(note- this map is not our actual route, we’re working on getting our GPS tracks online but for now this is just to give you all some idea of what we did)
TOTAL distance of week 2- 418 kilometers
Total distance of the trip so far- 1,085 km
TOTAL hours cycling- 27 hours (and 2 hours of hiking)
Average speed- 14.4 kph
# of days on the bikes- 6
# of flat tires- 0
Day 8- June 12, 2015- Surat Thani- REST DAY
Today we took the day off because well, we’d been riding for a week straight, our butts were sore and we decided we deserved it. We spent 2 nights and 1 day in Surrat Thani where we did some bike cleaning and maintenance, took a few naps, and attempted to go on a date to a highly recommended restaurant that was celebrated for being “romantic and cheap”. This date never happened because the restaurant didnt exist and after over an hour of wandering we ended up by the docks with a pizza, pad thai, and a few beers. Which honestly might have been better than whatever this restaurant had to offer!
Day 9- June 12, 2015- Surat Thani to Khanom
78.2 kilometers in 5 hours and 45 minutes of riding time
Average speed- 13.6 kph
We decided that it was about time to take a beach holiday! We’d been riding along the Thai coast for a week and the water did look beautiful, even though it was a little warm. We opted not to go to Koh Samui- the island off the Thai mainland that is a popular tourist destination. Instead we looked at a map and figured that if we could get ourselves out of this city and onto the Thai coast again we could find a beach bungalow and not be surrounded by tourists. Some quick research showed that there were nice beaches in Khanom and plenty of bungalow options. It seemed like an easy laid-back beach getaway.
We arrived to find many bungalows available (and many closed for the low season). After checking at a few and stubbornly sticking to a low price that we were sure we could get we settled on a hotel we still don’t know the name of. The wall was decorated with a picture of a half-naked Asian woman on one wall and a framed picture of a motorcycle on the other. Mike spent our first five minutes killing all the cockroaches in our bathroom. Turns out that right next door was a French man who had just opened up a complex of bungalows for a nice low price with great food and beanbag chairs to relax in, so we spent most of our time there. We decided this spot was probably not the spot we wanted to stay at for our beach vacation, and started to make a plan to continue south the next day for a shorter day on the bikes and more beach time.
Day 10- June 13, 2015- Khanom to Sichon
37.8 kilometers in 2 and a half hours of hiking and 1 and a half hours of biking
Average speed- no need to talk about it
Mike’s GPS showed a three kilometer gap between where one coastal road ended and the next began. There was a national park in this gap. Still, we could not understand why Thailand would be so forgetful as to just forget a necessary section of road. So we asked a French man who was living in the area about this seeming oversight:
“Is it possible to bike through this area?”
His first question was, “What kind of bikes do you have?”I think we made it pretty clear that we were on bicycles not motorbikes which is what most people here assume we are riding when we tell them we’re going all the way to Singapore.
He said there was a road. He said it was a “clay” road. He made a wavy motion with his arm to indicate that it was hills. But he did say it was possible.
The next day we were forced to walk our bikes up the steep inclines of the paved road that wound up around the cliffs that looked over the sea (mind you this is the road that still exists even on the GPS; we weren’t even on our imaginary road yet). We started to think this French man might not have been exactly an expert on this area.
We followed the paved road down literally to the “End of the Road” beach resort. In front of us was a beautiful beach. In the direction we wanted to go there were cliffs. Behind us was a steeply graded hill. We asked the friendly Thai owners how to get to the other side of this nonexistent road and they agreed that yes there was a road but said it wasn’t safe.
This was not the first time we had been told that a trail we wanted to go down wasn’t safe. And we really didn’t want to backtrack five kilometers just to get to a highway that we didn’t want to ride on. So we decided to turn onto this dirt road. We understood that for a change we would be carrying our bikes up and down steep mountains, not the other way around. These cliffs were made un-ridable by the loose dirt and large rocks littered across the path. We knew we were getting into at least a three kilometer hike with our bikes and all of our belongings. And then we started talking about the potential to find elephants in this park.
Downhills were slow, we wore out our breaks and our knees. Uphills were an ordeal. We pushed and pulled our individual bikes up steep gradients just struggling to keep some kind of forward momentum. At times we would team up to push one bike up at a time, leaving the other sitting there patiently at the bottom of the hill waiting for us to go again. Or we would portage the things- one of us would take the panniers and the other would push a slightly lighter bike. Through some combination of these struggles we emerged on a paved road 3.3 kilometers and 2.5 hours later. The first sign we found warned trucks to take the coming declines in a “low” gear.
Day 11- June 14, 2015- Sichon to Nakon Si Thammarat
72.7 kilometers in 4 hours and 38 minutes of biking time
Average speed- 15.7 kph
Wanting to prove that we had learned a lesson from yesterday, we spent most of today on clearly marked, existent roads. This kept us on Highway 401 near the coast almost the entire day. Up closer to Sichon there were a few quiet back roads, some paved and some not, that took us in the direction we wanted to go in. After finishing with those we got back on the highway for 30 kilometers until we reached the town of Tha Sala. From there we had to stay on the highway to cross the river and after that we just stuck to the highway for the rest of the day. It is exhausting having semis blowing past you all day, and we tried to get off and find more back roads at a few points but those just ended up just bringing us back to the highway.
Nakon Si Thammarat is pretty much just a big industrial city, although there are some beautiful wats and gates over the highways, and lots of good street food. Once again we probably had a harder time finding a hotel than a Thai person would have because all the signs were in Thai and not many people spoke English. The only indicator that a hotel is a hotel here is the number “24” buried in the Thai writing. This is there to indicate that the “hotel” also has rooms that can be rented by the hour. There were definitely enough of those on the outskirts of town, as well as a few English guesthouse signs once we got further into the city.
Day 12- June 15, 2015- Nakon Si Thammarat to Hua Sai
90.96 kilometers in 6 hours of riding time
Average speed- 14.5 kph
We got a later start today again because we HAD to! Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the biggest sight to see in Nakon Si Thammarat. It is also the oldest wat in Southern Thailand AND it didn’t open until 8:30am. And we weren’t about to miss that!
In the later parts of the morning clouds gathered over us and a light drizzle started to fall on the road. Kiri noted that in Cambodia (where she had spent the last five months working) sometimes a drizzle is just a drizzle and sometimes it is a warning that you should take cover. We rounded a corner and saw the downpour we had been “warned” about waiting for us . We quickly pulled off and took shelter on the porch of a friendly Thai family home. When Mike was greeting the woman who lived there he pointed towards the sky and said “nam” (literally “water” in Thai- one of our few Thai words). He thought he was making conversation about the falling water that had trapped us there. A few minutes later she brought us a pitcher of water – the language barriers just keep on coming! Luckily the warm hospitality of the Thai people made nothing about this situation seem rude or intrusive.
Day 3, June 16, 2015- Hua Sai to Ban Kokud
82 kilometers in 5 hours 30 minutes of riding time (8:00am-4:30pm including a 3 hour stop in Ranot)
Average speed- 15.2 kph
This morning started with even more language barriers as we found ourselves at a Muslim restaurant for breakfast. As we entered the roadside venue, we received many curious and friendly looks and the locals warmly greeted us by clearing a table and getting us some chairs. Although we couldn’t communicate much with words, we have gotten quite used to non-verbal communication, and ordered our breakfast by pointing at other people’s good-looking food, smiling, and nodding. With the help of the other customers we were able to get a great breakfast of cold noodles in great sauce with a platter of greens to go with it all – a great way to start the day!
Today was a great reminder of why traveling with a flexible schedule in Thailand is a great way to enjoy not only the destinations, but also the journey. The goal of today was to go 110 kilometers to our next stop. However, our route happened to bring us though an unexpected gem of a town in the late morning that changed these plans for the better. Cobblestone roads and ornate lamp posts paved the way into the laid-back town of Ranot where we found a weekly morning market packed with clothes and food and fish from the nearby lake. We decided to scratch the plans of biking the entire 100 kilometers and spent a few hours soaking in the vibe of the town by wandering through the lively and colorful market, eating local delicacies, and napping and relaxing in the shade of some trees. After a relaxing late-morning visit in Ranot, we decided to continue cycling for a couple of more hours in the afternoon.
One thing other bikers had warned us about was dogs. So far we had a couple of minor incidents with dogs chasing after us and barking, but nothing too noteworthy. Today they were practically lining the streets waiting for us to roll through so they could chase us. Some were just short-legged yippy rat-like dogs but others more closely resembled wolves. We have found yelling and kicking at them to be effective ways to deter them. Ringing the bell seems to have the opposite effect.
Day 14, June 17, 2015- Ban Kokud to Songkhla
50 kilometers in three and a half hours
Average speed- 14.3 kph
The three big tourist areas in Thailand seem to be the southwest coast near Phuket, the northern region around Chiang Mai, and obviously Bangkok. Since starting this trip 2 weeks ago, we have been traveling off this trail and were starting to get to the point where locals were starting to take a ton of interest in us. We’re guessing tourists almost never make it this far on the south-east coast. Mike tried to order breakfast in Thai this morning, and accidentally got us plain rice and a bucket of hard-boiled eggs, but his attempt caused all the Thai women to burst into giggles and request pictures with him.
Our interactions with locals in this region has been one of curiosity and hospitality, and this will continue to become a common occurrence. When we are able to explain to people that we are biking from Bangkok to Singapore we get shocked, impressed, and confused looks from the locals who cannot understand why anyone would ever attempt that without a motor. In the last week though these looks also seem to come with free snacks or bottles of water either out of sympathy or a desire to help us in this seemingly ridiculous quest.
Highlight of the day- avoiding an extra 20 kilometers of biking by taking a free 5-minute ferry across clear turquoise water to the peninsular town of Songkhla.
Day 15, June 18, 2015- rest day in Songklha
Today we were planning to take a day off the bikes and walk around and see some of the sights in the city. After wandering around in the morning for a little over an hour we were so overheated and tired of moving at a walking pace. So we got back on the bikes in the afternoon and started our own scavenger hunt of Songkhla. We took a glorified overpriced elevator to the top of a hill that overlooked the town. We fed monkeys coconut shells until one tried to steal our water bottle and Mike tried to fight it off with a spoon. We found the mermaid statue, the cat and rat statue, and the mid section and rear end of the serpent. To top it all off, no day in Thailand would be complete without a night market – and the weekend market in Songkhla is one of the best we’ve seen so far!