We are finally riding! The trip from Bangkok to Samut Songkhram was very interesting. We caught the train from the station in Bangkok and loaded the bikes right onto the car with us. The train was an old noisy diesel train from the 1950’s, complete with antique fans on the ceiling, that felt like it was going to derail any minute. The route was just as unique. We left Bangkok and rode to Samut Sakhon for 10 baht a piece plus 20 baht for the bikes. We got off the train and had to catch a ferry to cross the river to the next train which was over a kilometer away and leaving in 20 minutes. Apparently the train system used to be privately owned to transport goods and was later purchased by the Thai government, but they never built a bridge over the Chao Phraya river. I’m sure there were easy- to-follow directions that led you to the ferry and the next train, but we sure as hell couldn’t read them. Instead we followed the crowd to the ferry and made the universal sign for train (Choo Choo) and somehow found our way. The next train was also an old diesel and just as rickety. Towards the end of the trip, the conductor motioned us towards the back door of the train for what we assumed was the last stop. Instead we found we were riding right through a market. No literally, people were folding up their awnings and sliding their stations back off the tracks by way of their own perpendicular tracks to make way for the train, then sliding them back on once we passed. The word was out about this unique market, and we ended up taking pictures of a bunch of tourists who were taking pictures of us. It was still pretty cool.
We disembarked awkwardly with the bikes and rode a short distance to the Hometown Hostel which was a great place. We met MJ and Paul from Canada and Ireland respectively, who were also on a bike tour. They had been on the road for a while, so we were asking all sorts of questions. We had a great night of beers and stories and also shared Thanksgiving dinner in the hostel with a group of English teachers from the US, Canada and Spain. Pizza and beer for Thanksgiving suited us just fine.
The next morning we got a late start as usual and planned a pretty easy day. Getting out of town proved interesting since we had to cross a divided highway, but we eventually made our way by picking through the side streets. Thus began the day of the dogs. We must have seen a hundred dogs in the first several miles, and most of them were either pregnant or about to be. The vast majority of the strays were harmless and seemed terrified of humans. We ran into a few that barked and gave a slight chase but no close calls, which is good since our rabies vaccines need a booster before they are effective. It was heartbreaking, but things are just different here. The silver lining was that most of them were well fed and seemed to be getting along just fine.
We ran into a roadblock along the way in the form of a small pond in the middle of the road that smelled like the bottom of a dumpster behind a seafood restaurant, so we elected to take a detour. Hooray for highway 4, a massive 6 lane interstate type highway that we had to parallel for a few miles to get back on course. We made a pit stop for snacks and met a sweet woman who was so happy we stopped in to her shop. We had aloe vera juice, Pepsi, strawberry milk candy, and dried magoes and agave which we stashed on the bike and are dealing with the wrath of the ants everywhere in our hostel right now!
We got back on track and the roads were not great for the rest of the day: semi-fast 2 lane roads with the occasional bike lane but not the dirt paths we were seeking. We got to that stuff pretty soon though. Along said road we saw what we thought might be a crocodile but turned out to be a giant monitor lizard (about a 4 footer) and our first glimpse of monkeys. (Not Davey Jones, actual frickin monkeys!) They were 3 feet off the shoulder and we heard they were aggressive and carry rabies so we had to keep rolling. Lunch was at a seafood place on the side of the road where the lady showed me how to peel the giant 6 inch prawns. They were delicious!
Our destination for the day was a supposed resort which turned out not to exist. As we stopped on the side of the road to figure out our next move, an old man walked up to us and started speaking in Thai. We managed to get the word for hotel figured out, but he just stared at us and smiled. We elected to turn back to the last town and found a “resort” which is a term used very liberally here. In reality we stayed in a spare room at a family’s small restaurant/fishing/lodging compound. We were the only patrons and were treated to beer on ice while they got the room ready. That night we had some fabulous giant prawns, crab meat curry, and deep fried seaweed.
The next morning we were off again. After a few more miles on the double lane road, we hit the ocean and had an awesome beach- side ride for a few miles. We elected to take a path I’d planned out into the country to get off the busier roads and the trip really started! Within a few kilometers, we were in a different world. There were rice paddies, farmers, cattle in the middle of the street and gorgeous views of the near vertical mountains in the distance. The highlight was when we took a wrong turn and ended up in a tiny villiage. We pedaled through what was essentially a driveway for a group of houses with people going about their business for the day. The elders were relaxing in the shade, and we looked equally confused to see each other in the middle of nowhere. In typical Thai fashion, they flashed us with big smiles and warm hellos (sawadee’s), and when we stopped to check the map, a nice young man appeared from nowhere smiling and pointing us toward the canal path. We thanked him and rode on. Once we were out of earshot, we stopped and just looked at each other. With giant smiles on our faces, we took in this awesome experience. We must have stood there for 20 minutes just grinning like a couple of idiots in the middle of the path reflecting on the moment and feeling grateful. Our trip had truly started, and we were right in the thick of things. Give me a dirt road over pavement any day of the week. All the research we did spoke of constant 7-11s and people everywhere. With just a few kilometer detour we wandered into another world and decided that big tires, no plans, and a slow pace is the way to do this.
We made our way back to the coast to find some lunch and had some incredible seafood once again. We ended the day in Had Chao Sam Ran with seafood at a restaurant 5 feet away from where the fishermen were hanging out with their families cooking dinner and having beers. Smiles were abundant, there were no cell phones or TVs, and the whole extended family worked, ate, and played together. We wandered back to our hotel along the beach and fell asleep to the echoes of karaoke from the beach-front stage.
The next day was more back roads and beachside riding. After lunch in Ban Bang Ket, we took a trip past the fishing boats out onto the pier to see the dueling giant squid statues and then continued south. We rode inches from the beach and made arrangements with Paul and Natt, our Warmshowers hosts for the night. If you are not familiar, Warmshowers is basically Couchsurfing for bicycle touring. I highly recommend signing up, even if it’s just to host.
We made it to Paul and Natt’s home with plenty of time to spare. Their place was right up our alley. It was a compound of sorts built around 2 shipping containers and an open air living area complete with a guest house and swimming pond. We got cleaned up and shared a beer while meeting the dogs: Hans, Wookie, Tiny and Hiccup. Paul was interested in our bikepacking setup and big tires, and we chatted about everything from Thai culture to cycling and a little bit of politics. They took us in the truck to the market in Cha Am and we sampled some awesome Thai food, fruit smoothies, banana roti sweet bread, and a unique and delicious ginger soup with some sort of dough (tapioca?) balls. The company and food were perfect, and we shared another beer and plenty of stories. People like Paul and Natt are what make these trips so amazing, and we made plans to stop by again on our way back north.
The next morning we were late as usual and decided to have a cup of coffee before we headed out. Paul decided to join us for a few kilometers and showed us a great dirt road that got us pointed in the right direction. He was hauling (kicking our) ass on an unloaded skinny tire touring bike so we got a great workout for the first part of the day. We thanked him again and parted ways. For some reason, we chose to ride more pavement to get to Hua Hin quickly, and it wasn’t nearly as great. If you’ve never been on a cycle tour and only read about them, you’d think it is sunshine and rainbows all the time. In reality, sometimes it sucks and a lot of time is spent on miserable roads trying to get to a town for a desperately needed meal or just hoping you don’t get hit by a car or attacked by a dog! Most days are great, but not all. By noon we were both exhausted and the city traffic in Hua Hin was getting to us. We decided to call it quits early at about noon and settled into a hotel to rest up for the rest of the afternoon. We almost went to the beach, but instead spent 40 minutes figuring out how to order pizza delivery and ate pizza in bed and relaxed. This flexibility is great. There is nothing wrong with an 18 mile day. If things aren’t going well, we just stop and relax.
In the morning we headed out again for a scenic day that consisted of riding right along the beach. The parts that were not on the water weaved through dirt roads right at the foot of the most beautiful mountains. We put in our biggest mileage day of this trip which was about 50km (33ish miles) give or take. I’ve been trying to perfect my route planning, and I think I’ve got the system down now. It’s a little more challenging to do it all on a mobile phone, but with the right apps I can make it work. Gaia GPS is by far the best app I’ve found. I’ll get around to writing a route planning guide soon. We rolled up to our campsite in the early afternoon and pitched the trusty Mutha Hubba tent right on the sand at San Phraya Beach. We decided the rainfly was not necessary and spent the day eating the food at the campground kitchen and wandering up and down the beach. A few hundred yards away from the park was a group shooting a movie and on the other end were fisherman and their families coming and going on their longtail boats all day. It was a wonderful day, and we had the park practically to ourselves. We fell asleep a few feet from the waves, and although it was a bit hot, it was nice to stay in a tent again.
The next day started off a bit rough. We overslept and were both a bit hangry. It took some thinking before we realized, oh wait, we have no schedule or destination, why are we upset? The riding started off great through some dirt roads, but after a few hours we ended up a little far out from civilization right about the time we needed to eat. The best part of the day, picking through dirt paths and riding the canals, was overshadowed by our hunger and exhaustion. We could have easily stopped and cooked up some rice on the road side, but our stubborness got the best of us. Lesson learned! We tried to press on to the next town which had a restaurant that did not exist. Then we went to the next town which had a restaurant that didn’t exist. By the time we got to food we were a couple of deshevled cranky bastards. We drank some Coca-Colas to get our sugar levels up, and I had some fried mackeral while Lauren had some less than steller crab curry. At this point, we were only a few miles (Sorry for jumping back and forth between miles and kilometers, we are trying to learn KM since everyone except Americans use them) from Prachuap Khiri Khan which was to be our resting point for a few days.
We ate and rode the last few miles into town. About 1 mile from the guesthouse where we planned to stay, I pulled a giant shard of glass from my tire, and we sat on the side of the road spinning the tire to get the sealant to seal the hole. We rolled up to the hotel ready for a shower and a beer. Out on the porch we met “Betty” and “Matt” from Austria and Germany. We hit it off immediately and started drinking Singha and telling stories. We ended up spending the whole evening together and ate dinner and walked the beach, discussing travel and work and a little politics. I was a few beers in at dinner and feeling adventurous, so I ordered the fermented crab papaya salad. It was… crabby. Everyone had a bite and Paul and Betty both fist bumped me and said, “Respect” for eating it all. I’m glad I tried it, but one fermented (and apparently raw) crab is enough for me for the forseeable future. It was all great fun, and we hope we can meet up with them soon either in Thailand or Bavaria.
We are taking a few days off here at Maggie’s guesthouse. We are right on the water and next door to Mr. Bong’s amazing pizza. The other guests have been great and the weather is fine. We are going to stay here until Lauren’s birthday in a few days and then decide our next course of action. We thought we might go south, but apparently it is raining a lot right now so we might flex… Who knows?!?!