Agony, ecstasy and everything in-between
You know those days the when you wake up in the morning and you just feel excited about the day ahead? I feel like that every day. Each day I wake and I’m excited about the challenge ahead; a new lesson, a new experience, another way of doing or thinking something better.
My reading and learning have been the biggest influence in that, but the gym has been a catalyst also. Since hitting the gym fairly religiously every morning, I wake with that feeling. Earlier in the year it was 05.00am, later in the year 6.30am, but each time I’d wake excited for the day ahead, with the gym being the first port-of-call. Endorphins really are best served in the morning I think.
For the next week towards the Laos border, the route is tough and testing. I was nervous about this part throughout the majority of the planning stage but usually take a “ Limits only exist in the mind” or “what’s the worst that can happen” attitude towards most things in life and this challenge is no different. I knew the first part, for a novice cyclist like myself, was a huge challenge, so I was going to take that approach lightly here.
So why am I nervous? Well for 1) there are some incredibly steep climbs, some reaching 20%, which is great, I love the challenge, but I’m 3 days into this adventure and one, steep, long hill almost killed me already, oh and I’ve never done this before! 2) Finding places to stay in the hills along this root is tough and it’s the not knowing part that causes that little anxious feeling. Generally I don’t plan my accommodation too far in advance anyway, a day at most but I usually know there are options 3) This route passes through a number of national parks which are home to leopards, bears, elephants, wild dogs and boar to name a few, which is absolutely incredible, but not so much when you‘re blowing out of your b-hind, cycling up 20% gradients with that “I’m so tired just eat me" look spread across your Chevy Chase.
With all that said, it has been awesome.
I know I’m capable of extraordinary things; I know we all. I believe we have the capacity to tap into parts of ourselves that few people do.
Do you ever question your limits and why you think you have those limits or who sets them? Or possibly think about things that you don’t necessarily want to think about but can’t help it?
A man of 54 years, who wears lipstick, high heels and probably a bra & thong, that I admire, ran 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa and 43 in 51 days in around the UK. Incredible! How? If you didn’t already know who I was talking about, you would probably question me I think!?
One of the most incredible people I know, who I have the pleasure of calling my grandfather, has the motto “ If you think you can you can, if you think you can't you can’t”, the basis of elevating the mind to higher places in a simple form.
The ability to overcome challenges, starts with the change of the mind.
I feel like this past year has challenged me beyond anywhere I’ve ever been before, and in hindsight, I actually enjoyed it, but I also know that pain has no memeory fortunately, which makes my current challenge seem easily achievable and so exciting.
Having waved goodbye to ‘Goodvibes Resort’ after a pleasant stay and waking up to a lovely message from my family who had, had our annual family Christmas dinner the evening before, I was buzzing for the day ahead. I miss them all like mad, but I know it’s impermanent. An important word, which I’ve considered more and more of late.
This was the start of an incredible few days. It’s the most elevation I’ve had to climb in one day ever, but it’s not the toughest day. That one day into Mulberry really was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. Taking me into my 'uncomfortable zone', which I actually enjoyed, but can only ever truly be appreciated in hindsight. My body is adapting very quickly to this cycling malarky, or so it feels.
I’m now starting to appreciate my cycling style and feeling stronger every day. I’d even go as far as to say that I’m starting to enjoy the climbs. I have, however, got into a terrible habit of buying absolute crap from the 7-elevens. which are everywhere in Thailand. Euro cakes, chocolate milk, oreos and mentos being the usual purchase. Did you know that milk is a better hydrator than water? Well, I hate milk, so chocolate milk is the next best thing right…? The sugar is great when riding and the psychological impact it has, has a lot to be said for, so I’m not going to look at encylogoogle for the answer to my rhetorical question because I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.
Today’s climb is long and steep and takes me in an amongst the Hmong People who are an indigenous people of Asia. They dress in traditional clothing, which is visually bright in color, and seem to have a certain style of haircuts, which distinguishes them from others.
Hmong are also animists and much like Peruvians, the center of their culture is the Shaman, which I’ve found interesting since I was a teenager. Animism is the spiritual belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence, very much like Avatar, and where James Cameron got the inspiration for Avatar from, I assume.
I’m cycling through the district of Pechabun and heading to Loei, via Lom Sak, Dan Sai on this leg which covers a distance of around 250km.
It’s a shorter day in distance yet still very hard on the legs but feeling awesome.
When climbing a steep hill, the burn in the legs is like nothing before. It really is one of those feelings that takes all of your mental power to keep at bay; like a fly landing on your face and doing nothing about it. I’ve begun to set my self very small goals when riding steep hills. Every 10 meters or so, I pick a spot and say out loud “boom”, then the next ten, I pick a spot “boom” and it’s amazing what this achieves. I never look up at the full challenge ahead, I keep my head down and geared towards the next small challenge. I’ve done this for 2 hours non stop and each “boom” is breaking through that 10 meter wall. Soon enough that 10 meters is 100 meters, then 200 then with sheer focus, it's not long until you've hit1 km, then 2km. Breaking the big challenge into segments really does help.
Once I reach the highest point of the day, it’s time for lunch…...lot’s and lot’s of lunch.
I’m tired, I’m hot, and salty, but boy do I feel good. If that’s not enough, it’s an incredible view over-looking the hills and pretty remote.
I just sit there and smile for a couple of hours, eating, sipping on water and a bottle of coke. I end up ordering 2 main courses which are absolutely delicious. If it’s not noodles it’s rice as standard and rice for me is always preferred, even twice in a row. I order the steamed rice and chicken with crispy cabbage, twice, and it’s so tasty. Good amount of salt for the cramps, some carbs to get me to my goal and protein to keep the pump.
The ride from here is sluggish but I’m feeling really great. It’s a tough day of climbs, 1,162 m elevation to be exact and I arrive at where I’m staying the night around 3.30pm, about 30km from Lam Sok, the next biggest town. The hotel is more like a motel and a bit weird, but there’s no one around. I wait there for 10 minutes and literally there’s no one. “Fuck it, let’s do it!” The next 30 km’s proved to be some of the most exilerating of the trip so far. After a hard day’s climbing, I was being rewarded. 15km of pure downhill bliss; wind in you hai…helmet, afternoon sun in my face, views spreading for miles and the biggest grin on my face the whole down.
As I arrive into Lom Sak, a sleepy, mid western style town in a large valley, I just roll along on the flat, keeping my eyes open for somewhere to stay. I’m riding along, beaming ear to ear anyway, when a scooter ridden by an adult with a ten-ish year old boy on the back rides past and as it get’s 10 meters past me the boy turns around with great confidence and with the biggest grin, gives me the most assured thumbs up I’ve seen since Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters'- 'Big Me' video and it just makes me smile and laugh, literally until my face hurts. Still smiling to myself like a bit of an oddball, I carry on for 500m down the road, when up ahead, I see the motorbike, the man and the little boy on the side of the road talking to people on another moped. As I pass by, the boy look's up with that self-assured confidence and I look at him, and we share a big smile to each other and he gives another thumbs up and it just makes me feel on top of the world. He really reminded of my cousin Alex, who I adore, and for the next however many km, I just pedal and smile to my self.
After riding around aimlessly looking for somewhere to lay my head, I consider cycling another 25km to the next town, but sense prevails and I decided it was time just to choose somewhere. It just so happened that the point I stopped at what was probably the most expensive hotel in Lom Sak and was well over my budget, but I fancied treating myself, let’s call it an early Christmas present.
After checking in and getting into my nice, cleanish room I get showered and instead of heading out to find a local restaurant offering local food, I head straight for the roof top for the sunset.
For the next 4 hours I sit, sipping beer, writing and in love with life. It’s funny; at the end of the day I sit here feeling incredible, going through the most incredible experience and it all started from a bit of darkness. It’s incredible the difference a year makes.
The day before was sensational and I think that's a great word to describe it and I as I sat having breakfast, I got excited at the day ahead.
I left Lom Sak a little bit later than expected with Dan Sai my final destination for the day a 60km ride with a very steep hill at the end.
After seeing it on paper, I knew it was going to be a hard day but the day before had set me up mentally. Mentally I was ready to take on absolutely anything without giving much thought to my body.
I was 5-10km in and shaking off the tired legs when a moped comes past me slowly, and as I look up, I see a very smiley man giving me a big thumbs up which I'd got quite used to. I rciperocated and said "Sawatdee krap" and he the same. He carried on going, as did I. 100m up the road and he's stopped on the side of the road looking back at me. I stop and for the next 15 minutes, we chat. Joe speak's good English and is a joiner. "My factory is 1km up ahead, would you like to have coffee?" Joe asked smiling.
"Yeah, sure, that'd be nice."
So 1km up the road and Joe is waving at me and there was his factory. A good sized industrial unit. Joe is a nice, friendly guy and proudly show's me his furniture. We have coffee and chat and share contact details. It was a great experience and another example of how friendly the Thai people are. Thank you Joe.
The ride was up-hill from the start, a constant but gradual gradient for the first 30km but nothing really scary yet, but I knew I was in a for a really sick and twisted treat and I was quite excited. For the next 27km it was all up-hill wth a constant gradient of about 6-8% to 600m. It's at this stage where the true challenge started an where the word 'steep' had new meaning.
When I got to the foot of it, I just giggled nervously to my self. Here’s me, on a bike, with 135kg in tow, about to climb that, with 7 odd days of cycling history, but I knew I could do it, and do it well considering.
“Boom”, “boom”, “boom”, “boom”. Every 10 meters, boom. This went on for a very long time. I closed off everything around me. Cars went passed me very slowly, but at this moment, there’s was nothing else in my world except me, Suryl Temple and the challenge ahead. Boom….dripping with sweat and feeling the heat I stop for a bit of water and sugar.
A little stop like this does wonders to lactic acid and general energy levels.
Another hour of sheer determination and pedal to the metal and I know the summit can’t be too far away. I take a cheeky look up to see a corner 50 meters ahead which often means it gets steeper. “If you think you can, you can” “Boom, boom” all these little words of encouragement and battles get me passed that corner, then I see it, 75 ish meters up a straight and it seems to be the final push. “Boom boom… “
Before I know it, the “Boom, booms” are replaced by beep beeps. Car’s, lorries, moped’s everyone. I get the feeling there’s not many people that undertake that hill on a bike. That, or it’s national’ beep your horn at a farang day’.
As I'm stood there, having my 'Rocky Balboa' moment and taking a few selfies, a truck full of laborers stop, wind down the window saying "very good, very good" and hand me a large bottle of water, which they would have bought for themselves no-doubt, which made it even more special.
After a brutal climb like that food was crying out to me. I knew that the rest of the way was an easy ride and I happened across a scenic area with a food shack so stopped to get my fill.
It seems that you find the hidden gems in the most unassuming, rundown places and this what one of those moments. Choice wasn't really an option, it was the usual noodle soup with pork two way's or usual noodle soup with pork two way's, so I went for the usual noodle soup with pork two way's, and it was delicious. Simple, but delicious. I had a little friend watch me the entire time I was eating as well, who was very cute.
63km’s with up to 20% gradients. There’s not many experiences that can offer such extreme emotions, but this is one I recommend. Take your comfort zone to new heights.
I stop at the top and have a moment I wish I could share with you. There’s very little I can say that would ever do this justice but what I will say is this. “the hardest journey reap the greatest rewards”
You all know the saying ‘ What goes up, must come down’?, well I’ve become quite familiar with it and the next 15 km’s didn’t disappoint. 40kmph, 50kmph, 60kmph, 68kmph. Incredible. There’s something about going that quick on a fully loaded touring bike that give’s you a real rush of blood to the head. Halfway down I stop at a viewing point just to take it all in. I stop in a car park area to check out the view and feel like I'm being berated when a group of locals selling beer, rice, food etc on a stall start talking in what I think is a funny tone to me. Turns out they were all half cut and actually really friendly. I had 3 pictures taken with them and they gave me a stick of bamboo coconut rice which was incredibly kind of them. They wished me good luck in their limited English as I sped off down the steep hill again.
On arrival in Loei, you get the feeling of an industrial town with little going on, with one main road and lots of large factory and car garages. After settling into the hotel, getting showered and doing some admin, I headed out, soon to realize that there was a lot more to this town than the statement above. Look a little further and you find a town that seems very content with it’s way of life. Hotel Bliss Loei is my hotel and it’s rather nice, so thanks booking.com for the recommendation, however, at 7% less going direct, that’s as far as your part will play in this booking.
After another brutal day on the road, a shower was first on the agenda, well, after a small beer of course. Food was crying out to me. My body craves food once I've finished for the day so I head out in hunt for sustenance.
It seems as if this isn’t really a town that many ‘farang’ stop in which is a nice feeling; authentic almost. That's the beauty of cycling, you experience places and countries first hand. Going between the main cities is great, and necessary for most due to time, don't get me wrong, but when you see between the big dots on the map, you identify with the cultures and these small towns give you the authentic cultural experience, untainted by the west, unvisited by most travellers. As with most places, I almost always end up in the most local of areas and it’s just the way I like it. I walk into a large market and my feelings are confirmed, only ‘farang’ in the town but I continue with a smile on my face, taking in the smells and sights. I’m ravenous by this point so I grab some spring rolls and sweet chilli sauce and head towards the central park. If ever in doubt or just requiring some quick, sure-fire food, spring rolls in Southeast Asia are a winner; not once have I had a bad one.
I continue my walk in this sleepy town with the ever consistent buzz of mopeds going past and find my self on a small walk-way bridge, over looking a river with hundreds and hundreds of big carp swimming around and spot a restaurant on the banks. Bingo.
As I walk over and on closer inspection, I realize Im just about to experience my first Korean BBQ and boy was it overdue.
Marinated meats, seafood, fish, vegetables all on a self service buffet that you take back to your table and cook yourself on a large metal drum like object in the middle of the table fired by charcoals with a reservoir around the outside for liquid stocks and veggies.
Garlic, chilli, soya bean paste, morning glory, stock et all, it’s similar to a ‘Shabu’, but with a central element that just grills/ bbq’s instead which is brilliant and a great experience, especially as a chef. Squid, chicken, beef, pork, noodle, rice veg, you name it. I spend a good 3 hours sat here, looking over the water and just taking in the setting and sleepy buzz, almost forgetting that tomorrow was Christmas day. It was Christmas eve!
The past week had been pretty brutal on the body, but to be honest, I was feeling great and my mind was stronger than ever. I’d deliberated about where and how I was going to spend Christmas Day and at that moment, on the walk back to the hotel, I decided that I was going to head to Udon Thani for Christmas, 165km away.
Now, I bloody love Christmas I really do. Everything about it. The idea of a Hogsmead (Harry Potter) esq Christmas’ filled with snow, decorations, carol singers and I’m in. Add a bit of Disney to that and I’m yours for the keeping, so knowing that the UK had snow the week or 2 before did make me a little bit envious. This Christmas was always going to be different; I’ll miss my family and especially seeing my nieces and nephews embrace the day like magic, and of course my friends. It’s certainly going to be different to most. Firstly, it’s going to start with a 165km ride from Loei – Udon Thani. Now the longest ride iv’e done to date is 115km on fresh legs and even that was 35km over my previous max. After a long and brutal week of riding with rides averaging 75km with 20% climbs at times, 165km was very tough and certainly brought out the character in me and maybe even the athlete, if I can be so bold.
I’ve worked pretty hard in the gym over the past year, but it was never about the aesthetics, for me, it was all about building the mind, and now I know why that was so important for me.
30km into the ride and my left achilles is feeling very sore indeed, so much so that I consider hitchhiking the rest of the way. I do a little bit of research on the side of the road and identify what could be the problem. ‘Pedal technique’, ‘wrong shoes’ ‘over use’ tick, tick, tick. Great. I end up changing my shoes. Up until now I’d been cycling in Teva sandals which by all accounts are great sandals but maybe not for the distance and gradient I’d been doing, so I changed for my Shimano MTB/touring shoes which I brought with me, knowing there was a very high probability that I’d end up using them. As well as this I took some painkillers and just continued to cycle through the pain, for another 135km.
The ride on Christmas day was very testing physically, but even more so mentally, but there was one important thing that pushed me along the whole way, well, a couple, but the main one being the people. So many happy faces, smiles, thumbs-up and beeps. On 2 occasions since being in Thailand, people have stopped to give me bottles of water, and again today.
I was on the home stretch after about 158km and with about 7km to go of slightly up and down main roads and I stop at a very small petrol station, cash only and selling water and coke. “Sawatdee Krap” I said in a tired voice. I helped myself to a small, cold bottle of water from the fridge and grabbed money from pocket. A girl in her ealy 20's came over, took my money and went to get change. “Thank you” with my slightly bowing of my head which is now a thing apparently. As she come’s back with change, she handed me a large bottle of water. “For you, a present” with a huge smile on her face. “For me? Really? Wow, thank you so much. My Christmas present.” I said and she giggled. It was this gesture and kindness that made the last 7km as easy as the first 7km.
On arriving in Udon Thani, I’m drained, hot and in a fair amount of pain but feeling amazing. As I turn off the main road into the city streets, I stop at traffic lights an head to the front.
I head to the very centre of Udon Thani and stop to look online for somewhere to stay. There are loads of options and after looking at a few different places, I settle on the nearest, The Charoen Hotel, a nice looking, grand hotel with it’s corporate look of an early 90’s American hotel. Done.
When I walk into the lobby, carry my stuff, looking like I’d just crawled out of the dessert after 5 days, the manager didn’t really know what to think, but I just wanted to get showered and get out into the town for a few beers and some food.
The room is nice and clean with a decent shower. I’d have been happy to stay anywhere to be honest, as long as Surly Temple is safe and the bed relatively clean.
I sat and gathered myself for 10 minutes where I literally didn't do or think about anything, then jumped into a freezing cold shower by choice, got my self together and headed out feeling very relaxed and chuffed with the day's ride.
Udon Thani in the Isaan region is the provincial capital of the North East and the 4th largest city in Thailand with a population of about 230,00.
I walked the street’s and found the center easily where I was pleased to see a giant Christmas tree in the middle of the central Plaza. I’d almost forgotten it was Christmas and I really didn’t mind that. I didn’t want to be thinking about back home and I certainly didn’t want to be thinking about last Christmas.
I grabbed some meat skewers in a local market to keep me going until I found somewhere to eat and drink. I wandered the streets and for the first time since Chiang Mai, I’m aware of the ‘Farangs’, but over all it seemed like a cool city and I’m glad I was there for Christmas.
I find a large, covered modern complex market which is bustling with people, clothes stalls, food and everything, which I end up spending affair amount of time over the days I spend in Udon Thani. I spot a Chang sign and head straight for it. Ahhhh. For 30 minutes I sip away, watching the world go by and feeling pretty chuffed with myself. Merry Christmas Bufty.
I make a few phone call’s, sip on a few more beers and tuck into a bit more food before I decide to call it a night. All in all it was a pretty cool Christmas day.
On waking up boxing day morning, I had the first real signs that I’d properly done something to my achilles. Walking was proving very difficult indeed. “Shit” I thought, not cool, not cool at all. I’d only planned to stay in the hotel for 1 night and had booked accommodation the night before else where, so after some breakfast, I limped my gear down stairs, loaded up my bike and set off the 1.2km up the road. That 1.2km was nearly imposible and felt like my achilles was about to ping at any moment and a very uncomfortable feeling to say the least. On arrival at my new hotel for the next 4 nights, I was glad for the change. Cheaper, quieter and the best hotel I’ve stayed in yet. Thanburi is a new-ish hotel located 15 minutes walk out of the central plaza and is a modern and simple hotel. My room was clean, spacious with great storage space and lighting, and at £19.26 a night including breakfast, was the best hotel I’d stayed in yet.
Knowing I need to rest, I sit with my leg elevated for 45 minutes and have an appointment with doctor Google who usually diagnosis cancer or organ failure for a headache, but this time he accurately told me that I had Achilles tendinitis from over use. Thanks Doc. On reading further and understanding a bit about the human anatomy, I knew the achilles could prove a real problem and that, much to dismay, I woulddn’t be cycling for a little while.
After a bit of rest, I very slowly hobble around my room, gather my usual stuff ( image) and very slowly make my way out. I start heading into town and get 150m down the road and come across a very basic street food stall selling chicken satay at 15 pence a stick. Awesome, these looks perfect, so I go to grab my money, and to my annoyance, realize that I’d left it in my room which I never do. So after a very slowly walk back to my hotel grabbing my money and starting again, I head back to the awesome looking chicken satay.
It tasted as good as it looked, if not better. Really tender chicken that had marinated in dry spices and oil with a sweet and spicy, nutty satay sauce with a cucumber, chilli and red onion salad, all in a little bag! Quite possibly one of the nicest chicken satays I’ve had the pleasure of eating and so so simple. After enjoying the food whilst walking, 35 minutes later I find myself taking a seat at a very nice looking coffee shop called ‘Good Days’ and ordering a coffee.
2 hours of blogging and some Chicken, cashew nut and steamed rice later and I’m ready for something a bit more lively. Beer and music to be exact. Happy and content I walk around the food markets and clothing markets for a couple of hours, grazing on little snacks here and there, mainly on skewers. As the sun sets, the mood change’s and the city comes to life. Music playing from different bars and lots of scantily clad Thai girls standing and sitting at the front of the bars, trying to get your attention as you walk passed to come and drink and potential get a happy ending. After declining a lot of offers, I decide to head back to the night market from the previous night and happen across a really cool, upmarket, western jazz bar with western prices but good wifi. A few beers later and into my blogging, I order my first western meal since being in Thailand and it’s delicious. Pork chop, with mashed potatoes, red wine jus and steamed vegetables. I’m not one of those people who sticks their nose up when I see a ‘farang’ eating western food abroad, sometimes you just need that balance and I’d certainly eaten my fair share of Thai food over the past month.
Making plan’s over the next few days in Udon Thani was tough. My achilles restricting me from doing and see a lot of things. It also seems that there’s not actually a great deal to do in the city itself with the few things to see being outside of town.
As well is that, on the 3rd night after a few beers and having already eaten, I walked passed a BBQ street vendor at about 11pm. All I wanted was a picture because it looked pretty cool and authentic, but felt obliged to buy something as well, so I went for 2 skewers of I’m not sure what, but I think it was intestine. The chef in me knew that at 11pm on a warm night, with that much food left sitting there that had been cooked for a while by the luke warm temperature of it, I was playing with fire and 1 skewer in told me that I was probably right. The taste, texture, smell and feeling I got was one of instant regret. That regret was met with a sense of ‘ you should have know better” the next morning when…, well, you get the gist. So not only did I have a very sore achilles, for the next 8 day’s, I also had my first introduction to ‘foodborne illness’ from pathogenic bacteria, that kept me on my toes with a very runny bum which required a lot of ‘dabbing’ I believe is the technical term and my first need for wet wipes and immodium.
‘Travellers diarrhea’ as it’s commonly known, is what it says in the tin. A severe case of the ‘2 bobs’. They do say, that if you are going to pick up any illness in Southeast Asia, it’ll be ‘Travellers Diarrhea’ with 80% of people affected by this unfortunate illness.
Good to hit 2 birds with 1 stone I suppose and get them out the way early and here’s is as good a place as any, with a clean room and clean facilities.
It had taken a bit of planning this trip, but one thing I didn’t take into consideration was an injury, it didn’t even cross my mind to be honest. Very naïve of me considering I’ve barely ridden a bike and certainly made me realize that even though I’m physiqualy and cardiovasculaly fit, it’s not instantly transferable.
Food choice’s have to be considered for the next few day's, but regardless, I headed to a hostel with a sushi and Japaense restaurant on the ground floor and tuk into some gyoza, avocado and pork tempura & spicy tuna California rolls, all 3 being absolutely delicious. Food options are very varied in Udon Thani with something for all and great street food on the whole and great restaurants. For something a bit different, Be Back Hostel is a great place to kick back and enjoy some fresh sushi and Japanese inspired food.
Trying not to be accosted by Thai girls during the evening becomes a bit of pain and running the gauntlet as I see it, become’s a bit of a chore. Not that it’s really intrusive, just makes me feel uncomfortable.
New years eve come’s around quickly and my achilles still isn’t right, so I end up extending my stay at Thanburi by another 6 nights. Originally I’d wanted to get get to Vientiane for New Years, but it wasn’t to be.
2017 has been a massive lesson for me and one that I can only look at with gratitude. I’ve grown so much as person and become very content with myself, which impacts my views of others in a positive way, so it is all I can ask for really. I don’t wish 2017 farewell, because that’s just an obvious, meaningless statement, I do however thank it for teaching me lessons that inspired growth in me and make me excited for my future with new challenges, no limits, new people and of course those that already exist in my life; family and friends.
After a few days in Udon Thani, you get the gist of what this place is about. I was a little gutted not to see the Lotus flower lake, which is a huge lake, covered in Lotus flowers, but I didn't see it without good reason with my achilles being my priority.
I’d questioned whether to actually go out for new years eve, but having spoken to my brother a few hours before the clock struck 12 here and with my own feeling considered, I headed out, go-pro ready to bring in 2018. I’ve always found it a little weird celebrating time passing. It’s so paradoxical and it’s something we do so often.
I agree with this on many levels, but do the same thing twice, with a different mindset and the outcome feels much different. "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” and it’s so true.
I’d been ready to leave for days. I’d been to a few of the same places a few times, walked the markets few times and started bumping into the same people and really stared getting itchy feet. Thanburi had been great and I’d recommend it as hotel in Udon Thani for everything.
I had planned the ride to Nong Khai on the banks on the Mekong, whilst planning back in the UK as part of the route into Laos and when the 2nd January came around, it was time to bring that planning to life. It soon became apparent that this wouldn't be the case, as I knew my achilles wasn’t ready and the last thing I wanted to do was do damage that was irreversible in the short term. Having been at Thanburi for a week, the manager had started to like me I think, and that morning I got the same welcome as I walked down to breakfast. “Good morning Khun Andrew”, Khun being Mr. As I sat there, I started looking at taxi numbers and my options. I spoke to the manager and asked if she knew of any taxi companies and she started making phone call’s. After 15-20 minutes, we were on! “45 minutes” she said in her quiet voice. “Perfect, Khop koon Khrap” perfect! Having sat around writing for 45 minutes, the taxi turned up, but it was soon pretty obvious that Surly Temple was not going to fit, much to the retorts of the taxi driving. “ Dude, honestly, she’s not going to fit, I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
Hmmm, Square 1.
As I stood standing with the manager, figuring out my options, I start asking if any of her friends had a 4x4 that would be willing to do it for the same fee as the taxi. Around £17 for a 53km, hour journey. After a while, she pointed to a 4x4 and asked whether Surly Temple would fit. “Yes, that would be perfect”. “Ok, please sit down Khun Andrew, I will ask the boss”.
After another hour, we were good to go. The owner of the hotel, “Nom" had agreed to give me a lift and fortunately spoke great English and turned out to be a really nice chap. His sister lived in Wales with her husband which reminded me just how close the world was.
An hour went past and we’d chatted the whole way; football, hotels, food, history and it was great conversation.
I'd booked into Mut Mee in Nong Khai that day before which was run by a very flamboyant English guy called Julian and seemed to be the place to go for ‘farangs’, and most of these seem to be on Visa runs. Nong Khai is right on the Mekong and is the route into Laos, via the Thai/ Laos friendship bridge.
Mut Mee itself is a quiet, sedate guesthouse touching the water’s edge. Bamboo huts, and thatched roof’s set amongst concrete buildings overlooking the water and is cheap at £13 a night, quiet and with great food. I had two nights here, wrapped under a mosquito net and it was great and only 5km or so to the friendship bridge and with plenty of restaurants and markets along the river's edge.
I’ve now covered the first 850km thrugh agony and ecstasy. The agony derived from my recent achilles tendinitis through doing too much, the ecstasy, every second before then and during! Thailand, you’ve been incredible and I look forward to seeing you in 7 months time