February 16, 2020. ~1000km since Bangkok
This write up brings us up to date at the border of Laos. We will board a boat and travel down the Mee Kong river for the next two days without WiFi. I am writing this in reverse chronological order, which works better when reading across to the next most recent post.
We have been joined by two more cyclists from Brittany France. Caroline and Christian are riding small folding bikes (Brampton). Christian likes to take pictures of the group, which complements Joël and Irène who like to take pictures of the native people and landscapes. I am using pictures from all sources.
We crossed into Laos yesterday. The border is the Mee Kong river. There is a shuttle bus to take pedestrians and bicyclists across the bridge. This is mandatory. One is not permitted to simply walk over the bridge. However, when they saw the size of our tandem and realized it would not be possible to load it onto the bus, we were asked to ride the bike across behind the bus. Then they saw we had more bikes. I am guessing that since the precedent for riding behind was already established, it was easy to give the go ahead for all three Azubs in our group to ride behind the bus.
This was my first formal crossing into a communist country. A visa is required which was issued to us at the border. This process costs a reasonable $40 which is payable in US currency. I produced a $100 bill which was immediately rejected because it was folded. I was then forced to find an ATM which could produce Laos currency which was accepted. You see it wasn’t folded because it was fresh from the ATM. Anyway, after a tedious process with lots of paper, photographs, and finger prints, we are finally here.
Stranger still, about 10km before the border, we passed through a local checkpoint. Christian opined that they were probably looking for drugs. I noticed that the commercial traffic was permitted through, but the pickup trucks were diverted down a side road, probably for closer inspection.
I was surprised when we too were diverted down this road. A few hundred meters later, we were directed into a Buddhist temple where a celebration of some kind was going on. Here I thought I would be asked to empty all my luggage onto an inspection table. Instead we parked our bikes and joined the party involving monks and temple members, with dancing and eating. All of which was free.
Irène joined the locals in some sort of line dance. She was immediately accepted, then later given a tour of all the local foods. We ate a good meal there, which included some sort of ice cream made with coconuts. Joël took out his flying camera and made some videos of women doing a ritualistic dance of some kind.
No one came away with an understanding of why we were directed there, but we didn’t complain at all. Afterward we mounted our bikes and road on toward Laos.
Places of Interest
In the city of Chaingrai there is a cafe which has many cats there for the enjoyment of the customers. Lucy had treats to share. She was very popular with the cats.
We found a temple with a giant Buddha like statue, built in the 1990s. We learned that the figure is not Buddha. It is a Chinese goddess wearing lipstick. We took the elevator to the 26th floor where we took many photos of the sculptures within.
Temples in Thailand are a place to go and hangout. They are open every day and people are just milling about taking pictures. In some ways this is similar to the landmark cathedrals of Europe, Notre Dame for example. However the newly made temples seem to have the big draw.
We went to a few of these near Chaingrai. The White temple was a campus of many buildings that had an impressive array of sculptures and architecture. It seemed to me that the place was designed to maximize the number of photo ops. Inside the main temple chamber, where photos are not permitted, one could find statues of Harry Potter and other superheros of western culture.
In the Blue temple the decor was more traditional