Another excuse to buy more bikes!
Touchdown in Thailand and the next morning we were already trekking around Bangkok in the search for bike shops. Knowing that we could well be spending a lot of money on new bikes and gadgets, we decided to save some pennies and walk, refusing the offer of travel by tuk-tuk drivers (even though tuk-tuks are extremely cheap, even free if you go suit shopping). However, given the distances we walked, the 35°C heat, and the fact we were only wearing flip-flops – this was a mistake. The first mistake we made regarding distances…
After many discussions over pad Thai, iced coffee and Chang, we finally decided to get custom-built bikes from Bok Bok Bikes: a pair of Surly Long Haul Truckers that were made for touring across all sorts of terrain.
When the order went in, we couldn’t wait to get them and start our journey. This wait seemed far too long, as we now just wanted to get out of the city and start cycling towards the coast, where we were due to meet Lindsay’s brother, Ed.
Three days later, we were able to pick up our brand new toys, and after a few minor adjustments, rode them excitedly back to our guesthouse. We attempted hiding them in our rooms (failed), downloaded maps.me, and spent the evening packing our Ortilib panniers ready for our quick getaway early the next morning.
Day 1 – Bangkok – Ban Laem
We woke early at 5am and pedalled our way through and out of Bangkok. We realised how heavy the bikes were when we had to lift them up a curb. Cycling round and round, we did many laps of roundabouts, and circled our way in a beeline out of the city…onto Highway 35: a Thai motorway.
The romantic and peaceful thoughts about cycle touring weren’t becoming a reality just yet.
That said, bicycles seem to be well accommodated along the highway, and we were given plenty of room. The flat, smooth surface made for perfect cycling conditions, and we got many smiles, waves and toots from the locals. 80km later, we were finally able to get off the motorway and onto a side road, down through the coastal salt fields towards Ban Laem. The heat and the incredibly heavy bikes were starting to take their toll. At last, 112km after starting our day, we found a small guesthouse just outside of Ban Laem; with a cold shower and AC, we felt like we were in heaven. We just had to cycle 2 more kilometres to find some food.
Day 2 – Ban Laem – Hua Hin
On day 2, after the heat and distance of day 1, we vowed we would take it a bit easier. So only 83km today. The day started well, we had good pace and felt fresh. We were gliding through past the salt fields with the sea in the distance, and no cities or motorways in sight! We took our first stop at a beautiful little beach at Hat Chao Samran.
We stopped for a couple of photos, but before we could even get our camera out, we were approached by a Thai family from Chang Mai who were there on holiday. They wanted a few photos with us, then they gave us a few sachets of coffee. In very little English, the man gestured that he too was a cyclist so he knew just how important coffee was. He invited us to stay with him when we were in Chang Mai. We said our thank yous and goodbyes. A few minutes later, he returned. With more coffee. His wife then took a few more photos of us posing with the sachets, then we said our thank yous and goodbyes again. We turned around, marvelled at the beautiful beach and sea, and suddenly there he was again, coming towards us, with yet more coffee. This happened a few more times. We now have a good stock of coffee.
Eventually, after some ice cream, we went on our merry way.
The road took us all along the coast, before we had to get onto the highway to get to Hua Hin. The journey started to feel a little arduous again. The middle of the day in the heat of the sun is not the best time to be clocking up the miles, especially being blasted by the fumes of the lorries. However, a quick stop for some fresh fruit (identity unknown, perhaps a pear-melon?) made us feel a lot better before our final push to Hua Hin. By the end of the day, we both felt tired, hot and dehydrated. Again, we vowed not to push on too much in this heat.
Day 3 – Hua Hin – Khiri Khan
We started the day with the intention of a shorter distance and a more gentle ride. With a destination in mind, we soon scrapped that, forgot about the difficulties of the heat and distances on the previous 2 days, and started heading to a new destination: 100km away. All on a busy highway. Not sure we’re learning. But we’re loving it anyway!
Back in the UK we are used to churning out big miles. We both completed an Ironman distance triathlon so most of our weekends were spent riding over 100 miles and 20-mile runs as training. These rides, however, were on sleek, fast carbon race bikes. Now we were crunching the gears of heavy, robust, steel, all-terrain touring bikes, loaded with 20kg of gear! Today the heat got a bit too much for Lindsay (the past 2 days it was me that suffered more), so we managed to hitchhike the last 15km to Khiri Khan. Within seconds I had flagged down a driver of a pick-up truck, and after some gesturing the man helped me lift the bikes in to the back of the truck, we then hopped in with the bikes and we swiftly got on our way to our destination. He drove us to the beach front, where we then managed to find a beautiful little beach house (Milano), with a wonderfully cold shower, and where we collapsed for the night.
Perhaps a shorter day tomorrow?
Day 4 – Khiri Khan to Ban Krut
Having finished yesterday in a bit of a mess and hitchhiking to our destination, Lindsay wasn’t so keen to cycle today. That feeling quickly passed and she of course couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. Today would be shorter though to avoid the heat and suffering. We woke early so that we could get started and get as much done as possible before the heat kicked in. We also knew that today would mostly be on the highway so we wanted to get it done and out the way. Owing to the past few days we made sure to have a few more food and water stops. The temperature felt cooler today and we weren’t so affected by the heat, the sky started to cloud over which brought about some shaded moments from the sun and we felt quite good. Just as we were searching for a 7-Eleven stop to refuel with some cans of ice coffee, we felt a few raindrops. The sky suddenly turned darker, and there were some rolls of thunder.
Just in time, the 7-Eleven appeared. We cycled up, parked our bikes under shelter, and before we could even get into the store, the rain started. Not normal boring UK rain though. This was our first monsoon. Even under shelter we were getting wet. Luckily as this was our easy day we didn’t mind stopping for a bit longer. As the rain poured down, we even felt a little cold, so Lindsay donned the poncho! After 30 minutes or so, we decided the worst had passed and got on our way. It didn’t take long for us to be soaked through. Luckily it didn’t last long and before we knew it, after a meagre 71.2km we were cruising in to the gorgeous little beach town of Ban Krut with the sun warming us up again, and where I could finally swing in a hammock next to the sea.
Day 5 – Ban Krut to Pathio
We started the day cycling down next to the coast along the Royal Coast Road, which looked stunning. There were a few storm clouds out to sea on the horizon but nothing to worry about, we thought. As we gently rolled along past white sandy beaches and through rubber tree forests, we admired the views and thought we would take it easy today, and with the slightly cooler temperature we were flying along.
Soon, rather than the heat slow us down, we got to our first hills. Usually I’m a big fan of cycling up hills, whether on a mountain bike or a road bike, I love hills. Hills are what get the legs burning, downhill on a mountain bike feels like a better reward after cycling up the mountain, and KOM’s are always a thought (people with Strava will know how important these are). Not with a touring bike and an extra 20kgs of gear strapped to the bike. Now even a small hill feels like a struggle. Still wanting the pain, torture and workout of the hill, I uselessly race up as fast as I can. Disappointingly nowhere near gaining any KOM’s.
Happily cycling along we again noticed thunder in the distance, grey cloud looming over us, and a few drops of rain start to fall. With the knowledge of yesterday we estimated that we had 3 minutes to get some shelter after we felt those first few rain drops. Being in the middle of nowhere we darted into the shelter of the first house we saw. The lady who owned it beckoned us in, and just as she kindly offered us some bananas, it felt like all the water in the clouds just dropped at once, but then didn’t stop for another 30 minutes. Luckily we had shelter and free bananas though!
Soon we were on our way again, and we bumped into our first fellow cycle tourist. We carried on cycling, chatting to our fellow cyclist and due to the cooler weather we decided to cycle past our planned stop and carry on to Pathio. There’s not a lot in Pathio. A 7-Eleven was just outside our hotel, so a lunch of local green curry pot noodle and spicy crisps it was. We relaxed in the hotel, then when we went out for dinner, cycled into town. There isn’t much there either. Back to 7-Eleven and this time it was a dinner of local green curry pot noodle and spicy crisps. It can be healthy stuff this cycling.
Day 6 – Pathio to Chumphon
Finally today would be a genuinely short day. A quick ride to Chumphon, then the train to Surat Thani where we could cycle to Krabi in time to meet Lindsay’s brother, Ed. We arrived at the train station and were told we could not take our bikes on the train we wanted to catch. We would have to wait until around 9pm when we could get a train with a cargo compartment for our bikes that would get us into Surat Thani at midnight. Not sure on what to do, we went to a coffee shop and got food and iced coffees and tried to contact Ed to see what his plans were. We then cycled to the nearest highway to see if we could try our luck and hitchhike to Surat Thani. Sadly, this didn’t work as well as the last time we hitchhiked. So back to the coffee shop. Luckily we got in contact with Ed and it turned out that he had changed his plans and was only going to Krabi for a few nights, then to the East coast where we were. We felt an instant relief and now could cycle the rest of the way to Surat Thani and wouldn’t have to cheat by catching a train. We also bumped into another few cycle tourists, including an English couple who had been on the road for over a year, and we were the very first English couple that they had bumped into during that time!
Day 7 – Chumphon to Lamae
Having changed our plans the evening before, we were now not going to Surat Thani by train. We were now meeting Ed at the party island of Koh Phangan, for a relaxing few days off. We said our goodbyes to the other cycle tourers, and set off down south. Along the highway it tends to be a fairly uneventful time, however the dogs seemed to be quite aggressive on this stretch! Cycling in 35°C+ degree heat, and hauling around 20kg of gear is not the time you feel like increasing the training by adding in a few interval sessions. We have had our time training on the turbo, and this part of our cycling lives should not feature intervals. Aggressive dogs don’t care about this though. They chase you with their fierce rabid grin, looking like they could quite happily feast on your ankles. There’s nothing for it but to try and out pace them, legs burning and lungs gasping, there is still quite a good feeling about the short interval hit – a mixture of not being chewed and the addictive pain of muscles on fire.
Day 8 – Lamae to Surat Thani
Today we set off with Surat Thani in our sights, knowing that the next few days could be spent relaxing on a nice sunny Thai beach. Sadly, we were still on the East coast and it was still monsoon season; the weather stayed relatively good for us today though. The road we took was all off the highway and meandered through beautiful, palm-fringed countryside.
We sailed into Surat Thani and found the guesthouse we aimed for (Hip Box 26), booked onto a ferry to the islands the next day, and relaxed knowing our legs would now get a rest – but still a little bit sad knowing we won’t be waking up to our beloved new transport and carrying on with our cycle adventure.
Posted by Will