29.10.2013 - 02.11.2013 36 °C
I never thought that it would be as strenuous as this. I decided that I should venture to Thakhek, a small major town in Khammoune province in central of Laos to get into the challenge of biking through the "Thakhek Loop". Well, almost all of those who did the loop would done it through renting bike from Mr.Ku, who has a small office and his range of bikes parked at a small open space right at the main entrance to the Thakhek Travel Lodge. However, I was very determined to complete the loop by bicycle instead. A search over the internet didn't help much as most of the weblogs or travel blogs with informations that involved motorbiking throughout the loop adventure. So, I really have no idea whether by cycling the loop would be something that can be done or possible. Not wanting to over think about what would be in store or what would be the case if so happened the plan failed, I pushed ahead with the plan. To get to Thakhek, I travelled from Bangkok by flight to first land in the north east province of Nakhon Phanom. Nakhon Phanom, in recent survey in Thailand has the most happiest people living in the Land of Smile and being there myself I could understand how this could be. The pace of life seemed to be slow, without the hectic traffic and most businesses would have closed by 7 pm local time. As I arrived late in Nakhon Phanom at about 5.30 pm local time, it was not possible to cross the border as according to the minivan driver at the airport, the last international bus between Nakhon Phanom and Thakhek has left. I did not have much information on hand on the bus schedule between Nakhon Phanom and Thakhek as I was not too bothered with it knowing that the distance between these towns were not to far apart and that there are regular services available. Though I was not too convinced, I was left without much choice but to put up a night in Nakhon Phanom before I leave for Thakhek early tomorrow morning. Accordingly, the first bus would leave Nakhon Phanom Bus Terminal at 8 am. The minivan trip cost THB100 to get from the airport to downtown and the minivan driver recommended Windsor Hotel, which is near to the night market. Checking into Windsor Hotel, which cost THB 350 a night, I took a short walk to the night market to check out what it has to offer. Its a small night market and not as crowded as any other night market in Thailand. Most of items available were hot food, drinks as well as fruits. I was attracted by the pancake, Thai style at one of the stall at the night market and also some wax apple which cost THB70 for a kg.
Thai style pancake
Wax apple from the Nakhon Phanom night market
The next few hours, I had the opportunity to spent some time chatting with the guy who is a caretaker at the Windsor Hotel. He has just started working at the hotel. According to him, he is half American and half Thai., known as "luk krueng" in Thai for children with mix parentage. His late father was a former US Army and his mother is Thai. He said he was born and bred in Nakhon Ratchasima province and has been moving around Thailand to find for work. He moves around town with his mountain bike and even offers it to me to get to the night market, which I thanked him. Since it was just a short walk away, I told him that was not necessary. He was a nice guy and enjoys travelling within Thailand whenever opportunity came around and never thought much about what would happened next. The next morning, I packed up early at 6 am and get ready to leave for the Nakhon Phanom bus terminal. Before checking out from Windsor Hotel, coffee and tea were served for free but food on own cost. I had a cup of hot coffee and had brief chat with the caretaker guy before I catched a samlor or three-wheeled motorbike taxi from the hotel to the bus terminal to get to Thakhek in Lao PDR.
Windsor Hotel in Nakhon Phanom
A view of the Nakhon Phanom town from the Windsor Hotel
The samlor from the hotel to Nakhon Phanom Bus Terminal
A quiet Nakhon Phanom town in the early morning
On the samlor heading to Nakhon Phanom bus terminal
The entrance gate to Nakhon Phanom Bus Terminal
The samlor ride from Windsor Hotel to Nakhon Phanom bus terminal cost THB30. The international bus (Thailand-Laos) from Nakhon Phanom to Thakhek cost THB70 one way and for foreigner, you would be likely be charged THB5 extra just as what happened to me. There were not many foreign travellers seen at the bus terminal. Most of the passengers seen moving over from Nakhon Phanom to Thakhek were Vietnamese, whom bought loads of items from Nakhon Phanom town to be brought over to either Thakhek or Vietnam for trade purpose. You need to produce your passport to purchase the bus ticket and the bus would load as many passengers as it could before leaving for Thakhek. Do not be bothered with getting a seat as when you leave the bus to get your passport stamped out of Thailand and stamped into Laos, chances are, you would not get that same seat again if you cannot get into the bus just before the seats were fully occupied. Do take note that there would be a time when the human traffic is high, it could get chaotic at the immigration border checkpoint in particular when you have loads of the passengers from Vietnam as they would rushed to get into the bus after having had their passports stamped out of Thailand. This was what I witnessed during my travel and I was rather dissapointed that some security guard (not the immigration officer) at the Thai border checkpoint seemed to act indifferently by giving preference to certain individuals to get into the waiting bus while ignoring the rule that each passengers should in fact adhered to the first come first in rule of thumb.
Ticket counters at Nakhon Phanom bus terminal
The waiting area at Nakhon Phanom bus terminal
The Nakhon Phanom-Thakhek International Bus. Notice the goods to be transported from Thailand to Laos/Vietnam for trading by Vietnamese passengers
The queue at the Nakhon Phanom immigration border checkpoint
A counter at the Nakhon Phanom Immigration
Crossing from Nakhon Phanom in Thailand to Thakhek in Khammoune province in Laos is through the newly completed Friendship Bridge 3, which was opened to foreign travellers about 2 years ago.
The Friendship Bridge 3 at the far end with a nicely designed concrete pillar seen from the Nakhon Phanom Immigration
A Nakhon Phanom Immigration officials vehicle parked at the checkpoint
A view of the Mekong river from the Nakhon Phanom-Thakhek Bus while crossing the Friendship Bridge 3 from Thailand to Laos
The Friendship Bridge 3 seen from the Laos Immigration after crossing from Thailand
The Laos Immigration which is a gateway to Thakhek in Khammoune province in central of Laos
Arriving at the Thakhek bus station, there are many samlors that are readily available to get you to the centre of Thakhek town. However, the costs could be very expensive in particular when you were the only one to get on one. Most of those who arrived at the Thakhek bus station would either be travelling to Vietnam or to other parts of Laos, so, it may not be your day if it happened that you can't get some others to join you fro a trip to town. It just was not my day when I arrived at the Thakhek bus station as there were no other passengers who wanted to get to downtown Thakhek. I was charged 50,000 kip for a ride from the bus station to Thakhek town, though there were 2 other passengers who got into the same samlor taxi, whom were charged each 25,000 kip where they got off midway before reaching Thakhek town.
The Thakhek Bus Station
The waiting area at Thakhek Bus Station
The samlor taxi from Thakhek bus station to Thakhek town
The journey on samlor taxi from Thakhek bus station to downtown
Arriving at Thakhek town from Thakhek bus station
Stepping my foot on Thakhek town, I felt I was being transported by time machine to the past. The town was filled with many heritage buildings which are highly in need of restoration lest, such precious historical invaluable properties would be lost in time to come. The town itself is unique as it is strategically located on the banks of Mekong river and moving around the town is easy through walking or hiring a bicycle to explore the interesting part of this "old town". Its easy to admire Thakhek town with the quiet surroundings without the hustle and bustle of traffic and one could take time at a leisurely slow pace to enjoy the serenity of the town. The old buildings, still stand proudly all over Thakhek town, though some looked rather run down, will never fail to captured your heart due to its extreme traditional architectural touch. Most of these buildings run as guesthouse, hotels, restaurants, sundry shops and consumer good items shops. Along the Mekong river, there were some mobile stalls selling the infamous "gai yang" or "ping gai" in Lao (grilled chicken). This is actually known as a national food of Laos and also those in the Isan region.
"ping gai" or grilled chicken at a mobile stall along the mekong river in Thakhek town
A view of Mekong river from the banks at Thakhek town
The heritage buildings at Thakhek town
More old precious heritage properties in Thakhek town
The quiet road in Thakhek town, which what made this small old town a peaceful and serene town
Taking a walk around Thakhek town
Some heritage buildings at Thakhek town