Janice's tour: Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok
(2 424km - 60days)
(662km - 20days)
7 February Dumai, Indonesia – Port Dickson, Malaysia by boat
After a good Indonesian breakfast, I loaded the bicycle and cycled the few 100 metres to the ferry ticket office. I was far too early but cycled to the harbour anyway, checked in and waited for the Port Dickson ferry, which departed at 11h00. The weather came in, and it was a rough ride over the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia. The ferry rocked and rolled and could have been called the “pitch and puke” as seasick bags were in high demand.
We arrived in Malaysia at 15h00 but the hour time difference made it 16h00. The weather was rather stormy making for poor light as I headed out of town in the direction of Kuala Lumpur. I did not get very far, and once I spotted the Grandpa Hotel (here I have stayed before), I weakened at the thought of a nice dry and comfortable room. I was not going to make Peter’s place, so it made little difference whether I stayed here or further down the road. I took a walk to the Giant shopping mall, just across the road and was like a kid in a candy store! I did not buy anything, just looked at all the luxury items for sale.
8 February – Port Dickson – Puchong – 81 km
My room rate included breakfast which consisted of fried rice with a fried egg and tea. It rained heavily during the night, and I was rather pleased to see that the rain had abated and although overcast it did not look much like rain. I hopped on the bike and cycled to the relatively short distance to Peter’s place in Puchong.
It was a pleasant ride on good roads (no potholes) through oil palm plantations and past the well-known Malaysian Grand Prix circuit. I passed fruit stalls and one of the largest solar farms I seen to date, well done Malaysia! I managed to get myself on the toll road and on two occasions sneaked past the toll booth without being spotted, making for a quick and easy ride.
Once at Peter’s place it felt like I was home and quickly settled in and it was so nice to see the Yoong family again. I was also just in time to join Peter to pick Janice up from the airport. Our planned cycle trip was becoming a reality, and after supper Janice spent the evening sorting out her panniers for our upcoming trip.
We turned in early as we planned on waking up at 2 a.m. in order to head up to the iconic Batu cave, Hindu temple and shire for the Thaipusam festival.
9 February Puchong – Batu Cave
We were immensely lucky to be in Malaysia during the 3-day Thaipusam festival and to be taken there by Peter. The festival is celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February).
It is a bizarre and colourful event as thousands of devotees start their procession to the cave in the early hours of the morning, carrying milk pots as offerings and piercing their bodies with spikes. On arrival, most will have their heads shaven and others will walk in a trance-like state with bodies pierced by spikes and hooks, accompanied by frantic drumming up the stairs to the temple. The place was packed and one could hardly move as hundreds of devotees made their way up the 272 stairs. What a fantastic experience it was.
10 February - Puchong
Off I went for my little run. I felt so much better as I have not run in a month and it was seriously good to be out on the road. Back at Peter’s place he was already waiting so we could go to the market after which we had a huge breakfast spread like only the Chinese can do. On our way back home, we stopped off at the local Indian temple dedicated to the snake goddess Nagaswari Amman. It is a temple like no other and is by far the most impressive and beautiful temple I have been to.
In the evening, Peter, Alice, Janice and myself went off to cycle around the lake in Putrajaya, something that is always immensely enjoyable and absolutely beautiful. Before returning home we once again stopped off for dinner. It was time to get back on the road soon or it felt that I was going to roll out of here.
Janice and I were getting our things ready to leave the following day. We tested the bicycles by cycling to Tesco and got a few things we needed for the road. It was also the last day of the Chinese New Year (a week-long festival), and Peter arranged for a Hot Pot at his house. He invited the most fascinating and interesting people including two cyclists from South Korea, Lina and Siew, and their warm showers host, Rose, and two British on motorbikes, Maggie, Alice's cousin, Ginger, and her mother, my dear friend, Saras, whom I met a year ago, while cycling in Malaysia. What a great night, and so much food!!!
12 February - Puchong - The Kabins - 50 km
The time had come for my new cycling partner, Janice, and I to start our little adventure to Bangkok. Peter was kind enough to cycle with us to The Kabins and show us the back roads, and it was a pleasant ride; mostly along smaller roads past the remanence of the Chinese New Year festival. Janice did extremely well on the first day, and we reached The Kabins early.
Our reason for staying at The Kabins was mostly to have a luxury night on our first day and to experience container living. The Kabins consist of containers stuck on top of one another around a lovely swimming pool. The rooms are luxurious and fitted with everything one can need for a night, including a fridge, a kettle, coffee, tea, plenty of plugs, and air conditioning. It was boiling hot, and we wasted no time in jumping in the pool. There is nothing quite like having a large swimming pool all to yourself on a hot day. We spent the rest of the evening shooting the breeze on our little veranda.
13 February The Kabins – Kuala Selangor – 25 km
We left our fancy accommodations at a leisurely pace and ambled along the coast on what looked like a road. The road petered out from time to time, requiring us to push the bikes on occasion. It was, however, a lovely back road through oil palm plantations with just the monkeys and the odd motorbike to keep us company. So much happens on any given day when cycle touring that at times, one forgets all the things you saw along the way. Good thing I have a camera.
We passed two weddings, and what a beautiful sight. The wedding outfits were exquisite, and I believe they don’t only have one but change into different costumes two or three times. We passed creeks where fishing boats were lined up waiting to go to sea and temples where joss sticks were burning slowly, sending their heavenly smell to the spirits.
We reached Kuala Selangor early and booked into the Melawati Hotel, after which we took a walk up the historic hill of Bukit Malawati with its monkeys, cannons, and other interesting things. Bukit Malawati was the administrative centre and stronghold of the Selangor Sultanate in the late 18th and early 19th century. A heavily fortified fort, built from 1782 to 1826, once stood on the summit of the hill, with the purpose of helping residents defend themselves against the Dutch. The fort fell to the Dutch in 1784, but what makes this fort so historic is that it was the first time a fort was recaptured by a local sultan from a foreign power.
I did not feel well and went back to the room to rest while Janice cycled to the nearby nature park. Later we grabbed a bite to eat at the local restaurant and ran into the Korean couple we met at Peter’s place. We invited them to join us on a trip to see the fireflies. It was a lovely evening, and we were amazed at the thousands of fireflies. I don't think anyone expected that there would be so many of them.
14 February - Kuala Selangor – Sungai Besar – 60 km
We continued on our country coastal road of the previous day, past heaps of oil palm fruits and iguanas lazing in the sun. We passed small fishing villages where fishing boats lay 4-deep waiting for the tide to come in.
The day turned out a frustrating one as Janice had a puncture, which was no problem at all, but it was not your normal flat tyre as the hole was on the inside of the tube, meaning on the rim side. This type of puncture could only be caused by the rough edges spoke holes or spokes working their way through the rim into the tube. We tried to file the edges of the holes down, taped them up, fixed the tube and were on our way again. It all lasted about 200 meters before the tyre went flat again. Again, we went through the same process and this time it lasted.
We continued to Pantai Redang where we stopped at the wishing tree for a photo or two. One is supposed to buy ribbons from the nearby temple and throw them into the tree while making a wish. I don’t know if it was our lack of following suit but shortly after leaving Janice had a flat tyre again. We, yet again, went through the same process but this time none of our patches wanted to stick. We tried 4 or 5 times until our patches ran out. There was not much we could do but grab the wheel and on the back of a motorbike head for the nearest motorbike repair shop. Fortunately, they had a new bicycle tube and in no time at all we were on our way again. This time the tube held all the way to Sungai Besar where we met a very friendly Malay man who is an avid cyclist. He showed us to a local hotel and bought us a meal and a drink. He was also kind enough to drive us around to the local bike shops looking for rim-tape, patches and new glue as we suspected our glue to be on the old side.
15 February - Sungai Besar – Melintang Hotel - 50 km
Raja was waiting for us outside the hotel as he wanted to join us to make a video. It was about 9h00 by the time we left, and we followed back roads, as has become the norm. We had loads of fun along the way while Raja was trying to make a video of our cycling. Along the way, we stopped for a coconut shake and met Wim and Monique from the Netherlands going in the opposite direction. They have been cycling in Southeast Asia for the past 17 years. Each year, they come to cycle for two months, after which they return home again. Raja left us and followed them back to Sungai Besar.
Janice and I continued through coconut palm plantations, often stopping to inspect what we found interesting, one thing being the kapok tree with its fluffy seed pods, mostly used as stuffing for mattresses, pillows, and soft toys. I also believe that, in the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago, the story goes that a carpenter carved seven rooms in a kapok tree, after which he tricked the devil (or demon of death by the name of Bazil) to enter and then locked him in the tree. People believe that he still lives in the tree.
Our small road soon came to an end, and, fortunately, there was a ferry to give us a lift across the river. Up the road from the river crossing, we found a conventionally located hotel, which left us with 70 kilometres to Lumut the following morning, making for a perfect overnight stop.
16 February — Melintang Hotel — Pangkor Island — 74 km
We followed the main road as I did not want to go meandering too much, seeing that it was going to be Janice's longest day cycling since leaving Kuala Lumpur. I expected it to be a rather dull day, but, as always, it turned out to be yet another lovely ride. The weather was hot but perfect.
We crossed a multitude of rivers, from small streams to large and wide ones that could accommodate large ships slowly putting upstream. We passed Chinese temples and Hindu shrines, and we nibbled on snacks from food stalls along the road. Most fascinating was a bird seller who showed us a pigeon with curly feathers—how very odd.
Just before Lumut, we popped into a camera store, and Janice bought herself an 18-200mm lens, perfect for travelling. Once in Lumut, we caught a ferry to the island of Pangkor and found a room (albeit expensive) at the Sea View Inn. It was a lovely place right on the beach, and we paid for two nights, which would give us a well-deserved day of leisure.
We woke to a beautiful morning and I donned my running shoes and went for a little jog along the coast. Back at our accommodation, it was straight into the pool before we sat down for a complimentary breakfast. We did our laundry and then hired a scooter to explore the island.
We stopped off at the remains of an old Dutch fort as well as the sacred rock. The rock comes with an interesting story. It is said that a Dutch dignitary’s child mysteriously disappeared during the Dutch occupation. Rumours of a tiger attack were spread by some, while others claimed that angry Malays took the child in hopes of ridding Pangkor of the Dutch. The rock is inscribed with an image of a tiger with a child in its mouth (if you use your imagination) as well as the symbols of the Dutch East India Company.
We rode all the way around the island (or as much as the road allowed). It only took about two hours as it is a small island measuring approximately eight kilometres. Although a well-known resort island it remains a fishing village where the main income is still fishing or fishing related business. Another interesting stop was at the blowfish-man who makes all kinds of interesting things from dried blowfishes. He said that the blowfishes are caught by accident in fishing traps and as they are already dead he uses them for his art. He makes hats, clocks, lampshades and all kinds of other interesting ornaments.
17-18 February - Pangkor Island – Pantai Remis - 55 km
I first went for a little run and then a quick swim again after which we had breakfast and loaded up the bikes. It was a short ride to the ferry where we boarded the ferry for Lumut. We had a few technical problems which we wanted to sort out before leaving.
We cycled back to the camera store where Janice bought her lens and traded it for another one as the one we bought two days ago was not completely compatible with her camera. Then we cycled around town looking for a mobile phone repair shop as Janice’s phone packed up. We were unable to find someone to repair her phone and in the end, it was best to buy another one. It was 15h00 by the time we left giving us just enough time to cycle to the nearby plantain Remis.
It was an easy ride across many rivers again and past the ever-present spirit houses and shrines. We stopped for sugarcane juice and watched the lady at the stall make curry puffs after which we bought a few and were on our way again. We found a lovely room at Pantai Hotel. Later we walked out to the food stalls of which there were plenty and were faced with a whole array of choices. Eventually, I settled with a soup loaded with all kind of things and Janice had a whole bag of interesting fried goodies. The rest of the evening was spent setting up Janice’s new phone, which sounds easier said than done.
19 February Pantai Remis – Taiping – 54 km
The morning was pleasantly fresh and overcast after the previous night’s rain. Our days were starting to take on a comfortable rhythm as we ambled along at a leisurely pace past, what has by now become, the familiar sights of dense palm plantations overgrown by moss and ferns, past heaps of coconut husks guarded over by spirit houses, and past roadside stalls selling interesting eats at dirt cheap prices. As always, we passed a multitude of rivers and mosques all making a pretty picture against a bright blue sky.
We passed tiny fishing “kampungs” where dogs barked and a rooster crowed, indicating that this was their territory. Friendly residents shouted “hallo’s” from behind banana plants, all wanting to know where we were from. We stopped for refreshments at Trong Leisure Farm & Resort, a pleasant enough place to spend an hour or so. They also had chalets right on the dam that looked like a nice place to spend a night. We, however, continued to Taiping, which we reached early and found a room at the Casavilla Hotel. That evening, we took ourselves off to the local zoo where one can walk around after dark. It's an unusual feeling walking around in the dark while listening to the chewing and snorting of the animals.
20-22 February - Taiping – Penang - 90 km
We were up early in anticipation of a long day on the road. From Taiping to Butterworth, we followed the main road, something that never makes for exciting riding, but it was the shortest way to get to Penang. Janice put her head down and hardly ever stopped; she kept a steady pace all the way to Butterworth, where we boarded the ferry to the island of Penang.
It was Janice's longest ride of our tour. She claims that it was also her longest ride in the past ten years, but she did extremely well. We arrived in Penang at around 15h00 and found a cheap hotel. Janice, although dead tired, still had the energy to walk around this amazing place with all its intersecting food and street art. In the process, we ran into Lina and Jihoon, the two cyclists from South Korea. What a small world it is!
The following day was spent organising our visas for Thailand, doing laundry, and walking around Georgetown, marvelling at all of the street art.
23 February Penang – Pantai Merdeka – 43 km
We left at leisure, boarded the ferry to the mainland, and continued our way north. At first, we had no option but to follow the main road, but as soon as we had a change, we turned off onto a smaller road, making for far better riding. Along the way, we met a very friendly man who invited us to tea. He had been to South Africa, and we chatted about Cape Town and all the things he saw and did while there.
Along the way, it started raining and although not cold, we were soaked to the bone, and there was, therefore, little chance of taking pictures or admiring the scenery. Once we reached Pantai Merdeka, we found a rather pricey room at the Pantai Merdeka Resort, but at least we could dry our clothes, as it seemed that the rain had set in good and solid without any sign of lighting up. We had a pleasant meal at the restaurant, and for once Janice could order a 'non-spicy' meal, something that is nearly non-existent in this part of the world.
24 February Pantai Merdeka – Langkawi – 80 km
After breakfast (included in the room price), we cycled to the waterfront looking for a boat to give us a lift across the river. While waiting for the boat to make its appearance, we watched the kids play games in the sand and made friends with the local cats; all the cats here seem to have kinky tails; it must be a genetic thing.
Fortunately, the boat arrived and saved us cycling a long way around to the main road. We found the most beautiful coastal road past the tiny fishing villages, farmlands with scrawny looking cows and lush forests with beautiful mountains in the distance. It was a pure pleasure cycling along; sometimes we had no idea if our little path would come to an abrupt halt or change into a muddy pond. Fortunately, it was only necessary to backtrack once.
After about 60 kilometres, we reached Kuala Kedah where we also found a ferry to Langkawi Island. We were just in time for the 15h00 ferry. We bought our tickets, and we also had to purchase one for the cycles. It was a comfortable sail to Langkawi, and once there, we first had to take the obligatory photo at the eagle and then cycled the 22 kilometres to Cenang Beach.
Janice found us a really good room, with air-conditioning, a refrigerator, and a swimming pool. Not bad for 75 Ringgit in Langkawi. Although Janice was tired and sunburned, we walked down the main road looking for a local restaurant, something that was not all that easy to find in touristy Langkawi.
25-26 February – Langkawi
We spent the day on Langkawi Island with what felt like a million tourists. We braved the crowds and joined a tour of the mangroves, which turned out to be more of a tourist trap than anything else. We got herded into a minivan that drove at breakneck speed to the other side of the island where we, once again, were herded to a waiting boat. We got the distinct feeling that we were part of the tourist conveyor belt! The boat took off at high speed, and the beautiful scenery became one big blur as we sped past high cliffs and mangrove swamps, then eventually came to a halt at a beautiful cave. However, there were too many boats lined up to go through. Then, off we went in a spray of water to the bat cave. We were given 30 minutes to look at the cave, which was so busy that we had to line up to go inside. Again, we sped off, this time to a floating restaurant, where we were given 40 minutes to look at fish in a pond and to order expensive fish, if we wished. Off we went again. By this time, everyone in the boat laughed at just how ridiculous the trip had become, but we had to be back at 13h00, as the next trip started at 14h00. I was sad that it was all so rushed, as it was a stunning area, with clear blue/green water and stunning limestone carats. Eagles soared above us while monkeys played in the mangroves, and if I'd had a canoe, I could have easily spent an entire day there.
The following day we packed up but Janice noticed a flat tyre on her back wheel and once again it was a puncture on the inside of the tube (the rim side). Again, like the first time, we were unable to fix the puncture. There was not much one could do but find a bicycle shop and buy a new tube. By the time all was done, we decided to stay another night and what a good idea it was. We spent a relaxing day on the island, we swam in the lukewarm ocean and that evening we took a walk to the beach and watched a beautiful sunset.
(1 762km - 40days)
27 February Langkawi, Malaysia – Satun, Thailand – 35 km
The ferry to Satun was only at 13h00 and there was no rush to pack up. I first went for a run and then had a quick dip in the pool before we packed up. It was a quick and easy 22 kilometres to the ferry terminal. We checked out of Malaysia and an hour later we arrived in Thailand. It was a hassle-free entry into Thailand and we cycled the 12 kilometres to Satun town in the rain. Once in the town of Satun, we drew Thai Bhat, bought a new Thai SIM card for the phone and then went in search of a room which we found at the Pinnacle Wangmai Satun Hotel. Quite a name for such an ordinary hotel.
We took a walk to a large market, just down the road, and I was once again surprised at all the food that was on sale, from bugs to sushi, it was all there.
28 February Satun – Pak Bara Beach – 78 km
About 10 kilometres down the road, we turned onto a much smaller road, and what a great idea it was. Fortunately, Janice does not mind following me along the back roads, and she never complains about an extra kilometre or 10. The narrow road runs through small rural communities with wooden houses on stilts and where ladies cook on open fires and elderly folk swing in hammocks under the houses. We cycled past trees heavy with jackfruits and past cows with long ears. Each property seemed to have a mango and avocado tree in the front yard as well as a frangipani tree, all giving a very tropical feel to the day. We cycled through rubber tree plantations, where trees were planted in neat rows, making for pretty pictures. We stopped at a tiny roadside eatery for a plate of noodle soup. Needless to say, it was excellent. We tried to make conversation with the people we met along the way but to no avail. Towards the end of the day, we found a room at Pak Bara Beach and wasted no time at all to take a dip in the Andaman Sea.
1 March – Pak Bara Beach – Ban Thung Yao – 63 km
We were late in leaving as I first went for a run along the beachfront. The road led past oil palm plantations and pretty rubber tree farms with small villages and ornate temples. As on the day before, we found a secondary road that made for a relaxed cycle past pretty Karas scenery. The area is littered with caves, but we were too lazy to make long detours and only visited the caves right next to the road.
The caves we visited did not amount to much as the first one was deserted, and it appeared that one could only be entered by boat. The second one was on the opposite side of a small river, and we could not find a suitable way across the river.
We ambled on, stopping at roadside stalls for pineapples. The lady peeled and cut them for us. There was so much that we could not finish it all, which was not bad for $0.40! By the time we were done, it seemed that the word had spread that foreigners were in their midst as more and more people arrived to have a look and small children got unceremoniously dumped on our laps for photos. We reached the small village of Ban Thung Yao at around 15h00 and found a rather impressive hotel with reasonable room rates. With a name like the “Cupid Hotel,” it was not surprising that there were no rooms with twin beds!
We waited for sunset and then took a walk to the local market for food. We were, as can be expected, a great nobility in this small village. As we walked along, we could hear the word “farang” (foreigner) repeated many times. Locals came on motorbikes (three at a time) to look at us! It was hilarious!
2 March - Ban Thung Yao – Trang – 56 km
Right from the word go, we were on the back roads, which made for a shady ride through more rubber tree plantations. We stopped and watched them harvest the rubber, a milky substance dripping from grooves cut in the bark. Our first water stop was at a coconut stall with the most delicious coconuts, full of water and with loads of flesh inside, which we could scoop out after the lady cut it open for us.
Then off we went, entertaining ourselves by trying to make a video, which did not work, but we had fun all the same. People peeped through doors and windows as we cycled past, and even the dogs ran for the safety of their homes, a sure sign that this was a not-so-well-visited area. We passed a multitude of shrines with red soda as offerings; what’s with that?
Apparently, when land is cleared, spirit houses are put up to house the displaced earth spirit. It is not really a religious thing; it’s just a custom. There are spirits that guard the land, and houses must be built for them, and offerings must be given. It’s what the Thais do, and red Fanta seems to be the most popular offering. We reached Trang early, found a good room at Yamawa for 350 Bhat, and then set off to the market for food. We had our fill of Pad Thai. How can we be in Thailand and not eat Pad Thai? LOL.
3 - 4 March - Trang – Krabi – 130 km
We left Trang, past the ever-present stupas and temples, on our way to Krabi. I had no intention of going to Krabi as I thought it would be too far. Janice, however, had other ideas and put her head down and hardly ever stopped. We followed the main road, and there were not many reasons for sightseeing except for some waterfalls and other interesting scenery. We passed rural areas where people live simple lives. All seemed to have chickens and a cow and were drying thin slivers of bamboo, which they use as rope. There were not any interesting places to overnight along the way, so we continued to Krabi, which we reached around 17h30.
I was proud of my friend for hanging in, never complaining, and sticking to the task at hand. Well done, Janice! One hundred and thirty kilometres on a loaded bicycle is a long day on the road by anyone’s standards. After a shower and a visit to the night market, it was back to our air-conditioned room to relax.
We stayed in Krabi the following day to give our legs a rest and to enjoy all Krabi has to offer. We took a boat ride to the local caves and around the mangrove swamps. The tide was out and we got stuck good and solid in the bud and our skilled boatman got us out of there with great difficulty. We spent the rest of the day in our very comfortable air-conditioned room only to reappear at sunset.
5 - 6 March - Krabi – Ko Phi-Phi (by ferry)
I went for my morning run after which we packed up and cycled to the local dim-sum restaurant for breakfast. It was a short ride to the ferry where we bought a ticket for Phuket via Phi Phi island. In no time at all, we were in paradise with limestone karst panicles sticking out of azure blue waters. Finding a cheap room in paradise was, however, more difficult than getting here. Eventually, we found a room with two single beds and air-con for 1 000 Bhat at Sabai House. It was by far the best deal we could find on this lovely but touristy island. From the minute we stepped off the ferry we were transported into a world of backpackers, with party buckets, tattoo parlours and, “You want massaaaaage?” This place has nothing on Sin City, LOL.
We headed straight for the beach where we rented a kayak and paddled around this beautiful bay for a few hours before returning to our room to get ready for the night ahead, LOL (only kidding).
The following day we were up early in order to be in time for the 7h00 scuba boat. It was a two-tank dive and worth every cent I paid. The water was lukewarm; the visibility excellent with an abundance of fish and swim-throughs. On arriving back in Phi Phi, there was just enough time to hop on another boat for a half day snorkelling trip. Again, it was a pleasure and the trip back at sunset made the day.
7 - 8 March Phi-Phi Island – Patong Beach, Phuket – by ferry plus 20 km
The ferry to Phuket was only at 14h00 and we had a slow start to the day as there was no rush to go anywhere. The ferry arrived in Phuket at 18h00 giving us just enough time to cycle to Patong Beach via a rather steep hill. We found a room right in the heart of the action and paid for two nights. It was already getting dark with the result we had a quick shower and then headed to the beach looking for food.
Patong Beach is known for its parties and just about each and every shop was either a tattoo parlour, bar or massage house. The action goes throughout the night and when I woke the following morning to go for a run, the last of the party goers were staggering home, squint-eyed. Some, obviously, did not make it home as there were still a few bodies on the beach, lost to the world, good thing the tide does not come up very high! The rest of the day was spent updating blogs, sorting out photos, going for a swim, doing laundry and just lazing about.
9 March Patong Beach – Khao Lak – 106 km
It was time to leave our lazy existence behind and get on the bikes and peddle. It was easily a 50 kilometres ride before we finally got off Phuket Island. Although it was a very good road we turned off in search of a smaller road. We were not disappointed and soon were along the coast where brand new resort hotels replaced the nipa huts of the pre-tsunami era. It is a beautiful coast and one can understand the desire for resort hotels in this area. It was the day of the big spiders! We passed an area where we spotted huge (and I mean HUGE) spider webs and spiders. Each web had one really large one and then one or two smaller spiders.
For most of the day it was a hilly ride, and at the end of the day, I think Janice had enough of hills. We arrived in touristy Khao Lak in good time, found a room at Fasai House (not cheap). At least it had a lovely pool, and we wasted no time at all to dip in.
10 March – Khao Lak – Kuraburi – 90 km
We had coffee at the lovely Fasai House then set off heading north. Janice had bicycle problems, and we stopped at the local bike shop where they tried to fix her disk brake. It was a day of brake problems as I lost a brake pad and therefore had no rear brakes.
We turned off at a sign for a waterfall, which we missed altogether. None of us ever saw a waterfall or a sign for a waterfall, so we decided to continue along the back road which turned out to be a bit of a hilly ride. Janice’s back brake gave problems again, and we did what any good bicycle mechanic will do and sprayed it liberally with the WD40! LOL
It was a lovely ride through a rural and wooded area. It was a pleasure to be on the road. With our late start, we only arrived at Kuraburi at after 17h00 found a place at Tararin Resort. The word “resort” may bring a person under the wrong impression, as it was not the kind of place that will springs to mind when one thinks of a resort. It was, however, rather unique in that it was wooden bungalows on stilts next to the river. The room was large with a door to a tiny balcony overlooking the river. The floor was a bit on the sloppy side, and if not careful, one could easily slide right out the door into the river.
It was a hilly ride today. Fortunately, in Thailand, there is always a temple or shrine indicating the top of the hill, so we knew when we reached the high point.
11 - 12 March Kuraburi – Bang Ben Beach – 79 km
By the time we finally left it was already late, and it was a hot and hilly ride to Bang Ben Beach. Good thing the Thais are fond of their Ice Coffee, of which there are always plenty along the road. Like the previous days, we passed many an ornate temple and lush forests, small villages and interesting roadside stalls. We passed cashew nut trees with its weird looking fruit, and I’m always amazed at how the nut actually grows on the outside of the “apple”.
The west coast is particularly scenic, and it was a beautiful ride. By afternoon Janice had enough of hills, and we decided to turn off the main road looking for accommodation. We found beautiful Bang Ben Beach and the Wasana Resort which suited us just fine. After a shower, we were off to the beach after which, we ate at the Wasana restaurant. I had the green curry (again!) and Janice the fish; both dishes were delicious. It was an early night.
We also spent the following day at our comfortable bungalow at Wasana Resort. We lazed around doing hardly anything except for cycling to the beach where we had a swim at a lovely deserted beach. At sunset, we cycled to the pier where boats lay high and dry waiting for the tide to come in.
13 - 15 March Bang Ben Beach – Ranong – 52 km
It was a rather short but very scenic stretch to Ranong. One knows you in the tropics, and a wooded area, if a grassy hill is so unusual that it becomes a tourist attraction. As always, we stopped numerous times to fill up with water, and I love the interaction with the shop keepers. They are mostly quite shy as I think very few foreigners stop at in their neck of the woods. We had no real reason for stopping in Ranong, but we did anyhow. We found a room at Casa Theresa, and in hindsight, it was a good thing as by evening Janice had come down with a bad cold.
Ranong is a rather sad looking place with a few odd farangs (like us) wondering about. It is a popular place for a visa runs to Myanmar and back, so there is always a few lost souls hanging around. We spent the following two days there as well, giving Janice time to try and recover from her cold. The only thing we did was to cycle the 2.5 kilometres to the hot spring, but once there we did not swim or even stuck our feet in the water as it was far too hot. Most people sat with their feet in the water, and I never saw anyone actually submerged in the water.
16 March – Ranong – Kra Buri – 60 km
Janice felt loads better, and we left Ranong heading further north. It was a beautiful road through dense forests, past waterfalls, and up and down hills with fantastic vistas over the surrounding area. We passed a multitude of monasteries and roadside stalls selling interesting nibbles as well as ice-cold sugar cane juice.
It was a short ride to Kra Buri; we did not want to push on as Janice was still not feeling 100%. We found a lovely little bungalow at Pannika Resort. That evening, we cycled to the local restaurant where I had the Tom Yam, and Janice had fried shrimp and cashew nuts. Both meals were fantastic and we, once again, ate far too much!
Soon after leaving, we stopped at the Kra Isthmus, the narrowest point of the Malay Peninsula and a mere 100 metres from Myanmar located just over the Kra Buri River. The stretch of land between the Kra River estuary and the Bay of Sawi on the east coast is only 44 kilometres.
Soon after leaving, the road swung inland over the mountains to the East coast. It was a pleasant cycle with gentle hills past plenty of food stalls selling steamed dumplings. More interesting is the fact that the mountain we crossed forms part of a mountain chain that runs from Tibet through the Malay peninsula.
At first, we thought of stopping in Chumphon, but once there, we decided to head for the beach just 16 kilometres down the road. It was a good decision as it was a beautiful spot with pleasant bungalows (albeit with rather vocal geckos) across the road from the beach. I found a diving outfit just down the road and could not help myself; I dug into my limited resources and paid for a two-tank boat dive the following day. At sunset, we walked across the road to a little restaurant on the beach and sat there watching the fishing boats in the bay.
18 March - Thungwualaen Beach
Both Janice and I got up early, but we were too late to catch the sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand. Instead, we sat on our little veranda enjoying our morning coffee before I cycled off to the dive centre. The dive boat was anchored out in the bay, and we were ferried there by a small rubber boat. It was pure pleasure to be heading out to sea. Our first dive of the day was as eventful as anyone could wish for. It was only the dive master and me as the other guests were snorkelling. All went well, and we saw loads of fish until about halfway through the dive. Out of nowhere came a Tigger fish that attacked the dive master. He fended it off the best he could, but the fish kept going for him. The Tigger then turned on me and banged into my cylinder and tried to bite my hair (not that difficult with the bush of hair I have!). The dive master protected me the best he could holding onto my cylinder and hitting the fish with his “tank bagger”. We swam away from the reef as fast as we could, as he was obviously protecting his territory.
We continued the dive, and only once on board did I notice that the fish had bit a chunk out of the dive master's nose!! Have you ever!! Best was for him to return to the shore as soon as possible, and I got transferred (mid-seas LOL) to another boat. Best thing of all is that this was a true Thai operation, and all the diving staff and guests were Thai. Although little English was spoken, the food was truly Thai and absolutely delicious. I did two more stunning dives (even although I only paid for two), and although the viz was not fantastic, it was a pleasure to be in the water again. The fact that one of the dives was a wreck dive made it even more exciting.
19 March - Thungwualaen Beach – Bang Saphan Beach – 85 km
I first went for a jog along the beach, and after a quick swim, we cycled out of Tungwualaen. It was a most stunning ride, partly along the coast and partly inland past beautiful temples. We stopped at the Naga Buddha temple for a few pics as I find them beautiful and interesting. Along the way, I watched in amazement as locals dried and prepared nipa leaf rolling paper for cigarettes. The young leaves are dried in the sun and then neatly folded to be used or sold. I would have a lot more info if I could speak Thai!
We crossed rivers where fishing boats lay three or four deep waiting to go out, while villagers were busy drying the small fishes on large wooden racks in the sun. We cycled past the most idyllic beaches and even found the scenic coastal route with a cycle path and all! It was a lovely ride, and we continued to Bang Saphan Beach where we found very convenient bungalows across the road from the beach.
It was a hot and humid day, and we wasted no time at all jumping into the ocean! Once showered, we popped into the next-door restaurant where the food was delicious, and the bill came to a total of 190 Thai baht (two plates of food and beer).
20 March - Bang Saphan Beach – Ban Krut – 34 km
The stretch of coastline north of Bang Saphan is easily one of the most beautiful. We first had breakfast on the beach and then followed a small road that runs flush next to the coast, a cycle tourer’s dream. We ambled along past snow white beaches with palm trees and lone hammocks strung between them. It was so idyllic that shortly after leaving we decided to stay in one of these “brochure-beautiful” spots. We spent the rest of the day doing close to nothing, except for swimming and enjoying our beautiful surroundings.
21 - 22 March – Ban Krut – Prachuap Khiri Khan – 70 Km
Janice felt energetic, and we cycled up the Khao Thong Chai Mountain to have a look at the temple. It’s a beautiful temple, high up on a hill, and we arrived at the same time as the first tour bus. We again ambled slowly along this wonderful stretch of coast. I was fascinated by a roadside shrine that was slightly different from the rest. Not only did it include orange Fanta instead of the normal red Fanta as an offering, but it was also adorned with bright, colourful plastic flowers. On one side of the shrine was a showcase with the most beautiful clothing -- it looked like silk -- and on the other side was a shelter with a small wooden kano with two wooden figurines. It all made me wonder what, exactly, it all meant.
As always, we passed a never-ending string of interesting stuff, from colourful temples to people going about their daily routines: fishing in small ponds, making charcoal from coconut shells, or selling wares from carts laden with goods. All of these things made for an interesting day.
We arrived in Prachuap in good time, just as the food stalls were setting up, which is always a good time to get to one's destination.
We spent the following day in Prachuap. Maggie’s Homestay is a laid-back place where just about everyone stays longer than planned. Janice and I had a whole host of things to do, and we spent the rest of the day doing normal chores. In the evening, we visited the Monkey Temple or Wat Thammikaram, or rather just walked to the fountain. There are plenty of monkeys (macaques) living at the temple, and at the base of the hill, they even have their very own monkey fountain. It was fascinating to sit and watch them.
These clever creatures have by now learned how to undo brick paving and use it as a tool to crush nuts and other stones. The most interesting thing was watching one who had found a shard of mirror and could not stop looking at herself. Mothers tenderly cared for newborns while young ones run amok. What I found even more interesting was the “Monkey Lady,” an elderly lady selling bananas from her bicycle to “farangs” like me at 20 Thai baht a bunch. She appeared to be from the lower strata of society but was as sharp as any business executive. There was no way of getting a picture of her before handing over the 20 baht! The bananas were priced the same as at the market but were clearly only edible by the monkeys. She was a clever lady! You go, girl!
23 March - Prachuap Khiri Khan – Sam Roi National Park – 74 km
We were slow in packing up, as Janice wanted to pop into the bike shop and they only opened at 9 o'clock. We followed the coast, stopping at pretty fishing villages for photographs. What an interesting day it turned out to be!
Along the way, we saw a rather interesting festival (or funeral). It looked like a Hindu gathering with an entire band, food enough to feed all of Thailand, dancing, and interestingly enough, the smashing of coconuts. While dancing or chanting, someone would randomly throw a coconut at a waiting “batsman” who would then whack it to pieces with a baseball-like bat. I indicated that I wanted to take photos and they, in turn, indicated that it was fine. I was, however, unsure of just how far I could push the permission so readily granted, and therefore stayed on the outskirts. After leaving, I was sorry as I’m sure one could have gotten some really fantastic pictures if one was bold enough to become part of the gathering.
We turned off of the highway and found the most beautiful little railway station. It was in such good condition with such beautiful gardens that we had to stop and visit. Unfortunately, the station master spoke no English, but we thanked him anyhow and were on our way again. Needless to say, we passed a whole host of beautiful temples! We amained for the Khao Sam Roi National Park as we wanted to visit the cave temple in the morning. We found the Baan Pak Rimkong guesthouse, a very convenient place on stilts right on the river with all the fishing boats moored outside our window!
24 - 25 March – Sam Roi to Hua Hin – 58 km
We took a 10-minute boat ride around the headland to the Laem Dala Beach. From Laem Sala Beach, we headed up the mountain, about a 15-minute walk to the top of the hill, and then a gentle down into the cave. Although we tried to be there between 11:00 - 12:00 to see the light shaft coming through the hole in the ceiling, there was sadly no light shaft! We took a few pics of this beautiful temple in the cave, and then headed downhill and back to our bicycles.
It was about 13:30 when we got back, which gave us plenty of time to cycle along the coast route via Pranburi to Hua Hin. Just before Hua Hin, we found a cycle path and it was an easy ride into this touristy town with all its expats. We found a room at Bird Guest House; a half rickety place on stilts over the water. That evening, we sat on the wooden deck enjoying the cool evening air.
The following morning, I went for a jog along the beach and had a dip in the ocean afterwards. The water, at 30˚C, did not, however, even cool me down. We headed to the local bike shop, as I was looking for a derailleur wheel, but had no such luck. Janice, however, was luckier and found new cycling shorts, a bicycle pump, and a handlebar bag with space for a phone.
26 March – Hua Hin – Samut Songkhram – 112 km
We were rather late in leaving, something that has become the norm. Fortunately, the cycling was easy and interesting. At first, we thought about stopping mid-way to Samut Songkhram, but Janice felt energetic, so we pushed on. There were a few interesting things along the route, one being that the Hau Hin airport runway crosses the road! Fortunately, this was via a bridge and not on the road! It remains, however, an oddity to see planes come in for a landing while heading straight in your direction!
We followed the back road as much as we could, to such an extent that we ended up between the salt pans and eventually had to push our bikes bike back to the road. The most amazing part of the day was watching workers frantically loading and carrying salt from the salt pan to the sheds. It was truly life in the salt mines as both men and women, of all ages, scooped salt into bamboo baskets hanging from shoulder poles, and then, with a bouncing stride, carted their heavy loads to the sheds. I was shocked at seeing what looked like kids, no older than 10 or 12 years, working in the salt mines. I did not expect to see that in modern Thailand.
I got thirsty just watching them work and had to stop at the nearest roadside stall where ladies were selling sugarcane juice. We gulped our ice-cold drinks down and continued to Samut Songkram, where we arrived with the food stalls already in full swing. We headed for Hometown Hostel, and as this was my third visit to this lovely hostel, it nearly felt like home.
27 - 28 March – Samut Songkhram – Kanchanaburi – 117 km
We first paid a visit to the famous Mae Klong Market (railway market). We did not have to wait long before a train came by and the traders hurriedly packed up their wares, making space for the train to pass. As soon as the train had passed, all the stalls were back in place, only to follow the same procedure when the next train came. It was already late by the time we left, and we kept a steady pace, not wanting to waste too much time along the way.
A friendly man stopped along the way, handing me a large plastic bag with water, biscuits, flavoured milk. How awesome is that! As so often happens along the way, he said,” You cycling? You must be strong!” and I wanted to reply, “Out of all the things I am, strong is not one of them! Just look at the old woman at the market, carrying heavy loads on shoulder poles! That is strong!” Unfortunately, that is mostly a too lengthy and complicated reply in a foreign language. So, I smiled and nodded, got back on the bicycle and cycled down the road, knowing that strength is not one of my strong points.
Once I caught up with Janice, we stopped in the shade of a bridge to enjoy our snacks. In Kanchanaburi, we found a bungalow at Rainbow Lodge, located right on the River Kwai for 250 baht! No sooner had we offloaded our panniers than we were sitting watching the sunset over the famous River Kwai.
We also spent the following day in Kanchanaburi giving us more than enough time to explore the sad history of what is now known as the “Death Railway”. While looking at the rows and rows of graves at the war cemetery, an incredible sadness came over me as I, once again, realised that there is no limit to mankind’s greed for power. I guess there never was and never will be!
29 March – Kanchanaburi – Suphan Buri – 98 km
Another cyclist arrived at Rainbow Lodge, and we chatted for a while before setting off again. It was easy and interesting riding, as always, and a day filled with scenes of rice paddies, sugar cane fields, beautiful temples, and ancient ruins. Our first stop was at Wat Phra That or Wat Phra That Sala Khao. Excavations indicate that the temple was built in 1424 to 1488 during the reign of Phra Borommaracha 11. It was hot and humid, and we were happy when a lady with a cart arrived, selling ice cold drinks. Our second stop was at Wat Kuti Song, but I could find no information on it.
In Suphan Buri, we found a real cheap room at the very contradictorily named Delux Hotel. The room only had one faint light, to such an extent that we had to use our torches to find our things. Moreover, while having a shower, the towel rail fell off the wall. LOL!
30 - 31 March Supahn Buri – Lop Buri – 86 km
Some days are more interesting or bizarre than others. Today was a temple day, and we visited quite a few, all claiming to have something real special. We saw ancient ruins, the most beautiful Buddha statue in all of Thailand (so they claim), brown Buddhas, 300-year-old sacred trees, and statues of Buddha riding a huge bee! What was all that about? We followed secondary roads for most of the day with the result that we also came upon some very interesting roadside stalls. Not only did they sell the usual fruit (served with a sugar-and-chili mix) and woven articles, but they also served grilled rats! There really is never a dull moment when travelling by bicycle.
We arrived in Lop Buri early, but it was far too hot to go and look at the ancient ruins. The weather report stated that it was 37˚C, but it felt more like 40˚C. We walked out at around 5:50, and although still boiling hot, it was more bearable. However, the famous Lop Buri site was already closed by then. Instead, we took a walk to the Monkey Temple and then had a meal at the NooM Guesthouse where we stayed.
The following morning, we were up early to visit the temples before the heat set in. In the process, I saw one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. At the Monkey Temple, one of the many monkeys gave birth, and I watched in wonderment as the mother cared for a newborn. It was a rather messy affair, and not for the squeamish, as she ate the placenta while possessively clutching her baby. Although she allowed me to come quite close, she did not tolerate any of the other monkeys close to her. If any of them approached her, she would hug the baby and placenta (both still attached to her) while aggressively baring her teeth. Eventually, she grabbed both baby and placenta, turned her back on the world and sat facing the temple wall as close as possible, hiding the baby and placenta from the world.
1 April – Lopburi – Ayutthaya – 64 km
It was a short and easy ride to historical Ayutthaya where the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya is encircled by rivers forming a most interesting place to visit. Even though I have visited this area on many occasions, I could never get tired of it. To me, this is where the Thais reached the pinnacle of their regional dominance and where the Thai culture was shaped into what it is today.
We found a room at the very interesting Baan Lotus; an old school house that is now a guesthouse. I could not believe when the people there still remembered me! I guess I should not be surprised, as the family who owns it are highly intelligent. It still, however, floors me when people remember me, as thousands of guests must walk through their door. We had a quick shower, and then hopped on the bicycles to visit the temples. Most of the temples were built in the Thai heyday, between 1350 – 1767. Strange how they could ward off the Western assaults, but eventually fell to the Burmese.
2 April – Ayutthaya – Bangkok – 80 km
It was a day of easy cycling into Bangkok. First, we followed a quiet road next to a canal, and then the road following the new Skytrain (still under construction). We sailed into busy and hectic Bangkok like two pro’s and arrived at our destination in the Khaosan Road area while the rest of Bangkok was still “siesta-ing”, LOL. So, came to an end Janice’s tour of Southeast Asia. Fortunately, we still have about a week to enjoy amazing Bangkok and all it has to offer before she flies home on April 8.
3 - 4 April Bangkok
Janice and I wondered around crazy Bangkok, walked along the canal and visited some of the very weird places in the city. That evening we met up with Andre and Anton (friends from the UAE) and ate at my favourite dim-sum restaurant in Chinatown.
The following night we met them again at their very fancy resort hotel for a bite to eat. On both occasions, Andre and Anton paid for the food - how nice of them!
4 -7 April – Bangkok
The days passed quickly and soon it was time for Janice to pack up her bicycle and panniers and get ready to fly home to South Africa.