(379km - 7days)
02/08 – 08/08/2018
2 August 2018 - Jomtien
Caron arrived after a very long flight from Cape Town via Singapore. We almost immediately took a walk to the beach to get the blood flowing again, and what an enjoyable evening it was. We strolled along to the night market where we had the obligatory smoothie, my favourite being pineapple, lime and mint! Back at the flat, we sat talking on the balcony, sipping a beer, and I had a feeling it was going to be a good trip. Then it was time for my jetlagged friend to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
3 August – Jomtien
There was no rest for the wicked, and early morning we were up and off to the beach to watch the fishermen bring in their catch for the day. The women not only had the job of selling the catch but also preparing it right there on the beach, just in case you liked your crab or fish already cooked. Caron was somewhat shocked at what was brought ashore, and I had to agree that seahorses are not something I want to see for sale. We had a swim in the ocean and ate our noodle soup on the beach.
Then it was back home to take Caron’s bicycle out of the box and to put it back together, a job that went surprisingly smooth. We cycled off to the local bike shop to buy Caron a new pump and, on our way to do sightseeing, we decided to backtrack to the bike shop and fit a headset extension on Caron’s bike - a move that, we hoped, would provide a more comfortable ride in the long run.
Lunch consisted of a typical Thai red curry (for me) as well as spicy minced fish cooked in banana leaves. Caron opted for a delicious home-made fruit salad consisting of rambutan, mango, mangosteen, passion fruit and banana, one can’t easily beat that! “Arroy mak mak,” as they say in Thailand.
As one cannot sit around doing nothing all day, we took a walk to the money changers and the night market where we not only shopped but also had a smoothie. Back at our abode, we swam the required lengths in the pool, hahaha. Then it was time for crisps and beer.
4 August - Jomtien – 60 km
It was our last day of “rest and acclimatisation”, not that there was much rest as we have decided to go the “no itinerary” route and will, therefore, wander off at random in the direction of Vietnam. As overnighting at temples will, therefore, be a real possibility we headed off to the Decathlon store to purchase a sleeping mat for Caron. At times, the monks will give sleeping mats but not always as they, in general, avoid women like the plague and having one's own mat will be great for securing a decent sleep.
Then it was off into the countryside for a test ride. We cycled past large cassava plantations while sharing the road with broom and feather duster salesmen until we reached the tiny village of Ban Chak Ngaeo. Ban Chak Ngaeo is a community of Thai Chinese who still maintain their traditional lifestyle. The amazing thing is that there are two cinemas in this tiny settlement. We bought pineapples at the market already cut up and served with sugar and chilli. The road was lined by wooden, traditional Chinese shophouses complete with shops on the ground floor and living quarters with balconies above. We also popped into the Hui Wei Sheng Niang temple. Hui Wei Sheng is a Hainan goddess that is worshipped by the Hainanese around the world.
Legend has it that a fisherman named Pan, while fishing out at sea, caught a block of wood which he threw back into the ocean. The next day he, however, caught it again. This repeatedly happened for a few days and Pan decided to take the block of wood back to his home. He felt that the block of wood had magical power and thus prayed to it, asking to be blessed with a great catch the following day. He promised that he would build a temple to enshrine the wood if his prayers were to be granted. Pan's prayer was actually granted and he came back from his fishing trip with a huge catch. However, Pan did not have enough money to build a temple, and left the wood outside his house by the pig sty and forgot all about the promise he made. The next day, his pigs became ill and his neighbours saw a woman sitting on the branch of the longan tree near his house. It made him remember his promise to the block of wood. He informed his neighbours of the incident, and they all raised funds for the construction of the temple and prayed to ask where they should build the new temple. Suddenly, a child came by and showed them the location of where the temple should be constructed and the first Hui Wei Sheng temple was built.
It was a lovely temple and the family looking after it showed us how to ask for protection while cycling. We lit a few incense sticks and banged the gong three times to alert the goddess of our request. We took a few pics of the family and were on our way. What a pleasant experience it was.
We cycled out of the village in the direction of the enormous Wat Yansangwararam temple complex. The complex is set in a vast park, housing several buildings of very different architectural styles, as well as well-kept gardens and a large lake, making for a peaceful setting. We walked up a steep staircase flanked by a Naga balustrade to Wat Phra Phutthabat, the “temple of the Buddha’s footprint” that houses a footprint of the Buddha, discovered in Thailand in the 17th century. As always, there is a legend here as well but I’ll let it go this time as the story is getting somewhat long-winded.
Then it was on to our last stop. Up a small hill, we found Khao Chi Chan, a 109-metre tall carving of a seated Buddha on the side of a mountain. It made for a rather impressive sight. With a tailwind, we flew the last 20 kilometres back to Jomtien where we had a swim in the ocean after which we had a much-needed meal consisting of a delicious Thai curry and a Chang beer.
5 August - Jomtien - Nong Yai temple – 79 km
Woo-hoo, we were on our way and I, for one, was more than happy to be on the road again. Dressed in my super luminous pink top (a special is a special!) we set off to an unknown destination. Getting out of the big city of Pattaya always takes the best part of the day, but soon we were on smaller roads and amongst pineapple, coconut and rubber tree plantations. We stopped at a roadside stall selling cotton candy (roti saimai). Roti saimai (pronounced say may) is a Thai-style candy floss or cotton candy which is wrapped in a sweet roti. The thin silk strands are actually spun sugar and the strands are usually found in a rainbow of colours. The crepe is very thin, and I understand that the colour green is from the pandan leaf. It was delicious and we bought a whole bag full. We continued down the road nibbling on this Thai favourite.
Still chewing on the cotton candy, we stopped at the pineapple depo to watch workers load huge heaps of pineapples onto trucks and were promptly presented with two large pineapples. We looked at each other in disbelief as we had no idea where to pack this very generous gift! Loaded with our massive pineapples, we headed down the road laughing ourselves silly at our somewhat unwanted gift while all the time trying to convince the other one that they had more space in their panniers. No sooner it was time for a noodle soup stop, and we generously gave one pineapple to the lady at the food stall.
The rest of the day was pure pleasure as we headed down a slightly undulated road past rubber tree plantation where the cups had already filled up with latex but still had to be harvested.
By the end of the day, we pulled into the tiny hamlet of Ban Nong Yai and found a typical small Thai village with wooden Chinese shophouses, a few roadside stalls, a restaurant and a temple. We asked the monks if would sleep at their temple and were pointed to a tiled undercover area. No doubt the monks are going to get a pineapple in the morning. Good thing Caron bought a sleeping mat as a tiled floor can be somewhat hard. We ate minced pork and rice with an egg on top at the local restaurant and was no doubt the topic of conversation!
6 August - Nong Yai Temple – Sronlai Homestay – 62 km
We woke to the sounds of the temple gong, which not only awoke the monks and us, but also the temple dogs, geese, chickens and birds. With that commotion, it was clearly time to wake up. We packed up while listening to the chanting of the monks and headed out of the temple grounds (leaving them a delicious pineapple).
No sooner had we departed and the heavens opened. We continued until we found a roadside stall where we could hide until the worse blew over. The lady from the stall was super-friendly and presented us with a bunch of litchis, and when we wanted to pay for the water we bought, she refused to accept our money. The rain soon cleared, and we were on our way again. As we had no breakfast, we were starting to feel somewhat nibblish and pulled into Bo Thong where we had a noodle soup at the market, to the great enjoyment of the curious locals.
It turned out quite an eventful day as, on leaving Bo Thong, I had a flat tyre which I fixed, but 500 metres down the road I discovered the problem, as a massive bulge appeared along the wall of the tyre and a huge bang indicated the end of both the tyre and the tube. It happened at a roadside stall, and the very helpful stall owner gave me a lift on her motorbike to the motorbike/bicycle store where I could purchase a new tyre and tube, albeit a very knobbly one. Beggars can’t be choosers and we were soon back on the road, new tyre humming on the road.
We cycled past roadside stalls selling interesting snacks as well as fruit and stopped to buy a watermelon, and that after we were desperately trying to get rid of the pineapples! We tied the watermelon on the back of Caron’s bike, planning on eating it later. It was a lovely ride through dense forests and cashew plantations where we stopped to inspect this very unusual fruit with its nut growing on the outside. In the process, we met the humble plantation owners who were busy making charcoal and who made time to show us exactly how it was done. What lovely people they were.
We encountered a few hills along the way, always with a shrine at the high point. These shrines always came with a multitude of red Fanta bottles and a few flower garlands. We sped down the hills where we took a few pics in the rubber tree plantation and then it was on to our overnight stop at the dam. It was a lovely setting where we could camp as well as rent canoes. We did exactly that which made for a delightful end to an already stunning day.
7 August - Sronlai Homestay – Khao Chakan - 93km
“We have to eat this watermelon,” Caron said, as she had no intention of carrying it another day. After our watermelon breakfast, we left the dam via the dam wall, which made for a stunning early morning ride. Dense forests lined both sides of the road, and butterflies and monkeys darted across our path as we made our way through an elephant reserve. Unfortunately, we saw no elephants, only the dung, a sure sign that they were there.
As always, the scenery was superb as we cycled past bright-green rice paddies and water buffalo waddling in the ponds left by the recent rain. After 50 kilometres, we stopped for our usual noodle soup lunch. Soon after leaving our lunch spot, it started raining and, as it was only a slight drizzle, we donned our rain gear and continued to our planned overnight stop.
In fact, it was quite a pleasant ride, and once we reached Khao Chakan Forest Park, we took a walk up to a cave via a rather steep staircase. Hundreds of monkeys played on the stairs and the rocks along the way, amazing us with their agility. At the top, we found a massive hole in the mountainside, which provided a view over the countryside. As it was raining, the descent was a somewhat tricky affair, and we went slowly back down the stairs, wishing we were as agile as the monkeys. Our overnight accommodation was in a bus converted into a guest room—that was quite a novelty! We offloaded our gear and immediately went in search of food as we were starving by then. As always, when food shopping after a day on the bike, we came back with far more than we could eat and spent the rest of the evening slowly devouring our supply of groceries.
8 August - Khao Chakan – Aranyaprathet – 85 km
We left our colourful bus accommodation and headed in the direction of Aranyaprathet where we planned on crossing the border into Cambodia. It was an extremely rural area as we cycled past old men herding water buffalo and village dogs attempting to give chase. At a small roadside stall, we stopped for ice cream and, in the process, met just about the entire community while little kids were unceremoniously dumped on Caron’s lap for a photo shoot.
Our day was filled with beautiful flowers and sublime scenery as we attempted to locate old Khmer ruins. We followed a dirt road where we found Prasat Mueang Phai, said to have been an ancient city dating from the Dvaravati era (6-11th century). According to what I read, Mueang Phai was a walled city which measured 1 000 metres by 1 300 metres, and was surrounded by a 40-metre wide moat. Great was our surprise, therefore, to find only a small heap of bricks and earth! Our unsatisfactory discovery did, however, not put us off as we were determined to locate ruins. We headed for Prasat Khao Noi believed to have been built in the 12th century, stopping for our usual noodle soup lunch along the way. We located the site where we navigated 254 steps leading from the foot to the top of the small hill. We were in luck and on top we found the remains of three towners of which only the middle one was still intact. A lintel found on site dated back to 637 AD but was most likely re-used.
It was time to find a place to rest our weary legs, and we headed for the border town of Aranyaprathet. We handed in our laundry and then went in search of food of which there was no shortage. The central pond was surrounded by food stalls where we could sit and pick from any of many available dishes.
Desert was sankaya or Thai pumpkin custard, a Thai-style pumpkin pie in which lightly sweetened coconut milk and egg custard is steamed inside a pumpkin. It was delicious.
1 Kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin)
3/4 cups coconut milk
1/3 cup of coconut palm sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cut out the pumpkin just like you would for Halloween. Cut out the top, remove all the seeds and the stringy insides.
In a mixing bowl, crack the eggs, add coconut milk, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and palm sugar. Stir well until the palm sugar is blended into the mixture.
Pour the mixture into the pumpkin.
Bring water to a boil in a steamer. Then place the pumpkin and the pumpkin lid inside the steamer basket. Don’t cover the pumpkin with the lid. Set the pumpkin lid in the steaming basket off to the side, so it cooks, too.