Monday, 21 August 2017

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I am currently on the bike, will update when I have the opportunity. Now Thailand, and Laos. Additional 165 km, cycling to Amphoe Trakan with bags for shopping, and so forth.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

SE ASIAN STRUGGLES

So, after 2 months I am back on the farm in Eastern Thailand. In this time I cycled through parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. This was not an easy trip, broken bike, and some health problems as well. So now I am relaxing for a while.
I had been relaxing with Pannee on the farm for about a month, fattening up after a lengthy visa run to Laos. I left the farm in early May, headed for the far SE corner of Thailand where I would cross into Cambodia at the Hat Lek border. Although it was the rainy season, the first few days were scorching hot and I got rather sunburnt. It was then that I started to develop a heat rash which became increasingly uncomfortable as the weeks wore on. I hardly ever saw another touring cyclist as soon there was heavy rain day and night. As before, I mostly stayed at the temples, so I usually had good cover during the night.
In Thailand there are plenty of covered bus stops, and I frequently sheltered there from the sun and the rain. As before, I mostly used the PTT petrol stations for toilet stops, and wi-fi in Thailand has been mostly from the Amazon coffee shops at those places. In Cambodia some of the more fancy petrol stations had wi-fi (but those are only on some of the main roads). In Laos I usually ask at the cell phone shops for wi-fi. I did not take my computer with me this time, but my phone is sufficient for e-mail and so forth. I also have GPS maps on the phone (and I still got lost once or twice because I don't want to get the phone wet in the frequent rain).
In this part of the world amulets are popular good luck charms, and this collection belonged to a senior monk at one of the temples where I stayed.
There is all sorts of fruit in this region of which I do not even know the names. The hairy ones in the picture are not too different from a lychee.
As usual I had hit the road with no money, and only a little food. After only a couple of days, still in Eastern Thailand close to Surin, I had a puncture. I seldom suffer punctures, as I have been using good tyre liners for the past few years. Anyway, it was an awkward puncture, and I had to fit the spare tube (which was of poor quality and soon I had a blow-out). I did my best to repair the original puncture, and hoped for the best. The following morning I had to try more repairs, with some pumping along the way, but to no avail. Stranded in a rural area with no more spare tube, I waited for about an hour before a farmer gave me a ride in his truck to a bike shop in the next village. I explained to the bike shop owner that I had no money, but he fitted a new tube for me, and insisted that I take a spare tube along as well!
Then I was into Cambodia where I got a bit of a surprise at the border. The visa fee was substantially more than I had thought it to be, but once I had handed over the cash the officials there were quite happy to let me into their country. I soon took a wrong turn, and then my bike chain broke in the rain. After pushing for a while I found a nice beach with cover where I could repair the damage.
At a dead-end fishing village I found a nice temple to camp, and the 3 jokers in the picture worked at that temple. They kept me entertained and even organised breakfast for me the following morning.
Once I had returned to my intended route in Cambodia, I was soon in the hills. There were few villages and I stayed at a police check point in a forested area where I arrived in the pouring rain. I was pleased that they let me stay, as I had a dry camp where I could prepare my dinner. They also had a toilet and a wash room where I could clean myself up a bit.
So far things were going fine. However, in a deserted area the rear derailleur on my bike malfunctioned and got caught in the spokes (derailleur snapped off, chain destroyed, and one of the spokes was ripped clean out of the rim). Pouring rain, with no reasonable place to try and do repairs, I pushed the bike through the hills for hours before I found a village temple where I could assess the damage. This is the type of village where foreigners are only seen passing by in a bus. With nothing like a bike shop, I was lucky that a local policeman brought me an old (unsuitable) derailleur which lasted 2 days before it completely broke apart.
I had to improvise and "fixed" the bike so that I could carry on without gears (not so easy with a very heavy bike). So I carried on very slowly towards the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, which was still a couple of hundred kilometres distant. Once again my sister Olga helped me out, and I found a derailleur which is also not completely suitable, but certainly better than nothing. By that time I also had to replace both tyres (riding at the side of those busy roads had badly damaged my paved road tyres).
Luckily in Phnom Penh I found a nice temple where I could camp out of the way in front of a tomb and next to a big lake. I stayed there for 2 days to work on the bike, and I also had a couple of swims in the lake.
In addition to the by now very uncomfortable rash, and the bike problems, I had also developed an ailment which made it rather painful to bend my knees and elbows. This became more of a problem later, and once I reached Pakse city in Laos I had deciced to take a bus from there to Vientianne (besides, I had been on that road a couple of times already in this year). The reason for going to Vientianne in Laos was so that I could apply for a new 2-month Thai visa there. I had planned to get that visa in Phnom Penh, but the Thai visa office there had other ideas, and wanted me to show air tickets in and out of Thailand, as well as proof of finances!
My bike problems were not over either. Due to the conditions the wheel bearings started making disconcerting sounds so I had to replace those as well. Fortunately I was carrying the necessary parts and materials.
So I had to pay for a visa on arrival at the Laos border (including some unofficial fees for the exit and entry stamps).
After I got the new Thai visa in Vientianne (Laos capital), I headed back across the Mekong river to Thailand. One week later I arrived back on the farm in Ubon, Eastern Thailand, where Pannee had returned to meet me. I felt I need a bit of a break, and I am really enjoying the luxury of relaxation. I also need to do plenty of work on my worn-out overworked bicycle (Old Saartjie).
Thanks again to Olga for all the encouragement and finances she has helped me with. She also placed an article in "The Edge" (local newspaper in Sedgefield, South Africa) mentioning my plight and my ageing bike. Thanks to those people who made a donation, it is not enough for a new bike but that money is very welcome, as I need some expensive spare parts to repair Old Saartjie (my bike).
Distances cycled on this 2-month trip through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos have been as follows:- Sisaket 89 km; Surin 90 km; Prasat 92 km; Pa Knam 93 km; Ta Praya 75 km; Ban Chak 69 km; Wang Mai 67 km; Sao Din 45 km; Soi Dao 72 km; Chanthaburi 87 km; Khlung 77 km; Laem Ngop 63 km; Ban Tha Prik 62 km; Ban Khlong Son 58 km; and Hat Lek 74 km (cross border from Thailand to Cambodia). Continue through Cambodia:- Mondol Seima 22 km; Kroh Koh Kong 37 km; Tatai Forest 63 km; Din Ling 39 km; Junction 46 km; Kampong Pheu 40 km; Economic zone 41 km; Phnom Penh 41 km; Ponhuea Lueu 81 km; Cheung Prey 58 km; Kampong Cham 76 km; Trong Kmumn 63 km; Dambae 38 km; Kratie 64 km; Village Vat 65 km; Stung Treng 68 km; and border town 78 km (cross from Cambodia to Laos). Continue in Laos:- Muang Khong 50 km; Tapho 51 km; Muehi 55 km; Pavina 42 km; Huay Lucy 39 km; Pakse 20 km; Around Pakse 10 km; Vientianne (+ bus) 30 km; Around city 35 km; and Mekong bridge 22 km (cross from Laos to Thailand). Continue in Thailand:- Ban Na Kha 45 km; Ban Non Sa-at 77 km; Ban Kham Charoen 81 km; Roi Et 93 km; Ban Kilomet Sam 90 km; Ban Kong Chai 85 km; and Ban Trakan farm 72 km. The total distance which I have cycled so far is 144 871 km.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

BACK ON THE ROAD

My fattening up on the farm in Eastern Thailand has eventually come to an end. Pannee has been cooking up a storm of mostly local style meals, but she also has to leave the farm again.
Now I'm back on the road, headed in the direction of Cambodia this time. I've cycled through Cambodia before, but that was quite a few years ago. I look forward to being in that country again.
In the past month or so I have cycled around a bit, mostly for shopping to Trakan Phuet Phon (the nearest town with banks and markets). So I have added a bit of distance to my total which now is 141 941 km. I have had to do some work on my bike (Old Saartjie), so I hope that her old worn-out body holds up.
I am not taking my computer with me, so I will post an update later. Good bye until then.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

WAT......WAT.......WHAT? (THE TEMPLE RUN)

And so it was time for me to flee from Thailand again, due to my regular 2 month visa expiry. I had been on my friends farm in Eastern Thailand for some time, so I guess I had to move on at some stage. Also, I was keeping Pannee out of her work in Bangkok, so she had to return to "the grindstone".
So I hopped on Old Saartjie (my bicycle) and headed for the Laos border. This time I crossed the Mekong from Mukdahan to Savannaket in Laos. The Thai officials at the check-point would not allow me on a bicycle to cross the big bridge, so I unloaded Old Saartjie right there and waited, hoping for a lift from a truck or such vehicle. After about 30 minutes an officer approached me and said it was OK, I could cross (so I had to pack up again, and that is quite a mission!).
It took me a few days of cycling from the farm in Eastern Thailand to the city of Mukdahan, on the Mekong river. I arrived there rather late in the day, so I camped in one of the large spectacular temples right on the riverfront. I had seen Mukdahan from the opposite side of the river before, but I had never been there, and I found it to be a pleasant city and larger than I had thought.
Amongst travelers this trip to Laos is termed a "Visa Run". However, to be fair to the Buddhist temples in both Thailand and Laos, I should refer to it as the "Temple Run". The temples (called a WAT in Thai and Laos) were my safe haven at the end of the day.
Ihis time I was on the road for 5 weeks, and only on 3 occasions did I NOT camp in a Wat. In Vientiane I had to wait for the new Thai visa, so I stayed 2 nights in the cheapest hotel I know about in that city. In a tribal district in Laos people thought it may not be safe for me to camp at the temple, so I camped in their community hall with about 5 local men acting as my security guards for the night. And, at Khong Chiam back in Thailand I camped under a verandah at the marine police, with the best view of the river.
As usual I had very little money. Again I tried "barking up a few trees", hoping a "penny will drop". And as has happened so often in the past, my sister came to my rescue (thanks Olga!).
The temples have been wonderful places for me to stay. Firstly, in both Thailand and Laos there is hardly ever more than a few k's between temples which are usually clearly visible and accessible from the main roads (so in the late afternoon I can push on a bit to the next temple if I so wish). I always had camping under cover (in case of rain), and these buildings usually have open sides, allowing me to breathe in that hot and humid climate (often even a ceiling fan). There is always electricity, the place is lit up at night, I can charge batteries and even use my cooker element for making soup, coffee, noodles, etc.
The Wats also have plenty of toilets and washing facilities (for myself and my clothes). The monks often give me foodstuffs such as cakes, noodles, sweets, coffee, and cans of fish. If they see that I want to rinse my clothes they will also give me laundry powder (and toothbrush, paste, soap and shampoo - I wonder about the impression which I presented to them!).
Many times I was invited to breakfast, and sticky rice has become a favorite of mine (an important staple in these parts). I have never stayed at any Wat more than once, as I think that would be an abuse of their hospitality. Giving a safe haven to travelers is part of their service to the community.
Along the way I met various other foreign travelers. Cyclists I have mostly met riding in the opposite direction to me (we usually stop and share stories). And, as usual, the Laos capital (Vientiane) is teeming with foreigners, especially the cheapest accommodation. It has also become popular for backpackers to rent a schooter and head through Southern Laos to the so-called 4000 Islands in the Mekong river close to the Cambodia border.
So that is where I headed after obtaining a new 60-day Thai visa. I was having wild dreams of some money coming my way in time to buy a visa at the border and ride through Cambodia again, but that was not to be. I had to back-track a couple of days and cross from Pakse city West to the Thai border. I still had dreams of making a dash for Cambodia after I received more money (thanks Olga, again!), but a few things changed my mind.
Firstly, I had 2 punctures late in the day (over-used tubes on both wheels) which had to be repaired as I had run out of spares. So I had to return to Pakse city for spare tubes. And secondly, when I was taking down my tent in the Wat the following morning I was stung on the foot by a particularly venomous scorpion (a week later and I am still having trouble with that foot). Interesting, I looked for water to check where the leaks were in the punctured tubes, and at the back of a small restaurant I found 2 ladies cleaning veg in big basins of water. No problem - I was told to simply submerse the tubes in the water with the vegetables!
On this trip I have never been far from the Mekong river, and it's obvious influence on the way people live their lives.
So TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY, and fortunately I have good company. I am back on the farm in Ubon Thailand, and Pannee has returned from Bangkok to be with me for the time that I may spend here before I hit the road again. I need to do some serious work on my bike, anyway.
Distances cycled since previously posted are as follows:- Amphoe 47 km; District Wat 66 km; Junction village 89 km; Mukdahan 77 km; Seno District (Laos) 57 km; District 27 village 91 km; Ban (?) 84 km; Namkhon 97 km; Pattani 83 km; Poutkon 95 km; Thabok district 66 km; Vientiane North 61 km; Vientiane West 44 km; Vientiane suburbs 57 km; Vientiane city area 33 km; Around city area 32 km; and E Vientiane 18 km. The above is for the trip from E Thailand to Vientiane (Laos capital city).
The following regards the trip from Vientiane through Southern Laos to the Cambodia border, and eventually back into Thailand. Route thirteen 39 km; Thabok 88 km; Paxan 121 km; Namsang 104 km; Thangbeng 92 km; Ban Nadon 87 km; Seno 116 km; Pattani 73 km; Na Dau Kou 98 km; Pakse 114 km; Huay Phay 83 km; Moeang Khong 99 km; Thapho 79 km; Huay Lucy 102 km; Pakse district 51 km; Viet bdr rte 112 km; Khong Chiam (Thailand) 77 km; Mekong loop (3 day) 234 km; and Ubon farm 72 km.
The distance cycled on this 5-week section of my journey (visa run / temple run / or call it what you so wish) is 2938 km. The total distance cycled is 141 851 km. And oh, I've just remembered, it is ten years since I hit the road from Cape Town (27 March 2007). I think I lived a relatively comfortable life before that date, and it was my decision to become a "homeless vagrant on a bicycle".