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My Travel Story: Cycling, drinking and marriages in Ubon Ratchathani
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  1. #1
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    Cycling, drinking and marriages in Ubon Ratchathani

    I'm lazy, so this thread is a copy of a letter I sent back to my friends and family in America. This trip was just before Christmas 2556.

    This month I didn't attend school with the original intention of doing some traveling around Thailand. I put that idea on hold for a while because my body was feeling pretty crappy, so instead I spent the first 3 weeks of the month taking care of myself. On a regular basis I would meditate in the morning followed by yoga and then later either swim or ride my bike. This program served me a lot better that the traveling would have.

    One thing I did do was learn a bike route to the train station and shop around to out fit the mountain bike so I could carry some gear on it. The best arrangement I came up with would allow me to carry 11 kg on an after market rack. I was a little worried that this was not going to allow me to carry enough, but in the end it was more than adequate for my needs. I ended up bringing more than I needed and the bag and contents were only over 6 kgs. I'm sure as I make more trips I'll refine the whole process.

    My opportunity to do some traveling, combined with cycling came a few days before Christmas. My friend from school was getting married to his gf on the 21st in Ubon Ratchathani, a province in North East Thailand, close to Laos.

    The ride to the station was uneventful and took about 40 minutes. I was taking an overnight sleeper train, so as soon as my bike was loaded onto the freight car, I relaxed and had a couple of beers while waiting for the train to depart.

    Once on the train I met a Canadian who was traveling to the same general area with his Thai wife. He was a good source of information on Thailand and we exchanged numbers. I hope to hook up with him here in Bangkok.

    I really enjoy the train travel, even though it's slower than a bus, I can take my bike and it's a lot more social.You have a lot more opportunities to interact with your fellow travelers than sitting in rows facing all in the same direction on the bus. The dinning car is great for this and I've found the food to be good on the train.

    When I got to Ubon in the morning, around 7:30 am it was COLD, something I had never expected to be in Thailand. Fortunately my friend had warned me and I had some cold weather gear. When I say cold, remember this is relative to Thailand, so my "cold weather" gear was pretty light weight. I fiddle farted around at the train station for about an hour, eating, charging my phone, visiting with the locals, and arranging my gear.

    It took me about an hour or a little longer to get out of the town and on the main road to my destination Pho Sai, about 120 km from the train station. This was due to the fact that I neglected to read the directions given by by friend and relied on google maps on my phone. One challenge with traveling in Thailand is that road signs are not prolific on smaller city streets, or they're in Thai and the map has them in an English approximation.

    Once I knew I was headed in the right direction, I had to stop and take off my cold weather gear. Now that I had been riding I was warm enough and the sun was well up. There was a brutal head wind I was riding into and, even though the road was flat, it was tough going. This is the first time I have attempted to ride carrying gear, so the combination of the weight of the mountain bike, the gear, the head wind, and my over all lack of cycling conditioning made for a tough ride.

    The mountain bike with a mild trail tread was a good call. The road was excellent most of the way, except for a several km long stretch where there was a major road renovation going on and I could ride on the dirt service road that paralleled the highway. I had also planned to do some off road riding while at my friends village so I was happy with that choice.

    About 3 hours into my ride I stopped at a roadside shop to take a break and have a coke and a snack. In the ensuing "conversation" with the shop owner, " " around conversation because my Thai is still very limited, she asked if I had a gf and if I wanted one from Ubon. This is a pretty typical conversation topic I have and generally it's just all fun and games, but next thing I know she shows me a picture of a girl, asks me if I think she's beautiful, and next thing I'm on the phone talking with her! Hahaha, that was totally out of the blue.

    Another couple of hours into the ride my friend called me a little concerned because I was well behind my stated arrival time. He offered to come pick me up and I gratefully accepted, I was on empty by then and running out of daylight. They showed up about 40 minutes after the call and I was very happy to see them. I didn't even mind that he was taking pictures to put on facebook and mock me with!

    On the way to the village he said we should stop at the 7/11 in the last "big" town and get any thing. I thought a couple of beers would be a good idea, he said he'd have one with me and pointed out that it would be a good idea to show up with a few extra if we wanted more than one. We would not be the only beer drinkers in the village! We loaded up a whole basket with big Leo beers, another one with food, and another with juice and bottled water. Getting the extra beer was a good idea and fortunately there was more at his house. because we were not drinking alone and I was ready for some major cabo loading!

    I put on several layers of clothes because it was really cold now that the sun was down and there was still a brisk wind. We had a great time sitting around the fire drinking, eating and cutting up with Mr Phong, who was an absolute character and a lot of fun to be around. He's the gentleman prominently pictured in some of the night time photos, the other white guy is my friend from school, Steven.
    Eventually the beer got reinforced with Lao Whiskey, which is pretty much like Ever Clear or gasoline, and it was off to bed soon after that.

    I'll have to follow this up with another installment as I'm petering out now. Can't remember the last time I've typed this much!

    Loaded up and ready to go.
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    Face mask, must have in Thailand
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    On the train
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    Dutch themed place on the road to Phosai
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    Sleeping quarters.
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    Eating and drinking
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    "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little." Sydney Smith

    May all beings be happy, may all beings have peace.

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  3. #2
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    Re: Cycling, drinking and marriages in Ubon Ratchathani

    After a good night of drinking, cutting up with Mr Phong and huddling around the fire, it was time for the wedding the next morning. Fortunately, being a guest, I did not have to arise early in the morning to get all suited up for the ceremony, however, I did feel compelled to take a shower as I reeked of campfire smoke! Of course there wasn't hot water, and I didn't expect there to be, but luckily there was running water straight from the well, as opposed to water sitting in a cistern all night in the cold, so my shower in the morning was only slightly freezing.

    Having been married in Issan myself several years ago I had certain expectations of the ceremony to follow, however, true to Thailand, it did not follow those expectations The only major difference was they did not have monks precede the ceremony with a "blessing". I use this for lack of a better term because I really don't know how to describe the monks participation in English.

    After the usual milling around we finally got started, at the back of my mind there was a nagging feeling that something else was missing, other that the monks, but I wrote that off to the whiskey khaow. All of a sudden one of the Aunt's brought the proceedings to a halt, candles were extinguished and we started over. Amazingly, displaying of the sin sot, had been overlooked! After this was corrected, the ceremony proceeded as "usual", usual in quotes because I really don't know what usual is!

    Unlike my wedding, which involved a lot of partying before and after, this was a pretty low key affair. I was sufficiently recovered from the night before and decided to go for a bike ride and check out around the village. Mr Phong got very excited, I'm pretty sure he was still hammered, and wanted to go ride bikes with me. I was a little dismayed and a little skeptical of this and really wished I had taken a picture of the bicycle Mr Phong was on in his long pants and flip flops. Please consider that I've been an avid cyclist for over 30 years, lived in a hot bed of American cycling, competed in 200 mile endurance events, and am on my freakin imported, made in America mountain bike. I got a little bit of attitude going, not really wanting to drag along Mr Phong and damn if he doesn't grab some random piece of crap bike and take off like a rocket. I hammered down and chased him down, sure that he would fade in a couple of minutes. He did, but as soon as I passed him, he'd recover and blow by me again shouting some kind of directions. This didn't last all that long, and certainly did not cover the amount of territory I had envisioned before we returned home and Mr Phong collapsed in a puddle, but it was a kick in the ass! Mr Phong is the genuine article! It's not to often you run into people like that, I told my friend I'd return just to visit Mr Phong. By the way, that's not his real name, I have no idea what it is and to him I am Mr Jakrayan (bicycle).

    I'm very happy I attended my friends wedding, he was very appreciative of me being there and it provided me with a impetuous to get out of Krung Thep. I was happy to provide him with my little bit of experience being in a small village in Issan and having someone you could have a full conversation with.

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    "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little." Sydney Smith

    May all beings be happy, may all beings have peace.

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  5. #3
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    Re: Cycling, drinking and marriages in Ubon Ratchathani

    The couple of days after the wedding were pretty relaxed. A couple of times I would ride my bicycle into Pho Sai and meet my friend at a roadside coffee shop. It blows me away how there are coffee stands all over the place in Thailand now! When I first came here 10 years ago a cup of coffee was a hard thing to come by, even in Bangkok. One day we went to a Wat on the Mae Khong river and made Tam Boon.

    Dec 23rd I took my leave of my friends and started my ride back to Ubon Ratchathani. I was expecting this ride to be easier than the one from Ubon as I would have a tailwind and be losing a little bit of elevation. About 40 minutes into the ride I saw an old, beat up road sign announcing a cave somewhere off the main road. Knowing that caves attracted monks for meditation purposes in the past I thought it may be worth a detour. One of the things I really enjoy about cycling by myself is that I'm going slow enough to see things you may not notice zipping by in a car or a bus, and being alone I did not have to concern myself with anyone else and their desire whether to stop or not.

    This side jaunt was an adventure all in itself. After turning off the main road I rode for about 5 minutes until there was an intersection, of course there isn't a sign indicating a direction in which to go, so I turned back and rode back the way I came and stopped and asked some people where the cave was. Now my Thai is still very limited and my accent is very heavy, but after some back and forth I got enough of an idea of where to head with assurances that it wasn't very far.

    With my directions in mind, I returned to the intersection and put the hammer down. After 20 minutes or so I was beginning to doubt the validity of my directions and starting to consider turning back when I noticed some large objects in the road. As I got closer to them I realized that it was elephant poop and got pretty excited thinking that I may see a wild elephant. That rush wore over pretty quickly when I saw a large truck in the shade on the side of the road up ahead. The elephant handlers were hanging out in the shade at the truck and assured me that at the next cross road I should turn right and that the cave wasn't to far.

    To shorten up the story I would have to ride my bike along and be fed directions along the way. Sometimes the directions were conflicting, I had left paved roads for dirt roads and I was encountering people less frequently. The terrain had become gently rolling and quite beautiful and the last village I went through looked like a pretty sweet spot to have a home.

    I had just decided that I wasn't going to find this cave when I saw that the road up ahead was lined with Buddhist flags. I was pretty confident that there would be a Wat at the cave, this due to my knowledge that meditation masters would seek these caves out and eventually a spiritual community would arise at the location.

    More on the cave and pictures later.

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    "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little." Sydney Smith

    May all beings be happy, may all beings have peace.

  6. #4
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    Re: Cycling, drinking and marriages in Ubon Ratchathani

    Some more pictures from the cave Wat. These just don't go any justice to how beautiful it was here. The Wat was on top of a hill and there was rolling country side all around. I didn't see a living soul, nor hear any human sounds the entire time I was there.

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    "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little." Sydney Smith

    May all beings be happy, may all beings have peace.

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