Feb 5, 2010

that's it...

the trip is over and i'm back again in san francisco. i just finished editing the blog; added 2 slideshows, one with regular photos, the other one with panorama photos. at some point in the near future i will edit and add the video clips.

this was my best bicycle trip so far. the previous ones were great too, but this one tops it all!
i will post another blog sometime about bike travelling in general and in SE Asia in particular to answer all those questions people asked me.

Km= travelled distance in kilometers ave= average speed km/h Tm= riding time hours.min.

Jan 31, 2010

Day 28-31, Jan 29-Feb 2, Bangkok

O.k., that's not Laos anymore, but still lots of cafe... Just hanging out in Bangkok for the remainder. Found a great guesthouse north of banglampoo in thewet. Just a regular neighborhood with the flower market and the wet market across the klong resp. around the corner. If you look for a really nice guesthouse at a very fair price (bht 450 w/ shared br), check out Sri Ayuttaya, the best so far since I come to bkk (23 years now!).
Bicycling in bkk can be fun, but you mustn't be timid. As everywhere in SE asia only what's in front of you is your responsibility; everything behind you, well those behind you are in charge. No rearview mirror needed!
The real challenging matter is the particulate one in the air, very bad pollution especially from the tuktuks.
And what is there to do in bkk??? Besides phantastic shopping (!!!!) like the weekend market (also known as jj or chatuchak or what I just discovered, ratchada night market); well, there is a whole lot to try for the taste buds! The number must be in the tens of thousands of food stands besides the indoor restaurants. A culinary orgy!!!!!
Now you might be able to imagine what I spend the time with here in krung thep.

Km 30, ave 11.7, Tm 2.30

I'll be flying back on tue, so the blog is almost finished. But I will put up a whole lotta pictures and videos on when I'm back.

Total: km 1440

Thanks for following!!!!

Jan 28, 2010

Day 27, Jan 28, udon thani to khon kaen and on to bkk

The last big ride was actually today. I decided to bike down to khon kaen just for the cycling's sake. Otherwise it's not much fun to be on Hwy 2 which goes straight to Bangkok, from nong khai ca. 650 km. It's a major hwy although it has the obligatory moped/bicycle lane. It's straight, it's noisy, it's gets more polluted the further south you go. To either side ricepaddies, then sugarcane dominates. Fairly flat, I could go for stretches 30-35 km/h resulting in the highest average speed on the tour.
8 in the morning I left udon, at 1 o'clock and after 120 km i arrived in khon kaen.
Nothing to say about that town, didn't bother to take pictures. Went straight to the railway station to buy a ticket for the night train (sleeper, very comfortable. $20! for a 9hr trip) and checked into a hotel for the afternoon. Got another thai massage, good kneading!
Now I'm at the station waiting for the train.

Km 121.4, Ave 26.9, Tm 4.30

Jan 27, 2010

Day 26, Jan 27, vientane, Laos to udon thani, Thailand

The bicycle trip is almost over. Just another 20 km or so to the thai lao friendship bridge and over to nong khai in thailand.
Last shopping in vientane at carol cassidy lao fabric where the most amazing is silk is being woven and sold.
Almost there! the bridge over the Mekong I mean. I'm having my last lao lunch (soup, of course! I'm a lao soup fiend now!) and in a few minutes I will pack up the last few km remaining on this trip in laos....

Well, it turned out a bit different...
Early afternoon I got across the Mekong and into nong khai and it's only another 60 km to udon thani (became well known during the vietnam war and the 'conflict' in Laos as a USAF base resp. CIA Air America base and the 'Ravens'). So I kept going as I had been to nong khai twice already before.
On the highway the very left lane (lefthand traffic in thailand) is for 2 wheeled vehicles only. Pretty flat and straight it allowed for speeds around 30-40 km/h and barely 2 hrs later I rolled into udon (It must have been the soup; it's like the gaul's magic potion of asterix and obelix).
Udon is just one of those regular thai cities which i just like. There is nothing particular to see, no tourist attraction. What counts are the food, fruit and juice stands everywhere, the night markets, and so on. just regular thai life. Along the lake in the middle of town besides the aforementioned stands are also massage stands! I just had a thai massage, a very good one (and a bit painful as it should be). For something like $ 5.50 for 1 1/2 hrs. The standard price for a meal anywhere is 30-35 baht, around a dollar!

Km 92.5, Ave 22.2, Tm 4.12

Jan 26, 2010

Day 25, Jan 26, vientane

Last time I spent more than a few hours in vientane (as on the previous trip) was in 1995. I just came from Hanoi, totally exhausted from having spent 2 month in Vietnam on 2 wheels. First by motorcycle, then from Saigon to Hanoi by bicycle. Exhausted not only from bicycling but from the though friendly but also fairly aggressive environment.
And the best place to come to to wind down, relax, recharge was vientane. Travelling was very restricted, one had to stay for the granted 5 days in vientane prefecture. Absolutely quiet, hardly any traffic, very few cars and not too many people. I have this memory of unpaved streets but more likely there were thickly covered with red dust. A pitcher of beer (on the rocks!) was something like 25 cents; accommodation around $2. Well, my travel budget averaged $5/day...
I also remember the unbelievable friendliness of the us embassy ('you need a business visa? No problem, will be ready tomorrow!' I had maybe $100 in total to my name! Times have changed...).
The city had changed, too! it's indeed hustling and bustling comparable with a midsize city in Thailand, but with higher prices for hotels.
All in all not very impressive in comparison to the rest of Laos and no real reason to stay more than a day or two.

Day 24, Jan 25, pak lai to vientane

I'm on the Mekong right now travelling to vientane by boat. The slow boat goes 3 times a week and the trip is 8 hrs. So far a great journey. The boat has actual seats, room for 100 passengers but we are only 20. After a couple of tight bends the river swings to the east and the southern bank is already Thailand.
Most the time I'm lazying away the time on the roof which allows me sunshine, a steady breeze and an unhindered view.
In the meantime I have arrived in vientane already. This boat journey was possibly one of the best I ever have taken (the other one the 5 day trip down the amazon from manaus to belem). It really turned out to be 8 hrs travel time in which we put maybe 200 km behind us. The scenery was not as exciting as up on the nam ou, nonetheless what made this trip outstanding was the almost sullen air, the uncrowdiness of the boat, the subtle but steady change of the river and its surroundings including the human life along it.
Bicycling the remaining 7 km from the boatlanding into town took me back not only into civilisation but also into the hustle and bustle of apparently busy city.
In order to keep a relaxed state of mind I checked into a guesthouse on the fringes of vientane, an almost hidden compound with old Lao style buildings within a garden setting.

Km 15.1, Ave 20.7, Tm 0.43

Jan 25, 2010

Day 23, Jan 24, pak lai

A drumming beat woke me up sometimes in the night. A hard and steady rain came down. It let up a bit in the morning but is persisting as a drizzle. I plan to take the slow boat to vientane tomorrow. Sp I just hang out here. Not much to do except having coffee, walking in the rain, ...
Quiet today for it's sunday and it suits the mood. A rainy sunday in the tropics at some godforsaken place far away...
That's by the way the prison in pak lai...

Day 22, Jan 23, nam pouy to pak lai

A good day of off road riding resp. dirt piste of the first order! On the road by 7.50 after a hearty breakfast consisting of pho gai (soup) and cafe lao. Overcasted with cloud banks in the valleys and mountain slopes, a beautiful picture! The first 30 km were pretty tough, roller coaster with 100 to 200 m change of elevation. As it rained/ drizzled the previous days there was no dust and the road really smoothed out by the lumber trucks. Speaking of which, the road comes very close to the nam pouy national park. And everything in between is being clear cut right now. I saw every step of the process from cutting the tree to milling the lumber at the saw mill today. At the saw mill there is no effiency to be seen anywhere regarding getting the most out of a tree. Lots and lots of waste (of wonderful exotic lumber!!).
Anyway, half the way I pulled over and had a bath in a river, desperately again. For it cleared up, the sun broke through and it became hot and dusty, very much so!
I think I was (maybe) the very first bicyclist coming through here. It's a very remote area, off the tourist tracks and besides great mountain biking and the landscape there is no attraction for most travellers.
Here it's not sabai'dii (hello, how are you, good bye) what one hears 100 times in every village but 'farang!!!', for most people or at least kids haven't seen one. Farang, ferengi, etc. is the synonym for westerner (from franken/ franks, the crusaders that is) from the middle east to se asia. I was the saturday entertainment!
In the afternoon it became very, very dusty and hot, too. Everytime a vehicle is passing there is this huge dust cloud... Arriving in pak lai around 4, the Mekong again!!!, I checked into a guesthouse and took a shower with my clothes on and also showered down the panniers. Later on I washed the bike in the shower. Just regular procedure...
Btw, after the shower I turned on the tv and I got a great and weird combination in and from my room: mcqueen's bullit and a view onto the Mekong! Can't get any better, no?!?

Km 102.6, Ave 17.4, Tm 5.50

Day 21, Jan 22, xayaboury to nam pouy

Last night I stayed at the best hotel in town, $12 a night, w/ tv and a bathroom big enough to give the bike a shower. Slept well after the challenging ride yesterday. So I left town not before 10. For one I wanted to sleep in, second it was drizzling in the morning and I hoped it'd stop, third I had only 55 km to go.
Interesting, through most villages the road is paved, outside not. I guess that's because dust from dirt roads is a big health problem.
Again, I came across a mahout with his elephant walking/ riding along the road. It's such an amazing sight!
The road was half challenging, 90% dirt, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough. The surroundings mountainous, all previously logged, teak plantations and rice paddies, both dry and planted. One can see all phases of rice cultivation, plowing, seeding, etc.
And about teak, this time I noticed way more teak plantations than on the last trip. Basically teak is everywhere. I assume in time Laos will be one of the biggest teak exporters. Btw teak trees are not very pretty ones, but the lumber is one of my favorites.
Damn', it just started to rain, not just drizzling. Tomorrow I have to ride more than 100 km, all dirt. A little bit of rain keeps the dust down, but too much makes it all muddy.
Not much to watch on tv, only thai, Myanmar and Korean channels. But, the Korean channel is the one from north korea! Pretty weird! Check out the video! Also, a little while ago I stumbled over this: http://www.kcckp.net/en/ and http://www.ournation-school.com/ .
North Korean weirdo stuff!
That's what the local must think about me for I'm the only tourist in town and they have never seen one bicycling through...

61.2 km, Ave 17.7, Tm 3.27

Day 20, jan 21, luang prabang to sayaboury

No really, I left town... It started drizzling last night and kept going till the morning hours. Would have been another excuse, but I was ready to move on. 8.30 i was on the road. The first 29 km were familiar from the previous trip. At Xiang ngeun I took the right fork, west to sayaboury. The next 85 km were more or less dirt road. 2/3's the way I came across a mountain range, again all steep limestone cliffs. In muang nan soup for lunch (as well for breakfast, the best for a day of cycling! And dinner too). And going over another hump and around a curve there it was again! The mighty Mekong! Going full speed down the grade I caught a ferry boat just about to leave with another passenger. 5 min later and I went ashore on the westbank of the river. Another 2 hrs on partially fairly bumpy dirt road and I reached sayaboury, the capital of the namesake province. Coming into town one notices immediately lots of 'taco bell' mansion (asian style); big, almost monstrous, of course the greek pillars are all there. Apparently the town is getting rich from smuggling.

clocked 1000 km today
Km 112.3, Ave 18.4, Tm 6.04