Around the world by bike
(521km - 43days)
8 April – Bangkok
Janice packed up and took a taxi to the airport. It was a boiling hot day in Bangkok with the result I did very little in the line of activities. I handed in my laundry at the lady down the alley, where she operates a few machines under a makeshift shelter. The entire alley is piled with laundry bags except for a tiny space where she, seemingly, sleeps all day and night. That evening I returned to collect my laundry and on my arrival, she hauled out my bag amongst the hundreds of bags! Although she gave me a piece of paper with the amount and time I can collect it, there was no name or number on the paper. On collecting my laundry, she also did not ask for the paper, and you can understand my slack-jawed surprise as she handed me my laundry.
The following day I looked for cheaper accommodation and, once again found a room at Sleep Inn. It’s cheap, very cheap, and so is the quality of the rooms. I did not complain as it had a fan, air-con and a window plus “bathroom inside”, LOL.
I was hanging out in Bangkok, waiting for the jockey wheel to arrive and it was nice to do absolutely nothing for a change. I went for a run in the morning but my runs are not pleasant affairs lately. I’m struggling with the running, not enjoying it as much as I always do. It could be the heat or just the fact that I’m not doing it often enough. This morning my hamstrings were so tight they were painful, so I stopped in a park and joined others in doing stretches. LOL, I wonder what they thought. It felt a lot better after that, and after I warmed up a bit I did not feel the hamstring anymore.
Later I took a walk to Chinatown, stopping for a coffee and croissant along the way. I walked through the fish market with all it weird stuff and visited the flower market where it was cool and smelt divine, especially after the fish market. The vegetable market was equally interesting as there is always inevitably something I have never seen before.
“New Market” in Chinatown (which is not so new anymore as it has about two decades under its belt) is a remarkable place as it sells EVERY thing. It was another blistering hot day so I headed back by river taxi to my humble abode. At least I had air-con!!
That evening I had a massage to see if I could solve the hamstring problem and although it felt miles better afterwards, by bedtime it was back to its normal tight and painful state.
Most evenings I find a café where I have both a beer and something to eat cheaply. If they have Wi-Fi (that’s working) it’s an added bonus and I spend a good hour or three doing my photos and updates. I, however, don’t have the patience to sit for such a long time and normally leave before I’ve done all I should have.
In the day, I walk the streets of Bangkok, always finding interesting snippets along the way. One being the Holy Rosary Church built by the Portuguese in 1786 with a grant from King Rama 1, just four years after Bangkok was established as the capital. The church was built due to a rift in the Santa Cruz Church in Thonburi - not even the church seems to be immune to inhouse fighting.
Songkran was in full swing. Songkran is the Thai New Year's festival. The Thai New Year's Day is 13 April every year, but the holiday period includes 14–15 April as well. The word "Songkran", I understand, comes from the Sanskrit word "sakrānti", literally "astrological passage", meaning transformation or change. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart and is celebrated in Thailand, Lao, Myanmar, and Cambodia.
It was a busy day for most, as most Thais will go to the temple and bath Buddha statues. The temples were packed with devotees pouring fragrant water over rows of Buddha statues, making wishes, and getting blessed by the monks. Most shops were closed, as New Year celebrations, or “Rot Nam Dam", are traditionally celebrated with family members. Most people will go back to their home towns to spend the day there.
Songkran is also a water festival, and every man and his dog had a water gun. There was no escaping it, as large water containers were strategically placed along the streets for this very purpose. The streets were jam-packed with both Thais and foreigners, shooting or throwing water, and there was not a dry corner in all of Bangkok.
14 – 28 April – Bangkok Songkran Festival
There was a full-scale war out there! Each and every one was armed to the teeth with plastic water guns, and there was no escaping it. Both adults and kids were having the time of their lives. You give a water gun to a grown up, and they instantly become kids, and you give a child a water gun and carte blanche to shoot at anything moving – there is no bigger joy! The best part of Songkran is that people are out in the streets, laughing and having fun, and not sitting with their phones like zombies.
I took a walk to the amulet market where trade is based around tiny talismans. The amulets are mostly purchased by monks, taxi drivers and anyone who needs good luck. Some are really minute, only a centimetre or two tall. Stall owners also claim that some are antiques. I’m not so sure of that, as each and every purchaser peers through magnifying glasses, inspecting the pieces they’re interested in. There was also some weird voodoo-like looking figurines…I wonder what that’s all about.
My search of a good spot for night photography did not pan out and eventually I returned to the Geko Bar, which has become my usual nightly hangout. I hooked up with Silvia (from Germany) and Patrick (from India, who lived mostly in England but now in Spain). The Gecko Bar has become our unofficial meeting point, either for breakfast or for a beer in the evening. During the course of the evening, we also met Jeff, an English chap, teaching in Myanmar. I love Bangkok.
The days passed quickly and shortly after Songkran I received a message from Bok-Bok Bike that my jockey wheel had arrived. While they worked on the bike I scanned the internet for a cheap condo to buy. There was not much available at the price I wanted to pay but eventually I found one and contacted the agent. The next day I was on the bus to Jontien Beach to meet Benn, the agent from Immobilien Pattaya.
I like the little rabbit hole they showed me, as it was close to the beach (one kilometre) and had a lovely pool. It was also an older building and a fairly low rise building as it was only five storeys. It was, however, the price that mostly drew me to this particular unit. I paid a deposit to secure the unit and was holding thumbs that all would work out for the best. There was nothing more I could do, so I headed back to Bangkok.
It was time to leave the Big Mango and head south. A task that always sounds easier said than done. I followed the highway along a service road and soon I was back amongst dubious-looking food stalls and interesting roadside shrines. April is a hot and dry month in Thailand but no sooner was I on the road and the heavens opened.
A blessing in disguise, really. A golf driving range made the perfect shelter, and together with a few motorbikes we waited out the storm. It lasted surprising long but eventually we were on our way again. I turned down for Chonburi and then headed down the coast to Bang Saen Beach. What a lovely beach it turned out to be as well.
29 April Bang - Saen Beach – Jomtien Beach - 56 km
What a lovely ride it turned out to be. I ambled along the coast to Pattaya where I first popped into the Immobilien office. I discussed a few things with Benn and realized it was still going to take a long time before all will be in place (if the deal ever comes off, that is). Buying property in Thailand is a bit of a legal mine field and I’m very much at the mercy of the Immoblilien company. This is not a feeling I’m used to so I was rather uncomfortable, to say the least.
I found myself a bed at Beachspot Hostel for 180 baht. There were only two beds in the dorm and no one but me there. Not a bad price for a bed with a door to a balcony overlooking the beach. It was, however, only a fan room and rather like a sauna but I could not complain at the price.
At around sunset I took a walk to the night market, got myself a beer from 7-11 and sat on the beach, enjoying the sunset.
30 April - Jomtien Beach
I went for a little jog along the beach and what a lovely beach front it is. The beach stretches for miles and my sore foot seems to be of no trouble to me when I run (how strange). Afterwards, I took a dip in the ocean and found the water so warm that it did not even cool me down. I was not complaining and waddled in the lukewarm water for a while before heading back to my room for a cold shower (which was also not all that cold, LOL).
I found a coin-operated laundry just down the road and spent the morning running errands and doing laundry. I was becoming like the Thais, out in the morning and then retreating to the relative cool of my room for the rest of the day, only to surface at around sunset again.
1 – 6 May - Jomtien Beach
I have been hanging around Jomtien Beach for a while now, and I’m keen to get back on the bike. Although I took a jog every morning, I wanted to move on. The reason for my inactivity is that I bought myself a small apartment and needed to get all the paperwork done. The little apartment is no bigger than my tent but comes with a bathroom, air-con, and a balcony!
The reasons for doing so are multiple as I needed to spend the few bob I had laying in my bank account on something more permanent (I was spending it far too fast). I wanted the most inexpensive place available as then I did not have to worry about the fact that it was not bringing in income. It will also give me somewhere to stay (for virtually free) forever (if I so wish). Thailand also makes a nice central and inexpensive base and is still one of the few places in the world where foreigners can buy cheap property (not land).
With the help of Benn from Immobilien Pattaya, I found just such a place. Benn was very efficient and helpful and got the paperwork done super-fast. Buying property in Thailand can be a legal nightmare for foreigners as all paperwork is in Thai! I was very much at the mercy of Immoblien Pattaya and could only hope that they were a reliable company. The boring part is that the flat is currently tenanted (something I should be thankful for), so there will be no playing house-house in my new apartment. Immoblien also helped me in opening a bank account in Thailand, which will make for convenient depositing of the monthly rent. The only problem is that I can only pick up the password for the internet banking from the bank in two weeks' time. The funniest thing by far is that I paid for it with my bank card! Now there is a first for you! I have never bought a property with my bank card, hahaha!
If anyone is thinking of buying a property in this part of the world, I recommend Benn Boniecki from Immobilien Pattaya. He is super-fast and super-professional. I am now the proud owner of a property in Thailand and, in one fell swoop, I went from traveller to expat! Hahaha!
7 May - Jomtien Beach
The days passed slowly as I waited to sign the relevant documents at the land office. I took the ferry to Koh Larn island together with Emmy and Katae from the Immobilien Office. It was a lovely day on the beach, and on my return, I had a bowl of mushroom soup from the local food vendor and just sat on the beach, watching the sun go down.
8 May - Jontiem Beach
A day of relaxing on the beach must have done me good as I was up at 5h30 and pounding the pavements of Jomtien Beach by 6h00. I even took three minutes off my usual time, hahaha. Still, it was no faster than a crawl, but I’m happy that I’m able to run 10 kilometres. A swim in the ocean afterwards and coffee on the beach makes for a perfect start to any day.
9 May - Jomtien Beach
It’s quite amazing how much we experience in a day and how many interesting things we see, if only we had time to reflect at the end of the day. This morning, while running along the beachfront, I not only saw fishing boats come back after a night out at sea but also ladies selling the catch of the night. Food vendors, in turn, sold noodle soup to the fishermen. I stepped carefully over troubled soles laying passed out on the pavement, empty bottles beside them. I run past sad-looking ladyboys walking home, shoulders hunched and high heels in hand, while dragging heavily on a cigarette and I saw monks begging for food on the beach.
I watched Thailand playing Afghanistan in the Asian Beach Handball Championships, I signed papers at the Land Office for the unit I purchased to be transferred into my name, I ate very spicy noodle soup and did laundry in the wastepaper basket. Phew, and that’s, most likely, only a small part of it.
10 – 11 May - Jomtien and around
I think I now know why caffeine is illegal in sport. This morning I went for a lovely ride off the beaten track out towards the hills and then past the airport and the turtle conservation centre before returning home. It was easy cycling and not far, about 80 kilometres or so. I got back around 3h30 and thought it a good time for coffee and cake.
While sitting there, a saw a jogger going past and it looked so good that I decided to go for a run. I headed back to my room, donned my running shoes and headed out the door. I had such a good run that I even went slightly further and ran 11 kilometres instead of my usual 10 kilometres!! OK, I know, it was not much further and quite slow, but still, I felt remarkably energetic. Maybe I should have coffee and cake more often, LOL. It works!!
12 – 15 May - Jomtien and around
I was so inspired with my running of the previous day that I tried it again (this time without the coffee, LOL). I did another 11 kilometres in the morning and then went exploring by bicycle. It turned out to be quite an interesting day. It was overcast, and it rained on and off, but it made for a good cycling day.
Most of the things I wanted to explore turned out rather fake, like the cultural village and the floating market. I did, however, come across a most unusual, let's call it a park, for lack of a better word. It was a large area with a beautiful lake, fountains and manicured gardens and plenty of temples, wats and stupas. I then headed to the “Big Buddha Mountain” which turned out to be a Big Buddha with a difference, as it was not a statue but an image carved into the side of a mountain, known as the Khao Chi Chan Buddha. It is an image of Buddha sitting cross-legged, with one hand resting on his knee and the other in his lap. The image is 109-metre-tall and 70-metre-wide. I understand that the image was designed using computer software and drawn onto the side of Khao Chi Chan using a laser. Apparently, this was done entirely at night. During the day, the image was fixed and adjusted, and when completed, gold was used to fill in the sculpture.
Again, is started bucketing down and I headed back to Jomtien for a large plate of green curry.
The following morning, I woke up with a stiff neck/shoulder; I think I’m getting to the stage where I need a carer. Anyone who wants to volunteer (with bicycle and panniers) can inbox me. I must have pulled a muscle even though I did not even swing from any chandeliers the night before! I, therefore, did not go for my morning jog (shocking stuff!) but did manage to go for a walk. What I like about Jomtien Beach is that fishing boats still come ashore here, and in the early morning, one can buy seafood directly from the fishermen.
I love wandering among the boats and fishermen as no boat in this part of the world would ever dream of going out without its prow being adorned with colourful ribbons, sashes, and/or garlands of flowers. I read that there are many spirits and deities watching over the boats and fishermen, and the prows of Thai boats are decorated to pay respect to “Mae Yanang,” a female spirit that resides in the body of the boat; it is also said that Mae Yanang is the goddess of travel. Maybe I should start adorning the bicycle with some of these coloured ribbons. My neck got somewhat better during the day, but still, by evening, I could hardly lift my beer. It’s a real pain in the neck!
16 May - Jomtien
I was getting impatient and cycled to the bank to enquire about the password, just to be told that there was one more form for me to sign. Why did they not email or phone me? In any event, I was not going to wait another week so I cycled to the property agent’s office, paid the transfer fee and gave them a copy of my bank account to arrange for the rental to be paid into my bank account.
With all that in place I was ready to finally leave Jomtien. I cycled back to my room, did my last bit of laundry and packed up all my things, that were by now all over the place.
17 May - Jontiem – Rayong – 80 km
A storm came in during the night and, once outside, it looked like a mini typhoon hit Jomtien. Pot plants, banners and branches were strewn across the road. I was not put off by this, as I was dead-set on leaving Jomtien. Under heavy skies I cycled out of Jomtien and did exactly five kilometres before I was forced to take shelter. Sometimes I’m just not the sharpest knife in the drawer!!
Nevertheless, I was happy to be back on the road and amongst simple roadside stalls and the odd chasing dog (I never thought I would say that!). The weather looked threatening all the way and by the time I reached Rayong, I found that I have cycled myself right into the mouth of the storm! The wind, by then, was storm-strength and I was clawing onto the handlebars with all my strength, dodging flying corrugated iron sheets, plastic tables and chairs, all being blown sky high. It was getting downright dangerous and I gave up looking for a camping spot. Even the fishing boats where pulled high up onto the shore to escape, what looked like, a very stormy ocean. I headed into town and found the Mee Dee Hotel where I was lucky to find a room at 350 Thai baht. Phew, it was not what I planned to do but at least I was out of the weather for now.
18 May - Ranong – Kung Wiman Beach – 101 km
The weather looked marginally better so I continued hoping that it would stay like that. Everywhere people were fanatically busy cleaning the debris from the previous night. Branches, trees and mostly trash coughed up by the ocean littered the road.
It turned out a lovely day, terribly humid but with a good cloud cover and no rain. I found myself on a scenic route with bicycle land and all! It is a beautiful coastline and it was a pleasure ambling along. I was mostly scouting the area for campsites in case someone wants to cycle this route. Just about the entire coast is good for camping as one can camp on the beach just about anywhere. I was enjoying the ride and it was good to be back on the road and amongst the, by now, familiar chicken barbeque and durian stalls. I passed a shop making durian crisps and even tasted some, not too bad at all! As always, there were a few weird things including mud sculptures.
Towards the end of the day I found Kung Wiman Beach which also had a very convenient Wat/temple. I asked the monks if I could camp there and (as always) it was no problem. It was a good site, under cover with nearby toilets and showers, a light as well as an electrical point. The only problem was that it was terribly hot and humid and the tent instantly turned into a sauna. I had, however, no choice but to crawl in as the mosquitos were large and plentiful.
19 May - Kung Wiman Beach – Trat – 98 km
I was up early as it was by far too hot to sleep in. I thanked the monks and once again found the scenic route. It rained and it rained!
Along the way, a lady on a scooter stopped and handed me a raincoat. How sweet of her. I did have one but it is normally too hot to wear. I did, however, don the raincoat she gave me as I could never refuse such kindness. I, as always, passed a whole host of interesting things. I stopped at some mud sculptures that were truly amazing, even although it looked like they have been done a while ago. By the time I reached Trak, I was sopping wet and happy to find Pop Guesthouse, a lovely set-up with a nice vibe and at a very reasonable price.
20 May - Trat, Thailand – Koh Kong, Cambodia - 106 km
I was a bit on the slow side leaving as it kept bucketing down. As soon as I had a chance, I was out of Trak and headed for the Thailand/Cambodian border. Again, it drizzled the entire day, which was not bad at all as it was not cold.
The section of road between Trak and the border is particularly scenic, with the mountains on the one side and the coast on the other - it makes for interesting riding. I hardly ever stopped, though, as it was just too wet to do anything but cycle. Once I reached the border, it was the usual money change, visa stuff, etc. All went smoothly, and soon I was on my way into Cambodia and on to Koh Kong, the first town one gets to just on the other side of the Koh Poi River.
In Koh Kong, I found a room for $6 and, as can be expected, it had the quality of a $6 room. I had a quick shower, dressed in something dry for a change and set off looking for a Cambodian SIM card for my phone and food. Both sounding much easier in writing than what it turned out in a country where not much English is spoken. Fortunately, there is normally pictures at the restaurants, and one can point to whatever takes your fancy, as I was hungry and in no mood to flap my arms and cackle like a chicken or snort like a pig.