Heart to Beat #34 Gulf of Thailand (Thailand 5)

Published on May 28, 2019 at 11:00 AM

After not cycling for four weeks and one blog, we are back on the pedals! This blog describes our trip from Bangkok to Krabi. With the exception of the last two days, we follow the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. The first day we cycle through the Bangkok metropolitan region, the next one or two days through salt fields and after that several days through coconut, palm oil and rubber plantations. The route is fantastic and we are – after having a wonderful time with the children – very happy that we are back in the flow of cycling: eat, sleep, ride … the world wide!

We leave Villa Cha Cha very early, around half past six, but the morning rush hour in Bangkok also starts early, not long after sunrise. At the intersections mopeds, scooters, tuktuks, motorbikes and everything on four wheels gather and when the lights turn green the gas opens and the intersection is sped over. And that’s how we do it too, we have 18 gears, at a traffic light the gear goes into the “8” and then accelerates nicely to the “12”. After 25 km of cycling, we have the feeling that we have left the actual city behind us, but we continue to cycle through urban areas all day long. The road between the ribbon development is wide and busy.

So we have not cycled for four weeks and that is noticeable: at sunrise it is difficult to get up, heavy legs, sore knees, saddle pain, stiff shoulders on the way. Striking if you know that we’ve cycled 15,000 km in the last ten months. Doesn’t that count? The pain in Harry’s knees gradually gets worse and Roelie has used up all her energy after 60 kilometers. So we are very happy when we reach the town of Samut Songkhram after 80 km. Famished, we first end up at the ‘Tesco food court’ for lunch. The afternoon has just arrived. Around the corner of the Tesco we find a nice room at My Garden Serviced Apartment. Harry’s knees really seem to be a problem: he hardly comes up or down stairs anymore. The pain in both knees is strangely enough in a place where he has never had problems. Anyway, don’t panic: rest and diclofenac ointment and then we’ll look further tomorrow.

The next day we get up early again and that is a lot easier than yesterday. The knees also seem to be doing it again. The weather is beautiful and the sun is shining after a few cloudy days. Our goal today is the seaside town of Cha-Am at almost 100 km. That seems a bit too much, especially after the physical reaction to yesterday’s cycling day, but there are also a few overnight options spotted at a shorter distance, the first already after 25 km, should Harry’s knees quickly become sore again. The knees only start to be painful after 30 km. Roelie suggests lowering the saddle a little, we have other pedals and they are a lot flatter than the last one. Roelie herself also feels that she is a bit “too high”. After the saddles are set a few millimeters lower, it immediately improves.

Today we mainly cycle through the salt fields. Here, salt is obtained from the saltwater basins on the coast by evaporation. A debilitating activity. In many places men carry heavy baskets full of salt from the basin to a shed that is almost or completely bursting at the seams of the salt bags.

Along the coast are here and there desolate former hotels. Only the body the building is left and the only guest are loud screaming swallows. The salt fields are left behind and have been exchanged for fish farms. You really have to love fish to appreciate the smell in the air. All stop options are quickly cycled past and we get Cha-am but Roelie really on her gums.

Cha-am looks like a nice tourist beach village. On the beach among the trees there are nice beach chairs for miles on end. It looks like the Italian coast! However, it is low season and therefore the seats are mostly unoccupied. We are considering staying for another day. All the ingredients for a relaxing day are present: the body wants to rest, the hotel is ok and cheap, the beach is 50 meters, the 7 eleven too; what more do we want?

However, if we ask reception for a day extra, the room rate appears to have increased by 50%. Well no! Because it is Saturday evening they probably expect many Thai people. Well then we cycle to the seaside town of Hua Hin, only 27 km away and a bit more crowded in terms of tourist hotspot.

An hour and a half later we check in at a cheap guesthouse in the middle of the backpackers area. Cozy and it’s also Saturday! Maybe we go out tonight, maybe we’ll see something off the final of the Eurovision Song Contest (our candidate is favorite to win). But it turns out to be an important Buddhist holiday and that means that the bustling center of Hua Hin is not buzzing today: no alcohol, bars closed, no music, no karaoke, restaurants empty and shops cover the beer supply. Nevertheless Hua Hin is a nice town with a nice beach where we enjoy the sunset and watch people from a relaxing beach chair. That is how we celebrate a half day rest today.

The next morning we have cycled less than a kilometer when misery strikes. Harry’s iPhone is slowly turning black. Just like then, two days before Bangkok! And we know now that the phone can not be repaired. At least not by an Apple Store. This can not be true! We blame the cord that we previously bought in Thailand at an electronics and telephone store. The cord has worked fine for 2 months but is involved in the demise of now 3 iPhones. Incredibly. And unfortunately it doesn’t end there today. We cycle wrong, we lose a fiber cloth (almost indispensable for us on the way), one of our super light seats breaks, we suddenly run out of five pegs, calf-thick thick black muddy blubber between the beach and the sea and we have to pay both the entrance fee for the National Park as the campsite fee where previouslyother cyclists did not had to. It’s all doom and gloom today. But…, despite the fact that it is Sunday, we have scored fresh vegetables, can cook a wonderful meal and pitch our tent in a top spot in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. A group of dusky leaf monkeys come round close to sunset. The monkeys have remarkable white circles around the eyes and a very long tail. They are kings in jumping from tree to tree and laze and eat on extremely slender branches. Unfortunately they only give a short beach show and at sunset they are already back in the forest behind.

The night is hot, the wind has subsided and it is not cooling down; the temperature does not drop below 30 degrees. We try to lie very still and still we bathe in sweat. The tent is completely open, but without a breath of wind it is not really sufferable. And then there is another cowardly/stealthy attack by small blood-sucking mosquitoes. We close the tent immediately and the mosquitoes that have stayed inside must die. The inside of the tent is decorated with several red streaks. But if you wake up in the morning before dawn and this is what you see, then a bad night is instantly forgotten.

A lot of coconut plantations are situated south of the National Park. Here in Thailand you can still see the coconuts being sold in their thick green-white skin. So that’s not like the coconuts in the Dutch supermarket with that brown hairy hard crust. Along the way we see huge piles of outer shells and people who are battling between the piles in the stiff coconuts. A labor-intensive activity.
We cycle through the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan where we would have liked to stay a night afterwards. There is plenty to see. Along the beach is a boulevard with a separate cycle path, off the coast there are islands with those artistic, capricious rock formations, at a temple it is full of monkeys and in the wide streets fruit and vegetables are sold. We cycle with a bag of vegetables and a bag of fruit a little further to the Coconut Tree guesthouse where a warm showers host lives, the Frenchman Cedric. He is not in Thailand now but Lang, the brother of his wife, will receive us.

Nobody is home when we arrive, but through Messenger, Cedric tells us to make it easy for ourselves. That is not a problem at all. There is a swimming pool and that looks very inviting. Cedric says we can pitch the tent for free, but we can also take a room for 500 bath. A thunderstorm is coming, the flies are very annoying here and the night before we didn’t like the “sleeping” in the tent. We choose the room which is really just a whole house and has a kitchen and a veranda. We have already fully installed ourselves when Lang arrives hours later and the storm breaks out shortly thereafter. As is often the case in Asia with heavy thunderstorms, the power goes out and Thailand is no exception in this case. Later in the evening it is already fixed and we can sleep like a baby in the air-conditioned bedroom.

The next morning we first cycle through a desolate area full of stray dogs. After a while we are overtaken by a pick-up truck with bowls full of rice and a vague substance through it. It looks a lot like the stuff that Lang fed to his dogs this morning. And yes, every hundred meters there is a stop and several piles of rice are laid on the asphalt. It is food for these poor stray dogs. We cycle on and see groups of dogs waiting for kilometers for these benefactors; as if there are waiting for the bus.

After a few winding roads we are in front of a forest where a track should run through. But that is not the case. Not the first time that the route app sees more paths than there are. We turn around and cycle to the main road and decide to follow it for quite a few kilometers before we go back into the winding paths. First make some (kilo)meters and then enjoy. The winding paths lead us through the jungle to the village with the funny name Bankrupt or actually Ban Krupt. The village is by the sea and what follows is a long road with only trendy-looking resorts and restaurants, but all of which are deserted. It is very low season here. There is really no tourist in sight. We just hope that no bankruptcies will follow. We do not help the local economy in this case and continue cycling. The crossing from one bay to the other runs along Ao Siam Forest Park, a densely overgrown dark forest with gigantic high rubber trees from which you can feel a welcome relative coolness. We could camp there according to the internet, but we are too tired, sweaty, (over) hot and rotten and feel a lot for a room with a shower and air conditioning. Once back on the coast we encounter a lot of faded glory with a somewhat negative vibe. We take a break at the edge of the beach to consult Goole Maps. Inland it turns out that a number of great cheap rooms are being rented out and we are still squeezing the last 6 kilometers. Longoei Resort requires 500 bath for a very spacious and very clean room with all the facilities. Great place for an overnight stay! Here Harry’s son Harjan brings us (bad) news about the iPhone problems. He took one of the previously killed telephones to a repair shop for investigation. The motherboard is broken and cannot be repaired. So that is also bad news for the new iPhone that has died in exactly the same way. However, the expert also knows that a powercord cannot be the cause. It must be due to something else. That would mean that the inverter (a device with a buffer battery between dynamo-hub and telephone) is responsible for the debacle. We use some help lines and for the time being do not use Harry’s inverter.

After a ‘salt day’ and a ‘coconut day’, now follows a ‘palm oil day’. All day long we cycle on small roads through vast palm oil plantations: it is beautiful, green and peaceful. But there was also something negative about it, but we don’t immediately know what. Later, it comes to mind with a little help from the internet: in Indonesia and Malaysia in particular, large tracts of tropical rain forest are burned to make room for these plantations. The habitat of the Urang Utan, among other things, is thus seriously affected. Terribly natural, but doesn’t that apply to many agricultural lands? All over the world, former natural grounds are used to serve people and not only for food supplies but also for living, working and recreation. Man is of course a scourge for the globe, that is the case everywhere, and we hope that mother earth will overwin at last.

Back to the beauty and the issues of this day. The palm oil tree (of course that is not called that name but we call it that anyway) is in fact a beautiful tree, from its trunk various types of ferns grow, the soil is not kept bald (as for example with olive tree plantations in Europe), but is overgrown grass. And if there are small, quiet, winding paths through the plantations that are great for cycling, you will not hear us complain about palm oil. We find it much more fun to cycle through palm oil plantations than, for example, those desolate corn fields intended for animal feed that have “accompanied” us throughout Europe.

Halfway through the day we finally meet cyclists again. The last one was Stefan from Germany, whith whom we cycled together for about four days in Cambodia. The American Tony and Katy from Minnesota cycle from Phuket to Bangkok and back. As usual, we exchange tips and if we come close to their home, we are very welcome. What nice and cheerful people. Well done, we can go all the way again.

A second high point follows shortly thereafter. At ก๊วยเตี๋ยวแหลมแท่น, a restaurant at Laem Thaen, we flopped down to eat something. As so often the choice is limited to only noodle soup. This time the charming owner even speaks some English and serves us the most delicious noodle soup we ever have had in SE Asia. Yum! After that it is a piece of cake to conquer a mountain: Khao Din Sor, where khao is Thai for mountain. The pass over the mountain is only 60 meters high and even for the Dutch it is a walk in the park, right? Okay, it’s 35 degrees here, but that’s five degrees less than a month ago. On the other side of the mountain we’ll find a place to stay around Hat Thung Wua Laen. Hat is Thai for beach. So back on the coast and with a palm oil tree with squirrel and tropical birds on the doorstep.

The palm plantations also accompany us the day after. Rain is predicted and we try to cycle a little earlier and a bit faster with shorter breaks. But it does not help and around eleven o’clock it starts to drip and then soon to rain and then soon to bail. With these tropical temperatures we naturally don’t put on rain gear. Actually it is quite nice, because with the rain the temperature drops to below 30 degrees. And yes, you get wet and then soaked and you can’t get wetter so it doesn’t really matter anymore. What does matter is that we decide to avoid the cute little roads. Often unpaved and paved alternate and the experience with rain shows that unpaved roads become impassable by sticky mud. That is why today we choose to cycle on the shoulder of the highway. In the center of the village of Lang Suan we check in at a shabby and cheap hotel.

We get our early meal at the 7 Eleven. There are  about 10,000 7-Elevens in Thailand. Did you know that at every 7 Eleven one or more dogs are staying in front of the entrance (= sleeping)? Whether you are in the city, in the countryside or on the highway; a dog is waiting for a ‘left-over’.

The “microwave compartment” of the 7-Eleven usually shows an extensive selection, which we know that almost everything tastes great. One drawback, as a rule, the number of kcal does not exceed 300. Of course far too little for cyclists who burn 3000 kcal on their bikes. Again we buy two trays with a nice meal and let them heat at the cash register. On the way back to the hotel, we see an (in) official Apple store. We inform if they have an iPhone7. Yes, only in pink. Mmm, that not Harry’s favorite colour. The staff hardly speaks English, but a helpline from Chumphon is called in. Yes, the iPhone7 in black is in stock, we can pick it up in Chumphon tomorrow. We explain that we are on a bicycle, heading south, and that Chumphon has been cycling behind us for another day. The gentleman on the line immediately offers to bring the iPhone to Lang Suan: within two hours it will be in store. Super! We will be back in two hours! Once back at the hotel room we will watch a few YouTube videos just to be sure how you can distinguish a real iPhone from a fake. We determine  that the phone that is indeed in the store two hours later is real and they also help with reinstallation, which however implicates that important reports on the phone appear in Thai.

We cycle one more day along the Gulf of Thailand to the larger city of Surat Thani, but can no longer view the sea. The route is nevertheless beautiful and leads us again along excellent secondary roads and small winding paths between the palm oil and rubber plantations. We spend the night at one of the many hotels around the airport of Surat Thani, a little outside the city. From there we cross the peninsula to Krabi and finally have to deal with hilly terrain again.

We take two days to cross over to the other side and halfway we find a super nice bungalow in Bang Sawan. On the porch in front of the “Hansel and Gretel House” a parrot surprises us by sitting very close to us on the fence. We try to photograph the bird from all angles without it flying away. ‘If only we had a real camera with a lens, we could capture it much nicer’, we sighed. But that is not necessary at all. The animal is not afraid of anything and sits down on Roelie’s shoulder. What a cheeky basterd. The cap, shirt and bracelets are explored with the beak and before damage starts, we chase the parrot away and that turns out to be damn difficult. Funny that we were afraid that it would fly away and that we are now doing our best to make it fly away.

Although the official rainy season starts in two days, there is already a heavy rain shower every day. That often produces beautiful skies with high threatening dark clouds while we still cycle in the sun. We don’t see much of the (distant) environment; we always cycle on rural back roads through palm oil and rubber plantations and the trees reach high above us. The last day, which we christened “hello day” (the palm oil day was already forgiven), we catch a glimpse of a mountain covered by clouds. The last part to Krabi we see the mountains again. Steep rock slopes shoot vertically upwards and where possible dense plants grow. We think it is a privilege to live here. The people are also all so cheerful and always give us a nice friendly smile. Remarkably often in this part of Thailand we hear “hello!” and we get a thumbs up. It is clear that few tourists come to this part. Unlike Cambodia, where almost all children greet us, the adult and elderly part of the population also happily participates. It turns our sweaty grimace into a smile that can’t be brushed away. We are happy!

We enjoyed cycling along the Gulf of Thailand from Bangkok to Krabi very much. The continuation of the route to Malaysia over the Malacca peninsula follows the coast of the Andaman Sea. Hopefully that will be just as nice, what seems to be rather difficult!