30 Nov Cycling to the east coast of Thailand; long day of cycling, long night of train rides, and long ways on taxi Thai-style
We are off to another early start. The goal for the day is to reach the eastern coast of Thailand about 50 some miles away. Maybe we are slowly getting used to the heat or it is the lack of hills today, but riding during the morning hours seems much easier today. We stop a few times for water and food. We even treat ourselves to a fruity icicle. Unfortunately, everything here is super sweet and the cold snack leaves us even more thirsty afterwards.
Around lunch time, the sun is beating down on us again. The air is drier and we soon look for a rest area to take a break. Ron tries a big iced coffee, me a small iced latte, Jessica an iced tea..and off we go sweating our butts off some more.
The landscape around us is slowly changing from lush jungle type woods to more open, flat land. We miss the shade trees already and are quickly dripping with sweat again.
The closer we get to the coast, the more we notice the changes in the architecture. The houses are bigger around here and many of them are built of dark wood and look a little bit, like they are out of an old wild west movie.
What we have not seen so far along this long road is a place to stay the night. For several miles, we have not seen any spots to camp, nor any guest houses, bungalows or rooms for rent, and we are hoping to find a place to stay soon.
After turning north along the coast, we take another rest by a rock-mining area. One of the workers sits with us in the small tiki-hut shelter and hands us a couple bottles of water. He also, tells us in very broken English, that there should be some bungalows in the next town, where we could spend the night. It is only 10 km away.
Happy about the news, we continue our ride to the next village. Once there we follow the directions we were given, but did not find any bungalow. A little disappointed, we turn around to the main intersection and ask another men about a place to sleep. He points us into the opposite direction of town to an inexpensive small hotel, where we spend the night.
While at the hotel, we check the internet for train schedules up the coast toward Bangkok. Randy, Ron’s brother, will be landing in Bangkok soon to join our cycling adventure for 5 weeks. Although we would rather cycle up the coast, we would not make it there in time. We really enjoyed Khao Sok and spent some extra time there. Also, we still want to check out another national park on the way up to Bangkok, but we will not be able to see the Kaeng Krachan National Park and make it to Bangkok in time without taking the train for some distance.
We ask the hotel staff about trains to Kaeng Krachan and they are sure, that one will run to Phetchaburi every evening that takes bikes. From there we should be able to jump on a mini bus to the park. They also ensure us, that it’s OK to hang out around the hotel until the evening, when the train goes.
The next morning, we head to the train station and pay for our tickets. The train leaves at 18:00 but we are supposed to show back up at 17:00 to get the tickets for the bikes.
After hanging out at the hotel and talking to a couple of other German travelers, we return to the station with our bikes. I hand our tickets to the officer, he checks them and motions over to the bikes and then to an ancient looking scale along the wall. Several curious bystanders watch us like we are a major tourist attraction. Another man standing by, charades putting the bikes, bags and all on top of the scale. Obviously, the ancient looking scale does not look big enough to fit any of our bikes on it. Somehow, with the help of a couple of people standing around, our bikes make it on the scale and get weight. Some helpers have very surprised looks on their faces as they try to heave them up on the scale, others laugh and have a good time watching the whole scenario…we are always good for some good entertainment. Eventually, we get all of our bikes weight and pay for the tickets. Then we head to the only 2 tracks behind the building and wait for our train. Once it arrives, we quickly head to the cart behind the engine and heave our loaded bike up into the cargo area, before heading to our seats in another car, and off we go.
Our train is scheduled to arrive at Phetchaburi shortly after 02:00 and we did not really have any plans on where to go in the middle of the night, once we make it there; but we are confident it will work out somehow.
Since, we figured, that we are only on the train for half the night, we did not bother getting a berth. Instead we bought tickets for second class, where the seats recline.
Since it is already dark outside, we do not get to see much of the landscape. For hours we just sit, wait, and watch people hop on and off the train at different stations. Occasionally, 2 guys from the restaurant cart walk through the narrow aisle, carrying soup, food, or drinks. They loudly announce what they have to sale and wobble through the old wooden train car. Amazingly, they never spill a drop of their goods. At a couple of the stations street-vendors come on board to sell their food.
Eventually, we reach a station with a long stop…at least, we think it is a long stop. We are on the second track, but vendors find their way on the train anyway to sell food. We hear some sort of announcement, but are unable to understand what is said. Since nobody looks concerned, we are not concerned either. Except, the train does not seem to go anywhere. After an hour, we are still sitting. Eventually, we see people exiting our train. They climb through the train on track one to get to the main platform where they either smoke or buy more food and drinks. Some climb back through the adjacent train to sit back down, others just stay on the platform.
By 23:00 we are getting hungry. In about 3 hours we are supposed to reach our destination, but by now we are already stuck here for 2 hours and have not even traveled half the distance. We exit our train, climb through the other one on track one and find some chicken meat balls on sticks. We ask the vendor, whether she knows what is going on and find out, that all the trains are stuck at the station, because farther down heavy rain has caused a flash flood that wiped out part of the tracks. Supposedly, we are scheduled to continue our journey around 02:00…
Oh, well, not much we can do about that!…apparently, that is the same attitude Thai people have. Nobody seems bothered by the fact they are stuck here for hours. People are just eating, sitting quietly, talking quietly, or try to go to sleep. Nobody is making a big stink out of the situation.
We head back to our seats, eat, and try to get some sleep as well. 02:00 rolls around and we are still going nowhere. We finally manage to doze off for a while. The sun come up and we are still not moving. Shortly before 08:00 we head back out to the main platform to get coffee and Thai donuts, when another announcement comes through the speakers. As the lady pours the coffee, she says “Train go now!”
Not sure which train she is talking about, we quickly grab our breakfast, pay and jump through train number 1 to get back to our train. A couple of minutes later, we hear the bell ring and off we go.
The going however, is very slow. Initially, we wait at every station to let oncoming trains go by. Eventually, we crawl by the area, that was affected by the flood. There are several spare tracks laying around, the whole area looks muddy and bushes and trees are leaning over. To us it did not particularly look like a “flood-area”. There are no mountains nearby, there is a small creek running through, but nothing spectacular. To us it looked like a somewhat low-laying area. We might have even pitched a tent near here if we had to in a pinch. Obviously, we would stay away from dry riverbeds and runoffs, but we would have never really thought twice about staying in an area like this…maybe it is time to rethink our wild camping habits.
After passing the affected area the train moves faster and finally, 12 hours late, we arrive in Phetchaburi.
Well, at least we did not have to worry about where to stay in the middle of the night after all, since we finally arrive at 14:00.
Not in the mood to ride another 40 miles after not getting any sleep in the uncomfortable seats, we decide to find a ride out to the national park. After some searching and asking, we finally fetch a ride for a reasonable price on one of the small truck looking taxis. We pile the bikes, gear, Jessica and I on the back while Ron sits up front with the driver and off we go the final stretch to Kaeng Krachan. The ride is refreshing and exhilarating. The back of the truck is nothing more than a metal cage covering two metal benches the back is open. The driver likes to drive fast, in the middle of the road, and loves to overtake other vehicles pretty much at any time. At least the breeze feels great and Jessica and I agree, we are happy to sit in the back, where we can not really see what is all going on in the traffic ahead of us.
Tired we set up our tent and grab a bite to eat at the park restaurant. We chat a little bit with a Thai man camping at the site. He likes to ride his bike for exercise. We also talk with two German girls backpacking through SE Asia about getting to the second campground deeper in the forest before retiring for the night. However, that seems to be more difficult, than we expected.