Monday, August 21, 2017

Mekong Ride MR2 Day 1 - A plane, 2 trains and 11 bicycles to Laos.

2 Bike Fridays and our gear - all ready to go!

Some full size tourers hoping to board the train too. But their bikes had to ride in the luggage carriage unlike us foldies!

He came to convert the seats to beds with fresh smelling sheets! Kup khoon kup.

Our lovely LTF ladies!

You don't want to fool around with this stern Railway Officer!

I slept poorly! Blame it on the great anticipation of a wonderful tour which day had finally arrived. LTF Team Members came from Australia, Malaysia and various parts of Singapore to meet at Changi T2 at 10am for our flight to Bangkok. It was so good to see everyone finally and we exchanged the warmest of hellos! Checking in our bike boxes was a breeze with typical Spore efficiency and a quick meal at the T2 staff canteen to catch up is a must do.

Our Tiger flight to Bangkok took off a little later due to heavy traffic and we were glad when we finally were in the air. It took less than 2 hours before we arrived at Swarmbunny Airport (ok - the actual name is Suvarnabhumi but how do you pronounce that???) and as expected, it was literally swarmed with so many tourists. We took awhile to clear immigration but that was ok as our train to Nong Khai was not leaving till 8pm and we had 6 long hours ahead of us.

Unfortunately, our arranged van transfer to Hua Lampong Railway Station was nowhere to be seen! They were supposed to be at the arrival gates with a sign but ... A kind Thai lady helped me call them and we were soon on our way into the heart of Bangkok in 2 vans. In all my years travelling to Bangkok, I have somehow never visited the historical train station and I was excited to see the magnificent 101 year old building in all its spendour.

It was great that our 10 bike boxes were taken care off by the porter who initially told us that we could not bring them on board the trains. But when shown our First Class tickets, our precious steeds were given VIP treatment, and all for 200B. 

We were supposed to meet our 11th member Carolen in the station at the Information Counter but when I got there, she was nowhere to be found until I heard her familiar voice and looked down towards the floor. There she was, chatting with the locals and sprawled comfortably on the floor like a "refugee" and indeed, that was what we all did as we awaited our train.

VT our Chief Food Officer went on the prowl for a suitable dinner venue and came back successful. The rest of us did errands like getting a SIM card, buying snacks and you know who went for a nicotine fix. Though we had to wait nearly 4 hours, the time flew by quickly somehow as we kept busy with so many things. Celia took the opportunity to make sure her patient Sue was in tip top condition as she had a shoulder injury earlier in the year and was certified good to tour!

Dinner was just across the station at a very warm and inviting Thai restaurant and the food was "aroy" or delicious as expected. VT ordered very well indeed! The bill too came up to only about $5 per head and that was the pleasant trend for most part of our tour. 

Boarding the train was exciting as we have all seen the photos and videos of this beautiful first class cabin and in reality, it was even better! A nice surprise was our very efficient porter actually loaded all the bikes into our cabins and we expressed our appreciation with well deserved tips. 

It was quite a fiasco sorting out the right box to the rightful owners and with other passengers coming through the narrow corridors as well, it got rather messy.  But we all took it in good stride and before we knew it, we were comfortably settled into our private cabin and on our way to Nong Khai.

We were truly like school kids on our first excursion as it took forever to settle down as we darted in and out of each others cabins, laughed, chatted, explored etc. It was also very nice to be provided with thick full size towels so we could have a much needed shower and that was something that we all truly appreciated. Nothing like a warm shower before bed but with the bobbing of the train, it was a truly interesting and challenging experience. What impressed was how clean and spanking new everything was.

Some of the team went to bed early while I went to have supper with Sue and Carolen in the dining carriage. Walking through the 2nd class sleepers, we were quite impressed with it too but the extra 40-50% for first class was worth every baht. 

The menu was surprisingly quite good with various types of coffees, sandwiches and even Thai rice dishes. Nice tables with comfortable chairs meant a very conducive ambience to watch the world zoom by on our rails (esp at dusk) while we enjoy a nice chat over hot drinks in airconditioned comfort. 

When I finally was ready for bed, it was nearly midnight and hitting the sack never got easier with such a comfortable bed with the gentle rocking of the train. The bonus of course was that I had my honey bunny with me. The lullaby Rock-A-Bye-Baby came to mind but we knew with the reliability and engineering of this fine train, and God's amazing grace, nothing will break and none of us will fall, except fall into a deep deep sleep... unlike my sleep the night before. 

*some pics borrowed fm KC

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Can you count on a mount?

If anything that has revolutionized the last 5 years, it is the Apps on our smart phone. This technology is absolutely amazing and boundless. It has been an unimaginable useful tool in everyday life from weather, taxis, communications and of course, bicycle touring. There are many Apps for maps but I supposed the most popular one is Google Map.

While all this is wonderful, try navigating through a busy street in an unfamiliar city using one hand holding your phone while the other your handlebar. Needless to say, this can be rather disconcerting and somewhat dangerous and I speak from experience, with some hairy situations encountered.

I spotted this gadget the "Easy Bike Mount" on my last trip in Kaoshiung Taiwan. While it is certainly not top of the line, at 99NT or S$4.50, there isn't much to complain. What I like is that it has added security to make sure your precious phone stays on the mount through 2 secure rubber bands. Of course the temptation is to loose focus so be warned and keep your eyes on the road. Getting distracted with incoming Whats App, Facebook messages etc will get you into big trouble so please do not do that.

Will be putting this through a full test in our upcoming Mekong Ride Adventure next week so stay tune.

Love to hear any questions or concerns...