Tag - bike

Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia

A popular destination with nature lovers who want to wander off of the beaten track, the charming village of Chi Pat can be found in the centre of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Chi Pat offers visitors a wide range of amenities such as accommodation and excellent restaurants, making this a great place to use as a base while exploring the area.

This is also a good place to get back to basics and retreat from the modern world for a while, as there is currently no running water here and electricity is often only available for a few hours a day. Nature lovers are sure to be in their element here, as they sit on the porch of their guesthouse and gaze at the freely wandering wildlife and listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees.

A large number of the local people here double as tour guides, and visitors to Chi Pat can take a walk through the Cardamom Protected Forest to discover a wide range of flora and fauna. Those with a little patience and good eyesight will be able to watch monkeys swinging through the trees and may also spot flying squirrels, lizards and hornbills.

Travellers who have a strong sense of adventure will want to take their turn at riding along one of the aerial ziplines, while canopy walks offer visitors the chance to take in the Cardamom Protected Forest from a bird’s perspective.

Or why not ride the rapids along the Stung Proat River for the ultimate thrilling experience. Those who prefer to explore independently can also hire a bicycle and cycle through the forest to destinations such as the local elephant rescue centre and waterfall.

Khmer people love to eat and despite the village’s remoteness there are a number of places where you can find a good meal. There are plenty of cheap food stalls in the covered market, while beside the river are a couple of restaurants beside a pool hall.

Getting to Chi Pat is simple and adventurous, as buses regularly complete the four-hour road journey from Phnom Penh. Travellers will be deposited at the side of the road, where they then take a three-hour boat ride up the river, which is the perfect way to see the surrounding countryside.

Cycling in Laos

cycling_in_laos_1
Cycling in Laos
Cycling in Laos
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Cycling is fun in Southeast Asia; it has become a way of life for me. I can’t even imagine a trip without my bike. I have had many adventures and lots of great experiences. There are so many new things to see and learn from. This story is just a glimpse of what I have done, how I have felt and where I have gone.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in a bed. It was cold, the kind of cold you get on crisp English mornings in winter time. I was wrapped in my guest house blanket, a blanket of dubious history. These are the kind of things you must deal with when you are cycle touring, or backpacking, around Southeast Asia. Blankets and sheets in guest houses often give you a strong indication of the economics of the guest house you are staying in. If the bed linins are old, dirty or smelly then it doesn’t bode well for your stay. If the blankets or sheets are crisp, clean and new (ish) then your stay may be full of care and attention. I have found that the blanket rule often supersedes the pricing rule, prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of your stay.
 
My journey to this blanket had begun on khao San Road in Bangkok. I had battled through the Bangkok heat, pollution and traffic on my bicycle. This is never a safe or healthy thing to do, but it is a necessary journey. I boarded my train to Nong Khai at Hualompong Station as I was heading for the Plain of Jars in central Laos, close to the town of Phonasavan. My cycling would start in earnest in the northeastern Thai town of Nong Khai. The journey had been planned for months; my goal was to see the mysterious jars of central Laos.
 
Getting off the sleeper train in the cool morning haze of northern Thailand, I collected my bicycle from the front luggage compartment and assembled the various parts (panniers, bungee cords etc.). The ride to the border point was a gentle 4 Km. The Laos border crossing was as user friendly as any good border crossing in the region. Everything is detailed for you with clear instructions and the wait for the slow bureaucratic clogs of the immigration police is minimal.
 
The ride into Vientiane was excellent. The welcome from the people is always good. You pass the Beer Laos factory on your right after about 10Km. This, after my first visit to Laos 10 years ago, was to become a place of worship and awe. I stopped and took some photos, I already have plenty of photos from previous trips, I just can’t help myself. This time I went on the tour of the brewery. The free samples went down well and provided an excellent break for my ride into Vientiane. Beer Laos truly is one of the worlds great largers.
 
The ride into Vientiane is a relaxed affair; you pass the old communist work slogans on advertising boards on the way into the sleepy capital city. These act as a reminder that you have entered a ‘workers’ paradise’, although I doubt Marx would agree with the 21st century version of his dream.
 
The local folk are very unobtrusive in the interest in a
western cyclist riding through their neighborhood. Vientiane is one of my favorite capitals in the world, primarily because you feel the lack of bustle and hustle of the place; you get the sense that the tumbleweed will float passed at any second. The place is small, there are no high rise developments (bar that huge new Chinese hotel) and the place has a sleepy, relaxed feel to it.
 
Leaving Vientiane the next day, the ride to Phonasavan took me north to Vang Vieng in a 2 day ride through the central plains of Laos. The ride to Vang Vieng is flat and one of those great little stretches where you can take a gentle pace, stop and chat with the locals over a meal of rice and fruit and feel good on a bike. There are no difficult mountain stretches and the scenery is beautiful.
 
Vang Vieng itself nestles in between a few mountains and is an idealic spot to stop and recharge for the coming ride to Phonasavan. I stayed for 2 days as there is plenty to do, not least the fun day out tubing down the river or taking in the nearby caves and wonderful swimming in clear, fresh lagoons.
 
I set off early on the next leg of the trip, the most difficult part of this tour. This is a monster stage, much like the Alp D’huez in the Tour de France. There is a 130Km ride to Phu Khun in the mountains. The wind was blowing fiercely; I was battling the head wind until the town of Kasi. At Kasi the challenge began in earnest. Here each assent to a higher plateau left me exhausted. At each peak there was a Hmong village waiting to welcome me, invariably selling the same lukewarm cola refreshments. The refreshments were lacking, but the locals’ reception definitely made up for the lack of cool coca-cola.
 
The day climaxed in a stunning uphill section that really took my breath away. About 10Km from my destination of Phu Khun I began the final assent. I did run out of energy and water at some point and had to stop by a mountain stream to fill my water bottle. In the process I managed to scare some Laotian ladies who were taking a wash in the stream, naked. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, the naked Laos ladies or the sweaty, sun burnt, limping semi-naked white boy. After both parties covered their dignities we managed to have a chuckle and communicate together, they even offered me some of their food.
 
I have christened this style of riding ‘whirlwind riding’ as you just have to go at it as quickly as you can come-what-may. I was definitely on my last reserves of strength, but still I needed to get to the village and a bed. I had to get on with the ride, there was no other option. Everything was hurting me, but between the fresh water and the stunning views across central Laos I was revitalized enough to push on.
 
Eventually I found the down slope in the road and headed into Phu Khun and I ventured into the first guest house that I found. I took a look at the room, and the all important blanket, and did the (not so) complex equation of cost vs comfort vs tiredness. My legs made the decision for me, virtually screaming at me that they couldn’t go on to the other guest house 100 meters down the road.
 
And so it came to pass that I awoke wrapped in the dubious blanket on the cold, crisp Laotian mountain morning at the end of December. I was being welcomed to the hills of Laos at Christmas time by a smelly blanket and guest house which didn’t have a shower. The bed bugs had been kept at bay by my sarong; my legs felt better but were still aching a little. I stumbled out of my room, threw some water over me from the bucket in the ‘bath’room and repacked my bike.
 
The reason for putting myself through the previous days’ pain and the ache in my legs really hit me when I cycled away from the guest house; the air was fresh, the mountains surrounding me looked like they had been taken from a movie set and the roads were empty. I will never forget me exit from Phu Khun, it was made even more special by the locals who all waved and shouted ‘sabaii dee’ as I past. It really does make you feel special and alive.
 
I set off for my destination, the town of Phonasavan nearly 140Km away. The first assent of the day left me delirious with joy, so much so I was laughing and sweating at the top of the first peak. The views across the valley which unfolded before me were spectacular. Any soreness in my legs was replaced by adrenalin. The climbs continued, punctuated, thankfully, by a few great descents. At one point I descended 19Km in one long downward free wheel. This is truly and exhilarating experience. These kinds of days are what you start (and seemingly I can never stop) cycling for; upward challenges, downward enjoyment, stunning scenery and friendly local villages.
 
The 140Km stretch is punctuated by villages, both Hmong and central Laos villages. I stopped at one point at a village which seemed to be full of AK47 toting Laos army cadre. I decided to have my morning tea (you can take the man out of England but you can’t take England out of the man) in the middle of the village. I was immediately surrounded by Laotian soldiers carrying guns. However, the threat level did descend a few notches when I looked down and most of them had dispensed with the customary army uniform boots and instead were wearing flip flops. These guys certainly didn’t look menacing but there was a threat in the air as they were all carrying guns, albeit in a relaxed fashion, slung over their shoulders.
 
Now, the situation may seem to be a worrying to some as I was miles from any main town, alone and surrounded by soldiers. However, my survival skills were not required as, to a man, the soldiers were laughing and goofing around. They were obviously curious about my presence, but they soon settled down, sat on their haunches and watched me brew my tea from a polite distance.
 
At one point I opened my map and asked the guys where we were. The most senior officer was pushed forward to answer my question. Apparently the village wasn’t on any map, presumably for military reasons, but I am only speculating about that as my Laos conversation skills are not what they should be.
 
After my tea I packed up and handed my rubbish to a young lad who took it and held it with a confused look on his face and I rode off with the bemused military men staring at me.
 
My cycling was becoming better; I was becoming used to the merciless hills. I eventually stormed up the last hill. Getting onto the plains of central Laos was a joy I have felt only a few times in my life. I cycled into Phonasavan at dusk, a tired, sweaty, aching cyclist nut with a warm glint of joy in my eyes. I had battled with some big mountain stages and I had won.
 
My hotel was luxurious in comparison to my previous night’s encounter with the blanket. I collapsed in my large bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
 
Early the next morning I awoke and got out of bed with a bounce in my step. This was the final leg of my tour, the finish of my tour was within grasp. I asked at the reception for directions, never underestimating my knack for geographical embarrassment, and headed out. I soon found the road and cycled the short distance in under an hour. I found myself at the reception hut for the Jars and paid the small entrance fee. Walking up the small slop and arriving at the crest of the hill I caught my first glimpse of a stone jar. The round, skewed, moss covered jar was a sight that gave me a euphoric high. I enjoyed the sight, but not as much as I had enjoyed the journey to it. This trip was, as most are, about the journey, not the destination.
 
The jars are impressive for their mystery, they are strange and intriguing. The recent history of them is as interesting as the speculation about the origins. There are hundreds of these large man size stone jars strewn across the Laos plains. No-one knows why they are there, and therein lays the intrigue.
 
Cycle touring has become a way of life for me. I enjoy the sedate pace of the bike; you get to see so much more of the places you are traveling in. You also interact with the locals more, often seeing a friendlier, and more helpful side to a country or culture. Cycle touring can be tiring, it can make your body ache, but cycling is fun, healthy and a great way to see a country.
 
About the author: Simon Stewart is a cycling evangelist who has made it his mission to spread the gospel through the excellent tours he organizes.

Isaan by Motorbike – Day 6

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandDAY 6
I woke up early for the last day of my travels. The day was spent in and around Nong Khai.

I cleared out of my room early and loaded up my bike. I had to do some shopping for the folks back in Bangkok then find something to do for the rest of the day. My train left at 6.30, I needed to be at the train station at 5.30 to book the bike onto the train and make sure everything was ok.

I had some breakfast then went out to look for the market, it didn’t take too long to find, well. It was less than a five minute walk from my guesthouse, but I went the long way around, the very long way around. On the bike it took me 15 minutes to find. 😉

I wandered around looking at all of the stalls all selling the same things, trying to get the prices down seemed very easy, I am more used to the tourist hardened trades people who will drive the hardest bargain of all, well, no bargain at all a lot of the time. I bought a few gifts for the folks back in Bangkok. I was sure that they would not all want a bit of dried dog as a gift.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandThis market was huge; it seemed to go on in different directions for miles. It ran along the side of the river for probably 7-800 metres and spread out adjacent to the river for a couple of hundred metres. I was glad to be in the market in the morning, I think it would be unbearable to be there in the heat of midday. After looking at as many different types of tourist wares as I could handle I stopped to get some lunch.

I once again accidentally found a restaurant on the riverbank. A last, a chance to sit and take in the freshness and the sheer magnificence of it all. I ate barbeque pork, somtum and sticky rice.

As the heat of the day rose I wanted to get moving. I finished up, paid the bill and got out of there. I had a walk down the riverside road to help the digestion a little. I saw a couple of huge temples. I know there are a lot of temples in Thailand, but this riverside seems to be inundated with them. The heat became too much so it was time to get back on the bike.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandI drove up to the road which runs parallel with the river and headed out of town. After a while I took a left turn towards the river, I wanted to have a look for a temple that is submerged in the middle of the river. I am not sure what was there first. If they managed to somehow build the temple (only visible in the dry season) before the river began to flow (highly unlikely) or if they somehow managed to stop the flow of the water to build the temple (also highly unlikely). Whatever the course of events, it was the place where I met my travelling partners for the rest of the day.

A couple who were just taking photos of the same spot when they asked me if I wanted to have my photo taken with Laos and the Mae Khong making up the backdrop. I accepted.

They were an odd couple to me, one Dutch lady Tessa, and one Japanese lady Akiko. I accepted their offer and started to talk. It was nice to have people to travel with for the last day. Travelling alone has many advantages but a small group was a refreshing change. Having someone to talk to about the things I was seeing was great.

They told me about a garden full of ornaments and statues that was just outside of Nong Khai. I joined them on their way there. I felt for them, I was riding my motorbike and they were riding their hired bicycles. I am sure I got the better end of the deal. We made our way to the Sala Kaew Ku garden.

We spent maybe 3 hours here, taking in the wonderful feeling of serenity and awe that this place presented to us. It is surely the strangest of statue gardens I have ever visited.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandMany praises to the creator of the garden, Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. One of my favourite pieces is the elephant that is surrounded by many dogs in different poses. One particular statue is of a dog riding a motorcycle. Just an example of the variety of ideas of the creator.

During the heat of the midday sun we rested in a garden which displays the “Wheel of Life”. The wheel represents the different stages of life which culminate in death, as it generally does, but then the wheel starts again representing the reincarnation of the soul in to the next wheel.

We left the gardens and sought to take refuge in the town, maybe in a restaurant or something. I had to start thinking about the time we taking to do everything as I had to get back to the train station in time to take by homeward leg, to Bangkok.

We went to a restaurant at the other side of Nong Khai. Very close to the friendship bridge. The restaurant was on a pontoon, a floating platform usually for the docking of boats. The tables here were very posh looking. All single pieces of wood formed into tables. The chairs made in the same way. I was starting to worry about the cost of the food here; well if they had spent this much on the furniture then they must pay for it somehow.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I looked at the menu and saw that it was all quite reasonable. I ate my regular meal of Green Curry with Chicken. As a special treat for my travelling partners I took out some of the dried dog meat that I had purchased earlier from Sakhon Nakhon. To my delight they both tried it, not quite sure how much they liked it but they at least tried it.

We shared a few beers whilst the time passed; talked and shared a few stories then I had to get off. It would have been great to be able to stay another night there but my journey was drawing to a close and I had to keep to my timing.

I headed out towards the train station with maybe 40 minutes to spare. Nong Khai is so small that going from one end to the other is only a matter of minutes.

motorbike_travels_day_six_14I talked to the station master and booked my bike onto the train. HOW MUCH. It cost nearly double for my motorbike to sit in the freight car than it cost me to lie in an air conditioned carriage. Oh well. Whilst I was booking my self and the bike onto the train I was called. If I used my birth name then it could have been for anyone, but I heard the name SPIDER. I looked around and by the travelling fluke that happens so often, I saw my friend Leeda. She was just on her way back from Laos on the same train as me. Awesome, some to spend the drinking time with on the train.

We got onto the train and then I found her carriage. It was nice for us to be able to talk about our travels, both having very different stories to tell. They had been surrounded by people for their travels, and I had been alone for the majority of mine. Before we settled in for the trip we had a search of the train to find the beer car.

We returned to our seats and got on with some serious drinking. By the end of the session I was quite drunk and tired so time to head off for bed, but not without exchanging glasses with Leeda.

motorbike_travels_day_six_16 motorbike_travels_day_six_17

I slept like a log and woke up to the rocking of the train. Sunlight was streaming in through every possible chink in the curtains that surrounded me. Time to wake up. I felt kinda sad to be back in Bangkok.

I feel I am really a creature of the countryside. Bangkok provides for me the things I need to survive, but the open road is the place for me. Travelling along without a care in the world, mile after mile passing by as I explore new places and meet new people. Fresh air, fresh views and how could I ever forget, the very very backside!!!

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.

Isaan by Motorbike – Day 5

motorbike_travels_1DAY 5
This was to be the last day of riding. I got out of town by 9.30 am so that I would have enough time to relax in Nong Khai. I thought there would only be 1 temple stop today, nice and easy. The stop was at Wat Ar Hong Silawas. A small temple, that was simple in design, on the Thailand bank of the Mae Khong.

The temple is in grounds that are scattered with huge boulders. The house of the Buddha images was constructed with a boulder as one of the walls. A wall is really a poor description; the boulder occupies the space where the wall should be.

Back on the road for the final stretch of the journey. Onto Nong Khai. Only about 130 km, completed in less than 3 hours all good. My first stop was the massage. A very good massage too, away from any tourist places; wish I could remember the name of the street.

Next on the to do list for the day was to book the tickets for the train, booking early to make sure I have a ticket and there is space for the bike. I found the train station a few kilometres out of town. It is in a direct line with the friendship bridge between Laos and Thailand.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandNext on the ‘to do’ list for the day was to book the tickets for the train, booking early to make sure I have a ticket and there is space for the bike. I found the train station a few kilometres out of town. It is in a direct line with the friendship bridge between Laos and Thailand.

I booked the ticket for me but had to wait until an hour before the train left to be able to book the bike on board. Cool as, but the bike cost around 400 baht more than me to ride in the freight car, glad I didn’t ride in the freight car.

Then back in to town for a spot of lunch. Whilst having a lazy look for a guest house I spotted a small vegetarian restaurant on the road. I stopped for some chick pea madras, awesome flavour. I sat for a while and looked at the travel book to find some possible locations to stay then finished up the coke and got on my way.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandI was looking for a guesthouse when I happened upon a guy driving the same model bike as me. He showed me a nice place to stay. On the waterfront with a restaurant that overlooked the river. Into the room I watched a bit of “Snakes on the Plane” before I went out for a drink and to take some photos of the area and to wait for the sunset on the penultimate day of my travels.

This was probably the first time I had actually taken time out to sit and do nothing in the evening sun. Not the first time I had to reflect, riding the bike is good for that, but the first time to reflect without having to think about what is coming next.

Travelling with the loosest of plans is definitely for me. Not having to be fixed by the times of public transport has been amazing. Just thinking moments before then doing it has been the tops.

I have been waiting to see a sunset since the day I left, a different sunset from the ones in Bangkok. In Bangkok the sunset is clouded by the pollution that engulfs the metropolis. Here the sun is free to shine through the atmosphere right onto my already tanned skin and into my wide open eyes.

Here the position of the river, the sun, the hills and the trees seems to be perfect. As if it had all been waiting for me to be in the right place at the right time. I don’t know what the reason for waiting was, don’t understand why I didn’t do it before. Waiting for it to come along my way instead of always chasing it. The dreams will come to those who invest. Invest your time, invest yourself and the dreams will land at your feet. I don’t see a point in chasing and chasing and getting to the same point as the investor of time that puts into the system then waits. No need to be rushed to be first through the gate. The best things come to those who wait.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandThe river walkway at Nong Khai seems to be an exercise haven. In the early evening a lot of people appear to start their exercise regimes. Big/small, all are here. Some seem quite serious; some have a more relaxed approach.

OK, time for dinner and some writing time. I find a bar called Brendan and Noi. I had some food and settled down to write up my journal. It was nice to just sit and think about the things I had done this week. So much roasting hot sun, a lot of friendly people, solitude and maybe the best thing of all – fresh air!!!!

I had a few welcome beers whilst I was writing. I opted to eat ferringue food again, chicken breast chips and gravy. VERY filling. The bar filled up a little bit, I finished my writing around 9pm then went back to my room to get rid of my writing book and pens.

Being early and the last night of my vacation I went out for a drink. Well I wanted to go out for a drink. By 9.30pm most of the bars had closed. I ended up back in the same bar as earlier in the evening. I had not noticed before that the bar owner was a not as inviting as he could be. I walked back in and said hello to him, he blanked me completely. Ok no worries, I stood aside and slowly drank my beer.

Shortly after a couple of German guys came into the bar. One guy asked for a beer and was heckled by the owner, who then asked the visitors name. “Hans” “And what’s your friend’s name?” “He’s called Hans too” “Two hands are better than one, eh lads, gfaw gfaw. Funny that eh? I good aint I?”

I took this as my opportunity to leave, go back to my room and get an early night.

Final day of exploration coming up.

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.

Isaan by Motorbike – Day 4 (Part 2)

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandAfter the temple I wanted to make up for some lost time. Also my ass was still hurting from the punishment I had been giving it. The bike seat, nothing else.

I was on a huge open road. So I slowly took the speed up to 140km/h +. Breaking the speed limit for sure but heh, no police, no cameras and most of all there was no traffic on the road. In the distance someone came into view.

I caught up with them very quickly, then with no signals or checking in their non-existent mirrors they pulled over to the right hand side of the road, right in front of me. Like a slow motion sequence. I was trying to work out where on the road the space for me would be when I caught up with them. Not easy with only about 2 seconds thinking and reaction time. I slammed on the breaks – enough to slow but not enough to skid. I daren’t sound the horn for fear of them changing their course. Heavy braking and a bank to the left pulled me out of their way with maybe 6 inches to spare. NOTE TO SELF, SLOW THE F*** DOWN.

motorbike_travels_day_four_14A SIGNPOST FOR A WATERFALL

On to the next waterfall!!! It would be so nice , once again a chance to swim in the refreshing water and bask in the baking sun. I drove away from the main highway. Through open fields on dirt tracks, searching for the waterfall. After leaving the main highway the road signs were all in Thai. I had to somehow work out by radar where the water was.

These open fields all had some large golden leaved plants, I was not sure what they were, maybe some sort of cabbage. Then I saw the open barns drying the leaves. When I got close to one of the barns I smelled a wonderful aroma. The smell of fresh tobacco. This was obviously a tobacco farming area. The smell was amazing.

I tried to buy some tobacco from one of the farmers, just a little bit to go with the meat I had bought in Tae Rae. This was where the language barrier got the better of me. I could not understand a bloody word they were saying. Everything I said received blank looks. I tried for a few minutes including hand-signals and the like but to no avail.

I carried on to the waterfall. It was a great drive through increasingly dusty tracks. I found my goal. I parked up the motorbike and went for a walk.

motorbike_travels_day_four_16Guess what. Yes, another water not fall. This place was still beautiful, even with no water.

Phulangka national park is the location of this water not fall. I rested in the shade of the trees for a while and took a few photos before making my way back to the main highway.

I drove onto Bueang Kan. I easily found and checked into the Samar Guest house. A really smart place. It looked brand new and at 300 baht per night it is amazing. It was ultra clean, amazingly clean; it was so clean that I might have been the first person to stay in this room.

I went for my daily massage. OK I have had some strange massages in my time but this one pretty much took the biscuit. I got the usual banter – you speak Thai? – velly gooood, have girlfriend, how long in Thailand – blah blah blah. OK.

Then the second masseur started to touch my tattoos. “Ooh very sexy” I smiled. Then they started to talk about me not having a girlfriend, suggesting that when I travel I do not have a girlfriend. DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER.

motorbike_travels_day_four_17After she finished playing with my nipple and me telling them that I do have a girlfriend I arranged to meet them at eight o’clock (whilst planning my escape route. Over the razor wire, through the muddy tunnel and out across the tobacco fields till I reach the Mae Khong to swim to Loas for freedom form the evil twins. Oh yes accompanied by a bottle of wine.

After the massage I drove around the town to have a look around. I found a wine shop there, it was amazing. A really nice owner who I spoke with for a while. He was talking mainly that it was nice to have someone come in and choose a bottle of wine by the label and not the price; saying that there were not many wine drinkers in the area. The locals mainly being made up of whisky drinkers. He had a full range of wines, all stored well and from good vintners. I took my time choosing my bottle then found a restaurant.

The restaurant I chose was on the river front. The head waiter spoke very good English. I took a low seat and asked them for a glass for my ready opened bottle of nine year old cabernet sauvignon. Tasty food and a bottle of wine. The placement of the restaurant was great , with low tables for the more traditional manner of sitting down to eat.

Then it was back to the guesthouse, avoiding the massage house that was less than 200 metres from the guest house. Ninja style!!!

A perfect end to a crazy day.

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.

Isaan By Motorbike – Day 2

DAY 2 Tuesday

Isaan Tour - Northeast Thailand
I woke up at 6.30 am, ready for the next day. Well almost ready for the next day. After even the smallest amount of Sang Som the next day can be a dreadful affair. Sang som is not my friend. Feeling rough as a dogs arse I slowly got ready for the ride. My former sickness had been enhanced by the Sangsom and the disturbed sleep.

spider_tour_2I sat with my friend and her mother outside of the house in some kind of shed, a posh shed, but still only a shed. A few people started coming and going, money was changing hands – a lot of money. It turns out that this shed is some sort of primitive style bank. The local people seem happier to hand over the money to the old ladies than to the farmer’s bank next door.

Before I left I got a massage from a nice old lady. Well I thought she was friendly until she started inflicting great amounts of pain on me. The thought of a nice loosening massage before the next leg of my travel was a good idea. This woman was giving me a full deep tissue massage. Not a Thai style massage, but nevertheless it was ranking up there with the most painful massages I have ever had. After my pounding I said my thank yous and farewells and got on my bike.

spider_tour_3This was to be a much shorter ride than the day before. A lot easier of my ass than the day before.

The scenery was parched; clearly they haven’t had rain here for a long time. Endless straight roads cut through the barren brown and yellow. The sky was the cleanest of blues – no clouds to form any difference.

The fields for km after km were arid. This patchwork of tessellating blocks stretched on and on. It must have taken many generations to create this myriad of tiny fields. All adjoined by irrigation channels simply awaiting the rainy season to bring them back to life.

Cow herders were tending to their withered beasts, searching for shade from the searing heat of the mid-day sun. I was doing the same, rolling along the deserted asphalt. I found a disused petrol station, perfect. I took this opportunity to take a lie down in the shade and let the midday heat pass me by.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandOn on. I was not sure how long this leg was going to take. On the map it is a much shorter distance but in reality – this is

Thailand and things can be very deceiving. I opened up the throttle and got a boost along the way. Before not too long the road took a welcome change. The road changed from the long straights into a twisting turning snake.

As the road ascended through the hills I noticed a couple of dinosaurs on the side of the road. I had to stop and have a look. Full size, a diplodocus and tri-ceratops. These marked the entrance to a small picnic area close to Kalasin. The name of this small place is Pha Cliff. It is a place where the King Phumiphol of Thailand stopped to take a rest and some food in 1954. The Pha Cliff is a now a small picnic area. There were 3 or 4 small shelters there to take a rest or a refreshment break. These formed the edges to an expansive car park. The far edge of the car park is the cliff itself. It overlooks a now very brown valley. The view was wonderful; it was easy to see why the king chose this blissful place to take a rest from his travels, sitting within the shelter of the trees, looking out over a beautiful valley.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandBack on the road again I saw signs for a waterfall. Yes, this was good news. This was better than good news. A chance to completely cool off in the refreshing waters. There could be nothing better at this time. After another 25 minutes of driving I eventually got to the waterfall. The whole place was deserted. Not a soul to be seen anywhere, even the guard station is vacant. Awesome, the whole place to myself, maybe a bit of skinny dipping or something.

Well not really, as you can see from the photo it is now simply a beautiful rock formation, no water to be seen, not even a drop. What did I do to deserve this, well it is the height of the dry season.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandOn to Sakhon Nakhon to find myself a room and a pharmacy. I looked around at a couple of places; the ones in the guide were far too expensive for what I was looking for. I wanted a place to sleep, maybe with aircon but definitely with a hot shower and a flushing sit down toilet.

After a while I asked a local guy where I could find the Araya 1 guesthouse. I was directed up the street, then helped in to find the place. It all looked ok from the outside, 180 baht for an air-conditioned room, no view to speak of but it is just a pit stop I’m not looking for a luxury room.

spider_tour_9The room – time locked in a movie. The whole guesthouse must have been featured in the lonely planet that time forgot. A meagre write up. A less than meagre room. I was too tired to look for another place by now, feeling ill and tired I just wanted to relax. I checked into the place, I didn’t survey the room before I paid up, big mistake. The cockroaches had already packed up and left for better accommodation. The newest thing in the room was the toilet; the next was the towel rack. The silver lining to this cloud was the bed. Possibly the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on. I sank into its loving arms.

For food I wanted something ferringue. I opted for pizza. Nice on the stomach, easy to ask for. Not very traditional I know but it was to serve a purpose. A visit to the pizza parlour gave me a nice head twist. It was 2 for 1. What the hell do I do with the next pizza; I knew I would only be able to manage around half of the first one, OMG. I managed to eat three slices of the first pizza then donated the rest to the ladies in the opticians in the adjacent shop. I took the three remaining pieces of pizza back to the guesthouse and gave them to the som tam party that was happening in the lobby.

Back in the room the bed awaited my return, so nice to sink into softness after the day’s ride.

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.

Isaan By Motorbike – Day 1

Isaan By Motorbike Day 1DAY 1 Monday

OK this is it, almost ready to go. My bag was packed and my very loose plans were made. I had a place to stay for the night; a friend of my girlfriend put me up for the first night. This was a long ride, maybe 400 kilometres on the first day. I wanted to go this far so I could make good headway into the journey and have more time later on to look around and rest.

I got the confirmation for my accident insurance, just in time!.

Right, had a shower and breakfast, one last check of the bag then time to go. My days ride was from Bangkok to Borabue, close to Roi Et in Isaan.

Bangkok > Nonthanburi > Pathum Thani > Saraburi > Nakhon Ratchasima > Ban Phai > Borabue

Isaan By Motorbike Day 1After a confusing time trying to get out of Pathum Thani I headed out towards Saraburi, to the North East of Bangkok. The roads were awesome, nice and smooth with a steady traffic flow making it all easier to get along. I stopped after around an hour and a half, close to the Julasid Reservoir for some lunch.

A typical roadside restaurant. No frills, far too many seats, the thought of all of these seats being filled more than a couple of times a year is a constant puzzle to me. Is it just optimism that makes people build such large restaurants? The price tag went with the size of the building. 77 baht for a plate of mediocre fried rice. Serves me right I suppose for judging the price of the book by its cover.

One thing I had not really thought about was the hardness of the seat on my bike. It’s not a touring bike and was not fitted with any extra creature comforts, such as a well padded seat. Getting back on the bike after the first break was almost enough to putt me off carrying on. After all, this was only the first leg of the first day and my ass was already feeling like the morning after far too much spicy food.

Isaan By Motorbike Day 1After passing Nakhon Ratchasima (local title Ko Rat) I saw a beautiful temple a little way off the main road. It was still under construction. It is a huge project that is nearing its completion. Inside the main temple there is a huge black image of an old Thai Buddhist teacher and philosopher, Luang Pooh Toh.

After leaving the temple I notice a change in the landscape. The number of buildings and roadside business is dropping. The road really opened up into what I had been looking forward too. Not stopping for kilometre after kilometre. Nothing like riding around Bangkok and the surrounding semi developed areas. Bangkok gives me more traffic lights than I had ever thought possible in a simple journey to work.

These roads started to wind their way through the opening countryside. Bright blue skies with hardly a cloud to be seen. Burning sun was scorching me along with the tarmac and the livestock that was being tended to along the roadsides. The first time I had to stop after a terrific run was for a family of cows that had decided to cross the road. I turned on some speed after this as the light was starting to fail and I had to find my bed for the night in Borabue. These new roads long and straight, perfect.

Isaan By Motorbike Day 1I got my sore ass into Borabue. I realised at this point that I had no idea where the house was that I was staying in. I called my friend to guide me to her place, she was kind enough to pick me up and show me the way other place. I was only about half a kilometre away so just a few minutes from rest.

The place I stayed was a wedding outfitter. A huge place. I was welcomed in and given food. Thai people have such a warm way of welcoming guests into their homes. The friend I was to stay with had to spend the night in the hospital to take care for of her father, leaving me in the capable hands of her brothers and their friends.

spider_tour_5I declined the offers of going out with them as I was still on antibiotics and not feeling so energised after the long haul of the day. I ate and took my leave to sleep. I was awoken around 1 am by the younger brother. He was excited and keen for me to drink with his friends. I was not in the mood for drinking but felt rude to decline. I went downstairs to join the friends for a drink.

spider_tour_6Dem, Aem, Nong A, Pi A then the older brother and his friends came to join. I was confused by so many non English speakers all trying to talk to me at the same time. I can usually hold my own and understand some of the conversation that’s going on but this for me was a little too much. I sat, smiled and sipped at the never empty glass in front of me. Sang Som, one of the oldest drinking traditions in Thailand. You pay for it in the morning though!

After a while one of the kateouys there started to massage my shoulders. Not too bad, a free massage is a free massage. A little too much power maybe, lol. There seemed to be some mirth developing, I felt it was at my expense. Yes it was.

Finally I got my sleep.

Spider

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.