10-09-04 STAGE 5 - BACK INTO THAILAND
ACROSS THE MEKONG TO MUKTAHAN AND THE ISAAN PEOPLE
This is a very rural area, with most people living in small villages and working in the primary industry. The big contrast to other Thai cities of similar size, there are very few foreigners and NO BLOODY SMART ARSE BACKPACKERS! A very traditional area, to say the least, with a reasonable amount of wealth distribution.
Oh ye, there is no Macaís, KFC, Starbucks etc. I also forgot to mention, KFC tried an outlet in Vientiane, and went broke.
I once again have to tend to Doris and my equipment, as the constant rain and bad LAO roads have taken their toll. I am glad I am riding a duel purpose bike; a big roadie would not have survived it.
First of all the standard battery in the Dakar is up the shit, it is a standard type, which in the tropics, just looses water through evaporation, VERY RAPIDLY! At least every 2 weeks in these conditions.
Secondly, I carry a co2 cylinder type pump, waste of time in these parts, carry a cheap foot pump, found in the markets for a couple of $, and some puncture patches, with a good sturdy pair of tyre levers.
The area has got a surprising amount of attractions, with most catering for the Thai tourist, with little English spoken anywhere. Using the town as a base, I did a couple of touristy rides out to a few landmarks.
The Muktahan National Park, just out of town is a good one day visit, with its Jurassic Park type rock formations, allow a full day.
The other two worthwhile sites are the Wat Phra That Phanom, north of the Town, and rebuilt in the 80ís after it collapsed during a severe rainy season. The other one is a brand new, almost fort type construction, probably the most ambitious and expensive Temple I have seen in all of Thailand, itís in the Pha Nam Yoi National Park, West of the town.
Both are an easy one day ride from Muktahan, they have spent about $60mUS on it and itís only about half finished.
As this town is on the mighty Mekong River, the area is set in a large flat delta, skirted by mountain ranges on both sides, therefore the motorcycle riding is not as spectacular as its northern cousins, much of it resembles the Aussy outback, straight after the wet season.
However, it is positioned strategically as a gateway to LAO; the authorities are upgrading the roads for the anticipated opening of the 2nd bridge over the Mekong, due next year. Built as a joint effort by the Thai, Aussy and Lao governments.
SOUTH TO BANGKOK
The road south from Muktahan begins as a 4 lane highway, but soon deteriates into a potholed 2 lane goat track for about 30kís. Because of this I took a longer route south, near the Cambodian border to visit PHNOM RUNG and PRASAT MUANG TAM, Khmer Historical sites that were built around the same era as ANKOR WAT, in CAMBODIA.
This deviation took me about 200k out of the direct route to BANGKOK, but was worth the extra riding. The country side is flat, and the roads are in good condition, with little traffic.
These sites are well worth the visit, although not on the scale of ANKOR WAT, they have been restored by the THAI government, and are a fantastic legacy of the former glory of the KHMER Civilization of over 1000 years ago. With most visitors being THAI, the backpacking hoards havenít ventured this far eastÖ.YET!
This detour cost me most of a days traveling, so it was an afternoons high speed ride to KORAT, were I spent the night, before a 240k ride into BANGKOK.
The highway from KORAT to BANGKOK is a fast 4 to 6 lane highway, DORIS was sitting on a cruising speed of 120k, with a top speed of 140. I reached the outskirts of BANGKOK in less than 3 hours. Then the dramas begin, I had booked DORIS into BKK BMW the local BMW dealer for a 30,000k service and checkup, the trouble is, BANGKOK traffic is horrendous, and the GPS is useless, with little data on THAILAND available. So it was plan B, basically find a taxi, use my THAI mobile phone and get him to talk to BMW. It worked, and soon we were off through the crazy BANGKOK traffic, with me following the taxi, complete with hazard lights. The local police are vicious on pulling over motorbikes for all types of misdemeanors, just a revenue collection, really, every country has got them!
Well we were running through the traffic in convoy, when a little cop jumps out in front of us and tries to hail me down. No way that I was stopping! I wasnít in the mood to argue the point, or pay a bribe, straight through to the BMW workshop. The taxi waited for me as I booked DORIS in, and it was soon off to Nana Plaza to book into a hotel that was recommended by the CHIANG MAI boys. It so happens that Robert, an American friend from CHIANG MAI was in town, so while DORIS was off the road; it was time for a bit of R & R.
HEADING NORTH AGAIN TO MUKTAHAN AND LAO.
I finally got out of the clutches of Bangkok, and hit the road early to navigate my way to Highway 1 then up Highway 2 to retrace my steps to eventually get to ROI ET, a provincial town 170k west of MUKTAHAN.
I had arranged to meet my old mate Ken Chung and his wife Moo, from KOI SAMUI, as it was Kenís 71st birthday and he planned to celebrate it at his daughter in laws village.
Well it was a 30k drive into the farming area to a little village with one street light and a lot of eager villagers waiting for the felangs to arrive with all the free whiskey. They werenít disappointed, Ken and I had stocked up on Johnny Walker Red, (6 litres to be exact) and it wasnít long before we were laughing and joking with the locals, even though we couldnít speak Thai, and they couldnít speak English.
The next day, we decided to have a look around, ROI ET, has a great market, full of second hand cloths from the States, you can buy anything from a used tee shirt from Washington for $1 to a pair of Johnny Reb boots for $5. We spent two days there, the big Buddha is well worth a visit, itís the tallest in the world, at around d 400ft.you can even walk up it to a viewing platform.
By the 5th of October it was time to move on, Ken and Moo wanted to go to Lao, so we arranged to meet in Muktahan, then catch the ferry over to Savannakhet for a days shopping for them and me to continue my ride through Lao.
Posted by Tom Forde at October 07, 2004 12:43 PM GMT