Mekong Odyssey 09: Dream trip review
TTR Weekly’s Mekong Odyssey 09, an 18-day cycle tour from Chiang Rai to Ubon Ratchathani following as closely as possible the Mekong River, reached its target of 1,600 km, or 1,000 miles and raised Bt80.000 for charity.
Friends and colleagues in travel helped to raise funds for The Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother, based on baht donations multiplied by the km cycled over the entire ride.
Chiang Rai resident, Peter Brierley, who handled all the photography on the ride, joined TTR Weekly’s editor, Don Ross, who chronicled the ride’s progress with daily reports at www ttrweekly.com.
They set out on a route from Chiang Rai that took them to Nan, Dansai, Loei to connect with the Mekong River at Chiang Khan. The target was to reach the final destination, Ubon Ratchathani in 18 days with two rest days on the way, averaging 100 km a day.
They also had the notion that the cycle route, following the Mekong River trail through Isan, was off-the-beaten track. The Mekong River is not acknowledged as one of the world’s classic cycling tour routes, but they discovered, despite its obscurity, Dutch tourists regularly pedal its length from Nong Khai to Ubon during the cool season months, November to February.
While a key objective was to raise support for the foundation, the other was to track the tourism potential of the Mekong River as it wends a path between Thailand and Laos. The ride also confirmed just how safe and secure Thailand is for visitors, even those who are travelling with just a bike and a set of pannier bags crammed with clothes, cash, passports and valuables including cameras and a laptop computer.
Then there was reaffirmation that this vast region, known as Isan, that borders the Mekong River for most of its journey through Thailand, has a well deserved reputation for hospitality and friendliness to all visitors.
Yet, they also concluded that the region’s tourism assets and the role of the Mekong River are vastly understated. It should be a star attraction for visitors to Thailand, on par with the country’s beach resorts and islands, but very few of the picturesque towns on its banks feature in mainstream tourism.
In retrospect, they challenged the travel agency notion that distances between tourist attractions are too far apart for tourists to enjoy a meaningful tour.
“We cycled 100 km a day at an average of 20 kmph and there was no shortage of natural and cultural attractions for us to explore from dawn to dusk,” they concluded.
“The Mekong River trail through Thailand should be a classic discovery route for cyclists, motor cyclists and even tourists who opt for self-drive car rental. The trick is to slow down, do fewer kilometres and enjoy side trips off the highway to explore riverside villages and attractions.”
For the cycle tour niche market, serviced by specialised travel companies such as Spiceroads, the Northeast and the Mekong River route should be a top seller. It fits the bill for every touring cyclist in the world, who yearns for quiet rural roads and an opportunity to enjoy the WOW factor at every turn of the journey.
The route took the two seniors through some very steep country in Nan province, to Si Nan and Phu Soi Dao national parks bordering Laos. There were stops at Dansai before journeying on to Phu Rua and Loei. From Chiang Khan, where the Mekong River re-enters Thailand, the route followed the most scenic section of highway that fringes the Mekong River almost all the way to Nong Khai.
After Nong Khai the road stands back about 2 to 3 km west of the river, but small lanes lead to villages on the riverbanks offering spectacular views of a river over 1 km wide.
There were stops to explore Nakhom Phanom, Mukdahan and finally Khong Chiam, all attractive towns on the river before they headed west to Ubon Ratchahani that stands on the Mun River and is an important southern gateway to neighbouring Laos and towns in the Mekong basin.
At intervals of 30 to 50 km, for the length of this 1,600 km odyssey, they discovered small resorts with restaurants some of them having free internet. In the places where they could not locate an internet café they used an air card slotted into the Sony Laptop to stay in touch and files reports.
“We were never too far from a resort or a place to stop for a meal. This was civilised, but not exactly credit card touring as very few of the resorts bother with plastic money. The Odyssey confirmed that travel in Thailand is vastly rewarding,” they added.
Throughout the trip very few of the resorts were pre booked. The hotel bill rarely exceeded Bt500 for air-conditioned rooms, with hot and cold water, TV and mini bar. Internet was always free. If it wasn’t free they checked in somewhere else.
Conclusion: “Travel in Thailand is not complicated. You just smile and as long as you are patient you discover true hospitality and encouragement. We are a couple of old codgers, with 126 years between us, but we were treated with respect.
“It was summed up by a village policeman who greeted us with the thumbs-up sign. Yiam, Yiam, (great , great) he called out as we passed by. That said it all. We felt great.”
All the reports covering the full 18-day tour are posted on the website under Mekong Odyssey with photographs and a map of the route.