We made it to Thailand! We crossed the border five days ago from Huay Xai, Laos into Chiang Kong, Thailand. Country #26. Whew! And what an exciting country it has turned out to be.
Things are different: we’re back to the left side of the road, multiple road options between towns, the towns are much wealthier, no more bamboo villages, no more babies and children on the side of the road, dogs are pets again, and lots and lots of thumbs ups.
Entering Thailand was not as easy as expected. Normally we pull up in the car lane and are treated like a private vehicle. This time we were told to walk our bike inside. It was like pushing our fully loaded tandem through the La Guardia airport. Once we got our necessary stamps we were then ushered to load a bus to be transported the three kilometers across the Mekong to the Thai border. We laughed when they directed us to the bus. There was no way our tandem was going to fit.
After some serious confusion, we went back to the private vehicle area. Five different officials looked at our passports and then at our bicycle. Eventually we feigned misunderstanding and took off pedaling toward the border. We didn’t make it far before we were stopped at the toll collection booth and then we noticed a police car driving towards us. Oh dear, I hope we don’t end up in a Laos prison, although that would be quite an experience. A few minutes later we had our very own police escort to Thailand. With all the fellow bike tourers we have met lately, you think riding a bicycle across the border would be standard procedure. It’s not apparently.
After a few hours of cycling from the border, we were in a pickle. The ATMs in the small towns refused our cards. We had no Thai money, no water, and no food. In walks Thai generosity. Finally we pulled into a substantial town and saw a 7-11 (they are, unfortunately, everywhere here – I mean honestly, who likes cycling around the world only to feel like you are on 45th south) I walked in, saw they had a credit card machine, and hungrily gathered a bunch of food and water. I ordered two paninis, some hot momos, and glugged the water as they rang me up. I swiped my card. Nothing. I swiped again. Still nothing. Oh no. My card doesn’t work. Crap, I am already eating and drinking their food.
The cashiers don’t speak English and finally a woman in the store comes over and confirms my suspicion. Only cash. I explain I have Lao Kip and US Dollars but no Thai Baht, but they won’t take Dollars or Kip. I’m on the verge of tears. Then another woman comes over, touches my shoulder, and nods at me. At first I don’t understand what is going on. The English-speaking customer says this woman wants to pay for your food. Tears well up in my eyes. I tell her I will give her US$ and she just smiles and shakes her head. I profusely thank her and practically tip her over with a hug and gratitude. I am two feet taller than her.
Stunned, I walk out of the 7-11 and tell Clayton. As I am telling him a Thai gentleman on a motorcycle asks us where we’re from and where we’re going. Impressed, he tells us he has cycled to Laos before and we discuss the mountainous countryside. He invites us to his shop for some coffee. Kong is alight with friendliness. He used to live in Bangkok but moved to Ban Lao to help with his family’s coffee business. He taught us a few Thai phrases, including how to barter: “Lot dai mai”. This will definitely come in handy when my sister Jen arrives this weekend! He made us drinks and gave us bananas for the road.
Several kilometers down the road, Kong returns on his motorcycle. He directs us toward Chiang Rai and then gives us dried bananas and bracelets for luck on our journey. He then wishes us well and we continue on.
Our day only gets better when we met up with Edouard in Chiang Rai. Edouard is a fellow WS user and our sort-of host. We contacted him about staying at his place in Marmagne, France. He was already out on a bike tour but suggested we stay with his parents. If you have been reading our blog then the words “Prune Crumble Dessert” should ring a bell. This was Edouard’s parents. We absolutely loved them, their farm, their food, their dessert, and their conversation when we were at their house in July. We felt like we knew Edouard because of it. He emailed us a few days before and we arranged to meet in Chiang Rai. We had a nice hot pot dinner with him and Robbie, his new cycling companion.
That night in Chiang Rai, Clayton got nervous. With all the nice tarmac we had experienced and heard about in Thailand, Clayton felt like our adventure days were coming to an end. He likes the unexpected, the out of the ordinary, and the possibility of failure. Plus, my family is coming at the end of this week so we have time off the bike in our future. So, he decided, it was time for an adventure. He found a hard pack dirt road that followed a river for a ways, but then, according to “terrain” mode on Google Maps, goes over a mountain. He then looked on gpsies.com (great website) and decided there would be a steep, dirt road section for “a while.” “We can push if we have to,” he told me. And push we did. It took us two hours to push our bike over the last 2 miles, maybe 20-25% grade dirt roads, and a river crossing or two. Despite the difficulty we did have a beautiful ride following a river through small villages in the Thai countryside. So all in all, it was a great adventure. And hopefully will get the “need for an adventure” out of Clayton’s system for a while.
This wouldn’t be a blog post without a mention of food. The food in Thailand is superb. There is quite a bit more variety here than in Laos. We came across some fried chicken on the road and Clayton could not believe he hadn’t heard people talk about Thai fried chicken. Jamaica = fried chicken. The Delta = fried chicken. And now, Northern Thailand = fried chicken. Also, grilled sausage and pork, curries, pad thai, noodle soup, and more. We found a shop selling only Mango and Sticky Rice. This is my new fave. We celebrated Valentine’s Day with three plates for 50 baht each ($1.75). Noodle soup for lunch each day, $0.95. Good thing those mountains in Laos made us hungry.