Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thailand: Heaven on Earth

I was sooo excited to get to Thailand, I cycled an all time record of 173 kilometers from Battambang, Cambodia to Chantburi, Thailand in one day.  I know, crazy, right?  I wanted to see if I could do it..... a little challenge to change things up on my trip.  I left bright and early at 6:30am and stopped 2 times to fuel up before reaching the Thai border. You see the day before I had a true day off.  I was stuck on a ferry for 10 hours so my legs were well rested.  Imagine how far I could ride if I were to take two days off in a row……

I was so excited to get to Thailand, I didn’t even stop at the Cambodian side to stamp out of their country. I didn’t see their border crossing because I was so focused on Thailand.  A Cambodian border officer had to chase me down on his motor bike and escort me back to Cambodia to get my departure stamp. I was laughing, he wasn’t.

I'm pointing to the border  control sign, my photographer left it out of the picture
For the first 2 kilometers in Tahiland, I road on the right side of the road, before it dawned on me that all the cars were coming head on and getting awfully close to me on the shoulder.  From then on, during my first two days in Thailand, I sang a little song that I invented and call “Stay on the Left”, that goes to the tune of the Adam’s family soundtrack.  So far it has worked!

I rode for another 30 kilometers after crossing the border to find a town that had an ATM machine so I could actually buy some of my favorite Thai treats.  My intentions were to withdraw $100 from the ATM in Thai Baht, but somehow, I calculated wrong and I accidentally got $650.  How did I do that?  It’s times like these where I wonder if I’m really a Pritchard?!?!  I come from a family of math whizzes, accountants, and economic oriented people.  The most dreaded dinnertime conversation growing up in my family were when our Dad quizzed us on math problems.  Every other Pritchard sibling is blessed with the "Pritchard Math Gene", but for some reason I could never successfully balance my checkbook when I lived in the states.  I will just go ahead and attribute the mistake to the fact that my brain is fried converting so many foreign currencies to dollars or/and or euros.  At least now I can buy all the iced teas and coffees I want, without worrying about having enough money.  After all, they are only 40 cents!

But actually, I think Thailand has that "honeymoon type" effect on people.  Not that I’ve ever been married, but you are just off in Lala land taking it all in, fascinated. My mind can’t help but relax and turns off.   Everything is so easy and comfortable here and not as intense, so my guard is down.  You see, in my opinion, this Southeast Asian country has it all!

Front row joe parking on the beach, I look for the empty beaches..... the tan lines
Thailand…..The climate is unbeatable: sunny and warm.  Actually it is a bit too warm and humid for cycling.  I get a lot of stares with all the sweat on my shirt, people look at me as if they’ve never seen sweat marks on anyone since they walk around in long sleeves and pants all day long. Who should be sweating! Today I hit an all time record high, 39.5C (103).  Therefore I’ve added a new routine to my day: frequent beach breaks.  I find the roads that follow the ocean shore, ride along the water, stop when I get hot and hop in!  I have to work on the changing in to the bathing suit bottom technique as I can’t seem to do it without getting a ton of sand in my bike shorts, which defeats the purpose of a chamois.  As of now, I my route through Thailand and Malaysia is right along the coast for about 1,700 kilometers, so I have a lot of swimming breaks to look forward to!

Going to have to start keeping track of my beach breaks and compare them to my coffee breaks

The people are incredibly kind and pleasant.   Not that I haven’t found that in the other countries, but here, they seem completely stress-free, always have a smile on their face, and go out of their way to help me.  Every time I stop at a local market even if I buy a pineapple, they always make a little place for me to rest, fill my water bottle, and give me a towel to clean my hands when I finish.  More than the other countries, they want to know where I’ve come from and where I’m going, and they have a good sense of Asian geography.  Before when I repeated the words Hong Kong and Singapore, I usually got a blank stare.  Now I say those two words to the vendor and in 30 seconds all the vendors in a 50 meter radius are talking about my bike trip and giving me thumbs up and have a big smile on their face, while the words Hong Kong and Singapore echo in the background.
Don't know if that was really a bench or a display but they let me to take shelter from the heat here to enjoy my coconut

Thailand is Asian “Tapas” at it’s best.  Other countries had day markets and night markets and local restaurants, but in Thailand, they have even more variety and the choices are endless!  If Bosnia had “Vulcanizers” ever 500 meters, and Vietnam had motorbike repair shops every 200 meters, in any one small Thai town, there can be a handful of markets all in a 300 meter vicinity with a selection of sweet and savory treats.  You never go hungry here and the prices are cheap, cheap, cheap, unless I’m doing the wrong conversion!  After my 173 kilometer day, dinner #1 cost $2, and dinner number #2, $3, plus a meager another $2 for desserts, juices, and beer.  You can’t beat that!

"Tour Cycling" size iced coffee and tea in Thailand
I know I said Vietnam was coffee paradise, Thailand has just beaten them as I’ve discovered the “Tour Cycling” to-go cups.  When I got my first iced coffee I thought she had mistaken my order with the family next to me because she handed me this huge bag filled with coffee.  It was so big, I couldn’t finished it, so I filled my water bottle with what remained, a brilliant new idea!  I carefully examined the lady make my first coffee… wonder they are so delicious.  In every cup of coffee there is about a half cup of sugar, a third cup of condensed milk, and the Thai secret, a dollop of coconut cream.  Upon arrival.  It’s no wonder I had energy to push through the 173 kilometers! 

My fuel for the morning kilometers......

Jackfruit is everywhere in Thailand.  I honestly think I could live off of iced coffee and Jackfruit until my teeth root.  Here in Thailand, it is a relatively inexpensive fruit and it comes entirely cleaned, pitted, and prepared to eat.  I’ve had to start enforcing a daily limit of 1 kilo, if not, I won’t have a balanced diet!

The roads are divine!  On google maps there is a huge network of roads and even the faintest grey line is a paved road with a decent shoulder.  If I’m lucky the road will even have a marked bike path.  Thailand has excellent rural roads and there is little traffic. It’s no wonder why I’ve seen more recreational cyclists here in the last two days than I’ve seen in all the other SE Asian countries combined in the last 2 months. There is so much selection I have to be careful not to get lost.  In other countries there were so few roads, sometimes I had to search long and hard to get from Point A to Point B, and then many times it wasn’t paved.

No comment, roads couldn't be better!
The little Thai I learned last year has come back to me and I can easily communicate the basics: Hello, thank you, no spice, Sweet? Savory, and how much?  The latter is really pointless because they tell me a number and they all sound the same to me with a long exasperated Baaaahhhht at the end.  However, nothing ever seems to be over a 100 Baht that I buy!  I’m going to have to try really hard to spend all that money I got out at the ATM before I leave Thailand.

The plan is to ride up to Bangkok tomorrow and then head south next week, down the eastern side of the coast as to not repeat the route I did last winter. I have a good two weeks of riding here and I can’t wait!  What a fabulous country for bike touring!

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