2nd to the 5th of Janurary 2013 – Savannakhet to Vientienne, via Thailand – 120, 89 and 79 km – More Friendship bridges than friends.

_MG_9752There were a number of options for how to get between Savannakhet and Vientienne, and according to the research that we did they were all boring! For that reason we decided to go for the quickest one, which was to take a direct beeline through Thailand. This had some advantages, namely… Thailand.

In Thailand there are lots of magical and mystical things that are often taken for granted, such as supermarkets, post offices, pharmacies and bike shops, all of which we were hoping to make use off.

_MG_9750From Savannakhet, Thailand is literally a stones throw away across the river, and in case your throwing arm isn’t good enough the Ozzys have even helped fund a gigantic bridge. Finding the bridge was easy, however getting onto it, (since we had left our grappling hooks at home) wasn’t quite so straight forward.

_MG_9755After our last Lao border crossing experience we were a little apprehensive about the prospect of giving our passports over to the man behind the desk. In fact we needn’t have worried because this border seemed to have an almost English-esque desire for things to be done by the book, and protocol was obeyed religiously. The protocol that caused us the biggest hassle was that you aren’t allowed to cycle over the bridge and the only provision that has been made for this is that would be cyclists have to flag down a pick-up truck as it goes through border control.

_MG_9758The only real problem with this is that the traffic volume over the bridge can be approximated to zero, and so it was possible we were going to have a long wait on our hands. The border officials were very sympathetic to our plight, recognising the slight absurdity of the situation, and even brought us some water while we sat in the sun waiting for a potential lift.

Eventually a pick-up did come past, Sam jumped on the driver and the man still seemed in a slight puzzled daze as to what was happening as he helped load our bikes into the back.

_MG_9762Most people in Thailand seem to drive huge pick-ups! Massive, with more than enough space for an army of bicycles and cyclists. Sadly we had found the only man in the country who had decided to “go eco” and have chosen to down scale, and so we had to cling on, with our bikes hanging somewhat out the back cruising along at 70kph. Whether this was safer than cycling over the bridge is questionable, but we survived.

Back in Thailand and we started smashing the kms like pros!. It’s not hugely exciting countryside, but the month and a half in the very poor countries of Lao and Cambodia meant that we took great joy from the periodic posh coffee shops.

There is an old Thai trick _MG_9763played on cycle tourists. Essentially what happens is, someone will buy a herd of ostriches and then position them by the side of the road. The honourable cycle tourist, coming along, minding his or her own business, is then so completely distracted by this that they veer off the road and come flying off their bike, at which point the Thai person in question has a bloody good chuckle at their expense. Called The Ostrich Shuffle it’s a trick played mainly on the road to Udon Thani and sadly Jess fell right into it, coming spectacularly off her bike and flying into the road. Fortunately no cars were overtaking at the time, and although she caused a minor traffic jam, the pick-up behind did stop to check she was ok._MG_9765

With some new scrapes and cuts we were able to finally make some proper use of our first aid fit (although sadly all the bandages had already been used covering up Jess’s sun burn) and we were quickly on our way again.

We covered quite a lot of ground on our first Thai day, finally stopping in the town of Sakhon Nakhon, where we got a very cheap room in yet another huge hotel! It was so big that our bikes even got their own room! Here still everything seemed completely shut, and the only place we could find to get dinner was a quite smart Vietnamese restaurant, where rather than having a menu they showed you pictures of potential dishes on an iPad. The only down side of this was that food came to four times the price of our hotel room… a whopping £15.

_MG_9771The next few days flew by, racking up kilometres faster than you can say “Is that a herd of ostriches?”. We stopped briefly to see the occasional interesting religious watsit, and had a very nice drink with an old Australian man, who gave us quite a bit of an insight into the (surprisingly large) community of ex-pat Europeans who have moved to Thailand and married Thai women (people we have code named ‘Spatulas’). Initially, this bloke didn’t inspire us, having now lived in Thailand for two years, not visited any further a field than the town in which he lived and not having picked up a word of Thai. He then however turned out to be both interested in and knowledgeable of Thai culture and people, and we enjoyed a very interesting hour or two chatting, by the end of which we felt guilty for a previously being so judgemental.

_MG_9783The next day was a short one, and brought us into Udon Thani, which it turns out is quite the metropolis. We made it there by lunch, which gave us the whole afternoon to do some to-dos, which was good, because there were quite a few challenges we had to complete before we thought it would be safe to go back into Laos.

_MG_9802Keen observers will have noticed that Jess has in recent photos has been sporting a very fetching bandage round (first one, then) both her calves. “Is this what they’re wearing on the catwalks of Phnom Penh?” I hear you ask, well no! (In truth, we don’t actually know about the catwalks, but in Phnom Penh, as throughout Cambodia, most people seemed to wear pyjamas pretty much all the time. The only reason we have been given for this is that it is because they are both colourful, and matching. Can’t argue there…)

_MG_9804The reason for Jess’s bandage is a to cover up a horrible and disfiguring rash that has started to form. We think the rash is caused by the a mix of the sun, and the doxycyclone anti-malarial drug we are both taking, and so the bandage is there to both protect the area, and to stop such disfigurement scaring the children. Since Thailand’s health system is both efficient and cheap we thought that this was a good place to get the rash looked at by a strong stomached medical professional. So we headed to Udon Thani General Hospital.

_MG_9818At this point it would be convenient to have some terrible story about how awful the hospital was, how dirty, how they kept trying to convince Jess that the only cure would be the application of leeches, as this would obviously make for a much better read. Sadly the hospital was both clean and efficient (hence why we’d chosen to go there) and so we were in an out in double quick time with Jess having received a check-up, antihistamine jab, pills, and new lease of life, all for the princely sum of 96 Baht (£1.92). The nurse agreed that it was almost certainly the doxy and that Jess must stop taking it, Jess than asked what she should do instead to prevent getting malaria, to which the response essentially was “Don’t go to Lao”. Very helpful stuff.

Udon Thani is a very vibrant and interesting city. After the hospital we went for a walk around the lake, sat down (on the floor) at a very trendy market side eatery which did us a lovely salad which tasted amazing right up to the moment you got hit by a huge wave of spice, completely eradicating your taste buds and making you scared to have another mouthful.

_MG_9805We were then attracted by the sound of music, and stumbled across the Udon Thani Love Music Festival! Which was free! The music was rubbish (well… Thai), and there was little chance of getting caught up in a mosh pit, but other than that (oh and the zero tolerance to alcohol policy) it was practically indistinguishable for Glastonbury.

CIMG7893We left Udon early the next day, Sam got chatting with a man who gave him a home brew receipt for pepper spray (for the Thai dogs), and then we were out on our last section of Thai highway. We stopped at a cafe where you could buy probably (no, definitely) the worst garden ornaments in the world, and before we new it we were at yet another friendship bridge.

_MG_9841In theory your not allowed to cycle over this one either, but the guards weren’t looking, and the signs weren’t very large so we went for it, and won! We then even got a receipt for the $1 over time charge on the Lao immigration! Amazing!

After that it was a very short cycle further along the river before we got into Vientienne city centre where we eventually managed to find a hostel that wasn’t full, and then a bar with an amazing view of the Mekong, just in time for sunset. Gruelling stuff!_MG_9846
Day 1 from Savannakhet to Sakhon Nakhon

Day 2 from Sakhon Nakhon to Sawang Dea Din

Day 3 from Sawang Dea Din to Udon Thani

And last but not least, Day 4, Udon Thani to Vientienne

27th November – Araya Prathe to Sisphon – 55 km – พบกันไหม่ Thailand and សួស្ Cambodia

The women in the Thai motel told us very certainly that the post office opened at 08:00, so it wasn’t a surprise when we spent half an hour waiting for someone to finally open the door at 08:30.

Fortunately this time was spent chatting with a French man who we suspect might not have spoken properly with another soul for some weeks, and so did have a tendency to go on a bit. Still, an interesting bloke who was very much looking forward to getting into Cambodia in the next few days so that he could have a baguette (sorry if that sounds like a stereotype, but it’s true!).

(For those unaware Cambodia used to be a French colony, meaning that like in France baguettes are prolific, and other than that it’s food is nowhere near as good as it’s north westerly neighbour…)

_MG_0209We had one final Full Thai Breakfast of various rice and noodle dishes and then headed down the highway to the border!

The Thai-Cambodia border is designed around much the same principles as the T-mobile website( i.e. deliberately confusing and absolute chaos). Literally everyone there is claiming to be the official purveyor of Cambodian visas, and despite the many warnings we had received, it tested our conviction to carry on pushing past the reams of people pointing at their presumably home made “Boarder Official” signs.

_MG_0213We might have pushed on slightly too far. Aided by a team of customs officials we were waved through and continued on our way until a man nearly dropped a road block on us and asked to see our passports. Having not been stamped out of Thailand yet,  we were waved back through in the opposite direction.

Since the road option hadn’t worked we tried to push our bikes through the pedestrian section of immigration. This meant we encountered our first turn styles of the trip, and then stood in a queue for a very long time.

A had been warned that the Cambodian boarder officials can have a tendency to add the occasional extra charge onto the price of a visa. It was in fact quite a elaborate trick as one of them had even gone so far as to write “$21 Dollres” (not that I’m one to criticise poor spelling) in biro on a piece of CIMG7815lined paper which he would show to unsuspecting foreigners as they unwittingly went about their boarder crossing. Jess’s shrewd cunning saw straight through this trick instantly, noticing the considerably more professional sign saying “$20 for tourist visa” above his head. Sam wasn’t really paying attention, couldn’t understand what the man was saying and then had already been moved on before he’d had the time to reach for his wallet… so we got away scam free!

One thing to remember when crossing international boarders is to not commit straight away to one a side of road or the other until you’re sure its the same side as everyone else is using. This was a mistake we both made and so found ourselves in the oncoming traffic for bit, having to make a  tactical dive on to the right (wrong) hand side when a space appeared.

_MG_0222The border town on the Cambodian side was even more mental than the Thai one, but we didn’t have any reason to hang around and so we dodged our way through an assortment of road blocks, tailors and live stock to make it out onto the highway.

The traffic in Cambodia is considerably more angry than that of Thai land, and so the 30kms or so on  route 5 were a little nerve racking. The continual sound of car horns pushed us on though, and we were in Sisophon in no time at all. When we got there the huge amount of dust made it feel a bit like you were in wild west, although the large number of baguette stalls did detract from the allusion. Our only mission for the afternoon was to get some Cambodian SIMs, and that was what we set about doing.

_MG_0238In Cambodia SIM card prices, rather than being based on the number of free minutes or the amount of coverage you might hope to get, are instead based entirely on the quantity of 8s there are in the telephone number. An undeniably straight forward policy, but since we had no idea that that was reason we spent quite a long time trying to ask why some SIMs were $2 and some were $50. Since we never managed to successfully convey our question we’ll never know how the girl behind the counter would have tried to sign “because it’s luckier you gormless clown.” which is a real shame.

Needless to say we finally walked away with some very unlucky telephone numbers. It turns out however that no matter how many 8s your telephone number has, you still won’t be able to receive texts from the UK…

24th and 25th of November – Phanom Sarakham to Khlong Takrao to Wang Nam Yen – 74km then 70 km – Schrodinger’s Lake

CIMG7794The old map has never been very comfortable with the introduction of the new map, and because of this resentment the two have never really seen eye to eye on topics such as, for example, where there might be roads or towns. The conflict reached a new hight today when Google maps (normally brought in as arbitrator for these disputes) couldn’t agree between its map and its satellite view.

_MG_0009One map said there was a town, lake and bridge, the other map said there wasn’t a town or a bridge (but that was ok because there wasn’t a lake). Google maps said confidently that there was a bridge, but no lake, until you turned on the satellite view which had something very large blue in the middle of it… We decided to head off and find out or our selves.

_MG_0015The road was much hillier than we were expecting (from our contorless map) and much winder as well. The plan was to do the full 140 ish km from Phanom Sarakham to Wang Nam Yen in one day… easy. Anyone who knows Jess will be aware of her unbridled optimism, and so mostly we were powered by her confidence and determination alone.

Sadly recent supply shortages have meant that determination is extremely expensive these days, and so we started falling a touch behind. In an effort to catch up with ourselves we decided to pick sides and take a short cut across the quasi-lake. Things were looking up when a local suggested to us there was a route, but he obviously existed in the same reality as Google maps, which turned out not the same as us because when we arrived at the lake we were greeted by this:_MG_0019A nice try, but we weren’t fooled. Our efforts to cut close round the lake were thwarted by locals who could tell a water when they saw it, and so we had to go back onto the main the road and go round. It was however very pretty, and looked a bit like the foot hills of the Alps._MG_0035It turns out map 1 was not only wrong about the lake, but also about town, which meant we had somewhere to stop for lunch. Since this was a lunch we were having at about 14:30 we decided to sack off the 50 km there still was to do and see if we could find somewhere to stay in this quantum town.

_MG_0046Fortunately a “lake side resort” popped into existence just in time for us to get a room there (well… shack), and we spent the rest of the day reading our books by the rather confusing lake, which by the look of the number of roads that led directly into it hadn’t been there very long.

We asked about dinner and a market appeared, where we got some very strange looks, and on the way back to our resort we cycled through another Karaoke Party, which we only stayed at for a moment knowing that another early start was in order.

_MG_0057The next morning we headed through an apparent elephant sanctuary, which sadly didn’t appear to have any elephants in it, but it was still nice to see. We then stopped at a very nice coffee shop (in the middle nowhere) which _MG_0077turned out to also be a guest house where the women spoke at length about her niece who was at Warwick University. We didn’t want to have to tell her that Warwick is a rubbish Uni, and so quickly cycled away. (If you think rural Thailand is remote then you should see Warwick University Campus!)

_MG_0105Before we disappeared the woman had given us directions to a hotel in our next destination, and so that was where we headed. We got board before reaching the hotel she had recommend, and fortunately stumbled upon one of the nicest resorts we had been to so far. The owner there was so friendly that was have in fact befriended him on facebook, check his facebook page if you don’t believe me!:

http://www.facebook.com/palmgardenthailand

_MG_0108We spent a lovely afternoon and evening relaxing by the fish pond and had a lovely dinner, so if you are ever in Wang Nam Yen I would most heartily recommend then Palm Gardens Bungalows!

Here is the map for the first day! (Phanom Sarakham to Khlong Takrao):

And here it is for the second! (Khlong Takrao to Wang Nam Yen):

 

23rd November – Bangkok to Phanon Sarakham – 43 km – Our rush-hour’s better than yours!

Having now cycled into, through and around Bangkok we decided that it would actually be more of an adventure to try and get a train out of it. But to convince the doubters at home that this isn’t us going soft, we decided to time our departure to make sure we would cycle through central Bangkok at the hight of rush-hour… a wise move you can’t deny.

_MG_9985First though, Jess had realised that she was carrying about 700% more clothes than she actually needed, and so had grudgingly packed away her ball gown, ski jacket and wet suit and was now prepared to post them home. She was also prepared for the vast potential outlay that this might incur.

CycleMyBicycle.com enthusiasts will recall that the last time we tried to get anything posted home from Thailand it cost precisely 1 arm, 1 leg and Sam’s first born (poor baby Tiberius). This had however been negotiated over an extremely high language barrier and everyone agreed that Sam had in fact done very well to get it home via the express postal service. Well done Sam. The post office in Bangkok’s tourist ghetto doesn’t suffer from the same hurdle and Jess was in fact able to get all her clothes home on the slow service for a minuscule 500Bh (£10). The only slight caveat is that there is a good chance we will beat them there…

With this achieved we headed across town.

Having spent the last 4 years cycling in London we were confident that Bangkok would not pose too much of a problem. Like London the traffic oscillates between frantic and inanimate, and like London the town planners of Bangkok also suffer from the same weird brain condition that makes them believe (incorrectly) that one way systems are a good idea, so you never know if you’re heading in the right direction until its too late.

_MG_9989There were a few hair raising moments, Sam had the contents of the number 32 bus released onto the road in front of him, despite the fact that the bus in question was in the fast lane and hadn’t quite stopped moving. Jess was forced to make a right turn she didn’t want, and had to ring Sam to work out where he was, but eventually we made it!

The good thing about Bangkok train station is it looks exactly like a train station should look, and so we confidently pushed our bikes onto the main concourse.

_MG_9986We were only going about an hour out of town on the slow train, and the tickets came to the princely some of 13Bh (26p) (although sadly each of our bikes cost £2), and dispite being apparently 3rd class the train wouldn’t have looked out of place on the East Coast Main Line (apart from the complete lack of doors!) (oh and the surprisingly large number of Chinese tourists taking photos of literally everything)._MG_9994

40k on the highway and we reached Phanon Sarakham. The first person we asked for directions to a hotel spoke no English what so ever, and didn’t seem to understand any of the 6 Thai words that we had so far picked up. He did however have a friend who spoke slightly better English, who he was kind enough to ring and put on the phone to Sam. This person wasn’t able to convey any information to Sam directly, but did at least understand our predicament, relaying this to our man on the ground who was able to point… we went in the direction of this point and then the moment we were out of sight we asked someone else…

They directed us to this!:_MG_0001

Fortunately just as we were standing outside what we later came to refer to as “Dracula’s Hotel” a women in a blue pickup came round the corner and seeing our looks of dismay told us to follow her, leading us to a much nicer place.

That evening for dinner, rather than heading into town everyone we’d spoken to had been very adamant about going down the road in the other direction, away from the bright lights of Phanon Sarakham. There we were treated to a lovely roadside night market where we feasted heartily.

21st to 23rd of November – Bangkok – It’s ok, we’ll do it when we get to Bangkok…

_MG_9929Ever since the day we left Singapore (and in fact slightly before that) one of the mottoes of the trip has been “It’s ok we’ll do it in Bangkok”. Had we been making a list of all these things we’d have had an awful lot of admin to do during our time in the city. Since, however, no attempt had ever been made to write any of them down we were able to spend our time relaxing and soaking up some of the myriad of tourist attractions.

_MG_9954With all this extra time we had gained we were able to award ourselves another, even bigger lie-in, and they were already halfway through the second Harry Potter film before we made it down stairs to the hostel restaurant for breakfast.

There were a few chores that even our black-whole-esque collective memory could not forget, and the most important of these was to get our bikes checked over to make sure they were fit for the next 2000 km of our adventure. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and on route to the bike shop we would start ticking off some of long list of Bangkok sights.

_MG_9713We chose, as you do, to go for a cycle along the river on route to our first site. We sort of assumed that Bangkok, like any other civilised capital city, would provide some sort of delightful riverside foot path. It did, all the way up to the canteen of Bangkok’s Thammasat University. Needless to say the feasting students looked at us slightly strangely as we wheeled our bikes past, but not as strangely as the people in the Economics department did when we wheeled our bikes through there.

(It is worth nothing that dew to Jess’s Geography heritage she sees all Economics students as sworn enemies (this dates back to creation of Nottingham University when the two departments tried to seize the same building and have been struggling for dominance ever since) and so it was heart-warming to see the kindness that the Economics student of Bangkok showed us.)

_MG_9719Anyway, at this point our river side path, obviously annoyed that we were still following it despite it’s best efforts, transformed it’s self into an incredibly busy Chinese market dedicated to selling miniature statues of Buddha(, i.e. a very annoying thing to have to wheel a bike through), and then, deciding enough was enough, turned into a car park, and we were able to use this to escape.

_MG_9758Our first stop was The Grand Palace. Initially we tried to wheel our bikes in through the giant door way, but were told this wasn’t the done thing and so locked them to a traffic signal poll instead.

_MG_9747In the grand palace the dress code is very strict, with the theme being dress like Aladdin, so here is Sam modelling his new (rented) pantaloons.

_MG_9730If you want to know more about the Grand Palace I have a copy of the Lonely Planet that you are welcome to when we get back. Needless to say it’s very very grand. It is also rainy.

_MG_9740After the rain subsided it was time for us to head to the bike shop and get them to access the damage that our adventure so far had done on our trusty steeds.

We had been recommended a specialist touring bike shop by Jess’s friend Ellie, Bok Bok bikes, and so that was where we headed.

By the time we got there Jess’s health metre was flashing red so Sam had to go and find an iced coffee to replenish her, and by the time he got back he found his bike was already being taken to bits by a Thai bloke (who kept making tutting noises). Jess had already failed the first aptitude test by confessing that she didn’t know how many gears her bike had, somewhat alarming the person who had asked, and so after that we weren’t asked any more technical questions…

_MG_9916We then walked back to the hostel, and because this in Bangkok we were able to pop into Boots to pick up some suntan cream and then Tesco to get some water and snacks. We then spent the rest of the evening in very nice little indie bar which play a lot of very good music and made pretty passable mojitos. Quite a culture shock.

_MG_9934The rest of our two days in Bangkok flew by, and I won’t bore you with the details. Highlights included a couple of boat trips, buying these “Chronometers” (presumably not allowed to officially call them selves “watches” as although they do measure the passage of time, their interpretation of a second is variable and has nothing to do with more commonly held views on the matter.)

[NOTE: Sadly no photos of the “Dicso Chronometers” exist as by the time of going to press both had already fallen apart.]

We saw our biggest Buddha so far, and as we were walking back from there _MG_9895we were stopped by a police man who held us his hand and said simply “Stop, Chinese Prime Minister”. For a moment we assumed that he had made the common mistake of assuming that Sam was the Chinese Prime Minister, but after a few minutes a procession of vehicles (one of which had the Chinese flag on it) came past, and we assume he was in there.

_MG_9982We finally got our bikes back, and needless to say Bok Bok bicycle shop had done a brilliant job and they were running as good as (or in Jess’s case, slightly better than) new.

19th November – Samut Sakhon to Bangkok – 40 ish km – Bangkok by lunch time

Having positioned ourselves in a strong strategic position it was time for the final push into the city. Months of preparation and years of training could all come to naught if we didn’t time this perfectly. So we had a nice long lie in.

This was of course an important part of the strategy as it allowed to skilfully avoid rush and still make it into the city centre in time for lunch. We decided to avoid the motorway that we had spent that latter half of yesterday on, and instead take a (slightly) more minor road. Even this was not what you might call picturesque.

Bangkok, like a lot of cities has a vast urban sprawl and so when we saw this sign:

it still meant that we had many many miles of city based cycling to do. We negotiated large roundabouts, weaved our way through huge junctions, and scaled gigantic flyovers before eventually getting to the bridge over the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (the river than runs through Bangkok) that would take us into “Zone 1″ of the city.

Here, sadly, the bridge we were aiming for turned out to be one way in the wrong direction and so we got a bit lost, went over a different one, and cycled almost the whole way through the old city before working out where we were or that we had gone too far…

Fortunately where we did stop turned out to be right outside the Bangkok head quarters of the UN. The people around there were very keen to help, and before long we were engaged in a protracted debate with quite a large crowd as to where we should go and what was best way of getting there. It took quite a long time for a general consensus to be reached, and when it finally was we actually ended up ignoring its advice… oh well,

It didn’t help that we didn’t really know where we wanted to go, but the decision of the UN was that we should head to Khoa San Rd, because that is where all the other tourists go…

Khoa San Road and the surrounding area is described by the Lonely Planet as a tourist ghetto, and I hate to admit it but for once the old LP has hit the nail right on the head. We were very much in the minority by not having a backpack on, and the stairs we got only highlighted that.

Jess and her anti-dog rocks

Almost everyone there seemed to be interested in us and our bikes, one guy as he went past even missed judged the situation to such a tune as to excitedly utter the words “Look, proper cycle tourers” to his friends. On hearing such undeserved praise we stopped to have a chat, and it turned out he himself had in fact done cycle tours on a transcontinental scale, going from Calais to Pula (in Croatia). (He had even done things like “planned his trip” and “prepared”, things that Jess and Sam have only read about on blogs, and so was definitely more proper than we were. We however had home advantage and so were just able to blag it long enough.)

We then spent a while hunting around the area trying to find a hostel that wasn’t either a) ridiculously expensive, b) ridiculously full, or c) currently showing Disney films on a large screen down stairs, eventually settling on “Happy House Hotel”, which was showing The Fast and Furiouse 2.

Having achieved so much in such a short amount of time we then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening finding first a pizza restaurant and then a cinema showing Skyfall. Good film, terrible pizza.

18th November – Phetchaburi to Samut Sakhon – 86 km – Base Camp on Mount Bangkok

We had not expected the cycle into Bangkok to be particularly enjoyable, and were doing it for the challenge than because of the delightful sites and sounds we expected to encounter. Most of the cycle blogs suggest getting the train in from one of town about 100 km outside the city. Bod however had said that it was fine… so we went for it.

It’s good advice, if you’re going to cycle into one of the largest metropolises in South East Asia, to position your self strategically on the outskirts of said metropolis night before, and then be ready for a strategic guerilla style strike the following day. The town from which we indented to launch our assult was Samut Sakhon.

First though we had to get there, and that turned out be much more than half the fun.

As we’d found out the day before, all roads lead out of Phetchaburi, and so we were quickly in countryside. We passed through some lovely rural areas, past Mosques and giant unfinished Wats, over another very fine bridge and eventually stopping for an iced coffee and some snacks in a brilliant little cafe.

They clearly took pity on us here as we were given an awful lots of free dumplings, and one guy even went to his car and came back with some small monk statues encased in clear plastic, saying, “You’ll need these if your going to Cambodia!”.

After yesterdays achievement of hitting the 2000km mark we were ready for another exciting cornerstone in our trip, and todays highlight was a near bearing!

The keen observer of the map will have noticed that so far we have been heading north, with the midday sun on our backs (about the time we are normally on the road) as our guide. Well not any more, and with the joining of Road 35 our new baring was due east!!! (East-north-east to be precise…) And here is Sam taking those first tentative pedal strokes in our new direction.

It turns out cycling east isn’t very much fun, as it is almost entirely along three lane motorway… Or at least was for the 30 km or so. This wouldn’t have been too bad (except for the terrible pollution and ear rattling noise of the continual lorries) if it wasn’t for the fact that we appeared to have to share the hard shoulder with lines and lines of miniature shops, broken down vehicles and the more than occasional oncoming moped.

Well, the increased traffic and low hanging smog meant that we were able to sneak into Phetchaburi undetected and eventually find a hotel.

There is actually a video of this… but the current internet connection means that if we try and upload it here we’ll miss our flight home… watch this space…

17th November – Hua Hin to Pethchaburi – 73 ish km – Don’t give the monkeys anything to drink…

The hardened cycle tourist knows that what (the night before) was a bar street, by morning will have transformed into a likely hunting ground for fruit and muesli.  We cornered our quarry in a place called “The Jail House Bar”, which like everything else around was run by a European (in this case we think somewhere Baltic) and manned entirely by Thai woman.

(The European manager in this case was still sitting at the bar of his establishment  still enjoying a crisp bottle of Heineken at 08:15 in the morning…)

Back on the highway, and after hiding from another cheeky downpour we managed to box off some quick kilos.

Today was of special note because we passed that all important 2000 km mark! This is a highly symbolic moment for any fledgling cycle tourists, and so we stopped and performed the necessary rituals. You would have thought that at the 2000km point  from Singapore there would have been something, a small shrine perhaps, a banner maybe congratulating you for your accomplishments .. There were these concrete cylinders,  but apart from that it really was the least interesting place we have ever stopped… which was a bit of a shame.

After that we were quickly into Phetchaburi.

Towards the end of our time in Malaysia we had mastered the Malay word for town centre, and so were able to ask people. Since arriving in Thailand a cocktail of sensible urban development and shear fluke has meant that finding the town centre hadn’t been a problem. In Phetchaburi we relapsed and it again became a problem, and a chronic one. We went round and round and round trying to find a hotel. We found the worlds most shut YHA, and it was only when Jess asked the 4th person that we were able to find the town high-street, which they had managed to hide behind a building and down an alleyway.

The high street was very busy and slightly bonkers, but even there no hotels presented themselves and it was only 5th person who was able to tell us that the building over the road from where we were standing was in fact a hotel in disguise. And a bloody good disguise it was to.

It looked a bit like a form of Chinese communal housing… which in a way I suppose it was, and the room was nothing if not basic (for example the plug whole of the sink simply emptied out onto the floor of the bathroom…) but the bed was comfy enough (if located slap bang in the middle in the room..).

We arrived early enough to go for a pretty good explore of the town. Another Wat on the top of a hill, again guarded by an aggressive troop of monkeys. These ones were not so easily distracted as the last lot we had come across, and we were quickly out numbered and out smarted. They took us by such surprise that before we even understood the full danger of our new foe, one had walked calmly up to Jess, looked her in the eye with an iron clad stare, and before she knew what was happening the monkey had removed her cup of iced coffee out of her hand and was walking nonchalantly away with it.

This initial display of superiority didn’t deter us however and we started the accent up the hill. The next monkey attack was aimed at Sam, who (despite having downed his drink after seeing Jess’s disappear) was pursued at length for the empty cup. We got a little way up the hill, dodging numerous further monkey attacks, before a security guard (possibly a clever monkey disguise) informed us that the hill was shut. It was only at this point that they felt to install this sign.

It’s easy to see from Jess’s expression though that even this warning was not going to shake her resolve…

Ohh and Sam found a bike shop where he bought a horn!!

16th November – Pachuap Khiri Khan to Hua Hin – 117km – Don’t feed the monkeys

As we knew today was going to be a long ride and the monsoon meant we were likely to encounter yet more headwinds, we decided it was the time we made a concerted effort at leaving early. And we more or less managed it. After picking up some waffles and iced coffee at a nearby street stall we were on our bikes at 8am! A new record!

We decided to gain some ground on the Highway first thing which was lovely in the rain, then when we had had enough of this detoured off the main road through a National Park for some more interesting scenery (thankfully it stopped raining!), where we stopped by the sea for lunch!

According to the National Park map there was supposed to be a cave with a Pagoda in it nearby and so before we got back on our bikes for the afternoon we followed the signs and climbed the hill which would take us there. We found another lovely beach but never found the cave and neither did the Dutch people who were also there looking for it!! We did get to see a funny looking monkey though!

We also came across a group of mainly old German’s on an assisted bike tour (or as we call them “cheats”) who had come to the same beach for lunch! As luck would have it were were leaving at the same time and we got to ride with them for a bit before they headed South and us North. Unfortunately our efforts to look like pro bike tourers didn’t go quite to plan, Sam having failed to secure one of his pannier bags properly! We learn for next time.

After another 20km or so out of the National Park we were back on the now very busy Highway and into the depths of Hua Hin, a very large and sprawling coastal town which like Koh Samui seems to attract a certain type of tourist – mainly overweight, sunburnt Europeans! In need of some iced coffee we then managed to find what must be the most expensive coffee shop in Thailand – 250bht for two drinks compared to the usual 40 Bht from a street stall, but rectified this later with a delicious & cheap Noodle dinner from the nearby night market. We again found bar street, and were enticed into a wine bar that if it hadn’t been for the Thai staff would not have looked out of place on the French Riviera.

Jess then couldn’t work out whether the receptionist at the hotel who gave her the wifi password later that evening was Male or female… looked like a woman but definitely had a mans voice! No photos of that I’m afraid.

The astute observer will notice the appearance of our wayward 3rd member in this post! A price to whoever can spot him first!

15th November – Pachup Khiri Khan – (no cycling) – Indiana Jess and Caves of Doom!

The bunf from the tourist information we had fought so hard to find contained all sorts of interesting things to do in the town of Pachup Khiri Khan, and so we decided to spend a day here before starting the final push up to Bangkok.

We started the day, rather worryingly, in the same bar as we had ended the night before (although this was mostly because it was only bar on the sea front to both do wine in the evenings and muesli in the mornings,) and from here we formulated a plan of attack.

Our first stop was so obvious that you wouldn’t even have been able to miss if you were following word for the word the itinerary of The Lonely Planet.

Like every town in Thailand, Phahup Khiri Khan has a large hill, and like every town in Thailand someone has built a Buddhist temple onto of it, and since we hadn’t (and still haven’t) got bored of exploring them that was where we headed. This hill and temple also followed the general theme of being guarded by some sort of animal. In this case it was monkeys. The good news for us was that Jess wasn’t (yet) afraid of monkeys, so an assault of the hill was on the cards.

Legend has it (according to the Lonely Planet) that the troop of monkeys living at the bottom of this hill caught a bus from Bangkok in search of mangos… We didn’t have any mangos, but for ten bhat you could buy a bag of sweat corn and that seemed to keep them entertained long enough for us to sneak past.

The climb was quite long, and very hot, but the top was very special. The Wat appeared to have been completely abandoned, and while we were up there we were completely alone. The views were amazing, and we had a proper explore around the mini complex before heading down again.

We’d locked our bikes a safe distance from the bottom of the hill to make sure that when we got back we didn’t find they had been stolen by a band of monkeys. It turned out however that the monkeys weren’t interested in cycling, and were concentrating there medal hopes on the aquatics centre (and they were looking pretty strong). We were treated to seeing thirty or so monkeys practising all sorts of water based activities including diving, back stroke, breast stroke, splashing around, you name it. Eventually their training routine finished and they abandoned the pool, presumably heading to the showers to watch training videos of themselves, and this signalled our time to head on to our next point of interest.

The tourist information literature mentioned a cave 4 km north of the town which housed a giant reclining Buddha status. There weren’t what you might call signs for this, but we’d been on the look out whilst at the top of the last hill and so were pretty confident we knew where we were going.

It’s lucky we were confident, because when we got to where we thought the caves might be there was very little go by. Hunting around meant we found a flight of stairs (which went nowhere), and behind them a bigger flight of stairs. Written on the walls in blue pen near the bottom of this large flight was a message saying simply “PLEASE DO IT VIRTUE ELECTRIC COMMISSION”, when we first saw it there was also a collection box and a large mains breaker switch.

(Looking back at it now it’s not as obvious as it was then that this was a switch for the lighting for the cave, and that that was collection box to pay for the electricity, but we both still maintain that this was the case. Either way, by virtue electric commission we did it. We then headed up the hill.)

As mentioned signing was very much limited, and so the first set of very ornate steps we arrived at, covered in clam shells, we assumed were the steps to the giant Buddha cave. It turned out instead to be the stairs to a sort of hermits house on the hill, at the back of which was a cave with just enough small buddhas to make you think it was the entrance to large cave complex. It wasn’t until you really put your head deep inside and all you got for your bravery was a face full of bat droppings that you realised your mistake.

This put us on the back foot. There were other steps, but they were concrete and had a huge crack running laterally up the middle of them as if they led somewhere not very interesting that nobody bothered going to anymore. There was also this sign, suggesting that even if was interesting you probably shouldn’t go there.

This is however, as you have probably seen by the text at the top, a “Cycle Adventure” so up the steps we went, and at the top were pleasantly surprised to find another cave.

Whatever us virtueing the electrical commission had done, it had not turned the lights on in this cave, fortunately true adventures never leave home without their head torches and so unperturbed deeper we plunged. And as we went round a corner where the roof had fallen in, what should be rewarded with but this!:

No, not Sam’s mullet! The giant gold feet!

It was truly bizarre, and felt like finding an ancient relic that no one had seen in thousands of years. Sam has to confess that he would have been satisfied with just the one giant gold Buddha if it hadn’t been for Jess heading deeper into the cave and finding yet another, this one accompanied by 12 smaller (although still larger than a man) seated ones.

It was really eery, and when Jess went round the next corner the beam of her head torch reflected off the eyes of something sitting at the back of the cave and her courage (already over worked) decided to have the rest of the day off. With this we decided that 14 giant Buddhas was probably enough for one outing and so headed back out of the cave and back to town.

And then we had lunch… the rest of the day was a bit boring… Oooh, except this green snot stuff that we got as pudding from a night market.