Archive for April, 2009

A bit of a splurge

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

29 km, 2 hr, max temp 39

We were both still tired after our ride yesterday, so we moved very slowly this morning. In addition, Scott seems to be suffering from some of the stomach woes that Becky had. So we decided on a relatively short day today.

We stopped by the Tusita Resort and Spa to take a look at their rooms in our ongoing quest to see how other folks travel. We did not really plan to stay here, especially when their regular prices start at 8000 Baht per night. When were given a special quote of 4000 Baht (probably because the resort was deserted after Songkram), that sounded a bit more promising. Then, Becky fell in love with the pool. The rooms are all on stilts and there is a boardwalk to get around to the different villas. It is absolutely beautiful, and quite a step up from the budget places we’ve been staying at.

We left and checked out some of the other options in the vicinity. We looked into the rooms at one of the beach bungalow places (750 Baht per night) but the rooms smelled of mildew, which doesn’t agree at all with Becky’s asthma. So, we decided “why not?”, and splurged on the Tusita Resort. When we returned, we were quoted 3000 Baht for the room, so with that extra discount it was an even easier decision. We certainly can’t be doing this very often though!

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From sea to sea

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

123 km, 7h 50 min, max temp 45

First off, YAY we did it! What a monstrous day. We crossed from the West coast of Thailand to the East coast today, on a road that was anything but flat. Fortunately, the first big hill was the only really killer one – 3 km of very steep uphill – mostly at 10% or greater. On the way up we paused whenever we could find shade. There were many steep inclines after that, and many long shallow descents.

We have read and heard many times of kind-hearted Thai people in pickup trucks stopping to offer cyclists a ride as they struggled up big hills. Well, we can definitely say it doesn’t happen all the time! We were passed by many pick-ups throughout the day, as we struggled up the hills, but did any of them stop to offer us a ride? No! (Not that we would have accepted a ride anyway, or so we say now…) All we can think is we either look just too weird on our recumbents, or we appear so capable and strong that we obviously don’t need a ride. Scott is sure it is the latter {grin}.

After making our way through the hills, rather than stopping at Lang Suan, we decided to head for the beach (Pak Nam Lang Suan) and find a place at one of the many beach resorts. Unfortunately, this turned out to be more difficult than we thought – we didn’t think about the fact that it is the last Saturday of the Songkram holiday week. There was a festival on and the first three places we checked were sold out. Adding to our difficulties, many of the places here did not have any English on their signs. On the west coast we relied on the English “hotel” or “guesthouse”. Some did have “24” for 24-hour reception, but certainly not all. We’ll have to start practicing our Thai a little more and learn the words in Thai.

Fortunately, the GPS came to the rescue again. Many resorts are listed on the GPS map, so as the sun was setting, we were visiting them one-by-one trying to find one that wasn’t full. Finally, just as twilight was ending, we found a small hotel across the street from the beach – up a big hill (OK, not really that big, but after 122 km it felt huge). We have a nice big air conditioned room – with a balcony and huge bathroom, for 500 Baht and the folks at the hotel offered to drive us someplace to get food (or at least we think that is what they said). Given that the only vehicle in sight was a motor scooter, we opted for walking to a nearby restaurant.

Twice now in Thailand, Becky has been disturbed by people playing with toy handguns. In both instances, the toy guns looked real and were cap guns or guns that made a popping sound when fired. The first incident occurred when a 6-year old boy put the gun to the head of a teenage girl and shot it. The second incident was with a girl (possibly the mother) of an infant was playing with the child and shot the toy gun at the child. Growing up, Becky was taught that guns are not toys, and you never point a gun at anything you don’t intent to kill (even a toy gun). So, it is very disturbing for her to see people playing with toy guns like they were toys! (For some reason water guns are an exception to the rule – although they usually came in brightly coloured models that looked nothing like real guns.)

Road notes: For anyone thinking of cycling this route, no need to worry about food or water. There were plenty of food stalls and small stores to get supplies. There is also at least one resort at the mid-way point in Phato. Also, we saw signs for a few resorts on highway 4, north of the Hat Bang Ben turnoff. We didn’t check if they were open though, and we’d recommend the 10km detour down to the beach and Wasana resort.

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Hat Bang Ben after the Tsunami

Friday, April 17th, 2009

We spent three nights in Hat Bang Ben, and did surprisingly little. At this stage in our trip, we’re starting to feel the need for down-time more frequently. We did explore the area and spend some time talking to our hosts and other travelers. It’s not the same backpacker vibe we felt in Krabi, but it is nice to have a conversation with someone in English – something both of us, but especially Becky, have been missing.

Bo and Wasana have been running the Wasana Resort for more than 15-years, and are well known on the Dutch cycling circuit. We were a bit late to catch any of the Dutch cyclists doing a Phuket-Bangkok or Bangkok-Phuket ride this year though. They have a photo album with remembrances associated with the Tsunami of December 26, 2004 – this coast was hit particularly hard.

In the area close to the beach, almost all the construction is new post-Tsunami. There are lots of trees in the area, and we were told they saved a lot of lives as well as reducing the amount of damage to property. As a result, the government continues planting more trees, to reduce the damage in the event of a future tsunami.

We spend one morning exploring the area by bike. Laem Son National Park has its headquarters here. We paid the 100 Baht entrance fee and briefly checked out the park. There were a few short nature trails, but not much else. There is camping at the park and a long beach; however, there were signs warning that it was unsafe for swimming. We did not find the park headquarters itself to be worth the 10 km detour – many people come out here to take a boat to the nearby islands, which we didn’t do. We did enjoy exploring all the minor roads near the beach – many end in homes or fields, and our strange bikes continued to provide amusement for the locals. We always enjoy the smiling faces and hellos that we receive as we ride by.

Fun fact: we learned that some geckos actually make a sound that sounds like “geck-oh”. We thought we were hearing a bird, but learned at supper one night that it was the large (about 6 inches without the tail) geckos making the sound. The smaller ones make a clicking sound almost like a cricket.

Not so flat

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

89 km, 5h 10 min, 42 deg C

We started the day expecting a long, hot, and relatively flat day. Well, two out of three ain’t bad! The flatness of this area was just a little overstated. We never really left rolling hills, and a few of the hills were a little bigger than rollers – although nothing comparable to the Malaysia crossing, there were a couple of 1-2 km climbs – which aren’t so bad when you are expecting them, but can be little overwhelming when you are expecting flat. We also didn’t get the benefit of water being dumped on us – several pickup trucks filled with Songkram celebrants (and water) passed us, but no-one doused us. Given the heat, it would have been very welcome!

As we were starting our morning yoga routine, we heard an unexpected knock on our door. A lady from the hotel was delivering us breakfast. We had not expected breakfast – especially when we only paid 500 Baht for a shiny new air conditioned room. We definitely made the right decision staying at the “Khuriburi-on-see Resort”.

Just as we hopped on the bikes, a row of monks (one older and several very young novices) walked by collecting alms for the day. This is a regular morning routine, that we hope to see more frequently as we leave the more Muslim part of Thailand and enter the more Buddhist part. Scott grabbed an orange from our bag and walked across the street to give it to the monks. It was clear to the monk that Scott had no idea what he was doing, but the orange was gracefully accepted and the monks continued along their way. Unfortunately, Becky didn’t find her camera in time to snap a picture!

About 10 km outside of Kapoe, with the temperature soaring at 42 degrees, we approached a long steep hill. Scott stopped twice and Becky stopped three times during the climb. It wasn’t more than 2 km long, but it was hot and we were tired and not expecting to climb. At one point Becky was starting to feel cramps, fortunately that was just as we reached the top and the corresponding downhill certainly helped to cool us off a bit. We were very happy to see a river side café when we approached Kapoe, and quickly pulled over for a cold drink and some lunch.

After lunch we planned to find Internet and siesta for an hour or two before heading down to Hat Bang Ben (Bang Ben Beach). We soon found ourselves leaving town, so turned around to ask the folks at the police checkpoint about Internet. They quickly asked the people in the building behind them, which turned out to be a children’s library, and we were able to connect our laptop and use one of their computers for free. We sat and caught up on the Internet for an hour while the kids played computer games next to us.

The ride from the outskirts of Kapoe to Hat Bang Ben was pretty flat. We were on Highway 4 for 6 km, and then took the 10 km side road down to the beach area. There are two resorts down here: Andaman Peace Resort and Wasana Resort.

After 10 kms, an additional 2 kilometers along a side road brought us to the Andaman Peace Resort. They have fan bungalows starting at 600 Baht and they are right on the beach. We were seeking AC, so we headed back to the turnoff and the Wasana Resort.

A Dutch/Thai couple (Bo and Wasana) run the Wasana resort and if you call, they will send a pickup truck to pick you up at highway 4, and save you the 10 km ride – although it was actually a very flat and pleasant ride. They have fan bungalows for 450 Baht and air conditioned bungalows for 600 Baht. They are about 300 m from the Lam Soen National Park and there is a free beach about 1-2 km down the road. They were full during Songkram (Friday 10 April – Tuesday April 14), so we were lucky we arrived on Wednesday and not Tuesday! As an added bonus, Wasana and Bo are both excellent cooks, so the food at the Resort is awesome.

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Tired

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

53 km, 3h 10 min, max temp 41 deg

We left early expecting more Songkram chaos today, but only saw a few groups of kids with water and they did not even try to get us wet (well one of them missed Becky and got Scott quite nicely).

Today was either going to be a long day or a short one, as there is a large gap in places to stay between Khura Buri and Kapoe. As you can see by our mileage, we opted for the shorter day. Becky bonked just before we approached the Khuraburi Green View Resort, so we stopped for a couple of cold drinks, a snack, and a rest. We decided not to stay though, since their least expensive bungalow was 1800 Baht (about $60 CAD), quite a bit above our current budget, and their (slow) Internet was an 100 baht/hour.

After an hour and half rest, we got back on the road to Khuri Buri. We saw signs for the Khuriburi-on-see Resort, so when we approach it, we stopped. They had spacious, clean rooms for 500 Baht with AC and hot water although we aren’t sure why it is a “resort” or what we should “see”. Scott bonked shortly before we arrived, so rather than venturing further into town (we are about 2 km from town) we decided to stop here for the night. It turns out this is the same place the Michelle and Dave stayed at during the grand opening last year.

Not two minutes after we were into the room, the heavens opened up and the rain came pouring down. Maybe our bodies were telling us they didn’t want to be wet today?

After the rain, we went looking for food, and found that we were in a small village. We walked down one of the two streets and discovered a large open-air restaurant. The food was excellent and our server helped us with our Thai pronunciations, which was very nice. As has often been the case, the food was quite bland in comparison to Thai food back in Canada. We guess they prepare it specially for Western palates. We certainly see more peppers appearing in the dishes made for locals, but we’re not complaining!

Walking through the village, we noticed that the houses all appeared very new, and many had a small shop or restaurant on the main floor, with more rooms above. The entire front of each house was open, with a rolling door to close it off when necessary. We have seen this construction elsewhere, but this was the first time we noticed both a living room (with couch and TV) and bunch of restaurant tables in the same house. It seems like an efficient design to us, but would likely be impossible in Canada due to zoning regulations. We also noticed a World Vision Community Development Project banner over one of the shops, and we wondered if the houses were built as part of the tsunami reconstruction work? Unfortunately our Thai isn’t up to the task of asking, and no-one we met spoke English well enough to understand the question.

The Khuraburi-on-see Resort is one of the best value places we’ve stayed all trip. Large, clean rooms and good food nearby, the only thing we missed was Internet access.

We have noticed a pattern in our energy levels over the past few days. When we sleep in rooms without AC, we tire much quicker the next day. We aren’t sure if it is that we are heating up sooner, or if we are just tired from not getting quality sleep. Either way, we’ll try to ensure we have AC at least every other night from here on.

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Songkram – a country-wide water fight

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

69 km, 4h 20 min, max temp 38
(Note the slow speed is directly related to slowing down for the accept face smearing and water pouring from well meaning Songkram celebrants)

A group finished dousing Scott, and ushering Becky forward

A group finished dousing Scott, and ushering Becky forward

We left shortly after 8 am and it did not take long for our first Songkram experience – as we were leaving Phang-nga a few teenagers were on the side of the road poised to douse us. As we passed they threw buckets of water at us. Fortunately, the day was warm and we were dressed expecting to get wet. All of our panniers are also waterproof, which allowed us to relax as buckets of water were poured over us.

As we climbed a steep 2 km grade, we discovered what a benefit Songkram can be. The sun was hot, there was not even a hint of a breeze, and no shade to be found. As we crawled up the slope, Scott was thinking “too bad there’s no group of kids on the side of the road to cool us down.” Well, no more than a minute later, the universe provided. A large pick-up truck with laughing kids in the back slowly passed us – giving the kids a great opportunity to douse us with water from the huge barrel they had with them. They seemed quite surprised at our effusive thank-yous, but we were very grateful. We continued to greet the passing pickups cheerfully for the rest of the day, since for the most part they were moving much too fast to get much water on us.

Becky, enjoying lunch and showing off her stylish powder-face

Becky, enjoying lunch and showing off her stylish powder-face

After riding for 40 km, we stopped for lunch in a small town, thinking there was nothing ahead of us for 20 km. The weather was looking a little threatening, so Becky wanted to seek cover in case of heavy rain. There was a small café on the side of the road – where the kids out front and some of the adults as well ensured we were covered in pink powder, flower blossom scented water, and lots of just plain water. We ended up stopped there for over an hour, and enjoyed a wonderfully delicious (and very cheap) meal. We enjoyed taking pictures of the kids and watching as they doused the passing motorcycles and scooters.

Us with the kids at lunch

Us with the kids at lunch

In Phang-nga, we picked up a Thai for Beginners book and a Thai phrase book. The phrase book was very helpful when we stopped for second breakfast and lunch – we’re finally in an area of Thailand where people don’t speak English! Now we can try to express what we want using more words than are in the back of the guidebook. Becky is also enjoying the Thai script lessons in the Thai for Beginners book – hopefully by the end of the trip she’ll be able to read some of the road signs!

We did not expect to see much of civilization today, but were quickly proved wrong. After the first 20 km, we rarely went for more than 2 km without passing by a house or a small village, where our map shows nothing but the road. Of course each small village meant riding through the gauntlet of kids, teenagers, and the young-at-heart with buckets of water or powered poised to soak or paint you. It was quite entertaining and a lot of fun for the first 3 hours – but then began to get a little tiring.

Scott wearing multiple colours, later in the day

Scott wearing multiple colours, later in the day

When we reached Takua Pa, the Songkram celebrations got really serious. Now we started to see high-pressure hoses, bigger buckets, and powder in more colours. Scott also got to enjoy hearing Becky shriek as we got hit by the first group of celebrants using ice water. He did run the gauntlet first, but cruelly didn’t warn Becky of the freezing experience to come. Some of the older kids delighted in dousing us, and powdering us more thoroughly than necessary, but at least a few did offer us a drink – either of beer or something stronger…

By the time we found a hotel in Takua Pa, we were glad to be off the road, and able to relax, without wondering what the next corner might bring.

(For those following the GPS track, it appears the altimeter was quite unhappy with the frequent dousing it got – the elevation appears much more variable than it actually was)

(Also, for those who may be wondering, the unrest in Bangkok is very localized – no sign of anything here other than people enjoying Songkram. We’re keeping a close eye on the news though)

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Bike maintenance

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

It seems like we have been spending more time resting than riding lately. Given how Becky was feeling yesterday, we really did need another day off the bikes, and our bikes were in need of some tender-loving-care. So today was dedicated to bike maintenance and relaxing.

On the bike front, we began be deconstructing our shifters, to try and figure out why they were not shifting smoothly. These are the same shifters we had trouble with on our shakedown cruise last June. Since then we’ve been lubricating them regularly, and that has done the trick, but that doesn’t seem to work any more.

Scott, hard at work on Becky's bike

Scott, hard at work on Becky's bike

Once we had them apart, we could see where the friction had damaged the metal – we suspect this occurred with our initial shifter lockup problem back in June. Scott cleaned everything out and re-greased everything. Becky still things here shifter is stiffer than she’d like, but it is better than it was. We will plan to replace the shifters with the new ones we got from HP Velo when we get to Victoria in June.

Scott also replace Becky’s front brake cable which got damaged during one of the many times the bike has fallen over (or been placed on its side for buses). He also replaced the front brake pad which had mostly worn out on one side. With the smooth shifter and strong front brake, the bike feels like new!

Unfortunately, we did not quite get around to swapping out Scott’s brake pads or cleaning the chains. That will be task for another maintenance day sometime later. BTW, we did measure Scott’s chain and validated that it is still good. We don’t plan to change the chains until we reach Victoria, so this was good to find.

w with fish, bucket, bucket, candy cane

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

47 km, 3 hours, Max temp 42
¾Ñ§§Ò aka Phang-nga (if you are seeing gibberish, it may be that you don’t have the Thai font installed)
We are having some fun with the Thai script. The characters have great shapes to them, such that you can image different things with the names. Unfortunately, there are so many of them, and they’re so different, that we need to come up with some way to remember them. At some point during our ride today, Phang-nga became w, bucket, bucket, candy cane, although we soon realized we were missing the fish above the w, so it is now w with fish, bucket, bucket, candy cane!

Typical Thai street, with frequent small storefronts

Typical Thai street, with frequent small storefronts

We were slow to get organized in the morning, and did a short ride to Phang-nga. Becky is having some stomach issues – likely related to the change in diet rather than anything specific. It will definitely slow us down a little, so we decided a short day was in order.

A Wat in Phang Nga (and some impressive hills behind)

A Wat in Phang Nga (and some impressive hills behind)

When we set out, we were expecting the ride to only be 39 km, but soon discovered that the town was not exactly where we expected it to be. With a little exploration, we found the town and stumbled upon a temple and a fellow Canadian Tourist. We had a brief conversation with Stephen and he pointed us in the correct direction for the Phang-nga Inn.

We have decided to spend two nights in Phang-nga. The Phang-nga Inn is a nice house-based inn. Our room is clean although a little small, and the bed is comfortable. We will also use the extra day to do some much needed bike maintenance. Our shifters are not working as well as we would like, and Becky’s front brake cable needs replacing. Our chains were last cleaned in Turkey, so perhaps we should do something about that as well!

The maps for Thailand are still posing a challenge for us. We are finding that the towns are not where they say they are, and the roads are often labeled different than our map. Google and Yahoo disagree on where some of the roads are! Scott has found a different GPS map which will hopefully prove to be more accurate than the previous one.

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Cycling or swimming?

Friday, April 10th, 2009

68 km, 3h 50 min, max temp 36

At one point today Becky was thinking that cycling in the rain was like exercising in the shower. But then the rain got much worse and it felt more like swimming than cycling. We stopped under a temporary marquee for shelter and were quickly joined by two ladies on a scooter. We all waited under the marquee for 15 minutes or so while the heavens opened for real. Streams of water began to fill the ditch we were in, and we had to move our bikes and ourselves to higher ground. This seemed to go on for much longer than 15 minutes, and would have been a great opportunity to talk with the ladies. Unfortunately, the only communication we could manage was smiles and nods.

We left at 11 am after deciding we really did not want to spend another night in Krabi, and took the back roads to Ao Leuk (sometimes spelled Au Luk) to get away from the tourists. At first, we did not seem to escape the traffic, but shortly after the rains began the roads cleared, and we were on quiet back roads for most of the day.

We were again happy to have the GPS, even though our maps are not very good. When we looked at the map versus our actual path, we find the road is plotted in a slightly different location! Fortunately, the roads on Google Maps seem to be accurate, and Scott created some tracks this morning. Navigating the back roads, with only the occasional sign in Thai, and very few road numbers would have been a real challenge. Even with the GPS, we did overshoot a few turns, but managed to recover quickly. At one point, this turned out to be rather fortuitous as we would have completely missed a large outdoor reclined Buddha. It was right at the corner, and just out of our field of view while turning.

We eventually pulled up to an intersection in Au Luek and saw a marquee with people in it. We had no idea which way to go for a hotel, so we pulled up and asked. Just then, the rain started again, so we waited under the marquee for it to lighten a little. Looking around, it appeared to be a joint police/army vehicle inspection post, perhaps looking for drunk drivers during the Songkram weekend rush? A women there gave us detailed directions to the hotel in Au Luek, which was rather fortunate, as we likely would have had a very difficult time finding it on our own – for anyone passing by, it is across the street from the hospital, right on Highway 4, and shortly after the traffic light.

The hotel is called the PN Mansion. We have an air-conditioned room for 350 Baht a night (about $12 CAD). There is no Internet, but the shower has hot water and there is an Internet café across the street. They found a spot for our bikes downstairs, which was nice given how wet they were when we arrived. Our room even comes with a bonus gecko nest just outside the bathroom window. As good as TV, and bonus bug control… What more could you ask for?

We went across the street for dinner and had our first taste of Thai hotpot. It was a buffet, so we got to select our own ingredients. They provided us with a hot pot and grill at our table (sort of like fondue). It was wonderful – lots of great vegetables, and some liver to help keep our iron count up. We definitely got our 89 Baht ($3 CAD each) worth!

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Culture shock

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

34 km, 2h 15 min

Today turned out to be a very wet day. It was not raining when we packed up, but right after we started riding from the hotel out to the ferry (a 23 km ride) the rains began. They were light at first, but the heavens opened up before we arrived at the ferry terminal, ensuring that we were completely soaked. Fortunately, it was warm outside and the rain was warm, so we were only wet.

We took the boat from Langkawi to Satun in Thailand. To Becky, the boat felt a little like a death trap. It was similar to the boat we took to Langkawi, in that it was a high speed boat with a tube of a passenger compartment, that felt very much like being on an airplane. In the back, where we were seated, there were two rows of four seats across. There were only two exits that Becky could see – hence her feelings of trapped-ness. Fortunately, the crossing was smooth, and within an hour we were in Thailand.

Scott was approached at the ferry terminal regarding a bus that would take us to Krabi. We confirmed that it was one bus (we were afraid it would be two). The person selling us the tickets said that the bus left from the ferry terminal (7 km outside of Satun town). Since it was still raining, we opted for this bus – which turned out to be a pickup truck that shuttled us to the bus terminal in Satun. We aren’t sure how much of a premium we paid for this service, but in the end it worked out well and we paid 900 Baht each for bus and bike (300 for bikes).

Upon arriving in Krabi, we checked out a variety of accommodation before settling on the Cha Guest House. What we looked at varied in price from 700 Baht to 250 Baht. We paid 300 Baht (about $10 CAD) for a clean room with a fan. The nice thing about the room was that it was like a small cabin in a garden, which did not involve any stairs (always a bonus when you have bikes to contend with).

The town was preparing for the Songkram festival and had a booming night market with a couple Ferris wheels and other games for the kids as well as a large stage with a live band. We walked through the street market and were amused at the various food stuff on offer – including a variety of fried bugs. Fortunately, we had already eaten dinner, so we will save that experience for a later date!

We lasted only 18 hours in Krabi before fleeing. It didn’t take long before we felt the need to get out of there. The town is a backpacker haven, full of cheap guest houses (actually, not so cheap for what you get) and tourist oriented restaurants, as well as tons of western tourists. When breakfast choices were “American Breakfast”, “English Breakfast”, “Pancake” and “Omlette”, we knew we were staying someplace a bit too tourist-oriented for our taste. It was nice to have fast Internet again though.

Between the new alphabet, completely different language, and new food, we’re feeling confused again. Activities of daily living are more challenging, even here in “Backpackerville”. We were definitely spoilt by the ease of figuring things out in Malaysia and Singapore.

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