Archive for July, 2010


Yes we finally made it to Chiang Mai

Friday, July 30th, 2010

After several tough days, including long stretches of roadworks, where we were forced to cycle on the opposite side of the road with oncoming traffic speeding towards us;  a coating of dust and fresh tar (no indication that we were about to ride over it); a huge mountain climb and kms of rolling hills either side; baking hot sun and torrential rain; same same food for days and a sweaty camping spot; we finally arrived in Chiang Mai, 1600kms after leaving Krabi.

Arriving at our guesthouse in Chiang Mai

We have now cycled 4700miles / 7565kms and reached the HQ for Child’s Dream, who we are meeting later today. On sunday we will travel to Mae Hong Son, then onto the Tomato Village near the burmese border where we will teach English for 1 month at a school built by Child’s Dream.

So the next couple of days are going to be busy as we need to stock up on supplies ( boring things like mosquito repellent and soap) as well as buying some stationery and materials to take with us to the school. We are not sure what they have already, but we know that they always need stationery which just so happens to be one of my favourite things (put me in a Paperchase shop and you’ll lose me for hours!). We also have an interview with the Chiang Mai Mail newspaper, so it’s all go here.

Hopefully, inbetween all that, we will find sometime to update the blog and tell you more about the last week or so on the road. In the meantime follow us on Twitter or Facebook and have a look at our photos.

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Bridge over the River Kwai – 18th July

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

We’re finally leaving Bangkok. Travelling by train (yes to avoid the Bangkok highways and for speed – we need to get to Chiang Mai) from Thonburi Station, Bangkok Noi, we planned to catch the 13.35 to Kanchanaburi, home of the bridge over the River Kwai. As we approached the station, it looked more like a train graveyard than a station, I wad doubtful that trains ever left here! However as we got closer, we saw a platform and people waiting, so that was a step in the right direction. The train was at 13.55 and cost 100 Baht each, plus 180 for the two bikes.

At thonburi station

Already engrossed in my book...

So off we go, with a few snacks from the roadside stall in hand, at a slow pace. It’s a 3rd class train so I’m not expecting it to fly, but this is a little slow. Ah well relax and enjoy the journey. We are due to arrive at 16.20. After 45mins, the train stops and sits, then after lots of loud jolting and banging of metal, the train begins to go backwards! Not so good. We end up back where we started an hour ago, at Thonburi station! Hmmn cue Thomas the tank engine music. It appears that the engine train is ‘bloken’. A new engine,that Chris now nicknames Thomas, arrives and after more banging and jolting we set off again. Only now we are going really really fast, should… er… a train go this fast??

'Thomas'

Stopped again. The main in uniform is on his walkie talkie, strolling up and down the platform outside. There isn’t much in the way of information round here, so no one has much idea what’s happening. Chris informs me that it might be a box junction and that because the train is now running late, we may have to wait for another train to pass. I have no idea how he knows this.  Now resigned to a long journey I open my book, the excellent A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson and lose myself in the rather entertaining world of the sub-atomic, particles with strange names that only exist theoretically ( no one has actually seen one) oh and Flash Gordon. Chris meanwhile is writing an article on choosing a touring bike, on our laptop. A few minutes later a train comes from the opposite direction, passes us and we set off again. Needless to say, I now know what a box junction is.

So our 2 and 3/4 hr journey turns into 5 hrs and we arrive in Kanchanaburi about 7pm, both feeling weary and slightly bewildered – where exactly did the day go?  We load the bikes and head straight to the town to find a guesthouse and some food. We end up going to the main drag to No Name bar, with the rather charming slogan of ‘get shitfaced on a shoestring’ – primarily because they serve bangers and mash. Anyone who knows me well, probably knows that I love mash potato. Thai food doesn’t really feature potato very heavily, so I had to seize the opportunity. It was very good and came with fried onions and gravy! We ended up having a couple of beers and talking till late about the planets, chance, fate, witchcraft, how unlikely it is that we should even exist at all, how lucky… all the usual topics you might expect in an evening down the pub, ha ha!

Next day, a scorcher even by Thai standards – 36 degrees at 11am – we head to the Railway Museum to learn more about the story behind Kanchanaburi and the bridge. It’s air-conditioned, 100 Baht to get in and free tea/coffee at the end. It was well worth the entry fee and an excellent place to start. The exhibition is very well presented and helps to re-create the conditions that the POWs were living and working in. It also explains the Japanese involvement in WWII and their prolific advancement through SE Asia. The well known film concentrates on the bridge and depicts British POWs, however the Japanese project here was on a much bigger scale. The men were building a railway from Thailand to Burma, cutting through the mountains and building several bridges, and they were not just British. Prisoners from Australia, Holland and America were there too, plus of course the Thai people, Burmese, Malays and Indian workers (mostly drafted by force) who often get forgotten. They were subject to horrific conditions; near starvation, dysentery from unclean water supplies, disease from mosquitoes, injuries and sickness sustained from working, the heat and the brutality. It was truly horrendous and 100,000 men died in 3 years at various camps along the railway. One board explained that ‘food rations were withheld from those who were sick to encourage them to return to work’. Most of these men were dying or seriously ill, many due to lack of food and nutrients ( medics prescribed marmite as medicine)! Shocking.

Museum

I found it a very moving exhibition and made me very glad (selfishly) that both my brother and partner  – both of a similar age to many of the men who died here – were not alive during WWII.  I know that my Grandad was in Burma during the war, however I know nothing of his time there or the horrors he may have encountered.

Final resting place

The cemetery opposite marks many graves of the men who died here. It is beautifully kept and there were people tending to the plants and grass around the headstones whilst we were there. So far from home, I’d be glad to know that so many people visited and remembered.

At the bridge

From there we cycled to the Bridge, which was a little underwhelming. It isn’t a wooden trestle bridge as seen in the film, in fact it’s concrete and steel. The surrounding area is now filled with restaurants and shops, with lots of people milling around. The river has floating Kareoke bars going up and down. No matter how hard i tried, I couldn’t imagine it as a POW camp.

The railway

As we cycle on, I can’t help thinking that even on the hardest, toughest days that we might have cycling, I’m pretty sure that none of them compare to the days endured by the prisoners of 1940-1943.

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Cycling to the Ashes

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

After a night in a rather dubious hotel, one not dissimilar to how I’d imagine two star hotels in communist Russia to be, we headed to Dan Chang and then to Nong Chang.

With a 7am start, we were on the road by 8am very excited as we were cycling towards Oli Broom, who at that very moment was cycling towards us, on the very same road!

Oli is cycling from England to Australia and his trip is Cycling to the  Ashes. He left Lords Cricket Ground in October 2009 and will arrive in Brisbane in November, in time for the Ashes, having cycled 25,000km.

We met by the side of the road (of course, where else!) and to the amusement of the local road side stall holder, sat and drank pepsi, ate strange tasting nuts and chatted for about 2 and 1/2 hours. It’s the first English tourer we’ve met and it was great to see Oli in the flesh as we’ve been following him on Twitter for a while.

After concluding that none of us knew much about bikes and that cycle touring is good for the soul, we swapped stories. The conversation moved and jumped eagerly from one topic to the next, shame we didn’t have longer, ut we really enjoyed the morning and it left us both feeling inspired!

Oli is hoping to write a book and has also been working with a film crew, recording his time in India. So keep your eyes peeled for books and films, in the meantime visit his website and read more about his adventures…

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7000km & two donations in 24 hours!

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

We’ve cycled 7000kms and we’ve just recieved £150 in donations for Child’s Dream! Huge thanks to Sarah and Jon for sponsoring us. Thanks also to Jorrit and Nicky for their donation and a fantastic blog post about our trip!

Made In Thailand

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Bustling Bangkok

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Few photos from our time in Bangkok…

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