Thailand Part one...

04 January 2007 to 28 January 2007

After another flawless border crossing, we only had a little jaunt by bike from the ferry port to the town of Satun. In that short distance we were probably waved, smiled and helloed at more than in any other place we've been to. One guy who had done such when passing in his truck, flagged us down a few kilometres further on - he had stopped off to buy us some cold fruit juice because it was a hot day. Forget red carpets and champagne receptions, there probably hasn't ever been a better welcome to a country!


That kind of friendliness continued over the following few days, as we made our way to our first rest stop in Krabi. We haven't been bought juice again, but several Thais have invited us for a drink or meal, and lots of people stop for a chat. As if that wasn't enough, the traffic has been light and the road reasonably flat, so overall we are having an agreeable time in Thailand! Hotels and guesthouses are not as frequent here as we have been used to, so we've had to stay in a couple of grotty places, but at least the owners of them have been friendly!


Krabi is a fairly pleasant town, albeit crawling with backpackers on their gap year. What that also means is that there are pizza places everywhere, and we can get cornflakes for breakfast. After two days of this the one starts to outweigh the other though, so tomorrow (11th January) we cycle on. We'll be following the west coast for the next few days, heading north for Bangkok.


We decided to change our route slightly after some serious map studying. After leaving Krabi we headed for the town of Surat Thani, cutting across to the east coast earlier than we planned. It was a bit hilly (compared with Malaysia and Thailand so far), but the scenery was great, and the roads were very quiet and rural. The greatest threat on the road in Thailand is damaging your vocal cords from returning the constant helloes. Passing by schools on a break is always a particularly loud affair.


The biggest problem on the road in Thailand is that even in some quite large towns there is no guarantee of a guesthouse or hotel. So far we have been lucky and found something each day before we've collapsed from exhaustion. Much of the accommodation is in bungalows, which are pretty cheap friendly and clean, though rarely with hot water. Unless you're Richard though, having hot water after 8 hours of cycling in the heat is not a top priority. Bungalows also mean we can just wheel the bikes in, and sometimes give them a shower too. We arrived at one such bungalow in Lamae after a particularly long day to find it already occupied - by a snake. Kat was bravely able to deal with the thing using only a floor mat and the door. Richard did his best to help from ten feet away.


Our journey up the east coast followed the 'old highway' as much as possible, since it is quieter than the new highway and passes through some smaller Thai villages. It has been snakeless and largely uneventful. The traffic started to build up a few days away from Bangkok though, and the old highway runs out at about the same point. We decided to get a bus for the last 150km or so to avoid riding into the city - an unpleasant experience by all accounts. It still took us over 2 hours of cycling from the bus station to reach our hotel, and this was due to the traffic rather than getting lost.


(Added 06 February 2007)

It rained for most of the first 48 hours or so of being in Bangkok, but we were mainly there to pick up visas for Cambodia and Laos, and put on some weight by way of drinking Guinness and eating pies in the several Irish pubs which curiously abound here, so the weather hasn't affected those activities. Kat also busily devised a schedule of sightseeing to keep Richard away from the other distractions the city is known for. At the end of it we were a bit templed out. Some of the buildings are amazing, but after a while Buddha statues do start to all look the same.


Richard smartened himself up by having yet another haircut. Kat didn't. Richard had also found Old Speckled Hen on draught in a nearby pub, so was feeling pretty pleased with himself. Kat was slightly more excited about the number of dim sum venues there were there, and having been served a raw chicken kiev for dinner in a Western eatery, had significantly stepped up her campaign for eating in these every day.


We had a bit of a palava getting our visas - the hotel was just a short walk to the Cambodian embassy, so we turned up there only to find that it had moved 2 weeks ago to about 10km outside the city centre. We decided to get it done by an agent in the end. It was more expensive, but they could sort out the Cambodian and Laos visas all at the same time, rather than us ferrying back and forth between embassies. We were very excited about Cambodia.


We decided to leave Bangkok by train to Aranya Prathet (near the Cambodian border.) In part this was to avoid the horrendous traffic, and because our route coming back out of Cambodia took us back exactly the same way, so it meant we won't be backtracking on the bikes too much. We thought we were going to be punished for this decision when the train broke down about 30km short of its destination, but after some frantic repairs it limped into the station.  Our train was too long for the platform and we had to walk down the side of the track to get out of harms way. The following day we would cross into Cambodia.