Thursday, January 16, 2014

Where Oh Where Will I Be Tonight?!?!?!

The golf course greens
Part of the adventure of tour cycling is the fact that no two days are ever the same.  Yes, I have my daily routine: pedal, eat, pedal, eat, pedal, eat…..and I have a vague idea where I want to stop, but I never really know where I’ll end up at the end of every day.  In fact, I haven’t made a single hotel reservation during my entire trip.  I had a rule that I wasn’t allowed to stop at the first hotel or guest house I saw, but, basically I did away with that one long ago.  When I’m tired, and done with pedaling for the day, I will basically take anything now for an accommodation.  Usually they ask me if I want to see the room, and I don’t even do that anymore! I’m pretty easy going these days,...Ok, my standards have gone down considerably, I guess you could say.  But really, I'm appreciative and happy just about anywhere and everywhere.

Heather Naro & family close to Chonburi, Thailand

Take this week for example.  On Thursday night I visited a teacher friend-friend-of-a-friend in the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand, 120 kilometers south of Bangkok.  I followed the directions I was given and headed into a golf club and resort, which is where the teacher housing for the school was located.  WOW!!!! I felt like I was in Palm Springs or somewhere similar in the states.  My hosts was a very nice Canadian/American family who had been living there in Thailand for 9 years.  I can understand why after seeing their set-up.  Their backyard was the gulf course, their house was huge with great views out of every window.  If you wanted to golf,…you stepped out your front door, going for a run,….you could follow the 3 kilometer circuit of the golf course, and there were roads galore for cycling.  They had a western BBQ for me and I stuffed my face with delicious chips and dip, hamburgers, and yummy salads.  I was in heaven!  Each family member had his or her own golf cart to get around the complex.  At night the two kids took me for a ride.  I asked them if they missed North America and wanted to live back there.  You can imagine their answer.

The following night I had a unique experience staying at an Eco Farm run by an American about 90 kilometers away from Bangkok.  On his farm he had an alternative school with about 15 students.  The school and farm are based on the philosophy of permaculture, meaning that they integrate ecology and holistic education through hands-on learning.  Is spent the day visiting the school and participated in the events related to the celebration of Thailand’s Children’s Day.  At night I slept under a mosquito net in a very basic but comfortable set-up with a lot of the local farm workers.  It was definitely no golf course resort, but an equally interesting and enjoyable experience!

Circle time at The Mosaic School, Chonburi, Thailand
The following day I was off to Bangkok to stay with the sister of a colleague from Barcelona.  Her husband works for Chevron and they had been sent to Bangkok,….not a bad place to be stationed with all the perks they had.  They lived in an amazing luxurious apartment on the main drag in the center of Bangkok with a huge park and playground on the ground floor for the kids, a large swim pool and indoor play room on the 6th floor, and a huge workout facility as well.  Again, I had my own room and bathroom here.  Their  building was so safe they never locked the door, their kids were in heaven with all the on site entertainment, and they had a driver who took me to run some errands.  What a treat!  We went out for a delicious dinner followed by drinks with the ladies, and the following morning I was the guest of honor at their company brunch at the Bangkok Grande Sheraton Hotel.  It brought back memories of the Marriott Istanbul and the Park Hyatt Ho Chi Minh.  What a restful and enjoyable stay I had there and a delightful family.  If it wouldn’t have been for the shutdown and protests, I would have stayed longer.

Living the life in Bangkok with great company & delicious food

How many times did I hit up the buffet? I stopped counting after plate #5.....

The following night I found myself on the night train to a city 400 kilometers south of Bangkok,….something I’d never do if it hadn’t been for the fact that I rode the exact same route last year and it was the smart way to high tail it out of town quickly with the protests.  I knew I was tired enough I could sleep on the train, but I wasn’t expecting to have to put up a fight just to get on.  You see they told me my bike could go in the cargo car, no problem, I’ve done it before.  What they didn’t tell me was that they sold me a ticket on an express train that didn’t have cargo, so the bike wasn’t allowed.  I played “innocent” tourist and boarded with my bike, and basically wasn’t going to get off that train.  The inspector was livid with me and it took a lot of negotiating before he finally agreed to let me stay.  Once we found a place for my bike, I sat down next to my lovely seat mates, a bunch of young “blokes” who had just flown in to Bangkok from London/  They’d been here long enough to make a trip to the super market and realize that beer was so cheap they loaded up on two grocery bags full for the train ride south…..so delightful, is not the word I’d use to describe that night of sleep, but with the sleeping pill at least I got some rest.

Great shared bungalows with Pascal, Pascal, & Jer

That same day I cycled 100 kilometers when I came across 3 French cyclists: a couple and a solo guy, who they had met the day before.  It was perfect timing because they were looking for bungalows and so was I.  With 4 people, we had more leverage for bargaining a good price.  Poor Pascal, my roommate for that night.  Before even saying bonjour or nice to meet you, I laid down the rules and expectations for sharing a room…..Experience on this trip has taught me, men will be men, even on a bike (yes, I’ve left out some key details in prior posts about my experience with my riding companions)!

Unbelievaby hospitable Warmshowers hosts in Nakhon, Thailand

Last night I stayed with an amazing warm showers Thai family.  Toon and Keo have been on Warmshowers for about 2 years and they have rave reviews from all their guests.  I knew I was going to be treated well when Toon and his brother met me on the road and escorted me home, where they had a cold beer waiting for me, lychees, and JACKFRUIT!  Keo, his wife prepared a delicious meal with various types of fish and rice and after dinner they took me sight seeing in Nakhon, one of Thailand’s most historical town.  We went for tea and banana pancakes as well before heading home.  It was great to talk with local people and learn about their culture.  Toon eventually wants to build a guest room at his house for the warmshower guests, but for now, they convert their kitchen and dining room into a sleeping quarter and I slept like a log on my air mattress.

Couldn't ask for anything more: a mosquito net and my air matress 

Tonight,….where will I be?  Who knows?!?!  Whether I stay in a luxury resort or the most basic accommodations, with locals or ex-pats, each experience is unique and enjoyable and makes for good memories.  I’ve learned to appreciate each day as it comes, making few plans. 

I have a little challenge going for myself to avoid hotels at all costs for the rest of my stay in SE Asia.  I feel so incredibly safe and comfortable in the south and there are ideal places to camp all along the way. I want to use my tent as much as possible for my remaining time in SE Asia, especially since my route follows the more remote Eastern coastline in both Thailand and Malaysia.  Toon has written sentences in Thai for me to ask people if I can camp.  To establish some trust, I will ask people to pitch my tent in their yard or behind their restaurant.  The people are so incredibly kind and open-minded here, I think I could even approach the police station and ask if I could pitch my tent behind and they’d be fine.  I would love to try a temple as well, especially since no one can give me a clear answer on whether or not women are allowed to use the temple quarters for sleeping.  So I go back to the question I started with…..Where oh where will I be tonight?!?!

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