Day Seven: Ranong to Khuraburi

Still dead from yesterday’s 140-odd KM ride, I took off today for an almost as grueling 128 KM ride to Khuraburi. However, I made an important decision: today, and for the next two days, I’m going to ride the way I like my rides to be—relaxed, lots of short rest breaks and camera breaks, and with as much mingling with the local people as possible—instead of the full-fledged preparation for the Tour de France that we seemed to have been indulging in.  Not that there’s anything wrong with training for the Tour de France of course, but it was just not my thing. Now, exactly one other person thought like me, Michael, a retired university administrator who lives in North Carolina, so Michael and I rode a very leisurely ride today, securely positioned at the back end of the pack, most of the rest being typically a good half hour at least ahead of us.  One of our guides Bottle (bless his heart) and one van (driven by Suwat, bless his heart too) stayed with us.

It was the right decision to have made, and today’s felt more like the ride I’d done with my buddy Partha in Malaysia a few years ago, only much longer. The scenery was gorgeous, we were once again going up and down rolling hills with dense vegetation on either side. And 128 KM later, we pulled into a lovely wooded resort hotel, set in jungle-like surrounding, with its own lake.

More in pictures:

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A major boulevard in Ranong we spent time on this morning before we hit the open road.

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The roadside looked like this much of the time.

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A typical cottage one would see by the side of the road; sometimes you’d see several together.  Typically, plantation workers live in these houses, Bottle tells me.

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Bottle! His real name is Chanwit. He’s really looking forward to the baby girl that’ll be born early next year!

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The rearguard.  That’s Michael on the left

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We were not far from the coast, and there were these mountains on our east whose lower reaches we were passing through, so fairly often we’d see rivers like this run down from the mountains towards the sea.

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A small settlement on a road perpendicular to our road.

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Another sample of the scenery that accompanied us throughout.

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We are now far enough south that we are starting to see Muslim communities.  This picture was taken at a snack shop by the first mosque I saw: it had a school adjacent to it, and the kids had just been let out. This kid wasn’t shy, she was charming actually. She was older than the others in that snack shop, and may be related to the owner.

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More charmers!

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At our lunch stop.  This 13-year old is the daughter of the owners.  She came over to practice her English with me, goaded on by Bottle, our driver Rin, and of course her doting mother. We had a great time together.  The restaurant the family runs must be doing quite well, since this girl is being sent to Singapore soon for a short stay for some tutoring.  (I met her cousin outside, who’d done a similar stint in New Zealand.)

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The scene from my room window, at the Khuraburi Greenview Resort.  Very beautiful place.  But lots of walking up and down steep garden paths to get to and from our rooms, and after three days of hard riding of well over a hundred KM a day, my legs were looking around for an elevator.

Tomorrow we go to Khao Lak, 80 KM away.  After this intense riding, I’d hesitate to call tomorrow’s ride a “short” one: it is quite possible that my legs will refuse to pedal that long.  We’ll see…

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Day Six: Chumphon to Ranong

I am now dead.  Undeniably certifiably dead.  We did an exhausting one hundred and forty-two kilometers today, involving lots and lots and lots of ups and downs through rolling hills on a particularly hot day. By the time the ride ended, I was dragging myself along, struggling to follow one pedal stroke with another, looking the very picture of tiredness!

The day itself started off like it might rain: here is a picture looking out to sea from our hotel in Chumphon past the swimming pool, at a little before seven in the morning.  Notice the clouds.

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However, those clouds vanished even before we started cycling at eight.  It was already hot then, and got to probably around 35 celsius (mid 90s Fahrenheit) in the afternoon. Going up and down hills in this heat for nearly 150 kilometers saps you even if you are cycling slow, but most of our group consists, it appears, of racers, and they set a very rapid pace.  I was with them for about an hour in the morning, but fell back to a slower pace (my usual average of 25 KMPH).  But the point is that even then, one feels the pressure of the faster group: for instance, the organizers have a policy that all riders should ride off from breaks at the same time, so you are aware that if you are very slow, the fast group that has already reached the next rest stop cannot leave for the next stage for a very long time, until you get there and have had your rest. That makes you pedal a bit harder in the heat and over the ups and downs than you would have liked!

By the time afternoon came around though, even the 25 KMPH average proved hard to maintain, and I hung back and cycled at the very end, with just the tail van behind me. And I stayed at the tail end for the rest of the ride, struggling.  The important thing though, is that I did it!

Here are some pictures:

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We were crossing the Isthmus of Kra today, a narrow strip of land running from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea.  We are essentially on the Andaman coast now in Ranong, although our hotel is not near the ocean  Just as with a ride I did in Malaysia two years ago where we crossed across the peninsula to the west coast, here too, the rolling hills were full of vegetation, not to mention palm plantations and rubber plantations.  The scene above is a typical road scene we encountered: heavy vegetation on both sides, not much traffic.

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Some nice greenery by the road side, on one of the hills today.

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Lunch was at 85 KM today, at a lovely restaurant attached to an organic coffee plantation and roasting shop.  The restaurant was set over a little creek, this is a picture of the creek at the entrance to the restaurant.

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I found this the most exciting: that’s Myanmar on the other side of the water body!  That water is actually the Andaman Sea: there is a narrow part of the sea that exists between the lower tip of Myanmar and the east coast of Thailand.  This is that part.

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A waterfall we stopped at around 125 KM from the start.  There was a steep climb after this waterfall for about a kilometer, but then we coasted down, and the ride to our hotel was easy.  However, tomorrow promises to be a similar day, with more rolling hills with their ups and downs.

Day Five: Ban Grood to Chumphon

I said something wrong yesterday: today was not the day we proceeded to the east, that will be tomorrow.  Today we headed down south around one hundred and twenty kilometers from Ban Grood to Chumphon, which is still on the Gulf of Thailand coast.  Not complaining at all: this part of the world is simply gorgeous. Kilometers of unspoiled coastline, wide sandy beaches, and hardly any people.  Here is the scene as we cycled off in the morning, a lovely ride along the coast:

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We didn’t take our first break till about 40 kilometers into the ride, about an hour and a half after starting.  Strangely, after resting for a day, it didn’t feel super strenuous, although we were obviously cycling at a pretty rapid clip.  I kept up with the main crowd for about an hour (that group seems to always cycle at an average of 30 KMPH), and then, when there was some small climb, fell back.  But soon our guide Bottle came along, and I and one other cyclist fell in behind him and drafted off him.  Now Bottle’s wife is expecting, and there’s going to be a baby girl in the family soon, so Bottle is generally pretty relaxed about cycling (he even thinks this may be his last long trip). But this morning, he was in a tearing hurry, and I think we were back to a 30 KMPH average cycling behind him.

During the second stage it started to rain.  Poured quite heavily too.  I found myself cycling alone, the main group having long since taken off and with one or two behind me.  The route was a bit inland now, and there was dense vegetation all around. I found it quite very enjoyable: cycling in the rain with greenery all around. This was the road after the rain:

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Lunch was at about 90 KM into the ride.  Gorgeous restaurant, built on stilts on the beach.  Here is a view of the sea from the restaurant:

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and here is a random rider lying after lunch on the hammock the restaurant provided on the beach, looking towards the ocean:

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Hammocks to me are the height of civilization!  They seem a common feature in much of south-east asia (Vietnam had them all over the place too, as did Cambodia), with road-side restaurants routinely providing hammocks for their customers.  They signify a relaxed approach to life, a philosophical attitude that eschews hustle and bustle, recognizing that in the end nothing matters, and that there is no point getting uptight about anything!  The west may have its wall street and its venture capitalists and loads and loads of frenetic, soul-deadening activity, but south-east Asia, in its infinite wisdom, has the hammock.

Twenty five odd kilometers after lunch, we pulled into a gorgeous hotel on another gorgeous beach.  Here are a couple of scenes right outside our hotel:

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Tomorrow is the longest day: about 140 KM. I hope to survive!

Day Four: Ban Grood to Ban Grood

On the fourth day, we rested. Nothing really to report. But tomorrow is one of several long days. Four of the next five days all involve riding over a hundred kilometers, and tomorrow in particular involves 118 KM. Tomorrow is when we head across towards the east coast of Thailand.

Day Three: Prachuap Khiri Khan to Ban Grood

A short one, only seventy two kilometers. The day started with a lovely sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand, that I watched through my bedroom window.  Here is a view:

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We started our ride by visiting an air force base, to go hang out with some monkeys. That’s right, monkeys. Turns out that at an interior point in the base, there is some kind of a monument to monkeys, and there a whole troop of monkeys hangs out regularly. We went to go check them out.  When we found them, we fed them corn on the cob, and I believe this is the first time ever, in spite of growing up on the subcontinent, that a monkey ever ate out of my hand.

The ride through the base was breathtaking. The air force base was built on the oceanside, and we had beautiful oceanfront scenery then.  The base itself was very neat and orderly, and some of the roads even had bicycle paths.  (We ignored those, of course, since we were big enough of a group to own the road!).  Here are some members of our group, riding on one of these roads:

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And here is the ocean, lapping serenely at the base:

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The middle third of today’s ride was quite unpleasant: we had to ride 25 kilometers on the side of a freeway.  Much of the shoulder was under construction, and was unpaved. Moreover, the rains had turned things to slush, and our bikes and clothes and bodies became quite muddied.

But the last third was lovely again. Towards the end we visited a lovely temple, maintained by the King’s daughter, and it showed: everything was well-maintained, and tastefully appointed.  Here is a shot of the temple:

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And here are Lindsay, already described in the Day One post, and an unnamed rider, at the temple. Our friend and fellow-rider Helen, a middle school teacher and long-distance runner from New York (she told me she ran 62 miles once) took the picture.

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We are now ensconced at the Ban Grood Arcadia, in a small beach resort called, you guessed it, Ban Grood.  Here’s a view from our hotel restaurant, looking across the road to the beach:

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More tomorrow.

Day Two: Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan

One hundred and twelve kilometers, so they said. That’s the distance we covered today, from Hua Hin to the very pretty town of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The day started off very cool, and everybody was in high spirits, so most of the group rode at a very high rate.  I saw them take off like a bat out of hell first thing when we got out of Hua Hin, and gulped. But then I said “I can do this,” and bravely took off after them.  I got into the middle of the pack, and was doing quite well actually, for over an hour and a half, taking advantage of the drafting that happens when you ride together.  I believe we were averaging nearly 30 KMPH like yesterday. It started to rain about an hour into the trip, and we rode through the rain of course (it is very enjoyable). The problem was that the rain made the sweat and the suntan lotion get into my eyes (never apply suntan lotion on your forehead, I learned today), and they started to burn.  After a game ten minutes of trying to ride nearly blind, I was forced to stop and dry out my eyes.  That slowed me down, and for the rest of the ride, I rode at a more sedate 25 KMPH average.

Which helped me enjoy the scenery all the more.  It was simply breathtaking. We rode along the Gulf of Thailand coast for large segments of the day, turning inland occasionally to ride around the limestone hills that are part of the terrain here. These hills are really gorgeous, and at our destination Prachuap Khiri Khan, they stand out from the sea.  Here they are, one view from the (late) lunch we had just two kilometers from our hotel, and the second from my hotel room’s balcony.

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Thanks to some maniacal riding (see above), we covered the the 112 km in slightly over four hours of riding.  Throw in a few breaks, and a long lunch, and we were in our destination hotel by 2:30 in the afternoon, having started a little after 8 in the morning from Hua Hin.

Tomorrow is a relatively short day, under 80 KM.

Some more pictures:

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Some dense vegetation we rode through in the morning

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Every small village seems to have a temple (wat) complex.  Our first break today was by this wat.

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Refreshments at our break! We lost the Thai pancakes and fried bananas from yesterday, but gained mangos and jackfruit.

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A view of the vegetation covered limestone hill by the temple complexIMG_20151026_094122553

Day One: Bangkok to Hua Hin

As I explained in yesterday’s post, we weren’t going to start from Bangkok, but from Petchaburi, a couple of hours away by van.  In fact, from a gas station outside Petchaburi.  A pretty impressive gas station, with a vast food court containing all sorts of Thai preparations. Two vans brought us there from our hotels, and the bicycles came separately in a motorized mini-trailer type contraption. We picked up our bicycles, got ready, and took off around 10:30 in the morning.

I got to know the people in our van during our ride to Petchaburi, and quickly during the ride, got to know the rest of the folks as well.  A very friendly group, they come from various places.  Five from the US, three from Switzerland, three from Britain, one from Hungary, one from Germany, and one each from Australia and New Zealand.  A really interesting feature is that one of the couples—he is from Scotland and she is from Hungary—actually live in Odissa!  That’s right, they live in Odissa, they’re not just tourists there. He is an engineer working for some American company that’s a subcontractor on some power plant that’s being constructed, while she is there to be with him.

Our two guides are Aam and Bottle.  These aren’t their real names, but why they go by these names I don’t know.  Here they are, with Lindsey from Queensland in the middle. 

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(Lindsey turned out to be a gem of a man: he let me “draft off him”—ride behind him to take advantage of the vacuum that is created in his wake: my effort at pedaling is reduced because of the resultant pressure of the air on my back as it tries to fill that vacuum—for a good number of kilometers at a very fast pace.)

The road-bicycle that I was so frightened of turned out to be quite a friendly creature after all, at least, after the adjustable stem was put in and after I made a few small nips and tucks here and there.  I actually found myself enjoying the experience once we set off, and I was happily in the front of the pack, We rode for twenty-three kilometers before we took our first break, and most of this time I was somewhere in the first half.

We hit the Gulf of Thailand very quickly, almost within half an hour. Here is part of the gang, right by the ocean:

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And here is a view of the inlet: notice the cute temple built right on the backwater:

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But after our first break, the tempo picked up. Most of the gang, experienced at this style of cycling, decided to take off at a very fast clip, averaging around 30 KMPH on long stretches. It was hot and humid, and I found this pretty fast going.  So, I hung around the rear of the group, cycling probably at an average closer to 25 KMPH.  Our guide Bottle was cycling behind us, so all was well.  We must have got to our second break point only about five minutes to ten minutes behind the rest.

The breaks are interesting.  We are ravenous and thirsty.  The crew has organized fresh pineapples, Thai pancakes, Thai style fried bananas, sweet rice cooked in bamboo, water, sodas, the works!  We sit and gorge on them, chatting, learning about one another.  Fifteen minutes of this, and we are off again.

Today was a short cycling day.  Only sixty kilometers.  We ended up at a lovely sea-side restaurant for a late lunch, at which point or ride terminated.  Since the traffic in Hua Hin is quite terrible (the King has a summer palace here that he apparently is very fond of staying at, so the town has quite some significance to Thai life), we were taken by van to our hotels directly from the lunch place.

The lunch place turned out to have its own whimsy. There was this giant statue of a woman rising out of the sea, a hundred meters from the shore.  Not far, on a rock, was a statue of a woman playing a flute.  At first I thought that the giant statue was some kind of a Thai version of Durga.  It turned out that the statues were in celebration of some local novelist, and these characters are from that person’s novels!  Here is yours truly , with “The Giant Woman” behind:

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Tomorrow is our first long ride: we are supposed to do over a hundred and ten kilometers.  It ought to be interesting, to say the least.