Monday, 13 December 2010

Week 6 - Sawankalok to ChiangKhan 295kms cycled.

Highlights: Pinapples, coffee, great scenery, friendly people.

Low blows: Dotty thieves, disc brake falling off, cheap crappy bust spokes, 

Music of the week: Buena Vista Social Club 

Sawankalok to Utaradit 71kms

Up at 6am and had the cheapest food ever for brekkie, only 15baht but bloke mustve charged me wrong surely? Had a hot coffee in mkt then picked up some papaya and bananas. On the road by 8:30.

Feeling distracted and not able to get into ride, maybe cos Ive done bugger all for last week? Highway not too busy. Arrived historical park an hour later, had a break sat on old city walls over-looking river.

Cycled along small quiet roads until rejoining main highway. Then long straight, mainly flat sections, rice, sugar cane, tree lined sections all way to Utaradit. Very hot by 11am. Several home-made tok tok lorries loaded with rice grain heading to a big depot, some sugar cane trucks, and funniest of all, tok toks loaded with hay with a tarpaulin sheet on top. Looks like a mobile haystack with 4 wheels poking out of the bottom, whizzing along chug chug chug chug.

Arrived there at 12:30 and decided better to stop here than end up going miles to find a place to stay. Soon found GH aided by friendly mototaxi driver. 180baht, bit of a dump but ok.

 Showered, ate, read book till 3pm then went for a spin in town when a little bit cooler. Not much to see here. Nice seating area with big sala near main market overlooking river.

A display outside a home in honor of His Majesty the King of Thailand's birthday

Scenic snack spot on Sawankaloks old city walls

Utaradit to Utaradit Round trip 80kms then Sukothai by bus

A right F**ing saga of a day! Slept badly, nightshift on reception had TV blaring which echoed upstairs and over the old style parapet wall you get in these old places, asked them to turn it down at 12:30 which they did and made it more bearable. Bed also right lumpy and bloke next door snoring and mumbling in the night. Put pillow on head which blocked most of it. 

Woke at 5:30, old boy had taken over from nightshift downstairs and cranked up TV to ‘normal’ volume  ie LOUD and bloke next door was singing in the shower. Cocks crowing outside didn’t bother me in the slightest compared to this noisefest. Got up 6am, light just about to start up, showered and went to market. Kao mung gai, bought a bag of satsumas, then coffee from 7/11. 

Packed and on road by 8am. Songtheaws packed with students heading to schools, and rush hour in the town. Got through all that and onto quiet road. Steady uphill, treelined in parts and easy going. Several people giving me thumbs up in encouragement. Stopped off at 30kms for a rest outside a house as there was an empty stall set up that provided shade. People from house soon came out - 2 identical sisters early 50s one a bit odd. Gave em an orange each as I got my snacks out. They disappeared so took opportunity to have a pee out of the way. When I came back a glass of water had appeared and 2nd sister eventually came back. 1st sister nowhere to be seen. Chatted a while then set off again. 

Starting to feel good and put on some music to complement the feeling. Just getting to top of hill when summat didn’t feel right. Got off bike. Noticed my lock wasn’t on there, mustve left it on table when I took it off straps to get oranges out.  That was 11kms back down the road so stood a while thinking. I decided to leave it there, but when I got back on back brake wasn’t working. Had a look, all the nuts had disappeared and the disc was just sitting there. Definitely going back now! Trying to think about how it could happen – someone try to steal it last night? But unlikely cos they would’ve just taken the quick release wheel off and had the lot. I reakon that the bloke who put new wheels on last week didn’t put nuts on tight enough. Called ahead to Sukothai shop to see if he had parts and he had, hurrah. Ok, already done 39kms so just turned around. Went down carriageway looking for the nuts and found one, but after 15mins gave it up. Not too bad cos downhill most of way. 

Stopped off to see if Id left my lock at the rest stop, but those people acting weird and saying theyd not seen it. Asked if they were sure and if 1st sister had it, but she was in her room and not coming out. Ok, said forget it and rode off. Definitely a nut job and funny too – what sort of thief nicks a locked lock! Shiny things shiny things. 

Rode all the way back into Utaradit. I am getting very hot, despite getting water along the way. Hungry too but will eat at bus station. Some more mobile haystacks passed me by along the way. Turned out bus station near hotel so double checked Id not left it there – no! they definitely nicked it at rest stop. Arrived bus station, bus ready to leave. Loaded stuff on, grabbed some mini-pasty things and a bottle of water and jumped on. Relief to sit under a/c. Ate my pasties quickly, and began to feel better. Have a fine layer of salt all over my skin. 

Back in Sukothai by 3:30, showered then took bike in for new nuts. Bought a new lock and a padded cover for seat which is going to rip open soon. Very strange day indeed for all this stuff to go on. Lucky I didn’t get into the hilly mtn stretch before this happened or it wouldve been a pain in the arse/dangerous. 

Sukothai to Ban Yeang by bus then cycled to Dan Sai 76kms

Got up 6am, had breakfast then headed up to bus station at 8. Chatted with a friendly old monk while the bus came. Woman who sold tickets had been fretting thered be no space for my bike, but this bus had the biggest cargo hold Ive seen yet so slotted it in easily, drivers mate also knew exactly where I wanted to be dropped. And was dropped there by 11am. Sat in shade and slapped on suncreme while chatting with a woman who made and sold bbq sausages. Got some water off her and set off. 

Rolling hills so low gears to get up em, but easy enough as they gave out to a down bit just as it was getting tiring. Gorgeous scenery, rice fields being harvested, stubble burnt off, all golds and yellows. Several convoys of tok toks (a tok tok is a home-made vehicle made using a rice paddy tractor engine and then whatever chassi or frame is needed to make the vehicle you want. The engine costs about $200US and it is the cheapest way to have a vehicle. The engine makes a took, tok, tok, tok sound as it chugs along) laden with freshly harvested rice making there way to grain stores along the road. 

After rolling road it eventually entered a flat section and town of Nakhon Thai 30kms into ride. Ate lunch and had a laff with workers there till I felt fresh to carry on. They said only 44kms although looked further on map and didn’t know if it was just Thai good will or not. Carried on. Land getting more hilly with lots of little gullies and bumps. Sand/mudstone rock. Enjoying scenery. Eventually came to a down hill to a wall of big hills and could see the road going up a tight valley, started to go up for next 15kms. 

Nice to be riding at late afternoon with softer golden sunlight and long shadows making the scenery even better. Lots of large molehill hills some with craggy outcrops amongst forest and bamboo. Later on a weed/plant with indigo flowers lined the roadside for a long long way. 

The last 7kms uphill was very demanding, just stuck on Buena Vista Social club and chugged along, walking in parts as speed down to 5kmh (can push at 4kmh and good to stretch the legs). Really knackered towards end, but had a real treat with a 6km downhill stretch right into the town. 

Couldn’t help thinking how lucky Id been having my brake fail yesterday as youd be in a right pickle coming down this and having no brakes. Picked imaginary spots where I could bail into bushes as I whizzed downhill. Nice old man running gh and he let me have a room for 300baht instead of 450, good too cos 6pm and getting dark. Had food in local resto then had 2 rotis in nightmarket chatting with stall holders. Nice people around here. Good ride.

Harvesting rice in the hot hot sun

This road leads to them thar hills and the start of a big uphill

Still time for a photo on the eagerly awaited downhill section

Scouse fashion week?? No, its Phi Ta Khon in bicycle riding pose

Totem poles in the gardens of a  posh resort
Pinapple for breakfast. Went and ate that in local park (yes a real park in Thailand away from major roads with trees and everything!!) and watched the fresh water fish goad and fight each other. Found a fresh coffee stall and had 2 coffees, chatting with stall holder and 2 policemen. People really friendly around here. Took bike to shop and got front spokes tightened too. Mooched about town, had a massage, cycled around park a bit, then to night market for dinner. Hopefully thatll be it for bike problems? Lets see how we get on in Laos eh……if I get that far.

Loei to Chiang Khan 50kms.
For breakfast, pinapple in the park, then coffee and cake again. Packed up and on the road by 10. Busy highway, dual carriageway for all except last few kms. Signs along the way for Luang Prabang 400kms+. Easy up and down all the way. Stopped off for lunch and chatted with workers for a bit.
Arrived CK at about 2ish. Followed small soi onto street next to Mekong and surprised to see hundreds of Thai tourists wandering about. Found out it was bank holiday weekend so the place was inundated. GH I wanted to stay at was full (as were all the others) but owner kindly took me and a girl who’d just arrived down a soi to a locals home. Here we were offered a screened off area and beds made from quilts on the floor. 200baht. Accepted immediately cos no chance getting anywhere else.
Showered and had a wander. Lovely to be next to river, Thais all posing up and down and taking hundreds of photos in front of old things and cute things. All a bit much for me as too packed. Couldn’t find cheap food on river front so went to main street and eventually got something there. Everywhere heaving and loads of minibuses and coaches turning up. I reakon every house in the town took people in. Went back to home at 8:30 as bored and it started raining! Typical – ditched tent and poncho and today I need accommodation and its raining. Lucky I didn’t camp though, as some people did, cos would’ve got soaked.

Thais arrive en-masse

Crumbly old stucco fascade

Old wooden buildings along the riverside street

Chiang Khan
Slept pretty well, mozzies kept nibbling at anything that touched the nets sides so kept waking with itchy fingers and feet. Other visiting Thais staying in teh house got up at 6am ,but I managed to doze in till 8. Showered, had bananas and coffee then went to gh to get a room. Sat and chatted with owner. Looks like most of Thais are heading home en-masse today. Washed some stinky clothes, then rode down to beauty spot Kaeng Kut Koo 6kms down river. Busy with people there too but got a quiet table in pricey restaurant and admired the view over a beer.  Back in town a lot quieter now and far more my type of place. Chatted with a cycling group who’d come up from Nong Khai and guide gave me details about the bit in Laos I am going to do next week. Lovely spot now the crowds have gone.
Peaceful view over to Laos from guesthouse balcony

Great spot for a beer downriver

Poinsettias - indigenous to Central America but in abundant in Thailand, just in time for christmas too

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