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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.