So, I guess we kinda live here now.

“Some people never find it. Some only pretend. But I just want to live happily ever after, now and then.” – Jimmy Buffett

The plan was to stop on Koh Tao (a very small island in the Gulf of Thailand) for a week or two. We were going to try scuba diving, enjoy the beach, then get back on the road heading North for Chiang Mai. That did not happen.

Instead, our week or two is now at about six and we don’t have any plans for leaving any time soon. When we started the trip we always talked about scouting out places we really liked for when we wanted to take a break from traveling for a few months. We didn’t think we would end up staying on an island and training for new careers… sort of.

The first two weeks here were great. The weather was beautiful and the beach was fantastic. We swam and enjoyed all the Western and Thai food on the island. I got my open water scuba certification and we were just hanging out with no cares. We stayed up late, woke up whenever we wanted and generally relaxed. Lauren got food poisoning which was not fun at all, and the weather turned bad for about 5 days due to the remnants of a typhoon, but we were really enjoying it here. Our Visas were going to expire and we debated on what to do.

We considered a standard boat/van visa run to leave the country then come right back or maybe taking a boat to the mainland and riding the bikes to Burma and back. We thought about riding to Burma then just continuing up the Eastern coast. Finally we thought about just heading up to Cambodia. We debated for days and ultimately decided to just do a visa run and stay on the island.

We had an interesting mini-adventure for the visa run. We took the night ferry from Koh Tao to Chumpon and slept in bunks on the boat.

We arrived bright and early on a seemingly abandoned port at 5:30 AM and looked around confused. We waited with the other westerners and eventually a guy in a van showed up and started coralling us around. We ended up in a van, then switched to another van, then finally got on the road. What a road it was! The drive took us up and over the mountains toward Ranong. It was the same highway we had so desparately avoided on the bikes on the way down. Being in a car in and of itself was novel and the driver was downright insane. The road was a series of windy blind curves for miles. We spent at least 30% of the time on the wrong side of the road. Basically, there are lines painted on the road in Thailand, but they are purely for decoration. The other side of the road and both shoulders are all fair game. Passing on a blind curve just requires a simple toot of the horn and off you go.

It was about a two or three hour trip before we arrived at Ranong. We were shuffled to a place that copied our passports then stood in line to get exit stamps. We jumped on a boat that could only be boarded with crisp new ten dollar bills from the US for some reason.

The boat was a traditional longtail and we thought we had made it to Burma after a short trip. It turned out, this was the immigration checkpoint #1 of 3. The next thing we knew they were handing us life jackets as we laughed until we realized why. We had to cross a big gap of no-shit ocean to get to Burma. The boat was maybe 25 feet long and the waves were not small. We were splashed and rocked around for 40 minutes as we crossed the sea to Burma. “You may know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”

We spent a grand total of 20 minutes getting our passports stamped, then immediately left to come back to Thailand. The return journey was just as fun and re-entering was pretty easy. One gal in our group had a bit of trouble, she had done this several times before and the immigration officials basically told her she couldn’t come back into Thailand. Our guide stepped up and had some words with them and somehow it was magically resolved in ten minutes. +1 for booking through an agency and not trying to do it yourself. On the ride back, we got to know Cecilia from Argentina and had wonderful conversation about the island, diving, travelling and life in general. After the van ride for some reason we stopped to swap vehicles again and another gal in our group became beligerant. “If she missed the ferry, she was going to flip her shit!” she informed everyone over and over. We, along with Cecilia thought it was amusing and were glad that “shit flipper” ended up in a different van for the remainder of the trip. During the last leg which was a high speed chase to catch the ferry that involved dropping off a random Thai lady at a restaurant we chatted about how nice it feels to leave emotions like that behind. I proclaimed that if we missed the ferry the first round was on me and I knew a great seafood place at the pier. We laughed and decided we didn’t really care if we made it or not.

As luck would have it we showed up a few minutes late and they hadn’t even started boarding. That didn’t stop old shit flipper from cutting the line and ensuring she was among the first to be on the ferry so she could wait 30 minutes for everyone else to board. The whole thing was a great lesson in how far attitude can get you in life. Here is one person who is worried so much about something she has absolutely no control over. Additionally, the worst case scenario was that we miss a boat and take the next one. She was worried sick, embarassing herselft as she acted like an asshole. She was verbally abusive to the driver who was just doing his job and stressing out about missing a fricken boat! So much for the island attitude! On the other hand, Cecilia, Lauren, and I, took the oportunity to make new friends. We shared stories about how we might have reacted similarly in our previous lives, but have since learned that most of the time, it’s not worth it to get upset. The whole experience was a great reinforcement of all the decisions we made that brought us to that point.

When we got back we tried a new scuba shop called Goodtime Adventures, they also do rock climbing and flying trapeeze. The vibe at this place was exactly what we were looking for: stress free, laid back and focused on fun. I decided to keep pushing further with scuba and started my training to become a professional divemaster. I’d always thought scuba diving would be a great second career (if you can call it that) and Koh Tao is known for being one of the most beautiful (and cheapest) scuba destinations in the world. Lauren gave scuba a few more tries and decided it really wasn’t her thing so she started a climbing course to become a rockmaster. Like me with scuba, it is something she has always wanted to learn. She has fallen in love with climbing and comes back every day covered in bruises, calluses and smiles.

We’ve made such great new friends on the island, and it’s starting to feel like home. It feels good to have a purpose for awhile. We are absolutely going to get on the road again at some point, but for now we are living cheap and doing what we love on a tropical island… Why would we leave?

The last few weeks have been interesting. We’ve settled into a bit of a routine and our training kinda feels like work… But in a good way. Lauren is already guiding beginner climbers and I’m close to finishing up my divemaster training. She’s seen some amazing views from atop the island and I’ve dove with whale sharks twice! The bonus is once we complete our training we might even be able to make some extra money doing something we and a lot of other people are paying to do for fun.

I’ve fallen in love with the underwater world in the same way I love flying. The silence and serenity are unexplainable unless you’ve done it. I’ve blown a fair amount of money on scuba gear and training, but somehow justified it by the fact that I will be able to work anywhere in the tropics forever if I so choose. The long hair, no shirt and wearing flip flops to work style is fitting me a little better than a buzzcut and a prompt military schedule. The best part is that Lauren is climbing out of the same shop I’m diving at. We share lunch most days and go out to dinner every evening. It’s been busy, but once we finish the training we plan on settling into a part time work schedule and slowing down again.

I think we’re “supposed” to be on a bicycle trip, but I guess this chapter is a little more spontaneous and a little less spinning. In the meantime, we’ve got the two most expensive clothes hangers in all of Asia!

*Underwater photos courtesy of Logan Brown.

*Whale shark videos courtesy of some girl with a go pro who was on the same boat as me.

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Being happy is the only thing that matters…

A few years ago in San Antonio Texas, we were out at a bar with our friend Mike. He was travelling across the country and went out of his way to meet us while I was there for some training. We have a running deal that wherever I travel to, he will come visit. We went out for drinks and had a ball. We wound up at “Howl at the Moon”, a dueling piano bar where they had two giant mirrors behind the stage where you could pay money to write a message. The deal was, pay a dollar more than the last person, and they would erase their message and replace it with yours. Our message was, “Being happy is the only thing that matters. If you’re not happy, it’s your own damned fault!”. It stayed on the wall for hours.

We are doing exactly what we want and we’re really happy! Seriously, it’s not some unattainable goal that you can’t achieve because of bills or debt or illness… All that is required is wanting it and taking the first step. We just found what really makes us happy, then took the steps to make that our life! I’ll talk about our journey, but I think the basic principles can apply to anything you want out of life whether it’s travel or restoring an old car or changing careers. Also, yes, you can totally do crazy random shit with kids. We see people all over the place with them. A girl in my scuba class has a 7 year old who goes to the international school in Koh Tao and runs around the hostel or plays on the beach all day! He is guaranteed to grow up and be awesome. We see him playing computer games and being a normal kid, who also speaks three languages. So sit back, grab a beer and listen to a part of our story. Or don’t, either way you should sit back and have a beer because it is Wednesday… I think.

Our lives were very different 5 years ago. The circumstances and details don’t really matter that much, but we both remember when it all started to change. We were on Christmas break from work and school and took a trip to Florida to visit my brother and his in-laws somewhere outside of Daytona. They had a second house on a beautiful plot of land where they kept their harness racing horses in the winter. They suggested a campground a mile or two down the road and Lauren and I, along with my folks, each stayed in the campground “Cabins”. In reality they were park model trailers with wood siding permanently parked on the campground which most resort style camping places will have. The trip was great, but that is not why I’m talking about it. About ten minutes after we got the keys to the cabin, which was maybe 180 square feet with a sleeping loft upstairs, we looked at each other and said, “We could live in one of these!” The trip came and went and we didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward a few months and we were living in an old farmhouse in Mississippi, driving 35 and 40 minutes to work everyday and thinking we had it made. I was flying my ass off in the Air Force and Lauren was finishing up her bachelor’s degree. We had plenty of money and were saving a bit while spending the rest. We spent several months there until one day we realized we had multiple rooms that had nothing in them but boxes and mattresses that no one slept on. We had been living in this house for months and hadn’t opened half of our stuff. Thus, the great idea was born!

It took a few months of brainstorming and ideas, but soon I was calling the campground in Florida to get the information for the manufacturer of the cabin. We had decided to minimize and build a tiny house. We had it custom built and lived happily for 2 years in our charming little cabin on wheels.

Here comes the first lesson we learned: You don’t need stuff! There are a dozen cliches about your stuff owning you and every one of them is absolutely true. We sold what was valuable on Craigslist and had a garage sale for the rest. We kept the toys that took us outside (bikes, backpacks, kayaks etc.) since that is what made us happy. At the end of the garage sale we were giving away hundreds of dollars worth of stuff just to get rid of it. We didn’t miss any of it! Space became our new concern instead of price if we bought something. We just made “compromises” like having the one cup Keurig instead of the giant deluxe model. We actually became stronger as a couple because we were never more than 10 feet away from one another. When we had company over, we had to go outside… Oh darn.

There was definitely some bad with the good, towing the tiny house was awful due to the fact that it was a barn door on the highway. Living in a campground in Mississippi introduced us to some very eccentric neighbors, but also we made some great friends and had some wild times. Overall we loved it. I got a new assignment in the Air Force and we towed it all the way to Tucson, Arizona where we had a sweet gig. We parked it in our friend Mike’s backyard and I paid $250 to have a 50 amp plug installed so we could have electricity. He was a Snowbird and only spent part of the year in Tucson, so we had a million dollar view for the low price of keeping an eye on his place while he was gone. Nothing great lasts forever and he ended up selling the place so we decided to downsize once again and moved into an Airstream trailer so we could be more mobile. The tiny house was a pain to sell but that’s another story.

Our neighbors.

We continued to downsize, even though we really didn’t have to. It became a habit to go through our closet every few months and get rid of crap we didn’t wear. We realized we don’t need 3 skillets, we need one. People in the Air Force gave me shit all the time for being weird, but I just smiled as they drove away in their brand new cars to their giant houses that were costing them thousands of dollars a month. Our cars were paid for with cash and I made another great discovery.

Mr. Money Mustache is a quasi famous financial blogger who is less about finance and more about living a reasonable life and not blowing all your money on stupid stuff. He retired at 30 and is living a dream life in Colorado on $25,000 a year with a family of three. Check out his website for the details. Loosely following his philosophy, we we were putting aside over half of our take-home pay to pay down debt and when that was done, we were saving that money. We made reasonable choices and didn’t buy things that didn’t increase our happiness. We weren’t living destitute by any means though. The small RV fridge was always stocked with top shelf IPAs and Lauren cooked gourmet dinners most days of the week. We tried to stick to a policy of only going out to eat for things we couldn’t cook like Indian and Ethiopian food. We obviously had moments of weakness, but overall the principles worked. The plan was to finish out my commitment to the Air Force, then go travel the world on bicycles, taking breaks when we ran out of money and doing part time work like caretaking, bartending or maybe becoming a scuba instructor. In the meantime, we spent a lot of time outside and made awesome friends. Life in Tucson was good!

This has been hanging in my office for years.

Crashing a random wedding rehearsal with Luu, a warmshowers guest and Ben n Kelly!

Things do not always go as planned. I got hit with a curveball as I was finishing up my training in the A-10. I found out I have arthritis in my back and wouldn’t be able to fly fighters anymore. Long story short, I was medically discharged, and our adventures would be starting a little earlier than planned with a little less cushy financial cushion. We could have stayed in Tucson. I could have easily found a job with Raytheon making good money or flown for the airlines, but we didn’t want more money, we wanted to see the world. Sometimes life happens… You can either bitch and complain about how things aren’t fair, or you can not do that and find something else that makes you happy… We chose the latter.

I don’t know very much. I’m 32 years old and just trying to live the best life I can. I have had some shitty luck and some good luck. Actually no, there is no luck. You’ve got to make your own luck. Anything else is just an excuse. What I do know is that even if I had a billion dollars, I’d be sitting on the exact same island I’m on right now with the exact same person riding the exact same bikes. I’d still be drinking a Cha Tri Thai IPA and probably still typing this on a bluetooth keyboard on my cell phone.
Space has become the ultimate commodity for us living on bikes and we make all of our purchases (not many) based on that more than price. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m happy. The journey to that happiness was an unexpected one, and certainly didn’t happen overnight. You don’t need to sell all of your stuff and go ride bikes in a foreign country to be happy, unless that is really what you want.

What you do need to do, at least if you bothered to read this far, is take that beer in your hand, walk away from your computer and go outside. Sit on the cold ground for a few minutes and think about what you would do if you didn’t have to work anymore. It sounds like a high school guidance counselor exercise, but honestly go do it. Whatever the thing is that you came up with, make it your priority. Make it a financial priority over the new car you were going to buy or the trip to an all inclusive resort in Cancun or even that $60 steak from Ruth’s Chris (Unless it’s your birthday, then eat the most expensive steak you can find). Make it a time priority instead of wasting time on the internet or spending time at lame office parties with people you don’t like.

If you think it is unachievable, or retirement is too far off, the next time you are going to check facebook or watch cat videos on the internet, read a Mr. Money Mustache article or find some other way to get closer to that goal. Or don’t… Do whatever you want.

As I write this, am sitting here on a tropical island in a room that costs less than $9 a night. The air conditioner is not even connected because we don’t need it and my biggest problem in the world right now is the fact that we have to run to the border in Myanmar tomorrow night to re-enter Thailand so we can stay longer. Actually, that’s my second biggest problem, the first is deciding if I want to be a scuba diving instructor, or ride my bicycle with my wife up the Eastern coast of Myanmar. And it’s Thursday… I think.

Prachuap Khiri Khan to Koh Tao

“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him.  We, the people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them.  We speak of them only to children.  Later, we simply let life proceed, in it’s own direction, toward it’s own fate.  But unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them – the path to their personal legends, and to happiness.  Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out indeed to be a threatening place.”

– Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”

Our stay in Prachuap Khiri Khan (PKK) was relaxing and we had some good times taking a load off on the coast.  As beautiful as the beachside view was, we learned that it was not swimable.  Our first hint should have been the fact that no one else was walking on the beach or swimming.  We were wondering why for a few days and figured it out when walking the beach with Betty and Mark.  All of the sudden, the water felt really warm and smelled horrible, then a quick look to the left revealed the secret of PKK’s beach.  The sewers were draining right into the ocean!  Not THOSE kind of sewers, but it was definitely run-off from the streets and not pleasant.  When we got home, we thouroughly washed our legs and decided we’d stick to the sidewalk that ran along the water.

On the last afternoon, we took a trip to the Thai Air Force Base that was in PKK to check out the swimming beach and the monkeys.  Unfortunately the monkeys were sleeping so we hit the beach and while it was beautiful, there were a lot of people there.  Once we got in the water, it was wonderful and we played like a couple of kids splashing and jumping in the waves.  We drank a few beers on the beach and were entertained by a little girl who was rolling around in the wet sand and surf and giggling like a literal schoolgirl.  We and her parents were very entertained.  During lunch we met Gerhardt, a cyclist from Austria who was riding a KTM bicyle.  We chatted for awhile and recommended our guest house to him.

​​We met Gerhardt again that evening and talked bicycles for hours.  We shared some pizza from Mr. Bong’s and had a lovely evening.  Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much of a niche we are a part of when it comes to cycling.  Gerhardt was very much an athlete.  He rode long days to cover tons of distance and stuck to the highways in order to take the most direct route possible.  He was travelling on roads we wouldn’t even consdier taking unless we had an emergency and needed to get to a town ASAP.  The world of bike touring has so many varieties even in such a small niche.  There are skinny tires, fat tires, paniers, bikepacks, athletic achievers, trail blazers, racers, challenge seekers and tons more.  I haden’t thought much about where we fall on the spectrum until we met someone who is doing essentially the same thing as us but in such a dramatically different fashion.  Neither is right or wrong, just different.  First there are cyclists, then touring cyclists, then bikepackers, then fat tires, then finally (and we may be the only ones) cyclists who ride less than 50km per day and don’t plan their trip, stop all the time for afternoon beers on the road and wander about on back roads taking the most inefficient route possible for the sake of exploring the tracks that everyone else doesn’t see.  Right now we are sitting on Koh Tao, an island off the Eastern Coast of Thailand and are considering staying here for a few weeks, or maybe a month, or maybe six.  

The luxury of time and no possesions at home is awesome.  We realize at least once a week that wherever we are is our home and everything we’ve got fits on our bikes!  Also, we’ve been compiling a list of problems that we face day to day.  Here are a few from the list:

Deciding which island we should visit.
Having to constantly clean my sunglasses because of the sea spray.
And the greatest problem in the world to have…  What day is it?  Oh wait, it doesn’t matter!

We took off from PKK on our way to Chumpon and the first day started off great.  We were greeted by kids on the backs of scooters smiling and yelling HAALOW all morning.  A few kilometers in we hit a roadbloack.  The detour took us past an aquarium, and as we rode past the gates, the guard smiled and motioned us in.  Who were we to argue?  We rode up to the front and as we were locking the bikes up a swarm of people started forming around us.  It was a man with a bunch of kids and they all wanted to practice their English.  We smiled a lot and tried to explain our trip.  Lauren was able to practice some Thai with them as well. They asked for pictures so we all posed together in front of the bikes and snapped a few for ourselves.  It was a charming experience and we were very glad we stopped.  We said our goodbyes and made our way into the aquarium.  The A/C felt great and it was the perfect afternoon stop.  The translations for the fish were amusing and we had a nice little tour.  

One afternoon, we passed a place called “Rocky Point,” which was the same name for the beach we visited in Mexico with friends last summer, so naturally we had to stop for a beer.  It felt good to get out of the sun and we took a bit of an afternoon break.  We used the wifi to do some research on possible islands to visit and I somehow ended up on the lonely planet forums…  Don’t go there!  It’s a combination of everything wrong with the backpacker community plus the internet.

Along the road we saw a few signs that were anti-European Union and the locals definitely were not fans of Westerners.  I couldn’t blame them at all.  There were resorts everywhere catering to rich retired Europeans and they were pushing the fishermen out of their villages and taking over the coast.  We felt guilty and frustrated.  At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart hippie, I started thinking about our trip and our motives.  On the spectrum of travelers I like to think we fall somewhere far from the condescending self-righteous douchebags who are wearing rice paddy style hats walking around town insulting locals and acting like drunk idiots.  On the other end are the rich tourists who are pampered at a resort they never leave. We genuinely want to spend time getting to know the places we travel and interact with the people.  To each his own I suppose.

In a serindipidous turn of events, as soon as we left the town we were hungry and decided to stop at a shack at an intersection on the road for some lunch.  Under the roof was a middle aged Thai Woman cooking on a propane stove with no electricity.  Also, there were two young guys enjoying their lunch.  We rode by and decided to immediately turn around for some lunch.  The looks on their faces were priceless.  We had a short conversation introducing ourselves and ordered via the tried and true, “I’ll have what he’s having” method.  We were treated to rice and pork “Mu pad prik” as we were instructed.  We were thankful for our language practice because “Mai pet krap” (Not spicy please) definitely came in handy when I saw the heaping spoonfull of chili powder she was about to dump in the dish.  The food was delicious and the company was great.  A few giant gusts of wind came by and it felt like the shack might blow away, we were all laughing and playing charades to talk about the wind.  When we got up to pay we couldn’t believe it was only 60 baht for both of us. (about 2 USD)  We thanked her profusely and jumped back on the bikes.  We never have pictures from these kinds of stories because pulling a camera out just feels wrong. Instead, here is a picture of a cow.

With about 8 km to go that afternoon, we decided to add a little adventure to the route.  The open source map we use has tons of dotted lines that represent dirt roads and paths.  I spotted a small two mile loop that was generally heading in our direction so we checked it out.  Finally, a little bit of mountain biking!  We started up a steep sloped washed out path and before long found ourselves in a thick jungle.  The path was rough and sloppy and we had a blast.  The navigation was a lot of guessing and turning around but we felt like we were deep in the jungle on an expedition of sorts.  In reality we were probably never more than a few km from the road.  The small detour was worth it and we felt like we were properly on our way.  

That night things took a turn.  I paid the price for the roadside shack pork.  I woke up in the middle of the night and let’s just say food poisoning sucks.  I was violently ill for several hours and the evening was not fun.  To top it off, the bathroom in our hotel had a strange odor when we checked in that later turned into an intolerable sewer stench.  Not a good thing when you are spending the entire night in said bathroom.  We decided to check out the next day.  Getting the bikes down the stairs with the strength of an infant was a challenge and the 2 km ride felt like the tour de France.  Somehow we made it to another hotel and I spent the next day recovering and waiting to be able to eat something.  We stayed 2 days just to make sure I was back in good shape then hit the road again.  The ride in the morning was incredible!  The road was right along the beach with hardly any traffic.  We chatted merrily and solved all the world’s problems as we rode.  As we ventured further, the local attitude changed again.  We saw a bunch more anti-EU signs and no one seemed to smile or even acknowledge our presence.  We concluded that someone was buying up all the land in the town and forcing the fishermen out.  We kept pedaling and tried to avoid feeling guilty.

That afternoon, we took a slight detour to Ban Saphon Noi, a small inland town.  We were looking for some AC and a spot for lunch.  Riding through the small town was a cool experience and it was obvious that not many cyclists come this way.  We had chips and Pepsi in the park and decided on our lodging for the evening.  We were off again and made it to a charming B&B on the coast.

The B&B seemed like it’s glory days were a decade ago and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.  There was a young Thai couple that did the cooking and upkeep and did not speak a word of English.  We took a dip in the ocean with no other people on the beach for literally as far as the eye could see.  Dinner was good and we met another cycling couple from Germany.  Ironically, they had spent the previous night at the same hotel as us.  We chatted them up and were inspired to find out they were 69 years old!  Their recurring holiday was to cycle Thailand for a month every year.  We felt empowered and excited, realizing this is only the beginning and we’ve got decades of traveling the world ahead of us!

We started late the next day due to a laundry miscommunication and paid the price physically.  The mercury was rising high and when the sun was not blocked by the clouds it was like an oven.  We took several pit stops along the road at what turned out to be community pavillions.  They reminded me of the ones you see out behind the American Legion back home.  Visions of high school graduation parties went through my mind as we sipped our water and waited for the clouds.  An interesting conversation came up:  “What would our teenage selves think about what we are doing right now?”  It’s an interesting thought no matter what you are doing with your life.  As I sit here writing this, I’m thinking perhaps the better question is, “What would my 90 year old self think about the life I’ve led?”  

The next part of the trip was a lot of pavement due to the close proximity of the mountains to the sea, and there were not a lot of North-South back roads to choose from.  Our choice to ride along the coast again paid off and we had some beautiful scenery.  In particular, the sand dunes North of Chumpon were beautiful.  If we had known about them ahead of time, we would have stocked up on food and water and stayed a few days.  The road was a fully paved coastal road that was completely abandoned.  We could have stayed for weeks with no one bothering us.  We had islands on our mind though and couldn’t wait to get to Koh Tao.

That evening we stayed at a small guest house.  When we arrived, the power was out so we hung out on the porch with the owners who were enjoying the weather and seeing to their newborn baby.  There was an adorable dog living out back and plenty of geckos in the room to keep us company.  It started pouring down rain and town was at least 1km away so we broke out our trusty camp stove and had rice noodles with chicken bouillon and canned tuna.  It was surprisingly good.  Cooking out of the doorway while it was pouring rain reminded us of camping in Colorado.  It seems like years ago although it’s only been a few short months.

At this point we were roughly 60km from Chumpon where the ferry for the island left from.  We decided we’d ride until we were tired and if made it, great.  If not, that was ok too.  It was a good day for back roads!  We had a blast splashing through puddles and a few flooded stream crossings.  Thank god for fat tires!  The sand was a non-issue for us where regular mountain bike tires would have led to an abrupt stop and two soaking wet Americans.  Once again we were on the inefficient route zig-zagging through coconut and rubber plantations surprising the locals.  We took our time and rode when the clouds were out, stopping for the sun.  It was a wonderful relaxing day and turned out to be our longest distance yet.  At one point we stopped at a small roadside market and woke up a sweet older woman who was having her siesta in the afternoon heat.  She was so happy to see us and insisted we take a load off to enjoy our bottles of water and strange gatorade-like drink.  We quickly exhausted our Thai and sat quietly smiling at each other.  We thanked her and said our goodbyes, happy to be on our way again.  The road we chose turned to follow a river which offered beautiful scenery and plenty of kind faces.  We decided not to eat fish in the area after seeing the water that some of the fishermen were tossing nets into.  We decided to stop for lunch at a small store where we loaded up on cookies, pop and salty treats.  The family who lived there was very nice and we did our best to explain our trip in Thai.  As we were packing up to go, they got a truck stuck in the mud.  We both trotted over and five of us together pushed and rocked the truck to get it out of the hole.  There were smiles all around and as we left the dad joked with the little girl that she should join us on her tricycle.  We waved goodbye and headed off again.

The last several miles were closer to the city and the road was a little busy for our taste.  As we weaved through the market, we got plenty of stares.  One woman yelled “OOOH Strong!”  and there were more than a few thumbs up.  We eventually made our way to the pier where the ferry left and had some delicious Tom Yum Gung soup on the water.  There were fishermen in the water up to their shoulders manually dragging their giant nets scooping up fish for the restaurant that we were eating at.  We found lodging right on the pier and slept well, ready for a bright and early 7 AM departure.

The ferry was relatively busy and filled with backpackers from all over the world.  It was candy bars and beer for breakfast, which suited us just fine.  The water was gorgeous and the sunrise was spectacular.  In a little under three hours, we could see land again!  On the boat ride I finished the book I’d been reading, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.  I don’t think, there is a more fitting read for someone on a journey around the world…  Thanks David!

The first few hours on the island were chaotic.  We were bombarded by taxi drivers and people promoting hotels and selling all kinds of stuff.  We kept our heads down and headed towards the dive shop to schedule our open water SCUBA diving course and find somewhere to stay.  The water is beautiful and the island is just what we needed.  We don’t know how long we’ll be here.  Maybe a week, maybe a few months, we are going to let the wind decide.

Video: Bikepacking Southern Thailand Part 1

1:  Samut Songkhram to Prachuap Khiri Khan

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?!?!