" /> sea: January 2008 Archives

« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

January 27, 2008

champassak

in champassak i saw the full moon rise over the maekhong. my camera battery was flat and as you were not here i can only tell you about how lovely it was. it was a perfect moonrise, in a clear sky banded with flat, horizontal clouds. the water below glistened in fractured shapes granulated by the current in a series of uneven densities. like the perfect bank shot, the moon's already once reflected light bounced off the river, shockingly bright, into the hut where i was eating laab and somtumthai designed less for the palates of laos and more for the french tourists who faced each other wordless over tables playing sudoku.

in champassak, there is no need to set an alarm in the morning. the sharp hypnotic breathing tone of the kaen bursts into the morning, drowning out the roosters and dogs and babies that maintain the din throughout the night (i often wonder when people talk about the beautiful quiet of the countryside, it always seems quite noisy, especially at night. perhaps they mean the american countryside, where everything that makes a sound has already been killed). this is followed by several hours of political speeches interspersed with more music. recordings i have of the kaen are boring, i have come to the conclusion that they are meant to be played over an over-driven soundsystem at dawn in a lao village to have the proper effect. anything less is just not enough.

champassak looks like a large town on the map. actually, it is a series of buildings on a road parallel to the mekhong. at certain points signs announce that you have passed into a new village. taken as a whole, this is champassak. in one village are administrative buildings and a large school. this is where champassak is noted on the map, but not when you are here. what makes it a town i suppose is a second road, parallel to the first about 200 m inland. this road is dirt, and connected with perpendicular lanes at intervals with the primary road. this dirt road is what most of lao was until quite recently. it must have been difficult and amazing to live there at that time, only a decade or two ago.

i take a ferry back over the mekong and catch a bus south to the border, the bike goes up on the roof, i go inside. from the border i ride south to stung treng cambodia. i spend the night there and take a bus in the morning to phanompenh. two nights in P.P. and this afternoon head south to kampot, to build houses for two days with a group of canadians working through an organisation here called tabitha.

sorry, this is just an outline, i hope to fill it in a bit from kampot later in the week.

January 22, 2008

an apology to my readers

i do want to apologise to you dear reader for the negative tone of my previous update from pakxe, the very pleasant second largest city in lao. i had a really lovely time in thailand, and was sad to go. as beautiful as the landscape and vibe of the ride through lao to this city was, the sight of fat old englishmen walking around with shirts unbuttoned to reveal their excessive protruding bellies was the most extreme of several sights that brought me back to the harsh reality of tourism.

i also had another flat tyre on my way into town, my third. these tyres suck. note for next trip: learn more about tyres and make sure to have the super puncture proof kevlar ones. i havent actually been able to figure out what has caused the three slow leaks, but they all seem similar which makes me wonder... one more and i'm switching front and back to see what happens. anyway, getting a flat made me crabby and not being able to figure out the cause of it got me even more annoyed.

but pakxe is really great, and let me tell you some of the reasons why...

approaching the city from thailand, its suddenly there, off to the left, across the river that appears from nowhere. its trees with an occasional building to show that something is there. the champassak palace hotel is one of them, and i was tempted to stay as it is one of the more beautiful buildings i've ever seen. there is a bridge across the mekhong and then you are in the city.

it was late afternoon and the light was really beautiful, hazy golden from all the dusty streets. it is hard for me to describe this town and this country. so much of the descriptive words i think of have such negative connotations in the west, ie, a lazy pace... if i said it has a sensible pace, of course that would leave it up to you, the reader, to decide what sensible is, and might just give you the wrong impression about lao.

this bears more thinking, i'll have to get back to you about it.
eventually.

i dropped my phone

and now the screen doesnt work. i dont really care that much about the phone, its only money.
but i no longer have access to the phone numbers and some email addresses stored in it.

so if you do not hear from me for a while, its because i cant get at your number at the moment nor will i have recieved any of your sms.

i'm a bit disappointed in the LG phone, i drop my nokia in nyc all the time and it works fine, this was only about a 3' drop flat on the ground. the screen isnt broken, it lights up but there is nothing displayed. i took it to a phone repair shop, which are numerous- in fact almost every phone shop, of which there are 2 on every block, has repair facilities. given that people here go around with $200 phones, which is a pretty hefty sum for one of the worlds least developed nations, it makes sense that there would be a large industry around fixing them. except mine of course. i actually bought it because i didnt want an ugly old style nokia like they have a lot of here. you know, the ones built like a brick, that i could have probably dropped a dozen times and it would still work, but if it broke its so common here that gettting it repaired would be a snap. but no, in my vanity i wanted 'something else' and got a fone that no one in lao has parts or service for. serves me right!

January 21, 2008

back in lonelyplanetland(tm)

i stayed almost a week in khong chiem. its a really nice town, quiet, good food, nice people, and hardly any foreign tourists. i did meet an expat teacher of english from south or north carolina, who introduced me to several friends (thais) who were excellent companions for several nights of eating and drinking at this really great restaurant bangrachang (?) i have a photo of the sign but its all in thai so who knows... and at my guest house there was this interesting japanese guy, semi-retired, travelling around without a guidebook or even a map. we had several very interesting conversations. like me, he is more interested in experiencing ordinary life than in seeing another temple or waterfall (the thais LOVE water falls, i dont know why, but they seem to go apeshit over them).

at any rate, i felt them both to be kindred spirits in a way, seeking to find and enjoy the day to day normal life of people in this great place. crossing over to lao, it was strange to be back on the right side of the road after a month of left hand drive thailand. and even stranger to be back in backpacker land, with people who look kind of like me, but for whom i feel no kinship at all.

as i checked into my guest house, two hippy traveler types were there, agonising over the price. 80,000 kip for a double aircon room, hot shower. near as i can tell that's about 8.50 usd, and they are going to split it two ways. one guy actually said, i really like a good cold shower. c'mon, even lots of thai people don't like the cold shower but put up with it 2 or 3 times a day because cleanliness is really important to them. what dirty hippy really said was, i want more cheap, yo! they tried to bargain the lao guy down but he said with a smile, i have only one room left. i was quite happy to have been the guy who helped him reach that bargaining point :)

i look at their expensive back pack, 100$ hiking boots tied to them, and i think, yeah, these guys will probably never make any money ever again, and so its good that they try to not contribute any more to the economies of developing nations, nations whose labour subsidised the cost of the backpacks, boots, ipods etc that they carry and which would have been far more expensive if manufactured in their country. like, barf me out yo!

i went out and avoided the tourist restaurants (come to lao and have...indian food??? hamburgers??? must be a lonely planet indeed if that is what you are after). i saw this one guy with his mac ibook, sitting alone in a dark corner on the street, i dont know if he was tapping a wireless signal, or just was the lonliest planet guy ever (and what is more backpacker than to try to get things for free in a country where they are already, in relative terms, dirt cheap?)

ok, here is a quick sample of what i hate about the particularly pukey style of writing in LP: "at xyz, the thais all stop and stock up on (some food thing) before continuing on to pha taem" no no, dear friends, not "there is a really great food stop at such and such place", no nothing that simple, instead they give you the (false) assurance that they have let you in on the ONE place that ALL thais know about, and that you will get the ultimate authentic experience by going to these places that they have (carefully, or arbitrarily?) discovered. i know that i went to lunch with my guesthouse owner and some friends at a district office out in the middle of no where, and on the way back her kids wanted to stop at 7-11, not the lonely planet bun shoppe. no, that LP writing style makes me gag, its insidious sucking up to the reader to offer them the dirtiest colonialist fantasies whispered in their ear. oh, and where to find the TGI fridays in seoul, because we at LP don't blame you for being afraid of that icky korean food. and this dear friends is why i dont have a guide book (oh, and because i'm too cheap, and because they are too heavy)

i had seen some restaurants down by the river but figured them for tourist traps. not having a guidebook, i did not know that they were not in the guidebook, until i went and found that among the hundreds of lao there was only one other farang couple there. close enough to my ideal of being the only farang in the restaurant. had a great dinner of the spiciest phatpakbung ever and some kind of eel buried in kaffir lime lives, galangal, green beans, chilis, and a deep brown curried sauce. and of course beer lao, $1.25 for a 640 ml bottle. in thailand taxes are so high that the same size bottle is 2$ in the grocery and usually 3.50$ at the restaurants. its easy to fall into the lonely planet disease and start thinking that's expensive, until i remind myself that 14oz across the street from my house in nyc will set me back 6$ and i'm supposed to leave a tip, 1$ because some guy took 20 seconds to pour the beer into the glass...wtf!

talking to some people i learned of a disco across town, near the market. shaking off the very drunk guy who wanted to take me there (and sell me ladies along the way) i headed out on my own, and found it. this was not a lonely planet inside, i was the only white guy around, listening to lao hip-hop. i think thailand lost a lot when they gave up the sarong. and i think both lao and thailand lose a lot by giving up the old music for bland hip-hop moves. well, what are you going to do? regrettably, most of the women at the disco seemed to be at work, if you know what i mean. i had visions of meeting the local social/intelligensia, like that cute girl jogging across the bridge over the mekong. on the other hand, maybe these girls go jogging on their time off, who knows?

when i got back to the guest house the gate was locked and some drunk australian was wandering the yard. he told me he had climbed the fence to get in, so i did too. he had been kept awake by the rocking wedding party down the street so he had gone out to join in. right on! i found the receptionist sleeping in a back room and woke him to let us into the guest house. oops, sorry sorry! but i still felt really happy after a great night that can't be found in the guidebooks. and if you need to have a guidebook to lead you around by the nose, them i'm kind of sorry. and, FU, lonely planet!

January 15, 2008

khong chiem, mae nam song si

i wish you were here. the amount of cool stuff i've seen and done and tasted and listened to and... it exceeds my recollection, let alone my time to sit here and type it in an internet cafe while there is more going on right around me.

i took small dirt roads down from the 2337, no map, just the sun. at first it was pretty desolate, but then a small village with a paved street where i bought 2 more quarts of water. i used google maps to chart my route ex post facto, its so amazing, i could zoom in close enough to say, ah, that was the house where the dogs chased me, and so on. and then there is a section of the map where the resolution was much lower and i lost the path. but riding, i never lost my way.

i wish you had been along for that ride, through such beautiful landscapes. the smaller the roads, the better, it seems, less windy, and often with more trees (and shade) and greenery around. passing through tiny villages that have such a beautiful feeling to them; wats and small government offices, farms and fields. this life here seems so beautiful, and at such moments it seems as if there can be very little wrong with the world. far away from the punishing religion's wars of Whose Black and Which White, idiots pointing fingers and declaring the Other as Evil. here its buddhist flow, the seasons change, buildings fall down, dogs bark, music plays on a soundsystem somewhere, nothing lasts, we will all be back around again.

i feel a little bit sad because i had this moment alone. there is nothing wrong with that, i am very happy with my life right now. but sometimes there is a day that is so good that you wish that someone else could have had that same day too. i wish you had been here, but you were not. i wish i could write about it in a way that would make you feel in a way like you were there. that we could some how share this day and all these amazing places and sights and people between us. sometimes that is my frustration, that all these years and i've never really said anything at all.

i had no idea where i was going really but just kept heading what seemed south and east. if i go too far east i end up in the mae khong, and too far south and i hit the 2134 which takes me straight into khong chiem. fueled by the little sugar candies from the lady by the highway, i race on. i make several stops for food and or water, i think i had around 8 quarts and never had to pee. its hot here in the day. the further south i get the bigger the villages, until i finally come to a paved road. you would laugh at the empty street with a gated building next to it that i thought of as "urban" after being so far off in the farmlands...

i did end up down on the 2134 quite a bit west of where i anticipated; i had been worried about being too far east. at any rate the last 40km was a grueling arse vs. sun race: which would give out first? it was pretty agonising, each km felt earned, but i made it and found a great resort, baanruanrimman, right on the mun river maybe a km up from where it runs into the khong river. i have my own little bungalow and no disservice to the place in khemmarat, but this place is easily worth the extra 150B i'm paying for it. its really nice, the people are super nice, i'm out in the woods, the food they serve there is great.

i was so sore and tired, after a record breaking 130km day. and i dont want to ever break that record. of course they tried to feed me fried rice. i'm getting less shy about strenuously objecting to the practice of offering farang khao phad. i make a joke of it and everyone laughs but i think they get the idea that some whiteys might actually like the real deal thai food. so i got some spicy basil thing, and a bottle of leo beer. this beer must have been brewed the previous afternoon in, and then transported from khon kaen under cover of night to this town, and then hidden in a cooler out of sight of the sun before being served to me that evening. it was the freshest best tasting beer i can imagine. the food was some of the tastiest i've ever had in a long time too.... do i have to leave? is this a trick question?

January 14, 2008

khemmarat, sounds like camelot

if you were to come visit khemmarat, you could take a short day trip to phu tham thong, the mountain i mentioned in the last posting. it is an easy ride from town, maybe an hour, and a little longer if you take another way back like i did. thailand is great because its a little difficult to get lost. there are not so many roads that you could go around in circles for hours, and most roads go someplace. and there are tons of villages and most of them have some kind of shop, even if it is just the front of someones house adorned with little snacks in plastic packets and a granny hanging out in the shadows somewhere, sleeping. you can buy a quart of water for 5 B from her (yes, thailand is firmly on the metric system, but for some reason the little rounded top bottles of water are called quarts). in other words you wont die, lost in a trackless wilderness, it just might take you a while to get somewhere, and a little longer to get where you wanted to.

i ventured south off the 2112 on a road that i didnt know the number of. google maps had shown it labeled with three (thai) letters, and indeed it was. broad and smooth, it wound gradually up hill (very gradually) until it came to a crossroads. coveniently there was a guy lounging in his yard right there and i asked him for directions, he pointed me to the left, up a newly paved (like, this week) stretch of road which took me within sight of the buddha. the dirt track from there to the top was quite steep and surrounded by a bare rocky landscape. unlike the peaceful spot i was expecting, the place was crawling with villagers working on building the base of the shrine, and all their kids, who followed me around saying "hello" from behind rocks and trees. you can see them hiding in this picture, which also provides at least partial evidence of my presence at some point in time outside the usa. perhaps this is a recent photo. some would say its "reality", but i have my doubts there....

P1010260.JPG

it was great being up so high, normally the terrain is so flat that there is hardly any sense of distance let alone vista. i was pleased that i could pick out roads, ponds, and other terrain from looking at google maps, though i was surprised at how much closer everything was than expected.

on my way back i went straight at the intersection rather than right to return the way i came. after a couple of km only one side of the road was paved, then none of it. a small village later and i came upon the pavers, who waved and honked their horns at me. a lady making somtum yelled at me to stop but i didnt feel like somtum just then. or tummakhuun, as they call it here.

a very pleasant ride. i passed several of the thai style resorts, cute looking bungalows, out in the middle of nowhere, baking in the sun. i figured out in nong soong that a lot of these places where sort of short time motels, little getaways for trysts and so on, but it was a mystery why one would suddenly find clusters of them in one area, and then nothing for km after km... indicative of particularly randy poplulations? coicidence? well, the barren, sere hills around khemmarat are home to at least 5 such places. plus a little motel in town, two other sets of guest bunglalows (the coolest, 4 huts on the walkway parallel to the maekhong looking out at the river, seemed abandoned) in the town itself, and the place where i'm staying, about 2km east of the town center (which i take to be the internet cafe, hahaha).

if you come to visit khemmarat you will want to have dinner and or drinks at least once at one of the pleasant places on the paved walkway along the river. the food at the three places i tried was uniformly excellent, and one of them even had an english menu making it easier to surprise myself with dinner. along this walkway you may have a conversation with mr. kittisak, a retired thai army major, who trained in alabama and served in the war in lao and in the insurgency in nan. i didnt realise the extent of fighting in thailand during the war years, i guess it was mostly thais backed covertly by us forces, similar to lao. kittisak and i talked about alabama, how isaan reminds me of alabama, especially in the time he was there and i knew it best (1969-70).

there is very little nightlife in khemmarat, other than karaoke places, which are popular all over thailand. you will not be the first farang to visit Andy Karaoke, as i was, but dont worry, there are half a dozen others for you to be the first farang to go into. at any rate you will probably meet many nice people who will be puzzled but excited that you are there, and you will have to work harder than i did to have a bad time.

leaving khemmarat is difficult, in part because there is no compelling reason to, but also because it is very far from anywhere else, in bicycling terms. i fixed my eyes on a town trakan phuet phan, about 50km south. i wanted to go to khong chiem but it is about 120km away. the 2112 is a shorter route, but it goes through mountains at one point, that point being nearer the end of the day when i'm dead tired, so that's not really an option.

i start out around 9am, i pass a sunday market along the 2550 that is already closing up at 10am, when they say morning market in thailand, they mean it! i make good time and am halfway to my destination by a little after that. i stop for a water at the intersection with 2337, and look at the map. a woman selling tiny baskets with things in them walks by, selling to any and all. i am astonished, she is carrying them in the asian style, on either end of a pole balanced on her shoulder. she is walking and is miles from anywhere, in the middle of no where. that's much harder than working on movies. i buy a basket from her, they are little lumps of sugar. it is sugar cane season, i imagine she made these from a little patch at her house.

i decide to head for khong chiem, and turned onto the 2337.

January 10, 2008

staying in khemmarat

i like khemmarat. if you come to thailand, you might consider visiting khemmarat. the town stretches for some distance along the river, fading eventually into jungle. houses dot the jungle and eventually you come to a new village. in the town there is a little promenade along the riverside, a paved pathway that winds through trees and past restaurants and bars and some small shops and some people's houses.

its really really far from everything. that's part of what i like about it.


i packed to leave this morning, getting a late start as usual, figured i would have a bit of time to cycle through the villages by the river before hitting the bigger roads and having to blast my way south. my detour was exquisite, but by the time i got back to the road, it was already quite late. i was very tired also and getting quite crabby. i started to do the math and there was no way i'd make it to the planned town in time. so i turned on a side road to make a loop back to khemmarat.

there was a sign for "mountain", i was incredulous: in all this flatness? a few km later i saw a rocky crag reaching above the surrounding plains. and on top of it was a huge carved buddha. i was several km away so it was difficult to really tell much about it. but i thought to myself, this is why i came to thailand, to check out crazy stuff like this. and here i am in a hurry to get to the next place because of this impossible schedule i am on.

when i am in nyc at work, i work when they tell me to work, stop when they say go home, middle of the night, middle of the morning, rain or shine, 17 hours, whatever. now that i am here i want to toss all that away. my idea was to drift slowly along the maekhong, stopping where i want to stop and moving on when i get tired of it. but here i am in a rrush because i've comitted to meeting up with a group building houses in cambodia, something i also want to do very much.

so here i am stuck between two impossibles. at this point i am thinking the housebuilding will have to wait another time. i want to really travel here, when will i ever come back to khemmarat, or na tan, or any of the nameless places i pass? quite probably never, so now is the time to stop when i want to stop, put myself on my schedule rather than somebody else's, which is how i've played my life for far too long, and why i have nothing much to show for all those years of following the leaders.

January 09, 2008

what i'm riding with

i dont think i wrote much about my gear yet. some people have aksed me about it, so i will now tell you about it. hopefully i will upload some illustrative pictures, which will also prove that i am in fact in the land of smiles, not the land of icy frowns (mine, when in nyc in the winter)

its not really about the trip, so you can skip it if you want. actually, i guess you can skip any of the entries if you want. as they love to say here, up to you.

here's what you get for 350B in khemmarat:

P1010212.JPG


here's what you get for way way more $ and B, currently located in khemmarat:

P1010208.JPG

ok. so i discovered after much investigation i am riding a trek 3900. this information was hidden on the trame. in black letters an inch high. why do they make it so difficult?

i bought the bike and the back rack at a shop in nonthaburi, just north of bangkok.
saengthong bike,
32/13-15 pracharat rd, near bank of asia,
muang, nonthaburi
phone 015251789 or 025264664.
i took a riverboat up there, then a bicycle taxi to the shop. that seemed appropos, i think it was actually the first time i've taken a bike (actually, a tricycle, but who's counting) taxi in thailand.

if you are thinking of going there, go to the probike thailand websight, on their links page they have the address in roman alphabet and in thai, print the page and show the thai section to the taxi driver, or cut and paste thai script into google maps. that's what i did, and got a bike out of it, for about 2000B less than if i had gotten it in BKK.

i also bought gloves, a spare tube, and had them put in liners inside the tires to prevent punctures. i bargained hard, and got them to charge it on the credit card for the same price as cash (without the 3% they usually add to the bill when you charge something here). as further testament to my bargaining powers, when the salesguy's mom (yup, family businesses are big here) wrote up the bill, he laughed, "see it becomes even cheaper!" as it was less than he quoted. i take that to mean i could have gotten the whole rig for a few baht less, if i had any skill in that department.

i bought ortlieb bike packer classic panniers in the us of a, these are not the ones that have roll tops, but the ones with more conventional latching closures.

P1010211.JPG

my yard stick was my little gitzo tripod, which fit in them, and which i then didnt bring. well, next time maybe. i really like the panniers, i bought lots of little mesh bags and zippered school supply type bags of various sizes for my stuff, so keeping them organised is pretty easy. i really hate when people force on you their ideas of compartment size and shape.

i have this huge "fanny pack" that i bought for travel last year, it works much better as a bike bag than it ever did carrying it around. at first i had it on top of the back rack in back but the bike was a bit weird with no weight in the front, so i rigged it to the handlebars. i hooked a couple of carabiners (as my brother mark kindly reminded me they are called, rather than "those things climbers use") onto the brake levers, making sure that nothing was blocked. it probably would be fine that way, but i worry ever so slightly about lever failure and that would suck. so i got two more carabiners in mukdahan and forced them onto the bars and latched the original ones onto that and it works ok. not great but ok.

P1010209.JPG

P1010210.JPG


oh, the other problem was on the brake levers the carabiners squeaked and i had to hold my fingers on them as i rode so as to not be driven crazy. eventually my fingers would slip back though and they'd be squeaking again and i didnt like that. so.

i have a cable lock wound around the main part of the frame. i use it when i'm in a big town and i'm going to be in a shop for a while. other wise it just hangs there.

little blinky lights front and rear, and another rear light i need to buy a battery for and rig onto the back rack. bought a pump in nakhon phnom, some german brand i've never heard of. avacs. there, now at least you've heard of it.

a toppeak km computer that i've never really figured out how to use beyond the most basic functions. the guys at the rural road department were really impressed with that one, they are all mechanics and so enjoyed seeing how it worked.

i have a bike specific multi tool, and a little pocket knife gadget. the bike tool is kind of cool, its two bits that fit together, when you take them apart they are tyre wrenches, or whatever you call those things. at my going away event, sam gave me a roll of electric tape he happened to have in his pocket, sort of as a gag gift. little did he know that was exactly the final touch to my tool kit (other that the zip ties i bought in nakhon phanom). perfect, thanks again sam!

for someone who rides a bike as much as i do, and who has an above average mechanical aptitude (which is probably pretty low in the general populace, so maybe that's not saying so much), anyway, i really dont have much of a clue about what i'm riding, do i now?

i have two iceberg merino wool shirts, one is the 190 ultralight weight, the other i think is the 260 though i cant remember right now. they are great. i have pearl izumi bike shorts, the ones with the pad in the shape of a bike seat sewn in the ass. very good. i wear some kind of miracle fabric 3/4 length trousers over that. as good as the shorts feel i'm not going to be seen riding around thailand in spandex. or riding anywhere in it for that matter. smartwool socks, wish i had gotten the full length ones, but they are really great. ride all day and not smelly.

i have 1 t-shirt, 1 longsleeve t-shirt, 5 underwear, 2 pr cotton socks, a jacket (while i have used it several times here, it has not been necessary to wish for a parka, as i have seen some thais wearing on cooler mornings, say, 64F), my hoi an trousers and my thatphnom trousers, in addition to the riding gear, and its just a matter of time before i aquire more t-shirts. the socks will be the first to go...

i've got two pairs of shoes, one has become the bike riding shoe and the other the around town shoe. i like the division of labour, especially since the bike riding shoes get really really dusty. red dust on black leather does not go with my fancy new trousers. i guess i do wish the 2nd pair were lighter, the further i ride the heavier the bags seem to become...

i also have a little bag of toiletries, and enough sunscreen and bug repellant to last for a long time, those items being as or more expensive here than in the usa. however they do not seem to be depleting as quickly as i aquire music cd's, again increasing my overall weight. then there is my digicamera and all the little bits that such things need. its a panasonic lumix and i have to say i dont like it so much. the pictures are never very sharp and its not so good in low light, its very grainy, etc. the movie function is brilliant though, i like that a lot.

i also have a phone here, some kind of LG, unfortunately only a dual band. wished i had spent a little more and gotten the one with an fm radio. most days the sound of my tyres is enough but every now and then a little isaan hillbilly music would be nice on those hottest and loneliest stretches. the number is 0874998743, country code is +66 and dont use the leading zero when outside the country. feel free to send me sms!

i really wish i had some kind of GPS thing, in my fantasy it would have a built in map to show me where i was and where i'm going, that way i could take advantage of all the little roads that are not on the maps but are nonetheless very beautiful and peaceful to ride along. i'm not sure such a thing exists (the device that is, i see the roads everywhere), but i am a bit frustrated by not being able to take as many shortcuts, being restricted to the broader main roads that are on the map.

the road numbering system in thailand is pretty clear, the single digit numbers are the biggest roads, then the double digit, triple digit, quadruple digit... its highway 2 that runs up into isaan from BKK, and all the other roads begin with a 2, too. ie the 22 which i took from sakhon nakhon to nakhorn phanom, the 212 (which has recently been widened to 4 lanes with a divider, and a 2m wide bike lane on either shoulder) which brought me into mukdahan, the 2034 i took south from mukdahan 2/3 of the way to khemmarat, etc. the four digit 2xxx roads are are still under the main national highway dept, but the ones that are 3xxx and 4xxx, those are under the department of rural roads, where my friends in mukdahan work.

the roads in thailand are very very good, usually surpassing those in the us of a. the rural roads are more numerous and connect various backwaters. many are not paved but many are, and while they are not as pristine as the highways, they are quiet and have almost no traffic. the problem is most maps only list down to the 2xxx (and not even all of those) so it the rural roads are more difficult to use, though superior choices for pleasant riding. next trip i will try to find more information about them. actually, i'm going to try to find more information about them for the remainder of this one. they are really the way to go, if possible.

i dont have a way to resize photos on this computer, so the proof of me being here will just have to wait for another entry....

mukdahan to khemmarat

once again, i have failed to provide you with a proper documentation of my km.
lets say it was around 100km. i have no idea, really, but when i was done i was really ready to be done.
lotta headwind in the morning, which is to be expected due to the fact that i was travelling in the opposite direction of the last time i had a headwind., and long gentle rolling hills that were nonetheless a lot of work and slowed me down a lot.

khemmarat is really lovely, it is much more jungle-y than other areas of isaan, and i feel like its just a little bit further from the beaten path. but there are apparantly quite a few hotels and resorts in this district. i know i found one, and for 350B i have my own little bungalow with nothing between me and the maekhong. across the river in lao there is only jungle.

i was hesitant to take the place for a second, being addled by the long ride and pathological cheapness, but the hot shower and the view were worth the 100B over the last place. ahh, der, way worth it. while there MAY just be a resort that is somehow more beautiful, or more interesting, i doubt it, and i was too tired to go looking in any case.

i sat on the edge of the bluff overlooking the river and watched the last rays of sun shine on the other side and then fade. took a ride looking just to see if there are other resorts or hotels around but found none. loved the feel of the villages along the river and am re-considering my route, i might just follow the river for a while.

during the day riding i thought lots of things, and what i was going to write about. now, i can remember none of it. many are annotations to the photos that i would like to upload but that's too much computer time for me right now. i have a lot of riding to do if i am to get to phanom penh by the 26th, and i'm a bit annoyed to feel pressed by time. i'd much rather just drift and head off when i feel like it, for example staying in this town a couple of days and then moving on. well, as far as problems go, my situation still isnt that bad.

January 08, 2008

department of rural roads

in mukdahan i stay with bird's... cousin in law? mr oy works for the department of rural roads, and works during the week in mukdahan then drives 147km back to sakhon nakhon to spend the weekend with his wife at their house there. as a visitor, i often wonder if the thais have parties every night, or if its all for me. i suspect i suspect its more like, any pretext for a party, and there are probably more than a few going on in the vicinity at anyone time.

i get into town quite tired, all i want to do is sit down, so i check my email, and then stumble across the only vegetarian restaurant in mukdahan. i circle around the countryside, trying to reverse engineer the directions which assumed me arriveing from the north rather than the south. eventually i find the place, arriving approximately 5 hours later than my 3 hour estimate (a 166% error, if i did my maths right). i take a shower to wash off the rural road i'm covered in, and the grilling of things begins.

it goes something like this: first, make a fire, grill some kind of meat over it, adding copious amounts of alcohol (to the participants, not the meat nor the fire), repeat, talking and laughing endlessly. a couple of people speak a bit of english and are happy to try to practice.

i spend the next day in mukdahan, i meant to write more about the place but that was so... yesterday.

the indochine market is interesting. along the river front is this concrete plaza, and a road, and tons of shops with lots of stuff on the other side of the road, and lots of vendors on any other open space left over. i noticed these little pavillions along the plaza have steps, leading down to... another market below the plaza, stretching for 27 miles along the river front. ok, not 27 miles, you know i was kidding because i am using metric in this journal. anyway, it was another huge market, with endless amounts of the same stuff as above ground, only it was down here. one side is open to the river view, but of course there are vendors everywhere so its not about the view, its about buying.

i was on a mission to figure out a new way to rig my front bag. i havent really written about my gear yet, and won't at this point. lets just say i have this bag that is not a proper front bag but i had rigged a not so proper way to have it as a front bag, and was looking for a way to rig it more properly, so at least one part of it would be proper. and i also wanted to get one of those cheap flimsy cd wallets, to place all the cds of thai hillbilly music i've been buying into, so i can throw out the heavy bulky cases. well, 1000B worth of MORE cds later, i have utterly failed in my mission, until at the last second i locate some more of those things (i'll edit the right name in later, those things climbers use for hooking on to things) that are big enough to force onto the handlebars and onto which i can hook the pair already on the so-called front bag.

the evening was more festivities, we went out to one guy's farm, and i had my first try at using a thai fishing net. my target was a can of archa beer. when there is beer involved things get serious and i was a good student and managed to keep the can from slipping away. but they tricked my, it was an empty can.

over in the yard two guys were cleaning a chicken, in the sense of, 'dinner'. the guy who's house it was decided that he would give a demonstration of the net in his fish pond, and wires were spliced to allow the flouros rigged over the pond and the two 100w bulbs they had hangin from the trees to be used at the same time. the guy and this other guy, mii, went fishing, and periodically one or the other of them would toss a fish up out of the pond, and the guys with the chicken would whack it on the head, rub it in coarse salt, stuff its mouth with lemongrass, and toss it on the grill. i was worried they would empty the pond of fish, but finally they came out. i think we had 8 or 9 fish.

after dinner some of us went to some bar in town, where a live band played that whiney thai pop that is the flip side to the morlam i like so much: i find it so bland and atrocious, and wonder why, if i hear such great stuff blaring from tiny radios in isolated villages, the only live music i can seem to find is this stuff? the band also played country roads (of course) and some santana, and i made the observation that thais seem to like music that is 'before my time' and that i like thai music that lacks the same sort of contemporary relevance that i disparage of the thai taste in american music. i'm not sure what that revelation does for me one way or the other, i still like the hillbilly music better.

from thatphnom to mukdahan via other places

ah, i dont have km figures at all... after leaving thatphanom i rode about 100km to nong soong, via a short ride down to kaeng ka bao, then inland to dong luang, to kham cha-ii, and up into the hills past nong soong. the next day i rode about 70km, first on tiny quiet roads until i got to the highway, all of which in thailand seem to have headwinds, no matter what direction, and i took that into mukdahan, back on the banks of the maekhong.

i really liked thatphnom, i was sad to leave. i had a final dinner down on the restaurant floating on a barge in the river just across the street from my motel, the sangthong hotel, no signs in english by the way, except a little blue spraypainted notice, about 2 inches high, on the white wall around the place.

the restaurant is owned by the chief of the local marine police, which begins to explain some of the economics of these places: its a side business, probably brings in a little money, and provides a great place to hang out, which is what he was doing that night, and he and his buddies, also marine police, invited me over. i had just finished eating lunch and was now invited to eat and drink and talk more. eight hours later i was beginning to wonder if this was all a good idea, but no matter, i had a very fun time. only one guy, santi, spoke much english, but somehow stuff just happened, people laughed, and the hours pass quickly.

during this i went up to check out my new trousers, actually tried them on once, then had them make a couple of adjustments. i went back a couple hours later to pick them up, and came back to model them for the marine police and company. they are really great (the trousers that is), i am quite happy with them. i had them put the side pockets inside rather than out this time. the pockets are actually a little bit deep, which is an easy problem to fix. i washed them for the first time last night, we'll see how they hold up to that. i assume they are washable, i dont see too many dry cleaning shops around... make that zero for the past 2 weeks+

my first stop was this place kaeng ka bao, a picturesque spot along the maekhong, which has become one of those massively overbuilt thai places, in that the parking lot was a couple of acres, and tons of vendors, food stalls, etc. i was the only customer, near as i could tell. it was a bit early, 9amish, but still, i just never understand how these places function. there was a resort (what they call bungalow style in thailand, rather than a hotel or motel style; but resorts often also have these little thatched huts around a pond that you can have dinner in, really pleasant spots, and again, rare to ever see anyone in them.) i kind of wished i had bailed on nong sung and stayed there, just hanging out for the day, but i kind of wanted to check out the inland areas. i had looked up on the internet a guest house near nong sung, a town i wanted to go to for some reason. the place was run by an australian and his thai wife, a bit expensive but i was sort of interested in having a conversation with a native speaker (being able to use definite and indefinite pronouns again, conjugate verbs, etc) and curious about his experiences living in thailand.

that was what kept me going as the day got more difficult. the first part of the ride was pleasant, through endless rice fields villages and other kinds of farms. as the day went on, the roads got bigger and more boring, hotter, and i was getting tired. the last 15km into nongsoong was really hard, lots of uphill, and i was just ready to be done. in nongsung i asked directions to the village where this guy's guest house was. that way. how far? siep kilo. 10km! and of course all uphill. i get to the village and turn off the road, a bunch of little kids yell "f*%# you", first time anything like that has happened (its more frequently "hello" or "where you go" or even "i love you") and i'm sure they had no real idea what they were saying (though i bet they had a hint that it was not so nice). i get to the gate of the place, its locked, i dial the numbers i have for them, no answer. i sit there for a bit, a guy wanders out. are you the owner? oh, no no. oh, you are a guest. oh, oh. is there anyone around? oh, no no no. thanks for the help! (special translation note, that last phrase meant the same thing as what the thai kids yelled, but with meaning, and much disguise). i sit there for a minute, then start to ride off, but i notice two thai women in the yard. i call out, they come over and let me in. now i dont care what language you speak, when you are someplace, and it happens to be a guesthouse, and a person who is Not From Around Here appears at the gate, do you A) do nothing or B) alert your companions one of whom is the owner, and who are about 5 m away? i dont know if this guy was retarded or just had less common sense than a rock, but as a first encounter with a fellow farang in over a week, it did not bode well

ok, so i'm in, and its this freakish compound, a western bourgeois retirees dream with a thai veneer, utterly alienated from the surrounding area. i've noticed that in thailand men tend to hang out with men, and women with women. even when there is a mixed group they usally separate like oil and water. any western guy who comes here and doesnt participate in the social life of other men seems stranger and stranger to me. i suppose that's why they have expat bars, so sad germans who never bothered to learn the local language can sit together drinking european beer, growing warm without ice (unlike the thais who drink it on ice, try it you'll lke it), in faux bavarian beer gardens (i know, you think i am taking pot shots at germans, which i am, but you'd get it if you came here and saw how many biergarten there are, often in the unlikeliest of places).

well anyway, the australian guy comes out, he is mao, which means drunk in thai. mao mahk mahk. weaviing, he leads me over to the bungalow area, then falls against the immaculate landscaping and begins vomiting against the pristine wall. an army of thai gardeners whom he probably instructs through his wife will no doubt decend on the spot in a few days... i look around and aside from my 3 unpleasant welcomings, i am just not into being here and disappointed that the kind of reflective conversation i had hoped for, would be impossible, even unwelcome here. i tell them, perhaps i have come on a bad day for you... i think i will look at another place. there is a bungalow just down the road, that will be better for you, he says snidely, waving his arms in random directions.

fortunately its mostly down hill, and i come to where i had passed a sign earlier that seemed like it might be such a 'resort', hard to know because i cant read thai script. the tip off, a phone number and 24 (hrs i imagine). the two girls at the place similarly speak not a word of english, and it is quite difficult to figure out what is going on. i think to call my friend bird... but i have no phone reception down here. well, we (seem to) sort it all out, at least, they take 250B and let me into a room. i have a glacially cold shower (thai style, scooped from a big bucket) and then head out to kin khao (literally, eat rice).

they tell me the town is the nearest place for food. its pitch dark by now, and probably 4 km from the town, and i'm totally exhausted. i ride up to the road and a dozen meters on spot the twinkly lights of a karaoke place, i ride in and while there is a lot of muttering of 'farang' (as there is everywhere, it seems perfectly acceptable here to point out to everyone around that there is a foreigner present), but one girl comes out to greet me (its supposed to be the entire staff, but whatever). can i kin khao here? yes, ok. i sit down and read my thai phrase "and what do you recomend?", probably the handiest phrase for dining, ever

she ticks off a rapid fire list of what she would have me spend my money on, all in thai, stopping every now and then for my assent, which i give, having no idea what i've signed on for. what i get is tom yum seafood (spicy soup), and the bill is a bit steep, 500B ($15) including drinks, which actually isnt so bad given that i was surrounded by chubby karaoke hostesess who poured my beer, peeled my shrimp, filled my bowl with soup, and ordered themselves cokes and fantas (on my tab, of course).

the next morning i head for mukdahan, back on the river. i take a rural road 3002, which is very pleasant, small and quiet and, given the dumfounded stares from many, not often traveled by foreigners, bicycles or no. i stop in one village for breakfast, and a crowd gathers almost instantly to watch the farang...eat. then they disperse as rapidly, and the shop owners start going about the yard picking things off the trees and feeding them to me. i guess i never really thought of tamarind before as something you could eat like a fruit, but it is really tasty. i pay my bill, under a dollar, the lady tells me the green fruit is free, the tamarind is free, the khao niew is free, good heart, good luck (yes, all in thai, i'm sure i missed a lot but its not so hard to get the idea from context).

later i stop and buy a bag of tamarinds from a girl by the roadside. the bag of long ones is 70, the same size bag of short ones is 40. i ask for a half bag of short ones, the bag she gives me for 20B (60c) seems as big as any of the others and is half full with the more expensive long ones. aside from wondering what i'm going to do with a kilo of tamarinds (about 2 pounds) on a bicycle, i am touched by the generous gesture. often western people complain about having to inflated prices for some things (ie, not what the locals pay) (even though the locals make so little that they will never be able to visit the complaintent's country) but little gestures like the woman in the village and the tamarind girl, while they may not even out on a ledger only marked in dollars, the unexpected sweetness, like that of the tamarinds, more than makes up for anything else.

January 04, 2008

some pictures

internet access is relatively easy to find in thailand, even if you cannot read the language. just look for the shop with lots of motor bikes out front. if the windows are plastered with pictures of beautiful girls, then it is either a beauty shop or an internet/game shop. if the pretty girls are armed, then it is not a beauty salon.

the internet shop here in thatphanom is pretty good in that it has photoshop7, and (so far) is devoid of dozens of thai teens playing hyperviolent video games and squealing in high decibel delight as they off the bad guys. or there is another one where they get dancers on the screen to move to the sound of thai hip-hop, that's a good one too, especially if three or four people next to you are using the same song, a couple beats out of synch.

anyway, i can actually stand to work and type here for a bit, and so i resized some recent photos, just for you.

this is the kind of road i was riding down yesterday

P1010025.jpg

i say the kind of because i did not actually ride down this road. you will note the sun is behind me in this picture, and as i noted yesterday, that is not the direction i wanted to be traveling. absolute truthfulness here, dear readers!

i did ride down this road, the maekhong is on my left, and rice fields on my right. yes, i was having a good time.

P1010019.jpg


this path was quite magical, but opened into rice fields not long after:
P1010021.jpg


every village has one of these, that's how you know you are in a new village
P1010022.jpg


this is thatphanom, the internet shop i'm in is just behind the right side of the arch, the road behind leads off to the maekhong. the street that leads down to the river is lined with old shop houses, it really feels out of another world. unlike the new concrete shophouses of many thai cities, these have a much more atmospheric and antiquated feel. but unlike, say hoi an in vietnam, these places are for the locals. no one speaks english here, though they are even more friendly than people i have met other places. that's saying something. the shops sell all kinds of amazing things, i dont even know what many of them are. gift baskets, little figurines, hardware, and several tailor shops.
P1010042.jpg


i decide to get my old vietnamese trousers fixed, and price out having new ones made too. 600baht, it will take them a day and a half. ok, why not. this time i want the cargo pockets interior rather than exterior as they are now, so i ask them if they can. i think they can. this entire transaction was conducted in thai, a language i do not speak. it will be interesting to see what i get!

i really like this town, it is much more "off the map" than any place i've been in a while. this morning i saw the first foreigner i have seen here. there are almost no signs in english (except the ones for thais because having a bit of english in an ad is "cool"). the people here obviously have less money than nakhonphanom, there are the usual concrete houses that would not look out of place in queens mixed in with wood houses that look like something right out of the countryside. there are these big, grand boulevards separating big lagoons with decorated wats rising out of their centers, white and gold radient in the bright light. at night, little lights are on outlining these buildings, and making other shapes and pictures. along the maekhong are little restaurants and bars, and some of those kind i really love, rickety wooden stairs and walkways out over the bank of the river down to a wood platform covered in a thatched roof, wooeden tables beneath little twinkly lights. one sees these kind of things all over thailand. these places always seem a little sad because they seem so nice and yet are almost always empty. it is a little like they are waiting for a party that was forgotten or already over. i dont usually go to them because dining alone at such a place would capture me somehow in their forlorness. i wish i had more thai friends to go in a group sometime.

this is the arch from the other side, in the background is the famous tower of the city wat. one guy was grazing cows along this road too.

P1010044.jpg

January 03, 2008

along the maekhong

today rode from nakhonphanom to thatphanom, by the map its 52km but i took every detour available and dont know the kmage, will update later, sorry to be such a bad cycle tourist.

today was one of the best days riding a bicycle, ever. this is everything i imagined my trip would be like, no, more. this, dear readers, is what retirement is supposed to be all about.

started from the windsor hotel around 9am, heading south for the thai-vietnamese friendship village, ban na chok. there is really not much there, a rebuilt house that ho chi minh lived in in the 20's, and some houses, but it was great just to be riding through the countryside with this wildly out of scale map of a cycle tour of nakhonphanom that i picked up at the tourism office yesterday. stopped for noodles at a little hut in the middle of nowhere, and then left the mapped path and headed in the direction i needed to go. thatphanom is directly south along the maekhong so i figured if the sun was in my eyes i was going in the right direction. it was great just cruising along through back roads in the countryside. small farms, an occasional car or cow, it was peaceful and smooth roads all the way.

after a while i did indeed come out to the 212 highway and headed south. its kind of a boring road, well paved and with a very wide shoulder, but not so interesting. but i had looked at google the night before and knew that there were sometimes other roads running parallel to this but nearer the maekhong. so on an impulse i took a left and sure enough there were roads running south. i followed through a succession of little villages, each with a huge wat at the centre. that's how i knew i had gotten to the next village, the street would go right up to the wat and then go around it. people would wave and say hello. when i got tired of it, i would kind of ignore them, but mostly i enjoyed smiling and waving back.

after a while the roads ended in fields and i headed back to the 212. as i rode on i realised the unique situation i was in, trying to navigate a strip of land bounded by the maekhong on one side and the 212 on the other, and at most a half dozen km wide. as long as the sun was in my eyes it was impossible to get lost. so the next road i came to i made a left off the highway again. the road led down to the river again but that was all, so i went back and after a couple fo km found another small dirt road that took me down to a pumping station that was filling a cement irrigation ditch running parallel to the river, with a little road following alongside. of course i took it.

farmers had little honda pumps that moved the water down to their fields, the multiple pumps in each succession of small plots made a strange modern music, but after a while i moved past them and the only sounds were the tyres on the path, the flapping of banana leaves, and the creaking stands of bamboo. the road led on and on, into the woods. i came to an area which had been swept clean: the sure sign of a wat, this one a simple metal shelter with a gold buddha and the usual nagas and so on. the road ended at that point, only small trails leading on from there. motorbike tyretracks passed through the mud, and so did i. the path wound through big trees and thick stands of bamboo before opening onto ricefields. for a second i was undecided what to do, but then i thought about it: this is a mountain bike, its supposed to be better on tough terrain than a road bike. so, i dragged the bike up onto the little path alongside the irrigation ditch and started riding through the fields. i passed several farmers working. no one seemed very concerned about a crazy foreigner (is there any other kind?) riding along, many kms from anywhere. when that trail ended i just started riding through the dry rice paddies. the harvesting trucks had run over the little retaining walls of the paddies so it was easy to move from one to the other. i did worry about getting chased by the huge cows grazing but nothing ever came of it.

after a while i came to a paved road, more villages, more fields, i came again to the river, again through the woods, and suddenly i'm something like a boy scout camp in another larger wat. i find the entrance gate and head out again down a paved road until the pavement turns west and the dirt road goes east and south, along the river. this is tremendously beautiful and peaceful countryside, many farms, scattered houses, and no one else on the road.

i come to a point where i drop down to the wide flats along the river. i assume this used to be under water, at least at the wet season, but now it seems to be dry year round on account of the chinese diverting massive amounts of water upstream for their own agriculture. people here are working hard, tilling the land by hand, but beside most fields is a pickup truck, each under a little net canopy to keep it out of the sun. some people have little radios, blasting that great isaan hillbilly music i love so much. i head back up onto the higher ground and eventually come back out to the road. a bunch of people are hanging out by a house there and motion for me to stop, so i do. they rush the bike, but unlike many places where they might be begging or pulling at your clothes, here they are offering me glasses of beer and this fruit called makkatdhan (or something like). its crazy. they've got a big pickup truck with a massive sound sytem inside connected to a battery charger and are blasting music, i even recognise one of the songs. they make me dance, try to set me up with one of the girls, and keep refilling my two or three beer glasses. one guy keeps bringing over plants he's picked from the yard and telling me the name in thai (which i immediately forget) and i tell them the name in english (which i assume they also immediately forget) and then sample a bit of it. arroy! they offer to let me stay in the little camping tents they have set up in the yard, and while i'm tempted i decide to head on for thatphanom.

i take the 212 the rest of the way, and find a hotel on the banks of the maekhong (well, across the street), 400b. i have some food with a couple of thai truck drivers who speak 8 words of english between the two of them. with my 8 words of thai we have a couple of laughs and then i come over to the internet cafe and write this. as counterpoint to the former ride's threat, i say that if i have a few more days like this, i will start seriously looking for ways to never come back to the ussa. :)

January 02, 2008

sakhonnakhon to nakhonphanom

1 jan 2551 was my first real day of riding, in fact my first long ride ever really, sakhon nakhon to nakhon phanom, about 88km on the map, perhaps a bit ambitious a first day... and i have to say if i have a couple more days as hellacious as yesterday, i'll toss the bike in the maekhong and proceed by bus.

riding around sakhon nakhon i had clocked myself doing in the mid 20's (km/hr), so i figured 4 hrs riding with maybe an hour of resting along the way. what i had not figured on was the unrelenting headwind that kept me under 15 most of the time, turning my 4 hrs into nearly 7. by the end i was in incredible pain, barely able to do 8 or 9, the last 20 km took over 2 hours. i even walked the bike for a while i was in such bad shape, and was still able to do 5 km/hr that way.

and then when i got to the hotel i got a flat tyre.

living in nyc can be torture. working in the damn film business certainly is, with the ridiculous hours and mind numbing stupidity of it. but i did not endure that life of pain and torture to save up and come to the other side of the world and flaggelate myself. the idea of cycling was not to endure more pain and suffering, but so that i'd be able to stop along the way, where ever and whenever i felt like it. like when thai people hanging out in new years party mode call me to stop riding and join them, as happened half a dozen times yesterday- the last was a group of very drunk girls wearing little devil horns, i kid you not, yelling and yelling after me to stop and come back. and if cannot take advantage of these opportunities, as i was not able to yesterday, because my ride had turned to hell for real and i was worried if i could even go on let alone make it to nakhon phanom by dark, then something is wrong. very very very wrong.

even though the odometer said i rode 94km, with the headwind making me lose 10km/hr, over say 6 hrs of riding, i give myself a bonus of 60km, so i imagine that this is what riding 150km is like. some might say, but dave, it could have been raining or cold or not as nice a road, etc but let me tell you, i came to a warm country and am starting out in the flattest part of it during the dry season if there had been any hint of inclement weather i simply would not have gone riding that day.

so i need to seriously re-evaluate my plan.

i am not going to plan a day more than 50km. and i'll be happy to do less. but that creates a problem: i have only a map, not a guidebook, so outside of the cities i really dont know about the availability of accomodations.

leaving sakhonnakhon i passed numerous little resorts and guest houses, and was very pleased that it seemed i would be able to stop just about anywhere i wanted or needed to. i proceeded to not see a single other place to stay for the remaining 70km of my ride. i promised myself that i would stay at the first hotel i came to. that was the First Hotel (yes, the real name!), in nakhon phanom. and of course i didnt stay there, going to the windsor hotel instead. fan room 250b. in the front so its a bit noisy, they tried to sell me an aircon room in the back for 350b but there could have been a morlam party in the room next to mine and i would have slept through it, that's how tired i was.

by detouring past first hotel, i discovered a huge new years carnival which i went back to later. lots of food stalls, and like most carnival food, none very good. lots of stuff to buy of course, in the land of night markets. several of the booths had max volume pa systems where they screamed loudly about all the stuff you could buy from them. there was a stage performance also, and the soundsystem was terrifyingly loud in order to drown out the others. the irony being they were performing fairly tradional thai music and dance. looked like highschool age groups, the guys playing the instruments, the girls in sarong and bright scarves performing these intricate and graceful dance moves. i would have enjoyed it immensely if i were not a total zombie after the hell ride.

today i bought a small airpump for 600b (its seems as if cycling is popular in this town, there is a pro bike shop someplace, and even at the thai,.ie cheap stuff, bike shop, they had this german-made small travel pump, and i've seen several people, all thai, on quite nice bikes with full gear, and there are several bike paths in town). but i could not figure out why the tyre went flat. there was nothing in the tyre itself, but the tube had this kind of seam which made me think perhaps it was a manufacturing defect? but why did it wait to go flat when i got to this town? very mysterious....

bought a few more small things i needed to get- like zip ties, which i bought from a hardware store where the girl spoke perfect english. kind of surprising, she is probably the daughter of the family, was sent off to university someplace overseas, to come back and help run the family business in this small city on the maekhong, with lao just on the other side.

happy new year 2551

i hope you all have had and will continue to have a happy happy new year.

over here in buddhist thailand, its 2551.

i spent the last couple of days of the old year with my friend bird, we drove from udonthani with his family to his house just outside of sakhon nakhon city. most of those days i was eating and drinking and having a great time, and the nearest internet access i knew of was just far enough that i didnt feel like going over there too often. so, sorry for not updating, and wishing you a happy new year a bit late.

a note to my readers: i do love hearing from you, its nice to have communications with "the outside world", and if you write i will write back but probably won't be up to sending emails unsolicited. lets see, write emails or get massage/ eat somtam/ walk around/ or just about anything else to do here... you get the idea.

a special note to my readers who are planning or thinking about coming to thailand: bring hundreds. i got a better exchange rate with ben franklin than via atm in bangkok, by a couple hundred baht. thats a free massage, or food for 2 days, or etc etc.