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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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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China here we come

I’m finishing off my last day here at work before leaving for China, setting the Outlook out of office reply so that others get annoyed while I’m having fun.

It was a close run thing, with Bob being American he almost didn’t get a visa. Obviously digging up everything that we’ve got and selling it to the Chinese has placed Australians in an advantaged position when it comes to tourist visas. I was easily able to get a single entry 60 day visa, but Bob was informed by the visa agency in Hong Kong that due to his unfortunate status as an American citizen the longest he would get is 30 days. And he may not even get that. A week or two may be all they allow him.

At this point I started considering all the other options. Which are, basically anywhere on the planet. George will be arriving in France soon to start his dual pilgrimages to Cannes and the Tour de France, so I could hop over there and ride with him. Or maybe South America. Or Japan. Or Korea. Well, not Korea. I can’t eat kimchi every day.

As it turns out, he managed to get two 30 day entries. Still a pain as he’ll have to exit and return in order to complete the trip, assuming that we don’t catch bird flu and end up in a rural hospital asking for a Tamiflu drip.

The bike is all spruced up and ready to go. I just need to pull out the front fork and box it up. A pile of stuff sits on the lounge room floor ready to stuff into my saddlebag and handlebar bag. It’s all a bit anticlimactic in some ways when you’ve toured so many times. There’s nothing to fret over.

Next stop Hong Kong.


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