Sugar, Sweat and Seafood

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.

The Quiet Beaches

25th FEBRUARY 2020

Breakfast at the Srisupawadee Resort has been arranged by the same girl responsible for cleaning, check-ins and everything else at the motel. This morning she serves up a huge bowl of rice porridge with a poached egg in the middle. It looks a bit like paper mache mix and is quite tasteless until I add a few squirts of soy sauce. I’ve also been given a small fruit loaf which I just dip into the gloop. It’s far from gourmet, yet should be filling enough to keep me going for most of the day. To drink I have the bizarre ‘Super Coffee’, which is coffee, milk and sugar all in the one sachet. It tastes surprisingly good, which makes up for the rice porridge.

I ride back out the village, then inland again, before rejoining the main highway South. At this hour the morning sun is rising to my left and casts welcome, cooling shadows onto my side of the road. I’m benefitting from a pleasant tree-lined cycle today, through National Park and palm tree plantations which makes my task so much easier. With all this tree cover I’m crusing along quite well, and even allow myself to think I might slowly be getting used to this malarkey again. Just as my mind is wandering I’m surprised by a ‘Hello’ from another cyclist behind me, which turns out to be a sixty-something Aussie bloke who’s here for a few weeks on holiday. He says he saw me cycling yesterday, and we ride together for five kilometres until he turns off towards his beach resort.

I’m able to leave the main highway at the exit for Ban Krut Beach, although it also means leaving the shady trees behind. This smaller road is far more exposed and the sun is now directly in front of me, beating down relentlessly on my forearms. I’m within 10km of my destination, but I still stop for some food just to have a break and get out of the sun. The lady at the Plastic Chair Cafe cooks up a standard chicken fried rice, although doesn’t include any chillies, probably in deference to me being a Westerner. The result is actually a little bland without a touch of spiciness.

Recharged, I carry on until I reach the turn off for Wat Thang Sai, a hilltop Buddhist temple with fairytale-looking spires. My plan is to return here tomorrow on my Rest Day, but as I’m already here I think I might as well pop up now. The slope is gradual at first, then steepens so much that I have to jump off and push nearer the top. I’m puffing and sweating like nobody’s business, yet in an odd way I’m almost enjoying it. My reward for this effort is a huge, golden Buddha at the top, sitting cross-legged and staring serenely out to sea. The fairytale temple itself is only accessible by walking up a long pathway, so I have to miss out on that. I don’t fancy leaving my bike and panniers unattended for so long, even if they were chained up. As I descend I can look back up and see the temple’s spires poking above the canopy of surrounding trees.

I take the beachfront road into Ban Krut, past a few hotels, restaurants, houses and even some open ground. Thankfully the town doesn’t look too developed. My accommodation is a hotel about fifty metres back from the beach, where I jump into a swimming pool within ten minutes of checking in. I can feel the sweat and toil of today melting away in the cool water. Once I get out I lie on a shaded poolside lounger and promptly fall asleep. My seven straight days of cycling have caught up with me.

For my day off I had planned to get up early for sunrise over the ocean. However, I wake up during the night, think better of it and roll over to switch my alarm off. By morning, only ten minutes after the sun has risen I look out my window to see a pinky-orange ball hanging just above the horizon. Damn, it looked like it would have been a good one !

This hotel does a complimentary breakfast and, although it’s pretty standard fare, you can eat as much as you want. I have extra helpings of cereal, toast, watermelon slices and mini bananas, all washed down with the strangely addictive Super Coffee. Then I have a pretty chilled Rest Day that includes clothes washing, a seafood curry lunch and a bit more time poolside. I set my alarm again with the thought of catching sunset before I leave tomorrow.

When I wake up the next morning my room is suspiciously light, which is an odd outcome given that I set my alarm for 6.15am. I look out and it’s definitely past sunrise. What the Hell ? It turns out my phone had a large overnight update to process and, consequently, this wiped all the alarms. Luckily, It’s cloudy over the sea anyway, so I didn’t miss out on sunrise.

For breakfast I have at least double helpings of everything that’s on offer, and can sense the staff talking about me as I return for my final round of toast and jam. My usual excuse for gluttony is reasoning that I’ll need the energy for cycling, yet today I’ll only be travelling 40km down the coast. This short distance means I faff around till after 11.00am, even going as far as to borrow a pair of scissors from the breakfast area to cut my big toenails. It’s a bit of a grim thought for the next person snipping the top off a Super Coffee sachet, but it’s something that really had to be done.

With time on my side today I take a quiet road that runs alongside the beach, which is a gorgeous picture of palm trees and aquamarine sea. It’s a lovely ride, and gets me wondering why Ban Krut Beach isn’t far more popular. I’m glad it’s not, mind you. I’ve stopped to take pictures when I’m approached by a couple on bikes. Saeed and Sharareh are from Iran and on a trip from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, through Thailand and then onto Laos and Vietnam. They call themselves ambassadors and urban diplomats for their country, no doubt hoping to change people’s perceptions about Iran because they always get such a bad press in the West. However, I’ve found that among international cycle tourers Iran is a destination where travellers constantly remark on how friendly the people are. I tell them I’d love to cycle there one day, but getting an Iranian visa might prove difficult with a UK passport.

The pair were held up for a week in Malaysia, due to an episode of aching joints which resulted in hospital visits for them both. Their first thought was ‘Coronavirus’ as it’s currently all over the media, but the pain was eventually diagnosed as infection from mosquito bites. I give them what advice I can from cycling in Vietnam last year, and they advise me on what to expect in Malaysia – ‘The roads are so busy. And it’s hot. Really hot !’ We have a round of photos, with Sarareh popping a baseball hat on first because she doesn’t want any evidence of her Muslim head being uncovered while travelling.

Carrying on, I follow the coast as much as I can, before the road veers inland through jungle and past tiny settlements. I run the gauntlet of three ‘Dog Houses’ in a row, where the bloody animals come charging out their garden like barking, snapping missiles and run alongside me. Like a horrible chain reaction, the dog at the first house sets off the dog at the second, who in turn sets off the third. None of them look like they’re actually going to try and bite me; it seems more of a territorial warning to keep away from their owner’s house. Still, I never want to fully test that theory.

The rest of my ride is on a larger road, which speeds things up until a Plastic Chair Cafe lunch of pork with rice and a little bowl of soup. I continue just past the town of Bang Saphan and then turn onto a small concrete road which takes me back to the coast. I’m staying right on the beach in a motel-type complex which takes 500 Baht from me as a deposit. This is the first time on the trip that I’ve been asked for a deposit. They must think I look really dirty. Or dodgy. Or both.

Before it gets dark I walk along a decent, fairly clean beach with only a few locals for company on the sand. I pass handfuls of lobster traps, all piled on top of each other and with palm leaves woven into their roofs, presumably to make the lobsters think they’re heading for some kind of shelter, rather than a trap. For dinner I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe behind the beach and ask if they have noodles. No, it’s chicken fried rice again ! I’m going to actively avoid rice for my next few meals as it seems like it’s all I’ve been eating lately. When I get back to my room I set my alarm for sunrise again, hopeful that I’ll get to see it climbing over the sea before I leave the East Coast.




Creeping down the Coast

23rd FEBRUARY 2020

Sunday morning sees me leaving Cha-am and the Aussie-Thai guesthouse. The owner bloke is up and about quite early, seemingly none the worse for last night’s beer consumption. I’m continuing down the coast today, which means that in 25km I’ll reach the heavily developed tourist city of Hua Hin, although I know already that I won’t be stopping. If I wasn’t too keen on Cha-am, then I’m pretty sure I won’t like Hua Hin.

The road between the two tourist spots is surprisingly busy for a Sunday, but a strong, steady tailwind has me flying along whilst barely even touching the pedals. By the time I reach Hua Hin, I find it’s jam-packed with cafes, hotels and tourists. There also seems to be a lot of old Western guys gadding around on motorbikes with Thai women on the back. A few of the old blokes have gone for the shaved head and goatee look, probably not realising that this makes them look about as creepy as Gary Glitter. I don’t see that there’s much public access to the beach, although I do spot a way through via an alleyway beside a hotel. I pop down to check it out. The beach itself looks like it could be quite pleasant, but there’s not a single person sunbathing; the powerful wind would only result in their bodies being blasted by grains of sand. The blowy conditions have brought plenty of windsurfers and kitesurfers out, mind you. I carry on cycling, glad that my decision to miss Hua Hin has been vindicated.

Leaving town the road sweeps back inland, crosses a railway line and deposits me back down alongside what looks like a cycle path. Oh My Goodness, it IS a cycle path ! For the next 15km I speed along happily, separated from traffic and being pushed along effortlessly by the strong breeze. This easy section ends when the cycle path finishes and my road joins back up with the main highway. This bigger road feels ridiculously busy now after three days of quiet coastal roads. Luckily, I don’t have to suffer it for long as it’s only another 5km until my destination of Pran Buri.

My accommodation is at an OYO hotel, which I’ve noticed are fairly common in Thailand and only ever charge about £10 per night. Finances dictate that this probably won’t be my last visit to one of their establishments. The receptionist is happy for me to lift my bike up the stairs, wheel it along a corridor and keep it inside my room, which always scores extra ratings points from me. After a shower I head out for food, which involves crossing the main highway on foot to reach the town centre. I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe, where I get talking to the cook as she makes me a very garlicky chicken fried rice. She tells me she’s a bit of a cyclist herself, but modestly says she only ever rides about 40km at a time. I nod my approval and tell her that’s actually pretty good. I’ve only cycled 50km myself today.

Back at the hotel I make my way up to the roof for sunset. I’ve found that most buildings here have steps up to a roof level if you look for them. I get a good view over the tin-roofed neighbours, the colourful temple just beyond and an orangey-red sun dipping over hills on the horizon. Back in my room I get to thinking that my daily kilometres will have to start increasing pretty soon. If I keep faffing about with these 40km days it will be touch and go whether I make it to Singapore in time. And I’m not even taking Rest Days into account with that calculation. All these thoughts influence my mind as I try to decide on tomorrow’s destination. I end up choosing a place that’s 80km away, just to force myself into building up those distances. In reality though, it’s not the distances that are the problem, it’s cycling those distances in a blazing tropical heat.

Next morning I’ve got my head into the mindset of simply getting the kilometres done. I realise that I’ll have to put in a few days of eighty-plus kilometres on these flat roads if I want to rack up some distance and make it to Singapore. The downside is that I’ll need to be on the main highway all day if I want to achieve this. So, aided again by a slight tailwind, I just put my head down and get on with it.

There’s not so much in the way of roadside eateries today, with me passing up on a couple of potential food stops not long after town. Of course, after bypassing these cafes, it then takes ages till I see another one. I’ve cycled about 50km by the time I stop for pork with rice and some soup. The girl reaches straight for a bottle of Coke as well, because I’m a Westerner. While I’m eating, an older couple in their sixties pull up to the cafe. It turns out they’re from Holland and on a three day trip from Hua Hin, planning to get the train back there tomorrow after reaching Prachuap Khiri Khan tonight. Although they arrived at the cafe ten minutes later than I did, they still get up and leave before me. I sit and chill for another little while, giving the Dutchies a good head start to make sure I don’t catch them. I can’t really be arsed making small talk today.

I drag myself away from the cafe, then find it a chore to get going again. As is becoming the norm for this trip, I come over all drained for the last 15km of the day. This tiredness coincides with facing the first hill of any consequence since leaving Bangkok. It’s only a gradual climb, but made more difficult in direct sunlight and without a breath of air. I can feel sweat dripping down the side of my face. As I’m struggling, I catch myself wondering how the old Dutchies would have fared on their way up here.

Cycling past the busy town of Prachuap Khiri Khan I’m really starting to feel the heat. As the afternoon has progressed any shade in the left hand lane has disappeared, and now the sun has moved to my right. I can feel my right knee and calf are burning slightly, but I don’t stop as I’m so close to my destination. Eventually I do get off the main road and turn towards the small fishing town of Khlong Wan. My accommodation is at the Srisupawadee Resort, which makes it sound a lot more alluring than the two rows of motel units that it actually is. I’ve noticed that Thailand has a habit of putting the word ‘Resort’ behind any kind of accommodation to give the impression of extra luxury. If Eastenders was set in Thailand, the pub would be called The Queen Vic Resort. There’s no-one at reception when I arrive, although a woman doing the cleaning doubles up as receptionist and checks me in. Despite the motel unit exterior, the room itself is spacious and comfortable. The shower is even separate from the rest of the bathroom, whereas most accommodation in Thailand only has shower and toilet together in a Wet Room.

In the evening I take a walk through some little local streets and down to the seafront. There’s a long jetty with a huge concrete structure at the end, which looks like a set of truck loading bays for picking up fishing catch. I walk out along the jetty, passing over what could be a nice little beach, were it not littered by loads of plastic and trash. By rights, a concrete jetty and dirty beach don’t sound at all picturesque, but looking back to shore I can see an orange ball sun setting and reflecting hypnotically on the rippling water below me. Sometimes there’s beauty where you least expect it. On my way back the only eating option I pass is a street food stall selling fried bits and bobs, mostly on sticks. I fill myself up with three spring rolls and two fried chicken breast on a stick.

When I get back to the ‘Resort’ I notice that my head looks a bit red, which shouldn’t be the case as my forehead and nose are always shaded by the peak of my cycling helmet. Perhaps it’s just a result of being out in the heat for so long today. Nonetheless, I seemed to cope with the longer distance otherwise. As a reward I’ve decided to stay for two days after reaching Ban Krood Beach tomorrow. It’s about time I had my first Rest Day of this trip.

Language School

21st FEBRUARY 2020

For the first time on this trip I sleep right through the night without the help of air-conditioning. I’m stupidly chuffed with myself for achieving another small step on the long road to acclimatisation. Breakfast is rice soup with seafood, whilst once again sitting on decking overlooking the mangrove pond. When I check out I take some pictures of the owners with my bike, and the thing that strikes me most is just how small they look standing next to the bike. I feel like a giant beside them.

Today I’m steering well clear of the main highway, taking a winding road that follows a river down to the coast. Accompanying me this morning is a very strong wind which, with the twisty road, can move from headwind to tailwind within seconds. At the river mouth I have to cross a tall parabola bridge over the point where the river meets the sea. I can spot the waves below being blown into a choppy mess by the incessant wind. I’m starting to think about lunch by this point, but first I have to make my way through a flat, straight section bordered by hundreds of man-made salt pools. The seawater in each shallow, square pool is slowly evaporating under the harsh sun, until only salt remains. The salt is then formed into metre high cones, all ready to be bagged up. A squad of about thirty workers have just arrived on motorbikes as I ride past, most of them with heads completely covered against a long day of heat and reflective glare. It must be a tough gig.

I’m ravenous by the time I get past the salt pools, so just stop at the first Plastic Chair Cafe I see. It’s a family run affair, which takes up the whole area outside the front of their home. I end up with soup and rice, while a customer in his thirties chats to me despite his ropey English. The old guy who runs the place is different though – his English is really quite good, and he makes it his mission to give me a crash course in the Thai language. He gets a notepad, then draws a line down the middle so he can write the English word on one side and it’s Thai translation on the other. Whilst I’m eating he gets me to repeat the words in Thai and, just to make sure I’m paying attention, tests me on them later. I’m there about an hour, by which time I’ve ordered a papaya salad as well. The whole meal, plus a glass bottle of coke comes to 100 Baht (Neung Roi Baht). See, I was paying attention !

After lunch I have my usual slow afternoon and don’t cover the 15km to Phetchaburi until 2.30pm. I find the Banthai Guesthouse on a quiet residential street near the city centre, it’s wooden construction making it look like an old-style traditional home. My room on the first floor has been in direct sunlight all afternoon and the insides of the walls actually feel hot when I touch the wood. There’s no air-conditioning either, so it could be a sticky old night.

I take my bike to a cycle repair shop about five minutes from the guesthouse, where the little owner guy says he’s able to fix the spoke and to come back at 7.00pm. As it happens, 7.00pm turns into 8.30pm, but when I go back a second time my bike is sitting on a stand ready to go. He’s sorted my problem spoke and adjusted the tensions on all the others so the wheel now rotates smoothly. He tells me he’s even given my gears a quick service, even though I hadn’t asked for that. He charges me 200 Baht, which means that for £5 my bike is running smoothly and I have piece of mind.

The next morning I take advantage of a small complimentary breakfast put on by the guesthouse, served downstairs in the outdoor courtyard. I help myself to cereal, coffee, fruit and a mixture of small, sweet cakes in packets. I’m heading for the coast today, choosing the quieter roads once again and making for the small resort town of Cha-am. Getting to the coast is a bit of a slog though; the first 15km are into a constant headwind that’s blowing in steadily from the sea. All this changes at the ‘Dolphin Intersection’ roundabout, where I hang a right round the sea mammal sculptures and start riding South. The headwind that was my torment two minutes ago has now become a friendly tailwind. I’m not exactly hugging the coast, although I do catch glimpses of the sea through the intervening scrubby wasteground.

The wind is pushing me along so effortlessly and quickly that I’m almost in danger of being too early for check in. My delaying tactics centre around food consumption, where a Plastic Chair Cafe and a bowl of meaty noodle soup kill the required time, whilst also filling me up. Back on the road I find the approach to Cha-am is marked by an increasing number of coastal resorts. In my idealistic thoughts I was hoping Cha-am might be like a fishing village with the occasional tourist, but I’m way off the mark – the town is entirely given over to tourists.

When I find my guesthouse I’m checked in by a fifty-something Aussie guy with shaved head and jet black eyebrows. He’s a talkative bloke, and we chat for a bit while his Thai wife deals with room fees and passports. He tells me if I want to join him for a beer later he’ll be in the Red Lion pub, which is on the imaginatively named Bar Soi (Bar Street). For now, he says I can leave my bike at the entrance door alongside their rental scooters, but there’s no way in Hell I’m leaving it outside the front door overnight. We compromise and I lift it up to the first floor landing, although I still remove the front wheel to make it an even less attractive prospect for thieves.

By late afternoon I’m walking along the beach and dipping my feet into the Gulf of Thailand. There’s only a very narrow strip of sand though, and most beachgoers are sat on deckchair / lounger combos behind the beach itself. The whole spectacle is a little underwhelming if I’m honest. At night I pop out for some food and happen to stumble upon Bar Street. I can see the Red Lion pub beside another one that has a huge England flag draped on it’s back wall. I decide not to bother going for a drink. Why on earth would I travel all this way to have British beer in a British pub, surrounded by backpacking Brits and expats ? I could do all of that in the UK.

I was going to stop in Hua Hin tomorrow, only 25km further down the coast and a larger and more developed version of Cha-am. After today though, I’m not so sure. There’s a fair chance I might just pedal on past …



Leaving BKK

19th February 2020

Today is the day I finally get to cycle out of Bangkok; one whole week after leaving Scotland. In reality, a few days of taking it easy was just what I needed to acclimatise and recover from jet-lag. Now it’s just my lack of fitness I have to work on.

My last Casa Picasso breakfast fills my belly, before Yorshi helps get my bike onto the pavement outside. He takes a couple of pictures of me in ‘about to depart’ pose and gives me his phone so I can find the Nine Miles Per Hour facebook page for him. My journey starts by following the same route I’ve already walked as a city tourist, past the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and over the Chao Phraya river. The road carries me South until a huge, complicated junction has me joining the Frontage Road that runs alongside the Rama II Motorway. This side road is for slow moving traffic like scooters and cyclists, but it also allows access to businesses that line the route. As I moved further away from Bangkok, I thought the glut of industries along the road would begin to thin out. They don’t. It’s a constant, built up trail of service, commercial and manufacturing companies all the way out of the capital.

For lunch I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe, which feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. It’s right beside the road, noisy and has a very home-made feel to it. I point to the rice cooker and the lady owner nods her head. She then points to some kind of meat and I nod my head, although I’ve no idea what she’s offering. Once I get stuck into the meal I realise that it’s pork strips with rice. Strangely, being surprised by what arrives on my plate is something that I’ve missed.

I struggle for the last 10km or so, devoid of energy, even though I’d only pencilled in a 40km day. Slowly I trundle to my accommodation at the New Friend Hotel, which is essentially just motel units right next to the main road. The thunder of traffic noise is destined to continue throughout the night. It’s not the most pleasant overnight stop, and it’s certainly not picturesque, but the main aim was just to get myself out of Bangkok. So, although I’ve not travelled far, I have achieved today’s objective.

The next morning I have a shower before leaving, due to the room getting stiflingly hot once I switch off the air-conditioning. I’d kept the air flow on all night, which I know isn’t the healthiest thing to do, but I just became too hot otherwise. Sleeping under air-con is probably the reason I spend most of the morning with my nose running like a tap. It’s a habit I’ll need to get out of. Breakfast is taken across the road from the motel, in the same Plastic Chair Cafe that I had dinner in last night. A simple chicken fried rice with fried egg on top does the job.

I’m back on the Frontage Road today, riding alongside the motorway but safely separated from it’s speeding mass of traffic. That is, until roadworks on the Frontage Road means that everyone has to join the main highway. My tactic is to keep as far left and out of everyone’s way as I can. I plod up a long sloping bridge over a river, noticing uneven bumps every few metres where the tarmac has begun to crack. On the down slope I’m particularly careful to freewheel slowly, yet still manage to jolt over one bump quite violently. I swear out loud using the worst possible combination of curses. It was such a bang that my mind turns to thoughts of punctures, and I check my rear tyre as I’m rolling along. Of course, if I’m ever having tyre issues it always has to be the rear wheel. Looking down it actually looks slightly warped. Fuck Sake.

Worrying about my back wheel means I take it even easier than before, lumbering along a road that’s still flanked by as much industry as when I left Bangkok. The bright side is that I do appear to have a lovely tailwind helping me along today. The ever-present Thai national flags at the roadside are all being blown to the horizontal in the same direction I’m heading. Being assisted by this wind is such a boon, as I start to wilt with about 10km to go again. It’s scary how unfit I’ve let myself become.

Just before the city of Samut Songkhram I stop for lunch. At a dirt floor Plastic Chair Cafe I’m supping my pork soup, thankful for the break and blankly staring at my bike. Absent-mindedly I notice the pattern of the spokes and see that one looks way out of kilter. It takes me a couple of seconds to realise that it’s become detached from the hub in the centre. I bet that was from the big jolt this morning. Double Fuck Sake. Although I’m annoyed, I know there’s not much I can do about it till I reach the bigger city of Phetchaburi tomorrow. I’ll just have to be a bit more careful until then.

My accommodation isn’t too far though, so I nurse my bike along and find a tranquil little oasis that’s the perfect antidote for two days of busy, urban cycling. I can still hear a dull traffic rumble as the place is only a few hundred metres from the main highway, but it feels like I’ve ridden into another world. The building is on wooden pillars, at one end of a large mangrove pond and sitting just in the water. As I push my bike along the walkway to my room I can look down and see shoals of large grey fish languishing in the shallows below. Every now and then something spooks them, and the quietness is broken by a frenzy of splashing.

The accommodation owner gives me an iced welcome drink, flavoured with Butterfly Pea Flower and served in a dimpled, silver bowl. She shows me the type of purple flower that has gone into making the drink and even shows me it’s Google images too, just so I know what I’m about to consume. It’s refreshing, predictably flower-scented and has a subtle bubble-gum taste to it. I drink slowly, taking in the surrounds while sitting on the boardwalk above the pond. There are a handful of wading birds, standing motionless in reed beds until they shoot their beaks into the water like an arrow, trying to nab an inattentive small fish. Then I spot something swimming along the water’s surface, looking almost snake-like in it’s movements. Blimey, is that a crocodile ? It takes a few moments to realise that it’s probably some kind of water monitor, a large aquatic lizard that’s native to South-East Asia. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

In the evening I go for a walk round the mangrove pond, just in time to witness an orange ball sun descending over a forest on the opposite side of the water. I return to the decking outside my room and sit down for prawn curry with rice and another flower-based drink, this time mixed with lemonade. All the while I’m eating there are about half a dozen geckos on the walls and ceiling, picking off any insects that are attracted by the lights. I sit there, quite content and happy to be in such a peaceful, idyllic spot. The battle to get out of Bangkok and the busy main highway already seem like a distant memory. Right then I make a vow to try and avoid the main highways as much as I can on this trip. If these sorts of destinations are my reward, then it’ll be worth cycling a few extra kilometres.



Temple Runs

16th FEBRUARY 2020

With my departure date put back until the nineteenth, I decide to pass my days by visiting a couple of Bangkok’s famous temples. On the first day I walk to Wat Arun on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya river, reckoning that being out in this heat is really the only way I’ll get used to it. It’s bloody roasting in direct sunlight though, so I spend most of my time trying to walk in the shade created by trees or buildings. An hour later I arrive to find that Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn) is quite a spectacle, and well worth my effort. The main spire is a whopping eighty metres high, with two storeys of steep stairs to the top that are off limits to the public. Despite it’s huge size, the entire temple is decorated in minute detail, with hundreds of little mirrored shapes on nearly every surface. What sounds like clanking bells or windchimes act as a hypnotic soundtrack to my time there.

When it’s time to head back I really don’t fancy retracing my steps for another 5km, so I find a ferry that will take me back across the river instead. The two minute ride costs 4 Baht (ten pence). I wish I’d known about the cheap ferries this morning. After getting back I notice that there’s some live Muay Thai boxing about two minutes walk down the street I’m staying on. And it’s free ! I pop in to the venue to find that it starts at 7.00pm, which gives me enough time for some food before it begins. I stop at a cafe called ‘Street Food’ and have chicken noodles for 75 Baht and a bottle of Singha Beer that costs 150 Baht. This is the first time in my life that a beer has cost double my meal.

By 7.00pm the crowd has swelled at the Muay Thai place and I have to stand in one of the corners between the seating to get a view. It’s a very professional set up with a suited announcer and multiple camera operators. We’re also live on Thai TV tonight. I stay for the first three fights, watching as a vicious barrage of knees and elbows fly into heads and bodies. The first two bouts are decided on points, but the third sees a Cambodian guy with a mohawk smash his elbow into an Argentinean guys cheek, knocking him clean out. Because we’re on TV I can see the knockout being replayed again and again on a big screen. It’s brutal. The poor guy has to be helped from the ring by medics. Back at the hostel it occurs to me that I’ve had a day of contrasts – from the peacefulness and contemplation of a temple to the speed and ferocity of Muay Thai. It’s been quite a mix.

The next morning I’m downstairs at the hostel for another of their big breakfasts. I have the ‘Casa Picasso’ option of omelette, fried potato cubes, slices of tomato, toast and feta cheese. As a weird addition, this meal always contains a few sprigs of steamed broccoli too. Then, horror of horrors, when I’m back upstairs my early morning poo comes out runny. You have got to be joking ! I’m sincerely hoping this is just my system rebelling a little at the change of diet, climate and time zones, although this does seem a strange reaction if that is the case. Why would your body make you deal with the runs when it’s trying to cope with everything else at the same time ?

Today I walk to Wat Pho, which is on my side of the river, beside the Grand Palace and a distance of only 2km. I plod along quite slowly mind you, mindful of my guts now as well, on top of everything else. I pay my 200 Baht entry fee and start walking round a large complex full of temples, spires, sculptures and tourists. However, the real drawcard at Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha, which has an entire temple to itself because it’s so blooming huge.

As with all temples, you have to remove your shoes before you can enter, but the sheer amount of tourists who want to see the Buddha means there would be hundreds of shoes left at the door. To get round this, everyone puts their shoes in a provided plastic bag and walks round with them. This temple basically has a procession in one door, before you walk past the front of the towering Buddha, round it’s massive feet and finally along the back and out another door. Once I get to see the enormous statue it is a genuine ‘Wow !’ moment. At forty-six metres long and fifteen metres high, the golden Buddha stares impassively ahead while reclining on his right shoulder. With so many visitors I have to wait my turn to take photos, and it’s impossible to get a picture that doesn’t contain other tourists. Normally this would be annoying, but on this occasion it actually gives a sense of scale to the colossal Buddha.

In the evening I go to meet another Couchsurfing host, Nuch, who invites me over to have food with her and her friends. Their place is about 5km away, over the river once again, so I register with the Grab Bike app and am taken there on the back of a motorbike. We sit and eat at a makeshift table in her friend’s Hair Salon, while the occasional customer pops in for a haircut. It’s a tasty shared spread of mixed noodles, salads and a big, fried river fish, all washed down with a beer. I find out that Nuch is originally from Chang Mai in Northern Thailand and has been living in Bangkok and working in one of the hospitals here for seven years. She’s been a Couchsurfing host for ages, but prefers to meet cyclists – she once hosted a Korean lady who was cycling through Thailand and became inspired by her travels. Once the Hair Salon closes the hairdresser joins us at the table, expertly picking flesh from the river fish and making me look like a novice. It’s another good evening and interesting to spend it with locals, rather than fellow travellers.

On the day before departure I have my usual big breakfast, then head upstairs for a poo, slightly worried about what might follow. I’m more than a little relieved to find that things are becoming far more solid in the poo department. I’m definitely feeling like I’m ready to hit the road tomorrow.

That evening I’m able to take advantage of an uncanny coincidence. When I moved to Australia in the late 1990’s, my first flatmate was a guy from country Western Australia called Scotty. Remarkably, he is now visiting Bangkok at the same time as me. It would be amiss of us not to meet up. I get another Grab Bike ride to a Movenpick Wellness Resort where he is celebrating a friend’s birthday. When I arrive I find five half-pissed Aussies in shorts and t-shirts, the only customers in a gleaming, posh bar. The conversation flows, despite not having seen him since 2007, although this might be due to all the beer and tequila sunrises they’ve been downing. I have a couple of slow beers and one cocktail, but don’t accept the offer to continue drinking in their rooms once the bar has closed. I know if I go down that road, there’s no way I’ll be fit to start cycling tomorrow. We say our Goodbyes, with solemn promises not to leave it thirteen years between catch ups next time.

On my Grab Bike back to the hostel, the driver asks about my time in Thailand. Like most locals, he’s surprised and impressed by my upcoming cycle. Little does he know that I’m still trying to get my own head round the fact I’m leaving tomorrow.


Settling in to Bangkok

14th FEBRUARY 2020

It’s 11.43am when I wake on my first full day in Bangkok, which means that it’s currently 4.43am in the UK. My body-clock must be floating somewhere between the two time zones, wondering just what the Hell is going on. From previous experience I know that, sadly, it’s going to take at least a couple of days to re-adjust as jet-lag always hits me harder after flying East. On top of my jet-lag problem, I’ve also got to try and get used to a huge temperature increase – it was three degrees when I left Glasgow, and thirty-three degrees when I landed in Bangkok. Furthermore, I’ve not even sat on a bike for five months. Even by my shoddy standards, I’m woefully under-prepared. I know I’ll get used to the cycle-touring regime again after a couple of weeks, but those first few days are going to be painful.

My afternoon is very lazy, moving only as far as the 7-11 next door for munchies, and the roof terrace above to watch planes coming in to land. In the evening I meet up with Couchsurfing host Sairung, who had responded to a general Couchsurfing request I’d made before arriving. She insists on picking me up from the hostel, even though it’s well out of her way, and drives us into the city in a new, beautifully air-conditioned Toyota. We park at a temple and then walk past Bangkok’s Grand Palace, whose shrines, spires and temples are clearly visible above the tall outer wall. It’s a huge complex, formerly the Royal residence, and a stunningly colourful spectacle at night under lighting. Sairung says it is ‘too much beautiful’.

We take a tuk-tuk to Chinatown where, again, a lack of Chinese visitors have made it much quieter than normal. I notice a few street food vendors have mouth masks on, but most don’t. Sairung buys chicken satay sticks and three small bags of cut pineapple from stalls, before we go to an outdoor Plastic Chair Cafe and order soup that contains a weird mix of beef, pork and seafood. I’d already told her that I’m OK with spicy food, although she must think I’m lying when my nose starts to run after a few spoonfuls of this soup. Sairung says she would use SEVEN chillies if she was cooking a meal at home, whereas one would be about my limit. She then advises I should always specify the number of chillies I’d like in my meal if a Thai person is cooking for me. By simply asking for a dish to be ‘Not Spicy’, it’s still likely to arrive having been cooked with two or three chillies.

Part of me always wonders why people act as Couchsurfing hosts, giving up their time to show foreigners around their city or even giving them free accommodation in their home. Some have benefited from being hosted themselves while travelling and just want to ‘give something back’ and I suspect some are just genuinely proud of their city or country. Sairung says she started when she met some Western tourists at a temple and asked whereabouts in Thailand they would be visiting. She was really disappointed when they replied ‘Pattaya, Patong and Khao San Road’ – basically the sleazy cities and Entertainment Strips where many Westerners spend their entire holidays. She decided there and then that she would like to show foreigners the real Thailand, far removed from the standard, tacky tourist traps. When she went home she had to google ‘How to show foreigners round your city,’ which led her to the Couchsurfing website and she soon joined up as a host. I’m very glad she did !

Despite the extra spicy soup, it’s been a good meal and an interesting evening. It’s also been quite handy for me to come right into the city, giving me a bit of a Head’s Up for cycling roughly the same route tomorrow. Sairung drives me all the way back to my hostel, although I’m struggling to keep my eyes open by the time we return. She now faces a 70km drive back to her home on the Northern outskirts of Bangkok, and I’m quite humbled that she’s gone to such lengths. She really has gone above and beyond.

The following morning I’m awake at 9.30am, but only because I set my alarm. It would appear that my brain is still a time-zone or two behind my body. I take all my gear downstairs and pump up the bike tyres, still moving extra carefully in case my back twists again. It’s been so long since riding a bike that the first few pedal strokes feel odd as I roll off towards the city. I had a small, crappy bike that I occasionally cycled to work last summer, so now my bike feels massive, almost luxurious, in comparison.

I’ve only got a paltry 33km to cover today, but my lack of practice means I’ll be pacing myself as if I’m about to ride 100km. It’s baking hot and very busy, with no respite from passing traffic. I’m stopping all the time to check Google maps and trying my hardest to stand in the shade any time I have to stop at traffic lights. As I get closer to the city the buildings become taller and their density increases, till I feel like they’re crowding around and over me. At least they’re providing plenty of shade. I’m able to recognise Thailand’s tallest skyscraper, complete with revolving top floor, as a result of last night’s drive with Sairung. With 10km to go I begin to feel tired and almost a little woozy, the heat taking its toll on my soft, ill-prepated body. I slow down to a crawl and just plod lethargically forwards.

When I start to recognise temples and a fort from last night I know I’m nearly there. I Google map my way to the Khaosan Art Hotel, which is basically a Backpackers with private rooms. I’m told I can put my bike down a set of stairs, outside what appears to be a basement office. A young lad from reception, Yorshi, watches me put a lock through the back wheel of my bike and asks where I’m cycling to. He’s amazed when I tell him Singapore. In fact he’s so amazed that he takes a selfie with me right there and then tells another staff member where I’ll be travelling to. Pretty soon half the reception and bar staff know what I’m up to. I decide I might as well bask in the attention and eat at the hotel’s restaurant, enjoying my first Pad Thai of the trip washed down with a Fanta. In the evening I can’t help but crash out between 9.00pm and midnight, and thus ruin tonight’s chance of any jet-lag re-adjustment.

I was going to start cycling from Bangkok in two days time, but now I’ve elected to stay an extra two days on top of that. Today’s feeble cycling effort has shown me that I need more time to acclimatise before I start riding for hours in this heat. I’m a little frustrated by the delay, although this is tempered by me gaining more time to be a tourist in Bangkok.

In Between Trips

MAY 2019

After finishing my trip I fly out to Phuket to spend two wonderful weeks with my kids, before heading back to the UK in Springtime. My first month or so is spent with family in Scotland, which is therapeutically good for the soul like it always is. Then, the remainder of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 are spent back on the Isle of Wight. I pass my time working in a Call Centre which, inevitably, turns out to be as demoralising and tedious as it sounds. Nevertheless, I keep my head down and just get on with it, quietly hatching my plans of freedom as I pretend to empathise with a tiresome barrage of moaning customers.

Unsurprisingly, work seems to improve when I book my escape flight to Bangkok for February and give myself a definitive finishing date. My intention now is to carry on cycling from where I left off last April, heading South this time and aiming to make it all the way down to Singapore. Once again, I’ll have the goal of coinciding the end of my journey with meeting my kids at Easter. All I have to do is sort out a rough plan for cycling the 2,500km in between.

I have a final two weeks with family in Scotland, organise a Thai visa, get some spares for the bike and buy all my sunscreens, lotions and repellents. Everything appears to be going really smoothly until – medically speaking – I fuck my back up. Somehow I manage to twist myself whilst getting up and trap a nerve in my lower back. It’s like two bones in my spine have collapsed on each other and are squashing the nerve. It’s bloody agony, and can only be remedied by me hanging from a door, stretching my spine and thus releasing the problem nerve. This injury leads to me walking round like a cripple for days, in wincing slow-motion, and having to postpone my flight by one week. Then, just as I’m recovering, Storm Ciara blasts in from the Atlantic, cancelling trains between Oban and Glasgow and scuppering my intended method of bike transportation to the airport. Luckily, very luckily, my sister happens to be driving to Glasgow and saves the day. Miraculously we cram the bike, a plethora of luggage and two small children into her family car.

The day before departure then sees me engaging in a similar performance to that of the previous winter. Once again I spend a cold hour in my sister’s back garden, wrapping my bike with bin bags and packing tape so that it’s deemed acceptable as aeroplane hold luggage. The big difference this year is that I have a dodgy back and hail showers to contend with.

My Wednesday flight to Dubai is an hour late taking off, but makes up most of that time due to the remnants of Storm Ciara blowing us along. I notice that in the plane, and especially at Dubai airport, there’s a good number of passengers wearing mouth masks to guard against the Chinese Coronavirus. In departures, a French woman sitting opposite me coughs once and I move away, immediately suspicious of her. On arrival in Bangkok every passenger is ushered through two separate temperature check stations, so at least I know I’m Coronavirus-free at this point. I retrieve my bike from Oversize Luggage, withdraw some Thai currency and head outside for a taxi to my hostel. It’s mid-afternoon by this time, but my taxi driver tells me I’m only his second fare of the day. Apparently everywhere in Bangkok has become a lot quieter without Chinese tourists.

Last year I finished my cycle at the Best Bed Suvarnabhumi Hostel, and that will be the exact same location for the start of this year’s cycle. The owner family recognise me from before and tell me I can chain my bike to the stair railing like I did last time. I move all my gear upstairs in a weird twilight zone of consciousness, half wired and half jet-lagged, until sleep and a shower perks me up. So, despite an obstacle course of back injuries, winter storms and a potential global pandemic, I’ve made it to the starting line. I just need to acclimatise now.





To Be Continued …

11th APRIL 2019

My final cycling day of this trip begins with an exotic mix of 7-11 sandwiches and a pineapple pastry. I ride back towards the wide, busy expressway, knowing that I can follow it all the way to Bangkok by using the quiet ‘Frontage Road’ that runs alongside. This is such a bonus, as travelling into a city on a bike can be a right pain in the arse. My only issue is having to haul my bike up, over and down the same footbridge as yesterday to reach the correct side of the expressway. So, although my day looks reassuringly straightforward, I’m sweating buckets within minutes.

I follow this Frontage Road all day, the main body of traffic on the noisy expressway to my right while I trundle up the quieter road alongside scooters and local transport. With about 25km to go I stop at a roadside Plastic Chair Cafe for lunch and a break from the scorching heat. This establishment is precariously close to the road and is basically a series of benches on the pavement under a corrugated iron roof. I’m wistfully happy that my final lunch will be street food in a simple, family-run shack with a bit of language barrier confusion. I think I’ve ordered chicken today, but who knows what will be served. It turns out to be a tasty chicken soup, with real strips of chicken meat instead of the usual bony, gristly offerings. Mercifully, there’s no sign of chicken feet either. I’m going to miss that weird feeling of jeopardy and never quite knowing what will arrive on my plate.

After travelling North for the last few days, I’ve rounded the top of the Gulf of Thailand this afternoon and am now heading West towards Bangkok. The traffic continues to build as I get closer to the capital and the expressway junctions get ever more complicated. My turn off to Suvarnabhumi Airport involves a sweeping right hand curve that manages to rise up over one road, while at the same time dipping under the massive concrete expressway. Then, for a couple of kilometres, I have the cool experience of cycling right under the flight path as planes are taking off. As one particular plane roars directly overhead, I look up and notice the orange Jetstar Asia logo on its undercarriage. I have the strangest moment of realisation and stop to check my phone. It’s just after 12.50pm, which is the same time my own Jetstar flight will take off from here in two days. What are the chances of me arriving at the airport just as the flight I’ll be on in two days time is thundering over my head ?

Continuing round the airport’s perimeter, I ride parallel to the take-off runway for about 5km while being blown along beautifully by a hot, strong tailwind. I get a few greetings from maintenance workers resting under shady trees, while a plane hurtles down the runway every five minutes with a loud, heavy rumble. At the roadside I notice a couple of ‘No Cycling’ signs, but I’m not sure I can see any alternative route options. I’m now so close to my destination that I can’t be bothered detouring, so I simply ignore them and keep going. Once I’ve ridden the length of the runway I turn left past the main airport entrance, through hordes of taxis, buses and yet more signs saying that I shouldn’t be cycling.

On the opposite side of the airport I pass under a different flight path – this time for planes coming in to land. I stand for a while on a road bridge, videoing planes as they descend noisily over my head, before they land a few hundred metres ahead of me. Once I resume I’m able to freewheel effortlessly down the curved bridge and I’m at the Best Bed Suvarnabhumi Hostel within two minutes. It’s a clean, modern building that exists primarily as an overnight stopover for people arriving in, or departing from, Bangkok. I check in and chain my bike to stair railings on the ground floor, where it’s destined to remain for the next two weeks while I’m in Phuket with my kids. The family who run the hostel are lovely, and have been extra helpful in agreeing to store my bike until I get back. They even offer to do a free clothes wash for me, which is a really nice touch, but might also say something about my appearance.

To celebrate my arrival I pop to the 7-11 next door, buy a large Chang Beer and make my way up to the hostel’s roof terrace. I sit there, slowly supping the cold beer while watching a steady procession of planes coming into land on the runway ahead of me. They start as tiny specks in the high distance, way off to my left, before looming larger and touching down just past my vantage point. It’s the perfect spot to relax and mull over the journey I’ve just undertaken.

It’s almost three months since I left a Scottish midwinter and flew to a Hanoi midwinter, which turned out to be only slightly warmer and completely unfamiliar. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of Vietnam, but after cycling it’s length and spending half my trip there it has now become one of my favourite countries. One of the joys of cycle touring is that you get to know a country a lot better by travelling at such a slow pace. Now, almost 3,000km later I’ve made it to Bangkok, grateful as always that I’ve managed to reach my target without any major calamities. It’s not all been plain sailing of course, but I would have to say that this cycle trip has now jumped to number one on my list of favourites.

I stay on the roof terrace until sunset, which brings welcome relief from the exhaustingly hot afternoon. By dusk, the street below is coming to life with food stalls, and beyond the runway the Suvarnabhumi Airport sign has now been lit up in giant purple letters. I go back downstairs, enticed by the street food stalls, and on the way get chatting to some of the family at the front desk. They can still barely believe that I’ve cycled all the way from Hanoi, and ask if I’ll ever return to Bangkok. I reply that I might come back next year and carry on my adventures. They have a laugh and seem to think that I’m joking. I laugh too, but with the insight to know that I’m not joking.

To Be Continued …


Counting down to Bangkok

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.