Monday, April 4, 2011
Today was going to be a cycle journey of a lifetime.’ I was about to cycle all the way to Koh Samet if time allowed and my body could tolerate the sheer physical endurance of such a cycle in the hottest month of the year!
I had chosen a route, but there was no saying that this was going to be the most suitable for cycling.
I got up at five in the morning and left approximately half an hour later on my intrepid cycle adventure, hoping to capitalise on time and reach the Bang Pakong River by around ten.
Bangkok was relatively quiet for the time of day, probably helped by the fact that the schools and universities’ had closed for summer.
I cycled out towards On Nut. According to my notes, I’d to turn right onto highway 34, about four kilometres past the BTS station and then head out in a more southeasterly direction, although it seemed more like an easterly one than anything else. I found the road that I wanted. This one would carry me out towards Chachoengsao.
It should have been a good road, but the first 10km of it was terrible. It looked more like a disorganised coach and bus station with vehicles constantly stopping to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere they liked, regardless of any of the other road users. Sometimes they parked two and even three abreast. To make matters worse, the road was covered in loose chippings, with no road markings anywhere, which just added to my woes. As a cyclist, one just had to be vigilant, take one’s chances, wherever possible and keep one’s speed down. It was like cycling on grit.
At about twenty to nine, I hit the Bang Pakong River or at least the bridge that crossed it. I was running an hour and twenty minutes ahead of schedule. I stopped to consult my map again. A fisherman on the bridge stood there watching me, he gave me a welcoming smile, so I smiled back at him and then went on my jolly way, leaving him to drain the river dry of fish and any tin cans that he might just happen to come across.
I followed the signs towards Chonburi, making good progress. I knew I’d to be sensible about my cycling as I didn’t want to tire myself out by going for speed rather than for distance.
At Chonburi, I veered off to the east, taking Sukhumvit Road again. I eventually picked up the 344 road, which would send me out towards Klaeng. No sooner was I on it than I was off it again and onto the 3138 road, which would take me on a more southerly course.
Yellow butterflies fluttered everywhere, along with larger brown and black ones. Dragonflies excitedly darted at speed in front of me, crossing my line of vision and then stopping to hover momentarily to contemplate their next move, as their decorated wings indefatigably worked away.
I cycled deeper into the Thai countryside and into the back of beyond, away from the hustle and bustle of human activity and of the urban spoil. Cycling in and amongst rocky outcrops and jungle flora was quite interesting and certainly different from cycling in and around Bangkok. I even came across a dead two-metre long Burmese python, at the side of the road.
Further, down the road, I hit rubber plantations. At first, I thought it was the beginnings of the forest, but then on closer examination, I realised that all the trees ran in organised straight lines.
Later, I spied a sala on the roadside, so I decided to stop to eat the nuts that I had brought along with me. I knew quite well that they would re-energise me over a well-earned rest. The sala was next to the Rojana Industrial Estate and was about 25km north of Rayong, which was my mainland destination. I estimated that it was at least another hour’s cycle from where I was.
I hit Rayong at about half-past three and cycled through the town looking for the coastal road, which happened to be the Sukhumvit Road again. Once I reached it, I turned left and began cycling eastwards towards the port. Realising that I had now reached my mainland destination, I had a sudden spurt of energy. My momentum increased remarkably; it was as if the finishing line was only metres away!
I spotted a sign for the Tourist Information Office, so I decided to call in. The office staff probably wondered who on earth had just walked in, let alone from which planet I’d come from? I was tired and worn out and probably looking quite sweaty and bedraggled thanks to all the dust, dirt and grime that I’d accumulated along the way.
I spoke to three people in the office. They all told me to my dismay that the port was another 12km away and then gave me directions. I now felt shattered and a little disenchanted that I still had some distance to pedal.
I approached the first set of traffic lights, exhausted and nearly ready to collapse, but also relieved that the port was now only seconds away. I then realised to my horror that there was no sign for the port anywhere, or at least not in English. My first thought was, had I arrived at the correct set of lights? Or had he, in fact, meant the following set instead?
The lights changed. I followed my instructions as they’d been given to me and turned right. The road seemed too narrow for there to be a port at the end. Surprisingly, however, I started picking up the signs for a pier in English.
To add insult to injury, when I arrived at the quayside a woman told me that due to insufficient passengers, they’d decided that they weren’t sailing again today. My heart suddenly sank into an abyss with no bottom in sight, I’d cycled all this way just to be greeted by this. She paused realising that I looked frustrated and despondent, then she commented that there was another pier from where they were sailing from and she kindly redirected me.
I bought my ticket near to the local 7-eleven store and then went to catch my boat. My bike was lifted on first and then laid to rest at the side in a secure position. Then I got on and took up my seat but I really was hoping that somebody might have lifted me on to it too, especially the way that I was feeling now, but nobody did and anyway if they had they would have probably only dumped me in the drink.
The boat mustn’t have been more than 20 meters long. Made out of wood and carrying about 40-foot passengers my bicycle and me. There were no toilets or licensed bar on board and neither were there any signs for life jackets. The crossing was good and smooth.
On reaching Koh Samet, I went to the Tourist Information for somewhere nice, comfortable and cheap to stay. She advised me to try the resort called Ploy Samet, for 1,200 baht a night, (£24). It wasn’t too far away, only about 2km if that.
I impetuously agreed and paid her for two nights, knowing that there were more tourists coming up from behind me, who were also eagerly looking for somewhere to stay. She gave me the directions and off I went cycling in search of my Eldorado, or at least something similar to that.
My accommodation was a chalet. It was clean and tidy, possessing a television, hot shower and more importantly a modern air conditioning unit, so no use for a punkawalla here, thank you!
The resort was surprisingly quiet, which suited me down to a tee. No screaming children, no nightclubs, no noisy neighbours, this was paradise within paradise. At least I could look forward to having a good night’s sleep.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The next morning I got up late, well by my holiday standards it was. The first thing I did was to cycle into the centre. I went shopping to probably the island’s only 7-eleven store and bought some batteries for my camera.
So now, with an operational camera, I was able to happily go off shooting photographs of this wonderful scenery of this most beautiful, idyllic island.
From the Na Dan Pier, I cycled towards the Hat Sai Kaew Beach and took some photographs. Then went back on myself, to Moo Ban Talay, where the road came to a disappointing dead end and there I took more photographs. Now I was hungry to find the coastal route or at least one that would take me to the other side of this mysterious and delightful tropical island if only to take more photographs for my collection.
I later went for a leisurely stroll along the beach. The walk took me through what I considered to be the main town on the island. I passed the port, licensed bars and various eating-places and then eventually I reached the beach at Hat Sai Kaeo Resort, via a passageway that was lined with small gift shops and boutiques selling predominantly ornate shell crafts and colourful ostentatious silks.
The beach here was more crowded than the previous one. I walked along it keeping my shoes on and headed south. The sun worshippers were out in the secluded coves.
I walked on as far as I could go around the cove and into the next one before deciding to turn back on myself. I noticed tiny crab-like creatures making little sand balls and pushing them behind themselves. I’d seen this done before in Cha-am back in 2009. I couldn’t resist filming them. They were enchanting little creatures to watch.
There was a Russian lady about my age, playing with her daughter in a rock pool. I saw her gently touching one of the crabs with her finger just to see what its response would be.
‘There are small crabs foraging on the rocks.’ She stated, so I filmed them too. Her English was very good. In fact, it was excellent and so was her figure come to think about it.
She played with her child wearing her red sexy bikini.
‘Where are you from?’ I asked.
‘I’m from Russia.’ She said, being totally absorbed with her child. I didn’t talk to her for long, as I had other places to visit.
Back at Ploy Samet, I decided that I’d be adventurous and attempt to find the road that would lead me to the other side of the island. The road I cycled on however eventually ran out and I was left there looking somewhat bewildered, at what seemed like nothing more than a dried up riverbed, consisting of a collection of stones and some large rock boulders that protruding from the surface.
Being the stubborn adventurer that I was, I was not going to accept defeat easily. I challenged my lightweight road bike to it. The further I cycled the worst it became. It was not just the boulders and rocks that were the problem, but also the fact that it had many deep gullies and mounds of sand that made cycling treacherous if not completely impossible. ‘Oh this was fun,’ I thought. ‘Not!’
I arrived at what I considered the Tubtim Resort. The road down to the beach was just as terrible as the road I’d just cycled on, if not worse, but the beach resort itself was wonderful. It was another beautiful secluded cove with a fine, white, sand, completely devoid of people, probably because it was so inaccessible.
It was absolutely idyllic with its crystal clear water that romantically kissed and licked the coastline. I took more photographs. I’d have loved to have gone swimming here, but I left my swimming gear back in Bangkok.
So still in my adventurous mood, I continued my crazy cycle. Wondering who was the craziest, me or the road. I thought I was bound to get lost eventually, but surprisingly I didn’t, maybe the island was too small for that. I found my way up to one of the highest peaks and discovered a driveway with a view, so being the inquisitive type, I decided to cycle up it. This was slightly off the beaten track and it was a well-beaten track at that! I reached Ao Phrao, which was situated on the other side of the island away from all the other resorts.
The view was stunningly beautiful. It overlooked a small bay, which again was blessed with having a crystal, blue, clear water and a rocky coastal fringe.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I woke up at half past five. I promised myself that I’d go for an early morning swim. I walked to the pier and then I decided that this was it. My big moment. There was nobody else around just me. I stripped off and gingerly walked towards the water’s edge. Not wanting to disturb the silence of the moment or the tranquillity of the place. Once in the water I removed my shorts and swam around for a while naked, remembering that nudity wasn’t really my forte, having been brought up in a rather strict and conservative background.
Surprisingly it felt good, rebellion at long last. I felt free and liberated with myself and with nature. Freedom at long last and away from the restraints of conforming to the rules and regulations laid down by the prudes in society. This was so relaxing. Thankfully, I’d never stopped to consider if there were any jellyfish around.
The Gulf of Thailand now seemed to be beckoning me to venture further and further out as if it was going to carry me on a voyage out to sea, no doubt sending me totally out of my depth.
The cool water cleansed my body with its salty refreshing sluice as the ebb tide gently rippled around me, tickling my skin as it went. All I needed now was to grab a sheet of water to cover up my head, pull it tight under my chin and go off to sleep on the seabed.
Dawn was starting to gather momentum on the eastern horizon as it went through its kaleidoscopic colours preparing for daybreak. Slowly changing colour from dark blue to purple. The first sight of emerging light was certainly creeping in, being very quiet about it all. You knew it was out there, but you just didn’t know when it was going to surprise you with its sudden presence. In the tropics, one minute it’s dark and the next its light.
Slowly, I continued with my aquatic movement in the sea. All I needed was a mermaid and Handel’s ‘Water Music’ to dance to, which would allow me to practice my synchronized swimming.
Surprisingly, I was still able to walk, on the rocky shelf below my feet, but it felt more like glass that I was walking on. Maybe the soles of my feet were bleeding which no doubt would only attract sharks from miles around? I’d not even had breakfast yet, so they probably wouldn’t find me all that appetizing. I looked around, but I couldn’t see any dorsal fins racing towards me. I suppose it just takes time?
I only seemed to have been in the sea for about two minutes when I turned around to check my belongings on the beach. They were still there where I’d left them, which was a great relief, but there was a man out there. Yes, a tall, wiry-looking man, steadily approaching my belongings. He wasn’t looking at my clothes; instead, he was busy watching me, watching him, watching me. Fear trembled through my body, creating more wakes and ripples than I cared for. How long had he been watching me I wondered? Was he going to run off with my clothing? I watched him like a hawk. He walked past my belongings and continued walking for a further twenty metres, then he disappeared into the fringe of the wooded area that was set back against the beach. I could see his body profile perfectly, but I couldn’t actually see what he was up to.
He dragged an object out from the undergrowth. At first glance, it looked like a door, but it couldn’t have been, it looked too bulky for that. He dropped it onto the beach near the water’s edge. Then he walked back to the wooded area again. It was then that I realised that it was actually a canoe.
At first, I thought he was preparing for beach activities, but then he came back with an oar and walked to the water’s edge dragging his canoe along behind him. Then once in the sea, he began paddling. It was obvious that he was still aware of my presence, as he just gave me a wide birth, looking intently towards me, as he went.
By this time, I had swum about thirty metres away from the water’s edge. I’d already put back on my shorts just in case of any eventuality, which abruptly had put an end to my skinny dipping for the day. In front of me was a buoy with a lantern burning inside, oscillating from side-to-side to the motion of the sea as it splashed up against the base.
Yes, it was getting light and dawn was now charging in now, just like in lion. I decided to get out now, enough was enough.
After showering, I packed up and then cycled off into the centre and bought myself the provisions that would keep me going for at least the start of my journey back.
Back at my chalet, I checked to ensure that I’d got everything and then checked to see if the room was as clean as when I’d found it. Once satisfied, I locked up and pushed my bike down the sandy path and handed the keys over to one of the cleaners. Then I cycled back to the pier in the hope of catching the first boat back to the mainland.
Once in Rayong, I set off cycling for Klaeng. I stopped in Klaeng, but only to put my knee supports on. Here I noticed a stress tear in my tyre, which was about 1cm long. This concerned me, especially with having over 200km yet to cycle. I concluded that it must have been caused yesterday when I cycled on that terrible road down to the beach.
I cycled on the 344 road, which headed north-west towards Chonburi. According to the sign, Chonburi was some 90km away. The weather was favourable with cloud helping to keep the temperature down somewhat.
The scenery north of Klaeng was beautiful, with its rocky mountain peaks in the distance and rubber plantations running along the roadside along with coconut plantations that seemed to stretch for miles.
I stopped at one plantation, to have a little nosy around, whilst I earnestly tanked myself up with water and took a well-earned rest.
Rubber latex slowly trickled down the incision of the trees in the plantation. All the trees had been tapped. On contact, the texture just felt rubbery, instantly solidifying on my skin. I didn’t want to contaminate anything in my dirty, sweaty state. Thankfully, nobody was around to shout at me, so nobody was any the wiser.
I set off again cycling in the oppressive heat of the day ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,’ came to mind.
The 344 road was probably one of the better roads. My self-determination and self-belief were telling me that I could actually complete this cycle today; this seemed to propel me forward. Helped by the romantic relaxing music that I was listening to like: ‘I wish you love’ and ‘In the still of the night,’ which just seemed to complement the beautiful surrounding serenity of the idyllic Thai countryside.
I reached Chonburi at about three o’clock and soon I was back cycling on roads that were made out of giant concrete slabs. It was like cycling on a giant jig puzzle. I encountered heavier traffic, which just increased as I steadily headed out towards Chonburi. To make matters worse, the road seemed much narrower now, no doubt it had been designed to squeeze as many lanes onto it as possible. A ten-tonne truck passed me, another foot nearer and it would probably have taken me out with it.
At four o’clock, I crossed the Bang Pakong River. I knew now that I was in familiar territory, being on the home stretch. Even so, I reckoned I still had about three hours of exhausting cycling to contend with, that is if I could keep my composure for that long.
Thanks to my attention to detail, I managed to get onto the 34 road and thus continue on my approach to Bangkok, but it had its hazards along the way, with its bad drivers and poorly positioned signs. It wasn’t helped by my body’s struggle to keep on going. My speed had plummeted from 33km/h down to as low as 13km/h. I was totally burnt out.
I stopped to take account of myself. I was near to exhausted. The last thing I wanted was to collapse. I took on extra salt, drank more water; copious amounts of the stuff and had some chocolate just in case my blood sugar was low. This I believed would get me home. This was my own diagnosis, which up to press had served me well. Yes, I did carry salt with me just in case. Too much water and not enough salt could lead to a dangerous scenario that I knew all too well about.
This cycle was now becoming a cruel and gruelling exercise. I seemed to be constantly looking behind for a vacant taxi that could shuttle me on towards the On Nut BTS Station, where at least I could travel in style across the city and onto the Wongwian Yai BTS Station and then I’d be able to cycle the remainder of my journey back to my apartment.
However, on the eve of the glory of accomplishing this mammoth of a cycle, catching the train just seemed like a defeatist approach. The alternative option was to collapse, due to sheer exhaustion (not that I was quite there yet) and get crushed by a 10 tonne truck in the process.
I soon picked up the far end of this BTS line. This was the non-operational end. Before long, I was at On Nut. Now I just wanted to reach the Phloen Chit BTS Station, which was about ten BTS stops away. There I could turn left on to Wireless Road and head down to the Rama IV Road.
With my bicycle lights now flashing like some sort of premature Christmas tree decoration, I boldly competed for space with the Sukhumvit traffic: the racing buses and pursuing taxis. The taxis were renown for switching lanes suddenly and without any consideration for any other road users. They were by far the great opportunists of the Bangkok road system. They operated like hyenas on the Kenyan plains, demonstrating their instinctiveness for survival. For me, well this was like playing Russian Roulette and kind of enjoying it. That’s until one’s luck runs out.
Eventually, I reached the Thoet Thai Road, showing all the signs of being languished, which I suppose was what you could expect after cycling the distance that I had just encountered.
This dark narrow road could still have its hidden hazards and be dangerous, as one cycled down this enigmatic road and on into the night. I could hear the echo of complacency ringing in my ears. ‘Most accidents happen no more than 200 metres from where people live,’ but soon I was cycling down my soi. Home at last! A nice hot shower beckoned, before the stiffening of my limbs became apparent. The prospect of a warm soothing bath would have been far more welcoming, but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. A good night’s rest however was.
I’d arrived back at half-past seven and although I’d only eaten nuts and chocolate all day, I didn’t feel like eating anything else. It was amazing how prolonged exercise could suppress one’s appetite. I did my cooling off exercises, showered and then retired to bed.
I’d cycled a total of 235km in a cycling time of 8.5 hours, averaging a speed of 27km/h. The total duration of my journey was 10.5 hours.
I fell asleep for about an hour before waking up and wanting another shower. This time, I decided to take my bike into the shower with me as if for the company, that is after removing the lights and speedometer. Then I gave it a jolly good wash down, before attending to washing my cycle gear and finally myself. Then I put it all out to dry (not the bike of course) and then I retired to bed once again. Both cyclist and bicycle slept well. I was tired and so was my bike, but it wasn’t exhausted like I was.