Around the world by bike
(1 099km - 29days)
12/09 - 10/10/2015
12 September - Thailand/Malaysia Border – Hat Yai - 60 km
I cycled the short distance to Hat Yai, found myself a room and had a relaxing day. I played on the computer and in the process managed to delete my entire Flickr account. Agggg! I don’t use it much for photo sharing but more as a place to store my pictures, so there were 100’s of pictures. I also spoke to Lois and we made an arrangement to meet in Bangkok on 23 September. I better get moving then.
13 September - Hat Yai – Patthulung - 97km
Along the way two youngsters on a scooter stopped and gave me a 100+ sports drink; how sweet of them. The people of Thailand are so kind, always waving and greeting as I cycle past. I cycled past many fruit stalls selling delicious-looking tropical fruit. I got the idea of making short movie clips of my days, but it did not work as well as expected. It was actually quite difficult. For some or other reason, I couldn’t play my GoPro videos on my laptop, even though I have downloaded all the necessary programmes. I found all this very frustrating and gave up in the end and went to bed.
14 September - Patthalung – Thung Song – 97km
I stopped for breakfast at Route 41 and met the most wonderful people. The owner is a photographer and he gave me one of his postcard books. I felt a bit sluggish but soldiered on as the weather was a bit overcast and a good day for cycling. I made the mistake of having a late lunch after which I felt so lazy that I decided to take a room right there. That’s why I never have lunch along the way; it makes me so lazy and I can’t get going again. Fortunately, there was a good and inexpensive hotel in town with large, bright rooms and a spacious ground floor area for storing the bike.
I wanted to sort out my photos but could not get connected to the internet, so nothing came of that.
15 - 16 September - Thung Song – Ban Tha Rua (Surat Thani intersection) - 108 km
It seemed that I was going slower and slower, and then I realized that I have cycled over a 1000 kilometres without a day off. The rain came in, and I had to hide for an hour or so before continuing. I cycled on to the Surat Thani intersection where I found lovely rooms next to the petrol station.
17 September - Ban Tha Rua – Bamboo Hotel - 30 km
There was a gap in the weather, so I left my accommodation in a hurry. I did not get very far as it was less than an hour before a new storm moved in. I struggled on for another few kilometres, but when I reached a petrol station with a convenient hotel, I pulled in and got myself out of the weather.
18 September - Bamboo Hotel – Roadside cottage - 90 km
The weather forecast gave me around three hours in the morning of cloudy skies before the thunderstorms came in again. Along the way a spotted a sign for a spa and thought: “Why not?” First, I had to walk for a bit through the forest and then found lovely baths. I did not spend a long time as it looked like the weather was coming in again.
Fortunately, they were wrong, and I cycled nearly the whole way without getting wet. Just as the weather came in I was right next to a 24-hour joint and could not believe my luck. Normally these 24-hour places are love-motels but this one had some cute bungalows at very reasonable rates. Not that I was going to argue about the price in that weather, and I was more than happy to unload my dripping wet gear in their little cottage. Fortunately, they also had a small store where I could get cup-noodles, beer and crisps. I was more than content.
19 September - Roadside Cottage – Chumphon - 90 km
Cup-noodles were obviously not designed for maximum energy but as the weather forecast showed only cloudy skies in the morning with thunderstorms later in the day, I wasted no time in getting on the bike. I pedalled like a women possessed in the direction of Chumphon. There was no sightseeing on this day, just the occasional water stop and then off again.
Along the way, I could see the impact the rain of the last few days had. There was water everywhere, rivers were in flood, drains were blocked, and if your house was not on stilts, you were in trouble.
I pulled into Chumphon before midday and before the rain came. I headed straight for The Farang Bar, a place where I have stayed before. It was not as lively as before, but the rooms were cheap at TBT250.
20 September - Chumphon – Nipa Beach Bungalow - 110km
I felt tired so stopped for breakfast after about 20 kilometres. Not that it helped much, and there was nothing else I could do but carry on. At least this part of the coast is scenic and always a pleasure to cycle.
For the first time in many months, I saw other cycle tourists along the way. They were (as most people on their way south) in a great hurry to get out of the country before their visas expired. We chatted for a while and then continued on our respective ways.
By the time I reached the turn-off for Nipa Beach Bungalows, I was happy to call it a day.
21 - 22 September - Nipa Beach Bungalow – Prachuap Khiri Khan - 100 km
It is amazing how quickly one gets used to the cooler weather. The temperature was back to the mid-30’s where the previous couple of days were around 27ᵒC. Even the snakes seemed to enjoy the warmer weather, and I kept a beady eye out for them basking in the sun.
When I woke the following morning, I was happy to pull the blanket over my head and continue sleeping. There was no need to rush anymore as Lois was not coming to Bangkok, as expected. I did little the rest of the day, except for making the final touches to the new blog. At least that was done; it was more work than expected, especially after I deleted all the photos from my Flickr account.
23 - 24 September - Prachuap Khiri Khan – Hua Hin - 101 km
The day passed quickly as I picked up a bit of a tail wind. Hua Hin is, for some unknown reason, a very popular place, especially amongst westerners for both short and long term stays. The narrow lanes between the main road and the ocean are lined with western restaurants and bars (with prices accordingly). All, of course, with a Thai companion on the arm.
I found a basic room on stilts over the water, and it was easy to stay an extra day. I did little as it rained most of the day, which I did not mind as I was snug in my little room.
25 September - Hua Hin – Samut Songkhram - 118 km
I had a most pleasant day on the road; it must have been due to all the rest days! The weather was excellent, and I found interesting back roads. I followed a river of sorts and the road ran through luminous green rice paddies; past large, brightly coloured temples and past small riverside fishing villages where the dogs lay sleeping in the road and hardly bothered lifting and eye.
I seldom pass through these villages unnoticed and friendly locals will always shout a greeting, or giggle and point. I arrived in Samut Songkhram just as the food stalls were setting up, which is always a good time.
I found a hostel and although the rooms were tiny, I was the only one there and had all the space to myself. It was Friday night, and the streets were lined with food stalls; I could literally pick and choose from the numerous carts lining the street.
26 September - Samut Songkhram – Bangkok - 98 km
Instead of following the main road, as I normally do, I weaved my way through the village roads towards Bangkok. It was a far more enjoyable ride with scores of “Hello, farang!” and food stalls. The interesting thing is that when buying anything to drink along the way, it automatically comes as a takeaway in a handy plastic bag which can be hooked onto the handlebar.
The last 30 kilometres into town was along Phetkasem Road, which turned out to be a complete nightmare. Gridlock traffic made for a slow and frustrating ride. Eventually, I turned off onto a smaller road which meant I had to take the ferry across the river. This was not a disaster, but the stairs to and from the ferry made for a whole performance with the heavy bike. Fortunately, many hands made light work and soon I was at Peachy Guesthouse, my old trusty accommodation in Bangkok.
27 September - Bangkok
I did virtually nothing the whole day. It was Sunday and I could only go to the Indian Embassy the following day. I also read that it takes nine working days to process the visa. I guess I will be in Bangkok for a while.
28 Sept – 2 October - Bangkok
I am stunned, absolutely stunned, I'm telling you. I'm sitting here and cannot believe the Indian embassy in Bangkok does not issue visas to foreigners. The reason I’m so stunned is that there is an online application form that must be completed and submitted, which I did.
This morning, before going to the embassy, I checked my application and it stated “Your application was successfully submitted”. Off I went to the embassy, application in hand, just to be told that they have changed the rules about 2 to 3 weeks ago, and foreigners can no longer apply in Bangkok!! Have you ever??
I checked the internet, but I’m none the wiser as to which of the neighbouring countries still issue visas to foreigners. I will have to phone around in the morning. To clear my head, I decided to walk instead of taking a bus and also to take a few pictures along the way. In the process, I lost a lens cap in the river. The blood moon in Aries is not good to me, at all!
I eventually spoke to the Indian Visa Centre in Kuala Lumpur, and it appears that foreigners can apply for the Indian visa there. Truth be told, the reason why I am so annoyed with the whole saga is that I was staying with Peter and his lovely family on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and could have applied for it then. But no, I had ants in my pants and wanted to get going!
I phoned Kuala Lumpur again, just to make 100% sure, and this time the answer was, “You can apply but have a 50/50 chance of getting it”. I don’t know how that works; I thought the answer to my question would be a simple “Yes” or “No”. I also phoned the Indian embassy in Myanmar and was told that “Yes” I can apply there. I hope that it is correct and that I don’t get there and are then told a different story.
That all said and done, it is no secret that I love Bangkok. I love it for many reasons. Where else in the world can one board a water taxi and a few minutes later a modern Skytrain that will drop you right in the middle of the buzzing CBD? Just walk around the corner of these modern skyscrapers and you will find people living on stilts over the water, right in the heart of the city centre. Even in these modern times the river remains the heartbeat of the city where you will find tugboats, barges, river taxis and longtail boats, all dodging one another. Old temples sit snug amidst modern architecture and old wooden structures cling desperately to rotting stilts. I smile when I see longtail boats plying the waters, looking for the unsuspecting tourist. Add to that the weird and wonderful, pierced, dreadlocked and tattooed farangs, and I could easily linger awhile.
I had a genuine nightmare of a day which started off with an innocent haircut. The haircut turned out to be a total disaster, and there was just about enough hair left for extensions. After that episode, I went into hiding for the rest of the day.
After sunset, I regained some confidence and took a walk, tripod in hand. I was surprised to find Wat Po (the temple of the reclining Buddha) open. Although the temple itself was closed, one could walk around the grounds. There was no one there except me, which was amazing.
I have been procrastinating – a week has passed, and still I have not taken the bike for a service. I have done over 8 000 kilometres on the same chain and cogs and thought it necessary to have it checked out.
4 - 7 October
I took the bike to the local bike shop and walked back along the old klongs and canals of Bangkok. These old waterways still exist, and although many have been filled there are still a good few left. I found locals living, trading, socializing and just going about their daily business. I squeezed past narrow doorways, stepping over shoes and chickens as I followed the canal back to my place. I ducked under bridges and through markets, past crooked houses and interesting restaurants. Bangkok never fails to amaze.
I took a walk to the bike shop to see how far they progressed with the bike but they were closed, so I continued walking past the bike shop and found a multitude of fascinating things. First, I found locals crafting monks’ begging (alms) bowls; I understand that they have been doing this continuously since the 1700s!! Hopefully not the same guys!
I walked and walked through traditional markets and modern shopping malls until I reached the Goddess Tubtim Shrine. At the shrine were many oversized phalluses of all shapes and sizes standing tall, proud, and dare I say, erect – proof that even in the spirit world size really does matter! The shrine honours Chao Mae Tubtim, a female fertility spirit. Women visit this shrine when they are trying to conceive. And if rumours can be believed, the shrine has a good success rate. Women will return if their wish is fulfilled, and place yet another phallus at the shrine in gratitude. How weird!
I then took a water taxi back to my place which was an experience in itself and not for the faint-hearted. One needs to jump on board rather quickly as the boat hardly comes to a halt before moving on again. Not an easy thing to do with a camera in hand. The ferry did not go all the way to where I lived so for the last few kilometres I took a motorbike taxi. If one is a nervous passenger it is best not to look, as my driver weaved through the traffic with no regard for any rules.
8 October – 10 October
I'm always looking for interesting things and today I set off to an abandoned building. Known as the “Sathorn Unique” this 50-storey building was left unfinished in 1997 during the world economic crisis. It was to become one of the most luxurious residential buildings in all of Bangkok.
I met a young Australian couple also wandering about. The building was however fenced, and one could not get inside. Next door we found a small restaurant with a garage roll-up door leading to the yard of the old building. The Australian girl and I walked out into the yard and immediately the owner of the restaurant slammed the door down, yelling that she was calling the police. No amount of begging by the boyfriend could get her to open the door again. In the meantime, I thought it a good opportunity to look around but there was a caretaker who would not allow any walking around.
To my utmost surprise, the young Australian girl started speaking in Thai to the caretaker, explaining our predicament. (I later learned that her mother is Thai). He unlocked a side gate for us and we were set free!! We walked back to the restaurant and found the boyfriend still trying to get the owner to open the door. They were rather surprised to see us.
The following morning I woke to a constant drizzle. Around midday it eased off and right there and then I decided to pack up and head out of Bangkok, even though I have paid for an extra night. Halfway out of the city, I decided to take a bus to Mae Sot (the border town between Thailand and Myanmar). Seeing that I have cycled this route twice before, I did not find it necessary to do so again.
I turned off to the bus terminus, which was on the other side of the railway line and passed the area where they were busy building the new extension to the Skytrain. I pushed the bike through the muddy construction area just to arrive at the bus station covered in mud, with everyone staring at the crazy woman!
The next bus to Mae Sot was only at 20h00, which meant a relatively long wait. Not only a long wait, but it also meant that I arrived in Mae Sot at 4h00 in the morning! Once there, I had to cycle in the pouring rain (and without lights) the few kilometres to the centre of town. I found a room at the Porn-Thep Hotel, which is nothing like it sounds, but inexpensive at 150 Thai Baht (about $4.55).
I just read an article by Tim Ross where he states: “If you are reading this (that is his blog) then you have probably seen Bear Grylls on TV, read a book about climbing Everest, been to a talk on rowing the Atlantic ocean, signed up for a blog about cycling around the world… or something like that.
Those books, blogs, talks and TV programmes are great at getting people excited and inspired, but they’re often less good at telling you how to go about doing something yourself.
And because, understandably, they want to make their stories interesting, they have a tendency to focus on the drama, hardship and near-death experiences of their trips. Unfortunately, that can also mean they’re quite off-putting.”
In any case, I was a bit ahead of myself in saying I’m going to India. India is still more than a 1 500 kilometres away, and I need to cycle through Myanmar (again) to pick up an Indian visa. The only border crossing between the two countries is the one in the remote northern region of both India and Myanmar. This is a restricted area, and I will have to pick up a permit in Yangon. What I’m saying is that it is still going to take me some time to get there.
I will cross the border into Myanmar tomorrow and then start heading in the direction of Yangon.