Thailand - Laos -Thailand
(1 569km - 30days)
(0km - 1days)
10 May 2018 - Pattaya – Bangkok – Nong Khai – By train
At last, I was on the move again. Emiel and I set off at midday and cycled the short six kilometres to Pattaya Station, where we caught a train to Bangkok, leaving us with just enough time to board the train to the border town of Nong Khai.
First, let me introduce you to my cycling companion. Emiel hails from the Netherlands and was in Thailand for a Muay Thai boxing course. His course had ended, but as he was flying out on 20 June, and both of us had to do a visa run, it made sense to catch a train to Lao and cycle back. I hoped he would enjoy it.
It was an eventful start. Loading the bikes onto the train via a rather narrow door, in the process blocking two carriages, was only the beginning. The poor conductor had to climb over two bicycles to do his job.
Upon our arrival at Bangkok station, I noticed that Emiel’s bicycle was about to slide out the door; as the doors did not close, and the bikes were jammed into a narrow alley, sliding out was a real possibility. Fortunately, that did not happen. Then, it was on to the next leg of our journey, which was catching the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai. We had already bought tickets for the trip when we discovered that the train did not take bicycles! Give me strength! We were instead pointed in the direction of Platform 10, and with the help of hand signals, we came to understand that the bikes had to go on a different train, which would arrive two hours after us in Nong Khai. I was not particularly happy about the situation, but there was nothing that could be done about it.
We bought a few snacks and a few beers for the journey, then boarded the very comfortable and new-looking train. It was indeed a lovely train, with sleeping beds, which the staff came to make up as soon as we left Bangkok. We soon discovered that drinking alcohol on the train was not permitted, and we were like two school kids, trying to hide our beer from the train staff. We nearly got caught a few times. (LOL). As we had bought second-class tickets, we had no door to close, only a curtain that we could draw, and we had to drink our beer behind the curtain.
(494km - 14days)
11 May – Nong Khai – Vientiane – 25 km
The train was very quiet, and we slept well. By the time we woke, we were nearly in Nong Khai and only had time for a cup of coffee before we arrived. Upon arrival in Nong Khai, we discovered that the train carrying the bicycles was going to be two hours late. It was not a train smash, so to speak, and it gave us a few hours to explore Nong Khai.
After a bowl of noodle soup, we hopped on a tuk-tuk to visit Buddha Park. It is a bizarre sculpture park built by a shaman over a period of 20 years after he was exiled from his native Laos, where he had made a similar park. The park consists of an array of weird, gigantic sculptures. Afterwards, Emiel had enough of all this weird stuff and returned to the station while I went in search of more unusual things. I found only the Nong Thin Public Park, which claims to be the largest park in the province.
Upon my return to the station, I discovered that the bicycles had arrived, and we could load up and cycle out of Thailand. In the process, I also discovered a broken gear cable and wondered if someone might have taken the bicycle for a ride, as there were substantially more kilometres on the clock than when we had left.
We checked out of Thailand and, after purchasing a Lao visa at the border, we cycled into Vientiane. It was hot, and we were happy to reach the Mixok Guesthouse. Emiel went in search of food, and I took the bicycle to the Lao Bike Shop to replace the cable. That evening, we strolled along the riverfront and ate at one of the restaurants along the river. As always, the food was excellent, albeit far too much for the two of us.
12 Mei - Vientiane
First thing in the morning, I went for a lovely jog along the riverfront, always a pleasure in Vientiane. On arrival back, I found Emiel was enjoying his breakfast. I had a very much needed shower after which we went in search of a Loa SIM card, a process that took longer than expected. We also took a walk to the COPE visiting centre. Since its creation in 1996, COPE has worked in close partnership with Lao Ministry of Health rehabilitation centres to provide physical rehabilitation services. Thanks to COPE, thousands of people with mobility-related disabilities, including UXO survivors, have received prosthetic and orthotic services free of charge, allowing them to regain mobility and dignity.
Some statistics taken from their website:
On that sad note, we left and paid a visit to the Sisaket Temple, a 19th-century Siamese-style temple housing thousands of small Buddhas. Built between 1810 and 1824, Sisaket is believed to be Vientiane's oldest surviving temple. It is a beautiful and relaxing place to stroll about. It was still early, so we headed back to the guesthouse, hopped on the bicycles and cycled out to view a small remaining part of the old Vientiane city wall, believed to have been constructed in the 16th-century. I was firmly under the impression that I was the only person who knew about this bit of history (LOL), but apparently, that was not the case. On arrival, we found a small exhibition/celebration. I was pleasantly surprised to see food stalls and Lao ladies dressed in traditional dress, as well as conventional implements on display.
On our way back, we stopped at a small supermarket, and on returning to the bicycles, a found my bike had a flat tyre. Under normal circumstances, this would be no problem, but on this day, I had no spare tube or pump with me! Emiel suggested we flag down a tuk-tuk, which was a brilliant idea (I guess he feared I was going to say we had to walk the bikes back). After quite a pricy tuk-tuk ride (he saw us coming) and back at the guesthouse, I discovered that the puncture was on the rim side of the tube. Fortunately, “Lao Bike” was only about 100 metres down the road, and they very quickly fitted a new rim-tape.
After all that drama it was time for a cold Beer Lao, and we took a walk along the riverfront to find a suitable bar with a view of the Mekong. Our rumbling stomachs soon drove us back to the restaurant area, and although Emiel had his mind set on the Japanese restaurant, I was more in favour of the Indian food. I took advantage of his good manners, and we ate Indian! Shame on me! I surmise he is going to catch on to this very soon!
13 May Vientiane
The reason for hanging around Vientiane was not only because it is a lovey and relaxed city, but it was also so I could apply for a Thailand visa. As it was the weekend, I had to wait until Monday to hand in the application, and usually, one can then collect it the next day. I went for my usual morning jog, and then had breakfast at our guesthouse with Emiel. We lazed about, and that evening we strolled along the night market and riverfront. As Emiel remarked, the town comes alive after sunset. It is by far the most pleasant time to be out, and we sat outside enjoying a beer and solving the world's problems. Even if I say so myself, I think we made quite a dent in it!
14 May – Vientiane
I was up early and cycled to the Thailand Consulate to apply for my two-month Thai visa, just to find that it was a public holiday! I was gobsmacked; it was the start of the planting season, and it was the ploughing festival! There was nothing I could do but return to the guesthouse and wait for the following day. I found this immensely frustrating, but there was nothing I could do. Instead, we decided to cycle along the Mekong River for a few hours.
It was a lovely ride, and one could hardly believe that we were only 20 kilometres outside the city. We watched people peddling their wares by boat and drank ice cold sugarcane juice from a roadside stall, just the thing we needed in the heat. The temperature average at around 34/35 degrees C, something that always sounds much cooler when you are indoors. Even the flower offerings being sold outside the temples looked wilted. We did not intend on going very far, and soon it was time to backtrack to our guesthouse.
15 May – Vientiane
It was “take two”, and off I went to the Consulate to apply for the Thai visa. This time they were clearly open as the queue was nearly out the gate. The fun part of waiting in the queue is that in no time at all you will start chatting to the people in front and behind you. We were all in the same boat, and if someone wanted to get water or an application form, they would bring for everyone. It took hours before we finally reached the front where I, to the great delight of my new friends, was told my photo was “too sexy”, and I had to have a new one taken. I should have asked if I could have that in writing.
By the time I left it was after midday and already sweltering hot. I returned to the guesthouse and spent the rest of the day in the coolness of my air-con room. Poor Emiel must have been bored out of his mind. Fortunately, he seemed to have taken a liking to Vientiane. We went shopping for a pair of sandals for him as he only had flip-flops and they don’t make for very comfortable cycling. After looking around, we eventually found a pair that seemed suitable, but the shop just had one shoe and could not find the other one!
16 May - Vientiane
After breakfast, we cycled to the Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe, or Victory Monument. I love the story behind it and that it was built with cement donated by the USA intended for the construction of a new airport, hence it is now referred to as the “vertical runway”. If one climbs to the top, there is a beautiful view over the city. After that, we cycled to Pha That Luang, a 16th-century Buddhist stupa believed to have been built on the remains of a 13th Khmer-century temple, which in turn was built on a 3rd-century temple.
After midday, I cycled back to the Thai consulate to collect my visa, a process that once again took a few hours.
With visa in hand I returned to the guesthouse, and by that time it was already time for a beer. That evening we also met up with my friend Christian and his lovely girlfriend for a pizza, something I have not had in years. It must have been a Belgium-owned restaurant as they had quite a good selection of Belgium beers. It was a lovely evening.
17 May - Vientiane - Thabok- 98 km
Finally, we cycled out of Vientiane! It was an excellent day on the road as we had a slight tailwind and it did not feel the predicted 35˚C. It did not take us long to clear the city limits, and soon we were in a more rural part of Laos. Kids shouted “Sabaidee falang!” as we slowly made our way in a southerly direction.
Although this is not the most scenic part of Laos, I was happy to be on this familiar road as we cycled past numerous temples, rice fields, markets selling woven products, and the odd broken-down truck. It is the beginning of the rice planting season, and we watched subsistence farmers under straw hats sowing rice seeds in small fields next to their homes. We passed kids on bicycles going to school and stalls selling small fishes in plastic bags or individual tropical fish in bottles. We passed a Buddhist funeral procession walking down the road in the blazing heat, and it appeared that people from the village joined in along the way, as the procession steadily became longer as they made their way to the crematorium.
Emiel did well on his first day, and he set a fast pace, to such an extent that we went past the village where we originally planned on staying for the night and continued for another 20 kilometres to the small settlement of Thabok.
We found a lovely guesthouse with spacious ground floor rooms and clean bedding, always a bargain. The best part was that there was a restaurant directly across the road for us to eat and have a beer.
18 May – Thabok – Pakkading – 100 km
We left Thabok in the company of two-wheeled tractors (for lack of a better word) pulling homemade wooden carts, loaded with jovial ladies in conical hats. The scenery became denser and greener the further south we headed, and we cycled across a multitude of rivers all flowing into the mighty Mekong. Water buffalo, enjoying the abundance of water, and canoes lined the shores. The road followed the Mekong river, and from time to time, we cycled flush with the river, and at times, the road would run slightly inland only to return to the river a few kilometres further. The road was lined with stalls selling dried and smoked fish and other exotic nibbles, all wrapped in banana leaves.
As I've said before, this is not a very scenic part of Laos, but from time to time, we would see the mountains in the distance, and it was really quite lovely. Small children shouted the code word “felang” (foreigner), and it seemed that the entire village would come running along to wave and shout “sabaidee” (hello). As soon as we stopped, however, to take a photo, they would run for the safety of their mother's apron. Others would stand stock-still, allowing one to take a picture, and then shyly retreated to their homes.
Temples and Buddha statues abounded, as well as small roadside stalls where we could get a coconut juice or barbequed duck. We regularly stopped to fill up with water or to get out of the blazing sun. We reached Pakkading in good time and found a comfortable-enough room for the night. We immediately headed for a cold beer, which disappeared remarkably quickly.
19 May - Pakkading - Vieng Kham - 45 km
Although it was a short day on the road, it was no less enjoyable. We left our humble abode and cycled across the Pakkading River via the Russian-built bridge that commemorates the first person in space. Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut and was the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. What a brave man!
We stopped to see if we could spot any truck drivers stopping to light a cigarette before crossing the bridge and then tossing the lit cigarette into the river below, to appease the water serpent believed to live in the river mouth.
We shared the road with buses, trucks, ladies pushing wooden carts to the market, men driving 2-wheel tractors and kids (no older than six-years-old) riding motorbikes - four up! Along the way, we stopped for watermelon, which the lady peeled and cut up for us, all for 5,000 LAK (about $0.50). There is no shortage of food in Lao, and once again we cycled past a multitude of roadside stalls selling fruit and vegetables, as well as homemade knives.
We made it a short day to give Emiel's backside and knees a rest, and we found a roadside guesthouse for 50,000 LAK a room; it was no Taj Mahal, but it did us just fine for the night. The interesting part is that in most of these establishments the beds often have an unusual placing as they believe that it is unlucky if the door faces the bed. This room was no different, and we found the beds facing inwards even though it was, clearly, not the best place for it.
20 May - Vieng Kham - Hinboun – 53 km
Ordering food when you don’t speak the language is always an interesting process. This morning it was no different, and we received a plate of rice with pork and two fried eggs, instead of two plates of food. The mistake is quite understandable as most people in Southeast Asia will share food and it is somewhat unusual for people to order their own plate of food. We, therefore, received one plate of food with two sets of cutlery. To their astonishment, we ordered another plate of food!
Well fed, we ambled along across large rivers, and I was pleasantly surprised to see men on a boat cleaning up the river, not something one sees in this part of the world very often. We were in a very rural part of Laos, and it was not unusual to see ladies tending the cattle or kids driving goats to better feeding grounds. As has become the norm, we cycled past modest Buddhist temples and kids on bicycles who found it the highlight of their day to give chase. They came cycling past us at high speed until one lost a flip-flop or a pedal comes off, to the great delight of the other kids.
At times there were more trucks and busses than we cared for, but fortunately, it was a Sunday and the traffic reasonably quiet.
We found a roadside guesthouse and relaxed during the heat of the day. After sunset, we took a walk down the road to the local restaurant where they served “Seendat” or Lao Barbecue. Seendat is an interesting meal that you cook yourself at your table. The table is fitted with small fire pit, and the seendat pan is placed over a bucket of hot coals. We were served:
Leafy green vegetables such as celery leaves, mint, Thai basil, lettuce and cabbage
Thin rice noodles
Clear broth for the soup
Peanut dipping sauce
Garlic, limes and chopped chillies
When all these things arrive, you:
Grease the grill with the pork fat and grill the meat on it.
Pour some broth into the moat and fill it with vegetables, noodles and eggs.
Customise your peanut dip with as much garlic, lime juice and chillies as you want.
Eat and do the whole thing again!
21-22 May – Hinboun – Thahek – 53 km
We left, intending to have breakfast along the way. We stopped at a rather interesting roadside market that sold all kinds of unusual animals. Emiel did not take well to the enormous cockroaches, dried frogs, grilled squirrels, and cut-up monitor lizards for sale. I must admit that seeing those lizard feet on a plate was somewhat uncomfortable.
Soon afterwards, we stopped for a noodle soup, but by then, Emiel had lost his appetite. The reason might not have been the lizard feet, but also that the lady making the noodle soup was cleaning a buffalo carcass at the same time! I guess that was enough to put most people off their food. In hindsight, I should have taken a picture of that carcass!
We ambled along, keeping a lookout for the “Great Wall of Lao”. This kilometres-long Kamphaeng Nyak wall is actually a geological phenomenon caused by fissures, but its physical resemblance to a man-made structure has given rise to Lao myths on its origin. “Based on local legend, it is an animal trap built by ancient people who had large bodies like giants and stood as high as the sky.” Some say that it was built as a defence system, and others say it was built as a way to stem the flood waters from the Mekong.
Afterwards, we cycled into Thahek, found a room, and had a rather interesting lunch of Beer Lao and dim sum. I was rather impressed that Emiel ate a “100-year old egg”. Despite the name “smelly egg,” there was not much of a smell. The taste was almost the same as a hard-boiled egg except that there may have been a slight scent! The fact that the egg was black both inside and outside may have been more off-putting to most.
The following day we spent a well-deserved rest day in Thahek, not doing much expect laundry and the usual eating and drinking. Thahek is a lovely little village with a riverside setting, crumbling old French colonial buildings and quaint restaurant/coffee shops. It was a pleasure to wander along the riverfront, watching men fish in longtail boats on the Mekong River. We sipped our coffee watching ladies peddling their woven ware from shoulder poles, and we chatted to friendly monks at the temple.
That evening we had supper on the river bank while looking across the river to where we could see Thailand’s lights reflecting on the water. A storm came in, and we moved into the restaurant where we waited until the worse blew over.
23 May - Thahek – Savannakhet – 120 km
We loaded up the bikes and then had breakfast at one of the riverfront restaurants before heading out. The road was covered in small mangoes that blew from the trees during the previous night's storm. At first, the plan was to make it two short days to Savannakhet by following the river road.
It is a lovely ride along the Mekong through small villages where people make their living from fishing and farming rice. We passed interesting temples, ancient ruins and markets, which were selling their meagre supplies of woven rice baskets, bananas, and eggs. Most of the people along the river live simple lives and live in basic wooden houses on stilts where they keep their animals under their homes. Most people are subsistence farmers, and each house will have a mango tree, banana plants, a boat for fishing, chickens, goats and cattle as well as a small piece of land for planting rice.
We dodged the potholes, chickens and goats as we slowly made our way south. People in this part of Laos are still unaccustomed to seeing tourists and are eager for you to take pictures of their children; it is very different from western cities. Roadside restaurants were humble, corrugated iron structures where meals were cooked on a one-pot clay charcoal stove and slivers of meat were drying in the sun, hanging from washing lines.
We passed a few guesthouses in the morning, but by the time we started looking for one, there were none to be had. There was nothing we could do about the situation but carry on to Savannakhet, making for quite a long day on the road. We stopped as often as we could to fill up with water and to enjoy the local fruit along the way. From a wooden cart, farmers were selling the fruit from the sugar palm, which they cut open for us and then dug out the juicy jelly fruit inside.
On arrival in Savannakhet, we found a guesthouse, had a cold beer, a shower, and then took a walk to the night market.
24 May – Savannakhet
Another well-deserved rest day after such a long day the previous day. We hardly did anything but the usual eating and drinking.
(1 075km - 15days)
25 May Savannakhet, Laos – Baan Rimkhong Guesthouse, Don Tan, Thailand – 67 km
We were slow in leaving as we knew it was going to be a short day. The plan was to cross the border back into Thailand, and we, therefore, had to cycle to the immigration office at the Friendship Bridge, which was about five kilometres north of town. We stopped for breakfast but somehow only received the coffee; the rest, I presume, got lost in translation.
Then it was onto the Lao immigration where we got stamped out and were informed that we were not allowed to cycle across the bridge (not such a friendly bridge after all!), but we were advised to take the bus. True to my rebellious self, I thought this was a load of bollocks and decided to cycle across the bridge anyhow. I had no problem in convincing Emiel to do the same and off we went. We peddled like the clappers to the other side where we, nonchalantly, arrived as if nothing happened. We were stamped into Thailand and were on our way to the nearest 7-11 where we found breakfast and means of topping up our Thai SIM cards.
With all that done, we set off again and even found a cycle path next to the main road. It, however, soon disappeared and we were back on the main road. We made our way further south until we turned off and found a guesthouse right on the Mekong River, also known as the Khong River. It was a lovely place with a great little bungalow but no shop or restaurant; although, those could be found about 1.5 kilometres away. We sat drinking our beer, watching the Mekong slowly (or not so slowly) making its way to where it finally discharges into the South China Sea.
26 May - Baan Rimkhong Guesthouse, Don Tan – Roadside Guesthouse – 75 km
We awoke to a drizzle that soon cleared, making for a fresh and overcast ride. It was perfect cycling weather as we made our way past water buffalo, temples, and rice paddies. Emiel was on fire, and in no time at all, we arrived in Khemarat where we stopped for a bowl of noodle soup on the outskirts of town. Needless to say, it was as always, delicious.
We cycled past rubber tree plantations where the rubber industry crises were clearly visible. Trees were tapped but the rubber was never collected. I heard rumours that collecting the latex costs more than the market price; how very sad.
The rainy season has started and all along the way we could see people working in the fields planting rice in neat rows in rice paddies. Throughout Asia, rice is still considered sacred and the ritual of planting and harvesting rice has shaped Southeast Asian traditions for centuries. It is very much a family affair, and everyone is expected to join in. May is a busy time for most farmers in Isan (the area we are in at present). Seedlings are cultivated in nursery paddies and later transplanted to the main paddy fields. I understand that the reason for doing this is that the young rice plants need to be separated at the root, which will then increase the yield by allowing each plant the space to grow. Rain is normally needed to fill the rice paddies and it was, therefore, no surprise that we saw dark clouds gathering. We tried to go as fast as we could but still got absolutely soaked.
Fortunately, we only had a few kilometres to go to reach the tiny settlement of Ban Kaeng Hi, where we found a guesthouse, albeit without any electricity. In fact, the entire village was without electricity due to the heavy downpour. Once the rain subsided we took a walk down the road and found a very basic restaurant, small roadside market, bus station, and a police station. By that time the entire village was aware of our presence and everyone seemed to know that we were traveling by bicycle and that we were staying at the “resort”. LOL. Although not a world of English was spoken, sign language for food seems to be universal and in no time at all we were seated with a bowl of noodle soup and a plate of fried rice. We were informed that we could get beer, Chang, from the “supermarket” across the road, which we did, and which rounded off the meal quite nicely. It started raining again and we were offered a lift for the 500-metre distance to the guesthouse. We politely declined the offer but did borrow two umbrellas that we promised to return in the morning. What a wonderful place rural Thailand is.
27 May – Roadside Guesthouse – Khong Chiam – 95 km
The previous night's rain cooled the temperature considerably, and I, for once, needed no aircon or fan, a rarity in Southeast Asia. We woke to an overcast day, and our first stop was 500 metres down the road at the same restaurant as the previous night, to return the umbrellas and have breakfast. Emiel, strangely, was not hungry, but I had a greasy omelette on rice, to which I added a healthy dose of chillies. I washed this down with a “three-in-one coffee”. Fearing that I would be like a fire-breathing dragon cycling up the first hill, I took a good gulp of antacid medication before we set off.
What a lovely day it turned out to be. The road led partly through the Pha Taem National Park, making for a shady albeit hilly ride, with dense forest on both sides of the road (thank goodness for the cloud cover). Butterflies and dragonflies darted around us as we slowly made our way up the hills. By that time, Emiel was getting hungry, but there were no roadside stalls along the road, such that by the time we reached Khong Chiam, we were starving.
We found a lovely guesthouse right on the Mun River, had a shower, and then took a walk to where the Mun River meets the Mekong. If we had been there earlier, we would have seen where the two rivers meet as they differ in colour and flow side by side without mixing. It was, however, already nearly sunset, and we headed for the nearest restaurant.
28 May - Khong Chiam – Ubon – 85 km
The northeastern part of Thailand, where we find ourselves at the moment, is known as Isan, bordering both Laos and Cambodia. This is a large, agricultural area of rice fields and small villages, consisting of 20 provinces. The majority of the population of the region call themselves Thai Isan or Lao Isan as they speak a different dialect, which, I understand, is very similar to that spoken in Lao.
I love cycling in this area and always claim that no green is greener than that of the rice fields of Isan. Although the rainy season has just started, the luminous green rice fields were already visible.
We cycled not only past rice paddies but also past large areas of cassava and rubber tree plantations. Meagre roadside stalls sold just bananas and mangoes, while others offered only two pumpkins or dried buffalo hide. We encountered many businesses selling temple paraphernalia, i.e. gongs and drums. These are the areas where these items are produced and sold, and the larger they are, the better. As always, we passed some Bodhi trees, or sacred fig trees.
The sacred fig is the tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment (Bodhi). Animists in Thailand believe that the sacred fig tree is inhabited by spirits and lost souls and cannot, therefore, be simply cut down. To do so could invoke fury and possible revenge from the resident spirits. Before a sacred fig tree can be cut down or removed, the spirits must be forewarned and appeased by monks or other appropriate religious figures.
We soon cycled into Ubon, where we headed to the Ubon Hotel as it was not only inexpensive but also, more importantly, across the road from the night market.
29 May – Ubon – Kantharalak – 75 km
A short and easy ride brought us to Kantharalak. I was, however, slightly disappointed in my choice of routes as the road was much more extensive and busier than expected. Along the way, we bought flower garlands for good luck/safe travels, and I’m always surprised that one can purchase these garlands for a mere 10 Thai baht. The amount of work and flowers must surely be more than 10 THB.
Although not the most exciting of routes, there was, nevertheless, some interesting things along the way. I usually compare days like this to diving in poor visibility. The reason for this is that I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad dive or a bad day on the bike, one only needs to look more closely. This day was no different, and I found the scrawny cows with their long ears even more amusing, as they always seem to have a somewhat superior attitude, looking down their noses at us as we cycled past. We also spotted a remarkable number of midgets (or “little people” may be the more politically correct term) in this area. They all seem to be well proportioned except for very short legs.
We also noticed more and more scarecrows in the rice paddies. In Bali, women make rice figurines which watch over the rice but today was the first time I saw a straw figure in Thailand, maybe it was only decorative and has nothing to do with the rice rituals.
In Kantharalak, we found a comfortable room for 350 baht with air-con, something that is always considered a bargain. On our walkabout, we discovered that it was a Buddhist holiday and no beer sold, except at a restaurant. Ordering a meal was slightly more difficult as most of the dishes we pointed at was answered with a “No have”. Eventually, the only “Yes, have” was fried rice and a spicy mango salad. I love these small towns as they are so typical Thai and the lack of tourists makes for a very genuine experience.
30 May – Kantharalak – Phu Sing Guesthouse – 70 km
The easiest was to grab a bite to eat from the conveniently located 7-Eleven, and then we were on our way. It turned out a fantastic day on the road as we followed a rural lane that was in excellent condition and which meandered through farmlands with views of the distant mountains forming the border with Cambodia. The traffic was light, and there was ample water and food along the way. Add to that a slight tailwind, and it was a perfect day for cycle touring. In the small settlement of Phu Sing, we found a guesthouse with lovely timber bungalows. Later that evening, we took a walk down the road looking for food, and the rural Thai people found it somewhat strange to see “farangs” in their midst.
31 May - Phu Sing Guesthouse - Chong Chom – 80 km
We reluctantly left our wooden bungalows, and after a quick stop at the 7-Eleven, we headed onward to a still unknown destination. Again, the road led us past somewhat rural areas with plenty of rice fields, temples, and small villages where there was no need for mowing the lawn at the local football field as cows did the job for them.
In our wanderings, we came upon Prasat Chumphon. The sanctuary dates back to the Chenla period (550–706 AD); a pre-Angkorian Khmer state whose capital was seated in the present Cambodian province of Kampong Thom. The sanctuary is one of the oldest known Khmer temples in Thailand. What made it even more amazing was that there was no entrance fee, and except for cattle grazing, there was no one around.
I love days like this, and we marvelled at the simple things of life in this part of the world. Each rice field we passed had a shrine, some rather rudimentary and other more elaborate, and people were incredibly friendly, always waving and shouting “Sawadee”. Eventually, we landed at the small village of Chong Chom, well known for its large cross-border market, and easy border crossing into Cambodia. The market sells an extensive range of goods, including clothes, kitchen equipment, tools, electronic and electrical goods, food, used bikes, DVDs, handbags, and just about anything one can think of. We found another lovely guesthouse consisting of wooden bungalows for a fair price. All in all, another perfect day on the road.
1 June - Chong Chom – Prasat Muang Tam – 94 km
We slowly made our way back to Pattaya, sticking close to the Cambodian border. This was a wooded area and all along the road-friendly ladies were selling colourful mushrooms stacked neatly on plates. Temples were equally colourful as the recent Wesak day made for new ribbons and fresh paint.
We passed more Khmer ruins as well as an ancient kiln dating back to between the 9th and 13th century. The kiln was a cross-draft kiln with three parts and excavations revealed that green and brown glazed ware was produced here.
A short while later we stopped at a roadside stall for pineapple. The lady peeled and cut it up for us, and it was one of the sweetest pineapples I have had in a long time. We filled our bottles with water, added a few ice blocks from the large plastic ice box on the pavement, and then we were on our way again.
We arrived at Prasat Muang Tum, a 1,000-year-old Khmer temple at around 14h00. Muang Tum is one of the temples built in Angkor style during a time when large parts of Thailand were controlled by the Khmer empire. It is situated on the ancient road from Angkor Thom (present-day Siem Reap in Cambodia) to Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima province (further North West).
We found a guesthouse, had a shower, beer and a bowl of noodle soup. We decided to visit the ruins in the morning as it was already fairly late and still boiling hot.
2 June – Prasat Muang Tum – Non Din Daeng – 41 km
We had a lovely breakfast at our guesthouse, consisting of rice porridge to which one could add ginger, chillies and coriander. I absolutely loved it! There were also a few side dishes including steamed palm cake in banana leaves and fried dough or doughnuts.
We loaded our bicycles and cycled the 500 metres to the ruins of Prasat Muang Tum, which date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Muang Tum was built in Angkor-style during a time when large parts of Thailand were controlled by the Khmer empire. Interestingly, it is situated on the ancient road between Angkor Thom (today Siem Reap, Cambodia) to Phimai in Thailand. This was once a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva in the days when this area was Hindu and not Buddhist, as is the case today. The fall of the Khmer Empire is a puzzle that archaeologists and historians have struggled with for decades. Although I believe that there were many reasons for the weakening of the empire, it is thought that one thing that contributed was the change of religion. The introduction of the Buddhist religion in the 13th century apparently (and understandably) sparked a controversial disagreement throughout the monarchy. The new religion out-ruled the “God-king” system and encouraged people to seek their own beliefs and abandon worldly things. Phew, I think that could be the end of just about any modern country today!
We marvelled at these magnificent ruins, took more than a few pics, and then we were on our way again. We did not go very far, and after about 40 kilometres, we reached the tiny village of Non Din Daeng, where we spotted a somewhat comfortable-looking accommodation. Upon closer investigation, it turned out even better than expected, as it had a ground floor, motel-style rooms, a restaurant, and a large and beautiful garden. Even though the rooms were 400 baht each, we looked at one another and without any hesitation agreed to take it.
3 June - Non Din Daeng – Aranyaprathet – 87 km
Being well rested and fed, we set off again, but first, stopping to buy flower garlands from a roadside stall for good luck. It was an easy day as we were, in fact, on a plateau. After about 20/25 kilometres of cycling, we reached the rim of the plateau and sped down the hill at breakneck speed like two teenagers. With flower garlands flapping in the wind, we were lying flat on our bicycles and going as fast as we could, knowing full well that if we came off, it would spell disaster (we trusted in those good luck garlands). We made it in one piece to the bottom of the hill and then continued in a more mature fashion to Aranyaprathet.
We headed for the very inexpensive Aran Garden Hotel (without a garden) where one can get a room for 230 baht. We wasted no time in having a shower and then took a walk in search of cold beer. Later that evening, we took a walk to the night market, and, as always, the food was delicious.
4 June – Aranyaprathet
A rest day in Aranyaprathet and we did nothing except for laundry, updating the journal and eating everything in sight.
5 June - Aranyaprathet – Khao Chakan Forest Park -76 km
With a pannier full of clean clothes, well-rested legs and a belly full of food, we set off in the direction of another ruin known as Prasat Khao Noi. Prasat Khao Noi was inhabited around the 12th – 13th Buddhist century. Today the ruins sit on top of a small hill of about 80 meters and is accessible by a stairway of 254 steps. A lintel and inscription found here dates to 637 AD, but it was most likely reused.
Once done we headed in the direction of Khao Chakan, a beautiful ride through the country side. The weather looked threatening and once we stopped in anticipation of heavy rain, but nothing happened, and we continued along the way. Although a strong wind picked up and dark clouds gathered around us we, miraculously, never got wet and arrived in Khao Chakan bone dry. We found a room at the Bus Resort, where old busses were converted into overnight accommodation – a real novelty.
6 June – Khao Chakan - Sronlai Homestay – 94 km
The section between Khao Chakan and Sronlai Homestay is one of my most favourite rides as one gets to cycle through the Khao Ang Ruenai Wildlife Sanctuary (for the protection of wild elephants). We looked carefully but never saw any elephants, only plenty of curious monkeys. We did, however, see more than enough evidence that they were there. We spotted elephant dung both old and fresh and tree branches broken which I though was, most likely, the work of elephants.
We headed for Sronlai Homestay situated on a dam and where one can either camp or stay in bungalows. I opted for camping while Emiel took a room as he had no tent. I like camping there as one can rent canoes and row on the dam. Emiel claimed that he had no intention of becoming sportsman of the year and suggested we have a beer instead. My rubber arm was easily twisted, and that was exactly what we did.
7 June – Sronlai Homestay – Pluk Daeng – 90 km
We had no fixed destination in mind and it was, as always, a pleasant ride through the countryside, we gave way to water buffalo and watched ladies catching fish in the small ponds. Along the way, we stopped for a breakfast of noodle soup at a very basic roadside stall and (as always) the food was delicious! We passed large pineapple plantations as well as cashew and rubber tree plantations. The very odd-looking cashew with the nut growing on the outside never fails to surprise me!
The road was what I term gently undulating, but Emiel had other terms for describing the day! Eventually, we found a room in Pluk Daeng, a town that was much larger than the map suggested. We had a shower, and then took a walk to a nearby restaurant where (quite understandably) not a word of English was spoken. We pointed to a picture that looked good and waited. Eventually our food arrived in the form of soup with a strange-looking head and eye!! We had a good laugh, ordered more fried rice and ate everything! Eventually, we concluded that it could have been eel, as it did not taste like chicken.
8 June - Pluk Daeng – Jomtien, Pattaya – 46 km
In a light drizzle we slowly made our way back to where we started. It felt strange to cycle into what I call “Sodom and Gomorrah” after spending so much time in the countryside. It was, however, nice to arrive back, and our first stop was at Glen’s Bar for a quick beer to celebrate Emiel’s 1635-kilometre ride through Laos and Thailand. Well done, Emiel, you did amazingly well and it was a relaxing and fun trip!