We arrived in Krabi drenched, with Bryony’s front panniers filled with water after the 20km ride. Luckily we found a good, big room in a guesthouse to dry everything out, although the room was on the 4th floor (panniers aren’t the easiest things to carry). The rain didn’t ease up which made looking for dinner challenging (and wet). Bryony was hoping to explore Krabi a bit, particularly to visit the buddah at the top of the hill that she saw when she visited with Reta in 2010, but the rain halted those plans. Plan B was watching Harry Potter and an early night.
The following day started slowly with a quick bike clean to get rid of the grit from riding through puddles, and less than 2km into the ride a puncture repair for Bryony. This time a piece of glass, right next to the other puncture in her rear wheel. By the time we left Krabi it was 10am, but the overcast conditions meant we could cover a bit of ground. The road was wide with a bit of traffic and passed between big limestone cliffs. We stopped for a break and some tiny pineapple jam biscuits at a petrol station and the sky grew darker and darker. James was convinced it wasn’t about to rain, even though the locals were putting covers on the back of their utes so we set off. Sure enough after less than a minute it started bucketing down. We pulled in to the truck weighing station and hid out there for a bit, the officers invited us inside. It eased after 30 minutes, but was still raining heavily. The highway was slick with water and we had to turn our lights on because we could only see a few hundred meters ahead. Another few km down the road we found somewhere for lunch, hoping that with time the rain might ease some more. No luck, and we spent the next 40km with grit flying into our faces, drenched and dodging some seriously big puddles. Oh and there were road works. It seems like when they upgrade the road in Thailand they do a huge stretch of road or maybe it’s just because we ride slowly. But it certainly added to the grit and adventure, having limited visibility and dodging ditches and puddles, without getting run into from behind because there was only one lane and no shoulder.
We were pretty drained when we pulled into the service station at the turn off to the 415 for some noodle soup. Bryony had spotted a hotel on google maps, which is lucky because there were no signs in english. It was a kind of truckers motel, each room had its own garage which was great for unpacking the soggy gear. It was in the middle of nowhere, but a restaurant which may not have even been open just down the road served us some rice with cold curry (maybe lunch leftovers? Not recommended but there weren’t many options!). Bryony’s was crazy spicy, and the lady in charge was a little concerned. There were some other guests/friends there who found the whole thing hilarious. We think they were all a little confused about why two foreigners were staying in the middle of nowhere and wished we had enough Thai to explain! They were friendly though, and passed around some Thai whiskey to try.
We weren’t feeling particularly motivated the next day, particularly when it rained as we were setting off, but it dried up and we ended up enjoying the rolling hills along the 415. We found plenty of reasons to stop, mainly food related, but we also spotted a local kids footsal tournament so stopped in to watch that. The boys all wanted to shake James’ hand, and were a bit intrigued by his lycra pants (and seem to have less personal space issues than Kiwis so wanted to get up close to inspect). We planned to stay near the Ratchaprapha dam, so went to visit it first to see if there was any accomodation close. Was a big climb to the top, and had a great view out over the water and back over our route, but no accomodation. So we headed back down 4km to a small resort area and choe to stay at Pornpan resort, mainly due to the name. Thai people like firm beds, which is good because so do we, but the beds at pornpan resort were next level. We actually checked to make sure there was a mattress. We have no idea how they make them so hard.
We decided to ride the small minor roads towards Surat Thani the next day, rather than backtrack to the 401. This turned out to be a great decision, but we did second guess it a couple of times as locals with limited english were very concerned that we were heading the wrong way. We talked to 4 different people on motorbikes who all stopped or turned around to make sure that we knew we weren’t on the main road. But we loved the minor roads and felt much more motivated than having cars flying around us on the highway. The road quality wasn’t great in places, but there was barely any other traffic so we could ride side by side most of the way. We were chased by an isolated rain cloud that caught us every time we stopped to take photos, but other than that it was sunny until we reached Khiri Rat and stopped for a second breakfast. The rain eased by the time we headed off and we just wound our way through small villages towards the highway. We seemed to be riding through a pretty affluent area – we passes lots of big new houses. As soon as we turned onto highway 41 the road changed – 4 lanes of traffic flying past and shabby buildings along both sides of the road.
We decided not to go into Surat Thani at all, instead headed along the highway until we found another truckers motel. These places are brilliant for cyclists as they have a big covered (often gated) garage, have big air rooms and are cheap. They are surprisingly quiet, given the proximity to the highway, because they set all the rooms back from then road and have a nice garden area between. They also tend to have free tea and coffee. The woman in charge was quite young and between two translation apps on our phones we managed to arrange to get our laundry done that evening, something we were in desperate need of. We’ve found a few coin washing machines, but no dryers like we could find in Malaysia. Instead we have to pay someone x baht/kg of laundry to wash and dry it for us. Apparently they usually iron it too, so we have to try and communicate that we really don’t want that, or it would be the end of our lycra.
In the morning Bryony discovered another flat, this time caused by the two patches overlapping, so she changed the tube before we could get away. We had breakfast at the same place we had dinner the night before and without asking they produced the same two dishes we’d had for dinner. They’d asked another customer to help with dinner and I guess they figured we’d enjoyed that and it would be too hard to order something new. We headed straight back onto the quiet roads to the right of the highway. The garmin etrex touch 35t gps that Bryony’s parents gave her as a graduation gift has been super useful now that we have lots of small roads and intersections, although the maps we downloaded (open street maps) don’t always have all the roads, and sometimes have very minor gravel roads classified as more major roads. Between google maps on the phones and the gps we have found some interesting routes. Our lunch stop was dictated by the pouring rain and we had noodle soup and watched some kind of Muay Thai event on tv. People were shouting advice at the screen, just like watching the rugby at home. Later in the day we passed houses filled with people crowded around watching the matches. We watched a bit on tv that night – it was some kind of Muay Thai marathon.
We found a beach restort for the evening, just past Paknam Langsuan with another hard (but not quite concrete) bed. We had dinner in a little hut right on the edge of the ocean watching all the fishing boats coming in. Again we had some struggle to order. In the less touristy places we’ve been it seems to be a bit of a group effort to get us some dinner that we will enjoy, with any staff and often other guests discussing what we might like (we presume). We’ve also learnt that we need to ask for spicy food in the touristy places, but if there isn’t an english menu its much better to try and get the food mild. We ended up with a very spicy som tam (green papaya salad) with a crab in it (dead, to eat, not alive), and even spicier tom yam with a variety of sea food and khao pad (fried rice) with squid. Delicious, but so spicy it hurt to breathe. We try to not look as if we are suffering too much when so many people help us to order because it’s really our own fault that we can’t communicate and people seem quite concerned with making sure we are happy.
Trying to type thai characters using the handwriting function on google translate sometimes offers hilarity. This took about 20 mins to get to this conclusion.
The most memorable thing we’ve seen on the road for this leg is puddles. Lots of puddles. We’re back amongst the rubber and palm plantations, but they seem to be smaller affairs than the big plantations we rode through in Malaysia. Getting off the main highway has meant we’ve met many more dogs. Lots of them seem to be pets and are tied up, but a couple of times we’ve startled a gang of 5 or so dogs who seem quite keen on making sure we leave in a hurry. Our tactic for dealing with them is to take off our sunglasses and say hi to them as we get closer so we don’t give them a fright which works most of the time. If they chase us we have to stop and Bryony has employed her farm voice a few times to yell at the dogs to “get outside” and throw a few stones which frightens them long enough for us to ride away. Even the barking, chasing dogs here don’t seem aggressive, just afraid, but further down the track we will probably come across less nice dogs. We spotted a celebration of some sort one day – there were people riding a painted elephant, many many people dancing along the street drinking dancing to drums. We couldn’t quite figure out what was going on – a man told us that his brother had gone to buddah, so we aren’t sure if he died or became a monk. Neither of those seem like occasions where one would have a street parade in NZ. Oh and we rode through rice paddies for a few days. They seemed to be plowing one up and because it was so wet they had a paddle system attached to the wheels.
Now that we’re back on the east we’re making our way up the coast towards Bangkok to meet some friends from home, a package from Bryony’s parents and to give the bikes a bit of TLC after all this rain and many kms under the tires.