(once again this map doesn’t show our exact route since google maps can’t be that precise. There were tons of unmarked back roads through this section and they were incredibly enjoyable!)
Distance– 287 kilometers
TOTAL distance of the trip 1,372 kilometers
# of flat tires still only 1 this entire trip (….annnnnd we just jinxed it)
The “deep south” of Thailand is quite a bit different from the areas that we have traveled thus far. For starters it is a more politically charged region. There are a couple of separatist groups that want various degrees of autonomy from the Thai government and law. Over the years this region has seen its share of conflict amongst the Thai authorities and the mostly Muslim population. There have been attacks across the region to create chaos and make it difficult for the Thai authorities to control the region, but these attacks haven’t been targeted at tourists. Still the presence of military tanks and regular police checkpoints gave this area a different vibe than anywhere else we had traveled through in Thailand. In fairness many of these checkpoints were unmanned painted blockades made of old logs.
All of the people that we met along the way were very friendly and very curious about our journey. They were excited to see foreigners traveling to this part of Thailand. Even those who spoke no English were able to express their amusement with our trip. We even got to take part in a couple of photo shoots with women working at our hotels who all on us wearing our helmets and standing with our bikes for the full effect.
Day 16- June 20, 2015- Songkhla to Sakom
Distance: 49.3 km
We woke up this morning to heavy rain storms, which was a great reason to extend our rest day for a few more hours. By the time the storms cleared up it was nearly noon, so we got some delicious sandwiches from a shop as we headed out of town. The ride was unremarkable and uneventful – flat and hot. The sandwiches were the most remarkable thing about this day actually! We knew that we were not going to be able to make it to our intended destination because of the late start, so we started to look for hotels on the side of the highway.
During this ride we started to notice that many of the road signs were now marked with another language in addition to Thai characters and the rough English translation we were now seeing Arabic on many signs.
We ended up staying at a Muslim resort that was not only welcoming and comfortable but also quite conservative, another reminder that we had entered a new region of Thailand. Our room was discounted because of the Ramadan holiday, which coincidentally started on the day that we started cycling in a Muslim region (more to come on this in Malaysia but suffice it to say that we will be spending ALL of Ramadan cycling in Muslim areas). We shared the empty beach with a lost herd of cows that afternoon as we enjoyed one of our first days on the beach.
Day 17- June 21, 2015- Sakom to Yala
Distance: 83.7 km
Today we made a game-time decision to change our route and head inland for a bit towards the land-locked province of Yala. Coming off of the large highways we were able to stay on back roads almost the entire day. These roads wound over and around farmlands and past the bases of some beautiful hills. The best part was we didn’t have to share them with any other vehicles for most of the day.
We chose one of the first decent looking hotels when we reachedYala. As we began to do some long-overdue maintenance on the bikes, we came across our first big technical challenge of the trip – one of the spokes on Mike’s rear tires had broken!
We knew that this was an issue that had to be fixed before going on any further. However that evening as we read the recent news in Yala and learned of explosions that had been going off last month in the town we were a little wary of venturing around the town to fix it.
But as we had said before, these smaller attacks weren’t new to the region, we knew what we were getting into, and across the board our experience in the region had been positive. In general world news tends to focus on the negative and scarier aspects of a region, and those stories end up overshadowing the many bright points of a place and the people who live there. That’s not to say one shouldn’t be wary of these reports, as we obviously were. It is to make a point that if you go into a place with a sound knowledge of the recent events, and the underlying tensions with the understanding that events like these are out of your control and shouldn’t control your actions (and don’t stay in the sketchy areas of the city) you could end up coming out with some really wonderful experiences.
Day 18- June 22, 2015- Yala to Narathiwat
We identified some good cycle stores in Yala that would hopefully be able to fix Mike’s broken spoke so that we could get back on the road today. Mike rode Kiri’s bike around town with his wheel looking for cycle shops. He passed by people casually opening up their shops as pickup trucks carrying armed policemen whizzed by. Although most of the cycle shops weren’t open at 9 am, he was able to find one later in the morning – and the mechanic did a great job fixing the spoke! Turns out that absolutely no English is needed to get such a job done, cyclists all over the world are always willing to help out.
Once this was fixed we were eager and ready to get on the road so even though it was noon we loaded up the bikes, took some pictures with the excited hotel staff, and cranked out 80 km in the afternoon! The ride was scattered with some gentle hills but was absolutely beautiful, minus the military compound that was directly outside of Narathiwat. For our last night in Thailand we stayed in one of the Thai “24 hour” hotels that was on the outskirts of town – clean and cheap!
Day 19- June 23, 2015- Narathiwat to Kota Bharu
Our last day in Thailand was filled with mixed emotions. We were sad to leave a place that had been so hospitable, friendly, and even forgiving in the most difficult of situations (rainstorms, broken spokes, etc). Regardless, we were excited to experience a new country. The ride to the border brought us through a series of police checkpoints along a highway and was pretty unremarkable, as we were pretty used to seeing these by now. The border town of Tak Bai seemed pretty interesting and we stopped for our last Thai iced coffee 😦
The border at Tak Bai was not only extremely easy and straightforward, but was also lots of fun! But when you get to take a ferry to cross a border and don’t have to pay anything to enter a country, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a great experience.
During our ride to Kota Baru we found ourselves passing more buddhist temples than we had seen in our last three days in Thailand, which we hadn’t really expected since, you know, Malaysia is known for being a pretty highly Muslim country.
Later that evening once we had arrived in the conservative Muslim city of Kota Baru we found ourselves at a night bazaar that, despite the different food, looked suspiciously like the night markets in Thailand. Starving from a long day of cycling where we hadn’t been able to find too much food we bought all the new treats we could find- murtabak (a malaysian stuffed pancake), fried noodles, blended drinks, grilled fish, stuffed squid- all ours for the buying! But unlike in Thailand, people just seemed to be sitting down and staring at their food. So we settled in and joined them in the countdown to sundown when this Ramadan fast-breaking session could finally begin. No we certainly weren’t in Thailand anymore.