Monday, February 8, 2010

Great Rivers of Asia No. 5: The Mekong

So we're bussing across northern Thailand to pick up a train to the border with Laos, all in the name of saving time and getting that pesky Chinese visa. It's quite galling to find that our bus doesn't arrive ("accident") and that we have to wait 5 hours for the next one. When it does arrive the bikes are squeezed on through the back door and into the aisle because the bus is running on LPG and there's only room in the hold for five huge gas tanks. A big bunch of monks are sitting there and they prod and poke and ring the bell occasionally. But even more galling is the lovely scenery we pass through which we had originally planned to cycle. At least we get to Khon Kaen without "accident".

At the train station we get tickets for the 5am train. It's about 9 o'clock so we get some food, watch a bit of footie (surprise, surprise, it's Manchester United), watch a large thunderstorm and then return to the station to sleep. Gayle is quickly asleep on a bench on the platform, whilst I try and read, fanning away clouds of mosquitoes that are interfering with my vision and trying to eat me through my clothes. After fitful sleep we board the train and chug onwards to Nong Khai. This sleepy border town is alive with tourists, both Thai and foreign. There's a new promenade along the Mekong and just over the water, Laos. Once again we have crossed paths with Jurek, our Czech friend, as he has just come through Laos. We talk about each others' plans and what we've been up to since we met in Bangkok just before Christmas. Jurek seems to share our some of our feelings about travel in South East Asia (Burma excepted). There's definitely an odd mix of foreign tourists, and the impact this makes on the countries is not always positive. In my jaded vision it seems to be all bars, drugs and sex tourism. Ultimately though, it's probably just mass tourism. We haven't been anywhere else like this on the whole journey since we left the coast of Turkey.

Our last meal in Thailand is wonderful. The next morning we join the merry throng at the Thai border control and then pedal over the Friendship Bridge, which Jurek tells us is one of only two bridges over the Mekong. It's a lovely feeling not to have to wait for a bus again, and once through the Laos side we pedal off down the road to Viang Chan. Until we come to an unsigned T-junction. Which way? With true experience Gayle wets her finger and holds it up into the air. "This way!" and off we go.


Andrew said...

Good luck guys! We'll be waiting for updates on how you're doing, finding your legs. You have already learned some important lessons. Ground floor, definitely. Lie about the price of the bikes too (they're used, a friend gave them to you). And don't forget to eat and drink lots :)

John Harwood said...

Ah, the trusty old wet finger navigator, you are like old pros! May the wind always be on your back.