Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 3 - Looping Loei

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Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 3 - Looping Loei
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 3, 4th December 2016

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions & Ride Conditions
Thailand is right-hand drive so ride on the left side of the road. Loei Airport down to town were on dedicated cycling lanes. Around Loei town were on shared cycling lanes on main roads. At the Loei River were some dedicated cycling lanes.
- The route was relatively flat with temperature averaging 24ºC.

2. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
Nok Air: this is the most bike-friendliest airline with local flights for Thai destinations and some overseas destinations. Bicycles can be checked without packing AND IT'S FREE!. We flew Nok Air from Dong Mueang Airport to Loei Airport.

3. Communicating with Locals
    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.

4. 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.

5. Places of Interest
Sacrifice Memorial (GPS: 17.45127, 101.72862).
Loei City Pillar Shrine & Chao Por Kut Pong Shrine (GPS: 17.48677, 101.72898).
Kut Pong Park (GPS: 17.48501, 101.72936).
- Loei Riverside (GPS: 17.48826, 101.73799).
- Hanging Bridge (GPS: 17.48529, 101.7323).

6. 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.

7. Accomodations
 Our accommodations for one night at Loei was at the Muanmanee Boutique Hotel (ม้วนมาณี บูทีค โฮเทล) (GPS: 13.8718, 100.4808), a twin-sharing room for THB840 per night. Wifi is include but the speed was not as fast as our phone 4G data.

8. Food
- Breakfast was Thai Kway Teow Soup at the Wai Ai Neau outlet at Don Muang Domestic Terminal 2 (GPS: 13.91799, 100.60153).
- Lunch was Thai dishes at THB270 for four pax at M Steak Restaurant (17.48304, 101.72582).
- Dinner was Thai Dishes at THB900 for six pax at Tasty Restuarant (มุมอร่อย)(GPS: 17.48722, 101.72864).

9. 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.

10. 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.


The day before we had taken on the streets of Bangkok to visit a friend's bike shop, the British Cycle Square. We had also done an interesting cycling loop at Ko Kret.
Today we will fly via Nok Air from Don Muang Domestic Terminal 2 to Loei Airport and stay the night in Loei. In the morning, Huat came by with a pick up truck to send us and our bikes to the airport.

At the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to see some Thai cyclists rolling their bikes into the terminal building itself. We were half-expecting them to start packing their bikes, but they just rolled them to the check-in counter for checking in!
They would be flying to Loei in the same flight with us, via Nok Air which is one of the most bike-friendly airline. See, bikes can be checked in for without packing and it's FREE! No sports equipment or additional luggage charges. After checking in, they just rolled their bikes and followed an airline staff to the over-sized baggage to hand their bikes in! 💓💓💓 !

I was a bit apprehensive about how the bikes would be handled, but when we boarded the plane we could see the ground crew slowly and carefully loading the bikes into the aircraft hold. That's service for you!

Upon arrival at Loei Airport, the bikers just had to wait for their bikes to be unloaded and rolled in by the ground crew there!

While those other cyclists just hooked on their panniers and rolled off; we ignoramus had to slowly unpack and assemble our bikes. Fortunately there is a space at the car-park to do this.

 Before we set off, let's get to know Loei a little bit.
Loei (Thaiเลยpronounced [lɤ̄ːj]), in Isan, is one of the most sparsely populated provinces (changwat) of Thailand. Neighboring provinces are (from east clockwise) Nong KhaiUdon ThaniNongbua LamphuKhon KaenPhetchabunPhitsanulok. In the north it borders Xaignabouli and Vientiane Province of LaosThe city of Loei is surrounded by mountain ranges whose summits are covered by fog and abundant with varied flora. The best known mountains in the province are Phu Kradueng, Phu Luang, and Phu Ruea.
Mid-year for the Isan region is the wet season with average daily temperature of 28°. End of the year is the dry season with a mean daily temperature of 22°
While there, we saw many posters and caricatures of colourful masks and costumes shown in the above photo. These are costumes worn during the Phi Ta Khon festival which is usually celebrated in Loei during the middle of the year. The masks consist of a large head piece made from the woven cone used to steam sticky rice. The face is carved from wood or banana trunks. The clothing was traditionally sewn from rags of old cloth, but nowadays is usually a kind of jumpsuit patched from several colourful fabrics.


Cycling Route Loei Airport >Sacrifice Memorial>Muanmanee Hotel>Chao Pho Kut Pong Shrine>Chaloem Phra Kiat Park>Loei Airport>Muanmanee Hotel.
Cycling Distance: 22.58 km.          |             Level: Easy 
On arrival at Loei Airport we cycled down via dedicated cycling lanes into town to check-in to our hotel. Later we cycled around town and to a park and the Loei River side.

I had travelled light, with most of my luggage packed into my trusted C-bag complemented with the saddle bag. Those blue boards are Impraboards which I used for packing my bike with a Dimpa Bag tor checking my Brompton into airplanes.

Riding out from the airport, we were surprised to find dedicated cycling lanes which led all the way into town. According to Huat, these were fairly new as their were not around when he was up here a year ago. Within the town, there were shared cycling lanes too.

We checked into the Muanmanee Boutique Hotel , left our luggage there and it's time to explore the town a bit.
But first lunch at the nearby M Steak Restaurant, a simple one of Som Tam, stir-fried mixed vegetables, Thai omelet with minced pork (Khai Jiao Moo Sab / ไข่เจียวหมูสับ) and Tomyum. The food was just ok, but I particularly like the Tomyum; they had taken the trouble make criss-cross cuts onto the cuttlefish, making these easier to bite into.

Some attractions we rode by or visited:
Loei City Pillar Shrine & Chao Por Kut Pong Shrine. These are two shrines located right at the town centre; one is a Chinese one with a tall pillar while the other is of Thai design. The city pillar was made of the golden shower wood elaborately carved into a lotus shape at its top and gilded with gold leaf on black lacquer with a height of 139 centimetres.

Love is in the air with these swans at the Kut Pong Park, their necks forming a heart shape which is also reflected on the water. Double love!

Power stance at the Hanging Bridge that connects to the Chaloem Phra Kiat Public Park.

Ahead was the Loei River side. And there were dedicated cycling lanes here too! Some were paved blue...

... while others were finished with tiles.

Down at the river, a man was setting up traps to catch fish. Hope he gets a good harvest!

Back in town, some views of older houses, some of which have been converted to cater for the tourist industry - like this one which is a bistro & cafe.

Tuk-tuks parked outside Loei market.

Thai like their tamarind, at the market were stalls selling pickled ones, fresh ones and even tamarind juice.

Further along, on the road-side was a stall selling these fruits which we thought were ambarella fruits. Actually they were Monkey Apples, a favourite in Isan and which we would get to see more of later on.

It's time to go to the airport again. A couple of our friends would be flying from Hat Yai. Instead of the main road, we used a secondary road, there were no cycling lanes here, but ...

... but there was a bonus as along the way we got passed by this nice temple, Wat Pho Si Somphot ...

... and got to savour fresh coconut juice that was tasty and sweet. The vendor (2nd from left) was very adept with a flexible resin knife, putting it into the coconut through a small top hole and paring out the flesh inside with deft hand movements.

We were early, so made a stop at the Sacrifice Memorial. Here there were airplanes, armoured cars on display.

4:45pm - Our friends Hooi & Calvin had arrived on a flight from Hat Yai (with a transit at Bangkok). Hello guys! It's great to see you both. As can be seen they have also packed their bikes into Dimpa Bags.

Here they are with their bikes unfolded, their baggage in in front and on the rack. Also strapped to the racks were the Dimpa Bags and folded Impraboards used for packing their bikes for the flight.

Back at the hotel it was laundry time for me. A couple of tips here:
- after washing put your clothes onto a large dry towel and roll it with the towel, the towel will absorb as much moisture as possible; if neccessary, step on them for more squeeze power. Then hang to dry below the air-cond blower and the clothes should dry overnight.
- if the air-cond compressor (the outside unit) is accessible (like at the balcony here), hang your clothes there and the hot air from the compressor fan will dry the clothes within an hour!

Dinner was at Tasty Restuarant (มุมอร่อย), where we had some Thai dishes to go with white rice. This Mango Salad (Somtam Mamuang) was very good... and .....

... and I never miss this Thai omelette with minced pork (Khai Jiao Moo Sab / ไข่เจียวหมูสับ). It's my favourite and I had it at almost every meal.

Even after dinner, we just hung around at the restaurant, slowly sipping beer while having snacks of steamed groundnuts and roasted chestnuts, both of which were very good.
Seems like this was not the end of our day, as somebody soon popped the question...

... "Let's go for a Thai Massage!"
And off we rode to this cosy looking joint at the outskirts of town.

In the style of Japanes or Korean dramas, shown here is the massage mattress... the rest I leave for your imagination... but no naughty thoughts, it was a good, clean Thai massage.



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