Day 9 – Khao Lak to Surin Beach (Phuket)

December 10th 2012

And so the last day of the trip rather unceremoniously arrived with a 6am wake up call in the very hot and sticky resort of Takolaburi, just north of Khao Lak on Thailand’s south west coast. I was glad that is would be the last early morning of packing, getting ready, checking out of a hotel all by 7-something in the morning. It is a (sort of) holiday after all 🙂

And so by 7.55am we were off and rolling towards our final destination, the island resort of Phuket, some 70 miles to our south. Passing the tsunami warning station in the first 100 metres brought a sober warning of the dangers of the area that we were in, and shortly after leaving Khao Lak we saw an even more sobering memorial to the disaster of 2004.

The tsunami warning station just north of Khao Lak, quite a sobering sight.

The tsunami warning station just north of Khao Lak, quite a sobering sight.

The police boat that was carried onshore in 2004 at the scene of the Khao Lak tsunami.

The police boat that was carried onshore in 2004 at the scene of the Khao Lak tsunami.

This was another boat, this one a police frigate, which had been carried 2km inland on that fateful day. The place where it still lies is being turned into a tsunami museum, and there are many pictures on display already outside as either tributes to lost loved ones, or another very sad one that I saw of bodies lined in trenches covered with ice to prevent decomposition.

We then hit a good pace towards the island of Phuket itself, eventually passing over the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.

A brief stop for a group shot on the bridge over to Phuket.

A brief stop for a group shot on the bridge over to Phuket.

Upon arriving in Phuket it was almost like being in another country altogether. The roads became generally busier, the road signs bigger and more ‘international’, and the landscape/vegetation less dense and jungle-like. Our resort, Surin Beach, was probably 35km or so down on the west coast of the island, and we eventually got off the busy roads, and skirted our way along the coast and past the airport on back roads. We also had some very threatening clouds overhead, practically the first ones we had seen all week, although they thankfully never broke, but it did get pretty dark for a while.

On the north of Phuket at last......

On the north of Phuket at last……

....and then onto the quieter back roads down to Surin Beach.

….and then onto the quieter back roads down to Surin Beach.

And then all of a sudden we were in the resort of Surin Beach, and at the Manathai Hotel. It was over, just like that. It had been again another great and varied day’s riding, and it was almost an anticlimax that it just sort of stopped. Surin Beach is certainly a lot more westernised than any other place that we had seen along the way too, and so it was almost a shock to the system to be taken into what was like being in another world.

The (very) end of the road - the Manathai Hotal, Surin Beach, Phuket.

The (very) end of the road – the Manathai Hotal, Surin Beach, Phuket.

The Manathai Hotel was as good as anywhere we had been all trip, and so once again Spiceroads did us proud with their choice of accommodation. Following a brief dip in the most welcome private plunge pool I have ever been in (actually the only private plunge pool I have ever been in, but very welcome nonetheless), we had our final farewell dinner to the Spiceroads guys down on the beach.

The final tale of the tape for the day per my Garmin is as follows:

http://app.strava.com/activities/31802837

So altogether we had covered around 850km (around 520 miles) in the 8 days cycling, and for me, it was just the ticket. The terrain was never too challenging, and the pace never too quick, but ultimately I got what I came for and more. The roads in Thailand are in great condition, and apart from the odd rabid dog or moped riding the wrong way, you never ever feel threatened in any way by other road users like is so often the case in the UK.

It would be remiss of me not to finish this series of posts without a final word about Spiceroads. I picked this company blind, from so many on the internet, and other than a couple of Tripadvisor reviews, knew nothing about them at all. It was a leap of faith, a last minute decision, that could, very easily, have not been anything like it promised. In simple terms, they absolutely overdelivered, which is so refreshing, and made for a great time all round. From the quality of the bikes, the accommodation, the food, the backup, the communications, and the friendliness, from the time of booking until the time I got home, they were brilliant in every way.

I often judge companies that I deal with in terms of how they perform when something goes wrong. With Spiceroads, you just knew it wouldn’t go wrong in the first place. From the little touches (you never had to ask for anything – I never asked for my water bottle to be filled, it was just done for me automatically, like 10 times a day), to the timeliness, to the advance organisation at every hotel we stayed in, and restaurant we stopped at, it was all perfect. They had thought of everything, and then made sure it happened. I honestly couldn’t think of one thing to criticise them for at all. Unlike so many travel companies I have dealt with, you didn’t have to fit in with them, they were there to make you get the most out of your trip, and that is excellent.

Oh and even more finally, to Dirk, David and Phillipa, thank you for being such wonderful travelling companions. It is strange sometimes being thrown together with people you have never met before for 24 hours a day, but you were all just great!

And so into 2013 – Happy New Year to everyone. I want to get 3,000 miles cycling in this year (double my 2012 total), and don’t think I’ll be doing any running! My main aim is I think six (I’ve just plucked that from the air, but why not!) new mountain summits, of which Aconcagua and Mont Blanc are top of the list. Watch this space…….

Day 8 – Kuraburi to Khao Lak

December 9th 2012

Day 8 was billed as a very short day in terms of cycling, and at just 50 miles it was in comparison with the others. But 50 miles when it is 33 or 34 degrees outside still saps your energy big time.

I was up at my now very customary 6am, and into breakfast early at the Greenview resort in Kuraburi. We were the only western visitors in the resort, although there was still a ‘western’ option for breakfast, which was always a big plus for me. The thought of chillies and spicy fish for breakfast is just not my thing I’m afraid, certainly not when all you want to do is stay cool for as long as you can. Plus it is always helpful to just get a few ‘normal’ carbs into your system and have a settled stomach before a day in the saddle, even if otherwise I’d very much be a proponent of “when in Rome”.

Today then was almost cool to start with by comparison to other days, although I think this was because we were in a valley with a breeze blowing through it. I’m sure it was never below 25c even at night however. Our first 30 or so km were fairly uneventful, but then the interest ramped up significantly as we went on.

I don’t think I had realised that this area of Thailand had been as badly affected by the terrible tsunami of 2004. Everyone remembers Indonesia and the Philllipines, but to be told today that over 20,000 Thai people died in the tsunami was a shock, and a poignant one too. What is perhaps more significant (and evidenced all the way along this south western tip of the country) is that an untold (but many many thousands) of Burmese nationals died here too. No-one has a clue how many, as, like today, there are so many Burmese people here unregistered, and so many thousands of bodies went either unaccounted for, or were never even found. Very sad.

A morning feed stop - and an always welcome selection of fruit and cooling drinks etc.

A morning feed stop – and an always welcome selection of fruit and cooling drinks etc.

One of so many rubber plantations we cycled through en route.

One of so many rubber plantations we cycled through en route.

The above picture from the rubber plantation gave me the opportunity to ask about Thailand’s exports, and Esso (who was really knowledgeable and helpful always with all of my questions) told me that rubber is still one of Thailand’s main exports, along with (of course) rice and increasingly, computer and car parts.

And so we found ourselves shortly before lunch at Bang Muang, where two fishing vessels (trawlers, 60 tons each) had been washed over 2km inland on that fateful day. They still sit here to this day, as no one can or even wants to move them. Slightly further down the road there was a cemetery/memorial to the dead. It was slightly unkempt, and I was told that part of the reason for this was the bitterness felt by (some of) the Thai people for the media coverage which focussed almost entirely on the foreign, as opposed to the indigenous, people who died in their country. That may be the saddest part of all really.

The entrance to the tsunami cemetery....

The entrance to the tsunami cemetery….

These boats are a stunning 2km inland.

These boats are a stunning 2km inland.

Just further on we went to the beach at Ban Nam Khem, which bore the brunt of the disaster. A memorial wall has been erected here, but the rest of the place is somewhat desolate. The beach area is a place for fisherman to bring their catches in, but what was apparently a booming beach resort area ( and you can see why, it is stunning), is now neglected and deserted. No-one wants to build on a place where so many people lost their lives, and I suppose for all anybody knows, another tsunami could come again at any time. There are newly built tsunami-alert stations dotted around the coast to hopefully mitigate against the effects of further future tragedy.

The memorial wall commemorating the dead at Ban Nam Khem.

The memorial wall commemorating the dead at Ban Nam Khem.

Following a very pleasant and extremely (head and all) fishy lunch on the beach, served by the most enthusiastic host I have ever come across, we headed off for the final leg of the day, a brisk 25km down to Khao Lak. Khao Lak is a beach resort, with a cosmopolitan flavour. Our hotel, the Takolaburi Resort, was in a stunning beachfront location.

Our lunch spot, strangely and also very sadly deserted.

Our lunch spot, strangely and also very sadly deserted.

I was in the sea within about 10 minutes of arriving (9 and a half minutes of that was walking to and from my room), as I was desperate to cool down. Sadly the water was probably even warmer than the Gulf of Thailand, and was perhaps 28 or 29 degrees. It felt like getting into a hot bath, even with the air temperature at 34, so was no relief at all. I decided instead to make my way to the hotel pool, which was beautiful, but was also overflowing with Russian people playing pool volleyball, and making so much noise that I thought my ears would burst.

The Takolaburi Resort, Khao Lak

The Takolaburi Resort, Khao Lak

I therefore found a quiet spot overlooking the Andaman Sea and had a nice quiet Singha beer, and wrote his very dialogue.

The very lovely and stupidly quiet beach at Khao Lak on the Andaman Sea.

The very lovely and stupidly quiet beach at Khao Lak on the Andaman Sea.

The evening was spent just the four of us in the resort, and was a very quiet affair. dodging the mosquitoes in the resort, which were plentiful. The next day would be our last of cycling, a 70 or so mile ride down to Phuket. The weather forecast was turning, and we may get rain ahead of us, but we nonetheless all looked forward to our last day of experiencing the wonderful Thailand landscape from its very core.

Here finally are the days stats from my Garmin:

http://app.strava.com/activities/31606431

Bring on the final day 🙂