Archive for June, 2010


Cycling in Thailand

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

After leaving the tranquility and beauty of the Sri Phanga National Park, we headed to a town called Khura Buri, which wasn’t too far away and a nice gentle ride with mountains keeping their distance to the right. The road was quiet and it was overcast so very pleasant cycling conditions.

We stayed at Alex Homestay, in Khura Buri and really enjoyed meeting Alex, who looked after us superbly – letting us use the washing machine and supplying a high speed internet cable to our room. He even invited us to join him for dinner…

Leaving Alex, with a late start, we cycled north towards Ranong and stopped to camp in a Rubber Plantation for the night, about half way. In our best broken Thai we managed to ask some passerbys if it was ok, they seemed to think so.

After a nice supper, we sat by the trees in the dark, discussing the concept of soulmates. We’ve both just read a book called Brida by Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist), which is about soulmates amongst other things. Very interesting read and got us both thinking…

It rained very heavily overnight, yet was still sauna like in the tent. I kept waking up intermittently to check we weren’t being flooded.

Next morning, with waves and smiles from passing scooter riders, we packed up and set off for Ranong. Ranong is predominantly a place where the backpacker buses go and a good place for visa runs, due to the proximity to the Burmese border (read this article to see why we are using the name Burma rather than Myanmar). Plus there are free hot springs, which has to be a lure for any cyclist! It rained most of the way there and was otherwise uneventful, (besides our rather exciting trip to Tesco).

In Ranong, we stayed at the Kiwi Orchid Guest House, right next to the bus station, where we were greeted and shown a choice of nice rooms with fans. There were a few backpackers staying there, who seemed to have had a rough day, with long bus journeys or were simply weary (of travelling?) – they all seemed a bit gloomy to us! Made us glad to be on the bikes and not at the mercy of buses, boats and tour operators. At the same time I can’t help wondering how people can be so grumpy when they are in such a lovely country, at the end of the day it’s their choice to be there and so many people in the world would never even have the opportunity to travel in this way.

We stayed a couple of days in the end and went to the hot springs and explored the town, enjoying the delights of the Food Market.

We can’t help noticing that there is a great appreciation of food here in Thailand, people take their time to sit and have a coffee and a bowl of noodle soup together. Watching the faces of the people cooking and preparing food, it seems that everyone is happy, content, they take pride  in their work. After all, making food for people is quite possibly one of the most important jobs you can do, we all gotta eat!

So we too take our time and sit eating Kow Pad Kai (literally: rice fried chicken) and phad thai with pork ( big soft noodles fried in a peanuty/sweet sauce). Most dishes are served with a small bowl of watery soup, wherever you go, it’s free or included in the price. My dish comes with crunchy beanspouts, spring onions and a slice of lime on the side. We learn the word for ice tea, order two and soak up the atmosphere.

It poured with rain solidly for 2 days and we found our trip to the hot springs quite comical. The sign said you could only soak your feet, so we sat on the edge in our waterproof jackets, with our toes in the water. A Thai man was in the pool completely and then others came and did the same, so we decided to ignore the sign and get in.

A one point a lady arrived on her scooter wearing long trousers and a long sleeved top. After greeting us she proceeded to climb into the hottest pool, fully clothed still wearing her scooter helmet! We both looked at it each other and said ‘Only in Asia!’.

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New Thailand articles

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Check out the 4 articles we’ve just published about Railay in Thailand, there’s rock climbing, secret lagoons and sandy beaches…

http://www.bikeabout.co.uk/countries/thailand/railay_thailand.shtml

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Tecsos – Thailand style!

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Ha, so not having seen a proper big, warehouse style supermarket since Indonesia (Giant) we were surprised to stumble across a huge  Tesco yesterday. It was too good to resist. Whilst it’s great to shop at local stalls and small outlets, this is often limited to tins of sardines, 17 varieties of packet dried noodles, eggs, chicken essence (!) , sacks of rice, little cakes or biscuits and  a range of chillies.  Here was our chance to stock up.

So what exactly did these two cycle tourers buy on this excited visit I hear you cry?

Supermarket shop

Goodies!

  • baked beans (hallelujah!) I love baked beans
  • razor and razor blades (to share)
  • oreo biscuits and butter biscuits
  • factor 30+ suncream (we get through tons of this but it can be expensive at smaller places)
  • peanut butter (breakfast for Chris)
  • half loaf of bread
  • beng bengs! (these are choc bars a bit like toffee crisp, with less toffee more wafer, great snacks)
  • bag of apples
  • block of cheddar cheese – luxury item no 2!
  • spaghetti – don’t often see pasta here
  • 2 tins of tuna – it’s too hot to carry meat and tuna is tasty
  • 2 sweet and sour sauce sachets
  • 4 packet chicken soup
  • 2 big bags of chewy sweets
  • mosquito repellent – need plenty of this on when camping and in the evenings
  • 2 new t-shirts for Chris
  • small bar of Dairy milk chocolate to eat now

Should point out that Thai food at the roadside stalls and restaurants is excellent and very cheap ( 30-50 baht  – 60p-£1). We tend to eat at local places, food markets and stalls because a meal will cost you less than it would to buy the ingredients and cook yourself.  Plus we get to meet local people and practice our Thai!

However when we camp it’s great to have tinned and dried food that we can cook, that way we can stop wherever we feel like and not need to find a place to eat. On the road our sugar levels can drop very quickly and sweet stuff can be hard to come by, hence all the sweets, biscuits and snacks – we carry these in our bar bags. May not seem ultra healthly, but as we’ve both lost so much weight we’re not too worried!

Our wonderful Icebreaker T-shirts have taken a bashing over the last 10 months;  the sweat, salt and heat of South East Asia, plus the lack of washing has meant that Chris’  t-shirts have fallen apart. They are very fine, which is great for cycling, but after such exteme treatment there are now so many holes that Chris was starting to look like a tramp, so we picked up a new t-shirt today as a temporary measure. Icebreaker are very kindly sending us some new t-shirts…

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Exploring Sri Phang-nga National park

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Hilleberg Tent CampingHaving made the easy decision to go and explore what was down the road we had now arrived at the entrance to the Sri Phang-nga National Park.  A small barrier was now between us and a 246.08 square meters of rain forest.  We paid our entrance fee and set up camp.  A small fee is also charge for camping.  The park has a small restaurant, camping area and bungalows for those that want a slightly more comfortable experience.  Despite some of theses modern features we were still surrounded by lush trees and the sound of birds, frogs and monkeys from the forest within.  We were the only people staying there, not quite the wilderness I was expecting but the Park had a peaceful feel to it and I felt a sense of belonging here.  From what we could gather the park was quiet during the week and busy at the weekends.  It would have been fascinating to see how the Thai people experience their National Parks and their way of camping.

WaterfallCamp set we had some lunch and then set of to find Tamnang waterfall the biggest of the waterfalls in the area at 63 meters high.  After a few kms of walking we arrived at the impressive feature carved out by years of erosion yet leaving a magical place for animals and humans alike to enjoy.  The pool at the foot of the fall was recommended for swimming, but just before we arrived the heavens had opened and the powerful force of the rain was beating down on us.  It seemed wrong not to swim, I was no longer hot and sweaty but I longed to bath in the pool in front of me.  I stripped down to my underwear and was about to take my first step in the water when I had a change of heart.  The giant swam fish that had made their way up river suddenly seemed rather menacing and they might bite my toes and to top it off, there was a snake lurking at the corner of the pool, probably waiting to bite my bottom.

Fish SwampSnakeI observed nature carefully and after 10 minutes decided it was now or never I slowly lowered myself into the pool and let out a few girly noises for good measure.  To my delight the snake was still waiting for the fish and the fish were not biting my toes.  I was still slightly on edge but as time progressed my confidence grew and I swam to the waterfall to explore and shower beneath the cascade of water.  Liz was not so keen to swim with the fish or the snake so she was busy taking photos and laughing at my silliness in and out the water.

Chris contemplating swimming with fishChrisHeading back to the campsite we were happy and relaxed, the rain was now a cool drizzle and felt wonderful against our usually hot and tanned skin.  We showered and changed into dry clothes and Liz made dinner.  The restaurant was now closed and we had the place to ourselves.  Forests and mountains have always been a place of peace for me.  I am sure that there is something more here than just trees and rocks, the raw spirit of nature, an energy force that keeps giving and quite simply makes me feel good.  We retired to the tent and enjoyed a cool nights sleep thanks to the earlier rain storm.

Chris on Nature TrailLiz on Nature TrailOur carefully chosen camp spot shaded us from the morning sun.  We had rice and chicken for breakfast and set off to explore more of the rainforest.  We had seen pictures of elephants, monkeys and other exciting animals.  Were we going to get to see these?  The thought of meeting an elephant in the wild filled me with excitement and fear at the same time.  Talking with the park staff we soon found out that the elephants were deep in the forest and it was unlikely that we would meet one.  Still as we wondered round the nature trails I contemplated what I would do if an elephant were to appear from behind a tree.

ChameleonIf we had more time we could have taken off into the forest and explored for a few days, for now the nature trails were enough and we explore a couple of the 2-3km trials that followed rivers and wound up the side of the mountains.  We were on a mission to see as many different animals as possible.  To our delight we encountered two interesting animals that accompanied the birds, spiders, leeches and ants that surrounded us.  We have no idea what the first one was but it looked like a giant possum.  It was body was broad and flat like a flying squirrel, a long tail and black fur with a white stripe on its back and crawling down the tree.  We approached slowly feeling like seasoned explorers, but before we could capture our find on film it vanished into the towering trees above.  Excited we walked a little further and stopped still to see if he would come back.  No sound but I felt something in my hair.  Trying to remain calm I moved back slowly there in front of me was a chameleon (Liz thinks, Chris is not so sure – do comment).  He was motionless and rather startled by our presence but was good enough to stay still for a few photos.  We continued on and found ourselves back at the main path.  From here we joined a different more dense and less trodden trail.  We followed the river up looking for the other smaller waterfalls.  We rested by the rocks and small waterfalls dipping our feet in the cool water.

One of our goals on this trip was improve our photography; neither of us had spent much time doing this so we experimented with different camera settings before wondering back to the campsite.

We spent the rest of the day reading and working and went to bed happy but hot.  Neither of us slept well, too hot, but the rain the next morning soon cooled us down.  We waited for the worst of the rain storm to pass and used the time to write and learn some Thai words for food that we like.  We said goodbye to the park and the staff and set back to the main road that would take us north gain.

The last few days have reminded me that we are here to explore as well as cycle. I often feel guilty for stopping and staying somewhere a day extra, thinking there is kms to be cycled.  But there is a balance and despite 10 months on the road I am still finding that balance.

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Thailand – first few days cycling…

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

We have been nearly a week cycling in Thailand now and we are slowly getting back into the rhythm of things, having spent a month sailing from Penang in Malaysia to Railay, Krabi Thailand. Our legs and bums are remembering what life should be like and we are learning a new language too. We have climbed more hills in the past few days than in the whole of Malaysia, and Thai culture is beginning to become familiar.

To leave Railay beach we had to take a long tail boat as the peninsular is cut off from the main land by big mountains. It was a noisy and exciting ride in a boat that you know is designed to roll about but at any moment you think it will tip over when the next wave hits. We made it to dry land and my visions of the big red bags and bike sinking to the bottom of the sea disappeared.

Arriving at the small port in Krabi we fixed our punctures that we both had for some reason and loaded up the bikes. Our audience of locals smiled at us intrigued by what I presume were thoughts of what is all this stuff they are carrying. We managed to communicate that we were travelling to Chiang Mai, smiles broadened and we were told it was a long way. Some other tourists passed by and recommended a hotel up the road. We checked in showered and changed and hit the food market to sample the culinary delights of offer. The market was a great experience with some passionate chefs, exciting and delicious foods. The next day we stocked up on food and got some odd jobs done and generally wandered about.

Our first day from Krabi was a sensory overload, new trees, giant rock formations, different faces and expressions and smooth roads.

We slowly made our way north and stopped at the only place we found that said ‘inn’ in English. We realised that we had no idea what the Thai is for home stay or hotel as the Thai language has a different alphabet to English. We managed to get the message across that we wanted somewhere to stay for the night and we got set up in our clean and comfortable room.

The next day we set off from Ban Klang only with going North in mind. We left the main road and slowly climbed up our first hill in what seemed like ages, Ubud in Bali perhaps.

At the top there was a small temple and plenty of cars beeping. We later discovered (from what we can gather) that rather than being temples these sites are in memory of the people that have died here, accident hot spots. The beeps from the cars were the people saying hello to the spirits of the dead, and to prevent further accidents.

We freewheeled down passing more impressive outcrops of rock covered in trees. The landscape here is so green and lush and there seems to be varied species of trees compared to some of the monotony of Australian gum trees or Malaysians palm plantations. At the bottom of the hill we stopped at a small shop to by provisions, not knowing how populated the road ahead was, we wanted to be prepared. We asked if there was any accommodation nearby and were told that there was a resort about 2km away.

With our hand drawn map we set of in search of the resort, not knowing what to expect. We had turned down the offer of an escort from the shop owner, who said that it would be difficult to find. It is sometimes easier to make your own way and stop when you want to, as we found out later it would have been good to get the escort. After 2km no sign of the resort, we kept asking people and they kept saying a little further. After the third conversation we were escorted by a guy on a motorbike to the, I ♥Idin resort. It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland, arriving in the dark to a manicured resort with fairy lights in the trees, a stark contrast from the small houses and trees we had passed on the way. We felt like we were imposing, this was not a tourist resort and we were the only tourists there. But we were made welcome and shown to an institue tent that would be our home for the night. Tired we washed showered and eat before heading to sleep.


The morning sun encouraged us from our sleepy state; we took advantage of the shower again, packed and left. We had not felt right staying there somehow and were keen to move on. We cycled the 7km back to the main road for breakfast. Chicken rice and egg made us feel better, as we cycled north again our thoughts turned to our experiences of the past few days.

The bike is a wonderful place to think and you can lose hours pondering the simplest things or the meaning of life. I decided that we had had some negative experiences and were dwelling on them. Many of the Thai people we had met were reserved and somber. We were worrying if we were welcome here or if we were offending people in some unknown way. We were concentrating on these experiences rather than the smiles and help we had received. Were we reflecting this energy back onto the people we met? We decided to go in fresh and confident, smiley and happy try and speak Thai, if we get it wrong smile more and try again. We arrived at another resort and although we were hot and bothered we made the effort. We were rewarded with warm smiles and managed to convey our desire to camp in our tent. We enjoyed the evening and the thunderstorm that cooled us down immensely.

We woke a little late, the camping area was next to the restaurant area and the karaoke had kept us awake till 4am. Despite our frustration we had to remember that it was only a few people that had kept us awake and they probably had no idea that we were so close and wanted to get up early. As we left the staff were arriving, they greeted us and bade us farewell with more smiles and we set off again ready for our next experience.

We had planned to explore one of the National Parks, the guide book gave the place a good review and we were excited about tree house accommodation. Unfortunately we missed the desired turning but had arrived at junction where a side road and a different national park was 5km away. Stopping at the junction we checked the guide book, there was no mention of this place in the guide book and all we had was the sign that said waterfall and national park. Should we head north or turn right and see what happens. A few minutes later having turned right we were heading into the unknown, excited for what awaited us. Thoughts of wilderness and steep climbs into the cool mountains crossed my mind and I envisaged camping next to a river with my feet dipped into the cool water. 5km later the road ended we had arrived at the National Park.

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