Monday, March 31, 2008

Leaving Laos


Day: 189
Vientiane to Bangkok
Time: 10 hours

We left Laos with heavy hearts and a whopping 16,000 kip in our pockets. We had some to blow so we loaded up on some coffee beans locally grown and roasted in Laos. The Lao coffee (ordered cafe-lao in roadside stalls) is served wicked strong poured over sweetened condensed milk. We shall see if it can be reproduced at home.
We caught leg one of the Bangkok express at our guesthouse. The van driver was a little taken aback when he saw we had two bike boxes and two giant rainbow bags. He balanced our bikes along with the other passenger’s bags on top of the van for the 3 minute ride to the bus station. Leslie asked if they were tied on. I wasn’t sure and I am glad that I didn’t know because they were just balanced. We got the bikes off, got on the next bus and filled out a questionnaire for a PhD student at a Thai university. She was studying tourism trends in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang and had 12 pages of questions for us to answer. She was grateful for the participation and we received an eye shade and a little wallet in return. Fun Stuff!! We traveled 25 km to the Friendship Bridge where we officially exited Laos on one side of the Mekong. We then got back on board and crossed the bridge where we got back off and officially entered Thailand. The bus then herded us to Nongkhai where we boarded our last bus for the 9 hour ride to Bangkok. Leslie and I both had a fitful nights sleep with the thunderstorms, small seats and snoring neighbors keeping us awake. We left in between meals so we were glad when we boarded our last bus to have a meal service. Nothing like coffee cream cookies, soy milk and water to satiate for the duration. I did manage to score us some banana bread and bean paste dumplings to help (the dumplings are a lot better than they sound). We got into Bangkok airport about 5:30 this morning and hung out to watch the sun rise over the airport. We are now getting some brekkie and coffee before finding a corner to curl up in for an hour or six.
See you on the flip side
CK

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Practical Luggage


Day: 187
Vientiane



It’s packing day. A lot has changed since we packed up and headed to New Zealand. When we first left we had perfectly sized bike boxes and stylish duffels. Now we have homemade cardboard parcels and rainbow colored plastic bags. The two handcrafted boxes were created from four smaller ones. Our four panniers fit nicely inside the two plastic bags. We call it practical luggage.
The process of packing has become as much art as it is a task. It begins with research on our chosen airline’s website. Height, width, length, and kilograms; it’s all about the linear dimensions and weight. Luckily, most airlines allow bicycles as part of the baggage allowance. Then the hard work begins; reinforce the boxes around the derailleur, contain the small items, and balance the weight. Finally, we seal everything up and find a scale. It’s all a craft that we’ve been working on over the last six months.
Chris resumed his duties as chief bike packer and today he had some help. The staff at our guesthouse was very eager to assist. At first Chris wasn’t thrilled, he normally works alone. In the end, he had great fun. One employee in particular, who has been very gracious through our stay, was Chris’ right-hand man. The two of them practiced their English and Lao and traded life stories. At one point the guy crawled into one of the boxes and tried to coax Chris into taking him to the US. He’s actually had a wild past that included surviving a gunshot. Chris didn’t get all of the details, but it seems rather harsh for Laos. He lives here in the city now after growing up in the country and being kicked out of the house by his parents. He’s been nothing but a hard working and courteous host since we arrived. I guess it just proves that people can struggle and overcome regardless of where they are in the world.
See you in a few days,
LK

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Harley Honeys

Day: 186
Vientiane to Buddha Park
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 63 km
Avg Speed: The speed of a moped
Terrain: Flat

We decided to go out to a place called the Buddha Park today. The park is a product of an eccentric man’s desires to create a place of both Hindu and Buddhist worship. He passed away and the grounds were made into a tourist attraction. The park is located 25 km out of town and is easily found with a moped. We were planning on riding our bikes out there, but with my bum wheel we decided not to fiddle with it. The plan was to get breakfast, get the bike and roll wheels out of town. I was a little worried when Leslie got up this morning wearing her t-shirt that read ‘if you can read this then my bitch fell off’. I took that to mean that she was planning on driving. We splurged and spent the extra $1 to get the Honda scooter rather than the little Suzuki for $4. I fit just fine on the back and Leslie was a great motorcycle mama getting us around the country side. We took a wrong turn on the way out and had a great little drive through some little villages along the Mekong River. We finally got on track and found the Buddha Park and spent a great couple of hours checking out the statues, checking out the football (soccer) matches and talking to the local English students practicing their conversation skills. We got back on the road during the hottest part of the day and Leslie took the wheel and expertly guided us back into town for our afternoon baguette sandwich and mango smoothie. We took a little rest before we got on to the afternoon plans. We headed out to a local temple where we took a class on meditation and then followed it up with an herbal sauna and massage. I didn’t think that the sauna would do much since we had been riding in one for the last several weeks. I guess that the 4” vent shooting herbal infused steam into a 6’ x 6’ room did the trick. Leslie and I were both sweating within a few minutes. After about 20 minutes of steam Leslie and I both got our massages. We both had little Lao guys yanking, leaning and kneading on us for an hour. After it was all said and done we had spent 80,000 kip for the two of us to be treated. We were all smiles when we figured out it was only $9 for it all. It was great day hanging out in Vientiane with my best friend before we get our act together tomorrow and get packed up to leave.
Peace from the road.
CK
video

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Universe


Day: 183
Vientiane


I believe in the universe. I have to think that yesterday’s events weren’t just a coincidence. My flat tire led to putting air in Chris’ rear tire. That event led to discovering a severe crack in his rim. A compromised wheel required a decision to go back to Vientiane. Coincidently, a bus pulled up going in our direction just as we were going to check tickets at the bus station. It didn’t stop there. In addition to learning that a new wheel was a week away, we also received news that a close family member of mine is in the hospital. You know what they say, “Life happens while you’re making other plans”.
After a restful night in a comfortable bed we made a pretty important decision this morning. We will be coming home for a break. We’ll be back in Colorado in about a week. The plan to come home has actually been in the works for about month, we’re just moving it up a bit. The combination of a little homesickness, monsoon season and the bureaucracy of a Chinese visa seemed a bit overwhelming. The icing on the cake was the failure of Chris’ wheel.
Now don’t worry, we plan to continue our dream of riding our bicycles throughout the world. The fall season will take us to China, Nepal and hopefully Europe. In the meantime, we’ll be on our home turf for late spring and most of the summer. If you’ve gone with us this far you might have expected the plan to change again. Thanks for sticking with us. We can assure you that Colorful Colorado is full of great Bicycle Geography stories.
We’re really excited about coming home to tour. Chris and I have been exploring the homeland in bits and pieces our whole lives and now we can devote some serious energy to the task. We can’t imagine a better way to travel the state – on our bicycles.
We look forward to catching up with everyone when we return. And, if you feel like you want to get out and ride this summer, let us know, we can get you set up.
Here’s to cool, crisp mountain air and blue skies,
LK

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All Good Things


Day: 182
Paksan to Pakading all the way back to Vientiane
Terrain: Flat

We got on the road early this morning. A 6 am start is hard no matter how warm it is in the morning. We wolfed down some cereal, fruit and custard cakes and got on the road. We made great time among the early morning traffic. The farmers were all heading out to their fields and the kids were all heading to school. Hans was in need of some coffee in a bad way so we high tailed it 42 km to Pakading so he (and us) could get the caffeine fix taken care of. Leslie had a flat about 10 km out of town , but we still made it under two hours. The plan was to get some coffee, get some food, air up our tires and move on down the road. We got the coffee and food down, but we had a problem when we got the air in our tires. My rear tire developed a tumor in the rear rim. Upon further inspection a crack appeared going from spoke to spoke to spoke. Luckily the rims are double walled so the single wall still gave it some strength, just not shape any more. Hans suggested we have lunch and discuss what should be done next. He was heading on regardless, so it was up to Leslie and I to figure it out. The town didn’t have any way to repair the rim, so we knew we were off to Vientiane. We stopped for lunch at a little table in front of a closed store only to have the store open while we were working on the bikes and getting lunch ready. The store owner lady invited us inside to eat at her table under the fan. She wasn’t too interested in the cucumber, tomato, corned beef sandwiches, but she did take some papaya Leslie produced out of a pannier bag. We decided to ride down to check out the guest house in town since we didn’t know what the bus schedule was. As we rolled onto the road a VIP bus to Vientiane passed us and stopped 100 meters up the road. They had room and for $5 each they would be glad to take Leslie and I and our bikes to Vientiane. We quickly said goodbye to our Swiss super cycling friend and hopped on. Usually the back of the bus is reserved for the rebels of society, but in Laos the back of the bus is where the monks sit. After 2 hours of Thai and Lao music videos we pulled into the bus station. We decided to check out the bike shop to find a rim. As luck would have it there is a western bike shop in Vientiane (the only one Laos) run by a Frenchman named Mr. Willy. He informed me that there were no rims in stock and that it would be a week or so to get one from Bangkok. Long story short, we are off to Bangkok day after tomorrow. Lots of things come together to bring people to certain places, and times. I think that we were brought back to Vientiane for a reason.
Until next time.
CK

Along the Mighty Mekong


Day 181
Thakok to Paxsan
Time: 3:26:49
Distance: 61.25
Avg Speed: 17.7
Terrain: Flat
Location: 18˚ 23’ 45” N, 103˚ 45’ 00” E

After a few cups of café lao and a bowl of sticky rice with soy milk, we set off on a shorter day. It was nice to have the “go juice” this morning. Yesterday it was a bit tough to get going. I’ll have to figure out how to make due because we have a few more early mornings ahead of us.
We rolled out of town, waving to everyone, and quickly got into a good rhythm. We had many views of the Mekong River as the landscape alternated between small villages and the green countryside. I think it finally hit me that we’re riding along one of the world’s most famous rivers.
The Mekong, the 12th longest river in the world, starts in China and empties into the South China Sea. Along the way, it runs though most of Laos and is a vital resource to the country. It’s very important for growing crops like rice and also providing a major staple in the Lao diet, fish. In addition to providing food staples, it also serves as a border between Laos and Thailand. At one point today I wondered if I could pop over the river and find a 7-Eleven. In the future, it appears that the Mekong will become important in generating electricity for the country. We all know that water schemes are highly controversial, so it should be interesting for Cambodia and Vietnam as things develop.
After finding a great little guesthouse, we had some lunch and headed to the market. It’s now part of the daily ritual and quite entertaining since our friend Hans seems to have an insatiable appetite. He loves to try almost everything and we help him eat whatever he buys. He also loves to drink lots of coffee so you can bet we sat down for the obligatory iced coffee during our afternoon shopping trip. Thank goodness we had already walked through the meat and fish stalls. I’m not sure my stomach could have handled the fresh ox tail laid out amongst the other cuts of raw meat. Oh, and did I mention the flies?
We’re looking forward to a beautiful sunset on the river tonight and an early start in the morning.
See you,
LK

And Then There Were Three


Day: 180
Vientiane to Thapabat
Time: 5:12:21
Distance: 95.80 km
Avg Speed: 18.3 kph
Terrain: Flat
Location: 18˚ 23’ 00” N, 103˚ 11’ 0” E

We got out of dodge early this morning in an attempt to beat the heat. Leslie and I left our guest house a little after 6 am and swung by to pick up Hans. Smiling Hans, as we like to call him behind his back, is a Swiss super cyclist who started in Hong Kong in January. His plan is to tour around Southeast Asia for a little while and then ride home back to Switzerland. He figures to be on the road for the better part of a year unless he studies at a Buddhist monastery for 6 months. If that is case it could be longer.
The riding was busy this morning getting out of Vientiane. It seems that all the locals had the same plan as we did and were getting busy early to beat the heat. That is the usual case around here. As the clock nears 2 pm or 3 pm everyone is taking it easy in the shade and resting until the evening. On our way out of town we passed the local delivery tuk-tuks dropping off fresh baguettes to the street vendors and all the school kids heading off for the day’s lessons. Our landscape gradually changed from cityscape to farmland in a matter of 20 km or so. The crops centered around rice and the occasional plot of papaya trees. We came across plenty of water buffalo, goats and dogs hanging out on the side of the road and I only got anxious once when a big rig swerved into our lane to avoid a cow in the road. We stopped at 60 km for a mid-morning meal of noodle soup with beef and sausage in it. As long as the temperature outside isn’t blazing hot, I can eat soup for every meal. If the temperature is hot I just sit there and drip sweat into my soup. Sad, but true. We got on the road after our soup stop and found a wat and temple we had been looking for. It was nice to visit some places that are frequented more by locals than by tourists. The temple was unique in that outside the monks quarters there were two birds that had been trained to say sabaidee (hello in Lao). I sat with the bikes while Hans and Leslie climbed the steps to the temple overlooking the Mekong River and listened to these two birds go on and on. We rolled into our guesthouse for the night right as the afternoon heat was turning up. Our timing was perfect today because we can take our cold showers and wait out the heat inside under a fan. The cold shower is common down here, and having a shower head is a luxury. A lot of times it is simply a bucket with a cup to bathe with. It is amazing how little water you use when it is cold.
After a nice cold shower and a little nap we followed our bellies to the local day market around the corner. We found it quite easily and after stumbling around a little while got down to business. Before we could get to the fruit section Hans bought a kebab of beef, I bought little sesame balls with bean paste inside and Leslie took photos. I once again got all the attention I could stand from vendors and customers alike. I like to think it is my good looks, but I think it is the fact I am twice as tall as everybody there. We finally found the fruit section and got our bananas, oranges and watermelon. There were also fresh catfish (swimming around in a bowl), fresh chicken (tethered to a cow bone), several kinds of jungle birds (just laying there, not looking good at all), and squirrels (even worse looking than the jungle birds). Hans decided that he wanted some spring rolls that were being made. Our numbers are lacking so he ended up with four of them that he gladly shared. We grabbed a couple of freshly squeezed sugarcane drinks as well, and headed back to the guesthouse for a light snack before dinner.
Today is also our 6 month anniversary of being on the road. I am glad that we spent the day biking through some nice countryside rather that sight seeing in a city somewhere.
CK

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day 178: Vientiane


We said the first goodbye today. We new it was inevitable, but after ten days together, it was still bittersweet. Our roommate Joanne is due back in Chiang Mai and set off on the bus this afternoon. Somehow I think we’ll be seeing her again.
On the way to seeing our new friend off , we pedaled down to the Patuxai. If you’ve been to Paris (I love Paris), this monument might seem familiar. It bears a striking resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe. The monolith was built in the 1960s with concrete donated by the United States. The building materials were supposed to be used for a new airport, but were used for the monument instead. Wouldn’t you rather have a replica of a French icon rather than a new transportation center?
We snapped our pictures and then bid farewell to Joanne. We then hopped back on the bikes and cruised around town. After spending the last few days within a small radius, we finally got a feel for the city. From tree lined streets to soulless concrete structures, Vientiane is very laid back and reflects a multitude of different influences. It’s quite a mix of ancient Siamese and Khmer, early 20th century French, and recent decades of communism.
The capital of Laos shifted to Vientiane in the mid 16th century from Luang Prabang. The name of the city is actually pronounced Wieng Chan (the French provided the current translation) and means “Sandalwood City”. It’s set along the banks of the Mekong River with a population of only 300,000. The city, now quite peaceful, has a tumultuous and torrid past. It was leveled by the Siamese invasion in 1628, rebuilt by the French in the early 1900s and ruled by communism since the 1970s. The city is definitely on the capitalism track, but I still catch myself doing a double take when I see the hammer and sickle flags flying around town.
Tomorrow we start our journey south toward Savannakhet. We will be following the Mekong River the whole way. We’ve heard that the cultural interactions will far outweigh the natural beauty. I guess we’ll all find out together.
LK

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Morning Commute


Days 175 and 176
Vang Vieng to Vientiane
Time: 8:57:00
Distance: 152 kilometers
Avg Speed: 10.16
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 18 0 17.6 N, 102 40 48.5 E

The crew was halved for the ride to Vientiane. The boys wanted one more day in party town Laos, while Leslie, Joanne, and I decided that enough was enough. We got on the road early from Vang Vieng and found ourselves passing through rolling hills and little fishing and agricultural villages. We were took lunch at a little bamboo hut overlooking some dry terraced rice paddies. Once the rainy season starts, those same paddies will be full of water and rice. We eventually rode out of the hills and into the river valley where we had 20 km of flat wandering before getting into the night’s accommodations in Phon Hong. I feel like the third wheel in this latest rendition of our group. Leslie and Joanne get along so well and have both found that they share a common interest in Patagonia brand clothing. My Patagonia passion is lacking so I usually find myself on the outside of their conversations. We found a three bed room at the only guesthouse in town and quickly got showered, napped and semi-cooled off before heading down for dinner. Having a Thai speaker in the group is huge since we are able to have great food and lodging that we wouldn’t be able to have on our own. For dinner we had a nice little custom number of stir fried morning glory with sticky rice. Joanne ordered the stir fry with lots of garlic and soy sauce. Very good grub. After dinner we attracted quite a crowd while playing cards. I guess we looked out of place in a typical Lao town. We shared our watermelon with some local kids and had lots of fun laughing with them.
Today we had a mostly flat 70 kilometers to the capital city of Laos. We started out early again and found ourselves riding through the morning commute. Most of our fellow commuters were on kids going to school and most of them were on bicycles themselves. It was pretty funny to ride up alongside of them and watch their reaction to three farang. Some played it cool, some were surprised, and a few, tried to keep up with us. One girl in particular, probably about age 10 and all of 60 lbs, pedaled hard after Chris up a hill. Riding on a singlespeed, she nearly caught him at the crest. I’m sure she had a great story to tell her friends when she arrived at school.
We rode in to Vientiane around noon. The sun was blazing hot, but we took our time finding a comfortable place to stay. We will be here for a few days so we wanted a good home base. The central area of the city is quite nice with a mix of french colonial buildings and gardens. Vientiane is similar to Luang Prabang, but just add an urban twist. They say it’s the most laidback capital city in the world. With only 300,000 people one could easily see why.
We found a nice spot near the water fountain (Nam Phu) and now we’re centrally located to a few bakeries. Ha – you know us and our pastries.
Sabaidee,
CK and LK

Monday, March 17, 2008

River Tubin'


Day: 173


The six of us plus two more we met decided to take the initiation float down the Nam Song. The thing to do in Vang Vieng is take a ride on a tractor inner tube down the local river. The locals have helped out by building bars along the way. We were some of the first people in the water and it took us 8 hours to float 4 km. We didn't set any speed records but we did manage to stop off at a lot of bars. The bars all have their own little scene with music blaring, free shots of laolao (the local rice whiskey) and cheap beerlao. The bars also have rope swings or zip lines that put patrons quickly into the cool water. I never got the gumption to give one a go, but Miss Leslie did the zip line and the mack daddy rope swing out into the river. The big rope swing started on a platform 25' high and if you dropped off when the swing was at its highest you could drop in from 35-40'. Wild stuff if you weren't all there. After the last bar we all had a furious 1 hour paddle to make it back before we had to pay a late fee. I think that most people pay a late fee after watching the groups come in at 9 pm last night. We ran and got some dinner when we got back and ended up at a nice little pizza joint. At least 5 of the bars in town all have a different Friends episode playing all day every day. I guess the thing to do is get drunk and stoned and go watch TV all night. Our pizza place didn't have TV, but along with the regualar menu you got a 'Happy Menu'. It included shakes with pot, mushrooms or opium plus several other dishes with these main ingredients. It did have a warning of taking opium with lemons or limes. They did have your well being in mind. None of us had any side effects from our pizzas or shakes last night so we made it back to the bungalows to collapse from the big float.

Exciting times here. We start off tomorrow to Vientienne. It should be two big days of riding with some heat to boot. All in all good fun.

By for now

CK

Bike Parade




Days 169-172
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
Time: 18:36:00
Distance: 217.0 km
Avg Speed: 12.47 kph
Terrain: Mountains
Location: Northern Laos

After four days of hard riding and spectacular scenery, we arrived in Vang Vieng. We are now six people instead of two. We are a bike parade.

Day 1 was the longest and hottest day yet on the bicycle. Two big climbs and 90+ degree heat made it difficult. Luckily we ran into our first new friend, the Aussie cycle tourist, at the bottom of the second climb. We more or less all rode together, rested together and shared food. It was really awesome.
That night at the guesthouse, two more bike people rolled in. They had taken a siesta along the way and had to use their headlights for the last few kilometers. We chatted the evening away. Now we had Swedish-American and Irish to add to the group. They were headed in the same direction and we all decided to make a go of it together.

Day 2 had us starting high in the village of Kiewkacham. Thatched huts and cement buildings lined the road. Life is simple yet hard in this part of the world. For me, the reality is a bit overwhelming at times. I feel humbled by the good attitudes of the people of Laos. They work hard for what they have and it shows in their pride.
The riding was up and down for most of the day. Chris felt every bit of the ride. He began to feel sick last evening – we figured it was the heat. At the end of Day 2 he realized that he probably had some bad food or water. The guesthouse in Phu Kuhn was a very welcome sight.
After another cold bucket shower we rested and traded stories with a group of Germans. They were on a three month motorcycle tour and had traveled throughout Southeast Asia. They’re next adventure is to buy tuk-tuk in Thailand and drive it back to Europe through Asia.

Day 3 is best told by Chris. It started out perfectly normal and ended with a mad dash from a brothel. Here is the recap:

Got on the road about 10 this morning. The rest of the group went to the caves while I stayed behind to rest and re-hydrate a little more. The riding was generally all down hill punctuated with a few little climbs to give the brakes a chance to cool. We only had one little mishap while riding. Leslie didn’t close up her top bag after a bathroom stop and burned a roll of toilet paper in her back tire and brakes. She couldn’t figure out why the riding was so hard until she looked. TP is like gold here, so we will salvage what we can. The group rolled in towards Kasi about 2 this afternoon. We only rode for two and a half hours, but we took a lot of breaks. Leslie spotted a place on the side of the road before Kasi called Sandy Beach Resort. There was no beach, but there were several nice bungalows over looking a murky pond. Our group Thai speaker got the price whittled down to 30,000 kip for the night so we were jazzed to get settled and have a couple of beers. Across the pond from the bungalows were little covered decks on stilts that had couches and chairs in them. We settled into one and proceeded to have a nice fish lunch, some water and beerlao. We got started on a card game when one of the gals who was working at the place came over to watch. She left after the first hand and headed over to the pond for a float on an inner tube. Still oblivious to what lie ahead we dealt a few more hands and watched as more and more girls came out of the woodwork to bathe, and put on makeup. It was at this point that we realized that this ‘resort’ wasn’t really a ‘resort’, but rather a house of ill repute. We joked about it a little bit longer and then realized that some foreigners getting caught at a place like this could be bad. The town of Kasi was only another 3 kilometers down the road so we settled our beer and food bill, got our things packed back up and rode in the dark for a couple of minutes to the real guesthouse. They were nice and didn’t charge us for the rooms that we had occupied during the afternoon. Looking back on it we should have seen a couple of signs to tip us off. The first was it was a beer bar only. A beer bar in Laos, as we later read, is a venue for entertainment. The second was that there was an afternoon charge and night charge for the rooms. We thought the guys was just being difficult, but it turns out he was trying to figure out if we wanted the rooms for an afternoon or the night. The third was our single Australian friend was told he was handsome by one of the ladies when he had gone to the bar earlier for a beer. The fourth, and this one gives me shivers, is me having a conversation with the ‘organizer’. He was talking to me about my height and replied that he liked tall people and that he really liked my body. I took this as a language discrepancy, but looking back I am not sure it was. I felt dirty. The fifth was the nice little lounges that corresponded to the numbers on the bungalows. We thought they were just organized but we realized that the lounges were for meeting and the rooms were for entertainment. We did make to Kasi, we did check into the Somchit Guesthouse and we did have a nice dinner. We shall see what Laos throws at us tomorrow. BTW, I am feeling much better. I think I had a touch of food poisoning along with some high heat (95+) and dehydration. Yipee.

Day 4 saw our group grow to six. After the mad dash from the “beer bar” brothel we met a Swiss cycle tourist at the Somchit Guesthouse. Chris and I had met him earlier in Luang Prabang so I was really excited to see him. I tried to explain why we had arrived so late and finally got my point across when I said “they sell ladies…” Anyway, our new member was up and ready to roll with us at 7 am. He has been traveling for quite awhile and made his way to Laos via Southern China.
The riding was easy and it seemed like we floated down to Vang Vieng. The scenery just keeps getting better as we are traveling through a karst region. It’s hard to ride when you keep staring up at the monolith-like limestone cliffs. It’s quite a dramatic backdrop to the Nam Song River and the green rice patty landscape.
We are now tucked in our rustic, thatched bungalows overlooking the river. We picked the quiet side and are content to spend a few days resting, chatting and playing cards.

LK

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In and Around Luang Prabang

Day: 168
Time: The a.m. hours

We set the alarm early this morning to see if it was light enough to ride at 6:00 am. We both concluded that it was and then slept in for another hour or so. We timed our breakfast right at the Jo Ma Café as we ran into a couple who are touring on their tandem. They are from the U.S. and have been in the road for 27 months. They describe themselves as being in their sixties, but certainly don’t act it. Our paths crossed here as they were heading north and we are going south. We did manage to get some good information on the road ahead though. She was sorry that she didn’t have the elevation data for us, but he thought it better that we didn’t know what to expect. I think that sounds hilly. Check out their website at http://www.wanderingwickershams.com/. We visited a wat again after breakfast and I think we are finally templed out for the time being. I think I mentioned that we hadn’t become templed out yet in an earlier blog, well you can scratch that.
After hitting an internet café and a couple of book stores looking for a map we ended up back at baguette sandwich corner for a little lunch. We brought them back to our guesthouse to eat while we watched the kids swim and play in the river below. Quite the relaxed life. It should change tomorrow with a pretty big day for us. It could have been 130 km, but with newly acquired information we can split the day up into two days. There is a ton of climbing so that should be beneficial to our legs.
Off to my last hot shower for a couple of days and then to dinner.
Talk to you in a few
CK

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A World Heritage Town


Day 167
Luang Prabang
Time: Half Day
Distance: 5 or 6 km
Avg Speed: Cruising
Terrain: World Heritage City
Location: 19˚ 53” 9.4’ N, 102˚ 8’ 30.1” E

I think we finally found what we’ve pictured in our minds for so long. Long boats floating past lush green jungle along the banks of the Mekong River. French colonial buildings amongst ancient Buddhist temples. The fragrance of frangipanis mingling with the aroma of fresh coffee.

We slept in a little this morning. I’m always amazed at how tired I can get from just a little activity. I’m sure it’s due to the fact that we’ve haven’t ridden in almost a week. Once awake we made a plan to find a café. I had read in one of our guidebooks (we always carry a few) that there was good coffee to be had in Luang Prabang. We noted the location from the book and then pedaled our way to the main part of town. JoMa Café soon came into view and we quickly made a beeline for the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, we found a tandem bicycle parked outside. As we walked to the door a guy sitting out front asked us if we were touring. We said yes and then asked him about the tandem. It wasn’t his, but he was also touring. After a short chat we found out that he has seen many people riding through Laos. Good news – maybe we can get some info from some fellow cyclists. We wished him luck and ventured in to find some breakfast.
It didn’t take long to order up some fine pastries with a cup of joe. We haven’t had great coffee since Australia so this was quite a treat. From our table on the veranda we watched the morning’s activities. To our surprise (and excitement), we saw a few more bicycle tourists cruising about.
After breakfast we hit the money changer. In Laos, we can use any combination of US dollars, Thai baht and Lao kip. Not complicated, right? We didn’t think so at first, but after buying one meal we realized that it would be wise to deal in the local currency. Chris changed over the equivalent of US $300 and we are now millionaires (about 2.8 million worth). Ha – it will be as close as we ever get!
The rest of the morning was spent coasting around town through a patchwork of old buildings and stone alleyways, tropical gardens and busy monks. There is no doubt, Luang Prabang is very charming. At one point we stopped to gaze across the Nam Khan River. The background was a collage of dark wooden houses, green jungle and towering mountains. Right below us, a fisherman tossed his net into the river and waded in. Right then we both agreed that this was the Southeast Asia of our dreams.
LK

Rat Race to Snails Pace


Day: 166
Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos
Time: 1 hour
Distance: far
Avg Speed: Turbo prop


We had our last morning in Thailand before heading off to the calmer pastures of Laos. Leslie ran out to check some emails, and download blogs and pictures while I caught up on my BBC and Aljazeera news and got the bikes taped up. We coasted through our check out and ran across the street for a little lunch at our favorite café. Leslie loved the place so much she got her picture taken with her boys, who kept her fed and caffeinated the day I was at cooking school.
We grabbed a red truck to the airport (a red truck is called a songthaew in Thai and is a truck with two benches in the back) and got our day’s goal underway. The flight was less than an hour, but they managed to squeeze in a meal service of a pork sandwich, an orange and a little cake dessert. It was much appreciated, even though I had to eat it with my chin resting on my knees (OK the seats weren’t that small, but it felt like it).
We sat up front on the flight and ended up getting off last and got in the back of the visa line. A photo and $72 later we had our visas and went for our luggage. The customs man tried to get us to declare our bikes, but Leslie told him that these were our bikes and we didn’t have to claim them. I smiled and nodded, and we got out of there without having to grease an extra palm. The taxi to the guesthouse was a Lao version of the red truck (smaller, slower and older) and it dropped us off in straight order. We had wanted to join up with an Australian couple whom we had met in Chiang Mai, but the taxi delivered us to a different ‘Merry Guesthouse’ and we found a cheaper rate so we stayed. I think that there are several ‘Merry Guesthouses’ in Luang Prabang and it just worked out that we got a nice clean and inexpensive one. If we miss the Aussie couple it will be ok, I think we may have been stalking them. We got our bags unpacked, our bikes put together and healthy dose of bug juice before heading out for dinner. We settled on a little pub down the road since it looked clean and we didn’t feel like anything too exciting. I managed to get excited and got a steak with mash potatoes and a salad. I will keep you posted on how that treats me. We also had our first taste of beerlao. It is the national beer and mighty fine one at that. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we ordered so we got a bomber with 5% alcohol. Dinner never tasted so good and we are now fighting to stay awake.
Luang Prabang is on the opposite end of the action spectrum to that of Bangkok. With a population of only 26,000 in a city deemed a Unesco World Heritage Sight, Luang Prabang is ‘tonic for the soul’. Now, if we can get used to riding on the right side of the road again, we should be ok.
CK

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Passing the Time


Day 165
Chiang Mai

It’s our last day in Chiang Mai. We intended to get out before breakfast to see a few temples we’ve missed. Unfortunately, it was raining so we returned to the breakfast buffet routine we’ve been following for the last few mornings. By the time we sipped our last drops of tea, the sun was out and we were on our way.
The first stop was Wat Phra Singh, a very highly regarded temple in Chiang Mai. Upon arrival, we skirted around the back and did our best to avoid the lurking tuk-tuk drivers. Typically, there is more than one building at a temple so we worked our way from back to front. The wat has been in existence since 1345 and contains the Lion Buddha (Phra Singh), the most revered Buddha figure in the city. I particularly enjoyed the wonderfully restored Vihara (temple) Laai Kham. It was a very good example of the Lanna style architecture with its red gild lacquer technique. The murals inside the temple were in various stages of restoration and were fascinating. I really felt like I had gone back in time when I stepped through the entryway.
We made a quick loop back to the hotel room and then set off again to find a shopping mall. We needed some supplies for Laos and we didn’t want to spend the afternoon watching the BBC channel. I’ve come to enjoy watching the daily life of Thai people as much as exploring their historical buildings. The mall was a perfect place to go people watching.
After consulting our trusty map, we spotted a large shopping complex behind the hospital. Little did we know that Starbucks was just the tip of the American retail iceberg. Pizza Hut, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, GNC Nutrition Center, and much more were all housed in the multi-story building. It was actually a perfect place to be on a hot afternoon. We did our shopping quickly and then wandered around. We noticed a movie theatre and decided to give it a look. We found out that the movies were in English with Thai subtitles. There was no urgent need to be anywhere special so we bought a couple of tickets, purchased our sodas and popcorn, and found our assigned seats. Yes, that’s right, assigned seats. Also interesting was the national anthem played before the movie started. We all stood and paid our respects to the king.
It was great to have a little break from the world outside. I find this particularly ironic since one of my goals for this trip was seek out different cultures. I guess it must be human nature to need a break from whatever you’re doing at the time. I can see why there are so many foreign nationals here – you have all of the western conveniences of home immersed in an exciting eastern culture.
Oh, I forgot to mention the movie. It was called Atonement and it was fantastic.
Cheerio,
LK

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Over Cooked

Day 164
Chiang Mai to Baan Thai
Time: 7 hours
Distance: Across town
Avg Speed: slow and low

Chris is the guest blogger today. Leslie is taking today off.
Leslie and I made the big split today. We hadn’t really spent time apart in 5 months and she was a little too excited to get rid of me this morning. I had a day of cooking at the Baan Thai cooking school planned and she had a day of laundry, internet, and bicycles. I think I had the better end of that deal.
I was picked up this morning for our class. It was an international scene with a couple of Germans, a couple of Americans, a Swiss, a Chinese and a British student. Our teacher, Kim, was a little Thai gal who new her way around a wok and spices. We started out talking about the staple of the Thai diet…rice. There two main types of rice eaten here, jasmine and sticky rice. Jasmine rice is the rice that Americans are used to seeing and eating. Sticky rice is a rice that is cooked differently and ends up being as it sounds, sticky. We then got our little shopping baskets and went to the market. There we talked about noodles, tofu, rice, fruit and vegetables. There are a handful of different noodles eaten in the Thai diet: egg noodles, rice noodle and a noodle called glass noodles made from mug bean flour. We spent a lot of time on the different vegetables here. There are three different gingers here as well as three different eggplants and three different basils. It was eye opening. After the market portion of our class we went back and started cooking our menu. The class went all day and we would prepare each dish from the raw ingredients all the way to the cooking and dishing of the food. The food was amazing, the group got along well and the teacher was great. I am still floating on a cloud from all the good food we ate.
Here is the menu that we cooked today, in the order we prepared it.
Stir Fried Prawn with Curry Powder(kung phat pong ka ree)
Spring Rolls (pho pea thod)
Papaya Salad (som tam)
Yellow Curry Paste (namphrik gaeng phet)
Chiang Mai Noodle with Chicken (kao soy)
Deep Fried Banana (gluay thod)
After we would prepare each dish we would eat it, comparing and tasting each others, taking notes and enjoying each morsel and spice. The day ended with the deep fried banana, which was sliced banana coated in coconut, flour and sugar served over ice cream. It was a delicious day and was a real treat spending time in a Thai persons home learning how to cook their dishes.
Yum yum
CK

Friday, March 07, 2008

Rippin' It Up - Olde Skool

Day: 163
Chiang Mai to Suthep National Park to Chiang Mai
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 25 km
Avg Speed: 12.5 kph
Terrain: Downhill singletrack


We succumbed to the self imposed longing of singletrack and booked a tour with a local company. We had wanted to do a longer ride far away from town, but the tour operator talked us into doing a ride closer in the national park. The ride is called the Hunters Escape Route and follows foot paths made by the local H'Mong hill tribe. They have graduated to trucks so the foot paths are generally unused. The ride is rated expert with 20% off road and 80% singletrack. I was a little hesitant at doing an expert ride, but being that tour operator is 6’5” and lent me his bike along with body armor I figured what could go wrong. Leslie and I were the only clients on the trip and with our guide, Jay, we ran from top to bottom in a pretty good time. The bikes were full suspension downhill rigs with 6” front and rear travel. Mine had been put through the ringer since the operator weighs 270# (he is American not Thai) and had been riding it for a couple of years. The front shock needed new seals and the rebound was gone, so I figured if I did anything too gnarly to it I could just pass it off as his folly. Luckily I only had a little spill at the beginning and Leslie just took off like a rocket. She rode sweep the first half of the ride and when I dismounted to walk a section she rode past me on up to the guide. That is where I lost the privilege of second place and was relegated to sweep. Leslie kept up with the Jay the rest of the way down and at a rest stop he told her that she was the best female rider he had ever guided. The smile is still on her face. The riding was some of the most technical either of has had ever done, but with bikes that are made for downhill only you can pretty much ride over anything. At the bottom of the trail there were a section of jumps that I rode around and when I got to Leslie she remarked that she had jumped them all and had almost lost it on the last one. Did I pick the right girl or what? We ended up riding back through the city jumping curbs and dodging trucks. Jay took us to eat at a little restaurant that served up some great noodles and cold cokes. We grabbed some empty bike boxes at the shop and headed back to the hotel for some a/c and showers. We love to ride our bikes, but when given the chance we really love to really ride them.
Long live long rides
CK

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Rabies Shot #3


Day 162
Chiang Mai

Day 21 in the rabies vaccine routine – time for the last shot. We visited Chiang Mai Ram Hospital for this one. The injection itself was rather uneventful – it was the whole experience that made it memorable.
The hospital was fairly close so we decided to ride our bicycles there. As usual, I led the way and Chris rode sweep. We had to venture a short distance beyond the old city to our destination. The new and the old part of Chiang Mai are separated by a canal and an ancient fortress wall. Seven hundred years ago, the two landmarks provided security against Burmese invasions. Today, Burma is now Myanmar, and the canal and wall just add to the chaos of constant traffic.
After spotting the information desk, I asked if it was possible to get the rabies vaccination at the hospital. The girl helping me got a puzzled look on her face and said “babies waxination? You must register with hospital first”. Oh boy, I thought, she probably thinks I’m wacko if I need a “babies” vaccination. Luckily, Chris has been studying the phrase book and was able to ask for a travel clinic. We still had to register, but he got the ball rolling a lot faster than I did.
Our next stop was Internal Medicine. We checked in, got a number and waited. Ten minutes later we were called back to be weighed, have our blood pressure checked, and temperature taken. I began to think that our morning could turn into a whole day. In a previous life I might have freaked out at this point and started asking a lot of questions. I didn’t really understand what vital signs had to do with a rabies vaccination. Instead, I just decided to go with it. One major cultural taboo here is “losing face”. I decided not to push it. Besides, I thought it would be good to know what my pulse was and how much I weigh.
After Internal Medicine we waited about five minutes for the doctor. He looked at our vaccination cards, reviewed something in a book and wrote his orders. Next, we walked to the ER and waited. As we completed each activity, someone escorted us to the next station. Talk about efficient – it really helps to have that 3:1 ratio I mentioned in the Thai culture blog. Plus, I almost forgot to mention, we were issued our own identification cards for the hospital. Those are definitely going in the scrapbook.
Finally, we received our shots and were whisked off to the cashier. We had the longest wait here and with each moment that passed I hoped that I wouldn’t fall over when we saw the bill. They called our number and told us the damage – 929 baht. I just smiled and paid in cash – the equivalent of $30. No wonder we saw so many farang in the hospital, it’s cheap as chips.
We’re now ready for all of those dogs, monkeys, bats and lions that want to sink their teeth into us. Just kidding, we’ll still be avoiding all of that. At least we’ve bought ourselves some time if something goes haywire.
Oh – just wanted to share. If we had received all of these shots in the US we would have paid close to $1,000. Makes you wonder…
LK

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Day 161: Chiang Mai and Surrounds


Time: Most of the morning
Distance: Two Thirds of Old City
Avg Speed: Walking
Terrain: City street

With no real reason to beat the heat we slept in this morning. We were still some of the first people to brekkie though. I think that cities in Thailand tend to get started late in the evening and end early in the morning. We, being the fuddy duddys that we are, like to get back to our room early and be in bed at a reasonable hour.
We decided to go and check out a wat near our hotel this morning. You would think that after visiting a wat or two in every town we stay in or pass through we would get ‘templed out’; but with major differences in layout and architecture they remain interesting. The wat ended with us sneaking out a back exit to avoid Mr. Noi, and his touting. He was real keen on us taking a ride with him to several other wats and stopping by to ‘look’ (aka ‘shop’) at a couple of local manufacturer’s wares. After taking a trip along those same lines in Bangkok, we were not real interested in that dance again. We walked and dodged traffic across town to a book shop to get a Laos Lonely Planet Guide. We found the guide and managed to trade a couple of books we had for it. We thought we got a smoking deal on the book having only paid 210 baht for it. When we got back to the hotel and checked it out in detail we noticed that all the pages looked like Xerox copies. After even closer inspection we noticed that it was the 2005 guide copied and wrapped up in the 2007 cover. It will still work great for us, but I guess this is another case of buyer beware. I am glad that I didn’t get the Rolex watch I had my eye on. The afternoon took a turn towards the interesting when we found Miguel’s, a Mexican restaurant owned by an expat from San Diego. I had some great fish tacos, while Leslie enjoyed the bean burrito. We could be dancing with the devil by eating Mexican food in Thailand, but it sure does taste good!
Tomorrow we have rabies, wats and maybe a repeat visit to the Mexican food restaurant for their giant nachos.
CK

The Old City


Day 160
Kuntan-Lanna Residence to Chiang Mai
Time: 3:01:00
Distance: 55.09 km
Avg Speed: 18.1 kph
Terrain: Tree Lined Highway

We arrived today in Chiang Mai after eight days of traveling. I got pretty excited when we made the turn onto the Iron Bridge and headed towards the old city. I got really excited when I realized we were going the wrong way on a one way street. We even have a good map and I still got it wrong. Just because I make them doesn’t mean I can read them.

The ride was fairly easy today. Good thing because we didn’t have a satisfying dinner or good sleep last night. Our dinner was a small serving of rice and half of a grilled sausage each. We had to depend on a Chang Beer for the rest of our calories. Our only choice for food was a nearby roadside market. Let’s just say it wasn’t what we’ve become accustomed to in the evenings. In fact, we’re pretty glad we weren’t shopping after dark. It looked to be a truck stop for the big rigs and let me tell you, they rolled through all night long.
After a small breakfast we got on the road about 7:30. By 8:30 we were consuming mass quantities of gas station food (again) in Lamphun. We had ridden into town to find the old highway to Chiang Mai instead of taking the busy interstate. The route turned out to be very interesting and quite scenic. Soon after the food break we came across a beautiful temple right in town. They say that the wats (temples) in this region are the most stunning in Thailand. The architecture is quite unique and we’re looking forward to wandering through a few more. We then pointed our bikes north and found the road lined with magnificent trees wrapped in orange sashes. They are like nothing we’ve seen yet and provided us with some nice shade and a good frame of mind. Even the aggressive golden retrievers couldn’t shake our happy attitudes.
We’ve found a home for the next few days in a quiet part of the old city. We have everything we need: a new and exciting place to explore, a room, free breakfast, and a café with free wireless just across the street. So far the strawberry shakes and almond cookies are quite tasty.
The adventures with food continue…
LK

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rolling with the Beasts



Day 159
Lampang to Kuntan Lanna Residence
Time: 2:54
Distance: 45.8 km
Avg Speed: 15.6 kph
Terrain: Hilly
Location: 18˚ 27’ 32.7” N, 99˚ 10’ 48.9” E

We rolled out of Lampang early this morning with some sweet bread and juice in our stomachs. I had lucked out yesterday and found an actual supermarket tucked in behind a KFC (that’s right-Kentucky Fried Chicken-‘No your wrong Colonel Sanders’). Leslie had stayed behind on this trip so I was left alone to shop hunched over in low ceiling nightmare. I did score some juice and sweet breads for brekkie. The ride to Lampang took a turn towards the interesting when we stopped 32 km down the road and took a look at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC). The TECC is an elephant rescue that takes in sick or injured elephants from people who can’t take care of them anymore. I was a little hesitant at first thinking it was going to be like a Grizzly Bear encounter park, but upon entering I was immediately surprised. We parked our bikes and locked our gear up before heading into the park. Our entry fee of 70 Baht included a tram ride up to the show grounds and riding area. We got there in time for the morning bath. Ten elephants with their mahout (handler) came out of the jungle and came by to be petted and fed. Leslie went down and petted some of the younger ones when they came by. All the elephants then went into the water with their mahouts on their backs to be washed, scrubbed, scratched and loved. About half of the mahouts were part of a program that the park puts on for visitors. You can sign up for a 1, 3 or 10 day class to learn how to become a mahout and learn how to take care of the elephants. The students spend all day every day during their schooling with the elephants. The bathing ended up being a splash fest with the elephants coming out on the winning side. Leslie and I thought that was the show, but everyone meandered on over to another area where the elephants were showcased plying their craft. We saw how the various ways a mahout gets on and off an elephant, as well as the different ways an elephant works in the forest moving logs. I thought it would be pretty cheesy, but it turned out to be one of the coolest things I have seen here in Thailand. The student mahouts were even part of the show. They ended the show with more feeding and petting. Leslie fed a kilo of bananas to the big male of the group, JoJo, in a matter of 20 seconds. I had to hurry to catch a photo of her. We got back on the road in the heat of the day only to be greeted by a big nasty climb. We did pass a big rig heading up the hill though; that was a first for us. Yes, he was moving and no he wasn’t belching blue smoke or anything. We found our lodging for the night pretty easily and were jazzed by having our own teak bungalow back in the trees. Tomorrow we are off to Chiang Mai for a couple days of sightseeing, relaxing and eating. Supposedly there is a good Mexican food restaurant there that we are hankering to try out.
Adios
CK

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thai Culture


Thailand is a very bright and exciting country. I have to think that the people and culture have a lot to do with this.
Thai people can be described in many ways. Most of all they are friendly. We’ve been on our bikes for five days now and we wave and say hello to most people we pass. In Bangkok, we stopped and chatted with a few different people. They weren’t shy and usually asked us many different questions. They definitely took notice of Chris and his height – Thais are not big people.
The language thing is definitely difficult at times. In Bangkok a lot of people spoke a little English. Now that we’re out in the smaller towns and cities, we are living and dying by our little phrasebook.
The living standards vary. Bangkok was a huge city and obviously contained the wide spectrum of living conditions. We noticed people living in small rooms in alleyways and we saw huge upmarket apartment buildings. Regardless of the living structure, everything seemed to be kept clean. Every morning you would see all of the trash from the night before being collected and hauled away. Every shop owner would be sweeping their shop or section of the street in the morning before things started hopping.
We don’t know all the in and outs of the family structure. We did find out from a taxi driver that all kids go to school. We really haven’t seen any children hanging around at all. I guess the government funds education here. It appears that Thais don’t have huge families. I would guess that there are 2-3 children per family.
Everywhere we go there is constant motion from sun up to sun down. Everyone seems to have some sort of job. In fact, we’ve noticed that there seems to be about a 3:1 ratio of employees here doing the same job in the US. Even the people begging have some sort of talent. In Bangkok, we passed a few blind people who were being lead around town while they were singing on karaoke machine.
Overall, the people here are very respectful of themselves and others while having a vibrancy and energy that is unmatched.

Horse Carts and Saddle Sores


Day 158
Lampang Rest Day

We’ve spent the day resting in Lampang. It was planned as part of the route but couldn’t have been timed better. Our bums are pretty sore from five days in a row. I think the heat and humidity just adds to the fun. We’ll have to be careful – we’re on the verge of saddle sores. I won’t describe them in detail, but you can get them at any time, even after many miles of riding. Chris did some shopping this morning for some products that we hope will help prevent any further problems.
We ventured out for lunch around noon. We’re sticking to the plan of eating in local restaurants and being adventurous with food. Today we sampled some traditional curry dishes from Northern Thailand. The curry was served in little terra cotta bowls that came from large pots boiling in front of the restaurant. From our stools we were able to watch other dishes prepared with fresh ingredients just inches from the street. Not sure when our luck will end but at least we can say we’ve been eating like the locals.
In addition to the culinary delights, the city of Lampang definitely has some interesting architecture and transportation. It was established in the 7th century as the center of the northern teak industry. Many traders from China, Burma and the West once passed through here. There are many teak buildings still standing and it gives the city a nice window to the past. The other novelty that remains are the horse drawn carriages that still operate. We’ve seen a few interesting vehicles in the places we’ve traveled through, but nothing quite as unique as this. I guess it’s symbolic of the traditional past and the modern future; scooters and horse carts on the same street.
Here’s to washing down your hot curry with iced coffee,
LK

More Podcasts

Check out our website for updated podcasts. Be sure to listen to the bonus track where Chris describes his favorite desserts!
LK

Day 157: Wang Chin to Lampang



Time: 4:34
Distance: 65.8 km
Avg Speed: 14.8 kph
Terrain: Hills
Location: 18˚ 17’ 15.9” N, 99˚ 29’ 46.1” E

Thank goodness for piles of fruit. Leslie and I got off early this morning and instead of the usual rolls from the corner store for breakfast we had watermelon and oranges. It was very tasty, but being mostly water we burned through it quickly. We stopped 20 km down the road for a philo dough biscuit and some cookies. The meal was well timed since we had been climbing from Wang Chin and were just getting to the real climbing. We finally topped out at kilometer 30 where a well intending pickup stopped to ask us if we wanted a ride. If we had more climbing ahead of us we would have grabbed it, but since we had a roller coaster downhill ahead of us we decided to keep on trucking. We had about three smaller climbs before finally descending into Lampang. We found our hotel after lucking out and getting close before asking for directions. We were only 6 blocks off, so we are either getting better at sniffing things out, or just lucky. I think we are more lucky than good most of the time. We did the old show up and see what we get served for lunch. We had a yummy noodle soup with pork and fried tofu. It is interesting eating soup with chopsticks and a little spoon, but when in Rome. We chickened out and ate dinner in the hotel, but decided to go out and for a walk afterwards. The doorman pointed the way to the night market where it was happening for the whole town. The town closes down the street that the market is on and everyone is there. The food, the goods, the music and the people are all present. Our experience with crowds in the U.S. is that there is usually a lot of friction between the people. Here the people are all out having a good time, socializing, chatting and just enjoying a cool Saturday night. It was a great way to unwind after a long hot day in the saddle. The greatest part is that my favorite desert was on hand. I am so easy to please.
CK

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Elephants and Flat Tires


Day 156
Si Satchanalai to Wang Chin
Time: 5:07:00
Distance: 80.75 km
Avg Speed: 15.7 kph
Terrain: Rolling
Location: 17˚ 53’ 55.4” N, 99˚ 36’ 24.5” E

There are certain things you shouldn’t think about while riding your bike: don’t wreck, no mechanicals and no flat tires. I jinxed myself today by thinking about number three. I was contemplating how nice it was that we had ridden almost 4,000 kilometers with no flats. About 2 hours later I had the first flat tire of our trip at kilometer 71. Luckily, I have kick ass tires (from Schwalble) and I was able to ride all the way to our destination without the tire going completely flat.

Papong was kind enough to have our breakfast early for us. We watched the big orange sun rise as we snacked on fruit, coffee and a little custard cake. After a couple of wai (hands together in front of your face signifying thank you) we were off. We decided to take in a few more ruins before setting off to Wang Chin. The light was really neat this morning and made for some nice pictures. The Si Satchanalai Historical Park is similar to Sukhothai but much more natural and less restored. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the peaceful time.
By 8:00 am we were headed to the highway. We both needed a pit stop but found the bathrooms locked. Chris looked around and saw a nice secluded, grassy area. We parked the bikes and Chris hopped the stone fence to do his thing. He chuckled as he walked toward a spot just above the river and said “Hmm, there’s an elephant”. Of course, I thought I didn’t hear him correctly and asked him to repeat himself. He said it again and then pointed in the direction of the large mammal. Sure enough, there was an elephant grazing on the banks of the Yom River. And I thought it was cool that we saw a kangaroo in Australia. There are lots of elephants in Thailand and I hope we’ll be seeing more.
We arrived in Wang Chin after riding for 5 hours. It was long and hot but we both felt strong. We found the hotel right away – it was Chris’ turn to play charades. We’re getting our hotel routine dialed in quickly here. It goes something like this: unload bikes, haul bags in room, blast a/c, shower, find cheap food and wash it down with a coke. Today the first few things were easy but the “find cheap food” wasn’t a slam dunk. You see, Wang Chin is not a town that sees many farangs (foreign tourists). We walked into a typical little street café and knew right away that the phrase book would be absolutely necessary. When that didn’t work we just let the cook make us something. Luckily, it turned out to be fried rice. We did wash it down with a coke and felt satisfied that we didn’t get frustrated and go somewhere else. We’re very thankful that Thai people are so friendly and helpful. After our meal we went searching for water and snacks. We got lots of smiles and laughs as we strolled through town. The water was a little hard to track down but I learned my third Thai word today: nam. The first two were kow pat (fried rice). The fruit was easy to spot but difficult to communicate. We were hoping to get a few oranges but we ended up with a kilo of them and four watermelons. The lady who helped us just kept putting fruit in the bag. All we could do was laugh and smile and give her the 20 baht ($0.60) we owed her. Now were just trying to figure out who’s carrying what tomorrow.
See you,
LK

Vices


Day: 155
Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai
Time: 3:29
Distance: 56.80 km
Avg Speed: 16.2 kph
Terrain: Flat

We rolled out with the morning rush to work and school. We cruised out of town with the usual cadre of office gals on mopeds, mother and children on mopeds, school kids on mopeds, little old ladies with veggies on mopeds, monks hitching rides on mopeds and us on bicycles. You really don’t see a lot of bicycles until later in the day when the older people who tend to ride them come out and start making their rounds. We are always given our room and are told hello or saw wat dee by the passenger.
The road was flat for most of the day today. We have graduated from rice paddies to fields of corn, bananas, tobacco and sugar cane. The sugar cane is used to make Mekong whiskey, which is sold in bottles at a lot of road side stands. I haven’t had the gumption to give that a go yet. The tobacco was still in the fields, but we did see a drying barn with the drying racks all filled up with product getting ready to go to market. I am not sure if it goes abroad or is used locally for cigarettes. The sugar cane harvest is underway and there were trucks packed to the rafters with the canes and we even passed a field that had been recently burned with laborers cutting down and bundling it all. Imagine working in long sleeves and pants, bent over, swinging a sickle, covered in soot and sweating in 95˚F heat…tough stuff if you ask me. They were nice enough to harass us a little and ask if we wanted to come work when we stopped for a picture.
We finally rolled into Si Satchanalai and were on the prowl for the only place in town to stay. Wang Yom Resort was described as ‘having rustic, worn bungalows just outside of the old city’. What the guide book didn’t mention is that Wang Yom Resort looked like the sugar cane field…BURNED. It took us a second to register it, but the little lady across the street selling wares told us she knew a place to stay nearby. I thought that we were in for a wild goose chase, but she took us to a little house down the street that is set up for homestays. We have a two room suite with bathroom, a/c and shower (hot water too…yeah) right down the street from some major ruins. Our host, Papong, was falling over herself getting the room ready for us when we said we would take it. This area was known for its pottery and it was once exported across Asia. Our outer room has a beautiful display of local pottery that has just blown me away. The plates and kettles are simple with intricate paint and glaze on them. They even have a little tea kettle with rooster tail and head on either side of it. I figure my mom would give her middle child for that one.
We will check out more ruins on our way out of town tomorrow before we start heading into the hills.
CK