Linda's tour: Pattaya - Kuala Lumpur
(1 234km - 31days)
(1 148km - 22days)
3 December – Pattaya
Linda arrived, after a 36-hour flight from Fort Lauderdale and a two-hour bus ride from the airport. She must have been exhausted. We sat on the balcony, drank a few beers and I soon discovered just what a lovely person she is. I had the feeling that we were going to get on like a house on fire.
4 December – Pattaya
We were up early and went for a short jog along the beachfront, after which we had a quick dip in the pool and then took the bikes for a test ride. The bike seemed to fit Linda just fine, and we went for a short ride to see the local temples and the big Buddha hill. On our return, we popped in at the floating market; it was a lovely day, all-in-all. Then it was time to pack our panniers and get ready for our ride to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, a roughly 2 000-kilometre ride.
5 December Pattaya – Samut Songkram – By taxi
We packed our panniers and, as arranged, the taxi picked us up at 10:00 sharp for the 200-kilometre ride to Samut Songkram. We checked into Hometown Hostel and straight away went to visit the famous Railway market that spills over onto the train tracks.
As soon as a train arrives, stall owners nonchalantly move their wares a few meters back to allow the train to pass. The train creeps at a snail's pace through the market and no sooner has the train passed than the canopies and stalls return, and trading continues as usual. It is a fascinating sight to watch!
Samut Songkram is also famous for its street food. As soon as the sun sets, food stalls appear; we had an endless variety to choose from. We popped into the busy local temple, and as it was the king’s birthday, it was a public holiday and the temple was packed with worshippers. The smoke from incense hung thick in the air, while devotees threw Chi Sticks (Kau Cim). This a form of fortune telling where the sticks are placed in a cup, a question is asked, and the cup is shaken until a stick falls out. Each stick represents a specific answer.
6 December – Samut Songkram – Hua Hin – 130 km
We had a quick breakfast at Hometown Hostel and then said goodbye to the lovely owners and the two cyclists whom we had met while staying there. Sebastian, from Switzerland, did not feel well and decided to stay an extra day, while Dave, from Borneo, Malaysia, headed south in the direction of Kuala Lumpur. When we were ready to leave, we found the streets flooded and decided to cycle around the town, adding a further ten kilometres to our already long day. It was a lovely ride through a very rural area. Along the way, we met another cyclist who was also heading to Kuala Lumpur. Romeo, from Germany, was in no hurry, and we cycled together until he turned off to Phetchaburi.
We cruised along past salt farms, rice paddies, huge statues of Buddha, and rivers filled with fishing boats. Friendly Thais waved and shouted greetings from their stilted homes. Everywhere, we could see signs of the heavy rains of the previous week, and if your house was not on stilts, you were in serious trouble.
It was rather a long day for a first day, but Linda did extremely well, and we made good time to Hua Hin, where we were lucky enough to find a room at the Bird Guesthouse, an old, rickety wooden guesthouse with rooms on stilts over the water. We wasted no time at all getting a beer and then sat on the deck watching the high tide roll in. We contacted Dave, who came to have a beer with us, and we swapped stories of our day and our plans ahead for the next few days.
7 December - Hua Hin – Sam Roi Yot National Park – 57 km
We met up with Dave, and the three of us set off in the direction of Sam Roi Yot National Park. We were pleasantly surprised to find a bicycle path, and we enjoyed it while it lasted.
Our first stop of the day was Rajabhakti Park, a historical theme park honouring past Thai kings. We ambled along the coast crossing a multitude of rivers with colourful fishing boats; it was a beautiful ride. We picked up a slight tailwind and had a most beautiful cycle along the coastal road, stopping for coconut juice and at interesting caves along the way. We climbed up a small hill and snapped a few pics at the viewpoint before returning to the bikes. A short while later Dave had a puncture which was soon fixed, and we were on our way again.
Our plan was to visit Phraya Nakhon Cave in the morning, and we, therefore, found ourselves a guesthouse in the small village of Ban Bang Pu. The room was slightly pricey at 900TB, but split amongst the three of us it was quite affordable. We sat on the deck watching the fishing boats anchored in the river while sipping a few Beer Changs.
8 December – Sam Roi Yot National Park – Prachuap Khiri Khan – 60 km
We cycled to the beach where we got a boat to take us around the headland to Laem Sala Beach. It was still early, and we were just about the only people there. After a short walk up the mountain, we arrived at Phraya Nakhon Cave. It is always a spectacular sight to peep through the cracks and see the temple inside. We wandered around and then headed back to the beach. It was a pleasure to be on the road as we stuck as close as we could to the coast and soon arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan where we stayed at Maggie’s Homestay.
9 December – Prachuap Khiri Khan – Bang Saphan Beach – 95 km
It was a testing ride for me as the previous day I ate something that did not agree with me, and I was up half the night with diarrhoea and vomiting. It was 11h00 before Linda and I finally left, and if it were not for the tailwind we picked up, it would have been an exhausting day. With the result that we did not explore as much as I usually do and stuck to the main road for the best part of the day, something that does not make for very interesting riding.
We pulled into Bang Saphan Beach around 17h00 and waited for Peter Young to arrive. Peter was cycling in the opposite direction and was, unfortunately, straight into the wind which made it a long and arduous day for him. It was, however, lovely to see him again and we had dinner together.
10 December - Bang Saphan Beach – Hat Thungwualean Beach – 90 km
We woke to a beautiful sunrise, and Peter, Linda and I had breakfast together. Unfortunately, it was soon time to wave Peter goodbye, and we set off in our respective directions. Both Linda and I felt much better (although not 100%) than the previous day.
It was easy riding along the coast as we cycled past oil palm plantations, rubber tree plantations, pineapple farms, and friendly stall owners. We stopped for coconut juice and ate watermelon on the side of the road, all making for a very pleasant day. The coastal road is lovely with small fishing villages and quaint roadside eateries on the beach.
We reached Thungwualean Beach in good time and found a bungalow across the road from the beach for the night. That evening we ate at the local restaurant situated right on the beach. The food was delicious and the location was superb.
11 December – Thungwualean Beach – Kraburi – 82 km
We sat on the beach and watched the most beautiful sunrise—always a good way to start the day. Our first stop of the day was in the nearby town of Chumphon to find a screw to hold Linda’s phone-holder in place.
After that, it was a beautiful ride to the west coast of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. We stopped for a small snack at a roadside stall and had a little nibble from the steamed dumpling stalls lining the road. We snapped a few pics at the Kra Isthmus and of Myanmar, a mere 100 metres away on the opposite bank of the Kra Buri River.
It was a relatively short day, and we reached Kraburi early. There we found a lovely little roadside bungalow. We had a quick shower and then took a walk into town for a bite to eat.
12 December - Kraburi - Ranong - 58 km
We chatted at length with the owner of the chalets before cycling down the road looking for breakfast. In Thailand, one is never very far from a good bowl of noodle soup, and that is precisely what we found.
The road runs through Kra Buri National Park, and it is a particularly scenic ride, albeit a bit hilly. We chewed on sugarcane, bought from a roadside stall, while slowly creeping uphill and then sped downhill at breakneck speed. We stopped at a waterfall and enjoyed great views of the valleys below. We cycled across rivers with simple wooden houses clinging precariously to the banks. We wandered around temples with huge statues of Buddha and stared in amazement at the fierce-looking yaksha statues; these guardian-warriors keep away evil spirits, and they can be seen in some temples in Thailand.
It was a short day of cycling, and we arrived in Ranong early, where we settled for a room in the Kiwi Orchid Guesthouse. Right on the main road and beside the bus station, it made for a nice, lively spot. The added advantage was that they had a washing machine and organised cheap visa runs to Myanmar (500TB), which I had to make as my visa expired on 17 December, and looking at the road, I think that we might be here until 25 December.
13 December – Ranong
It was a great day for relaxing and eating.
14 December – Ranong – Bang Ben Beach - 57 km
We left after breakfast, and it was a short and easy day on the road. We cycled along past numerous temples; it is said that 95% of the population of Thailand is Buddhist, and it felt like there was a Buddha statue behind every bush. This is such a forested area that the only hill with a grassy hilltop is now a tourist attraction!
Although scenic, it was soon time to turn off to Laem Son National Park and Bang Ben Beach. We passed mangrove swamps and water buffalo wading in the ponds before arriving at beautiful Bang Ben Beach with its scenic pier and fishing boats lying high and dry, waiting for high tide. It was interesting to note the Sanskrit swastika painted on the fishing boxes. As far as I know, the word swastika means “good fortune” and is considered a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism; it is unfortunate that Hitler gave it such a bad name.
After cycling to the beach, we settled for a chalet at Wasana Resort, and as it was still early, we had a relaxing afternoon.
15 December – Bang Ben Beach – Kura Buri (Kuraburi) – 91 km
We had breakfast at Wasana Resort and chatted at length with friendly Bo. Bo hails from Holland and has been married to his lovely Thai wife for nearly 30 years. Together they run Wasana Resort, and I must say, her cooking is superb. Again, it was a very scenic stretch of road with lush and thick forests on both sides of the road. As we slowly made our way south, we could see more and more mosques and ladies in hijabs. Buddhist temples still abounded, and sometimes they can be fun, like the one we stopped at this morning with its huge cockerel statues. I’m not quite sure of the meaning or importance of the cockerels and should really look it up.
Along the way, ladies sold all kinds of weird and wonderful things at stalls. Linda is slowly getting the hang of cycle touring and spotted a sign for a waterfall. We turned off and found a lovely, serene area with a beautiful waterfall. After wandering around a bit, we were on the bike, and just a little further down the road, we turned down to Lang Thung Nang Pier with its many colourful fishing boats.
The town area has always made a living from the ocean, and it is so today. Before leaving, we first devoured a bowl of namkhaeng sai, a Thai dessert of shaved ice with the toppings at the bottom. There are a large variety of “toppings”, mostly of a chewy jelly type.
Then it was on to Kuraburi. Linda was like a horse that smelled the stable, and when I looked up, she was gone and over the hills already. In Kura Buri, we opted for a river bungalow at Tamarin Resort, a rickety bungalow on stilts right on the Nang Yon River.
16 December – Kura Buri – Khaolak – 95 km
No two days are ever alike, and we set off over the hills past rubber tree plantations. In the process we cycled through at least three national parks, stopping for a short walk through the mangroves. We cycled past villagers drying betel nut in the sun. The betel nut comes from a plant known as Maak, and it grows wild all over Thailand.
We visited the Chaomae Kuan-Im Shrine, as always with a long history and fascinating history (http://www.travelingthruhistory.com/kuan-yin-shrine-and-the-legend-of-miao-shan-2/). We ate noodle soup and visited the elephant farm all before the rain came bucketing down. We were very close to our destination for the day, so we donned our plastic raincoats, pulled our caps down low and continued to Khaolak. No sooner had we offloaded the bikes, and we were off to enjoy another bowl of Thai soup! All in all, a good day on the road!
17 December – Khaolak – Phuket – 105 km
It was a day marred by bike problems. I could not figure out where the creaking sound came from and gave the entire bike a good spray with WD-40 but to no avail. There was nothing to do but continue, and we stayed on the main road instead of following the smaller road as we usually do. It was again easy riding, albeit a bit uninteresting.
Halfway through the day, we crossed the Sarasin Bridge where a short cycle ride brought us to Phuket island. Although Phuket is an island, it is not the kind of island that springs to mind, as it is very large and, from the bridge, it was still a further 50 kilometres before arriving at Patong beach.
Toward the end of the day, we spotted a bike shop with the unusual name of “U Can Bicycle Shop”. It turned out to be a very competent bike shop, and they replaced the bottom bracket, but still, the ungodly sound remained. They then changed the pedals, but still, the sound was there. We concluded that it had to be the rear rack, and I paid and thanked them for their help and headed in the direction of Phuket island.
I’m always surprised at how little confidence people have in us. On hearing we were heading for Phuket, the owner scratched his head, shook it, and declared that he did not think we would be able to make it, as there are very steep hills to contend with on the way. There were indeed a few steep hills along the way, but nothing that will make you get off the bike and push!
We arrived at Patong Beach just as the sun was setting; we quickly snapped a few pics, and then headed for a room.
18 December - Patong Beach, Phuket
Linda and I had different things we wanted to do, and each of us set off in a different direction. I went into Phuket town to look for the Canon repair centre, as I needed my Canon camera fixed (again). After speaking to the lady at the Canon office, I discovered that the waiting queue was two weeks, so I returned, tail between the legs, to Patong Beach, where I caught up with Linda, who had had a more successful day.
Patong is a world-class party beach, and there was no shortage of food, drinks, go-go bars, and ping-pong shows. Linda and I erred on the conservative side, had a beer and something to eat, and returned to the relative safety of our room. Actually, we just could not be asked with the overpriced meals and drinks and cheap curios on offer. I always say that cycle touring spoils one for life, and once you have experienced the “real” Thailand, it is hard to appreciate a place like Patong Beach. That said, it is a most remarkable place; as Lonely Planet puts it: "Phuket’s beating heart can be found in Patong, a ‘sin city’ that is the ultimate gong show where podgy beachaholics sizzle like rotisserie chickens and go-go girls play ping-pong—without paddles… Jet-setters touch down in droves, getting pummelled at swanky spas and swigging sundowners at fashion-forward night spots."
19 December – Patong Beach, Phuket – Phi Phi Island – by ferry
You know that you are in for a rough ride when the staff hands out seasick tablets as you board the ferry and big signs are put up indicating, “Don’t throw up here”. An unprecedented wind was blowing, and the seas were indeed rough. Our ferry rocked and rolled, and even the seasick tablets handed out clearly did not work for everyone. We did, however, arrive on Phi Phi Island safely (bikes and all!).
There is no shortage of accommodation on this small island, and we soon found a room, albeit at the hefty price of 1,000TB a night. We wasted no time at all and headed straight for the beach, rented a kayak, and rowed out to Monkey Beach. On our return, we just had enough time to walk up to the viewpoint and watch the sunset with loads of other holidaymakers. Then it was back down the hill for a bit of fun with the young crowd, buckets of booze, easy banter, and typical holiday island fun.
20 December – Phi Phi Island
Linda went scuba diving and I decided to give it a miss and update my journal and photos. As always, it was a great day in paradise.
21 December – Phi Phi Island - Krabi by ferry
It was soon time to leave Phi Phi island, and we caught the 10h30 ferry back to the mainland. Once in Krabi, we cycled the short distance to the town and found a room at Mr. Clean Guesthouse for 550TB, much less pricey than Phi Phi.
A short stroll to the river front brought us to the pier where we negotiated a price for an excursion into the mangroves. For 350TB we got a 2-hour trip into the mangroves with a stop at a most interesting cave. Later that evening, I went looking for a bike shop as my bicycle needed some adjustments; fortunately, I found a friendly and very competent one just down the road. A very successful day!
22 December – Krabi
After discussing our plans and route for the rest of the trip, Linda decided to spend one more day in Krabi and use the time to go climbing. There are loads of activities to enjoy in and around Krabi. Therefore, most people make Krabi town their base to explore the surrounding areas. I took my bicycle back to the bike shop to adjust the gears, sorted out my photos and updated my journal. Later I walked up to the Tiger Cave Temple, all 1200 steps of it! There was not much to see at the top as it was somewhat hazy and the monkeys were a menace.
23 December – Krabi – Trang – 130 km
We picked up a huge tailwind and powered by the wind we flew down the road, not something I ever complain about. It was easy cycling as not only did we have a tailwind but it was overcast with the odd drizzle, making for fantastic cycling. We hardly stopped, except for popping into some interesting-looking temples, a waterfall and a quick noodle soup stop along the way. I don’t know what was in that soup, but soon Linda took off like a bat out of hell, never to be seen again, LOL.
We soon reached the lovely town of Trang where we booked into the Trang Hotel for 590TB. The entire hotel and town were booked out to cyclists, and we understood from the locals there was a bicycle event taking place the following day.
Linda went for a 2-hour massage, and I went to eat noodle soup on the pavement next to the hotel, always a winner for me.
24 December – Trang – La Ngu – 98 km
Again, we were lucky with the weather. We started off in a light drizzle that soon cleared. The sun came out and, like the previous day, still we had a slight tailwind, all making for easy cycling to La Ngu. We stuck to the main road, something that is never very exciting, but still we crossed many tropical-looking rivers, unusual-looking shrines and temples, and interesting roadside stalls. Linda, as always, stopped for her bowl of noodle soup and bought snacks of fried bananas from friendly stall owners.
The area is littered with caves, and we explored one that also had a lovely swimming hole. My greatest disappointment was that the Stegodon Sea Cave (that one can explore by kayak) is a prearranged trip. The road led us through the Satun Geopark, a fascinating and extraordinary area. In La Ngu, we called it a day and Linda got us a lovely room at Dahla the Resort. Thank you, Linda! After a shower, we took a walk into town for something to eat, which sounds easier than what it turned out to be. La Ngu is not a touristy area, and hardly any English is spoken, with the result that all menus are in Thai. In the end, we settled for a plate of fried rice, as that was the easiest to order.
(86km - 9days)
25 - 26 December – La Ngu, Thailand – Langkawi, Malaysia – 86 km
We had an early start and first stopped at the local 7-11 for breakfast before heading to Satun to get the ferry to Langkawi. Although the internet stated that the Satun – Langkawi ferry was at 14:30, one never knows if that is, in fact, true. Our early start gave us plenty of time to amble along slowly, and in Satun, we stopped for our last bowl of Thai noodle soup. The immigration system at the Satun pier is one of the most relaxed, and we had plenty of time to change money, buy our tickets, and relax before the short ferry ride to Langkawi.
After arriving at the ferry port in Langkawi, we went through immigration without a hassle with no form and no questions, just a stamp, allowing us a 3-month stay in Malaysia. We stopped for the obligatory photo at the massive eagle and then headed over the hills to Cenang Beach, or Backpackerville, as I call it.
The following day we relaxed. I went for a short jog, had my fill of roti canai, and did a bit of shopping and marvelled at all that is for sale in touristy Langkawi. Linda returned with a bottle of South African red wine, which we drank on the beach that evening, watching the sunset over the Strait of Malacca.
27 December, Langkawi – Penang – By ferry
After some discussion, we decided to take the ferry to the island of Penang instead of cycling the 120 kilometres there. We had plenty of time to cycle the 23 kilometres back to the ferry port, where we bought our tickets (70MR each plus 30MR each for the bicycles).
Once in Penang, we cycled around looking for a budget room, which is relatively difficult in popular Georgetown. Once we found a room, we offloaded our panniers and headed down the road, looking for hidden street art, something that Penang has become famous for. I organised for a new Thailand visa, ate street food, and later caught up with Linda at the Reggae Bar, after which we went for a beer in the back allies where people sat on small plastic chairs drinking cheap beer—always a good place to meet other travellers.
28 December – Penang
We spent the day exploring - Linda and I went off in different directions. Linda took the hop-on-hop-off bus, and I went looking for a train or bus to take us to Kuala Lumpur as we have decided to spent New Year’s Eve in KL. As far as I could establish, we could not bring the bicycles on the train, and the bus was a wait-and-see situation. I took the gamble, bought two tickets for 30 December and hoped that they would allow the bicycles on the bus.
29 December Penang
I went for a run and Linda set off to catch the hop-on-hop-off bus, as her ticket was still valid until 16h00. We also moved to another hotel as our room was booked out as from the 29th. I did my laundry and then went looking for a travel water heater, something I find convenient for making coffee in the room. My old one packed up, and I was desperate to find a new one. My search, however, was to no avail, and I would have to wait until I'm back in Thailand to buy a new one.
30 December Penang – Kuala Lumpur by bus
We cycled off to the bus station and waited in anticipation to hear if we could put the bicycles on the bus. The driver was kind enough to allow both bikes to go on, albeit after a 20MR fee each. It was a short ride to Kuala Lumpur, and once off the bus, we went in search of our hotel that we booked online. The hotel was not quite what we had expected, and the owner allowed us to cancel. We found a much better place right on Old Market Square. Then it was time to explore Kuala Lumpur by foot, and we walked around China Town and Merdeka Square.
31 December – Kuala Lumpur
I went for a short run and then Linda and I took a walk to the KL Tower and the famous Petronas Towers, one of my most favourite tall buildings. Walking back, both buildings were beautifully lit, as was the Masjid Jamek mosque. We popped in but had to don a bright red cloak before we were allowed to enter. Although Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-confessional country, the official religion is Islam, as it is said that 61.3% of the population practices Islam. There is, therefore, no shortage of beautiful mosques in the city. That said, there are equally impressive Hindu and Chinese or Taoist Temples.
It was New Year’s Eve, and we stopped for a beer at the Colosseum. Established in 1921, Colosseum Café & Grill room is one of the oldest in the country and a good example of the city’s colonial heritage. Then it was off to the more popular Reggae Bar for another drink.
1 January - Kuala Lumpur
Linda set off on the hop-on-hop-off bus, and I went looking for information on how to get her bicycle back to Pattaya. Everything was closed, and I could not find any info on sending a bike to Thailand. I did find a bicycle shop in the process, but they were also closed, and there was nothing to do but wait for the next day.
2 January - Kuala Lumpur
After a delicious Indian breakfast of idli and roti canai, I took a walk to the post office and the news was good. Yes, one can send a bicycle by post and all one needs to do is box it and they will come collect it and deliver it to my place in Thailand.