Tour of Thailand
By Sarvesha Samaga
"It's more than a month since you all returned from Tour of Thailand, no blog, no write-up, no FB posting, nothing, what’s wrong? Is it that 'what happens in Thailand remains in Thailand'", exclaimed my sister during my recent visit to her after the Thailand tour and so was my cycling partner Dr. Ramaraj, who is always eager to read about the day-to-day account of our tours.
Hmm . . didn’t I find time to put together a blog or am I still basking in the glory of having finished one of the ecstatic bicycling tour covering ~800 km in 8 straight days, which in no way, was less exciting than the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia!!
Having experienced the mystical journey of our life through the Tour of Mountain Kingdom Bhutan last year, WERC Touring group came up with the 2nd international tour of the club, but this time to the tropical islands of East Asia, land of many possibilities, Thailand.
Well begun is always half done!! Team WERC in association with SpiceRoads (www.spiceroads.com) worked day & night at the backend, to iron out the nitty-gritty of this tour and came up with an itinerary that was challenging yet doable, while optimising the 3Cs - cost, comfort & convenience.
2 travel days, 8 action packed days followed by 2 lazy days!! Within no time, 10 WERC members signed up for the tour!!
A tour is not exciting if it doesn’t have twists and turns!! 3 weeks to the tour, 3 of the members dropped out due to their personal commitments. 10 down to 7, out of which Shyam Sir’s passport had expired & Sudhir’s availability was subject to receipt of his passport from consulate!! Down to 5?? Fingers crossed, daily prayers, phone calls, whether to go or no go, cancel the tour or find an alternate rider etc.
कहते हैं अगर किसी चीज़ को दिल से चाहो … तो पूरी कायनात उसे तुमसे मिलाने की कोशिश में लग जाती है ... and this one turned out to be true ☺.
Shyam sir’s passport was in hand a week before the tour and on the day of departure, Sudhir got the news that his passport would be handed over at the Bengaluru airport!!
Day 1, March 30, 2018 | The Journey
Finally, after so much of turmoil, 7 of us left Mangalore to Bangalore to catch the Air Asia flight to Bangkok at 11pm, yet fingers crossed on the final numbers!! Around 7pm Sudhir got his passport in his hands and finally, 7 of us began our journey to the centre of excitement, Bangkok!!
Day 2, March 31, 2018 | Around Bangkok
At 5am, we had set our foot on the aisles of the Don Mueang Airport, but it took some time for us to come out on to the roads. Though we got our visa within couple of hours of our arrival, rest of the team had to wait for me as I had walked out of the airport with a similar looking but a wrong bag!! The authorities were so helpful, and the airport is so seamless that sooner than later I walked out with my own bag but not before handing over the bag which I carried, to its rightful owner.
Woody was the nominated team guide for the tour, supported by Rin the coordinator / driver and Wat the mechanic. A 10 seater AC van for the riders and a service tempo for the bikes followed us throughout the tour. 5 regular riders in the group, were allotted Trek Domane endurance series alloy road bikes with 105 group set, 50/34 chainring & 11/32 cassette, while the rest 2 had hybrid bikes, all with perfect frame sizes, 52cm. Upon arrival, we just had to tinker with the seat heights!!
First day, first show at SkyLane, a park with 23.5 km synthetic track for cycling, bifurcated in 2 colours, blue & purple. Blue one for riders with speeds up to 35 kmph and the purple one for more serious riders with 2 stopover points for breaks.
First round was to acclimatize the facility, the riding discipline, the terrain, the head / cross winds etc. On the second, with 50x11 gearing, some of us went on full gas chasing the local peloton riders. Amazingly, we too were cruising at 35+kmph effortlessly, however sustaining it beyond 3/4th of the circuit was too big a task for us and had to fade away. All in all, it was a life time experience of riding on an international, dedicated cycling track and few amongst us completed ~70+ km in little over 2 hrs.
Day 3 April 1, 2018 | Bangkok to Hua-Hin
Today’s ride was all along the east coast of Thailand from Bangkok to Hua-Hin. We were wearing the pink jersey provided by SpiceRoads.
Our ride began at a steady pace with Woody leading the peloton & cruising around 28~30 kmph covering on the way few salt pans, temples influenced by Chinese & Thai architecture, a local seafood market, fishing harbor & jetty etc.
During the coffee break we had fresh tropical fruits like watermelon, mango, pineapple, papaya, jackfruit, banana, and mouthwatering typical Thai food, ‘khao lam’ bamboo tubes of sweet custardy sticky rice & ancient Thai desert ‘kanom krok’ or coconut-rice pancake.
During our lunch break on Hat Sai Kaeo beach in Ko Samet, we saw few statues on the sea. Woody explained that those statues depict characters of Thailand’s epic poem Phra Aphai Mani written by its national poet Sunthorn Phu which included the flute playing prince Aphai Mani, the female demon Nang and the mermaid who saved the prince from the demon.
On our way to the city we witnessed a cute family riding on a tandem bike and enjoying their evening stroll around the beach, a beautiful tribute to the culture of cycling in Thailand!
We retired at hotel Ban Klang in Hua Hin but not before covering ~90 km in little over 3 riding hours at an elevation gain of 200 m and tasting some sumptuous Thai local delicacies accompanied by refreshing Chang beer!!
Day 4 April 2, 2018 | Hua-Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan
Continuing our journey on the east coast, we rode on the quiet back roads alongside beaches passing many small villages on the way. We stopped over at a crab farm, where crabs imported from India are sorted, put in an aerated box and kept floating in between the bamboo sticks for few days before transporting them away for selling fresh in the market!!
The road curved towards Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park with spectacular limestone formations and freshwater marshes in between the peaks. By 2 pm, we were out of the tree cover and into the burning tarmac.
However, the condition of roads & the company was so good that we never geared down from 50x11 and kept pushing one another until Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Around 4 pm, we reached Hadthong Hotel which was bang in front of the beach with some great views of the sea, sand & city. Our Garmin (Wahoo for some) read, ~118 km, 4h 58m of riding having spent 1,758 calories of energy!!
Reaching early gave us an opportunity to test our legs & body with some authentic Thai massage. The masseurs, who turned out to be local cyclists literally twisted, turned & tossed our body parts like beating laundry against a stone slab in a typical Mumbai dhobhi ghat!!
Day 5 April 3, 2018 | Prachuap Khiri Khan to Ban Krut
The massage if done rightly has such a healing effect that by the morning, we were all right and ready for another grueling tarmac ride. First 12 km of days ride was along the beach front road, briefly passing through the Thailand Army cantonment and an airstrip.
Before hitting the main road, Woody took us through less touristy and quiet roads of Ban Krut, which resembled our own Kaup to Padukere road. Soon after lunch, we arrived at Baan Grood Arcadia, a nature-friendly boutique resort bang opposite to the beach. Ride summary, 78 km / 3hr 40min.
During our evening stroll around the city, while some of us were capturing photographs of an auto parked near an office, very few observed Ashwath casting his magic spell on the lady at the counter!! Within few minutes, he was out with the auto rickshaw keys, asking us KULLE, POYI! We covered the entire town of Ban Krut riding this auto, taking turns one after the other
During the dinner at the beach side shack, when steamed fish with lime & garlic prepared in authentic Thai way was served at the dinner table, everyone went jaw dropping & speechless with its look, presentation and of course the taste too!! One of the simple, tastiest & best sea food ever on the plates!!
Day 6 April 4, 2018 | Ban Krut to Chumphon
The day began with a bowl of boiled rice (ganji) topped up with butter, ginger, few coriander leaves and freshly brewed coffee.
Our journey continued to the east coast with views of the sea to the left and rugged mountains on our right. We were passing through Thailand’s narrowest part as the border with Burma was less than 20 km away at some points.
The route was generously rolling on a 1% or 2% gradient max and very little traffic. With so many days of riding on 0% gradient road, we were so much accustomed to 50x11 gearing that, we hardly noticed the rolling terrain and kept pushing close to 28 kph riding mostly on the dedicated lane marked for cycling. Some of the sign boards read, ‘Share the Road’ ‘Beware, Cyclists’, ‘Cycling track End / Begin’ etc. So much thoughtfully done.
On our way, we caught up with riders of Siam Bike Tours, who also ended up being in the same ‘Nana Beach Resort’, chatting about the ride, the culture in our countries and the experiences etc. over a pint of chilled Chang beer!
A 115 km ride under 5 hours spending 1,746 calories called for a dip in the blue waters, few more chilled beer and some local delicacies. Tired of eating broccoli, French fried and bland food all these days, our vegetarian Babaji, took out his magic potion & here comes ‘Adige Krishnabhatra Kempu Happala and Uppinakayi’ like some mirage in the desert!
Day 7 April 5, 2018 | Chumphon to Ranong
Having ridden all along the east coast, it was time for us cross over to the west covering about 60 km on an undulating road that cuts through the lush jungle clad mountains and occasional twists and turns reaching the Isthmus of Kra, which separates the Gulf of Thailand from the Adaman Sea which is also the Thai - Myanmar (Burma) boarder. We could see Myanmar just across the bay.
We stopped over for lunch at a restaurant amid the coffee plantation where we had tea made from coffee flower, fried tofu mixed with green herbal leaves & cashew nuts. Post lunch, it was a rolling terrain passing through the Lamnam Kra Buri National Park before we hit the major climb of about 3 km starting at the Pun Ya Ban Waterfall.
Once we are through, it was all downhill and flat to Ranong, which is a spa town. Strava data indicated 144.1 km at 25 kmph with an elevation gain of ~1,000 m and 2,547 burnt calories. Tinidee Hotel had a hot mineral spring pool to soothe our aching muscles, with a decent restaurant, serving buffet dinner and live karaoke.
Day 8 April 6, 2018 | Ranon to Khao Lak
Getting used to ride on 0% grade roads, our water breaks extended to 30 km+ in about an hour. Everyone was riding meticulously following one after the other and taking lead alternately.
Riding on the Phet-Kasem road, we continued passing one valley after the another on the Ngao Waterfall National Park and Khlong Na Wildlife Sanctuary on our left before reaching picturesque Khao Lak. This was one of the worst areas devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, but surprisingly it has bounced back and rebuilt. We stayed at the boutique resort The Leaf on the Sands, spending our evening amidst a heavy tropical downpour.
The ride summary for the day was 91.1 km at an average speed of 24.6 kmph and an elevation gain of 539 m.
Day 9 April 7, 2018 | Khao Lak to Phuket
After a quick breakfast, we left the resort at 8 am, for one last ride on the beautiful flat roads of Thailand but not before conquering couple of small hills near Khao Lak, followed by ride on the interior routes, passing through many small villages.
Riding along the Phang Nga beach, which was also devastated by Tsunami, we reached Phuket, the largest island and a province of Thailand which is connected by a bridge to the mainland. Upon reaching the outskirts of Phuket, Woody once again took us to the interior roads around the Phuket International Airport before ending the ride with high-fives over chilled beers at a nearby restaurant. The high intensity ride ended after covering 109.3 km at 24.6 kmph with an elevation gain of 665 m.
By the time we finished the ride on the shores of Phuket and checked in at The Yama Hotel, we had pedaled through the southern part of Thailand from Bangkok to Phuket, covering a total distance of 810 km & scaling a height of 3,586 m of elevation. With high on spirits and full of memories, the entire group feasted on some spicy, oily and new age Thai cuisine, over few pints of Chang at one of the fast food eateries, returning to the hotel quite late in the night, but not before seeing off the SpiceRoads crew, who had been excellent company all through those rigorous 8 days!!
April 8~10, 2018 | Phi Phi
With so much of continuous riding, it was time to unwind and soak ourselves in the nature’s lap and it couldn’t have been better than a visit to Phi Phi island. The excitement began soon after we boarded the Andaman Wave passenger boat for the cruise from Rassada Pier towards Phi Phi island. The boat cutting through the blue waters of the Andaman sea, vertical cliffs towering overhead, kayaks and speed boats circling around, groups of people snorkeling wow, indeed incredible!!
First day on the island went more on exploring but not before a hair rising drama involving 2 of our members, Ashwath & Vijay. During our late evening stroll around the beach, we thought why not go for kayak for about an hour. Vijay tagged with Ashwath left first, followed by me & Sudhir and Shyam with Shivananda. Rowing with all our might we moved forward quite quickly and covered quite a few distances but couldn’t see Vijay & Ashwath who had moved much ahead of us. Since it was getting dark, we decided to return and took the U turn to the shore.
On our return, we were caught up by the strong head & cross winds, not allowing us to move ahead an inch, rather our kayaks started drifting backwards and taking us in circles. Our tired shoulders gave up rowing. After a while, we recovered ourselves and began rowing in synch, utilising the wind power and direction. With lots of difficulties, we sailed through this and reached the shores, getting drenched and totally exhausted and so were Shyam and Shiva. We went to the room had hot water shower and some bite as we were hungry after the drain out effort. We thought the first group of Vijay & Ashwath would reach sooner but didn't hear from them for a while. After almost an hour Sudhir said "Sarvesha is this the time to alert police??" I said let's wait for another 30 min more and then press the panic button. After 15 min Vijay barged into the room saying Sarvesha we were in trouble, Ashwath has been held back by the boat people and I need urgently 250 THB to release him!! He took the money and left the hotel without divulging further details. Unable to figure out what's going on we waited for their return.
After 15~20 min both the guys returned hale & hearty, but a little bit concerned. It was the story of a lost kayak in the middle of the ocean, nowhere to go!! Caught in the strong winds, current and poor visibility, these 2 guys lost their energy to row against the winds, started drifting away from Phi Phi island and we're about to lose hopes. Luckily, one of the speed boat guy on his return, noticed and picked them on his way back to the shores. After narrating the incident, both the guys said, they we're confident that rest of the group would definitely try to find them, and if not the boat guy, they we're thinking of spending the night on the shores of a nearby island!! ಪೊಕ್ಕಡೆ, ಎಂಚಿನ, ದ್ವೀಪೊಡು ಕುಲ್ಲುದು ಚೆಪ್ಪು ಗುದ್ದುನಾ?? ಇಜ್ಜಾ ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಕಥೆ ಪನ್ಪುನ?? Indeed, they we're lucky to find savior in the boat guy. On the hindsight we all whispered, ದಾದಾಂಡಲ ಗಡಿಬಿಡಿ ಆತುಂಡ ಎರೆಗ್ ಬೋಡು... security, police, ಅವ್ವು ಉಂದು ಪನೋಂದು.....!!
The next day, we hired a speed boat exclusively for 7 of us, to move around the islands of Phi Phi from Maya Bay to Monkey Islands, Viking caves to Bamboo bay spending time at our own leisure, snorkeling, swimming, sun bathing, beach football, lazy walks or simply bird watching..
Observing underwater life while snorkeling has been the experience of our lives, glimpses of which was captured in the underwater video by Garmin VirbXE.
April 10~12, 2018 | Phuket & back
We returned to Phuket the next day and spent the next couple of days at Royal Karma Boat Lagoon resort, located at an upcountry location, quiet and far away from the hustly bustly city life!!
It was a long flight return home as we flew from Phuket to Bangkok, Bangkok to Bengaluru and from Bengaluru to Mangaluru.
Another year, another fabulous tour, which will go down in our memory lane for what this amazingly beautiful country has offered us ...
Riding down the narrowest part of Thailand from east to west coast, this tour not only gave us a rare opportunity to compare the beauty of the beaches on the Gulf of Thailand to those on the Andaman Sea but also to explore hundreds of km of coastline, fascinating culture, countless islands, famous beach spots, Thai culture & mouthwatering cuisine.
Thailand in our bucket list, ticked.😊