Heart to Beat #32 Songkran festival (Thailand 3)

Published on April 23, 2019 at 2:00 AM

This blog describes our journey from the Cambojan border to Bangkok. A blog with few photos this time, the why will become clear later in the story. It is the second time that we visit Thailand on this world bike tour and this time it is ‘party time’. For the third time this year we are celebrate New Year. After “our” own New Year and the Chinese New Year it is now up to the people of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand to celebrate New Year. In Thailand, they call the New Year period the Songkran festival, and on the first day we cycle to Thailand. We will travel through the south-east close to the Gulf of Thailand and cycle to Bangkok, where we meet Evi, Harjan & Sacha, who come to visit us – no cycling but beach and sea.

We arrive at the border around 9 AM to get trough the necessary formalities to be allowed to cycle into Thailand. The remaining dollars move to a “secret” bag for the time being. Of the last Cambodian riel we buy water and then we enter the departure zone on the Cambodian side: fill in the form, leave fingerprints, getting a stamp in the passport and continue to the Thai arrival side. Again fill in a form and (smile) to the camera and another stamp in the passports. Large stickers (NO TIPS!) make clear that you don’t have to pay an extra dollar to the Thai government officials for a stamp. In fact, this border crossing has not cost us any money at all! The Thai customs officer points out to us that we are now entering the country for the second time. During 2019 we cannot get in again. We know that and we hope to get an extension in Bangkok, so that we have more than 30 days to enjoy southern Thailand. Finally we get Bath from the ATM and then we are ready to continue cycling on Thai territory. We spontaneously cycle on the right and wrong side of the road. We wave to someone who yells at us from a distance. A little later we realize that he wanted to draw our attention to our dangerous behavior. It takes half a kilometer before we see an oncoming motorbike and realize that we are wrong and we quickly cross to the left side of the road.

We continue cycling through a hilly area on an almost deserted road before we arrive on a busier main road and slowly descend to the lowlands surrounding the Gulf of Thailand. There are a lot of pickups on the road with a huge barrel and smiling people in the truck. The barrels in the pickups are full of water. In fact, the only thing we know about the Songkran festival is that water is thrown and shot for about 3 days (water guns and supersoakers are sold everywhere) to wash away the sins of the old year. According to internet it leads to hilarious water fights. We prepare for a wet suit. We get a wet suit soon, not from partying people but from a cloudburst.

To really enjoy the party, we go to the fairly large city of Chantaburi. However, when we arrive there, we see nothing of a party, except that many stores are closed. The streets look empty without the street vendors. We no longer see a single pickup, let alone a water fight. We enter a alley along the river where quite some people are walking. It looks like tourists who have visited the Cathedral of Chantaburi. It is the largest church in Thailand, but for us Europeans it is just a modern miniature. There is only one café in this tourist street, which is fortunately open. Our Thai SIM cards are back in our phones but our credit has run out, or we have stayed away too long. The cafe has wifi and soon we find out that the hotels in this city are full. We ask around at guest rooms in the area, send out fifty messages to accommodations further away and receive the same answer everywhere: “full” or “no have”. Finally, we still try our luck at the overpriced hotel that we have previously cycled past. They have another room. It costs 1,600 bath (€ 45) and we think that is way too much, but we take it anyway.

Hopefully tomorrow we can compensate somewhat for today’s accommodation and visit Warmshowers host Ebby. We send him a message asking if we are welcome. Ebby soon announces that he is also “full”. Ebby is not a standard warmshowers host. He runs a resort. The hot shower and the bed that he offers cyclists are located in the rooms that he rents and for which he does not allow cyclists to pay. But yes his resort is also full. When we consult Booking.com and Agoda we see that many accommodations are sold out and that what is left is super expensive. The Songkran festival is apparently a true migration. What we can do is try to go wild camping along the coast. Will that work now that it is so busy everywhere? Ebby puts a very valuable tip in his mail. Don’t rush because there is a lot of traffic on the road. On April 17, one day after the festival, he has another room available and we are very welcome. We read that there are many road fatalities during Songkran. The first victim this year was a Dutch tourist on a rented scooter. The Thai police label the week in which Songkran falls as the “7 dangerous days” and campaign to reduce the number of victims. Perhaps it is wise not to cycle much during these days. It is also wise not to stay in this expensive hotel.

For the two extra days in Chantaburi we book a reasonably spacious and cool room of “Hop Inn” with top wifi for half the price. There is a 7 Eleven around the corner, the supermarket that we really missed in Laos and Cambodia. Next to the 7 Eleven is a eatery that makes a delicious lunch with crispy fried meat, rice and a few slices of cucumber: delicious for one Euro. In the evening it is only a short walk to the night market where there is a very popular eatery and where it is a spectacle to see how the kitchen and staff handles the many orders of the tables and the take aways. We visit the cathedral and have the telecom store check the settings for the SIM card and top up the credit. Useful days and we are not on the road. When we leave Chantaburi, the counter is already at 300 road deaths after 4 of the 7 dangerous days.

The route to Ebby is largely on small back roads. Along the way, jackfruit and durian are sold, two large green fruits with spines that look alike from the outside. Durian is called the king of fruit and has a very penetrating smell. In hotels, prohibition signs hang on bringing durian to the room. The hostess of the Hop Inn said that she cannot rent a room for a day if the fruit has been in the room.

The sun is right above us around noon. The shadow is minimal and we take a picture of it. Just after noon we arrive at Ebby’s resort. Ebby went to the market himself and his son installs us in a nice room.
Ebby (Eberhart) is of German origin and in the 30 years that he has now been living in Thailand, he has only been back twice to ‘Die Heimat’ and twice very briefly. He lives according to the six life principles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. We do not know how to reproduce them exactly. One of them comes down to the fact that you have to do something good for your fellow human beings and Ebby fills it in by offering rooms of his resort for free to long-distance cyclists. Arnold happy, Ebby happy, we happy!

From Ebby we have planned a route outside the main roads. Because we first look for breakfast, we choose to take the main road to the next village for the first 20 kilometers. Twice we need to stop to get rit off a pack of angry dogs keen to attack us cyclists. Despite from the nasty dogs, the main road turns out to be quite quiet with a broad shoulder for cycling and we decide to continue to follow the main road to Ban Bueng. Of course, Harry delves from his musical library “My baby shot me down” by Nancy Sinatra and sings loudly “Beng Beng” or in this case “Ban Bueng”.
Google maps shows a hotel in Ban Bueng that is nowhere else on internet ca be found. The hotel appears to exist and for 500 Bath we get a gigantic room in a large apartment complex opposite a Tesco, the huge supermarket with all kinds of related shops and food court.

When we leave Ban Bueng, Harry attaches his iPhone on the handlebar to navigate. The screen of the iPhone turns on and then slowly darkens. Once it is completely black, the device can no longer be turned back on. Whatever we try, the device doesn’t show any sign of life anymore. Okay, just get to an Apple Store in Bangkok to get it fixed hopefully.
Ban Bueng is too far from Bangkok to cycle in one day. We have spotted a Decathlon on the outskirts of the city and that will be our daily goal. The road is getting busier and the road is getting wider. To reach the Decathlon we first cycle past the store and after a few kilometers we can cross over and cycle back. It gives the crazy feeling that we are cycling on a fly over the size of the The Hague Prince Claus Square.

We already mentioned before that a Decathlon is a celebration of recognition for us, but we also really need a number of things. For example, cycling shorts for Roelie (cycling shorts for Harry are taken by son from the Netherlands). Moreover, it is cheaper to stay on the outskirts of the city than in the center. We therefore stay two nights in the nearby charming hotel Baan Noppadol. From this hotel we plan and book the trip with the children. While booking we enjoy the organic melons that we got along the way from a Thai cyclist with orange crocs.

On Sunday, April 21, we cycle the last 32 kilometers to the beating heart of this metropolis. Yes, just by bike! We have often detested the navigation app maps.me, but now we can also give a compliment. The app flawlessly sends us through the jungle of concrete to the backpackers area, the area of ​​Khao San Road. We don’t have much trouble with the traffic: it’s Sunday morning and we generally stay away from the main roads.

And then the time has come, when the cycling computer tells us that after cycling 14,990 kilometers, we turn left and cycle onto the Rambuttri Alley. On the left we see the large building of the former Viengtai Hotel, where we have stayed before. It is completely restyled and refurbished, and the rates currently used by the Ibis Styles hotel are far above our budget. We recognize bars, restaurants, the little 7 Eleven, the Jewish meeting place, the holy bodhi tree, the statues, and so on. Wunderbar! And for once we did not get heren by a taxi from BKK airport, but on bicycle! Roelie gets a bit emotional. When did we last visit a place on that we recognized from a previous visit? It takes a while to come to the conclusion that it was the Austrian Alpine town of Sölden followed by the ascent and descent of the Timmelsjoch … It seems sooo long ago and sooooo far away …!

We book a room at hotel Villa Cha-Cha, on the same Rambuttri Alley. At the reception Roelie’s iPhone is almost empty and will not be recharged anymore. Again, everything is tried to resuscitate the device. In vain, the device eventually deflates and also dies. Two down! The next day we get to the Apple Store in the hope that at least one iPhone can be repaired. But unfortunately both, yes, both devices of exactly two years old, both of which went black in a period of two days, can NOT be repaired anymore… You would suspect Apple’s malicious intent. We are considering switching to an Android device, such as Huawei, which seems to have very good cameras on their smartphones. But we also have an Apple laptop and that will not communicate with other smartphone brands. We are more or less taken hostage to stay within the ‘Apple family’ and after an hour in a fancy shop we walk out with a fancy (double) purchase of two brand-new iPhone 7’s in our backpack, but with a cross face. The iPhone crashes leads to a blog with few photos.

But of course we don’t end our blog like this. Because there is something beautiful coming up: the children Harjan, Evi and Sacha come to visit us in Bangkok. We are so excited about it !! As said, we have put together a nice program, without any cycling. The children come to visit and they would rather go to a Thai island than ride a bike. There are, in fact, some good reasons to stop cycling for a while:

Our cycling shorts are so worn out that our birthmark on our buttock can be seen.

We were once dog lovers.

We love mountains but climbing them is against the advise of Thai government to avoid outdoor activities in this irregularly hot summer.

We no longer search for interesting detours, but take the shortest route to the next air conditioner.

We had eaten grilled corn and a fresh pineapple before on the beach of Koh Tao.

Bangkok has never looked so pretty due to the upcoming king’s coronation.