You Are Viewing Thailand

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Posted October 28th, 2008

338km Ao Nang Beach to Satun

Friedel playing the touristWhat 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. (more…)

Two beaches, two universes

Posted October 24th, 2008

306km Paknam Lang Suan to Aonang Beach

White BuddhaTwo beaches. Two strips of sand with waves coming up on shore. At first glance they’re the same but these are no equals. Paknam Lang Suan, the little fishing village we so enjoyed on Thailand’s Gulf coast is a humble place. Just a few simple bungalows offer accommodation by the water and it’s more families than surfers in the parks. By contrast, the flashing lights nearly blinded us when we arrived on the West coast of Thailand, in the resort town of Aonang.

“Hey, where you go? Have a look! New suit? My friend, my friend.”

Suddenly we had dozens of new friends, amassing quicker than fruit flies on a banana as we walked up the main street and each one of them ready to sell us a t-shirt, a tour, a hotel.

“Just one minute. What, you in a hurry?”

Boat in early lightWell, yes actually. We are two cyclists, we’ve just come 130km and we’re starving. Of course we’re in a hurry! Finding food tonight wasn’t going to be easy either. In almost any other town in Thailand it would take us no more than 30 seconds to locate the nearest woman serving up noodle soup or fried rice, never costing more than a dollar a serving. Add on an iced coffee each for another handful of pocket change and we’d have full bellies. Our first glance at a menu in Aonang though confirmed our fears: prices were anything up to six times the going rate in the rest of Thailand. (more…)

Pedalling in paradise

Posted October 21st, 2008

311km Pratchuap Kiri Khan to Paknam Lang Suan

Andrew and our bikes on the beachThe evening is calm. As the sun sets, the sky takes on a faint pink glow. The sea is calm. The beach is empty.

It’s our fifth wedding anniversary and we couldn’t have picked a better place to be. It’s like we planned to have a whole coastline to ourselves on this special day. In fact, it’s just one of those wonderful days on tour: full of beautiful scenery, quiet roads and a cute little bungalow that showed up just as our legs were getting tired.

The seafood restaurant went down a treat too. You’d hardly recognise it as a restaurant from the road; just a few tables set on the beach but no sign and only the family who run the place sitting in the yard. The food is so good though as far as we’re concerned it deserves a few Michelin stars. Why isn’t the whole world here? At first we don’t really know what to order but using sign language and a bit of broken Thai we’ve picked up along the way we come up trumps with a spicy fish soup and a fish curry plus two beers to wash down our feast. The bill doesn’t even touch $10 and as we watch the waves lap up on shore we think to ourselves that we might just have found paradise.

It’s a far cry from the beaches in Thailand that we envisioned. We expected big resort hotels and bars stuffed with drunk patrons but there’s no sign of that here. Oh sure, there’s the occasional luxury bungalow but mostly the tourists – all of them Thai – are far outnumbered by the palm trees and we can stop several times of day with a whole beach to ourselves. Full of fish, we go to bed two very happy cyclists. (more…)

And then there was Irham

Posted October 17th, 2008

Train ride from Bangkok to Pratchuap Kiri Khan

Irham and his father“Where are you going?”

The young voice drifted up to us, over the roar of a crowded waiting area at Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station. We ourselves were waiting with our bicycles to buy tickets for the train south. The question was spoken in such perfect English, with no hint of any accent, that we turned around expecting to see a European face staring back. To our surprise, our gaze was returned by Irham, an 11-year-old Thai boy.

We explained our trip and now Ihram was bursting with questions. How far had we gone? Which countries? After a few minutes, Irham confessed the reason for his interest. “That’s my bicycle over there!” he said proudly, pointing across the jammed hall. We couldn’t see a thing. Where was that bicycle again? Every bench had people hanging off the edges. Every spare bit of floor was covered with families waiting for their train.

Finally we spotted his bicycle, along with the bikes of his father and cousin. They’d already cycled 800km in Thailand and now were going to Malaysia during Ihram’s school holidays. By now we’d reached the ticket window, only to be sent to a second one, then to the cargo desk and finally to load our bikes on the train. Working through the chaos took over an hour and unlike our last train journey in Thailand, this time we had no help at all from the various employees standing around. Only one mustered up the energy to talk to us and he was looking for a few baht as a tip. For what service exactly he thought a tip was merited, we’re not sure. (more…)

Back on the flat

Posted October 11th, 2008

549km Mae Sot to Kanchanaburi

Coconut Trees in a rice fieldAfter working our muscles on the many steep climbs near the Myanmar border, just one last hill stood between us in Mae Sot and the typical Thai town of Tak. We hoped for a cloudy day – the best conditions for climbing – but instead we got blue skies and intense sun. “Going to be a hot one,” we said to each other as we started the ascent.

Every bend revealed a new rise in the road and it took just a few kilometers before we were completely sweat covered and hoping for a fountain or roadside waterfall. One never materialised – you see very few in Thailand – but we did get the next best thing… an iced coffee stand! Bless those Thais and their love of frozen drinks, especially good coffee. We indulged in three coffees over the course of the day, each one relieving the humid temperatures for at least a few minutes.

Avocado sellers. So tasty!As we climbed, we passed by a shrine with two elephant sculptures, each one decorated with garlands of flowers, and then a hilltribe market at the top. We expected tourist tat but instead found an amazing produce market, where we gleefully picked up fresh avocados and fresh asparagus – two of our favourite foods and ones we haven’t eaten since leaving Europe. We drooled the rest of the afternoon just thinking of the feast waiting for us that night. (more…)