Mekong and Me

11 June 2019

Friday 7 June 19 – Wang Suphung to Nong Bua Lam Phu – 84km

The overall standard of our accommodation in Thailand has been excellent as well as cheap.  The hotel we left today was probably the best so far and only cost around £10 – and although it was basic, it was clean, had a fridge and good WiFi. It also came with breakfast which is not that common and is one area where we’ve learnt not to expect too much. We had a choice of toast, some fried dough ball things that are a bit like a donuts and some rather unappetising looking ‘soup’. We’d resigned ourselves to filling up on toast when I decided to have a go at the soup.  Turns out that it was rather nice chicken broth with rice, so we both scoffed a load of it before setting off!

As we had come out of the hills we hadn’t expected anything from today’s ride as on the map it looked to be a fairly dull flattish route.  However, the first 40km-or-so was through nice countryside broken up by craggy outcrops of rock. I had also spotted a marker on my map for Erawan Cave, which was just off our route, so we decided it might be worth a look.  As with some of the other places we have visited ‘by accident’ in Thailand this turned out to be quite a find – and again not an attraction we’d ever heard of.  It’s perched about halfway up one of the craggy outcrops of rock and it has been turned into a Buddhist shrine. When we turned up a young guy on a bike came straight over to us and sort of took it upon himself to be our unofficial guide – albeit silently.

To get to the cave we had to climb a load of steps – apparently 611 of them, athough we didn’t count!

The climb was worth it as it gave us great views across the local area and when we eventually reached the mouth of the cave we came across a large golden Buddha looking down on the valley below…

The cave itself was much bigger than we’d expected…

…and actually had some quite spectacular rock formations in it, if you like that sort of thing, which we do! There’s a pathway and steps which go right through to a fantastic viewing area where we had a bit of a chill out….

 

…with two massive bees nests right above us!

 

 

And when we got back to the bottom we noticed this statue of a three-headed elephant being ridden by a green goblin-type creature, flanked by other creatures – no idea what it represented but it was very colourful so we thought ugh the it warranted a photo!

We left the cave and still got to our end destination around 1pm.  Nothing spectacular to report other than we went through our usual routine of booking in, unloading, showering, snoozing routine. Dinner later in the evening was literally at the side of the road…

 

….but tasty all the same!

Saturday 8 June 19 – Nong Bua Lam Phu to Udon Thani – 57km.

In the last 9 days we have had five really big, hot and humid cycling days over some substantial hills and we were both feeling a bit knackered by the time we stopped last night. Luckily we have some short cycling days on mainly flat ground ahead and today was one of those. And to be perfectly honest not much happened! The early morning brought a few hills that took us over a small ridge, but other than that it was a flat featureless ride that was a little dull. So much so that I didn’t even take any photos… but then I don’t suppose it can be super interesting all the time!

Sunday 9 June 19 – Udon Thani to Nong Khai – 71km

Another flat and dull cycling day, when we saw a lot of this…

We got to the border town of Nong Khai and to be honest hadn’t really expected too much as border towns generally aren’t the most inspiring. However, Nong Khai turned out to be different. We were met by the chatty owner of our guest house and he gave us a map with a few local places of interest. We didn’t think much more about it until after our afternoon snooze, when we decided to take naked bike out to explore.

Nong Khai sits on the southern side of the Mekong River, probably the most famous river in Southeast Asia, and has a ‘promenade’ which we cycled along. Quite spectacular and a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for us as we can’t quite believe we have cycled here.

The promenade reminded us a bit of a seaside resort in the U.K. and was surprisingly touristy with bars and restaurants all along it.

Our host had recommended Sala Keo Kou as a tourist attraction to visit, which was a few kilometres outside town and that turned out to be a rather bizarre but interesting find.  It’s a park full of concrete statues dedicated mainly to Buddhism with a bit of Hinduism thrown in…

We have learned in the recent past that these two religions mesh together at times and the themes of the park was a perfect example of this…

The park was built in the 70s by a native of the Nong Khai province who apparently built his first one in Vientiane in Laos, just over the border.

We thought it had a definite whiff of Dali, Picasso and Gaudi bizarreness about it. We particularly liked the ‘circle of life’ area…

..which depicted birth, growing up, marriage, enlightenment (apparently, though we couldn’t see that part ourselves) and death…

We thought these poor souls rather looked like us after our bout of diarrhoea!

Joking aside, although it was all a bit bizarre it was also quite serene and we both sort of liked it. And once again, the natural aspect with trees and birds etc made the difference for us.

The rest of our evening was spent eating and chewing the fat over a couple of beers overlooking the Mekong River – not every day you get to say that!

Monday 10 June 19 – Nong Khai to Vientiane, Laos – 35km

We’d heard and read that the Laos immigration officers can be a bit of a nightmare to deal with, with various stories of them wanting ‘extra’ money (aka bribes) etc and keeping travellers waiting for a long time until said bribes are paid,  So, with that in mind we had an early breakfast overlooking the Mekong river…

…and then set out for the border, where we arrived at 6:30, just after it had opened. Leaving Thailand was no problem and took about 2 minutes.  We then got to cycle on the Thai – Laos Friendship Bridge over the river which was great. We’d heard from other cyclists that we’d have to get a tuk tuk across as cycling is not allowed – basically a money-making scam for the tuk tuk drivers. But we were waved on by the Thai officials and although there was a sign saying no cycling or motorcycles, there were no tuk tuks around anyway, so we just peddled across.  Maybe we were there so early that the drivers hadn’t got up yet!

At the Laos immigration we filled in a form each, paid the fee with some crispy new US dollars, had our passports stamped and were through within 30 minutes.  No queues or difficult questions and we were on the road to Vientiane by 7:30!

As usual we picked up some local currency as soon as we could, got a SIM card and then headed to the Vietnamese Embassy to apply for our visas, as Vietnam is the next country on our trip.   We filled in the forms and as we want 3-month visas it will take 4 days to process, which means hanging around in Vientiane a bit longer than we’d anticipated. But not a problem as it will give us a chance to get to know the capital that much better. Visa application sorted we found our digs along the river and booked in – all done and dusted by 11am, which must go down as a record for a border-crossing day!

Interesting sign of the day award goes to lucky Mike…

….whoever he is!

3 comments

  1. Comment by Paula

    Paula Reply 13 June 2019 at 11:57 am

    Fabulous dragons! Making amazing progress. xx

    • Comment by Martina

      Martina Reply 18 June 2019 at 12:22 am

      Fabulous and weird :). Definitely feels like we have racked up a few countries at this stage, and glad to know you are still following us. Hope all is well with you.

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