The journey through the north of Thailand began in much the same way as it had ended in Laos: steep hills, noodle soup for every meal, plus sweet soy milk.

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The further south we went, the flatter the roads became. It was a real pleasure to roll along the smooth, asphalted, wide cycle lane and we made better progress than we had for a long time. What’s more, in Thailand (unlike in neighboring countries) we trusted the ice cubes and iced coffee sweetened our breaks. As the dry season had begun with temperatures of up to 37°C in the shade (and correspondingly more on the road), cooling off was more than welcome.

In Nan we took a longer break, visited the beautiful temples and the strolled through the night market. Early in the morning we visited the fresh market and enjoyed the magical peacefulness that prevailed while the many monks were giving their alms (=food donations). A day of pure laziness, interrupted only by a few steps to get food, was the perfect end to our stay in tranquil Nan.

Originally, we had planned to take a tour through the mountains of Northern Thailand. As the heat caused the “burning season” to start earlier than usual, we continued directly south without making a detour. According to an old tradition, fields and embankments in northern Thailand (but also in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia) are burned and slash-and-burn clearing is practiced during the dry season. The fires are usually at their most intense in March and April, when the air quality here is the worst in the world! We were already finding it difficult to breathe in February and visibility was limited due to the smog.

On the rest of our route, we avoided detours and only visited the nearby sights: Near Sukothai, we explored the ruins of the former capital of the first Thai kingdom from the 13th-15th centuries. Further east, we enjoyed a “Buddha Disneyland” around a huge five-fold Buddha statue. Near Udon Thani, we took an early morning gondola ride on a lake full of blooming lotus flowers and in That Phanom we were once again fascinated by the exuberant and loud celebrations in temples.

As police stations always have a place to camp, there were plenty of opportunities to spend the night. Thanks to the countless street kitchens, keeping hydrated and fed was no problem at all. However, we would have expected more from Thai cuisine in terms of variety and portion size. We practically only ate noodle soup and fried rice, rarely had pad Thai or vegetables, and we never found the famous Thai curry… Trying to get the mentioned dishes without meat was a masterpiece of communication. Although the Buddhist monks are not allowed to harm any humans or animals and are therefore vegetarians per se, noodle soup without pieces of meat was unimaginable for everyone😉. The portions were small enough that we had to supplement our meals with nuts and sweets. This seemed to be the case not only for us hungry cyclists, but also for many locals. The many snacks and sweets obviously cause weight problems.

Hospital visits are not normally associated with positive experiences and do not trigger storms of enthusiasm. Our experience in Udon Thani was different: the evening before our ride through the city, David found out that the AEK Udon Hospital is authorized to conduct the obligatory health check for the Australian visa. As the hospital was on our route, we went to the clinic reception the next day during siesta in sweaty cycling clothes to enquire about an appointment and the costs. To our astonishment, we were able to start the check-up immediately and after an hour and a half we left the hospital highly satisfied. All the examinations and formalities were carried out professionally, swiftly and courteously. We would never have imagined the procedure to be so smooth! Two days later we received an email from the Australian Department of Home Affairs with the requested 1-year visas! Australia, here we come…😊

In contrast, the procurement of a (transportable) mosquito net turned out to be more difficult. In a region where there is malaria and dengue, we would not have expected this. The unsuccessful search on site prompted us to order online and this in turn brought us into contact with Kleis, a very friendly Warmshower host. We were able to pick up the mosquito net at his place and spend a lovely evening with interesting conversations. Many thanks, Kleis and Aradin!

During our last overnight stay in Thailand, we experienced another example of warm hospitality at a police station. The policemen thought it was too hot outside, so they brought us a fan at the table and one in front of the tent. They also gave us cold water, ice cream and sports drinks😊. We always felt welcome in the north-east of Thailand, also outside the police stations, and were treated in an open and genuinely friendly manner. Thanks to the knowledge of English, curiosity and widespread enthusiasm for cycling, we had a lot of contact with the local people. Contrary to many reports and fears, we were not ripped off.
Today our journey takes us across the border to the south of Laos and then via Cambodia back to Thailand.