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.
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.
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.

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