2nd APRIL 2019
Somewhat predictably, my plans to stay at Mae Rumphueng Beach for only a short time are soon reconsidered. It’s such a cracking spot that my intended two day visit quickly evolves into four. These relaxing days off the bike generally start with breakfast in the bar at the villas, under a corrugated iron roof that amplifies the sound of occasional tropical rainshowers. Yoghurt with fruit and muesli becomes my staple, followed by toast with jam and always finished with a long, slow iced coffee.
I’m at the beach every day; swimming, floating, sunbathing and belatedly attempting to tan my white feet to match the colour of my brown legs. On one particular afternoon the sea is a little more choppy than normal, leading to a wondrous ten minutes in which a juvenile reef fish tries to use me for shelter and protection. The fish is only a tiny thing, with yellow and black vertical stripes and obviously feels a lot safer beside me than in open water. It swims a few centimetres away from my chest, using me for cover like I’m a piece of driftwood in the ocean. Any time I try to turn or move away it follows, swimming back towards me when I stop to check where it is. This is such a cool little episode, but eventually I have to get out and let it fend for itself.
I continue my animal interactions when I return to the villas and sit down for dinner on their comfy wicker sofa. What could very well be the same lizard as before pops up onto the bench behind me and scampers along to eat small scraps of pork that I drop onto the wooden surface. It’s not exactly tame, but it’s not exactly fazed by my presence either. I’m having Penang Curry tonight, which is a bit like Thai Red Curry, although sweeter and with peanuts. It seems to go down a treat with the hungry, inquisitive reptile.
I don’t touch my bike for three days, save for making a short trip back to see the aquarium at Ban Phe, which turns out to be a little gem and probably the best 75p I’ve ever spent. Quite often attractions will have one price for locals and a higher price for tourists, but at this aquarium it’s just one flat rate for everyone. The next time I use my bike I don’t even make it away from Mae Rumphueng Beach, simply moving from the fully booked villas to a hotel further along the seafront. I say Goodbye to Ulrika and her posse of friendly local bar staff and check in to the Wellington Hotel, which is larger and cheaper, but without the character of the villas I’ve just left behind. At sunset I take my last walk along that wonderful beach, the ever present horizon clouds blocking the sun’s final descent over the sea once more. Strangely, as clouds amass out to sea around this time of day, the skies inland always seem to be clear.
In the evening I realise I must have been devoured by mosquitos the previous night, an irritating memento of my time at the MM Villas. Their air-conditioning was so cold and powerful that it would keep mosquitos from landing on me, but after a while it would become so chilly that I’d have to turn it off. And of course, once the air-con is off, the mosquitos venture back out to play. I must have drifted off to sleep with my legs sticking out from the covers as my feet, shins and calves are now covered in ugly red spots. And they itch like Hell !
When I go to retrieve my bike the following morning, I find the large empty hall where I left it has now turned into a conference room full of students. I walk in, trying not to attract too much attention to myself and offer a few apologetic nods and hand gestures. My bike is chained to a table, which I need to bend over to see the combination lock, completely forgetting that I have a gaping hole in each butt cheek of my shorts. As I’m wheeling the bike out of the room I notice one girl giggling with her friend and pointing at me, having obviously noticed the undignified holes in my shorts. I just smile and give a Thumbs Up, which leads to her putting both hands over her mouth and giggling even more in that way Asian girls do when they’re embarrassed.
Once outside I notice my front tyre looks slightly deflated, so I stop in the shade, upend the bike and begin pumping with my Presta valve pump. Things seem to be going OK, until the pump’s rubber ring works it’s way loose once again. I don’t have the patience to try and refix this, so just remove the wheel and put on a Schrader valve inner tube, which I know can be inflated with my second pump. This now leaves me with one spare inner tube. I’ll be back onto puncture repair kits after that.
Then I trundle slowly away, a little wary and conscious of my front tyre for the first few minutes, like I always am after a change of inner tubes. I roll gently along the seafront to begin with, hotels and restaurants to my right, beach and shimmering blue sea to my left. Then I turn inland and rejoin the main road, which gives me the choice of a fast, direct route to Bangkok or a quieter route through Rayong City. I choose the latter, although Rayong itself is a bustling little city that takes a while to get through. To celebrate crossing the city I stop at a roadside Plastic Chair Cafe for some lunch. The owner lady speaks English fairly well and asks if I’d like some Fried Rice with pork. Then, as an afterthought, she asks if I’d like egg to go with it too. That all sounds good to me, so I sit and wait while draining a huge jug of iced water as she cooks my meal from scratch. The result is delicious and filling, with a surprisingly peppery taste. I’m halfway through my food when she has another afterthought, asking if I’d like a bowl of clear soup to go with it. Hey, Why Not ?
After lunch the heat intensifies horribly. My hands are now so sweaty that I can barely grip the handlebars, even though I’m actively trying to avoid wearing gloves to even up the tan between my brown arms and white hands. I have to revert back to cycling gloves after a few kilometres though, my hands looking like they’ve been dipped in water with the amount of sweat glistening on them. I’m a hot, sticky mess by the time I reach my destination, reflecting that The Halabala Resort makes my accommodation sound far more grand than the group of motel units that it actually is.
The reception girl, after trying to scam 100 Baht from my change for herself, tells me there are some restaurants up on the main road, but they don’t open till 7.00pm. Nonetheless, I need to find a stall that sells water, so I take a wander anyway and chance upon a restaurant that looks like it’s already serving. I’m so used to Plastic Chair Cafes being open-fronted that it’s almost a shock to find an enclosed roadside restaurant with glass windows ! The place is run by a middle aged lady, who can speak pretty decent English, and her twenty-something son, who can’t. Mother takes my order and shuffles off to cook it, while the son decides he’s going to put on some English-language music to entertain their Western guest. He’s trying to make me feel at home, bless him, but to my absolute horror he begins playing Country Music songs. He looks over to see if I approve, so I just nod politely and try to force a smile, while some redneck singer whines about regrets, guns and cheatin’ country hearts. I realise he’s trying to do the right thing and we’ve had a bit of cultural misunderstanding, but I’m still mortified that someone might think I’m a Country Music fan.
Mercifully, my food arrives quickly and diverts my attention from the music. It’s fried noodle and pork, loaded with oodles of fresh veggies. Again, like my lunch, it has a distinctly peppery taste, which I’m guessing must be some kind of regional quirk. I head back to my accommodation and drink an entire large water bottle while being driven to distraction by my itchy mosquito bites. These motel units in the middle of nowhere are supremely quiet, which I know will be in direct contrast to where I’m heading tomorrow. The next leg of my journey to Bangkok will see me stopping in Thailand’s infamous sex capital of Pattaya. It’s not often you have to adjust from Country Music to Ladyboys within 24 hours. I’m still not sure which will be the most disturbing.