Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sabaidee Falang (recovered - courtesy of Tyler Smith (xo))

Ainaz is in Vientiane, Laos.

Laos is beautiful, I feel really good here... with the Mekong and mountains and Islands and drylands and wet forests too... and not to mention kind locals, lots of smiles and the best yell-outs of SE Asia yet: "Sabaidee Falang!"

I had 600km of amazing riding and unforgettable encounters along the Mekong river from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Pakse, Laos. Here are my memories :) ...

After parting ways from Solidream, I rode towards the Cambodia-Laos border.
While day-dreaming through the 65km of no-mans-land north of Stoeng Treng, I met 51yr old Pascal. He rides in this region every year, making friends with locals, buying art and sending it home to France to sell there when he is not working in his amazing Garden.
Pascal rides a $43 bike he bought in Phnom Penh and the shopping cart he carries on his rear rack is filled with paintings he will sell when back in France
At the border, Pascal and I met Tom and Jemina, Belgian couple on a world tour on their Tandem. They started their trip in Canada... in Calgary of all places! They have rebuilt their bike many times from scratch, specially the rear wheel due to recalls of Rohloff hubs they used! See their photos and read their stories if you can in Flemish here:
Well seasoned cyclists who get more tired from taking frequent breaks than when they are flowing along pedaling :)
Riding on, now 4 of us, we ran into 3 French guys on bike, going the opposite direction to us. Two of them (Jean-Baptiste and Arnaud) on a world tour, 10 months into their journey... lots of stories to share. Read about their journey here:
I gave them my Cambodia flag, and a postcard I had forgotten to mail before crossing the border.
At this point I felt my trip was pretty insignificant - only traveling SE Asia! ;)
Short way into Laos Tom, Jemina and I took a boat to Don Det Island and Pascal stayed on the mainland to continue north the next day. Don Det is amongst the 4,000 islands on the Mekong in the South of Laos. Breath-taking sunsets and gorgeous scenery all throughout these islands... I knew I had to find a way to travel north by boat for a bit.
Sunset over the 4000 Islands on Mekong river.
My first breakfast in Laos, which became my traditional breakfast, since.

I asked around from ex-pats and locals to find the cheapest way to get to the big island of Don Khong by boat with my bike. I was advised the best way is to take a small boat between islands and island hop my way North. The next day - after a day of relaxing on Don Det and a morning of struggling to find what in my wheel was giving me so many flats over the last two days - I went exploring...
I was searching my tire for this tiny sliver of metal while the tourists were swinging in hammocks and sipping smoothies

...Somehow I could feel there is a different way I will go to Don Khong, but not sure how, I just rode around with my loaded bike.
On the bridge to the island south of Don Det, I met some other tourists riding around rental bikes who told me of the water fall and beaches to visit nearby...
On my way to the water fall I met two Dutch cycle tourists who said they are down here on a day trip from the big island and I can maybe try to share their boat for the way back for a fee... So at 3pm I went to the dock they gave me directions to but no Dutch cyclists and no boat waiting for them to be found... However there were two wooden boats being loaded with French tourists.. They saw me looking around.. I asked them where they are going.. They said, "come with us!"... I repeated my question "ok, maybe, but where are you going?" .. They said, "Don Khong, the big island." :) ...I asked, "How much?".. they said, " don't worry about it!" :):) So they loaded my bike on one boat, and I went in the other boat (me and my bike weigh about the same, so we balanced the load this way ;))
My bike traveling with some French tourists :)
...and off I went on a 2.5hr boat ride up the Mekong, for free, and made more friends I will visit when I go to France in the summer :)
I'm on a boat ... where's my flippy floppies?! ;)

I slept at a Temple on Don Khong with a beautiful view of the moon over the Mekong. But I barely slept this night, as I didn't have the protection of four strong French men around me. The monks are very friendly and they continued to reassure me when I asked them if it's safe to sleep here. You see, the poor locals who have no home also sleep at the temples, so one worries when you're alone. But all is well, no bad experience yet and not anticipating any.. just being cautious.

... the next day I rised early to find my way to the West side of the Mekong, where google maps shows nothing but my German paper map showed a little road and many little villages. I confirmed this information with the old lady who served me breakfast in town, skyped with my mom and showed her the Mekong and the morning Alm of the monks, and I set out to find a boat to take me across to the West of the Mekong.

My bike getting used to its new mode of travel...
Found the boat, found the road and lovvvvvved this stretch of the Mekong. Roads remote enough that no car goes, bamboo shoots, beautiful wooden homes, locals going about their business, kids yelling "Falang, Falang!" to remind me I'm different than what they are used to, little cute restaurants to break at,....
I cried from happiness this day. I am lucky to be here. 

Beautiful road along the Mekong .. the cows have passed before me
Sharing a break with water buffalos
This man in village called Saphang learned English on his own... he taught me how to count to 10 in Laotian - Neung, Seung, Sam, Si, Haa,... The locals laughed as I rode off practicing my new knowledge outloud :)

And later in the day a test of my insticts where I had to realize that my road is ending in a river because I have to take a wooden boat operated by a rope on a pulley across, not go exploring in the surrounding barren fields for a road.
Try this road for a bit ... nope doesn't feel right...
Go back to the last village for a noodle lunch spiced with ants ... try to ask the locals but can't really make sense why they tell me to cross the river.. I don't want the hwy, I want my little Mekong path!
Go back exploring, but too many options and directions don't make sense... study the map more closely... Aha! Maybe I'm where this stream is feeding into the Mekong.. maybe I need to cross the stream! Maybe that's what everyone's been trying to tell me ...if only I knew more Laotian than just count to 10 :)
Pully boat crossing the stream
Yay, back on track along my lovely Mekong path :)

After riding over 500km on unpaved roads, I was rewarded with a newly constructed road from Champasak to Pakse sandwiched between the Mekong on the right and Mountains on the left (but with headwind of course).

But enough is enough, I didn't want any more flat roads, and I didn't want any more bumpy roads.. the day I left Pakse, I rode 10km and felt bored and uninterested in the road I was on. But I knew what I needed to feel better :) Mountains!!! yess..  I made a carboard sign and hitchhiked the past 600kms all the way to Vientiane.

On my way here, biking between hitch hike rides, I met 60yr old Italian Goffredo, who rides average 200km a day on his titanium bike with absolutely minimal gear. He rode through Iran 2 years ago and his favourite memory was walking at night in streets of Yazd (the city my mom was born in), where an old man came up to him to shake his hand and said nothing, but communicated a world of wisdom and understanding.

Goffredo made me an Origami swan while riding his bike! :)
Here in Vientiane, I met a 62yr old cycle tourist from Cypress who showed me a bike shop run by a French guy who used to ride in the Tour De France. Willy the French is fixing my bike up right now as I type this post :) Yesterday I started giving my stuff away at the guesthouse I stayed at - shedding weight in preparation for the mountains.
check out my new derralieure!
Top Cycle bike shop in Vientiane will  find you the right components, but I didn't have a good experience with their mechanics' work.

Now I'm about to set off on a 1,000km challenge in mountains through North of Laos and Vietnam over the next 10 days. Wish me luck! "Chok Dee" as the Lao and Thai would say ;)


  1. Good luck on those mountains!

  2. Thanks "joon"for this post.You are realy in a amazing SE tour.
    Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and next Vietnam. And all of the the people you meet Soooooo proud of you. bisous xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  3. amazing! just amazing!!


  4. Chok Dee Na. Ka, Ainaz. :)

    Reading your story is like Traveling with you. It's really nice.


  5. The way you write all the entry's down is realy amazing. You can sure write a book. This summer we will listen to all the story's again when you are here. Hope you stay for weeks........