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A Shortcut Through Thailand

In light of our recent successes in the departments of Wheel Repair and Rural Navigation, we decided to, for once, reward ourselves with a lazy morning. Scott packed up the last bits of his things while I headed over to the corner store to buy some lazy morning supplies.

We made like Frenchmen, drank strong coffee, ate baguettes with butter, and devoured a couple of cups of local Lao yogurt, impossibly creamy with fresh local floral honey. One of the more imperial breakfasts of the trip, I’d wager, but also quite enjoyable.

The night before we had run into the proprietor’s son, Tao, who was more than happy to share a celebratory BeerLao with us (it seems he had already had a few) and sing a few songs on the ukulele. Sometimes it was hard to determine if he knew the words to the tunes I was playing or if he just had a knack for chiming in. Regardless, we had formed a close bond by the time Scott and I had excused ourselves to go work on our pitiful backlog of correspondence for you, dear reader.

The same fellow was now wide awake and much more himself, all grins and joviality, and more than willing to take us to the Thai border in the the family van, for a small price of course.

You see, dear reader, we were on our way to Thailand in order to cut across that fine country, saving us a little time, to make our way into Cambodia near the border crossing in the northwest, near Poipet. To do this, we would need to make our way at least as far as the city of Nakhon Ratchasima that night, and catch a bus for the border the next day.

At the border of Thailand, we bid Tao goodbye, and made our way into the line of people waiting to get out of Lao. My guess is that many of them were as sad as we were to leave. Lao had been a relaxing tour of the extremes. Lao bestowed on us a final gift, when Scott managed, while in line for his exit stamp, to connect to a free five minutes of wireless Internet, offered by Lao Telecom, and achieve a 400 kb/s upload rate while syncing his offline email activity. More points for an already AsiaWheeling-approved Lao.

Also, while in line, we ran into a Thai fellow who was interested in us and the Speed TRs. He asked where we were going and offered us a ride with him and his family who would be driving through none other than Nakhon Ratchasima on their way back to their home in Bangkok. “Will you have enough room for the bicycles?” we asked, showing him the folding technique, and attracting a huge audience in the line to exit Lao.

“Sure,” he replied. We told him we would wheel across the bridge, and if we overlapped on the other side we might take him up on the offer. This would also give Scott and me enough time to talk over our general impressions of the fellow, and decide if we would trust him. Lao let us out, no problem, even waiving the exit fee, for reasons of which we cannot right now be sure.

Wheeling across the bridge proved as fantastic an experience as we had remembered, with plenty of waiving of fees and smiling of officials. In line at Thai customs was our friend with the van, standing in an adjacent line with his family. He sent his daughter over to us with a message. She handed us a crumpled piece of paper, torn from a child’s notebook, with the fellow’s telephone number written in ball point pen. I motioned my thanks to our friend, and once we had officially re-entered Thailand, we decided to take out our phones and give him a call.

Then we remembered, Lao phones don’t call internationally. So we took out our old Thai sim cards and inserted them into our phones. I tried calling, but it seems my service had expired. So I ran over to a payphone, threw in about 60 cents in Baht and dialed. In an experience eerily similar to one we had during the pilot study, I plunged coins into the phone struggling against time and the limits of human communication only to be cut off in the middle of our conversation.

We knew our friend with the van was in the Thai border city of Nong Khai, so we saddled up and headed down the road looking for him. Not long into the ride, we began to despair; Nong Khai was not such a small place, and we were trying to find a needle in a haystack. When we were just about to give up, however, he somehow magically appeared behind us in a giant silver van, and as he pulled to the side of road, he also motioned for a nearby tuk tuk (the Lao and Thai version of the auto-rickshaw) to pull over as well.

And that was how we ended up in a family van with two folding bicycles, two sweaty members of AsiaWheeling, a Canadian couple, and a Thai family, headed for Bangkok. We stopped not long into the trip at a Vietnamese restaurant for some food. Scott and I bungled the ordering process and ended up with way too much. So laden with many white plastic bags full of delightfully diverse and fresh Vietnamese food, we sought solace in sharing with the rest of the van.

We drove on through the day and into the night, drilling our way into the heart of Isan. Isan is the name for the central and northeast parts of Thailand and also the name of the majority ethnic group in that country. Although in Bangkok you wouldn’t know it, Isan people and restaurants are seen as somewhat “country.”

When we finally arrived in Nakhon Ratchasima, it was well after dark. We did our best to compensate our man fairly for his kind transport, and headed to the bus station. As we had suspected, there was no overnight bus to the border; we would need to stay somewhere in this large city in the middle of Isan for the night.

We plugged our laptops into the wall and brought up our pdf copy of the Thailand Lonely Planet. It seemed there was a reasonably inexpensive hotel not far from here and… eh! The power was cut when a security guard unplugged our computer. It seems we would need to pay to use the electricity here.

Fair enough. We paid them and subsequently were forced to endure a drawn-out receipt writing, copying, verifying, and stamping process before we were finally able to get back to work. We took note of the location and name of the hotel and congratulated the officials on their fine work extracting money from us. With that, we hopped on the cycles and headed south into the city.

It was not a touristy town, and our presence was one of considerable interest to the many local youth who were whiling away their time on the street corners. The roads were very good and traffic was light, so we made short work of the few kilometers to the hotel. The hotel proved to be $10.00 for a night with A/C, so we registered immediately without bargaining. The room was clean, and low and behold, blessed with free wifi. Our first like this in Thailand.

We made a quick trip out to get a couple bowls of delightful Isan noodles, then retired to our hotel to have a quick Internet feast before our long day of traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia, location of the fabled Angkor Wat.


  1. Mark/Dad | May 16th, 2010 | 11:40 am

    How fortunate–rides, food, lodging all falling your way!

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