An Isaan Odyssey...
Leaving Khon Kaen
Sleeping off the drink it was another early start in the morning.
Highway 2 out of the city was clogged with trucks and pick-ups. No such time for following like sheep we built up speed to 110-120 kph and began the leg to Nong Khai.
This was not insanely fast, but aggressive riding. Both of us were used to the roads now and we rode like we owned it. Ulrich’s machine had the moves, while mine had the outright power to blast clear of danger and out-ride Somchai’s pick-up truck if he got too crazy.
The first 30 kms were interestingly grim. The road was filthy black in places. Like old cooking oil that had progressively worked its way in over the years.
Although the surface didn’t feel slippy, it certainly didn’t as stable as the other highway sections.
That said there were few, if any potholes. The surrounding areas seemed desolate and deserted; although I felt that the rice harvests being already taken in gave this impression.
We’d soon reached the halfway point and had passed through Udon Thani with no problems. The traffic was steady and I made the right turn-offs at the 4-roundabout chain without error.
Now the terrain was interestingly flat; a few high-speed corners meant you could really get your lean on if you pushed it up to 120kph+
Soon we reached the edge of Nong Khai. Compared to my last visit though, there were scores of police waiting and it was here that the next mini-drama unfolded.
Ahead of us, still several kms from the city was one of the most comprehensive check-points I’d ever seen in Asia. Set up at two sets of traffic lights were police bikes, cars and even tables and chairs. Instead of processing traffic violators at the nearby police station there was a fine-station set up and ready to roll in the baht!
I clocked this early enough to gliss into the far-right hand lane, but there wasn’t enough traffic queuing at the lights to hide among and we were both spotted as we closed in.
Both of us had slowed down plenty and of course wore helmets but I felt they were surely hungry for the money. Big biker money!
Sure enough one of them actually walked out to the lane to marshal us off to one side.
I kept the camera rolling as the fun and games began.
‘Bai Kap Ki’ Snapped the arrogant-faced cop harshly before switching to English. ‘Driving license’
The shades he wore on his face betrayed no emotion.
I understood him first time and passed over my thai bike license. It was in date and therefore good for the highways, he passed it back. This Thai dude was gonna have to try a little harder if he wanted his tea money.
‘Pragem’ Was his next angle of attack.
This sounded like ‘Pragam’ the thai word for insurance. In my case bike insurance.
Popping open the pillion seat all was revealed. Valid insurance until June J
Nodding, the highwayman had lost this battle and waved me on.
I glanced behind me, Ulrich was not so lucky and the police swarmed around his machine like ants.
His bike confiscated he had to take the walk over to the fine-station set up under a tree.
‘Arrrgh! I have to go and pay this fcking fine’ He roared, not unlike an angry wolf.
I didn’t have to even ask what the fine was for. Time and time again I’d advised him to get a thai license but he wouldn’t listen, instead he carried a shtty copy of his German one and wasn't interested. Now he was paying the price and I didn't waste the chance to rub salt in the wounds!
It wasn’t much of one though, only 200 baht. But the wait was nearly 30 minutes but I made it pass by quicker for him by reminding him it was sooo much better having a thai driving license
I passed the time eyed the bikes the cops use up these neck of the woods.
A nice CBR 150 conversion to police spec.
A growling cruiser.
We finally reached the main destination, the Mighty Mekong! It wasn’t filled with Naga's or dragon boats but we’d arrived safe and sound. Finding a guesthouse was childsplay, for along the Mekong River there’s a lot of places to stay. 200 baht got us a back-to-basics room with fan. No frills but then I’m the kinda guy who sees a room as a place to sleep while on the road.
Soon after we arrive Ulrich’s raging boozing and alcoholism takes root.
The first of the Leo’s have landed!
Not really my style, I’m a night-hawk, keeps the drinking and smoking under control so I can do stuff by day. But Ulrich’s groove was day-hounding and a beer-hound he surely was!
A glut of farang were in town, most of them walking around like aimless sheep, led by wives or girlfriends. Few seemed happy to be there but the they seemed to be 1990s minded-man along with emasculated ones shuffling along behind their partners. I knew I wouldn’t be staying here very long.
I made the most of the views though, if nothing else it's a 'tick in the box kind of scene'
Some bar-restaurants here on the left.
Look closely, that bridge is the gateway to Laos, it's none other than the Friendship Bridge, more on this if you follow the link...
I called in at the digs to see what was what. I still had the chore of data-transferring near 16 gig of data. With this looming I found Ulrich in a gloomy corner (well, as gloomy as early-afternoon Isaan gets) with half a dozen Leo’s around him. Sat next to him was a stranger. He too had a fair few leo’s around him and I figured that Ulrich had made a new friend.
Where Ulrich was brooding and wild eyed which leant him a curious eccentricity this other guy was something else.
Slightly over-weight through inactivity his soulless mud coloured eyes betrayed no emotion.
Reading Asians is tough because they hide their emotions well, but this fellow didn’t really have to hide his, as he seemed such a shallow individual.
“You look like a T£”us£” He droned in a faint Kiwi/Aussie accent. I couldn’t be sure what he said.
Thinking the man had said ‘Taurus’ and almost guessed my star-sign. I moved towards the pair and sat down.
“You look like a tourist’ He now said.
The look on my face must have changed from interest to contempt as he swiftly tried to change the subject. I played it off.
“Well not many tourists can ride from x to x’ I breezed leaving the dull-pair to their cups.
The video data wasn’t going to get done sitting on my arse with Ulrich and his clown friend and I set off into another lunchtime cock-up adventure...
After 6 hours of ball-ache traipsing about Nong Khai I’d reached the end of my tether. Swarms of Thai kids clogged what few Gaming/Internet cafes there were. Those that weren’t full either couldn’t cope with the External HDD, chip or had removed the usb ports on their pcs.
Disheartened I managed to find a photoshop just before it shut to sell me a MMC interface usb.
I needed the chip empty for the next day’s riding along the River Highway. I managed it just before the last cyber cafe shut at 2200. ‘The next time I do this shit I’m taking a laptop’ I vowed there and then.
I was too tired to have drink at one of the bars (which looked pretty lame to be honest) so hit the sack by midnight.
Both Ulrich and I had been taking separate rooms for the tour and I was only too happy for sharing a room with an alky reminds me of the struggling days in the Construction industry and armed forces. I didn’t really miss it that bs.
Tomorrow is the big day for touring alongside the Mekong River going east. This is the real deal now, we’ll be miles from fck all if anything happens. I say a few prayers to the biking gods up there to keep an eye out and drift into the land of dreams with fans faintly spinning in the background.
At 0200 I wake up to Frankenstein-esque clumping steps; it’s Ulrich and I feel tomorrow there will be a reckoning, in one form or another. For there’s no way he can make the mornings ride at the pace I want to ride at. He’ll be too wasted and on a lower cc bike the combination could be deadly. Also, In typical reclusionist mode, he’s been less than enthusiastic about wanting to go to the Biker Week in Khon Kaen. We’re both independent riders and I know that he won’t get pissed if I just took off in the night if I chose. But even I felt that would be a bit ignorant so I vow to knock on his door and see if he’s ready to rock and roll in the morning, if not it’s time for a parting of the ways.
Tomorrow we’ll see what will be.
End of Part 3
Watch-Rider's story continues in Part 4...