Day 29: Bangkok Eastern Station to Velo Thailand: The 1000 mile Journey

The final leg: Ban Phe to Bangkok

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Distance: 14km

Total: 1602.4km

Thai FOD: Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized by an European country. In fact, in the Thai language, the name of the country is Prathet Thai which means “land of the free.

Everyday Randomness: on the day you end a cycling tour and you’re already missing the bike!

There was some kick off my chili soup for breakfast this morning so I was all prepped for our bus from Ban Phe to Bangkok. The journey felt like a quick enough four hours, but I suppose the snooze in the middle may have helped with that!

We were of course dreading the cycle from Bangkok bus station to Velo Thailand as it had been so grim the first time. However, I’m relieved to report that this time the commute was completed in half the time and with a lot less stress!

It’s not that we were more experienced or anything but more so the fact that the Garmin was able to navigate to Velo Thailand very easily and the traffic was so much less suffocating. In fairness in Bangkok, which I heavily critised on the first day, it obviously isn’t always horrendous to cycle there. In particular, motorists there really do respect the hand signals and are pretty obliging!

The handover to Velo Thailand was as smooth as they go so I would highly recommend them to anyone! That marked the end of our 1000 mile bike tour across three different countries, in so many different terrains and through so many varied ways of living. North Cambodia was all about the destinations and not so much the journeys. Vietnam was both, as well as being a wonderful trip down memory lane for us. Cycling in Thailand (let’s forget about Bangkok) was unexpectedly charming and excellent value! As Thailand is more developed in terms of tourism it is that bit more difficult to experience “real Thailand” so for me this aspect of the tour far exceeded my expectations!

Luckily the hostel was only 150m down the road (Back Home Backpackers) and is a great place to both relax and sample some of Bangkok’s night life! My final bit of advice is that I would highly recommend taking the local ferry in Bangkok as it is highly entertaining and extremely cheap and well serviced when compared to taxis/tuk tuks!

We’re currently here having some well needed rest and recreation:

It’s hard to know what to say at the end of such a vibrant and varied experience; just that money can’t buy a huge amount of what we saw and learned so get pedalling!

PS Currently considering a mini tour in and around Chiang Mai so stay tuned!

Day 28: Chanthaburi to Ban Phe: The Real Thailand

Chanthaburi to Ban Phe

Distance: 89.8km

Total: 1588.4km

Thai FOD: when you trip or fall, Thai people will laugh, not at you but as a way to make it fun; they do it to “save face”.

Everyday Randomness: being in the middle of a cycling sportif in Thailand!

It would be fitting that on the last full day in the saddle that it would start off raining. The rain was in fact a relief as there had been a massive thunderstorm that night! Breakfast was immense, the first buffet breakfast we’ve had this trip so I got three eggs into me for protein. The staff, as well as being amused about the general sight of us were very accommodating and gave us four free bottles of water!

Today had the most significant amount of navigation, i.e. more than 3 turns! This is due to the fact that Thailand has a very well developed road network so there are actually multiple ways to get to a place!

This meant that we were on well maintained and authentic side roads which gave us the opportunity to see how the ordinary Thai lives and not those who run guesthouses/restaurants. It turns out that it felt hugely like a Sunday at home; families gathered for food, cars lined the streets outside temples/churches and everyone with a fishing rod had it perched off any kind of bridge going!

The atmosphere was relaxed and homely, and there was a sense of pride evident in how well the football pitches and schools were maintained. The route was effortlessly varied, we cycled through every type of Asian countryside today; paddy fields, rubber trees, mangrove forests, and beaches. There was an actual cycle line just for bikes as well which was a novelty and was marked “scenic route” which was quite fitting! It was the best cycle of actual cycle touring we’ve done.

There was plenty of entertainment along the way as well as we stopped for coffee at the most quaint “bike stop” as they aptly named it. We had a chaba coffee which by taste was probably the equivalent of a flat white…it was excellent and served with a teapot of ice tea. From here we had a great vantage point at which we could watch the local sportif take place, well I hope it wasn’t a race as they were all taking it handy!

We stopped at the only village type place we came across for lunch and wow did we land on our feet. The pink noodle soup with seafood was a tasty bargain at a euro each!

From there we weren’t far from Ban Phe at all. We saw a guy pulling off the superman pose on a motorbike that must have been going at least 60km/hr, I don’t know about man of steel as it seemed pretty reckless but he definitely had nerves of steel anyways!

The last 5/6km in Ban Phe was cycling along the road beside the longest beach I’ve ever seen! It was spectacular! It went all the way into the town so we knew we wouldn’t have to track back far to get back for a dip!

The Relax Inn was ideally located at the edge of the beach and opposite the bus station. It’s a really really nice spot with friendly owners, super clean and all for €14!

Once we sorted our bus for tomorrow we went for a quick coffee which didn’t live up to the previous one but was still good and then walked along the beach at the edge of the water until the swim spot. Again the water was warm, but there was a cool breeze so it did feel a bit more natural. We lay out on the deckchairs then sipping a Chang until the onset of sunset. A brilliant afternoon, after a fittingly beautiful day of cycling!

For dinner, nightmarket wasn’t an option so we went up to a terrace on top of a hotel which served up dainty but flavoursome seafood pasta dishes! We wouldn’t usually opt for pasta (in fact I’m pretty sure ya our first time having it in Asia) but there wasn’t much choice! It was thoroughly enjoyed and we went to 7/11 for a delicious chocolate cake after which really topped it all off!

Back to Bangkok tomorrow hopefully so almost gone full circle!!!

Day 27: Trat to Chanthburi: Same Same but Different

Trat to Chanthaburi

Distance: 73.4km

Total: 1498.6km

Thai FOD: Thai people are meticulous about their appearance, often times showering twice a day and cannot understand supposedly wealthy westerns who look so shabby!

Everyday Randomness: cycling over a dead snake isn’t something one does everyday!

Would the night market also have a presence during the day? We were hoping so as there looked to be very few towns between Trat and Chanthaburi so we needed to be fed before we started!

The day market was as busy at its night version and we had a noodle soup and a coffee here for half nothing (55 baht each) as we’d say in Ireland! As we were only doing 70km today we were aiming to be in Chanthaburi for lunch and rightly so as there was nothing between the two cities. Liam did finally manage to capture some of the funny events you see over here on a daily basis:

We did manage to find a coffee stop place where the coffee was sweet and seriously good value (about 40 cent) so that just about manage to abate the hunger until about 12:30 when we located the Muslim Restaurant (it’s actual) name which was recommended by the lonely planet. Well recommend as we can attest to. The biryani  (only 50baht!!) was not exactly typical but was full of flavour without being in anyway overpowering. They made their own yogurt as well which was refreshingly light. We finished the meal by sharing an egg paratha which had the perfect hint of sweetness and was aptly filling.

The reason for the title of the post is firstly because it is a saying all over Asia it seems and one which they revel in saying, and secondly we have already been to Chanthaburi but this time we’re taking a different approach. The Hop Inn where we stayed the last time was essentially a travel lodge and was ideal for us as we had gotten in late and we were getting out early. However this time we knew we would have the whole afternoon and evening so we treated ourselves but booking a bungalow in a quiet resort with a pool. It’s still only €16 each with breakfast included and we have been spending about €4 each a night for the past few days so we probably deserve it!

The bungalow room is huge with a most luxurious couch, the pool is at a perfect temperature (colder than the see) and is literally on the bank of the river! Bliss.

Brilliantly, there is complimentary fruit here, chopped and prepared to snack on. We spent the afternoon dipping into the pool and catching up on some reading. The resort doesn’t have a restaurant so we walked down to the next one which was completely empty and had a completely Thai menu. Luckily, they had high quality photos so we literally just picked what pictured well!!

By chance we had one of the best meals of the trip! Crispy, deep fat fried chicken with fried lemongrass was delishes and light. The portions were very generous as well! The seafood hotpot with an array of vegetables was amazing. The red curry was independently hot and sweet; chilli heat followed by a soft sweetness. It was a perfect balance of flavour!

Our last full day of cycling tomorrow, it’s hard to believe it’s nearly over!

Day 24: Bokor Mountain: 30km Ascent

Cycling up Bokor Mountain

Distance: 90.2km

Total: 1295km

Cambodian FOD: the building of the original road through dense jungle up to the top of Bokor Mountain (1080m) claimed 900 lives in 9 months during its construction.

Everyday Randomness: getting our first sugarcane juice in the most remote of places on top of the Bokor Mountain!

Sustainance was the focus this morning as we presumed food options on a 30km ascent of a mountain would be few and far between. A noodle soup in Jack’s Place was good value and the coffee was generously poured. They also have an adorable dog 

Bokor National Park is 7km from Kampot which is the perfect warm up for the legs. We passed a house that was completely purple,even the roof and I was half expecting to hear “Purple Rain” proudly bellowing from the window! It’s free to enter on a bicycle probably because they already know how much pain you have ahead of you! 

We passed the English couple we met last night sitting cross-legged in the grass; their motorbike had broken down! Fortunately, another one was on the way but as they were leaving for Pnomh Penh at 2pm it wasn’t ideal. “Race to the top” we said as we pedalled on.

The ascent was sublime. By far thee best ascent (and longest) I have ever completed. The new road is only 3 years old and is in excellent condition and is perfectly graded (sloped) all the way up. There is a steep kick at the very top but that’s necessary for a climatic sense of achievement.

The weather was ideal as we rose for the first 20km or so; overcast with a cooling breeze and a hint of an eery mist as we got closer to the abandoned town. The mist became less of a hint and more of a reality, like cycling through the clouds, until eventually we were in proper rain. Thankfully, some of the heavier downpours occurred when we were at the one water stop on the mountain so we were sheltered.

You start to get cold alarmingly quickly, so we braved it and headed out. It began to clear up shortly after that and we had most of the climbing done at that point so it really wasn’t that grim at all! You couldn’t be homesick for Irish weather after it, that’s for sure!

Throughout the ascent we were greeted with downright shock, disbelief and admiration. One tourist on a motorbike bike just nodded his head a few times as he went past in a tone of “fair play”. Little do they know that I have struggled far more with climbs in Ireland, where the gradient and road conditions are so much tougher. When we reached the summit we even had a few people come up to us and congratulate us, I’d say they thought we’d never make it!

The top of the mountain was once a resort for the wealthy French who wanted to retreat from the humidity. It was then abandoned, but became a strategic point in the battle between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese as it had unobstructed views of a large area. The Khmer Rouge held out in the old casino while the Vietnamese shot at them from the Catholic church. Evidence of both of these times as well was King Shinanouk’s retreat are still present and do have an innate sense of timelessness about them. However, Sihanouk built Cambodia’s first casino and unfortunately that trend continued when this most obnoxious of resorts was built. Worryingly the old casino is being renovated/restored and another casino and hotel are being built which will definitely negativly impact the ambiance but for the moment most of these developments can be ignored and the original atmosphere sampled. 

It’s easy to see why two horror movies have been shot up here as the mist seems to cling to the buildings:

The view from the old casino is as expansive as it gets with the dense jungle occupying most of the neighbouring area. It felt like a through back to what a huge portion of Cambodia used to look like until the massive problem of deforestation took a hold of the country. 

We managed to get some pot noodles to keep us ticking over as we explored the top of the mountain. We gifted ourselves with some extra climbing by going to the waterfall but it was a worthwhile excursion! The river was unexpectedly powerful given that I presume it’s source was located nearby. It was a beautiful setting for many of the locals who were picnicing. They would put our flasks of tea and crisp sandwiches to shame as they cracked into piles of rice and enough crabs to feed a couple of families!! Seriously impressive! 

A free drink came with the waterfall entry ticket (which was 75cent) so we opted for the sugarcane juice as we have been meaning to try it since last year! It’s like honeydew melon juice but that bit sweeter and thus that bit nicer! I can see why the locals love it so much as it’s refreshing without being sickly sweet! I got a picture of the juice extracting process; it’s really surprising how much liquid comes from the deceptively dry looking canes!!

With 45km done it was about time to head down the mountain and get some real food into us! I’m pretty sure the reason I love cycling is because of the feeling of descending on a bike. When you’re good and lean into the turns it feels like the movement you make while skiing and you can get into a satisfying swinging rythm. Of course there’s just the raw thrill of it as well. Wind rushing past you, the concentration needed which each turn and the speed of the straighter sections. The headwind acted as a natural pacer meaning that brakes were seldomly required. The road was quiet as we had missed the minibus tours, so we could choose our lines coming into the turns which is a rare experience! I haven’t even mentioned the views! The sun was shining at this point and the views were uninhibited by the mist so we had asecended in cloud and descended in the sun; ideal.

Pedaling back to Kampot gave us a bit of time to take in what was one of my best days on the bike. An epic of a day.

Speaking of epic, the club sandwich (essentially) we had at Jack’s Place was quite epic in itself and a great option for a 3:15pm lunch! After showering, we said we better actually buy some Kampot Pepper before we left! Supermarkets sell pepper thats actually from another part of Cambodia or even Vietnam so weavoided those. We tried the Kampot Pepper shop as we wanted something that was real but not the top end stuff as we’ll leave that to the Michelan star restaurants. Ideally, they had grade B real Kampot Pepper which was pretty much exactly what we were looking for. I’ve an extra 500 grams on my bike now but sure it’ll be worth it for the extra kick in taste for our cooking at home!

Lebanese was what we had for dinner which was an unexpected and highly enjoyable meal to say the least. Unfortunately, I was too hungry to take a picture but we ate a chicken schwarma and falafel plate with a very generous serving of hummus and seriously good garlic. The owner of Aroma house has a very homely friendliness and the restaurant’s pet chicken is just hilarious. It was a much appreciated meal after a busy day!

We headed to the Magic Sponge for some live music, where the staff are super attentive in a good way. The singer-“songwriter” was well quite mediocre and his own songs were pretty cringe for someone nearing 40. The guy who followed him was absolutely outstanding on the guitar. Even though his lyrics weren’t too inspiring, his guitar melodies more than made up for them! The two guys formed a impromptu duo which was probably the best part of the evening! A seasoned expat brought his saxophone along and endearingly chimed in with a few notes every so often after patiently waiting his turn. The music ended with a medley of songs, in fairness to them you couldn’t fault them for effort and it can be tough to get live music in Asia so it was an entertaining ole night all the same! 

Day 22: Ha Tien to Kep: Coastal Cruising

Ha Tien to Kep

Distance: 40.9km

Total: 1168.3km 

Cambodian FOD: there is a legend that cats are thought to be too perfect. As only Budda can be perfect, cats tails are chopped off! I don’t know if it’s true but there are a lot of cats with no tails here!

Everyday Randomness: Literally cycling through sand:

A fry for breakfast. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing! This place is infamous for its breakfast and after tasty it I know why. The owner of the Oasis bar goes to Cambodia to buy real sausages and rashers from a British butcher who operates there!! The rashers would rival ones that you get at home and the entire meal was thoroughly enjoyed! The tomatoes were both plump and juicy; a step above the soggy version one usually gets at home!

We had our final Vietnamese coffee before crossing the border into Cambodia. We had been convinced to go to Kep along the Cambodian coast instead of spending as long in Kampot. It was an easy decision because the views around here are the best we’ve had so an opportunity to see a few more was one that we willingly took.

We almost got drawn into a common scam on the Cambodian side where they bring you into qaurantine for a “health check”. The form they get you to fill out is surprisingly official looking but once he started telling us to go over to the temperature sensor and with that we said thanks but we don’t need that, took our passports and walked out! Thankfully that was the only hassle we got and we were on our way in search of salt fields and the coast road.

One of the locals in the Oasis bar had told us how to find the coast road because the road wasn’t on open street maps and I can understand why! We turned onto a fairly standard Cambodian dirt track and literally battled through the head wind until we took a turn and saw these kids in the salt fields:

From there the road was sheltered by trees and we returned to a more acceptable pace. 

We found ourselves at the coast, and an expansive view fairly quickly:

From here, the “road” we were  supposed to take became quite ambiguous. Fortunately, the destination name of Kep is pretty easy to say so many locals pointing us in the right way as we traversed, sometimes by walking, to the coast road. It was some adventure!!

It was great to be on an actual road of sorts but we were seriously exposed to the unconstrained winds! We knew we were doing a short day on the bike so we were relaxed about going half the pace we would usually but it was tough enough going! There was randomly a massive horse statue which is beyond odd considering we haven’t seen an actual horse over here! 

The coast road joined with the main road which was empty besides tuk tuks transporting tourists to see the Crab statue (yes the tree does indicate wind strength):

We sailed along the smoothest surface we had all day into Kep’s main attraction: the crab market. We shared an enormous plate of crab while having the most spectacular views of the Gulf of Thailand. The crab was absolutely delicious in and of itself but the satay style green pepper sauce was also superb. Entertainment was provided by this fellow smacking the sea like there was no tomorrow! Apparently, it’s some form of fishing…!

We cycled out to our bungalow accomodation, the Rusty Keyhole! It is a beautiful spot in the middle of the grassy hills, with comfy chairs and a relaxed, friendly French owner.

After a beautiful sunset we decided to order a local dish (pepper and seafood of course) and their own speciality which is ribs! The seafood dish had a nice but subtle flavour and I’m not quite accustomed to eating about 100 whole peppercorns! The ribs, though lacking in actual rib none were scrumptious and there was plenty to go around as well! Served with a particularly good coleslaw! Looking forward to pancakes in the morning!

Day 21: Rach Gia to Ha Tien: Beautiful Border Town

Rach Gia to Ha Tien

Distance: 90.7km

Total: 1145.4km

Vietnamese FOD: Vietnam is considered to have the lowest unemployment rate of any third world country.

Everyday Randomness: seeing a ridiculously high end road bike just onba stand at the side of the road!

Satisfying is how I would describe breakfast this morning. We haven’t had rice since the first day in Vietnam but this was covered in succulent pork and near juices making it a very tasty dish.

The first 40km were nothing like yesterday. It was a hard slog into the wind on a road so bumpy that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a mountain bike trail! 

Thankfully the place Liam spotted had excellent hammocks, which I learnt the word for yesterday: vông. The coffee was as good as the western people sized hammocks and the price was just incredibly cheap: 30 cent for coffee and ice tea served in a delightfully cute pot. 

Refreshed, we got back into the saddles and the pace increased with the improved road surface. We paused for a few dragon fruit which involved sampling the fruit with the seller (he tasted some too just for good measure) before buying three! One for later! 

We also passed a wedding which is always an entertaining experience for us! Last year we seemed to have a knack for arriving at wedding photo shoots such as: 

This year, we’ve only seen one photo shoot and that was at one of the temples in Angor Wat where the pure groom was sweating buckets in the heat and the attention! However, we have passed by a number of actual weddings like today. The general formula seems to be: a marquee, weighted down with flowers, must be literally on the side of the road, must play very loud music and a picture of the bride and groom already in their wedding outfits must be at the entrance:

Durians have been mentioned previously in relation to their pugent smell but let me tell you as I smelt some today I was relieved. Relieved that I didn’t have to touch or eat one. I forgot to mention that in the hostel in Saigon we were offered free (thankfully) samples of durian. Now these fruit are the most expensive fruit in Vietnam but it literally looks and feels like a raw chicken thigh. The taste is slimy, awful and uncomfortably lasting. A very unpleasant experience all round!

The road surface didn’t last too long unfortunately but the quality of views hit an all time high for the trip:

The bumpiness, potholes and headwind continued but we were literally cycling on the coast so at least we had something appealing to look at as we slogged on. Eventually the town just appeared and we had arrived before we even knew it! We cycled straight to the place we had bookmarked for lunch as it was just after 2pm.

The Oasis bar is owned by an expat who married a Vietnamese woman. Very friendly and helpful guy and the place served good food. We were parched when we got in so ordered orange juice straight away and then got baguettes with tuna and sausage respectively. It was refreshing to get something a bit different and the tuna flavour was so much stronger than I had tasted before. We chilled there for a few hours ordering coffee and beers, it was the ideal way to relax after a tiring day on the bike!

We said to ourselves that we better leave eventually so we checked in at the hotel which was conveniently only 2 minutes down the road. We intended on going back to the Oasis bar for dinner but seeing as we are going to go there for breakfast tomorrow we probably should do three courses in the same place!! The budget was tight enough anyway because we only have a certain amount of Dong left and we don’t want to have to take out anymore! 

So we found a place that is one of the busiest places I’ve seen in Asia, ever! There was a large array of choices of different types of noodles (and macaroni pasta as well of all things!), but everything came with chicken it seemed which is unusual for Vietnam. The dinner was exactly what we needed and was quite light.

We did return to the Oasis bar but only for a couple of beers which were very cheap! We were feeling a bit peckish after our light dinner so we wandered around the night market to see if something would take our fancy. We were just about to give up when we saw this “pizza* stall. Well to be fair it is pizza, they just use rice paper as the base which makes it nice and crispy and probably healthier as well! It tastes as good as it looked! Here’s hoping breakfast will live up to the hype; more on that tomorrow!

Day 20: Can Tho to Rach Gia: Hitting the 1000km Mark

Can Tho to Rach Gia

Distance: 118.5km

Total: 1054.7km

Vietnamese FOD: From August 2006 to March 2007, the Vietnamese dong was the world’s lowest valued currency unit.

Everyday Randomness: ice being thrown in with pigs to keep them cold!

After a fresh noodle breakfast (but not a soup!)which cost a whopping 60cent and was served with ice tea which we’re quickly becoming big fans of, we left Can Tho and our mango coloured hotel.

It was nicely overcast (only ever said by an Irish person who is abroad) and the first 40km flew by. Can Tho’s popution of 1.5 million made more sense to us as we left the city as it took about 10km to reach its outskirts.

From the food tour we know that the Trung Nguyen coffee is one of the best. Since then we have been paying more attention to the type of coffee. We therefore stopped at a place that sold it and had a sweet but sophisticated ice coffee.

We had a cycling comrade with us today, just a local guy who was able to hold about a 21km/hr speed for over 20km on a single speed! Now he was making the most of this drafting opportunity but still pretty impressive!

From there we turned off the road we’d been on and onto a slightly smaller and less smooth road. The decrease in cycling space did not have a direct relationship with the number of large buses unfortunately. However, on the plus side we did manage to stop a guy selling dragon fruit and bought one for about 12 cent! Dragon fruit is more refreshing that water melon and as sweet as a strawberry; perfect.

It was just as well we had it because the food places that were not either occupied by the owner or deserted were few and far between. We looked in every place with plastic chairs for food for about 10km until we eventually found the only busy-looking place for miles. The lunch definitely did not trump breakfast but was much appreciated!

Today, evidence of the paddy fields was prominent. We also got to see what living on the Mekong Delta is like. The first thing that struck me is how calm the water is, it’s very pacifying. It’s quite bizarre to see water in between houses and washing lines strung rather precariously between them. Passing over the myriad of bridges is when the best views can be experienced. Looking left and right brings sights of endless canals as they call them here! 

Rach Gia fast approached us for the last 10km anyways (the previous 20 had been quite the bumpy road)! We were coming in just as sunset was starting and the views were class.

We are literally celebrities here. They must never see tourists as this is the first time we have received attention off the bike. People were literally going out of their way to make sure they got their own personal “Hello” in! 

We were eager to try and catch actual sunset at the waterfront so we showered and headed out. Unfortunately the spot we had picked out on the waterfront had some function on so were only serving food but it was a bit early for that! 

Getting the best of the sunset in Rach Gia:

I think we had seen the best of the sunset anyways because it was quite cloudy and I think actual sunset could have been disappointingly underwhelming! We happened upon a Japanese “cafe” that was actually a full blown restaurant and sat legs crossed for as long as we could (half an hour) while sipping smoothies.

An hour or so later, in a great marketing ploy, they gave us a taster of a pork dish which was unreal. With no where else sounding inspiring in LP we opted to eat there so they were pretty successful! 

We got two beautifully balanced noodle soups with creamy eggs and a salmon sushi which did need a bit of a soy sauce which was surprisingly not present at the table! 

It turned out that Rach Gia wasn’t as cool as we thought it was initially as it lacked a centre where people gathered. We tried and failed to find an ice-cream spot or even a busy beer place. We ended up getting a smoothie and returning back to the hotel to escape the rain!

We’ll be at the border town of Ha Tien tomorrow so have to enjoy our last few days in Vietnam!