Around the world by bike
(1 361km - 18days)
10/11 - 27/11 /2019
10 November - Jomtien – Chonburi – 65 km
It was after 12 midday before finally locking the condo and getting on the bike. For the first 20 kilometres, it took weaving through the Pattaya traffic until the route spat me out in the countryside. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and a big grin crossed my face as I made my way past familiar temples and cassava plantations.
On reaching Chonburi, the beachfront was packed with people as all were getting ready to celebrate Loy Krathong, the Festival of Light. I was soon offered a room as owners were out trying to fill their rooms and was offered a ground-floor room one road back from the beach for 300 Thai baht. It was an odd room as it was tiled in white tiles from floor to ceiling, and the toilet had to be flushed with a bucket. I couldn't care as I was as happy as the proverbial pig being, once again, on the road to nowhere.
It took time to sort out the panniers as things were thrown in at random, and there was much sorting out to do, something which took the best part of the evening.
11 November - Chonburi - Pha Pradaeng – 110 km
What a long and varied day it turned out to be. Clearing the northern tip of the Gulf of Thailand was never a pleasant cycling experience. Sprawling Bangkok stretches all the way down the mighty Chao Praya River to where it eventually drains into the Gulf of Thailand. That said, for the first 20 kilometres, the route led along the shallow waters of the Northern Gulf with its abundance of birdlife and fishing opportunities. A restaurant on stilts lured me in for a refreshing cup of iced coffee, and I sat watching and dreaming, realising how lucky I was to be there until I realised I still had quite a way to go.
For the next 10 kilometres, I faced the traffic along a busy highway, which leads to Bangkok. Fortunately, it came with a service road running alongside, but still, it was a lead-laden, fume-inhaling ride. Once across the Bang Pakong River (which is waiting to be explored) a smaller road turned off, and it was a much more pleasant ride through rural Thailand, or as rural as that part of Thailand can be.
Eventually, the road led back to the dreaded Sukhumvit Road. Surprisingly, I spotted a country lane on the opposite side of a canal, which made for a peaceful ride past villagers relaxing in the shade of large trees and past ducks waddling across the path.
A ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River saved a long and congested trip along the main road.
Towards the end of the day, the Rimnam Hotel appeared, and what a lucky find it was as it was situated right on the Bang Khru canal where Loi Krathong festivities were in full swing. People were eating and drinking and families bought decorated offerings in the form of floating flowers, incense and candles, which were light and allowed to float downstream. I was impressed that most were biodegradable.
12 November - Pha Pradaeng – Samut Songkhram – 79km
I left my bare-boned room without coffee, as my room only had one plug socket, and my cup water-heater couldn't make a connection. It didn't come as a surprise as very few things in the room were in working order. A few kilometres down the road, and after clearing most of the early morning traffic, breakfast was from a roadside stall. This is always interesting as one is never sure what's inside those banana-leaf parcels.
Although trying my utmost to find smaller roads, I was still very much in the thick of things. It was only towards the end of the day I finally cleared the worst of the traffic. The area between Samut Songkhram and Bangkok mostly consisted of low-lying, swampy land. Most houses were on stilts, and the majority of activities centred around fish, being it catching it, drying it or manufacturing nets or boats. I, therefore, coasted along past mangroves, across canals (with steep bridges), and tropical-looking rivers where one could hear longtail boats but were unable to see them for the dense vegetation.
The short distance to Samut Songkhram made for early arrival, allowing plenty of time to rinse cycling gear and charging devices. At sunset, the famous food stands made their appearance, and the main street became jam-packed with stalls frying, grilling and steaming their delicacies. There wasn’t much for vegetarians, but I managed to find a few nibbles and with my bounty bagged, returned to the room for an early night.
I zigzagged through the countryside on smaller roads, and from time to time found the route ended abruptly. It was, however, lovely to amble aimlessly, mostly past salt farms where the salt had only just started to form and would still be a few months before it could be harvested.
I have cycled this route on many occasions and, therefore, stayed over in Cha-Am where I frequently overnight. Cha-Am wasn’t much different from Pattaya and appeared to mostly cater to older European men on the prowl for young women. This lifestyle surely seemed to have given the men a new lease on life as the parties continued until the wee hours of the morning. Good for them, and I hope they treated the girls with respect.
14-15 February – Cha-Am – Hua Hin – 31 km
It was a short ride to Hua Hin, which was a blessing as I felt tired. Once in Hua Hin, it was straight to the Bird Guesthouse, my old favourite on stilts over the water. It took no time at all to plonk myself down, glass of wine in hand, looking out over the ocean.
The following day was spent doing laundry and shopping for things I didn’t pack, all of which was found at the local supermarket. The local bike shop provided a new back tyre, and as it was an unfamiliar name (CST Pedium). I wondered how it would fair; I guess I had to wait and see.
That evening, I met up with Gavin, who lives in Hua Hin and, as can be expected, we consumed far too many beers.
16-17 November Hua Hin – Prachuap Khirrikhan – 118 km
It came as no surprise that I didn’t feel to bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ummed and aahed whether to stay another day. Eventually, I dragged myself out of the room and got on the bike in the direction of Prachuap. It was no display of speed as I forced my unwilling legs to pedal on, stopping ever so often to fill up with water.
Eventually, I arrived in Prachuap and bunked down at the old faithful, Maggie’s Homestay, where a bed only costs 220 THB for the night.
As Maggie's was inexpensive and centrally located with a water purifying machine as well as washing machines, it was an easy decision to stay another day, do laundry and to look for a pair of cycling gloves as I miraculously lost one glove.
18 November – Pratchuap – Bangsapan Beach – 110 km
Not much happened along the way, although that particular stretch is always a pleasure to cycle as it runs flush next to the coast. Once in Bangsapan, it took some cycling around looking for the most inexpensive room, but there wasn’t much. In the end, I settled for a bungalow for 400 THB as it was a lovely room with aircon. I will most definitely stay there again.
19 November Bangsapan Beach – Chumpon – 112 km
After coffee, the first stop was at a nearby cave. The first one was a bit of a walk up the mountain, and it was clear not many ventured up there as the path was somewhat overgrown. The cave had plenty of natural light, and one could wander about without a soul in sight except for the many hungry mosquitos who made sure I didn’t linger. The second one looked lovely for exploring, but it was so dark one couldn’t see where to walk.
The rest of the day was spent looking for more caves or other interesting things. Still, there wasn't much, and I continued to Chumpon where a very convenient room allowed for wheeling the bike right into the room.
20 November – Chumphon – Pak Nam Langsuan – 86 km
After the previous night’s decision to catch the night ferry to Koh Tao I was slow in rising, especially as it was drizzling, and the ferry wasn’t until 7 p.m. There wasn’t much to do in Chumphon and, after a few hours, I packed up and cycled out of Chumphon as I lacked the tolerance to wait the entire day for the ferry.
The weather cleared, and it was a pleasant cloud-covered cycle through the countryside. At around 60 kilometres, a conveniently located restaurant called for a lunch of fried rice, after which I continued along the coast. No sooner had I left, and a massive storm moved in, complete with horizontal rain and wind. I pushed on regardless, and at times feared the wind was going to blow the bike from under me. There wasn’t much to do but don the plastic raincoat and pull the cap down as low as it would go and push on. The dirt road became a muddy mess and the heavy rain made for poor visibility. At around 85 kilometres, I was relieved to spot a bungalow tucked behind banana plants and pulled in. At first, there was no one in sight at the house. Still, I kept calling, "Sawadee! Sawadee!" Eventually, a young lady appeared, obviously taken by surprise at the sight of a drenched farang and a bicycle.
She pointed me to a wooden bungalow situated right on the beach, and I mean right on the waters' edge, to such an extent I feared the tide could take both me and bungalow into the sea. The room was no larger than the bed and the bathroom – clearly, an afterthought as it was a few steps lower than the room and consisted of a squat toilet and what I call a "mundy" (a concrete reservoir from which one scoops water for a shower). I was like WOW, this is the most magical place I have ever stayed at. Right on the water and all for 250 Thai baht! I hoped the tide wouldn't come in much higher as I could see the sand through the floorboards! As it was low tide, I guessed anything could happen.
I was equally happy I had lunch as there were no food stalls out on the street and I had to make do with cup-noodles. The landowner, a fisherman, and his family invited me to share their dinner, but I declined as their crab and fish looked barely enough for them.
21 November - Pak Nam Langsuan - Surat Thani – 124 km
I was relieved to wake in the morning and still find the bungalow standing and the sea much calmer than the previous day. The owner brought me coffee, and I drank it sitting on my little veranda while he inspected the sea conditions. He only had a small boat, and there was no chance of him going out in those conditions.
The route to Surat Thani was a particularly scenic stretch as it zigzagged through the countryside, mainly sticking close to the coast and past quintessential Thailand scenery of limestone pinnacles. The day was mostly cloudy with a drizzle every now and again. Five kilometres from Surat, the weather came in again and I made my way into the city in the pouring rain. It's always somewhat stressful to cycle into a town (even a small one) in the afternoon traffic and in the pouring rain, all while trying to read a map.
I was happy to reach My Place Hotel and find a room for 230 Thai baht. I headed straight for the shower and then it was off to the night market, located just around the corner.
The next day was also spent in Surat as the room was cheap, and I was in dire need of doing the laundry. There wasn't much to do in Surat, and it is mostly a transport hub and a jumping-off point for the nearby islands. I like places like that as they are typical Thai towns where people go about their usual tasks without catering to tourists. Streets were lined with temples and shops selling temple paraphernalia. Markets sold fish and vegetables, and the alleys were lined with rice stores where it appeared most of their day was spent chasing the greedy pigeons.
23 November – Surat Thani – Tha Khuen – 108 km
It was easy cycling and the weather pleasant. The main road out of Surat was a good road through the scenic countryside. I stayed on it, planning to exit later. Somehow, I never did that and stayed on the main road which was quiet with a good shoulder for cycling. The road was littered with small villages, roadside stalls and the ever-present Buddhist temples. Towards the end of the day, a convenient "24-hour" provided a bed for the night - it was a lovely room with a "normal" bathroom!
24 November – Tha Khuen – Hua Sai – 115 km
I left my luxury accommodation and headed south on my route to nowhere, and what a delightful day it turned out. I’ve never cycled this particular route, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. It clearly wasn’t an area frequented by farangs as I was stared at to no end and there were a few giggly hellos.
My route followed the coast and, as can be expected in Thailand, it was a day of blue skies, bright green rice paddies, ornate temples and colourful fishing boats. In fact, it was so pleasant, I hardly realised I was cycling and the day flew by without noticing.
Seeing I haven’t spoken to anyone in days, I stopped and chatted to a couple making cigarette paper from palm leaves. That was my socialising done for the next week. Soon afterwards, the way came to an abrupt end. Fortunately, there were ferries carting people across the river. (I don't know what cars do as it was a rather small boat.) The price for the ferry ride was 1 Thai baht, and I wondered if collecting 1 THB was worth the paper it was printed on, let alone paying the ferry captain and the ticket seller. In any event, the village on the opposite bank was fascinating, and you can imagine the stares as I cycled off the ferry and weaved my way through the narrow alleyways of the market area.
Soon afterwards, the path reached the coast, an area which appeared to be a windy one as it was the location of a wind farm. I thought it must be getting close to the end of the Gulf of Thailand and closer to the open waters of the South China Sea. I was, once again, impressed by the size of these wind turbines (if that’s what they are called).
November is theoretically winter in Thailand and, although still in the mid-30s, the sun sets much earlier. Around four or five in the afternoon, I started looking out for accommodation. This was my lucky day, and I found a room right on the ocean for 300 Thai baht. I sat watching the sea for a while and then cycled to a nearby shop to find supper. A good day, all in all.
25 November – Hua Sai – Songkhla – 110 km
The early morning drizzle made for a second cup of coffee. Once on the road, it rained on and off all day and the camera hardly came out. Only two mentionable things happened: one was I lost my lens hood in the river. The lens hood has never come off before, and I wondered why it had to happen while on a bridge. (OK, I admit there was a bit more to the story.) The second was just before Songkhlan where I found a car ferry across the mouth of the Songkhla Lake, saving cycling around via Ko Yo. I stand to be corrected, but think the mouth was opened artificially.
It was a day of easy cycling, and I slinked in Songkhla shortly after 3 p.m., covered in drizzle fuelled road muck and more than happy to find a room at Bo Yang Guesthouse. At 450 THB, the room was slightly more than what I have paid before, but it was worth the extra 100 THB as it was a large room with crisp white linen, aircon and a bathroom that even had a bath! (I kid you not!)
27 November – Songkhla
I could see the rain through my bedroom window and believe I wore a smile as I rolled over and continued snoozing. It was, therefore, late in the morning before I finally emerged to place my laundry in the street-side washing machines and set off exploring.
It didn’t take long to find Songkhla, a place that hid many exciting stories. I learned archaeologists found that between the 10th and 14th centuries Songkhla was a large city and an important harbour town which traded with places as far afield as Quanzhou in China. Many decades later, in the 18th century, Chinese citizens settled in this area with the result that today Songkhla has a lovely “Old town” peppered with old, wooden Chinese shophouses. It was a delightful area to explore with narrow lanes, typical Chinese shops and impressive temples. Part of the ancient wall which surrounded the village still exists and the Songkhla Lake is still a busy fishing harbour.
It was an easy walk up the Songkhla Hill that provided views over the city. Once back along the coast, I strolled along the beach and through the sculpture park and, as is often the case with these parks, it was sprinkled with rather odd statues.
Songkhla isn’t without a legend and, as I love legends, I’ll tell you about it. The story goes that a merchant from China often sailed his junk to Songkhla and back. While shopping for goods to take back, he bought a cat and a dog. As time went on, the cat and dog got bored on the ship and decided to steal their master’s magic crystal that prevented drowning. For this job, they asked a mouse to help which stole the crystal, and the three swam ashore. As things go, the mouse wanted to escape with the crystal and the cat wanted crystal and, in the process, the crystal was lost and all drowned. It is said the mouse and cat became the islands in Songkhla Lake while the dog died onshore and became Songkhla hill, known as Hin Khao Tang Kuan.
27 November Songkhla – Padang Basar – 80 km
The weather bureau put out an alert for heavy north-easterly monsoon rain and flash floods across Southern Thailand. Instead of heading south to the Malaysian border, I made use of the tailwind and swung west across the Malay Peninsula. Traditionally, Malaysia’s east coast's rainy season runs from November to February and has a more substantial rainfall than the west coast. Although the current wet weather seems to be across the entire region, I thought it best to head for the west coast.
I flew along with a tailwind and stayed on the main road, something that never makes for exciting cycling. Still, I wanted to get to the west coast and the border as quickly as possible. Most of the rain was expected over the next three days, and if all else failed, one could always park off on Langkawi Island for a few days.
It was evident that I was nearing the Malaysian border as mosques became more frequent and more ladies wore some form of head covering.
On reaching the border town of Padang Basar, threatening clouds made me take a room which, typical of a border town, turned out a real dump! Afterwards, I was sorry as the rain was light and one could still have made good distance. As the room was already paid for, I took a walk to the nearby food stalls for food and bunkered down in my pink windowless room.