Crossing Laos-Thailand Peace bridge by bicycle, cycle touring Laos, cycle touring Thailand, Laos- Thailand Peace Bridge, Loei, Nakhon Thai, Nom Som, Nong Khai, Phu Ruea, Vientiane, Xieng Khuan Buddha Park
We met Matt and Dan the day before we rode into Vientiane. ‘ Are those dumpster bikes? ‘. Esther had learned a phrase and was not afraid to use it. 25mm rubber, a couple of light bags, and frames the guys had made themselves. If you are coming to ride in Asia you need very little ( their photo is in the last blog ).
Did you come over the mountains in the North of Laos?. They looked at each other, “Man, they were EPIC “. They had light bikes, they had a beard between them, and tattoos to spare, and they had just used the word EPIC. This confirmed what we had heard from others.
Plan 1 had been to return to Thailand at Vientiane. This was changed to Plan 2, which was to ride up through Laos and across to Chiang Mai in Thailand to pick up Visas for the road ahead. It was becoming increasingly clear that Plan 2 was stupid, as it involved riding over very big hills and then turning around and riding over them again.
Back with Plan 1, we are heading out of Vientiane amongst the morning rush hour traffic. We head towards the Presidential Palace, trying to find a safe route to roads along the Mekong. We go by compounds belonging to the world of the NGO. Save the children, Red Cross, World Vision and others. Each has a fleet of white Toyota’s, all logod and parked in neat rows.
We had done quite a bit of research about crossing into Thailand at this Peace Bridge, and most of the information was contradictory, other than a photo of a cyclist waving as he crossed the bridge. There was talk of bribes. This sends us into a flap. We have difficulty knowing how to deal with tipping in the USA, and this is that with added menace.
We got our visa outbound stamp from Laos, but there in front of us is a guard with a whistle, and a sign with a picture of a bike with a line drawn through it. But just then, the guard has to rush off to blow his whistle at someone. A van is now between his line of sight and the final barrier. Go, Esther, GO! The person at the barrier motions that we should just go around the barrier. Gosh, that was unexpected.
We now just have to remember to swap from riding on the right, to the left side of the road and we are on the bridge. We have not needed to pay bribes nor put the bikes on a truck and pay a king’s ransom to get across. We are back in Thailand, and within the first 200m there is a 7Eleven and celebration.
We spend the night in Nong Khai, in a hotel on the banks of the river. Things have gone so smooth that we have time to ride out to Xieng Khuan Buddha Park. This park was started in 1978 by a spiritual leader who took refuge in Thailand from Laos. His spiritual passions were more than equalled by a passion for concrete and plaster. He had already built a complex of over 200 Buddha statues on the Laos side of the Mekong. This time they would be even bigger.
Early onto the road, and we head north along the Mekong. It comes, goes and then we finally say farewell to the river, until we meet again in the north. We pick up the 2020 and settle into some undulating riding. Limestone has formed lumpy bits here. With 15Km to go, and the hottest part of the day we start to climb. The trees are brown, many leafless. It is a late autumn landscape, with hight of summer temperatures.
Next morning, the climbing really starts. Every time we stop to take a photo we are covered with flys. They itch terribly and I would hate to have a puncture. We pass through remote villages before the road really ramps up. I get a puncture, and then another. Thin local tubes stretched well beyond the 32mm printed on them, terrible surfaces and 41’C.
It is as hot as a furnace as we pull into the first place for hours that looks like it may have a drink to sell. I wish now that I had taken some photos, as I know you will not believe that the place was a garage, a computer repair shop and Hi-Fi dealer and also a butcher and part abattoir. It was also run by one guy, with one pair of very dirty hands. A pig’s head, most of its internal bits and it’s spine are on the desk next to where he is soldering.
We walk into town from our hotel. We need to get some food at the market. It is a labyrinth of stalls all covered with sheets of plastic. Many are waving sticks with poly bags tied to them to keep the flys on the move. Some stalls have wiper motors rigged to strips of metal, on the ends of which are similar plastic bags. Fish, meat and the hot air from barbecues assault the senses. We are the centre of attention.
We want something that is tasty and not going to kill us. Add to that, we want it bland by Thai standards, which means less than four chillies. We put together a meal and carry the half a dozen plastic bags back to our room. That was a hard day. But then the moon rises an impossible shade of red over the mountains and you remember how lucky you are. You have also got a big bottle of Chang bear in hand.
Next morning, the sun does the impossible trick of rising in exactly the same place as the moon had been. It is big, orange and already hot enough to make you want to get going. We are on the 201 towards Loei. It is busy, even before 7.00 am, but has a wide shoulder. Yesterday has left our legs with little to spare and a bit of a deficit in enthusiasm.
Loei is our first big town for a few days. We arrive just in time for a street parade of local costumes. Whatever supernatural powers these local deity’s have had over the millennium, it is now being given a bit of a boost by the makers of a local energy drink. We sit in our room later and hear rain for the first time in almost 2 months.
We pick up the 203 in the morning. Bangkok 535Km, which is more than a little depressing. We have looked up the profile of todays ride and know there is a kick coming. It plays with us for the first 25Km and then hits us hard. Of course it is beautiful, every time there are hills the landscape is beautiful. I can see from the gps that the road will straighten and hope that this signals the top. Of course there are a couple of false summits, but then it is ridge riding. Hurrah.
As things flatten out the land looks much more fertile. There are flower growers and intensive crops of vegetables. We were up close to 700m, our highest in Thailand and now we have this little oasis. We find a hotel, not the cheapest as the area has a lot of local tourists. It also has spaghetti Bolognese, which is a joy to see.
Esther has spent rather a long while on the WWW researching a route that will thread us through these mountains without going up them just for fun. It is impossible to avoid a few big climbs. We start the day before 7.00 am, knowing we have a corker of a climb ahead. There are a few clouds, but it will be hot. The landscape is dotted with farmers all doing the same thing, watering their valuable crops in the cool of the day.
We have had jam sandwiches for breakfast, swilled down with chocolate milk. It is uninspiring fare, but has a solid history in endurance cycling. The 2013 kinks left, right and then virtually comes back to touch itself as it climbs. It ramps up at the turns, but other than that it is better than predicted. It takes 43Km to get to the top from our start point and we make it just before the full heat of the day.
Again, we do not understand why the trees look like winter. If someone knows, tell us. I guess this is the dry season and they are waiting for water. It is certainly dry. People keep on pointing to lakes and rivers and telling us how unusually low they are. There looks like a change from water-hungry rice to the more drought tolerant Cassava, which is being grown everywhere. It is used to make Tapioca, which we were forced to eat at school. Nothing could look more like frog spawn when served to a ten year old. I hated it.
We get to the town of Nakhon Thai. It is more difficult to find accommodation than we had expected. It also pushes up to over 40’c. It has been a long day and now we are going up and back trying to find somewhere to stay. It is always the last bit of a hard day that bites. Just when you have had enough, just when you could cry if someone tells you it is 6Km to the next hotel. The clouds gather and a fork of lightning cuts through the air. It rains most of the night. We can hear cars throwing up great bow waves of water. Lets have a rest day shall we.