Shifting our butts around - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 14, 2023

Shifting our butts around

Kratie to Khonephapheng Hongkham Guesthouse, Laos

Dear little friends,

Much as we loved Kratie, we were pretty eager to put Cambodia behind us. We can’t hide it, we have deep affections and ties to Laos and Thailand and we’ve been looking forward to the food, languages we can rudimentarily speak and understand, and just how they ARE. 

We’d looked and looked at the possible routes to the Lao border and it just wasn’t looking promising, they all end up on Highway 7 and we’ve seen that before. Not pretty. 

So a few minutes before 7 am we wheeled our bikes a grand total of one block to the Silver Dolphin to meet our minivan and do The Big Negotiation on Where the Bikes Go in a Minivan. We have done this before, and had our bikes hanging out the opened back end alongside a motorbike with exhaust fumes spicing up our ride. It can be a tense negotiation, neither of us were looking forward to that.

But no, this driver had no motorbikes along, although there was other cargo besides the humans aboard. Two or three huge bags of khao lam and a rice bag with unknown contents under the seat in front of us, no big deal. The bikes fit perfectly in the back, no problem whatsoever. There were four other travelers with their backpacks or luggage, and he picked up locals by the side of the road, too. It was a full house but nothing horrible, it was air conditioned, we zoomed along a smooth new highway.

Minivan #1, nicely packed.
Heart 7 Comment 0
A load of khao lam.
Heart 3 Comment 0

And yes, we looked out the window from our cushy (not really but comparatively so) cool seats and remarked to each other on the good highway with the big shoulder, we could have ridden this, etc. But we were still enjoying the novelty of being carried in a vehicle with the only effort required being shifting our butts around and trying to find foot room amidst the various junk under the seat ahead of us.

Interestingly enough, the khao lam got offloaded in the exact same spot where we got offloaded from a bus in 2009, and told to get to Stung Treng on our own. We ended up each on the back of a motorcycle, a wild ride with our large backpacks on.
Heart 5 Comment 0

After two hours we were in Stung Treng, and there was a switch of vans that would go to the border, and the other travelers would be met on the other side by Lao vans. It’s a complicated system, we’ve done it in the past, but it works. Our new van driver was a young guy with his two buddies sitting up front, we were also joined by one more foreign traveler. Four of our colleagues were French, one from Boston. Once again the bikes fit perfectly with no fuss and off we went.

Minivan #2. I didn't realize until seeing Bruce's photo that Bruce's bike was lodged in front of another passenger. Yikes.
Heart 4 Comment 0

Any regrets we may have had about not riding this route went right down the toilet once we left Stung Treng. Mind you, we bussed this 15 years ago and route 7 was brand spanking new and fantastic. Quite a change from the red dusty roads we had been on in other parts of Cambodia. By early 2015 when we rode our bikes on this stretch it was pretty broken up. Now? Now it’s another dusty red road, bouncy, rocky, potholed, ridiculous. 

We would have died from heat and dust on this road, this is a main highway in Cambodia and it had gone to complete shit. It makes me angry for the people who live there. They all mostly are on motorbikes or other open-air contraptions, it’s their homes and gardens and fields getting coated by red dust as air conditioned minivans and big trucks go flying through. And it’s just because this road wasn’t made correctly in the first place, when we rode it we’d see exposed potholes with loose rocks and gravel barely frosted with an inch of asphalt on top. 

I go on about roads because roads make the difference in a country. You know where the rich people live by the roads that take them to town. Everybody else is bumping around from place to place. I don’t except my own city from this either, our local arterial street in Portland is a disaster of potholes and poorly done repairs.

Anyway, we arrived at the border, it was around 11 and boiling, boiling hot. We were dropped off in front of a little store that also was a Wing, one of the currency exchange places, that was very handy. I got all my sun coverage stuff on, we changed money, bought some water with the last bit of riel, and rode to the Cambodian immigration office. 

Entering the Great Cambodian Immigration Confusion Zone. Oh, and it's boiling hot, to add to the joy.
Heart 5 Comment 0

This used to be a shack, I remember it well. Now it’s a six-lane grandiose stupid monstrosity that seemed completely deserted. The directional signs had all faded to white in the sun. We had no idea where we were supposed to be. But when we rode up there were at least five guys in uniform sitting around playing with their phones. They sort of nodded to a building, we went in. Inside there were some foreigners with backpacks entering the country, the “departures” window was closed. Hm.

Now, let's see, which window should we choose?
Heart 4 Comment 0

Back outside we saw our minivan companions hiking in the boiling hot sun with their backpacks and luggage, and after some confusion and some supercilious ordering around by the officials who suddenly woke up from their phone trances we were back inside again and miraculously the Departures window was open. Go figure. 

Honestly, this is so typical of this border crossing that I was surprised it was only this level of annoying, it’s been so much worse in the past. After being stamped out of Cambodia one of the officials told us we needed to take our bags inside to get scanned. We ignored him and got on our bikes and left.

Then there are several hundred yards of boiling hot no-mans-land to traverse, which we on bikes did with ease and the other folks with much suffering. I’m not at all clear what an elderly or disabled person would do in this situation, but at least this bunch were all young and hardy, if boiled alive by the time they arrived at Lao immigration.

It used to be that Lao immigration had this complicated chart of various visa fees for each country depending on some sort of diplomatic relational status, but they have dispensed with that and now everybody pays $40. Crisp USD please. You could pay in riel or kip but the exchange rate was robbery, so people paid in dollars. Then a $2 “stamping fee” that is never, never, never on any official sign or official document. We had warned the others that there may be some “coffee money” involved, it’s complete corruption but who wants to sit around the border fighting with those guys. We gave them the crappiest dollar bills we had. Well, we didn’t give them the one with a large chunk out of the corner, there is nobody on this continent that’s going to take that.

And then, we bid our companions farewell. They were mostly on to Don Det by some conveyance that was not in evidence. The sun was now straight over us, pounding to those on foot, but by bicycle, with the breeze of our movement, with all skin covered with sunscreen or protective clothing, hell, we were free.

This unfortunate lizard was pretty much all the traffic we saw for a few miles.
Heart 2 Comment 2
Bill ShaneyfeltSome species of skink... There are many! The link for reptiles of Thailand is likely fairly accurate, given the proximity. The link to Laos is more chaotic, having species by alphabetical rather than taxonomic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_reptiles_of_Thailand

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Reptiles_of_Laos
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Mark LellmanHeat stroke? Sun bathing?, like grandpa Lellman did in the back yard, in his black wool pants and light blue, long sleeve, cotton work shirt? I never could understand that concept. Sun Bathing, but I guess you are experiencing that every day.
Reply to this comment
1 month ago

Every country is immediately so different from its neighbors. We took off down a nicely newish road, and the stillness and serenity of Laos hit us like that cooling breeze. There was no traffic. None. The cows and goats ruled the road. We heard Lao music coming from houses. We were hot but happy. And we only had about six miles to ride to a guesthouse, but first we turned into a large restaurant and ate heaps of food and drank huge iced coffees, Lao coffees, that taste different than any other coffee. We hadn’t eaten since yesterday. It went down a treat. Right around the time we arrived at the restaurant the minivan for our companions finally passed by, so they had been waiting around in the heat for it for nearly an hour. This is why we love being on bikes, because one day of this sort of transportation hassle was enough for us.

It's hard to describe Lao coffee, but I can tell you this, these are the first of many for us.
Heart 4 Comment 0
Look closely at the English translations on this menu and tell us what we should order.
Heart 6 Comment 8
Jen Rahn'A friendly match' with a side of 'unscrew the shield', please. I would love to see what these look like.

Leave the 'the legs are broken' in the kitchen!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Kristen ArnimFather with a side of crush the beans.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Jen RahnYou know of course, that Bruce also collects menu translations and misspellings. He was madly scribbling most of these in his little book. One of my past faves is “scramble embroy”.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Matthew CourtwayUnscrew the shield, but first toss the pig
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Bruce LellmanOne of my all-time favorites is, Fried Bobster!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Ron SuchanekI'll have some I'm Sorry, an order of Crush the Chicken Feet, a half order of Fish Tank and a Drunk please.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Frank BrownI’m sorry, but I have to boil the whole sea…
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Mark LellmanThe legs are broken is the most mysterious and sinister though.
Reply to this comment
1 month ago
Uh, yeah, we'll just go with the fried rice.
Heart 5 Comment 0

The guesthouse guy was a little strange and our room was full of mosquitoes so a lot of time was spent with the mosquito racquet dispensing with most of them. We parked our bikes out behind and lo and behold there amongst the chickens was a tethered creature I was not expecting: a deer. I’ve never seen a deer over here, but there you are. We’re in Laos now and you can expect something strange at least every day. But you know what else you can expect? It’s going to be quiet.

A tethered deer with a bell. I wasn't expecting that.
Heart 3 Comment 0
The Khonephapheng Hongkham Guesthouse, looking pretty grand for a hotel with a tethered deer in the back and other charms.
Heart 3 Comment 0
Okay, you're not going to believe this, but both Bruce and I took showers before noticing that the sink had gone missing. That's what happens when you just want a hot shower and air conditioning and a flat bed with pillows that don't double as cement bags.
Heart 7 Comment 6
Bruce LellmanWe noticed the deer in the back yard but not the missing sink!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Jen RahnIs that a little pink soap I see?!

Was it brand new in a package when you arrived?

If yes, the missing sink makes more sense.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Lyle McLeod‘Gotta love it!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnYes, this place, without a sink, actually gave soap. BUT, it took many minutes of rubbing hands together with the soap to get a little bit of lather and once it was on a part of the body that you really wanted to scrub, like to remove sun screen, all lather disappeared and the soap did nothing. It was totally useless.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Ben ParkeIt appears the shower is conveniently placed to double as a bidet.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Ben ParkeSo, so often the showers are placed very close to the toilet, sometimes to the point that the best place to stand for your shower would be ON the toilet. But, out of sight in this photo is the ubiquitous “butt wand”, a spray hose used after toileting. No bidet needed.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago

Today's ride: 6 miles (10 km)
Total: 338 miles (544 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 17
Comment on this entry Comment 3
Jeff ArnimA day of absurdities — the vans, immigration, the menu, the deer, the spot where the sink used to be. It makes me want to go to Laos!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Jeff ArnimAnd we were completely thrilled.
Reply to this comment
2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jeff ArnimYes, it felt so good to be in Laos!
Reply to this comment
2 months ago