Have you checked the picture gallery recently? I’ve been trying to catch up with the pictures lately and I’ve uploaded 3 new albums: Thailand 1, Cambodia and Laos. Thailand 2 is nearly ready but not quite. Now there are pictures up to December 1st, 2012, back when I was entering Thailand for the second time. Check them out! There’s a lot of beautiful sunsets, strange people, crazy travellers and of course, the temples of Angkor!
When I was leaving, a friend posted this song on my page. Whenever I think of the road, it often comes to my mind. Where I lay my head is home. Anywhere I roam.
The road is a harsh mistress I said once talking about long hours on the road but it can also give you a lot of pleasant surprises, not
only in the form of gorgeous landscapes. I entered Laos through the South from Cambodia and even before I got to the border, I ran into two bikers in disguise. At first they looked like locals, riding smallish bikes very heavy loaded but their luggage didn’t look like the things you usually see on the road (video post to come on that). It was Denis and Hanes, Dutch and Estonian who had bought their bikes in Vietnam and had come riding all the way from there. Even though I was faster, we crossed the border together and they came with me to Don Khong where we crossed the river together in some scary barges.
We stayed there 2 days, minding our own business. I reading my book, them checking for a mechanic for Hanes’ bike and after two nights I was on my way. Ahead of my I had the road to Pakse and Savannakhet where I didn’t expect to do any sightseeing. I was on the road to Vientiane where I had agreed to meet with Julien, a French biker I had met in Ulan Baatar, like 4 countries ago. He was luckier than me with his China crossing and actually crossed China from North to South. In truth, I was also feeling a bit pressed for time since now I have a date to fly out of New Zealand to Chile and have to somehow manage to get to Auckland on February 18th to catch my flight with the bike sorted out.
I didn’t feel like straining myself though so I left not too late and rode only to Pakse, a couple of hours away and checked my self into a guesthouse with wi-fi. Since it was pretty early, I wandered around town and had a late lunch of pizza. Not really good but did the job.
After wandering around and fiddling with the internet, I decided to share the info on Vietnamese bikes I had got from the other guys with Antoine, a French guy travelling in the region I had met in Bangkok and then randomly run into in Chiang Mai who was interested in maybe buying one. I fired him an email, only to receive a quick response just before going to sleep saying “you are going to laugh but I was just thinking of you, I’m in Pakse tonight too”. Wait, what? Distance from Bangkok to Pakse: 600 km as the crow flies. Time since I had last seen him: around 3 weeks. Emails exchanged in the meantime: zero. And he was in the same town. See, I give all the details and all but these things barely seem strange anymore. We agreed on having breakfast the next day before I left.
And breakfast we had. Soon after I was on my way to Savannakhet. Another short ride and very nice. Here, checking into a guesthouse was a bit more difficult, most of the guesthouses the Lonely Planet mentions had disappeared and the first one I visited had me running away from it for no particular reason but finally I did find a cozy one with wi-fi and a garden to park the bike inside. Again, it was still day and I went for a long walk around town hunting after lunch. On a small side street not far from the Mekong and not far from my guesthouse, I saw a small group of backpackers. Among them, Timo, a Finn I had also met in Bangkok. I remember also saying to him that I was sure we would meet again because the road is just like that.
The road indeed is just like that. You will meet the same people over and over again without even asking for it. Most of the time not even in the same country. I had met these two guys in Thailand. Antoine had come straight to Laos from there, Timo had been in Vietnam in the meantime, I had been to Cambodia. I put Laos in my list of “that sort of places that are just like that”. That list has so far four countries: Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Laos.
The next day I set off for Vientiane and got there. When I was checking myself into the guesthouse, I met with Julien but that meeting was planned. He told me that the next day he was going to work on the bike at Fuark’s bike shop and when we went back to the street to look at my bike and his, we noticed that my rear tyre was completely worn. Looked like I would be taking my bike to Fuark’s too.
The next day was Thai visa day and Buddha Park day. We also did some pictures together with the bikes. We are in Laos. In the background, the Mekong and beyond, Thailand.
To be sure, that wasn’t the end of it. In Vang Vieng, some random guy said bonjour, I had seen him in Vientiane so when I saw him again in Luang Namtha we shook hands and introduced ourselves, lest we meet again and still don’t know each other’s names. They are Michael and Sandrine and they are also travelling around the world, only by plane and bus.
Cruising through Cambodia along my favorite river ever, the Mekong, I stopped for a couple of nights in Kratie. It was going to be only one night but life by the Mekong is so peaceful that you always want to stay one more night. It turns out that in this part of the Mekong river live 75 Irrawady dolphins. Only 75 live between Kratie and the Lao border, it is an endangered species. There are more in other countries but only these in Cambodia.
Fifteen km North of Kratie is where you have to go and everybody tells you so, from to the Lonely Planet to the guesthouse manager. I am always a bit wary of this animal spotting tours/expeditions because either you don’t get to see the beast or it’s crowded with other tourists snapping photos just like you. None of that happened. Since I’m of the late-sleeper chronotype, I didn’t go at sunrise but at around 2PM, when it’s hottest. Best ever, I was almost the only tourist dolphin spotting at the time and I saw loads of them.
At first it’s a bit strange, you don’t know what to look for and the boat driver shoos you to show you where the dolphins are but of course, when you have turned in his direction and then to the direction he’s pointing at, they are gone. But then you start hearing it, when they come out to breath. The sound of them exhaling is what you should be listening for. Looking is almost useless because you don’t know where they are going to surface.
And the water comes alive with dolphins around you everywhere, they are pretty shy and don’t come close to the boat when the engine is on but the boat driver turns it of and goes on with the oar. At some point there was dolphins on either side of the boat and I didn’t know which way to look. I was in awe, it was absolutely beautiful.
And I will leave you with a book recommendation: Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardines’s Last chance to see.
Oh, and they say also that Kratie has some of the most beautiful Mekong sunsets. I let you be the judge of that.
Tonight, I feast on my favorite water! After spending the day under the unforgiving Cambodian sun, I found this beauty at the local mini-mart. Really, I’ve never felt myself dehydrate so fast, not even in the Uzbek deserts and I’ve been drinking a lot of soda water for lack of proper fizzy mineral water (even that abomination called Schweppes Soda water that Schweppes dare only sell in the third world). The last country on my road where there’s been proper sparkling water was Kazakhstan.
“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.”
John F. Kennedy
And here I am, by the sea, without want or urge to leave. I know there are many roads to ride and many sights to see and many things to thing(?) but the sea is so powerful that I think I will stay one more day. Or maybe not. The sun sets on the sea every day as it has done for ages here but every time is just as beautiful. So beautiful that instead of getting the camera to snap a photo, I just get into the sea to swim.