If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
338km Ao Nang Beach to Satun
What to do when you’re a budget traveller, stuck in an overpriced beach resort? For cyclists, the answer is clear: find the all-you-can-eat buffet and tuck in. Shocked by the price of fried rice in Ao Nang, we followed the crowds to a bar called Bernies and their vegetarian spread. Now if there was ever a lesson for restaurant owners, it’s to beware of cyclists coming to eat at your buffet. They’ll destroy your profit margin in seconds, which is exactly what the lady writing out our bill told us after we worked our way through three plates each of pasta, curry, baked potatoes, garlic bread and salad, not to mention a few trips to the ice cream freezer. “I don’t make much money off people like you,” she said sourly. Well, we were happy at least and waddled back to our hotel, certain we’d stashed away enough extra calories to see us through to the Malaysian border.
We got a late start the next day, stopping at the gigantic supermarkets in Krabi to stock up on all the things we were sure would be more expensive in Malaysia. After so long shopping in markets and tiny corner shops, these hypermarkets always take us aback with their floor that takes ten minutes to walk from end to end. It took a good hour to pick up a few toiletries and it was midday before we set off down the extremely busy road. There was a shoulder and thank goodness for those two feet of pavement all to ourselves but even so the sound of trucks flying by your ears constantly takes its toll. Whiz. Whoosh. Rumble. Throw in a cloud of black smoke from a poorly maintained engine and it’s not exactly cycling paradise. We just wanted to get that road overwith so we pushed on as fast as our legs would spin round, not paying much attention to where we’d find a bed for the night. Soon it was dusk and we were in Siako – one of those rural towns that’s just big enough for a market but not for a hotel. Thankfully in Thailand, the police are truly ‘at your service’ and had no problem allowing us to set up camp on their front lawn. We’d just started to get the tent out when we heard a voice calling to us in English through the darkness.
A young woman with sparkling eyes and a warm smile appeared from between the trees, asking if she could offer any help. Meet Bhu, who graciously translated between us and the police. Soon we were upgraded from the lawn to the concrete floor of a small shelter, safe from flooding and aggressive Thai ants. “It’s our duty to help the people,” said the police officer when we thanked him for letting us sleep near the station. What a fine attitude. As we put up the tent, Bhu disappeared and then returned a few moments later with her partner Rick, an American who spent so long in Montreal he described himself as Canadian.
Soon we were in their front room, chatting with Rick, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey and is quite the craftsman besides, making tables, shelves and other sculptures from driftwood that wash up on nearby Pakmeng beach. For her part, Bhu shared yoghurt with us that she started with culture from a Tibetan monastery and talked of her dream to go to India one day. It was late in the evening when we finally toddled off to bed, with sadness that we couldn’t stay longer with two such interesting people.
Sunday morning sunshine streamed through our tent around 6am and after a bumper breakfast of fried eggs, bread and coffee we headed off for the beach that dusk stopped us from reaching the day before. Only a few kilometers down the road, we had another friendly surprise. This time it was Justin, from Britain, and his Thai wife Oranuch who asked us in for coffee. They’ve just started a little restaurant on the way to the beach and we sat outside on the bamboo tables for a pleasant hour, learning about the local area, their recent wedding and dreams for the future.
How much these two encounters lifted us. In a country where we’ve often felt distanced from the culture – something not helped by a vast language gap – it was so nice getting to know some of Thailand’s people. Unfortunately our buoyant spirits didn’t last long. By midday we were hopelessly lost and ended up going north to the city of Trang instead of south to Satun. A brief stop to soak our feet at a hot spring, followed by an ice cream, helped somewhat but all too soon it was back to the hot road and there were a few tense moments. These are the kind of moments that come when fatigue and frustration boil over and you irrationally take it out on each other instead of just calming down. We called a truce under a bus shelter and agreed to just make the best of our inept map and roads that insisted on taking us in every direction except the one we wanted. One flat tire and a couple hours later, we finished the day in Trang but despite our 80km of cycling we were no closer to the Malaysian border.
There’s not much you can do in a situation like this but try again so after a good night’s sleep we woke up ready to tackle the road south once more. This time our sense of direction worked much better and we were cheered by meeting Wim and Liu, two cyclists also out pounding the pavement up and down Thailand’s coast. Wim is a semi-professional racing cyclist, training and travelling at the same time, while Liu is from Taiwan and told us about his success camping in school grounds. They always have water, he tells us, and they’re tranquil, at least until the kids show up the next morning! Early starts are required for those who like their peace and quiet.
Several frozen drinks later, we arrived in Satun, an Islamic town, with a mosque that shouts the call to prayer directly into our hotel room, five times a day. Our room is clean but very basic, with cigarette burns on the table and tiles decorated with Canada Geese in the bathroom. On the upside, it only costs $6 a night so who’s complaining. Aside from checking out the market, there’s really not much to hold us here so we only have to spend our remaining Baht and then we’ll be off to the border.