Our days start early, we try to get on the road at the crack of dawn, about 6:30. By 9am the temperature is in the mid 90’s, with a strong headwind, so we try to get in as many miles as we can before the real heat sets in. Early mornings are crisp and lovely. We quietly pass by monks as they are out collecting their morning alms, by families starting a cooking fire in front of their house, by workers heading out to the fields for the day, and children walking to school. The hazy pink sun gets higher and warmer as we pedal along.
Over the last 12 days we have cycled 500 miles south, following the Mekong River in Isan, Thailand. Life is hard for most people in Isan, as this agricultural region in the northeast suffers from a stagnant rural economy. The earth is scorched, with dry, brown, dusty scenes along the road. We see water buffalo in the muddy rice paddies, and occasionally an elephant escorted down the road by their handler. This area in Thailand attracts few Western visitors.
A table full of 13 year old girls celebrating a birthday outside at a riverside restaurant in That Phanom wanted to know where we were from …”ooohhhh!!! We L O V E America!!!!, Where in America?” (they did not understand when we said ‘Vermont’, so we said ‘near New York’) “ooohhhh!!! We L O V E NEEEWWWWW YOOORRRKKKKK” they shrieked and clapped. Suddenly we were rock stars.
People along the road want to know ‘where you go?’ School kids standing in the back of pick-up trucks (some clinging precariously) on the way to school see us and break out in laughter… waving and shouting hellloooo!!! A pick-up truck driver gives us a thumbs up. It feels good to smile back to the Thai, as their wide, genuine smiles are contagious.
We haven’t seen any cycle tourists in the last 11 days, and the only Westerners we have met are older men (from Finland, England, Australia) who have moved here to marry local women, usually 25-30 years younger than them. We try not to be judgmental, but it is a very odd arrangement. We are told it is a win-win situation.
The term “resort” is used very loosely in Thailand, we have learned the hard way. The lodging choices aren’t many out here, and one afternoon when we were more than ready to get off the bikes we excitedly pulled into a resort. The bungalows looked sweet from the outside, and the price was right. The bungalow was not. Too late, we just couldn’t go on, and where might we find another place to stay? It was one of those nights (we have had several on this trip) where we slept in our sleeping sacks, careful not to let anything touch the ground. There was no sink in the bathroom, and we didn’t even want to get into the “shower”.
And the dogs! We are chased several times each day by barking, growling, hungry dogs. We have been squirting them with water from our bottles, and sometimes even that doesn’t deter them. Dan still slows down to spray them, but I speed up. It is an issue when I am behind him and can’t get around him fast enough (“GO, DAN GO!!”), but the adrenaline rush helps.
Next we plan to cross back into Laos near Pakse and continue south. We hope to spend time on some islands in the Mekong before crossing into Cambodia and cycling south to Phnom Penh, where we will be happy to spend many days at the Boddhi Tree Guest House.