1st MARCH 2020
At this point on my trip I’ve reached a really narrow part of Thailand, which gives me the choice of staying on the East coast or moving over to the Andaman Sea on the West. I choose the latter, mostly because I think it will be quieter and more interesting. My new Westerly heading means I have the sun blazing straight onto my back like a blowtorch this morning when I leave Chumphon. Nonetheless, this direction change has also brought smoother roads and a tailwind.
About mid-morning I’ve stopped at a 7-11 for a large chilled water and get talking to an old Dutch motorcyclist and his Thai wife. He’s lived over here for years, so fills me in on the road ahead and then asks where I’m from. I tell him ‘Scotland. And you’re from the Netherlands ?’ He looks genuinely surprised that I spotted he was Dutch, but there’s no mistaking that accent. He sounds just like Goldmember in the Austin Powers films.
My altitude increases as I pedal towards a set of hills, although it really doesn’t feel like I’m climbing. I’m moving along effortlessly today. Ahead, it looks like there’s a length of black rope on the road, lying right across the cycling zone at the side. It’s only when I get up close that I realise it’s actually a skinny snake, about four feet long, and quietly sunning itself on the tarmac. Myself and the reptile are both equally shocked, and it moves off quickly, sidewinder-style, into the undergrowth. I’ll need to keep my eyes peeled for this kind of encounter and be a bit more alert in future.
I’m soon riding through a set of jungle-clad hills where it looks like the surrounding area is being excavated to extend the dual carriageway. Apparently the West coast city of Ranong has been earmarked as a ‘Superport’, which means that the road links between there and Bangkok need upgrading. I pick my way through the roadworks, then enjoy a few kilometres of lovely freewheeling descent. After curving round one final hill I’m back on a straight road South, parallel to a river that forms the border between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). One hundred metres of slow-moving brown water is all that separates the countries at this point. I could literally swim across the border if I wanted.
By this point I’m getting hungry so pull up to a Plastic Chair Cafe. I do my usual ‘Can I eat ?’ mime, but the woman at the counter shakes her head. I do notice some empty lunch plates at one of her tables, so I’m not sure if something was lost in translation or she was just being a dick. Five minutes later, in the bustling high street of a small town, I go through the same charade in another attempt to get some food. This time a middle aged bloke motions ‘No’ with his hand, as does his harsh-looking wife. Wankers ! I call them rude names as I thank them ever so sarcastically. They don’t understand me, yet swearing at them while smiling makes me feel a whole lot better. I wonder what’s going on with all these people ?
Just past town I pull over at a stall outside a nice looking house. This place has the same stacks of silver steaming dishes that nearly every food outlet in the town had. The stall is unattended, but a woman sees me and comes running over from the house. She couldn’t be more helpful. By pointing and nodding I manage to order three Pau, which are sweet, steamed buns with various different fillings inside. They are chunky and quite more-ish, served with an orange dipping sauce. My three Pau soon become five. She then pours me a glass of the most sugar-laden and unnaturally blue coloured drink I’ve ever seen. I swear I can feel my teeth tingling as I drink. The Pau are so tasty though and about twenty pence each, so they could well become a staple food source.
As usual, the final hour is a bit of a hot slog in the afternoon heat. I stop at a 7-11 for a 1.5 litre bottle of water and drink almost half the contents in one go. At the town of Kra Buri I leave the main road, cycle through a dusty little town and find my accommodation about 3km further on. It’s called the Mulberry Resort, which conjures up dreamy images of lush and tranquil gardens. The reality, of course, is a group of motel units on dry, barren ground. At night my only food option is a family corner shop, where I have to make do with a handful of pre-packaged, sweet bakery goods.
The next morning I take a steep hill away from the ‘Resort’, rather than back-tracking through town and adding extra kilometres. I stop for breakfast as soon as I can, eager to get something more wholesome in my belly after last night’s sweet bread snacks. I’m tucking into a big plate of ribbon noodles with pork and veggies when a couple of dodgy looking geezers pull up on a motorbike. They look a right slick pair of characters, ordering a beer with their takeaway at 9.30am. One of them asks if I’d like a drink, but I say I can’t because I’m cycling. He says ‘You exercise, I drink !’ By the time I’ve finished, they’ve got their takeaway, downed a large beer and sped noisily off.
The main highway South of Kra Buri is hilly and hot. At one set of roadworks a car passes me and pulls in ahead. The young driver looks to be getting out, so I think he might be about to offer me some cold water or a drink. Instead he hands me a mouth mask, telling me ‘Lucky, lucky. You wear !’ I’m not sure if he’s trying to protect me from Coronavirus, or thinks he’s safeguarding his country by muzzling the foreign cyclist. I thank him and put the mask in my back pocket.
It’s becoming blisteringly hot now. Although I’m only cycling 60km today, I really start to struggle with the heat, especially where roadside trees have been cut down to make way for widening the carriageway. The lack of shade is demoralising. I keep climbing, eventually slogging my way past a roadside waterfall that looks to be no more than a trickle in the middle of dry season. A long hairpin bend then signals the start of a much steeper section through thick, shady jungle. I sit on a crash barrier for ten minutes, gathering my strength and listening to passing trucks, shifting into lower gears as they climb. I motivate myself and plod off, finding that the hill is only tough because of the scorching heat that accompanies it. Crawling towards the top, with sweat dripping through my eyebrows and into the corners of my eyes, I am absolutely pooped. There’s next to nothing in my tank at this point, which gets me thinking of that Tour de France rider who used to shout at his legs when they wouldn’t give him any more power. I’m not sure I even have the energy to shout.
After reaching the summit I just relax and coast down the other side. It’s a nice downhill, and makes me glad I wasn’t cycling in the opposite direction. I’m totally drained though, having to sit under a tree for ten minutes despite being on a slight down slope. This heat is playing havoc with me today. The last hour to Ranong is predictably slow, and I get to my hotel a dripping, exhausted wreck. My room is on the second floor, with the stairs being trudged up in super slow-motion. The hotel doesn’t really have anywhere suitable for my bike either, so I sling that over my shoulder and transport that up two floors as well.
An afternoon siesta perks me up and I go for an evening wander to the Ranong hot springs. I take a little local street to get there, and encounter a barking dog who shows an unwelcome interest in trying to sniff or lick my feet. Regrettably for the mutt, I’ve just sprayed myself with mosquito repellent, which results in a burst of comedy sneezing on its part. Confused, the dog simply walks off. I think I may have stumbled onto something here ! The springs themselves are in a public park, where joggers or cyclists finish their routes and bathe their feet in the knee deep water. The place is packed with older locals, sitting round the pool’s edge and making it a nice little community gathering.
I walk back to the main street and find a restaurant with tables on the pavement outside and a menu in English. The woman who serves me advises against my first choice of Southern Thai Fish Curry as she thinks it would be too spicy for me. She recommends the Jungle Curry with Chicken instead. It looks like a bowl of chicken curry soup when it arrives, and is accompanied by a side plate of flowers and salad. I have a little mouthful just as a tester. My God it’s spicy ! My mouth feels like it’s numb, and yet on fire at the same time. I’m glad she recommended the less spicy option. I ask the woman if I should eat the flowers, and she says that flowers or salad will cool my mouth down after a spoonful of curry, This tactic works to a degree, but I also drink a Red Fanta and a large Chang Beer to counteract the fiery curry. Astonishingly for me I can’t even finish the whole meal, having been soundly defeated by the intimidating spiciness. I visit a 7-11 on the way back for snacks and, far more importantly, some chilled water.
Today’s trials in the heat have got me thinking about having a Rest Day. If I can just get to the beach tomorrow, then the following day will be set aside for recovery.