We had a very lazy start out of Prachuap with neither of us feeling much like riding fast. A coffee spot with a view back over Prachuap caught our eye after about 7km, so we decided to have an early stop. Just as we finished we spotted another cycle tourist and waved her down, ending up spending another half an hour chatting to Georgia who is teaching maths in Bangkok, but has holidays for 3 weeks. Another 3km down the road we stopped again and did something we hadn’t done yet in our trip – locked our fully loaded bikes and left them so that we could go and look at something. We’ve locked the bikes before, just only when our stuff has been locked away in a guesthouse. All our most valuables are in the handlebar bags which we can take with us so we didn’t feel too bad about it. We walked up to a cave with two reclining buddahs which was nice and cool compared to the very hot sun outside. Our bikes and belongings were of course safe and sound when we got back to them. Thailand feels relatively safe, especially outside of the very touristy towns, but it wouldn’t be something we’d do everywhere.
We did manage to cover some ground eventually, once we were forced onto the highway as it came so close to the coast there were no other easy routes. We ate lunch once we’d found our way back to the sea and then managed to cover a surprising distance in the afternoon, despite the hot sun. We rode through the Khao Sam Roi Yot national park and spotted some of the nicer monkeys we were looking for in Prachuap as well as huge limestone cliffs rising out of dead flat earth. The landscape became incredible barren after Prachuap, so we had no shade, a headwind and intense sun. After an icecream stop in the park we went a short way to Phu Noi and found a motel about 1 km back from the beachfront bars and hotels. We rode into town for dinner at a bar reccomended to us by Grant, who works at our favourite pub in Dunedin. Unfortunately we see prices in Baht now, rather than NZ dollars so after dinner we bought more beer from the dairy down the road for half the price and sat on the white sandy beach enjoying the end of the daylight.
From Phu Noi we rode on the side roads until we got near Hua Hin where we joined up with highway 4. James had snapped the top off our chain lube thinking it was the cleaning toothbrush stabbing his pannier (in hindsight a toothbrush would probably have been a lot harder to break) so we needed to find a bike shop as our bikes were starting to rattle like trains. We were passed by a bunch of maybe 8 thai riders on flash TT bikes, including one guy training on a carbon disk, so we figured there would be something. We did find a bike shop and managed to get our chains lubricated, but we also found an incredible amount of traffic. Sometimes our maps don’t give us an accurate indication of how big a place is, so we vastly underestimated Hua Hin. We decided to get out of the central chaos to find lunch where we dallied in the shade for a while. James’ garmin recorded a maximum temperature of 46 degrees.
After lunch the traffic was quieter, because the road had expanded to 3 lanes in either direction. Well, 2 and a half, the left hand lane is for terribly parked cars and people riding motorbikes the wrong way. And us. So it wasn’t exactly relaxing, especially when you factor in the heat. At one point we rode through a tunnel underneath the runway, it was so incredibly loud in there. We did intend to ride past Cha-am, because the closer we got to Bangkok the next day, the shorter our ride in would be. But then Bryony clipped her handle bars on a rubbish bin in the left hand lane and crashed onto the road. With the weight of the bike and the slightly rusty cleats it was impossible to move, but no one ran her over while James ran back and lifted the bike off her. The injuries weren’t too bad, but we couldn’t find anywhere suitable to stop and rest so we decied to check in to the next available accomodation. This was harder than it should have been as the road was closed for u-turns and we needed to turn right, and the usual ride-hop the center strip-ride is harder with 3 lanes full of traffic. James got stuck in the heat in the middle for about 15 minutes which didn’t do much for his mood. We made it eventually and checked into an air conditioned room in an old, but clean, hotel and blasted some cold air which made us feel much better. A beer and some hot chips at the attached bar washed away too many hard feelings about the day. We ventured to the beach front for some dinner but found our nice, quiet sandy beach from the previous day had been over run by more tables and umbrellas than seems possible to fit, so many swimmers, utes parked 3 deep and a man on a jet ski with an outboard motor towing people around on inflatable things really close to shore (and the swimmers). When someone came and asked us to pay 60 baht for using the table we were eating at we decided to just eat back at the hotel.
Bryony was feeling pretty stiff the next day – a graze on her elbow was healing fine but a big hip bruise was developing and her neck and body were sore from the impact. We skirted between the chaotic beach front and the highway to leave cha-am and found ourselves on small streets that got smaller and eventually turned into a market, but we made it through and breakfasted at a clean friendly roadside restaurant. From there it was hot roads with a nice shoulder that even had a bike painted in the shoulder like a cycling lane. After a few hours the land got even more barren and we realised we were riding through salt fields. Huge collapsing sheds full of white salt lined the road in front of geometric ponds at different stages of dry. The lack of shade and a head wind meant we were pleased to shelter at lunch. We stopped at a busy roadside restaurant and ordered quoi te ao (noodle soup). The woman running the soup seemed about our age and was using her phone to work out how to take our order in english, she was lovely and filled our bottles with ice when we left. Cheapest noodle soup thus far too.
We left the salt fields just before joining the highway – it was the 35 now and had picked up some more traffic. It was better than riding through Hua Hin because we had more room, but the traffic was moving a lot faster so we had to concentrate hard to hold our line while scooters zipped down towards us on the left, trucks rattled by on our right and the super fast bikes weaved amongst it all. We travelled fast, a combination of exhileration and the draft created by the moving traffic. This, and the concentration, made it harder to spot anywhere we might be able to stay the night. It also seems that the highway resorts that were so common further south were no longer around. We rode further than intended and it wasn’t until nearly 6pm, and 120 km for the day, that we spotted signs that seemed promising. At first glance Noahs inn seemed like any other resort we’d stayed at, however we’ve learnt that when we see big vinyl curtains outside the units, the place could be a bit suspect. Turns out it was the kind of place one usually pays for by the hour, as evidenced by the mirrors on every wall and the ceiling, the 3 channels of porn on the tv, the fact we couldn’t actually get a key to our room and the soundproofing that killed the wifi signal inside. The lady looked somewhat confused and checked us in. We were just happy to have somewhere to sleep, and we’d made it to about 50km of Bangkok, so we didn’t have far to cover the next day.
We left our hotel pretty quickly, it didn’t really feel like a place to hang around. We found breakfast just down the road, although after swearing off liver for breakfast after our first day James did order 5 liver kebabs (they looked like beef). We managed to eat 3 and the lady let us swap the others for pork. The taste was ok, the texture is a bit much. We kept to the second road that ran alongside the main highway for the first part of the day, thus avoiding being cut off by keeping left at the exits and the scooters flying the wrong way up the road. The first part was the busiest – we think it make have been the end of a factory shift as we were riding through a very industrial area. There was also a car crash which had traffic backed up, not a great thing to see for the start of the day, but everyone seemed ok. We turned off onto Ekkachai road to avoid the highway and although we were back to the 2 and a half lane situation we were prepared for it and it was fine. The roads got smaller and we were pretty much keeping up with the traffic until we turned back onto a highway to cross the river. There were now 5 lanes, and the lane for the smaller memorial bridge that we wanted to cross was on the right so we put our standing start skills to use and managed to cross without too much trouble. From there it wasn’t far to our home while we are in Bangkok – Granny bike bed. It’s a small hostel for cycle tourists with 8 bunks in a room of Pan and Neemo’s house and it has everything we need to clean up our bikes as well as being on a quiet street close enough to things to see.
For some reason getting to Bangkok feels like an achievement of sorts. It’s not like we’re at the end of our trip, but kind of like we’ve completed a stage. We’ve been on the road nearly 2 months now, and covered more than 2,500km so its kind of nice to sit back and think that that’s pretty awesome. It’s also relaxing to take a break and plan for the next part of our adventure. We’ll be heading towards Cambodia once a couple of packages arrive, away from territory that Bryony is familiar with.