Saturday, January 7, 2017

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 7 - Sangkhom To Nong Khai

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                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 7 - Sangkhom To Nong Khai
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 7, 8th December 2016
Small Group Ride from Sangkhom to Nong Khai Mungmee Resort (Sangkhom)>Wat Wipatsana Pha Chan>Si Chiang Mai>Monkey Apple Jetty>Panlaan Botique Resort (Nong Khai).

This is page 7 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D6- Sangkhom           |     Go to Other Days     |     Go to D8- Vientiane D1 >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions & Ride Conditions
Thailand is right-hand drive so ride on the left side of the road. The route was quite flat except for some steep hills between Sangkhom and Phra Phutthabat.
- Early morning temperature can be quite cold at around 16ºC , mid-morning around 18ºC and afternoon at 29ºC.

2. Communicating with Local
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Thai can hardly speak English, and learning some basic phrases will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.
In Thailand, doctors and pharmacists speak relatively good English. Seek out clinics or pharmacies for help when necessary. A friend who regular tours the country even carried flash cards of crucial personal and medical details printed in Thai, basic daily terms, etc.

3. Staying in Connected
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Other than wifi provided by hotels, home-stays and restaurants, getting pre-paid card is a good option.
We arrived at the Don Muang International Airport and bought pre-paid SIM cards from a TrueMove Mobile stall located at the arrival hall. High speed 4G packages with 1.5GB data for can be obtained for THB350; beyond usage of 1.5GB it still works but at a slower speed. Click here to view other TrueMove pre-paid sim packages. If not familiar, get a staff to set up your phone for their system for it to work properly.

4. Places of Interest
Wipatsana Pha Chan (GPS:17.96749, 102.50373) with an impressive stupa and several golden statues of the Buddha and venerated monks.
- Si Chiang Mai Mekong Viewpoint (GPS: 17.95918, 102.58944) where one can see Vientiane across the river.
Monkey Apple Jetty (GPS: 17.81727, 102.63707), here sampans were delivering monkey apples planted on a island within the Mekong River.
- Nong Khai Night Market along Koaw Woravut Alley starting near the Wat Mi Chai Thung (GPS: 17.88045, 102.73122).

5. Currency Exhcange
For better exchange rates, get your Thai Bahts before leaving before leaving Malaysia. Also at some towns, it may not be possible to change the Malaysian Ringgit to Thai Bahts.

6. Accomodations
Our accommodations for one night at Nong Khai was at the 4-star Panlaan Botique Resort (โรงแรม พันล้าน บูติค รีสอร์ท หนองคาย) (GPS: 17.86605, 102.71823), a superior twin-sharing room for THB 2,650. This was much more expensive than our usual but we had no choice as most rooms had been taken up on account of a regional school singing competition being held at Nong Khai. Though this is a 4-star accommodation, service is poor and they charge for everything even for an extra small bottle of mineral water; I wouldn't recommend staying here.

7. Food
Breakfast was pre-packed and microwaved food bought from a 7-11 outlet the night before in Sangkhom.
- Brunch was Chee Chap Chok (pork entrails porridge) at a shop (GPS: 17.95879, 102.59117) near the Si Chiang Mai Mekong Viewpoint.
- Tea time snacks at the Thabo 7-11 outlet (GPS: 17.84727, 102.57789).
- Dinner was Western fare at Apple's Place (GPS: 117.88435, 102.74441) near the Nong Khai Night Market.

8. Weather
November and December are good months to ride in Isan and Laos as the weather is quite cooling and the possibility of rain is low. Early morning temperatures is between 18 to 20°C, mid morning between around 22°C and afternoons 26-28°C.

9. Navigation
Where data signal is available and strong, one can use Google Maps to navigate around. If the cycling options may not be available, just use the walking options.
In cases where data signal is weak or unavailable (like in remote rural areas), install MAP.ME into your phone. It's an off-line map app.   
Alternatively, use a dedicated GPS unit like those from Garmin. However ensure that one install the Thailand and Laos maps into the unit.


PRELUDE

day earlier, from quiet Pak Chom we had made our way to Sangkhom a much larger town and had also gone up to their Skywalk for a great view of the place. Today we head for Nong Khai, right at the border with Laos. It will be our last full day in Thailand before crossing over to Laos.


THE RIDE

Cycling Route - Mungmee Resort (Sangkhom)>Wat Wipatsana Pha Chan>Si Chiang Mai>Monkey Apple Jetty>Panlaan Botique Resort (Nong Khai).
Cycling Distance: 77.09.11 km.          |             Level: Hard
The route runs mostly along Route 211 and hugs the Mekong and it is quite flat except for some steep hills between Sangkhom and Phra Phutthabat.


5:00am - We are up early today as our route today to Nong Khai will be close to 95km. Mr. Loy, Mungmee's operator was again most helpful, waking up earlier and setting up the microwave for us and boilers for us in the garden as their kitchen was not opened yet. There we were enjoying the pre-packed food that we had bought from the 7-11 outlet the night before.


5:30am - We roll off with most of us wearing outer jackets and long pant; it was a cold morning of 15ºC, the coldest since the day we arrived in Isan.


Just after we left Sangkhom, we hit a series of hills, they were quite steep too. Dang! Huat pulled a fast one on us when he mentioned that the route would be flat all the way!
Somewhere up in the hills, we stopped at the view a small park (where the Sangkhom Highway Division is located) for a good view of the town below.


A stop for a well-deserved rest at the junction that led up to the Wat Pa Tak Sua temple (at the right where the blue road sign is). It's early and the road side stalls were not opened yet.


The stalls were not opened yet, but the monks were already up, going on their morning rounds to collect alms. Along the roadside, locals would be kneeling, waiting for the monks to arrive at their spots.


Whoops! Another series of slopes, these ones even steeper!


After those treacherous slopes, taking a rest at a roadside attap hut near Phra Phutthabat. "From here it would be flat all the way", Huat said. We took his words with a grain of salt, keeping our fingers crossed that he was not pulling a fast one on us again.


It was almost flat all the way, we did hit some slopes; but these were gentle ones with shady roads, and we coasted down most of the way, enjoying the cool air blowing onto our faces.


8:15am - At Ban Mo, from the road, we saw a nice looking stupa and took a short detour to visit the place, it's the Wat Wipatsana Pha Chan. The golden stupa looked even better up close.


Wat Wipatsana Pha Chan is a monastery; we hardly saw any monks around, they must be out for their alms rounds. We did see nice golden statues of the Buddha with those of venerated monks.


And at the entrance steps, a couple of nice looking, colourful Nagas.


Further on, we screeched to a stop for .... pineapples!


The pineapples here are really good - sweet and crunchy fresh. Calvin giving the thumbs up... and then went on to order another round!
It was really that good, so don't miss it when up here.

9:25am - At the outskirts of Si Chiang Mai, saw this Sri Chiang Mai Cycling Club HQ, we thought of popping in to say hello but didn't see any cyclist there.


At Si Chiang Mai, there are dedicated cycling lanes on the road running along the Mekong riverside.


The road there is a happening place with many street stalls lining it. At the centre is a viewing platform, across the Mekong river here one can see Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to its left we could even see the airport with planes taking off and landing; we will be heading there tomorrow.


Hungry, we did not loiter at the stalls area and headed for a corner coffee shop for lunch - one of Chee Chap Chok with lots of Yau Char Kwai.


Today, the weather was hotter (close to 29ºC); Huat managed to get a "lift" from this farmer couple, chatting with the old lady like he was some long, lost friend 😊.


At Thabo 7-11, porridge brunch long burnt away by our cycling, time to top up... and at the same time enjoy the air-conditioning of the outlet.


Further on, we turned off from Route 211 and rode on Route 242; this was a less busy road running along the river. It was a much better road to cycle on as there was less traffic and shady; more important, there was a cool breeze blowing in from the river making our ride all the more pleasant. This detour at Thabo will shave off more than 10 km from our route and also would take us pass acres of tobacco farms.


At at stop which we called the Monkey Apple Jetty on account that here a fruit wholesaler was packing Monkey Apples that were brought in by sampans from an island in the middle of the Mekong. It's a large island and Google Map showed it belonged to Thailand.
It was also very cooling here, with a stronger breeze blowing in and soon most of us were relaxing and taking a snooze.


Sampans brought over loads of the fruits from the island (which can be seen in the foreground), and a motorised winch is used to bring them up on a cart running on rails.


Further on another stop, at a lady butcher's place, it's afternoon and she must be preparing pork for selling to the night hawkers and evening restaurants. She was a jolly lady, with a huge smile; here's Hooi with her and we sort of half expected them to break into a dance.


2:30pm - We arrive at the Panlaan Botique Resort. At THB3,000 per night, it was not our norm of cheaper accommodations; but we had no choice as there was a regional school singing competition going on and most of Nong Khai's hotels/motels were taken up. Although a 4-star accommodation, we were rather disappointed by it: maintenance was poor and most of our toilets were choked up, and the rooms were dim with minimum lighting. Also when we requested for additional towel and an extra bottle of water, we were advised that these would be "Charged"! We will definitely be not staying in this place in the future.


In the evening, it was time to visit the night market which starts from the Wat Mi Chai Thung 
 along Koaw Woravut Alley. 


The market was a flurry of activity, but come 6:00pm solemn music issued out from loudspeakers; and everyone stopped what they were doing and stood quietly at attention. This happens everyday as a mark of respect to His Royal Highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.


Many interesting things were sold at this night market, like this grilled orangish squids that were full of eggs.


After one week in Thailand, we wanted to try some other than Thai food, and ended up having Western fare at a place called Apple's Place. Walloped this minced meat patties with mash and a huge bowl of salad!


It's our last full day in Thailand, and we would be heading for Laos tomorrow; so to get into the mood some of us had this Beer Lao, it's a light beer and rather good!

ไชโย!

(That's "Chiyo!" - "Cheers!" in Thai)

This is page 7 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D6- Sangkhom           |     Go to Other Days     |     Go to D8- Vientiane D1 >

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