Day Nine: Khao Lak to Phuket.

We’re done!  Rolled into Phuket after an easy 90 KM from Khao Lak.  We added up the various days’ exact totals from someone’s Garmin (the earlier numbers I’ve quoted were approximations), and it came to eight hundred and ten kilometers. The trip was originally billed as being about 850 KM long, but since they changed the hotel we’d be staying in Phuket, we gained about 30 KM.  No one is complaining of course!

The day started with a group photo, here we are in our Spice Roads jerseys:

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We cycled through Khao Lak, which is a very picturesque town, with cliffs on the ocean side (which immediately reminded me of Southern California, except of course everything else—the vegetation, the soil, the people—was different).  Here is a view of one of the beaches, from the cliff-top road we were riding on:

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Throughout the ride, I’d seen temples ringed with statues of tigers and rooster, presumably these animals are invoked to protect the wats. (I know that most wats have a Garuda on the top and Nagas all around the periphery to protect them, for instance.) I couldn’t get a picture of this earlier for various reasons, but today I got one: a whole wall of a wat ringed by roosters:

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About 15 KM from the entrance to Phuket, we stopped for a break, right on the Andaman Sea.  Here’s a random rider, whooping with joy:

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It has been a great ride indeed!  For me, it was a foray into a whole new world: that of serious road-cyclists, and in particular, of racers. It is a sport unto its own, with speed its only currency. Coming to cycling as I do from the environmental perspective, where the goal is to make cycling the dominant means of transportation, and from the cycle-touring perspective, where the cycle is intended as an ambassador of goodwill and as a symbol of being at peace and in harmony with one’s surroundings, the high-testosterone high-competition world of racing had never quite been my thing.  But now that I have seen it up close and personal (and in fact, for over 800 KM, having been a serious road-cyclist myself), I’m at least partly persuaded that road-cycling and racing may have some merits as a sport unto itself. Certainly, my fellow-riders seemed to enjoy the racing, and enjoyment is just what sport is all about!

But at the center of what made this a great ride is Thailand.  It is a beautiful country, with simply lovely people.  They are kind, they are gracious, and they are forever smiling. Chalk it up to Buddhism, or chalk it up to good breeding, the Thai people are a delight.

A special shout-out to our drivers, Rin (on the left in the picture below) and Suwat.  They drove patiently behind us, fixed our flats for us, made sure our water bottles were filled at all breaks, cut our fruit for us, and pampered us in general, smiling all the time.  Along with Aum and Bottle (whose pictures I have posted earlier), Rin and Suwat made this trip run without a hitch, taking care of all our needs.  Kapun Krop you guys!  Thank you for a fantastic trip!

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(Excuse me everyone, “Five Minutes.“)

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Day Eight: Khuraburi to Khao Lak

Today wasn’t bad at all, just eighty kilometers, and they just flew by.  In fact, we lingered at lunch since our hotel at Khao Lak wouldn’t accept new guests till 2 PM.

I did my thing: ride leisurely, checking out the scenery.  One of the first things I saw was this lovely family from Myanmar (as I was to later learn) walking by the side of the highway.  They were wearing what I thought was face-paint, but which I later learned was thanaka paste, make-up obtained by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree, part of the culture of Myanmar.  It turns out that there is a large number of people from Myanmar who live in Thailand under work-permits, but who are not allowed to own cars or scooters.  They can only walk to their places of work (or wherever), or cycle about. Anyway, here is the family.  They didn’t understand any English, so I couldn’t speak much to them, but I did learn that the girl is ten years old. From the body language I could infer that the lady under the parasol is the little girl’s mother, and I suspect the other two would be a cousin or aunt and a grandmother.

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The scenery continued to be like yesterday, ups and downs, with dense vegetation on either side, lovely shades of green all around.  Here’s a sample:

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For one of our breaks, we pulled into a roadside stall, run by a Muslim lady.  She seemed to be wearing what looked like a salwar kameez.  I didn’t want to potentially embarrass her by asking about her clothing, so instead I asked her if I could take her picture. Here she is:

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Another long break was in the town of Takua Pa.  We had iced coffee at a coffeehouse run by a lovely family, with a tragic history.  First, here is the charmer, who I spotted as soon as I went it.  I was impressed by how expertly she wielded her cutlery:

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Turns out the owner, a very gracious lady who I couldn’t speak to too much because she didn’t know any English, had lost two daughters and her husband in the tsunami.  We were by now in tsunami country, the portions of Thailand most affected. Takua Pa is not on the coast, but is not far from it, and the lady’s daughters and husband perished when they’d gone towards the coast for some work. But the lady carries on, smiling.  Here she is, pictured with her son, who also runs the restaurant (the charmer above is this son’s daughter):

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From Takua Pa, we cycled over to the Tsunami memorial, right on the coast.  They have since built a giant Buddha statue on the beach, and I was quite struck by it when I saw it: it seemed to radiate peace, and had a very calming effect on me.  Here is a picture:

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We are now at another lovely beach resort hotel, the Apsara, in Khao Lak.  The waters are serene, and the beaches are wide with white sand.  It would be heavenly to come back later to these areas and spend longer time.  But we leave tomorrow for our last cycling day, 90 KM to Phuket.