Our friend Coleen on Highway 211 to Chiang Khan!
They say that one of the best parts of an adventure actually is not the trip per se, but the waiting for it to happen. Next week, 11 of us will embark on a similar ride adventure which I did 6 years ago in 2011, where we rode 230km along the Mekong River from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan. We hail from Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.
The planning of this trip began as early as last Dec, some 8 months ago and all reservations and transportation arrangements have been stitched up. The choice to cycle in August is questionable as it is the rainy season. However, I much prefer the cool intermittent rains to the hot blazing sun which gives me a migraine literally.
This stretch of the Mekong is particularly beautiful because most of the route hugs along the mighty Mekong River and opposite, is Laos. It is relatively flat and passes through green rice fields one one side and the river on the other side. Cruising past quaint small towns are special too as they are relatively tourist free which is good, as I prefer to be far far away from the maddening crowd if possible.
The difference this time is that we shall be taking the brand new train from Bangkok to Nong Khai. We flew there last time. There is a certain romance about travelling by overnight train and Thai Railways recently commissioned impressive China made carriages. Our good friend Prim in Bangkok helped us booked fully appointed luxury First Class cabins and we are so excited. It took a lot of effort to get these tickets as they are opened for booking only 2 months in advance and gets snapped up rather quickly.
Do check the amazing new trains of the Thai Railways!
We shall also be crossing the river through the Friendship Bridge into Laos and spending a night in the romantic French colonial capital city of Vientiane. Most likely, we shall be taking the train for this 10 min journey from Thailand to Laos as bicycles are generally not allowed through the bridge, not with 11 of us at least. I have ridden across with 2 people but as far as I know, it's a touch and go affair.
The missus and I will be using Bike Fridays, she the very fast Pocket Sport and I, my trusty touring Tikit with the new Ergotech Space handlebar. I shall be travelling light using only the Topeak Saddle Bag. As this trip requires multi-modal travelling, all 11 of us will be on foldies -3 BFs , 2 KHS, 1 Brompton, 3 Terns and 2 Dahons. As the roads are relatively smooth, 16" foldies are actually the best choice especially when travelling with bikes are involved.
One of the lessons learned from the last trip riding in the rain is that mudguards are very essential if you don't want 5 days of rear wheel spray of sand and muck up your back. Also, a Da Brim helmet visor with shower cap is very helpful as it helps for visibility in the rain.
As for ponchos and rain coats, I have found that the best wet weather gear is just getting wet. A good rain coat is just too hot and sweaty. I would bring a highly visible light outer layer just for warmth and safety. For footwear, the best is not socks and shoes but rather, the humble crocs. Make sure it has toe coverings for safety though.
Our hotels are a mix of 2-3 stars but they are all chosen for some special and unique features. The costs average about 800B, slightly more in the bigger and touristy towns. Food in Thailand is a given as they are so delicious and it is hard to go wrong with any Thai dish but this region is Isaan and the food here is especially aroy mak mak!
Of course one key plus of any adventure through Thailand is the Thai Traditional Massage - where every kink and fibre of your body will be stretch, pressed or cracked. This is like the art of appreciating Kimchi - the first few times can be rather unpleasant but after a while, it is sweet! $8 or 200Baht for an hour of "bliss".
Taiwoon, co-founder of LCSG going through the Thai torture rack!
So it is still a week before we go and the anticipation is killing me. Still quite a few things to do, packing the bike, panniers, tools, changing money, etc but the thought of riding through this beautiful strip of Thailand with great mates on our machineries of joy truly is what makes the life God gives us worth living!
Check out this musical video as it beautifully captures a bit of our joy...