(written by Dave)
Welcome back to Thailand! We’ve been talking about which country we’ve enjoyed the most so far this trip and I think we are leaning towards Thailand. And now we get our second chance to visit. (Australia is hard to count as that’s really home). Thailand welcomed us back with some of our old favourite creature comforts. Ok, most folks won’t think that these are really that big of deal, but they make a difference to a touring cyclist. The list includes fully stocked 7-11 stores with cold drinks and our old standard sticky rice and pork sandwiches; bike lanes, some places they are signed but either way, the shoulders are really wide (to be fair, the shoulder from Siem Reap to the border was pretty good, best we’d seen in Cambodia); Amazon coffee shops (we spotted one but it was on the other side of a divided highway – we’ll hit our first one tomorrow). We do miss the kids yelling out hello to us however. Here in Thailand people are friendly but there are not so many kids on the road to greet us.
The border was pretty crazy crossing. It took us over an hour as we had to queue up for a 15 day visa. It is pretty confusing because Australians automatically get 15 days if arriving by land so you think that you should be standing in the visa on arrival queue. But this queue is not for Aussies. Eventually we found the right queue (the foreigner queue, but not the VOA queue) and got our stamps. They were free! The Cambodians let us go without any “special fees” like we encountered on the Laos/Cambodia border. The border today was very busy but not quite as wild-west feeling as the Laos/Cambodia one.
The ride was pretty flat and uneventful. We had a cross wind again today but towards the end of the it turned into a tailwind. We stopped at several 7-11s for cold drinks and snacks, what a treat. I even got to use some of the “Thailand only” outside urinals again. I still don’t get why they build these fancy outside units and why just in Thailand. I thought we’d see them in other countries but not so far, unless you count some of the nearly outside toilets we found in small Laos villages.
We made it to Sa Kaeo by about 1:00pm and found a hotel called the River Hotel and Resort where we knew several other cyclists had stayed (though try as we might, we were not able to find any river- I don’t think that there actually is one). It’s a nice hotel all the same, on the western side of town. They have three well fed looking dogs, including 2 labs. We see so many stray animals, it is funny seeing three dogs that are clearly highly prized family members. Speaking of hotels, our hotel last night should get a mention. Overnight they put up their Christmas decorations, including at least three trees, one even playing muzak carols. These are some of the first trees or decorations that we’ve seen, anywhere this year. You have to expect this as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are mostly Buddhist. Christmas just does not feature as a holiday here. We saw some kid-sized santa suits for sale in Phnom Penh but not much else. It doesn’t feel at all like Christmas with the heat and lack of any commercial reminders.
This afternoon I went to the BigC chain grocery story to get supplies and was greeted by an entire cold section of food. We have not seen this a grocery store like this since Nong Khai. I’m sure that there would have been a similar store in Phnom Penh but towns we’ve visited in Laos and Cambodia only had local markets. And those markets rarely had refrigerator units. We have left the land of the giant ice box.
We have a pretty long day tomorrow to get within 100k of Bangkok. Mostly the route is on back roads so hopefully we’ll have limited traffic and then miss most of the Bangkok mess by taking the train the next day. We have been searching the net all afternoon to find a guesthouse in Chachoengsoa where we’ll get the train. I’m sure we’ll find something but not much on the web. Information on the train is also a little iffy but there are 9 daily trains from Chachoengsoa to Bangkok – again, we’ll figure something out… [Editor’s note – words that strike a chill in my heart….]