Around the world by bike
(1 766km - 36days)
20/5 - 15/6/2016
20 May - Hat Yai – Phatthalung - 110 km
I left Hat Yai on the back roads, and what an exciting day it turned out to be. The road led me slap-bang through the centre of the Friday market, to the great amusement of the locals. I knew I was off the beaten track as not only were all the road signs in Thai, but the kids were scared of me, the people I spoke to thought it impossible to reach Bangkok by bicycle, and not even the mange dogs chased me. The real indicator, however, was the “reading tree,” where a pair of communal reading glasses were hanging from a branch at a roadside tree—clearly for the use of anyone who needed reading glasses. The road continued past large rubber tree plantations, small villages, and a multitude of temples.
I even managed to fall off my bicycle, something I have not done in years! It was more a case of sliding off the road than falling off the bike, as somehow, the road sloped so severely that I just slid right off! Oops! All of this occurred between bouts of rain. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find shelter each time the heavens opened up. Around 5 pm, I cycled, dripping wet, into Phutthalung, found a room for 250 baht, and set off to the night market for food. Never go to the night market hungry! I also discovered that it was an important Buddhist holiday, and therefore, no beer was sold! *Sigh* I will just have to drink water tonight.
21 May - Phutthalung – Thung Song - 90 km
A rather important document I had sent via DHL from India never arrived in Cape Town. Now, more than two weeks later, still nada/nothing/niks! Oy, the Indian post and I don’t seem to gel very well. Of course, I had a tracking number, but its status is “number not activated.” I have searched the internet but could not even find the telephone number for the DHL Fort Kochi branch. The DHL customer care was equally useless, and my only remaining option was to email Henry from Kevin's Homestay (where I stayed) to ask him for the number. In the meantime, I scanned the area for a courier company to resend the document; the closest DHL office was it Krabi, 220 kilometres west!
This morning, I headed out, hung some flower garlands on the bike for good luck, pulled my cap down and headed down the road; what must be done, must be done. Seventy kilometres down the road and 20 kilometres before I had to turn off the main road for Krabi, an email came in from Henry. Not only did he get me the number but he physically went there, spoke to them, and got all the details about the document as well as the new tracking number. There are some amazing people in this world!
Apparently, the document has arrived in Cape Town, but it is on hold as they had not charged sufficiently to cover the delivery. Have you ever!? I wonder how long they were going to leave it before contacting me. Again, it boggles the mind. I could never thank Henry enough for his effort. I found a room in Tung Song just to make sure all was sorted before I continued.
22 - 23 May - Thung Song
I decided to lie low in Thung Song to double check that the document had, in fact, arrived in Cape Town and that it would not be necessary for me to cycle to Krabi. I did just about nothing the entire day except eat. I ate everything in sight and only stopped short of going into KFC. I started at the morning market and slowly ate my way through the day, all the way up to the night market. In the process, I came upon the most fascinating Chinese festival in Thung Song. Devotees walked the streets with cheeks pierced by metal spikes, accompanied by a whole procession of dancers/actors and, of course, the ever-present fireworks. It was a colourful and very noisy affair, not to mention bizarre!
As the day wore on, I felt increasingly weak, and by night time, I had quite a fever. I feared that I could be coming down with dengue fever again, as my whole body ached, and I had an upset stomach. I tossed and turned the whole night but finally fell sleep around 3:30 am. I woke again around 6:30 am, as there was quite a racquet going on outside, and found that the fever had subsided. I decided to stay put and hoped that I would feel better the following day. That was so weird, having such a fever in the night and all gone in the morning. I was not complaining; I just found it odd.
When off the beaten touristy track, I always find it surprising how little English is being spoken. Not that it is surprising, as English is not one of their official languages, so why would they speak it? English was not even spoken in the hotel I was staying at, but then again, it is not too difficult to indicate your intentions when walking through the doors of a hotel. As I was not feeling too well, I thought of ordering a basic pizza instead of eating my usual fried noodles. Now, that proved a lot more difficult! In the end, I gave up and had my standard fried noodles. I also got word that the document I posted in India had been traced and (after many phone calls) had, finally, arrived at its destination. Hallelujah! I was ready to move on again.
24 May - Thung Song – Surat Thani - 110 km
Someone recently asked if I still found cycling touring interesting and exciting after nine years on the road. Needless to say, I love my life and still find a new destination as exciting as the first day. This morning, on leaving Thung Song, I unexpectedly caught a glimpse of my reflection in a shopfront window. It put a big grin on my face as I thought I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet. It may not always be easy or comfortable, but then who’s life is without its ups and downs and saddle sores, figuratively speaking?
The two days rest did me a world of good; I felt full of energy and not even the rain (or roadworks) could damper my spirit. It rained the entire day, but I clipped in my flashing lights for more visibility and was flying down the road (I must have had a tailwind, ha ha, as I seldom “fly down the road”). At the intersection of Route 44 and 41, I found roadside accommodation next to the petrol station which suited me just fine. Time for a shower and dry clothes.
25 May - Surat Thani district – Roadside cottage - 110 km
It was another 110 km day, and I was burning up the road. LOL. The weather was cool and although there was a constant drizzle it did not bucket down as it usually does. I met the most wonderful people along the way. Firstly it was the friendly lady selling the steamed palm cakes. They were delicious! Next stop was the coconut sellers, where they gave me one of their special coconuts, consisting of the coconut with jelly inside. Again, it was delicious, and she wanted no money for it. I stopped a good few times to fill up with water but was soon on my way again. After 110 km I spotted roadside chalets which looked perfect for my needs; the price was right, and it even had a small shop where I could buy crisps, a beer and cup noodles. I love it when a plan comes together!
26 May - Roadside cottage – Chumphon – 90 km
It rained throughout the night and was still drizzling by the time I wanted to leave. I waited a while, but I’m not very good at waiting, so I pulled on my plastic raincoat (now cut in half for cycling) and headed for Chumphon. The weather fortunately soon cleared, and it was a pleasant day on the road.
I did not have to go far before encountering the ladies selling the steamed palm cakes, which made for a perfect breakfast stop. Thailand is aptly known as the land of smiles, and along the way, I met tonnes of smiling faces; from the fruit sellers to plastic bottle collectors. What a friendly nation it is. The road continued past beautiful temples and the ever-present durian stalls. I tried a few selfies with the remote shutter release, but it did not work. There was either a bad connection or the batteries were flat.
I pulled into Chumphon and found a room at the “Farang Bar,” which is by now looking a bit worse for wear. The rooms are as basic as they come, but one cannot complain at 250 baht. I needed to find a bicycle shop as my back wheel picked up a severe wobble, which needs sorting out. First things first; I set off to the food stalls. Again, I did not have to go far as I could smell them miles away. In the process, I found both the bike shop and a new battery for the remote. I was, however, not very successful at the bike shop as no one spoke English. I may have to stay another day and take the bike there in the morning. What I did find was the biggest array of Dim Sum I have seen in a long time! I could not help myself and immediately got stuck in. It was another successful day.
27 May - Chumphon
“Don’t have,” is the first line of defense when I walk into a shop. I was off to find a bike shop first thing in the morning—a task that sounds far easier than what it actually turned out to be. It's only when one starts to do business that one discovers how difficult it is to communicate in a different country. They get nervous just seeing a Westerner heading for their store! I persevered and, in the end, found a secondhand rim, which I hope will last till Bangkok. I also found that the keyboard for my brand new laptop was faulty and that the bottom row of keys didn’t work. I had no option but to purchase a remote keyboard (if that is what it is called). It was more money spent and more stuff to carry, but I dearly need to be able to type as that is how I keep my journal and communicate on social media. It is, however, rather odd to type with a keyboard on my lap, and the screen is somewhere else (ha-ha). I guess one can get used to just about anything, but I have a suspicion that this one is going to take some time. I thought the Mercury Retrograde was over!
I made use of the time to, half-heartedly, clean the bike that is in an utter mess after the rain, did the laundry, and also half-heartedly cleaned my water bottles, which have by now got a lush growth of fungi. In the meantime, I ate more Dim Sum and made some friends with the staff and other travellers at the Farang Bar. I felt sorry for the French couple next door as it sounds like the girl has dengue fever; she is really ill, but there is little one can do about it. Hopefully, I will be ready to roll out of here in the morning.
28 May - Chumphon – Thungwualaen Beach – 20 km
It was a short and easy ride to Thungwualaen Beach where I have stayed before. Now out of season, the place looked a bit forlorn, and in a way, I was sorry I did not continue on. My room was not too bad for 300 baht, but I could tell by the droppings and the hole gnawed in the table that I was not the only occupant.
29 - 30 May - Thungwualaen Beach – Bang Saphan Beach – 95 km
I felt lethargic but soldiered on, past a whole host of beachside accommodation, all looking rather inviting as they were right on the beach. Again, the road led past many a temple, all so very colourful and ornate. I found the Naga Buddha statue kind of interesting. One can often see a Buddha sitting in the shade of a multi-headed King Cobra. It is believed that the snake had protected the Buddha from the elements after he attained enlightenment. I was following the coastal road which had recently been resurfaced and was in perfect condition with a lovely bicycle lane for most of the way. I passed numerous rivers where fishing boats were laying side by side, sometimes 3 or 4 deep, and where smoke was rising from roadside stalls selling grilled fish and other delicious looking eats. The smell was enough to make anyone hungry.
I reached the Bang Saphan Beach early even though it was a slightly more hilly day. I only mentioned this as Thailand is pan flat, and it is not often that one encounters any hills. I was happy to find a 300 baht room right across the beach. Job done for the day! Time to go looking for food.
I stayed in Bang Saphan the next day as well as there was no rush to get to Bangkok. I was only meeting Tania there on 13 June for her 6-week cycle tour of South East Asia, so had plenty of time to get myself to Bangkok on time. I went for my little jog but did not go very far, maybe only 5/6 km along the beach. It was already boiling hot, and the locals must have thought me insane. If they find me strange cycling (while they all have bicycles) you can imagine their surprise to see me running. I spent the remainder of the day catching up on much-needed internet stuff.
31 May – 2 June Bang Saphan Beach – Prachaup Khiri Khan – 93 km
I woke up tired as I spent half the night chasing cockroaches! As soon as I switched the lights off, they started crawling over me. Sandal in hand I gave chase, but they gave me a good run for my money. The wee buggers are as fast as lightning! In the morning, I left Bang Saphan Beach with a pack of dogs in hot pursuit (that woke me up!). Cartoon style, I gripped the handlebars, pushed my elbows out, made myself as flat as possible, and gunned it as fast as I could down the road, ha ha ha! It felt like the entire neighbourhood's dogs wanted a piece of me! I soon found a small road and could breathe a sigh of relief.
For most of the way, the road hugged the coast, and I'm sure I found paradise. Low-key accommodation lined the beach, consisting of bungalows barely visible behind bougainvilleas and frangipanis. Often the only sign that there was any kind of development was a lone hammock strung between two palm trees, lazily swinging in the slight breeze. Bliss!! It was a real rural area; chickens darted across the road, men fished in small dugout canoes, and temples, shrines and the ever present snakes abounded. I’m sure that Thailand has the largest population of snakes in the world!!! How I have managed not to cycle over one of them (yet) is anyone's guess. The weather looked ominous, but I pushed on, wondering if I could out cycle the storm. Amazingly enough, I made it to my destination without getting caught. This is what I call a lucky day—neither the dogs, snakes nor rain could get me! Pity about those darn cockroaches!!! I swear I’m not making this up. LOL.
I woke to a beautiful morning and went for a run instead. The promenade stretched for a good few kilometres, both north and south, making for an enjoyable run. I jogged along, past the pier, past the resident troop of monkeys, and past the hill temple of Khao Chong Krachok, before turning around and heading back to Maggie’s Homestay. A cheap (200 baht) but a sociable place to stay. I stayed another day in Prachuap Khiri Khun, especially after rumors of torrential rain for the area.
Many people may wonder why I am back in South East Asia, as I was here only a few months ago. The reason is that I’m meeting Tania Bouwer, a friend and third cousin, in Bangkok for a 6-week cycle tour of South East Asia. We have arranged to meet on June 13; I am therefore in no rush to get to Bangkok.
3 June - Prachuap Khiri Khun – Khao Sam Roi National Park 70 km
I hang around Maggie's Homestay, shooting the breeze with the other “long-termers”, two Aussies, one Kiwi and a French guy. They all seem to do long stints in Thailand. We drank a few beers and just talked complete nonsense. I was debating whether to stay another day, but moving on is what I do.
I loaded up my bicycle and headed for the nearby National Park. The park is only about 25 km off the main road but worth the little detour. It's also home to about six caves, and I was interested in seeing Phraya Nakhon Cave. Along the way, I met a family on bikes - mum, dad and three kids ranging between one and six years of age! How cool is that? Mum had the littlest one in front and the middle one behind her while dad was on a recumbent with the eldest; needless to say, they were rather loaded! I tip my hat to them!
I found myself a room, right on the river, offloaded my stuff and set off in the direction of the cave. It is a bit of a walk, but it’s a rather scenic cave as there is a beautiful temple inside. Unfortunately, there was no light coming in through the cave roof. I may try again in the morning, although getting there is a bit of a mission.
4 June - Khao Sam Roi National Park – Cha-Am – 80 km
I had difficulty in dragging myself out from under the white linen (a real novelty), but it was time to get going again. It is, however, seldom that I have a room that gives any form of cover, let alone white linen! It is just too hot, and there is no need for any cover.
I set off through the hills of the National Park with my African music blasting at full volume. Oh, what a pleasure, I was truly happy! It was a rather indecisive day as I could not make up my mind where I wanted to overnight. I reached Hua Hin early and continued to Cha-Am. At first, I thought of giving it a miss as well, but then I turned around as I was a comfortable 2-day ride from Bangkok. I was not happy finding a tick on me, even though it is unlikely I’ll get tick-bite fever; it's just something I don’t need right now. More worrisome are the reports of rabid dogs in the area; now there is something you don’t want!
5 June - Cha-Am to Samut Songkhram – 90 km
The stretch of road between Cha-Am and Samut Songkhram was rather varied and scenic. Not only was the road scattered with interesting food and drinks stalls, but it also passed salt farms, small fishing villages, temples, and mangrove swamps. Crab fishing was at the order of the day and almost every stall had cooked crab for sale. To top it all, the road was in excellent condition with a cycle lane; one cannot ask for much more.
Although it was a blistering hot day, I rolled into Samut Songkhram early and headed straight for Hometown Hostel. Hometown Hostel is a lovely place to stay with modern air-con dorms, clean bathrooms, and very friendly staff. Once off-loaded, I made a bee line for the markets as they were already in full swing. Samut Songkhram is home to the fascinating railway market that spills onto the railway line, and canopies get hurriedly taken down when a train comes along. Once the train has passed, the stall owners replace everything and continue as if nothing had happened.
6 -12 June - Samut Songkhram – Bangkok – 90 km
One good thing about cycle-touring is that one gets to travel along the smallest and most rural of country roads. I’m truly amazed at just how rural it is on the outskirts of mighty Bangkok. Here, people live along and from the many rivers, and taxi stands are still longtail boat jetties. Along the way, I met a broom and feather duster salesman and an elephant carer, but in both cases, our conversation was limited. All went well until around mid-day, after which I started feeling feverish and everything started aching, from my hair follicles to my ankles, and just like that, I had no energy. I pushed on, remembering my motto that if I keep going forward, I will eventually get there. I did not think that I would be able to finish the last 20 km; I even reverted to my last method of counting!
To top it all, it was a most terrible road, as I somehow landed up on the road where they were busy building the new Skytrain. What a mess! Once in Bangkok, I headed for my old go-to guesthouse, just to find that they are no longer operating. I had no energy and simply found the next place around the corner where I flopped down, shaking like a leave and vomiting up all the water that I thought I so needed. Phew, what a day. In hindsight, I really don’t know how I managed to do that 90 km from Samut Songkhram.
In the days to follow I did not get any better, in fact, I got worse and worse. The cold facts are that Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease, and there is no treatment for it as yet. It is characterised, true to its name, by a high fever, severe body aches and pains, headaches and the distinctive pain behind the eyes, nausea and vomiting. The body aches and pains came as shooting pains leaving the best of us moaning and groaning at the slightest movement. It is virtually impossible to eat anything as it comes straight out again. The only medication available was for treating the symptoms, and I stocked up on painkillers and something for nausea. It felt like I slept for 40 days and 40 nights, LOL, and woke up with half the weight I went to sleep with. I do, however, not recommend it as a weight loss programme.
All the time I was aware that Tania was arriving on June 13 for her cycle tour of South East Asia, and there I was lying without even being able to walk to the corner store, let alone cycle around South East Asia.
June 13-15 - Bangkok
It looked like I finally turned the corner and felt marvellous in comparison to the previous days. I had breakfast that miraculously stayed down and even managed a cup of coffee, something I was immensely happy about. Of all things, I missed my coffee the most! Around midday, Tania arrived, and I was impressed with her packing skills; all her stuff neatly fitted into the bike box and one other bag. All I needed was to get myself into cycling shape so we could explore Southeast Asia. Arggggg! I wish I was feeling 100% already. As the days wore on, I felt stronger and stronger; we explored Bangkok and its alleyways by eating food from the many street vendors, and in general just enjoyed the craziness of Bangkok.