Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cycling In Isan Thailand - Laos 2016

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Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016
Isan Thailand & Laos : 2nd - 13th December 2016

When I mentioned that I would be going to North Thailand to do some cycling, most without hesitation asked: Chiang Mai? No, not Chiang Mai but to a place that is equally fascinating; one that will will have us skirting the mighty Mekong, and like it, cross boundaries between countries. This tour will take us through Isan in Northeast Thailand and right into Laos.

Six of us - Huat (the organizer and tour leader), Hooi, Calvin, Peow, Chew & me went to this part of the country where not many go cycling at and had a good time, enjoying the smiles of the people and the colour of it's culture. And we took our time, every so often making impromptu stops to view the river, take in the rustic country-side or just to have a snooze with a cool breeze blowing over us.

Below are the blogs of our cycling tour of Isan Thailand & Laos together with some related blogs and tips further below, click on the respective photos to read.

Next.... Korea... again?
Oops... Vietnam first!




Here's, some general tips on cycling in Isan Thailand & Laos, more detailed tips will be included in the day to day blogs:

1. Traffic Directions!
    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.

2. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
- Air Asia: their is a need to purchase sports equipment baggage to check in bicycles into the plan. Although our bicycles were lighter, we booked higher weight-age of 25kg per pax to allow for packing weight and also for stuffing in additional stuff bought at destinations (we were after all tourists too). Please note that bicycles (foldies or full-sized ones) have to be properly packed. Click here for a listing of their charges, prices may vary depending on origin and destination, local flights or international flights.
- Nok Air: this is the most bike-friendliest airline. Bicycles can be checked without packing AND IT'S FREE!
- Lao Skyway: They allow a free baggage allowance of 20kg. that includes sports equipment too. Bikes will have to be properly packed.

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 & Laos, 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 Touch
    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.
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 350 Bahts; 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.

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
In Thailand:
Unlike Southern Thailand, in Isan it was harder to find the cheaper motels (400-600 Bahts) and we pre-booked most of our accommodations which were in slightly more expensive hotels (around 100 Bahts). See daily ride blogs for more details. If one can speak good Thai, it is possible to call up the motels and do reservations.
In Laos:
Being unfamiliar, we pre-booked hotels for both Vientiane (around 100 Bahts) and Luang Prabang (around 140 Bahts) See daily ride blogs for more details.

7. Food
In Thailand:  
Reasonably priced and fairly good Thai food can be found at road-side stalls, coffee shops. Very good Thai food can be found in most established restaurants.
In Laos:
In Luang Prabang, both local and foreign food is more costly as it is a favourite destination; although at market stalls one could probably hunt for much cheaper food.
In Vientiane, there are several nice French restaurants. Local food can be found anywhere.
(See individual daily blogs for food options at that specific locality).

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 , mid morning between around 22 °C and afternoons 26-28°C. In Luang Prabang, early mornings can be quite cold around 16°C and wearing some inner thermals and long pants will be helpful.

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.

10. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads with the relevant tools.


Here's a map of the our intended accommodations and a rough map of our route (will try to update to an actual map of our route later) :

Next - Jeju?

You may also like :

Cycling Sarawak Gawai 2015 Day 1 : Getting To Know Sarawak 30th May 2015
Our introduction to cycling in Sarawak; to it's warm people and some of it's delicious food.

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Thailand-Cycling Laos / Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016
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