Thai Laos Friendship Bridge

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Thai Laos Friendship Bridge between Vientiane Laos and Nong Khai Thailand

Opened on April 8, 1994, it was the first bridge across the lower Mekong, and the second on the full course of the Mekong.

The cost was about £19 million,funded by the Australian government as development aid for Laos.

The bridge was designed and built by Australian companies as a demonstration of their ability to complete major infrastructural projects in Southeast Asia. The concept design of a balanced cantilever bridge was proposed by Bruce Ramsay of VSL with the final design carried out by Maunsell consulting engineers.

The official name of the bridge was changed by the addition of "First" after the Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge further south at Savannakhet opened in January 2007.

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Chiang Khan to Ban Muang

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Day 11 of riding Chiang Khan to Ban Muang 90 Kms of riding

The best leg of riding to date. Easy going over small rolling hills following the Mekong to Ban Mueang 116 km short of the finish in Nong Khai. A favorite riding route for local cyclists in the region.

90 km to our Mekong River View homestay for Lunch and Dinner and overnight stay.

A great view of the Mighty Mekong River for most of the journey which was great on the short stops being able to look at it in all its glory.

The Mekong is a trans-boundary river in Southeast Asia. It is the world's 12th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,350 km (2,703 mi), and it drains an area of 795,000 km2 (307,000 sq mi), discharging 475 km3 (114 cu mi) of water annually.

From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through China's Yunnan Province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In 1995, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to assist in the management and coordinated use of the Mekong's resources. In 1996 China and Myanmar became "dialogue partners" of the MRC and the six countries now work together within a cooperative framework.

The extreme seasonal variations in flow and the presence of rapids and waterfalls in the Mekong make navigation difficult. Even so, the river is a major trade route between western China and Southeast Asia.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home following the Mighty Mekong River around the border of Laos and Thailand

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Rest Day In Chiang Khan

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Rest Day In Chiang Khan

After heading North we are now on a rest day in the beautiful small Thai Laos border town Chiang Khan on the Mekong River. I’ve ridden through Hoi An Vietnam about 8 times now have considered it to be one of my favourite places to visit, but being a very small town and now on the list for Chinese tourist in big numbers I would say Chiang Khan is now on my top of the favourite list.

Similar to Hoi An with its walking street but with lots of old Thai and French style houses renovated and turned into boutiques, cafes, massage shops and hotels. All with views to the Mighty Mekong River and Laos across the border.

Lanterns light up the river walkways small streets, laneways , shops, temples and local homes at night bringing the town to life. Restaurants provide a huge variety of Laotian, Thai or Foreign food. That along with the atmosphere of being able to capture the views of the Mighty Mekong river in all its glory, people passing by strolling down walking street, Thai music to relax you whilst you enjoy the food nothing could be better.

Should you not choose to hit the restaurants local street hawkers are out selling their food and there’s certainly enough varieties to choose from to fill the hungry stomach by the time you’ve strolled the length of walking street from one end to the other. To add street buskers are out entertaining the crowd for a small donation. So definitely worth a visit to North Eastern Thailand’s Chiang Khan approx 53 Kms from the main airport in Loei.

A great day to buy a Thai lottery ticket from a street seller for good luck in getting The Long Ride Home Thailand crew and myself here safely so far without any major set backs accept for a small hiccup with my bike which has been rectified and only lost us one day.

Many thanks to those who have been following my cause and efforts to date with two more days of cycling to go to the finish at Nong Khai on the Thai side bordering Vientiane the capital of Laos.

Truck Sams and support crew on The Long Ride Home North Eastern Thailand

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Wang Sapung to Chiang Khan

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Wang Sapung to Chiang Khan 82 kilometers via Loei 10th Day of riding.

The best and flattest road for the whole tour of cycling so far from Wang Saphung to Chiang Khan on the Laos Thai border for a rest day. There was even a 20 km dedicated cycling track on leaving Wang Saphung into the big town of Loei but sadly there was no riding today.

The gears on my bike had been smashed over the last 10 days of climbing mountains and finally they called it a day yesterday , so it was off to a bike shop in the big smoke of Loei to fix the bent rear derailer, buy new gear cables and levers before moving onto Chiang Khan in the support vehicle.

A bit of luck to have had the bike worked on all day today in ready for the last two days of riding from Chiang Khan to Baan Muang and onto Nong Khai 206 kms along the Mekong River after our planned rest day tomorrow in Chiang Khan.

Chiang Khan is a district (amphoe) in the northern part of Loei Province, northeastern Thailand.

Chiang Khan was founded in the late-19th century when Lao villagers crossed the Mekong after the French colonised Laos. More migrants later arrived from Vietnam and China. Chiang Khan became a trading hub largely due to its location on the river. People on both sides of the rivers exchanged goods, culture, and language. Trading stopped in 1975 when the communist Pathet Lao seized power from the Lao government and cut economic ties to Thailand. Chiang Khan languished until rediscovered in the early-21st century.

Fishing the Mekong River was formerly Chiang Khan's biggest earner. Declining catches have ruined that. As recently as ten years ago, 100 families derived their income from fishing. Today that number has declined to roughly 40 families. Chiang Khan has now been discovered by tourists. Some 650,000 persons, Thai and foreign, visit the village every year.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home in North Eastern Thailand.

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Dan Sai to Wang Saphung

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Dan Sai to Wang Saphung - 85kms of riding

Huge hills on leaving our nightly stop from Dan Sai today. A never ending climb for 50 minutes into the Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary Park caused havoc on my bike gears that finally packed it in and required new cables at the end of the day.

The area reminded me of riding the foothills around mount Tamborine in Queensland Australia due to the strawberry fields and orchards growing on top of the plateau. Lots of roadside markets selling their wares including delicious strawberries along the route beckoned me to stop and taste those lovely little things.

Saturday today and it was noticeable that the city folk Bangkokians had ventured into the area to buy up the locally produced products but also to make it bit hairy for us out cycling from about 11.30 am onwards.

The wildlife reserve was established in 1974. In 1985 it was further enlarged by 97 km². The reserve is named after its highest mountain, which peaks at 1,571 m. The reserve covers the whole mountain plateau around the peak, which has an elevation of around 1,200 m. To west of the reserve the Loei River originates. "Phu Luang" means "large mountain" or the "mountain of the king", formed by an uplift of the earth's crust and a slide of soft soil down to lower elevations.

There are three seasons at Phu Luang. Summer runs from February to April with an average temperature of 20-24 °C. During this season, flowers such as dendrobiums, white wild orchids, white and red rhododendrons bloom.

The rainy season is from May to October, when the temperature is equal to or slightly higher than in summer. There will be tiny wild flowers in purplish pink scattered in the savanna. The temperature drops during the winter to 0-16 °C in November – January. On some days, the temperature can drop to -4°C.

During this season, kuam daeng (Acer calcaratum) will turn red and shed their leaves. Kradum ngoen (Eriocaulon henryanum Ruhle) and lady's slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum sukhakulii Schoser & Senghas) make up the undergrowth of the hill evergreen forest. On the east side of Phu Luang dinosaur footprints on the rock, aged more than 120 million years, were discovered.

There are various kinds of forests such as mixed deciduous forest, dry evergreen forest, and hill evergreen forest. The most prominent ones at Phu Luang are Pinus merkusii and Khasi pine forests, savanna on plains, mounds, and stone terraces. The wildlife sanctuary has organised the Phu Luang Nature Study Route, starting from Amphoe Phu Ruea at Khok Nok Kraba, passing Lan Suriyan, Pha Somdet, and the dinosaur footprints.

The reserve is home to an estimated 100 wild Asian elephants. The Elephants Rehabilitation Project within the wildlife reserve is under the patronage of Queen Sirikit.

The Phu Luang cliff frog (Huia aureola) was found within the reserve in 2006, notable for its ability to change color. Also more than 160 species of orchids grow in the area.

Truck Sams and crew in the wildlife and national parks Loei Isan Thailand on The Long Ride Home

 

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Phitsanulok to Dan Sai

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8th day of cycling 82kms

Rolling hills again with some big 5km climbs but some awesome downhill runs through fruit growing areas and beautiful teak tree forests through another national park. A very scenic ride to take your mind of the hill climbing to a night stop in Dan Sai. A few stops along the way eating some local food, getting blessed by the monks in the early hours and trying to use the local squatting toilets on one leg.

Ancient civilizations lived in the fertile land along the Nan River and its tributaries, as is evidenced by Stone Age tools unearthed near Phitsanulok. However, these early hunter-gatherers are not likely to be ancestors of the Tai who presently inhabit the Nan basin.

The human population around the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries, such as the Nan, remained sparse until late in the region’s history. The settlement of the indigenous populations of the region began around the advent of rice agriculture during the Bronze Age, and continued through the Iron Age. Archaeologists suspect that Mon–Khmer speaking tribes spread through the region, bringing rice agriculture, metalworking, domestic animals.

The main course of migration during the metal ages probably ran along the coast of Thailand, but migrants also travelled inland along the Chao Phraya to the Nan Basin and other areas, where it was relatively easier to establish settlements.

The next major wave of migration into the Nan Basin came not from the coast along the Chao Phraya, but rather from the mountainous areas of northern Thailand. These migrants were the Tai. Their course of immigration probably began south of the Yangzi River.

As the Han Chinese spread south of the Yangzi around the sixth century BC, the ancestors of the Thai retreated into the high valleys and, over many centuries, migrated west along an arc from the Guangxi to the Brahmaputra Valley. The Thai brought rice-farming expertise to the mountainous areas of Northern Thailand, and eventually to the Nan Basin and the other lowland regions of Thailand. Some of the Nan River Mon-Khmer retreated into the hills as the Thai expansion continued, while others generally adopted dialects of the Tai language and blended into the culture of the new settlers.

The Tai language spoken in the area was heavily influenced by the Khmer culture as well, and evolved into the language we now call Thai, which is considerably different from other Tai dialects. Even after this Thai migration, the population in the Nan Basin, other than along the banks of the Nan River and its major tributaries, was sparse.

Predator animal species, as well as malaria, tropical temperatures and other hardships, kept the population from expanding far from the river, despite the region's extremely fertile soil. As the population grew during these ancient times, settlements along the Nan eventually became more urban, as populations of larger scale were better able to survive the hardships of the heavily forested region. The earliest urban developments along the Nan were modelled after the Mon-Khmer capital at Angkor in Cambodia, which was already quite advanced by the time the Nan Basin had significant population to support urban settlement.

Along with the positive effects of urbanization (e.g. development of art and specialization of labor), however, came slavery, war and other societal problems associated with urban culture in the forecoming city-state period. Even in spite of urbanization along the river banks, most of the Nan Basin (aside from the river-side settlements) consisted of virgin forests until around the turn of the 20th century. One of the early river-side urban areas of the Nan emerging during the era of the Khmer Empire was Song Khwae, which over the years developed into the modern city of Phitsanulok.

Phitsanulok is the only place in Thailand where houseboats are legal, as they have been an important aspect of regional culture since long before the drafting of modern municipal law. People of Phitsanulok still gather on houseboats and raft houses along both sides of the Nan River in the city, and adhere to a traditional way of life. There is even a floating houseboat museum along the Nan in Phitsanulok, which allows tourists to experience the Nan houseboat culture first-hand.

A lot of history about the region and surrounding districts to learn about on route,but one thing for sure is that there are no shortage of national parks to cycle through.

Neighboring districts are (from the east clockwise) Phu Ruea of Loei Province, Lom Kao and Khao Kho of Phetchabun Province, Nakhon Thai of Phitsanulok Province, and Na Haeo of Loei again. To the north is the Xaignabouli Province of Laos.

The source of the Pa Sak River is in the mountains in the eastern part of the district. A big part of the district is part of the Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park. Phu Thap Buek, the highest mountain of the Phetchabun Range, is at the southern end of the district. To the southeast is the Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary.

The northern part of the district reaches the southern end of the Luang Prabang Range mountain area of the Thai highlands.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home Isan district of Thailand.

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Uttaradit to Phitsanulok

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Day 7 of riding - Uttaradit to Phitsanulok 108kms

About 7kms to get out of Uttaradit with some hairy moments dealing with drivers on their mobile phones before some highway running about 20kms and then breaking free to get off the busy highway.

Finally there was relief when getting onto the back roads hugging the hinterland again - some outstanding views with lots of rolling hills before getting into some steep climbs at the 65km point onwards to the overnight stop on the outskirts of Phitsanulok. Not much road space when climbing today with some heavy trucks also hugging the left, so close that I could have a chat with the co-Driver as the trucks slowly ascended at the same speed as the cyclists.

Uttaradit means the "port of the north" or "northern landing", as it was formerly a trade center on the Nan River.

In the Sukhothai era several city states subject to the king were in the area of the modern province. Mueang Fang was in modern-day Mueang Uttaradit district, Mueang Thung Yang in Laplae, and Mueang Ta Chuchok in Tron district.

During the Ayutthaya kingdom, Mueang Phichai was one of the 16 main Mueang of the Thai kingdom. In the reign of King Naresuan, the ruler of Phichai rebelled, joined by the ruler of Sawankhalok. Their revolt was suppressed and the inhabitants of both cities were forced to move south to Phitsanulok.

Following the fall of the city of Ayutthaya to the Burmese in 1767, Phichai was the site of several battles against the invaders. The ruler of Phichai succeeded in driving back the Burmese and was awarded the title Phraya Phichai Dabhak - the "Lord of Pichai with a Broken Sword", as he had broken one of his swords in fierce hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.

In the reign of King Rama III Mueang Phichai controlled several Mueang of northern Siam like Nan or Phrae, and even Luang Prabang and Vientiane. At the point where the Nan river became shallow a port was established. As this town grew in importance as an important trade point, in 1887 it was made a Mueang subordinate of Phichai. 1899 the center of Phichai was moved to this new location, which was renamed to Uttaradit in 1915.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home heading into the Isan region of Thailand

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Rest Day in Phrae then onto Uttaradit

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70kms of cycling on The Long Ride Home Northern Thailand

An outstanding recoup day to; Rest the body, have a massage, maintenance to the bikes, meditation and ticky tour of an ancient city before heading over another National Park to Uttaradit.

Meeting the local people of Phrae was an insight into how polite and non invasive country folk are in this part of the world. A must visit to Phrae if you want to see another aspect of Thailand and that being down to earth country people of the Northern region. Definitely recommended to get away from Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok the normal tourist haunts to touch base with Thailand in this region.

The history of Phrae dates back to the Haripunchai kingdom of the Mon. It became part of the Lannathai kingdom in 1443, when King Tilokaraj was on an expedition to capture the city of Nan.

The Phra That Cho Hae Fair held around March, involves a procession to carry robes to cover the chedi. The procession follows the Lanna style. All participants are decked out in traditional Lanna attire. Doklomlaengban Songkran Muangphrae Nung Mohhom Tae Ngam Ta or Songkran Festival in Phrae is held on 13–17 April every year at Chareun Muang Road, Yantarakit Kosol Road and around the city.

The visit to one of the most famous temples in the region Wat Phra That Cho Hae was a fantastic opportunity to Tumboon (give merit) by offering a donation and prayers of good luck for friends and family.

A small cash offering in the donation box, and to establish what date, day and year you were born to get the right pennant, in my case the ox pennant to place in front of the gold monument inside the temple grounds along with incense and flowers.

Sawadee Krub

Truck Sams and crew onwards to Uttaradit after a rest day in Phrae on The Long Ride Home

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Chiang Muan to Phrae

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Chiang Muan to Phrae - Day 5 of Riding 135 kms

A huge day with approx 65kms of hill climbing followed by 70kms of highway cycling. A great aerobic workout climbing hills for a big part of the day in the humidity, getting the heart rate elevated then down to a lower rate when descending, commonly known as interval training.

Riding through the Doi Phu Nang national park we were able to listen to some of the animal life in their habitat, smell the scent of wild flowers and dodge the odd snake crossing in our path as we meandered through some of the most beautiful parts of Northern Thailand.

Located in two mountain chains of the Phi Pan Nam Range, Mae Yom and Nampi, with a not-protected area in between. There are both mixed evergreen forests, dipterocarp forest and dry deciduous forests in the park area.

Doi Phu Nang, the mountain that gives its name to the park, with an altitude of 1,202 m, is the highest peak in the area. The sources of two tributaries of the Yom River are in this mountain. The park also has scenic rock formations and two impressive waterfalls, Namtok Than Sawan and Namtok Huai Ton Phueng.

Trees in the protected area include Malabar ironwood, Afzelia xylocarpa, Lagerstroemia calyculata, Mangifera caloneura, Ailanthus triphysa, Michelia alba, Berrya ammonilla, Schleichera oleosa, Vitex pinnata and Pterocarpus macrocarpus.

A variety of birds are found, especially the rare green peafowls, threatened by habitat destruction, which come to the park area for breeding from January to March. Among the other animals, the fishing cat, Asiatic black bear, muntjac, masked palm civet, bamboo rat, tree shrews, the Asiatic softshell turtle and the Bengal monitor deserve mention.

A bit of relief for the aching quad muscles after breaking out onto the flat into the small town of Sawng for a well earned chicken and rice lunch.

After 435 kilometers and 5 days of riding, mostly mountains since leaving the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai we were looking forward to a well earned rest day in the big country town of Phrae.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home Northern Thailand

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Thoeng to Dok Khantai onto Chiang Muan

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Day 3 and 4 of riding Thoeng to Dok Khantai onto Chiang Muan over 150kms.

Some rolling hills on Day 3 of Riding similar to what I'm used of on the Ho Chi Minh highway in Vietnam before hitting some smashing hills in the national parks between Dok Khanthai to Chiang Muan.

On reaching an ancient village (Wiang Law) discovered by local villagers, about 12 years ago a special invitation was given to the team to visit a newly established museum which now proudly displays antiquities a thousand years old recently discovered amongst the ancient ruins of Wiang Law; Buddha statues; pottery, vessels, Buddha amulets and ancient human remains. Sadly I wasn’t able to take photos inside the museum to put on the blogs here. Worthy of a visit if you’re in the region.

The weather is true to form for the region this time of year, still misty mornings, a nice chill in the air and we are able to clock up some good kilometers before the sun starts to beam down with a vengeance around midday.

Very little traffic to worry about so one can easily goof off for a moment and enjoy the views to the surrounding mountains, farmers cutting the rice, rivers and streams supplying locals with a daily supply of fresh fish.

A well earned coffee stop occasionally allows us to talk the local villagers to learn more about the region. One coffee shop owner made a beautiful brew of locally produced coffee beans being synonymous to the Chiang Rai district Doi Tung Coffee.

Neighboring districts are (from the southwest clockwise) Pa Daet, Mueang Chiang Rai, Wiang Chai, Phaya Mengrai, Khun Tan, and Wiang Kaen of Chiang Rai Province. To the east is Bokeo Province of Laos, and to the south is Phayao Province.

Thoeng is a mountainous district. The conspicuous 1,174 m high Doi Ian rises 12 km to the east and 823 m high Doi Kham rises four km south of the town between Thoeng and Chiang Kham. There are some higher mountains in the east of the district such as 1,013 m high Doi Pha Mon and 1,442 m high Phu Chi Fa at the border with Wiang Kaen District. The Ing River, with its source in the Phi Pan Nam Range (Doi Luang in Mae Chai District, Phayao Province) flows through the plain area of Thoeng. Other rivers in the area are the Lao River, a tributary of the Kok River, from Doi Phu Lang Ka, Chiang Kham District, in the north and Ngao River from Doi Pha Mon and the Plong River.

Up the hill, through the hill, eat that hill, keep calm and carry on.

More to follow with a big 135kms tomorrow before a well earned rest day.

Truck Sams and crew on The Long Ride Home Northern Thailand

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