On February 24th, I definitively abandoned Vietnam and entered for the second time in Laos.
A brief stage into a country I had already lived in, to meet two friends and to reach – by land – the ultimate destination and goal of my trip.
An exotic and distant goal, thinking about the day I left.
One goal that, finally, on February 28th 2017, unraveled there in front of my eyes: Thailand.
25 February, Pakse | Day 269 🇱🇦
I met Donatella and Gaetano for the first time, even if we are distant relatives, only a few days before I left for this long journey.
It was one of my dear uncles who told me about them, their travels and adventures around the world they went on when I was just a kid.
We felt instantly a natural understanding, a deep curiosity and an extreme mutual esteem.
When they invited me for dinner and my bike was already packed for the imminent departure, I remember I told them that I really had no idea or planned route for the months to come.
In my mind there was only a weird and bizarre project, but nothing more.
I would have started – that was the only thing I knew – travelling for a while throughout Europe, then maybe continuing up in Russia, then maybe in Mongolia and China, then maybe in South East Asia. With no flights.
They listened and motivated me, telling me about their little house in a remote paradise in Northern Thailand, where I always would have found a place to stay, in case I ever managed to get there.
Asia, by that time, was only a far mirage, which honestly I never thought I would have ever been able to achieve.
Since that day, however, Thailand became for me the ultimate goal of this trip.
Unconsciously – perhaps because of this unconditional proposal or perhaps because it really seemed to me like something impossible, by that time – I chose it as the final destination of my hypothetical path.
Well today, after nine months, I met them again. In Pakse, Laos.
They are here for a short holiday in the land they regard as their second home.
And I am here cause I’m about to enter Thailand, and so, probably, to finish my funny adventure.
Those kind of persons who are able to speak with their eyes, with their hearts and with their smiles.
A wonderful couple, two incredible travellers … and two real friends.
With whom it was great to talk again for hours, to laugh happily, to embrace warmly and to try to think, exactly like the very first time, about new and impossible – maybe! – weird and bizarre projects.
26 February, Pakse | Day 270 🇱🇦
I still cannot understand why I decided to come back, even if only for just a few days, in this place.
27 February, Pakse | Day 271 🇱🇦
After travelling in all these three countries, I can say I understood and felt on my skin the meaning of the beautiful saying:
“The Vietnamese plant rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it while it grows”
This is perhaps the very reason why I came back to Laos before the final rush (maybe).
Because Laos is not only a Country.
Laos is also a lifestyle.
Laos … is a state of mind.
PS: the picture was not taken today, but a few days ago in Savannakhet; and in it there’s everything you can say about this wonderful land.
And that one there in front, just beyond the Mekong River … is already Thailand.
Where I’m going tomorrow.
And it will be a very important day.
28 February, Arriving in Thailand | Day 272 🇹🇭
“Thailand! Ha ha!” – I used to say.
Anytime someone asked me where I wanted to go, since that distant June 2nd 2016, there was always no answer but this: “Thailand! Ha ha!”
I used to say “Thailand” because it sounded exotic, fabulous, ambitious, exuberant, scary.
I used to say “Thailand” because it sounded impossible.
I was myself the first, not to believe it.
“Ha ha!” … I used to laugh at me.
Since then I have been living an incredible kaleidoscope of emotions.
A huge bonfire of feelings, hard to be explained: I started, I pushed, I enjoyed myself and the road, I learned, I sweated, I suffered, I got off, I turned back, I dreamed, I thought, I loved, I left, I fell down, I got up, I struggled, I hoped, I got bored, I cried, I stumbled.
I stumbled several times.
I never gave up.
I used to repeat it continuously, during all these months.
That absurd mantra which somehow always made me laugh, and allowed me to continue.
I must have seemed crazy, at times.
“Thailand! Ha ha!”
Today, guys, February 28th 2017, is a day I will never forget.
It has arrived.
Here it is.
I did it.
Fuck I did it!
“Thailand! Ha ha!”
I could say a million things.
I could say that today I feel invincible.
I could say that nothing scares me anymore.
I could indulge myself into silly rhetoric like “Carpe Diem!”, “Follow your dreams!” or “Everything is possible, if you believe!”
Yes, very nice.
Yes, very true, if we like.
But actually I’m able to say only one thing, today.
One thing I never believed it would have been possible for me to say.
Simply, and sadly, I stopped laughing.
But as for smiling, well, guys … I guess I just started!
“Thailand! Ha ha!”
1 March, Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) | Day 273 🇹🇭
I would have never been able to imagine such a kind of welcoming, from Thailand.
– My first night in a temple, hosted by Buddhist monks in Chongmek
– An amazing huge grilled fish I bought from a street vendor, which costed almost nothing
– A blinding dawn, coming from Laos
– Perfect “video game” roads
– Smiles and greetings in every single village, or at each checkpoint
– Landscapes resembling a Maupassant’s novel
– Monks walking on the left roadside (driving in Thailand is like in England), able to spot your arrival even without turning their faces
– The sweet assuring faces of King Bhumibol, whose death in October has thrown the country into a subdued and poignant year of mourning, and his Queen, everywhere
– A DEADLY heat
– The arrival in the first Thai city of this journey, Ubon Ratchathani, where I could finally see a beautiful city park after very long time
– Scott’s, an Australian professor and a cycle-traveller too I met through WarmShowers community, unexpected friendly hospitality
If this is just the beginning … it seems this month is going to be very interesting.
2 March, Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) | Day 274 🇹🇭
“So? What do you think about this Ubon Ratchathani?”
“Oh, great! Tell me! What did you see or do then today?”
“Nothing. It was too hot. I spent all day in a coffee shop and a park. I really did nothing.”
“Ah. And how can you say then that is beautiful?”
“Don’t know. Just a feeling. I have been reading at the bar for two hours, next to the front door, and anyone who entered – believe me, anybody! – greeted me and smiled at me. The coffee was also good. Then I went to the park. The heat was oppressive, so I looked for a spot in the shade and laid down there. I wrote and read again, surrounded by singing birds and delighted by a warm breeze. Then I took a nap. The laughter of some children and the sun itself woke me up: it had bypassed the shadow that was my shelter and already started to burn my calf. I observed the children through the spokes of my bike. I drank some lychee juice and waited. Some other children started playing soccer in front of me and a gleaming monument, and, without uttering any word, they asked me if I wanted to join them. I even didn’t realize it, but I was already walking towards the field, ready to get my feet dirty with them. An hour later, a tender sunset. The park had been flooded with people. Someone was playing basketball, someone was jogging, someone was listening to music and someone was simply walking around, now that the temperature had become more liveable. The birds, meanwhile, never stopped singing – not even for a second.
You see, my friend: all of this, for me … is just beautiful.”
3 March, Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) | Day 275 🇹🇭
An unexpected and surprising proposal that perhaps will change the fate of my next 3 to 6 months?
But it is still too soon to talk about it.
Meanwhile I read a book about Shah Reza Pahlavi, under a dreamcatcher caressed by the wind.
And in the evening I jump on a train.
A night one.
New wandering dreams waiting for me.
A train to a mythical, fascinating and monstrous city.
A train to Bangkok.
4 March, Bangkok (Thailand) | Day 276 🇹🇭
Hello, short-named city!
Happy to be back after almost 8 years, “Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchaniburiron Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit” (which translated should be something like “The City of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam”)!
Glad to see you again, Bangkok!
5 March, Bangkok (Thailand) | Day 277 🇹🇭
It is not the first time I’m in Bangkok.
I was here several years ago, with friends, and remained only a couple of days.
I remember that I did nothing, nor see anything, that time.
The city was forced into an hallucinating heat and I was scared since the very beginning: we came with an evening flight and while the plane was landing, I looked out of the windows and couldn’t distinguish any kind of end in such a massive city.
Today, still excited from yesterday’s arrival, I thought it was time to discover more about Bangkok and so I went to the Royal Palace and the famous Wat Pho. It’s true that I’m staying in a hostel which is not exactly in the center, but how can you find a “center” in a city that is about the size of an Italian region?
I took a train (the futuristic Skytrain), then another, then a boat. Nearly two hours later I was in front of the Royal Palace, where I was hit by an oppressive stuffiness, a flood of tourists and even more undistinguished distressing noises.
Once in Wat Pho I resisted barely half an hour, mostly sitting under a tree, and I understood – if I ever needed this kind of proof again – not to be done for city environments.
Not one of this measure, at least.
Bangkok is a city that embraces you, seduces you, fascinates you, excites you, conquers you, chews you, strips you and then swallows you.
Someone loves it, someone succumbs to it and comes out destroyed. Annihilated.
I fall into this second category.
It is in a day like today that I think about towns like Ljubljana, Novi Sad, Tallinn, or even more timid places such as the Yulong River valley, Shaxi village and Olkhon Island.
If it wasn’t for some meetings I didn’t want to miss, probably I would have never even come to Bangkok, or certainly I would have gone already.
But, after nine months of travelling, I have now learned that nothing happens by chance and that even here I will find a new important piece of that big jigsaw I’m trying to complete since a very long time.
I totally ignore the shape and the colours it may have, but I’ll look for it. I’ll wait for it.
I’ll hold it tight in my fist, once I find it.
Always assuming that, in a very overwhelming way, it didn’t catch me already itself.
6 March, Bangkok (Thailand) | Day 278
“Like that time in Pakistan, when I had to be escorted on a military truck for several kilometers, through Beluchistan region.🇹🇭
Or when in northern Myanmar I travelled with 7 other riders, because we could only do it in group, police following us minute after minute, and we didn’t see any other tourists even for days.
Or when, a few weeks ago, I decided to drive somewhere far from the main roads across the arid valleys of Cambodia, near Battambang, and suddenly my bike stopped working and I was with no water, no food, in the middle of nowhere and with a bee hive making fun out of me. It took more than three hours to disassemble the motorbike and reassemble it, hoping it wouldn’t leave me, right there. I was about to cry, but in the end – I really don’t know how – I came out of it. And now I can laugh again!”
Max was the one who, by coincidence, I met close to a dry waterfall near Tad Lo – a day in January when I ventured myself on foot around the Bolaven plateau – and who gave me a lift to the top of the mountain.
I met him again on Don Det Island, few days later; beers and hammock had been our pastime for a few days.
Today, two months later, I hug him in Bangkok.
In front of him and his huge bike I feel like a kid on the first day at school.
27 year old, German, with contagious smile and energy, Max left his hometown on his motorcycle a few weeks before me.
One of those travellers you’d be listening for hours.
One of those friends you’d instantly get along with.
One of those persons who don’t need much to be happy, who look at the world with humility and curious eyes … and you would never stop learning something from.
Bangkok, after all, already gave me something good.
And it’s not over yet.
7 Marzo, Bangkok (Thailandia) | Giorno 279
“I know it’s a stupid question, Simone. But if I ask you which is the country that gave you the most, during this trip … which one would you pick? “🇹🇭
“Well, Vieri, it is impossible to elect a winner. Every day I’m more and more convinced that people make the real difference. It’s not about places. And, of course, the way you approach them. Every Nation that I went through gave me indelible memories: from the beauty of the decadent Europe to the infinite spaces in Russia, from the breathtaking scenery of Mongolia to the fascinating diversity of China, from the apparent perfection of Japan to the perfumes and smiles of Vietnam and Cambodia, from nature of Laos to the kindness I’m discovering now in Thailand. More is waiting for me, and I look forward to discovering new places. But, basically, I already know that the strongest emotions will always come from people. When I think back to the deepest joys of these last ten months, I think about that little kid who wanted to play the hang with me on the Trans-Siberian Railway, or that Chinese couple who hosted me in Xian for a week and with whom we ended up playing music every night, or about the children of the orphanage in Battambang and the unconditional support I received from unknown people in Moscow, Osaka, Chengdu, Ho Chi Minh and dozens of other cities, towns or villages I stopped by. This is exactly what drives me, especially in those times when I would give up: to know that there is much more out there to discover, to learn, to share with people. Something that is different from me, and at the same time is also part of me. There is where my way is heading. There is where I’m going.”
I could write for days about Simone and his journey.
Not because we have been friends for years and experienced many adventures together, and not because for several months I have been starting following his path (geographically very similar to mine, even if Simone is planning to get to Australia and to cross it for 4000 km, to embark for a month on a cargo and then to discover America during another year of life) through his Blog (look for it: Wanderhang – journey into the world), and all I’d need to do would be just quoting his words.
But simply because, when you meet someone who’s in many ways exactly like you, the only thing you have to do is writing about yourself.
And let everything flow.
8 March, Bangkok (Thailand) | Day 280 🇹🇭
There are days when you don’t need to write much.
March 8th is one of those.
9 March, Bangkok (Thailand) | Giorno 281 🇹🇭
I hardly ever talk about my bicycle.
Everyone knows that is a folding one (a Brompton), although I hardly ever write about it.
In Greece, when it all began, it used to appear more often, sometimes leaning against a monastery in the Cyclades, and sometimes dozing on a beach with me. During this long journey, however, you can confirm that it wasn’t a constant presence in my posts. Yet, she was always there. Wherever I was – sweating on the road, on buses and trains in Europe or Russia, villages in China, mountains in Laos and fields in Vietnam – she was there.
I never gave her a real name, as serious cycletravellers use to do.
I only know that for me it has always been a SHE, that sometimes I found myself calling her “the Ole Betsy” – like Nutsy and Trigger’s crossbow in “Robin Hood” cartoon – and that she never abandoned me.
Some punctures (reasonable, in 9 months), very few problems (mostly in finding spare parts in China) and nothing else.
Only a long way together.
A long, long, long way together.
Recently she called for some more attention: a change of tires, a brakes control, a detailed check-up and a deep cleaning.
Never I would have done it by myself.
I came in Bangkok – among other things – also for this: to find some specialists who could do it for me.
But I couldn’t hope to find, in a small and apparently basic bicycle shop, what I found in Velotique on Ekkamai.
Not only all SHE needed, but also (and especially) passion, expertise, kindness and simplicity which two people I had never met before gave me instantly, spontaneously.
Get to Bangkok and look for a store to pay for a service, is one thing.
Go away from Bangkok with something like a brand new bicycle, two unique shirts as a gift, an article in a national magazine, and – above all – Kris and Dear’s sincere friendship … is priceless.
This, however, was yesterday.
Day 281 is about endless hours on rails, towards the ocean.
Soon new decisions will be taken – some important ones – and to do it better … I need the sea.
So I’m here awaiting the sunset looking out of the window of a Thai train, heading South, powered by a furious wind.
One thing, after all, I never did before.