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".

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