The ferry got into the port at about 5, and customs was easy (although we were last through again, the bikes being a bit of a pain to unload). One of the officials got our attention, then walked away using the hand signal we would normally use to shoo someone away. Turns out this means ‘follow me’ and he was showing us a place to put the bikes while went through immigration. Had the satisfaction of telling the taxi driver befriending us in the queue that we wouldnt need his services because we were bicycling. I dont think that will ever get old.
It was only a short ride to the town of Satun. We noticed a few things straight away – the road was stunning and wide with a shoulder wide enough for us to ride side by side. The road signs were not in English characters, and Thai characters look like nearly identical squiggles to our untrained eyes. There were heaps of people out on bikes – fast road cyclists, mountain bikers and a few kids. Maybe there was some kind of race on, but it felt like we’d just arrived to the right place! Accomodation was a little different to find. We can’t recognise the Thai characters yet, and unlike in Malaysia where the hotels were on the main street with huge signs, they seem a lot less conspicuous here. This does mean that when we found a place it was very quiet because it was well off the main road. We wandered along the street to find food and it didn’t take long to come across a street cart serving a soup with chicken and noodles.
Thailand limiting littering hours to reduce pollution and some notes to learn a little Thai.
Ordering food has been a bit more of a challenge here, but it is delicious and fresh. There seems to be more vegetables in the meals which Bryony especially appreciates. If we had a greater grasp of Thai we’d be able to make the most of the street food, as it is we smile, nod and shrugg and end up with something edible. Most of the time this works really well, the liver and intestines in the rice porridge for breakfast however weren’t so great but felt we could ride for miles afterwards. We had one meal sitting in front of someones house because we heard a musical van, like an icecream truck while we were riding in the middle of nowhere and stopped to see what it was. Turns out it was a chicken noodle soup van and for less than $1.50 each we had an afternoon snack. Because we can’t read the characters, and asking what the Thai word for a dish is can be confusing we will have to work a bit harder to learn what we are eating!
We rode two pretty big days to reach the small resort town of Hat Pak Meng. There are heaps more small secondary and tertiary roads here, so we are enjoying getting off the main highway and exploring some of the smaller places. Pak Meng was deserted, so we were certain we would be able to get a better price for a room, however motivation to shop around went out the window when we were looking at the room in the first place and noticed whoever was staying in the neighbouring bungalow had some serious touring bikes. So we stayed and met Cynthia and Mike, a Swiss couple on the road for the last 18 months. We ended up having dinner with them, and really enjoyed talking to some very like minded travellers. Just like in road and track cycling, cycle touring is full of people with different attitudes, who are often reasonably vocal about it. Some people will tell you that you must have these things, and others that you must have the opposite, when really either is fine and you should just choose what suits you best. It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad we hosted so many cyclists in Dunedin before we left. They all did things really differently, but seemed to be having a great time. If anyone wants to read about the areas we are heading to from Cynthia and Mikes perspective (in German) they write about their cycling here.
It was a slow start in Pak Meng, because the promising sunshine turned to pouring rain during breakfast. We stretched our meal out for an hour and a half until the rain had eased and headed off towards Krabi. The legs felt a bit dead, and the chaffing not so good, so we found plenty of reasons to stop. While taking pictures of a temple a man invited us in to look around, another good excuse! In the end we called it quits in Khlong Thom in a cheap, clean, garden cottage. By chance we discovered we were about 10km away from some hot waterfalls that had formed natural soaking pools, so we biked down to check them out. We talked with Cynthia and Mike the night before about people giving recommendations for places to visit, and how they often end up slightly disappointing because you have an expectation. These pools were a great example – if we’d been told about them we might have expected something cleaner, or fancier, or bigger, but we had no expectations so it was a nice surprise to be able to soak our tired muscles in a kind of magical environment. As an added bonus we went late in the day so there was next to no one else around.
From Khlong Thom it was pretty short day to Andrey’s place near Ao Nang. We stopped at a bike shop on the way in to Krabi to get some new tubes (we took the wrong size for our tyres, doh) and Bryony ended up buying a new cycle top from a local club, the KT Rockets which got her featured on the shops facebook page. That evening we rode with Andrey and his 7 year old daughter Anya into Ao Nang to visit a market and they showed us a good spot to get some dinner. We beat them home though and were tucked up in our tent by 10pm. It was our first night in the tent in Asia, and probably the last for a while. Macpac tents are great, but this one is just not made for the temperatures here. The poles attach to the fly, so the inner can’t be erected separately. In addition, the inner adds extra waterproofing, rather than being particularly breathable. So high temperature + no airflow = very hot and sweaty individuals. We enjoyed meeting Andrey and Anya though, they are heading off on an adventure in a few days, and he has a lovely spot amongst the trees just 5km out of Ao Nang which was quiet and relaxing. If anyone wants to read his adventures they are here.
We’ve encountered rain nearly every day we’ve ridden in Thailand, although to different degrees. The first morning it just drizzled for a few hours and aside from creating some reasonably serious chaffing problems, we were still able to ride fine. On the second day, however, the weather turned very very dark just after lunch, and a serious wind got up. We were looking for somewhere to stop when a man beckoned us into his small shop. We watched an incredible amount of rain fall from the sky over the next hour while sharing fruit and trying to communicate with the man and his family. Riding in that rain would have been impossible.
Our bikes are holding up ok – we were pleased to be able to wash them at Andreys because the rain gets them grity. Our tyres aren’t doing so well though. James has had 3 punctures and Bryony 1, and we’ve only ridden just over 1,000km. Each time the culprit seems to be small bits of very stiff, fine wire, which apparently comes from exploding truck and motorbike tyres. Some people (on the internet) say that there isn’t much you can do about these, others say that better tyres will stop them. So James has switched his stock Continental tyre for a Shwalbe marathon that we had as a backup and we’re considering getting more sent to our friend in Bangok. The bodies are doing ok as well, much stronger so less aches and pains at the end of the day. Bryony has some kind of weird skin infection on her arm, but it’s not causing too much problem and is good to put some of the medical supplies we brought from NZ to use.
We’ve shifted into rubber growing territory, so we are riding through rows of rubber trees with their scars and little pots. We also see people carting around wads of the white rubber on their motorbikes or in the garages in small towns. The powerlines have gotten much more chaotic here, with dozens tangled with each other and vines along the side of the road. They sometimes make suspicious electricity noises too which is a little unerving. The petrol stations here are great, they have really clean toilets, a few shops for food and make a surprisingly nice place to rest. The only thing missing is an RO water machine. They exist here in Thailand but are proving much harder to find. In Malaysia they were at the outskirts of 90% of small settlements at a shop on the main road. Here they seem to be hidden in the backstreets. We are still trying to work out how to ask someone where they are (or even what they are called in Thai).
We’re in a really nice hotel in Ao Nang tonight. It’s a little more expensive, but they are really nice and have agreed to store our bikes and extra luggage for a week while we visit James’ friend Dan and do some climbing at Tonsai beach. We’ll catch a boat there tomorrow.