May 25, 2006 - Thursday
Nakhon Phanom, TH to Nong Khai, TH

Today would be a somewhat "easy" day considering the distance to my next stop - Nong Khai. When I awoke it was raining outside - that's all I needed to slip back into bed and take a nice nap. Getting up a second time, maybe only 30 minute later, the rain had stopped and the roads were starting to dry. I guess I should stay up and get rolling.

Hotel breakfast to start the day and I was ready. The roads were now mostly dry and I headed along the river figuring I'd find the highway sooner or later (it was a few blocks to my left). Passing by a Catholic Church I stopped in for a moment. There was a school attached - I think I took a photo of it - not sure. The riverfront roadway was ending and I was kicked into a weaving about mode looking for the highway. Easy to find and I was moving on the big arch to my left. Northeast Thailand follows the Mekong river for the international boundary.

Not too far out of town - only a few kilometers - I came across a guy sitting on a motorbike while his wife pushed. Odd I thought so I at least stopped to point to the fuel can. Nope - that' wasn't the problem. I watched as he would sit on the bike while she tried to push start it. That wasn't working so he got off and tried to run along side the bike pushing himself (while she watched). It started but he lost control of the bike and it took off in a lazy weave to the center of the roadway where it fell over and died.

I got off the bike and walked down to them and got behind the bike ready to push. He got on and I started running. It started and he headed down the road a bit while she walked up to the bike. I'm not sure it was a healthy running bike and kinda think it died shortly after I left. Town was close by so I didn't bother offering a push with my bike.

For a portion of the trip I started to run into some hilly ground! It didn't last long - maybe an hour - but they were hills nonetheless. Some might call them dips in the roadway.

Off to my left was a "mountain" sitting by itself - the land around was mostly flat aside from the hills on the other side of the river. A "waterfall" sign was posted so I figured why not. I wound down a small road, through a small village and finally to a construction site - the road was being "upgraded" from gravel to cement. It was not greatly fun to navigate the somewhat muddy sections but I was now appreciating renting the lighter weight Honda Super Four versus the heavy Yamaha V-Max.

I passed by a couple crews - ladies and gents - doing their work. Coming up to the third crew I stopped to verify the directions. Pulling out my water bottle and mimicking pouring of water to make a waterfall. They pointed in the direction I was going and even drew a map in the dirt - I was to take a left when the road T's. I then asked if it was "small" (two fingers held close together") or big (hands held wide apart) - after motioning the "waterfall" with my water bottle. Big was their answer - though I realize we are only starting the rainy season so any waterfall might not be as grand as it might be.

They noticed the camera and one of them rounded the crew for a photo. I set the camera to timed and ran to get into the picture with them. Handing out a card one of the guys said "dub-dub-dub" for www / world wide web. They'll probably see the photo. Good fun and I headed off to see the waterfall - but not before some more fun road surface.

I found the National Park / waterfall easy enough. Again, I'm noticing the staffing levels and how they might differ from the U.S. One guy was running the "gate" as the gate raised when I drove up. I stopped at the booth to inquire if there was a fee for the park. I say "Baht" and he said "no" and pointed to the next building. I walked over there and two people were inside. The gent came up to me and I said again "Baht" and he said "free". His English was better than my Thai and we had a short conversation.

He said the park was a national park and that there was no fee. He asked where I am from and commented that his son is attending a good electrical engineering school in Boston. So, to he and his son - "Hi!"

He gave me a bit of information regarding the park and with that I moved the bike to a good parking spot and got ready for a walk. Mosquito's weren't swarming but they were about. This certainly qualifies as a "border area" in Thailand and thus Malaria is a concern. I've been enjoying the daily anti-malaria pills so perhaps they'll get used here. Dousing myself in a layer of mosquito spray I decided it would be wise to take the can with me on this little hike. So, teamed with the camera, spray, and extra batteries I headed out.

Not being able to read the signs I wasn't sure how far of a hike I had in front of me - though I could see that there were two different trails to take. I took the left one as it had more "features" visible on it. I walked perhaps for 10 or 15 minutes on a footpath. I wasn't sure if I found the falls or not as I had passed up one set of falls. Finally, having enough of the trail - and figuring that the falls I passed by were _the_ falls I turned back.

Hearing a mosquito near my ear a time or two I pulled the can out for some touch-up spraying.

Down to the falls I passed up I stopped and took a bunch of photos. That done I was off to take the right trail. It is short and ends at a decent set of falls. More photos there and I headed out.

Exiting the park I passed by a row of what I'd call vendor booths or stores. They were vacant. This also fits in with my general feeling - infrastructure was built to accommodate a set size of tourist needs but the tourists aren't here. Vacant hotels, vacant tourist areas. Kinda sad to see the items sitting unused and starting to fall apart.

I didn't have to take the "under construction" road back to the highway so no second pass with the road crews. I was moving down the highway noting that this section is, generally, a pretty ride (I was told it would be).

Not too far down the road I would pass by a couple cyclists heading the other direction. Since they looked like travelers I figured it might be fun to turn about and see what their trip is. In talking with them the guy is from Thailand while the gal is from the states. When the "where ya from?" line comes about I use "Chicago" or if that doesn't do it - then "U.S.A." Well, when I did the "Chicago" she commented that I should know "Lake Geneva" - sure. I said then I'm actually from Rockford and she said she was actually from Hebron. She now lives in Colorado and I commented that I may well soon relocate to there. The other side of the globe - rolling down a two-lane road in different directions. They were in search of the waterfalls down the road....

Before we parted they commented that I just missed the rocket festival in Nong Khai, darn, but that one should be the day after in a town close to there. I'll try to see the festival tomorrow.

Heading into a second rain shower where I had just dried from the short first shower, I figured I could wait this one out. A tree with a bench nearby would work well - it wasn't raining very hard. While sitting there, drinking some water, eating a snack, the school kids were moving by as they headed home. The 'bold' kids would test out their English by yelling out a "Hello" then "Goodbye". I'd reply hello or goodbye just the same and they would laugh. Whenever I held up the camera and then pointed it at them they would smile and wave. Good fun.

It was at this bench that I noticed the "pot" nearby. I've been seeing many of them the past day or two. I first thought they were steel / iron pots used for burning garbage but I now think they might be garbage cans. They're made from old tires. The pot section is an old tire, cut apart and turned inside out. The "legs" are tire parts too. Bolts are used to fasten the parts together but each part seems to have originated in an old tire. I should stop at a nice one and get some good photos.

Rolling down the road making my way to the end I noticed a single, tall streak of smoke in the sky. ROCKETS!!!! The smoke was easy to see and I was nearing a town. Now to find the source. It wasn't too difficult as the town was small and by "following the locals" I was lead to the source. A party atmosphere. Vendors selling foods and small party rockets.

I was wondering about the rockets being fired? Where they ornate? How big were they? I was soon to find out. They are basic, functional things - big things. There was also a good bit of wagering going on and guys talking on cell phones was common - probably placing / taking other bets. I think the "winner" is the one with the longest burn duration / growing smoke line. I didn't notice any method to gauge the height.

The rocket pit had a launch panel that would hold five rockets - four standard length spots and one tall spot. The pit was a fenced off area to keep the crowd back. One person would hold a flag up - green or red. When the flag was red guys were allowed to mount the rockets to the panel. When one guy was ready the people in the pit moved back while the rocket was launched. Just before launch a number sign was held up - I guess for betting purposes - the number of this rocket.

Using electrical ignition it was difficult to tell when the rocket would fire (no seeing a match at the rocket or fuse burning down). A good party event!

View from the hotel - looking upriver. The water has come up since last evening.

Multi-use tractor device at the ready.

Flag crew.

Roadway upgrades - gravel to cement.

Ending one cement pad I need to drop down to the mash and transition over to the other one.

Hi Guys!

So I stopped to do something - change batteries perhaps.

Yep - that's the one!

In the park.

Vacant "stores"

Cool looking storm cloud

The cyclists coming up to the hilltop.

Hey folks!

Jumping off of the main road to head to the river. I am trying to get a clear view of the water and the hills on the other side.

Waterfront upgrades

The view.


Back at the bike.

This was a friendly place. All of the adults were smiling, nodding, waving. I heard some things shouted - but not understanding it I could only nod and keep moving.

Back out of town I made sure to get a shot of their banner.

The kid in black was ribbing me about rockets. I popped the camera out as he lit a small one. I didn't notice right then the guy in the blue shirt. Look at what he's carrying - and it isn't the green stuff. (oh, and the black lines - camera lens cover didn't fully open - another camera problem).

A good smoke trail.

Yep - there ya go - a rocket. The blue tube at the top is the engine. Tied to that is a bamboo pole. Basic. Makes a lot of smoke and burns for a long time - reaching heights difficult to see.

Launch pad. The "loops" at the top are chunks of old motorcycle chain. The rocket motor is tucked up under a loop and the chain slings under the end of the motor holding it in place. The guys seem to use bunches of weeds between the bamboo pole and the launch frame to align the rocket a little bit.

It takes a few minutes to get a rocket ready.

The crowd. Vendors were off to the left selling all sorts of party foods.

A good bit of cash was moving about.

Now that you've seen the rocket photos - here's the video!

Rockets !!!
MPG, 3.9 MB, 57 sec

Lookie here - another first - Chrysler? NEON - right hand drive.

School kids in the bus heading home.

A garbage pot. Used tire turned inside out.

Hello, Hello; Goodbye, Goodbye!

Riding behind a different bus I pointed to the camera.

See the guys fishing....

Not sure I would want to park a boat there.

Nong Khai - water fountain in the center of town.

Down at the river at sunset.

I was thinking the "rock" was simply flagged out but in reading the Lonely Planet book it is a sunken religious item - not "just a rock".

Housing development.

At the hotel parking lot this guy was feasting on other bugs.

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