Monday, 27 February 2017

MOVING ON

Tomorrow I will be moving along. My current Thai visa is about to expire. I am not taking my computer with me, so I will update this blog at some future stage.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

STILL IN THAILAND

Here I am, still in Thailand. In fact I was supposed to be back in Florida, USA, by mid-December, but that was not to be. So I will start off more or less where I left off in my previous post. Apologies for the big time lapse since my previous post. Things have happened since then, but not much in the way of cycling. I have mostly recovered from my injuries sustained when I had the accident, but if I sit for a long time, or cycle continuously for a couple of days, then I do feel some discomfort in my hip.
I am back on the farm in Eastern Thailand. I have not just been lazing around (although after the accident I just lay around here recovering from injury). Since I first came to the farm I have fitted a kitchen sink, a wash basin in the bathroom, and I have painted the interior of the kitchen and the bathroom. I have also been doing a bit of weeding and gardening around the house, and have fitted electrical outlets, taps, door locks, etc. When I go to Amphoe Trakan town 21 km away I usually cycle there so that I can pack groceries and things on my bike. When we went to town for the paint, Pannee took her mother's old gearless bike and cycled with me all the way (I ended up riding back with a 25 litre bucket of paint balanced on my back rack - literally a case of "the tail wagging the dog").
It was time for me to go to Florida, USA, again, and as ususl Gabriele of Paradise Farms paid for my ticket. At the airport in Bangkok I checked in my boxed bike and bag, but I did not notice that they changed the boarding time. Also, the boarding pass was not in my name, so after trying to sort out the problem I missed my boarding time. I was taken back through immigration, and was surprised to find my checked baggage still in the oversized baggage department (I suspect that the flight was overbooked, and I was conveniently the fall guy). I tried to get another ticket, but for the next few weeks all those flights were fully booked. Gabriele did get me another ticket at the end of December, but I was required to leave the airport in Europe and re-check my baggage, so I needed an EU visa which I cannot get in Thailand (this time she lost most of the ticket money, as some of the airlines involved do not give cancellation re-funds). So that is the reason why I am still in Thailand.
After my missed flight incident, I was at a loss regarding what to do next. It was too costly to remain in Bangkok, so Pannee and I returned to her farm in Ubon, Eastern Thailand. Thai people are mostly Buddhist and do not celebrate Xmas (they don't seem to know much about Xmas at all). So I bought a Xmas present for the people on the farm, and I was surprised when I also received a present from Pannee (Lulu-Suzie, the bear with the bow-tie in pic).
At the time I had the accident in September, I had just returned from Laos where I had obtained a new 2-month Thai visa. So 2 months later at the end of October I was still not able to cycle, and I went to Malaysia by train and obtained another 2-month Thai visa (as reported in my previous post). And so it happened that over New Year I had to get another visa, and this time I cycled to Laos again. I crossed at the Southern border close to the city of Pakse, a day before my Thai visa expired. It was chaos at the border as many people from both countries were crossing, probably to spend New Year with family. It also took a long time for me to get out of Thailand as the exit stamp in my passport had been canceled when I missed the flight, and I no longer had a departure card. Eventually they let me go to Laos, but they spent a lot of time on their computers and I was a bit worried that I may not be allowed back into Thailand, even with a visa. At the immigration office on the Laos side they charged me substantially more for their visa than before, but I had to pay up as I could not then return to Thailand (perhaps the officials were making some money for their New Year's party). I had to change the remainder of my cash to Laos Kip, and it seems that the shady money changer also needed funding for his New Year's party. So off I cycled into Laos, having been done out of the money which was meant to pay for a week or 2 of cycling, as well as the new Thai visa. Luckily for me my sister Olga came to the rescue once more so I could make the trip and get the new visa. I also took a bus and train part of the way back to Eastern Thailand, as I had cycled those roads a number of times before. On my visa trip to Laos I camped mainly at police stations and Buddhist temples (see pics). Thankfully the monks gave me some food to eat, for which I was very grateful.
I am able to cycle again, and I have the time, but unfortunately I do not have the funds anymore to go and complete my route through China, as planned. Even although I was not doing much cycling, I was still filming my misfortunes for Brandon who wanted to do a documentary on my travels. In November last year an agent for FedEx came around to the farm and picked up the package which contained about 8 hours of film. Unfortunately the agent did not complete all the necessary paperwork, and the package was held back in Bangkok. Eventually it was traced to the FedEx facility close to the airport, and last week I made a special trip to the city, added some more film, and re-sent the package to Brandon (2 and a half months after I had first shipped it). Hopefully he can make something of it, I am still waiting to hear from him.
I am very thankful to my sister, as she has helped me out on a number of occasions this trip, since my savings disappeared. Anyway, other than the visa run to Laos and the FedEx trip to Bangkok, I have been back on the farm. In about 3 weeks I will need to do another visa run, where to this time? Now I am waiting to see if anything comes from the filming which I have done. If nothing, I will have to make a plan to earn some money, perhaps teaching?
Mainly due to my accident in September, I have not cycled much since then. The closest town with banks and a supermarket is Amphoe Trakan, about 20 km from the farm which is close to Ban Trakan village. Usually when I go there I carry a number of bags and come back loaded with shopping, so I am counting those trips. Distances cycled since my last post have been:- Ubon Ratchathani (back and forth to closest train station) 212 km; Amphoe Trakan (shopping etc) 174 km; Khong Chiam (for visa run to Laos) 78 km; Pakse (Laos) 81 km; Small Village Temple 77 km; Rock Wat 79 km; Village Wat 68 km; Savannakhet 93 km; Tha Kaek 90 km; Vientianne (+bus) 23 km; Nonh Khai (back in Thailand) 27 km; Udon Thani 60 km; Khong Kaen 113 km; (train to Ubon Ratachathani); and Ban Trakan farm 53 km. Total distance cycled is 138 913 km.
And somebody got a tattoo (not me of course). At the time of the picture it was still very new and tender.
Besides her parents, Pannee also has 2 sons on the farm, the youngest of which is a lively 6-year old (in pic with me). So the only time I become really bored on this farm is when money runs out and we eat only rice. (But then again, rice is better than nothing at all).

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

RECOVERY IN THAILAND

Yes, I am still in Thailand - although I have come and gone a couple of times. I stayed with Pannee in Bangkok in a cheap room where all the other residents in the building were Thai people working in the tourist service business. While in Bangkok we got fresh food in the markets and cooked in the room. We also wandered around all the interesting places where the hordes of tourists hang out. it became evident that my passport would still take some time, so we moved to the family farm in Ubon province, in the East of Thailand. Pannee's 2 sons live on the farm with her parents, and one of her sisters also lives on the farm. She has a house there, and also owns a portion of the land. They farm primarily with rice, but there are also some chickens, cows, and a buffalo. Her parents run a small shop as the farm is right next door to the village school and on a main road.
Due to my full passport I could not go to China or Myanmar/India as I had initially intended. I suppose I could have cycled around Thailand again, but I have been just about everywhere in the country, and I was enjoying the new experience of living on the farm. At the end of August I cycled to Laos, primarily to buy a new Thai visa in the capital, Vientianne.
I spent a week or more in Laos before returning to Thailand via the southern "arm" of Laos. I was careful not to return to Thailand immediately once I had obtained the visa. The Thai immigration authorities are suspicious of these visa runs (illegal work) and I met some people in Laos who had been refused re-entry.
On the day that I crossed back to Thailand I got an early start, and was headed for the farm where Pannee was waiting. It was a long day and by nightfall I was still on the road. I pushed on in search of a camp site, but never made it. In the dark a speeding motorbike without lights smashed straight into the back of me. The road was dark, but there was a wide shoulder and I was concentrating on riding close to the side without going off into the ditch. However, it is my fault for not using the usual flashing red tail lights (both of them had flat batteries). The motorbike also crashed, but he managed to take off again before the police arrived (leaving broken parts and his shoes behind). My bike and I suffered some unfortunate damage, I spent the night in hospital and the following morning the police gave me and my broken bike a ride to the farm which was still almost an hour away. The daily distances which I cycled on this trip to Laos and back to Thailand are as follows:- Ban Trakan farm to Amnat Charoen 82 km; Yasothon 62 km; Roi Et 70 km; Khong Kaen 116 km; Udon Thani 115 km; Nong Khai 61 km; Vientiane (Laos) 28 km; Savannakhet (by bus) to Muang Khong 159 km; Pakse 81 km; Laos Sue Kok (Thailand) 153 km (crash in the dark!). The total distance cycled up to the fateful night of 7 September 2016 is 137685 km.
I was in bad shape but fortunately Pannee took good care of me (dressing wounds, cooking meals, getting crutches and more medicine at the clinic in the village, and more). The above picture of me on crutches was taken more than 2 weeks after the crash, so the stitches had been removed and the other sores did not need dressing anymore. I did very little for about 2 months after which time I can at least walk again. In the mean time I managed to do most of the repairs to my bike (Old Saartjie lives on!). I also had to repair ripped panniers with fishing line and duct tape. Some equipment was damaged, such as the computer charger (hence the long delay in updating this blog). Now I've managed to sort out the charger, so I can use the computer again.
It was time for another visa run, now again to Malaysia. This time I was not on the bike, so it was convenient for Pannee to accompany me. It was quite a trip involving motorbikes, minibusses, various trains in both countries, and a ferry.
The Thai Consulate in Georgetown on Penang Island in Malaysia is most convenient for a new Thai visa. We returned to the farm 2 days ago, and I feel that I need a bit more rest and recovery before moving on.
There are some options, depending largely on funds. And eventually I did pick up my new passport in Bangkok on the way back from Malaysia.

Friday, 15 July 2016

VISA RUN TO MALAYSIA

Arriving in Bangkok almost 2 months ago, I was stamped in to Thailand, with permission to stay in the country for 30 days (as usual). Those 30 days were over too soon, with the hassles of 1 week delayed baggage, etc. So, I saddled up my bike (old Saartjie), for the trip to Malaysia to get a longer Thai visa. I am still waiting for my new passport (a few months more), so Malaysia is convenient as I do not need a visa (they only place a small entry and exit stamp in the passport, which is almost full). I have cycled this route a number of times, and I had to be out of Thailand on a certain date, so I took the train for part of the way from Bangkok. From the border I headed South to Penang island where there is a Thai consulate (visa office), camping a couple of times along the way there and back. I stayed a few days in Penang (George Town), in the Little India district (good street food). Then I headed back towards Thailand and Bangkok. I arrived there without my tent poles (where do errant tent poles go?), so I have had to buy a new tent here in Bangkok. Luckily I could find a tent, but it is bigger than necessary for my purposes, and relatively bulky and heavy for cycling. Distances cycled on this trip are as follows - (NOTE THAT THESE ARE CUMULATIVE DISTANCES, AND NOT DAILY DISTANCES!):- Bangkok (to train) 16 km; Chumphon (by train) to Malaysian border at Padang Besar 563 km; Penang island (Georgetown) 262 km; Return to Thailand and take train from Hat Yai 315 km; Hua Hin (by train) to Bangkok 217 km. Total distance cycled up to 7 July 2016 is 136758 km.
And so, at the risk of harping on about things, my pre-schemed plans regarding my travels in E Asia have obviously been seriously disrupted. In the mean time my travel options are limited. But there are also positives, and the day after arriving in Thailand without any baggage I met Pannee. She has been good company, and has made me forget some of my troubles.
Currently I am visiting on her family farm in Isan, Ubon province in the East of Thailand.
The Buddhist Lent, also called the Candle Festival, is very big in this region. This year the culmination of that festival is in the provincial capital, Ubon Ratchatani, on 19 and 20 July.
The festival consists of float parades (built over months from candle wax), accompanied by local dancing troops. The various important temples compete against each other for first prize each year (nb. "temple" refers to the entire community, not only the monks). After that we take the train back to Bangkok again for the time being.

Monday, 6 June 2016

RETURN TO BANGKOK AGAIN

I am in Bangkok, Thailand, once more! I left Florida, USA, more than a week ago, and I have had some excitement in the process.
Let me start at the beginning. A while ago I met Brandon, a cinematographer based in Florida, USA. He is interested in documenting my travels, and he gave me a bunch of equipment for filming as I go along. My departure from Miami airport was being filmed at the check-in counter. The unflinching attendant charged me US $ 500 for excess baggage! Interesting that I had been on that same sequence of flights 3 times before, with the same baggage, and was never charged for it (I suppose they made up for it this time). Thanks to Brandon who immediately paid the fee on my behalf. Almost 2 days later I arrived in Bangkok - WITHOUT MY SUPER EXPENSIVE LUGGAGE! Exactly one week later my bike and all my equipment was delivered to me. Besides that, the cheap guest house where I have stayed in Bangkok many times was closed down when I turned up there, and it seems that the place is being demolished. Peachy GH was an institution amongst budget travelers, and it feels strange that it is now gone. My passport is nearly full, and I was planning to apply for a new passport at the SA embassy here, before returning to China and a few other countries. Surprise surprise! At the embassy today I was informed that the processing time for a new passport is 6 months. Now I have to figure out what to do and where to go in the mean time, and my savings may be depleted by that time anyway. Never a dull moment, but right now I could do with a few dull moments.

Friday, 3 June 2016

LEAVING PARADISE AGAIN

This post is a little belated, as I have already left Paradise Farm and the USA almost a week ago. Anyway, here are some more pictures from around the farm, and also pics of Warmshowers touring cyclists who have camped on the farm.
In addition to welcoming guests and servicing the guest houses, taking care of guests on the farm also ivolved serving them breakfast.
The Warmshowers cyclists had to take care of their own meals, although all the necessary facilities were available to them.
Two of the farm workers, Jani and Carmella, at a teepee brought there by guests for a ceremony.
And of course I have to again add a pic of my part-time cat, Guacomole. The ginger kitten was found at the roadside and brought to me, so I raised him for a couple of weeks until he could eat on his own. I was quite sad to have to find a new home for him before I left.