Current rather rigid horse. Named Sledgehammer for obvious reasons. An average of +/- 6 hrs on saddle per day and you know all about IT.

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).

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

THOSE LAOS MOUNTAINS AGAIN

It was no surprise to me that there were hills. I had been over this Northern Laos route a number of times, but only once before had I cycled the section over the biggest mountains, and that was a good 8 years ago! Lots of rain, sometimes rather cold at the high points. However, plenty of spectacular scenery.
This was the height of the rice-planting season, and I stopped to watch the workers on many occasions. By planting the previously sowed rice gleaned from the seed-beds, the eventual crop is multiplied many-fold. These people work hard in rain and hot humid conditions. But rice is their life.
And eventually, when I had reached the Laos Capital Vientiane, I managed to buy a 2-month Thailand visa without any hassle or fuss (so why did they give me so much trouble in Malaysia?). A sleep in a bed for 2 nights, proper laundry done, and hot showers - what luxury!
Rubber, freshly harvested from the bowls attached to the trees for trapping the rubber sap. This is an important lifeline for the mountain villages in Northern Laos. (Yes, there are tycoons raking in the money, but it provides a living for many of these isolated communities).
Then the well-known route through Laos to the South. Pakse city, and then West to the Thailand border. I crossed the border a day before my Laos visa expired. I was not in a healthy state. I had diarrhoea for a few weeks by this time, and I had festering sores all over myself. It felt as though I would rather hide myself instead of stopping at petrol station toilets where people could see me. I also felt somewhat embarrassed asking to stay at temples when it must have looked as though I was transmitting the "plague".
By the time I arrived in Pakse city, Southern Laos, the constant heavy rain had caused some serious flooding. By this time a dam further South had broken, causing disaster in that isolated region of Cambodia downstream along the Mekong river. The Watt in Pakse where I had stayed before (in the common area of this wooden stilted building) was now hardly clear of the water. Previously there had been a storage area with a paved walkway further down along the river. The big wooden river boat moored there was now at a level with the building, and the novice monks were rowing their boat around where people had previously been strolling around.
Daily distances cycled through Laos at this time are as follows:- Ban Don Chai 72 km; Vieng Phouka 58 km; Luang Namtha 58 km; Namo 66 km; Oudomxai 60 km; Pak Mong 82 km; Ban Pathung 75 km; Xieng Ngeun 55 km; Phoudam 54 km; Phachao 84 km; Vang Vieng 78 km; Phonhong 80 km; Houayang 59 km; Vientiane 35 km; Friendship Bridge 28 km; Somsavan 32 km; Ban Namlo 85 km; Pakxan 39 km; Vieng Kham 91 km; Hinboon 79 km; Ban Thung 65 km; Seno 65 km; Pakxong 63 km; Phounsavang 49 km; Don Muang 66 km; Pakse 70 km; Ban Dou 37 km; Chong Mek (Laos/Thai border) 20 km. (Total this leg in Laos is 1 705 km). Total cycled so far is 162 897 km.
So, there is some sort of legacy related to staying at Budhist Temples as often as I do. The strings tied to my wrists I received from monks praying for my safe travels (one in the South of Thailand, and one in Northern Laos).

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

RISING UP THROUGH THAI

I was keen to know if I could somehow get back into Thailand without a visa (refused at the consulate in Georgetown, Malaysia). I charged North to Pedang Besar border in the NW of Malaysia, and arrived around mid-day on a Saturday. Absolute chaos, as the traffic was jammed all the way for about 5 km along the main road through the town, to the border. Even on a bicycle it took some skilful manoeuvring to squeeze through. Malay exit works on a quick and easy system, but at the Thai entry there were hundreds of people in disorganised que's, so I took up my place at the back. Soon an organising official approached me, looked at my passport, and escorted me to an office inside the immigration building. There I was given a 30 day entry into Thailand (the huge signs on the walls stated that I needed to show THB 10 000 in cash, but nobody asked). So, now I planned to head straight North through the longest section of Thailand - and I figured that I could pull off that move in a month.
In Malaysia the Thai visa is rather more expensive than a place such as Laos, and I was rather pleased to be given half of that time in the country at no charge. So, off I went on my way to the North. I was feeling fairly strong, healthy, and happy.
At this time of year, whatever breeze there was, was mostly behind me. However, it rained pretty much every day in the South of Thailand, and sometimes I had to dress up because I felt rather chilly. My broken arm was not yet properly healed, and whenever the temperature dropped that discomfort would increase. I usually found a dry camp at night (temples or wherever), but it can become a bit miserable waking up to pouring rain, dressing in wet cycling gear, packing wet bags, and heading off into another grey and soaking day.
I still had a problem with spokes snapping on the back wheel of this bike (great - having to remove brake disc as well as cassette to do a spoke replacement). I had run out of spares, and at Phatalung I found a bike shop which had my size of spoke so I bought 20 (turned out to be only 19 - why would they cheat me with 1 spoke?). My Pattaya tyres were wearing out, so before I hit the big Laos Mountains, I fitted good new tyres at Lampang city.
The pictures in this post are just an assortment from this leg of the trip through Thailand. The cave temple is in the Thung Song district, where I have camped before. I was totally unaware of the caves, I did not explore because of the rain (as before). But this time the monk called me from the hall where I was camping, to have breakfast. He lives in the spectacular cave, and also gave me so much T/A food that I had to refuse much of it (too much to carry).
I relaxed a little on the cycling effort for the last few days as I approached Laos in good time. From Chiang Khong town in Thailand I crossed over to Huay Xai district in Laos on 4 July. I was rather peeved at having to pay a hefty price for the shuttle bus across the Mekong bridge between the 2 immigration check points (I had previously cycled across this bridge in the opposite direction). The bus fare seriously swallowed up a good proportion of my survival pennies. It was a very quiet week-day, with no pickup truck traffic from whom I could beg a ride. Now the big hills and huge mountains of Northern Laos awaited me!
Daily distances which I managed to cycle on this leg from SW to NW Thailand (2 025 km):- Hat Yai 95 km; Phatalung 85 km; Thung Song 78 km; Wang Sa 120 km; Lamae 146 km; Chumphon 105 km; Pak Klang 52 km; Huai Yang 117 km; Pranburi 102 km; Phetchaburi 92 km; Potharam 91 km; U-Thong 99 km; Chai Nat 128 km; Khong Wilai 130 km; Tak 110 km; Don Chadi 113 km; Lampang 95 km; District 15 km; Huai Luang 22 km; Luang Nuea 65 km; Chun 97 km; Thoeng 92 km; Chiang Khong 50 km. Total distance thus far is 161 192 km.