Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Malay peninsula (Part 2)

Cycling through Thailand has been everything I hoped for and more. Our route took us right up the east coast of the peninsula, making sure to pass through the dramatic sights of the Khao Sam Roi Yot national park along the way. Limestone cliffs, sleepy hillside villages, paddy fields, rustic towns, tropical coastlines, exquisite temples- Thailand has is all!  Unlike Malaysia, we were fortunate enough to rarely have to ride busy roads. We took routes where traffic was light and beauty abundant. We regularly found ourselves on non sealed roads. On a map these routes look rideable, they look pretty direct, a ‘short-cut’ perhaps? Never. Though thats half the fun of it, keeping that adventure alive- the beauty of cycle touring is that pretty much anywhere is accessible if you want it to be. In fact some of my mornings rides along these dusty dirt tracks were some of my favourite to date. As I made my way down these rocky, rubbly roads, I’d often think to myself ‘sometimes all you need in life is a couple of wheels and a thirst for adventure’…. and an hour down the track i’d think to myself ‘Sometimes all you need in life is a couple of wheels, a thirst for adventure, a front and rear wheel suspension, two durable tires, a rattle free rack, a plumper backside and a keen interest in the relationship between tires, rocks and vibrational activity…!’

From Malaysia into Thailand 
Upon crossing the border from Malaysia into Thailand there was a noticeable change in attitude, religion and social etiquette. Traditional islamic dress thick throughout Malaysia faded into a more liberal existence. Mosques accompanied by their daily islamic call to prayer slowly disappeared, instead making way for buddhist temples- these rich architectural works of art littered amongst dense jungles of palms. The sporadic heavy rain showers and nightly thunderstorms we experienced in Malaysia typical of this time of year also became less frequent.

Thailand also dealt us more linguistic battles than Malaysia, with English far less widely spoken. Simple requests for directions to accommodation often led to moped riders escorting us to places after we had tirelessly tried and failed to understand their routes. 

On one particular occasion, having made it into the town of Chumphon fairly late on, we were keen to find a bed for the night. This involved the routinely nightly exercise of trawling the streets until you stumble across something which you think resembles a hotel. However, having wandered the roads for some time achieving very little, we were both becoming tired and frustrated. Things were looking bleak. But then, as if from no-where, I saw something glowing in the distance, someone glowing, a vision of high-vis, a God like figure (at least in my eyes), a man with authority, a man with power, king of the road. It was indeed a traffic controller. Right there, standing before me was, well, family, one of my wolf pack. This was the man to guide us in the right direction, I just knew it. Immediately I made a beeline for him. Perhaps he couldn't speak English? Not a problem. One thing we could speak, was the universal language of ‘lollipop’- Controllers the name, signals are our game. He asked me to stop, I told him to slow, one thing led to another and before long we had drawn together some suitable directions. All through the medium of signal. 

One thing that continued to overshadow our commutes through Thailand were the terrifying prospect of chasing dogs.Thailand’s back roads are full of them. So often we would look at that alluring tarmac ahead of us fringed with palms, a hazy sun rise streaming through, the roadside lined with typically tantalising Thai architecture, before turning our attention to the battlefield of canines standing before us. The dogs were out. ‘Ohhh whoooo let the dogs out, who who who who who’ is what I'd regularly ask myself. Following this, there was really only one thing for it, pedal pedal pedal, grunt, growl, woof (Its important to speak their language) and hope for the best. So far, so good. All limbs still in tact. 

The ‘finish line’
Our final days up the Malay peninsula were tough, we had seen so much along the way but also endured some serious miles. We averaged a little over 90miles a day allowing ourselves just the one day off. And typically, our final days towards Bangkok dealt us hills, hills and a few more. Its all a little hazy now, but I'm pretty sure at one point we were belting out the sounds of ‘Jerusalem’ as we deliriously pedalled our weary bodies towards the ‘finish line’!

Cycling into Bangkok 

(Mum, I suggest you avert eyes, scroll down and continue reading at paragraph 7. Its important to sleep at night)

So often, cycling into cities can seem like a tiresome if not daunting prospect and so often it is. You really begin to appreciate the size of your vehicle, the small vulnerability of your trusty steed against the streams of heavy hard shelled traffic around you. But at the same time, I regularly feel this excitement when making my way into a city, particularly an Asian one like Bangkok. The hustle and bustle of it all - motorbikes, vespa's, buses, carts, animals, cyclists, street vendors- you’re immersed in so much activity and as you pedal your way alongside the troops of Vespa's, speeding through the lines of traffic, you can’t help but feel one of the gang. When it comes to traffic in Thailand, 2 wheels is without doubt the new 4 and riding into Bangkok, I felt right there at the heart of it. 

So, having completed the incredible journey up the Malay peninsula from Singapore to Bangkok, Harriet and I have now parted ways as she she now returns to the arctic temperatures of our British winter whilst I spend a week in Bangkok preparing for the next leg of my journey. Over the next 6 weeks I look to explore the sights of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by bicycle. Having had a small two week ‘taste’ of South East Asia, I can safely say the entree was just delicious and I can hardly wait to indulge on the rest of this asian feast! #ButNothingTooSpicy


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