The day after our arrival in Bangkok was Bryony’s birthday. After talking to her parents at home we went out for her choice of activity – fabric shopping in the China World mall. Without the weight restriction Bryony bought about 8kg of fabric for outrageously cheap prices including some fabric to stitch a NZ flag for the world cup. Because there were other guests at Granny Bike this time around – two French women, Chloe and Jo, Cal from Australia and Jerich and Susan from the USA – Parn and Neemo took us all out to their friends restaurant and ordered a feast for us. Bryony discovered a new favourite Thai dish, Tom Kha Gai, a chicken and galangal soup with coconut milk.
We were in a good mood after our surprise breakfast and a friendly farewell, but only 7km down the road we realised that Bryony was still carrying the keys to the room in her pocket. Surprisingly this was the first time we’d done this on the entire trip. James bore the brunt of the mistake and Bryony looked after the bags while he got aero and time trialed back. The rest of the day was unassuming landscape through small roads, made reasonably unpleasant by the hot wind blowing in our faces. The rural roads are great riding traffic wise, and the views are definitely more pleasant than the highways, but we do struggle with the lack of shade and sometimes with finding food. Luckily the highway is never far and we can just head there if we get hungry.
While we were in Sukhothai the UCI announced the track cycling world cup venues. One of them is in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands this November, so we booked tickets. We obviously then had to book flights, and so the next part of our adventure is starting on the 1st of November with a flight to Amsterdam. This wasn’t actually as brash as it sounds, as we’ve been talking about taking the easy way (ie an aeroplane) to Europe since we left Saigon and we’d made our minds up by the time we reached Savannakhet. We absolutely love cycle touring, we think its an awesome way to explore and opens so many conversations with new and interesting people. Of course, like life, it has bad days too (which is why we took so long to decide to fly). The real thing that swayed our decision was that we are both major homebodies. We were the friends who would always make others come and hang out at our house, not just because they were younger, tighter students who didn’t heat their houses properly, but also because we just really liked our cozy space. We miss the normal stuff like cooking, cleaning and having friends you get to see more than once. There is so much more world to explore by bike, but probably in smaller chunks! Besides the world cup, and then the 6 days in Ghent we don’t have too many plans for once we reach Europe. We’ve both been applying for jobs in Utrecht and have some Skype interviews scheduled. Fingers crossed something works out because accomodation is too expensive without a job, but we’re pretty sure we will find it too cold to keep riding our bikes around for long.
We spent our day off in Mae Chaem doing very little but enjoying lounging around in the garden at Kwan Lah homestay. We did venture out for lunch and found a cute cafe on the second floor above a 7-11 for a coffee. Our hosts let us use their washing machine as well, so we made the most of that, and James adjusted the brake pads as we chewed through so much surface in the descent. Mrs Sarunporn was concerned that our legs would be pretty sore after the ride up the mountain (they were) so she arranged for two people to come to the guesthouse and give us both a massage. Although the most painful we’ve had, we both felt better. Afterwards Mrs Sarunporn had cooked us dinner so we ate together in the garden and pieced together a conversation with our little Thai and their comparatively superior english. The husband (Mr Suttha) is 63 and works in government while his wife works as a nurse at the hospital in Mae Chaem. They have a son in Chiang Mai and a daughter in America (Baltimore) who are just a few years older than us. We were so lucky to have stumbled upon such a friendly, welcoming couple.
The main purpose of our week long stay in Chiang Mai was to get some life admin off our backs, but we did manage to do some exploring as well. On our first night we biked into town to meet French cycle tourists Charlotte and Lilian and their two daughters. The whole family has taken a year out to adventure together, and were just starting their Thailand leg. It was awesome to hear their stories, and to share some of our experiences in Thailand. If anyone else wants to read about their adventures you can find them here. We stopped on the way home at a night market near Nihammen Rd (the student area) for an outrageously sized milkshake (like a whole jug full of pink milky liquid, each) and toast.
Once we got over the ridiculous beaurocratic fees to get across the friendship bridge we were happy to be back in Thailand. We set of from Chiang Khong towards Chiang Rai enjoying the nice, wide, smooth roads. Not far out of Chiang Khong we turned off the major highway and were on a quiet road amongst a sea of rice paddies, cassava and corn, as well as some seriously overloaded papaya trees. We turned inland on route 1098 and crossed one short but very steep hill. We picked up some bananas on the other side of the hill. James asked how much for a bunch and one lady said 60 baht, and all her friends laughed at her and told her that was ridiculous and that they were actually worth only 20. Knowing Thai numbers helped here and we had a good laugh. At lunchtime we enjoyed talking with an local man who lived and worked in Slovenia for 11 years.
After months of staying in some pretty grungy places (with some nice surprises in between) we decided to stay somewhere really nice in Luang Prabang, using James’ birthday as an excuse. We weren’t disappointed with the Lotus Villa. First we were welcomed with fresh juice and fruit then shown our light, airy room with seating on the terrace and french doors looking out over a garden. When we came back from dinner we found our bed remade with the corners folded back for us to climb in, a scented candle lit and a plate of Lao sweets left with tomorrows forecast. Over the next two nights we were left Lao coffee and bamboo straws as well. The bed was huge, the linen fabulous and we slept like logs.
When we headed East out of Bangkok we started the part of our trip that is entirely unnecessary to get us to Europe – a loop through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos then back into northern Thailand. We go this way for two reasons, firstly we are enjoying south east asia and want to see as much as we can while we are here and secondly because we won’t be able to make any of the high passes on the Pamir highway before winter anyway, so have some time to kill waiting for spring (provided our money and enthusiasm lasts that long!).
As soon as we got ourselves settled in at Pan and Neemo’s hostel, Granny bike, we knew we would find it hard to leave. The place is perfect for cycle tourists, with plenty of space to store our bikes, all the tools we could dream of to fix them and a quiet, green, clean space to rest and write.
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.