After struggling with the WorldPress Server (that hosts this blog) for 2 weeks, I think I have figured out why I can’t upload any more pictures to the Blog – site – I think I have exceeded my disk-storage space limit – though nowhere does it mention this – this is an assumption at this point….
I’ve been trying to correct this, but this is not an easy task from India – it is extremely difficult to get a reliable internet connection here in the hotels (it is a wonder to me how this country is known for Software and Internet solutions – it seems a whole bunch less developed than Vietnam and Cambodia (in many ways – not just the internet).
I have been writing notes along side, and will update the blog as soon as I can (possibly without pictures) – but it may have to wait until my return to Germany……
We spent the next 2 days in Bangkok organizing our further travels and getting ready for the trip to India.
First we took our bikes to a bike shop to get them cleaned an put into boxes – that was a 14km cycle into town (luckily all along the same one major road, making navigation easy). It looked like a great bike shop – high quality bikes, well equipped maintenance shop, and very helpful staff. We picked up our bikes the next day, in boxes – looked great what they did, though they took the bikes further apart than we did coming over here to Hanoi, so I am a bit concerned about how much work I will have in India putting it all back together again (also because I was not involved in taking them apart). Getting the bikes back to the airport was the next hurdle – fortunately, the bike shop had a van and offered to take us and the bikes to the hotel – all in all, bikes cleaning, in boxes and transfer cost us around 30€ a bike – not nearly as cheap as in Cambodia or Vietnam, but still a great deal.
Then we needed bags for the flight to India for the rest of our stuff – something cheap that we could throw away when we got to India – after much walking around the big fashion “market” in the center of Bangkok, and seeing hundred upon hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of clothing and not a fake rucksac/luggage stall in sight….
After about 2 hours of wandering through the very confusing and not-navigable market (I am sure we saw some rows multiple times as we got lost so often in the warren of stalls), we finally stumbled upon a store that had a handful of rucksack and bags….and that was enough – for 7€ a piece, we both got a huge soft bag that would fit all our luggage for the flight to India….
One more task on our agenda was getting haircuts….. as we were wandering around the area waiting for the bike store to open, I saw the traditional symbol of a barber in the distance – the red/white striped mini-pole. So, after dropping off our bikes, we wandered over and in, and after looking in the window, realized that it was more a hairdresser for women (including nails, makeup, etc). As we were peering through the window, trying to decide whether we should keep looking or not, we were quickly ushered in (after Jörg asked/gestured if they would cut our hair also…)…so in we where, and Jörg was up straight away….so I watched…after a few minutes, another woman came out of the back and I was up – trying to explain to her what I wanted was a challenge, but eventually she just smiled, nodded and said “ahhh…number zero”….and, well, that’s what I got – was quick, effective, and (oddly) I got my “hair”/head washed AFTER she was done with everything….was weird having my pretty much bald head washed, but was also nice an refreshing. They unfortunately did not do shaving – that was the only thing missing. But we all had a good laugh, our hair got cut, and almost all our tasks were done.
Next day, it was off to the Balluff Sales office in Bangkok – we sent our box of un-needed items from Vietnam to the office here in Bangkok (in case we wanted to add things to it, and we thought it was more likely to get to Bangkok than to Germany from Vietnam (an unfair prejudice in retrospect). We took a taxi to the office and met up with Heiko Landauer there, who had received the box a few weeks back from Vietnam already. Repacked it with a few additional items that we probably wouldn’t need any more, and after much discussion with the staff in the office as to best method to send, we headed to the Thailand post office in a couple of buildings over. A long wait in line, multiple forms to fill out, passeports scanned, and €40-odd handed over, and hopefully in 3 months or so the box will show up in Germany….
The colleagues at Balluf Thailand that helped us ship our box on to Germany – Thanks Heiko
It was certainly interesting meeting up with Heiko – I did not know him well before this trip, but he is young dynamic and enthusiastic about running the Thailand sales operation. It was also interesting getting his view of what it is like working in Thailand, especially in setting up a new office and subsidiary…. In the afternoon, we picked up our bikes (or rather had them deliverd to the hotel) – they looked extremely well packed (they took the bikes further apart that I had done on the flights over to Vietnam) – I hope I can get the bike together again in India…
With that, all our required tasks were done – the rest was sightseeing and enjoyment…
I set up for a massage at a spa that I looked up in the internet – I was looking for something that didn’t offer any “extras” as I was really looking for a GOOD massage to work on the tight muscles in my legs and shoulders. I showed up at 5pm for the massage in a small boutique spa, had to wait about 45 minutes yet, and ended up with a portly middle-aged woman who would be my masseuse for the next 2 hours – her name (believe it or not) just happened to be Porn. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh inside when I saw that.
The massage was wonderful – the masseuse managed to hit all the tense spots without overdoing it so that I would be sore for days afterwards. And for those who have already had a thai massage, she used lots of her own body parts to massage me, we’re talking hands, elbows, feet, knees….but it was VERY effective, and the outside thigh muscles were suddenly soft again….wonderful.
On the last day in Bangkok, we did sightseeing – went to the river, and paid for a 2 hour river boat (longtail boats) and probably paid way too much for it. But the trip was exceedingly interesting – I was not aware that Bangkok itself had such a integrated canal system running through it – much more extensive than Venice (felt like it to me anyway) – it was most interesting also to see some more traditional architecture of single dwellings, as well, as some of the poorer corners of Bangkok.
We also head to Wat Pho – the temple with the largest reclining Budda – a serene amazingly quiet garden in the middle of downtown Bangkok, with a huge reclining Budda (as advertised)…. I was most fascinated also by the hundreds of sculptures in the gardens – I followed a series of statues that I dubbed “I stubbed my big toe” series – a number of statues where the character is holding his feet….
One last expensive dinner, on the river front with an amazing view of Wat Arun at sunset.
That was it for Thailand – tomorrow at 11:00 it off to the airport, and the “luxury” of Thailand will be replaced by India – we are expecting a step back in development and convenience…..
Pictures and general impressions of Bangkok
Modern Thailand – this shopping mall could have been anywhere int he world
A second day of industrial belt, major highways, lots and lots of traffic. Today we did some lane-changing on the 6-lane highways to get to a U-turn spot to get to the other side of the highway (the other option was stairs again with a pedestrian bridge, but this time steeper stairs and not much room for us with bikes to carry up the stairs) – sorry no pictures of us middle of this highway with cars and trucks whizzing left and right of us as we changes lanes from the shoulder to the innermost lane (I have a video from my GoPro, but that’s too big to upload here).
Traffic in Thailand is a lot more coordinated than in Vietnam and Cambodia – people adhere the rules a lot more, but for that, they drive a lot faster, and the roads are mostly set up for vehicular traffic – as a cyclist, it was sometimes challenging to get across the multiple lanes through speeding traffic. I felt that it was often easier dealing with the chaos of Vietnamese traffic (even in HCMC), than changing lanes with the scarily fast Thai drivers…
We got to our hotel (The Cottages at Suvarnabhumi) – a quaint little hotel with pool and super helpful staff. We picked the hotel because it was relatively near to the airport (though you couldn’t hear any of the planes) meaning we were close for our departure with boxed bikes in a few days, and it was on the east side of Bangkok, saving us the cycle across Bangkok (I don’t even want to think about how nasty that would have been).
Not much to say – in the middle of Thailands industrial belt – lots of major highways, traffic, and factories. The result was some challenging navigation as we tried to get around the 8-12 lane highways – which was not always possible and we ended up in the middle (yes in the middle) of the highways, dodging cars and truck driving past us – sometimes we found just no other way of crossing the highways
At one point, the construction surprised us and we had cross the highway using a pedestrian bridge – carrying the bikes up the VERY steep stairs on one side and down the other).
We also discovered the various forms of bicycle-destroying manhole covers that they have here – the problem being, they were on the major roads, right where we had to cycle, meaning we would have to swerve out into traffic regularly to avoid our front/rear wheels disappearing into the slots on the covers.
Our stay for the night was serviced apartments in middle of an industrial area – everything seemed set up for the local factory workers (mostly Japanese companies) and their visitors (lots of Japanese style foods to be had.
Extremely difficult leaving Koh Chang today – getting the bike packed up and eating the last breakfast was tough….it was such a wonderful place the resort…
We made it easy for ourselves, and hired a taxi to drive us over the hill – given there was no way we would be able to cycle up it on our own, and we had a 100+km day ahead of us…
By the time we were done with the ferry back, and actually on the road cycling again, it was almost 10pm – a late start given we had a lot of distance (>100km) ahead of us and it was going to be a scorcher of a day again (35° forecast).
We had relatively flat day cycling through rubber tree plantations, and where we could keeping off the main roads. We covered a bit of the same path that we cycled 3 years ago when we went from Bangkok to Phnom Penh – recognizing the same bridges, plantations, etc.
We ended up for quite a while on a “scenic” highway along the coast….well, I had difficulties describing it as scenic – lots of run down villages, swampy beaches, and older resorts along the coast. We were on many cycle paths, and ended up on a marked cycling circuit and met up with a coupe of local mountain bikers out for a late afternoon cycle.
But at the end of the long day, we ended up at the Faasai Resort – a place we stayed at 3 years ago and found wonderful then – just so the case this time. Not nearly as modern and luxurious as the place we were at on Ko Chang, but a really small resort with a dozen or so bungalows, pool and good cooking.
We met a dutch gentleman cycling on his won through Thailand (well, he was on his own now – his partner had serious illness/ailment and had to be flown back to Holland under medical supervision).
This “fitness center” was in the middle of nowhere – nothing else around it – weird… I wondered who uses it, who paid for it….
What can I say – did nothing for 2 days except lay out in the warm air, listening to music, looking out on the beach/waves and just being a peace.
Got a nice sunburn (after just ½ hour of direct sunshine), and worked on moving my cyclist tan lines on my legs up a bit.
We also had a couple of short (< half hour) rain showers during the day, and at night. And man did it rain for those short periods of time – massive amounts of rain in big fat drops…. But otherwise the weather was great…
The breakfast buffet was HUGE with a great terrace looking directly onto the beach to eat – we had nice LONG breakfasts here…
For dinner, we wandered down the beach, where there was one restaurant after the other set up on the beach grilling an amazing array of seafood – the tables and chairs were set up direcly on the beach (t was low tide), with temporary lighting….. and lots of locals who would do fire/juggling shows on the beach (asking for tips afterwards naturally) to entertain. It was amazing how this whole eating and drinking strip appeared after dark, and by the morning everything was cleared away and you couldn’t tell it was there the next day.
A couple of bars with live music – sitting on the beach drinking G&Ts looking into the darkness across the sea and listening to music – just great.
An the most amazing sunsets – given that we were looking west, and nothing to be seen on the horizon (except the lights of the fishing boats after it was dark)….wow!!!
Breakfast was delivered to our respective bungalows this morning by a lady on a motorbike – everything was nicely wrapped in plastic foil….
After that it was back to the highway, with lots of worries about the traffic situation with the construction – but after about ½ hour cycling, the construction was over, and the rest of the time on the highway was on completed 4-lane wide shoulder spacious cycling – no trucks and busses screaming past within an armslength.
We also discovered iced Cafe Latte from their Coffee-shop chain “Café Amazon”. Drank a lot of these over the next few days…
Our destination was the resort island Koh Chang – one of the largest resort islands in Thailand and 75% of it a national park. We decided to pamper ourselves with 2 days beach/resort time off.
So we continued up the coast, thought Trat (the major eastern city), and on to the ferry terminal.
The ferry itself was quite old, and you couldn’t help remembering all the news stories you’ve heard about hundreds of people drowning in overfilled ferries in SE Asia that had sunk…. But weather was good, and we made it across the 30-odd minute trip with no problems.
On Koh Chang itself, we had a short hill that we had to get over to get from the east to the west side of the island. And what a hill it was – 1 km, and 150m but it went up with up to 25% gradient – something that we just were not able to get up with by bike – so push we did…. The traffic itself crawled up (and often down) the serpentines next to us. It was exhausting pushing the heavy bike up in the heat…..
But oh what fun it was coming down the other side – I hit almost 60km/h coming down, but was restricted through trucks ahead of me (and the serpentines) going any faster – the disk brakes on the bike were a blessing to have.
The resort itself (KC Grande) was a dream. A big pool (with bar), directly on a white beach with no rocks in sight, no garbage, and happy hour from 4-6pm. This was going to be fun!!!
So it was quickly change, hit the beach/pool and lay out in the sun (under umbrellas) and chill….
Many changes in coming to Thailand – obvious is driving on the other side of the road.
It’s a lot cleaner – we were often shocked and disappointed in Cambodia and Vietnam to the amount of litter that was everywhere – some of the most beautiful beaches were full of empty water bottles, plastic bags and goodness know what else. This was much less the case in Thailand – where continuous signs also reminded everyone not to litter – plus there were numerous garbage cans and places to put your litter along the way.
Thailand is a lot more westernized also – numerous western chains (or western-imitations) made for much fewer surprises, and more reliability in expectations. The 7-eleven chain was every where, and we went gladly in, sometimes just to cool off – it always felt like the inside of a fridge in the stores – a shock to the system going into the stores (and coming out again).
The roads were also (mostly) in much better condition – with lots of construction going on.
Crossing the border was not quite as complicated as getting into Cambodia, but timeconsuming nonetheless. But there are lots of people there pressing their help on you (for an expected tip afterwards) even if you don’t want their help – I got into quite a discussion with one gentleman who insisted on helping me (well, he only showed me in which lineup to stand – that I would have figured out for myself given 2 more minutes) and then insisted on a tip that I refused to give him….
Exit Cambodia with all the “Helpful” gentlemen
Changing from Left-hand to right-hand drive happens here
Day 1 in Thailand saw us cycling up the coast on a narrow strip of Thailand. Mostly there was only one road to take – the major highway, which seemed to be a continuous construction site the entire time they were in the process of widening the highway, from a simple 2 lane highway, to a massive 4+ lane highway, with wide green divider, wide shoulders, etc. The result was that very often, that the shoulder was not present, and was often actually a huge drop (we sometimes had a 2+m drop off right next to us), meaning we were cycling in the only traffic lane with a huge dropoff right next to us…..scary. Fortunately, we were here on a Sunday, so traffics wasn’t soooo bad, but still….
Where possible, we took parallel roads, and some of these were a dream to cycle on – they seemed newly paved, empty, and even had cycling paths (though goodness knows why, there was nearly no traffic on these minor roads). But we enjoyed cycling on them and made good time on these roads, cycling through small villages, next to seafront homesteads and run-down old resorts, and past multiple beaches (it seems that every beach in Thailand is signposted on the roads (even the major highways).
Along this stretch of roadway, there was not much in terms of accommodation that we found online in advance (though there seemed lots of old resorts that probably would have put us up – not sure how nice they would have been though), so we ended up about 10km off the main highway, on a beachfront resort at the head of a small peninsula. Actually, a really nice location.
The resort itself had definitely seen better days – they had wonderfully new container-style bungalows (that we were not in), but the rest was old, broken, run down and just past its prime. The bungalows themselves were OK, and the food was somewhat expensive, but it was MORE than enough for us – we had HUGE portions of fried rice with additional curries – more than half the fried rice we left because it was so much….
Our wonderful Guesthouse did not offer any breakfast, so we had breakfast at one of the many other local restaurants along the main road – and they all had lots to offer – all the same as what they had the night before…. Same pots, same dishes, same contents from last night as well?
The day continued through the conservation corridor in SW Cambodia – much the same as yesterday, not much traffic, lots of wilderness left and right, only some great hills this time (namely down to the river valley and up again on the other side – up to 12% gradient).
What keeps me going during the day
The day was not that long, as we wanted to cross the border in the morning (with lots of time), so by shortly after noon, we were in our hotel for the evening – pool, nice rooms, inner courtyard – quite pleasant.
Being a border town, it had lots to offer in food as well – we found a “café” that would do us for breakfast tomorrow, and a French-run restaurant, that had great food (French/Cambodian mix) with a wonderful view across the river.
This evening we got an amazing sunset and thunderstorm mixture that made for an amazing light spectacle at sundown (just as we were having dinner) – absolutely amazing. Alas I had no camera along to record any of it……
The last evening in Cambodia was uneventful – we are looking forward to getting into a “more developed” country for a while…