The Worst Day Yet: Sukhothai to Uttaradit, 3 July 2013


First it was the stage to Khampaeng Phet, then the one to Sukhothai, now it was the one to Uttaradit. Each stage in sequence was the worst we had done, only to be replaced by the next (little did we know that in a few days time we would wish to be back on those flat, endless roads).

It didn’t begin badly. We wended our way through Sukhothai, the early morning shadows still long, smiling with fond recognition at row after row of bicycles, passing wat after wat, stopping to take photographs of lakes and lily pads spread like a rich carpet before a regal wat. We could have stayed longer in Sukhothai if the kilometres we had to crunch hadn’t been so insistent.


Something to identify with…


So, what’s the problem!?

1.We were tired from the run the day before, having spent approximately 8 hours in (and out of) the saddle.
2. We had slept poorly, having been woken up by ceremonial drums or someone with a sick sense of humour at about 4:00 in the morning.
3. Our hands were more painful than ever, becoming as much of a hindrance as the baking heat.
But the baking heat was still a big problem. With a love of good hotel breakfasts and a belief that they were essential for the cycling day ahead, we stayed too long at the hotel, heading out as the day was starting to warm up to the blistering lunch time incineration level.
4. The first (small) signs of gradient. Nick pedalled at these, spoiling at the mild challenge, where as even the sight of them made me more lethargic and I began to worry about things to come.
5. Food again – the huge (and very delicious) chocolate milkshakes we enjoyed at lunchtime in Si Satchinalai increased the burn. There is a good reason why competitors in the Tour De France do not stop off for milkshake; if I could have got more sluggish, then I did after that shake. That said, I’d take the shake every time, it was amazing!
6. Finally, as sure as night follows day, negativity breeds negativity. Instead of the hoots and the waves, all around us was noisy, fast, unforgiving traffic.

I tried and failed to stir some positive feelings with 80s soft-rock (this usually never fails), then turned on ‘The Woman in White’ audiobook, hoping to distract myself with a story much darker than my own (there’s a logic to it somewhere).

One blessing was that that the hotel was sign-posted from well out of town. With aching hands and hearts we followed these on auto-pilot for kilometre after kilometre before the mecca of the Seeharaj Hotel (home of mid-week karaoke), came into sight.

The facts:

Stayed at Seeharaj Hotel, Uttaradit, where they kindly allowed us to keep the bikes in a cranny, just off the main reception.
Cycled 103km, check out the link on Strava.
No punctures, no rain but my bad attitude made up for that.

Life and Death on Route 101: Khampaeng Phet to Sukhothai, 2 July 2013


The day began badly. The Navarat Heritage Hotel had done away with the buffet breakfast, consequently we only had one course and Nick’s spirits were low. Then they wanted to charge us more than twice the agreed rate for an alleged upgrade that we had not been told about. We stood our ground, but that meant we were already behind schedule when we removed the bikes from the ballroom to the hotel car park.

It was already hot and the air was rent with despair. Thai crows circled overhead. Beneath a tree at the edge of the car park a small fluffy crow, large feet wheeling, was fleeing for cover. If it could have flown it would, but it didn’t know how, it may even have fallen from the nest trying. The flapping and screeching continued while the adolescent bird made shelter.

I set about fixing my panniers, swearing as usual when the handlebar bag lock got stuck. Sweating, beads running down the valley of my back, I glanced up from beneath the peak of my baseball cap; the bird had not gone unnoticed. Two Thai workers, orange masks over noses and mouths, were watching the tree. They had come from the workshop on the other side of the car park. They walked closer, both pulling the masks down, revealing expressions of curiosity and dangerous excitement. They squatted before the tree, rubbed their faces and examined the dust and scrub. Frustrated, hoping they would not find the bird, I barked at Nick to hold my bike steady as I fitted the final item of luggage.

The cries overhead grew and grew.

I didn’t see them take it, only looked up to see their backs as they made their way towards the workshop, trouser bottoms dusty, flip flops hooked over dirty, dry toes. I felt sad because their heads were cocked towards the cupped hand of the older man. While they made their way towards the workshop, excited by the small, fresh life they held, believing they might keep it or save it, the tearing, unified voice of the flock above and the silence that followed confirmed that the young bird, to them at least, was already dead.

I got on my bike and we headed to route 101 with a heavy heart.


The number says it all

It was on this journey that the pain in our hands became more than an annoyance. Before beginning the ride I would not have believed that holding handlebars for hours on end would hurt, or that my hands would actually be the most painful part of my body. The discomfort in the heels of my hands and my middle fingers had always been there; but I had developed a contortionist’s ability to twist my arms and hold the bars back to front or to arrange my fingers like claws over the bars to take the weight from the heels of my hands. But on this day, my tactics failed, my fingers and lower arms were numb by half way into the ride and I let it consume me.

While my wheels were rolling better than they had done in days (courtesy of the bike shop in Khampaeng Phet) my expectations of the ride were low; my heart was not in it. I just wanted crunch the 78km the GPS told us we would be travelling. But after a luxury rest stop (two drinks; iced coffee and Red Fanta) it was not long before I realised I had another puncture, the bike fairly bouncing down the road. It was the rear wheel again.

Like the tyre, our spirits were flat. I cycled with my eyes on the concrete, watching the wings of stunned butterflies tap out their last beats, how a lizard that scuttled into the road, was twisted upwards, before flopping beneath the wheels of a speeding pick-up. Later we saw a dog, disturbingly large across the central white line, one leg detached and blood leaking from its dead mouth.

The GPS let us down; we ended up in flat countryside, without habitation as far as the eye could see. So, we spent the rest of the day looking for signs of life.


Nowhere (the middle of it)

And eventually, beneath a rain-burdened sky, we found our way, passing and riding straight through rural life to put our bad day to bed.


Cow herding


Cycling Thai-style

The stats:
Stayed at the Thai Thai Sukhothai Guesthouse – recommended.
Cycled 91km, here is the geek bit on Strava..
No rain.
One rear puncture on my bike. Again.

Mountains and Way Markers


Mountains are big, to many they are insurmountable, to others they are a problem to be solved and a chance to learn.


The Thai hills between Phrae and Lamphang, best seen from a train

Thailand is behind us and we have moved on to Malaysia; first stop Georgetown. Georgetown has a lot going for it – culture, food, architecture, museums, Queen’s Bay sunrises – but we decided we needed to do something more physical. So, we headed to the edge of town, to the Botanical Gardens to begin the walk to the top of Penang Hill.

The road heads up the hill just left of the entrance to the gardens and is clearly marked for walkers. But there is also a route from inside the garden, a series of steps cut into the humming jungle.


The jungle stairway, from above

Over the last two months I’ve realised that I need to DO something when I am travelling. Doing, rather than observing, allows me to feel more a part of the landscape or environment I’m in. Of course I am still a stranger but I am interacting (even if this means sweating all over and gasping for air). For this reason I would rather walk somewhere, hire a bike, get a public bus (although on this day I was eating my words; we got the wrong bus, which meant a further two bus journeys, not much less than an hour each) or train. That is over an organised tour, where sights are flourished before me, along with the food, drink and t-shirts, before I am gathered up for the next experience; this should appeal to my lazy nature, but it only leaves me feeling empty and frustrated. So, the walk to the top of Penang Hill seemed like a good idea.

Mostly, these steps just go straight up and will not spare you. The path hits the road eventually, passing a rest area where macaques hang out, scrounging food from the locals and nursing their young. At this point, I believed the hard work was done. Sure, we had more hill to go, I estimated 3km of it, but the climb was on concrete and I’d read somewhere that it was only the first kilometre that was really steep.

On the road, glad to be free from the suffocating jungle, we came across the first way marker. A small blue sign, printed with 1.6. I assumed this indicated 1.6km covered from the bottom of the road, and this conviction was strengthened when approximately 100m later we passed 1.7.

The markers climbed with us. The climb became a real climb, signposts indicating that the gradient was 30%, tendons in my legs stretched to their maximum, bent double, breathing hard, willing myself around the next switch-back; I realised I was relying on these markers. They told me I was making progress to the 5km summit. As I passed one marker, I could think about the next. Each time I saw a marker, my waining will was recharged a little and in spite of the sometimes laughable gradient, I was reassured.


Way marker 2.3, a very reassuring marker

As I climbed, I thought more about these little markers. And found I was remembering one of the most awful and the most exhilarating days of the trip. It was the most challenging day of bike riding (although we could not comprehend quite how challenging at the outset), a distance of 110km from Phrae to Lamphang, crossing hunched, indifferent mountains to get there. I had done my research, several cycling bloggers who had beaten the path before us had commented on there being a number of hills, a couple recounting that there was one particularly long climb that took over one hour. With each hill we climbed, I was not sure if that was the big one, but hoped each time that it was. I became increasingly tired. But when the big one came I knew it. It was just after lunch, I was stood less than 1km up a climb on Highway 11 and I couldn’t go on. The gradient was steep and unrelenting, carrying all my luggage, the bike moved no faster than walking pace as I ground the pedals round, wobbling with my weight. My whole body pulsated in the 40 degree heat and where fabric did not cover me, the sun stole what energy I had. My head pounded, telling me I needed more water but our supply was limited and I had no idea how long the climb would last.

A milestone (or kilometre stone, as it really was) had told me we had 45km left to cycle. The number boggled my mind. ‘But the climb,’ something inside me demanded, ‘how long is the climb?’ I could not think of anything beyond the next 5km but I had 45km to worry about. What I really wanted someone or something to tell me, just a little further, only 2km left to go…

There was nobody to rescue me, I knew that. Nobody could make it all go away. But something inside me still demanded to know how far, it raged, it would not, could not go on if it did not know how far. It was not enough for that each 100m I travelled, whether I pushed the bike or rode it was 100m behind me, I would not have to travel that distance again. But I could not believe that I would see the top of that mountain. I did not have the faith that each step or revolution took me closer to what I had set out to do.

When I finally got there, cycling the last 100m in a blind panic, fleeing from the huge (in my mind) red and black bug that continued to harass me, I felt two things; relief and trepidation, because I did not think I could do it again. But heaving my way up Penang Hill in the company of those handy blue and white signs, I realised I relied on way markers way too much.

I believe I need them in other parts of my life; my job, my relationships, the sports I enjoy and that thing I think of most of all, writing. I look for little signs everyday, especially when I am back home, things that will tell me I am doing ok, heading in the right direction. If I cannot find them and don’t tell me what I want to know, I feel despondent. Take my job; wage rises, reviews, promotions, the attitude of my boss and other colleagues, the responses and reactions of customers I meet. One problem with this mindset, I realise, is that you come to rely on them. A second problem is that they might not really be giving you accurate information, there are so many variables out there. The third problem is that the mindset is like that of a child who looks for praise to affirm that the things they do are good. The fourth problem is that it is a poor and misleading substitute for faith.

There is a fifth problem. Its a habit. I have this bad dependent habit that is hard to break. And worse still, what I want to do most in life is to write; never was there an area of life so dry and barren of encouragement and so dependent on faith. Rejection and despondency spring up like brush in the desert and if they can they will snag all your inspiration and ideas and hesitant starts; if you let them. All there is the desire to do it and the faith to keep going.


Smile and keep going

My trip and this blog have been part of that. I have found that the blog stats can suck me in, encage my habit. I can look at those statistics and be energised by a new follower (yes, just one will make me happy) and floored by a post that nobody read. But doesn’t everybody feel that way? What is important is that you (I) don’t give in. There are no signs, no measurements, no-one to tell me yes or no, just a hill waiting to be climbed and a blank screen waiting to be styled in black.


The next mountain, Gunung Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

This is a good time to say a big ‘thank you,’ to everybody who does read my posts…


The Turtle and The Spider: Superstition and Buddhism in Thailand


The price of good luck

Before our bike ride began I was in Bangkok, intent on sight-seeing. I decided on the amulet market, close to the Grand Palace, intending to see some of Bangkok and purchase some good luck for our trip.


The Spider and the Turtle

Protection comes pretty cheap in Thailand, I bought ours for less than 150 Baht (£3.15). But I know you can’t really buy good luck. In the UK we use images of four leaf clovers and black cats simply as gestures, images of superstition gone by. However, superstition is very much alive in Thailand. They say that times have been hard; society has shifted from agriculture to industry, insecurity has grasped the nation and in turn they have grasped Buddhism and superstition. But are these one and the same?


The Market

The amulet market is exactly that; a street market and labyrinth of covered stalls that sell amulets (or phra kruang). Stall after stall displays small figures – Buddha, the revered King and Queen – either fashioned from metal or clay or encased in glass. Some of the figures are animals or objects; this is where I found the spider and the turtle.

Later, I researched their meanings:

As the spider spins its web it traps within it all the good fortune and prosperity that is owed to the owner for their effort. The turtle, emblematic of earth and water represents good luck, and good health, insinuated through his long life span, pleasant and non-aggressive nature; or so they say.

I was pleased and a little fascinated by my new trinkets, but was still curious about what they really meant to the Thais. I read that those in high risk professions, taxi drivers for instance, purchase the amulets as protection. Get in any cab in Bangkok and you are likely to see small figures on the dashboard, central, just below the rear view mirror. If you look up you will see stains on the ceiling where incense has been burned as the vehicle was being blessed. Many Thais wear the amulets around their necks, which is where my spider can now be found. I like it there and I like a little superstition and myth, it adds texture to life, so long as you don’t rely on it. So, I wondered how what seemed a deep rooted superstition could be part of the Buddhist religion.

The history bit

Apparently, the practice of stamping religious images onto amulets came over from India, entering Thailand, with Buddhism, in the sixth century. The popularity grew in the 1800s and it retains that popularity today. Enter ‘Thai Amulet’ into eBay if you don’t believe me.

Amulet manufacture

One of the most important things about amulets is their manufacture – of course it is, especially in the land of knock-off goods. The real ones are manufactured by monks, their blessing, rather than their handicraft being the crucial bit. Some say the monks increase manufacture when they are in need of extra funds. Once the amulet has been created it is not unlike a race horse, because dependent on its performance (in this case being the good luck and prosperity delivered to its owner), its value increases astronomically. Speculation takes place on the future value of specific amulets, as others might speculate on the performance and value of an animal. Somebody is getting rich.

So the origin of the amulet is the Buddhist monk, yet at the same time they are shrouded in speculation, material wealth and superstition. I was confused. As I embarked on my travels I knew I wanted to find out more about Buddhism; an ancient philosophy used increasingly in modern counselling and well-being techniques. I discussed my ideas with other people before I left, sometimes with guests at the ski chalet who asked where I was going next.

‘Well Buddhism’s not really a religion,’ I said, trying not to reveal my ignorance. ‘It seems more about a way of living your life, a philosophy of understanding. There is no icon (okay, the Buddha, but there has been more than one Buddha in theory anyone can be a Buddha, it simply means ‘enlightened one’), no wealth and politics, no doctrine, no story, only simple principles by which a person might live a full and contented life.’

Monkgate (no, not the location of the over-priced, under-serviced hotel in York, this is monk scandal on a Catholic priest scale)

I arrive in Thailand and find contradictions to all the philosophical ideals I wanted to believe in; great wats stand among otherwise modest dwellings, they cut the skyline with huge glittering roofs, ornate golden effigies, statues, carvings, huge Buddhas that stand stories high observing the highways from a grassy field. What are these for? Monks manufacture protection and good luck in the form of icons, they carry laptops, have smart phones and wear designer sunglasses. I thought their life was a simple one apart from the materialistic society that screws us all up, but perhaps society’s demands have got bigger than their ideals. I mean, I have no idea how I would manage without WIFI, tablet and smartphone.

Buddhism has had its scandals, as other religions have had theirs. This designer monk turned runaway is the most extreme:


A fascinating, but extreme case. This is likely isolated, but I have come no closer to understanding a belief system that I wanted or needed to believe in.

And what of the spider and the turtle? Well, the turtle bore Nick, his owner, on a safe journey. Not one puncture, no despairing episodes by the side of the road and he was pleasant and patient enough to bear mine. The spider is a different story, with a puncture tally of six overall, I am not sure what Mr Arachnid was doing at those crucial moments. But perhaps there were worse fates that I did not suffer. I mean, I only saw two cockroaches and finished the ride without one mosquito bite. Plus, as I navigated my way from town to town, I did not get significantly lost once; so perhaps I am doing the spider a disservice. I still wear it.

The Slog to Khampaeng Phet


We knew the ride from Nakhon Sawan to Khampaeng Phet (second land of wats, after Ayutthaya) would be hard work, being approximately 130km. Once again City App Thailand said ‘no’. It did not like the rural river route that appeared, on the map, to run directly from Nakhon to Khampaeng Phet, it wanted to send us north, at a right angle, to the main road. We were not convinced, but there was that lingering doubt; what did the GPS know that we didn’t?

To ride 130km Nick calculated that we would be on the road eight or nine hours. That sounded like a loooong time and true to form, keen to shirk hard graft or at least get a discount on it, I was determined that our time on the road would be shorter. So, we left Nakhon when the roads striped with shadow and empty of cars and mopeds.

To begin with the pace was good, interspaced with doses of Red Fanta on the hour.


Break time!

But the day was hot and the road was flat (and what I did not know was that soon I would be desperate for anything flat) and long. By just over half way I felt exhausted in the punishing midday head and the act of pedalling was like a constant uphill push.

When I finally looked down I noticed the flat and slightly squishy front tyre. Curses from me, desperate looks from Nick, this was flats numbering four for me. We changed the rear inner tube and pumped the front at Tesco Lotus, between eating our own body-weights in grapes.

Only the day improved very little. The shadows lengthened and we were uneasy. We had decided to defy the GPS and take the river route, so whenever I looked at my iPhone to check our progress it kept telling me to turn around. Flagging and with more than 20km to go, my nerves were frayed. The only thing that helped, other than fruit and sugar in little red bottles, were the constant greetings from the people working in the fields or on the roads. Honking, instead of a form of intimidation, had become something to raise smiles and spirits.

They sustained me just enough so I could not capture another animal wat – Zebra wat, this time, a curious choice of idol – or the Red Fanta shrine – if there ever was a God, then one that took offerings of Red Fanta would be the one I could understand (one who drank them would be even better).


Zebra wat. I was confused by the dazzling display of wealth representing a religion that counsels against attachment to material possession and more confused by the representation of an animal found mostly in the savannas.


All that glitter and gold – the startling gold buddhas


And the Red Fanta shrine – I get this one

The day was nearly gone when we rolled into Khampaeng Phet and stumbled across our hotel. With over nine hours in the saddle we were both hot, tired and looking forward to a day off!

The detail:
Stayed at the Navarat Heritage Hotel, Khampaeng Phet
Cycled 131.8km, here are the stats on Strava
No rain
One puncture, rear tyre, plus suspected slow puncture at the front

Dirt Cheap Sophistication – Uthai Thani to Nakhon Sawan


We left Payamai Resort early, waving to another group of cyclists suited in lycra, shades and helmets.

We paid a fond farewell to the town of Uthai Thani, and its disproportionate number of bike shops, as we made our way through the early morning traffic. As we waited at traffic lights in the town centre a Thai woman pulled her moped alongside, a child perched in front of her. She asked where we were from and an exchange followed that neither of us fully understood. As the lights changed she revved the moped and set off, calling ‘welcome to Thailand!’

The ride was short and unremarkable, save rivers and sparkly wats.


The sparkling roof of this wat brought me up at the road side


The obligatory river bridge photograph – nice job they’ve done on painting those flower pots

Perhaps I needed something to remark upon, because say 5 – 10km from our destination I noticed that both of my wheels were squeaking and shuddering, albeit almost imperceptibly. My brakes were sticking, moaning against the wheel rim, which meant I also began to moan.

The biggest challenge on the ride, aside from my moaning, was the final 500m; turning right across four lanes of dense traffic.

The Aramis Hotel, Nakhon Sawan, is gold and marble sophistication for little cost. OK, so the gilt edges show a little; the infinity pool is right beside the car park, for one thing, which in turn is right beside a busy road. But the place has a concierge (sophistication indicator), who insisted on wheeling the fully laden bikes into the marble lobby, unloading the the dusty panniers unto a luggage rack (indicator two) and gesturing that the bikes could stay in that large glass and marble space. We issued huge thanks and went off to raid the mini-bar.

Nakhon Sawan holds a special place in my heart. This is not for the bike ride, nor for the huge shopping mall, nor even for the lovely hotel, but for the great market that was setting up when we got there. By the time we had drained the mini bar of juice, showered, dressed and eaten, the market had begun to hum. And it was my type of market; hand made silver jewellery, t-shirts, foods, fruits, plants and vintage clothes. Along with cut off denim shorts, shirts, worn casually with the sleeves rolled up, seem to be a big thing over here. As do military jackets, vintage dresses and fashion sports shoes. NOt a Chang t-shirt in sight; more floral and well-worn canvas. Here, my long thwarted desire for ‘stuff’ was sated with two shirts, one crisp, stripy, a perfect fit, the other overlarge and checked, 180 Baht the lot. What I did not like into the bargain was being, once again, reminded by Thai market stall owners, that ‘lady, you are an ‘L”. The degree to which I was disgruntled did not compare to a Sing Buri department store encounter in the underwear section; I am still traumatised by this one.

As markets go, it was one of the best I have experienced. The best thing was that it was not put on for tourists, as I suspect Nakhon Sawan courts and attracts very few. However, something we foreigners do tend to love are the famed bugs and maggot snacks and this place had several disturbingly popular vendors. A big ‘no thank you,’ from me.


Market – yes please!

The fact stuff:
Stayed at the Aramis Hotel.
Traveled 45km.
No Rain.
No punctures but sticky, squeaky brakes.

Uthai Thani – The Thai Old West (sort of)


The day started slowly. After breakfast (complete with heart shaped fried eggs – er, why? because they can?) we ambled to the hotel store room, now seasoned bicycle riders, ready to ride out. Not so fast; my bike clearly had a flat rear tyre (the second in three days). A stand off of ‘I told you so’s ensued, before the more industrious repair.

After we replaced the inner tube I checked the front tyre, consumed by squishy tyre anxiety, and decided more air was needed. Realising the tyre had one of those temperamental Presta valves I adjusted the pump (and congratulated myself that I knew how to do so), connected it to the valve and flattened the front tyre. More sad than the deflated rubber was the look of despair on Nick’s face.

When we set off, one and half hours behind schedule, it was beneath an already blazing sun and into heavy traffic. It would be hours before we rolled into sleepy Uthai Thani with its wooden shutters and porches, wide dusty streets and outlaw dogs that slumber like the (un)dead until dusk.

Heading first towards Sankhaburi we joined this road:


The concrete was terrible, the scenery lush. Butterflies wheeled between plants and across the road, workers strode the paddy fields and wats stood proud beyond lily pads that barely stirred. And here, more than the last two rides, the vehicles honked, the drivers waved, stuck up their thumbs and on the roadside workers shouted ‘hallo!’


Sankhaburi is a neat town and we weaved through the back streets, watching life happen and being a small part of it. Thirsty and looking for cheap sugary drinks I bore the weight of our bikes while Nick ducked into a small store, where a middle aged Thai lady was watching a soap opera. He looked unhappy when he emerged. Apparently the lady had charged 12 Baht for drinks that are clearly marked 10 Baht and for which, everywhere else, we had always paid 10 Baht. The extra 4 Baht was not particularly important, it only served as a reminder of our place; cash important, presumed to be ignorant and most definitely to be exploited. I hoped those four Baht would help to buy her an few extra coals to stoke her delicious fire in hell and necked my drink.

After riding what resembled the Thai equivalent of the A1 (the difference being that they don’t sell hammocks on the A1), we hit the 3183 with 33km to go.

Uthai Thani was a departure from the functional cities of Sing Buri and Lop Buri. It is nestled into a curve of the Sakae Krang River, which is the source of the town’s life. At 16:00 the shadows were lengthening; the shop fronts yawned, the dust crunched under our tyres and we headed straight for the river. The GPS took us on a loop, along a promenade that has been decked with trumpeting elephants and spotless crazy paving. Here, the shop fronts are deserted. Over a narrow bridge onto Koh Tepo, past Wat Uposatharum School, its dogs and into Paya Mai Forest Park and the Paya Mai Resort.


The Sakae Krang, the blood vessel of the town


The view of the river from the resort


The closest wat and doggy playground, Uposatharum

It could have been the isolation of the island, the dogs that guard the quiet road to the resort and those that dominate the town, the absence of any other guests at the resort, or any other Westerners anywhere, but images from Dracula began to haunt me.

After arrival we had three hours of daylight to find food before the dogs came alive. The sun was low when we headed back to town, lower when we found a street-side eatery and asked the patient lady owner to give us whatever she was serving. Nick ate with great speed, having seen a large pack of dogs sprawled on the steps of the bank; his dog-sense always more acute. And before dusk had settled they began to shamble the streets, glassy eyed, with sleep in their limbs. As they began to gather we mounted our bikes and hit the resort track while the sky was still pink. Our door was pressed safely behind us while there was still more daylight than shadow.

The stats:

Stayed at Payamai Resort, Koh Tep, Uthai Thani
Cycled appx 90km.
One puncture, rear tyre, then I flattened the front.
No rain.

What I Did Not Know – Lop Buri to Sing Buri, 25 June 2013


What I did not know about the MDR Hotel, Lop Buri, was that it was 2-3km down a dual carriage-way with at least three lanes of hooning traffic in both directions. With each revolution of my pedals (no longer tired after the 87km now that the adrenaline had kicked in) I thought ‘f*ck’ as another car, truck or weaving moped sped by, until the word played on loop. But, we finally found the MDR, checked in, shackled our bikes and tucked into the mini-bar.

What I did not know then was that my relationship with red Fanta and the post-ride mini bar was to be a consuming and enduring one.


Enduring Love.

What I also did not know was that to get north to Chai Nat, Uthai Thani, Nakon Sawan, we had to pass through Sing Buri. Sing Buri was 40 – 50km away and happy, exhausted, still consumed by trepidation (I speak for myself here), I realised the next day’s ride would be to Sing Buri. It slowly dawned on me that our first day’s effort had been in vain.

What I did not know (but would regularly be reminded of) when trying to plan the second leg, was that the GPS could not be relied upon. While it has a bike setting, the app could not devise a bike ride to Sing Buri that did not retrace kilometres of road towards Ang Thong. The only obvious road was the rather busy looking 311 but for some reason the app did not think it was suitable for a bike. Computer say no.

I’m lazy. The 311 is straight, sure and only 33km. Only, Nick did not fancy it. Instead, the next morning, while heading towards the 311 (because there was no way I was heading back towards Ang Thong) we stumbled across a set of side roads that run parallel with it, through lush, well kept villages that run along the side of the Lop Buri river.


Rolling through the Thai countryside.

I think this ride was the one and only time that I felt part of one of those epitomous cycling scenes; gentle breeze through the hair, smiling, the world smiling with us (and waving and shouting in the case of the locals) and no gruelling effort-filled sweat drenching our flesh and clothes.

We continued to roll all the way along the Chao Phraya River, to the door of the Chaisaeng Palace; literally the only place to stay in Sing Buri.


View of the Chao Phraya River from the hotel window. The silty appearance reminded Nick of ‘Nam.

What I did not know was that staying in Sing Buri would be like treating myself to a holiday in Mansfield or Grimsby. Whether it would have mattered, had I known, is another thing entirely. Both Lop Buri and Sing Buri are cities of industry. They really don’t see tourists, Sing Buri less than Lop Buri, I think. With its huge local market, a tarp and post labyrinth through a bounty of fish guts, squid, chicken legs, grinning pig’s heads, garlic, ginger, fruits, tools, bungee cords, ponchos, bagged up sauces, meat on sticks, deep fried chicken, its gaudy karaoke dining, rammed, disorganised department store and packs of territorial mongrels, it was clear that this was a functional town with no particular want or need for tourists.


A functional sign outside a bar; my kind of place.

Mansfield, Grimsby or anywhere, that was what I came for. The smiles and good service were important and the place did not disappoint.


The glittery fish of Sing Buri; the envy of Grimsby.

We stayed an extra day. Not because we were captivated, because we were trapped, by what turned out to be a very small amount of rain.

What I did not know is that while we ambled the market looking for the best bike specific poncho, eating meat on sticks and avoiding karaoke joints and Mister Donut, my bike was in the hotel store room with one flat rear tyre (the second so far). So the next morning, imbued with enthusiasm and armed with coloured ponchos for the third leg to Uthai Thani, the first task was puncture repair.

Important stuff:
Travelled 45km
Stayed at Chaisaeng Palace, Sing Buri. Lovely staff, can recommend the cafe and the iced cappuccino
No rain until the following day
No punctures on route

Wat Ifs – Ayutthaya to Lopburi, 24 June 2013


So, the first leg of the tour took us to the city of Lop Buri, according to the GPS, some 80-odd kilometres north of Ayutthaya. It’s funny (firstly, its funny how people say ‘its funny’ to describe things that really are not funny, things that are frustrating, annoying, disappointing…) but I think I chose to go to Lop Buri over Sing Buri because of something I read on one of the bike tour itineraries. The funny bit is they have a support vehicle. Funnier still, they must have gone there because there was something to see, but I could not remember what. Anyway, on the map, Lop Buri and Sing Buri are a similar distance from Ayutthaya. I booked the MDR Hotel; Lop Buri it was. Approximately an 87km away according to the GPS, 67km, according to hallowed Google Maps.

The first leg was always going to be hard, for the following reasons, as I remember:

1. I was worried about my tyres, I had already had one puncture and barely ridden the bike. Punctures hold a certain mystique for me. When I was a child they put an end to bike riding for weeks until Dad got around to fixing it;
2. The GPS, downloaded from iTunes for £21.99, produced by City App. This app had no reviews and I was about to follow it into the Thai countryside;
3. The traffic worried me. I fairly wobbled along on the bike, proud that I was carrying all my luggage. But I also felt vulnerable; a snail or a tortoise (I saw a fair few of the latter cracked open like water melons on the highways), bearing the full weight of my life and vulnerable to it being smashed to smithereens.
4. The owner of Luang Chumni Village worried me further. Watch out for the traffic, it is dangerous, she said. A British couple had both been killed, she reminded me, during a bike tour as a pick-up had ploughed into them, the driver’s attention distracted by something he wanted in the footwell.
5. Dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere. Could I out-pace them, weighed down by the burden of my life? Or would I have to stand and fight?
6. Could I actually cycle long distances? A big question that should have come nearer the top of the list.

I left on this wave of ‘what ifs’ and we made our way out of town through back streets, me increasing my chances of making my fears reality by brandishing and reading my iPhone as we went. Soon the town fell away to flat countryside and the odd wat. Already, wats had begun to wain for me (not least because of the packs of dogs that languished in the ruins in Ayutthaya), only the cockerel wat brought me up short.


Cockerel Wat.

The day was flat, hot and we were chased by dogs. Mercifully, a Thai lady called them off. They have this bark (Thai women) that stops dogs in their tracks. So, on we cycled, increased adrenaline helpful if anything, through ramshackle villages, proud, lonely wats and sparse green and brown paddy land where water birds lifted from the fields as if shaken from a blanket.


Sorry, I missed the birds but managed to steal this image.

At say 40km, I began to get hot. I had not put on my sunglasses, the sun was penetrating through the ridges of my helmet and the helmet itself had begun to make me feel like my swollen head was in a vice. Under sufferance I swapped the helmet for a baseball cap, put on the glasses and slugged warm water. On we went.

We made it to the centre of Lop Buri unscathed (and refreshed following chocolate milk at the 7 Eleven), cycling goggle-eyed through a huge teak furniture market to a huge roundabout. But then we were lost. I had booked MDR Hotel as I had read that it was refurbished and of the scant choice of accommodation in Lop Buri, it looked the best. Furthermore, the dogs reared their scabby heads, because I was sure I had read somewhere about the presence of large packs in the old town, which was enough to convince me I was not staying there.

Important details:
87km journey
Stayed MDR Hotel, Lop Buri
No rain until safely inside hotel room
No punctures

Breakfast Anxiety


As we make our way by bike from Central to Northern Thailand, breakfast is proving to be a big part of the day.

From Lop Buri to Sing Buri, Sing Buri to Uthai Thani and onwards, we have stayed in hotels and guesthouses that serve us breakfast before our day on the road. The smaller places tend to serve an individual American Breakfast (the assumption is made that that is what we want and if I don’t I am at least going to have to do away with my baseball cap!) but the larger ones are buffet style.

A buffet can be looked at as an invitation or a challenge and is great if you want to pack in the calories. I am good at the calorie packing, but most mornings I also meet a huge amount of choice and an equal helping of anxiety.

How much is it socially acceptable to eat? Is it really ‘all you can eat’?

Personally, when no-one is looking (I do like a poorly staffed buffet) I have at least three courses. Thai food, followed by a couple of fried eggs and toast, followed by fruit, with two or three helpings of juice and two coffees is normal. However, I am not sure if it is ‘socially okay’.

What should you eat your food in and with what?

Sometimes the receptacles and implements are cunningly set out somewhere other than with the food stuffs for which they are meant. This leads to a degree of confusion on my part. I also wonder whether I can offset how much I eat if I economise on tools, bowls and plates? I doubt it, but in an obsessive, compulsive way I use the same bowl or plate, mixing a variety of tastes. Which brings me on to…

What is it acceptable to eat?

Obviously, if you face an array of Western food you know the answer to that. But in Thailand, where breakfast is the same as lunch or dinner, the array of choice is at times disturbing and the combinations endless.

Never before have I seen fried eggs, salad with Thousand Island dressing, noodles, soup, chicken curry, fried rice, toast, cornflakes, omelette, watermelon, minced crab, chilli sauce, strange fried things, croissants, rice soup, all occupying the same space. I rely on the way that the foods are arranged, so things that go together are in close proximity. If the hotels are not using this system then I am likely to be committing the Thai equivalent of putting a fried egg on top of my muesli…

What do you do when the staff say something to you that you don’t understand?

Smile politely and cluelessly? Yes, but they probably just told you that having those things together on your plate is disgusting and could you please leave some food for the rest of the guests. But what choice do you have?

The only choice I see is to become horrendously spooked. There was the soy-milk man in Nakon Sawan and then there was the omelette man in Khampaeng Phet, where as I perused the large buffet at the Navarat Heritage Hotel and my anxious eyes fell as usual to the tin of fried eggs, a distinguished looking, Thai chef approached me. The fear hit immediately and a thousand thoughts fired at once, meaning I was not able to understand that he was asking if I wanted a freshly made omelette. Instead, I fought to grasp my understanding from the paranoid thoughts in my skull. Was he saying I was not allowed a fried egg? Perhaps that my reputation had been sent on ahead, he knew my game and I was to leave some of the fried eggs for the other guests? All I could do was stare with open mouth and gesture at the shiny white and yellow food. Eventually, he got a message (not the message) and walked away.

When I sat down Nick suggested that the Chef might have been the more traumatised by the event than I. I have since avoided all omelette chefs, for their sake as much as mine.


Nick posing with the chef from Phoom Garden, Phrae (done mainly to wind me up).

However, with my chicken curry breakfast (with personally applied garnish of parsley, onion, noodles and crispy fried things) still making its way through my tummy I can honestly say that the breakfasts in Thailand are an absolute treat. The only advice I would give, to me as much as anyone else, is smile and tuck in! Who cares if you just put yoghurt on your sausages?

In honour of huge, delicious breakfasts, here are the top three (so far):

Phoom Thai Garden Hotel, Phrae – they have an omelette woman and a lingering chef who scared me out of my wits this morning as he suggested I eat his chicken curry, but for variety, the option of outside dining and indeed the immense chicken curry, they come top of the breakfast podium. Polite note: the coffee is so thick it might give you a coronary having blocked your arteries with sludge. However, the staff are very friendly so should this happen they will be sure to do all they can.

Thai Thai Sukhothai, Sukhothai – a surprisingly varied and delicious breakfast. It was a surprise because despite the guesthouse’s exceedingly positive reviews on Trip Advisor, reviewers were less than positive about the breakfast. Perhaps they are responding to criticism, because it is served in a spacious, covered restaurant and the food was good and varied and included real coffee and milk.

Navarat Heritage Hotel, Khampaeng Phet – trauma aside, there was a huge amount to chose from. My only regret is that I did not get to try an omelette.