31st MARCH 2019
It’s just before 9.00am when I say Goodbye to a tired, bleary-eyed Peter at the Traveller Hostel. He has only just risen from his bed behind reception, having waited up till the small hours so he could check in a late arrival. I get him to take a picture of me before I depart and, although he’s half asleep, he’s still sharp enough to make sure his hostel name is included in the shot.
For breakfast I return to the same cafe as yesterday, choosing a carb-heavy pork and macaroni soup to set me up for today’s 80km. I follow that with a minced pork baguette, which is washed down by an iced coffee just to get me buzzing. After fuelling up I avoid Chanthaburi centre and it’s rabbit warren of one way streets, heading past parks and industry on the outskirts of town instead. Then I’m back on the main road towards Bangkok for a while, which is getting noticeably busier as I edge towards the capital. The increase in traffic doesn’t make a huge difference though, as I still have a big, safe buffer zone at the edge to cycle in. The first 50km whizz past, with flat roads and a tailwind helping me speed along effortlessly.
For lunch I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe which is open on all four sides, giving it the appearance of a giant wedding gazebo. I’m struggling to order, even with Google translate, so the owner lady gets me to point to the food I’d like from a handful of metal trays on display. I choose a meal that looks like slices of aubergine in a curry, served with rice, which seems marginally less baffling than some of the other options. When the food arrives it still looks like aubergine to begin with, but I quickly discover that it’s actually cross sections of fish, complete with spine and an assortment of other little bones. And Bloody Hell it’s spicy ! It takes me ages to finish the meal due to a mouth-searing heat and spending time pulling long, thin fish bones from my mouth. I’m only charged 25 Baht (60 pence), which seems like a bargain until you realise you can no longer feel your mouth.
When I carry on there’s sweat dripping from my face after a few kilometres, a combination of my spicy intake and an intensifying afternoon heat. The traffic has been building too, even from this morning. If I continued on this busy Number 3 road I’d have less than 250km to cycle till Bangkok. Nonetheless, I’ve already decided on a quieter route and want to spend my last ten days in Thailand pootling along the coast. I get to the decent sized town of Klaeng, leave the main highway behind and head back towards the sea.
Once I’m off the big road I slow down to the pace of my rural surroundings, languidly trundling past villages, temples and forest. The final 15km to the coast pass very lazily compared to this morning’s brisk progress. Then I’m at Mae Phim Beach, a 5km stretch of wide, surprisingly clean sand flanked by hotels, shops, seafood restaurants and street stalls. I’m staying on the fourth floor of the oddly named Pimpimarn Hotel, which has a great beachside location but definitely looks like it’s seen better days. My bike is left in what appears to be the hotel’s karaoke room, chained safely to a table, before I go for a late afternoon wander along the beach. I walk towards the setting sun, until it dips behind a low band of cloud and hills on the Western horizon.
On the way back I notice a cafe bar that does massaman curry, which is just the sort of mild, mellow dish I need after heat-blasting my mouth at lunchtime. I settle down to chicken thigh in a gorgeous, creamy sauce mix of peanuts and onions. All this is washed down by a luminous green-coloured Fanta, which looks disturbingly toxic, yet tastes addictively delicious. On the way back I visit a 7-11 for some supper snacks and also some munchies for tomorrow’s breakfast. Needless to say, I return to my room and devour the whole lot.
When I wake the next morning I regret last night’s greediness, having to return to the 7-11 once more for some breakfast sandwiches. Every filling seems to include mayonnaise – crab mayonnaise, tuna mayonnaise and even the unpleasant sounding pork mayonnaise. I buy one tuna and one crab, but am not curious enough to try the pork.
Today’s trip is an easy 30km, so I faff around till the latest possible check out time and then begin an unhurried trundle along the coast. This ride sounds like it could be stunning, though in reality the view is often blocked by upmarket, private resorts on the beach side of the road. About halfway I’m able to stop at a public beach and see what I’ve been missing. The island of Ko Samet sits just offshore and away to the left are a group of three much smaller islands. These miniature land masses look idyllic, with sandy beaches that I can see from my vantage point on the mainland. One of the islets is cone-shaped, looking almost like a perfect triangle. I stay for half an hour, before heading towards the bustling little town of Ban Phe and its multitude of piers jutting out into the sea. My final kilometres involve detouring round a headland that’s home to a scattering of exclusive hillside resorts, before I glide back down to sea-level and Mae Rumphueng beach.
My accommodation is at the MM Villas, about two minutes walk from the beach and run by a Swedish lady named Ulrika who’s lived in Thailand for the past fourteen years. She tells me she saw my booking, noticed the Anderson surname and thought I might have been Swedish myself. If she’s disappointed by my non-Swedishness she hides it very well. I sit and have a chat with her while having minced pork with rice. As we’re talking I notice a small lizard has popped up onto the benchtop beside me. I chuck a couple of scraps of pork down on the bench and, to my surprise, the lizard scuttles along towards me to eat them. For a brief moment I feel like some sort of Lizard Whisperer.
By late afternoon I’ve made my way to the beach, my flip-flops now in hand so I can walk in the sea. My God it’s warm ! The beach here slopes so gently that the sea is still incredibly shallow even twenty metres from the shore, meaning the water has heated up nicely by this time of day. I’m walking along in a sea that’s as warm as bathwater and as clear as gin. This is lovely !
I stay until sun down, but again it looks like sunset will be thwarted by that weird horizon cloud that seems to appear at this time every evening. However, with brilliant timing, a gap forms between sea and clouds just before sunset to show a fiery red ball dipping into the ocean. I keep walking along the beach after dark, then cut back up to the beachside road on my return. Back at the villas there’s a group of middle-aged Swedish blokes at the bar, but they’re really rather civilised and by 11.00pm everything has gone quiet, save for the occasional and dramatic crack of thunder. I like it here. I’d originally booked two days, but within an hour of my arrival I’d already extended that to three. Now, with all this time on my side, my stay here might turn out to be even longer.