Vientaine to Mekong River Bank 105km
Mekong River Bank to Chiang Khan 121km
What an incredible difference crossing a river makes. I'm still coming to grips with borders, and how crossing them changes so many things. Today, I cycled across a bridge over the Mekong, between two border posts, and rode into a different world.
I was pretty excited about changing countries this morning, so woke early. I was thinking I might buy a couple of baguettes and head out of town, but as I cycled past "Fruit Heaven", they opened their doors, and I couldn't resist one last omelet and baguette. Yum, yum, yum. As I rode away from my unexpected feast, I spotted a couple of sprightly young Canadians, just packing their bikes. Stopped and chatted briefly, because that's what you do. They are from Toronto area, and cycle tour for three months a year, somewhere. I of course gave NZ a push, and suggested I knew a good guide who will be available after September 2016.
Then it was a gentle ride out to the Friendship Bridge.....I think that is the name for every border crossing bridge in the world. Exiting Laos couldn't have been easier, except they wanted me to pay 10,000 Kep for my car, since it was Sunday. Not having a car confused them a bit, and I had to go to two extra windows, and then got waved through, at no charge.
I'd heard that normally you're not allowed to ride across the bridge, but perhaps the fee confusion confused them, and Fiona and I got to cycle across. Nice. Entering Thailand was even easier. Filled in a form, stood in a short line, stamp in passport, 15 days to cross the country. Easy. Didn't even cost. Finding a money exchange was not so easy, so now I've got US Dollars, Laos Kep, and Thai Bhart in my pocket, and I've totally forgotten how much a Bhart is worth.
So I'm in Thailand, and immediately notice the differences. I'm back riding on the left side of the road. There is not nearly as much rubbish, although Vientaine was very clean compared with the rest of Laos. Thailand has good old 7/11 shops. Things look and seem more organised. The roads are better. Everyone looks cleaner, and wealthier. And suddenly the opportunity to follow smaller roads is apparent.
I had a ball today. I love being able to ride the smallest roads, especially when they follow a river, and that is exactly what I've done all day. Minor minor roads, along the bank of the Mekong. You see soooo much, meet so many people, and all are really surprised to see you, so greet you with huge smiles. I can't help feeling, I'm seeing the real,unadulterated Thailand, when cycling along these roads.
Some things that really stood out today:
Lots of tobacco out drying in the sun,
Lots of vegetable gardens on the river bank,
So many Temples, and so colourful in the sunlight,
No traffic on these minor roads....it's great,
Vientaine, and all its amazing food is within sight, but unreachable, just across the river.
I met a group of cyclists, businessmen from Bangkok. They were on a four day supported tour, along the Mekong. I once again gave " a cycling trip in NZ, including MTBing, with a good looking guide, available from Sept 2016" a big push. They were very keen. What can we offer them Malcolm?
So now I'm camping, above a very dry waterfall. Got harassed by some dogs when I first arrived, but chased them off with a big stick. I was meant to meet a Frenchman here. I saw him lying at the side of the road earlier today, and stopped to make sure he was okay, having just recently been in a distressed state, asleep at the side of a road, myself. He was okay, just resting out of the heat, and suggested we camp together here. It's dark now. Haven't seen him. Hope he's okay.