Ash's birthday was spent on the beach, in the quiet resort of Laem Singh, relaxing and swimming. It transpired that the swimming part would be very brief, as it didn't take long before I swam into a jellyfish! Whilst I didn't get stung, it was enough to convince us to make a quick exit after our fertile imaginations conjured up scenarios of being zapped by an army of box jellyfish...or eaten by a shark...or abducted by aliens! All of which were equally implausible! Despite this, it was a great day. We met two other touring cyclists (Mike and Helen) from USA who were just beginning their own adventure and spent a nice evening with them drinking beer, eating food from the night market and chatting about life on the road.
The route to Bangkok continued to provide us with ample opportunities to stop at seaside resorts. Mae Phim was a small town used to foreign tourists, but it was quiet enough not to detract from its natural beauty. We swam in the wonderfully warm (jellyfish-free) sea, which is proving to be the perfect way to relax muscles after a day in the saddle.
By the time we reached the city of Rayong, we had gravitated away from the coast and were predominantly cycling on the highway. Whilst the quantity of traffic was noticeably greater, it was still an enjoyable experience as we were nearly always treated to a nice wide hard shoulder and of course, where there is a highway, it won't be long before a Tesco supermarket pops up, so we were able to continue enjoying a daily banana loaf cake break!
Moving further north, we approached the popular (and apparently seedy) resort of Pattaya which looked like the kind of place we'd been actively trying to avoid...high rise blocks of apartments, aquariums, water parks and hoards of badly dressed Russians (is there any other kind?!). We pressed on, stopping would have been too much of an assault on the senses!
Thanks to some fantastic navigation from Ash, we arrived into the centre of Bangkok with relative ease. A frontage road, running parallel to the highway, guided us safely to within a few kms of our hotel and after a couple more right and left turns we had arrived! Our time in Bangkok was mainly to be spent resting, meeting my uncle and replacing a few parts on the bike. We were grateful discover Pro Bike near Lumphini Park. Their service was wonderful and, after a day in their capable hands, Dorothy and Clara had been given a new lease of life!
It was great to catch up with my Uncle (Stewart) in Bangkok. We were treated to a delicious Thai meal at an authentic little eatery just off Sukhumvit Road on the first night. The following evening, we met up again to share a feast of BBQ pork with sticky rice beside the pool at the hotel where he was staying. Above all, it was nice to see a friendly, familiar face and chat with someone sharing a passion for travel and who, in many ways, is responsible for my own wanderlust!
Clothes are cheap here in Thailand. I bought a decent pair of shorts from a street vendor near to our hotel for 50 Baht (£1). However, they weren't the first pair of shorts that I'd bought in Bangkok. That distinction went to a pair bought (for a much escalated tourist price) on Sukhumvit Road. On returning to the hotel and eagerly trying them on, I was disappointed to discover that they were too tight around my ever increasing waistline...a result of developing a seemingly unhealthy obsession with fried chicken! After fretting that it would prove to be a bit of wasted shopping experience, Ash decided to try the shorts to see if they would fit him. I think we were both amazed (as will most people who know us) to discover that they were a perfect fit! That goes to show how much weight Ash has lost over the past eight and a half months!
We didn't really get to see much of the sights that Bangkok has to offer. One day was almost entirely taken up with bike maintenance, another was spent relaxing in the room resting our legs and watching back-to-back movies, which only left one day for exploration. It might seem wasteful to be in one of the most vibrant cities in the world and spend our time doing mundane tasks and watching films like 'Bridesmaids' and 'Quantum of Solace' in the comfort of an air conditioned room, but cycle touring is a unique form of travel and sometimes a city-stop is simply a place to do admin and chill out!
We did, however, take a trip up the river and then spent several hours retracing our steps back to the central area on foot via Khao San road, past Wat Pho and the Royal Palace, before heading through Chinatown and finishing in Lumphini Park. It was a great way to get an over-view of the city and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the maze of streets with no real target destination. I might be wrong, but it seems as if the city is best appreciated at night. There is a unique vibrancy to the city once the sun sets and it's probably not for those who aren't at least a little bit open minded! To be honest with you I think it's bloody awesome that there is such a degree of cultural diversity in the city. We've travelled through many cities, particularly in Central Asia, where there is so much repression that cities become soul-less mausoleums for the living! Tashkent is a 'great' example of this.
On this trip, Ash and I award each other imaginary 'genius' medals for undertaking tasks with a degree of success or diligence. Ash already has a proud collection to his name, including: 'tent putting-up genius', 'bike mechanic genius' and 'really bad hair genius'. After leaving Bangkok, he was fully deserving of his gold medal 'genius' medal (the highest accolade available) for navigation. We left our hotel in rush hour, having to cross the city from east to west and it was, quite frankly, a breeze! You would have thought that cycling in such a busy city would have been a nightmare, but it wasn't. It would appear that a bit of forward planning and a seemingly photographic memory for maps and directions is all it takes. Marvellous!
Our first stop, after leaving the capital, was the town of Samut Songkhram which is known for having a unique market running along the train tracks. The market workers know the timetable and when a train is due to approach, the stalls are hastily moved to allow the train to reach (or depart from) the station! We weren't fortunate enough to see the chaos in action, but it was fun to wander along the train tracks and soak up the atmosphere.
We continued to head south, stopping in Cha Am for a night before arriving at the seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. We managed to find a room at the beachfront Suksant Hotel for a reasonable price and were rewarded with an awesome sweeping view of the bay from the balcony. Once we saw the view, we decided that it was the perfect place to have a rest day! The thunder storm that welcomed the new dawn dictated that we remain inside until lunchtime, when the clouds broke and sunshine reappeared, we took the opportunity to visit the 'Monkey Temple'. It was a fair old climb up the 360 odd steps to reach it, but totally worth every bead of sweat! We heard that locals often feed the monkeys, so we came armed with a bunch of bananas bought from the market. It proved to be one of the highlights of our entire trip: Ash fed the monkeys while I watched and took photos. It was amazing to see the feeding frenzy in action! We stayed for a while, just watching them playing in the trees, grooming each other, tormenting the local dogs and targeting visitors of a nervous disposition. The view wasn't bad either!
Since Prachuap, we have been lucky to cycle along some magnificent coastal stretches. Ice cream breaks have taken on a new dimension as they coincide with golden sandy beaches, turquoise water and a karst scenery backdrop. Having the opportunity to simply stop the bikes and go for a swim when the heat and humidity become too much is a wonderfully liberating thing to do!
For the majority of the trip, food has been an obsession! Thailand has offered us some of the most exciting food-related moments, often in the form of a night market. Virtually every evening, we've been treated to a seemingly endless choice of food from stalls that collectively generate a mouth-watering fusion of sights and smells. Moderation is something we clearly lack when it comes to buying dinner...with 'eyes bigger than stomachs' we usually leave carrying a selection of kebabs, barbecue pork and sausages, curry, rice, fried chicken, fruit smoothies, guava, mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, bananas...the list is endless. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for gluttony...and I learnt that when buying shorts in Bangkok!
Currently we are in the city of Trang, after crossing from the east coast towards the west on the Malay peninsula. We have spent the past few days away from the sea, and it has been nice to see a different side of Thailand. Mass tourism doesn't really extend this far south and it's been interesting to spend some time cycling past vast rubber tree and palm oil plantations and through villages where we seem to be more of an amusing novelty for the friendly locals.
A couple more days will see us cross into Malaysia as we rapidly approach our original destination of Singapore. That has now been extended to include Australia and New Zealand and we excitedly look forward to the continued evolution of our journey.
Love and hugs. X