Thailand 16 August to 09 October 2019
Total Distance 1992km
Accumulative Distance 31,026km
Days in Country 54
Days Cycled 23
Well this blog is going to be slightly different from all my other blogs so far. Why’s that you ask? Well after about 1 and a half months in Thailand I went on a waterfall walk and my phone got water damaged, basically it was Phuket (yes that’s a pun on f@@ked!!) . So what’s that got to do with anything? Well my blog that I had been writing daily for the past 6 weeks was irretrievably lost, because like an idiot I hadn’t backed it up. Nooooooooo!! So I’m now spending some of my last few days in Thailand busily retyping, rehashing and remembering what has gone on before!! Bummer.
Ok so if you remember from the last blog I had travelled from Luang Prabang in Laos by boat for 2 days to reach the far northern Thai border crossing at Chiang Khong. I had done this journey with Ole and Ajela, the 2 German cyclists I had travelled through Laos with. But now it was time to part company as they were heading directly south to Phu Chi Fa, a spectacular escarpment on the Thai/Laos border looking for some amazing sunrise sunset scenery. I on the other hand had looked at the weather (cloudy with mist) and decided the 1000 meter climb up the escarpment wasn’t going to produce the goods!! So I was staying on the flat and heading to Chiang Rai and then Chiang May, two of the top tourist destinations in Northern Thailand. But hopefully we would cross paths again before they head to Myanmar and I continue south.
So my first impressions of Thailand are really good . The road surface is good and people are super friendly. There’s also a Wat (Thai Bhuddist Church) around every corner and these highly decorative buildings really impress.
On the first days cycle I pay a visit to a warm showers host, Kong, although he isn’t hosting currently I thought I’d pop in and say hello. Well as fortune would have it he invited me to come and meet his friend Mork, a kind of reclusive Thai hermit who was living in the paddy fields in a wooden house he had built himself. I was then invited to stay the night in his garden next to the rice paddy in my hammock. The evening was spent cooking together (Pad Kra Pao – Pork mince with Spicy Thai Basil) then sitting around a camp fire drinking a beer and listening to Mork sing and play some local stringed instruments. What an amazing first night in Thailand. It was also my first time camping out in SE Asia and my first time using a hammock. Wow. Thanks guys!
The next day I cycled into Change Rai.
I’m wondering how best to tackle writing this blog (again) and think I’m going to cheat. In some places I’ll use internet articles (Italicized) to describe the places then give you my take on them, might be quicker in the long run!
So, Chiang Rai…
Chiang Rai City remains a sleepy provincial town with a pleasant atmosphere. Compared to its sister town Chiang Mai, it has a more relaxed and down-to-earth feel but is never short on historical and cultural attractions of its own. Founded in 1262 as the capital of the Mengrai Dynasty, after Chiang Saen, today the city retains a strong Lanna identity, mostly through its impressive collection of temples, art, language, cuisine and music. But unlike Chiang Mai, the city offers little diversity when it comes to nightlife, entertainment and shopping, and most of these are concentrated in the area around the Clock Tower. The city is gradually developing its tourist sector, beginning with its own Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and Jazz Festival. The riverside remains mostly undeveloped, albeit with a few luxury hotels along the waterfront. At the end of the day, Chiang Rai City is all about chilling out and taking it in slowly, savouring each moment as it comes.
For me the highlights of Chiang Rai were the temples, particularly the Blue Temple and the White Temple. Blue and White? Yes, because that’s what colour they are. And pretty spectacular as you can see from the pictures.
Then it was on to Chiang Mai, a 3 day journey with plenty of rain and a fair bit of mud where the road is under construction going over some hilly terrain. By this time I was cycling again with Ole and Ajela who had caught up with me in Chiang Rai after just about managing to catch a sunset/sunrise and then catching a lift in a pickup!!
We stayed in Chiang Mai together and also did a Thai cooking course together.
Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand. Founded in 1296, it was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. It’s also home to hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples, including 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, adorned with carved serpents.
It’s also very touristy. There are a huge amount of Expats living here and also tourists visiting from far afield. The moated city is however very nice and the nearby hill range has plenty of waterfalls, Wats and ancient temples to spend your days wandering around. To see all this I used a moped.
One of the known practices by the police in Chiang Mai is for them to pull over every tourist on a motorbike they possibly can and ask to see their international drivers licence. Now most people don’t carry one of these as its not something you think about, but if you haven’t got it then they will fine you 500 Baht ($16). A nice little earner! Fortunately I happen to own an international drivers licence (you have to purchase it in your home country and it only lasts 1 year) , unfortunately the first time I was pulled over it was sitting in my luggage in the hotel. That’ll teach me, however the numerous other times I was pulled over I was carrying it, much to the surprise of the Thai Police. So much so that they took photos of it, as they hadn’t seen one before! They even borrowed it on one occasion to show to some other tourists that they had pulled over!
Something that a few adventurous tourists do whilst in Chiang Mai is the Mae Hong Son loop by motorbike. This takes you on a 500km loop through the Mae Hong Son region to the North West of the city. It takes in the towns of Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Charm and the Doi Inthanon National Park before returning to Chiang Mai. Most people do this on a motorbike/moped and I certainly wasn’t going to upset the rice cart this time by doing it by trike!! It can normally be done in about 4 days, but I decided to spend a few days in Pai before doing the remainder. The route is very hilly with about 13000 meters of climb and descent. I’m glad that I’ve got a motor for once. The highlights for me were:
Pai is a town in the Mae Hong Soon Province of northern Thailand. It sits in a valley on the banks of the Pai River. It’s known for its nearby gorges, hot springs like the Tha Pai Hot Spring and waterfalls like Mo Paeng Waterfall. Downtown, food stalls and handicraft shops line Pai Walking Street. West of town lies Baan Santichon, a traditional Chinese village with clay houses and eateries serving Yunnan cuisine.
And it’s fully of hippies and people who have decided to live life out of the fast lane. For many people, coming to Pai simply means slowing down completely. Artsy types (read hippies) often haunt Pai’s many café galleries, while others prefer to lounge away on their riverside porch or at a chilled-out bar. It really is a relaxing place, and I stayed for about 4 nights. I was particularly impressed by Pai Canyon and the huge white Buddha sitting on a nearly ridge. The nightlife is also great, with lots of young backpackers letting their dreadlocks down!
Doi Inthanon National Park…
Also known as “The Roof of Thailand”, Doi Inthanon National Park covers an area of 482 km² in Chiang Mai province north of Thailand. The park is part of the Himalayan mountain range with elevations ranging between 800 and 2,565 meters asl. The highest peak at Doi Inthanon Mountain which is the highest mountain in Thailand. The park has high humidity and cold weather all year round.
The park is named in honour of the king Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai, who was concerned about the forests in the north of Thailand and wanted to preserve it. After his death his remains were placed in the park as he ordered and the forest was renamed to Doi Inthanon.
The flora consists of moist evergreen cloud forests, sphagnum bog on elevations over 1,800 meters asl, dry evergreen, pine, mixed deciduous teak and dipterocarp forests on the lower elevations.
Also known as Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon in Thai, Two Chedis sit on the main road 5 km south from the top of the main summit of Doi Inthanon.
The first of the chedis, Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘by the strength of the land and air’ was built in 1987 to honour 60th birthday anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The second chedi, Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’ was built in 1992 to honour 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit.
There is a viewpoint with good view over the west side of the park, a popular place to see the sunset.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I had a great time seeing the waterfalls and scenic viewpoints.
Back in Chiang Mai and I have a fab surprise. Cynthia, my dutch friend from Nepal and Cambodia has arrived! I knew she was heading this way but it’s still great to catch up with her again before she heads back to Holland for the summer. We spend a wonderful evening together catching up and having quite a few too many beers!! She thinks she will be in Indonesia after her Dutch break so maybe I’ll see her again.
So now it’s time to carry on cycling and I say a final farewell to Ole and Ajela. They are heading to Myanmar and I will continue south through Thailand.
On the route south my next port of call is Sukhothai Historical Park. As you know just recently I spent my first night under canvas in SE Asia and slept in a hammock I purchased in vietnam. Well although it was comfortable I had some reservations about the size of it, probably ok for most Vietnamese but at 5’ 11” it was probably a bit small for me. However, as luck would have it I am a member of a hammock camping group on Facebook. I’d noticed a Thai chap, Noppon, had been posting in the group and got in touch with him. Long story short, he lived 1 days ride south of Chiang Mai, he handmade hammocks and sold them online and he was more than happy to make one as a custom fit for my size!!
I met him in Lampang at a coffee shop and he showed me the hammock he had made me. Well the quality was amazing, it even had a built in ridgeline (technical hammock term for geeks!), zippered mosquito net and came with its own stuff sack. We hung it between two trees outside the coffee shop and I was immediately impressed with the added comfort the larger size afforded me. I was more than happy. If anyone wants a hammock send me a message and I will give you his contact details.
On to Sukhothai…
The Sukhothai Historical Park contains the ruins of old Sukhothai, the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom that was founded in 1238.
Dozens of well preserved and restored monuments dating back to the 13th until 15th centuries are found in a well maintained park like setting with lakes, ponds and trees. The park is much less visited than better known historical sites as Ayutthaya and Angkor.
Sukhothai was the first independent Thai Kingdom, where Thai art and architecture developed into what is known as the Sukhothai style, influenced mainly by Khmer and Singhalese styles. Characteristic for the Sukhothai style are the lotus bud chedi and statues of a walking Buddha, the clothing draped around the body.
Much information about the history of the empire and its Kings is known from several inscribed stone steles like the famous Ramkhamhaeng stele, discovered during excavations in Sukhothai and its vassal towns.
The old city is surrounded by a moat and city walls enclosing an area of about 2 kilometers long and 1.6 kilometers wide. Entry gates in the center of each side of the surrounding wall provided access to the city. The 3 km2 area contained the Royal Palace and a number of the most important temples. Spread out across several areas outside the walled area are the ruins of dozens more temples in various states of preservation.
The historic town of Sukhothai and associated historic towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Wow, another beautiful example of ancient civilisations in SE Asia, maybe not as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but still definitely worth a visit. Whats great is that no cars or motorbikes are allowed in the park, so you either walk, or like most people I cycled around from location to location. Peaceful and beautiful.
On I cycle. I reach Don Chedi and realise I’ve just passed the 30,000 km mark!! Well done me. Another 10,075 km and I will have done enough to have cycled around the planet once, and I’m still only in my second continent!! Who needs to cycle in a straight line?
30. 0. 0. 0 lol
Next destination is Kanchanaburi…
Beyond its hectic modern centre and river views, Kanchanaburi has a dark history, paid tribute to at excellent memorials and museums. During WWII, Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and conscripted Asian labourers to build a rail route from Thailand to Burma (Myanmar). The harrowing story became famous after the publication of Pierre Boulle’s book The Bridge Over the River Kwai, based very loosely on real events, and the 1957 movie that followed. War cemeteries, museums and the chance to ride a section of the so-called ‘Death Railway’ draw numerous visitors to Kanchanaburi.
I was able to walk around the Commonwealth War Grave and spend some time reflecting on the great sacrifices that people have made in the past.
About 70km from Kanchanaburi is Erawan national park and my friend Cynthia had told me about some great waterfalls there. Who am I to pass up a waterfall opportunity!! And I have to say the 7 tiered waterfalls that cover a rough distance of 2 kilometres are stunning. Emerald green pools and individually shaped falls along a wooded trail make for a spectacular day out. You can also swim in several of the pools and I joined the bikini clad crowds to cool off in the pools. I didn’t wear a bikini I mean, just enjoyed the sights!! Of the waterfalls!!
From Kanchanaburi I was now heading to the east coast of Thailand. I had made the decision to not bother going into Bangkok as I had previously visited in 2000 and really didn’t feel like cycling amongst all that traffic was worthwhile. However, before I hit the coast I did stumble across totally by accident another huge tourist attraction.
Maeklong Train Market…
Many markets in Thailand look the same. But one that definitely stands out is the Maeklong Railway Market. Why? Because it has a train running through the middle of it several times a day. Right down the middle and close enough to touch. Only in Thailand! This market has everything that we’ve come to know and love in Thai markets. Its stalls have displays of fruits, veggies, meats, seafood, as well as sweet snacks, clothing, and flowers. A charming little warning bell goes off over the speaker system just a few minutes before the train comes. Within a few minutes of receiving the warning, vendors pull back their specially designed awnings before the train comes, sometimes only moments before. That’s why the market is locally known as the Talat Rom Hoop which translates into “Market Umbrella Close.”
I happen to be staying in a hostel close to this phenomenon and when I cycle out in the morning I come across the chaos that is the market. Apart from the fact its sitting on the traintracks between a narrow space between houses there’s also the fact that several hundred tourists are standing in the road at the rail crossing waiting to catch a glimpse of the train trundling down through the market on its way to the station. I park up and join the crowds!!
That same day I finally hit the coastline of Thailand. White sandy beaches, palm trees, blue azure waters. This is going to be my daily sight for the next 600km or so! Paradise.
That first day I reach Cha Am…
Thanks to its long and peaceful coastline on the Gulf of Thailand, hotels and resorts at Cha-Am are thinly spread out to make for a clutter-free area that’s never overcrowded, and most have direct beach access. The beach is clean and void of the busy activities that are often found on Thailand’s popular beaches. Even so, some activities are on offer to make the beach here a fun experience for those who seek a little bit more than just a deckchair and a parasol for the day (these are either provided by the hotels or can be rented from vendors). From pony rides on the beach and thrilling banana boat rides for the kids (and grown-ups!) to waterskiing, windsurfing and parasailing for adventure-seeking beach lovers, Cha-Am’s long beach offers something for everyone. If it’s a peaceful spot you’re after to bury your nose in a book, or a traditional Thai massage under a parasol, you’re easily covered too. It’s a great place to take a long stroll too – or a jog – especially at sunrise or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler. All along the beach are patches of trees fringing it (but no palms), and a humorous aspect of Cha-Am is that these are the spots where you’ll find Thai visitors, while tourists seek out the unshaded areas to bronze up.
Well it’s pretty idyllic, so much so that having found a very cheap and clean hostel right by the beach I decide to stay for a few nights. Nothing like lazing by the beach and enjoying a few beers in the evening! Also whilst Im here I meet up with Tania, a Brazilian cyclist who I have been following on Facebook. She is cycling north and I got in touch with her knowing our paths were about to cross. We had a lovely meal together and shared tales of our relevant journeys and gave each other tips on the road ahead!
Further down the coast in Prachuao Khiri Khan I meet Akram in the hostel I am staying at, in fact he shares a room with me. Akram is from India and he is doing a charity ride. He is cycling 6000km in 60 days through 6 countries; India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We spend the evening chatting and I fix some of his equipment for him before we pop out for a walk along the beach and grab some food. Sometime during the evening we decide to cycle together for the next few days so long as Akram is happy to slow his pace down and it doesn’t affect his challenge. Brilliant. He’s a really lively chap and good fun to be around.
The next day we cycle 85km down the coast together, always chatting away and stopping for pictures, food and drinks. Before we know it the day is nearly gone and we decide to camp for the night. I gift my spare hammock to Akram and we set up in the grounds of a temple after asking the local monks if it’s ok. Later on one of the monks calls us over and lays out a ton of food for us to eat. This is from their alms that they collected from the locals this morning and would have gone to the local dogs if not eaten. Bonus. We get to eat some very tasty food once again.
Talking of food, so far Thailand has been amazing. I’ve particularly enjoyed the markets in the evenings where you can get all sorts of spicy delights, my favourite is fried balls of rice that are then crushed up and mixed with salad, peanuts and lemon juice and chillies. Totally delicious. But also there’s Tom Yum, Pad Kra Pow, Pad Thai, Red Curry, Yellow Curry and a horde of other delicious dishes. During the days rides I also stop at 7/11 stores for their chocolate milk that sits in a dispenser. A large cup of this is a great source of protein and energy and costs only 18 baht ($0.60)
As for the people of Thailand. They’re super friendly, always smiling and waving, I’ve also been stopped numerous times with gifts of ice cold water and sports drinks. In this sweltering heat and humidity it’s a well received gift and I invariably slurp them down whilst they’re still cold.
Back to the road, we cycle on in the morning after letting the monks ride my trike and get a photo together.
Today we cover 105km and considering it rains for quite a bit of the day (we’re now definitely in the monsoon period) I get a puncture, my first in SE Asia and Akrams rear hub bearings are shot its pretty good going. We manage to find a cycle shop in a large town to fix his hub and then as Akram is a muslim we manage to sleep in a local Masjid (Mosque). There’s a shower and toilets and we even have a fan to cool us down during the night.
A couple of days later we reach the outskirts of Surat Thani, and after another nights hammock sleep I finally say farewell to Akram. He needs to continue heading south towards Malaysia and I am heading across to the west coast and onto Phuket Island. I’ll be following his journey online and hopefully I’ll keep in touch with the cheeky young man. Good luck and best wishes Akram.
It’s 200km to Phuket and I’m unsure if that’ll take me 3 or 2 days. I’m going to stay with some old friends that now live on Phuket. I met Billy and Claudine in Baku Azerbaijan in 2017 as I was preparing to cross the Caspian Sea. They were living there and working and have now relocated to Thailand where Claudine is working at an International school and Billy is retired. Its going to be lovely meeting them again and they have said I can stay as long as I want. Little did I know how long that stay would become!!
Anyhoo, I do manage 104km that day and find a lovely little shrine beside a river just outside a village to hammock camp beside. A handy 7/11 store provides dinner and breakfast the next day!
95km to go and it’s a Sunday. I am soon passing groups on racing bikes as affluent locals get out on the weekend ride. To get onto Phuket Island you cross the Sarasin Bridge. It’s at this point I am still about 35km from Billy and Claudines house. I see a group of road cyclists in the distance and decide to put the pedal to the metal! The road is super smooth although now it’s quite busy and it doesn’t take too long before I catch them up and start drafting them for a respite. I’m doing about 33kmph which is near the top end of my manageable speed on the flat. But not quite, I push some more and give them all a cheery grin as I start to pull up alongside them and overtake. The looks on their faces!! Me on my fully loaded trike and them on their road machines and lycra! It doesn’t last as they take umbrage to my passing and they too accelerate and soon pass me by again, but with lots of grins and thumbs up all round! They soon leave me behind, especially when I hit a slight incline and my speed drops of significantly, damned luggage!!
Well having told B&C I would be with them mid afternoon, they were surprised when I tipped up midday after flashing through most of northern Phuket on the road cyclists coattails!! B&C live in Bangtao about a 5 minute walk from the pristine Bangtao Beach.
They live in a huge house sitting in a lovely garden surrounded by coconut trees, palms and enjoying life with their English Cocker Spaniel, Teddy.
It’s great to see them again and it’s like only yesterday that we last saw each other in Baku. Time for a few days off me thinks. Well actually I really need to replace the rear shock on my trike, as the damping has effectively stopped working which induces a bounce as I cycle along. I have scoured the internet the past few days and after getting their permission I order a new shock from the manufacturers in Taiwan and ask them to send it out to B&C’s address in Thailand. Whilst I’m waiting for its arrival I spend days walking the beaches and jungle with Billy and Teddy and meeting their friends.
Eating out at some lovely restaurants or sharing the cooking with Billy at home. I cook Swedish Meatballs one night that I learnt to cook in Gotenborg and it’s such a hit we cook it again when some friends of B&C come around for a meal. I met Karl and Emma, friends of B&C and had hit it off with them immediately. I also met Mel and Alex two ladies that do lunch (and Margaritas!), John a doorknob salesman and lots of other lovely people. We went on a waterfall walk with Claudine’s school where I had the misfortune of water logging my phone (as I mentioned at the start) so end up forking out for a replacement.
It’s at this point I realise one of my 2 credit cards has expired. I message my brother back in the UK to see if he has received a replacement… Oh yes, its been sat here a while!! Doh!! If I had known it could have been sent out earlier, but no worries, B&C don’t mind me staying longer to wait for its arrival. There’s also the Rugby World Cup on TV to watch and we invariably watch the first few England group games in Peppers a somewhat Expat pub in Bangtao.
I finally manage to rewrite and catch up with all the blog after losing it on my old phone and currently as of today, Wednesday 9th October my credit card has finally arrived in Phuket (Royal Mail tracking) so it should be here tomorrow. So my few days stop over has turned into 3 weeks. Now I need to decide what the plan is. By tomorrow I’ll only have 6 days left on my visa for Thailand and it’s 485km to the Malaysian border, about 6 days cycling. Or I could get the ferry to Koh Lanta and cut that down to 310km, 4 days cycling. My other options are to extend my visa for 30 days at a cost of 1900 baht ($62) or catch a 10 hour ferry direct to Langkawi Malaysia for about $120! I’ll just have to hope the postman calls tomorrow!! Then I can make a decision! Tune in next time to find out what happens!
Life’s a beach!!