Sunday, 8 October 2017

THE RUN TO LAOS (AGAIN)

And so the time had come for me to make a hurried exit from Thailand once again, as my 2-month visa was about to expire. From the farm where I had been since returning from my previous excursion, it took me 7 days to cross the border on the day that my visa expired. This time I took the most direct route from Ubon province to the Nong Khai border, where I crossed the Mekong river to Laos, and the capital Vientianne. As before, the only time on this trip when I did not sleep in my tent was the couple of days when I was organizing a new Thai visa, and I stayed in the same cheap establishment as before. On my return trip I took the route from Vientianne through Laos to Pakse city in the south of the country.
As I have been doing for some time now, when I am on the road I camp mostly at the Buddhist temples. In these places there is no chance of lying in till late in the mornings. The monks rise early to start their activities, and they are signaled by the gong and drum, which is often as early a 4 am.
I have traveled this route through Laos before, but there is something I failed to notice in the past. In Vientianne one of the other guests drew my attention to a bridge along the route which was built by the Soviet Union and dedicated to the first human astraunaut, Juri Gagarin. When I got to that bridge I could see why I had missed it, as the commemorative plaques are written in Laos and Russian.
The monks usually go out in the morning to collect alms from the community. In addition to that, people come to the temple with breakfast for the monks, and these people have their own meal there once the monks are done. Often they will invite me to eat with them, or otherwise give me sticky rice and other foods to take along with me. Sometimes they give me too much food to eat at once, things such as meat dishes and so forth. I must have kept some of that foodstuff too long in the bags on the hot road, and I was violently ill for a couple of days (you may notice if you look at the distances which I managed to cycle at times).
I spent some time in the Pakse area, undecided as to whether to go further south to Cambodia again. I did not have the funds for the Cambodia visa, or for traveling through there for the time it would take to get back to Thailand. My sister did send me money again, but I decided to take the direct route from Pakse back to Thailand as I already had the new Thai visa. While in that area I did venture out on some roads where I had not been before, such as the route to Champasak on the western banks of the Mekong. I also took a few pictures around the huge seemingly chaotic Pakse market (there are many items which you are unlikely to find at Western markets, such as goose eggs, banana flowers, and green papaya).
While in Pakse area I also stayed at the famous Watt Luang, which is also quite a big monastery. I have stayed there before, and they give me a camping spot in a beautiful setting overlooking the river. I feel a bit guilty staying there, as it is in the touristy area with hostels, hotels, and western food all around (but in my defence, I did not have money for that sort of thing).
Then I headed for the Thai border, and crossed after a couple of days. Khong Chiam is on the Thai side of the Mekong, and there I camped with the Marine Police as before. They are at the point where boats come over from the Laos side, so I guess their job is to control WHO- and WHAT comes off those boats. The police have a nice new office, so I camp at their little disused kiosk next door (I use their wi-fi, and fancy toilets, and even get hot and cold water from their dispenser inside).
From Khong Chiam I can usually make it in a day’s cycling back to Pannee and the farm. However, on this day it was raining continuously, and by mid-afternoon the road was becoming flooded and darkness had set in. I was directed to a temple in the area, but in my struggle to find it I went off the road and temporarily lost Old Saartjie (my bike) beneath the waves. Nobody was out on the road anymore, but luckily a “Good Samaritan” turned up on a motorbike and guided me to the nearest Watt. In the water I had lost the slip-on sandals with which I cycle nowadays, and the next morning there was a pair of takkies (and socks!) for me outside the tent.
So now I am back on the farm in Eastern Thailand again. I am somewhat surprised that my bike held up for this trip. In fact, I did not even have a single puncture. The only mishap was a broken spoke (as usual on the cassette side of the back wheel!). I stopped early at a temple that day to repair it, which provided great entertainment for the old resident monk as he sat and watched me at work (he even gave me a tub of laundry powder to clean my hands afterwards).
Distances cycled on this trip through Thailand and Laos have been as follows:- Nam Praek (Thailand) 111 km; Yasothon district 79 km; Ban Bo 75 km; Kham Pla 69 km; Non Sa-At 85 km; Na Kha 73 km; Vientianne (Laos) 65 km; Vientianne city 32 km; Thang Khong 46 km; Sisomxai 68 km; Sensamlan 74 km; Vieng Kham 84 km; Thang Bengh 75 km; Thakek 78 km; Ban Dang Nua 71 km; Seno 59 km; Savannakett district 42 km; Paksong 41 km; Ban Phonxai 43 km; Khong Xeng Don 75 km; Pakse 52 km; Huay Lucy district 32 km; Watt Luang 15 km; Champasak 40 km; Pakse 49 km; Veng Tao Rd 26 km; Khong Chiam (Thailand) 65 km; Ubon village 60 km; Ban Trakan (farm) 31 km. The total distance which I have cycled since leaving Cape Town in 2007 is 146 751 km.

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