Tag Archives: tandem maintenance

Chong Mek to Hang Dong 16 February – 13 March 2014

Hot days, barking dogs, some interesting guesthouses and rather a lot of lazing around.  Our return to Thailand and, more specifically our return to our friend Andrew’s house, has seen us slip easily back into non-cycling mode.  We WILL leave soon Andrew, we promise!

The weather’s become noticeably hotter in the last few weeks and when on the road we’ve had to discipline ourselves to rise early.  We’re up, breakfasted and on the road by 06:45 to enjoy deliciously cool temperatures of around 25oC.  By 10.30-11am the sun has burnt off any morning mist and it’s over 35 degrees in the shade and remains like that for the rest of the day.  If there’s a hill coming we try really hard to reach it first thing in the morning.  When it’s flat we often knock out 100-110km by lunchtime and then spend the hot afternoon in either air-conditioned splendour or fan-assisted cool depending on guesthouse prices.

Coral trees cheer up an otherwise drab roadside.

Coral trees cheer up an otherwise drab roadside.

When choosing a route to take us the 1000+km from Chong Mek (where we entered Thailand) to Andrew’s house in Hang Dong, we didn’t so much consider what tourist attractions may be en route, but rather what the profile would be, and picked one that would be as flat as possible.  It’s been a bit boring on some days – rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, non-descript provincial towns, rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, you get the picture – but there’s been the occasional unexpected treat, like the mobile-conveyor-belt-automated-rice-paddy-planting-machine.

Rolls of rice turf are transferred by hand to the sloping delivery system at the rear, and  plugs are automatically plucked from the bottom of the turf and planted.

Rolls of rice turf are transferred by hand to the sloping delivery system at the rear of this contraption, from where small plugs are plucked and planted in neat rows.

Is there a collective noun for sugar cane trucks?

Is there a collective noun for sugar cane trucks?

Cycle tourists?  Where?

Cycle tourists? Where?

From Ubon Ratchatani we took route 23 to Yasothon, and from there headed west on the 202 to Chaiyaphum where we spent an afternoon at the Star Tiger Zoo and then took a day off the bike in a nice art-deco influenced hotel…unfortunately with a karaoke bar next door.

We have mixed feelings about zoos.  I like the idea of engaging and educating people – hopefully inspiring a desire in them to save what remains of the natural world – but I really don’t like to see animals kept in inappropriately small cages with little to stimulate them.  As expected, the Star Tiger Zoo was a bit of a mix, with a few reasonable environments, and quite a few wholly unacceptable ones.

Bored tiger.

Bored tiger.

Watching me, watching you.

Watching me, watching you.

A bask of crocodiles.

A bask of crocodiles.

This little parrot was far more interested in licking the salt from Keith's collar than in eating the seeds we offered in our hands.

This little parrot was far more interested in licking the salt from Keith’s collar than in eating the seeds we offered in our hands.

On the way out we had a bit of a run-in with some of the unruly school children who were milling around unsupervised near the entrance/exit.  The bike (which was loaded with all our gear) was the centre of attention and I feared for our mascot Meerkat’s safety as he was petted and stroked and no doubt presented something of a temptation for grasping little hands.  Thankfully he survived the ordeal, as did the children, who scattered rapidly upon our furious approach.

Continuing westwards, this time on the 225, and then north alongside the Bangkok-Chiang Mai railway to Mueang Pichit, we then wiggled our way northwest on various minor roads to Bang Rakam, which came at the end of a hot 110km pedal for us and was somewhere that we’d earmarked as a place likely to have a guesthouse.  It didn’t, and we had to pedal an additional 35km in the blazing afternoon sun to Kong Krai Lat, just east of Sukothai.  The guesthouse, when we eventually found one, wasn’t at all bad with free hot and cold water for drinks, and a nice enough restaurant across the road.

The next day we continued our generally north-westerly wiggle through Sukothai towards Thung Saliam.  Our lack of tourist-attraction planning became painfully apparent as we pedalled out of Sukothai and noticed a distinct increase in the number of guesthouses and western faces.  We found out later that Sukothai is a World Heritage Site, full of historically significant old wats.  I think Keith is a bit disappointed we didn’t take the time to explore there, but to be honest I’m a bit ‘templed out’ myself so don’t mind too much that we missed it.

Not quite authentic branding.

Not quite authentic branding.

After several long, hot days to Thung Saliam we did a short, 65km day to Thoen, setting ourselves up nicely for a cool, early-morning start to the one significant climb we faced on our route.  We arrived in Thoen before lunchtime and, after discounting one guesthouse due to the questionable mozzie-proofing of their windows and walls, we found an unusual but perfectly pleasant alternative set out on the forecourt of an abandoned petrol station.  Not the most salubrious of surroundings and it was noisy overnight due to the proximity of the busy dual-carriageway, but we liked the inventive re-imagining of the site.

The climb from Thoen over to Li was probably our nicest morning’s ride since re-entering Thailand.  The road rose gently, twisting and turning through hillsides painted gold and green by the turning leaves.  We left behind the villages and towns with their perpetually barking dogs and rose into a quiet, sparsely trafficked idyll where the only sounds were the chirps of birds and the steady whirr of our chains.  After several days of feeling like we were just putting in the kilometres to get to Andrew’s it was really nice to enjoy the actual cycling.

That evening we had a choice of two restaurants near our guesthouse in Ban Hong, both of which were karaoke restaurants – oh joy!  As we sat, me with my fingers in my ears, debating whether to just get a takeaway to eat in our room, the waitress indicated a separate, empty room where we could close the doors against the worst audio excesses, so we decided to stay.  We ordered our meal and were a little irritated when, unasked, the waitress brought us an already opened bottle of mineral water, which we would be expected to pay for, along with an also unasked for bucket of ice.  A moment later a man came into the room and started fiddling with the air conditioning and the fan, to little discernable effect, so with a little to-and-fro gesticulating and Keith’s ever-improving Thai language skills, we got him to stop fiddling with the fan and instead help us with the far more appreciated task of switching off the karaoke machine that was burbling away in competition with the cacophony filtering in from outside.  With volumes down to tolerable levels the meal was pleasant enough but when the bill came, in addition to the expected charge for the unasked for mineral water and ice they’d also added 30 baht for the (barely-functioning) air-conditioning.  Bl**dy cheek!  It was only about 55p, but we objected on principle, particularly on top of the water, and refused to pay it.

Our ruffled feathers were smoothed the next day when we reached the tranquillity of the little cottage our friend Andrew lives in just outside Hang Dong in the heart of the countryside, accessed by a series of little dirt roads.  There’s a resident dog (Henry) who is always happy to be taken for a walk, and I think we’re in danger of overstaying our welcome here as one week has quickly slipped away into two.

Time for a new hub.

Time for a new hub.

Inked by Bee at The Best Tattoo Studio, Chiang Mai.

Inked by Bee at The Best Tattoo Studio, Chiang Mai.

Keith has been catching up on some admin, updating some of the blog pages, rebuilding the rear wheel on a new hub and working with a local metal-worker to put more robust feet on the bike-stand.  I’ve been indulging my fondness for body art with a new tattoo and trying to migrate our old 2011 blog from the Bec Cycling Club website over to this one.  I apologise to those of you who have recently received emails containing 2011 post content and apologise in advance for any future emails of that nature that you may receive.  I’m not particularly savvy at the technical side of things, so whilst I’m doing my best to work out how to move the old posts over without those of you who are on our mailing list receiving notifications, I can’t promise I’ll achieve it.

We’re planning to drag ourselves away from the peace and quiet of Hang Dong this weekend and start the 2000+km journey south to Malaysia.

Phnom Penh to Bangkok 19-27 June

Tyres and tribulations! After putting new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres on the Pino in Phnom Penh (the ones we’d been carrying for 6000km since Chengdu) we thought we would easily make it to Bangkok before needing to think about buying new spares. Even taking the longer route via Siem Reap to see the sublime temples at Angkor it’s only 720km. Oh how the god of cycle touring inconveniences must have laughed at our naivety!

We got to Siem Reap just fine (albeit rather damp as the rainy season is well and truly upon us with torrential rain most afternoons) but as we left Siem Reap we noticed the front brake pad needed replacing (worn down by the gritty muck that’s thrown up off the drenched road every day). The terrain was very flat so we didn’t need to brake much that day and decided to defer replacing the pads until the following morning, at which point Keith spotted a couple of bulges on the front tyre. Yup, after just 300km the brand new tyre had begun to split where the sidewall meets the bead. Keith finished changing the brake pads and I, almost on a whim, checked the rear tyre. Surely the problem with the front tyre was a fluke, a freak occurrence….er, no. The rear tyre was bulging ominously as well.

We have been carrying a lightweight folding rear tyre as a second spare since setting off on our first Pino tour in April 2011 and had actually been thinking of sending it home as in almost 30,000km we’d never come close to using it….until now. How glad we were that we still had it with us and didn’t need to worry about what we’d do when the bulge in the rear tyre eventually blew. However, we definitely needed to do something about the front tyre. In the first town we came to that morning (Sisophon) we got chatting to a school principal who said we might get a tyre in the market (a 6km detour) but we’d do better if we could wait until we were in Thailand, which was only 45km away. As the bulges in the front tyre weren’t getting any worse we decided to keep going towards Thailand, but on the way we passed a bike shop and bought a cheap front tyre for £3. The Schwalbes were still holding up so rather than fiddle around changing them we decided to push on for Bangkok, secure in the knowledge we now had replacements for both front and rear. We crossed into Thailand (quickly noting that we needed to switch to the left hand side of the road as we watched the trucks ‘do-si-do-ing’ on the no-mans-land between the two border points) and as the day wore on it started to rain (of course) and then, BANG! If you’ve had a sidewall blow out you’ll know the sound.

It's the end of the road for this barely-used tyre.  Look at that pristine tread.  Heartbreaking.

It’s the end of the road for this barely-used tyre. Look at that pristine tread. Heartbreaking.

It was the rear one so out came the spare folding tyre and after some deliberation about whether there was any chance of fitting it inside the Schwalbe for extra puncture protection (no there wasn’t a chance, but it was a nice idea Keith) we were all fettled and off we went again. We’d hoped to get 120km done that day, but what with hunting for tyres, crossing the border, replacing the rear tyre, and battling with a headwind, we weren’t going too well. We decided to push on until as close to dark as possible…..but as time ticked on towards 6pm, BANG! Ah. That’ll be the front tyre then. At least it was only drizzling rather than bucketing down. Keith quickly switched it for the one we’d bought that morning and we gave up on the idea of trying to get much more pedalling done that day. The light was starting to fade, the road was pretty busy and visibility wasn’t great due to the rain. We reckoned we’d pushed our luck far enough and as there hadn’t been much sign of places to camp we treated ourselves to a guesthouse for the night.

Not much dry land for erecting a tent on.

Not much dry land to be seen for erecting a tent on.

One of the more endearing visitors to our tent on the occasions when we can find a place to pitch.

One of the more endearing visitors to our tent (on the occasions when we can find a dry place to pitch).

As well as being able to dry out comfortably in a guesthouse, having wifi also came handy for letting our friend in Bangkok know that we were a little behind schedule.  The next day we set off feeling re-invigorated and had a much better day, pushing out 150km to bring ourselves back on target. We camped about 55km from Bangkok and if it hadn’t been so damnably airless and sticky in the tent we would have slept well in the knowledge we’d got an easy day ahead of us. We were on the road by 7am, somewhat itchy and uncomfortable after a night drenched in sweat, but hey, we’re drenched in sweat (or rain) when we’re on the bike so whilst it’s not pleasant in the tent it doesn’t make too much difference in the grand scheme of things. The first 20km of the morning disappeared with satisfying alacrity but then, BANG! B*gger, b*gger, b*gger. The rear tyre had blown. We knew a lightweight folding tyre would never hold out for long against the abuse that a loaded tandem dishes out, so we’d never intended it to be used for anything more than a means of getting to the next place where we could buy a better tyre…in this instance Bangkok, but clearly even 200km was too much to ask of it. Keeping a lid on our frustration we put a new inner tube in and used a piece of truck inner-tube (that we’d picked up in China as it looked like it might come in handy) as a tyre boot to cover the split in the sidewall. We didn’t trust it to carry our weight but we could at least now push the bike (for 5km) to a bike shop where were able to buy a rear tyre (for £4). Pedalling once again we made short work of the remaining kilometres to Bangkok, where we’re staying with a friend of ours and looking forward to a few days off the bike.

Our friend in Bangkok is heading back to the UK soon, which is why we’ve been in a bit of a rush to get here, but we’ve still managed to fit in a couple of nice days sightseeing on the way. The day before we left Phnom Penh we rode out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Of course, ‘nice days sightseeing’ is not the right way to describe this place. A harrowing journey into the darkest recesses of the human condition is probably more accurate. But, as we have when visiting places like Auschwitz and Matthausen, we felt compelled to go. The only way for there to be a positive outcome from genocide is for it to be kept in the public conscience in the hope that it will never happen again. Sadly, at some point, I expect it will.

The memorial stupa at the Choeung Ek Genocide Centre.

The memorial stupa at the Choeung Ek Genocide Centre.

The stupa is filled with some of the thousands of skeletons they've retrieved from that one site.

The stupa is filled with some of the thousands of skulls and bones they’ve retrieved from that one location.  There were many other ‘killing fields’ all across Cambodia.

Decades on and the ground is still giving up fragments of bones, teeth and clothing during the rainy season.

Decades on and the ground is still giving up fragments of bones, teeth and clothing during the rainy season.

The brutality of the killing was hard to stomach.

The brutality of the killing was hard to stomach.

Keith exploring Angkor Wat.

Keith exploring Angkor Wat.

The other place we really wanted to visit in Cambodia was the temple at Angkor. We’d heard of Angkor Wat as a ‘must see’ tourist attraction, but knew little about it and it was only when we delved deeper into the guidebook that we realized that Angkor Wat itself is just one of over 100 temples in the area that lies to the north of the town of Siem Reap and which the Lonely Planet describes as there being ‘no greater concentration of architectural riches anywhere on earth’. Angkor Wat is listed as the largest religious building in the world, and it is certainly impressive, standing isolated in the centre of a huge moat almost 200m across and measuring 1.5 x 1.3km. Like all of the temples we saw almost every surface is engraved with pictures or patterns. How many stonemasons worked there?

Some of the miles of bas relief at Angkor Wat.

Some of the miles of bas relief at Angkor Wat.

Restoration work is an endless job but Angkor Wat at least has the advantage of being protected from the encroaching jungle by its huge moat. The same definitely cannot be said for the temple at Ta Prohm which was used as a location in the Tomb Raider movie. Enormous boles rise up from the crumbling masonry and roots like giant serpents ooze over and around every wall. It was like walking into a legend. If you blanked out the thronging tourists you could almost envision sword-wielding warriors swinging down from the trees or charging from behind an ornately decorated wall.

Jungle versus Temple at Ta Prohm.

Jungle versus Temple at Ta Prohm.

I think our favourite temple though was the one we went to last: Bayon. Built later than Angkor Wat, in the late 12th or early 13th C, and certainly not as large as Angkor, nor as excitingly jungle-wrapped as Ta Prohm, Bayon is nonetheless, quite simply, sublime. A pyramid of towers dominates your vision as you approach, then once inside, a maze of rooms and corridors confuses the senses and heightens the sense of mystery. Finally, climbing steeply to the upper levels, you come face to face with the huge stone visages which beam beatifically from the four sides of each of the multitude of towers. All around is sky and jungle, and before you are lichen-mottled faces, smiling at you over the centuries. There’s something special about Bayon.

Cycling through the East Gate of Angkor Thom on our way to Bayon.

Cycling through the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom on our way to Bayon.

 

The extraordinary, magical, Bayon temple.

The extraordinary, magical, Bayon temple.

 

Being smiled on across the centuries.

Being smiled on across the centuries at Bayon.

 

So many faces.

Faces, faces, yet more faces.

Siem Reap itself is a fun place to hang out in and we were sorry we didn’t have more time (although with food, drink and accommodation all significantly more expensive than in Phnom Penh perhaps it’s as well we didn’t). We had little time to wander the enticing markets but did treat ourselves to a pizza and a traditional dance show, and, best of all, we enjoyed a cold beer whilst a tank full of hungry fishes made short work of any dead skin on our feet. Our tootsies have never looked so beautiful! Hopefully our time off the bike here in Bangkok will be just as relaxing.