NE Thailand

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The 'bus' was more of an open jeepney back to Pakse, but was relatively atraumatic, despite my mild hangover. The ride to the border was about 60km, which took far longer than I'd expected due to a headwind and recalcitrant backsliding leg muscles. My visa-free entry for 30 days was stamped with little ceremony, and I emerged into the Kingdom of Thailand.

That Thailand is a kindom was a fact never far from my consciousness. A while ago a Frenchman was sentenced to 10 years in jail for defacing an image of the king. (he was pardonned before serving the sentence. The king's not stupid.) At the time, I wondered how he'd come to locate an image of the king to deface so publicly that he was caught. Within five minutes of arriving in Thailand, I realised how ridiculous that question was. Banners, posters, flags and stickers with photos of the king are attached to almost every flat surface in the kingdom. Billboards are erected in prime advertising locations simply to praise the king. The Thai flag, the yellow budhist flag which flies alongside it, and the image of the king, are by far the most pervasive and defining symbols in Thailand.

Due to an unconventional approach to road numbering in Thailand, whereby two roads, one a minor road going nowhere, and the other a cross-country thoroughfare, were numbered identically, I took a 10km detour to a large resevoir. This made reaching the first real town in Thailand impossible before dark. I found what appeared to be a resonably smart resort, and pulled in to investigate. After riding around for several minutes, calling out and finding no-one, eventually a local workman cutting firewood on the bank of the resevoir went to find the custondian. She appeared from a houseboat on the lake,

-Hi! Can I sleep here?
-It is not open yet! I am just caretaker.
-Oh...  Can I sleep here?
-Oh... Ok.
-How much do you want?
-Well, when it's open, it's 250Baht. But it's not open! Just pay what you feel.
-Thank you very much.

She brought a thin mattress to lie on on the floor of one of the huts, and even a fan. The bathroom was clean with cold running water, so I was perfectly happy. There was no restaurant nearby, and I set about heating up some plastic noodles I'd been carrying as emergency 'food'. Just I was about to dig in, the caretake arrived with a huge bowl of rice, a massive omelette and a saucer of fish sauce, left them with me, and, without a word, left. I abandonned the noodles in short order.

The shower was clean and the water was blissfully cool, so it was a pleasure to rinse off the grit and filth of the road. Until, reaching up for the handle of the showerhead, my hand closed over something strange. Blinded by lather, all I could tell was that it was cold, and slimy. Until it jumped onto my back. I'm not overly squeamish, but I don't think many people would relish the attentions of a 4 inch long tree frog while taking a shower. I leaped out into the room, which, being unfinished, had no curtains, grabbed my baseball cap and used it to flap at the frog clinging to the small of my back. This provoked it to jump into the cap, from where I could fling him back out into the forest. Fortunately, no-one was walking by as a naked falang wrenched open his bedroom door and hurled a frog at them. I pulled on some shorts, and proceeded to investigate the room a little more closely. I've never played squash, but I suspect I'm a natural. Ten minutes later, after locating, provoking, netting mid-flight and tossing 4 more frogs, I declared the plague contained, and finished my shower.

I made an early start the next morning, after paying the caretaker. This could have presented a problem, as the cashpoint at the border had only given me 1000B notes. Fortunately, 16months previously, my brother had given me 200B and a cigar. These had been carried all this way, and the money couldn't have been put to better use.

I rode about 50km in the first two hours that morning. This was seriously fast progress compared to recent efforts. A consistent wind from the east was pushing me along at a sustainable 25km/hr. I had a look at my map, and found that if I could maintain the pace all day, there was a convenient town almost exactly 200km away. Flush with the success of my first 200km day, keen to make up some time in order to reach Bangkok, and there being little else to do in this flat, pastoral corner of Thailand, I decided to push for 250km. After 10 hours of riding and about 15minutes of breaks, I arrived, exhausted, in Surin. I flopped in the first motel I found, and consumed the complementary bottles of water in record time. I was encrusted with the salt residue of perspiration, which scratched my sunburned skin. The desire to lie down and never move again was quashed, in deference to the long-term benefits of showering, spraying after-sun and drinking oral rehydration solution with several gallons of water.

The next four days were relatively easy rides, through the scrubby desert landscape of paddy fields in the dry season. The towns were huge, compared to Laos, the roads busy with modern cars. The only affordable accomodation was low quality and morally dubious motels. The famous Thai cuisine did not materialise, I was still living off the grilled chicken, sticky rice and spicy papaya salad that I came to love in Laos. There was grilled 'bushmeat' (rats) on the road into Bangkok, but I resisted the temptation.
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