Savannakhet Laos to Mukdahan Thailand 21 km
We’ve left sweet and sleepy Savannakhet for the relative bustle of Thailand, but it is a quiet and prosperous bustle here in Mukdahan, very unlike the aggressive and relentless hustle of Vietnam.
Savannakhet and Mukdahan are separated by the Mekong River which is the border between the two countries for a few hundred kilometres in both directions. We had no difficulty getting Thai visas at the Thai consulate in Savannakhet. The next day we cycled 7 kms to the bridge and border. We had hoped to cycle over the bridge but this is not allowed. The border people were helpful though and quickly asked a truck who was going over to give us a lift – they did for free – so unlike Vietnam – and that was that. About 4 kms into the ride on the Thai side we stopped at the Super C, a very new and very large supermarket complex that includes Mister Donut, KFC and very importantly Swensens Ice cream (in addition to a huge grocery store). We stocked up on our most craved for western amenities – cheddar cheese and proper hair product for moi and a chocolate sundae for Ian. Two days in Thailand are proving, to our relief, to be what we anticipated: easy and exotic at the same time.
We very much liked our six days in Savannakhet though. Although Laos is tremendously poor by comparison to its rich neighbor…a little like the US and Mexico I guess, the old French architecture and the lack of motorcycle and vehicle traffic give Savannakhet a romantic edge. Our last night we finally made it to the French restaurant on the old plaza and sat outside drinking good red wine that had been properly stored (in fact it was chilled when we first poured it from the carafe but it warmed quickly in the tropical heat) and garlic baguette toasts and terrific salad and steak with peppercorn sauce…fantastic. We watched the world go by slowly, kids and adults cycling or walking home in the twilight. We cycled home to our guesthouse a little while later, a little glow on, in the dark, very relaxed and happy.
Yesterday and today we spent provisioning a little for the trip, buying up the other items on our list not easily found in Laos: pens, a map of Thailand, bicycle tubes, sunscreen etc. We weren’t having much luck with the bike tube when a man on a motorcycle stopped to chat. My first thought was whether he was going to try and sell us something or worse (memories of Lee in Vietnam) but no, he had been to Houston and parts of Europe in his training as an electronics tech and he just wanted to chat. He told us to follow him and he led us to bike store. I chatted with him while Ian went in and he gave us some tips on where to find a good noodle stand on our upcoming trip to Nong Khai and was just generally on the up and up. In fact he complained about his own trip to Vietnam and how he felt cheated a number of times…and this was without us mentioning it first. He lives close enough to the border that he has been a number of times, driving the same route across Laos and into Vietnam that we cycled.
The night market here in Mukdahan lived up to our expectations as well last night and we paid 3.00 for a small feast, eating fried and fresh spring rolls and some chicken satay with a fabulous peanut sauce. We didn’t see another foreigner all evening. I saw two today and they were expats with Thai wives and children.
The middle class is developing at a rapid pace here still. Amazing what manufacturing does for an economy…it certainly makes me continue to feel concern for our own economic recovery and direction. Steven Harper obviously thinks we need to sacrifice the environment and our sovereignty, exploiting our natural resources without constraint in order to move ahead. But I think we need to develop smart industry and be environmental leaders…might be a good idea to quit firing all the scientists and support research and who knows, ultimately innovation. However we are stuck with the bastard for a couple of more years and God knows how much damage he will have managed to do by the time we finally get rid of him. I’m guessing he’s scared the crap out of enough of the people who voted for him now to ensure we won’t see a majority government again and hopefully we develop a new NDP or Liberal party in time to swing things back a bit.
We’ve mapped out our next bike trip: we are cycling along the Mekong (and inland a bit where road doesn’t follow river) to Nong Khai. We expect to be there by December 26. We spend about a week in Nong Khai (including New Years). We then head inland (essentially west and a bit south) to Phitsanoluk where we get the train to Chiang Mai on the 14.
I am not sure what internet will be like in the next week or so – so this will probably be it for the blog until afterwards.
So, Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!