Bangkok - Phuket, Thailand
(1 427km - 23days)
1 November – Bangkok
I had a slow start to the day, and Jan arrived in the afternoon, looking somewhat nonplussed after such a long flight. I find it quite amazing that one can be so fresh and relaxed after being on a plane for so long. As Jan needed no rest, we took a slow walk around the Khao San Road area after which we did my favourite budget sunset cruise on the Chao Phraya River. The Chao Phraya River is a busy river with a constant flow of traffic and the river breeze made for a welcome relief from the heat of the city. We passed barges carrying heavy loads moving slowly upstream, while people commuting to and from work filled the boat.
On our return, we headed for one of the backstreet restaurants for a plate of Thai curry and a few Chang beers. I have a feeling it is going to be a good trip.
2 November – Bangkok
We had plans of waking early, but that never materialised, and it was mid-day by the time we hit the road. We walk the streets of old Bangkok, past the old Phra Sumen Fort, one of only two remaining forts out of 14 that were built more than two centuries ago. Bangkok was established as the new capital city after Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Bangkok was then a walled city with canals dug out that acted as a moat surrounding the city. We strolled through the university campus, and I thought it an excellent location for a campus, right on the busy river Chao Phraya.
As always, I made a turn at the amulet market with its beautiful and often bizarre collection of amulets. The market sells small talismans and is mostly frequented by collectors, monks, taxi drivers and people in dangerous professions. Most of the clientele appeared to be men looking through magnifying glasses at the tiny amulets, which seemed to be mostly for “good luck” or fertility.
After taking our shoes off, we popped into one of my favourite spots, the Wat Pho temple, with its massive reclining Buddha. The statue measures 46 metres long and 15 metres tall and is covered in gold leaf, making for a rather impressive sight by anyone’s standards. On leaving the vast hall, we had the opportunity of purchasing a bowl of coins that one can drop in the 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the wall. Dropping the coins into the bowls made a nice ringing sound, and I understand that the money goes towards helping the monks renovate and preserve Wat Pho. 108 is a significant number in Buddhism, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.
We followed the old canals past noodle soup stalls and could not resist sitting down for a steaming bowl of their delicious soup. Eventually, we landed up at the Golden Mound with its golden stupa on top, offering a stunning view of the city.
After sunset, we headed out again and sat on the pavement at small tables on equally small chairs enjoying a plate of Pad Thai, Thailand’s most famous dish: a sweet and spicy combination of noodles, egg, and vegetables, all washed down with a large Chang Beer. On our way home, we popped in at the Blues bar where we, once again, sat on the pavement on small chairs having a glass of chilled red wine at a rather astronomical price. Then it was time to head back to our abode for a well-deserved rest.
3 November – Bangkok
We decided to stay one more day, and there was, therefore, no rush to go anywhere. We took the bikes for a test ride on a short but pleasant trip around the Royal residence and back. The search for a new cap for myself was on in all earnest as my old one had literally fallen apart. We took the canal ferry to the city centre where I found a rather lovely cap, albeit at a somewhat hefty price. As always I found Bangkok city centre an intriguing place. Amidst the chaotic network of public transport, and shopping malls sit the Erawan shrine, one of Bangkok's most visited shrines. The smell of incense hung thick in the air as devotees, on their way to and from work, stopped to pay their respects.
Then it was back to our guesthouse using the Sky train and then a river ferry ride. Midway along our journey our ferry, however, came to an abrupt halt, and with no command of the Thai language, we had no idea what was happening. We had little choice but to follow the other commuters and abandon our ride, leaving us to make the rest of our journey on foot. It was a pleasant walk along the river and through the flower market, and we giggled at our odd situation as we still had no idea why our ferry ride came to such an abrupt end. On our way back, we passed the second-hand false teeth salesman, and I was surprised to note that the false teeth and bridges were slowly getting less.
Back at the guesthouse, we watched the sunset from the roof terrace while sipping a Chang beer after which we went in search of food.
4 -5 November – Bangkok – Ayutthaya – 80 km
Finally, we were on the road, and what a delightful day it turned out to be. It was an early Sunday morning and the traffic light, making for an easy escape out of busy Bangkok. We followed the Prem Prachakon canal giving us a slight insight into the daily life of the Thai people. It was weekend and people were in a relaxed mood, fishing or paying their respects at the local temple. Others were preparing the rice paddies for planting or peddling their wares by motorbikes with sidecars.
We slowly made our way past humble houses on stilts, bright green rice fields and welcoming locals. Men were proudly showing off their fighting chickens, and we were amazed at the narrow and rickety makeshift walkways leading to the houses on the opposite side of the canal.
Shortly before reaching Ayutthaya, we turned off the main road to visit the Bang Pa-In Palace, built on an island in the Chao Phraya River. The place dates back to the 17th century and has, at least to me, a rather amusing history. The story goes that it was the illegitimate son of King Ekathotsarot, King Prasat Throng, who constructed the palace. King Ekathotsarot was shipwrecked on the island and had a son by a woman who befriended him. The son became king, maybe only on the island!
Just before Ayutthaya our path suddenly came to an end, and we were happy to find a small ferry to take us across the river. Once in town, we bunked down at Baan Lotus Guesthouse, an old school house that now makes for a comfortable guesthouse. I was surprised, and at the same time very impressed, that the owner remembered me. She is of a very advanced age but still as sharp as a pin.
As we did not eat all day, we were starving and wasted no time in heading for a nearby restaurant.
We spent the following day in Ayutthaya visiting all the old ruins and cycling around what is left of the old city.
6 November - Ayutthaya – Lopburi -67 km
After breakfast, Jan and I cycled out of Ayutthaya and slowly made our way into the breeze towards Lopburi. A quick visit to the elephant kraal left me as depressed as always. It is such a sad sight to see these magnificent animals chained and trained for elephant rides. Baby elephants had nowhere to run or play, and their mothers appeared agitated with the situation.
We cycled past bizarre temples and farmers working the fields. Just before Lopburi we spotted a sign for a 300-year-old rubber tree as well as a boat museum and turned in to inspect. We met a very amiable man who offered to show us around. In broken English, he explained the uses and names of the many wooden boats on display. Some were used by monks for their daily collection of food and others for fishing. The king apparently used the near 300-year-old dragon boat look-alike that was powered by at least 12 men.
We continued to Lopburi where we found Noom Guesthouse (where I usually stay) fully booked. They pointed us to the Nett Hotel, a sister hotel around the corner. We, however, could not open any windows as the monkeys would force their way in, even with bars fitted to all the windows. Cute as they were, they can be quite a menace.
We took a walk around town and then settled for food and beer at the Noom Guesthouse restaurant. I was rather impressed that the owner not only recognised me but also mentioned that when I stayed there in February (with Janice and Chris), I left without collecting the key deposit. I could not even recall the occasion, but the money was duly deducted from our bill. How fantastic is that!
7 November - Lopburi – Suphan Bhuri - 100 km
“Good morning,” Jan shouted as he walked past my room. The monkeys causing havoc on the tin roof must have woken him early. We ate our breakfast while sitting on the pavement outside the 7-11, and then, dodging monkeys, we cycled out of Lopburi. We picked up a nice tailwind and had a pleasant and effortless cycle along the smallest of rural roads.
We people cycled past villagers selling tiny dried fish, while others were drying rice or fishing the canals. Most of rural life in Thailand revolves around rice, and some farmers were preparing rice paddies, while others were busy planting or even harvesting it.
At midday, we stopped for watermelon, which the lady kindly cut for us. It was delicious and sweet and just what we needed. Then it was back on the bikes and, not much further, we spotted a sign for a Buffalo Village. It turned out to be a resort that offered bungalows as well as an insight into the rural Thai life.
It was a pleasant day of cycling and slightly longer than anticipated, as we spent so much time zig-zagging through the countryside. Once in Suphan Buri, we found a room and headed straight for the nearest restaurant.
8 - 9 November – Suphan Buri – Kanchanaburi – 115 km
After a quick bite to eat, we headed through the countryside in the direction of Kanchanaburi. We weaved our way through small hamlets and past large areas of wetlands. Farmers, water buffalo, and cows with long ears all looked up in surprise as we cycled past. We were apparently not in an area frequented by farangs.
I was pleasantly surprised to see villagers declaring war on aquatic weed, threatening to their choke waterways. Water hyacinth is considered one of the most dangerous invasive plant species worldwide.
Innovative villagers are now drying this weed and creating water hyacinth handicrafts, such as woven bags and baskets.
We also came upon The Don Chedi Monument, dedicated to King Naresuan the Great’s victory over Burmese forces. It is believed that in 1592, King Naresuan the Great defeated Phra Maha Upparacha, leader of the Burmese army, in a fierce royal duel on elephant-back.
We spent the following day in Kanchnaburi, not doing very much except for visiting the famous bridge over the river Kwai.
10 November – Kanchanaburi – Samut Songkram – 117 km
We got underway fairly early and followed the Mae Klong River for most of the morning, making for a stunning ride through the countryside. Our narrow path twisted and turned through small settlements and past impressive looking temples. Wat Tham Suea was rater impressive, sitting onto a small hill and surrounded by bright green rice fields. We took shortcuts bringing us face-to-face with surprised farmers and equally surprised kids. Even the village dogs were too overwhelmed to give chase.
Just before Samut Songkram, we stopped at the Amphawa floating market where we nibbled on all there was on offer. Then it was back on the bike and onto Samut Songkram where we found the night market already in full swing. It is amazing just how much one can eat when travelling by bicycle.
11 November - Samut Songkram – Hua Hin – 123 km
We first popped in at the train market to watch the train, moving at a snail’s pace, through the busy market area. Traders packed up their produce and canopies allowing the train to pass. Once passed, everything went back into place as if nothing happened.
From our hotel we cycled the few hundred metres to the river ferry and soon found ourselves on back roads. We followed the scenic route that runs close to the shores of the Gulf of Thailand and past vast salt farms. Every now and again information boards gave us interesting tit-bits on our surroundings. I found it interesting that nearly 50 different species of birds from as far afield as Alaska and Siberia fly to these salt pans to nest and breed. That is one heck of a long way to fly. Although I kept an eye out for the spoon billed sandpiper I did not spot any.
Our route was littered with temples and crab stalls. As it was weekend many city folk seemed to be out for a relaxing day. Fishing boats were lying three-deep in small rivers and the smell of dried fish hung in the air as we cycled past large drying racks made from bamboo.
One in Hua Hin we headed for Bird Guesthouse with rooms on stilts over the water, making for a great place to enjoy a well-deserved beer.
12 November – Hua Hin – Sam Roi Yot Beach - 50 km
We left Hua Hin via a cycle path that ran next to the highway, making for easy cycling out of the city. As cycle paths can be somewhat predictable, we turned off and headed for the coast. We followed the coast past Pramburi Beach where we stopped for coconut juice and then cycled on to Sam Roy Yod Beach where we settled for a room down one of the small lanes.
13 November - Sam Roi Yot Beach - Prachuap Khiri Khan – 78 km
We woke to a stunning sunrise and after watching fishermen and women going about their business we continued our journey along the coast. A short and pleasurable ride brought us to Sam Roi Yot National Park where we took a boat ride around the headland and then a short but steep walk up the mountain to Phraya Nakon Cave with its very impressive temple inside. I’m always surprised as how one enters the cave and then, through a crack, can see the temple inside. The hole in the cave ceiling provides for light to shine down onto the temple making for great photo opportunities.
Then it was back down the mountain and onto the bikes for a scenic ride to Prachuap Khiri Khan. We bunked down at Maggies Homestay with its tiny but inexpensive rooms. A walk to the night market provided enough choices to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. We sat on the boardwalk railing eating our food, looking out over the ocean and smiled at just how lucky we were to be sitting there.
14 November - Prachuap Khiri Khan – Bang Saphan Beach – 101 km
The road to Bang Saphan runs along the coast, making for a relaxed and scenic ride. We cycled past small beachside settlements and low-key beach resorts tucked away behind palm trees and bougainvilleas. Our path twisted and turned through coconut plantations until we reached our destination at Bang Saphan Beach. Supper at a beachside restaurant sealed yet another marvelous day of cycling in Thailand.
15 – 16 November - Bang Saphan Beach – Wua Laen Beach – 100 km
We woke to a beautiful sunrise, something I never seem to tire of. After breakfast, we were back on the bike for another stunning ride along the coast. The day slipped by as we slowly made our way south past idyllic beaches and rubber tree plantations. We crossed numerous rivers where colourful boats were side by side, ready to go out fishing. We reached Wua Laen Beach early and found a bungalow at Seabeach Bungalows where we wasted no time at all to have a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We spent a pleasant evening having supper with friends we met at Seabeach Bungalows.
We also spent the next day at Wua Laen Beach, relaxing and doing the usual rest day chores.
17 - 18 November – Wua Laen Beach – Ranong – 144 km
Well-fed and rested, we hopped on the bikes, waved the Gulf of Thailand goodbye, and headed over the hills to the Andaman coast. Our initial plan was to overnight in Kraburi, 80 kilometres away, but Jan was on fire and, aided by a tailwind, we sped right past Kraburi and onto Ranong.
After crossing the central cordillera, the mountain chain which runs from Tibet through the Malay peninsula (by now only a few hills) we stopped at the Kra Isthmus, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, in southern Thailand. The isthmus is bordered to the west by the Andaman Sea and the east by the Gulf of Thailand. The narrowest part, between the Kra River and the Bay of Sawi near the Chumphon, is only 44 kilometres wide.
The Andaman coast is somewhat hillier but beautifully lush and green. We made our way past waterfalls and densely wooded areas until we reached Ranong, where we bedded down at the well-priced Asia Hotel.
We woke to feel rather lazy after our mega-long ride the day before and decided to stay in Ranong for the day. We were slightly ahead of schedule, and there was, therefore, no rush to get to Phuket.
19 November - Ranong – Bang Ben Beach – 59 km
We were slow in getting going and, after breakfast from the local 7/11, we eventually got underway. We were pleasantly surprised to find a brand-new bike path leading out of the city. We stopped at the grassy hill tourist attraction, complete with temple and steps leading to the top. It is so unusual in Thailand to have a grassy hill that it is now a tourist attraction.
We ambled along slowly until we reached Bang Ben Beach, a small settlement 10 kilometres off the main road. We stayed at the only place there is, Wasana Resort, and took a leisurely cycle to the small fishing harbour as well as to a nearby beach. We returned just before it got dark and the perfect time to settle down with a cold Chang beer.
20 November - Bang Ben Beach - Khura Buri – 83 km
After a hearty breakfast, we left sleepy Bang Ben Beach and headed back to the main road. It was a relaxed cycle past a large and tropical-looking river, all with an abundance of bird-life. Roadside stalls provided us with more than enough to eat and drink, and monks and monkeys kept us entertained on our way to Khura Buri. The day was overcast, making for a pleasant cycle as we headed over the hills stopping ever so often at roadside stalls for a drink. We also popped into an interesting-looking nature reserve that offered two- and three-day hikes, something I may look into next time I’m in the area.
In Khura Buri we found bungalows at the Tararin Resort, consisting of bungalows on stilts right on the Nang Yon River. It started raining, but we made a break for the nearest restaurant and managed to get back without getting soaked.
21 November – Khura Buri – Happy House, Khao Lak – 98 km
The previous night's rain made for a lovely, fresh morning ride as we headed off towards some more hills in the direction of Khao Lak. Again, we passed a multitude of colourful temples and a variety of interesting roadside stalls.
It started drizzling and we donned our raincoats, which soon became too hot and uncomfortable to cycle in. Around midday, the rain cleared, and it was easy cycling into touristy Khao Lak. We cycled around looking for a budget room, and we found bargain bungalows in a garden setting close to the beach for only 400 TB, not a bad price for Khao Lak. At sunset, we took a walk to the beach and enjoyed our beer sitting on the beach watching the fishermen cast their nets. A simple pavement restaurant provided supper and that was all we needed.
22 November Happy House, Khao Lak – Villa Viking, Patong Beach – 112 km
We loaded our bicycles for what was, sadly, our last day on the road on this trip. The road to Patong Beach, Phuket is always a hilly one, no matter which road one picks. Still, it was an interesting ride and we watched as villagers made cigarette paper from dried palm leaves. We stopped for fun photos and sugarcane juice - just what we needed for the last few steep hills in Patong Beach. It is never easy to find budget accommodation in touristy Patong, but we were lucky and found Villa Viking, a small guesthouse with large, clean air-con rooms for 600 TB a room.
So came to an end Jan’s cycle tour from Bangkok to Phuket and I was sorry the trip was over. Jan was great fun and a super-relaxed guy that made for an enjoyable, fun trip. Fortunately, we still had a few days in Phuket before he was to fly home and we planned on making full use of those days.
23 November – Phuket
We took the local bus into Phuket town to look for a bike box, something we found at the second bike shop we visited. Then it was back on the bus (box and all) to Patong Beach where we stayed.