Saturday, 30 August 2014

Under monsoon skies

A break in the cloud
Should I stay on this route? Making a decision when tired is never a good idea so I decided to sleep on it. In the morning, my riding gear still wet through and smelling of damp dog, I decided to miss Cambodia, take a sharp right and head for Thailand going as quickly as possible for the shelter of my friends bar in Koh Tao. This would cut my riding days down from 10 to 5.

The monsoon rain had somehow got snagged on my bike a few days ago and no matter how fast I rode, I could not escape it. When I stopped in Thakeh, I had tea with a Belgian guy who was surprised to hear how bad the rain was “Really? Wow. It only started raining here last night.” 
“Yes” I said. “That’s when I arrived!” That confirmed it. I needed to get off this path and hope these clouds would set their sites on some other poor soul. 


Riding conditions
There are some plus points for riding in the height of the monsoon season of course. Everything is so beautifully fresh and green. Children play naked and carefree in the cool rain, the roads are empty and hotels are cheaper! Wrinkly fingers and constantly wet helmet liner though, were starting to make me question whether I really wanted to do the extra few hundred miles I had planned. My riding gear had long been penetrated by the constant torrent of water and I was beginning to grow weary. Cambodia can wait! Time to visit my old friend Kerry on the Island.

Early morning market
Laos is a beautiful and simple country with a far less developed infrastructure than it’s neighbouring countries. Before I left Thailand I kept getting told that it was like Thailand but 20 years earlier and it’s probably not far off. As you leave Thailand you say goodbye to the convenience of the 7/11 and
say hello to early morning markets where you will find all kinds of produce being sold. To find them just get up early and follow the flow of people.

The backpackers tend to stick to Vang Vieng where they pass their time tubing along the rivers. This leaves the rest of the country to those of us who have far better toys with TWO tubes and an engine although I probably got just as wet! 

On crossing the border I forgot that you also have to cross the road. Thailand drive on the left and Laos on the right. There was nothing reminding me to do so as I entered the country until I came across my first pick up truck on my side of the road. “What are you doing you idiot” I thought! Luckily the only thing to hit me was the realisation that it was me in the wrong! 

Kids playing in the river
Dogs are something you have to get used to watching out for as you travel overland. Some are runners and some are pretty street wise. I found the dogs in India to have good road sense(unlike everything else) and if crossing, all you had to do was beep your horn and they quickly got out of your way. They certainly understood what it meant. Nepalese dogs were different. They had no sense at all. Thai dogs are the
same. They just look at you as if to say “and your problem is?”. Laostian dogs however, are similar to their Indian relatives but even better. I’m convinced I saw many stop and look both ways! Even the bugs (the big ones) seemed to stop and reverse as they realised they weren’t going to make it! The snakes on the other hand were not so clever. I am sorry to say I ran over one and narrowly avoided another two. I even had the pleasure of slowing down for the biggest Scorpian I have ever seen as it crossed the road in front of me. Probably on it’s way to crush a small rodent for lunch.

Re packing after my fall
Laos is a great place to ride. I don’t think I found a straight road once and there is barely any traffic. It also feels very safe. The people are tolerant and friendly, always greeting you with a “Sawadi” wherever you go and the kids wave frantically as you pass by. 

If you go out of the monsoon season there are plenty of off road routes to be had. However, at this time of year, the tracks become treacherously slippery and you will soon find yourself bogged down in clay, or like I found as I attempted a short cut, on your side half way up what looked like a fairly easy hill! This time with no one to help me lift Rhonda, I had to strip her down before I could lift her up again. I decided to stick to the roads after that!

Steamy mountains
Despite what The Rough Guide tells you, there are plenty of ATMs in Laos and all the hotels I stayed
in had WIFI. I got rooms for a good price. The most I paid was the equivalent of £10.

Food is not as good as in Thailand in my opinion but the BeerLao is great and not to be missed!

My highlight was a slow boat ride along the Mekong River. The longest river in South East Asia (the 12th longest in the world), the Mekong runs through many countries with 60 million people living along it’s 2,700 miles of banks. I learned that is the lifeline of Cambodia with 80% of it’s protein intake coming from fish caught in the river. It is also beautiful and a peaceful place to be. I’m not sure what I think about Laos plans to build a hydroelectric damn on it or the effects it will have on it’s ecosystem. 

Stopping for fuel
This morning, after making my mind up to head back to Thailand, I set my SatNav to a town called Kalasin which looked like the right sort of direction. The Sat Nav told me to head for the ferry ramp. It turns out the ferries had stopped running in 2011 and so I headed instead for the Friendship Bridge about 11Km away. I passed through the Laos side surprisingly easily and rode slowly over the bridge, taking in the detail of this beautiful structure that hangs over the Mekong river separating Laos from Thailand. 

On arrival at Immigration on the other side, I parked my bike and walked over to the window. The officer looked at my bike and then at me and asked “How did you get here?”. A little confused I decided I hadn't used my quota of sarcasm this week and replied “I’m on a Honda. Didn’t you know they had wings?”. OK so it wasn't that funny but I didn't even get a smile! It turns out the Friendship Bridge does not extend to motorcycles and I should not have been allowed to ride over it. Having only discovered the existence of the bridge half an hour ago I genuinely had no idea and told him so. 

Rainbow over the Mekong
The boss was called. I was in luck as he turned out to be a biker. He proceeded to tell me all about his friend who rode a GS from Thailand, through China to Poland in two months, then he quickly arranged the required paperwork, bypassing the queues and happily waved me goodbye “Have a lovely time in Thailand”. I thanked him and rode on, amazed at how easy it has been to get through. My easiest border crossing yet. All done within one hour. 

The rain blasted me again just as I entered and I laughed now. “Welcome to sunny Thailand” I thought. At least I only had a few days and I would be safe and dry claiming my “regular” stool at the bar where I would take my pit stop. Two weeks at my friends place on the lovely Island of Koh Tao. A moment I have dreamt of. Riding up to Kerry’s place (an
old friend who moved to Thailand 11 years ago) and ordering a beer, having ridden all the way over to see her! I can’t believe I am nearly there! Five and a half months and 15,000 miles down the road. 
Life is good! 

13 comments:

  1. Wow you're fierce! I love reading about your adventure!

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  2. Fabulous photos....

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  3. I love your words that you use. almost feels like I'm their with you.

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  4. My daughter is on honeymoon in Koh Tao. I think you may just miss her, I'm sure they would have been happy to hear about your travels and buy you that much needed beer! Shame about missing Angkor Wat in Cambodia but at least you're safe. Happy travels :)

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    1. Hi Elaine. Tell her to get over to the Earth House!!! : 0 )

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  5. Steph, great writing, inspiring a new biker over here. Your comments on the rain reminded me of a character in Douglas Adams' 'So Long and Thanks for all the Fish'.

    “And as he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.”

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    1. Ha ha! Lovely John. I used to read his books a lot. You have just reminded me about good old DA. I may have to get some for my kindle!! Thanks so much for the compliment and great to hear you are finding inspiration x

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    2. Ha ha - I thought the same thing. When word got out, holiday companies used to pay the Rain God to not go to their resorts. Great books. Have you read the Dirk Gently books Steph?
      How was that first beer at the earth House? Bet it tasted good :-)
      xxxx

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    3. Funilly enough after Johns comment I decided to look him up again as it was years since I had read anything. The first discworld novels and Hitchhikers guide. Now I am two thirds of the way through The long Dark Teatime of the soul and so I am now well aquatinted with Dirk Gently! Loving it!

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    4. Just realised that I said discworld novels but they are Terry Pratchet books!! ha ha! Same same but different!!!

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  6. An other nice read, Steph. Keep up the good work and enjoy!

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  7. Awesome blog Steph, I've stumbled upon your journey via Piston heads. I shall be watching how you get on. Life is certainly for living and hats off to you for doing just that. I plan to do this one day (34yrs young) and would love to catch up for a coffee to grab some much needed pointers when you land back in Wales. I spend most weekends in North wales anyway! Jason

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