Ride across the skinny part of Laos 

From Laksao just over the border from Vietnam it’s only a couple of hundred kilometres to get over to Thailand with its easy comfortable ways. 711s, Swensens ice cream, MK restaurants, abundant air conditioning, smooth roads when you stay out of the dirt, reasonably careful drivers and good food pretty much everywhere. 

The first day was mostly flat with one decent climb and we ended up in a small town Gnomalath which didn’t have much going on but actually had a pretty nice restaurant where we stuffed ourselves with Thai food.

The next day was a 95km ride taking us to the Laos border. Getting across the border itself is a little problematic on a bicycle as cyclists aren’t allowed to cross the Friendship Bridge into Thailand. Bob managed to cajole a Thai guy on his pickup truck to take us across with our bikes in the tray but only after the guy checked with Laos immigration that he wouldn’t get in trouble and then he wanted to see our passports to make sure we’d been stamped out of Laos. Thai immigration on the other side were an odd lot, casually sitting around eating their lunch at the same table that we filled out our entry forms on, with a number of Thai dogs lying around sleeping, perhaps failed sniffer dogs allowed to lead the good life instead. 

After getting our visas we also got a bit too relaxed on their nice table so a more senior lady came over and told me that if we didn’t piss off her boss would revoke our visas and deny us entry into Thailand.  Ok, we’re going. So we cycled into Nakhon Phanom about 10km away. 

From there it was another long day to take us to Sakon Nakhon where I’m writing this from. I clocked up 117km, about 20 of which were on dirt roads and the occasional rice paddy when Bob refused to consult the Google map and instead relied on his natural sense of direction which usually results in wrong turns and backtracking. 

I was last in Sakon in 2011, and back then there was an MK restaurant in the Big C shopping mall in the centre of town.  We were horrified to discover that it has since closed and moved outside town several kilometres. So we ended up eating sub par pad Thai in the food court. 

And that ends the riding for the moment. I’m flying back to Bangkok tomorrow and working out what to do next. 

Photos in reverse order for some reason 

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Escape from Vietnam: Vinh to Laksao

A couple of weeks in Vietnam has been long enough to establish that the drivers are horn blowing psychopaths, the food is mostly forgettable unless you’re in a big city, and the constant need to negotiate or argue the price of everything you buy becomes draining. I guess it serves me right, I came here in 2002 for a bike trip and came to similar conclusions. For some reason I thought the intervening years may have brought some change to Vietnam or my attitudes to it. 

Befittingly I witnessed two accidents on the ride west from Vinh yesterday. One of them moments after a young dickhead on a scooter flew past us doing about 90kmh in flip flops and no helmet. We came around the next corner and he was in a ditch as he deserved. Unfortunately a middle aged lady was motionless under her bike that he had ploughed into. We didn’t linger to see if she survived lest the locals try to pin some of the blame on us.  

Yesterday’s ride was to a nondescript town about 30km from the Laos border. Being near the border the rip offs were in fine form. I couldn’t even buy an ice cream or a pho without someone trying to double the price. 

And then today we rode over a decent sized hill to exit Vietnam and enter lovely quiet Laos. I’m still not quite over my bronchitis so 1200 metres of climbing in the heat was a reasonable challenge. 

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Ninh Binh to Thanh Hoa

The ride to Thanh Hoa was done over two days. Bob took the back way to the half way point while I trundled down highway 1 for a shorter distance. My unrelenting cough starting to drain my pedalling resources. 

A night at a grubby hotel next to highway was followed by 60km into Thanh Hoa on back roads, local ferries and plank bridges. This ride pretty much finished me off. Coughing more than ever and feeling pretty rubbish it was time to rest. 

After a couple of days in Thanh Hoa Bob rode to Vinh and I hopped on a horrible bus with my bike. Feeling worse than ever I gave in and started taking antibiotics, which had immediate effect. Now that I’m recovering we should get going again in a couple of days. 

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Hanoi to Ninh Binh

I was hoping that my rather unpleasant cold would have cleared by the time Bob and I left Hanoi on our bike ride but no such luck. I’ve been coughing and congested for 150km. It’s slowly improving but is a bit of a drag. 

The first days ride to Lang Yen was 20km of urban sprawl to get out of the city followed by another 50km on quiet farm roads. Quiet apart from the honking of horns every time a vehicle passed of course. 

We stopped for a drink and a snack in a small village. The peace and serenity of the shop we chose soon obliterated once all the local kids found the foreigners and the husband came home and turned on the music to entertain us and take photos. Time to leave. 

Lang Yen is a town that exists mostly because it’s the start of a boat ride that takes tourists up the river to gawk at the amazing karst cliffs and soak up the serenity. Neither of us felt like being captive on a row boat for hours do it was just a sleep stop for us. In any case I was spent and just wanted to eat and sleep. Eating was the usual pho. I was craving fruit too but not a single shop in the town had any. Chips and yoghurt it is then. 

The next day we headed out of Lang Yen and the scenery was really something. More karst mountains, rivers, misty lakes and forest and farmland. The only thing spoiling it was my incessant coughing and nose blowing. 

Ninh Binh is a decent sized city with nothing in particular to recommend it other than being a hub for a few surrounding tourist attractions. Caves and boats and so on. We found a particularly nice hotel via google maps reviews. Nice but still had a rock hard bed. Does communism forbid some give in the sleeping equipment?

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Hanoi

The star of Hanoi is without doubt the eating. So many different and delicious options and really not a great deal else to do means that eating food and drinking coffee become the main source of entertainment. The pho in Hanoi is a bit different to the stuff I’m used to eating in Marrickville. The Hanoi version does away with the extra basil and sprouts that come with it in Sydney. And the broth is a bit less in your face with less sugar and salt. Which means you can actually taste the spices a bit more. 
But something I’ve never had before is Chả Cá Thăng Long. Baked turmeric fish served on a hot saucepan with mountains of spring onions and dill, and eaten with cold vermicelli on the side. Washed down with a Hanoi Beer it was delicious. 
Bob and I plan to get on our bikes tomorrow and head west from here on highway 13. But Bob isn’t feeling too great today so let’s see how that pans out in the morning. 

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The Year of George

There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza is to get a payout from work at the start of summer. George then realises that he will have a fully funded summer of doing whatever he pleases. The “Summer of George!”  Thanks to Tony for pointing out the similarity to my predicament, only my summer of George is planned to be a year, and I didn’t get a payout, so I’ll call it the Year of George.

After two weeks of seaside idleness on the north coast of nsw I’m now back in Sydney. The first day back at work for many, but snorkelling with the blue groper at Clovelly for me.

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Villedoux to Nantes 120km

Last night’s camp site was a rest area at the edge of the village of Villedoux, and the two main advantages of this were the relative luxuries of a picnic table and a bin. You get pretty tired of squatting to cook, squatting to eat, squatting to shit when camping, and I can see why George lugs around the additional weight of a camp chair that allows him to sit in comfort.

After breakfast at our picnic table we headed north toward Nantes. The weather early on was blue skies and clear. I put sun screen on. But then it turned nasty after our morning tea break. We held this break just off the road at a factory that supplies components for graves. There were pallets of gravestones from India strewn all over the forecourt. George was quick to search the deserted premises for a power socket as he is now permanently on the lookout for power to charge his precious ipad to keep it alive. He’s been collecting mentions of tears in books for some time now but I think he may switch his obsession to finding places in France where he can surreptitiously charge his tablet for free in between wild camps. Charge number one today was in the old barn of a warehouse at the grave factory where we sheltered from the rain.

We left the grave factory just before noon, hoping to get to the next village about 10km down the road before the Intermarche closed. This is Sunday in France where most shops are closed all day and only a few supermarkets open in the morning. We rode through half an hour of pissing down rain to make it to the Intermarche before 1230. Unfortunately they shut at 12 so we were too late anyway. Even the dumpster was off limits to George, being locked behind a barrier to keep out the likes of him.

After a morning of being rained on we were keen to get out of the weather for lunch and also seek out free ipad charging for George so we tried a McDonald’s. it indeed had a power point so George was able to charge his ipad while I ate a Big Mac meal, followed by a second Big Mac. Did you know that a Big Mac contains 510 calories? And if you eat two of them and some fries at 2pm you’ll be able to ride a loaded touring bike until about 7pm covering about 60km or so, all while savouring the flavour of that delicacy as it repeats on you over and over?

Our third charging episode was just an examination and not an actual connection to power. George has discovered that all (well, both the ones he has checked) of the cathedrals in France are both always open to the public and have a power socket in there somewhere. George will be taking up prayers from now on in order to keep his fix charged up. But he may have to eat his pork liver pâté outside the church to avoid offending other pilgrims.

And apparently cows can detect the smell of one of their kin being fried up. At least that was what it looked like to me.

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Champagnelles to Villedoux 120km

After a night of tossing and turning I finally crawled out of my pint sized tent to make breakfast when rain brought a halt to play. So back in the tent to drink coffee while stooped over like the old lady I saw in the supermarche yesterday.

We are making our way north to Brittany where George wants to check out a ville etape north of Nantes. The terrain has flattened out and there isn’t too much wind so progress is good.

The highlight of the afternoon was an afternoon tea stop where I gorged on pastries. All manner of horrible deeds are forgiven when you still have another 40 km to cover.

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Montpon to Champagnelles 122km 800m ascent

We were both a bit tired today and the only thing of interest to report was that we found what is supposedly the only grass velodrome in all of Europe. It was bumpy as hell.

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Degagnac to Montpon 136km 1000m ascent

After some breakfast with Yvon and Collette we received the royal send off with Yvon escorting us on his bike for the first 10km of the ride. Conditions were perfect today with no wind, perfect Lot department scenery complete with toy town villages and sculpted countryside. Still plenty of climbing but nothing too draining.

We were covering ground quickly, having made it to the 50km mark by noon. We stopped for a leisurely lunch after which I felt pretty sluggish for a couple of hours. But the miles were still flying by.

I had only bought lunch ingredients at our morning supermarket stop and still needed to find some chunk of meat for dinner. At this point I would like to chide the Intermarche corporation for their useless signage, since one of them indicated a supermarket nearby, but which was almost 30km down the road in a completely different town. This contributed to our high mileage for the day and my feeling completely knackered.

Our campsite for the evening was in long grass and was mildly infested with ticks. I managed to drag several into the tent that must have hitched a ride on me or my gear, so I spent the rest of the evening hunting down the bastards and staying in my sealed cocoon. George thinks I should collect the ticks in a box and unleash them on people who deserve some kind of cruel punishment.

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