5th MARCH 2020
During the night I regret getting sunburnt, as the middle of my back aches every time I roll over. The only positive from this is that I’m awake early, so I decide I’ll just get up and start cycling as soon as I can to beat the afternoon heat. I go straight for breakfast, where Bo said he would shout me omelette and coffee because he owed me 50 Baht change from last night. Unfortunately this 50 Baht budget means the food is nowhere near the grand scale of yesterday’s offering.
I’m finished breakfast and on the road by 8.00am, the first 10km a simple retracing of my steps past the ‘Tsunami Zone’ signs and out through a flat landscape of muddy, tangled mangroves. When I get back onto the main road I continue cycling East and inland for a further 10km, before turning South at the town of Katoe. This change of direction has the morning sun beating straight onto my burnt back, its relentless rays seeming to sear right through my cycling top. The next couple of hours have me riding through jungly forest and past a handful of prawn farming sites with their huge aerated, man-made pools. I’m puffing on one short, steep hill and have to stop for a breather on the way up, before a small Buddhist shrine at the roadside lets me know that I’ve reached the top and the highest point of today’s cycle.
I wait until I’ve ridden two-thirds of today’s distance before stopping for lunch at a large hangar-type building in the town of Kamphuan. The place looks like it might host the local night market, but there’s only two stalls open when I roll up at mid-day. A combination of pointing, nodding, laughing and shrugging gets me a tasty bowl of chicken noodle soup from a trio of bemused-looking women in headscarves. When I carry on I find that my surroundings are becoming far more Islamic as I get closer to the Malaysian border. As well as women with covered heads, there now appears to be more mosques than Buddhist temples at the roadside. A group of around a dozen men are standing at the roadside outside one mosque, waiting for a bus by the look of things. One old timer raises his walking stick and shouts a toothless ‘Salaam Alaykum !’ as I approach them. I’m so surprised to hear an Arabic greeting in Thailand that I forget the correct reply and just shout ‘Salaam !’ as I cycle past with a raised hand.
The final hour to Khura Buri becomes a bit of a hot, hilly trudge into an annoying headwind. However, this morning’s early start has worked a treat, with me arriving at my accommodation not long after lunch. The Riverside Guest House sounds idyllic, but is actually nothing more than a collection of run-down wooden huts at the end of a stony track beside the town’s river. It appears they even had a tree hut at one point, located about five metres above the ground in the crook of a tall tree, but gaping holes in the floor and a lack of access steps suggest that it’s now off limits.
Because I’ve arrived early there’s no-one around, so I have to carry on into town to pick up my keys from the owner’s tour-booking shop. When I get back to the huts I pad carefully up a set of rickety wooden stairs and into a room that can only be described as ‘basic’. The windows are glass slats that don’t close and the floorboards seem to be three-quarters wood and one-quarter gaps. I can look right through the floor and see the ground a few feet below me. Goodness knows what creatures will be joining me as I sleep tonight, especially as I’m right beside the river. Still, for only £7 per night (with breakfast thrown in) I can’t really complain. The phrase ‘You Get What You Pay For’ could hardly be more fitting for this place.
For dinner I walk back into town and find that Tom and Am Tours is still open, with the lady owner sitting out front glued to her mobile. I chat with her for a while, before moving to the English menu cafe next door for my first Pad Thai since Bangkok. It’s nice to know what I’m ordering for a change, and at least with Pad Thai I don’t have to worry about burning spiciness or other unwanted surprises in my dish.
When I return to my dilapidated hut I’m greeted by a light brown tree frog crawling on the bedroom wall. The creature’s feet stick with little suckers and allow it to walk as effortlessly on the vertical wall as if it was moving along flat, horizontal ground. As well as the frog, I’m joined by a handful of small geckos who stick to the walls and ceiling whilst trying to pick off flying insects. Sadly, I think the geckos may be more effective in thwarting mosquitos than the tattered old mozzie net I’m about to spend the night under.
The following morning I rise early and say Goodbye to my amphibian, reptile and insect room-mates. I make my way back to Tom and Am Tours for a simple breakfast outside their shop that consists of two hot dog sausages, an egg and all the toast I want. I’m thankful for sporadic cloud cover as I leave town, especially as the first 10km are a steady climb into jungle-covered hills. I plod slowly upwards until, once again, I find the summit is marked by a small Buddhist shrine at the roadside. The approach path to the shrine is flanked by around a dozen ornamental cockerels, an especially auspicious symbol in Thai culture and resplendent in blacks, reds and greens. It gets me thinking about Aussie Warren, who ran the homestay I stayed at in Pathio. He told me that he once drove for five hours just to pick up a pair of cockerel figures from a renowned temple in Southern Thailand, all to ensure his business would be blessed with good luck.
The morning passes quickly, with smooth roads and intermittent cloud cover helping to speed me through undulating forest and jungle. By mid-day I’ve once again covered two thirds of my daily distance and stop for lunch in the fairly large town of Takuapa. On the main road through town I find a large Plastic Chair Cafe, where I’m served by a young woman wearing a face mask. I show her my Google Translate screenshot for the words ‘Not Spicy’ and she points to the top row of metal trays displaying food. She then indicates that the ominous looking trays on the bottom row would definitely not fall into that category. This Google translation of ‘Not Spicy’ into Thai script is going to be such a useful tool. If only I’d thought of it sooner ! Ironically though, when my pork with rice arrives it’s so far away from being spicy that I have to add some chilli dressing to give it a bit of a kick. Maybe I’ll need to find the translation for ‘Slightly Spicy’ for future mealtimes.
After lunch I ride along steadily until my afternoon is blighted by an unwelcome stretch of roadworks. The road ahead is being upgraded to dual carriageway, which means all the shady roadside trees have been cut down to allow for the extra width. It’s horribly hot and exposed. I ride the next few kilometres on a bumpy dirt road in sweltering slow motion. It’s tough going, especially as I’m now cycling under an afternoon sky that’s practically cloud free. My final 20km are a bit of a struggle, but I still manage to reach the touristy, beachside town of Khao Lak before my 3.00pm check in. The main road is jam-packed with Western bars and guesthouses but, oddly enough, the town seems less busy as I get nearer the beach. I’m staying at a place called Garden Bungalows, owned by a forty-something Belgian woman who sits me down at her reception desk, while her Thai staff member brings a large pomegranate juice as a welcome drink. After my last scorching hour cycling, it is indeed most welcome.
My accommodation is a small bamboo bungalow in a private tropical garden, raised about a metre off the ground and with a roof made from palm tree fronds. It’s a step up from last night’s primitive hovel, although there’s still plenty of gaps between the bamboo for hungry mosquitos to squeeze through. The room isn’t much bigger than the single bed it contains and is breathlessly hot when I step inside. I chain my bike to the bamboo patio, remove the front wheel as an extra theft deterrent and head off to the communal bathroom block for a much needed shave and shower.
By late afternoon I’ve wandered the short distance to Khao Lak beach, a gently sloping stretch of pale sand that contains far less tourists than I imagined it would. I remain on the beach until after sunset, before walking back into town for a pork and cashew nuts that I intend to wash down with Fanta. However, the evening is so sticky and hot that I drain the Fanta within two minutes. It looks like a large Chang Beer will have to be ordered in addition, just to cool me down properly. I eat and drink slowly, spending well over an hour watching the world go by from a seat next to the road.
Back at my bamboo bungalow it’s oppresively hot. I try sitting outside for a while, but it’s just as stuffy and airless. Sweat is literally trickling down my forearms. What I’d give for an air-conditioned hotel room right now. As it is, I’m in a baking bamboo box with a wall-mounted fan that can’t be angled down far enough to cool me as I sleep. Through the wafer thin walls I can also hear a pair of local musicians, singer and guitarist, trying their hardest to sing some old classics like American Pie and Hey Jude in the bar next door. They get a lot of the words wrong, but make up for it by sounding infectiously happy with their efforts. I lie there listlessly, dozing off occasionally and then waking up in a sweaty glaze to the bizarre sounds of next door’s entertainment. Yup, you certainly do get what you pay for.