After the exertion getting to Chiang Mai, we took a few days to rest. Usually this means some beers. On the first evening we went back to our hotel intending on an early night after dinner, but a group of Thais were singing and playing guitar in the bar/garden, and they were so good we decided to have a few more drinks there. One of them absolutely LOVED Richard, for some reason. A German couple joined too, and we ended up having an early morning instead of an early night. We met the German couple, Rafael and Sabine, for dinner the following day. They’d rented motorcycles to travel round northern Thailand, and have travelled in many countries this way. Their adventures sound amazing, and it’s given us more ideas of places we’d love to see.
Chiang Mai was a nice and relaxed place to spend a few days, with lots to see and some great places to eat. Although Richard had his worst haircut of the trip so far, costing a whopping £8.
Leaving Chiang Mai we headed east/south east, and some of the scenery in this part of Thailand is amazing. Off the main roads in the Khun Tan national park was stunning. It is also mercifully cooler, which has been almost as good for me as the landscape, after the furnace of the south.
Our next main stop was Lopburi, which is home to several ancient ruins. Most famous of them is the Khmer temple of Phra Prang Sam Yot, which is populated by hundreds of wild monkeys. I am pretty happy around most animals, but most animals won’t attack unless threatened or provoked. Monkeys are the ones I think would fuck you up just for the sake of it, so I had a bit of trepidation walking round. I made the mistake of kneeling down to get a good picture of the temple, and immediately had one jump on my back, and another on my head trying to pull a hairband out. When we got back to our bikes one of them had undone a frame bag, taken out and unscrewed the cap of a water bottle, and was sitting casually drinking out of it. The other ruins (without the monkeys) were much tamer.
After that we hit the industrial heartland of Thailand, with all its aggregate plants and factories, and the accompanying heavy traffic, noise and endless dust. The night food market in Saraburi was good though, at least for me. Richard had a pizza from 7-Eleven, since he is not keen on sticks of unidentified meat like I am, and doesn’t like the roulette of “what item might the deep fried batter be hiding” (rice balls as it turned out this time, like a Thai version of arancini.)
Leaving Saraburi we had one of our more horrendous days. At the start we tried to get off the busy roads, but what started as some simple dirt road riding, then deteriorated into mostly grass and mud, and then became impassable due to being so overgrown. It meant a few miles of backtracking on what would be a long day. We thought we’d left the climbing behind, but it turns out that getting from west to the east, there’s one day of hills comparable to riding in the mountainous of the north. But this time it’s on busy roads with the constant roar of lorries and a face full of dust all day. It’s sweltering hot again, and the main climb was almost unbearable. I hate everyone and everything at this point. As we get to the top, the road is lined with stalls and people waving, smiling and giving us the thumbs up, and I mellow a little bit. Thailand is probably the best country to be in when you need that kind of lift. The people here are just so wonderful.
Richard noticed that his pedal cranks are very loose, which almost certainly means there’s a problem with the bottom bracket. It doesn’t really affect the riding, and leaving it won’t do any damage, so we decide to just put it to the back of our minds and try and get it sorted when we get to a city with a good bike shop. Slightly more worryingly, he smacked his head on a low doorframe and has had some problems with dizziness and memory (even more than what’s to be expected at his age.) And then I’ve paid the usual price for eating indiscriminately, so it was a tough and wobbly week of heat, headwind, hills and Imodium.
The highlight of this section was the huge covered food night market in Nakhon Ratchasima. It was great just to wander around for ages, because now I am being a bit cautious. I restricted myself to khnom buang, which is a small wafer-like crepe folded and filled with soft meringue and topped with shaved duck egg yolk, and I only had nine of them.
We finally had a gentle ride to Nong Khai, just beside the Thai border with Laos. The day still had a headwind, but was mostly flat and not as busy so was much more enjoyable. Near the town we stopped in the shade for a drink, and afterwards I cycled off as Richard faffed around, knowing he’d catch me up. Ahead of me was a cyclist wearing a luminous yellow top like mine. Richard said that he saw the cyclist way ahead on the road and thought it must be me, so wondered if he had passed out temporarily in the heat and came to with me a long way ahead. I am speechless that he thinks the most obvious explanation for this is that he passed out on his bike without realising, and not that I might be riding faster than he thinks.
The Mekong river divides Thailand and Laos, with the Friendship Bridge spanning the distance between the two countries. Our first stop was Thai customs to get our exit stamps. We assumed it would be a formality, but was much more faff, and even more forms, than entering the country or extending our visas. The Laos side meant more forms and some waiting around. It seems the only point to getting our e-visas ahead of time was to pay slightly less. Leaving immigration controls, we were offered tuk tuks several times by a few jokers, with the assurance that we could just throw our bikes on the back and save us the bother of riding. On any other day of the past week it would have been sorely tempting, but we had a flat and easy ride from the border to the capital, Vientiane.
First port of call when we arrived was for beer. We were offered weed in the first bar we walked into, but I’ve seen Locked Up Abroad and I know how that ends. We intend to spend a few days here resting, getting me well and back to my full eating capacity, getting Richard’s bike fixed and his hair cut again, before riding out into the rest of Laos.
A playlist for the ride: