Friday, August 10, 2012

10th July 2012

PAK KADING - a typical town along the route

A decision to make. Our original plan included another 2 days of cycling in Laos. Today it should be a leisurely ride of about 50kms to Ban Loi where we would overnight. Tomorrow would be a 120kms to Thakek, from where we would cross over into Thailand.

We discussed the option of exiting into Thailand today, and continue the cycling in Thailand. The monotonous landscape we had cycled through for the last 2 days was the main reason. To exit Thailand today would mean a total ride distance of 170kms. This is not the "light and easy" option of our tour. The obvious option is to transport ourselves in a tuk-tuk to Thakek.

first part of the journey by tuk-tuk to Ban Loi
With the decision made, we  had our usual simple breakfast and readied ourselves to wait for a tuk-tuk. Before we could leave the Guesthouse, Khailani discovered a puncture in his front tyre. So, first thing first. Khailani brought 2 spare tubes. Now he would be left with one.

Surprisingly, it took us quite a while to get a tuk-tuk. In the early hours, there were not many plying the route. When one finally came, we flagged it and mentioned "Thakek"  (our destination) to the drive. He shook his head. I understood it as he was not going that far. We waited for about an hour before we saw another tuk-tuk. This time I mentioned "Ban Loi" and he nodded his head.

So up went the bikes on top of the tuk-tuk. In we went into the tuk-tuk. We sat ourselves amongst the passengers. Several gunny sacks of agricultural produce were piled on the floor. Lucky there were no live animals on board. We smiled at the passengers. They smiled back at these two characters.

Some stretches of the journey was dusty. The road was under repair. We would have been covered in dust if we had cycled through. Guessed we missed this excitement!

Surprisingly too, the stretch to Ban Loi was quite scenic. There were limestone hills that changed the landscape character. It would have been a pleasant change than the last two days. But how were we to know!

There would have been some hills to climb and some downhills to descend, offering some hard pedalling uphill and gentle cruising downhill rewards. On a tuk-tuk we just watched the hills disappear.

Mountain range in the distance and so little traffic.

The ride on the tuk-tuk to Ban Loi took an hour and covered 45kms. The driver knew our final destination was Thakek and in Ban Loi, he secured us the next tuk-tuk to Thakek.

roof-top transfer of bikes to another tuk-tuk
So, there was no waiting and the next journey took 1hr 50 mins covering a distance of 89kms.

Second part of journey : Ban Loi - Thakek

Our initial plan was to stop in Thakek and visit a cave with an underground river. This was suggested to us at the Tourist Information Centre in Vientiane. About 20kms before reaching Thakek, the passengers pointed to us the Friendship Bridge that crosses into Thailand.

This border crossing was so alluring that we forgot about the river in the cave. As the tuk-tuk rumbled on, we need to make a quick decision. The passengers were showing 2 fingers meaning 20 kms to Thakek, meaning we have to backtrack if we did not make a quick decision. One of the passengers quickly shouted to the driver to stop. As we paid him for the service, he was uttering something in Lao. I guessed he was saying that we should have told him about our destination earlier. Now we overshot by about 2kms. Having journeyed relatively comfortably in a tuk-tuk, 2kms is absolute nothing.

3rd part of  the journey. We cycled this portion.  Note the border crossing across the Mekong river

From where we alighted from the tuk-tuk, we rode about 5 kms to the border. The Immigration building at the border crossing was rather new and impressive. This border crossing was opened in late 2011 and I made this discovery from the internet. Hence the plan to exit through here.

Good bye! Khailani looking back at Laos.

A quick pose on the Laos side
Today, Khailani had been a wee bit unlucky. As we posed for some pics at the above entrance, he had another puncture. We pushed our bikes to a carpark in the complex. Again, first thing first. The tube was replaced and now Khailani was without a spare tube. That was not a good option. We rode on bicycles with different tyre size and therefore I could not lend my tube!

We hoped that in Nakhon Phanom, our destination in Thailand today would have a bike shop that carried the 700c tube size for Khailani.

The Immigration check-out on the Laos side was smooth. We also had nothing to declare to the Customs. What could we possibly carry or hide on a bicycle - certainly not elephant tasks!

We crossed the Mekong on the Friendship Bridge and at the middle span, took some shots on the bridge.

On the Friendship bridge
Before checking in at the Thai Immigration checkpoint, a few more memorable shots. Khailani seems to have a soft spot for elephants, so one for the road! Guessed he feels he is as strong as an elephant.

"as strong as an elephant"

As we rode into town, we saw flags of all the Asean countries lining the road dividers. It showed 2013. Probably a gathering of the Governments of Asean in 2013.

Malaysia my country
Nakhon Phanom was a typical big town in Thailand. After several days of blissful cycling minus many vehicles, we now need to negotiate the streets with other vehicles. We stopped at a Seven Eleven for some very cold cordial drinks. My, was it hot! Compared to the last 2 days of rather cool but wet ride, this was rather hot.

Because of the change of plan, we now have excess Laos currency and very little Thai Baht. Unfortunately for us, Laos currency can only be exchanged at the Bangkok Bank. No other banks accept Laos currency. Forget the money changer. Looking for the Bangkok Bank in this town was another matter. While doing so, we came across a bike shop. Khailani got his spare tube and that was quite a relief. 

Nakhon Phanom
While continuing our search for Bangkok Bank, we came to a junction leading to the water front of the Mekong. We continued on and came across Kong View Hotel. Forget Laos currency. We checked in and paid a small premium for the river view. Why not.

Kong View Hotel where we stayed in Nakhon Phanom

View from the Hotel room. Thakek town in Laos across the Mekong
Our decision to exit into Thailand was the right decision. We now look forward to tomorrow's ride to Sakhon Nakhon.


acid mustafa said...

Waah, spanking brand new bridge at Thakek eh?.. Used to be on a long tail boat or a ferry crossing 4 years ago.

2 losts souls in Lao land indeed. Great story bang Ramli.

Acid Mustafa

ARZ said...

Yeap, pretty new. Can still smell the paint! I do imagine those motorbikers cruising over this bridge in a convoy. Would be making a noisy entry into Nakorn Panom