Bicycle vacation Thailand
From Bangkok to Singapore by bicycle (I)
Bicycling in crowded Bangkok, along wharfs where boats are built by hand, between plantations with rubber, palm and banana trees and along touristic beach resorts. Crowded and noisy towns where one meets no western tourists, and remote beaches where a bucket serves as shower.
Travelogue & photos: Aart Dijkzeul
After taking a shower in our hotel, we explore Bangkok on foot. Our senses are stimulated by the stench of cars, nice smells from the many food stalls, noise, and interesting and pretty things to see.
Next day, we explore the city by bike. Our lungs get asphalted, but we see a lot.
That is, if you're not afraid of getting squashed between two buses. Or, like this afternoon, to merge onto an eight-lane highway which runs through the city. It really brings home the difference between 20 and 100 k/p/h. And the Thai are not the most polite traffic participants. Quite different from how they are in other situations: friendly, nice and helpful.
Of course we visit some of the must-see highlights: a teak palace where traditional dances are performed; a temple compound with a 30 meters long lying Buddha. It's supposed to be sacred, but for a non-Buddhist it looks mostly grotesque.
As busy as it is outside the complex, it's completely quiet inside. There is a school with children in uniforms. In music class, they learn to play the gamelan and drums. A little farther a dance lesson is going on.
We bicycle through nice little streets with all kinds of businesses and stores. Near the river we visit an indoor vegetable market. Very colorful. And of course, everywhere people admire and touch our bicycles. Or they want to know how expensive they are.
Prachuap Khiri Khan
We're an attraction
That was Bangkok; the real trip started four days ago. The bikes are loaded on a van and, approximately 140 km south of Bangkok, in the town of Phetbury, the trip begins.
Lots of highways, but fortunately also local roads. We can't believe the things we see driving on these roads. Pick-up trucks loaded with people. Young and old.
And we are an attraction, apparently. Many people honk and wave. Especially people on mopeds (there are usually three people on one moped) are interested. When they overtake us, we hear "hello" and then - if there are girls - a lot of giggling. But, according to the Lonely Planet, they're not laughing at us.
Hua Hin, the first town where we spend the night, is a cross between a beach resort and an amusement park. It's horrible. Lots of souvenir shops with stuff "made in Thailand". Wood carvings and clothes.
Today we bicycle in Khao Sam Roi National Park. We take a boat to a beach. The cottage where we spend the night is - with some understatement - not very luxury. There is no shower. Instead there's a bucket with a scoop for a showerhead. A bed is the only furniture, but with the mosquito net hanging over it, it's still romantic. There is only limited opportunity for swimming, because of the many jellyfish.
We bicycle to Prachuap Khiri Khan. Outside the village is a wharf. I look around in amazement. The wharf builds wooden fishing boats, around 15 meters longs, and everything is hand made. As if time has stood still.
Everything is green and damp
Everywhere little restaurants, shops and stinking trucks
From Bangkok we travel southward. We are now in the neighborhood of the well-known Thai tourist resort Phuket, in the town of Phang Nga.
The areas we travel through change little by little. Less and less plantations with rubber, palm or banana trees and more "wild" nature. with all kinds of unknown trees and shrubs. Everything is green and damp. Still it has only rained three times since we arrived, and always at the end of the day.
The people and the way they live doesn't change much, going from north to south. Towns are crowded and noisy. There a small restaurants, shops and stinking trucks everywhere.
A little outside village or town centers, there are always the same views. Rather simple houses, usually made of wood or bamboo, but sometimes concrete, with children, chickens and dogs in the yard. The dogs are not entirely enjoyable for bicyclists.
But regardless whether the cabins are made of wood, bamboo or concrete, the people who live there don't look poor. Even from the most rickety huts children in uniform with neatly ironed white blouses appear in the morning. Everyone is extremely friendly. The most exhausting part of this vacation is waving at people and saying "hello".
Touristic beach resort
Top-less sunbathing while the Thai keep their pants and shirts on
We love the food. Because we leave early every day, we usually have to get breakfast on the way. When we just arrived in Thailand, we didn't have the guts to buy food from one of those stalls on the roadside. But little by little that is becoming easier. We eat and slurp everything. And usually it's very tasty, too.
Today we bicycle in a rather hilly area. We're both in a curious mood, so we take every opportunity to find out what people here in Thailand do for a living.
We visit a hospital and take a look at a rubber plantation. There, a couple press sheets of rubber with something that looks like a wringer, the kind they had on old-fashioned washing machines.
Another thing that is done the pre-historic way, is making charcoal. The owner of the workshop gives us a tour. Rubber-tree wood is charred in loam ovens, which are then emptied by two ancient women. Next the charcoal is sorted and bagged. Not healthy, but fun to watch.
We spend a few days in some more touristic places. Beach resorts where one doesn't recognize the original village and where white skins dominate. We also play tourist there.
From Krabi we cross to the island of Koh Lanta. There are only tourists on the ferry, most of them with backpacks and two have bikes with them. The ferry doesn't carry cars.
The island turns out to be another western tourist resort. It makes me feel uncomfortable. An island with a surface of 30 by 10 km where one side (of course the one with the beautiful sand)is completely used by and for tourists, who don't care about local habits at all. Top-less sunbathing while the Thai keep on their pants and shirts even for a swim in the sea.
An increasing number of mosques
Muslim girls practice their English with us
We're back in a Thai area, where one doesn't meet a single western person. Little by little Buddhism gives way to Islam. More mosques, less temples. An increasing number of girls with head scarves. They also greet us with "hello".
It's been raining for two days now. It's a change. But we still prefer the sunny weather. Just like at home, we're always too late with putting on our rain coats. "Oh, it'll get better in a minute." Result: we're both wet to our crotches and our hotelroom in Trang, where we are now, looks like an out-sized dryer, with the fan at maximum speed.
Today was out of the ordinary. Not Monday laundry day, but Monday funeral day. We saw at least four funerals on the way here.
A somewhat gaudy casket sits underneath a canopy which is decorated with flowers and the like. Around it - or so it seems to us - a party, complete with marquees, tables and chairs, food and drinks. The atmosphere isn't sad at all. Guests for the funeral arrive by car and ignite fireworks. Dying is probably considered less of a bad thing here than it is in the western world.
Today we're in a town where an "anti-drugs and anti-aids" festival takes place. There is a parade with children from all of the three schools (wearing three different kinds of uniforms) and after that local stars perform.
We are approached by a group of four Muslim girls who - as it turns out - were urged by their teacher to practice their English with us. The conversation isn't very deep - for lack of words - but much fun.
In the evening groups of kids play guitar and bongos and sing. It's very enjoyable. Even though their performance is rather static (they sit in chairs) their fans' screaming is deafening.
It's hot on our last day in Thailand, in the town of Satun. Still we get a Thai massage. If you think that feels good, getting massaged, caressed and rubbed for an hour, you're dead wrong. It's knocking, squeezing, pushing and turning and when you scream "Ouch!" it seems that that is the Thai word for "Please, continue". But beneficial it is.
Afterwards we visit the evening market to get some food and drinks. Row upon row of glorified carrier tricycles with kitchens on top. First we take a look to see who makes the best food and then we point at what we want. That's how ordering works if you don't know what everything is called.