Day 1 – Petchaburi to Hua Hin

2nd December 2012

The first day’s ride would take us from just south of Bangkok to just north of Hua Hin, a distance of just about 40 miles. It was warm up day really, and a chance for everyone to stretch their legs, get used to the bikes, the roads, and just to get going on Thai soil, or should I say Tarmac.

I was met at my hotel in Bangkok by the trip leader, Esso, whom I took to immediately. There’s a slight niggle which sits in the back of your brain (or mine, anyway) when you send a heck of a lot of money to a company in Thailand that you’ve never heard of, that something could go badly wrong. So the fact that Esso was there in the lobby ahead of the scheduled meeting time of 7.15am, immediately made me relax, and the day was perfect from there in practically every regard.

We were four people altogether (in terms of clients), David and Phillipa from Guildford, and Dirk, originally from Germany, but now living in Tokyo. We were first driven by another Spiceroads guy, Suwat, in the support van, for about an hour or so to get us out of the chaos of Bangkok. Cycling there would be taking your life in your own hands as far as I am concerned, and the Spiceroads team obviously agreed.

Stopping at a petrol station, we unloaded the bikes, got togged up, and were away. The bikes are all shiny new Trek 2.1 models, which is great. Mine was a tad on the small side due to some administrative error, but when I mentioned it they said they’d have me another bike for tomorrow, so that would hopefully be fine.

And we are ready for the off!

And we are ready for the off!

The ride was pan flat, on quiet roads, which were in the main billiard table smooth. They put UK roads to shame, and these were in the main back roads away from the beaten track.

We stopped for regular breaks each 20km, where the support van would stop ahead of us and feed us fresh pineapple, mango, biscuits and water/coke. Stopping was both a blessing and a curse, as whilst it was great to get the fruit and the hydration etc., stopping meant you had no breeze any more, and got to realise just how hot it was. Too hot for me for cycling, that’s for sure. It was around 34C for most of the time, and the sun beat down relentlessly too, and the roads were open, never in shade. I have never cycled in these sort of temperatures, and I was glad that the pace was fairly sedate.

The ride had so many notable features I can hardly begin to recount them all. The endless views of the Gulf of Thailand; the many salt farms; sustainable agricultural/sea reclamation projects; endless happy Thai children calling out “sawadee kraup” (hello) along the way; the numerous dried fish stands; rabid dogs by the side of the road, and snakes on the hard shoulder, to name but a few. These are not things I normally see trundling around in Oxfordshire! One of the (clearly) rabid dogs came after us at full pelt at one point and was promptly hit by a car coming the other way. I didn’t like to see (or hear) that, but the only saving grace is that it saved me doing a Mark Cavendish impression to race away from it – which would not have been even slightly funny in this heat.

We stopped for lunch by the beach and ate in some family restaurant. We didn’t get to choose lunch, it was just brought out for us. We’d been told that we were eating Thai food (i.e. we wouldn’t be able to choose Western alternatives) and that was a great thing as far as I was concerned. We had stuff like crab omelette, squid in lime stock, prawn cakes, and garlic shrimp. I’ll only say that it was one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. The flavours were just intense and incredible. The crazy thing about this is, is that had I not been taken there, there is no way on earth I would have stopped at all at this sort of place.

Our lunch stop.....delicious food was had.

Our lunch stop…..delicious food was had.

Upon arrival at Hua Hin in the early afternoon, we were left to our own devices. We stayed at the Putahracsa Hotel, and what a shock, it was stunning. After all this is only a cycling trip, and when you arrive dirty and sweaty from a day on the road, any old creature comforts will do. But this place is something else. Check it out on the Internet, that’s all I’m saying. In fact I’ll say more – if I ever go back in Thailand and find myself within 100 miles of the place I’m going back there.

Pool view from my room at the Putahracsa Hotel, Hua Hin

Pool view from my room at the Putahracsa Hotel, Hua Hin

View at front terrace of hotel overlooking Gulf of Thailand

View at front terrace of hotel overlooking Gulf of Thailand

Hua Hin is a beach resort with plenty to recommend – it is apparently where affluent Bangkokers get away for the weekend, and I can’t blame them. It is a tourist (ie for Westerners also) resort in its own right too, and so we weren’t the only British voices in town. In the evening we went to a beautiful beachfront restaurant and had more stunning Thai food, again all chosen for us by Esso. The green curry was to die for, and the only downside is that I will never again want to eat the Thai food we get back home in the UK, it just doesnt compare. After dinner we took a tuk tuk down to the Night Market in Hua Hin, which is a mixture of food, drink, and craft/jewellery stalls, and fascinating with it.

At the night market, Hua Hin. Fascinating!

At the night market, Hua Hin. Fascinating!

I am already getting to see in this one day probably more than most tourists to Thailand ever see, and that is a stunning and very special thing, especially as that is all a bonus on top of the cycling which I came for.

So the stats from the days ride are on the following link:

http://app.strava.com/activities/30531831

Tomorrow is a full day, about 135km. Can’t wait……

One night in Bangkok….

30th November 2012

I can probably only describe Bangkok as a baptism of everything. What do they say in the song again? “One night in Bangkok makes a grown man humble….” – well now I know what they mean.

I arrived last night on an overnight flight from London, and got in at about 4.30pm, Friday afternoon, and am here on my way to cycle 850km down to Phuket as part of my recuperation from my broken feet due to my running misdemeanours.

On the plane over, I had been talking to the guy next to me, who apparently comes to Bangkok four times a year (I didn’t ask him what he comes for :)), and he asked me how I would be travelling into the city. I said I hadn’t decided (in my own inimitable fashion) and he said “whatever you do, don’t get a taxi, just get the Skytrain”.

I considered what he had said, and worked it out like this: Firstly there are about 12 million people in Bangkok, and it is known for being the most gridlocked and crazy place on the planet. I knew that. Secondly it was Friday evening, and of course everybody wants to go somewhere at close of play on a Friday, especially in a place like BKK (as I know affectionately know it). Thirdly the Skytrain (which is what is says it is, a train on a 20 metre high overground track) takes about 15 minutes to the city and costs like 40 Baht, which is about 75p. So what did I do? I walked straight to the taxi rank having cleared immigration and got in the first taxi I saw. Mistake.

1: Taxi driver has never heard of my hotel (where have I heard that old ruse before), 2: “Gridlock” doesn’t even begin to come close, it is a car park the whole way. 3: Despite it being dusk it is 33 degrees centigrade, and I am sweating like I have simply never sweated before. 4: I am in yesterday’s clothes having not yet been to bed and having had about 2 hours sleep in the plane. Misery. 5: Don’t ask how much it cost me, but the journey was over two hours long. All I will say is that if you ever, ever, ever, travel to BKK, whatever you do, don’t get a taxi, just GET THE SKYTRAIN.

Having eventually freshened up and showered in my hotel after my 12 hour flight and (what seemed like) a 12 hour taxi ride, I took a walk into the neighbourhood. The hotel is nice, The Majestic Grande, recommended to me by the company that I will be cycling down to Phuket with, Spiceroads.

So walking into the heart of BKK, or the heart of the district that I am staying in, close to Sukhumvit Road, just totally blows your mind. It is a cacophony of sound, of smells, of sights. The first thing I see, literally, as I walk out of the lobby of the hotel, is “Annie’s Soapy Massage” staring at me in neon frontage. No joke. I have to walk past to get through to the main drag, and a number of ‘girls’ (or I think they are girls anyway, I’ve heard way too much about Bangkok perhaps for my own good) call out to me from the entranceway. “You come?” they beckon, and I half smile, half grimace, and half totally crap myself at the thought of me getting dragged in there.

And so begins what “happens” in Bangkok. I’d researched beforehand, as I wanted very much to know what places to see, and just as importantly what places to avoid. I’d been told that BKK is ‘safe’, but that’s not to say that you don’t need your wits about you. Being a single traveller is the problem in places like this, and as this is the place to end all places, it would seem!

iphone 1415The above shows a not untypical street scene from Bangkok. I am glad to tell you that I survived the experience unscathed 🙂

It is just ultimately so busy, so noisy, so brash, and anything, just anything, goes. If you want to buy something, you can have it. Almost every street seems to have market stalls running alongside, and you are, if not harrassed, then ‘encouraged’ to stop and indulge. After a couple of beers in a fairly safe looking haunt I managed to make it back to my hotel in one piece. I even learned in there (but not from first hand experience I am very glad to say) what the phrase “love you long time” actually means – maybe I’ve just lived a sheltered life up until now!!

The next morning I was determined to see some of the ‘proper’ sights, and the concierge at my hotel suggested the Grand Palace as the place to hit. He wasn’t wrong. The Grand Palace is made up of a huge number of buildings and has been the residence of the King of Thailand (formerly Siam when the palace was built) since 1782. I don’t know where to begin writing about it, and could put down about four pages just about my experience there. Here are some pictures instead:

thailand 511thailand 513thailand 514thailand 517thailand 526thailand 535thailand 551I can’t remember the names of all of the different buildings above, but these were only a few of so many. I said “oh my God” about 447 times as I was walking around. The highlight was the Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of The Emerald Buddha. The inside (you can’t take photographs in there) is mindblowing, and that’s not the sort of thing I would ever say going into or out of a temple normally. I’d describe the whole thing as the best visit to any man made thing I’ve ever seen in my life. If you are ever anywhere close, just don’t miss it.

After the Grand Palace I went and took a boat over the river (called the Chao Phraya in case you want to know) and went to Wat Arun, another of the recommended ‘must see’ things in Bangkok.

thailand 558The above is taken from the boat on the river, which cost me all of 3 Baht for the journey, about 6p. Wat Arun, or the ‘Temple of the Dawn’ is a 17th century temple so named as it reflects the light from the early morning sun from its porcelain structure. It is stunning, and again really worth the visit. You can climb about two thirds of the way up, although the steps are precipitously steep and not for the faint hearted. The views back over the river and to downtown Bangkok are well worth it though.

thailand 565

By the time I’d finished at Wat Arun, it was ridiculously hot, and also my right heel (which I shouldn’t be walking on too much yet really) was hurting like hell. I’m still only 8 weeks in from it being broken, and I have only been walking properly for about 10 days, so I called it a day, and jumped back on the boat back over the river.

I tried in vain to get a taxi back to my hotel, but at least six taxis refused to take me. They just didn’t fancy the traffic downtown, even at a weekend. Incredible. Eventually therefore I found the good old Skytrain, which wasn’t too far away thankfully, and I rested up for the rest of the day and evening in a bit of pain.

My only foray out of my room was to get a traditional Thai massage that evening, which I had booked earlier that day, and involved me only getting up and down in the hotel lift. I’ve only ever been in a fight once in my life as a kid, and all I will say is that getting punched and kicked then (which I can still remember) was infinitely nicer than my massage. It felt like I was being smashed with an anvil and beaten with sticks. Thankfully it only cost me about £6, so that was the only saving grace.

In the morning I would get picked up at 7.15am to begin the business end of my trip, the long cycle south. It had been a wonderful and eventful view of Bangkok, my first ever time in the Far East. A wonderful place, and an education in so many ways, and so so happy just to be here in the first place. Happy days indeed……..