Heading South in Thailand (March 11th to March 31st)
(Bangkok - Samut Sakhon - Pretchaburi - Cha am - Hua Hin - Prachuap Khiri Khan - Bang Saphan - Chumphon - Chaiya)
Distance biked so far: (14, 226 km)
I spent 12 days in Bangkok to wait for the starting date of the Buddhist meditation retreat in Southern Thailand. During my time there I went horseback riding, something I haven't done for years. When I was younger I went with a group of people and as we were all mounting our horses, mine decided to take off, with me hanging on for dear life. It was at night and the horse felt like going for a run in an open field and thought why not give the new guy a bit of a thrill. This time it was in a coral with a very good instructor and a beautiful horse that actually listened to his owner and had no desire to throw me. It was a very nice change.
I love Bangkok and am often asked what I do there when not biking. I have visited most of the tourist sites but as usual, I most enjoy just walking around the streets and getting familiar with how other people live their lives. I am always impressed by not only the quality of the food but also the abundance of street stalls and restaurants. On a given night, it is hard to walk down any street without seeing the blue chairs and tables on the sidewalks as the Thai people engage in their favorite pastime of enjoying a dinner out with family and friends. The food is incredible and atmosphere just something very special. If I had to pinpoint one single thing that the people of SE Asia enjoy more than anything else it is eating. Ironically, for the most part, despite all the time and effort spent on eating, the people are far leaner than those in the West. One obvious difference is portion size. The other day I ordered 2 meals after a hot day of biking and the waitress questioned me a few times as she looked around for someone to join me. I assured her they were both for me as were the 2 strawberry smoothies that I had as beverages. It was only my embarrassment that stopped me from ordering a third of each.
Here is Bangkok at night.
I left Bangkok on a Sunday, my usual tactic when cycling through a large city. The difficulty in biking here is not so much the traffic but cycling in the left lane. Thailand, like India and Ireland drive on the left and so I drive closest to the curb lane. The lane is shared with buses, taxis, other vehicle whose purpose is to stop and pick up passengers, and cyclists. For the second time in Bangkok and only the second time on my trip, I was knocked off my bike. I was riding in the left land with a taxi to my right. He saw me and was careful to give me a wide berth but that kindness only lasted until he spotted a potential fare standing down the road. He accelerated in front, swerved in front of me and stopped. I didn't even have time to apply my brakes despite cycling while holding them and instinctively swerved to avoid his car. I ended up hitting the curb and with my feet locked in my pedals, fell on my left shoulder and leg while still attached to the bike. I lay still for a second to ensure all my bones were still in one piece and wrangled out of my pedals and stood up. The passenger entering the taxi stopped to ensure I was okay but the taxi driver just sped off. A few local people helped me up and collected the front bags that fell off my bike but I was fine, put my bike together and limped away. The good thing about biking in a city is you never really get up to a good speed so can usually avoid really serious damage but it would be easy to break an ankle or wrist but again good fortune was on my side.
I am now cycling in the Upper Southern Gulf part of Thailand. There is really only one road south and it is quite busy but the traffic slowly diminishes as you leave the suburbs of Bangkok. The road has a wide shoulder and in many places is quite scenic with a median between the lanes that are often covered with blossoming flowers and trees. I am in the narrow stretch between the Gulf of Thailand to my east and Myanmar to the west. The roads are flat with mountains to the west that form the border with Myanmar.
There is a lot of agriculture in this narrow stretch with fruit trees and rice fields dominating the local produce. Here is one of the beautiful green rice fields.
I made it to the small town of Phetchaburi in a few days and really enjoyed being back in the smaller towns and the slower pace of life. The city caught my attention for both the number of traditional teak houses and Buddhist temples. Here is the small river that runs through the town.
The Buddhist temples are certainly numerous all over the country but this was the first time I have seen one under construction. I walked around the town and saw a number being built.
I think this monk must have been helping with the contractor, as I don't often see one using a cell phone.
Many of the small towns have Buddhist temples built on the town's highest mountain and here is the view as I was leaving in the morning.
The lower Southern Gulf of Thailand is world renowned for their inordinate share of incredible beaches and islands but the Northern part also has a few resort towns that are popular with the locals due to the proximity to Bangkok. Hua Hin is the resort of choice for the Royal family of Thailand. It has a nice small town feel to it and has managed to escape most of the rowdy nightlife that plagues many of the other beach towns here. Here is a picture of the beach in Hua Hin.
Cha-am is a small town a little north of Hua Hin and it also had a nice beach. Incidentally, the water here is like a very warm bath and must be 90 degrees, almost too warm but it makes a very enjoyable place to walk at night or early morning as has become my habit.
One day I was biking along and caught up to a French couple riding recumbent bicycles. I did not get their names but they have biked a very similar route to my trip from Europe having also cycled in the Middle East and India. They were having an argument so I didn't hang around long to get in the middle of things but here they are just before I cycled away. I think she was using her scarf so her husband couldn't see her facial reactions to some of his comments.
As noted I am cycling through an agricultural area with lots of fruit and I am never far from stalls of watermelon and pineapple that make a perfect snack. It's better to stand when you eat though as this small swarm of ants arrived within seconds of sitting down and thousands of reinforcements were on the way.
One of the things I really love about Thailand is the number of jagged rocks that jut out of the water. This is very common further south but even up here they add a great view to views of the Gulf.
My old nemesis the monkeys were back in full force in the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. There is another magnificent Wat or Buddhist temple on a tall hill in the center of town and the walk up is the home of thousands of these thieves. Here is a view of the Wat.
Here are the thieves disguised as cute monkeys. If you are not hanging on to your belongings, particularly anything with calories you can expect it to disappear pretty quickly. I may sound bitter but you would be to if you were enjoying an ice cream cone and one snatched it from your hand on a hot walk up the mountain.
I am now a few days north of the Suan Mokkh Buddhist meditation retreat that I will attend from April 1st to April 10th. I will write about my experience when it is over but for now will explain a little about what is involved. The retreat is for 10 days and during that time you cannot talk to anyone, or yourself I gather. You cannot have any access to the outside world meaning no cell phone, computer, newspaper or books. You get up at 4:00 am and eat 2 vegetarian meals per day with the last one coming at noon. That means no food between noon and breakfast the following day but you do get a hot cup of tea for dinner. The food or lack of it to be precise is of some concern as I typically eat 2 meals before 10:00 am while biking so that will be a big adjustment. This is an outline of a typical day from their website.
Other than the 4:00 wake up, the 4 hours between getting up and breakfast, the lack of food after 12:30 and the chores it should be pretty good. I'll let you know how it turns out.