Saturday, 30 May 2020

The First Impression of Isaan – Riding from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan

I am beginning to have a feel for Isaan and its definitely not what I expected. The general write up on the internet went along the line of the poorest region of Thailand but also where the most beautiful girls are from which goes to the popular tourist spots like Pattaya, Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket to be bar girls and go go dancers painted a very negative image of this parts of Thailand.

But few days in, I find that it is far from the truth and more like a very tranquil place where the sights are not magnificent nor is it in any extreme that it would attract major tourism. I saw a slogan or a saying somewhere and it said “simple living” which seams to resonate with the atmosphere in Isaan. Not poor living but simple living ... such a fine difference. 

Mekong River Weed Farm
Locals Paragliding at Wat Pha Tak Suea - The Mekong River (Across the River is Laos)
The Mighty Mekong River - Left (Thailand) - Right - Laos
Local Camping Ground along the Mekong River

Nong Pla Buek 
Chiang Khan was unlike any other town in Thailand that I have seen. Mostly on traditional wooden stacked houses and rustic like an old film. This place was the perfect blend of a forgotten town yet still well known by the locals to have enough local tourism visiting the place every night walking the famous walking street in Chiang Khan.

The feeling is surreal walking down the streets seeing all these rustic old wooden houses which is now turned into souvenir shops, trinkets and boutique hotels of the highest class. The front of the houses faces the popular walking street while the back of the houses faces the calm flowing Mekong river which is so serene and peaceful that this one lane town seam to lure me to stay longer a few more days. 

Chiang Khan Rustic Walking Street
Chiang Khan Rustic Walking Street at night 
Finding a place to stay was surprisingly stressful in Chiang Khan. I knew from websites that it was at least 500 baht and they even have a pod hostel which was quite costly at 700 baht so I decided to risk it and ride to Chiang Khan without a booking on the first day of the Lunar New Year and hope to find some hidden guesthouse not listed on the internet for cheap.

Stopping at guesthouse after guesthouse inquiring, most were full, the guesthouse although abundant were small and most barely have 4 rooms to go before being full house. It was not looking good but I had back up plan of 500 baht anyway so no harm trying for a few hours riding around, stopping, asking, riding again.

Most guesthouse asked for 1200 baht ... of course these could stay two people and one guesthouse even lowered to 800 baht when he knew I was a solo traveler. By chance I had to ask around and one small signboard in Thai but had the price was 250 baht and the shop was closed. I did not even know if the signboard was for a guesthouse and the shop looked like a grocery stall and only by chance I decided to hang around and wait hoping it was the one. 

The unmarked guesthouse, not even on the map and no name or signboard to it was the lucky find. 250 baht for a room with shared bathroom. It was a simple room, clean and that was all I could hope for. One night in Chiang Khan on the first day of Lunar New Year just watching the Mekong river during the day and the flow of local tourism people shopping for souvenirs along the walking street.

Travelled on: Feb 2019

Monday, 25 May 2020

Nong Khai & Phu Phra Bat Historical Park

Nong Khai was a nice relaxing town by the Mekong River that most people just pass by like a gateway town to Laos Vientiane. I was lucky to be there during a Saturday night where the whole riverside was bustling of activity from the weekly night market. 

Nong Khai Naga by the Riverside 

The Mighty Mekong River - Nong Khai Thailand 
Apart from just wandering and riding around Nong Khai, sampling delicious food of the Isaan province there was not much to do. The stark different in cuisine between Laos and Thailand Isaan still surprise me for such as short distance border away. 

Saturday Night Market Street Food at Nong Khai Thailand

Saturday Night Market Activity at Nong Khai - Glitter Coloring Book by the Mekong River

Saturday Night Flea Market - Nong Khai 

Foot Massage by the Mekong River - Nong Khai 

Local Food - Nong Khai 

Local Famous Food Stall in Nong Khai 
Day trip from Nong Khai was a short ride away to Phu Phrabat Historical Park. To be frank I was really lazy this time of the travel and did not think much of it. Thinking back thou, it was a unique rock formation that is very rare to see this part of the world.

The hot weather did not make exploring the park ideal and I kept ducking underneath these giant rock perch precariously on a tiny stump rock that may fall at any time. Not the best idea but heck its been there for millions of years so I cant be that unlucky rite. 

Entrance to Phu Phrabat Historical Park

Phu Phrabat

Phu Phrabat Historical Park 
Traveled on: Feb 2019

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Border Crossing – Vientiane (Laos) to Nong Khai (Thailand) on a Motorbike

So I decided to cross the border on the 2nd Feb 2019 since Loas was not doing good for my health. Somehow I felt that a change would make me better and running low on money (Laos Currency actually) also means there was not much thing for me to do in Vientiane. 

Thailand - Laos Friendship Bridge I 

Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge I - Laos Side Immigration & Customs 

Morning journey from Vientiane to the border Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge I was a slow ride and somehow I overshoot ending up directly underneath the bridge but not at the immigration. A quick U-turn and I found the correct entry to Immigration and Customs.

It was a bit weird crossing the border. There was so many people, Thai and Laotian alike, maybe it was the weekend and the weekend of a coming lunar new year as well so the queue was massive but I could not find the motorbike queue.

Snaked my way all the way to the front and parked Bluey looking for some information on where to start. The place was like a mess with no rules or guidelines for people trying to cross the border. Everyone seams to know what to do though somehow, and I half contemplated if I should just join in the queue for Immigration Check Out.

I was still worried that I wont be able to cross this bridge with a motorbike and looking at the chaotic border on the Lao side with not a single motorbike in sight other than Bluey made me a little nervous. Well I still had a backup plan to go back to Vientiane and make my way the next day to the next nearest border. That was one of the contingency plan for deciding to cross the border a few days early anyway.

I decided to ask around and saw a custom booth that was not too crowded and seem more like a check point than a processing point. The first officer could not really speak English and passed my inquiry to the second one.

Motorbike ?

Yea I said and after some thoughts he pointed me to a booth on the other end of the border. It looked like to me that was the pedestrian booth where people on buses were queuing to get passport cleared and finally pay some money. I had no idea what the payment is for exactly but if I were to guess, it was payment for exiting Laos. 

Payment for Exit probably ?? 
Anyway its official .... a Resit was given
Payment cost for one person Exiting on Motorcycle : 10000 kip

Back to the customs officer who guided me and he told me to get immigration check out. He then took both the resit for the exit payment and the motorbike Temporary Import Papers (TIP) and left me with nothing.

A long queue for immigration check out and all the while queuing I was keeping an eye on the officer that took my motorbike TIP papers. I now had nothing. No proof that I brought the motorbike in properly and if the officer went puff, I would have a hard time convincing people to let me out of Laos 

Immigration Queue 
Once I was stamped out, I went back to the customs officer .... he double check my papers and said I could go. Weird since I clearly see every other vehicle that line up till the front of the drop bar, hand something to the custom officer for checking before the vehicle was allowed to carry on their journey. 

There was nothing I could do anyway so I took Bluey to the front and the customs officer asked me something which I could not understand. All my document and papers I gave to the officer I told him, pointing towards the man. 

Last Check by Customs before the drop bar lift up and you are good to leave Laos with the Vehicle

The new officer that was the last check before letting me pass out of Laos went around to see Bluey Licence plate.

Malaysia ? He asked

Yes I said and got a wave through and awkwardly the barrier lifted and I was free to move onto the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge I

First was the switch of lanes from Left hand drive to Right hand drive then there was a toll booth for the bridge. Hmm signs for motorbikes so I assumed I would have to pay the same as a car. Nearing the front of the tollbooth and a guard waved me to go through the gaps between the bars. 

Toll prices for That - Laos Friendship Bridge I - Motorbike = Free
So no charge for motorbike to cross the bridge.

Thailand side was straight forward and by now going back the third time into Thailand with Bluey feels little like going home. Thailand was like a second home now for in Thailand I was comfortable knowing where to get things and how the lay of the land works.

Procedure Board for getting a Vehicle into Thailand

Counter 7A was first up getting the Information of Conveyance written up in the TM2 form 

Counter 7A at Nong Khai Immigration
Counter 5A was next getting Immigration Check – In and payed 200 baht for motorbike entry. I assume its motorbike plus immigration processing fee as the officer told me the amount to be paid and gave me change when I had no exact to be given. Seams legit since everyone was asked for the same amount of money 

Counter 5A 
Counter 6A to get the TIP printed and signed 

Counter 6A
Paperwork done I got back to Bluey and entered Nong Khai .. it was a good day to be back in Thailand.
Traveled on: Feb 2019

Friday, 1 May 2020

Playing with the Police in Vientiane and Refusing to Pay a Bribe

Saw the sights in Vientiane and decided to ride around aimlessly but on the way back near to the hostel while turning at the traffic light I was stopped by the traffic police. Vientaine has these traffic police booth posted on major junctions where the police just sits inside and harass people for money. 

Downtown Vientiane 
The guy pulled me over just because I was having a Malaysian Plate number. Gave my licence but he wanted paper. I assume it was the Temporary Import Paper (TIP) for Bluey which I had left it in the hostel. 

No paper ??? the sly grin on his mouth must be my imagination. 

Traffic Police Booth at Major Junction of Vientiane ... - Only manned during daytime work hours 

The traffic police could barely speak English but I understand clearly what was going on.

I kept talking non stop telling him that the paper is in the hostel and the TIP paper is for customs not for traffic stoppage and I don't require to bring it around anyway for just the Malaysian driving licence is sufficient to drive a Malaysian motorbike in Laos. 

Bla bla bla ... I explained to the police that only customs checks the TIP and they (CUSTOMS) told me not required to carry around when riding but when crossing borders will required to surrender it.

I made up all the rules above to my favor really for I had no idea what was the actual requirement.

The guy was not impressed and asked if I could go down to the station to make payment. Aww crap. OK fine I can go to station I said ... where it is it and he blabs on something in Lao but would not show me on the map.

Police: You pay 50,000 kip.

Me: At the station ? But I have the papers which is at the hostel. I can go and get the papers and bring it to the station to show you. Hostel is not far only 5 minute away.

Police: You can pay here ? 50,000 kip ?

Me: You have resit for payment ?

Police: No.

Me: I go back to hostel and take the TIP paper and come back here to show you OK? You can hold onto my driving licence (Malaysia Driver Licence) and I will come back with papers in 5 minutes OK ?

Ok the police said and proceeded to keep my licence under the table and made some sign that I would need to bring the TIP papers back and show it to him to redeem my licence

As I put on my helmet and fire up Bluey, the traffic police walked up to me and handed me back my licence and waved me off. This time it was me having the sly grin but I put on my most grateful and dumb face and wave him goodbye while I dash off to continue on my random riding exploration.

A few turns downtown just moments later, and again I was called aside from another traffic police booth with the same story. Same routine, and the police asked for papers which I spun the same story again getting better with practice.

Police: You pay 50,000 Kip ?

Me: You have resit for payment ?

I proceeded to show him the hostel location which was just within walking distance now and forced the idea on him that I will go and take the papers and come back to show him while he kept my driving licence.

Same feint as he kept the licence on the table and wave me off but as I fired up Bluey again the licence was returned and this time I made a beeline for the hostel to get the papers before going back out Vientiane riding.

Is it corruption ? Or is it a real thing that I required to have papers while riding a Malaysia bike in Laos? One thing was clear thou, if I had paid the first traffic police 50,000 kip, I would not have any proof of it and I will continue to fall into a pithole paying every traffic police that decided to stop me in Vientiane.

My traveler experience told me that sometimes you have to be the ignorant/rude traveler and that was what I became forcing my ideals onto the Lao traffic police when I had no idea what was the norm or the rule in this country. 

Some may think I am laughing, managing to escape bribing the police and getting out of a situation without much hassle but in the back of my mind I could not help wondering if I was really in the wrong and did I just abuse someone intellectually to get things my way.

On second thought I do wonder, if I had stolen a bike and they asked me to produce papers (This is the main purpose of the papers, ownership rights and legally imported) all I had to do was pay 50,000 kip and no proof of papers will be required.

Either way ... everything is flawed ... 


World Peace Gong - Vientiane 

Traveled on: Jan 2019

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Torture ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane

Woke up 4am in the morning in the hostel at Vang Vieng with diarrhea and constant walk to the toilet bowl to piss using my anus and repeat every 10 minutes. It could have been the medicine, the food, the mango juice that i seam to crave during sickness since it was the only thing easy to down my throat.

By morning I had not much fluids left to contribute to the toilet bowl. Breakfast was limited to hard mango and banana. No fluids for any drop of water i took send me to the toilet a few minutes later.

I decided to leave Vang Vieng. This place is not helping me get better and after 5 night i was pretty sure the bed i occupied was fully infested. Keeping my self dehyrated and hoping i wont shit my pants while trying to ride to Vientiane, i packed up and headed out.

Throughout the ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, it was roughly 150km but this time i did no detours, no lazing stops beyond the occasional stretch of the legs. Somehow my butt hole has a mind of its own so no playing around other than riding to the next hostel. 

Luckily my bowels decided to have mercy on me and the few times i saw a big clean petrol station with great toilet, that was the time my diarrhea kicks in. I think i made like 3 stops to the toilet along the way pissing though my butt hole and throughout the 5 hours journey drank no water and ate no food. 

On the way from Vang Vieng to Vientiane 

I could not afford to risk it. It was slightly dangerous I knew, since dehydration was bad for concentration during a ride. Once i reached the hostel in Vientiane, checked in and establish the route to the toilet, I started gulping water.

I now stop flu meds and even paracetamol meds. Instead i took bascopan for the bowels relaxation and hopefully i should recover by tomorrow else this will go way beyond two weeks and that's not a good sign being sick. 

Cosy City of Vientiane 
Traveled on : Jan 2019