Long Way Home
Speeding SouthThailand, Malaysia, Singapore
Hi everyone,Once we arrived in Singapore we just could not wait to jump on the plane to Darwin. Our timing was spot on ….. , somehow, we had managed to book a flight that was scheduled to arrive in Darwin at exactly the same time as Cyclone Monica. We called Richard and Leonie in Darwin to reserve some space in their bathtub, just in case we happened to show up before the cyclone hit. Our flight ended up being cancelled, so we had a couple of extra days in Singapore before we finally took to the sky and arrived safely in Darwin. The weeks since our visit to Angkor Wat seem to have flown past.
Crossing the border from Cambodia into Thailand the sudden jump in the standard of living was obvious. The road was smooth as silk with a wide shoulder. With the improved road conditions, came an increase in both the speed and volume of traffic, although most vehicles did tend to stay on their own side of the road most of the time.
Stopping just over the border in Aranya Prathet, we found a great motel which was a huge bargain for only 320B (A$11) for a big modern room with air-con, cable TV and bathroom.
It wasn’t until later that afternoon, when I was doing the laundry in the bathroom, that the first giant cockroach landed on my shoulder. It was the forerunner of what became a veritable shower of cockroaches. Going to the loo became fraught with danger with cockroaches raining down from cracks in the ceiling.
Luckily, we were well armed with an outsized can of super death-dispensing Chinese ‘Big Gun’ insect killer, and were able to defend ourselves against the onslaught.
Heading for Ayuthaya, we could hardly miss the sleek modern double-decker buses zipping along the highway. Many were lavishly painted with themed murals, which virtually coated the entire bus. Even the front windscreen was included in the design, with just a small gap in the paintwork for the driver to peek through.
In complete contrast to these ’super-buses’, are the motorcycle sidecar taxis. With the addition of an extra wheel, a few pieces of wood and a rough frame with canopy, a little 100cc motorbike can be transformed to carry a dozen or so people!
One of the best things about Thailand has to be the food. Our favourite places to eat were the night markets and little street stalls, which spring into life as the sun goes down. The variety of food is amazing and we wander from stall to stall trying a little of everything, although managing to resist the deep-fried creepy-crawlies. There are lots of kiddie-sized plastic stools and tables, meaning that Ed is getting adept at eating dinner with his knees up around his ears.
We skirted around Bangkok to the north, heading for Kanchanaburi, site of the infamous WW2 prison camp and River Kwai Bridge. To escape the scorching heat we did a trip up to Erawan National Park, where we spent the day roaming around in dense shady bush alongside the river and swimming in the rockholes below the waterfall. Local kids amuse themselves for hours climbing up and slithering down the smooth ‘rock slides’ to land in a squealing heap in the water below.
Rest day jobs have certainly got a lot easier in Thailand. Ed settled down with a book and a drink as I went into the Post Office to mail a parcel, a task that usually takes an hour or so and can involve visits to several different Post Offices. To his amazement, I returned in ten minutes flat. The assistant not only spoke perfect English, she had all the necessary packaging and even knew where Australia was!
Meandering down the east coast south of Hua Hin was very relaxing. We passed many colourful fishing villages and the occasional luxury resort nestled in amongst the palm trees. It was a relief to escape from the noise and hustle of the highway, even if the tangle of back roads meant we spent plenty of time getting repeatedly lost.
Stopping at a roadside stall, we were befriended by a disheveled elderly woman who beamed and chattered away non-stop at us as we sipped our drinks. She insisted we sample her meal – rice flavoured with coconut, cooked inside a bamboo tube …..yum!
It was a magic ride across the Thai peninsula, over gently rolling hills with thick green jungle on both sides. As we traveled south down the west coast towards Phuket, we began to see evidence of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami – tsunami relief projects, temporary housing complexes, new Tsunami Evacuation Route signs. We also found that many beach bungalows in this area remain closed.
One afternoon Ed saw a foreigner wandering up the road, he looked familiar and it turned out to be Andy, a cyclist from Scotland whom we’d met months ago back in Iran. We rode together for the next few days, taking the back road to avoid the Phuket traffic.
It was nice cycling, often through tunnels of overhanging trees. We were grateful for the shade, as the sun is merciless and the air thick with humidity.
Riding with fellow cycle tourer Andy Peat from the UK. We had originally met him in Iran and then crossed paths again in Thailand.
Towering limestone peaks pierce the sky around us, and there are countless cave shrines to explore. We pass a number of Chinese cemeteries and are mystified by the graveside celebrations we witness. A grave is dotted with small coloured flags, draped with streamers and sprinkled with glittery confetti. Offerings of food, drink and incense are made, and the family group will settle in for a graveside picnic. Sometimes a long string of crackers dangling from an overhanging branch will be lit, which generally results in passing cyclists levitating off their bike seats in fright.
We spend a day visiting some of the nearby islands, and it is indeed just like it looks in the tourist brochures, with clear emerald green water, gleaming white sand, and swathes of palm trees bobbing gently in the breeze.
Brightly painted longboats, with garlands and ribbons strung over the bow, line the beach and countless green-clad limestone spires jut out of the sea providing a perfect backdrop.
Possibly the best cycling in Thailand for us was the ride to the small border post located in National Park on the western edge of the peninsula. The Sunday Market was in full swing on both sides of the border and we had to push our way through a flood of shoppers. Having completed the 60 second border formalities we paused to sample the Malaysian version of chili hamburgers. These were so deliciously spicy that we went back for a second round, delighting the young Muslim girls running the stall who giggled away merrily as they cooked.