(999km - 12days)
01/09 – 12/9/2017
Day 1 - 1 September - Bangkok – Phanat Nikhom – 75 km
I was umming and ahhing about which route to take but, in the end, decided to stick to the original plan. I’m not sure if the taxi ride to get out the city did any good as, after being dropped off, it appeared we were still in the thick of things. There was nothing to do but pull up our big girl panties and face the traffic out of Bangkok. After about another 30 kilometres, a rural road finally emerged. It was a pleasure, as always, to be in the countryside with bright-green rice paddies, blue skies, and colourful temples. It was clearly the land of friendly Thai people as we were offered drinking water, and a lady at a roadside shop presented us with drinking yoghurt. Our path continued until it reached Phanat Nikhom, home to the world’s largest woven basket. A kind lady showed us to comfortable accommodation which was near to food and the ever-present 7-11.
Day 2 - 2 September - Phanat Nikhom – Sronlaihomestay – 70 km
Right from the start, our path followed back roads, making for a pleasurable ride through the countryside. For much of the day, our route went past wetlands and farmlands, where pineapples, cassava and papayas formed the main crop. A roadside stall sold pineapples, and what a sweet pineapple it was! Once again, the lady wanted no remuneration for it. It made me feel guilty as they have so little, and there I was on an extended holiday, being fed by them.
The large rubber tree plantations we cycled past always came with spirit houses. Typically, spirit houses were for earth spirits which lived on that particular piece of land before it was cleared, providing them with alternative accommodation. It was a pleasant surprise to find an idyllic spot with cottages and a place to camp. The availability of kayaks allowed us to row on the lake; a lovely end to a day of cycling.
Day 3 - 3 September - Sronlaihomestay – Khlong Hat – 87 km
Tania was up at the crack of dawn, and by the time I woke, she was already packed and rearing to go. A lovely ride along the dam wall brought us to Khlong Takrao, from there, the road led to Khlong Hat. It was an enjoyable cycle, mostly along country roads and through rural areas past corn and sugar cane plantations.
Our path also ran through an elephant reserve, but no wildlife was spotted, let alone any elephants. It, however, remained stunning to cycle through such a densely forested area. It was effortless riding with a slight tailwind, and we sailed into Khlong Hat shortly after 15h00, where camping was at the police station.
Day 4 - 4 September - Khlong Hat—Aranya Prathet— 88 km
With Tania around, there was no sleeping in and, we first cycled to nearby caves. Some climbing was required before reaching the cave, and although it looked inviting, it was pitch dark and very slippery. Neither of us brought a headlamp, and it was far too risky to explore any further. The viewpoint, however, had magnificent vistas of the surrounding area after which it was back to our bicycles, still under the watchful eye of the Buddha.
The way back ran through Khlong Hat after which it swung east in the direction of Prasat Khao Noi, ruins of a Khmer temple on top of a small (Noi) hill (Kho). Prasat Khao Noi’s claim to fame was a lintel discovered during excavation being one of the oldest ever found in Thailand dating back to the 7th century, most likely reused. It started drizzling, and we made our way down the 254 steps to where we left the bicycles.
Prasat Muang Phai sounded an exciting place to visit as Phai was an ancient city dating from the Dvaravati-era (6th - 11th century AD). I read Mueang Phai was a walled city which measured 1,000 metres by 1,300 metres and that it was surrounded by a 40-metre-wide moat. Great was our disappointment, therefore, when only a heap of stones with chickens scratching in the dirt was found. Then it was on to Aranyaprathet, our final destination for the day.
Day 5 - 5 September – Aranyaprathet – Non Din Daeng (Lam Noang Rong Dam) – 105 km
The way between Aranyaprathet and Non Din Daeng ran past bizarre temples as well as the ruins of Sdok Kok Thom. Sdok Kok Thom was an 11th-century Khmer temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Sdok Kok was best known for its 1000-year-old inscribed stela came upon during renovations. Inscriptions describe everyday life during that time, as well as details about important events and services provided to the king by the family who built the temple.
Again, it was a day of kindness as locals provided us with ice-cold drinking water, mangos, and steamed rice in banana leaves.
The sun was relentless as we slowly made our way over the Sankamphaeng Range. Shortly after reaching the top, roadside stalls sold passion fruit and ice-cold passion fruit juice; just what was needed after such a steep climb on a hot day! Nearing Non Din Daeng, dark clouds appeared on the horizon, and one could hear thunder in the distance.
The approaching storm made for pedalling like the clappers to reach Lam Nang Rong Dam, where the plan was to camp and where our arrival coincided with the falling of the first drops. Stall owners were kind enough to allow us to pitch our tents under a large covered area, and there were more than enough restaurants to eat from. The food was delicious, and supper was enjoyed while watching the moon reflect over the dam.
Day 6 - 6 September – Lam Nang Rong Dam – Khao Krodong Forest Park – 112 km
A beautiful sunrise greeted us, and the howling dogs of the night before were soon forgotten. Phew, what a noisy night it was!
Our first stop after leaving the dam was Prasat Nong Hong, ruins of the 11th century. Our route led us past bright green rice fields, small settlements, and scrawny cows with long ears. So rural was the area that we bought bananas from a toothless lady trading from an old pram. Next up was Prasat Mueang Tam, built about 1000 years ago in old Khmer style.
Interestingly, Prasat Muang Tam formed part of a direct line of temples between the city of Angkor in Cambodia to Phimai in Thailand. For some reason, these structures were abandoned about 700 years ago.
I also had the opportunity to taste the colourful stringy sugary things they sold in plastic bags next to the road. Thais eat them wrapped in a small roti/pancake (not sure what they are made of, maybe rice?). They were delicious and not only did the stall owner let us try them, but she also gave us a full bag to take with us.
It was a pleasant day of cycling past men in conical hats guarding scrawny cows and both men and women collecting small kids from school on bicycles. I thought the physical closeness quality time spend with children, even if no words were spoken.
The route continued to Khao Kradong Forest Park outside Buri Ram, where camping was available. A walk to find food stalls turned out disastrous as no sooner had we left, and rain came pouring down. Tents were left uncovered and to our dismay, discovered just about everything soaking wet. Oi, what a mess, not something you want after a full day of biking. A kind lady from one of the park houses brought us each a blanket. How sweet of her!
At around 10 o’clock it started raining again. This time flysheets were fitted super quick, but we discovered the entire platform covered with ants and promptly dived back into the tents.
Day 7 - 7 September - Khao Kradong Forest Park–Surin – 57 km
“Ants are everywhere!” Tania exclaimed on waking. On closer inspection, they were indeed everywhere. Our tents were pitched right next to one of the park employee's houses, and they no doubt, noticed the commotion and came to rescue us—bug-spray in hand! Wow, I don’t know what we would have done without their help! Packing up was at the speed of light, and then it was out of the park and back on the road, hopefully without the ants.
Breakfast consisted of a bowl of noodle soup from a roadside stall, which was delicious, as always. It was comfortable riding through the countryside and past ever-present, luminous green rice fields. What a privilege it was to cycle along a potholed country road, swerving out only for scrawny cattle and striking up a conversation with a toothless, paan-chewing lady. Animal feed was cut with handmade sickles and carried shoulder-high to handmade wooden carts, while women were weaving in traditional ways. On arrival at Surin, the “New Hotel” opposite the station was our abode of choice. The “New Hotel” was clearly not new anymore, but at 180 THB one could not complain, and at sunset, food stalls popped up right in front of the hotel, an added bonus.
Day 8 - 8 September – Surin
The following day was also spent in Surin as accommodation was dreadfully cheap and food plentiful and delicious. First thing it was off to the morning market for cold, white noodles served with a curry sauce, which could be garnished with various greens and spices provided. There were also more than enough sweet things to pick and choose from.
To my surprise, I also located more than one excellent bicycle shop. They were stocked with top-of-the-range bicycle parts, and I bought an odometer as well as an inner tube. That evening, supper was outside our hotel, eating from various food stalls. What an absolute privilege to be sitting outside at 10 p.m in shorts and T-shirts, eating delicious food from street vendors at a pittance.
Day 9 - 9 September – Surin – Uthumphon Phisai - 100 km
On leaving Surin, the plan was, at first, to cycle via the glass temple. The route was, however, along the main road which turned out rather dull and, instead, we opted for a more scenic country path heading to Si Sa Ket. Our route took us past tiny settlements where people appeared surprised to see two foreigners on bicycles and, to their delight, we sat down for a bite to eat. The idea was only to get corn on the cob and pineapple but landed being served a massive plate of sticky rice with tiny fried fish. Stuffed, we continued, stopping at yet another set of ruins. Tania didn’t feel well, and it was best to find a place with an aircon room.
Phisai was conveniently situated along the road, and with a guesthouse opposite the local Tesco Lotus, it was perfect for our needs. Fortunately, it appeared Tania’s problem was only due to heat, as after a while in an aircon room, she felt considerably better.
Day 10 - 10 September - Uthumphon Phisai - Phibun - 130 km
There was not a lot to report as it was a slog along the highway past a few roadside stalls selling bamboo furniture and beautifully woven baskets. As always, in Isan, rice paddies were luminous green, as we made our way past gong maker's stalls which the area was famous for. Main roads never made for good cycle touring, and it was heads down, only wanting to reach Phibun, where camping was at a Buddhist temple.
Day 11 - 11 September – Phibun – PK Resort – 60 km
From Phibun, our route crossed the Mun river, and then followed the river to the Pak Mun Dam, and on to the quaint settlement of Khong Chiam. Khong Chiam was a tiny but charming village situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Mun River. After coffee, it was on to Pha Team National Park, where camping was an idyllic spot on the banks of the Mekong River.
After pitching our tents, and in a relaxed mood, we sat watching the river flow by. It was a most unusual evening as right in front of our eyes the sky changed colour from blue to a deep orange/brown. It made for a somewhat ominous mood, but still, it was a pleasurable evening, sitting outside our tents, chatting and enjoying the lovely weather. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, a fierce wind picked up and almost immediately it started raining. Not a gentle rain but a biblical storm where one wanted to build a boat and start gathering two of a kind. All one could do was to dive into the tents and hang on for dear life. I thought it would pass quickly, but it felt like it lasted forever! I’m not exaggerating if I say our tents, with us inside, nearly blew away. It was not only raining hard with a strong wind, but it was a rather noisy affair. I shouted to Tania at the top of my voice to hang on to the tent poles, but one could hardly hear each other. The owner/manager of the resort braved the weather and offered us space inside their conference room. It was virtually impossible to stand up, let alone move a tent and panniers in such weather. Slowly and one by one, all our stuff was moved the short distance to the empty conference room. Needless to say, it was a relief to be safely inside a brick structure. There was no thanking the owner enough, not only for his very generous offer but for coming out in foul weather to help us.
Day 12 - 12 September - Pk Resort - Khemerat - 115 km
“Wow, at least the wind subsided,” Tania said on waking up, still wide-eyed from the storm the previous night. From our camp, it was a slight climb to the main road. For the rest of the day, the road remained undulating but shaded. Tania claimed it was so hilly not even local dogs gave chase. Although undulating, our path ran through a National Park which made for scenic riding.
The map indicated various points of interest along the way, but we only turned off once to what was shown as a scenic spot. The scenic spot didn’t quite live up to its name, but we snapped a few pics anyhow. Arriving in Khemarat, the local temple granted permission to camp but, after pitching our tents, were told to move to an outside room which, apparently, was for women. Hunger pains drove us to a nearby restaurant for a plate of fried noodles.