Words can’t describe how proud I am of my dad. When he agreed to join us (on a bike!) for part of our journey in Thailand, I painted a picture of easy cycling days, beautiful scenery, delicious food and a chance to experience our new life. Well he partially got that, and a whole lot more, so sit down and enjoy the armchair version of our adventure.
I can pick dad out of a crowd anywhere, and on Walking Street in Mae Nam it was no different. He was asking someone for directions to the café we had agreed to meet at. There is something special in that moment of first seeing and hugging a loved one that you’ve not seen for a long time. For a while you just never want to let go. And then by the time you have spent ten minutes together it feels like you have never been apart. Conversation flows and the next thing you know it’s four hours later and you’re ordering lunch because you have been talking for so long.
We had agreed to have a few days of R&R on the islands before hitting the mainland and the bikes. Thinking that dad might be tired from travelling, we spent the afternoon lying on the beach soaking up the island atmosphere. Only later did I discover that he wasn’t tired from travel but from staying up until 3am drinking beer with people he had met in Bangkok. Like father, like daughter. The next highlight of the day came wrapped in plastic. CHEESE!!!! I can’t tell you how much we miss good cheese, and it doesn’t come any better than Meredith Goat Feta. Needless to say we spent that night in a serious cheese induced coma.
By day two the necessities of our adventure with dad were established. Much to Jude’s delight she now had a partner in crime for numerous food, ice cream and coffee stops. Not content with lying around, we hired a couple of scooters to explore Samui. In between food markets and lattes, we saw the ‘Big Buddha’, were saluted by a giant mermaid, marveled at the ocean from the top of rocky cliffs, shuddered at the tourist ghetto of Chaweng and giggled at the ‘ma and pa’ rock formations – I’ll let you use your imaginations.
On Koh Tao we were reunited with Marita and Spela. Dad loved being surrounded by vibrant women and we adored having him around. Diving is the major draw card of Koh Tao, but alas we did not explore the underwater world with tanks on our backs. We did however brave the choppy waters to snorkel and we also braved the choppy steep roads to gaze at hidden bays. Whilst exploring the sites, we sampled many culinary delights – the night market and French patisseries being our favourite places for eat treats. Yum, yum…
After five days of island living it was time to get on the bicycles. The night ferry delivered us to Chumphon, where we bought dad all the gear he would need for the ride to Bangkok – including the bike. Unfortunately there was a cultural fail at the bike shop, turns out that if you try out a bike by riding it, it means that you must buy it. The bike that dad tested was way too small for him, so Jude kindly let him ride the Green Fairy, and she christened Clementine for her first 500kms.
Early the following morning we hit the road for an ‘easy’ 60km day of cycling. The plan was to cycle for 15km, then rest, cycle another 15km, rest and repeat. The day started well with our first iced tea break at the seaside village of Saphli. And then it happened; we turned north straight into the most ferocious headwind we have experienced thus far. Combine this with the fact that (despite encouragement to do so) dad had done zero training for the ride and was now cycling on a bike that weighs close to 40kgs. By lunchtime our speed had slowed, the distance between breaks decreased and the number of our rest breaks increased. Fortunately the scenery was spectacular and the roads were quiet. After 50kms dad was getting weary and then the ‘undulations’ began. “Hills” dad would say. Perspective is everything, and it depends on whether cycling is your current life or not.
Late in the afternoon we rolled into the village we had been aiming for. Being used to throwing up a tent, we had not pre-checked if there was any accommodation available. There was, but it was overpriced and resembled a prison cell, and the next closest place was 30km down the road. With the help of Google translate we “made a little business” with a local lady and she drove dad and Clementine the 30kms to Hat Bang Boet (Hat meaning beach in Thai). Jude and I jumped on the ladies and gave the headwind a run for its money. The coastline was spectacular and full of fantastic places to pitch a tent, true cycle touring heaven. Just on sunset we arrived to find dad lying on his bed in a lovely guesthouse being massaged by two women. Lucky dad! For dinner we were invited to join a Thai/Swedish feast and by the end of the night the worries of the day seemed like a dream.
The gale though was real and the headwind of the previous day continued, but stronger. We avoided the main freeway by cycling along the back roads, our scenery alternating between coastline and farmland. On these days we met more cycle tourists than we have cycling through the previous four countries. Those heading south reported covering up to 160km in just over half a day – with the headwind we were lucky to cover 70km in over eight hours. So much for the easy riding days dad…
Dad turned 66 the following day and it was truly special to be able to spend his birthday with him. Coffee and cake kicked off the celebrations and a short day of cycling had been planned. A little detour up a hill provided spectacular views of the ocean, another big Buddha and a temple full of bling. After learning more about the Buddha’s teachings at the retreat, I am appalled at the ‘Buddhism’ that is sold, bought and practiced throughout most of Thailand.
Marita and Spela chose to join dad’s birthday celebrations, and we organized to meet them up the coast. After a calamity of errors – too many to mention – we all ended up staying at an overpriced resort than resembled a toilet block only 8km (not the planned 30) north of where we had spent the previous night. We acquired bikes for the girls and cycled back into Hat Ban Krut for an afternoon and evening of good food and great company. Happy Birthday Pap!
At the morning market in Thap Sakae a crowd gathered to eat with us and I’m sure lively banter was being exchanged about the crazy farangs on bikes. In the future a whole blog post will be dedicated to the reactions we get being on the bikes. Dad got to experience his first lot of freeway riding and he seemed to cope well with the trucks, cars and scooters roaring passed. Luckily the freeway stint was relatively short and we were back cycling through sleepy villages and coconut groves in no time. Despite the crazy headwind we arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan just after the girls rolled in on the bus. They found us a retro hotel to crash in and we spent the afternoon enjoying the hipster vibe of a town that combines the locale of Brighton with the attitude of Fitzroy. We supped at my dream shop – a combination of bikes, music and café (perhaps a plan for when we return home) – before heading to the night market for more amazing food.
Despite wanting to spend another day in Khiri Khan, time and the headwind dictated our need to push on. My frustration with the wind had reached that point where you foolishly start making deals and then threats in your head towards it. I cursed the people who cut down the mangroves and shrubbery to create the desolate landscape of horizon-to-horizon shrimp farms. We received our only reprieve from the wind when we passed through the giant karsts of the Khao Sam Roi Yot national park. But the shrimp farms and the gale continued. At one point we lay down in a bus stop not sure how we could continue, but we persevered and our good fortune returned. In Hat Pran Khiri we met a lovely gentleman on a bicycle who offered us cheap accommodation at his beach front guesthouse and then directed us to a little restaurant where we ate the best meal we have had in Thailand. Mouth watering winged bean salad, sweet and sour fish, and a vegetable hot pot, all washed down with an ice-cold beer.
The following day was spent riding through the suburbia of Hua Hin and Cha-am. Freeway 4 dominated our riding that day and I wondered who in the world would stay at the multitude of high-rise resorts wedged in the dreary gap between it and the ocean. Ghost town seaside villages continued this bizarre trend and we spent the night in a village that could have doubled as a set in a zombie movie.
The following day we cycled through almost a hundred kilometres of salt plains. It was eerily beautiful as white and pink square pools covered the landscape as far as the eye could see. Wooden storage barns lined the roads and swallows darted and danced between them. Workers harvested the salt in buckets while others drove mini steamrollers to compress the pans. Again the headwind roared but we were unperturbed as that afternoon we would turn east. The change in our speed was dramatic and due to this we decided it was time for dad to experience his first 100 plus kilometer day. We arrived Samut Sakhon late in the afternoon and proceeded to look for lodgings. The people at the department of tourism directed us to a ‘bungalow’ around the corner. The bungalow was in fact a brothel – curtains around every parking space, round bed, mirrors on every surface and a stirrup chair for good measure. We did consider staying, but when they wanted to charge extra for three people without providing an extra mattress it was time to leave. After a few more wrong turns and some advice from some friendly locals, we found our way to the (?) only tourist hotel in town.
The up side of staying at a swishy hotel is the breakfast buffet, especially if you’re a hungry cycle tourists. True it was only 44kms to Bangkok, but riding into one of S.E. Asia’s biggest cities would be challenging. Despite the sheer volume of traffic and lung clogging smog, I actually enjoyed the ride. It was kind of like riding along the Asian equivalent of Sydney Road on steroids. It’s was also interesting to note that after riding for so long, symbiosis with the traffic flow has become almost instinctual.
By lunchtime we were celebrating the end of our 500km journey from Chumphon to Bangkok – dad’s first long distance cycle tour! We refueled with street eats and ice-cream sundaes, and then treated ourselves with a two-hour reflexology and traditional Thai massage. Evening arrived quickly and we toasted to our success and last night together with beer in a coffee cup (alcohol restrictions were in place due to the elections). I can safely say that dad was relieved to see the end of the tour, as it had definitely been more challenging than any of us had imagined. But to his immense credit he took it all in his stride and achieved something I doubt many other people would ever consider starting. The look of pure joy on his face when he realised that he would not be getting on the bike again was priceless. Thanks again dad for joining us on our journey, it was wonderful to have you along and I love you very much.
Until next time,
Love Astrid xx