Wednesday, 29 November 2017

LTF MR2 (7-15 August 2017), Day 9 : Finale

One last photo in Singapore before we return to our respective homes. The Roscoes though, had to wait for their Singapore-Perth bound flight. Carolen flew direct from Bangkok
Great noodle shop in Loei
Fiery Stuff
On the way to The Bicycle
On the way to the airport. Conditions were pretty crammed, even though we had hired a bigger Songthaew
Airport authorities deflating Sue's bike
George feeling for the nipple!!!
The ladies with Prim. She was the key instrument to our first class train travel to Nong Khai
The men with Prim
Heartsick at Bangkok airport

This morning, after walking out for a hot bowl of noodle soup in a bustling coffee shop that takes up 2 shop lots, we finally found our way to The Bicycle. Located on Route 201 and not far from our hotel, we still took a Songthaew as we were all feeling lazy on the last day of our trip. Besides, the chili flakes from breakfast was starting up a bonfire in our bellies and the humid weather wasn’t helping either!

The Bicycle, a well equipped shop in Loei, trades mostly in Orbea bikes. Our shopping though revolves around the smaller accessories that can be brought home with us. While we enjoyed shopping for ourselves, we also bought a pair of gloves and water bottle for Chief as gratitude for this wonderful trip.

The Roscoes, eager to return home, finally emerged out of hiding when it was time to leave for the airport. They were accompanied by Celia who preferred sleep over food. Naturally, Mrs Lee does not have to go hungry as doting Mr Lee will always provide but Pete was still not eating much!

At Loei’s airport, our bikes went through stringent checkings. The staff insisted for us to deflate our tyres completely! To do so, we had to reopen our boxes until George found an ingenious way of slotting our hands through the box handle.

Arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport, we were appalled by the conditions of our bike boxes. As The Bicycle had supplied us boxes that are cut on the flap covers, the weak points gave way during transportation. Deflating our tyres at Loei had also unraveled some of the packaging.

Checking in our bikes for the next leg took awhile as the airport was swarmed with passengers. By the time we were ready to have lunch with Prim, it was time for her to leave for her next appointment!

Lunch was a hurried affair. Afterwards, we rushed to immigration but had to follow the ALL PASSPORTS lane as the ASEAN lane was not opened. Only Celia and Alvin managed to use the APEC lane!

With an airport filled with rich Chinese tourists, our wait took almost to the brink of missing our flights. Thankfully, by the time they called for us over the PA system, the ASEAN lane had reopened. We managed to switch lanes, stamp our exit and made a mad run to the gate!!!

Photo Credits :
1. KC
2. Alvin 


Pete returned to Perth and was diagnosed with kidney failure. However, through the powers of prayers he has fully recovered and returned to cycling as well!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

LTF MR2 (7-15 August 2017), Day 8 : Loei

One for the road
Alms giving, a daily morning ritual for Monks to make merit and collect food for the day
On the way to the bus station
The local bus station
The Roscoes.
Storage space is limited on Thai buses with LPG tanks
At the Paddy Fields
First stop. Note the holiday rental in the background
Poor cows were frightened of us
Right after the multi-storey wet market, Loei
Loei, bike lanes
Dinner with Mike and Rahda

This morning, after another round of Khao Tum, we left the Roscoes at the local bus station. Pete could not continue any further as his health had been going down south since Day 4, catapulting into a fever at Chiang Khan. Even though Papa Mike was consulted over a video call, his medical advice failed as he could not give a “personal touch” to his patient. In this case, it was literally!!!
Leaving town, we headed for Loei on Road 201. Along the way, we rolled past the slip road to the heritage museum that Fone had planned on taking us. However, we had politely declined as all we wanted was a good fellowship with the local cycling club and not to clock the miles.

The first 20 km to Loei, we rolled mainly on flats. It was a dull journey on the main highway with no interesting sights. The team was going relatively slow on a peloton when Claudine decided to sprint ahead. Finding himself off duty as official sweeper, VT decided to race with his wife.

The first order of the ride was to stop at a petrol station 20 km down the road. VT and Claudine were counting down the milestones when they were caught by a red light in a major part of Ban That town. Stopping for the longest time, they marvelled at the size of the place, garnering a bank, Tesco Extra and 7 Eleven.

As they have 2 km more to get to the said petrol station, they started pumping the pedals when the lights turned green...

“Thump! Thump! Thump!” they spun!

Then a faraway shout. Followed by another one...

Double checking, just in case, it was none other than Chief, shouting and waving. When he got near, he launched into a tirade at them for speeding ahead without a care. The petrol station “WAS” at the junction traffic lights which they had just missed out.

Retracing their steps, the stop at the 7 Eleven saw everyone going in for their favourite snacks. Sue was again with ice pack, nursing her bad shoulder that had gone down twice on this trip!

Once on the move again, we chanced upon another petrol station 2 km down the road! It was located exactly at the 20 km mark as earlier mentioned!! Haughtily, Claudine could not help but pointed out the pumps and the adjacent standalone convenience store...

Not far from this second petrol station, we turned left into Ban That Moo 15. A local school stood to our right while the municipal office was located a little further down the road, to our left. Beyond that were village homes.

As we travelled further down the road, the tarmac soon disappeared, leaving us a gravel path. Homes were more scattered, centered around farmsteads.

Travelling along the narrow village path which clearly sees very few vehicles, the tree branches grew over the road forming an arch. When we emerged out of this tree covered canopy, endless fields of rice against a backdrop of sweeping hills greeted us!

Far to our right, a nasty factory with shiny stainless steel funnels marred the otherwise pristine landscape. Listed as an agricultural product wholesaler on Google Maps but with a signage of some marketing company, it probably produces rubber products, judging from the rubber trees all along Route 4009.

Out of the village and onto the trunk road of 4009, the rolling hills began. Stopping midway at a village mini mart and on the junction to Ban Pak Mak Moo 7, we saw a few customers coming in just to buy ice! One customer with a mosquito coil tied to his back, is probably a rubber tapper on his lunch break! The surrounding area saw scattered settlements but strangely has a simple holiday rental!

Leaving the mini mart, we found ourselves riding on our own for miles on ends. Other than the standard rubber trees, we saw no homes or roadside stalls. Soon, hunger began to set in but looking out for a place to eat in such remote places is a real challenge.

We knew Loei was near when the road conditions changed. As cyclists, we were thrilled when we saw a dedicated bike lane right before us. However, our smiles soon turned to grimace when the lane that ran parallel to the road went up a steep slope.
Up on the knoll we were rewarded with sweeping sceneries of the valley below. At the hill crest, a beautiful resort home beckons. Hungry and hoping for a dining experience, we were disappointed its restaurant was closed due to lack of visitors!

Rolling downhill towards Loei, the road was going through expansion works. A blockade caused us a short detour but we soon found out bicycles could still travel on our planned route.

Further down the road, tall buildings were spotted to our right. Anticipating the end of the journey, it was still awhile before we actually got to the town itself.

Even as we hit the T junction and turned right on Route 2138, the town was still elusive. We travelled for awhile on a road decked with old shophouse before crossing a river to the busier side of town.

Once on the other side of the river bank, we came up to a multilevel wet market. Things started to pick up beyond that.

Stopping for a meal of rice with braised pork before checking into our hotel, Sue had to settle for eggs again!!! Done with lunch, we got to our hotel in no time but not before witnessing how our LTF Chief and a police officer became exemplary citizens when they helped an old lady push her stalled car at the traffic lights!

Our plan to visit The Bicycle, a bike shop that had supplied us with the much needed bike boxes for our return trip was marred when it started to rain heavily that evening. Thankfully, it stopped by dinner time, allowing us to meet Mike and Radha at a restaurant overlooking the lake.

After dinner, our lovely new friends took us on a durian hunt around Loei. Sadly, the durians we found were not ripe. Disappointed, we had to settle for 7 Eleven fare before parting ways with a promise to keep in touch. Some others though, crossed the road to the wantan noodle shop for more, before calling it a night!

Photo Credits :
1. KC
2. Ped Al


Loei Huen Hao Hug Home & Resort


Thursday, 2 November 2017

LTF MR2 (7-15 August 2017), Day 7 : Chiang Khan

With Chiang Khan Cycling Club
Rolling out
With Rojana
Traditional house
Beautiful landsacpes
Resort and cafe with lambs on the left
Paddy fields
Women power
Approaching Khaeng Khut Khu
Back at Chai Kong for tea
Braised pork and egg lunch
With Fone's grandmother!
Wantan mee and banana fritters break!
On the way to visit Willie, Chai Kong
Pasar malam feel, Chai Kong
Street artists, Chai Kong
Tourist trap, Road 211.
With Willie and husband at their resort
With Willie in their resort
Truck ride back to Chai Kong
Stopover at Fair Fair Resort

Meeting downstairs for our breakfasts this morning, we had a good laugh at our own stupidity! The complimentary breakfast that comes with the room rates is actually catered from the shop opposite the hotel! Another round of Khao Tum for today...............................and tomorrow as well!!! The only saving grace was the alternative option of egg omelette, cooked and served over a small little wok!

Thankfully, with Chief Food Officer in the house, we do not have to resign ourselves totally to the hotel spread. Taking his job seriously, he returned with fried Yu Tiau and rice cakes filled with sweet corn for all to share!

As we were finishing breakfast, Fone dropped by at the hotel to guide us to the meet up place. In tow was her little girl who couldn’t take her eyes off Carolen’s blonde looks!

Arriving at the river promenade later, we received a warm welcome from Chiang Khan Cycling Club. All dressed in Airasia sponsored jersey, the group’s demographics comprised mainly of women past their forties. Only Man and Fone stood out as Millennials. It was not surprising as we were previously informed that most of their Gen Y members had gone for an MTB jamboree the very same day!

A short fun ride pre-decided since yesterday, we rode to the fringes of Phu Tok, a mountain in the hilly region of Isaan. Famous for its breathtaking sunrise with mist covered valleys, we never made it to the viewpoint as it was scorching hot by the time we got there. 

Instead, we made our way to Khaeng Khut Ku, passing by lotus ponds and stopping for cows along the way! Unfortunately, we were not there at the right season. August being a rainy month, the river was engorged covering all rocks and inlets! We did not get to view the famous rapids or colourful boulders at all!

Following a Buddhist practice, we traipsed down to the riverbank with some riders. A merit for life, they bought plastic bags of fishes from the neighbouring stalls to release them into the river. This idea of giving freedom to a creature is debatable as how the fishes got into bag in the first place is questionable!

Meanwhile, up on the river promenade, a crowd had started to gather. We soon found out the Mayor, was visiting. It was so heartwarming when he requested to take a group photo with us.

After a long photo session, Man had to leave us as he had some work to attend to. Saying their goodbyes as well were the postmaster and chief of police.

On our way out from Khaeng Khut Khu, we stopped by a cottage industry producing fried chips and preserved coconut flesh. The coconut water which are usually sold cheap to toddy makers were given to us for free with extras to fill up our water bottles.

By the time we got back to the beautiful river promenade, the rest of the Thai riders had dispersed except for Wilasinee and Koy who continued to host us till lunch time. Deciding on a cafe by the riverside, we finally caught up with The Roscoes who had been in hiding since yesterday’s lunch. They were on their way back after a late breakfast as Pete was still harboring a fever from last night!

Getting to know our new Thai friends better, we found out Wilasinee was a former English teacher trained in Maine, USA. Now retired, she owns and manage a resort in Chiang Khan. Meanwhile, Koy is an independent artist with a studio in Phuket. Currently on a long sabbatical, she is putting her energy on triathlons!

After our last 2 friend’s left us, we returned to our hotel for showers before hitting the street again for lunch. This time, we tried braised pork and eggs with rice. Not satisfied, we turned into the main road for Thai’s version of fried Kueh Tiau and later, wantan noodles. When CFO went off and returned with banana fritters and spring rolls, more than half of it had to be given away to our wantan seller and their next door’s motorcycle workshop owner who had played translator for us!

That afternoon, while most of us returned to our rooms for a siesta, Alvin and KC went to the local bus station to make enquiries for bus services to Loei. This was a back up plan for those who are unable to ride any further.

When they were done, the curious few met again to visit Wilasinee as promised. Hitting the streets after she did not pick up our calls, we bumped into Koy who was finishing an early dinner. She decided to walk us to Willie’s resort which was actually so much further than initially described, “turn left at Soi 5”.

The resort, far from Chai Kong and buried in a housing estate with just as many resort homes, it is not an easy find. The signboard written only in Thai, is a strategy to escape tourism tax but it also means escaping the attention of foreigners as well! The standard budget rooms with bare minimums, sleeps a family of four comfortably. But it is the lovely patios and landscaped gardens that you will spend most of your waking hours!

Excusing ourselves as we were late for a dinner appointment with the rest of the team, Willie was most considerate, offering to take us back on her pick up truck. She even brought out screwpine mats for those occupying the cargo area. It was totally unnecessary as we were just happy to be given a lift! 

On our way back, we dropped by at Fair Fair resort, located on Road 211. Belonging to Willie’s son, the resort’s entrance houses a veterinary clinic run by her daughter in law!!!

That night, Koy brought us to the best Thai restaurant in Chai Kong. Delicious and reasonably priced, we ate to our hearts content. Meanwhile, Pete who was still not ready for spicy food was given a bowl of Khao Tum. This went into the toilet midway through dinner!!!

After dinner, we went our separate ways. Some indulged in more street food while others continued with more Thai massages.

As usual, those who returned late found themselves locked out again. Instead of waiting for Claudine to the rescue, Uncle KC found a new way to break in! Sliding his craggy hands through the gaps of the folding sliding doors, he managed to lift up the latch!!!

Photo Credits :

1. KC
2. Ped Al