by Carl Binding
The tour started with a team meeting in the Majestic Grande Hotel in Bangkok on day 0. So there we were, 13 adventurous cyclists ready for an 808 km trip from Phetchaburi to Pukhet. The tour guides Martin B and Kurt S introduced the crowd. A pair of lean and mean Souabian retirees, the mandatory British ex-pat and a bunch of Swiss (Germans), with a strong thurgovian dominance and the usual Zurich representatives; cyclists from Under-17 to Over-70 with visibly impressively fit legs and track records of WWW glory.
Starting with a mini-bus ride the next day out of Bangkok to Phetchaburi we experienced Thai traffic the easy way. Things got more serious once we got onto the rental bikes – which were of excellent quality and perfectly fitted to our sizes.
Biking through salt fields along some scenic routes as well as some more high-way like roads, we reached Hua Hin after 70 or so km. The pace was brisk for the true amateur – 25 km/h on average, but on the flat this went well. The heat was alleviated by the driving breeze, but the early season rear-end signaled a certain sensitivity….
From Hua-Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan it was about 120 km along mainly two lane highway roads, interspersed with some 4-lane highways, and the occasional rail-road crossing. Traversing pineapple plantations, along shrimp ponds and the coast we reached our very Thai hotel in the early afternoon. The route along the bay on Pin Anuson Road was post-card beautiful. On arrival, the mandatory beers ensued – the two important Thai words are „Singha“ and „Chang“. Ordering western style food however was more complicated; the hotel staff not truly being fluent in language of Shakespeare.
The third stage was a short breeze along the Gulf of Thailand coast. Nice, smooth roads, not too much traffic and only 68 km to reach an idyllic resort in Had Baan Krut with pool and a beach to die for. As usual, the pace was brisk (about 25 km/h), interrupted by coffee breaks necessary to fill up with liquids in vast amounts and delicious fresh fruit served by the friendly Thai tour guide Khun Ludi and his colleague and bus-driver Khun Narin.
A special visit to the local temple Wat Thang Sai arranged by Khun Ludi introduced some of the Thai culture to us farangs. Including the egg-laying divine creature. Gestation time for that egg is said to be 2 years, 3 months, and 5 seconds! (Notice to the young spring-in-field from Weinfelden.) Dinner was spicy for some of us, but good though simple as usual. Fried or steamed rice, red, green or other curries, spicy salads are excellent staples of the Thai cuisine.
The fourth stage was a bit longer again, about 120 km to Nana Beach (not Plaza!) near Chumphon. Again, a sensational beach without too many farangs but plenty of Thai beach goers. April is the hottest month in Thailand (more sun, less rain equals higher temperatures) and school vacations go from mid-April to mid-June I understand: it’s too hot to learn… December – January kite-surfers flock here, the winds are stronger then, I was told.
After a day of rest which some of the creative biking minds used to go, well, cycling, the longest stage was waiting for us. Nana Beach to Ranong, from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea, 140 km. We followed Highway 4 West – mainly a 2 or 4 lane highway which we shared with all other traffic, plus tons of construction sites. One road fits all traffic in Thailand – maybe a traffic concept to consider elsewhere?
A stop at mid-distance between the Pacific and Indian oceans at Kra Isthmus, right opposite the Burmese border. As usual, we had drinking and lunch breaks with plenty of isotonic and other liquids and the typical fried-rice lunch on the road as well.
The water-fall stop at Punyaban Waterfall sort of fell into the lack of water…. But a flat tire was fixed in no-time before a short climb on the road – which was tough in the afternoon heat of about 40 C. Then a dash down into Ranong before the downpour started whilst the reinvigorating beers were downed. The hot springs at the hotel were hot indeed, but very relaxing.
Stage 7 took us from Ranong into a jungle resort at Kuraburi. Keeping along Highway 4 we had a rolling ride, shared with Thai week-end traffic. The resort was idyllic – even without beach, but a pool and the noises of the jungle – including the afternoon downpour.
After Kuraburi the road becomes more busy again towards Khao Lak which definitely has been discovered by the western tour operators. Some traces of the 2004 Tsunami can be visited, but otherwise very few scars of this catastrophe. German, British, Russian tourists are back and baking in the sun…. It shows in the choice of feeding places: a wider range, less authenticity, and not necessarily better quality.
The final stage took us from Khao Lak onto Phuket island towards Choeng Thale, Thalang; the HQ of Siam Bike Tours. We crossed the Sarasin Bridge and had a last drinking break and lunch rest on the beach before reaching the bike shop where we bid each other farewall after 9 days on the road, sharing the last (liquid) Tigers and Elephants in a Thai bottle….
Overall it was a very well organized tour. No worries, luxury service all around, great accommodations, good food and drink. The Thai roads you have to live with – there may be some traffic, but far less pot-holes and bumps than in Puglia…. Temperatures are higher, sun-cream mandatory, humidity stifling. The flatness of the route and the cycling breeze however alleviate most of that. And you get to experience a bit of the real Thailand, its views, its smells, its heats, although the main sight may be the rear-end of your front-man in the pack…..