28th FEBRUARY 2020
After a couple of false starts, I’m actually awake in time for sunrise this morning. I step outside, camera in hand and ready to walk the short distance down to the beach. However, I can see the ground is wet from overnight rain and, sadly, there’s still plenty of clouds floating stubbornly on the horizon. There’ll be no eye-catching sunrise over the sea today. Back to bed.
Breakfast is available in a coffee shop right beside my accommodation, where my choices are rice soup or something that Asians call an ‘American’ breakfast. I’m still trying to avoid rice at this point, so I choose the American breakfast. I should have known better. My plate arrives topped with two sad-looking hot dog sausages, a triangle of ham, a fried egg and two slices of toast. There’s an awful lot to be said for a Full Scottish, English or Irish breakfast.
A middle aged Thai woman is sitting at the next table, sounding like she’s on a video call to a friend. She moves round to a different table, and I get the distinct impression that she’s filming me as she talks. I just look straight at her phone’s camera while I’m eating. Then, sure enough, she hands me her phone so I can video chat her friend, who now looks acutely embarrassed. It’s all a fairly pointless exercise though as we can’t understand a word the other is saying. My breakfast has gone from disappointing to surreal.
Despite the motel thinking I looked shifty and disheveled on arrival, they’re happy to return my 500 Baht deposit after checking my room. I leave the beachside on narrow concrete roads, past pockets of jungle, messy local houses and the inevitable barking, manic dog. Joining the main road speeds me up, although cycling up hills in direct sunlight has me sweaty and unkempt-looking within minutes. My surroundings are now a mixture of unspoilt jungle, interspersed with areas of palm and rubber tree plantations. The rubber trees, planted in straight neat rows, all have a diagonal section of bark cut off so that their rubbery sap oozes out and drips down through grooves into a waiting plastic cup. For me, all this tree life and roadside foliage is such a bonus, providing a cooler and far less draining cycle than I expected.
A couple of long, slow uphills then have me sweating my nuts off, before I decide to stop for lunch at a stand-alone Plastic Chair Cafe surrounded by forest. As an alternative to rice I choose noodle soup this time, but it turns out to be a bland, watery affair containing mostly lettuce. My rice substitutes have been so average today that I wish I’d just stuck with the familiar grains. At least whatever accompanies the rice is normally full of flavour. As well as being a food stop, most Plastic Chair Cafes also give you the chance to cool down for half an hour. Usually the owner sees me arriving in such a hot and bothered state that they’ll drag a pedestal fan over and point it straight at me. That, coupled with glasses of iced drinking water, do wonders for the spirit. I find that after lunch is always the perfect time to reapply sunscreen too; at other times my arms are so sweaty that the sunscreen simply drips off.
Reinvigorated, I carry on freewheeling down through the jungle and past Chumphon airport, before finding my accommodation in the quiet beachside village of Pathio. As I’m rolling down a concrete road towards the sea, I recognise the homestay’s little coloured huts from their on-line images as I’m passing. I push my bike along a gravel track towards the yellow hut, where two young lads are sitting on a shaded seat outside. They tell me the electricity has just gone off, which means that I won’t be able to use the fan or shower inside the unit. Brilliant.
Just as I’m about to sit down in the shade the owners, Warren and Win, drive in. They are an Aussie / Thai couple in their late forties who have only opened the accommodation in the last few days. Warren apologises for the power cut, but says it will be back on soon because Win’s uncle is the town mayor and lives only a few houses away. We chat for a while before I start moving all my gear into the hut. Inside it’s surprisingly cool as both windows have been left open all day, letting the sea-breeze create a refreshing airflow through the hut.
In the absence of a working shower I just put on my swimming shorts and make for the beach, only to be intercepted by Warren at their newly opened restaurant in front of the accommodation huts. We have a chat over a couple of iced waters and he tells me a few things about living in a Thai community from his Western perspective. He says that if a bloke is going through a rough patch or struggling to cope he can just take himself off to a temple for a while. This can be for a day, week, month or however long it takes to sort their head out. There’s no social stigma attached to it either. It’s not like Western society where someone would be ‘sent to the nuthouse’ – it’s just an accepted part of life here. Apparently it’s also quite common for released prisoners and folk who want to disappear to take refuge in temples too. So, the monks you see walking round with shaved heads and orange robes might well be straight out of prison.
The electricity comes back on as we’re talking, but I keep with my idea of getting into the sea. A five minute walk through the village and down a narrow track takes me onto a shoreline with messy waves and an even messier beach. The high tide line is littered with plastic and rubbish, while the water’s edge has dozens of sandbags and hessian sacks half buried in the sand. It’s such a shame as this could be a nice beach if it were cleaned up. I only spend around ten minutes in the sea, but it does cool me down beautifully. There was a young couple on a motorbike when I arrived at the beach, but otherwise I’m the only person here.
In the evening I head to the restaurant where Win has put on a feast of grilled fish, soup, rice and omelette. Her sister then arrives with bagged sections of the juiciest, sweetest pineapple. Even the core is delicious. I chat to Warren and a twenty-something Austrian couple, all blond and European, who have been touring Thailand’s islands and face a nine hour train journey back to Bangkok tomorrow. I have one large Chang Beer while the Austrians have eight between them. Mind you, they do have the luxury of being able to sleep it off on the train tomorrow.
The next morning Win serves me a weird confectionary breakfast of sugary, coloured balls and a coffee, before I say my Goodbyes to herself and Warren. I’m not in any huge hurry to depart as I’ve only got a short day of 40km, so I faff around until after 11.00am. The road to Chumphon is all on the main highway, and mostly smooth and fast, bar the occasional sweat-inducing hill. In my favour there’s a fair bit of cloud cover today, which makes cycling in the heat much less demanding.
I’m only 15km from Chumphon when I stop for lunch at quite a run-down looking Plastic Chair Cafe. There’s a bit of language barrier confusion at first, but the lady does have food pictures on the wall, so I begin pointing my finger. She shakes her head and points to a picture of fried rice with seafood instead. I guess that’s what I’ll be having then. I do manage to communicate the ‘one chilli’ message though, which works a treat with the spiciness. Despite the outward look of the place the food is really good, with a few big prawns and some squid mixed in with the rice. Just as I’m finishing the husband arrives back with watermelon and a sack of ice to pour into their ice bin. He cuts up the watermelon and gives me some slices on a plate while telling me ‘Free !’ When I leave, he makes both his young sons say Thank You to me for eating there, while I thank them all for their kindness.
A further five minutes down the road I meet an old French cycle-tourer heading the opposite way. He must be in his sixties and has the furriest ears I’ve ever seen. He also carries a metre long bamboo stick, attached to his bike frame, as protection against dogs. My general tactic now is to stop pedalling and use the Gordon Buchanan ‘Hey, Bear’ approach. It seems to have worked so far, but a bamboo stick would probably be good back-up. The furry Frenchman is heading North to Hua Hin, then getting a ferry across the Gulf of Thailand to the delightful city of Pattaya. Good luck in that shithole mate.
On the outskirts of Chumphon I take a circuitous bypass round the city, just to avoid Google mapping my way through the centre. I find the ‘Love You Resort’ down a side street off the ring-road. With that kind of name I was half expecting it to be a Love Hotel, but I’m pretty sure it’s just motel units with an odd name. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% sure, mind you.
For dinner I cross the highway and take advantage of a giant Tesco Lotus and its bakery department. Half a dozen sugary pastries and strawberry milk probably aren’t the healthiest option. Nevertheless it’s got me away from rice, noodles and soup for an evening, so that has to be a good thing.