One talked of how she came to Thailand to escape an abusive relationship and was getting stronger and would only go back when she felt confident enough to face her ex boy friend who never believed she would have the courage to leave him or Manchester.
Preah Vihear temple (Khao Phra Viharn in Thai): I visited the area on my second day. There is a lot of coverage on Thai TV on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague hearings on a territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land around 11th-century temple Preah Vihear temple which both sides claim.
‘Cambodia has asked the United Nations’ highest court to clarify a 50-year-old ruling on ownership of the 1,000-year-old temple near its border with Thailand, warning that maintaining the status quo would be a threat to peace between the Southeast Asian neighbours.’ (Al Jazeera).
‘In 2011, the court in The Hague created a demilitarized zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people from near the temple, but Hor Namhong, Cambodian foreign minister, said talks about withdrawing troops have gone nowhere.’ (Al Jazeera).
People in the area are worried about fighting again. One woman told said, ‘Big men come from Bangkok and then go and we have the problem. My friend died last time and it is bad for the economy’. Indeed as Buddhists surely they should be talking about sharing the temple and sharing the income generated from tourism rather than old men puffed up with national indignation talking about sending others to fight and defend their arrogance.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Day 17 Bueng Kan to Phon Phisai

ImageImageImageImageImageImage
91km 5.4 hrs
Started on small road next to Mekong but went back to 212 as looked as if going to be potholed and sandy.
Plenty of resorts on the way identified by the predominance of pink and also ’24’ on the sign meaning open 24 hours. Most just square concrete bungalows often painted pink. Resorts come in various forms form the ones that supply sex workers to ones that allow women to be brought in but only over 18 years old and cater mostly for ‘normal’ guests. One owner told me that they refused a senior police officer with a 15 year old girl.
As going north the roads getting busier, houses better and concrete instead of wood, restaurants instead of thatched roof places, more falangs so I am less of novelty. Smiles and hospitality still there though. 90% of cars are SUVs so must be some money around.
Seems to be pineapple season. Also stopped for an ice cream and in answer told the woman that I was cycling to Nong Khai (136km). It was easier than trying it.
Phon Phisai bigger than expected (Tesco lotus full size and a 7/11) with few places to stay but strangely nothing with views of Mekong.
As I cycled along the Mekong looking for somewhere to stay an old white man called out for me to join them. I did. He was one of the most boring people I have ever met and told me all about his stroke, imminent marriage, life in the British army and plans for fitting fans and AC in his house. In order to box me he wanted to know where I came from and then talked about animosity between Cardiff and Swansea but that not all people from Cardiff were bad. They expected me to represent a city I left when 4 years old but seemed to need information to categorize me. The fact that I did not live anywhere also caused them problems.  He told me he was bi polar on a high at the time. He then tried to organize a hotel for me and gave me directions that left me lost for quite a while. Young Tom teaches English and specialized in poor sexual jokes. I did not return. A lot of expats do fall into the drunken, whoring stereo type. Usually not particularly well educated or with many interests they continue as they did at home when not working but with the opportunity to do it to greater access.
Stayed in EXO special hotel which is not special for 350B but surprisingly does have Al Jazeera on TV.
Dogs: Seem to be bigger ones and pedigree ones here which is worrying. I am not fond of dogs. My idea would be to have most dogs culled and sent in refrigerated containers to North Korea to improve food security and reduce the risk of war. Others should be muzzled, chained up and most sterilized. Thais love cuddly animals so this is very unlikely. Unfortunately they have less interest in the larger animal which is left to roam and terrorize innocent cyclists. It is thus up to the cyclist to prevent and deal with dog attacks. First dogs are usually a threat until sunset. They have had a busy night shagging, fighting and keeping people awake with barking so they are tired during the day and lacking energy to chaise bikes. However, it is best not to surprise them or they go into instinct mode and attack. Cycling behind a sleeping dog and ringing ones bell is not a good idea unless one is going down a steep hill and able to out run the dog in which case it can be quite rewarding. If a dog does react there are various levels of response dependent on the perceived threat level. If a dog looks as if it is about to bark pointing ones finger at it and saying,’shut up!’ firmly can confuse the dog. If it runs after you a blast of a dog dazer can work and if it doesn’t a pepper or CS gas spray will work but check the wind direction. If one does not have these handy then leaning back, looking at the dogs and shouting or growling can work. The old stand by is of course throwing rocks. Cyclists have told me that they just out run the dogs. At the speed I can manage the dogs would be able to pass me and have a rest and a bite to eat while waiting for me to arrive.