Nong Khai to Sri Chiangmai 44.62 kms
Sri Chiangmai to Sangkom 47.03 kms
Sangkom to Pak Chom 54.6 kms
Pak Chom to Chiang Khan 48.45 kms
The best cycling of our Asia trip has been in this first part of 2013.
This area of Thailand is fabulous for cycling. It is warm but not baking (we need blankets at night and sometimes a light jacket). The scenery is pretty; Highway 211 is tucked up against the mountains and borders the Mekong. The road is rolling but the hills are not too steep or long. There is little traffic and there are interesting towns, guesthouses and restaurants — all the winning characteristics of a great road trip.
Given we don’t need to be in Chiang Mai until Jan 15, we have been poking along doing an average of 50 km a day.
The highlights: Aside from the wonderful Mut Mee guesthouse, the sculpture park in Nong Khai is another attraction there with its weird and wonderful sculptures (those are the large sculptures of the nangas (snakes) and buddhas in the blog photos). Leaving Sri Chiangmai we followed the road along the river rather than highway 211 and we were treated to 8 km of paved road bordered by farms and views of the Mekong River and absolutely no traffic. The wild and rustic garden at the Bouy Guesthouse in Sangkom was beautiful and we stayed three days enjoying the flowers, the views of the river and some great company, including a lovely woman named Amelie, who bears a very strong resemblance to our friend Susan Fiedler. Amelie is a French winemaker who regaled us with lots of traveller tales and gave us some advice on Thai wines which we will follow up on once we are in Chiang Mai. Between Sangkhom and Pak Chom, Highway 211 follows the river and is bordered by mountains which come right up to the road. There were stretches of Highway 211 between Pak Chom and Chiang Khan that reminded me of California around Loleta; the combination of rolling hills, farmland, art shops, and coffeehouses (and western toilets ☺) giving me a little Thai flavoured déjà vu.
Ian spent time in Chiang Khan (where we are today) 8 years ago. At that point it was a sleepy town along the river with a few old teak houses that had been converted into simple guesthouses. It has enjoyed a tourist boom since then, attracting yuppies from Bangkok and we are guessing Chiang Mai and Udon Thani as Bangkok is 500 or so kms away. But there is no mistaking the Thai yuppies and the number of guesthouses and boutique hotels along the river front, all either upgraded original teak buildings or wood replicas, has proliferated since Ian was here. The Thai tourists here wear expensive sunglasses and carry around little apartment dogs dressed up with bows and other very fashionable doggy wear. Our first night here there were hundreds of Thai tourists wandering along the main river front road shopping in tourist boutiques that have also sprung up and eating from the hawker stands before stopping in for whiskey, beer or latte in the waterfront restaurants. Not a bad way to spend a few days. The prices are higher here as a result (30 to 35 dollars a night instead of 10) but its fine and fun for a short time.
We leave tomorrow and head to Loei, then Dan Sai, and then some as of yet unknown town between Dan Sai and Phitsanoluk. We catch the train to Chiang Mai from Phitsanoluk. Our easy 50 km days will become 80 km days once we are on the road to Dan Sai.
We are looking forward to our month in Chiang Mai, a favourite spot in Thailand, where we will do some day trips and work on some non-cycling related projects. I am also very much looking forward to some Skype sessions with friends and family.