Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Week 15 Thailand again! Samrong to Mukdahan 416kms cycled

Highlights: Civilization, smooth smooth tarmac, great food
Low blows: Potentially stuck in Cambodia while the Thais and Cambodians fight over a temple
Music of the week: La Soledad – Pink Martini

Samrong to Prasat 78km
Banana blocker for breakfast as bad belly. Asked lady on reception which way to go to O’Smach border and she said it was currently closed. Loads of people had arrived in the night fleeing scared from the area, and a load more traders who usually go there to buy stuff were also milling about in the hotel carpark. Woman said she’d put an emergency bundle in her car just in case she had to get out quick. Some families from border were going to Siem Riep or PP out of the way.
One of the people sitting around was a policeman and he was in contact by mobile phone with someone actually at the border. Went to find slow internet shop and when I came back at 10am woman said border was now open. Quickly packed bags and got on the road which turned to dust on the outskirts of town.
A lot of traffic on this road in both directions so seems like people are making the most of this window of opportunity. Went the whole 40kms to border without stopping, last bit uphill and road still being cut out of the rock. Actually had some trees scattered about near the foothills which seemed odd after covering so much ground with not a stick on it. Could see some Cambo soldiers going into a concealed in a camp a few kms before border on top of a tree covered hill. Cambo side also burning off grass in a banana plantation, dunno if they are doing this to make area more open or its just a normal activity. Crossed border no problems and had a wash in the toilet on Thai side to cool down and get rid of the layers of dust Id accumulated.
Apparantly theres food about 7km down road so set off on the wide smooth tarmac road – civilization!!  The big market on the Thai side was all closed up as were all the small food places along the way because of border closures scared people away. Eventually found a place to eat in a town 18kms up road and glad to stop and have a rest, eat and drink sugary Pepsi. Landscape on Thai side is pretty much the same as Cambo side – very flat with rice paddies, but the difference being the Thais have lots of trees dotted about and the whole thing looks a lot more cared for and productive instead of the dried up barren Cambo landscape. Carried on till a place called Prasat and checked in to a fancy resort 400 baht a night, nothing else around. Washed off bike too with hose. Cycled up into town, just a strip either side of the busy road and ate in small place. Had an ice cream and got some beer and crisps from 7/11 then back to room and aircon.

Prasat to Si Saket 38km by bike, rest by bus
Set off 8:30ish, police cars sirens and lights going, whizzing up road escorting a fleet of landcruisers. Quite a few army vehicles around too, but all Thai border areas always have a base nearby, sensible really! Long straight main road to Surin, some big grain storage places on the way. Got to Surin by 10:30 but then had to wait for a bus till 1pm. Had a ride around town, not much here, ate lunch then sat around in station waiting. Hauled bike into back of bus tied it to window with elastic cord and blocked wheels in with my bags.
Took a long time to get to Si Saket arriving around 3:30. Looked at ghs in LP, the hotel being 400baht, and the cheapie being a complete dump. I would have taken a room but the locks on the doors were all completely knackered and the rooms I was offered had all been broken into with wood splintered off and lock exposed. Apologised for being fussy and went to find their suggestion of a boutique hotel nearby. Disgusting pink striped wallpaper in lobby but room very nice if a little twee 400 baht. Had a shower then wandered up to night market, loads of food on offer. Ended up sat in eating area, got there at 6pm so everyone stood while the national anthem played on the tv. Ate nam tok, somtam palaa and a cold beer all for 110baht, very satisfied. Wandered about a bit, laid back town with good feel to it.

Si Saket
Hotel owners Labradors in a kennel in front of hotel barking in the night, I called reception and asked them to shut em up, but of course they did nothing – dogs barking, what’s wrong with that?. Woke up 7ish and decided to stay here for today. Found some pinapple and papaya in huge market that stretches along both sides of the railway tracks and ate it in a cool quiet spot under vine things hanging from a tree in nearby temple. Got a coffee bolan then went in search of tourist office which turned out to be closed this week, Went into govt office behind and helpful staff there sorted me out with a map and guidebook to read. Had a look at the few sights in town – a stucco building, went to big park but full of hoards of school kids so the peace shattered there and couldn’t ride bike anyway so came away, just rode around. Back to room in pm for ac. Ate same food in market again at night, tasty.  Walking past the market area at dusk, hundreds of bats flitting about, twittering as they hunted overhead in the red sunset sky.
Si Saket to Kong Chiam mainly by bus then 36km cycled
Dogs barking at 3am so went to have a chat with them and they calmed down. Pinapple and papaya again for bf and a found a better place for coffee over the train tracks. Packed then up to bus station for 9:20, bus not leaving till 10:30 so loaded bike onto back and waited in seating area as hot on bus.
Bus full and finally set off arriving in Ubon 2 hours later, a bus just pulling out as I got to the correct bay so they quickly loaded my stuff on and off we went. Went through big city and then stopped at a small market. Bought a roasted sticky rice cake and 3 sticks of chicken balls as hungry then back on board. Another bus turned up and I think driver decided to sell them his passengers as both buses half full so we all changed onto other bus. Sat with 2 students who wanted to practice English so passed the time having fun.
Arrived in small town of Phibun about 2 ish. Had some food then set off, riding over a bridge across a big river then turning right along a long straight undulating road. Quite hot and dry, landscape looking very dry although some parts were irrigated and growing rice and vegetables, but mainly dry as a bone with paddies, trees and exposed rock on surface – must be hard to farm this area. Interesting to pass by many gong and temple drum shops located either side of the road, one place had an enourmous gong propped against a tree and the bong of gongs and thump of drums carried on the air.
Easy ride, arrived at top of hill at big temple overlooking Mekong, very scenic. Opposite a boy laid unconscious at hospital entrance with staff running to attendance, couldn’t work out if he conveniently crashed outside the hosp or if someone had dumped him there. Carried on downhill into the town and soon found a small place to stay next to river run by a nice family. 250baht. Had a cycle down riverfront which had a bit of a promenade and some restaurants, realized it must be a popular Thai holiday spot as quite a few ghs too, cant believe nowt is mentioned in LP, although did see 3 other backpackers in town.
Bloke took me up to beer shop on his motorbike at night. I got 2 bottles of beer Chang and felt like Id been tranquilized when Id had the first one, well mashed after second, really soupy feeling and not very pleasant. Proprer tramp juice is Chang. Read book on porch at night. Really relaxed feel to this town too.

Bike on a bus

King Gong!

Rock Outcrop along the way

Shrine on the hill

Marigolds by the Mekong

Kong Chiam to Phu Tiam Rock Painting 40km round trip
Nice cycle up the road to the rock paintings and good to zoom along having no bags to slow me down. Dry landscape, ants nest in mud balls in so many trees, mushroom rock, impressive view from top of crags, giant cliff face with faded paintings, wax honeycombs hanging high up, nice walk, very dry vegetation, paintings site 4 along a narrow ledge with big drop and sign beware of bees (although none there) -  what about the drop! Some kids? Been scratching on top of 4000yr old paintings. Very hot. Got back to gh in afternoon and relaxed for a bit then walked up promenade and back. Reclaiming land at end where 2 rivers meet and putting in erosion barriers. Had a beer looking at river, and sat outside in eve as very hot. Bothered by mozzies in night, and chickens up early too at 4am. Nearby temple did an interesting variation on the gong chiming in the morning which was amusing to listen to.

Mushrooms rock formations

Craggy overlook of the Mekong river and Laos

4000yr old graffiti

Dry Bamboo

View down the Mekong
Kong Chiam to Khemarat 117kms
Big down hill after rock paintings, passed 2 happy cyclists going up other way , then relentless rollercoaster up and down all the way, stunted forest, leaves changing colours, drysoil. At some point along the way a lush green irrigated area of rice paddies in striking contrast to barren earth across road. Some dizzy birds in car weaving about in road and driving slow (looked drunk but weren’t) stopped and chatted with me twice. Lots of people coming from a temple cars/trucks laden.
Stopped off for a drink in a run down village and there was a Swiss guys huge newly built fancy ass home there which looked very much out of place amongst all the poorer houses. Aching stiff neck from being sat in one position. Managed to eat dinner next to river at old womans place, just as sun going down. Nice enough little town but dead at night.

Khemarat to Mukdahan 107kms
Ate as same place last night next to river then to mkt for a coffee. Cool start and pretty much overcast for the whole day. Passed 2 old boys from Switzerland cycling  and had a brief chat along the way. Vegetation getting greener and farming looking healthier the further along I went. Stopped off for a break at Chanum and chatted with a drunk woman who said she was 45 but looked 55 at least. Shed had a kid with a GI from the war but said he was dead now. Her daughter was working in Phuket. Seems a lot of peoples daughters work in Phuket or Pattaya from this area. Sad really. Boring long ride, some lovely smooth bits of road and some really crappy parts too, couldn’t figure out why theyd make small stretches so nice only to be back on the old knackered stuff further on.
Eventually arrived in Mukdahan. Checked into gh 170baht a night, loads of incontinent cats and dogs about with associated stink downstairs, several cats sprawled out on mats on tin roof out the back in the afternoon sun that had finally appeared. (Asked woman and she said she had 7 dogs and 10 cats although more popped in from the nearby temple to hang out with their pals). Room immaculately clean even if furniture a bit worn and old. Had a wander. Busy tat market full of hoardes of wandering Thais. Bought some boiled eggs (been messed about with to make them more delicious but I thought theydve been better left as nature intended), iced coffee, and a chicken pasty thing. Wandered about to night market, not very good and smell of dog poo everywhere. Bit of a dump this place.
Chucked it down at night – further evidence that my plastic bottle rear mudguard controls the weather – Id removed it only 2 days ago and now look whats happened! Rather cold in night too.

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