Life on Koh Tao

Definitely not our dog… or our bike!

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”  -Mark Twain

Trying to decide what to name this post, it occured to me that we’ve been here for four months!  What a ride it’s been (or lack thereof concerning the bicycles).  I rode my bike once on the island which amounted to pushing up ridiculously steep paths and carrying the bike up the hill.  At the top, I blew out a sidewall on my tire and pushed back home.  Lauren was kind enough to send me this meme to cheer me up. Other than that it has been scooters that get us around the island.  Sometimes we even get a random island dog who wants to hitch a ride.  

Where to begin?  Reading the last post from February just now was strange.  It feels almost like we were different people then.  I’m looking at the pictures, and half the people in them have left the island.  We’ve since been to Malaysia, may or may not have 2 brand new tattoos and made some amazing new friends as well as continued the metamorphisis into the people we really are meant to be. 

At the beginning of February, we had the most amazing day and night of our lives!  It was Goodtime’s 10 year anniversery extravaganza and what a party it was.  It started with climbing and abseiling on the mountain.  Lauren was on duty showing the guests her stuff while I was dangling 20 meters up hanging from a rope and looking out at the most spectacular view of Sairee beach.  Next was rock climbing.  I got to see what Lauren does everyday and was humbled and impressed even on the “beginner wall.”  The afternoon moved down the hill to the full size flying trapeze setup.  We both climbed up the platform (Lauren for the second time) and wow, what a rush!  The very first swing, you are upside down hanging from your knees with no hands 30 feet in the air and backflipping to dismount.  It was a blast and the instructor Jemma was phenomenal.  The daytime activities were only the beginning though.  When the sun went down, the party started.  There was awesome live music all night and we nearly collapsed the deck at the bar due to the jumping and dancing.  There were goodtime tattoos for 500 Baht in the bar…  Who were we to pass up a deal like that?  

The official party ended, but we were on a roll so we kept it going.  There was more dancing and late night swimming in the ocean.  We went to bed with the sun and walked away with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for.  Our place on this island was solidified and we decided that we are staying here.  You can call it a home if you like, but we are thinking of it more as a base…  A jumping off point for future travels and a place to store scuba and climbing gear.  

Living on Koh Tao is wonderful, but one unavoidable aspect of life here is the visa situation, which took us to yet another country.  If our trip to Myanmar for visas was interesting, the most recent trip to Panang Malaysia was eye opening to say the least.  Without getting into too many details, we need to leave Thailand periodically in order to renew our visas due to weird government tourism policies.  The reason we went to Panang this time was because there is a proper Thai embassy and you can get a 2 month extension instead of 30 days.  In true Orlosky fashion, we waited until the last minute and rushed to get a joint boat/bus ticket since the train we wanted to take was out of service.  The trip began on another night boat and in the morning, we arrived in Surat Thani, Thailand and were shuffled about onto a “Mini Bus” which is basically the Asian equivalent to a church van.  Thus began the all day trip through the South of Thailand into Malaysia.  

At one point we were told to get out of the van in a city called Hat Yai in Southern Thailand and we waited in an open air room for 2 hours.  No one told us what was going on, but we deduced that we were switching vans for the next leg.  We wandered around a bit and had some great Thai food for lunch.  We didn’t eat anything too adventurous since we still had hours in a van with no idea when the next stop would be.  The border crossing into Malaysia was pretty benign and we learned that US citizens get an automatic 90 day visa for free which is good to know for future travels.  The difference between Thailand and Malaysia was a lot bigger than we expected.  Everything felt a lot more Western except for the calls to prayer on the loud speakers.  The cars and the clothes were more familiar and the road signs were in English as well as Malay which uses latin characters.  

As we rolled into Panang we laughed at how excited everyone was to see a Pizza Hut.  Living on a 21 km sq (13 mile) island makes you forget about a lot of “normal” things.  We were told to get out on some street in Panang and pointed towards Jim’s which was our travel agency.  It amounted to two guys, a computer and a couch, but they knew their stuff.  We had little more than our passports in hand and Jim took care of all the rest.  We stayed at a recommended place called Chulia Mansion which was a bit pricey at about 45 USD per night, but there was a rooftop wine bar with a free happy hour every night.

We met some interesting folks on the roof.  There was Paul, from the UK who volunteered at the animal shelter on Phuket, and also Peter.  He was in his 70’s and expatriated from the US to retire in Chang Mai.  He had an amazingly interesting life, serving in Vietnam, driving long haul trucks across the US, and traveling the world.  We learned a lot from one another, for some reason our tendency to gravitate towards older folks continues.  Maybe it’s their wisdom, or perspective, or maybe it’s ours.  

We spent time in Panang doing the requisite dumb tourist stuff like taking an elevator to the lookout on the tallest building which turned out to be hilarious.  We were shuffled around and made to stand in queues even though we were the only ones there.  At the top, after looking at the view, we decied to have a drink.  The bar was very swanky and I hadn’t had a proper martini in ages so I ordered one since it was on the menu.  After watching a conference of four employees and a manager trying to make the drink I realized I should have ordered a beer.  What they presented was brilliant.  It amounted to a glass of spoiled vermouth, a splash of gin, and a handful of black olives and a lemon twist!  Lauren and I split her beer and thanked them with a smile.

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun.  We went to a mall to get Lauren some climbing clothes and a few other little things and boy were we ever lucky.  There was a giant video arcade on the top floor.  We raced motorcycles, shot zombies, played drums, danced and flew fighter jets all afternoon.  It was good clean family fun!  

We ate amazing food the entire trip.  From schwarma to Indian to traditional Malay cuisine,  it was all so full of flavor.  We had such a good time that we stayed an extra day and can’t wait to go back. Duty was calling back on Koh Tao though.

After returning to Thailand via van we had a nice dinner at the pier market in Surat Thani.  Next we boarded the boat which had side by side mattresses covering the entire floor with no aisles.  It was not what I would call a modern vessel.  The constant creaking and groaning of the hull made for less than stellar sleep.  In order to use the bathroom at night you had to step over sleeping people in the aisles.  Oh well, just another night in Thailand.  We made it though and were welcomed back to the island by our amazing friends!  

The next few weeks were the definition of amazing and we’ve been the happiest we’ve ever been in our lives.  There is something special about this island. It is not the beautiful beaches and mountains, although they are gorgeous.  It is something deeper than that.  It’s in the people, it’s an attitude that nearly everyone shares.  The people who don’t share it don’t stay more than a day or two.  No one here seems to care about trivial stuff.  Of course there is some gossip and occasional drama.  We’ve been robbed while swimming late night, but the thief left our phones, wallets and bank cards.  It might sound weird but I wasn’t even mad.  

My arthritis has even improved here.  It may be the climate or my diet, but I can’t help but think the lack of stress in my life has helped immensly.  Not every day is perfect, and we still have problems, but by and large, life is the best it’s ever been.  Also, I just finished my training to be a divemaster.

Happy birthday Nate!

In a flying squadron in the Air Force, there is a right of passage known as the 
“naming”.  Once you achieve a certain level of experience and acceptedness, the boys deem you worthy and are given a callsign. (ie. Maverick/Goose) You spend some time in front of the crowd whilst being berated and demeaned for all the stupid things you’ve done since being in the squadron.  At the end, you drink a shot in some ludicrous way and are given your callsign.  Needless to say, the night involves heavy drinking and no one I know remembers much from their naming.  Little did I know when starting this new venture that the diving community has a similar tradition.

The dreaded snorkel test is not meant for the pleasure of the person experiencing it.  It is purely for the entertainment of everyone else.  My test was at Goodtime’s bar with a select group of dive pros and some local friends.  It started with myself and my fellow DMT (Dive master trainee) Polina, being dressed in ridiculous outfits and paraded in front of everyone while they cheered.  Next, we were subjected to dive trivia like converting metric depths to standard while drinking and other questions we clearly would not know.  Things are a bit foggy in my memory, but there were charades to act out different fish, being dunked in a bucket of ice water with a scuba regulator in and having to fill up a mask and clear it.  There was also a scuba strip tease  for our lovely spouses.  All the while, our performance was being evaluated and a concoction of booze and disgusting mixers were being poured into buckets conveniently placed behind us.  

The coup de gras was the actual snorkel test.  I was given a specially modified mask and snorkel with a giant funnel atached to the top and just for fun the mask had prescription glass suited for someone with 20/500 vision so I could not see anything.  There was a countdown, then the bucket was poured into my funnel and I had to chug it as fast as possible before drowning in booze!  I remember thinking, “I’m 32 years old, what the hell am I doing?”  The Blue Curacao, gin, vodka, and tequila were not the problem.  It was the Baily’s Irish Cream mixed with lime juice!  For all of you scientists out there, dairy curdles when mixed with citrus…  Surprisingly I got the whole thing down, I didn’t realize this at the time becuase once I finished it, they poured the remainder of my partner’s bucket in mine which included among other yummy treats,  spicy Thai rice soup from a styrofoam carton, M150 which is Thai Redbull on steroids and more lime juice.  Once that hit my throat my literal gut reaction was instantanious and I gagged and spit up all over my wetsuit…  Which by the way had the sleeves and pantlegs taped shut.  During this whole ordeal, I also had a giant bucket of ice water dumped down into the wetsuit which was now completely sealed.  Thinking I failed miserably, I took my mask off and was greeted with two dozen cheering laughing faces!  I was presented with my professional diver certification and could not have been happier.  Somehow I managed to continue the night and though the details are hazy, I’m pretty sure I had a great time!

Lauren is about to finish her rock master course also and our next adventure is starting soon.  What started as a two week break from cycling on has turned into an incredible life changing experience.  We’ve got amazing new friends, a new place to call home, new careers suitable to traveling and genuine happiness.

* Thanks to Charly for the awesome snorkel party photos!

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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?!?!