Today we geared ourselves up for what we hope will be our last day in Thailand before crossing into Laos. We had our usual early start but Chiang Rei also seemed to be an early starter so there was some weaving through traffic until we cleared the city limits. Luckily that did not take too long (memories of the half day it took to clear the Phoenix suburbs in the US last year).
As soon as we were in open country the morning was glorious and we had a day of varying landscapes. We were following the Kok river for the first part. The river was irrigating huge swathes of paddy fields, glinting in the early morning sun.
We then turned away from the river and took a road following a line of hills. Little ups and downs and numerous ordinary everyday villages and towns. We try not to be too much of a tourist snob but one of the huge benefits of cycling is seeing these out of the way places where tour buses and trains don’t go. We brought fruit from a local market in one town, causing a mild stir of amusement amongst the market stall holders – laughing at our means of transport we think. After about 50km we stopped at a tiny coffee shop almost buried in a shrubbery where we had one of our best cups of coffee so far!
The road then turned into the hills and the landscape changed again. It wound up hill in a slow climb through lush trees and vegetation. There were still patches of cultivation in narrow patches by the side of the road – oranges, bananas, rubber trees, were the ones we could identify. Although we had built ourselves up for the climb it was an easy one and after an initial steepish bit down the other side on a rubbish road surface, it was an easy run down too.
We were then into a different type of landscape with much drier soil. There was no irrigation here so it showed the effects of the dry season on the parched soil. We saw a large cassava factory at one point. Cassava is not a staple food of Thailand but it has an important economic role. Cassava can grow in dry, low nutrient soils and the roots can be stored in the ground for up to 24 months. The cassava is chopped up and spread out on the ground to dry out. When it is ground up it is called Tapioca – rather gastly memories of school lunch puddings but it is used as a ‘native starch’ mainly as a thickening agent and stabiliser.
We were now into the hot afternoon (although overall the weather had been cooler today). The landscape was dusty and rather tedious, and the cycling getting metronomic. The route turned us off the ‘main road’ for a while and we stopped at a village shop for cold drinks and some donuts. There was a gaggle of women chatting and no doubt we gave them plenty more to talk about. None of course spoke English and our Thai remains derisory but the universal signs of waving and smiling go a long way.
At 100km we came rolling in to Chiang Khong, a trading town on the banks of the mightly Mekong river; and a few kms from the border crossing into Laos. We know from experience that border crossings can be variable – from a few mintues to several hours so this was something to tackle tomorrow and not in the late afternoon. We therefore booked into a pretty wooden guest house on the Thai side, strolled up and down the banks of the Mekong looking over at the town where we will stay tomorrow and had a lovely last meal Thai meal. This place has all the feelings of frontier town, built on trade coming from the river and with merchants marking their success with wonderful wooden (teak) houses – many of which now have even more charm as they are slighty delapidated.
It’s exactly 3 weeks since we arrived in Thailand and we are about 1300km into the trip. Our Thailand phase has been amazing as we have learnt the benefits and the quirks of the trikes – but overall we love our new way of seeing the world. Laos will be similar but also very different; we are both looking forward to a new phase of the trip, starting tomorrow.
1 thought on “Day 22: Thursday 26th January. Chiang Rei to Chiang Khong: 101km and 300m climbing.”
WELL DONE TO GET SO FAR!!