Well I just wrote a wonderful post about the joyousness of easter in Thailand, but sadly the website deleted it before I was able to publish it, so you'll just have to settle with some trop about what we've been up to the last couple days.
I had my teeth jabbed at by a dentist wearing a red coat and wielding a deathly looking sickle, just picture the grim reaper and your half way there... Oh the pain...
We bought a meal for a three legged dog we found looking emaciated but sitting silently in the evening shadows amidst the ruins of a former Kingdom. The scene was eerily reminiscent of something grand and sad... I just cant remember exactly what.
We fed two little elephants, and then one of them grabbed a hold of my bicycle chain to see if it was edible. They enjoyed a good pat and a spray with the hose. And then we gave a bucket of capsicums to some big hungry elephants.
We cycled all around the city and saw some amazing archaic temples and ruins, the most incredible of which were featured in the film Mortal Combat.
Learnt that before the Burmese sacked and burned the city in the eighteenth century it was one of if not the most beautiful cities in the world (by the look of what is left we'd have to agree- definitely worth a geezer!)
Found out archaeological digs which uncovered untold amounts of gold, about more Government corruption and the thievery of aforementioned ancient artifacts.
And most recently, went to church and saw how the Thai's celebrate Easter!
That's all for now, hope you had a safe and joyous Easter weekend and didn't get caught speeding on the roads!
When the Atlanta Hotel turned us away with our bikes (the only place so far to do that) we ended up in the nice and spacious Omni Apartments, where bicycles were welcome (even on the 26th floor), the pool was shabby but clean, the gym had lots of equipment and the breakfast was free and delicious. It was very centrally located to the tourist attractions and public transport, so we didn't need to bring the bikes down until it was time to leave.
The apartment was also centrally located to western bars and massage parlours, and it seemed as though every single (we hope), overweight, 50+ year old, British man was staying in our street (Soi 4) to take advantage of the local hospitality. And the girls (and also lady boys, which we saw many of) were eager to make everyone feel welcome and loved in Bangkok.
We didn't like the city. It was dirty and made of concrete. I am sure there are some nice parks and pockets of beauty... but overall it is not an attractive place. And it seemed as though everyone was trying to get money out of us.
Internet is very expensive. Even the hotels and coffee shops that would normally have free wifi were charging high rates. The taxi and tuktuk drivers refuse to use the meter and if you won't pay them more than the locals they don't want to take you.
We took a taxi to the bike shop and the driver agreed to use the meter, but only if we went to a tailor and looked around for 5 minutes while he got his fuel voucher for bringing them Western tourists. He explained times were tough - tourist numbers were down with the protests and all - so we agreed to go to his tailor. It was WAY out of our way - in the opposite direction - and then we got caught in traffic. But we wanted to help him out so we didn't complain. But then when we got near the bike shop he kept driving around (even though he'd talked to the shop on the phone and knew where it was) to get the meter up. When we yelled at him to stop and let us out, he didn't give us enough change. We'd gone into the pushy, tailor shop to help him and he tried to rort us.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise though. When he'd first mentioned tourist numbers being down we asked him if he was a red shirt, which he admitted he was, and that he attended local meetings every day. We asked if there would be any fighting and he said no, only talking. He said they were very angry and wanted elections, because they loved the ousted leader Thaksin, who has been declared guilty in court of stealing billions from the Thai economy. When we questioned the driver about why he supported a thief who was corrupt he didn't seem phased, in fact he laughed and just said Thaksin looked after the poor people and they still loved him. It seems that most poor people don't care that the man embezzled billions, because as the driver said 'he would have done the same if given the opportunity.'
There were however some highlights of Bangkok - including Ocean World at the Siam Paragon shopping centre, particularly the little fish that eat the skin off your feet (they loved Sam!) and the sharks - everyone loves sharks (when they are behind very thick glass). The shopping centre also had a selection of prestige cars which was a definite highlight for Sam, not so much for Shanna. And we watched How to train your dragon on Imax 3D - not only a cute movie, but amazing in that cinema.
To keep the journey moving we went to a Cannondale bike shop to stock up on supplies like anti-friction cream, lube, tubes and patches. And Sam spent half a day putting new chains on both bikes (he is so clever) in preparation for the limited supplies and rough conditions of China.
Once we'd done all we needed, we quite happily went back to the station and caught a train out of Bangkok, to Ayutthaya.
Distance - 70km
Cycling to Hua HIn, seaside village.
Saw crazy accident.
Read about seaside village - not so much a village - SO busy
Horses on the beach
Rocks in the water - NOT good swimming, cut our feet, beach is chaos, so many people...
So many old men with young Asian women...
3rd class train carriage at 12:10am. SO uncomfortable. Horrible experience/ fantastic experience (Shanna/Sam)_ But that is how the locals do it.
Train was packed. Arrive 5am.
Riding through Bangkok in the dark. 11kms to hotel, one way streets.
Get to hotel we'd booked - The Atlanta (very strange,budget, art deco, in disrepair), not allowed in with our bikes.
Where do we go now?
Distance - 40km
This day was dedicated to being a 3/4 rest day. We would look around Pratchuap Khiri Khan, then find somewhere to stay - hopefully a beachside bungalow somewhere.
The first thing we noticed riding into the town was a big temple up on a hill, with stairs winding up to the top. Despite having tired legs, I knew I wanted to climb to the top to see the view! The second thing we noticed in the town was monkeys everywhere! They were climbing up stone walls, hanging from the trees, walking down the footpath and sitting on benches. Pratchuap Khiri Kahn was crawling with monkeys.
I had fun watching them play in a fountain - jumping off rocks into the water, wrestling each other, climbing the statue... It was quite strange though when they walked straight past you - coming within centimetres of your legs.
As I walked up the path to the temple one little monkey followed me for a while - eyeing off my water bottle. He ran up the stairs in front of me, along the handrail... I couldn't seem to shake him. I was even more surprised when I realised just how many monkeys lived along this path. There were covered seating areas along the way but not for people to rest, for the monkeys to sleep in the shade. You literally had to walk over them to get through. I kept expecting one to get up and attack my legs, but they just lay there as I stepped over them.
It was quite easy to get to the top. There are apparently 396 steps but they are not steep and I made it to the top within about 15 minutes. And that included stopping frequently to take photos of the magical views all around me.
At the top there were 180 degree views of the bay, and 180 degree views of the town. It was one of the most beautiful things I've experienced on this trip.
It was a bit scary when the monkeys actually started trying to get my water bottle off me. One big one grabbed it and pulled and when I swung me leg at it, it hissed at me. Then a smaller one actually leapt at me and grabbed onto my leg - he was hard to shake off. In the end I let them have the empty bottle so they would stop harrassing me.
After the climb to the top we rode along the beach, enjoying the beautiful coastline. For timing reasons we've made the difficult decision not to go to Vietnam, but instead ride up through Thailand and Laos to China. This means that once we get to Bangkok we probably won't see the coast for months, until we get to Turkey. We wanted to enjoy it while we could! We were going to stay along this section of the coast but most of the places were full, and the ones that had rooms were too expensive. We decided to head back inland to the main road where the cleaner, cheaper hotels are found.
We rode only 40km, but after the week we'd had that was enough. We stopped at a town along the highway, found somewhere to sleep and bought a feast for a small price at the massive night markets.
We were heading to Bangkok within the next day or two, so we tried to find out what was happening with the red shirt protests... We hadn't had much English news since arriving in Thailand so we didn't really have any idea what the situation was like. Again, there was no English news on the television, although we did find a Russian channel in English so we found out about the yeti legends in Siberia. Interesting, but not very useful.
Distance - 148km (60km in the rain)
We planned another 150km day to reach Prachuap Khiri Khan. The idea of riding longer distances and having more rest time to see places was appealing to us, plus if you've done something once, it's easier to do again.
Well, I thought it would become easier.
The morning was difficult - I think it was partly a mental barrier because there were distance signs all along the road, but they were placed about a kilometre apart so every time you saw one there was still so far to go - 145km, 144km, 143km, 141km... this went on for a while and I felt we were getting nowhere. The wind was slowing us down - of course - and I spent a lot of time in Sam's slipstream again.
Luckily though it was an overcast day - which meant it was much cooler than usual. We didn't feel too uncomfortable which made the riding easier. And all of a sudden we had only 70km to go! We were so close.
Then the clouds that we'd been thankful for all day started to get darker, and thicker. The sky was ominous but we would push on. We went past some roadworkers that were packing up. One pointed up the sky eagerly and made rain motions with his fingers. He was warning us to get off the road.
Just up the road the first rain drops fell but they felt so cool and refreshing we kept riding. We only got a couple more kilometres though and they came faster and thicker. We pulled over at a restaurant at the top of a hill. And just in time. Soon the thunder and lightening filled the sky and the rain was bucketing down. We took the opportunity to eat some green chicken curry and rice and have a break.
We stopped for an hour while the storm raged. And then waited another 20 minutes for the rain to turn to drizzle. We still had time to make it before dark, but it would be close. The air was even cooler now though so we'd be able to ride faster.
Another 25km down the road and we were making good time. We would get there before dark easily! But then I felt my bike start to bounce around a bit - a sure sign of a deflated rear tyre. I got off and had a look. Yep. Flat.
Despite how quick Sam has become at changing flats (all of them mine, he hasn't had any!) it still takes at least half an hour by the time you take off bags, the wheel, find the puncture, check the tyre (in this case a big piece of glass was removed), change the tube, pump it up (not easy with a hand pump), put the wheel and bags back on... when we were ready to move again the drizzle was a bit heavier and the sky a bit darker.
We rode furiously. As we neared Pratchuap Khiri Khan we were going through the narrowest part of Thailand. Myanmar was so close! We actually saw a road sign pointing there, and the road that led there was just a narrow, poorly paved side street that no one was using.
The light was fading fast when we found a good cheap hotel (Au$10) just outside Pratchuap Khiri Khan. The girl working there was so nice. She spoke no English but somehow we communicated and laughed a lot. She let Sam borrow her motorbike to go get us some food in the rain and helped us carry our bags up a steep windy staircase to our room.
She was a beautiful girl, but had whitening cream on her face. She had a friend/sister with her who also had the cream on, and a small child, not even two years old, with cream on its face too. All the advertising and entertainment throughout SE Asia features Asians who are 'white' and it is hard to buy a normal moistourising cream or face cleanser - they are all 'whitening'. We see teenage boys wearing the cream, young boys, babies... we didn't realise how much these people want to be white. It is easier to understand why Michael Jackson changed his skin colour when you see the obsession over here. We wanted to tell this nice girl she was beautiful as she was, and not to worry about the cream, but it is so ingrained in their minds we didn't know how.
Today we chilled out and had a rest.
When we got up we walked around the place we were staying in and bizarrely, were almost sprung upon by a wild bear! The bear was in an enclosure of sorts, but the walls were so low (and as you will see in the photos) the bear was able to climb up on a pole and stand up on the top where it looked as though it could simply jump out. Anyway, we felt sorry for the poor guy (even though he scared the crap out of us) and we noticed he had a cut in his gums and that he seemed like he was desperate to get out of there, pacing up and down the wall continuously.
After we found the bear we stumbled upon some other interesting creatures in makeshift cages, deer with chickens keeping them company and amazing looking (and huge) birds, that also managed to scare the crap out of me when they flew right into the wire.
We cycled back down to the shops we had passed the day before, got a fantastic but painful thai massage and some food from the KFC with no chicken, and then I did a workout in the gym room, sweating profusely whilst being bitten by hungry mosquitoes while Shanna read a book we both highly recommend called The White Tiger.
Distance – 151km
The sound of roosters trying to outdo each other woke us at 4am. The cold aircon woke us at 5am. The alarm woke us at 6am. Our legs still were still tired, but it was a feeling we were getting used to.
Dragging ourselves out of bed, we ate the muffins, bananas and milk we’d bought at the markets the night before and packed our things. I didn’t think I could make it far that day, but we agreed that if we made it the 125km to Chumphon, we could have a rest day.
The only reason I was able to drag myself across the necessary kilometers was by staying in Sam’s slipstream for most of the day. He was tired and sore too, but he did the work for both of us. We rode all day, stopping occasionally at rest stops for drinks and food.
Just before the turn-off to Chumphon, where there was no doubt many hotels to stay, we saw on the GPS that there was a hotel 23km further along the road. We decided that rather than detouring 9km off the main road to the town, and then 9km back again, we’d just keep going and stay further down the road. Plus, there was a KFC further along and the thought of real fried chicken was too tempting.
These last 23km the hills returned. And twilight set in, so the dogs starting barking and lurking in the bushes again. We finally made it to the hotel, which was actually situated as part of a roadside rest area, to find out they were full. But just down the road was a ‘resort’ that had a room.
It was a long, tiring day. And in the end KFC told us they were out of chicken (how can KFC be out of chicken?!) so we had to settle for fish fingers and spicy mini drumsticks. But we had made a huge accomplishment in how far we had ridden, and we were happy.
Distance - 77km
We’d slept soundly, but our legs were aching. We’d hardly eaten the day before, but what we had eaten was not agreeing with our stomachs. It would be a hard day.
Luckily, we’d made it across the middle of Thailand and we were now close to the east coast, near Surat Thani, where the road was flatter.
After a couple of hours we stopped at a rest stop for nourishment. On many occasions I’ve found that when you’re not feeling great, a ham and cheese toasted sandwich is the best cure. So that is what we got from the 7-eleven. We found some hardboiled eggs at a small stand, and got some chocolate milk, and managed to get the energy we needed to keep going.
There was a place marked on the road signs called Tha Chana, and we reasoned that if we made it there we would have done about 75km for the day, which we were content with. We arrived in the early afternoon and found a small hotel in the town, right near some markets.
After a cold shower we headed out to get some food. What had looked like a group of street stalls from our hotel turned out to be a massive, bustling open market where it seemed everyone from this town, and surrounding towns, was gathered. They had not only food, but also clothes, shoes, VCDS (not DVDs annoyingly), little pet turtles, goldfish, knives, machetes, pots and pans… all manner of things were for sale at these markets. Sam bought a pair of thongs for less than AU$1 and we got some chicken, rice, pork dumplings, corn (not as good as in Malaysia, but ok), jam and custard donuts, and a green coconut custard filled pancake. The food was good, and experiencing the markets made it worth stopping in Tha Chana.
Day two on mainland Thailand
Distance – 120km
We awoke hungry. Despite buying a variety of items at the streetside stalls (corn on the cob, sausages, chicken, vegetable noodles (heaps of chilli...) bananas) the night before none of it was very good, so we hadn’t eaten much.
We started riding and about 10km down the road stopped at a service station for yoghurt and drinks. They didn’t have much food so we just kept riding.
The scenery was beautiful. The road wound between huge, spiralling sheer tree covered mounds of earthen rock that scattered the countryside. Where did these obscure peaks come from? We speculated on theories, concluding that they must be the remnants of a meteorite shower from millions of years ago. The road wound up and down these mountains for the whole day, and while our legs burned, we enjoyed the challenge and the beauty.
In the middle of the day we were starving, and considering we spoke and read no Thai, and the locals spoke no English, we were limited in what we could get. We stuck to the roadside stall where we could at least see what we were picking and point it out. We bought a piece of ‘chicken’ and some rice each, although given the large size of the leg we were eating we were not convinced it was chicken. A happy, healthy looking dog was running around and sniffed our bikes, and we wondered (hoped we weren't) if we were eating one of his friends.
Back on the bikes and the heat was unbearable, so we stopped for a couple of hours in the cool of an internet café.
Before we knew it the time was 5pm and we had just over an hour before dark, and – according to the GPS – 33km to the nearest hotel. If we rode hard, maybe we could make it.
But not with the hills. We ground our way to the top of each rise and sped down the other side – repeating this furiously as the light quickly disappeared.
It grew dark and we had 7km to go. Sam had a light handy so we pulled that out and kept going. Shanna went at the front so that the traffic would first see the light and somehow found the strength to do a fast pace. Maybe it was the fear of the angry dogs that kept jumping out of the bushes and barking and chasing the bikes. Numerous times Sam jumped off the bike to threaten the dogs while Shanna sped away. One dog we didn’t see came close to getting Sam, but he managed to get off the bike and chase it away just in time.
In the pitch black we checked the GPS one more time. We had to be at the hotel, but there were no signs. The GPS said the hotel was 50m away, and we saw a dim sign in Thai language that we decided to investigate. Just as we read the ‘24’ and realized this must be it, another dog ran out of the darkness and Sam, furious now from all the dogs we’d encountered, picked up a rock and threw it at the dog. It ran away for now, but every time our backs were turned it came back.
We wandered into the yard of the ‘hotel’ and couldn’t see a reception, or anyone to talk to. The place was a dump, it looked like the rooms had a bit of cloth for a door, plus there was the dog who wanted to kill us, so we opted to keep going. We pulled things out of our bags trying to find more lights, and eventually we were back on the road.
The GPS said we had just 3.5km to the next hotel so we quickly pulled up outside a service station with a sign in Thai, with the magic numbers ‘24’, pointing around the back. A young guy who spoke a little English came and showed us to a room. Cheap, but it would do. Plus it had a door, no dogs and a resident trannie.
Across the road we scoffed down burgers and hotdogs from the 7-eleven, wishing we had some real food but not sure how to find it.
Distance: 57 km's (and a few more on a ferry).
Weather: Sauna hot
Got up early in the morning, about 6am, carried our bikes and our panniers down stairs, slammed some breakfast down between 7am and 7.30 (a whole lot of breakfast, omelettes, juice, muesli, yoghurt, fresh pineapple and watermelon, sausages, pancakes, potato's, toast, and that was just the first 3 plates...lol), jumped straight on our bikes and left the beautiful (and great value) Kaw Kwang Resort behind.
Got to the ferry terminal in 15 minutes, purchased our tickets, lifted our bikes (man am I sick of lifting the bikes!!!) onto the ferry and by 8am we were on our way to Krabi.
The ferry ride was fantastic, no more bumpy seas, no more sick stomach (except the runs of course, which we have had for about 50% of our time in South east Asia), and a nice boat with plenty of room to stretch out. Almost 3 hours later and we'd landed on the Thai mainland.
First thing we did from here was ride our bikes down the 50 meter long ferry terminal past everyone else, that was fun. And then we went searching for a map of Thailand (we had one for Malaysia which was a great help).
We were unsuccessful so we looked on a map at a tour agents office and figured out which way we'd ride. Without a whole lot of thought we were on the road again, heading towards Chumphon, which we wouldn't reach for 4 days) almost 400 km's away, or something like that, I'm a little wasted right now (we just rode over 150kms and its bed time (9pm) so the mind isn't real quick right now... Ah, I hear what you're thinking, and I know, it's never been real quick, but tonight it's even slower.
So anyway, we rode until around 4pm (sunset is 6pm), found a cheap place to stay (around Australian $11) with aircon, ahhh the feeling of aircon after a hot as hell day riding a heavy bicycle on the road, I digress again, laid our heads down on some hard pillows, need I mention the bed was harder than a rock, and drifted off into a nice peaceful sleep... That was until we were woken by about 4 roosters at 4am (This is common so we are getting used to it.)
Thanks to everyone for all your support and encouragement, it keeps us going and gives us something to smile about when the road is hot and our legs are burning.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia