Thailand to Laos

Now I’m back on the road and really happy. Today I headed out of Bangkok and left with completely mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. The worst part of the bike mishaps has been how much it’s shattered my confidence for riding alone.  I am so worried about the bike breaking down I “jump” every time I imagine a new noise or vibration emanating from Dozer. Because of this I just cannot make myself go off the beaten track. So stuck to the nice scenic secondary roads, not quite off the beaten track but enough to be enjoyable. I find this very frustrating, I can only hope these feeling disappear as the trip progresses. I am however still enjoying myself it really was fantastic to be back on the bike and riding out of Bangkok. The scenery here is lovely and so different to any countries I’ve ridden through so far so I really enjoyed today. Even the rain is nice as its warm tropical rain showers
and not the freeeeeeezing Russian rain I spent so many days riding in.

The thing that I like which strikes me the most is how green it is. The fields with knee high lush green grass, the cane fields with head high sugar cane, the trees, the mountains, the swamps everything just so green. The other thing that hits me are the smells, the humid yet fresh smell that hangs in the air. The sick swampy smell of stagnant water especially just outside of Bangkok. The sweet smells of flowers that waft pass your nose every now and again. The smell of cooking BBQ chicken or cat or dog, whatever is the meat of the day, that looks good smells good and tastes good. The smell of cows and then spilt milk you get when riding past the dairies. The sickly sweet smell of rotting fruit. No matter how good or bad the smells you cannot escape them and they are the one thing that most people wouldn’t notice unless it was a pungent smell but on a motorbike just not miss able.

The roads in Thailand are good even the secondary roads. There are a few bumps and potholes but nothing like what I experienced in Russia or Kahazakstan. There is also not that much traffic and the drivers are pretty good especially compared to the Chinese drivers who are just crazy. There are a lot of people, dogs, cows and ducks on the secondary roads so I’ve kept my speed down (not that I’m a speed freak anyway) but it also makes for good sightseeing. I took it easy my first day in the saddle leaving at 10am and stopping at 3:30, I only rode 320kms and stopped a couple of times along the way. It is so humid that the minute you stop to take a picture or at a stop street your body just burst into a sweat, it’s incredible but at least quite bearable while riding. Since it rains in the late afternoon by the time I stopped I was quit refreshed by the rain, which makes a change 🙂 I am looking forward to my ride tomorrow.

On my second day heading towards Laos I woke up to see blue skies and spars clouds on one side of the road and low lying black menacing clouds on the other, guess which direction I was heading off in? I managed to get my grumpily old man Dozer started, this is a bit of a fight every morning, and head off into the storm clouds. The wind is whipping and I’m wondering if this is the start of the hurricane I was warned about. Fortunately heading north I know I am heading away from the bad weather and the day turns out rather pleasantly. A few light showers mixed with spells of sunshine and that familiar happy feeling of freedom and joy in heart. I soon start seeing more and more hills and jungle, now this is getting exciting. Every time I travel at some point I get that total realisation through every cell of my body of where I am. I cannot explain his feeling but its one total excitement when it comes over me “Wow I’m in Thailand, I’m riding my bike across Thailand” it’s like the best high in the world and makes me want to scream and laugh and shout. Then in my brain I image zooming out to see myself on the road on my bike, then I see a map of Thailand and me on my bike riding across it, then I zoom out further and see a globe and me on my bike riding across a continent. If I could capture and sell this feeling I’d make billions.

I stop for a short break at a small shop in a village and meet another lovely person. The shop keeper speaks about three words of English, all I can say is Thank you in Thai, and we manage to have a short conversation. She then runs out back and comes back with a bunch of small bananas for me, which I strap to the back of dozer and made a fine breakfast for the next two days. On countless occasions people I have met ask me if I am not scared or lonely travelling alone. Its encounters with this shop lady that make it all worthwhile. When travelling in a group although you meet people it’s a different dynamic and you never have the kind of short 3 minute one to one encounters you have like I do while alone.

I finally get to Chiang Khan and find a small rustic guesthouse run by Pim. Now this is my kind of place, clean, no aircon, no TV, fantastic view and a lovely friendly owner. I wished I could a few days there because that place was a little bit of paradise. Waking up and having breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Mekong and the fishermen in their long wooden boats was a welcome sight, never mind the stunning sunset I saw last night. But nope no time to linger I want to get to Laos today and have been having  a leisurely trip there but unfortunately just cannot spend 2 nights in Chiang Khan.

I ride along the Mekong river and then through some very windy roads 168km to the border and the friendship bridge. What an easy border crossing, no lines, no hassle, a couple of forms to fill out the visa to pay for and off I go. I had seen on the map that Vientiane is left as you get over the bridge and out of the border crossing.

I immediately notice three things about riding in Laos as I turn directly left and head straight for a large truck and swerve quickly onto the right side of the road… they drive on the right in Laos, the drivers are not as good as in Thailand, and neither are the roads. I notice a big tarmac load to my left but thought I remember on the map that I turn left and then just straight to Vientiane. My GPS does not cover Laos hmmm I stop and ask someone and they agree and point straight ahead, I travel a bit and ask another person (I have always found this the best approach to asking direction in a foreign language get at least 3 answers a few km from the last) well I am now confident that I am heading in the right direction, but WOW this road is a really bad potholed rutted sandy dirt road. I know the Vientiane is about 20km from the border so after 25km when I see no sign of city life I ask again (I’ve now asked about 6 people) the lady signs Vientiane is back that way, you carry on this road and turn. Ah ok so I seem to have just missed a turn someone I carry on turn at the next dirt road ride for 6km and hit a dead end. Now I am in the middle of nowhere just farms, bush and the odd small hut. I see a person and they sing no go back too that road and carry on the road bends. To cut a long story short by the time I get back on the tar road and realise that just after the border I should have turned sharp left onto the main road, I have travelled 68km and done a huge loop around Vientiane and am now heading gin from the north. It’s 4pm and I have not thought about drinking but have sweated like a horse and am totally dehydrated. I pull into a petrol station grab my water and down half a litter. Ask the petrol guy to please put in 10litres as I do not have enough money for more, totally miscalculate the numbers on the pump and promptly pay him the equivalent of about usd20 for 10litres of petrol. The moral to my story never get dehydrated.

But now I am in Vientiane and get so caught up in seeing the city that I ride around and around for another hour before finally finding a little guesthouse on the other side of the city near the river. When I travel alone I am very cautious about going out at night there are many place where I just don’t. Russia for example in the small towns I would try get into a guesthouse by no later than 6pm either after a meal or with one. This is because the Russian men drink to non comprehension by 5pm, by 4 many of them are already drunk but it just gets worse. It’s not even that I feel unsafe on my own in these places but just not at all comfortable. It is the same in Bangkok and Ulaanbaatar (where at night I’d stay in a group or not go out). However in places like Almaty, Seoul and now Vientiane I am just careful as to where I go but I feel quite comfortable and totally enjoyed walking along the Mekong and seeing all the people out and about exercising in the park in the dark.

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