23 Nov Cycling up the Western Coast of Thailand: about Boy at the Rasta bar, wild camping, and elephants
In the morning, we are excited to get going. Our initial route will have us cycling up the western coast of Thailand. Although, I am a little worried about cycling in this scolding, humid weather, I am looking forward to get cycling again. Actually, we are all very excited to get going and very curious how cycling in Thailand is going to be. We are not sure what kind of terrain we will encounter, nor what conditions the roads are going to be in. In Phuket, we were told, that cycling is mostly reserved for “poor people”, which are mostly migrant workers from Myamar in this area, so we are wondering how the car drivers are going to treat us. Also, we’ll have to ride on the left side of the road again,…which seemed so wrong before in Great Britain. For some strange reason though, it seems much easier to get used to cycling on the “wrong” side here.
We are also looking forward to meeting lots of new people. So far everybody we encountered, has been very helpful, friendly, happy, and laid-back. We try our best to learn how to say “hello”,”please”,”thank you”, and a couple of other key words and most anybody we try our new-found vocabulary on seems to be either very amused at our attempt to speak Thai, or very happy that we are trying. Either way, we encounter lots of smiles.
As we push our bikes out of the small hotel grounds, we stop to tell Simon goodbye. He gives us quick directions around the airport so we could avoid the main road, before taking off.
We try to follow his directions, but we soon find out, that it must have been a long time since Simon traveled this way, because we soon run into a dead end on the hilly dirt road. We backtrack for a mile and continue on the road as it starts sprinkling on us…Nice! It is almost as nice as having air conditioning!
Soon, the sprinkle turns into a downpour so we seek shelter under one of the many street-side shops that is closed at the time. It is still sprinkling as we continue riding, but we do not mind. Luckily, the road is great. It is smooth, has an extra lane for bikes and motorbikes and a wide shoulder to top it off. The drivers are very courteous… they give us the occasional thumbs up, keep a good distance and everybody drives at a reasonably slow speed.
We stop at a couple of small street vendors along the way to grab fresh-cut pineapple with a sugary-spicy dip or to buy fried chicken with sticky rice. The food around here is a cyclists dream: it is cheap, everywhere, and tasty.
Our plan was to camp out at a national park near the beach. Unfortunately, we miss our turn and do not realize it until several miles of long uphills later. Tired from the heat, the rain, and the rolling hills, we decide to grab a room instead of backtracking and retire for the night.
The next morning, we continue cycling up the coast and towards an area that was devastated in 2004 by a tsunami. We know, we were going to ride past a couple of waterfalls and once we notice a sign pointing to one of them, we quickly decide to go check it out.
We turn onto a small road that leads into the jungle to the national park. By the time we reach it the temperatures are already stifling again.
The lush vegetation provides plenty of shade and cools us off a little bit, but we are still sweating. So no wonder, we did not miss any time to jump into the refreshing pool of fresh water under the waterfall.
To our surprise there are hardly any tourists around, instead we find ourselves swimming amongst lots of big fish in the water. They come close, but they do not bother us.
Refreshed and after a quick bite to eat, we continue our ride. Along our way, we pass by several temples. Initially, we are not sure whether it is alright to stop to look at them, or to take pictures. But curiosity got the best of us and after admiring a few temples from the street, we decide to stop to check a couple out close up.
We push our bikes into the courtyard and take our shoes off to take a peek inside of one. Unfortunately it was closed…maybe we’ll have more luck next time.
During the afternoon it starts to rain, but it’s still quite warm. Riding in the rain is actually very nice in the stifling heat. As we get closer to where we think a campground should be, we stop at another street-vendor for fried chicken and rice, which we eat sitting on the ground next to the sales stand. A couple of stray dogs join us and a few locals check out our bikes and gear. Yup, sometimes we look a little bit like homeless bums, while enjoying our meals, but that is fine with us.
Afterward, we continue to where we think the campground should be. Unfortunately, after doing some searching and asking locals, we are unable to find the campground. Instead, we encounter the “Rasta Bar”, where we meet Boy. He just opened a bar/restaurant on his family’s land that is about ¼ mile from the beach. He has never heard of a campground in this area, but offers us to camp next to his place and tells us that he just opened and he has food and beer. Setting up two tents under the tarp while it’s raining is a little bit tricky; especially on the soaked, muddy jungle floor…but we manage.
After setting up right next to Boy’s home, we head over to his bar/restaurant. We had just eaten about 10 minutes before arriving, so initially we were not going to eat. However, Ron is always hungry so he orders some Thai food and a round of beers. While drinking and eating we discover we are Boy’s first customers.
In the morning we have breakfast and before leaving, Boy snaps a couple of pictures of his first customers, while we give Boy a $1 bill to put up over his bar…for Good Luck.
Although, it stopped raining, we still pack up a wet tarp and tent before rolling out.
While, stopping for a pee-break and to take a look off a bridge, we meet Anja from Russia, who has been living in Thailand for the last 2 years. She’s quite familiar with the “travelers lifestyle” and offers us to stay at her place. If it would have been at the end of the day, we would have welcomed the offer, but we had only been on the road for about 10 miles so we kindly decline. Before leaving though, she tells us about this neat little town that is only a mile or so out of our way and suggests that we visit it and have lunch there.
Apparently, this little town does not even show up on our map, but seems to have quite the history. Chinese settled here long ago during one of the many Chinese conflicts. As we enter the village, we can not miss the Chinese influence. There are lanterns everywhere and the architecture is quite different from the other villages we have ridden through so far. We always love getting clues of where to go from locals.
We continue cycling towards the Khao Sok National Park, but it’s getting late and we are not sure exactly how much further it is. Also, we spent some extra time petting an elephant and talking to its handler along our way, which does not help getting anywhere fast. As we climb up another hill, we see an old abandoned tiki style hut above the river. It seems, it used to be a place where food was sold. There is a big pile of Buddhist monk clothing in the kitchen area and a couple of small plaques, which look like they belong to a temple. Other then that, it is empty and it has the most stunning view over the river and the jungle. Since it looks like it is going to pour again soon and it is almost getting dark, we decide to pitch our tents right in the hut. In the morning, we enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the mist lift over the jungle and an elephant getting a bath in the river. We are so excited to see elephants!
Today is going to be a short ride to the park. However, it consists of several miles of uphill. As Jessica struggles up the hill, Ron boogies up ahead of us. Luckily, we have beautiful jungle and mountains to look at while working our way up. We even encounter a few more elephants walking along the road, with their handlers riding along on scooters. Other elephants are standing along the road or off in the distance to graze. It feels so surreal, to ride next to the enormous animals and I often wonder how tame they really are, since those little ropes around their legs nor the handlers will be able to do much to stop them if they really want to get going.
We know we reach the summit when we hear the drivers honk their horn while driving by the small shrines, which are placed on top of the mountain. It seems every hilltop has either a small temple or shrine at its crest. Since we do not have a horn, we ring our bells as we ride by the small shrines. Shortly afterwards, we come by another waterfall. Hot and sweaty from a morning of climbing, we decide to stop again to cool off. We take off our shoes and step into the stream and hold our heads under the water. Refreshed, we coast down the next 3 miles to the national park. The views into the valley are stunning. The ragged steep karst mountains just seem to spring out of the valley below us.
Once at Khao Sok, we set up camp and chill out. Apparently, we are the only ones camping in the national park. Actually, we are a little bit of a anomaly it seems..at least that’s what we figure from the park ranger taking pictures of us, while we are setting up camp.
“I worry a little bit about you tonight” he says with a smile. “It is going to rain, but you can go under the roof at the restaurant if it gets too bad”….let’s see.