Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 8 - Nong Khai To Vientiane

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Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 8 -Nong Khai To Vientiane
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 8, 9th December 2016

This is page 8 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D7- Nong Khai    |   Go to Other Days    |   Go to D9- Luang Prabang D1 >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions & Ride Conditions
Thailand is right-hand drive so ride on the left side of the road. Laos on the other had is left-had drive, so ride on the right hand side of the road. Do remind yourselves of this when entering Laos. Same thing applies when crossing the road, so do take care.
- The route is quite flat with early morning temperature around 19ºC , mid-morning around 25ºC 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.
In Thailand:
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.
In Laos:
We crossed over to Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai and bought Lao Telecom high speed 4G SIM cards from a mini-mart at the Laos side with 1.5 GB data that last for a week for 150 Bahts. This was a mistake as the mart attendant was not very familiar with setting up the phone. Un-noticed by us, there is a Lao Telecom booth right after the immigration booth (at an island on the centre of the road), buy it there as the staff can set up your phone for their system for it to work properly. Click here to view a range of Lao pre-paid sim packages.

4. Places of Interest
- Wat Chom Thong (GPS: 17.91939, 102.61856).
- Lao King Monument Park (GPS: 17.95723, 102.61758).
Wat Si Muang (GPS: 17.95804, 102.61706).
Wat Sisaket (GPS: 17.96313, 102.61139).
Presidential Palace (Hor Kham) (GPS: 17.96249, 102.61025).
That Dam (GPS: 17.96594, 102.61106).
Wat That Phoun (GPS: 17.96809, 102.61794).
Patuxay Victory Monument (GPS: 17.97061, 102.61852).

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.
Although the Thai Bahts is widely accepted in Laos it is better to change to the local Kips at the hotel or money changers for better rates. Market stalls and restaurants generally give poorer exchange rate. In Luang Prabang, there are several money-changers that open early and close only at night. Do note that they will do not give back change in the currency that you offered, i.e. if you want to change 50USD, don't offer a 100USD note and expect a return of 50USD. Try to change Kips to your daily requirements as buy back rates are lower.

6. Accomodations
Our accommodations for the night at Vientiane was at the Khampiane Botique Hotel (GPS: 17.96689, 102.60569) at around MYR120 per twin-sharing room per night inclusive of taxes.

7. Food
After a week of Thai food, we decided to go for other food for a change:
Breakfast a very good spread at the Panlaan Botique Resort (โรงแรม พันล้าน บูติค รีสอร์ท หนองคาย) (GPS: 17.86605, 102.71823) that was included in the room charges. This was about the only thing we liked about the hotel.
- Lunch was very good French fare at the La Terrasse (GPS: 17.96472, 102.60545).
- Dinner was Italian fare at the Via Via Restaurant (GPS: 17.96361, 102.60489).
- Supper was Japanesa at Torimaru Ramen (とりまるラーメン) (GPS: 17.96614, 102.6061)

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

Yesterday, we rolled off very early and had cycled from Sangkhom to Nong Khai. It started off with some tough slopes through the hill but after that it was flat all the way. We had stopped in Si Chiang Mai, from where we could see Vientiane just across the Mekong.
Today we take a short ride and crossed over into Laos.


THE RIDE
Cycling Distance: 27.27 km.          |             Level: Easy
The route is rather flat and started off with a bit of rural road cycling approaching the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. On the Laos side, there is a switch over of traffic directions, we had to remind each other to cycle on the right side of the road. Also, as we got nearer Vientiane, the roads got wider and busier.

We started off the day by saying our goodbyes to Huat; due to some work emergency he had to go back to Bangkok via a flight from Udon Thani. So Chew would be leading us into Vientiane, using the MAP.ME app .... and we got lost! It was no fault of Chew, his map showed a road leading to a dead end. Fortunately a local motor-cyclist noticed our predicament and offered to lead us; it was a longer looping route but one that took us through a nice rustic roads that took us pass ponds and lots of greenery.

Saying "Khob Khun Khap" to our Thai saviour.

The rustic road led us to the main highway to the Nong Khai Immigration check-point, it's an elevated highway. At the immigration and customs, we tried to us the vehicular check point but were directed to use the pedestrian checkpoint while leaving our bicycles at the road side. One of us stood guard while the rest crossed over and came back for our bicycles.
AND IT'S GOODBYE THAILAND!

Yahoooooo! Cycling across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, it's slightly more than a kilometre long whit a mid-section spanning over the Mekong. Huat had advised us that there is no stopping allowed on the bridge, we could see why as it did not had space for stopping without obstructing traffic. 

HELLO LAOS!
At the Laos Immigration, the procedure was the same - bicycles outside while we went through the pedestrian gates. The only difference is that we had to queue up to get one-way ticket which is a plastic and credit-card size, cost of this was THB50.
On the Laos side we headed for a couple of small convenience store that advertised the selling of prepaid phone sim cards; we got one with 2 Gigs data that with a usable time of one week at THB1,500. The only problem was the shop people did not know how to set the phone correctly, and we had to go over to queue up at a Lao Telecom stall for their staff to properly set our phones for us.
Hah! Anxious us did not notice the Lao Telecom stall, it is located at a central road median just after the immigration checkpoint. We were looking ahead and did not turn around so did not notice it initially.


And.... we are cycling in Laos!
We had to remind each other to cycle on the right though; in Thailand it was on the left, so some re-orientation time required...
Along the way we made several stops at some interesting places (will show this later).



11:50 am - We arrived at Khampiane Botique Hotel, our stay in Vientiane. Time to explore the city and see its sights and sounds ....

First the people...
A street vendor, wearing a Asian conical bamboo farmer's hat, pushing her cart of wares through the streets.


A lady wearing traditional Lao tribal costume, her darker complexion suggest that she must be from the south, nearer Cambodia side.


At Wat Sisaket, this bride in traditional Lao bridal costume was having a photo shoot.


Outside Wat Sisaket, we met Ton & Tu, cyclist from Bangkok who were also visiting with their Bromptons.


"Taichi", a young Japanese tourist who is travelling round the world and earning his way being a street singer at the places he visited. Here he was, blazing away at the Vientiane Night Market.

... and the places:
Our first stop was Wat Chom Thong, it's not a large temple but had nice statues. Situated near the banks of the Mekong, it was also a cooling place to take a short rest.


Curiosity pulled us to this small park with a statue of an old Lao king. The inscription were in Lao so we could not tell who it was but he had a grand, mighty warrior look.


A longer stop at Wat Si Muang, This temple built in 1563 is named after a young pregnant woman called Si Muang; she sacrificed herself to appease the angry spirits by throwing herself into a hole where the temple's main pillar was to be placed. She was crushed when the pillar was lowered into position.

Here we met Mr. Sene, an elder Lao who spoke very good English. He explained that Lao temples had a distinct difference from the Thai ones. At the centre of the roof ridge are ornamental carvings, these represent Nirvana. He also taught us some basic Lao, like Sabai-Dee (Hello) and Khob Chai Lai Lai (Thank you very much).


At the temple entrance, a green Garuda-man temple guard.


The old stupa at Wat Sisaket; this was at the entrance to the temple.


One of the prayer pavilions at Sisaket Temple.


Next was Wat That Phoun, a newer temple and with more buildings being added to it's grounds. 


The impressive Golden Stupa on the grounds of the temple.


I like this multi-tiered prayer pavilion, a stupa topped its peak.


A fierce looking bronze temple guard statue with a Naga helmet; evil spirits beware!


That's us at the Patuxay Victory Monument. It was build to honour the Lao who killed in their independence struggle from France, and earlier from Siam and Japan.


A charming old colonial building with pretty French louvred windows, it's yellow walls glowing in the evening sun.


In the evening, we explored Vientiane's Night Market, hoping to see local handicraft and culture (like those in Chiang Khan's Night Market) but were sorely disappointed. It's a large market with the stalls there sold mainly clothing, bags, etc., most of which came from China. Also we could not find any food stalls there.


Braised Beef in Red Wine at La Terrasse, was very tender and superbly taste. Don't miss this when in Vientiane!
Food!
Lunch was very good French fare at La Terrasse. Dinner was Italian fare at Via Via Restaurantt and supper was ramen at Torimaru Ramen. We were spoilt for choices in Vientiane and really went international.


ໃນຕອນກາງຄືນທີ່ດີ
(That's "naitonkangkhun thidi" - "Good Night" in Lao)


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