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.

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On The Road Again

Sitting here in Pennsylvania at my parents house, I decided to finally update on the last several weeks.  It’s been a LOT of travel (About 6500 miles of driving) in the truck with tons of ups and downs and one undeniable conclusion.  Travelling by bike beats driving a car down the interstate any day of the week!

The eclipse trip was fantastic and served as a great shakedown of Lauren’s new bike and our gear.  We rested up in Fort Collins for a few days and then headed South back to Arizona.  Unfortunately, we missed out on visiting Lauren’s cousin on the way back due to timing but we were able to make it back to Tucson relatively uneventfully.

Our awesome friends Ben and Kelly offered us their house for a few weeks for the low low price of taking care of 2 adorable pups until they returned from vacation.  Kuiper (named for the astronomer) and Lefty kept us busy and Lauren was in canine heaven.  We spent some time with Deana who treated us to an amazing dinner and listened to Led Zeppelin on vinyl on her porch via the record player she dragged outside.  Ben and Kelly came home and we spent a few weeks crashing at their place and living it up Tucson style.

There was Donkey Kong Country at Ian’s until 3:00 AM, time spent with John and Connie, our retired beef jerky Connoisseur friend and his wife and plenty of IPAs and binge watching “Rick and Morty” on Ben and Kelly’s couch.

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We randomly decided on a Wednesday that we’d take a trip to Mexico with Ben, Kelly and Alex for the weekend.  It was a mad dash to square away passports and spare tires for the van with 200,000 miles on it.  We left later than intended (it’s a trend) and rolled up to a beautiful beach house that evening.  They didn’t even check our passports on the way into Mexico, so if you ever wanted to disappear, you could totally do it!  The weekend was a blast. Breakfast by the water was 3 eggs, potatoes, beans, tortillas, bacon, sausage, and a beer for $5?  Yes please!  Ben grilled up the fresh shrimp and snapper we purchased at the market with grilled pineapple for desert.  We drank Mexican beer and played “Pass the phone and pick a song.”  The water was great and the pups had a blast.  All in all it was a great success!  We headed back to Tucson tired but happy for the good times.

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We had a sendoff dinner at the Polish Cottage with amazing food!  When we left we felt like we were leaving home because we made such awesome friends and even though we were there a short time, for the first time ever, we felt like we belonged!  We were both humbled by how many people came out to send us off and will miss all the friends from Tucson!

Getting out of town was a circus and we were late again.  The damned check engine light came on in the truck and delayed us while we tried to figure that out.  It turns out that sometimes you just need to run the piss out of a diesel to open up the exhaust filter.  We drove eastbound through Albuquerque and Santa Fe, then through Amarillo TX, with the requisite George Strait soundtrack through town.  We stopped for a day in Little Rock to spend some time with our friend Corrine and played copious amounts of Mario Kart.  She even busted out the old school Nintendo 64 from the closet and made my day!

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En route to Mississippi we passed through Forrest city Arkansas, yep the same Forrest that Mr. Gump was named after.  Then we rolled into Mississippi and settled in for a few weeks with Lauren’s parents.

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Amory Mississippi is an old railroad town and a close knit community.  It’s still a dry town!  We had a great time with Lauren’s parents.  We went for evening walks, took an overnight camping trip and went fishing on the bass boat.  Lauren enjoyed cooking some healthy meals with her mom and discussing new wines over dinner with her dad.

 I swung through Columbus MS to visit a few Air Force buddies too.  Two weeks flew by and before we knew it we were on the road again, this time to Savannah, GA to visit Lauren’s sister Christa and her husband Kyle.

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We had a great time, went on a ton of walks around the neighborhood, and ate some fantastic food.  One night we went to the Chromatic Dragon and played Settlers of Catan and “Epic spell wars of the battle wizards” with a few Dragon’s Milk Stouts to spice things up.  They had tons of board games and video games in the bar and the menu was all named after games and other nerdful things!  It was a really cool place.  Most evenings were spent at home playing the ridiculously entertaining Drawful game on xbox which is a cross between pictionary and balderdash.  Before we knew it the week was over and we were headed North to Asheville.

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Our first stop in North Carolina was Lauren’s aunt and uncle’s house up in the mountains.  We ate delicious healthy food and talked a lot about our adventures.  We got up the next day and braved the rain for a mountain bike ride through some washed out trails that qualified as rivers in certain spots.  It was a fun ride and we got our butts kicked by Uncle Paul and Aunt Mel who are in fantastic shape!

We parted ways and headed to Asheville for a few nights.  We ate some great Nepali food and went for the compulsory trip to Wicked Weed to sample the sour beers.  The plan was to have three beers or so and call it a night, but then things took a very strange turn.  The guy next to us, George started chatting us up and bought us a bottle of fantastic sour called Medora.  He said there was some amazing concert next door at the Orange Peel.  Long story short, we ended up with free tickets to a band called “Run the Jewels” and although it wasn’t our typical style of music the show was a blast!  George kept buying rounds and our plans of riding the next morning slowly faded away.  Details are hazy but at some point we talked to some high school kids at the show and ended up in some intense philosophical debate at the end of the night with George.  What are those three things you’re not supposed to talk about at the bar again?!?!

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The next day was wasted spent recovering in the hotel room and lazily ordering food delivered to our door and watching bad TV.  Once recovered, the next day we made plans to meet our friend David who lives up in the mountains about an hour away.  We had a day to waste while he was working so we walked to West Asheville and checked out Archetype brewing.  Sitting on a couch in the corner and smelling the boiling wort made for a perfect afternoon.  We waited patiently for David to call us but later found out his phone was broken.  Oddly enough he randomly remembered my parents phone number from 20 years ago and was desperately trying to call my Mom to get my number.  Eventually he got a hold of us, we got directions and headed up into the mountains for an amazing weekend.

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We drank great beer, sat by a fire and listened to TOOL!  The conversations were great and we got along very well.  David has been an inspiration to us and is a big reason we are doing what we are doing.  There is something refreshing about someone who does what they want and makes decisions that lead to being happy!  We checked out his other cabin and future homestead sight, hiked around a bit and had another amazing night which included running around in the pitch dark barefoot screaming at the top of our lungs just for the hell of it.  We traded a few books and said our goodbyes.  It was liberating, refreshing and inspiring all at once and we can’t wait to go back!

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Next stop, Washington PA to visit my family where I’m writing this now.  It’s been a bit of a haze and our livers are in need of a break.   It’s been great to see my brother’s kids and spend time with some old friends and their kids.  When you move away from home, you naturally lose touch with people, but the friends who make an effort to stay in touch are a rarity and something to be celebrated… hence the sore livers.  Bonfires and barhopping abound and great conversations with great friends!  One Saturday we stopped at a bar where there happened to be a random wedding.  The bride walked down the aisle right behind us as we drank beer and sort of watched a football game no one cared about.  It was weird.

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Opinions about our trip are mixed and it’s taken a lot to try to convince people we are not crazy… actually I get the feeling they think we are more stupid than crazy.  You can’t spend your time worrying about what other people think though, or I mean I guess you can if you want.

I try to keep the ranting to a minimum here and I try really hard not to force my lifestyle or values on other people.  Everyone has to make their own choices in life and everyone is trying their best to make it in this world.  Our philosophy is “Being happy is the only thing that matters, and if you’re not happy it’s your own god damned fault!”  I’m not saying this kind of life is for everyone, or even for anyone, but we are going to give it a shot and see what happens.  I don’t think you need to sell all of your shit and go ride bikes in a foreign county to be happy, but taking some time to think about what you really want out of life and then making changes to make that a reality is all I would suggest… Or not…  Do whatever the hell you want!