Bicycle Touring Thailand. Thailand to Laos
Day 160 - Welcome to Thailand
At the airport I acquired my SIM card and collected my bike box, which looks surprisingly in good condition, fingers crossed.
The hotel shuttle didn’t exist, so a taxi driver and I fought like the Chuckle Brothers ( to you to me to you ) for 15 minutes trying to get my bike box in his saloon without opening the boot, with eventual success too :)
So an hour after landing, and now at 10.30am, I’m in my digs, showered, washing done, and now trying to get in the mood for building the bike. It’s going to take me a long time to sort everything out, but the next time the bike flies will likely be many many months away in either Singapore or Indonesia. Maybe :)
Had a great sleep on the plane, and will have a good sleep tonight too before starting my cycle towards Ayutthaya in the morning.
Yes, it's hot and humid, but it was lower than India while I was there, and this morning when I set out, it felt almost cool.
Rain showers for a minute or less were welcomed, and for the heavier rain I just put my umbrella up and parked up until it cleared.
One of the reasons I travelled so far on my first day, was that I just couldn't figure out where the hotels were, as everything is in Thai of course.
I'm sure I passed loads of them, but really didn't have a clue. I even tried acting out the international sign for: I'm bloody knackered and need to flake out.
I did find digs in the end, but I had to locate them on an internet booking site. They came in at £32, but I knew that by turning up at the door, this can be hugely reduced.
And it was, just £17 for a really nice room with everything, and breakfast. Still, it would be nice to be able to locate guesthouses so I can get amongst the people more, and shave some money off.
So I enjoyed my first day mostly, but I drew blood. Yep, I had purchased some really short padded cycling shorts and this would be the first time I tried them under my normal shorts.
I usually wear the shorts that go just above the knee, and thankfully I've got 2 pairs of those with me. These little padded Speedo's :) lifted right up between my legs like a thong, chaffing and sawing.
It was so painful but my other shorts were somewhere in my rear bags and I just couldn't be arsed to find them and then find somewhere to change. On the plus side, my legs are now 3 inches longer and I get to raise the saddle.
Picture is of my morning coconut drink. Straight out of her cool-box too.
I found a roadside 1 Baht ( about 2 pence ) water machine I was told about and thought I would give it a go.
I filled both water bottles with tap temperature water, drank a bottle of it, then stood straddling my bike while looking these machines up on the internet.
According to the internet, these machines are OK at best, and lethal at worst, as they don’t filter out many virus, and most machines have shown to be poorly maintained, if at all.
Suddenly I felt pain in my left leg, like ants biting in multiple places!
Turned out I was stood on a nest of red ants :)
I’ve not finished my ride yet today, I’m only 25 km’s into a steady 56km ride to a town called Saraburi, and will be there for after lunch sometime.
I’m in one of the many roadside “cafes”, cooling off in the shade and ditching my my machine water in favour of chilled bottle water.
It isn't flat. I have cycled through lots of flat km's the last few days, but that was then :)
The people smile, they smile all the time, and it's really nice to get waves and thumbs up from people all through the day.
Everything pretty much is written in Thai, and that's OK because I'm in Thailand. Even Coca-Cola is written in Thai, so it will take some getting used to.
It's very beautiful once you get out of the big towns and on the smaller roads. There are times when it has been necessary for me, to cycle on the bigger 3 and 4 lane roads, but even these roads have little shops and places to eat all along.
The big roads have a hard shoulder that meets gravel and houses and all sorts of things, and there are motorbikes coming down the hard shoulder on the wrong side of the road.
If you forget which side of the road you should be on, it's OK, just keep to the side and get back on the correct side when you safely can, everyone seems to be going in every direction.
I feel safe. In some countries I have cycled, my heart has been in my throat, but here, no problem.
The food is great. Simple dishes are created at the roadside in little makeshift kitchens the size of a small garden shed or lemonade stand, and so tasty and cheap.
Hotels are cheap compared to Europe, but a couple of quid will make a massive difference. For example: Last nights digs were £10 and included AC, shower, double bed, room for the bike, and ants!
Tiny little ants all over the fridge and even the bed. I was too late to get hold of management to sort it, as they had vanished, but after trying to focus on my laptop screen with dozens of tiny ants crawling all over it was just too much, so I went to the 7 Eleven and got some ant spray, which did the job.
Speaking of 7 Eleven's, these are little life savers and there are loads of them. AC to cool down in and pretty cheap items.
Heat and humidity are high, but after being in India before here, it feels so much better here. In fact, unlike in India at this time of year, I was able to go out and about for a few hours last night without hardly breaking into a sweat.
So far, it's a wonderful place.
Since arriving in Bangkok my rear brake wasn't working properly. There was no fluid in it for some reason.
And as I have only been going up hills and not down (I'm on some strange plateau) and not cycled much in the wet, I have been able to hold out.
It may have been upside down on the flight from India, and low anyway due to all the heat and the fact that they haven't been topped up for thousands of km's.
So Beaze Bob Bike shop staff in Nakhon Ratchasima got straight to work, a cup of coffee from their little inside cafe, and job done and off I cycled. So a big thanks to you if you're reading this.
I didn't have much hope for finding professional bike shops out in the sticks to be honest, but they do exist. This one was fully set up to handle anything it seemed.
The weather is hot, and according to the forecast they gave it a 34c but feels like 40c, and they weren't wrong. It was hard going.
Hard going because of the heat, not the roads, the roads are in amazing condition pretty much everywhere I've been.
I have covered a lot of highway, as it has just been easier to get to certain points, and it's not like going along the M6 or M25, it's hugely different and much easier.
Even on the tiny back-roads the tarmac is great. I sort of like being on the busier roads, as it feels like there's someone about. I get a little lonely when I don't see or speak to anyone all day :)
I estimate about a week and I should be in Vientiane city in Laos, where I might have a few days off before following the Mekong River all the way down and through Cambodia into Vietnam.
Here is a map of my very vague route, and I'm the little blue bike symbol at this time. Remember, I try to create some sort of directional map, but it always changes along the way.
I've no idea where I'm sleeping each day, mostly right up until I try to find something when I'm tired and I've had enough. I've been lucky so far :)
I estimate it will be another week before I reach Vientiane in Laos, right at the top of the map line there.
From there, I hope to follow the Mekong River down and into Cambodia then Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, at which point I stash all my gear and take off on a side adventure and a few things I need to sort out, then I return to pick up my gear and carry on.
How long it will take me to reach Ho Chi Minh City is anyone's guess, but judging by the speed I have been going since Bangkok, it could take another 6 weeks or more.
Instead of trying to do as many km's as I can, I have now settled into a more gentle pace. Today for instance I managed just shy of 50 km's because I found a great little hotel, and the next one might not be for another 50 km's
Last night I had to deviate from my route by 10 km's because the guesthouse was the only digs I could locate on the internet.
It turned out to be a bigger town than I thought, with a number of hotels and guesthouses, and an amazing temple which I spent an hour wandering around.
The town was Phimai, and as you can see on my map, there is a little line coming off my main line. I had to cycle back the 10 km's this morning to continue on, but it was worth it.
I met a couple of English gents at a bar, and we chatted and had a few beers, then later I met a South African lady and a lady from Australia, so it was more beer and chats, and I enjoyed it.
This is a strange one. I have been desperate these last few days to get 2 handwritten letters home to the UK, and printouts of some others I need to sign and send home for business, but this has proven to be a major task.
I spoke with a teacher the other day who told me that it wouldn't matter if you could speak the language fluently, the farther you get from the big cities, the less likely the people are to get past the fact that you are a foreigner, and so simply don't hear what you are saying, or interpret what you are acting out.
And it's oh so true :) I went into offices that deliver parcels and letters, and some other businesses, and used 2 interpreter apps on my phone, images of a letter with a stamp on it, an envelope, and I even picked up one of their own letters and expressed that I wanted to send my own.
I couldn't get help finding or buying envelopes or note pads either. But, over the course of a few days, I managed to find a children's note pad that needed cropping a little, and even some envelopes in a 7 Eleven.
I have asked 3 hotel managers if I can print some pages out if I email the documents to them, but I've just been met with blank stares :)
And even now today, I shelled out £20 on the best hotel, and only I think, and all they have managed was to tell me how much the price of the room is, and can't even tell me where I can eat or drink, it's simply strange :)
Today though I found a post office, took my ticket number 83, but the screen that shows who's next is in Thai, so I went around to find out who got a ticket before me, and after they went up I knew it was my turn.
The 2 handwritten signed letters sent via airmail I hope, I did see them put the little airmail stickers on. But as for the printouts I need, I have no idea what to do, it maybe that I have to wait until I get to Vientiane in Laos which is a huge city, that I find someone who can help.
65 km's today in crazy heat, that was in the high 30's, feeling like the high 50's. For 30 km's of that ride there wasn't one single shop on my side of the highway that I could get a cold drink from, but I must have passed 50 restaurants, 7 Eleven's, and petrol station on the opposite side of the road that I couldn't get to!
It was tough, but I had to concentrate on not letting my tongue get caught under the back wheel :)
What an adventure. The people are lovely though, it has to be said. Although this fisherman didn't look to happy.
In fact I only covered 50 km's. I got through about 10 gallons of water, 2 coconuts, 2 large coffees, 3 egg on toast, and 2 bottles of pure orange.
Oh, and it took me from 7am until 12 noon to do that 50 km's with all my rest breaks. Just getting into aircon for half an hour every so often helped, I think.
As I entered the city of Khon Kaen, I heard a clatter from the rear wheel. My first broken spoke in nearly 7000 km's, and hope my last of course.
It had snapped clean off near the hub and was just hanging quite straight within the other spokes, but I had seen a hotel just 2 km's away called Tonwa Residence and Resort, so I just carried on.
How, I have no idea, but I'm glad it didn't cause any more damage, like going through my tire or hub.
It took me just 15 minutes to replace the spoke and true the wheel, and I was quite proud of myself to be honest. If I hadn't done that day course with Bikeright in Liverpool, I would have had a real problem.
On top of that, the hotel was able to print off my letters, and even gave me an envelope :) and green oranges, that were orange on the inside and tasty. I'm told this is how oranges are naturally.
I have my own little porch area for bike repairs at my little bungalow :), and breakfast included. All for 12 sobs.
Washing done, showered, and time for a kip.
I found the little guy almost broken in two at the side of the road months ago, and we had become good friends. He was my Wilson.
But anyway enough of the sad bit, I have a new mascot, Gordon. He's a rubber Gecko (but don't tell him that) and he fits just perfect in the same spot on my handlebars where Rex was. He has proven to be a good companion, although extremely quiet.
Today the landscape started to roll. Up and down all day. But I have had my share of flat roads so I don't mind so much.
I estimate that I will have a fairly short two more days, followed by one long day, then it's over the Friendship Bridge to Laos.
I will then follow the Mekong on the Laos side until Thakhek, before crossing back over to Thailand at Nakhon Phanom, heading down to the Cambodian border.
All along the roadside today, I came across honey sellers.
But this honey was said to be from wild bees and hives in the forests and jungles.
In the picture you can see the beehives, which was a really interesting surprise, but more interesting was that the bees were still hovering around them.
I didn’t get any because I knew it would end up leaking everywhere in my bags, but I bet it was amazing.
They seem to mostly be in a uniform 2 rows and each room is usually detached from the next. They have aircon, shower room, fridge and tv, and are just great little self contained units.
I always bring the bike in too. It’s so much easier than hotels with stairs and lifts. These places don’t all show on maps, so just keep your eye out for either rows of little rooftops, or an arrow pointing down a road.
I avoid those ones down roads though as I like to be around a bit more going on, being as I’m on my own, so look for places with entrances right on the main road.
I try to pick ones that have other shops or a petrol station close by so I can get supplies. Prices are usually between £7 and £11, so pretty good value.
Met a couple of great guys today, John Pothecary from Blackpool who kindly donated 1000 Bhat to my chosen charity JUMP, and a petrol station manager who pulled in front of me and handed me a bottle of water and a bamboo of sticky rice. These two really made my day.
Day 170 - Laos - Adding Laos into this Thailand diary because I will be back in Thailand in around a weeks time, then on to Cambodia.
The roads were not as good, the traffic was disorderly in probably their own orderly way, and the smiles were rationed almost, but there were some smiley faces so that's cool.
The border crossing guards on the Thai side sat me down, gave me a bunch of bananas :), and no, I don't think they mistook me for a gorilla. They even gave me an ice cold bottle of water while we chatted.
Once I got to the Laos border control, things were very different. There was a lot more paperwork, scowls, looks up and down, windows shutting and pointing, but eventually I was through and cycling on the other side of the road.
So what's so special then I hear you ask. Well, this is my 10th country on the cycle and 5th country on the cycle that I had never been to before.
I have also now cycled 7013 km's, which is just crazy when I think about it. I also have to thank Rohloff for creating an amazing hub. I don't know what I would have done without it. I'm sure I would have got through, but I do like my hub.
I'm in digs now in Vientiane Laos, and although not so cheap, the staff have been great and are looking after my bike.
I tried about 6 other hotels first, but all wanted me to leave my bike outside on the road, nope, ain't going to happen.
I am staying here for 2 nights rest because I keep promising myself rest days but never take them.
It took me 10 days to cycle from Bangkok Thailand to Vientiane Laos, which I think is some good going in this crazy heat and humidity.
I had planned on 2 fairly straightforward days and one hard day to finish my ride to Laos, but I squeezed those 3 days into 2, with this last one being 90 km's and completely knackering.
It wasn't easy to find a sim card but after an hour or so of walking around town, I found one in a little deli style shop. How long it lasts I have no idea, or how much it cost.
I went for a beer in a bar and it cost 14,000 Lao Kip (speaking of kip). I crapped myself, I called extortion until I realised it was just £1.25 :)
I estimate I will be cycling in Laos for around a week or so before I reach the second Friendship Bridge at Thailand's Nakhon Phanom, and then I will be heading for Cambodia.
So a good but tiring day, but loads of restaurants around here so it's food then bed time. Then it's a good look at the Mekong River in the morning which is just a few hundreds yards from me here and the one I crossed at Friendship Bridge.