8th APRIL 2019
A constant din from the street two floors below continues into the wee small hours, although by daybreak the road is almost deserted. Shutters are pulled down over bars, restaurants and massage parlours, whereas in a normal city Monday morning would mean a return to work. I guess Pattaya isn’t really set up for working nine to five.
The reception and massage at my accommodation are closed too, so I just leave my key on the reception counter and head off. I have a couple of options for leaving town, including a trundle along the sea front which might actually be quite pleasant at this early hour. In the end I just take the most direct route onto the busy Number 3 road and leave Pattaya as quickly as possible. It’s a long time since I’ve been so underwhelmed with a destination. If you’ve ever seen a Thailand episode of Banged Up Abroad, you can almost guarantee it will feature Pattaya at some point.
Today I’m on the main Pattaya to Bangkok road, which means that although my cycle is busy, at least it’s straightforward. I plod along slowly, with a constant stream of traffic at my right ear, until I’ve reached the coastal town of Si Racha. My accommodation is just before the town centre, a modern six storey hotel with a coffee shop on the ground floor. It’s room rates are more expensive than my normal outlay, but I know that I’ll get my money’s worth by comprehensively abusing their All You Can Eat breakfast buffet tomorrow.
The second big plus for this hotel is the shower. I’m not really sure where to begin when I step into a large cubicle that looks to have more controls than a PlayStation. It’s a complicated affair, with an array of dials for different lights and water pressures, as well as half a dozen jets that shoot water into your side from various heights. I spend a while twiddling all the knobs and trying to suss it out, discovering that every time I change settings I get blasted by cold water for the first five seconds. There’s also a seat attachment in there, so I’m able to park my arse on that, close my eyes and have the side jets blast me from close range. It’s a real effort to drag myself away.
In the late afternoon I make for the seafront, through a peaceful green park with families, kids and joggers. It’s all very civilised. I can’t help comparing today’s genial scenes with yesterday’s awful first impression of sleazy Pattaya. I’ve come down to the sea as Google maps had shown a little island sitting just offshore that’s home to a temple complex and a sea turtle pool. Koh Loy island is connected to the mainland by a five hundred metre long bridge, which I walk over in blazing sunshine, having underestimated the need to apply extra suncream so late in the day. The main hilltop temple, complete with bell-shaped golden dome, sits at the summit of a short, steep climb and is occupied by an odd mix of monks and tourists. I’m not sure if I’m becoming a bit templed-out, but I’m just as impressed by the panoramic sea view as I am with all the holy shrines. Back down at sea-level I make for the sea turtle pool via a Chinese temple that looks like an architectural blend of pagoda and bandstand. Disappointingly though, the sea turtle pool seems to be missing an important feature. The turtles.
By the following morning I’ve decided to spend an extra day in Si Racha, with the All You Can Eat breakfast representing a grand start to the day. Strangely, although I could choose any option with these unlimited feasts, I still always begin with a bowl of cereal. It somehow feels like the right thing to do. However, after my cereal, the floodgates open to a gluttonous food binge that includes fruit, pancakes, cakes, noodles, fried eggs and rice. Then, Oh My Goodness, they even have sushi and pigs in blankets. I eat like a fat, contented hog. Shamefully, I’m feeling hungry again by lunchtime, so wander out for some 7-11 sandwiches. It seems these cycle trips always make me eat excessively, even though exercise is meant to suppress my appetite. The upside is that I can now eat greedily and know I’ll still lose weight. If I consumed this amount of calories in normal, day-to-day life I’d be obese.
Most of my afternoon is then spent trying to find a way up to a temple and viewpoint that overlooks the whole of Si Racha. I’d seen the temple from my room last night, lit up spectacularly like a beacon on the hillside above. Ultimately though, my quest today is unsuccessful, due to a combination of wrong turns, roaming guard dogs and a baking hot day. Eventually I find steps up to the shrine by accident as I’m heading back to my hotel. I also find a group of around twenty feral pigs raking around the path leading to the stairs, some of them so big and bulky that they look like wild boars. Bloody Hell, could they actually be wild boars ? This thought makes me chicken out and avoid tempting fate. I don’t want to be gored trying to walk past feral pigs with only two days of cycling to go.
My penultimate day in the saddle sees me departing Si Racha after gorging myself silly on yet another mammoth breakfast. The girl at reception asks for my water bottles before I leave and returns them full of refreshing chilled water, which is a nice touch and hugely appreciated. This cold water turns out to be a blessing, as the morning heats up horribly within the first few kilometres. I’m still trying to ride for an hour without cycling gloves in a vain attempt to match my pale white hands to my brown, tanned forearms. Once again though, my bare hands can scarcely grip the handlebars as they are sweating so much. My gloves are back on within minutes.
I’m back on the busy Number 3 road again, with traffic increasing steadily as I get ever closer to Bangkok. Things get even more hectic through the city of Chon Buri, and then 5km later my road morphs into an expressway. This is essentially a motorway so it’s off limits to cyclists, although there is a separate, minor road at the side that I’m able to use instead. I discover this smaller roadway is called a ‘Frontage Road’ – a local route that runs parallel to the expressway, allowing traffic to access regional villages and businesses. I’m now able to follow the most direct route, while being able to avoid the scary speeding traffic. It’s the perfect solution if you’re a cyclist who’s trying to get into a city.
Less perfect is when your accommodation happens to be on the opposite side of the expressway. There are traffic bridges for doing U-turns across the busy lanes, but not within easy reach of my turn-off. My only option is to walk my bike and gear over a footbridge. I detach the panniers first and trudge up forty steps with them, before leaving them at the top and traipsing back down to retrieve my bike. This time climbing the same forty steps, in sizzling heat and with a bike slung over my shoulder, nearly does for me. I stand at the top, leaning over the railings like a sweltering asthmatic trying to get my breath back. Once I’ve recovered, I carry both panniers whilst walking my bike over the ten lanes below, then haul everything down the opposite steps in two movements again. I have sweat running into my eyes and dripping off my nose by the time I’ve transported everything up, over and down the footbridge.
My accommodation in Ban Kao is a further 3km from the expressway, which is ridden in weary slow motion on this scorchingly hot afternoon. At reception, the family who run the hotel look surprised and a little bewildered to see this sweaty, dishevelled Westerner at their front desk. After trudging to my room I spend ten minutes just sitting on the cool tile floor, staring blankly, while the air-conditioning operates at full blast. By early evening the temperature outside has dropped slightly, so I go hunting for the first food I’ve needed since this morning’s gargantuan breakfast. Oddly, I stumble upon a Plastic Chair Cafe that has English signage and pork steak with chips on the menu. I know that on this South-East Asian trip I’ve been actively avoiding Western food, but tonight I quite fancy some. Plus, it’s been three months since I’ve eaten any chips so I think ‘Fuck It, Why Not ?’ It’s bloody delicious. The side salad is far from Western though – a grated coleslaw base is topped with a peculiar mix of apple, kiwi, sweetcorn and dragon fruit. Weird, but tasty.
Back at the hotel I reflect that, all being well, tomorrow will be my final day’s cycling for this trip. A culmination of 2,700km across three countries has left me within 60km of my goal. By this time tomorrow I should be in Bangkok.