Monday, 14 January 2019

FLYING BACK TO SA?

Yes, I am now in the SW of Malaysia. There is a possibility that I may fly to Cape Town next week. Watch this site for the latest news. If NO NEWS, fumble it up and chew it. Speak to you later.

Monday, 17 December 2018

BACK IN THAILAND

Since my previous post (see below) I have returned to Thailand. I was denied a new Thai tourist visa, but at the border I was allowed a 30-day entry to Thailand. Now I am in Bangkok trying to get my bike back on the "GO" (that "Poor Animal" is suffering with each crank of the pedals, and roll of the wheels). And so, for now, I am probably heading towards Malaysia - OR WHEREVER?

Sunday, 25 November 2018

LAOS AND AGAIN

Hello Again! I am currently back in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, for the second time in as many months. After leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) in early September I cycled the central route North to the Thai Highlands and then I proceeded on down to the Mekong river. This was a route I had not taken before, and I had only seen this part of the river from the opposite banks in Laos.
To reach the main border from Thailand to Laos I traveled East before crossing and proceeding to the Laos capital, Vientiane. I had sent out some requests for sponsorship so I could complete my route through China. I was hoping for some money to drop from the sky (the best response was "God Bless You"). After I realised that there was nothing forthcoming from above, there was no point in wasting my meagre funds on a Chinese visa, and I saw another 2-month visa for the return to Thailand as the most viable option. However, due to all the previous Thai visas in my passport, I was denied another visa at this time (Vientiane has so far been the easiest place for people making a Thai visa run - so I guess they are tightening up their policy). And so I was off to the Vietnamese visa office where I was duly granted a month's visa (a bit expensive though).
I still had enough time, so I headed through Southern Laos towards the Lao Bao border, and into Vietnam. The past rainy season had taken its toll on this busy road. Now it was dry and breezy, and the broken road had turned into a dust bowl.
And so I was off to Vietnam for the first time in about 9 years (see that post for details). On my way back from Vietnam I crossed into Laos at a relatively remote border, at Nam Can. This border is situated in the NE of Laos, a rather mountainous region. I took it fairly easy along there, as bike parts were wearing out like popcorn. I also did not want to become part of the "popcorn festival" by wearing myself out. There was no need to rush, I had plenty of time (my problem was that I had no idea where to head next). So I made my way back towards Vientiane where I hope to get some clarity on my options.
I passed through Phonsavanh, a touristy town in the otherwise remote NE mountains of Laos. The reason for all the tourists is the famed "PLAIN OF JARS" (ancient large carved stone jars). I found this town somewhat disturbing. In a relatively isolated region, suddenly hordes of foreign tourists pop out of the woodwork. Busses, mini-busses, taxis, etc, are hauling the Farangs in from Vientiane and Luang Prabang cities. I am not at all fond of this place, as I was twice ignored as a customer (obviously I'm a small time player). The road is broken and terribly dusty (certainly muddy in the rainy season). Looking at the countless fancy hotels and guesthouses one may imagine that there is enough money for road maintenance. Anyway, those jars are about 10 km out of town.
On the way to another touristy town, Vang Vieng, I came across a rather interesting milestone (see the pic of the sign, the template for painting the name was probably used back-to-front, and the KM sign upside-down). Perhaps the sign was painted by one of the hordes of revelling young travellers (some who seem to get stuck here in VV).
My previous trip through Laos had been in the Rainy Season, and the Rice Planting effort was in full swing. Now, it was the start of the Dry Season, and the Rice Harvest was in the swing of things.
I stayed in the "Back-Packer Hangout" of Vang Vieng for a couple of days (cheapest room that I could find). Myself and my equipment were all in a mess, after an awkward period of time lately. Technically there is wi-fi, but it came and went at will (at least the hot shower worked, and I was in there for half the day). A highlight there was the Italian T/A Pizza shop next door, and I became their number-1 customer. While in Vang Vieng I replaced an O-ring seal on my stove (nearly caused unintentional arson recently!), and repaired the door zip of my tent (free game for mozzies).
Now I am back in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Two months ago I was prevented from applying for another Thailand tourist visa because I already had too many of those in my passport. After the whole Vietnam rigmarole, a number of thousands of KM on the bike, and the "almost" flight back to South Africa, GUESS WHAT?! Inexplicably my visa application was accepted. But my joy was short lived. Two days later I cruised over to the Thai Consulate to pick up my visa, but to no avail (the visa had been denied for the same reasons as before). There are always options, but those are rather slim, and not my preferred choice. Anyway, relax and look at the pictures.
The previous picture is of my bike on the porch of the Mixay Guest House in Vientiane. Previously I had slept on this floor next to the bike (if I arrived late, or if the GH was full). This time, the 2 days prior to leaving for Thailand I slept on a bench inside the hallway (again), after closing time. There I met Adam, English ex-pat with family and cafe in SE Thailand, who has invited me to come and visit some time, thanks (and also thanks for the Beer Lao's!).
Also at Mixay was French cyclist Thibaud, who I had met on the road from Vietnam a few days before reaching Vientiane. He is about twice my height, but gracefully bent his knees so we could fit into the same pic.
The photo below of Vientiane was taken across the Mekong river from Thailand (Still about 80 km via the border and back to what you see in the pic).
I had crossed from Thailand into Laos at the Nong Khai border-bridge across the Mekong river. On the following day I was at the Laos capital, Vientiane, about 30 km from that bridge border. For visa purposes etc I had to hang around in the vicinity, so some of these distances are not at all phenomenal, but mainly a search for accommodation. Then, from Vientiane I cycled through Southern Laos towards Savannaket, and then East up towards the Vietnam border at Lao Bao. Daily distances from Vientiane on this occasion are:- Nongtaeng 33 km; Nongkhankou 36 km; Mai 31 km; Vientiane (again) 27 km; Mai 25 km; River Watt 37 km; Mixay 26 km; Naxon 52 km; Paxxan 80 km; Pakkadan 50 km; Vieng Kham 72 km; Thakek 85 km; Ban Nao Nua 75 km; Dong Hen 76 km; Kethamouak 78 km; Ban Dong 80 km; Lao Bao (Vietnam) 23 km. Total cycled by this stage is 165 635 km.
From Vietnam I returned to Laos via the relatively remote Nam Can border post. After the 20 km climb up to the border the previous day, I was expecting some respite, perhaps even some downhill. Not to be! Still early in the day, but after torturing my poor overladen horse on the relentless uphill (sometimes over 10% gradient) on a somewhat broken road, I called it a day at Nonghet town. So distances into this mountainous part of Laos, from the Vietnam border, were:- Nonghet 18 km; Ban Pakho 32 km; Kham 41 km; Ponsavanh 43 km; Nongtan 59 km; Hinsua 54 km; Phoukoun 45 km; Kasi 42 km; Vang Vieng 59 km (and 3 days onwards to Vientiane). Total distance cycled is 167 550 km.
.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

FLIGHT TO VIETNAM

UPDATE COMING SOON - I'LL TRY! Now that you are here on this site, it may be worth your while looking at the pictures. I should finish this post before the end of the current century.
I needed a haircut. As I cycled along this busy dusty "fumy" and noisy road - I spotted what I thought was a barber shop. OK, yes it was a barber shop. The diminutive barber was not yet at office, but the carpenter who shared the premises called, and he soon made an appearance. Very interesting, although I feared for my life at times. It seemed that he could not stop cutting, and even the beard trim ended in a smooth shave. Scary! He used an old style "cut-throat" razor, which he sharpened every now and than.
Bia Hoi, a refreshing unpreserved draught beer in Northern Vietnam (many different breweries, but all reportedly the cheapest beer in the world). Also, due to the French colonial legacy of the country, there is good baguettes at little bakeries along the way. Somehow, with the help of the Bia Hoi and baguettes it seemed possible to wash the traffic dust and fumes down my parched throat.
Once I had obtained the Vietnam visa in the Laos capital, Vientiane, I headed through Southern Laos. I crossed into Vietnam at Lao Bao, sort-of Central Vietnam, and a major border between these 2 countries. The following gibberish is a daily record of the distances I cycled in Vietnam:- Cam Lo 60 km; Phu Viet 77 km; Ba Don 85 km; Ky Phong 86 km; Vinh 62 km; Dong Ha 64 km; Hoa Chau 75 km; Kim Lien 49 km; Ninh Binh 49 km; Phu Ly 31 km; Hanoi 71 km; Noi Bai (airport and back etc) 71 km; Ha Dong 69 km; Miew Mong 45 km; Hang Tram 44 km; Cam Thuy 48 km; Thong Nat 55 km; Xuan Tho 76 km; Anh Son 71 km; Con Cuong 33 km; Quang Ten 44 km; Mxien 73 km; and Nam Can (Vietnam/Laos border) 22 km. Total distance cycled thus far is 166 995 km.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

NORTH THAI HILLS TO MEKONG

UPDATE COMING SOON - I HOPE. Until then here are some pictures for you to look at.
Distances cycled since leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) on 10 September are as follows:- Bang Saen 66 km; Phanom Sarakham 74 km; Nakhon Nayok 72 km; Saraburi 79 km; Lam Narai 75 km; Bueng Sam Phan 83 km; Lom Sak 102 km; Hill Watt 69 km; Huai Lat 57 km; Chiang Khan 85 km; Pak Mang 61 km; Tha Kathin 77 km; Salakhamtai (Laos) 74 km; and Vientiane 24 km. Total to this point is 164 749 km (exactly 1000 km since leaving Pattaya).

Saturday, 1 September 2018

THE LANDING

OK then, hello all of you who thought that perhaps I was a "Gonner"!. After 8000 km, a broken arm, ravenous dog bite, mountains and plenty of rain, I am back in Pattaya Thailand, from where I cycled off about 4 months ago. As usual it was a wonderful experience, but also included visa problems and bike problems, and stomach problems (as usual). My total touring distance so far is 163 749 km. While I was busy updating this blog my computer HD packed up, and it has since been replaced at a substantial cost. Info unrecoverable, but luckily I had backup for most. I have dated the previous 5 posts to the day on which that phase ended (mostly with land border crossings to the next stage / country).

Saturday, 18 August 2018

ISAN TRANSIT

After a number of transits it is my opinion that the Laos/Thai land border at Chong Mek (40 km West of Pakse in Laos) is the "least hassle" of the borders between these 2 countries. With a bike you can enter Thai through the car gates quick and easy (avoid weekends and holidays, and if you have a visa then all you need to do is fill in the entry/departure card).
Once again, soon after the border I camped at the Marine Police on the Mekong River at the town of Khong Chiam. This was quite a spectacle as the river was at its highest in about 10 years (look carefully at pictures taken now, and on previous visits, from the same 2 view points). I am guessing, but possibly 15m to 20m higher water now (see the concrete paths and steps leading down, as well as the islands and exposed rocks).
The picture above shows the chief monk at a very nice temple off this road (Buri Ram district). He treated me very well, and I am thankful. He could possibly be a good guest house manager.
And then I stopped off at Pannee's house on the farm in Ubon, not far off my intended route. The tent which I had been using lately was becoming rather thin underneath, causing a wet sleep each time a floor was flooded by rain water (somewhat unpredictable). I had arranged with Pannee to swap this tent with the other tent I had left there last year when I also left her (she does not usually live on the farm, and was not there on this occasion). However, she did instruct her Mama to let me stay in the house for a night or 2, while I adapted the tent and did some maintenance to my bike.
Daily distances cycled from Laos through Eastern Thailand to Pattaya have been as follows (total for this stretch is 852 km):- Khong Chiam 38 km; Ban Trakan 82 km; Kantararam 89 km; Samrong Thap 73 km; Non Daeng 85 km; Nang Rong 86 km; Lam Nang Rong 59 km; Wattana Nakhon 84 km; Phanom Sarakham 89 km; Chonburi 96 km; and Pattaya (Jomtien) 71 km. My grand total distance since leaving Cape Town, South Africa, on 27 March 2007 is now 163 749 km.
The picture above shows the front entrance to Pannee's house on the farm (and I did tell her that I would paint the door the next time I went to the place). Tropical weather is harsh.
On the day which I arrived here in Pattaya, a car slowed down alongside, and the woman in the passenger seat handed me this pair of genuine RayBan sunglasses. I was going into a stiff breeze, in bright sunlight for a change. They simply drove away after that donation, so "thank you". ALSO NOTE:- Please excuse the unsightly ULCER on my nose. By the time I arrived here in Pattaya my whole body was full of these festering sores! It started from mosquito bites and heat rash, and when my defence was low due to weeks of diarrhoea while I was exerting myself by cycling, the bacteria nailed me. I have since been on a heavy antibiotic course, and things have drastically improved (so I end off with this good news).