Things look different with bicycle travel

(Written by Dave)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our US readers.  Both Nancy and I had nice skype video sessions with our families today.  We called right as folks sat down at Nancy’s and we particularly enjoyed being passed round the table on the iPad that they had.  What fun seeing everyone and getting to look at the desserts as well.  We had Indian food on our thanksgiving here (that is Indian subcontinent, not North American Indian).

We’ve been reflecting a bit after our long k’s on the bike the last week or so.  Pretty much the entire trip we’ve been off the backpacker trail.  We only intersect the backpackers when we go into the major cities or noted travel destinations.  Travelling by bicycle means that we move from site to site much slower than most other travellers.  It also means that we can’t see all the sites but that we might see some little things that are missed sitting in the VIP air-conditioned bus zipping down the road.

This week we’ve been go through a lot of small towns that are bypassed the bigger tour buses.  No tour buses doesn’t mean no local buses or taxi.  For that matter almost every vehicle going down the road is packed with more people than you can imagine.  When these “local transports” stop in villages they are swarmed by what we call Laos-style take away.  The main streets of these villages are lined with ubiquitous meat-on-a-stick BBQ stands.  All of the stands sell the same thing so as a seller, if you sit back and wait for customers, you lose out.  The only logical thing to do is to grab a handful of your sticks and make tracks for the customers in whatever rig has stopped.  What results is a real scrum as you can see in the photo below.

We’ve also noticed that kids outside the major stops are very excited to see us.  Kids go to school in the morning, appear to go home (or out) for lunch, back to school after lunch and then home again.  The kids here all walk or ride their bikes to school.  You see a few tuk-tuk like buses full of stacks of kids but mostly it’s foot power (no SUV deliveries for sure).  Highway 13 is the only road in most of these villages so that’s the route for the kids.  When we intersect with the remote kids going to/from school, we have a constant stream of “Sa-ba-deeee”.  And the little kids hanging out at home get so excited when they see us coming – they run to the roadside (or as close as they dare) and jump up and down shouting “Sa-ba-dee”.  When we respond they laugh and giggle and jump up and down even more.  It is very cute and makes any hard day a bit easier.  When we are in the bigger stops, the kids barely notice us.  Rather than being almost alien, we are just another white person on the traveller’s trail.  We’d completely miss the mass Sabadee if not for our bicycles.

Something else that is probably everywhere but that we’d miss in a bus is the nearly always sad painted outlines of traffic accidents.  It seems that here in Laos when there is an accident they use white spray paint to outline the relevant “items” at the scene.  We’ve noticed the outline of quite a few scooters and sadly, a few bodies.  I’m not sure why the white paint unless the authorities are somehow trying to leave a reminder so that other road users take care.  Sort of like the roadside crosses we’ve seen in other countries but somehow the body outline feels more visceral.

So, yes we miss things by spending a lot of our travel time simply getting from point to point.  We try to pay more attention to the little things to make up for it.  At least if you’re yelling out to kids and they’re shouting excitedly back to you your bum doesn’t hurt as much.

In addition to phone calls home, today we managed to find a new water heater.  We were not able to find the mini style immersion heater like ours so we settled for a cheep Laos mini kettle.  It will take up more room but we need it at least until we get to Bangkok – for those days where there is no other brekkie option.  At $3 USD, if it lasts that long, we’ll be more than happy.

We also sorted out our Cambodia visas, or at least we think we have.  The information on the web is very conflicting about a visa on a arrival being available at where we intend to cross.  We should have checked this in Vientiane where there was a Cambodia embassy – but we didn’t.  In a bit of a panic this morning, thinking we’d have to re-jig our plans we headed for the local travel agents.  All of them offer visa services.  We checked in three different agencies – to be safe – all three spoke excellent English and we learned that indeed you can now get a visa on arrival at the Veun Khan land crossing.  This is not what the Australian consulate website says but we are going with the local knowledge on this one.  If it doesn’t work out, we may have a few bus rides to make it to Phnom Penh to meet Nancy’s sister.  If it works, no worries.

Nancy has just returned from a massage so we are heading for dinner soon.  I am happy to report that we were able to find croissants here today.   Our Laos croissant count is heading back in the right direction.  Tomorrow we are focused on planning the next week our so.  Plus eating and resting of course.

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4 thoughts on “Things look different with bicycle travel

  1. Nothing compares to bicycle travel. We are looking forward to our spring trip down the southern California coast – much less stressful than your travels of course! I enjoy learning from the two of you about foreign bike travel though sometimes it just scares me!!!! Enjoy your time in Laos! Hotel hallway looks nice this time!

  2. Hey Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dave, it was cool to see you yesterday! I’ve been subscribed to you guys for a while and try to keep Dad caught up on everything that’s going on. 🙂 I hope you’re having fun!

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