The early bird catches the visa

Roberto follows the German Birthday tradition

Roberto follows the German Birthday tradition

Country: Laos and Thailand
From Vang Vieng to Bangkok
Lesson learned: It is okay to drink beer and play the guitar inside the Thai Consulate in Vientiane
Laughed about: Myself ready to get started at 4 am
Most wonderful miracle: Friends, beer, sand and sunsets in a wonderful island
Food we ate: Eggs and sticky rice
Greatest challenge: ride 70 kilometers before noon
Days on the bike: 3
Kilometers cycled: 214.21
Average Kilometers per day: 71.40
Total Kilometers cycled till Bangkok: 9671.03
Total days travelled till Bangkok: 548

March 2013, Cycling in Laos Part 3

I could have easily spent an entire week in Vang Vieng. There was much to see and do! The relaxed atmosphere got me and it was hard not to join the general holiday mood that most tourists radiated. Nevertheless, we stayed for only two days in Vang Vieng one for pleasure and one for work. My friend Ann-Cathrin had already arrived in Thailand and we wanted to meet her there.
Back on the road we enjoyed the luxury of a paved and only hilly road. On the last climb, we stopped at a small house and bought a Coke.

Eg and Wasenar

Eg and Wasenar

Eg and Wasenar, the sons of the owners, invited us to sit with them in the house and eat eggs. They drunk Beerlao with ice and we tried to talk to each other, even though none of them spoke English. After a while a deaf-mute friend of Eg stopped by and started communication with us. We did not know any sign language but still communication with him was very easy. He was used to interpret hand signals and gestures and expressed himself clearly. They invited us to stay with them, but we still had two hours of daylight left, so we declined thankfully. The relaxed Laotians did not understand our hurries.

On the way to Vientiane

On the way to Vientiane

We climbed one last hill and watched down into the valley. Flat and straight roads welcomed us. The rice fields around us flourished in a toxic green and the sun shone stronger than ever. After more than 100 kilometers, we asked permission to camp on a family’s front yard. At first, they did not understand us, but then they invited us to push the bikes nside their property and to join them. After a few minutes the son Meng came home. He learned English and was happy to find an opportunity to practice it with us. Meng translated his parents’ invitation for us. They offered us to sleep with them in the house and to join them for dinner.

Roberto with Meng and his younger sister

Roberto with Meng and his younger sister

Meng showed us photos of his friends, we played chess and talked until Roberto and I almost fell asleep.
I woke up with the first sounds of the day. If we did not get on the bikes right at sunrise we would not make it to cycle 70 kilometers into Vientiane before noon in order to apply for the Thai visa. Meng’s uncle ran up and down, his mother washed the dishes and Meng turned on the music. I slipped into my bike shorts and checked the time. It was 4 am. I knew that people get up real early in Laos. But 4 am was a bit too much. The stars still shone brightly. I tried to go back to sleep and remained restless till 5.30 am. Within an hour we packed our things, shared breakfast, and got the bikes ready. When the sun rose we had just been cycling for two minutes.

Not too much traffic on the mail road

Not too much traffic on the main road

Finally we had the opportunity to watch the women giving alms to the monks. In small groups, they wandered the streets. Women kneeled down and offered them rice, vegetables and noodles, in exchange for blessings.
We stopped once only and achieved our goal – the Thai Consul in Vientiane – at 10.15 am. Fortunately I had read a couple of travel blogs before we got there so we did not change Lao Kips into Thai Bahts with the men outside the consul.

Morning Alms in Laos

Morning Alms

Neither did we buy any of the forms or a service fee for completing them. Everything was easygoing and fast. I was worried for my informal shorts and sweaty shirt, but must applicants were dressed even worse. One had a marihuana shirt, another one ate ice cream, a chubby old man enjoyed a cold Beerlao inside the waiting area and plenty of hippies sat down in the grass, two of them playing the guitar. The process was easy: Get a number, fill out your form, glue two pictures, get upstairs to take passport copies, get back downstairs and wait. Hand in your form, wait in another room, pay the fee and fetch the passport up by the following day.

Roberto and the big Stupa

Roberto and the big Stupa

Now we had enough time to search a guesthouse and even stroll through the town for a few hours. We met a few other cyclists, shared tips, and went to sleep early. By the following morning we overslept sunrise. Before we fetched up our passports we took a quick detour to the Stupa Pha That Luang, Vientiane’s landmarks.

Most applicants were back at the same time as we were. There was Marie-Helene from Canada, Forest from the U.S., Israel from Mexico and two new friends from Germany and South Africa. We took a number, waited a bit, and then we got our passports back. That was surprisingly easy. We had one last fresh coconut milk with Daniel from Poland, one last Laotian meal with Marie-Helene and then we got on the bikes and cycled towards the border.

Down into the valley

Down into the valley

I had assumed that the first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge was located just outside the city center, but I was wrong. We cycled some 25-30 kilometers and then could not even find the entry. Right behind the Laotian border post we changed into left-hand traffic. In Nong Khai, the first village on the Thai side, we stayed at the Mut Mee Guesthouse, that Daniel had recommended us. We were allowed to leave our bikes and a large part of the luggage there while we took the bus to visit my friend. I unpacked and made my way to the bus station where I bought two tickets for the following morning.

In Paradise - Koh Mak

In Paradise

After 27 hours of travel and waiting time we arrived in Koh Mak. The island was small, cozy and beautiful. There were neither noisy bars, nor large hotel blocks. The sandy beach was almost empty and our little warped hut was no more than 50 meters away from the beach. During the first day I got up constantly to search something, check something, bring something or just because I had forgotten to take the keys or the towel, switch off the fan in the hut or bring any water. It took me two entire days to really feel like in vacation and just enjoy the beach, a book and a beer. We celebrated Roberto’s 30th birthday with German Birthday Traditions and after a week the holidays were over.

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

We went back to Bangkok where we spent quite some days catching up with all the work that had accumulated. We spent the first two nights in the cheapest guesthouse in town. After the hotel in Mary, Turkmenistan this was the shabbiest place we had ever stayed at. Bangkok was just so expensive. We spent more money on a tiny room full of cockroaches and falling facilities in the shared bathroom, than on our little hut on the beach.

Donal and Roberto after an exhausting game of Gaelic Football in the sun

Donal and Roberto after an exhausting game of Gaelic Football in the sun

After two days we were lucky: Donal from Ireland responded to our couchsurfing request. We got to his place by the very next morning and felt right away that we would make good friends. Donal took us out to a “quick lunch”. We came back home 12 hours later with plenty of beer in our bellies and Japanese live music in our heads.

Roberto plays Gaelic Football

Roberto plays Gaelic Football

We did not see a thing of Bangkok for ten days. Instead we went for to play Gaelic Football with Donal in Pattaya and spent the rest of the days in an internet cafe nearby to work on the new design for our blog. On the eleventh day my family came to visit, and we explored the city together.

Sightseeing in Bangkok with family and friends

Sightseeing in Bangkok with family and friends

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