25 May 2009

CYCLING THAILAND - Hau Hin to Cambodia Via Phulet







28 April - Hau Hin – Prachuap Khiri Khan - 98km

Once again we left late. I do not know how other people get away so early, we seem to be faffing around forever. So far, the road has been as flat as a pancake, not something I ever complain about. Halfway we stopped again for some noodle soup, which one can find everywhere along the road. We reached Khiri Khan early and found a hut just north of town. The scenery is now more and more as I’ve always expected Thailand to look like, with long white beaches, a flat ocean and green jungle-coated limestone pinnacles sticking up in and around the ocean.

That evening we took a walk into town to the night market and once again stuffed ourselves. Now that we were out of the tourist area, things are also a lot cheaper, accommodation as well as food. Ernest lapped up the oysters (7 for around R10) but did not have the stomach for the crisply fried bugs (grasshoppers, large cockroaches, grubs, chicken feet and what looked like worms).

29 April - Prachuap Khiri Khan – Bang Saphan (Thalu Beach) - 115km

Lola Bungalows, situated right on the beach amongst palm trees, is what I have been looking for. With hardly any tourists and a long white beach it’s heaven. It’s a short walk of 250m along the beach to a restaurant where we could eat for very reasonable prices. Needless to say, we stayed a few days, swimming and lazing in hammocks.

2 May - Bang Saphan – 89km

What a beautiful ride!! Thailand must have one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. We followed the coast south, stopping at a few of the bays along the way. There were rain showers around us all day, but we were never actually got caught in the rain. We went so slow that we did not make Chumphong as we’d planned. We found a bungalow along the way where we stayed for the night. There we also met a fellow South African, who is now living in Thailand.

We had a bite to eat in their bar/restaurant, I seem to be eating the same food every day (Thai Curry) as not a big variety is available for vegetarians. The food is however fantastic! The only problem is that this food is not very substantial and not really energy food to see you through a long cycling day.

3 May - Chumphon 43km

We took a leisurely ride from our overnight stop, having brunch at Hat Tha Wua Laen Beach. Once in Chumphon we headed straight for the well-known “Farang Bar” where most backpackers stay. What a pleasant surprise, the rooms were really good value for money and the place had a good bar and restaurant. With hot water in the shared showers, who can complain. They can also organize boats to the nearby islands, busses and visa runs. Great place, no wonder everyone hangs out there.

We were lucky to make it to our room just before a heavy storm moved in. With thunder and lightning, I was pleased for the roof over our heads. At least these storms never appear to lasts very long. Once the storm moved over we took a walk to the nearby supermarket and found bread, cheese and mayonnaise (something different from Thai green curry for a change). We also wandered around the large covered market where Ernest found a lot of tasty bits to eat (however, he gave the smoked rats a wide berth!).

4 May - Champorn – Chaiya - 142km

Ernest received an e-mail from his friend Rossouw, saying that they were holidaying in Puket but will be leaving again on the 8th. We decided to race there to see if we could meet up with them. Therefore, it was peddle, peddle, peddle. At least the road was good and we found good roadside accommodation for the night, air-con and all. Ernest cooked up a mean pasta in the room for our long distance the following day.

5 May - Chaiya – Au Leuk 170km

It was peddle, peddle, peddle again and we made it to Ao Leuk just as it was getting dark. Fortunately, we found a real cheap room at a petrol station for the night. Although it was a rather long day, we did pinch off a few moments for photo’s of the impressive limestone pinnacles amongst the rubber and oil palm plantations.

6 May - Au Leuk – Phuket - 140km

At least the road was scenic as we peddled the last long stretch to Phuket, crossing the bridge onto the island about 40 k’s before reaching the town. Once there, we looked at the map again, just to discover that Rossouw and Dawn were at Patong Beach at the other side of the island. At least it was not far to Patong Beach, so we decided to stay the night in Phuket town and do the last stretch the next morning.

7 May - Phuket – Patong Beach - 21 km

Although it was not far to Patong Beach, it was via one of the steepest hills we have encountered in a long time. It was so hot and humid that I cycled myself right out of my sandals. (I had to stop and put my socks on in order to prevent my feet slipping out my sandals).

We met up with Rosssouw and Dawn at their very fancy hotel, which was situated right on the beach. We were rather envious to leave in order to find ourselves a budget room in one of the back alleys (fortunately a rather nice room with TV, aircon, fridge, nice hot shower, and patio to store the bikes).

That night we all went out for a few Singhas to celebrate Dawn’s 50th birthday the following day.

Patong Beach is extremely touristy, packed with bars, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir shops - not to mention scantily clad Thai girls enticing the Farang (foreign) men. Ernest and Rossouw could only look with envy at all the beautiful girls!

THE ANDAMAN COAST

We spent 2 days at Patong Beach, meeting up with Rossouw and Dawn ever so often for a beer. It is extremely expensive, as one can expect from such a touristy place, but still interesting to watch all the Farang men (with beautiful young Thai girls on the arm) doing their thing. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with cities and touristy places. It is far too overcrowded and expensive, but at least one can enjoy all the luxuries of what it has to offer.

I loaded my photos on CD and bought some small presents for my sister’s kids, which Rossouw and Dawn kindly took back to South Africa with them.

I replaced the earphones of my iPod (caught in the front spokes, which comes from fiddling with the music while I’m cycling). I bought toothpaste and hair conditioner and now I’m totally broke again.

It rained most of the 2nd day, but at least I had an early morning swim before the rain came. Rossouw and Dawn had to return to their resort during a rain torrent (hope they got a tuk-tuk or something. The rest of the day was spent on updating the web site. I also handed in some laundry to be washed in a machine!! At least it will be clean again and I just hoped it would be ready the next morning by the time we wanted to leave. It was also no good doing the laundry in the room, as it was too humid to dry - with the result that everything smelt damp! In fact, it does not only smell damp but is actually damp all the time.

I even went as far as getting a sim card for my phone, to great delight of my family. However, it seems I can only send but not receive sms’s (phone calls I can receive).

9 May - Patong Beach – Thai Muang - 100km

We only got away at about 11h00, due to waiting for the laundry to return.

We followed the West coast North, as we had to head to Ranong from where one can do the visa run to Myanmar (Burma). We ambled along, past small beachy villages which are still struggling to recover from the 2004 tsunami.

By the time we reached Tha Muang it was time to look for accommodation and we saw a small obscure sign for a lodge. We followed the sign up a little gravel road behind some trees, and booked into one of the rooms. We soon discovered it was actually a house of ill repute, with a supply of condoms and toothbrushes, as well as “interesting” pictures on the walls (no heart-shaped bed though). Well, it was clean and priced right, so why complain?

10 May - Thai Muang – Riverside Bungalows (Khao Lak) - 52km

We explored the fantastic beaches along the way, but could find no cheap place to stay. Due to the 2004 Tsunami, the basic beach bungalows are all gone and new, fancy hotels are being constructed on the beachfronts.

We carried on and soon saw a sign for Riverside Bungalows and camping. What a great place it was as well. Lush green gardens with gazebos and a great pool. We pitched our tents and lazed around the pool for the rest of the day. Needless to say, we also were eaten alive by the mosquitoes!!

By now, I am covered in mosquitoes bites, a heat rash and suffering from a chronic upset stomach. Ha-ha, that’s life on the road!!

11 May - Khao Lak – Khuraburi - 83km

Thailand is a cycling paradise, it’s scenic, the roads are good with wide shoulders for bicycles and every now and again there is the most gorgeous beach. As we headed north, we cycled through fantastically wooded areas, and although it is incredibly hot and humid (it is summer and the rainy season) it was an absolute pleasure. Average temperatures of min 24 – and max between 36 – 40 with a humidity factor of 75%)

We have also now discovered what the cheapest eat is around here. Instant (genuine Thai) noodles and sauce cooked with lots of water into a soup, with some added fresh veg. Delicious!!

In Khuraburi we found a dilapidated riverside hut on stilts for the night. The setting (right over the river-bank) was so good that we parked our bikes without haggling about the price.

I even managed to find a wi-fi connection in the one corner of the deck and after folding myself into a pretzel I managed to send an e-mail or two. (Oo Technology!!)

12 May - Khuraburi – Hat Bang Ben (Laem Son National Park) - 83km

It was another great day on the road. Much of the coast here is covered in mangrove swamps. We cycled up and down hills and through much wooded areas again, until we turned off the highway to Laem Son National Park.

The beach at Hat Bang Ben is a long sandy beach with views of several nearby islands. We found a room near the beach and had a great swim before cooking up our noodles again.

13 May - Hat Bang Ben – Ranong - 60km

It was a lovely slow ride into Ranong, where we found room at the Kiwi Orchard Guest House for a reasonable price. It’s a real backpackers place with a restaurant, bar, boat and bus booking facilities etc. They also organize visa runs to Burma (transport to pier, boat across gulf, assistance at immigration, etc.).

We have been extremely lucky with the weather so far, and have seemed to escape the rain showers while cycling on most days.

14 May - Ranong (to Myanmar and back)

In order to renew our Thailand visas we had to take a boat to Myanmar. Boats frequently scoot across the gulf to the border town of Kaw Thoung. Once there it’s a case of paying $10 for the Burmese visa and be stamped in and out at the same time. I was livid to find out that they actually gave us a visa for 2 weeks (not only a day pass as expected). If we knew that, we may have been able to bring our bicycles and cycle in Myanmar for 2 weeks.

Our long-tailed boat (as Ernest correctly pointed out at the start) did not sound too healthy but we got away in a cloud of smoke. Coming back, we were not as fortunate, as the whole engine exploded with a laud bang and there was oil everywhere. Fortunately this is a very busy area and soon help was on its way. A similar type of boat had to drag us along, but halfway it gave up and handed us over to another boat which saw us back to Thailand. This one did not sound all that healthy either as it burped and splattered but eventually got us back to the pier which we’d left a couple of hrs earlier.

Another surprise awaited us, as the new Thai visa was only for 2 weeks and not a month as expected. Now we will have to peddle like the clappers to get out of Thailand before 28 May.

15 May Ranong – Kra Buri - 60km

It was a short and relaxing cycle past waterfalls, rivers, and beautiful forested areas. Just as we reached Kra Buri, we noticed a sign for accommodation and investigated. The little bungalow looked quite comfortable, and the weather looked threatening so we decided to stay and carry on to Chumphon in the morning. Little pied songbirds with red cheeks seem to be a popular part of Thai culture, and particularly in this region we noticed that these birds in individual cages were often for sale, and each household along the way seemed to keep one of these. Dogs and cats (not only Siamese) are also all over the place, and seem to co-exist surprisingly peacefully.

16 May - Kra Buri – Chumphon - 68km

We headed east over the hills towards Chumphon, back to the Gulf of Thailand coast. A good day for cycling as it was cloudy but we had no rain on the way. In Chumphon, we headed straight for the Farang Bar, where we stayed previously and rooms are cheap, clean, and convenient.

The constant heat has caused both Ernest and me to develop a heat rash - known as prickly heat. It’s quite common and one can get a powder, which apparently helps, for the rash (we will look out for it). Now we are not only covered in mosquito bites but also in a heat rash!! Not a pretty site.

17 May - Chumphon – Bang Saphan (Lola Bungalows) - 114km

It was our first entire day of rain on the bike. It was mostly light, but continued all day long - at least it was not cold.

By the time, we reached Bang Sapan the rain had stopped and we stayed at Lola Bungalows (where we’d also stayed before). It has such a great setting, right on the beach, that it’s hard not to stay there. We cooked instant noodles again (I’m kind of getting sick of noodles), as it was all we had.

18 May - Bang Sapang – Prachuap Khiri Khan - 100km

We followed the highway, which makes for easy but uninteresting riding all the way to Prachuap. What a good thing an i-pod is!

Once in Prachuap we headed for the quiet little beach north of town, where we stayed in the same rickety hut as before (we’re such creatures of habit). This is not a shelter for bad weather, as one can see the sky through the roof. The floor was also not very level, and once on the toilet one had to hang on in order not to fall off.

19 May - Prachuap Kiri Khan – Cha-Am - 132km

It was back on the highway again. A rather soul-destroying ride as we headed north. Once in Cha-Am we found a room, food, and settled in for the night. We decided to stay on the next day in Cha-Am so I could try and sort out my finances via the internet. Ernest is totally broke, and I’m heading that way too. Therefore, I need to come up with a plan to keep us afloat.

21 May - Cha-Am – Samut Sakhon - 129km

We followed the coastal road North on our way via Bangkok towards the Cambodian border, which was still a few days of cycling away. We picked up a bit of a tail wind and made the best of it, carrying on to Samut Sakon. We found a nice roadside room at a reasonable price and were surprised to find that it came with air-con, TV and a bathtub, something we have not seen in years.

Ernest cooked pasta, which he had been carrying in his bag for a while, mixed with mayo, it was delicious! (it’s amazing what all comes out of those bags of his!)

22 May - Samut Sakhon – Chachoengsao - 110km

From Samut Sakhon we followed the highway through the South of Bangkok, a slow stop start-day. We had to stop and ask directions all the time as the route was not very clear or direct. The first 60km was very built-up, but once past the built up area, the road was quieter and we cycled past what seemed endless shrines and temples. The road mostly followed a canal lined with wooden houses on stilts, the locals all seemingly making a living out of fishing. That there is still any fish left in the river is amazing, as all methods of fishing is being used from Chinese nets to wicker baskets. These tiny fish are then dried in the sun on large webs next to the road.

I felt hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty (what’s new) and we stopped at a petrol station next to the road for a rest (Petrol stations are abundant and have 7-Eleven shops & nice toilets). The weather started looking threatening and we enquired about accommodation. We found a room in a brand new hotel right next door, and I’m convinced that we were the first Farangs to stay in there as were a constant source of interest.

23 May - Chachoengsae - Sa Khao - 139km

Once again, we had a tail wind as we peddled towards the border. We made fairly good time, as we were trying to out-cycle the threatening looking clouds. We were lucky to make it to Sa Khao without encountering any thunderstorms, even with Ernest having a flat tire along the way. After looking around we found a really nice bungalow at the far end of town (with air con) at a reasonable price. Soon after we arrived, the rain came down (when it rains in Thailand, IT RAINS!).

I can’t believe how lucky we have been so far, always just one-step ahead of the storms. I come from a region in SA (Cape Town) where thunderstorms are unusual, and where one locks up the dogs and covers the mirrors when a storm strikes! Ha ha, South Africa is also not the safest country and a loud blast of thunder is enough to make me fall down and start to leopard crawl!

24 May - Sa Khao – Aranyaprachet - 58km

After about 5km, we stopped and bought some nuts (as Ernest is now going ballistic about me not eating any protein). It was a short and hot ride into Aranyaprachet, the border town between Thailand and Cambodia. We decided to do some laundry before proceeding and therefore stayed an extra night. It is so incredibly humid that nothing dries quickly. We stayed at the Market Hotel, which is well geared for backpackers, with a restaurant, air-con, swimming pool and bar (and outside ground-floor rooms, good for bikers).

Once again, we were lucky as it rained really hard the next day (our rest day), making it so humid it feels like one is constantly in a sauna. Although the rain is not cold the thunder and lightning scares me a bit and I feel much better being inside than out on the bike.

We even found a bike shop, I replaced my much worn gloves, and Ernest bought 2 new tyres (about R35 each, a fraction of SA prices) – due to a donation from his sister Olga. (He is just not a happy man unless he is loaded with all kinds of spare stuff, now he is as happy as the proverbial pig again. If he had enough money, he probably would have bought two spare rims as well!! Ha ha that’s Ernest for you, always laden with all kinds off stuff – which often comes in handy to say the least).

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