Around the world by bike
(1 779km - 58days)
20 June – Poi Pet, Cambodia – Sa Kaeo, Thailand – 85 km
I left the dusty border town of Poi Pet and cycled to the Cambodia/Thai border. It was a chaotic place with cross-border traders, pushing their produce-laden carts along. Foot passengers were forming long queues on both sides of the border, while motorised traffic weaved across the road to switch from right-hand drive to left-hand drive. Sometimes, it is a real pleasure to be on a bicycle. I zig-zagged my way through the heavy traffic and was waved to the front of the queue.
As always, I headed to the cash machine, but this time I did not use my South African bank card, but my Thai bank card, and drew money paid in by the tenant of my newly purchased flat. It made me giggle.
It was a super day on the road, as it was exactly what I love about cycle touring. I headed, roughly, in a westerly direction. I had no destination and no plan for the day. I just wanted to explore the countryside. No sooner than a limestone pinnacle loomed ahead, and I thought it a good place to explore as it was bound to have a temple and a cave. I found a road heading in that direction that was just begging to be explored. I soon reached the base of the pinnacle, and there they were: caves and temples! I spent some time exploring, as you can climb a steep staircase to a gap in the mountain that gives a magnificent view of the countryside. You can even get a blessing from the resident monk on the way up.
It was midday and time to look at the map. The nearby town of Sa Kaeo looked like a viable option, and I headed in that direction. There was not much to see in the small town of Sa Kaeo, but it was the provincial capital, and, as with every provincial capital, it had a Big C supermarket and a KFC. I looked around for a room. This turned out to be not all that easy, as I cannot read the Thai script. Eventually, I pulled into a place that looked like a cheap hotel; it was multi-story, had parking in the front, and there was a huge picture of the King on the outside of the building. It turned out that I was right, and after negotiating a price for a room, I could relax and take a shower.
The plan now is to head in the direction of Jomtien Beach, as the tenant of the condo I purchased is moving out in a few days’ time. I would love to fix it up a bit before I set off again.
21 June – Sa Kaeo – Ban Plaeng Yao - 110 km
It was a rather uneventful day; it is rather seldom that I say that! The main reason for that was that I followed the main road, and in most cases, the main roads are rather uninteresting. I did find two Chinese cyclists having a nap at one of the bus shelters along the way. We tried to make conversation, but it was difficult with that I don’t speak Mandarin. I think the reason I so seldom see another cyclist is that I'm hardly ever on the main road. I stopped at a few temples and ate some rather unusual fruit along the way. Sometimes the dullest looking fruit is the tastiest.
I continued along the way until about 16h00 and found a lovely room at The Rich Inn in the small village of Ban Plaeng Yao. Now, I would never had guessed that the place even had a name as it was tiny, let alone a room. It was a remarkably nice room, with air-con, a fridge and even hot water in the bathroom! The Rich Inn was off the main road, down a small road, so there was nothing to do but cook my noodles and do my laundry.
I was determined not to cycle along any main road; it is just too boring. Luck was on my side, and right from the word go, I found a small road leading me through tiny villages where old men were leaning on sticks, watching their only cow. Others sat in the shade of trees, fanning themselves with their hats, while the women stood bent over, weeding the rice paddies. A wave of gratitude washed over me as I cycled past the ever-present ornate temples and ladies selling snacks along the way. To have the luxury of no destination and time on my hands is one of the greatest privileges I could ever wish for.
I stopped and bought a flower garland for 10 Thai baht. “It’s for good luck,” they said. With my garland dangling from my handlebar bag, I set off again, past humble homes with ornate birdcages hanging by the front door.
I zig-zagged through the countryside and eventually ended up at Pattaya, where I headed straight for the Property Agent’s office to collect the key for my new apartment. I was quite excited to get there and see what it looked like. Loads of work needed to be done at the apartment, but all that can be done at a later stage. I had a feeling of real excitement as I looked at the first home I had in 10 years. Now, I have a place where I can leave stuff and even hang clothes!
The plan is to fix it up the best I can before leaving for China on 22 July. For now, I will just play in my tiny apartment.
23 June – 31 July - Jomtien
I scrub, and I scrub!! No-one will believe me if I say the tenant moved out with (what looked like) only her handbag and her clothes. She must have been a hoarder of sorts, as I threw out no less than seven large garbage bags of stuff. Mostly empty containers, including six empty lip balm holders, several empty lipstick holders, numerous plastic bags filled with old receipts, a lot of empty shoe boxes and so it carried on! Phew, what demanding work house work is! I was completely pooped and must say, I have never felt this tired after spending an entire day on the bicycle.
The next day my back was off, and my legs ached in places I never knew I had muscles. Still, I continued and scrubbed the last of my tiny apartment. I also bought new bedding and a new set of towels for the bathroom. I’m not the cleanest of persons, but at least from now on it’s my dirt!
The following day I cycled to the large Tesco Lotus and purchased new cutlery and crockery (only two of a kind except for the wine glasses, LOL, one should never only have two wine glasses!). I also bought an egg pan and a small gas stove. What novelty it was frying myself an egg!! Small things amuse small minds, they say!
I had an absolute ball!! It is not that having a place of my own is so unusual, as I always had one, but after 10 years on the road, it was a real novelty to put flowers a vase and fruit in a bowl!! I now even had a file with personal stuff in it! OK, it was not much, only the legal documents from the apartment and my Thai Bank account!
It was fun to go to the shop and buy coffee and not care if it was in a glass container or not! I bought cleaning materials, something I have not purchased in 10 years! The biggest novelty of them all was going to the bookstore and buying a novel! I have not done that in years! I usually read books online, but to hold a paper book in my hand and lay on my bed and read till my eyes fall shut was a pure pleasure!
I sat on my balcony, grinning from ear to ear, while I noisily swirled the ice in my wine glass! I have already overspent my budget (by far), but it was so much fun! If I wanted to continue travelling, I needed to pull the reins in and lay low for a while. All which I plan to do after I bought the sleeper sofa, which I think is an essential item a small apartment.
Pattaya is considered the sex capital of Thailand and has, therefore, got a slightly sleazy feel to it. It is well known for its “walking street”, go-go bars and massage parlours. Most of its 10 million annual visitors are older men coming to Pattaya purely for the girls. This is nothing new and has been like this since the 1960s when American GIs came for some R&R. It is, therefore, not unusual to see half-drunk men hanging onto the bar counter at 10 in the morning, mostly with a Thai girl by their side.
As you can imagine, Pattaya is not an easy place to make friends as it is hardly a place for an older, single woman to hang around. I, however, bought in Pattaya as it was cheap and gives me a place to stay whenever I wish, without having to rent it out or worry that I could have earned interest on that money in the bank.
With the result, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have met a whole bunch of the nicest guys one can wish for. Glen and Patrick (two British guys) own the local pub; their clientele is, therefore, mostly British. Most of these guys have been living in Thailand for many years, and although they consume (very) large amounts of alcohol, they are always polite and friendly, and I love their good sense of humour. I will hardly ever walk past without them inviting me to have a beer with them. I think they consider me somewhat weird (to say the least) as, by the time they are crossed-eyed and slack-jawed, I’m going for a run. The best part is that I always have company, I can have a beer or two and leave at any time without feeling guilty.
What I like, is that one always learns something from everyone. It is easy to look at these guys and think their lifestyles are disgusting, but they all have stories. We all make our choices in life the best we can. Most of all, they are happy, whether I agree with their lifestyle or not. Mostly, I find them a constant source of amusement. As I set off on my run the previous night, there was a chorus of voices coming from the pub, “Hey, where are you going? Come have a beer.” Halfway through my run, I was still giggling.
The following day I cycled up to the view point to see if I could get a picture of Pattaya Bay at sunset. There was, however, no colour in the sky so I headed downhill, and within seconds a storm started rolling in. I peddled like the clappers and made it back just as the first drops started falling.
1 August - Pattaya – Prok Fa -102 km
It was time to lock up the condo and hit the road. Although the plan was initially to sit it out for two months to save money, I had no patience for this. I had done just about everything I wanted to do, and although I enjoyed the running, it was not enough to keep me busy. I was nice to put flowers in a vase and fruit in a bowl, but the novelty soon wore off.
I loaded up my bicycle and left Sodom and Gomorrah (without as much as a glance in my rear-view mirror, LOL). Soon, I was in the countryside and far away from busy Pattaya. I had no plan or even an idea of where I was heading, and that was the greatest joy! I marvelled at the ornate temples and the vast coconut palm plantations, I swore loudly to myself as I landed on a sandy track. Fortunately, that did not last long. I cycled past roadside stalls selling heaps of pineapples. It was a seldom visited area, and I got loads of thumbs-ups and surprised looks. I picked up a nice tailwind, which made for a thoroughly enjoyable day.
I passed a temple that was way up on a hill and decided to explore. The monks handed me the key to the shrine or temple, and off I went. There were more stairs than I had expected, and no one other than I was there. It was such a great feeling to unlock the building, peep inside, and see the dimly lit Buddha statues. I took a few pics, locked the building, and headed downhill. Shortly after 4 p.m., I reached a tiny village with a great market. I bought some food, and as I rounded the corner, I spotted a sign for rooms. I could not resist; I turned off the main road, and down a dirt track, I found a perfectly good room for 300 TB, albeit with a few spots on the sheets.
2 August - Phrok fa – Khlong Hat – 111 km
I took my time in packing up and by the time I started loading up the bike the owner was already hanging up the sheets from the previous night’s visitors. He was kind enough to bring me a cup of coffee and a bunch of bananas. I headed in an easterly direction and found the most excellent rural roads. The views were stunning as the road ran close to the Cardamom mountains which were always in my sight. I passed all kinds of farms, from rubber tree plantations to chillies and pineapples. I must try and remember Route 3259 as the road also runs through a protected area. Although I kept an eye out for elephants, I did not spot any; I did see elephant dung along the road which indicates that they are in the area.
It was boiling hot, and I stopped numerous times to fill up with water, something that is always quite entertaining in these rural areas. People seem to feel obliged to offer you something with the result that I do get to taste a variety of things. I was offered a rather unusual fruit today; I don’t know what it is, it reminded me of a prickly pear. Eventually, I landed up in the tiny village of Khlong Hat, found the police station, and asked if I could pitch my tent. They were very kind and offered me food and pointed out the outside toilets where I could also have a wash from a plastic bucket. Later that evening, they even brought me a large crispy crepe with a sweet filling; it was delicious.
3 August - Khlong Hat – Aranyaprathet - 85 km
It was a day of exploring, albeit not all very successful - first thing in the morning I was off to the nearby caves. The road sign indicated caves four kilometres down the road. As usual, four kilometres down the road was nothing, but I continued going and eventually found a sign pointing in the direction of the nearby hills. The sign indicated two caves and a view point three kilometres off the road. I easily found the entrance, parked the bike and started walking along the road. I soon came to the end of the road, and I followed a sign up the mountain. The path was overgrown and hardly visible, leaving me to think that not many people come this way. Only the lone Buddha statues and faded flags proved that I was still on the right track. Eventually, I reached what I thought was the top, just to discover that the path started winding down and I guess up the next hill. I was clearly on my way to the view point and decided to turn around as I had no water with me. Once back where I started, I found the caves, and if I looked around I would have seen it, but as I do not read Thai, I just followed the first sign.
I headed back the way I came and in the direction of the Prasat Khao Noi ruins of the 6th-century, pre-Angkorian-style Khemar sanctuary. I was a most enjoyable ride there. This is such a beautiful part of Thailand, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Once I reached the base of the hill, I gave the road leading up to the ruins one look and declared it to be too steep. I left my bicycle at a shelter and walked up. It was threatening to rain all morning, and once at the top, it started coming down in true tropical style. I headed back to the bike and waited out the rain.
About 20 kilometres from there is another ruin from the same era but once on the bike it started bucketing down again, and I decided to give it a miss and head to the nearby town of Aranyaprathet. I found myself a room for 230 TB at the Aran Garden Hotel without a trace of any garden. The green painted floors reminded of a prison cell, but it had a balcony and was squeaky clean. After sunset, the food stalls made their appearance, and I had a plate of noodle soup while waiting for my laundry.
As most of you know by now, I have launched ESCAPE. ESCAPE a private cycle touring guiding service. You can come on your own or bring a friend or the entire family. I can accommodate one to four people at any one time. I do charge a fee for my service and will plan your route and be your guide. All flight costs, accommodation, food, insurance and medical costs will be for your account. This is a once in a lifetime adventure for many but be warned, cycle touring is very addictive. So far, every single one has returned!
4 August - Aranyaprathet- Non Din Daeng – 108 km
Refreshed I cycled out of Aranyaprathet and I was hardly out of town and I was already on the smallest of country roads. There were more than enough bizarre things to keep me occupied and eventually I landed up at the ruins of the 11th-century Khmer templet of Prasat Sadok Kok Thom. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. I think the ruins are seldom visited as there are no entry fee and I only saw an old man watching his water buffalo grazing around the ruins of this old temple.
I followed the road passed luminous green rice paddies, more grazing buffalo, ornate temples and through the tiniest of villages where the Friday market was in full swing. I could hear them whisper “farang, farang” (foreigner) as I cycled past.
At around 4 p.m. I reached Non Din Daeng where there was another temple ruin but I was by now already ruined out and decided to take a room and inspect the ruins in the morning. If I did go to the ruins I would have found perfect camping at the dam!
5 August Non Din Daeng – Khao Kradong Forest Park – 111 km
After breakfast, I cycled the short distance to the ruins of Nong Hong Sanctuary. Again, there was no one there except for some grazing cattle. It is said that the temple dates back to the 16th Buddhist century (not sure what that means). I took a few pictures and then went in search of more ruins.
Further north I found Prasat Muang Tam. This time there was an entrance fee which was totally worth it. The ruins were large and very well preserved and one could only stand in awe of these magnificent buildings, built so many years ago. Again, this is a Khmer temple dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Close by there were more ruins but up such a steep hill that my gears kept slipping and I decided to give it a miss.
From there I headed in the direction of Buri Ram. Along the way a truck stopped and the driver hopped out and gave me a water and a cola. Phew, that was so needed. Just before the town I spotted, what is known as, Khao Kradong Forest Park. I did not expect to find anything but turned in anyhow. I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting site with food stalls, walks and even a place where I could pitch my tent. I asked the staff if it was OK and they indicated that it was a “campsite”, LOL. Well, there were toilets! I pitched my tent under cover as I could see dark clouds approaching and no sooner had I done that and it started raining. I was more than happy to find an electrical point and could do my journal and edit my photos at leisure.
6 August - Khao Kradong Forest Park – Surin – 50 km
The crowing of cocks woke me early, and there was no point in staying put, so I packed up and headed east. I love central Thailand with its fertile plains and ancient history. Ruled by the Khmer Empire, it shaped modern day Thailand and left a whole host of fascinating ruins. The day turned out completely different to what I had expected. I turned into the small town of Surin, home of the Surin Elephant Round-up, a yearly festival. It is the indigenous people of Surin that started training elephants as working animals, way back, when the Ayutthaya Kingdom came into power.
In the process, I found a room for 180 TB at My Hotel, opposite the station, and decided to make it an early day. I had loads of catching up to do so the afternoon was a productive one.
I spent the following day in Surin as it was raining for most of the day, only clearing in the afternoon.
8 August - Surin - Uthumphon Phisai (I think)- 125 km
After only 1.5 kilometres, I was back on a rural road! What an exceptionally marvellous day it was. There is nothing greener than the green of the rice paddies of Isan! I was off-road for most of the day and only had to backtrack once, which was quite remarkable.
My first stop was the little silk village just outside Surin, and although I did not buy anything, everything there was lovely. My next stop was the ruins of Prasat Chom Phra, a Mahayana Buddhist temple that served as a medical station, built around 1181-1218. The rest of the day was a lovely ride through the countryside. The people were incredibly friendly, waving and giving me the thumbs-up. I was given ice-cold water and fruit, and towards the end of the day, a friendly man stopped and gave me a bun with a sweet filling. It was just the thing I needed for the last few kilometres; how nice of him! He told me he is also a cyclist.
Road signs pointed towards another set of ruins 10 kilometres down the road, but again, it was another 13 kilometres down a side road to get there, and by then I had lost my enthusiasm for ruins. Instead, I stopped at a large Tesco Lotus I spotted near the road, bought enough food to feed an army, and settled for the first room I found along the way.
9 August - Uthumphon Phisai – Phibun – 130 km
On this day, I could find nothing that tickled my fancy and put my head down and cycled the 130 kilometres to Phibun. I was mostly on one of the main roads and it was, therefore, not a very interesting day. The country roads are so much better. Tomorrow should be shorter and more interesting.
10 August – Phibun – Pha Taem National Park – 65 km
What an extraordinary day it turned out to be. I slept far too late, with the result that it was around 9 o'clock by the time I left. I followed the Mun River until it flowed into the Pak Mun Dam. The recent floods had filled the dam to near-breaking point, and all the sluice gates were wide open. At first, I was going to cycle through the national park, but then I realized that I must have paid someone with a thousand-baht note instead of a hundred-baht one! I was peed off, to say the least.
I then headed to the nearby village of Khong Chiam to find an ATM. What a wonderful little village it turned out to be. There are loads of accommodation, beautiful temples and a lovely riverside park and market. I stopped at the Two-Colour River View Point, and, yes, the river does indeed have two colours. I was now flush next to the Mekong River and could see Laos just on the opposite bank. I followed the road, staying as close to the river as possible, and found myself on a small dirt road, which came to an abrupt halt at a river. I noticed a boat with no boatman. Suddenly, the boat started floating across the river! What the heck?! I then noticed that the boat was tied to a rope and was being pulled across the river by someone who wanted to come across the river. I waited, and once it was on my side, I loaded the bicycle and panniers onto the boat. A local guy saw me doing this and left what he was doing to help me across the river. He must have thought that a farang could not do this. I was grateful for the help, gave him a small donation, and set off down a narrow dirt road. I passed a lovely Meditation Centre, and if I ever want to spend time at such a centre, I will pick this one. It is remote with no modern facilities.
Not much farther on, I turned off in the Pha Taem National Park. A short cycle brought me to PK Riverside Resort, where I could camp on the banks of the Mekong under a canopy. It was not free, but it was absolutely worth it for 100 TB! I pitched my tent and sat watching the river as it flowed past on its way to the ocean.
11 August - Pha Taem National Park – Khemmarat - 117 km
I sat drinking my coffee, watching the boats moving up and down the river. I could sit there all day, but I folded up my tent, loaded my panniers and headed up the hill. It turned out a wee bit undulating, to say the least. The hills were not steep or long, but it was up and down all day long. It was all hunky-dory in the morning, but by 15h00 it was not much fun anymore, and I cursed as I slowly made my way up the last few hills.
The road veered inland, and although it did not run flush next to the river, it was still a stunning ride. For most of the day I was in a National Park with the result that it was lush and green. It is such a seldom visited area that I hardly encountered any traffic. There were quite a few interesting sites along the way, one being unusual rock formations where all the rocks are pillar-like or rather very large rocks on a small base. Further along was what is known as the 3000 Stones. Towards the end of the day I arrived at Khemmarat, a surprisingly large town as it is only a small dot on the map. I bought loads of food and then went in search of either a camp or a room. I found the room first and was happy to settle for an air-con room with a hot shower!
12 August - Khemmarat – Mukdahan – 85 km
There are days that I can cycle endlessly, and it feels like I never get tired, but there are other days that are like today, in which I could hardly get myself going. I had to push myself up the little inclines, and it was no fun at all. I hate days like these, as I become destination-orientated, which is not touring! I was dead-tired by the time I reached Mukdahan. I found myself a room, ate, and went to bed.
13 August Mukdahan - Sakhon Nakhon - 122 km
I felt remarkably good and decided to head for Savannakhet on the Lao side of the Mekong River. Once at immigration, I was told that I could not cross the Friendship bridge by bicycle (not a very friendly bridge after all). I thought, “Forget that, I will just continue on the Thailand side” and that was exactly what I did.
It turned out to be an excellent day with vastly varied roads and scenery. I turned off the main road and landed myself on a dirt road amongst the rubber plantations. Awesome stuff! The villagers were highly surprised to see me and, in true Thai style, invited me to share their food. I pushed onto Sakhon Nakhon, as I wanted to get to Vientiane, in Lao, for a new visa before Tania arrived. She, however, contacted me to say that she could not make it anymore. I was really sorry to hear that, as I know she was looking forward to it. Things, however, don’t always work out as planned. I was absolutely starving and was more than happy to find the night market right behind the hotel where I stayed. Bargain!! I was so hungry that I bought two meals! In the end, I could hardly finish one, let alone two!!!
14 August Sakhon Nakhon - Sawang Daen Din – 90 km
It was 10h00 by the time I left as I was in no hurry anymore to get to Vientiane. Since Tania was not coming to Thailand any longer my plans have changed considerably. I did not, in fact, have to go to Vientiane to extend my Thai visa anymore. I could also go to China as planned, if I so wished! I just need to get to China before 5 September!! Never a dull moment! Ummmm....what to do, what to do??? I still had about 200 kilometres to go to the Thai/Lao border and, therefore, had some time to think about my next move.
The Northeastern part of the country had a tremendous amount of rain at the beginning of August, whole towns were flooded, and there were concerns about dam walls breaking. Although I escaped most of the rain I crossed rivers still in full flood! There was a serious amount of water coming down those rivers. Locals were making use of the opportunity to fish with all conceivable means of fishing.
It was a blistering hot day on the road, and the rest areas for cyclists at the police stations came in handy. I stayed on the back roads for most of the day, only crossing the main road at the small village of Sawang Daen Din. If I still wanted to go to Lao, this was where I would have to turn-off to cut a straight line through the country side. I had not made up my mind as yet and settled for a small and very inexpensive room in the village. It was a more than a bare-bones room, something one can expect when you only pay 250 Thai baht for an air-con room. It felt that I spent the rest of the evening eating!!
15 August - Sawang Daen Din – Nong Khai – 125 km
I had worked late the previous night, and I was slow in waking up. I took what I thought would be a shortcut to Nong Khai, but the road workers made me retrace my steps. The recent floods had washed many of the country roads away, and road workers were frantically busy repairing them. The floods were a disaster for most people, but to me, the bright green rice paddies made a spectacular sight. Many areas were still under water, and the rain was clearly not over, as I could see dark clouds moving in from the north.
I cycled through tiny settlements where locals were siesta-ing in their hammocks and whispers of “farang, farang” could be heard as I cycled past. Locals were drying grasses on the tarmac, some already dyed, which they use for weaving sleeping mats. It's amazing how they can sleep on the hard floor with just a grass mat between them and the floor.
Again, I landed myself on a gravel road through the plantations and was a bit peed off when I got a flat tyre. Soon I was on my way again, past people going about their daily business of farming. Some were making charcoal, and others were fishing or selling food and snacks along the road. Older ladies were attending to the cattle or foraging for something to eat. It’s a fascinating look into the life of the average farmer in Thailand.
With threatening weather on the horizon, I pushed on to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is situated on the Mekong River, right next to the Friendship Bridge leading to Vientiane, Laos. I reached Mut Mee Guesthouse just in time, as no sooner was I in a room than the rain moved in. Mut Mee is an exceptional guesthouse with a large selection of rooms. I took the most inexpensive one at 200 TB, and it was a basic but super clean room in stark comparison to the room of the previous night.
16 August– Nong Khai, Thailand – Vientiane, Laos – 35 km
During the course of the previous day, Tania contacted me to say that she was still coming to Thailand, and we arranged to meet in Bangkok on 1 September. Marguerite Marais also contacted me to confirm that she has bought her ticket to fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 4 December. I had some work to do, and it was after 3h00 before I went to bed. Needless to say, I was rather slow in packing up. Eventually, I did and cycled the short distance to the Thai/Lao border, bought my visa, and cycled into the easiest capital in the world to cycle into!
On my way into town, I stopped at the money changer and the phone shop; with a wallet full of Lao Kip ($1 – 8300 LAK) and a new SIM card in my phone, I headed into town. I was starving, and I was delighted to see the familiar sight of the Lao Baguette (Khao Jee) vendor. The baguette is filled with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, carrot, onion, moo (pork), chopped ham, and topped with a chilli sauce! Phew! That did me just fine!! I stopped at the Thai consulate office, but as expected, they were already closed, so I will hand in my visa application in the morning.
My late night was catching up with me, and although I had work to do, I first had a bit of a snooze! I have at least a few days here before I have to head back to Bangkok to meet Tania.