(Janice & Chris)
(825km - 19days)
11/02 – 1/03/2018
Day 1 - 11 February - Bangkok
I was excited to meet Janice and Chris who arrived all stiff and puffy-eyed after a 24-hour flight from Cape Town. No time was wasted in exploring Khao San Road where one could drink a few beers and eat a few bugs. Chris and I indeed ate cricket, frog, silkworm and grasshopper, all served with a spray of soy sauce and a dash of pepper. For Janice, it was familiar territory, and it seemed Chris enjoyed the madness of Banglampu while strolling the crowded streets, nibbling from roadside stalls.
Day 2 - 12 February - Bangkok
The morning was spent reassembling bicycles and, as our guesthouse was closing at the end of that month, Janice and Chris couldn’t leave their bike boxes there and went looking for alternative accommodation. That evening was spent doing a budget “sunset cruise” on the River Phraya, which involved catching the late ferry to its final destination and boarding the last boat back. All for 30 THB. Luckily, it was a beautiful evening and a lovely sunset. After snacking on a few nibbles from the night market, it was time to settle in for our nightly beer.
Day 3 - 13 February - Bangkok
It was up at 6 a.m. and off to explore Bangkok, a time of day one could witness barefoot monks collecting food and see the sunrise over the Royal Palace. It was a privilege to walk the city’s ancient monuments without a soul in sight.
Once back at our abode, a home was found for Janice and Chris’s bike boxes after which it was time for a test ride to see how the bicycles were performing. Weaving through Bangkok traffic was quite challenging, and it was better to return to our guesthouse and explore the rest of Bangkok by river ferry and on foot. On our way to China Town, we popped into the very impressive and newly renovated Temple of Dawn, always an awe-inspiring sight.
Taxi4bikes picked us up and took us 30 kilometres outside the city in the direction of Ayutthaya. I was impressed with the service as, firstly, the driver phoned to let us know he was stuck in traffic and would be 30 minutes late. On his arrival, he had a three-bike roof rack, and although the front wheels had to be removed, he also had three wheel covers for such purpose. The taxi driver dropped us at Rangsit station, making for an easy escape out of the city. After loading the bikes (and with the help of many onlookers and helpers), it was bye-bye Bangkok. Whoo Whoo! The fun had begun!
It took us no time at all to find small roads. From Rangsit Station to Ayutthaya was a short and lovely rural ride through typical Thai countryside. At first, our route followed the Prem Prachakon canal past temples, simple eateries, and canal-side villages. People went about their daily lives, fishing, preparing food, worshipping and working in rice paddies. It was a slow amble, enjoying views of bright green rice fields, banana plantations and odd ancient ruins. On reaching Ayutthaya, it was straight to Baan Lotus Guesthouse, a lovely, old, wooden schoolhouse building on extensive grounds. After a quick shower, it was off to a restaurant for supper and beer.
Day 5 – 15 February - Ayutthaya – 26 km
The following day was spent exploring Ayutthaya’s ruins. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya was founded around 1350. With its ideal location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago, it was also the trading capital of Asia. By 1700, Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a total of one million inhabitants. All this came to an abrupt end when Burmese forces invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely raised the city to the ground. The ruins are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 6 – 16 February - Ayutthaya – Lopburi – 68 km
A decision was made to leave as early as possible to try and beat the heat, and we were, therefore, on our way shortly after 7 a.m. I was pleased with our early start, as the light was beautiful, and it was good to be out in the cooler morning air. Soon after leaving, we found ourselves on a rural road and in the process cycled past the elephant kraal. I felt sorry for those lovely animals, all chained and domesticated. I understand oly too well it’s a practice which has been part of Thai culture for millenniums. Still, I don’t like it and encourage people not to support elephant rides.
Our route led along back roads through farmlands and, although it was early, it was already sweltering, making for challenging riding, especially for new riders. The route became far too busy and it was better to turn off onto an even smaller road. In fact, it was so small it turned into a narrow dirt road, but it was still a lovely ride past bright green rice paddies, fish drying in the sun and giant Buddha statues.
Fortunately, a paved road appeared and then it was on to Lopburi, arriving at around 14h00. It was the time of the Chinese New Year, and we strolled the crowded streets with thousands of others, enjoying all there was to see and do. Most people were beautifully dressed in traditional Thai costumes, and all historic ruins were lit and open to the public. What a sight it was! All the trees were covered in fairy lights, and visitors were entertained by cultural shows, music and fireworks.
Day 7 – 17 February - Lopburi
The weather forecast predicted a high of 38˚C and a decision was made to stay put for the day. Chris found the heat exhausting and, as 38˚C was hot by anyone’s standards, it was better to spend the day in Lopburi and to enjoy the New Year’s celebrations still underway. In the process, typical Thai hats were purchased to keep the anticipated heat at bay. Lopburi is an ancient town with plenty of old ruins. The ruins were all within easy walking distance, and the old city is today occupied by ordinary Thai life as well as a gang of monkeys. A visit to the monkey temple always left me in awe of how similar monkey family life is to our own, and I could spend hours observing them.
Day 8 – 18 February - Lopburi – Pasak Jolasit Dam – 65 km
In trying to take maximum advantage of the cooler morning air, it was on the road rather early. I say “cooler” as in fact, it wasn’t much cooler in the morning than later in the day. A stop at an organic market revealed exotic food and herbal products. Again, it was a scorcher, and one had to stop as often as possible to fill up with water and, in the process, met some interesting people.
Towards the end of the day, we slinked into Pasak Jolasit dam. The dam was a popular recreational area offering camping as well as food. Camping spots were right on the dam under trees, with a great view of the dam and a short walk from the ablutions. After sunset, a short stroll brought us to a restaurant located outside the gate of the dam's recreation area where a delicious meal was had without being able to speak a word of Thai or read the menu.
Day 9 – 19 February - Pasak Chonlasit Dam – Wat Nong Bong – 67 km
Waking up next to a dam is always a pleasure, and there was the tiniest bit of cool air coming off the water. Breakfast was coffee and oats while watching the sun trying to shine through the ever-present haze (most likely from burning sugarcane fields).
It was a pleasurable ride along the opposite side of the dam past vast areas of sugarcane fields as well as cassava plantations. Our first stop of the day was at the dam’s White Buddha, where we watched the circumambulation of the Buddha. At first, I thought it a strange thing to do but then realised, circumambulation of temples, deity images, or other holy objects isn’t only part of Buddhism but also present in other religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Our ride took us past workers busy cutting sugarcane and wondered what all was hiding in those fields; rats, snakes and many other things, I guess. On reaching Wangkanlueang waterfall, a watermelon from a stall made for a great picnic while soaking our feet in the stream and enjoying the relative coolness of the picnic area. Soon, it was time to saddle up again and head further north.
Janice had the first flat tyre of the trip, which took surprisingly long to fix. Soon after, it was time to start looking for a place to pitch our tents. Wat Nong Bong (a Buddhist temple) came at just the right time, and the small store across the road provided enough ingredients for supper. It was a very welcoming temple, and the monks pointed us to the Wat (temple) where they gave us sleeping mats and requested us to speak to the students about our trip in the morning. Janice was appointed to do the talking, and Chris cooked our instant noodles on his small stove, which we ate while listening to the monks chanting their prayers.
Day 10 – 20 February - Wat Nong Bong – Wat Ban Na Samakee – 50 km
Breakfast was courtesy of the monks; a simple but delicious dish of fried noodles. Janice (as requested the previous night) spent a few minutes talking to the school kids about our trip. Afterwards, we attempted to adjust the disc brakes on Janice’s bicycle. None of us knew anything about disc brakes, but after “YouTubing” managed to free the wheel and were on our way. Thank you, YouTube!
The way led further north and, as the previous day, it ran past large sugarcane plantations. It was harvesting time, and many large trucks with sugarcane were heading for the market. The plan was to cycle 34 kilometres to the Si Chep Historical Park and then continue for another 30 or 40 kilometres after that. Chris, however, found the heat unbearable and it was better to hang around in the shade at the historical park until 16h00. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Chris still had enough energy to cycle a further 10 kilometres to where there was another Buddhist temple. The friendly monks allowed us to sleep in the Wat and even gave us mattresses as well as pillows. The temple dogs were, however, not so welcoming.
Our nightly camping spot mostly depended on where Chris could find ice, which he needed to keep his diabetic medication at an optimum temperature.
Day 11 – 21 February - Wat Ban Na Samakee – Wat Sap Ta Khaek - 50 km
The alarm went off at 5 o’ clock, and by the time it got light, all were ready to roll. After waving the monks goodbye, we rode along, with the sun peeking through a smoky haze.
Our path took us along back roads and through farmlands, passing villagers cutting sugarcane by hand and dodging muddy puddles from the previous night's rain. Our little backroad turned into a dirt road, shared with two-wheel tractors, trucks, and monks collecting food. At around 15h00, the heat became too much and a nearby temple gave us permission to camp.
The temple was a very basic one, with only one dusty undercover area and a large dirt yard which was swept continuously. The sweeping caused more dust than the few leaves gathered were worth. Cleaning the undercover area kept us busy for a while. After dusting the Buddha, and lighting a few incense sticks, one could settle in for the night ahead.
Day 12 – 22 February - Wat Sap Ta Khaek – Ban Non-Sa-at – 50 km
For the first 15 kilometres, the route led straight up the mountain. It was a slower than usual process while edging our way higher and higher. After about 10 kilometres, an even smaller path turned off which avoided crossing the high pass, but it was still a pushing-up-the-hill day. It was, however, a stunning ride on a rural road, past tiny villages where locals stared, slack-jawed, as we made our way down the pass along muddy tracks.
It was a typical rural Thai area which consisted of small settlements with basic wooden houses on stilts. Families were swinging in hammocks underneath the homes while kids ran amok, and livestock had the run of the farm. Our muddy path led us back to a paved road with stunning scenery in the distance. Visible to our right were the higher mountains and we were pleased our chosen route avoided it. At around 15h00, the tiny village of Ban Non-Sa-At, which had a temple to spend the night, made for easy camping. Like the previous night, the half-covered hall needed sweeping and the Buddha a bit of dusting. I ate the noodle soup I bought earlier in the day. Janice, not being a big eater, only had a small tin of sardines in tomato sauce and Chris enjoyed cup noodles with a tin of sardines.
Day 13 – 23 February - Ban Non-Sa-at – Wat Song Sila – 50 km
The early morning wake-up call was getting to us as none heard the alarm. It was still bucketing down when waking at just past five, allowing plenty of time to pack up and be on the road by 7h00. Donning plastic raincoats, it was off in a drizzle.
It was a slow process ambling along a paved road. The slight breeze kept us cool, stopping every 10 kilometres or so to stretch necks and shoulder muscles. A roadside stall provided watermelon which went down rather well, and the shop owner gave us a bag of bananas, which made for an impromptu fruit salad. Around midday, it was time for our usual noodle soup, after which it was on to the tiny community of Ban Huabua. I didn’t think any foreigner had ever stayed overnight in Ban Huabua. Even the local temple was abandoned. Eventually, a monk appeared who pointed us to a wooden structure on stilts where one could pitch a tent. By that time, even the roadside restaurants were closed, and we had to make do with our usual cup noodles.
Day 14 – 24 February - Wat Song Sila – Ban Thaen - 66 km
The colder weather made for a lovely but nippy early morning ride. Chris was on fire and set off at a good pace with Janice and me in tow. The early morning light made the colours pop, and the rice paddies looked even greener than before. Lotus flowers reflected in muddy ponds as we cycled past smoky, early-morning food stalls. Butchers were selling meat on the pavement while farmers carted long-eared cows to the market.
Good time was made, stopping at regular intervals to fill up with water. Around lunchtime, and after a bite to eat, Chris had a quick nap after which it was on to Ban Thaen, en route stopping for coconut juice. At the temple at Ban Thean, permission to camp was sought from the chap sweeping the yard. He indicated he understood and pointed us to an undercover area. It wasn’t entirely clear if it was permission, but after a lengthy wait, the head monk arrived and gestured it was OK.
A short walk revealed a small shop selling food where I bought soup which I later discovered contained a somewhat unusual animal. It was rather bony but delicious, but then Thai food is always delicious. "Aroi mak-mak!" as they say in Thailand.
Day 15 – 25 February - Ban Thaen - Khon Kaen – 60 km
It was a warm night, and none of us used our tents, only our sleeping mats. The mozzies didn’t seem to be a problem as a few mosquito coils were lit, and even the temple dogs kept their distance. One hardly ever overslept at a temple as the gong was sounded at first light, announcing the time to wake up. This also got the temple dogs howling, and even the deepest of sleeper would have been woken by the racket!
It was a speedy packing up process as no tents had to be taken down and, in the process, a most stunning sunrise was witnessed. What a fantastic time of day to be out. Chris was thankful for the cooler morning air, and Janice and I were happy to take full advantage of the morning light to practice our photography. A rural road led to Khon Kaen and the path twisted and turned through tiny settlements where both water buffalo and cows were kept in the front yard. It was Sunday and village folk were going about their Sunday chores; some doing necessary household maintenance and others foraging for food or making charcoal.
By lunchtime, it was, however, boiling again, and a very conveniently located 7-11 made for a great rest stop. Then it was onwards to Khon Kaen where a bicycle shop was found to straighten my front wheel which had a slight wobble. Once it was sorted, I paid the small fee of 20 Thai baht and cycled into the centre of town where a hotel was a welcome sight.
The day was spent doing laundry, shopping for headlamps and going back to the bicycle shop to have headset extensions fitted to both Janice and Chris’s bikes. That evening, Chris made Cape Velvet Liqueur - lovely stuff.
Day 17 – 27 February - Khon Kaen – Ban Pa Kho Temple – 80 km
Before 7h00, we were on our way and all felt fresh and energetic with the result we went too far and too fast. The main road never made for very exciting riding but came with large amounts of facilities and fuel stations, all with food and ablutions. The roadside stalls mostly sold bamboo craft and furniture and, once again, I was amazed at the strength of bamboo.
Day 18 – 28 February - Ban Pa Kho Temple – Wat Pho Chum Pattanaram – 63 km
It was an uneventful day making our way to Wat Pho Chum Pattanaram where camping was at a temple.
Day 19 – 1 March - Wat Pho Chum Pattanaram – Nong Khai – 50 km
It was easy cycling to Nong Khai along rural roads where the night was spent in a guesthouse. Nong Khai is situated on the banks of the Mekong River at a point where the Mekong forms the border between Thailand and Laos and it was, therefore, our last night in Thailand before crossing the border to Laos. As always, the sunset was a stunning sight.