Archive for the ‘Cycle touring South Thailand & Malaysia 2010’ Category

Saturday May 15, 2010

US$1.00 buys Thai Bhat / Thb 32

US$1.00 buys Malaysian Ringgit / MR $3.28

Number of flats : Zero

Number of tubes carried : 3

Number of tube and tyre patches carried : 12

Number of spare rear derailluers carried : 1

Number of rainy day rides : 2.5 out of 14 days

Least used item carried : Marmot Precip Rain Jacket

Max speed attained : 165 kmp/h

Max speed attained under own steam (and a bit of gravity) : 64 kmp/h

Number of giant lizards run over : 1 @ 52 kmp/h

Cheapest room : Grand Thara, Surat Thani Thb 400

Cheapest room with breakfast : Grand Thara

Most expensive room : Mayflower Grande, Hat Yai Thb 890

Best value room : Le_Ranong, Ranong Thb 590 + overnight notebook use

Average cost of room per night : Thb 581

Worst value room : Regent Inn, Alor Setar MR$84 / Thb 840

Most expensive meal : RM$24.50 Speghetti + meatballs + choc milkshake + NYC cheesecake @ Secret Recipe Alor Setar

Least expensive meal : Pork porridge, Chumphon, Thb 25 and countless others

Yukkiest meal : Sticky rice, sour fish soup and 1 salted egg, Kanchandit Thb 25

Did I have my fill of tim sum? Yes

Earliest night : 10 pm Phuket

Latest night : 1.25 am Ranong (blame notebook)

Earliest wake up : 5.15 am / there were so many

Latest wake up : 7.45 am / Penang

Most opulent purchase : RM$45 nylon ripstop foldable duffel bag

Most useful purchase : Toss up with Thai made Sunshine Brand cycling arm sleeves x 3 pairs, @ Thb 120 each, and Thinknet Road Map of Southern Thailand. Thb 120

Cubic gallons of crushed ice consumed : Might put 7/11 in the red

Number of 7/11s in Thailand : > 5,000 !!

Best all time free ride : Piyawud’s Speed Racer 2.5 L Turbo Diesel Mazda Pick Up

Best interaction with the locals : Piyawud Clan out shopping with rooster

Worst interaction with a local : Toss Up, between man with Nokia at Sawi bus stop, and bus boy general, Ranong

Number of cycle tourers encountered : 3

Nationality of such encounters : French

Number of non Thai farang encounters : 6

Most number of dogs chasing me at any one time : 7

Most common road kill : snakes

Preferred country to bike in : Thailand

Preferred country to fly home from : Malaysia (Penang)

Towns with adequate bike shops : Phuket, Takua Pa, Ranong, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Tha Sala, Nakhon ST, Hat Yai , Penang

Number of nights without getting on line : 0

Total body weight loss : 2.3 kgs / 5.07 lbs

Self imposed restrain on Penang hawker food : Good, B+

Number of images taken : Canon G 7 : 199 Lumix Lx 3 : 2015

Number of marriage proposals : Zilch

Number of non marriage proposals : Hmmmmm.

$$$ spent : 2 flights/S$174/US$123 + Thai Baht 10,000 / US$308 + Malaysian Ringgit RM$474 / US$142

OK You can rest now.....

Friday May 14, 2010

Had a very relaxed morning looking to buy one of those rip stop nylon folding duffel bags for all my stuff as I did not feel like packing the panniers for a flight. At a small back lane rife with litter I see a huge crowd lining up for something that must be yummy. Looked like coffee and toast and soft boiled eggs. Gary from the bike shop was there with 2 nubile and lanky girls with funny tan lines on the arms and thighs, just like me. At least let me pay for BF I said, in return for the bike box and getting to know lanky girls with funny tan lines.

With BF, goodbyes and duffel bag done, as per usual, I always like to lie flat and ponder over the whole trip, the good the bad and the ugly, while staring blankly at the ceiling and slow spinning fan.

As the flight was 1715 hrs and check out was extended to 1300 hrs, and it is just 1000 hrs now, I figured vegetating till 1500 hrs when the taxi arrives, would not be productive. I go down to the palatial Chinese 70s inspired decor (read : tacky as hell) lobby to chit chat with Mr Hong, who vehemently denies that he’s the owner of the Hong Ping, lest I have kidnapping plans for a small time tycoon like him. He’s the smug one who kept the TV remote for 202.

 

CEO of the Hong Ping chain

We discuss everything Penang and I got some pretty good insights. He told me not to come during year’s end. Prices are doubled and they still have to turn away guests. I did that once in 1998 and learnt my lesson. There’s a massage place in front where a coffee shop used to be. The one that Muslim men are banned from and have to go all the way to Hat Yai for their jollies.

How did I know, asked Mr Hong. Well you see, in the last millenium, more precisely 1989, when I was a bike touring virgin, me and 3 friends stayed at the venerable Hong Ping. Sleep was not easy as when any car passed by, the whole front room would rattle. NO AC or TV remotes in those days. Back to the center for muscular and joint relief. Malaysian MR$50/ or abt US$15 per hour base price, more for hanky panky. After that duffel bag, I am just MR$45 short.

Being a majority Chinese state in a majority Malay/Islamic country has it’s challenges too. Every business sign has to have a Malay translation, which cannot be smaller than 50% of the English one. So Emma’s Boutique will have ‘Butik Emma’ under it. Or John’s Restaurant is followed by ‘Restoran John’ Good times for signboard makers. A tad confusing for English readers.

Also of interest are the famously infamous ‘Khalwat’ or ‘close proximity’ laws. Who knows, if you fall out of love with your bike and in love with a local, research like this IS vital,

‘Know Your Rights!’ http://www.wao.org.my/news/20030104knowrghts_khalwat.htm

In the meantime, mention Penang to any one, and you’ll be asked what are you going to eat / have eaten there? It actually makes sense to start a trip in Penang and cycle off somewhere just to burn off those calories.

Choose your own 'slop'

Wantan mee @ midnight

Blood red tandori chicken

Thursday May 13, 2010, 28 km (17 miles) – Total so far: 999 km (621 miles)

For the first time in as many days, I had the luxury of waking up at a very ‘late’ 7.45 am. Since the start of this trip, every morning was a routine of wake up, sit up, look around and wonder, “Where am I?”

Check windows and look for daylight or rather the lack of it on those 5.45 am mornings. Funnily enough I couldn’t sleep any more past 8 today, so I decided to stare at the ceiling fan. I do have air con, which in combo with the fan takes care of drying laundry every night.

Komtar towers above Georgetown

Very looking forward to not packing up and ride to the next destination. Then I hit the TV remote. Nothing. Check power. Still nothing. Kaput. Changing rooms was OK with the reception. Trouble is, with all the stuff that I have spread all over, a room on the same floor would be nice.

No, none, walk one floor down to 202. OK. Transfer everything. Check TV. It works, very well, more channels even, but the channel buttons are missing. Went down to reception again, for the third time. After he’s had his fun, he smiles and takes out a Samsung remote bearing Room No 202 and hands it over.

If I feel like it later, I might let out some air from the tyres of his new Honda Accord in the parking lot.

Georgetown is a walker’s delight. The morning markets, old colonial shophouses, back lanes and side streets are a microcosm of everyday life, of the locals whose urban surroundings haven’t changed much in the last 100 years. Putting aside traffic congestion, the tourists poking their noses into everything and a cluster of backpacker related services, life has been the same for decades.

Like Singapore, the ethnic races of the Chinese, Malay and Indians and others that have been thrown into the mix seem to co exist just fine. Racial tensions of the past have died down and should stay that way since hey, there’s some fine food to be savoured from each other’s ethnic group. Penang like Singapore has also a majority Chinese population, so the city is teeming and buzzing with shops and trading at all hours.

One fantastic difference from Thailand though, is that everyone manages a smattering of English, because of tourism, so I like most other visitors, felt right at home.

Durian season is here

Recently put on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Georgetown is booming with new guesthouses, restaurants, beautifully restored temples, mosques and churches for the three main faiths, and you guessed it trinket and T shirt shops. And don’t forget lightning fast internet with everyone on Facebook. Seriously, last night the girl next to me was typing so fast and hard, it sounded like heavy rain on zinc sheets, I mean on the keyboards.

A downside of Skype is that Mr Dreadlocks sitting next to me is loudly talking to this girlfriend back in Reading, England on how much he misses her and sending virtual kisses her way. Before long everyone knows how much her garden is blooming, when she’ll inherit the house, and her shoe size. God almighty, if you have to smooch a public computer screen and hoping that the boys in the local pub aren’t going for your GF, why on earth did you leave her and go backpack around the world, alone ????

To meet more girls that’s why !

I am not against independent travel. Or Skyping. My gripe here is the inconsiderate volume of the conversation, that’s all. Bobby’s trigger finger is getting twitchy already.

 

You can ride around the island on Rte 6, in a matter of hours, there are some steep hills in the remote west, after the flat northern beaches which were hit by the 2004 tsunami also. While just riding unloaded looking for breakfast and lunch, I managed a leisurely 28 kms, with an interesting afternoon at, www.sitigun.com an extremely bicycle friendly place. Bicycles parked inside on a bike rack. That’s a first.

I had wanted to ride some more to the beaches about 10 kms away but got side tracked at the venerable Eastern & Oriental Hotel downtown. It was literally a step back into time, as you can tell from their guest list comprising even Joseph Conrad and Mahatma Ghandi.

www.e-o-hotel.com/eoh/index.htm

Last stop was at Cycleon Cycles to ask for a box. The nicest of nice guys, Gary Yap trained at UBI in Ashland, Oregon. http://www.ccipg.com.my

Great, no charge too, then comes the usual moving spectacle. Everyone gawking at a moving cardboard box, as I gently navigate my way back to the Hong Ping, with a clear view only my right.

Vestiges of British rule

 

 

you see what I see without sweating

Wednesday May 12, 2010, 108 km (67 miles) – Total so far: 971 km (603 miles)

Today’s ride was a fitting end on this journey south, overcast and cloudy and even a shower on the last 20kms into Penang Island. Started with riding 10 kms out of Alor Star, due west to the coast towards Kuala Kedah, jumping off point to Langkawi Island. Then a quick left into K1 which is mostly straight for the first 40 kms. Many schoolkids on bicycles, some trying to start a race. Much of the route was tree lined and the shade was very welcome, after yesterday’s sizzling heat.

Opening my panniers after each ride, stuff like shampoo and toothpaste are still warm to the touch.

Some small hills to roll over after the village of Yan, as I pass the flanks of a huge granite outcrop of Gunung Jerai at the halfway point. Reaching the elusive Tanjong/Cape Dawai I keep an eye out for the town jetty. Then it’s a quick RM$12 ferry ride across the mouth of the huge Merbok River to Merdeka Beach on the opposite bank.

 

Philippe's fully loaded bike

Crept up behind a French couple on fully loaded ‘De Silva’ touring bikes on a world tour. They started in Mongolia and are making their way south. We agreed that after Thailand, Malaysia was getting to be a bit more expensive, and Singapore, well is on par with New York or London. They were keen to find out ferry routes to Australia, saying that their bike trip was getting a bit too routine and held no more excitement as when they first started. They were stopping at Sungei Petani just a few kms on.

 

Socks and shoes off less I get wet. The clear waters were a welcome relief and I was severely tempted to take a swim even, but there was another 65 kms or so to go, so off to more plodding. I am taking the straightest route to Penang , no deviations inland as the locals would suggest each time I asked. You’ll understand why, tomorrow.

Across the huge Merbok river mouth

Just 10 kms from Butterworth into the home stretch and a car ferry crossing into Penang, things get a tad confusing. I am supposed to be on the old trunk roads, but no the clever new signs to the ferry lead me on to a 6 laned highway/bypass and into a container terminal. Malaysian road signs are something else. Even when driving, you’ll directions after the fork in the road and not say 100 meters before so that you can make a decision. I follow traffic off the highway into a turn off and sure enough a small sign says ‘Feri’ or ferry in local lingo. A really smart cop here tells me of a shortcut, against traffic and over some railroad tracks, and on to the ramps for the ferry. Bet he uses it a lot.

The ages old ferry service running into Penang still operates 50 year old ferries from the mainland to Penang. I rode into one just in time before they raised the ramps. You get into Penang free, but have to pay when you’re on board leaving the island. While there was still some daylight I went to the city’s two huge bike shops to secure a box for the flight home. I shall leave my credit card in the room, as during my cursory glance into the shops, some bike accessories were already calling out to me. Look, look…..buy.
 

Backpacker central, Chulia Street, Georgetown

 

I am holed up here tonight, but ah the street food just outside. Really glad also for my super comfy Keen walking shoes. They will be earning their keep, as exploring Georgetown on foot deserves a good 2 to 3 days. I’ve done that before, and having a bike handy will cut that time in half.
 

Tempted to try the ‘Old Trafford Burger Shop’ Yes Man U fans can get a taste of the local mystery meat even at midnight, but I shall pass having sat down at three places already and will be contributing later to the coffers of 7/11 Malaysia. The lure of crushed ice and mango juice is a big deal for the lone cycle tourist vegetating at the Hong Ping.

I look out the window and people are still eating at the hawker stalls down on Chulia Street. It’s 12.25 am.

A couple of new places to consider, rooms are cheap but with the all important AC and bathrooms are out back (more for en-suites)www.huttonlodge.com 

www.oldpenang.com

 

 

Tuesday May 11, 2010, 118 km (73 miles) – Total so far: 863 km (536 miles)

Leaving Hat Yai the road rolls gently south, no shade what with only rubber and palm oil estates lining the roads for miles on end. At the border town of Sadao, boy oh boy, catcalls and whistles AT me. The flesh trade for repressed Malaysians happens here 25 hours a day. It could be cheaper to stay a night here, but what with karaoke and bars, mini skirts and high heels at high noon, sleep will not be easy, even for the lone cycle tourist with tired legs. Not that I am interested in the goings on, but in every other room, there would surely be more than doors getting banged.

 

Sexy karaoke ??

 

Priorities

Not really looking forward to this part of Malaysia, just another ho hum state capital with grand government buildings costing much more than they’re worth.

40 kms before town I thought I’d try cycling illegally on the north south highway that runs the length of Peninsula Malaysia. No one batted an eyelid at the toll booth. Motorcycles ride free, they just have to ride down an small designated lane by the toll plaza, a grandly named place for collecting money. I did the same, but the road was boring and turned out at the next exit.

What’s not boring was that some time ago, in the news, a flasher would drive up to a toll booth, and unzip his pants to give the toll collector, female obviously a look see. Stupid fellow, his licence plates were clearly visible and he was arrested soon after, but not before many toll gates and startled women later.

 

Really banged up

 

 

KL ?? Not today

 

Alor Setar is just a necessary stop on the 210 kms ride to the island of Penang.

This net cafe is really good though, not because of lightning fast speeds but it’s open 24 hours. You should see the eye bags of some of the residents here. Really I don’t think some leave the place at all!

And while trying not to disparage those who have been traveling on the road too long and seeking AC in a net cafe, some of the smells that eminate from my fellow humans are, to put it mildly are on par with the fish market at Ranong. Try soap and water poeple, it’s easy.

I can take only an hour here as dinner part 2 calls……now.

Speghetti and meatballs, a chocolate milkshake and hmmm New York cheesecake for dessert. Yes, I am living large in a small town. I have too. A drab hotel tonight, the Regent, ha ha charging the equivalent of Thb 840 or MYR$84 has no toilet paper, no fridge, so no cold drinks nor complimentary bottled water. No no that would seriously dent their profits. At least their AC is cold and there were some renovations done as the place seemed ancient from the outside.

I am missing Thailand already.

Thanks to my dinner place for equalizing things, http://www.secretrecipe.com.my The bill came up to RM$24.50 / Thb 245 / US$8.00. Terribly high for Thai and Malaysian standards. OK for Singapore and US prices, plus I was desperate.

They are everywhere in South East Asia. Fantastico.

Monday May 10, 2010, 37 km (23 miles) – Total so far: 745 km (463 miles)

Had a bit of trouble finding Hao Coffee at Bavorn Bazaar, a recommended spot on this site, http://www.everythinginnakhon.info/locations/meuang-nakhon-hao-coffee-restaurant-bavorn.php

The find was well worth it, a local style eatery with amazing coffee and breakfast. I am referring to bacon, eggs and toast for $2.00 bucks. Needed to recharge after doing the tourist thing for 90 minutes at the temple complex of Wat Mahathat, http://www.everythinginnakhon.info/locations/meuang-nakhon-wat-mahathat-temple.php

You can’t smell the coffee, but I can
Wat Mahathat
My time in Thailand is running out and I rode only 37 kms on the bike today, but in reality Nakhon ST to Hat Yai is about 220 kms, easily accomplished with the help of the red bus company. As the buses are quite regular, there’s no need to get down to the station a few hours or even the day before to check schedules. I found mid day to be the best time to arrive, most leave after the driver and conductor are happily done with lunch. In this case I arrived at 12 noon and the bus left at 12.30. The fare was a very reasonable Thb 135, less than 1 baht a km.
Both wheels off the frame, some tying up, and some foam padding acrobatics later and we’re off on a painstakingly slow ride. 220 kms in 4 and a half hours. Looking at the melting tar on the roads, I was thankful for being under 2 ac vents and shielded by blue metallic curtains. Still the heat penetrated and it got uncomfortable when more people piled in. Good thing I got a bottle of iced chocolate and the usual ‘free’ ice from 7/11 and took away a sandwich from the Hao kitchen.

Stuffed under the bus. oh the indignity......

The on board entertainment was well entertaining for adults, and aspiring bar top and pole dancers. All innocent though, a show from one of the provincial country fairs. Trouble is such entertainment Thai style, where the audience ranges from 2 to 90 yrs of age, relies heavily on scantily clad dancers from pre teen to has beens.

Cameras zooming into gyrating crotches and thighs. Then there are the boys who want to be girls and vice versa. Muslim grandfathers and mothers shaking their heads at the start, then watching in approval 5 minutes later. Kids on board bedazzled too, wondering what all the humping and pumping was all about. Jazzercise, certainly not.

I wondered how the middle aged red haired conductress could easily doze off 5 minutes into inflicting such torture to the lot of us innocents who just want to get on our way. Lucky bike below in the cargo hold.

These DVDs make really obnoxiously fantastic gifts, for people you don’t like.

4 hours of this, entertainment or POW torture ?

Played the bus lot celebrity at the Hat Yai bus terminal south of town. The driver even refused my Thb 50 tip, great, he was more interested in how the quick releases worked. A nicer older gentleman which bus boy general will never aspire to.
Hat Yai is one big mess even if you’re in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. The south’s largest city with 40 storey hotels rivaling those of Bangkok. Once a sin city providing much sought after banned pleasures for their repressed Muslim Malaysians and less Islamic Singaporean neighbours, it has cleaned up somewhat but still attracts the hordes seeking discreet whatever.
If you must know, the town’s famous for it’s ‘Tiger Shows’ no, no real tigers but humans who are skilled in showcasing acts of copulation and audience participation orgies. Then there’s the quasi circus acts where bottles of coke are opened with, ahem very strong body parts which I wasn’t born with. Or a string of razor blades or 2 dozen ping pong balls are pulled out from body cavities…..yuks.
To add insult to injury, I had misplaced my Hat Yai map and was riding blind at sunset, just north to downtown. Like some previous long days there would be some steep bridge to negotiate, at sundown, but I soon found myself in front of a newish 16 storey glass covered hotel. Thb 990 down to Thb 890 (just under $28) for a sweaty, single bicycle tourist like me. What the heck, final night in Thailand, go for it, don’t want to ride in the dark with a stomach crying out for food, esp Thai food.
Got a fantastic room on the 14th, bell hop to carry the bike up some glitzy marbled stairs to a storage room and another to carry the panniers on a gold plated trolley, to check in. He had a mobile number in just case I wanted company for the night. Good ‘plice’, good quality and no ladyboy, were his parting words. Of course he stopped short of a money back guarantee.

Honeymoon suite at the Mayflower Grande....Hat Yai

Getting online tonight was quite innovative, on my part, at least. At the chandelier-ed Mayflower Grande Hotel that I was in all 3 desktops (Thb 50/hour) were down. Had a super dinner led to by a Thai cyclist on an expensive road bike. Stir fried garlic pork, long beans and an egg sunny side up, over hot steaming rice, finished with iced tea. Thb 60, under $2. A blessed last supper in the kingdom. Make that 2nd last.
Found the All Seasons Hotel during my post dinner walkabout, went in and sat down to use a new wide screen Dell. For in house guests only, with a 15 minute limit at that.
I lifted my bum after 2 hours.

Sunday May 9, 2010, 88 km (55 miles) – Total so far: 708 km (440 miles)

Leaving the beach at Sichon was easy. Point the bike south. The resort manager seemed surprised that I was checking out without first having breakfast at their restaurant. Didn’t want to trouble them. It looked like BF was going to be long drawn as there was no staff around. Must be their late night at the beach side pub, but everyone left at about 11 pm, late for local standards.

Somehow 3 girls who were hanging around and seemed like trainee waitresses and cooks redeemed the whole place by running up to me with 2 bottles of cold water bidding me good luck, have a nice day and be careful. One message per girl. I left with a good impression and was curious to see what was down the road.

Not much though, as the other resorts were just waking up. No chance of BF until I pulled into a clean looking hut with 4 tables. Had an average dish of fried noodles to get the cylinders firing. It turned out to be a Thai Muslim stall and we had quite a chit chat as the man spoke Malay.

The almost naked chef

Had a great tailwind assisted ride along the beach for about 25 kms before hitting the main highway 401. Lo and behold as I was about to bonk I see a small wooden building, much like a garden shack but with glass walls on all 4 sides and an AC compressor in the corner. A hip coffee joint in the middle of nowhere. OK if you must know 41 kms on the 401. before Nakhon Si Thammarat, heading south. One iced Cappuccino, countless glasses of iced water, and one refill of ice cubes in the bike bottle later, I had to slowly drag myself out of this roadside oasis of cool air and sustenance.

Eternal spring behind that sliding glass door
Rode another shadeless 20 kms before the lure of a 7/11 called for a break at Tha Sala, a small fishing outpost, one of thousands along the Gulf, then back out onto Hwy 401 where I stopped in my tracks. A huge green billboard that read ‘Tesco Lotus’ meaning for me, a cool lunch inside an AC food court and a stroll seeking fresh fruit. Double locked the loaded bike in the m/cycles section and marched inside. As Hwy 401 is quite close to the coast, my attempts at finding smaller side roads closest to the sea were none too successful, most turned into dead ends or at someone’s house, where I was greeted by chasing dogs more than friendly locals.

More oddities along Hwy 41

More flat roads and Thai highway bliss, before reaching Nakhon, a seriously 6 kms long and lengthy town. A Thai friend emails from Singapore to warn me that people in Nakhon ST are more hot headed than usual and some will really shoot first and ask questions later. I reply asking her where the nearest gun shop was at.
Tonight’s hotel is interesting, the place has no connection with fugitive on the run ex Thai Prime Minister, but the poor staff get quizzed a lot. It’s also in the seedier northern part of town. Rows of pubs and bars outside. I avoid all these by walking through the hotel parking lot. There are also 6 shampoo sachets in the bathroom, how generous.
Wifi or wee fee as the Thais say, was a whole Thb 100 for a whopping mind numbing 24 hours at the hotel lobby. Pay up get a slip of paper, rip it open and enter the printed codes and password. I used 10% of it, but didn’t get Thb 90 back.
Big mistake dinner at KFC in the bright lights of Carrefour. Lame fried rice and spongy ‘New Orleans BBQ’ chicken. Right. Should have known better. Never ever go for western fast food in Thailand again. I console myself by getting some chips and a whole melon for in room feeding tonight.  Ah, but the breakfast tomorrow has redeemed all the eateries in this town, maybe the entire province. Stay tuned.

The office for tonight @ http://www.thaksinhotel.com

Saturday May 8, 2010, 75 km (47 miles) – Total so far: 620 km (385 miles)

As much as I like to pack up and leave at the break of dawn, this rarely happens when exploring and photographing a new town in the pre breakfast hours. Riding an unloaded bike is also a nice change before the real plodding begins. If there are some distractions like a nice park around the city shrine or a small island dedicated to recreation, accessed only by a small bridge, then my real departure form Surat Thani is going to be 9 or 10 am. Chinatowns in any Thai city are always an excuse to dawdle some more. Freshly brewed coffee or tea, followed by a breakfast of tim sum while observing the goings on in the streets.

Old roof bridges are handy in case of flooding or escape when caught with a mistress

A slow boat to Ko Samui

Riding east nto the sun this morning almost 40 kms of trying to shield my face with a puny bandana, water soaked for maximum cooling effect. Then a long long break at Kanchanadit, with nice views of the sea and distant Ko Samui Island. And of course, not a day passes by without the familiar, ‘ding dong’ chimes of a 7/11 beckoning me into it’s cool confines. Sichon is actually 3 kms off Hwy 401 and it was nice to turn off into a much quieter road. The highway ‘buzz’ from trucks and trailers was getting a bit irritating, though the shoulders were very wide and shady. Some nice karsts on both sides but none too spectacular as on the west coast. Amazing what a semi rest day makes and I got to Sichon at about 2 pm in time for a late lunch by the sea.

About 38 deg C here

The place is about 40 years old but they have maintained it very well. I got a room, # 6 furthest from the bar and restaurant, with brand new bathroom and terrace, looking out to some very sleep inducing palm trees swaying in the wind. Even the bathroom had a view, pull the curtains and shower with blue skies and coconut trees above. I could have been in Bali. There are also larger rooms at Thb 1000, and a 2 storey villa that sleeps 6. No need to ask the going rate, cannot afford it, well actually can, but not without putting a big dent in the daily budget. Their sister resort next door has an exhibit of a complete whale skeleton from 1976. FYI whale bones are very heavy.

Hin Ngam beach 2 minutes from my room

As far as beach resorts go, this was just passing the mark. I judge this by lunch and whether simple variations on the menu can be entertained. Iced Nescafe was priced at Thb 30, the rest being 50 plus. Well I was charged Thb 50, and told a waitress why state 30 when you want to charge 50? Of course, I got my change back. To be fair, things other than F & B were pretty low key and thus quiet, the way I like it.
In as many days, this was the first that I got, being in a room, nourished, washed, cleaned and moisturised by 3 pm. It felt good and sleep came easy. Not much of a walkabout tonight as I am nowhere near a big city, ah but the waves and sea breezes were a refreshing change nonetheless. The bike came in real handy as I explored the village roads and had a 8 km roundtrip in the dark, into the lifeless metropolis of Sichon, just to secure dinner, a so so massage and some supplies.

Friday May 7, 2010, 108 km (67 miles) – Total so far: 545 km (339 miles)

Chumphon Palace Hotel

decisions decisions

What a day of contrasts, from the kindness of the locals to another deserving candidate for Bobby De Niro’s list of people to be shot.

In short, after 75 hot kms, I got a lift from a family of 15. All of them in one Mazda turbo diesel pickup, plus the family pet/fighting rooster. Bike slept on the roof rack. This was a 150 km stretch / ride on Hwy 41 which I would rather not do. Lots of truck and trailer traffic. Thought the shoulders are wide the noise can be irritating at times, actually all the time. There’s always a bit of horning and tooting whenever traffic crests a hill or some holy site. Just a local custom of paying respect to a road shrine or temple.

Don’t take it personally.

Covering 150 kms was a breeze in this

 

The ride was a hoot from the start. I would not have found this bunch if not for them stopping to buy some fruits. I have joined forces with a bunch of serial snackers! Fresh fruit, peanuts, drinks and even tissues were handed to me. Wonderful ‘in flight’ feeding. Shoes and socks off too. Heavenly AC running at No 4 meaning full blast.

In a flash the panniers were off and the bike on the roof hitting a max speed of 165 kmp/h. I have photo evidence!

Back to this morning, I managed to get on the road after checking out (obviously duh) and headed south. Destination Surat Thani @ 195 kms was going to be a marathon ride. I’ll see how far I get. Not far though, after plodding 69 kms I turned into Sawi a small coastal village 3 km off the highway, and waited at the bus stop.

Along comes Mr Know It All, self important with an ancient Nokia, saying no buses and that he could get me a pick up for Thb 400 into Surat which he emphasized was 150 kms away, three times. That was the same number of times, I verified the price with Mr Soon to be Shot. I thought that maybe the ride was going there anyway with a load of vegetables or chicken or pigs. My guard should have been up when after arranging land transport, he asked me if I needed a boat to Koh (island) Samui. I blame the heat for that.

I think he called a few comrades, and one finally came by. After loading in, I thought 400 was too good to be true. Of course it was, the driver added another zero! 4 days budget. No way Jose, or was it Somchai?

I told the driver what transpired and I know my numbers in Thai. Let them fight it out! Arrggh, 45 mins baking under the shade of the Sawi bus stop.

You can see why my ride with Piyawud, who hails from Takua Pa a hamlet I was in just a few days ago was such a contrast and blessing. And he didnt want any payment at the end of the ride, would you believe. I was flabbergasted. I was dropped off outside town and the hill billies target was the Southern Expo, a big country fair jam packed with food, carnival rides and pick up dealerships.

As a taxi driver from Phuket and Khao Lak, I could see his glee when he said ‘I love shopping’ hence their family’s journey to this fair. I believe him and his thick wad of thousand baht notes. From what I gathered, the whole family loves road trips like this, and for Piyawud, a great change from dealing with tourists and the stress of driving in Phuket. He had a lot to say about the ugly side of tourism. Wonder what he thought of cyclists baking under the Thai sun?

Then he asked about ‘my Thai wife’ Mistresses are really common here. I pointed to the roof, saying she’s ‘up there’ That looked like pointing to heaven, and he seemed genuinely sad for me. No, no, it’s Shirley Surly getting her decals blown off, on the roof rack.

I also have a place to stay in Takua Pa now. “Bring your madam next time. My house is free”

Khun Piyawud, before we parted ways at the Southern Expo

I still clocked 108 kms today, some in the morning hours and rode into Surat Thani 24 kms off the highway and another 9 lost around town in the dark. No fun. But the locals are so accomodating, some even look at the map, have a conference for 15 minutes, then tell me that they are from out of town and are lost too!

The smarter looking ones, probably have chauffers, driven everywhere in BMWs with dark tinted windows, since birth, as they couldn’t show me the biggest river in their town in which they grew up in.

I was fussy and wanted a particular hotel. The Grand Thara, maybe much more grand in 1975, as I found out, but at Thb 400 plus brekkie, it was the deal in town. Next to the elaborate City Shrine and the Tapee River which actually has a small island and narrow bridge for bicycles and joggers only leading into it. Next to the riverside where Chinatown is located.

10 kms into town proper, I buy some water and as I pedal off, some guy passing by hands me two cold red apples. I multitask, ride and eat, all smiles as I search for the elusive Grand Thara on Donnok Road.

Tomorrow, a breakfast of delicious tim sum (or dim sum sometimes) You also get Dim Son in some countries. I shouldn’t go into that.

Thursday May 6, 2010, 28 km (17 miles) – Total so far: 437 km (272 miles)

That’s a huge and hilly distance today. 138 kms on the map. We’ll see. Sorely tempted to contribute to the Thai Green Bus Company today. I’ll probably make it to Kraburi 80kms on for lunch and wait for a ‘Green Bus’

Actually not. Meaning I had a great time taking pictures at Ranong’s fishing pier, saphan pla in Thai. I’m not too crazy about seafood, too messy to eat sometimes and the smells have turned me off since young.

Huge amounts of seafood being unloaded from fishing vessels queing up along a long pier just to unload. The bounty from tha Andaman Sea seemed limitless. Pity that some of the catch were still so small. Here’s a rundown.

Baby hammerhead sharks, small tuna, mackerel, red snappers, squid of all shape sizes and colours, shrimp and prawn, puffer fish, a few barracuda, octopus, jellyfish. Most were in neat heaps, some almost like mini pyramids, mixed in with shaved ice. Even the shaved ice vendors were entertaining, supplying huge rectangular man sized blocks of ice, shoved into a giant grinder on a ramp with a queue of wheelbarrows, smalll trucks and m/cycles with side cars below a ramp, waiting to load up.

These sharks were still infants

Stingray close up

All the dirty work was done by Burmese immigrants while the Thais, some of the women nicely made up with very ‘unblack’ coloured hair mingled around in deep thought, writing notes and passing slips to the sellers. They were the restaurant owners and wholesalers bidding for the squirming mess on the very wet floors. Not good for white SPD shoes with cleats, slipping here would be extremely embarassing. As it is I was already being gawked at endlessly. A helmeted alien in lycra, swaggering around with 2 cameras.

This visit lasted 2 hours including a 28 km ride to and fro, plus stops at 2 bike shops, one of which was a veritable bicycle museum with stuff for sale. One man’s crazy collection masquerading as a shop. This place is opposite the Sunny Lodge, a 4 storey blue building, which has a pizza restaurant below.

He had a new Salsa suspension corrected rigid cromo fork as well as a Kona Project 2 for a highly negotiable Thb 1500 / $45 each, but the thought of dragging those two items for another few hundred kms or so was plain stupid.

So many bikes so little time
By the time I was done with an English breakfast and washing the smell of the sea from my shoes, oops it was 1100 hrs. Bus time and was it just really timely. The last 3 long days of cycling, was taking it’s toll, and a good nap on the bus would be welcome luxury. Rolled into the spanking new bus station and tourist info office. Asked a girl who worked there about bus schedules. She looked lost as if the bus station was on another planet. She had to scream at a friend in the bathroom, who came out with still wet hair and pointed to a spot around a shady bend. “There, many buses”
Had a bit of a run in with the, shall I say ‘bus boy general’ of the Ranong to Bangkok express. His pseudo peak cap and big buttoned shirt still read ‘bus boy’ but I bet he ranked himself at Lieutenant Colonel at least. Had something against bicycles and me boarding too soon before departure. There was so much space in the hold, as confirmed by the 2 drivers, for bikes and what not, but this guy had to have the final say, no bicycles. Right.
I totally ignored him, talking only to the drivers who were more than happy to accomodate for a small tip. With the bike loaded and tied in the hold he then wanted the panniers in there too. No way, as they get moved around when other passengers come and go with their own stuff, and some itchy fingers might just help themselves. It has happened before, but thankfully not to me.
He then stood in the doorway staring me down. WTF?? OK bring it on. I took off my sunglasses, and my watch and ring, crossed my arms and waited, and asked a driver why they had a child of 17 working on the bus. After some words from the driver, the child went back on board. Besides it’s not right to give a child a bloody nose, not in front of his GF. Might scar him, or his porcelained skin for life.
Turns out his GF was on the trip too and well he wanted to exert some bus boy authority, swooning and then acceding to every request of the GF, like running off to buy snacks and water. Ironically his skin and features were much nicer than the GF, what with his constant blotting, powdering and applying whitening cream while on the move. Some people are really in the wrongest of wrong jobs. He’d fit right in a bridal parlour or hairdressers.

Across the steep hills to the Gulf of Thailand. Much easier by bus

Immediately after town the hills and curves began in earnest, and with road works and the way the Thai Dept of Rural Roads reshapes hillsides, dig ditches and build new bridges, cycling this part of Rte 4 was not going to be fun. At exactly 2 pm the rains started heavily, so much so that the driver actually stopped as visibility was zero.
Kraburi north of Ranong didn’t seem like much, another dusty linear town, though some CGOABers have stayed here. Some nice jungle with clouds and mist hanging on to hill tops, better appreciated from the cool, dry confines of a bus, esp when it’s raining. On any other day, riding this should be fun, but clever me, I am still covering ground while on a rest day.
Got to Chumphon early evening and rolled in to the vast parking lot of the Chumphon Palace Hotel. Free internet in the lobby. Yay. Felt quite zapped out from just the bus ride. It’s quite funny how the body feels more tired from not cycling. Go figure. I’ll get some expert advice from a masseuse. Ciao !