Jan 29/30 Flight to Bangkok
Farah took Owen and me to the airport. He heading to Grand Prairie, I’m off to Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore. We had breakfast together once through security. Nice.
My stop in Vancouver took longer than scheduled and so my connection flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok had to be changed. Still I was into Bangkok before midnight on the 30th only an hour and a bit late. Most people were wearing masks, particularly in Hong Kong. Neither long flight was near full, I guess in deference to the Corona virus
When travelling with my bike I will usually take a taxi to my hotel. 25 hours en-route, the heat and humidity and the complexity of dealing with a city like Bangkok make this decision simple. 600 Baht, a few years ago it would have been $20 Cdn, now about $25. How is the Cdn dollar devalued against the Baht? At any rate it is still a bargain. The same taxi ride into Tokyo is probably $150 now. I walked over to a 7/11 from my hotel just to get out a bit. I had long walks in all three airports, but I do love the tropical air late at night. I also noted HuaLamphong the train station, right across from my hotel, which was the reason I chose it.
Jan 31, Bangkok
Breakfast is served early and so while I was awake at 5:00 I was able to get a nice buffet breakfast and lots of coffee at 6:30. First on order for the day was to assemble my bike. I do this right away because if there is transit damage I need to get after that right away. Bike Friday has always gone together well for me, and he did again. I have had damage to my other bikes on four different trips and so I am leery.
The next on the agenda is to buy a train ticket, now that I know I can leave in the morning, unfortunately no Bangkok visit this time. The train will leave at 8:05 and will get to Phetchaburi at 10:30. I hope to cycle from the station in Phetchaburi over to the coast to do some birding and then on south along the coast to a few more birding sites. I booked a hotel along the coast about 40 km ride from Phetchaburi, which should give me some time to get a few special birds.
It took longer than normal to find a Cell Provider with good data provisions. I normally would pick up a Sim card at the airport, but it was too late last night. I almost never make phone calls, but navigation and internet service primarily for making hotel bookings have become essential. This task had me on a Tuk -Tuk to get there and on the Metro to get back. Always fun to figure these things out again. I have been to Bangkok five or six times over the last 30 years, but it is always a bit different.
These were the essential tasks and as they were now done I could relax. I got my bike out and rode for about 15 km. down to the Chao Phraya River, by following one of the Khlongs, the water channels that once were the heart of getting around in Bangkok, but are still essential to the mood of the city.
A green curry and then another Metro ride in the evening got me to the Flower Market and Wat Pho for some night photography. Hundreds work putting together flower arrangements to be used primarily in temples and for people to make offerings. Even though it was formally closed, I found an open side entrance into Wat Pho, my favourite temple in Bangkok. The intricate gold gilded temples, sprayed with light, the grounds wonderfully quiet compared to the day time throngs. Unfortunately, I will not be able to get a Thai Massage this time. Wat Pho is I believe where Thai Massage originated.
Feb 1, to Chao Samran Beach
My bike had to be folded a bit to go in its soft bag so that I could take it on what was supposed to be a fast train, no baggage car. The train chugged along getting out of Bangkok and then sped up a bit as we cleared the urban area. But then we sat for about 15 minutes waiting for another train to pass. I was starting to worry. And then another 30 minute wait. My plans for the day were unraveling, but I had my hotel reservation so I had to carry on.
My last bike ride from Bangkok, which took me in a circle into north Thailand, down along the Mekong in Laos and Cambodia and back to Bangkok, also started with a train ride out of Bangkok. On that trip I spent a few nature days in Khao Yai NP, before heading north. This trip has some parallels. I had planned on squeezing some birding in on my train day, but at 12:00, when I finally got off the train and put my bike together it was already near 35C,which is a real problem for me, particularly on the first day.
But off I went heading for the sea. There was a spot there that purportedly has Spoon-billed Sandpipers but almost nowhere else. The 20 km were into a bit of a breeze but it was the heat that was killing me. When I stopped at my site, sweat started flowing into my eyes and I could not stand to be out in the sun. I looked around a bit, saw some egrets and other shore birds, but if the sandpiper was there I was not going to be able to find it. I headed on, I still had 20 kms to ride, but I didn’t stop at any of the other birding places. I had to get out of the sun, I only stopped for drink. I got into my hotel absolutely drained. I will not be riding much in the afternoon on this trip.
Feb 2-5, Baan Maka
In my researches for this trip I searched for “Birding Lodges in Thailand”. The only one that came up was up against the Myanmar border close to Bangkok. I booked myself in for three nights. I headed off from my beach hotel before 7:00. It was wonderfully cool, the roads were quiet, birds were everywhere. My cycling on the first few days are not getting me much closer to Singapore, the end point of this trip, as I am going back and forth across the peninsula. But the good part of that is that the roads are quiet local roads. In a few days I will turn and head south and then I will often be on high traffic roads.
I was stopping often to take photos of birds that were all new to me. Mynahs, bulbuls egrets, storks and no end of little flitting birds I had no chance of identifying. It was great fun, but I was also using up the cool of the day. By 8:30 is was hot and by 9:30 uncomfortable. I had just got some nice bee-eater photos and had stopped for drinks when I saw my second Kingfisher of the day. This one turned out to be a bit special. From then on I was grinding it out. Into the hills… climbing. I lost cell coverage and with it my navigation so got lost twice. I had a snack and used restaurant wifi to get back on track. I rode 85 km, and pulled into the tranquillity of Baan Maka at 1:30. My second day of heavy dehydration, but now I would have a couple of days to rehydrate.
There were birders here from Britain, USA, Spain and even Edmonton. I visited a lot but didn’t meet everyone I shared a guide one day for a trip into the NP. I walked around the extensive grounds. I spent time in five different hides where elusive little specialties have been habituated to come out for mealy worms. I spent two hours on a lake in a kayak. I ate extremely well and worked hard on my rehydration, apparently beer works well. The owners, a British man and his Thai wife are both avid birders. They had been here a number of times and then when the previous owner wanted out they took over. It was hard to leave.
I had seen more species here than I expected to see in all of my Thai trip. That in large part because of the help in identification from the resources available and the knowledge of the people.
Feb 5, to Sam Roi Yod Beach
Birding Lodges have breakfast very early to allow you to get out among the birds when the getting is good, and so on the day I was leaving I was having breakfast at 6:00. This was later than the other two mornings, but that still put me on the gravel road heading south as the light began to appear in the sky. I zig-zagged South and East for 60 kms until I hit highway 4, the main road down the Thai peninsula. It was just starting to get hot but I gutted it out for another 40 km, on #4 and then down to the coast. It was 1:30 when after a cool off in the hotel pool I hid away in my AC room until dinner. No stops to bird on this day. It will either be good distance or birding. Tough to get in both. Stopping to visit Wats and Caves, both abundant here, are also out. I have about 500 km, over a week of riding on these abbreviated days to get to my next potential birding stop.
Feb 6 to Prachuab
A late breakfast (6:30) meant a late start. I caught and passed a couple from Belgium that I had seen my first day near Phetchaburi. They were obviously putting in short days. The man thought that Friday must be electric. The tiny wheels conceal a big heart. I tried stopping for a few bird shots but they were unsuccessful. I had decided to try to do a shorter day and so stopped before noon. Part of the decision is based upon how far my hotel apps indicate hotels might be found. At Prachuab I stayed in a small hotel looking onto the sea.
Feb 7 to Pine Beach Resort
I had breakfast bought the night before at 7/11 so that I could be riding at first light. I had a nice 20 km ride along quiet roads until I had to merge with #4. It is a divided 4 lane highway with wide shoulders so the riding is easy and safe but noisy. Another fairly nice aspect for much of the time is that there are trees that in the morning give snippets of shade which makes an enormous difference. When the shade is absent for a few hundred meters it can be killing, particularly late in the day.
I can ride for about 30 km to begin the day before my first drink stop, and then the stops get more and more frequent until by the end of the day they are about every 10 km. I have coke, orange juice, fanta to give me some energy as I don’t eat during the day. I drink water while on my bike, but as I get tired I stop even to drink from my water bottle.
On this day, I was hoping to find a hotel along #4 by 12 or 1. No such luck. All my stops have been at resorts along the beach which here involved a 20 km off of #4 to get to. It made for a 115 km day and a 1:30 finish, both too long for me. The resort had about 20 people in similar uniforms trying to be busy but often slumped over on tables and some even in hammocks spread out among the trees leading down to the beach. I think there was one other guest here, but I never saw him.
Feb 8, to Chumphon
By having a longish day yesterday I had targeted Chumphon, a major city and the point at which I would cross to the west side of the peninsula. I had an hour and more of quiet roads before getting to a major road, but not the main highway #4, which i didnt use all day. It was only two lanes, but with a good shoulder. The minor roads are more hilly and my overall progress is a bit slower as a result. I only did 91 km but still dragged into town with little left in the tank.
I had no hotel in mind for this night and was heading to a hotel that my app had identified for me when I saw a …resort sign pointing down a side-street. Even in towns like this a “resort” might pop up. They might be set in nice grounds, have a swimming pool and will be quite luxurious by my standards. This one was 600 Baht, about $25.
I stopped on the way out of Chumphon at the first road-side food stop that had activity. It was still dark at this point and my “eat rice” dish took about 20 minutes for them to prepare and me to eat. By then there was enough light for people to see me. I was a bit concerned about how much climbing would be involved into getting over the peninsula, but the initial 50 km which got me over main part of the peninsula was on well engineered roads with gentle grades. Once on the west side the road follows a long inlet called Kra Buri which separates Thailand from Myanmar. Here the road began to follow the natural flow of the land more, which meant lots of up and down. My hotel app showed only one possible place to stay and I luckily found it. It was a room in a strip of businesses only a block long. It was another 1:00 stop, but the 95 km still drained me. I had a “rice” dinner and the same meal for breakfast the next morning in a road-side restaurant. I love the variety and taste of these meals. They cost between $1 and $2, and each cook puts their own spin on it.
My days are beginning to feel much alike. This was the fifth day of riding since Bann Maka and all I do is ride 5-7 hours, hide out in an AC room. I mostly drink: coke, juice, coffee (hot and cold) water and beer at night. I can hardly wait for another birding stop, still a few days off.
Feb 10 to Ranong
After my morning “rice” dish I struggled into the hills again. In part the struggles come from my hope that it would get a bit flatter again as the road got close to the Andaman Sea. But I can see now that will not be the case. The toughest hill yet hit me early in the morning. I coasted through Ranong and stopped for a nice coffee in an AC coffee house and soon after I hit a designated bike path, but I was so weary that nothing seemed to help with my mental funk.
And then a …Resort appeared right beside me. I wheeled in, agreed to an exorbitant price and at 40 km and 9:30 I was off of my bike. I would chill … around the grounds, in my AC room and perhaps do an overdue post. I am hoping a day off of my legs would give them their pop back and free my mind from the day to day grind.
But really, all is good. At 78 to be cycling through Thailand…