Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 6 - Pak Chom To Sangkhom

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Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 6 - Pak Chom To Sangkhom
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 6, 7th December 2016

This is page 6 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5- Pak Chom            |     Go to Other Days     |          Go to D7- Nong Khai >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions & Ride Conditions
Thailand is right-hand drive so ride on the left side of the road. Today we meet more slopes and some mini dragon-backs as we passed the range of hills between the Loei and Nong Khai provinces.
- The route was relatively flat with temperature averaging  Early morning temperature can be quite cold at around 16ºC , mid-morning around 18ºC and afternoon at 28ºC.

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
- We were travelling along the fringe of the Mekong and there are several viewpoints we stopped at:
  - Wat In Plaeng (GPS: 18.08629, 101.94942).
  - Wat Non Sawang Arom (GPS: 18.17846, 102.04035).
  - Nong Pla Buek (GPS: 18.20765, 102.1261), this is one viewpoint stop with great views of rocky islets, a must stop.
- Ban Had Khampi Kangjan Model School (GPS: 18.0833, 102.2547).
Khiang Khong-Pha Daeng Resort (GPS: 18.10149, 102.23884) we were hoping to have coffee here, but it seems to have been abandoned.
- The huge milestones signs at the "Welcome to Sangkhom" rest area (GPS: 18.0833, 102.2547).
Mae Arak OTOP (One Tamboon One Product) Shop (GPS: 18.07402, 102.26391) on the outskirts of Sangkhom.
- The Nong Khai Skywalk at Wat Pa Tak Sua in Sangkhom (GPS:18.03694, 102.30523).

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 Sangkhom was at the Mungmee Resort (มั่งมีรีสอร์ท) (GPS: 18.05388, 102.28477), a twin-sharing room for THB600. Their address & contact are: 252 หมู่ 3 ต.ผาตั้ง อ.สังคม (Route 211), Chang Wat Nong Khai 43160, Thailand & +66-626498829.

7. Food
Breakfast was pre-packed and microwaved food from the only 7-11 outlet (GPS: 18.02259, 101.88211) in Pak Chom.
- Lunch was Thai dishes at the food stall at Nong Pla Buek Mekong Viewpoint area (GPS: 18.20765, 102.1261).
- Dinner was Thai dishes at the Poo-Pae Restaurant (สังคมริเวอร์วิว)(GPS: 18.05406, 102.28542) in Sangkhom (opposite our motel).

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.


The previous day, we had cycled from Chiang Khan to Pak Chom. Pak Chom is a small town with just a few shops, so the sole 7-11 outlet there became our source of food.


Cycling Route - Rim Khong Resort (Pak Chom)>Ban Had Khampi Kangjan Model School>Mekong Catfish Viewpoint @ Nong Pla Buek>Khiang Khong-Pha Daeng Resort>Mae Arak OTOP Shop>Mungmee Resort (Sangkhom).
Cycling Distance: 66.11 km.          |             Level: Hard
The route runs along Route 211 and mostly hugs the Mekong and cuts through several mini dragon-backs at the hills between Wat Si Chomchuen at Ban Had Khampi and the Khiang Khong-Pha Daeng Resort.

5:00am - Seeing that we have some distance to travel today, and that the route will pass by hilly areas, we are starting the day early. Problem is, Pak Chom is a small place and at this hour of the morning none of the shops were opened yet! So, it was to the town's only 7-11 outlet where we had instant noodles, coffee and pre-cooked wantan dumplings (from CP Food). I have a voracious tummy, so I also packed take-away buns for eating en-route.
Actually we were lucky, this outlet had just recently opened. Presently a Google Map street view just shows vacant lots.

It was a cold, misty morning. Temperature was down to 16ºC, fortunately most of us had brought jackets along. I had my raincoat which acted as a wind-breaker, it was good enough for today but not for another day that got colder and windy.

The road at Ban Pak Niam was full of potholes and muddy too. I think there must be a timber logging industry here for this to have happened. At the road side, some Thais were already up and doing their marketing.

6:45am - A first stop for a breather at Wat In Plaeng, it's quiet at this time of the morning but a few Thai gentlemen were up early too, going about their daily exercises. Note: on the left is a three-storey viewing tower. Nope, that's not how they exercise, i.e. climbing up and down the tower.

Up ahead, this family of turkeys were busy too, pecking at the sand on the road side. This is the Broad Breasted White turkey is which are reared commercially for their meat, poor fellows.

The sight of the Thai 'Ironhorse" (converted tractor engines modified into a small truck) became more rampant. These are not only used to carry harvested crops, but also worker, family members and even their pet dogs!
See.... it was cold, the workers are all wrapped up.

7:30am - We say a signboard that said "Kangjan Model School", our curiosity was piqued and we had to go see what this was all about. As we rode in, students dressed in orange and black uniforms paused their sweeping of the road and put their palms together to greet us, Sawadee-Ka.

Their school has a large ground but not many school buildings, those that were around were colourfully painted. The Kangjan Model School program is one that tries to arrest the closing down of rural schools due to depleting student population. Prior to this, schools with less than 120 students were closed down and consolidated to one single school to improve the education quality, however this could make it difficult for poorer students who had to travel further away; ... read more at the Kangjan Model School.

Another random break at ; we made several of this random stops, it was not because we were exhausted, and it was not because the Mekong had nice scenery; it was just too nice not to stop and enjoy the overall ambience of the cool air, and the calmness of the place and people. Of course the scenery did add on to it too.

Our route took us through several hilly sections, up and down we went until ...

... we saw on of the iron-horses and a few of us latched on for it to pull them along. This does help, but a fair warning - don't latch on to the inner side as Chew did; the vehicle swerved inwards to avoid a pot-hole and he had to quickly let go to avoid crashing!

At Nong Pla Buek; this is a major stop as there us a great view of the Mekong here.

The river here had widened and within it were several rocky islets...

The wider stretch meant that the water were shallower and this made it a haven for the Giant Mekong River Catfish to breed and grow to a maximum of three metres long - hence the name of the place, Nong Pla Buek means Brother Blue Fish which is the colour of the catfish. This catfish species is sacred and prayers have to be said before they can be caught. We had our lunch at one of several food stalls here but none of them sold the catfish; those caught here were most probably shipped out.

Other than the river and it's catfish, there were other things to see here too; on the opposite side of the road, a nice shrine with a sitting Buddha statue overlooking the river to keep all there safe...

And at one of the stalls, a little girl was doing here homework, colouring pictures; a Kit Kat bar just next to her as an impetus reward to do it well 😋.

I love photos where our Bromptons aligned in a row, like this one at Wat Kaew Sadet Chai Mongkol. It shows how each of us has individually packed their luggage, how much each had packed and how we had strapped on our luggage to our bikes.

No Calvin was not trying on a see through face mask, he was just fooling around while putting it on. It was close to noon, temperatures were now at around 25ºC and we were preparing for it to get hotter.

It did get hotter but no hotter than 29ºC during the mid afternoon; and fortunately the road was fairly shady as we took on more slopes ahead.

Another rest at Khiang Khong-Pha Daeng Resort; as this was quite a large resort, we had hoped to get some coffee here but oddly the place was closed and abandoned ... so just plain water it is for now.

12:45pm - At the outskirts of Sangkhom, some memorable photo at a large wooden tree trunk "Welcome" signage...

... and one at a giant milestone with a lot of figures painted on each side; we couldn't figure out what they meant so go figure!

Nearer the town centre, the Mae Arak OTOP (One Tamboon One Product) Shop, which means One Village One Product. It's an effort by the government to promote the produce of each locality. Being on bicycles we could not buy and carry much; just got some dried fruits, nuts to show our support for the locals. Here we did get our coffee as they were promoting Doi Chaang coffee.... yahooo!

These are some of the local products that they were selling.

On the other side of town, we wanted to stay at the Sangkhom River View Inn, it's slightly expensive, but hey... we thought we would pamper ourselves with the nice gardens and great views.
Unfortunately they were full.... so no pampering. We ended up at the Mungmee Resort just on the opposite side of the road, which was a blessing in disguise and the operator Mr.Loy was most helpful.

Huat managed to negotiate with Mr. Loy to drive us up to Wat Pa Tak Sua. It was just 18 km. away and we had thought of cycling up there, fortunately we did not as the road was narrow and very steep. But why take the trouble to go up there....

Well, up there was the famed Nong Khai Skywalk had just been opened recently in April 2016. It is a glass platform projecting out from a cliff near the entrance to the temple and can hold up to twenty persons at a time. Entrance is at THB20 per pax.

From here, visitors have a breathtaking view of the plains below with the Mekong flowing through.

The temple itself is unique, with layered roofs and a intricate pagoda crowning it.

En-route back, we stopped at the 7-11 to buy some food for the following day's breakfast as we will be starting off early again.
Back on levelled ground, dinner was at the Poo-Pae Restaurant which served rather good Thai fare like this fusion food of Prawn Shashimi down Thai style.

This grilled catfish, not the Giant Mekong River Catfish but a much, much smaller cousin, garnished with a healthy dose of Thai Chilli sauce was also very good.

(Rātrī s̄wạs̄di̒ - that's good night in Thai, we have another early day tomorrow)

This is page 6 of a 11-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5- Pak Chom            |     Go to Other Days     |          Go to D7- Nong Khai >


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