Off we go....
January 27th : Ubon Ratchatani, Thailand
by Mr. D
Well, we're now 2 weeks into the voyage, and our bikes, our bags and ourselves have all taken on a very weathered and slightly more battered appearance. 650kms on the road has taken its toll and leaves us both anxious and excited by the prospect of the next 4000 or so.
We left Ko Chang a couple days after I posted the last note. The sea was calm and the palm trees swayed. As we were having our last banana pancake and banana milkshake by the beach we knew that if we didn't depart that day, we might become forever entrapped by the island's charm and never escape.
So grudgingly we escaped and continued our cycle ride on the mainland in the searing heat with the midday sun above us, and the odd mad dog barking and snapping at our heels.
The heat in Thailand really is immense, and when you're churning out the miles, you can very easily begin to think that you are crazy. We pedaled on through the afternoon and took every opportunity to rest and guzzle Ice-cold coke's and water.
The monastery driveway
Richard mentioned they were carp and at that size could easily be worth quite a fortune each. The monks apparently didn't eat the fish, but just fed them. Where they get all the food to feed these fish is anyones guess, but the villagers seemed pretty thin.
Sompun was 50+ and had only been a monk for a year. His English was surprisingly good, and he explained how he had become a monk in 1997 after the recession hit. Before that he had been a businessman in Bangkok selling tiles or carpets or something, but his business hadn't fared too well, and he'd decided this was an appropriate time to meditatate. - He spoke about how he now has all day to ponder life and how he spends his morning walking in the fresh air. - I pointed to the surrounding hills and mentioned how wonderful they must be to walk in. But, he shook his head and pointed to the driveway and waved his arms back and forward, back and forward, back and forward. Apparently he only walks up and down the driveway beside his statue monks.
We parted ways an hour later after an enjoyable, if not slightly askew conversation, with this very affable man. But Richard and I both immediatly mentioned how it really did seem like the guy had had enough in the business world and was now escaping by becoming a monk. Indeed Thailand is full of monks slowly meandering about and doing not a lot in their orange colored robes. They get free rides on buses, and are given food by locals, but one can't but shake the feeling that many of them are copping out at the expense of the rest of the population. Now they probably do a lot of really cool stuff aswell, but we've just not seen it yet.
Richard had packed the tent with him, and we were eager to try our hands at camping. As the sun slid behind the hills and with no large towns around us, we began to scout for a spot to sleep in the surrounding farm land. We eventually came to rest in an orchard of which type we couldn't quite make out, but the trees had been watered recently, and we figured we'd get left alone for the evening.
We'd planned insufficiently on the food front, but managed a rather spartan meal of frankfurters with cheap bread. As night fell, Richard crawled into the tent, but by the time I had made it in, it was more like an oven. - Richards, microlight tent is designed to withstand temperatures below freezing (which makes it better in the US) but we'd failed to think that in doing so, it was hardly suitable in the tropics. I couldn't bare it and set up my mosquito net under the tree and tried to fall asleep in the fresh air. - Richard, however, decided that the oven was better than the thought of being out with creepy crawlies and all sorts. Clever move, as half an hour later as I was still struggling to get to sleep, a dog started growling. 'Oh, Sugar' I thought,
'ha ha' Richard thought.
The dog turned out to be pretty amiable and wasn't ready to tackle anything that could shine a super high intensity halogen bike light directly at it, and dropped its tail between its legs and left us alone. - But it took me another two hours to fall asleep, and even then it was a fitfull sleep until the sun started breaking out at around 6.30
Off the map in Trat Province
We've been stuck with awful maps in Thailand, although for this section of the country we did manage to get a slightly old but quite detailed map of the route north for a couple hundred klicks. - It showed no road where we wanted to go, although both our Western made national highway maps showed a paved road exactly where we wanted to go. - we went with the western maps, but there was no road. - Someone was actually in the process of building a road, but it went west (the wrong way) rather than North. So grudgingly we cycled all morning westwards so we could cycle an hour north on a major highway, and then spend the afternoon cycling back east to the nice road that all three maps showed existed. However on gettting back to the road (now 100km later instead of 30!), we came accross a military checkpoint who with much regret informed us that the original road was too close to the Cambodian border, and wasn't safe for travel. - He recommend we travel back west and follow the major higway north. - If he hadn't been carrying a big black automatic rifle, I would have probably strangled him.
After a passing Thai lass helped us with some interpretation, he did allow us to take a look at the border though which proved a welcome chance to cool off, and take a break. - We had become increasingly curious over the last 30km from the major highway as we were passed by a steady stream of Mercedes and other spiffy cars with tinted windows. - All this in an area where the locals only drove pick up trucks and motorbikes. Something was going on and we weren't going back to the highway till we found it.
It turns out that Cambodia isn't so different from so many other nations with a rich neighbor. Like Macao with Hong Kong, or Canada with America, or even Nevada and California. The poorer one figures it can make a few $$$ by putting a casino on its side. In this case Cambodia had obviously cottoned on quick to the advantages of capitalism and were attracteing the financially decadant (morally destitute?) crowds from Bangkok and all around.
We never figured out what the Thai border police were there for. They didn't seem to bother checking anyones passports except ours. They checked ours even though we didn't want to go accross the border. They then confiscated our passports so we couldn't cross the border, and next they took our camera so we couldn't take pictures of the border. But we were allowed to look at the border and watch a flood of people in all shapes and sizes coming to Thailand, loaded down with either with Marlboros and alcohol, or live pigs and parsnips. After watching for a few minutes, we collected our passports and camera and headed back to the major highway.
Dusk was falling when we reached the highway. We were both a tad knackered having cycled some 125kms and a tad pissed off having come very little distance in real terms. In fact we might have gone further from Hong Kong instead of closer to it! As we were figuring out where the hell we were going to sleep, we were saved by the same lass who had helped us near the border earlier. She was driving a brand new pick-up truck and lived in a town 25kms down the road. Neither Richard or myself even thought of refusing a ride to some accomodation.
The lass was called Joy, and we bought her and her father (who'd been travelling with her) dinner. We asked where she'd learnt to speak English and she mentioned she'd been to college in Pattaya. On further investigation, the college turned out to be a disco bar by the beach and her professors had been a string of overweight falangs. She would spend two weeks down there, followed by two weeks at home, although she seemed to be available for work all the time.
Joy & her new truck
Joy offered to let one of us 'come to work with her' but we had to decline. 125km does, after all, wear out even the most eager of beavers.
The next day we put in some fine miles. I followed Richard tanking up hill at 25km/hr which is an impressive speed and something we couldn't have done a week earlier. We started learning which restaurants served fried noodles as opposed to yucky bony chicken and rice, and we became fluent in describing where we'd come from and where we were going, though the 'why' still proved somewhat difficult to describe in English, let alone Thai.
We slept over in Aranyaprathet in a rat infested hotel for the princely sum of US$6, and left at daybreak the next morning completing over 50km's before breakfast. - Although, we were pretty hungry when we finally had it.
I have to look at this view of Rich for 8hrs/day!
We decided to cheat on this day. We'd ridden off the map and were using the national highway map with no geographical features and no small roads. Our guide book had mysteriously disappeared, and we really didn't know where we were going. So we caught a bus. Rural buses are a hoot! - bright orange, with a big roof rack! - They didn't even give our bicycles a second look as one of the crew threw them on the roof and pushed us inside. The guy on the roof dropped back into the bus through the back door a few miles later as we were bouncing down a rutted country road at some 70mph. As we stared forward through the bus we both grinned, and were glad to be on the thing rather than in front of it on the bikes.
It was little surprise then, that after another hour of banging through rutted dirt roads, something went bang, and then a loud hissing sound eminated from the front of the bus. - We ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere, and .... I'll let Richard tell this part
Jaymz, Mr. inquisitive of course, has to go and find out what is going on, after all he is a fully trained mechanic! It's not only just bikes he can rebuild, but busses are aparently his forte also??? So he squezes himself out of the Thai designed bus seats and leaps out of the bus door compleatly missing the two seps down a good 3 foot drop! smashing his back on the bottom step the next time I see him he is rolling around in the dust in apparent agony with a whole load of locals looking at him thinking god knows what. Eventually he stops hopping around and gets me to inspect the damage. All I could say between trying to supress my laughter was "christ you bruise easily!"
But, the thing is, I don't! - It Fu^%!*ing hurt, and still hurts! - The next day as I was standing on similar steps and leaning by the door of a train steaming along at a good 80mph, I was pretty damn careful this time not to slip.
But the up side of having a nicely bruised and strained back is that Richard has to do all the lifting for a while. I've had him take the bikes up 4 flights of stairs (all in one go, he proudly wants me to point out!), and onto trucks and trains and onto next bus that came along to rescue us stranded passengers. - The bus was already half full, and our passengers piled on immediately. Like the polite and civilized Brits we are, we of course waited and then realized, 'urr there is no roof rack on this bus.' - No problem, the driver was quite happy to throw the bikes in with everyone else, which on this bus happened to be a posse of saffron robed monks freeloading on the back seat. Rich & I stood, not knowing whether to laugh or apologise profusely, as our bags gently rubbed themselves cleaner against their sacred outfits.
Everyone checks to make sure our tyres are pumped up!
Mike and Jenny turned out to be two right on characters. - We shared a ride with them back to the nearest town, and we were relieved to be able to say a little more to them than just 'we have come from Bangkok, we are going to Hong Kong, yes, we are crazy.' - In fact we spent the whole evening chatting, while we slowly put away a few Singha beers and the odd glass of Sang Thip whiskey. By midnight, after the restaurant staff had given up waiting for us, switched off the lights and left us, going to a Thai nightclub seemed a pretty funny idea. There we caused a commotion and were beseeched on all sides by 'cool' Thai kids wanting to chat with us. The music was all Thai, and it blared out as loud as any western nightclub. The Sang Thip flowed with the conversation, and it wasn't long before Richard, (normally an extremely quiet bloke!) had replaced the Thai DJ on the podium, and was introducing Michael Jackson in a low voice that sent the Thai girls (& us) crazy! - To give him credit, Rich dosen't like Michael Jackson, but that was the only western song the DJ had.
Needless to say the next morning we weren't up at 6.30 for another 100 kilo's of cycling.. but that's where we have to end the adventures of Mr.C & Mr.D cuz the Internet center is closing up.
Tomorrow we leave for Pakxe in Laos. Laos is the reason we are here and we have high hopes and spirits. However, the Internet hasn't yet replaced the horse and cart as the primary communication system there, so it may be a while before we are able to update the site again.