home      completed trip - the bikes      thailand - oct/nov/dec 12
10 October 2012

Did you know – Rice is economically and culturally important to Thailand.  The country lays claim to being the producer of the high-quality and aromatic Jasmine rice, and as the world's top exporter. Rice occupies 55% of Thailand's arable land, and it is the staple food of the population across income brackets. Looking past the salient facts that Thailand is the world's top exporter and the fifth largest cultivator of rice in the world, rice has strong cultural ties with the Thai people. Ceremonies invoking rain and bountiful harvest are commonly performed by rice farmers before planting seasons.  In 2008, Thailand exported about 10 million tons of rice, which made-up about 33% of the world's rice trade. According to the Board of Trade of Thailand, the biggest importers of Jasmine rice in 2009 were China, the United States, and Malaysia. Rough rice production is in excess of 30 million tonnes per year.

It was another 10km from the port to the town of Satun where we found a nice guesthouse to stay the night.  There’s not a lot happening in the little town, so we decided to head for some off to the islands the next day.  After a breakfast of rice, spicy aubergine and shrimp curry, we were on the road again for the ride from Satun to Pakbara of around 70km again.

Pakbara itself is nothing more than a stretched out fishing village on the coast with the added bonus of speedboats leaving to and from the islands.  It was still low season so the boats weren’t running to all the islands yet.  Our only option was to head for the island of Koh Lipe. 

We had to leave the bikes on the mainland and managed to leave it at the place we stayed at for the night; we obviously had to pay for the privilege of locking our bikes to a steel pole on their property.  The island is 63km from the mainland, and the speedboat trip took us 1.5 hours.  The sea was nice and calm and we managed to get there without feeling sick at all. One of the other passengers weren’t so lucky, a Chinese girl who turned pale very quickly, her sea legs deserting her soon after we set off.  She unfortunately made things worse for herself by staring at the floor the whole time instead of looking out to the horizon.  Anyway, we managed to get to the island without any mishaps on the boat by people feeling sick.

There are great benefits to travelling in low season.  The places you visit are quiet and you get really good deals on accommodation too.  We found a very nice little ‘resort’ on the beach, with nice wooden bungalows, great beds and very comfortable at a third of the high season price.  It was a great location with a nice comfortable bar on the beach – to top it off; they had daily happy hour with 2 for 1 cocktail deals.  We spent our 3 days on the island doing exactly what you’re supposed to do and that was nothing, having a few drinks, going for a swim and admiring the beautiful sunsets.

We eventually had to leave the island and head back to the mainland.  We got back to the mainland around 11am and decided to stay there for the day and not have a late start on the road.  We checked into the same hotel for the night to sort out our bags and to do some new routes for the next few days.  We also had to clean the bike chains and replaced Mandy’s chain.  Her chain outlasted mine with double the mileage I got on mine.

We left Pakbara our normal time, but it was a wet start to the day.  We had to look for cover a few times during the morning, but it soon cleared up.  The ride to Yan Ta Khao was like a lot of our other days, not too much happening and just enjoying the countryside.  We did however have this truck come past us with an elephant on the back, ears flapping in the wind.  Not something you would expect to see on the main road.

We had planned to stop for the day around 65kms but couldn’t find anywhere.  I’m sure there were loads of places, but because we can’t read the writing, it makes it a lot much harder for us.  We pushed on to the next little town where we did find a nice place on a river.  It must’ve been very new, the place was spotless. We also bumped into a French couple cycling with bikes they had bought in Cambodia and they had very little luggage!  I’m still trying to decide if they are unprepared or if we’re over prepared…We arranged to meet up for some breakfast the following morning as they were staying in a different place to ours.

We headed out of Yan Ta Khao a little later than normal after our breakfast stop with the Frenchies and stopped at a small Tescos for some snacks for the day. 

It was a good start to the day until it was time for a bit of bull fighting.  Yes, the inevitable happened, the first accident.  We were on the main highway, a dual carriageway for 2 lanes going in each direction and a nice big hard shoulder.  We just came over a little hill and were starting to go downhill.  I saw a man walking towards us on the hard shoulder leading a bull on a 3 meter piece of rope.  I started to slow down a bit and looked back towards Mandy, making sure she saw it too.  The road wasn’t too busy, but there were still a lot of cars.  I moved over as far as I could towards the first lane, but couldn’t go into it because of the cars coming past.  At this stage, I slowed down to about 30km/h.  The bull obviously had different ideas and was ready for a fight. Just as I was about to pass him, he decided that wasn’t going to happen and came right in front of me.  By this time it was too late for me to do anything. I obviously tried to brake, but it was too little, too late.  I went straight into it and I think I went flying over it.  Mandy was still behind me at this stage and told me afterwards that it carried on going into the road.  He may have won the battle with me, but it was a different story when it got hit by a Hilux.  The bull ended up back on the hard shoulder because of the impact, legs in the air, and the front of the Hilux was just about gone.  Another car also went into the back of the Hilux, but luckily not too much damage to it.

By this time, I was back on my feet, trying to figure out what just happened.  Mandy got a massive fright behind me, and just as I got myself together, I saw her running towards me, probably more shocked than what I was.  I quickly got my bike out the road and picked up all my panniers.  They all came off the bike and were lying all over the road, luckily all intact.  A quick assessment was done by us to see if there was any major damage to me and the bike before we moved to a little side road to recover.  Adrenaline was probably still pumping through my veins and I eventually relaxed a bit.  I had a few sweets to get some sugar into me and some water and sat down for a bit.  I only suffered from some grazes on my left ankle, and my lower back/bum was a bit sore.  I must’ve landed on it.  I also managed to crack my helmet – it’s got a nice split down the middle from the back up; who knows what it would’ve been like if I didn’t have my helmet on.

By this time, a nice little crowd was building.  The bull was still lying in the road, but to be honest, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about it.  For all that I could care, it could be dead, a bit harsh I suppose.  We were very lucky, in that a one of the Thai woman could speak very good English.  She very kindly stayed there with us the whole time and even came to the police station with us, helping with the translation and the police report.  By this time, it was around lunchtime and we were in no state of cycle.  We also had to get to someone who could fix my front pannier rack.  The impact broke the steel pannier rack and we had to get someone to weld it for us.  The very kind Thai woman was on her way into the next big town of Trang with some of her family and they offered us a lift in their pickup truck.  They also stopped at a local welder where we got the racks fixed in no time.  We also now had the added dilemma to find a new helmet too.

We eventually got to the town centre and booked into one of the hotels where we stayed for 3 nights in order for my ‘weary’ body to recover.  I was very stiff next few days and everything had to be done in slow motion.  We also decided it was time for us to send a few things back to London.  We have never used our sleeping bags because they are just too warm.  We did however find a nice small, compact summer bag here for next to nothing which we decided to buy.  All in all, we sent 7kg back to London.  Let’s see if it will make a difference, and fingers crossed, the recovery will be quick.
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22 October 2012

Did you know – Every year, the people of Thailand celebrate a vegetarian festival. This celebration occurs during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The ninth lunar month can occur during the months of September or October in any given year and lasts 10 days.  During the festival, Thai people practice jay. The word jay is taken from Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, and it means eight precepts observance.  One of the eight precepts is the avoidance of eating any animal meat during the vegetarian festival.  During the festival, Thai people practicing jay must keep their body clean, keep their eating utensils clean, and make sure they do not share utensils with people not observing the festival. They must wear white clothing as often as possible, avoid killing or harming animals, and be mindful of their actions and thoughts.  The most unique aspect of the vegetarian festival is the actions of the mah song.  A mah song is a man (or very rarely, a woman) possessed by a god during the festival. Mah songs parade through the streets, walking across hot coals or exploding fireworks and bathing in hot oil. They pierce their mouths, cheeks, ears, and arms with fish hooks, knives, razor blades and bamboo poles. The deity residing within the mah song protects their body from pain and injury. This is confirmed to onlookers by the fact that that very little blood or scarring occurs.

We left Trang after a few days rest and recovery after the accident.  I must admit, it must’ve affected me more than I thought.  I was constantly on the lookout for some activity on the side of the road, or something lurking in the bushes, waiting for me to pass and then jump in front of me. With these wild images flashing through my head, I decided to eventually listen to some music while riding.  This did the trick for me and I was a lot more relaxed, listening to something to distract me a bit.  It turned out to be a pretty uneventful day, thank goodness.

We were heading from our overnight stay in Pak Meng Beach to Koh Lanta (an island very close to the mainland).  This wasn’t our initial plan – we were planning to do a much shorter day, but as we all know, plans are made to be changed.  It turned out to be a hot long day; 10am saw the temperature sitting at 37 degrees already. 

We had a mad dash to the ferry in the late afternoon.  It was almost 5pm and we had just over an hour left before the sun went down.  To top it off, there was one massive storm building.  The last km or so was almost like a sprint to the finish line to avoid getting completely soaked.  We made it to the ferry just in time, quickly bought our tickets and got on.  As soon as we got on, the heavens opened with a very strong wind.  We managed to find some cover  on the ferry and got our rain gear out, mentally preparing ourselves for our ride in the rain to the next short ferry ride before we get to the island. 

We decided to have some more rest days on the island.  The stiffness was catching up and some of the bruising still a bit sore too.  We ended up staying on the island for about 3 days, relaxing a bit, catching up on some reading and enjoying a few medicinal beverages, i.e. beer.

There are loads of expats on the island and also lots of tourists, although it was still very quiet when we were there.  It was only the start of the high season and a lot of places were still closed, or starting with work to fix it up before the mad rush.  Expats and tourists also normally mean lots of western food.  In this case, we managed to find a very nice German bakery where we had a proper sandwich, our first in a very long time.  I never knew a cheese and salami sandwich on rye bread could taste so good. We explored the island a little bit, loads of hotels, dive shops and souvenir shops.  To give you an indication of cost, the place we stayed at cost is 500 Baht per night.  A very nice room with air-con, en-suite and some satellite tv.  In high season, the price skyrockets to about 3000 Baht per night. Who said travelling in low season is bad?

We were all set and ready for our day to Krabi.  We got some fruit and snacks for breakfast and were going to have it on the ferry to the mainland.  We jumped on the first one and got about halfway before we started going in circles.  Turns out the rudder wasn’t working as it should.  We were drifting for about 20 min or so waiting for another boat to take us to shore.  A trip which should take about 15 min ended up taking us almost an hour – an hour we didn’t really have, because we planned to do about 90km for the day.  We eventually got to the mainland and made good progress by the time we had our first break.  While travelling along one of the busier roads we met another cyclist from Japan – he was going the other direction but we had a good chat with him about where he had been.

We were almost at the end of the day and had about another 20km to do before we got to Krabi.  We were due to have a little break before the final hour or so of the day when we cycled passed some elephants in an enclosure with some people around.  We decided to have a stop to see what the place was about.  It turns out that it is an elephant hospital.  There were two elephants there and the one we saw had part of her truck missing – she was tied up with chains so that the vets could administer medicine and check her wounds.  The poor elephant couldn’t pick up fruit with her trunk, so the locals were feeding her.  One of the ladies gave Mandy some apples to feed to the elephant.  It was such a great experience as there were no tourists, just locals helping to feed her.  Just as we got back onto the main road, about 11 Porches came speeding past – I think they were all from Malaysia!

We decided to have another recovery day Krabi.  We had a late start to the day and by the time we headed out for a stroll and some lunch it was baking hot!  We visited a beautiful Buddhist temple with a long staircase lined by brightly coloured dragons and strolled around the town.  It didn’t take us long to realise something was happening here.  It was the start of the vegetarian festival and is being celebrated around the country. As we walked around we heard loads of firecrackers going off and some processions in the street.  We were having a look in one of the motorbike shops and while in there, one of the processions came past us.  The crazy people were skewering themselves with metal rods!  The one guy had 3 rods going through his cheeks and another one had one massive one going through his one cheek.  This one must’ve been about 3 feet long, crazy people I tell you.  It wasn’t a nice thing to witness – especially when they removed the rods right there on the street!  The guy seemed to be in a trance and we could see he didn’t really know what was going on around him – who knows, he may even have been in a state of shock.

We deliberately planned a shorter day leaving Krabi.  The stop next stop as only about 35 km away, another beach area called Ao Nang.  Krabi province is really famous for the limestone cliffs, and it was very evident today.  Ao Nang is also a very touristy area with loads of shops lining the streets trying to sell you yet another suit, sarong or bikini.

We’ve been very fortunate with planning our routes.  We’ve managed to avoid the real busy roads so far, which makes the riding a lot more pleasant.  No truck or bus speeding past us, mainly cars and small suv’s.  We spent most of our day cycling through rural villages with lots of rubber and palm oil plantations.

Our stop for the night was right next to a small national park with some waterfalls.  There were small bungalows right next door to it – it had a massive king size bed (probably even bigger) made out of concrete and luckily a comfy mattress.  After a quick shower we headed into the park to see the green pools being filled by many small waterfalls and pools, it really was very scenic!  The jungle was so lush and you could see the tree roots and how the water flows all around it. 

We’ve heard from a lot of people that Phuket is nice, but also very busy and ‘in your face’, depending where you go.  We never made it to Phuket on our first visit to Thailand in 1999, so decided we should check it out this time.  Our plan was to stop just north of Phuket on the mainland, but when we got there, it looked a bit grim, so we decided to head for the island.  I was still also looking for a new helmet, and knew of a few bicycles shops where I might be able to find a new one.

Our riding for the day was mainly on the highway this time.  We couldn’t really find any other road along the coast.  It wasn’t too bad as we had a very nice and wide hard shoulder - we did also pass a very nice temple with a massive monk statue.  We eventually crossed the bridge and entered Phuket and headed for the first beach which was about 20kms away.  It was also time for some rain again, which made it a bit unpleasant.  We were still on a busy road and lots of trucks and busses whizzing past, spraying water all over the place.  We were very surprised as to how busy the roads were and this on a Sunday afternoon.  We eventually got to the west coast of the islands where most of the beaches are.  One thing we didn’t think of when we got to the island was that the place could be hilly.  We were quickly approaching 100km for the day and by the time we got to the very steep hills on the other side, we were completely knackered.  Our very last hill was just about the cherry on top and almost got the better of Mandy.  Like always though, Mandy conquered it, albeit a little bit slower this time because it was the end of the day. 

It turned out to be our biggest day yet.  We did 117km for the day.  We were exhausted, that’s for sure.  We found some food and a ‘recovery beer’ as our reward and hit the sack pretty early that night.

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03 Nov 2012

Did you know – The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was caused by a 750 mile rupture in the earth’s surface, creating a powerful earthquake, measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale.  The quake continued for about 10 min along across the fault, about 9 ½ min longer than the average earthquake.  The tsunami struck 12 countries bordering the Indian Ocean, from Indonesia to Somalia.  During the first 24hrs, 229,866 people lost their lives (including those still missing), 430,000 homes were destroyed and about 5 million people lost their livelihoods. The countries which lost most lives were Indonesia (167,736 people), Sri Lanka (35,322 people), India (18,045 people), Thailand (8,212 people).

We had a little sleep in the next morning – I think we got up around 8am.  We were only due to ride about 15 km to get to the main area of Phuket, called Patong.  It was a challenging 1kms after our long day, with unexpected very steep hills again.  We made it though, pushing up some of the very steep parts.

Patong is a bit ‘Marmite like’, you will either love it or hate it.  We didn’t particularly like it for a couple of reasons.  There were too many tourists (and it wasn’t even high season yet), too many tailors trying to sell you suits, every second person asking you if you want a taxi, and freaking Thai massage ladies spilling into the streets all the time trying to get your custom. Then off course you have the bit Patong is also famous for; the nightlife.  I don’t mind appreciating the beauty of some of the ladies, but when every Tom (a girl), Dick(a he-she) and Harry( a prostitute) tries to pull you into a bar, it gets a bit tiresome.  This, combined with all the touts pushing little cards into you hand advertising sex shows is not the ‘wholesome’ fun we were after.  Anyway, enough ‘goody 2-shoes’ – we spent a few days there relaxing and recovering in our little hotel before our next move. 

The next move was supposed to be further south but the weather wasn’t playing along, so we decided to leave Phuket and head north.  We made some arrangements to meet fellow travellers further up the coast, an Australian couple travelling by truck.

We had a couple of days riding to get to the spot where the Ozzies, Robert and Clary, were camping.  They were rather uneventful days, maybe with the exception of coming into Khao Lak, where we had very nice views of the sea and secluded beaches.  All of these obviously owned by the massive resorts set up in the area.  This and the fact that it was a very hot few days again on the road.  We were lucky enough to have a fridge in our room and put all our water bottles in the freezer.  They didn’t stay frozen for very long – it was 35 degrees  by 9.30.

We got to Khao Lak in the early afternoon.  This area was worst hit by the 2004 Tsunami, and they are still trying to rebuild some of the communities in the area.  Most of the families were affected by it in some way or another.

We eventually got to the spot where Robert and Clary were camping.  It was a great spot, right on the beach.  We met the owner of the nearby restaurant and he said it would be fine for us to put our tent up and we can use his toilets and water.  It didn’t take us long to get our tent up, finding a nice spot amongst coconut and palm trees, with shade for most of the day.  Once we had our tent up we went to chat to our new ‘neighbours’.  It turns out Robert and Clary are originally from Holland but have lived in Australia for many years and are now on a round the world trip.  They also introduced us to their friends Mark and Joyce from England who were staying at the posh hotel next door. 

The tent was very hot to sleep in as the coastal breeze seems to die down at night.  We struggled a bit the first couple of nights because of the heat and also because we weren’t use to the outside noises again.  It normally takes a few days to get used to it.  During the day we sat reading on the beach or used the very nice swimming pool at the posh hotel next door when visiting and chatting to Mark and Joyce.  We of course also had to go and visit a small museum about the tsunami.  A very sad place, indeed.  The guy running the restaurant lost both his children in the tsunami.  He was at home and when the wave hit, his children were holding his hands as they tried to run away but they got swept away from him, a 4 year old son and a 2 ½ year old daughter.  He also had a resort nearby which was also totally washed away and he can’t get enough money from the government or the banks to rebuild it. 

One of the days we were there, while relaxing in the cool sea breeze, we heard a loud siren go off and someone speaking in Thai over a loud speaker – when we asked the locals about it they said it was a drill for if there is another tsunami – pretty scary!  Our eyes were peeled towards the sea and the horizon for a little while afterwards.

We eventually left Khao Lak after staying there for 4 nights.  Joyce and Mark came round to say goodbye to us all as Clary and Robert were also leaving.  We had arranged to meet up with Mark and Joyce in Hua Hin where they live, about 250km from Bangkok.

We had beautiful scenery leaving Khao Lak although it was extremely humid again. Around lunch time we decided to put our waterproof jackets on as there were dark clouds forming and no sooner had we put them on the skies opened and it poured.  We took cover at a little shop and watched a little boy run around in his shorts in the rain – just enjoying the coolness.  Along the way we met up with another cyclist going the other way.  We had a long chat to him and he told us that there was a 73 year old German guy ahead of us, not sure if we will catch up to him or not. 

Our next stop and next big town was Ranong – the last big town before we cross the country from the west to the east coast.  Ranong was a pretty busy little town – it’s quite close to Myanmar and a lot of tourists come here to do the ‘visa run’ where they go into Myanmar and come back into Thailand in order to extend their Thai visa.
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11 Nov 2012

Did you know – Thailand is home to the world’s longest poisonous snake, the king cobra. The cobra can reach more than 18 feet long, and one bite from it can kill an elephant.   They are found all over Thailand and can grow longer than 5 meters.  They live in dense forest near water and also in open grassland.  The snake is both active during the night and day.  Their diet consists of other snakes, mainly rat snakes but also pythons, lizards, rodents and birds.  A young king cobra is fast and deadly from the time they hatch.  Juvenile king cobras from Thailand have yellow bands across their black bodies and heads - they look very different from adult king cobra snakes.

Our ride to Chumphon from Ranong took us about 2 days.  There weren’t any major towns on the way, so we were preparing ourselves for possible camping in the hot weather.  Luckily, we saw a sign for a place to stay about 2km south of Kraburi.  It turned out to be a very nice little place.  The owner produces his own coffee which we enjoyed thoroughly, hand picking all the beans and a very manual and laborious cleaning and roasting process.  It tasted great though and also had some excellent food there.  We were very glad that we stayed there instead of going to the next town which turned out to be a bit run-down and noisy when we went through it the next morning.

The route also took us very close to Myanmar.  We got to the river separating Thailand with Myanmar, a river of no more than 100m wide.  We could see the locals crossing between the riverbanks in the long boats.  I wonder if anyone would’ve blinked an eyelid if we decided to cross and enter Myanmar.

The rest of the ride to Chumphon was very pleasant.  We thought we would have some bigger hills during the day, but it was mostly flat.  Our day was filled with a few strange sites.  4 Trucks with massive boats came past us on the highway as well as seeing some elephants working in a timber site, moving massive logs around like they weighed nothing.  Hopefully they treat the elephants well, but I have my doubts sometimes.

Just as we entered Chumphon, merrily cycling along, we came across a Swedish cyclist (also traveling south) who had been on the road for 9 months!  We were apparently the first cyclist he’s seen for some time.  He started in Sweden and came through Central Asia and China, planning to meet his girlfriend in Singapore.  Hopefully he gets there on time, as he only had about 3 to 4 weeks left to cover more than 1,500kms.

Highway 4 on the east coast is notorious for being very busy and a place to avoid as a cyclist. For this very reason we decided to try and stick to the smaller roads on the coast.  It will certainly add some km to our days, but much better than having to negotiate all the trucks and cars on the highway. 

We quickly left Chumphon and made our way onto the quiet roads – it was so nice to be on almost traffic free roads cycling through the villages and saying hi to the locals.  The only damper on the day was that it started raining a bit, but it was a great excuse for an early tea and coffee break.  While having our tea break, we started seeing farangs (foreigners) coming past us on bicycles – it was a massive group on an organised bicycle tour.  No-one was carrying any luggage; all had very light road bikes (probably weighing about 7 or 8kg compared to our 40-50kg).  It must be nice to have back-up vehicles carrying all your bags!

We got to our destination for the day.  Ban Boet beach seemed to be more of a local holiday destination, but we did managed to find a nice resort to stay in.  We even got a discount because we were foreigners and foreigners don’t usually visit the area.  The food was definitely catering for the local Thai pallet too – we can handle our spice but the green curry that night nearly blew our eyebrows off!

We left our hotel the following morning after a very small cup of coffee and some rice soup for breakfast – weird but tasty!  Our route for the day took us through lots of small villages and palm trees.  We were heading to the next beach area of Ban Krut.  This is more tourist orientated and the prices suggested it too.  Each time we stopped at a place to check what they would charge for a room, we got offered a cold drink which was nice and we made full use of it.  We did manage to find a nice hotel within our budget though.  While having some lunch I spotted 2 cyclists going past.  Before I could even try to get their attention, they were gone again.  We went for a walk in the afternoon on the beach and did eventually bump into them. They decided to camp at the local Wat (temple) for the night and were relaxing a bit on the beach, waiting for the sunset.  They were both from France and also on the way to the north.  These were the first cyclist we met going in the same direction as us.  We did for a brief moment think about cycling together, but we never discussed it with them. This was probably a good thing, because they cover a lot more mileage than us per day.

Ban Krut (our stop for the night) has a Disney-like looking temple and massive golden Buddha on a hill top nearby which we had seen from the beach the day before.  We decided to head up the hill to see the temple and Buddha when we left in the morning. Wow, it was a steep hill and quite a challenge first thing in the morning, with legs still half asleep and not knowing how to pedal properly!!  We had only done 3kms by the time we got to the top but it felt like we had been cycling for half a day!  We were rewarded with a great view and a magnificent statue and temple. 

We also spotted our first live snake on the road that day.  It was a massive on, probably about 1 ½ - 2 meters long and the colours of a King Cobra.  Luckily for us, it just about crossed the road when we passed and disappeared into the long grass area next to the road.  Our route for the day took us past lots and lots of coconut trees and discarded coconut shells.  Really ‘of the beaten track’ on some dirt back roads, we came across some locals who were shelling and peeling the coconuts.  We decided to stop and stare at them a bit to see what they were doing.  This was definitely the first step in the process of getting the coconut milk in little tins in the shops in the western world, or the dry coconut flakes in the shops.  After a bit of staring and trying to make some conversation, asking lots of questions, one of the girls gave us the seed inside to try.  It almost had the texture of watermelon and was nice and juicy, but with a coconut taste.  We also had some sweet coconut water from the young coconuts and also the fresh young flesh.  It was a great experience to see all the work that goes into producing coconut milk which we can so easily buy in the shops.

We rolled into Prachuap Khiri Khan around 4pm in the afternoon and ended up cycling through a military base, including their airstrip, to get into town.  Once we had checked into our homestay we met a Chris and Ina (from NZ and Germany) who were travelling by motorbike from Germany back to NZ.  Travelling the way we do creates an instant connection with fellow like-minded travellers.

We decided to have a rest day in Prachuap Khiri Khan.  The place we stayed at was very pleasant with a friendly owner and there is something about the town which makes it very pleasant.  After all, we also had some other travellers to chat to for the time we were there.
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23 Nov 2012

Did you know – Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathon (approx. 50km west of Bangkok) is the tallest stupa in the world with the height of 127 metres (417 ft).  The name means Holy chedi (stupa) of the beginning. The stupa at the location is first mentioned in Buddhist scriptures of the year 675, however archaeological findings date back to the 4th century. In the 11th century it was overbuilt with a Khmer (Ancient Cambodia) style prang, which was later overgrown by the jungle. The ruin was visited several times by the later King Mongkut during his time as a monk, and after his coronation he ordered the building of a new and more magnificent chedi at the site. After 17 years of construction it was finished in 1870, and the population of nearby Nakhon Chai Si was ordered to move to the newly created town around the chedi.

Our new German/Kiwi friends found a nice place for breakfast, and we decided to go there the day we left.  It was a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs and potato wedges, just what we needed to keep us going for the morning! 

Our route for the day wasn’t that exciting – we had to ride on the main highway for a short while, but managed to find the smaller roads again.  Our route took us through a small national park where we had a nice rest break at a temple nestled in the mountains.  The road and scenery after the park was very boring.  There were loads of prawn farms all around us for about 15-20km.  There was a lot of activity in and around the farms, with makeshift ‘factories’ at the side of the road – a team of about 20 workers sorting through the fresh prawns, putting it all on ice straight away, before the big trucks take their loads to Bangkok.  Some of it was for local restaurants, but a lot being exported to Japan too.  The women in charge told us that their wholesale price is THB2000 for 20kg – that is about £2/kg.

Mark and Joyce (the couple we met in the south of Thailand) very kindly invited us to stay with them for a while in Hua Hin.  Our ride for the day was a short one, as we only stayed about 30km or so from the town.  We had an easy day, having a nice long tea and coffee break on one of the beaches outside of town.

We managed to find Joyce and Mark’s place, or rather, Joyce found us on the main road about 2km away from their house.  It made finding their house a lot easier as we followed her into their complex.  After a quick shower and catch up we sat down to a very, very tasty meal of roast pork with stuffing, potatoes and the full trimmings– it was such a great meal and a good change for us after all the Asian food we have been having! 

A big thank you to both Joyce and Mark, for letting us stay there with them for a few days.  The timing was perfect as we were getting a bit ‘road weary’ and some normality was very nice.  Hopefully we can return the favour one day.

Our progress to Bangkok was right on track.  By the time we left Hua Hin, we had just under a week to get there to meet Craig and Sarah, having only about 200-250km to do.  We could take our time and do what we do best; stay on the small roads.  Everyone we’ve spoken to so far suggested to us to rather not cycle in Bangkok because of the hectic roads.  We’ll make a call on that the closer we get – all depending on the route planning and if we can stay off the big highways.

After being in Thailand for more than a month, we eventually tried the local breakfast dish of rice porridge.  A very simple dish, almost like oats, but made of rice, with the added flavour of a savoury taste of pork and egg.  To this they add an egg you mix in and it cooks a little bit in the hot porridge.

We found a nice little homestay in the town of Phetchaburi.  It looked relatively new and so much better than the other run down places we saw.  We spent a day strolling around town and generally doing nothing.

Our next destination was the town of Damnoen.  This town is generally known for its floating market and visited by busloads of tourists on day trips from Bangkok.  We had a very pleasant ride to the town.  There must’ve been a lot of rain the last couple of days because the roads we were travelling on flooded in a few places.  We had 4 ‘water-crossings’ we had to manoeuvre with the bikes.  We made it, without falling off and getting too wet – only our sandals got wet in some of the deeper ones.  We also came across a live cobra on the road, but made sure we stayed well clear of it.

We have noticed a big increase in ‘Wats’ (Buddhist temples) the further away from the south we’ve travelled.  There is a big Muslim influence towards the south of Thailand, more than I thought it would be.  This means we have a lot of nice temples to look at on the road.  We came across one of the more unusual examples on the way to Damoen.  This particular temple had lots of statues of what looked like karate poses. 

The place was very busy so we decided to have a look inside.  We ventured further into the site where there were a lot more people and found a Buddha inside a tree trunk and people were putting pieces of gold leaf onto the Buddha.  The whole thing was covered in it.  I can only imagine how long a statue covered in gold leaf would last in South Africa…

After the excitement of the day, our thoughts immediately turned to food as we cycled passed something we’ve seen so often.  What looks like a massive bbq, with short bamboo piece roasting on the coals.  The bamboo contains sticky rice with some sort of sweet milk and a type of bean.  It was very tasty and just what we needed to get the energy levels back to what it should be.

The floating markets of Damnoen were really not worth it. I would’ve been very disappointed if I had paid for a daytrip from Bangkok.  All we could see, were some local women selling mostly tourist tat, with the odd person selling some fruit or flowers; a mere shadow of the former glory of what it would’ve been like as a real market and not a tourist site. Nevertheless, our ride through the surrounding areas were really nice with lots of canals (almost reminded us a bit of Holland, just not as clean) coconut plantations, mango and lime trees and even some vineyards.

The town of Nakhon Pathom meant another rest day for us, and it also meant we could have a Thai massage again.  This sounds a lot more relaxing than what it really is.  It is almost like a combination of a physio and a chiropractor trying to pull you apart.  Away from the tourist spots, they show no mercy and get on with it.  It does wonders for sore legs, probably the fact that you forget about muscles being sore and stiff from cycling, but rather just trying to survive the whole massage experience; an hour massage for THB200 (about £4), definitely not a bad deal.

It was almost time for the big smoke of Bangkok.  After talking about it and looking at the routes into the city, we decided to cycle into Bangkok, after all, we did survive the madness of Jakarta.  We managed to plan a route avoiding all the highways and it wasn’t too busy either.  The outskirts start about 30km from the centre and progressively got busier, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Besides from the milestone of actually making it into Bangkok, we also had another milestone for the day – we clocked up 5000km.  Who would’ve thought when we set off that we’ll survive life on 2 bicycles for so long?  This trip is so different on so many levels compared to our first one. The heat alone is enough to make or break you.

Our actual route planning in the city itself wasn’t that great – we managed to cycle through the busy China town, not once, but twice, looking for a place to stay.  We eventually decided to stay near Khao San Road area.  The place we stayed at was ok but had very steep steps inside the room to the bedroom and a window overlooking a wall half a meter away – a small price to pay for knowing the bikes will be safe for the night.

After a quick shower and dinner we stared the hunt for a hotel for us and Craig and Sarah – the hotels were quite a bit more expensive than what we had been paying but that’s to be expected.  Our main problem was getting the bikes into our room or being able to leave them somewhere secure – most places did not have this option.  We eventually found a great little place in a quiet street where we could take the bikes into our room which would be helpful for when Craig arrived and would need to assemble his bike. 

Being in Bangkok also meant that we had access to good bikeshops.  We thought it would be a good idea to have a proper service done before we set off on the next 5000km.  I especially wanted to service the hubs and bottom brackets on the bikes, not because anything was wrong with it, but just to be sure.

Our first task for the following day was to get to the bike shop so that they have enough time do to the work.  The first shop we got to couldn’t help us because their main mechanic was in Phuket competing or working at a triathlon.  The manager very kindly recommended another shop only 10 minutes away. He also phoned the shop to make sure they will be able to help us.

We weren’t the only ones having some work done on the bikes.  At the second bike shop we met a French couple cycling with their 3 children!!  They had 2 tandems, with the mother and one daughter on the one, and the dad and eldest son on the other one with a little trailer behind them for their 2 ½ year old youngest son.  We arranged to meet up with them the following night for dinner.  We chatted for a little while longer and left our bikes at the shop.

It was almost time for us to go to the airport to meet Craig and Sarah.  I’m not sure who were more nervous about the next 3 months on the road, Craig or us.  Mandy and I are both set in our travelling ways and travelling with someone else will certainly be a big adjustment.  They say it will either make or break a relationship or friendship. I’m pretty sure it will be all good though.
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05 Dec 2012

Did you know – The image of reclining Buddha is 15m high and 43m long with his right arm supporting the head with tight curls on two box-pillows of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics. The 3m high and 4.5m long foot of Buddha displays are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They are divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories. Over the statue is a seven tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicating the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the Wat.

After dinner on our first night we started the hunt for a hotel for us and Craig and Sarah – the hotels were quite a bit more expensive than what we had been paying but that’s to be expected.  Our main problem was getting the bikes into our room or being able to leave them somewhere secure – most places did not have this option.  We eventually found a great little place in a quiet street where we could take the bikes into our room which would be helpful for when Craig arrived and would need to assemble his bike.

After a long flight of about 11 hours for Craig and Sarah, they arrived safely in Bangkok.  Most importantly, Craig’s bike looked to be all good with no damage from the airline. We had a few things to do in Bangkok, one of which was to have our bikes service.  We tracked down the shop before we went to the airport and left it with them to be picked up in a few days.  While at the bike shop, we bumped into some fellow cyclists.  A French couple doing a very similar route to us, but they are travelling with their children of 9 years, 8 and about 2 ½. They are on two tandems and a little trailer for the youngest child.

There is lots to do in Bangkok and we certainly had enough to keep us busy for the week there with Sarah before she had to head back to reality.  We went to the main tourist attractions of the Grand Palace with the Emerald Buddha statue, Wat Pho with the massive reclining Buddha.  A lot of our time was spent walking around markets, shopping districts and off course eating.  Between all of this, Mandy even had some time for a haircut.  We also managed to finish a big bottle of whiskey between us the one night which slightly delayed our sightseeing plans (completely cancelled for some of us who shall remain nameless for now) the following day.  We found a nice little jazz/blues type pub and enjoyed a bit of live music on Sarah’s last night in Bangkok.    

Before we knew it, it was time for Sarah to go home after her short holiday with Craig (and us) and just about time for us to hit the road again.  We had our escape route planned out of Bangkok, again trying to avoid the major roads.  The day started well and traffic wasn’t too bad – Craig did managed to catch his one front pannier on a car though, which pulled on his mudguard.  A quick pit stop was needed to realign everything again before we got going.

The route we planned wasn’t that great – we had a long stretch of dusty roads because of road works and we were also travelling along a stinky canal.  The road did eventually improve the closer we got to our intended overnight stop of Bang Pa In.    We stopped to ask a friendly local woman if she knew of a hotel in the area, and she pointed us in the right direction.  I thought the name of the hotel was Sweet Inn, but it turned out to be Sweet Teen.  As we approached and looked at the rooms, it became apparent why the unusual name.  There were mirrors all over the place, most of the walls and the ceiling.  Our room also had a Jacuzzi, Craig’s room had a nice round bed, and all the rooms had little red and green lights outside…on the bright side, it was very clean and reasonable.

We managed to get through the night without any knocks on the door of people offering their services or even worse, wanting services from us.  It was to be a short day’s ride to Ayutthaya, but it was hot and dusty again.  We got to the town just after lunch and managed to find much improved accommodation for the next few nights – a great little homestay guesthouse with a very sweet old lady running it.

We were going to spend a couple of nights in Ayutthaya, but had to change our plans a bit.  I wasn’t feeling too well after the previous night’s dinner.  It was an oily affair of fried chicken and oily pancakes with curry.  Luckily I was feeling a lot better the next day, good enough to do some sightseeing in the ancient ruin city of Ayutthaya, once the capital city of Thailand.  I also made sure I was well enough to at least have a celebratory yummy ice cream for my birthday.
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09 Dec 2012

Did you know – The begging bowl is one of the simplest but most important objects in the daily lives of Buddhist monks. It is mainly used as a bowl to collect alms of either money or food from followers.  It also has a symbolic significance linked with the historical Buddha. According to one legend, when he began meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree, a young woman offered him a golden bowl filled with rice, thinking he was the divinity of the tree. He divided the rice into 49 portions, one for each day until he would be enlightened, and threw the precious bowl into the river.

Jacques was feeling much better the following day so we left Ayutthaya and managed to do around 70kms past lots rice fields – this must be the ‘rice bowl’ of Thailand.  The following day was more of the same – lots of rice field and quite a few Wats (Buddhist temples) and even some swimming water buffalo.  For lunch we decided to stop at a one of these wats and for the second time that day experienced Thai hospitality – one of the monks brought us ice, drinking and cooking water, napkins, coffee and even some soap and sponge to wash our dishes!   

Our last hotel in Thailand had a pool, bonus!  The ride there was our fastest ride so far with an average of around 18kms per hour, we did 89km with a temperature of around 40deg.  We had a rest day to enjoy the pool.

The route to the border was busy and boring but luckily didn’t take us too long.  After some back and forth on the Thailand side completing our forms we were stamped out of Thailand and joined the queue to get into Cambodia – after a long wait we were finally in and wow what a different country!  Very smelly, busy, dusty and they drive on the wrong side of the road!  We have read that the border town does not reflect the rest of Cambodia – let’s hope that’s true! 

Final Thoughts:

We had been to Thailand before as well in 1999 so it has special memories for us – but this time we certainly saw a lot more of the country in a completely different way.  The cycling was great as there were often nice big shoulders to cycle in and the traffic wasn’t too bad either.  With good cycling, good food (most of the time) and nice beaches, it’s definitely a place to visit.

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