In the winter of 2013/2014 i rode from Chang Mai, Thailand to Bali, Indonesia
Getting to Thailand
After two hours of sleep I had a train to catch to Warsaw at 4:50 in the morning. I rode my bike through the dark Polish night carrying a 1.5 meter box in one hand. Thanks to a new tunnel underneath the train station I could ride straight onto the platform just in time for my early train to Warsaw, or so I thought. As I rode up onto the platform I noticed a train leaving from a different track. I was on the wrong platform. The whole reason I was catching such an early train was to make it to Warsaw to the Thai embassy before it closes in order to get my extended visa. There was no other train with a bicycle carriage that would make it. so I chanced it and hoped the conductor would let me on with my bike on the next train. It wasn’t a problem I got on with my bike and only had to pay the difference for the inter city train. I wanted to pay credit, but the terminal wasn’t getting a signal so I was asked to join the conductor in the corridor of the train where he asked if I could pay cash, I could, he then asked if I needed proof of payment I did not, and payed half the price as long I didn’t tell my friends. You guys don’t count. I made it to Warsaw. Rode through the capital with my giant box in hand. Dropped my bags off at my friend’s place and rode back passed, the station to the embassy. There I was told my visa would be ready to be picked up tomorrow. This would not suffice as I was flying out the next day. I was told to leave my passport and without any promises I could return in the afternoon for with perhaps the consulate’s stamp. I returned and was greeted with a frown and an explanation that the man behind the glass had only bad news to give to me. He told me to wait while he went for my passport and the fee. In the time he was absent I had already planned an ulterior route where I would head south from Bangkok and skip the north all together. It would be a shame. He returned with a smile and a correction. He had in fact good news to share with me. All has not gone according to plan but all tasks were accomplished.
Flight to Thailand
At the check-in window of Qatar airways in Warsaw i was asked the contents of the box i had with me. I explained that it was my bicycle in which the lady behind the counter asked if i had informed the airline of my special luggage. I did not as i could not see such an option on their site, but was well aware that a bike counts towards the regular allowance. She called her supervisor who made another call, and all was well even though i was 1.5 kilos over my allotted 30 Kg limit. At 9:30 in the morning i was in a plane heading to Doha, Qatar full of Poles who already started drinking. There were three gay couples sitting ahead of me who were especially rambucshes, to the point that i was embarrassed and the stewardess had to cut them off, before confiscating one of their own bottles. Luckily they fell asleep shortly after the rest of the trip went smoothly. I got to Doha airport which was under renovation and so had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. where i waited 4 hours before getting on the next plane to Bangkok. This one was full of French. But the next day i walked onto Asian soil for the first time.
Arriving at the Bangkok airport i went straight to the oversize luggage counter. Where i watched a dutch family complain about what looked to be an offroad wheel chair of theirs. The back was all cracked. This was not a good sign of what was in store for me. My bike eventually arrived intacked and all was good. Next step was to catch a cab. I was told by my friend, Rory that it would cost 300Baht to get his place from the airport. The lady at the cab cue quoted me 500 as they needed to take a station wagon to fit my bike. I offered 4o0, and we were off. The first thing i noticed off the plain was the humidity and heat, the second thing was the labrynth of highway networks running through the city. We went through two toll booths before making it to my friend’s. He had just returned from Australia, and like me had barely slept. But after unloading my luggage we got straight to moving Rory to his new apartment. Did i mention it was hot. The plan was i reassemble my bike and we ride to his new place and finalise all of the adminstrative work before returning via bus to the old place to grab his stuff. On the way back i became aware that i had not slept for 3 days and instantly fell asleep in the bus. The new place was a condo on the 26th floor in one of Bangkok’s main arteries Rama IV. It had a pool and gym, and was reasonably priced. That night we hit the town, but i was barely conciouse. Rory’s friend was managing the opening of a new club close to soy cowboy, called Ocean. I was falling asleep at the table. But that didnt stop me from be pulled out to the next place. I can’t remember the name of it but was a hip hop club, and one of the DJs who goes by the name of Budha was celebrating his birthday, as a result a tray of special brownies was passed around. The next morning i had awoken with stomach pains and a slight fever. I was bed ridden the entire day. Day 2 in Bangkok was a write off. Day 3 however we went to the royal palace via river boat. Amazing figurines line the palace and temples. And ofcourse the 50 meter giant Budha reclining as he ascends into Nirvana is a must for anyone visiting. That night we had planned to see a dj funk act from the states called Dam Funk, i was still not in full form, but i wasnt going to let that stop me. In the last minute Rory got a call to dj a different party so he would meet up with us there afterwards. The party was at a music acadamy next to a place called Flow, which has an indoor surf wave pool. I was left to get there on my own, and the plan was to meet one of Rory’s friend’s i had met the night before from Finland. Here is the problem, i had the adress, but a street and number does not suffice. As the adresses in Thailand go by the main street and somthing they call soi which is a branch from that main street. Soi has a number which should indicate what block of the main street its on. However i did not believe that the numbers are chronolgic and I ended up on the wrong end of the street. The Finish guy, who lives in Bangkok, was also lost. But after some internet browsing i found the place and payed a taxi moto 6Baht to get me there. I am not going to go into all the details of the night but to summarise i came home with 3 stamps on my hand and sun burnt. It was a long one. The next day we went to the train station to book my ticket to Chang Mai for that evening. It Turned out that the train line between Bangkok and Chang Mai was being rebuilt and the train would not be running until December. that hindered my plans slightly, the other option was the bus. being at the train station we ended going to china town. Which to this day i regret not bringing my camera;. The smells, the lights, and the sounds are hard to describe, definitly worth a visit. Rory was on the hunt for some duck, and so was i. We searched for a good hour before we found a street full of vendors. I was enjoying my meal when i was interupted by little feet scampering over my open toed sandals. Twas a rat. A common occurrence here in China town. The last night in Bangkok i was shown the tourist traps of Bangkok. i had the pleasure or dis of walking down soi cowboy, a street infamous for its ‘lady bars.’ I was amazed at how young these woman were or just looked. you did not to have to go down this infamous street to find lady companionship, as the side streets were full of small terraces that consisted of an umbrella, small bar, and garden chairs. These were little brothels, without the amenity of an interior. That night we ended up at a place called glow, it was a drum n bass night. You could touch the ceiling as well as the sweat lining it. The next day it was time to leave the capital. I spent the day preparing as Rory got called it on another dj gig. I was not about to ride across the busy streets of Bangkok to the bus station so I took the sky train, easy and modern. Bangkok is a pleasure to observe speeding through the city elevated 30 meters. As I exited the station I was reminded that it was Sunday and one of the biggest open air markets in the world is happening. I think I have now been to the three biggest in the world, Madrid, Bangkok, and Guadalajara Mexico. It was a squeeze but I managed. I eventually found the bus terminal and booked a ticket VIP class, whatever it was it was more expensive then 1st class. I had 2 hours before departure so I went down the street to an open air restaurant. I had whatever they were serving. It consisted of soup, a noodle dish, and fried veggies I enjoyed but was constantly hassled by the Mosquitos as there was an open canal flowing next to this place. After dinner I took a stroll to help digest the food. I needed more than that as there was something going on in my bowels that prophesied a bleak near future. I made it to the terminal in time and went straight for the toilet. You needed to insert a 10baht coin for the door to unlock. I quickly ran for some change. When I opened the door and discovered these were only showers. I contemplated getting my money’s worth but decided to head back to the terminal office and find the bathroom, it was free and clean. My bus eventually came and I had no problem getting my bike on. The bus had a Stewart, entertainment service and two meals, and to top it off all the chairs were massage chairs. That’s VIP.
At 7:00am my bus arrived in Chang Mai, The most important city in northern Thailand. I was aware that much like my home town Chang Mai’s old town is surrounded by a moat and thus I expected that like my own town the most important parts of the city are found there I would later discover that this was not the case. I used my trip advisor app to find a Hostel. The most popular was spicy thai hostel but according to my google map it was a ways out of the city. I had just spent 10 hours on a bus so perhaps a bike ride was what I needed. I followed the road to the mountains, along the way I passed the university campus as well as the zoo before The incline began. As I climbed many road cyclist waved as they rode down. After several switch backs I arrived at a stream within the national park, I stopped a while to check my bearings. After finding the actuall site of the hostel I was surprise to read they had In fact changed their location to the city Center. I was not too disappointed as I quite enjoyed the natural scenery, a nice break from metropolitan Bangkok I had just come from. I returned to the city and found the hostel only to be informed that it was full and would be all week as this weekend was the candle festival which celebrates Budha’s first sermon. My searched continued, but not for long as I stumbled upon another hostel known as mojito, it sounded right. I had a dorm room for 120 baht, 4 $. My room was not ready so I stored my luggage and took a shower before hitting the city. I spent the whole day walking around the oldtown going into the many different Buddhist temples. I eventually passed a bike shop and thought a new pump would come in handy. Soon after entering the store I was greeted by an older thai man who spoke english very we’ll. it was he who convinced me to change my initial plans and take five days off to complete the Maeng Hon so loop. He described the route as world famous as people from around the world rent bikes from him for it, some book a year in advance. As most of my route will be coastal I was convinced by the prospect of mountainous scenery. A chalanging route will allow me to appreciate the coast all the more when I eventually get there. The next four days would prove to be a challenge mentally and physically but sprinkled with beautiful places and new cultures
First day on the bike
I awoke scratching my ankles and calfs from all the mosquito bites, at 3:30am. And decided I would not wait for the heat of the sun before I set out. I was in a dorm room with six others, and was sure I woke at least four of them getting ready to leave. With my head lamp and rear light on I set out north of the city. To my surprise many kitchens were already getting ready. Along the way I stopped at 7 11 for breakfast and an extra water. As I made my way out of the city I was greeted with a sign indicating that I was in fact on a bicycle and scooter path into the mountains, as well as many strange inquisitive glances saying what is this ‘farang’ think he’s doing at this un-godly hour. The breeze was nice as I cut through the night air at 34km/h but that ended after ten km. I began my ascension and the sun began to rise over the hill tops and so to did the sweat begin to drip down my cheeks. The road to pai was full of hills. Never count on it being the final hill in Thailand, as there was always another waiting As I began one of many ascensions I heard the words ” hello, how are you” it was a german road cyclist who was accompanied by 17 others. They were on an organized tour with Siambike tours for 9 days. He was the first ridder I had met but many would follow. On entering the city of Pai I first rode up to a bridge built by the Japanese during the Second World War. the first of many to follow. It was there that I was greeted with fellow bike tourists from Malaysia; a father and son duo. After the bridge there was scenic lookout over the valley that Pia was located in. After my traditional slurpee at 7 11 I went looking for a place to stay. Apparently so were the Malaysians as our paths had crossed once more. I broke off from the cycling path when I saw a sign for what I recognized to be a guest house in Sanskrit. I was right it was known as the muslin guest house and for 300 baht I could sleep on a mattress on the floor along with many others as long as I didn’t drink or smoke. As you get closer to the Myanmar boarder there is a stronger Muslim influence. I told the proprietor of the establishment that I would continue looking. After some browsing the internet, I found that most of the hostels were across the river from the city Center. It was there that I found my own bungalow for 250 baht. As my host opened the door we were greeted with a large lizard on the wall, not a geko, this one was quite substantial. He told me to to wait as he broke off a switch and banged at the lizard creating the fear needed for his departure. The roof of the bungalow was not actually connected to the walls and thus there was a gap in between, which is where the lizard made his exit. What’s to keep him from entering the same way again. After dinner in an open air restaurant i had a much needed foot message. The mesuse claimed I could use another day to work on my back. That night I slept like a baby. My first full day of cycling was behind me.
Day 2 Pai to Mon hang Son
The first ten km out of Pai were picturesque as I made my way out of the valley, but after that it would be a twenty kilometre climb with a tremendous slope. I found that when your out of breath and strength, and dehydrated the best strategy is to rest in the shade, pushing the bike took more strength then ridding, the slope was that steep. Headaches were a common occurrence due to dehydration as this was only my second day on the bike so I still hadn’t aclimatized. I finally made it to the top and was welcomed with a rest area and a coffee shop. Eventually the Siam bike tour caught up to me. One of the Germans saw me and said “Poland, you are following us.” “No my friend it is you that is following me.” I smirked. The peak was indeed the highest point but I would have many more hills to climb that day. 5 kilometres before my destination I was dangerously low on fluids but I found a small shop decorated with pictures of the royal couple, and portraits of Buddha. This is common in almost every home and business. I drank about two litres of water and one can of beer before continuing into town. The residents were already preparing for the candle light festival when I got into the city, and all sorts of stalls and decorations were put up around the lake in town. At night all the temples were lit up, and some had already begun releasing the paper lanterns, as is the custom. Before bed I got a massage. I was led to a basement. As I descended the stairs i began to have second thoughts. The lady led me into a room which was divided into four by curtains. I was given what seemed to be an medical operation scrub, and was told to change. While I did I could here the moans of the satisfied customers laying next to me. I was greeted with a round face and hello as a woman peaked around the corner. My messeuse was of the fatter variety for thai standards. I took this to be a good sign, she must have strong hands. and she did indeed, a little too strong. My calfs were sore from all the climbing that day and for the next 60 minutes the walls of that concrete basement would echo in my anguish.
Day 3 Mon Hang Son to Ben Kate
I slept well in my own bungalow with cable tv. Again, I set off early that morning to avoid the heat. I had noticed the max on my speedometer was set at 87.9 km/h from the previous day,
shattering my previous max of 77. Today I had an easy day ahead of me. I would make my way out of the mountains, a lot of down hill. I was tired from the previous day thus an easy day was in store, which went against my original plans. To this point I have been falling a Swiss’ GPS track which led straight into the mountains on a dirt track. The one advertised hostel in town was fully booked by the Siam bike tour. But i found a place off the highway. That night I found a charger for my mini pad at the 7 11, the original one broke. 7 11 here has everything. After dinner I checked out the festivities on this small town. More music and more food was in store. At this particular city they set up a labyrinth for the kids. At the end of the labryth was a statue of Buddha. The idea was you would buy offerings, such as flowers at the gate then you have to make your way through the maze to leave the offerings.
Day 4 Ben Kate to the unknown
After resting a bit on the edge of the mountainous range i decided to head back towards the mountains, after all it was a shorter line back to chang mai. I had two days to make it back as I already reserved a nice hotel. Because of the candle festival I wanted to have a room booked. After 40km of climbing there was a dirt road that forked off the highway, and according to the sigh there was an information Center located off this road. I headed down towards the info center, perhaps it was time I took advantage of the fact that I brought a mountain bike all this way and not a touring bike. I found the Center, however the gentleman inside spoke no English, but he led me outside I guess to show me something, but then another man barged in, they spoke for about ten minutes before returning to me. I was a bit agitated by this, but it turned out the interrupter spoke english well, and has been driving these dirt roads for years. He suggestd I head down these roads and explore the undeveloped villages along the way. I was enticed but still worried about the food and water situation, he said I can find a shop every 5 km, that reassured me. I went for it. At first the road was horribly washed out from the rain season, with giant crevasses running along the roads. It was time I Engaged my suspension. This did not help much as my rear panniers kept falling off. I eventually got to a town and was pointed in the right direction cross a river and over the hill, “ramble on”. I hoped the road up the hill was not as bad as the road I took down, but it was. I spent half the day pushing my bike, and only completed 27km since I had turned off the road, and no shops in sight. The few scooters that passed me coming down smiled a smile that said I was one crazy white guy for trying to ride this road. At the top of the pass I had my first flat tyre. As I changed the rubber I could hear a storm in the distance. I looked at my watch and realized I had only 2 hours of light left, and still 50 km to go. I decided to push on and look for lodging at the next town. I could see in the distance some wooden strctures perched on a hillside. On entering the town I was greeted by cows and goats. Once in town the dirt finished and the pavement began, a good sign of civilization. I rode through the town, and found only some homes perched on wooden beams to keep the wildlife out, poisonous snakes and all. To my surprise there was a church, but no one around. I eventually saw some kids and motioned to them asking where I could eat and/or sleep. They just laughed and ran off. The only other non residential building in the town, besides the church was a school. There in front of the school were children playing volleyball. I rode straight onto the field to their amazement. Then I heard a woman’s voice in English asking me where I was going. I explained my search for food and lodging, she told me I could stay at the school. I was pleased as there was no way I would make it to chang mai today or the next. The computer studies teacher was summoned and he told me I could stay with him in a tent inside a hut. It is typical that homes are completely open with people watching television in the open air, no locks to stop intruders, but at night you sleep in tents inside to fight off the bugs. That night after having a refreshing bucket shower I watched Japan beat Thailand in volleyball on the one tv in the school. I was accompanied by the school director, who was quite animat every time Thailand scored a point. I hadn’t eaten and thus was quite tired and retired to my tent, with my host no where to be seen. After an hour Tio, my host awoke me with dinner. We ate standing in an open air kitchen. Tio’s English was excellent and after dinner we discussed my options of getting back to chang mai, when we were disturbed by a knock at the door, I turned around to see a round white face, belonging to Steve, from california. Steve volunteers in the village six months a year for the last 4 years. Tio explained my dilemma to him, to which he notified us that the mayor of the village was going to chang mai in his pick up tomorrow, and that I could go with him. At about 10 we walked over to the mayor’s house, I forgot his name, it was Japanese sounding and when he opened the door he was in a kimono. his house was one big room with hardly any funiture, just a rug in the middle of the room, and a tv in the corner. The family was sitting on the rug watching tv and i was invited to join them, they pulled up a chair for me, but i told them I felt stupid being the only one on a chair so I joined them on the rug. In the middle of the rug was a tin can with some leaves and roots that everyone was chewing. I was invited to partake, and was explained that this bark, wrapped in a tobacco leave gives you a ‘kick.’ This was explained to me by a punch to the heart. I believe I chewed something called beetle route, the bark I don’t what was, and it was all wrapped in a tobacco leaf. As mentioned earlier i was ready for sleep earlier but after a few minutes I was wide awake and sweating like a raver. This stuff was much stronger then any of the coca leaves I had chewed in Peru. We sat In a circle and talked of our cultural differences. I was told that if any of my Canadian friends would like to volunteer as an english teacher at their village they would have room and board taken care of. So if anyone reading this is interested let me know and I’ll put you into contact with Tio. On our way back to our tent we encountered a bright green snake slithering on the road, in the dark of night, luckily my head lamp picked him out. Tio looked at me and said “poison,” what should we do. Don’t look at me I don’t see wild snakes everyday. Tio then found a log and pounced on the the head of the snake over and over again until I stopped him and proclaimed the slithering beast dead.
mountain village to Chang Mai (bikeless)
The next day i took a walk around the village before getting picked up by the mayor in his pick up to head to Chang Mai. The town was tranquil and quite except the school yard where kids were playing even on a saturday morning. We threw my bike and panniers in the back of the navy Mazda pick-up and were off. The road was bad but not nearly as bad as the one i took there. It took us three hours to get to Chang Mai, so you could imagine how long it would take me on my bike. Along the way we stopped at a fruit market where the mayor and i sampled at least 12 different types of wine, ranging from strawberry, to brown rice, to coconut. i bought a bottle of coconut wine for myself and a bottle of rice wine for the mayor. We also made another pit stop at a waterfall, that i was grateful for. The mayor dropped my off at the edge of town, and took my an hour to find my way to the hotel. I made several wrong turns, as i was confused by the fact that there were several rivers that crossed through the city, i was under the impression that there was only one. It was thanks to being lost that i discovered the real heart of the city is away from the old town. That night we celebrated Buddha’s birthday, with the candle light festival. Most of the main streets were closed off for the festival as there was a giant parade that walked down the main artery of the city. the Parade was mostly full of beautiful Thai women in lavish costumes, and the odd lady boys. My favourite was the exhibition of old bikes.
Chang Mai to Sukothai on the bus
The four days i took to do the loop of the mountains around Chang Mai were not planned, thus i had to make up for this with a bus ride. Things worked out as i got to experience the candle festival in two major cities, Chang Mai, and in the old capital of Sukothai. My bus came into town just after eight at night and from a distance i could see a sight reminiscent of Baghdad circa 1993. i’ll let the pictures do the talking. The next day i went back and although interesting it did not have the same flare as the previous night with all the illumination and fireworks. Before leaving the town i gave myself a mohawk hoping to increase my speed and cool me off. i picked the dirtiest and thus cheapest place i could find. The eighty plus year old man spoke not one word of english, but he managed to do the job with great amusement. I also got a shave with a very dull blade. Expecting to see my neck covered in blood when my seat was returned to the upright position, i was met with an expression of surprise looking right back at me. And although painful he did the job without cutting me, then proceeded to splash my neck with an after shave that burn like none other that i had felt before.
Sukothai to Sinhakarin lake Day 6-8
The previous night i was disturbed at 2am with a rattling at my door. It was the hotel manager asking if i would like a free massage. I was completely perplexed by his proposal, and without clarifying who was going to give the massage i denied his offer and closed the door in his face and returned to my bed. I would change my alarm to six as i was now in a hurry to get out of there. The next morning i set off as the sun rose above the horizon. The ride had a nice shoulder heading south, and i stopped a few times for some road side coffee and biscuits. But my breaks got more frequent as i recieved two punctures along the way. While repairing a puncture in the span of 20 minutes two cars had pulled over to see if was okay. One of them was a policemen. I declared that i was fine but they stayed another 10 minutes and observed as i changed the inner tube. Just shows how carrying Thais are. After a full day of cycling i reached my destination town of Khlong Lang. As usual the first thing i did after entering the town was find a 7 11 to cool off with a slurpee and browse of the web for some accommodation. The slurpee did the job, but i still hadn’t located an accommodation. The next move was to go hunting for a room. I turned off the main road as through google earth i could see that the town extended west away from the road. Along the way i was stopped by a woman on a scooter who asked if she could offer some assistance. Her English was excellent. I later found out that her husband was american. She escorted me to a resort where a night was a reasonable rate. I had my own bungalow, shower, tv, and AC. Outside my door was a tree with large prickly fruit. I later found out that that was the famous stinky fruit, dorian.
The next morning i set off to check out a waterfall in the national park that was 10 Km in the opposite direction. The road winded through the jungle and then along a lake, which was nice change of scenery. The waterfall itself, however, was nothing special, and definitely not worth the 200 Baht entrance tag that i did not pay since there was no one at the gate.
This day was going to prove to be one of endurance. Since i did not bring a sleeping bag i was restricted to pay accommodation only, which for the most part is plentiful in Thailand, for the most part. I would spend 13 hours on my bike this day. And when i finally got to Usut Thani i was using my headlamp. That night i would dine on river fish as a reward for my hard work.
Close to my hotel was a cave with prehistoric drawings but it was out of the way and after yesterday’s full day of cycling i wasnt about to set off course. The plan was to ride to the foot of the hills where the lake was located, break for lunch before climbing over the hills and down to the lake. When i located the turn off towards the hills i set out to find a restaurant. At the restaurant i amused the local patrons by emptying my laundry that was still wet from the previous nights wash, and then hung them all over my bike to dry. I was then greeted by some teachers from the local school who offered a seat at their table. I joined them and after a couple of photos i was about ready to set off. When i explained to the cook my destination he was amazed and from what i could understand proclaimed that i would never make it there before the sun went down. I had four hours before dusk and assured them that it was not a problem. But still they insisted that i was crazy for attempting this route, they suggested heading south and reaching the lake form Kanchanaburi. That would be going back and forth. More people joined the conversation, even a girl passing on a scooter was stopped hoping that her english would be more advanced then the restaurant’s patrons. One of them made a pistol with his hands and frightened me as i understood it that i would be robbed on route. This went on for half an hour, but i insisted on going, and i did, and am glad that i did so. The route was gorgeous with wonderful switchbacks that were the perfect frequency and inclination for biking.,. When i reached the top of the hills i was greeted by a dog and a Budhist temple surrounded by offerings of water, fruit, and soda pop. What amazed me was that the dog was visibly hungry and thirsty yet he did not touch the offerings left for the Budha statue. Behind the temple was a view of the entire lake that was sprinkled with islands. It looked as though i was looking over an ocean bay. I ascended to the lake with great speed, as it was slowly getting dark. Once at the lake i asked around for possible accommodation. eventually a young gentleman escorted me on his scooter up a hill to a resort. There were several ladies wlho did not speak a word of english but pointed in the direction of an older woman being slowly escorted by a nurse and a cain. Ah yes the ‘mamason.” As her face was made clear in the light i notice a large burn above her brow. When she spoke english it was flawless. i imagined that she must had made a fortune off of the G.I.s during the Vietnam war. She lived in Bangkok but had this wonderful resort on a lake and about twelve servants. I quickly got the impression that this kind of a place was well beyond my budget, and after asking me how long i wanted to stay the mamason proclaimed that there wasn’t room, but there is a tent i could use. I was happy with that as i brought with me a sleeping bag. After the servants got the tent for me, and i found a piece of dirt that was fairly flat, i was told that there were too many mosquitoes at night and if i promised to leave early the next morning i could stay in the house for free. I was very grateful for this opportunity and jumped on it. I was told to clean up and get ready for supper. The resort was very modern with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake. After my shower i went to the resort’s restaurant where waiting for me was a plate of rice, chicken and vegetables. I asked if there was beer, as i was quite parched, but there wasn’t any. One of the servants offered to drive and get some for me, i told her not to go as i had a bike and could do it myself, but she misunderstood me. and gave me the keys to her scooter. It was a manual transmission. The high pitch sound of the engine gave proof to that. I had never ridden a manual before, but figured it out quickly as there wasn’t a clutch. I got my beer and was enjoying the ride through the woods at night on the scooter. Just before the resort was a steep incline to the top, I had two bottles of beer in a bag hanging off the the right side of the handle bars, the accelerator and brake were on that side as well. i had intended on braking before the incline but the bottles of beer got between the brake lever and handle bar, to my astonishment i rode the scooter off the road and broke one of my bottles of beer doing so. I quickly carried the bike back onto the pavement and set off to the resort. I parked the scooter looked it over for any visible damage then ran to the bottom of the hill to clean up the shards of glass from my broken beer. i returned with a smile on my face and a pastry of gratitude for the owner of the scooter. After my meal i enjoyed my one beer and observed the servants working away packing some kind of a root into bags, as if they were packing cocaine. From what i could gather they have some sort of medicinal value to them, as cocaine was once proclaimed to. When i awoke at seven i looked out the window and they were still there bagging the drugs.
Sinharkarin to Kanchanaburi Day 9
Feeling rather refreshed after a nice breakfast served to me by the servants i hit the road. And had i not taken a ferry across a narrow part of the lake i would of added an extra 40 Km to my trip. I paid nothing for the crossing, most likely due to my ignorance. After lunch i was going to see the Erawan falls. Named after the mythical white elephant of 4 tusks and 7 trunks that the hindu god Indra rides on. Apparently this series of falls seen from the sky are in the shape of the elephant. This was one of the highlights of my trip. On entering the falls i was welcomed with a sign prohibiting my from feeding the fierce monkeys. ‘Fierce you say.’ I spent 3 hours there and did not see a monkey. The waters of the falls were strangely a bright shade of white, i assume enriched with a local mineral, or excrament from the elephant. The other peculiarity were the amount of Russian tourists. Truly they can be described as the British of the East abroad. Easy to spot with their pale white fleshiness and skimpy bathing suits. It was hard to get a photo without their pale skin in it. The falls were linked by a serious of trails and stairs. After a 1 hour hike the trail seemed to end in the water. I came this far i wasnt about to turn around so i removed my shoes and continued bare foot. Now instead of stairs i would have ladders to ascend. It was well worth it. The higher you got the less tourists were visible. Being now drenched in swet i decided to take a dip in the white waters of Erewan. As soon as i entered the water i could feel little fish nibbling on my feet. I assume these are the same fish they use in spas that remove dead skin. I hoped anyway. After my dip i returned to find my bike still locked where i had left it by the first fall. I still had 40KM to get into town and only 2 hours of sunlight. i gunned it as fast as i could, which led to a sharp jerk and cracking sound. This would be my first of many spokes to break on this trip. One of 32 spokes wouldn’t slow me down, but there was a visible wobble. The road into town was lined with dog carcasses. Okay not linned but there were four which is four more that i had seen to this point. The drivers on this road seemed to be in more of a hurry than in other parts. I assume these were motorists from the capital on a day trip. By the time i was close to town i got a flat tyre. Exhausted from the fast ride i decided to slow down and have a beer while repairing the flat. After all it was dark allready. With a new tube and and empty bottle i hit the road, but with a tremendous urge to find a hotel and shower. My GPS, or rather google maps led me to a resort for thais, which was overpriced, and reminiscent of a communist erea that was never present. The resort was equipped with four different restaurants and there seem to be a celebration going on, as there was live music, three thai girls in skimpy outfits dancing on stage, and food. I wanted to get some food in town, but after researching my whereabouts reletive to the center i found it was more that 5 km from where i was staying. I asked the lady-boy receptionist if he/she could call me a cab, but we had difficulty communicating, and my request was not realised. I decided to go on foot and hope that a scooter taxi would pick me up. I walked for 45 minutes and from a distance i could see a blue spotlight painting the sky. It was a beacon that beckoned. Its source was a concert, a rock concert, with atleast one hundred white clothed tables all covered in numerous thai dishes and JB whiskey. After two minutes of my arrival i was called to a table and given a glass with whiskey and coke, then before long another table called me over. I was getting a little too much attention being the only white foreigner, and before long the security noticed this, and explained that it was a fundraiser and i was excused from the event. I came across a moto taxi and i told him to take me to the night market. We arrived at a taxi stand and the taxi driver got the man at the stop to translate for us. My driver asked me, where i wanted to go? The stand being infront of the market i told him that This is where i want to go. So i payed the small sum and sampled numerous dishes in the market before having a walk aroiund town. Thirst was growing as i had sampled many fried foods, so i walked into a hotel bar, the only bar i couild find, where there was live music, and more hostesses than clientelle. I ordered a beer and paid for it i assumed the price of the beer included the company of the hostess that came with it. Her English was minimal but from what i understood she was studying buisness English to help her massage career. This is Thailand.
Day 10 Kanchanaburi
The bridge on the river Kwai has turned into quite the tourist attraction. With an actual tourist train that goes over the bridge. It was a bit too disney land considering the topic at hand. After viewing the bridge i took a ride 10km out of the city to a Budhist shrine in a cave. The country roads around Kanchanaburi were great ridding, narrow, windy, and scenic. The caves were quite humid but well worth as it was me and the statues only. On my way back i got my daily flat. I walked about 4 Km into town. When i finally got onto the street where Bamboo hostel was located i stopped in a local market for a beer and met a German and Kiwi that have been coming to Thailand for years. After a couple of beers Nathan, the Kiwi wrote down some key terms for me in Thai, such as two beers, and certain dishes. I departed as i could use a shower before dinner. After my shower a lady boy escorted me to the 7 11, some tourists made a point of commenting my newly found escort. Turns out it was Nathan, and some Aussies still drinking. I joined them, and left the lady boy. We sat at a shots bar, which was just a bamboo hut on the side of the road, where the stools were on the side rock. It was there that i discovered Red and Black Cock, a Thai vodka. i later found out that the same brand also makes a spirit called Obama, which was quite similar to the Black Cock.
The Aussies were bike touring as well. Chris started in England and has been on his bike for 20 months, and his sister Chantelle joined him for a couple of weeks. We decided we would continue out of Kanchanaburi together after we repaired our bikes at the local mechanic. We both had broken spokes. We would spend the next week together.
Day 10-13 Kanchanaburi to Koa Tao
So now were three. Heading south from Kanchanaburi towards the coast with the excitement that soon i would see the sea. As we entering the narrowest part of Thailand we rode past many markets and google maps led us into some farm fields where the road was of dirt. We rode on these roads for about 30 Km. I feared my companions were not happy with the roads i had led them to, as they were riding touring bikes and had narrower tires. Along the way we passed many extravagant temples built upon hills overlooking towns. I had finally reached the coast on my trip. And it was barren, with many empty hotels. And beautiful white sand beaches that stretched for miles. Lined with coconut trees these beaches were completely barren of human life. As we continued south along the coast we entered a national park that was composed of lime stone cliffs and fish farms. The scenery was spectacular.
I eventually got my daily flat. And told my companions to continue on without me, giving them the name of the town we were headed for. My bike repair took longer that i had anticipated and i was almost an hour behind my friends. But when i did catch up to Chris i found him talking to the police at a check point trying to find out if his sister took the right turn or passed the police. She was ridding in front. After many debate we established that she passed the police and not taken the turn like she should have. So Chris split off after her and i continued along the coast. I rode another 60km to the destination. It was dark by the time i was closing in on the city. i recieved an email from Chris saying that he took a train to another town. So i went to the town square for my end of day beer. When a policeman became interested with my bike and travels. He was so impressed that i rode from Chang Mai that he bought me a beer. I ate in the market and found a hotel build on top of a reggae bar. That night i met many germans at the bar that have been in asia for years. After a chat and a beer i headed towards the beach where i was surprised to find a concert going on a temporary stage. 3 young attractive girls danced and sang on stage in skimpy outfits. So i had another beer before returning. The next morning that Australians agreed to meet me at my hotel, with some bad news.
As promised my companions arrived at my hotel by 8:00 am. Chantelle came first with the news that Chris got food poisoning the night before and spent the entire evening on the toilet. Chris eventually arrived and still had a fever. He could not carry on that day. With Chantelle only biking for two weeks she did not want her brother’s ailement to slow her down so she asked to join me, and we would continue, just the two of us. Chantelle always kept good pace and was usually only about 10 to 15 minutes behind. But she was feeling tired and was falling more than half an hour behind. The ride was straight forward so i didn’t wait, until i had too. I got another broken spoke and decided to fix it on the road waiting for Chantelle. We continued together and eventually reached Champon, the city where we would catch our ferry to Koa Tao. We spent the night there at a hostel whose owner could not speak much english but was very helpfull. She drove me to a bike shop where i could pick up some new spokes for my bike, as this was beginning to be a trend. The next morning Chantelle left her bike at the hostel as she had planned to meet her brother there after visiting the island. I rode ahead to the ferry terminal which according to google maps was 15km away but it turned out to be twice that. I arrived there before Chantelle and cued with many foreigners awaiting the next boat. It was a fast catamaran and would take less than two bours. When we got on the boat i recognized some fellow poles. Easy to spot as they were just about to open a bottle of vodka. They invited me to join them in drinking but i reluctantly refused as the water was so ruff i could barely take my eyes off the horizon. I emerged onto the top deck to find i was not the only one. Many were suffering sea sickness. I spent the next two hours with arms and legs locked on to the benches of the deck like a crab. The one time i tried to move i slipped and fell receiving a souvenir of the event on my hip that would remind me of it for the next week. When we finally got to Koh tah we were attacked by accommodation sellers. I ignored them and told Chantelle that i wanted to get out of this port town as quick as possible, i rode and she got into a taxi which was a pick up truck full of other tourists in its flat bed. We arrived in at about the same time. and began our search for accomadation. Travelling as a pair we were paying half for accommodation as most places had two beds and for most of my trip i have been solo. We were right in the heart of things. And after the first night we decided to move as things got pretty loud there at night. For the same price we found our very own beach bungaloo. That day Chantelle rented a bike and we went island exploring. The road towards the middle of the island was practically straight up. I had ridden many a steep hill up to this point but this one took the cake. Chantelle eventually ditched her bike in some bushes and continued on foot. On the way i spotted my first monkey on a chain. After a quick chat with it i continued to the top of the mountain to find a bar where a couple stoned Thais collected a small fee to have a look from the view point. It was worth it you as you could see practically the whole island from up there. From there we continued to Mango beach. The stoners at the bar warned me of the roads down there, most people walked. But i didn’t bring a mountain bike on this trip just to let it sit. So i rode down the treacherous rode full of trenches created by the torrential rains. I finally reached a point where the road ended and i would have to descend the rest of the way on foot. The water there was very ruff so snorkelling was out of the question. It was very quaint and littered with expensive resort bungalows facing off of a steep clif.
The next day Chantelle had to return to Champon on the ferry to meet her brother. I was again alone. And would stay in Koa Tao another two nights. All in all there was some good mountain biking i found. And at the top of some hills were giant boulders famous for climbing. The beaches on the other side were empty and better for snorkeling. But the reef around the island was mostly dead. And i felt a little depressed floating on the surface of the water looking down and a web of grey coral that remindedme of a lifeless human lung.
The next day i went kayaking to one of the islands. I waited 2 days to kayak as no one wanted to rent me equipment because the water was too ruff. Finally, after walking up and down the beach one place rented me the equipment. It was not an easy paddle, but definitly worth it as i paddled to two islands connected by a sandbar. Everyone was snorkeling there but there wasnt much to see.
That night there was a big party that i attended in a club outside of the city. The taxi drivers were charging ten times what they would on the main land to get there. I was surprised to see signs for Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas, being sold at the bar. It was a late one.
Koh Tao to Krabi Day 18-20
The water was so ruff i had to stay an extra night in Koh Tao as the slow ferry was cancelled. I wasn’t too bothered. That night when i finally caught the ferry it was the King’s birthday and as we left Koa Tao at 11 o’clock at night i could see fireworks lit up the sky. We all had bunks on the boat but a lot of the Aussies stayed up drinking. We reached Surathani at 5 in the morning, and it was still dark, which never stopped me. With headlamp on my brow i set out through the city and into some rubber plantations. I could already see the farmers out collecting their bounty. An eyry sight as you could only see the their flashlights scattered in the distance amongst these smelly trees. When the sun finally rose it burnt off the fog and gave a beautiful spectrum of red.
My plan was to get to reach a giant lake in Khlong Phanom national park right in the middle of the two coasts where you could sleep on floating huts. I arrived their by noon, and had already done 112 km, a new record for me for that time of day, but the floating huts were beyond my budget as you needed to hire a boat to get our there. I figured i would find a place on the lakeside as there were many. But all were closed for renovation, or just completely empty. A strange sight entering what seemed to be a tourist destination that has been turned into a ghost town. So i carried on another 40km along the road until another spoke broke and i took the next available accommadation.
The next day i would ride all the way to Krabi on the west coast. It was a glorious ride getting there as the scenery took a violent change from rubber trees to tall lime stone cliffs. i was feeling strong and rode over a 140km to find that my hostel was full, but up the road was another accommadation that was cheeper. I went out for dinner and met a daughter and father duo from vancouver, they invited me to sit with them, and after finishing my meal i finished their’s as well. We drank a few beers as they described the anti-government protests they had witnessed up the road.
The next day i rode to Au Naung beach which was lot more touristy. Scattered throughout the town were familirar sites, such as starbucks and Burger King. The beach there was a lot nicer so i stayed a while. A little too long as my friend from Bangkok was coming that day, and i was not in a hurry getting back, there was so much to see, such as a temple within limestone caves. When i got to my hotel after a wrong turn and some delays my friend was already waiting with a smile. The next day we would catch a ferry to Koh Lanta.
That morning there were protest parades happening through out the city of Krabi and we feared we would have trouble getting to the ferry. Everyone was in a positive attitude marching down the streets with their mouths plugged with whistles. I thought i was going to lose my hearing and went off to check out the local temple, away from the parade. My friend Rory, was quite calm and claimed we had plenty of time. We had arranged transportation to pick us up from the hotel and were scheduled to arrive in 10 minutes, nonetheless he chose to have breakfast. When we go to the hotel our pick up truck was outside and the driver was not very happy with up. We piled in the flat bed with some other tourists that i had to cram in with my bike. In no time we were on a small boat heading to Koh Lanta. We stopped at a few islands along the way that did not have docks so the local sea gypsies brought their boats to meet our’s and take the tourists to their islands. Koh Lanta was another story. It was a large island with its fair share of inhabitants and industry. As soon as we got off the boat we went to the nearest restaurant where we were constantly badgered by pedlars of scuba, snorkelling trips, or accommodation. After lunch Rory rented a scooter for 12 dollars a day, and i rode the 5 Km into town. We arranged to meet at the local 7 11, then went out searching for a place to stay. We found a bungalow for cheap close to the beach. Inside our room we were greeted with a portrait of the owner’s face surrounded by text bubbles claiming that he could supply whatever a tourist would want, including food, drink, tours, transportation and all our smoking needs.
Koh Lanta proved to be one of my favorite spots in Thailand as it had whatever one could want. There were five beaches on the north side of the island. Each one with a different atmosphere. The first was more family oriented, the second more pricey, the third more for backpackers, and the last two were more secluded for couples.
Rory and i made full use of our two days together on the island, with good food, drink and company. Our first night out we began with a bottle of Sansong, Thai whiskey, on the beach, before heading to a reggae bar. Where Rory met a local girl who owned and thrift store on the island, and i met a Norwagian who was their teaching the locals good business practice. We eventually got separated and i ended up at a small bar close to the beach, where out of nowhere the owner of the establishment appeared shirtless and covered in white paint. With him was a canine companion who too was smothered in the paint. Apparently he had been up for days due to the amount of magic mushrooms he had consumed, like Indonesia Thailand is quite liberal when it comes to mushrooms. By this point he was hard to understand.
The next day we set off to the south part of the island, where the local sea gypsies live. From there we rode the scooter up a mountain to the KHAO MAI KEAW CAVE where Rory, a Russian tourist, and i hired a guide to take us through a deep cave made by millennia of rain fall. Truly a unique experience as we snaked our way through the crevasses we explored a different world where the humidity and temperature was much higher than the outside. We got to a point where we pointed our headlamps down and could see a pool of water. The guide suggested a swim. The russian and Rory looked at each other as though to question the sanity of our guide. The rope ladder that descended to the pool of water was hardly stable. This was not for clusterphobics. Allready, covered in my own sweat i greeted the idea of a cool dip in this subterranean world and undressed to my underwear and headlamp, and descended the shaky ladder. The others soon followed. The water was cold but the surrounding were unique. Our screams of excitement were enhanced due to the water’s low temperature, as they echoed through the cave. After we left Rory and i agreed that this was a highlight in our trip.
That night we dined on barracuda on the sandy beach while the sun descended. After dinner we went to a beach party organised by a yacht excursion. A fleet of yachts docked at Koh Lanta full of Australian tourists. The premise of this excursion is you pay a sum of money and travel south east Asia by yacht and dock in the nicest places and have a beach party. Simple.
The next day Rory would head back to Bangkok, while I decided to extend my stay on the island as i wanted to go Kayaking.
The kayak center was in between north and south Lanta which was separated by a mangrove forest. I soon regretted being without a companion as all they had were two seater kayaks. At first i got lost in the forest as it was a labyrinth of tight waterways camouflaged in trees that sprouted from the muddy surface. It was very calm gently floating through the forest. I watched small animals moving from within the mud. Eventually I turned back as the waterways got too narrow to navigate. I found my way out of the forest and onto the waterway that devided the two islands. I was back to following my original plan which was to paddle out to one of the islands on the Adaman sea. The further i got from the island the windier and chopier it got. Considering i was solo on a two person kayak i struggled traversing the sea. My weight in the back of the kayak caused the front to angle out of the water thus making it more susceptible to the wind. After many debates withmyself about whether or not this was safe or stupid i reached a barren island. Almost ready to kiss the sand i spread out over the sand and rested on the barren beach before returning.
In conclusion Koh Lanta was one of my favorite spots. As it was not spoiled by tourism yet, and had so much to offer. Whether it be food, sport, culture, and night time fun Koh Lanta has it.