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Laos!

Even though it’s about 2 weeks overdue, I figured I’d get a few pictures up of my abbreviated trip to Lao.


(Right click, click ‘view image’) trust me, it’s worth it.

Hey buddy, it isn’t 1993 anymore…When he asked, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the closet rave is 1000 miles away. Fearing the fragility of his ego I reassured him; ‘Yeah buddy… It’s Lao – raves are everywhere’

Rejoice! Laos has bread!

And awesome French food!

Who better to eat French food with than with the French? Some of the friendliest people I’ve met yet, they were in town for some internship, don’t ask me what they were doing though…

Stimulants makes any meal better! Wait… maybe that’s weed.

 

Bubble tea for dayz! If you don’t know you need to find out.

Damn… I’m so fucking artistic. Just look at that beautiful shit.

The best medical care in Laos – it’s in Thailand!

To say the healthcare in Laos is inadequate would be wholly over appraising the whole situation. My advice for those who get sick in Laos – don’t get sick in Laos.

I, unfortunately, was not able to heed my own sage words of advice and I was the begrudging receiver of Dengue fever. At first I thought it was just a case of the flu; my intention was wait it out for a few days and head on my merry way in renewed health. However, after 3 days with no respite from the most hellish fever I have ever had I decided to seek ‘competent’ medical attention. I staggered out of my hotel for the first time that day, it was already 6pm, and made my way to the nearest tuk-tuk driver. Surprisingly, he spoke English well enough to know I needed to go to the hospital; although I don’t think it would have taken much verbal communication to convey that I desperately needed medical attention at this point. While on the way he recommend a ‘better’ hospital to me, although I originally made no request for a specific hospital. We arrived at the prominent Chinese medical facility on the edge of town and I expected to be greeted by a white-coat, medically trained professional. I don’t think this idea could have been more from the truth. My experience with the hospital staff left me feeling that a chimp with a slightly above average intelligence could have provided better medical care.

Upon arrival, I was ushered into an examining room expecting the standard gamut of medical questions from any one of the many medical staff. Little did I know that it is the custom at this particular hospital to inform the staff that you are sick, would like medical attention and provide them with the most useful, initial course of action. I broke the main doctor’s staring match with the floor and informed him that it would probably be best to start with taking my temperature. This was translated by my tuk-tuk driver – who would have thought that in a room full of trained doctors the best English speaker would be a cab driver? At the mention of temperature readings the doctor produced a delightfully old, Mercury filled thermometer – I thought they had gone out of fashion with the advent of the digital age… He stuck the thermometer under my arm and resumed his death stare with the floor; I believe my intrusion had been an unwelcome interference in the doctor’s occupation and had given the tile some hard earned headway in the match.

After ten minutes I still was not quite sure why the floor had captured the attention of every medical practitioner in the room, but I knew there was work to do, namely stave off my own death. I made the indication that my temperature reading had probably stabilized. The thermometer was taken from under my arm, the reading written down in a book and the staring match resumed. Maybe they were all deep in thought, deciding what could possibly be wrong with me and the best course of action? To confirm my hopes I asked what my temperature was and what might be wrong with me, to which I received merely a shrug. I looked at the book and saw my temperature recorded as 40.5°C (104.9°F) and proceeded to freak the fuck out. I needed some sort of guidance for at least mental comfort and was receiving nothing at all, just blank stares. After gesticulating and yelling I received a slip of paper for medicine and was guided to the pharmacy adjacent to the examining room. I was given miniature bottles of a strange liquid with Chinese writing and told to take 2 in the morning and 2 at night. Thanks for the help Lao!

The bottles of strange goop helped marginally and allowed me 2 more days of sticking with it in my hotel room. Unfortunately, my fever had increased, my joints began aching so painfully it was almost impossible to walk and the pain behind my eyes was severely limiting the enjoyment of my favorite pastime, watching TV. I decided it was time to throw in the towel and fly to Thailand for actual medical care. I checked on flight prices to Vientiane and found a plane departing in 6 hours for only $100. I walked to a booking agency next door and without consulting any resource at all the agent informed me that there were no seats available on the plane. I guess the act of actually checking would have been too much of an inconvenience for him and he decided that I would be easily discouraged and leave – gotta love the Lao. I informed him that I had just checked online and he begrudgingly booked my ticket.

After 5 hours of taxis, planes and more taxis I had made it to a proper medical facility. I had no less than 3 nurses hovering around me at all times and was given a private room with AC and an excellent view. I stayed for 3 nights and a week after it all started I was fine. Sunday morning I paid my medical bill to the tune of $754 US and made my way to my motorcycle. I’m now feeling 100% and better yet, only I’m only 500′ from a beach!

Denied!

Apparently trying to deal with customs without anything more than hand language is quite difficult. Who woulda guessed?

The most freqeunted entry point into Lao is via a ‘friendship’ bridge at Nong Khai(T)/Vientiantene(L). I overnighted in Nong Khai in the hopes I could use this super easy entry point and simply ride my bike into Lao. The bridge has had a finicky past with the allowance of two wheeled traffic. Laws and regulations in Lao are subject to change on the whim, but the steadfast law on the bridge has always been, traffic is restricted to cars only. I recnely heard online that the law had changed and now bikes were being let through no problem. I figured I’d give it a try so I stopped by the customs office at the bridge and everything seemed like it would go smoothly. They started filling out paperwork, but as soon as they saw the engine size of my bike they bawked. Apparently, travel is restricted to bikes over 250cc. From what I can figure, if they allowed any bike entry they’d be flooded with an armada of locals on scooters daily. Allowing big bikes (aka tourists) through is a good middle ground. Unfortunately my wimpy little bike won’t do. Back to the drawing board.

After a bit of research I found a boat border crossing only 120km downstream from Nong Khai. I hopped on my bike and within the hour I was in Buen Kang scoppin’ the situation. I stopped by the immigration office which told me to go just ‘600m’ down the street to the customs office. After asking around a few official looking offices I got a hand drawn map; turns out the customs office was actually 5km away. Once arriving at the customs office I was informed that I need to go to the ‘new customs’ office 1km down the road. At the ‘new customs’ office literally no one speaks English, they took me around in what I thought was an attempt to find an english speaker, but now I realize it was just so everyone could laugh at the stupid falang. After about 30 minutes of useless beauricratic chatter they informed me that I needed a declaration of vehicle form which can only be obtained at the vehicle registration building 10km away. They proceeded to draw me a map which consisted simply of two intersecting lines. Despite the intricate detail involved in the map, read sarcasm, it took ten minutes of discussion and planning to draw. Somehow, probably by the hand of god, I found the vehicle registration office. After a 20 minute google translate session and the aid of their ‘top English speaker’ I made no headway and they understood nothing except that I had a green book for a bike. I reiterated that I’m trying to take a bike to Lao, and their faces lit up with understanding. Just when I think I’ve finally got it figured out they start drawing a map. Shit. They refer me back to the customs office and send me on my way. Now that I’ve entered the beauricratic loop I know I’m fucked. I conceded and made my way back to Nong Khai.

My new plan is to make my way to the coast, but the route I took in the hopes of getting into Lao is now ass backwards. Since my visa expires in two days I have no other option than to go to Lao for a visa extension. I locked my bike up at a local hotel and crossed the friendship bridge by foot. Now I’m in Lao for an indeterminate amount of time, with no bike. I feel naked, trapped and constrained without my wheels. I hope I can beat this funk I’m in. I’ll be back in Thailand soon enough.

Chiang Mai to Nong Khai

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I finally hit the road. Chiang Mai to Nong Khai in three days. The total ride was 880km (560miles) or about 7 hours a day. The bummer about riding a 150cc is that you can only go 60mph; however, even moving at this glacial pace you pass the majority of traffic on the road as if it were standing still.
The views were rather boring; my route took me through the plains of Thailand, although I did pass over two mountain passes which were quite scenic.

SUKHOTHAI
My first overnight was in Sukhothai. Sukhothai was a an old kingdom of Thailand from the mid 13th century till the early 15th century. After the death of their most powerful king, Ramkhamhaeng, the kingdom faded from power and the capitol city was abandoned. Today the old city has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site and is quite a site to behold.

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NONG KHAI
Nong Khai is a small town on the Mekong. The first and most popular friendship bridge crosses from just outside of town into Lao, 40km from Vientiane.
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From what I’ve seen so far it seems a town populated by Thais and obese, over 60 white males. I haven’t seen a single whitey my age, although I’ve seen less than 10 falangs since I’ve been here.
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I stumbled on this huge abandoned park while exploring yesterday, it is a very eery place, seemingly more at home in Russia than Thailand.
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Some obligatory food shots to wrap it up.
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Honestly, the worst burger I’ve ever had, but at least they gave me a shit load of fries!
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A brief hiatus

I took a week, or maybe two off from bloggin. I’m sorry. I’ll try and be better in the future; in my defense my travels haven’t been all that exciting recently.

Tomorrow or the day after I will be driving 700 miles in 3 days. To prepare for the grueling trip I replaced both my tires, the one in the rear I increased the size from 100 to 130, more than an inch in size increase! I also had the oil changed and the chain adjusted and lubed. The silencer had fallen out of the muffler which made it ridiculously loud, I had a new one made up at a local exhaust shop. Minus the cost of the tires, all this service cost less than 300B. The tires were 1400 and 1700 for the front and rear, respectively. All told I spent just over $100, but I should be good on service for a long time.

Just to give you a reference of size, the bike on the left has the tire I had originally, the one on the right is what I upgraded to. Neither bike is mine.

Pai

Pai is a small town just 130KM northeast of Chiang Mai. It seems a town more in place on the West Coast, closer to Santa Cruz then Chiang Mai. Hippies abound, both dark and light skinned. Almost all goods sold are locally made. There are quite a few health food stores with kombucha, kefir and a gigantic selection of teas.

A choice selection of the local art, found outside a tattoo shop.

I originally wasn’t planning on traveling to Pai, but I heard good things from fellow backpackers. I tend to take everything they say with a grain of salt; the typical backpacker I’ve encountered prefers package tours to off the cuff explorations, getting drunk with other falangs instead of meeting the locals and generally doesn’t do anything that another tourist hasn’t already recommended. All in all though, I was glad I made the trip. I may even end up at the local Muay Thai gym for a month of training.

The primary reason I traveled to Pai was to meet up with Kaleb and Sam who just got out of Lao from working with EWB.

The road to Pai is simply amazing, 80KM of sweeping turns, hair pin bends and road grades like I’ve never seen before. I took a video of the drive, but unfortunately the angle was fucked and the footage was useless.

The first few nights I stayed in Spicy Pai, as recommended by other backpackers. This was a poor choice. For what you get, Spicy Pai is extremely overpriced. The main dorm room has 19 beds, 1 bathroom, 2 inch thick pads as mattresses and no doors – you have to sleep with a bug net. All of this and you still have to pay 150B!

I chose to stay in the top bunk, an idea I originally thought cool, but later realized it was the warmest bed in the entire dorm.

We made our way to a few waterfalls, but the most notable was definitely the sliding waterfall Mor Paeng.

A word of wisdom from the Thai government.

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I cured a few hangovers and got some wicked sunburn at the super cool ‘fluid pool’ just outside of town. Thanks to fluid I know now that deep house is the best pool music.

One day, in pursuit of the ‘secret hot springs’ we stumbled upon an elephant eating her dinner. No one was around that we could see so we stopped by to say hello. As soon as I got out my camera she got quite curious.

Something crazy you see in Pai is that every 3rd person is sporting some sort of bandage or sling. Apparently the most common way to arrive to Pai is by rented motorbike. I talked to a few girls sporting bandages and found that they had no experience with motorcycles and only one of them even considered themselves competent on a bicycle. No wonder they got fucked up!

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Before I left I took a short ride up to a great view point in the opposite direction of Chaing Mai. (Hint: Right click and select’open image in new tab’ for a larger view)

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The primary reason I decided to make Chiang Mai my first destination was to meet up with my friends from Laos. It ended up working well for me when I found a great deal on a motorcycle. I left Chiang Mai a few days ago, and thought I’d comment a bit on it. Everyone who has been to the north of Thailand raves about the awesome, laid back atmosphere of Chiang Mai. I was a bit surprised when I arrived to see an almost sprawling metropolis. Granted it is no Bangkok, not even close, but high rises abound regardless.
I was a little bummed with the atmosphere as well, it seemed that everyone was just into the tourist main attractions. Tiger kingdom, elephant treks, cookery classes, ridiculous Muay Thai fights (2 midgets vs 1 blind folded average fighter etc.). Not exactly my cup of tea, regardless, I stayed in the city for 5 nights, biding my time, waiting for my friends to arrive from Laos.
While in the city I got some experience with congest Thai driving, an experience which warrants its own post.

Went to Mak Fa waterfall.
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Ate some awesome food.
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Ate some bugs. I had no problem with the mental displeasure that many people seem to harbor regarding the ingestion of bugs, but to be honest, they weren’t terribly great tasting.
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Went to the Sunday night market. Mostly every market I’ve encountered in Asia has had the same selection of mass produced items. This market wasn’t much different, I didn’t buy anything, just mostly indulged in food.
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After Chiang Mai I went to the awesome little town of Pai just 120KM to the northwest. More on the later.

Race Bike Ron Hits Asia!

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Today I bought a CBR 150, a proper little sports bike. The cost was 44,000B, just over $1450USD, not too shabby considering it only has 6800km. The bike was also modified with a larger carburetor, modified intake, full exhaust and a remapped ECU. I haven’t ever ridden a stock CBR 150, but apparently the modifications made quite a difference from the stock form. However, compared to my super mega ballin’ Volvo back home the acceleration is a joke.
By any American sports bike standard, a CBR 150 is a joke – nothing more than a child’s bike, something that would never be imported into the US. However, on the crowded and chaotic roads of Thailand it is a perfect fit. I had originally hoped for a 400, 500 or even a 650cc, but I’m glad I could only afford a 150cc. Anything larger would be a recipe for disaster, I can imagine myself quickly getting too ballsy and going way faster then I should. The import duties in most Asian countries are extreme for any bike larger than 250cc; the price of a 650cc is almost double what it would be in the states.
    To make the bike fully street legal I had to purchase insurance and make current the registration. I imagined it would be a difficult process, considering I speak next to no Thai and I doubted that the bureaucratic offices would be very accommodating to a farang(thai:dumb white person). Could you imagine how hard it would be registering and insuring a bike in the US without speaking English or being a citizen? I was pleasantly surprised by the Thai experience. I simply handed my green book, the Thai equivalent of a US title, to the state insurance agent and within 2 minutes and 400B I had insurance. I went to the tax office next door and 100B made my tags current. So incredibly painless.
    Now I’m off to race the streets of Thailand!

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Bangkok, Where Everyone is your Friend

Except for the 250lb ladyboy with enough makeup to provide ample coverage for at least 30 Thai girls.
Everyone on the street approaches you with the same ‘oh hello my friend’, ‘where you from my friend?’ or ‘where you go my friend?’ Such genuine interest in your endeavors – yeah right…
It is unfortunate that the majority of people see you as just a quick way to make a buck. The innate kindness of the Thai people has been misguided by rampant tourisim and rising poverty. Really though it isn’t that hard to understand when you take into account the average American’s income is more than 7 times that of the average Thai ($30,000 vs $4,000.)
Going back to the ladyboy, I was walking down the street when I was approached by an old lady with bags of corn in hand. She put one bag in my and pointed to the pigeons at her feet. ‘Free corn’ ‘throw for birds’ she says, ‘give you good luck’ ‘throw 3 bags’ she says. I know this game, as soon as I throw the corn she’ll be all over me for an outrageous fee. I try to hand the bag back to her, but as the bag leaves my right hand she empties another into my left.  What am I to do but throw the corn to the teeming mass of carrions at my feet?  Quicker than I can react she empties another two bags into my vacant hands. As soon as the last kernel hits the ground I’m ambushed by her cronnies, one of them being the aforementioned massive lady boy. The lady demands 50 baht, but the fat one immediately ups it to 150, they must take me as an easy target. As fucked is their game I won’t leave them completely empty handed, I guess that’s just how nice of a guy I am. I shove 3 baht into her hand and walk away while enduring a barrage of what I assume were Thai insults. Fuck her.
In Bangkok everyone who approaches you with seemingly genuine interest is just trying to grift you. The tuk-tuk driver says he’ll take you anywhere for 30 baht, but what he doesn’t say is that along the way he’ll take you to his cousin’s suit shop. And his sister’s jewlery shop after that and then a ‘gem outlet’ after that. The game is laughable, but it must be working as I see tuk-tuks full of farangs everywhere I go. Poor naive bastards.