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Friday, April 27, 2012

894 km of Butt Ache Later...

I was sweating water faster than I could drink it. It was one of those amazing phenomenas that showed me exactly why I had yet to see any other cyclists on the road!

It was officially the hottest day of the year with temperatures soaring over 40 degrees, but for some reason I'd woken up at 5 and talked myself onto my bicycle and left my Sukhothai haven... I had no idea what I was in for...

DAY 8 - Sukhothai - Uttaradit

5 Kilometers out of town I saw my first accident of the day - a woman had riden her motorbike into a ditch... my third dead body of the ride... It always puts a damper on things knowing how fragile and short life is but it's a great way to remember to make the most of the time we have; still it's never a good way to start a morning - ever!

The terrain got dryer, the roads got worse and then turned to dirt. I saw my first live snake and had my first minor crash trying to escape an oncoming truck and hitting a pocket of sand. It was a rough morning that led me to a 3 hour lunch break in a town that sounds like saskatchewan, but I think that's in North America somewhere... and I'd cycled far, but not that far.

The afternoon bought with it yet another flat tyre and the first of the hills but that's okay because I had entered the province of Uttaradit and the sign board informed me that it was a 'Dream Land, Heaven on Earth'



It wasn't quite what I expected Heaven to be like though...  I pictured a lot less sweat, dirt and stray puppies...

DAY 9: Uttaradit - Lampang

I was warned about the 150+ km stretch I had before me and when real cyclists say it's a tough cycle, you know you're going to die... I climbed onto my bike with dread, only to discover yet another flat tyre (ARRRRGGGGG!)

The first real hill after a country filled with so much flat was hell. And through the day, every hill I came to I swore I was going to ditch the bicycle forever until I was rewarded with the downhills. They almost [but not quite] made it all worthwhile.

The view from the top of the first hill 300m higher than it should be

I spent most of the day asking God nicely to change the terrain. He didn't. 

It doesn't look like much but that there truck signs signifies at least 5 km of uphill ahead. I hate that sign!


By 2pm I was running on empty - I was half way up a massive hill running low on water and needing energy badly. For the first time in Thailand I found close on 30 km without any food stores (You normally can't go 50m without a 7/11) I was beginning to think that possibly I had died and gone the wrong way.

Wasting away I saw a sign pointing to a town called Long and in desperation I detoured in search of sustenance. I found a whole town full of smiley people who ran out to meet me and gave me water and fed me and desserted (as in gave me dessert) me and the guy below tried to marry me - he even borrowed a bike and tried to follow me out... and life was better again... 




...until the next hill.

By 8pm I had reached the city limits and still had 17 km to go. I'd just broken my tail light while desperately cycling away from a pack of dogs uphill. There was no road shoulder, no street lights, no nothing and I was finished. It pained me inside, but I knew what i Had to do, I stuck out my head torch and flagged down any and every passing vehicle until one finally stopped.

The other 8 people in the back of the bakkie (ute/ pick-up) all squashed aside for my bike to be loaded on and I'd thought about letting air out of my tyre to make me look more like a helpless ferang, but there was no need... My bicycle had done it for me.


DAY 10: Lampang - Chiang Mai

I don't know how I dragged myself out of bed, but I got straight onto my bike and started pedaling. The killometers were going down and three was something about that 100km mark that gave me the push I needed!

30 Km out I stopped to escape the heat and recharge on copious amounts of sugary beverages. I pushed myself down the winding roads and was rewarded with another sign 30 km later that said 'Chiang Mai 20' - but I was close. So close in fact that I even overshot and rode through Chiang Mai into the next town.

On my way back to the city the first rain of the season hit in a thunderous way and I was forced to take shelter at a friendly 7-11. Sadly it was 16-39pm and they only sell celebratory beers (or any beers for that matter) at 17h00 and as soon as 17h00 came so did the sun. And then Chiang Mai. And then a guesthouse...

And so surprisingly I find myself undead [but still very sweaty] - but I'm here. I'm in the process of getting clean laundry, I've applied for a Chinese visa and as soon as I find a toilet to wee I will have no more worries in the world!

I have no idea what exactly happens next, but for now life is flipping awesome and I'm just going to go wherever it takes me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Faster than a Speeding Tractor

It's not ideal having both an empty passport and a bicycle.  The two just don't quite seem to match up.  I should be bouncing around the world mustering stamps and visas like my life depends on it (everyone judges you for having an empty passport and it's not pretty) - but I'm not - I've resorted to being the slowest thing on the road.

And that's why I'm still on my way to Chiang Mai... and at this rate I might be forever...

DAY 5 - Nakon Sawan - Phonsoluk

With all the niceities of aircon behind me, I sped away on my little Mao (Chinese tyrant bicycle) - it was 140 km to my destination and I was feeling hardcore. Despite it being my biggest day yet, I figured I could do all that and the 64 extra kilometers to Sukhothai...

This province seems to have a strange facination with frogs!!!
I managed 70 km before taking a break at what I thought was a cafe'... Turns out it was a temple... and I was just in time for the morning prayers. But it was interesting chinging cokes with the monks afterwards - I just hope all the ceremonial things doesn't mean I've converted... I'm not ready to convert!

The coke fueled another 20 km before the heat melted me and sentenced me to looting around a petrol station for hours both smelling and looking like a hobo - Great way to have personal space and make friends with people you know don't care about appearances!


But the afternoon killed me. The road markers seemed to get further and further apart. The '40km' sign repeated itself 3 times over 5 kilometers - my butt ached something fierce, and the knee pain I'd been expecting finally arrived. It was hell.

Miracles happen though - I arrived. A motto taxi led me (for free) to an awesome $3 hotel, dinner was amazing and I even spoilt myself by investing in a large sprite. That's right - I went all out!

And then I crashed.

DAY 6 - Phonsoluk - Sukhathai

I slept so well that I overslept three hours and ended up riding in the middle of the day - not ideal - but I craved English so beadly (yes, this is how bad my English had become) that I didn't care. It was only 64 km anyway...

I pulled into a random street cafe' 25 km out to fuel up on liquids and met a German and Korean missionary who were busy holding a church service... Which was great, because even if I converted the previous day, I'd been reconverted today.

I'm proud to say that 10km out of Sukhothai I was officially not the slowest thing on the road, and I even slowed to take the picture... that's right - I'm faster than a speeding tractor!!!




And Sukhothai is like heaven - it's as hot as hell but there are swimming pools and restaurants and beautiful gardens and crazy ruins and smiling people and even English and that's why I'm still here... lazing at the pool, banana honey smoothie in one hand, menu to order some delicious Thai food in the other. Life is good. [Maybe not so much for my masseuse from earlier who is still recovering after falling off the bed trying to click my back...but for everyone else] 


Even if travelling like a snail has it's downfalls [and mum offers to pay for busses/ cars or flights so I can come visit her in China faster], it's moments like this one that would only be half as good if I didn't earn them!



Sunday, April 22, 2012

Back to Bisex

[*'Bisex' being 'Basix' mixed with 'Bike'.... not 'Bisexual' - I tell you this now in an attempt to not disappoint just in case that is what you were after]

The odd rest spot where sometimes you find hammocks... other times you get free drinks 

It’s been a long time coming, but I can proudly say that Bangkok is officially behind me. About 350 km behind me. After 12 visits to the city (5 of them this year) I’ve finally moved on. Now it’s just me and the bike and the teddy bear and the [sometimes very big and busy and scary] wide-open road all the way to Chiang Mai!


Day 1: Bangkok – Dutch Embassy - Ayuttaya

After a morning spent hunting down the Dutch embassy I’ve been there 3 times already, I really should know how to get there by now) to pick up my brand spanking new 65 page diplomatic passport (HOOORAAH – no more worries of a full passport!!!) I was out of there… out of the stench and grime and misdemeanors that make Bangkok tick… Well, sort of out of there… admittantly I did a few accidental laps of the city first.

And I was doing pretty well too until I got a flat tyre… my 7th in a week. I was only 9km away from my destination so I decided to just pump it up and cycle like the wind but [and this is embarrassing], I couldn’t work out how to use my pump and for the first time I had no cycle buddies to help me out. About a kilometer walk down the road a motorcycle mechanic took pity on me, changed my tyre, mended a spare, and gave me 2 liters of water and then refused payment. I’d like to mention that this was the third time I’d been donated bottles of water today, not to mention the free energy drinks and coffee. Thai people are so lovely!!!

Cycling down the road my back tyre began deflating, but I was too ashamed to return and instead sucked it up and cycled with a flat. I arrived at about the same time as the moon…


Day 2: Learning to fix a tyre

Coming from the slums of Bangkok, Tony’s Guesthouse was a mecca of clean perfection so it wasn’t a massive ask to decide to stick around Ayuttaya for a day to learn how to fix a tyre and it only took 2 hours of frustration, but I now know how to remove, mend and reattach a wheel [I think] and that’s progress!

Auttaya at sunset
Ayuttaya is also a great place to finally sort out your car insurance only 5 months after leaving Australia [and my camper van]…

The ruins of the city are impressive too and an evening cycle to see the clusters of ancient temples at sunset is well recommended!  




Day 3: Ayuttaya – Sing Buri – In Buri

After reading three different cycle forums and reading how each got their first flat tyre on the way to Sing Buri, I decided to leave at dawn – one for them probably signified 15 for me (at least)… But alas, by 12 I’d cycled the 100 odd km puncture free and was unsure of what to do next.

After lunch, I escaped the heat of the day by googling hotels in the next 70 km and the interweb informed me they didn’t exist… Obviously I wanted to prove the internet wrong…

….I spent the night sleeping with a local family who tried to marry me off and force me to stay forever so I could be the village English teacher.

My local 'mum'

Day 4: In Buri – Nakhon Sawan

After a night of bed bugs and strange noises mossies, I hit the road exhausted and it’s hard enough to stay awake when the roads are straight and quiet and dull and flat so I’ve taken to counting things:

Rabid dogs who chase you and try and bite: too many
Trees that actually shade my side of the road: 6
Dead Snakes: 124
Living Snakes: None. They’ve all been killed
Military vehicles, carrying armed soldiers (big guns in hand) and tanks: 104 – It got to the point where I was expecting to cycle into a full fledged war zone. Wait, I haven’t read the news in a while, is Thailand a war zone???

And now I’m here. I stopped in Nakhon Sawan because that’s where every other cyclist stops and I couldn’t handle breaking more hearts. I’m hiding in my hotel room because it’s hot outside and downstairs is packed with Thai business men trying to force [against my wishes of course] alcohol upon me and it’s the fifth time since I left South Africa the last time (507 days ago I think) that I have air con and I feel like I need to make the most of it.

I’m only 578 km away from Chiang Mai and haven’t a clue what the future holds. Tomorrow I travel onwards… Probably.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Back to Bisex

[*'Bisex' being 'Basics' mixed with 'Bike'.... not 'Bisexual' - I tell you this now in an attempt to not disappoint just in case that is what you were after]


It’s been a long time coming, but I can proudly say that Bangkok is officially behind me. About 350 km behind me. After 12 visits to the city (5 of them this year) I’ve finally moved on. Now it’s just me and the bike and the teddy bear and the [sometimes very big and busy and scary] wide-open road all the way to Chiang Mai!


Day 1: Bangkok – Dutch Embassy - Ayuttaya

After a morning spent hunting down the Dutch embassy I’ve been there 3 times already, I really should know how to get there by now) to pick up my brand spanking new 65 page diplomatic passport (HOOORAAH – no more worries of a full passport!!!) I was out of there… out of the stench and grime and misdemeanors that make Bangkok tick… Well, sort of out of there… admittantly I did a few accidental laps of the city first.

And I was doing pretty well too until I got a flat tyre… my 7th in a week. I was only 9km away from my destination so I decided to just pump it up and cycle like the wind but [and this is embarrassing], I couldn’t work out how to use my pump and for the first time I had no cycle buddies to help me out. About a kilometer walk down the road a motorcycle mechanic took pity on me, changed my tyre, mended a spare, and gave me 2 liters of water and then refused payment. I’d like to mention that this was the third time I’d been donated bottles of water today, not to mention the free energy drinks and coffee. Thai people are so lovely!!!

Cycling down the road my back tyre began deflating, but I was too ashamed to return and instead sucked it up and cycled with a flat. I arrived at about the same time as the moon…


Day 2: Learning to fix a tyre

Coming from the slums of Bangkok, Tony’s Guesthouse was a mecca of clean perfection so it wasn’t a massive ask to decide to stick around Ayuttaya for a day to learn how to fix a tyre and it only took 2 hours of frustration, but I now know how to remove, mend and reattach a wheel [I think] and that’s progress!

Ayuttaya is also a great place to finally sort out your car insurance only 5 months after leaving Australia [and my camper van]…

The ruins of the city are impressive too and an evening cycle to see the clusters of ancient temples at sunset is well recommended!  


Day 3: Ayuttaya – Sing Buri – In Buri

After reading three different cycle forums and reading how each got their first flat tyre on the way to Sing Buri, I decided to leave at dawn – one for them probably signified 15 for me (at least)… But alas, by 12 I’d cycled the 100 odd km puncture free and was unsure of what to do next.

After lunch, I escaped the heat of the day by googling hotels in the next 70 km and the interweb informed me they didn’t exist… Obviously I wanted to prove the internet wrong…

….I spent the night sleeping with a local family who tried to marry me off and force me to stay forever so I could be the village English teacher.


Day 4: In Buri – Nakhon Sawan

After a night of bed bugs and strange noises mossies, I hit the road exhausted and it’s hard enough to stay awake when the roads are straight and quiet and dull and flat so I’ve taken to counting things:

Rabid dogs who chase you and try and bite: too many
Trees that actually shade my side of the road: 6
Dead Snakes: 124
Living Snakes: None. They’ve all been killed
Military vehicles, carrying armed soldiers (big guns in hand) and tanks: 104 – It got to the point where I was expecting to cycle into a full fledged war zone. Wait, I haven’t read the news in a while, is Thailand a war zone???

And now I’m here. I stopped in Nakhon Sawan because that’s where every other cyclist stops and I couldn’t handle breaking more hearts. I’m hiding in my hotel room because it’s hot outside and downstairs is packed with Thai business men trying to force [against my wishes of course] alcohol upon me and it’s the fifth time since I left South Africa the last time (507 days ago I think) that I have air con and I feel like I need to make the most of it.

I’m only 578 km away from Chiang Mai and haven’t a clue what the future holds. Tomorrow I travel onwards… Probably.

 [Pictures to follow later - this internet is so worse than what I imagine a lobotomy would be...] 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your Future Holds Wet Pants

Monks are chasing you with guns, toddlers are plastering you with toxic chemicals, around every corner lies a vicious terrorist just waiting to attack. There's nowhere safe... nobody you can trust - it's just you and at least a million of them. 72 hours of 'kill or be killed'. This is the year 2555. This is your future.

Our train arrived 4 hours late, so instead of sneaking into Bangkok in the wee hours of the morning, we arrived in the thick of it. The thick of Songkran. Whilst most of the world celebrates New Years with fire works and singing; all of Thailand shuts down for a 3 day long water fight that spans streets, alleys, even hotels and bathrooms and restaurants! It's ruthless too - they don't care if you're unarmed, or carrying electronics, or a giant teddy bear... actually the more you look like you don't want to be wet, the more troops swarm in to attack making my newest cycle buddy, Katie, and I prime targets as we cycled the 4km from the station to our dodgy brothylish hotel.



Cycling into the mentalness, Bangkok
But checked in, guns loaded, we headed back to the streets armed with less than ideal weapons and were greeted by a gang of thai alcoholics who welcomed us with shots of who knows what, bucket loads of ice water and talcum powdered substances that are allegedly toxic (according to the Bangkok post). In search of new victims , we rounded the corner to Khao San road where we were hit by a wall of people. It's almost impossible to move as millions of people dance to the best of Thailands's hip hop and djs and foam floats around you while water falls from the skies and the ground and everywhere.

And as the sun fades away, the streets get bussier and the water gets icier and the celebrations get hardcorer and the lady boys come out to play. Mentalness, That's all I can say. Mentalness! And this mentalness increases by the day - maybe even the hour!

After slipping for the umteenth time and breaking my toy gun, I invested in some hardcore artillery and spent day three seeking down those who'd targeted me before... it's so much better with a real gun... and even better when you've accumulated an army of Thai freedom fighters who supply only you with the iciest water. 18 hours of solid revenge! I was unstoppable... except to sleep eventually, because even the hardcorest super heroes have to do that sometimes!

Three days of hitting it hard had Bangkok quieter than I'd ever imagined possible come Monday morning - and apart from the remnants of talcum powder that plastered vehicles and dripped from sky scrapers, it was the cleanest too... maybe they need the three day wash down every year?

Anyway it's now the year 2555 in Thailand and time for fresh starts... it's time for me to rekindle my hatred for my bicycle. Next stop Chiang Mai... 850ish km... and this time it's just me and the Teddy Bear....
 
Songkran Pi Mai Thailand!! Happy New Year!

Even the most innocent looking attack!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wealth, Wonder and Weddings

It's a bit of a shock to the system when you're bolted from a life of scummy hotels and squating with rodents and bedbugs and street food to perfection. And I don't use this word loosely either. Koh Samui was perfection.

...I arrived at the wedding at the exact same time as the bridal precession began the decent onto the picturesque beach - just before sunset. (45 minutes late... but that's another story). And wow... I thought I was immune to 'mushy' things but as Deborah Leigh Morris took Philip James Something-with-a-C-or-K to be her lawful wedded husband I sobbed like a little girly girl. I couldn't have been happier for them and the love they find in each other.





... But Let me rewind a little...

After having all my underwear (and other personal belongings) stolen, I was in great form at the bachelorette - smelly, sweaty and miserable. A few friendly familiar faces later all the bad was history and hugs and thai food were to be overly gorged on... Before taking time to remember why we'de all come together in the first place... alcohol... I mean, Debbie... that girl's an absolute ledgend and if you don't know her you should...



Day 2 on Koh Samui became a mad rush to finalise wedding presents and in the process I met a lovely hair dresser who spoke no the English. She washed my hair about 18 times (clearly I needed it) and as a result of no speaking the English,  I am now the proud owner of a fringe. I'm still trying to work out what to with it...

I spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to find my hotel again and then proceeded to get lost on the way to the wedding... So despite cycling almost 1000 km, hitching, bussing, boating and tuk tuking for three weeks... I still didn't make it quite on time. But as I watched the sky light up with wish balloons sailing off into the halo-ed sky, nothing else mattered right then. I'd made it. They'd wed. And the world was exactly as it should be (even if everyone sported an afro by the end of a sweaty night on the dance floor and ended up jumping in the ocean to finish the night... like I said perfection!)


Debs and Phil you guys are legends and I would travel twice as far to see you guys unite again... Mya your lies together be brilliantful and epic and go on forever!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Robbed, Raped, Beaten

I might have mentioned before how much I hate busses. And I do. I despise them – but sometimes you have to suck it up, [wo]man up, board them and live the nightmare… sometimes.  This was one of those times.

With only 2 days to make a wedding, I could put off the long trip to Koh Samui no longer. I wondered over to my side of the road travel agent who spoke no English who led me to a random ATM and motioned for me to wait. Being an obedient traveller I did but it was a little bizarre lurking around a cash point. Others arrived in drips and drabs and within the hour the street was abuzz with ‘ferangs’ heading to Southern Thailand.

Two hours of lurking later the bus arrived and we set off on the 12 hour over night trip to Surithani where we were hearded like zebra into minivans heading in different directions. I happened to be sentenced to the wrong bus and after a friendly Thai woman intervened the driver said – “no problem, I first drive Phuket then take you Samui…” – these two places are on opposite sides of the country. The friendly woman intervened in Thai again and the, a minute of jabberish discourse later yelled “nobody give him money. Somebody call the police.” And there was a mild onset of panic .


Twenty minutes later though the remnants of my bus were offloaded at a food stall and I enjoyed a private shofar ride to a ferry port where I enjoyed the finest instant coffee and a billon mosquito rapings. By 8am the rest of my VIP bus arrived, stuffed into the back of a tuktuk... somehow I always manage to be separated from the pack.

Instead of a boat, a bus arrived to drive us further off the beaten track to an actual ferry point from where we rehearded into boats and sent to islands near and far. By 2pm, 19+ hours after leaving Bangkok, I finally touched down in Bangkok. Another hour and a half later, I arrived at my budget hotel, checked in and B-lined the shower!


As I opened my bag I knew something was wrong… my toiletry bag was near empty was the first hint… my underwear was amiss… I poured the contents of my life onto my crooked double bed and began a sort… It was official – I’d been robbed.

You hear about I all the time – people’s luggage being rummaged through while you’re sleeping, but you never expect it to happen to you. I mean, in 4 and a half years of aimless world wonderings, my stuff has never been touched – EVER… now all of a sudden… I began the list of missing items:

My emergency cash fund – just in case my hand luggage was ‘borrowed’ – thankfully they left behind my second passport and my camera…
Earrings
The majority of my toiletry bag
My headlamp
My knife
Half of my first aid kit
My only good bra- My ONLY good bra. And this is when reality really sank in … the rest was all replaceable, but a decent bra in these parts is impossible to find… and how do you wear a travel bra to a wedding?? What kind of freak steals underwear anyway??

If I hated busses before, words cannot express my feelings towards them now… After 21 and a half hours of travel I’d been raped by bugs and mosquitoes, bizarrely robbed by strangers and with every other wedding guest flying to Koh Samui, I had been beaten by all on their 2 hour flight. But I was finally there and I had to put my miseries behind me – The celebrations were about to commence!