Hang Dong to Satun 13 March – 14 April 2014

Riding an elephant, swimming through a bat-filled cave, exploring the night-time forest, looking for dugongs on a boat trip and running the gauntlet of the drunken waterfight that is Songkran (Buddhist New Year) – it’s been an action-packed end to our time in Thailand.  We’ve also celebrated three years since quitting our jobs and setting foot to pedal, and, if you add up our total distance for our 2011 and current trips we’ve just passed the 40,000 kilometre mark – that’s almost 25,000 miles and the same distance as the equatorial circumference of the earth.  It’s not all good news in this instalment though, tragically, we’ve lost our Meerkat mascot who has been with us all that time.  We have no idea if he fell off or was stolen, all we know is that about 11 km into the day’s riding we suddenly noticed the empty space on the front of the boom.

Meerkat - missing in action.  :-(

Meerkat – missing in action. :-(

Almost unbelievably, Thailand has been our home for eight of the last ten and a half months.  Keith has made good use of that time to expand his Thai vocabulary admirably and can now quickly establish whether the price quoted for a room is for the full night or just a couple of hours (a common pricing feature) and even converse with mahouts about how many verbal commands their elephants respond to. Rather feebly, my own Thai vocabulary remains limited to “hello”, “thank you” and the names of a few of our favourite dishes.  During those months we’ve rolled our wheels through 43 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, but almost half our time was spent in just one place, diving on Koh Tao, so for our final month we made the effort to branch out a bit and discovered there’s a whole lot more to Thailand than beaches, temples, 7-Elevens, patriotic flags and pictures of King Bhumibol.

Our journey since leaving the comforts of our friend Andrew’s house, near Chiang Mai in the north, has taken us south through the flat rice and sugarcane plains of Khampang Phet and Kanchanaburi (where a famous bridge crosses the River Kwai), re-traced for the third time our previous route down the narrow isthmus past the familiar towns of Hua Hin and Prachuap Khiri Khan to Chumphon (where we managed to steer ourselves away from the ferry to Koh Tao) and then west to explore the damper, forest-clad hills of Ranong and Phangnga provinces and the wildlife wilderness of Khao Sok National Park.  A final meander south through Krabi and Trang, past karst skyscrapers, and rubber and palm oil plantations, has brought us to Satun, the final province from where we’ll cross the Malaysia border and bid a sad farewell to Thailand, which truly deserves its epithet Land of Smiles.

Although the roads have been predominantly flat, the cycling’s not been entirely easy-going.  March and April brought the full force of the hot, dry season upon us.  The sun rises benignly enough, but by 9am it’s morphed into a malevolent entity, intent on sucking as much moisture from us as possible before spitting us out as crisped husks by evenfall, when it retreats to gather strength for the next day’s assault.  We met another cyclist, Tim, (at our favourite stop-off, Maggie’s Guesthouse in Prachuap) who gets up at 2am to pedal through the night to avoid the heat, but we don’t want to miss out on the sights and scenery, so our compromise is to try to be on the road at first light.

Like little boys the world over Keith is fascinated by machinery – we have lots of photos of this stunning sugarcane harvester.

Like little boys the world over Keith is fascinated by machinery.  We have lots of photos of this stunning sugarcane harvester.

Our preoccupation with the current scorching temperatures has also brought an awareness of a curious difference between Asians and Europeans.  No matter what the temperature Asians retain an air of crisp, cool freshness.  In contrast, Keith and I are soaked in sweat from the moment we leave whichever air-conditioned cocoon we’ve called home for that particular night.  Even when sitting doing nothing more strenuous than eating a plate of Pad Siew or Yen Ta Fo, moisture beads on our faces, throats and bodies, trickling down in irritating rivulets.  Our clothes cling to us and we leave damp marks wherever we sit.  Around us Thais stroll by in bone dry shirts with not a hint of shine on their faces; we feel grotesque and wonder what on earth they think of us. 

You don’t need to go far in Thailand to find a temple – the distinctive jagged rooflines and gaudy statues are almost as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven stores – so to be honest we don’t tend to stop at many now.  There have, though, been two worthwhile exceptions of late, the first of which was at Kamphaeng Phet where the ancient temple ruins are a Unesco World Heritage site.

Weathered stupas at Khamphaeng Phet.

Weathered stupas at Khamphaeng Phet.

New shoes?

New shoes?

The second was just outside Kanchanaburi and built into a cave.  It’s not the most spectacular cave, nor the most spectacular temple, but it was a cool retreat from the afternoon heat, and there were a few resident bats fluttering around to delight us.

Reclining Buddha in Wat Tham Khao Pun, Kanchanaburi.

Reclining Buddha in Wat Tham Khao Pun, Kanchanaburi.

The cave temple is not the main draw of Kanchanaburi, that of course is the Bridge on the River Kwai and the associated war cemeteries and museums.  We decided to watch the famous 1957 film whilst in Kanchanaburi, but found it rather disappointing: definitely a Hollywood interpretation of events.  Much better was a book referenced in the Death Railway Museum, entitled The Railway Man.  It’s the autobiography of Eric Lomax, a Scottish radio operator and railway enthusiast who was tortured by the Japanese for having made a secret map of the railway.  After the war, he spent fifty years suffering PTSD symptoms and growing more and more embittered by his hatred of all things Japanese, a hatred that had a particular focus on the interpreter who’d been his nemesis during hours of interrogation, waterboarding and savage beatings.  Almost by chance, fifty years later, he discovered the identity of the interpreter, who was still alive, and who had spent the intervening years building a temple and doing charitable work in Kanchanaburi to try to atone for his actions during the war.  Lomax decided to confront him….well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how it all went (or watch the film of the same title which came out recently).

Bridge on the River Kwai.

Bridge on the River Kwai.

Allied Servicemen remembered in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Allied servicemen remembered in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

We rode away from Kanchanaburi on quiet roads alongside a canal surrounded by flat rice-fields that stretched away in an intense carpet of green broken in the distance by abruptly rising hills.  Is there anything that’s quite so green as rice?  It’s like grass on chromatic steroids: vivid, luminous, the greenest green.

Hot headwinds became our companion as we rejoined our twice-ridden route down through Hua Hin and Prachuap to Chumphon, but it was nice being on familiar roads for a change and enjoyed the riding.

Chumphon, in our minds at least, will always be associated with taking the ferry to Koh Tao, so it was something of a mental wrench to turn our pedals westwards towards Ranong.  The short crossing to the west coast of the isthmus brought a complete and abrupt change of scenery and weather.  A heavy downpour mid-afternoon or during the evening has become a daily occurrence, and a surprisingly welcome one when it cools us and renews our vigour on a hot climb.  Even with the cooling effect of the rain though, a dip in the hot springs at Ranong was too much to bear.  Keith dangled his feet in but I couldn’t stand the heat for even a moment, unlike the other bathers who lounged around in steaming water, apparently enjoying the experience.

Ranong Hot Springs.

Ranong Hot Springs.

The soundtrack that accompanies our days on the bike is a mix of annoying earworms (that we share with malicious glee so that the other can suffer just as much), tooting horns (occasionally at us, but more frequently at roadside shrines), shouts of ‘Hello! Very good!  Very good!’ and, with annoying frequency, the frenzied barking of yet another idiotic canine.  Thai dogs are unlike any others we’ve encountered.  They sleep on the hard shoulder, or sometimes the middle of the road, or just stand, staring vacantly, directly in the line of the traffic.  If we pass by unannounced they startle and give chase.  If we give a gentle toot on our horn to forewarn them, that just gives them time to prepare for the chase.  If we pass by on the opposite side of the road, well, no matter, they have no compunction about running 20 or 30 metres up a driveway before flinging themselves between cars and motorbikes to snap at our wheels.  So our otherwise peaceful pedalling is interrupted about 50 times a day by nervous, hysterical yaps; angry barks; throaty growls and (the one we dislike the most) the sudden close-at-hand panting and scrabble of claws on asphalt that heralds the dog that isn’t wasting breath on anything other than the chase.  There’ve been a couple of comedy moments in amongst the annoyance – one of the silent but determined types launched itself up a driveway and out into the traffic only to have to take immediate evasive action to avoid being flattened by a motorbike.  It tried to continue the chase but had lost all momentum and dignity.  Another similar stealth attack ended up with our pursuer skittering and sliding to avoid a lamppost that had suddenly sprung up in front of it.  I swear it knew we were laughing at it.

Apparently a shrine to the god of pink fizzy pops.  Don’t linger long if honking horns get on your nerves.

What appears to be a shrine to the god of pink fizzy pops. Don’t linger long if honking horns get on your nerves.

Mosque at dawn.  As we travel south Islam overtakes Buddhism as the predominant religion.

Mosque at dawn. As we traveled south Islam overtook Buddhism as the predominant religion.

On the recommendation of our friend Andrew, we headed inland and uphill to the Khao Sok National Park.

It was predictably thirsty work on the climb...

It was predictably thirsty work on the climb…

...but we got a boost from overtaking something even slower than us.

…but we got a boost from overtaking something even slower than us.

Khao Sok was a bit of a mini ‘holiday within a holiday’ for us.  We stayed in a great little room (at Smileys Bungalows) with a glass wall giving views over the limestone cliffs, but unusually, instead of lingering in our room wasting time on the internet (ok, there wasn’t any), we booked ourselves on some activities.  On the first day we went on an elephant ride and a night safari, and on day two, we took a boat trip on Cheow Lan Lake followed by a trek through the forest to Nam Tha Lu cave, which involved a subterranean swim in places.

Breakfast at Smileys.

Breakfast at Smileys.

On the elephant ride it was a relief to find our elephant didn’t have any of the scars on its forehead (from impatient mahouts bashing it with a pick-axe-like tool) that we’d heard stories about.  In fact, the mahout didn’t even sit on the elephant.  We perched up high on a two-man howdah and the mahout strolled alongside giving verbal commands to the elephant, reinforced by the occasional encouraging shove on its rump.

We were surprised and impressed by the roughness of the terrain that an elephant can handle – it’s the original ATV!  Steep, muddy ascents and twisting, tree-rooty descents were handled with ponderous pachyderm aplomb.  Tight hairpin bends were comically negotiated by the elephant pressing forward into the farthest point before shuffling around on the spot until pointing down the next bit of trail.

A long way down.

A long way down.

Nice view from the top.

Nice view from the top.

We were tasked with hosing down the elephants but they preferred to do it themselves, sucking water up their trunks then squirting it over their backs.

We were tasked with hosing down the elephants but they preferred to do it themselves, sucking water up their trunks then squirting it over their backs.

Can I take this one home with me?

Can I take this one home with me?

It was around this time that Tamar started craving liquorice catherine wheels.

It was around this time that Tamar started craving liquorice catherine wheels.

After washing our elephant we had time for dinner and then met our guide for the night safari.  We didn’t have great expectations for this: daytime treks in other locations (on well worn trails that the animals know all too well to avoid) had shown up nothing more exciting than a couple of large beetles.  A night time safari proved to be a completely different experience.  All the best creatures come out of hiding at night.  We started off with scorpions, giant millipedes and small to medium sized spiders (easily spotted as their eyes glitter like little gemstones in the torchlight) and then progressed rapidly to tarantulas, brightly coloured roosting birds, and sleepy horned lizards, and then, completely exceeding all expectations, we caught a glimpse of some shy and diminutive mouse-deer (about the size of a domestic cat) and an agile Asian civet (which looks a bit like a cat but isn’t one) as it disappeared up a tree.

"Will you come into my parlour?" said the tarantula to Keith.

“Will you come into my parlour?” said the tarantula to Keith.

A sleepy lizard.

A sleepy lizard.

The next day we celebrated our ‘3 years since setting off’ anniversary with a visit to the jewel in Khao Sok’s crown: Cheow Lan Lake and a trek through Nam Ta Lu cave.  The lake was formed in 1982 when the Ratchaprapha Dam was built as part of a hydroelectric scheme.  The lake is huge (165 square km) and a bewitching juxtaposition of emerald green water and soaring limestone cliffs.  Our longtail took over an hour to go from the dam over in the southeast, to the start of the cave trail on the southwest shore.  The forest trail was easy going, but inside the cave was a more sporting proposition.  We actually entered the cave in the opposite direction to usual tour groups, so we got the fun bit first.  We splashed our way up a shallow stream that got narrower and deeper as we progressed into the cave.  In places it was neck deep and swimming was easier than wading.  The route twisted and turned and we scrambled up small cascades into shallower pools, with the cracks and crevices shafting away into blackness above us at the extent of our headlight’s beam.  We turned left and the cave opened out into a wider cavern with a low, smooth ceiling.  The smell was the first hint, followed by a faint chirruping sound.  Shining our beams upward illuminated dozens and dozens of small furry bodies that wriggled and hunched irritably as our lights played across them.  Our guide made a ‘psssht’ sound and for a moment the air was full of fluttering wings and agitated whistles, before the small dark dots reattached themselves to the ceiling and tried to sleep again.  As colonies go it was small, numbering just a few hundred rather than the thousands that you see pouring out of caves on the National Geographic channel, but it was special enough for us.  Other inhabitants of the cave included frogs, toads, spiders and fish, but the bats and the dark, chilling swim were the definite highlights.

Going for a dip in Nam Ta Lu cave.

Going for a dip in Nam Ta Lu cave.

Cheow Lan Lake

Cheow Lan Lake

Cheow Lan Lake

Cheow Lan Lake

One of the nicest things about cycle touring, and travelling in general, is the unexpected interactions we have with both locals and other tourists.  Sometimes we click with people we meet on group activities (like German actors Alex and Nina who we met on the Nam Ta Lu trip whose working lives are so different to the ones we left behind that we just couldn’t stop asking questions) and sometimes we have unexpectedly rich exchanges with people who flag us down at the roadside.  A Thai photographer and his family hailed us early in the morning as we left Khao Sok and he pressed some postcards of his photographs into my hands whilst his English speaking wife marvelled at our journey.  We were really pleased to receive the postcard collection.  We love the fact that this is his impression of Thailand rather than a tourist’s view, or at least it’s the impression that he wants other people to have of his country.  Most interesting was his chosen medium of black and white.  In a country as colourful as Thailand, where temples and shrines are a covered in multicoloured mirrored mosaics, the red, white and blue national flag and yellow royal flag wave gaily along most streets, official buildings are swagged with purple and gold cloth, houses are painted in shocking pink and acid green, long-distance coaches are covered in fantastical psychedelic artwork, days of the week have a colour associated with them and (so we’ve been told) people consult with monks to choose the most auspicious colour for their car, we really weren’t expecting monochrome pictures.  It works though and the pictures are both beautiful and unmistakably Thai.

Thai photographer and his family.

Thai photographer and his family.

Riding away from Khao Sok we soon left behind the wildlife wilderness and found ourselves between regimented rows of oil palms and rubber plants.

Rubber trees.

Rubber trees.

A rubber plantation inhabitant.

A rubber plantation inhabitant.

We expect we’ll be seeing a lot more palm oil plantations as we head down through Malaysia and into Indonesia where we’ve heard that vast swathes of prime rainforest are being replaced with lucrative palm plantations at a worrying rate.

We couldn’t leave Thailand without one more hit of sand and sea so we made our way to the quiet little village of Hat Yao, where we’d hoped to do some snorkelling, but the visibility was terrible and the sandy shore devoid of visible life.  We also wanted to go kayaking with rare dugongs (sea cows) but when we enquired we discovered that the posters advertising kayak trips with a naturalist were somewhat out of date.  In the end we plumped for a trip on an excruciatingly noisy longtail over to the dugong feeding area off the nearby island of Ko Libong.  We shared the cost of the boat hire with Petra and Rolf, a German couple who were the only other ‘farangs’ in our predominantly Thai resort and were excellent company.  Rolf’s a craftsman, making leather goods to sell at markets, and has travelled extensively, especially in South America, and Petra is a keen birdwatcher and erstwhile camel owner.  (How cool is that?!)  Thanks to their company it was a nice day out, but sadly the murky waters were not conducive to dugong spotting (and neither, to be honest, was the noisy boat).  Our boat driver (who spoke no English) switched off his engine and we drifted around for several hours, occasionally chugging over to a new area, but the closest we came to seeing dugongs was a brief glimpse of dark shape momentarily breaking the water and, separately, an expanding ring of ripples after Keith heard a huff of air near the boat.

Looking on the bright side, on the boat ride to and from the island we saw some amazing displays of fish acrobatics.  We’ve seen fish flying out of the water before to skip along the surface like a spinning stone, but these ones extended their skips by violently lashing their tails causing them to skitter forward, dancing vertically before dropping back to their bellies to skip a few more times before another burst of frenzied tail-lashed acceleration.  We also found a large and beautiful starfish in the shallows when we got back to Hat Yao.  The boatman picked it up for us and if we hadn’t turned it over and watched it retract its suckers we’d have sworn it was made of plastic.  It was much more rigid than we’d imagined them to be.  NB – Don’t go around picking up starfish, some of them deliver a nasty sting, and in any case you just shouldn’t go poking at and tormenting wildlife.  We wouldn’t have touched this one at all if the boatman hadn’t handed it to us.

It's a real starfish, honest!

It’s a real starfish, honest!

As we left Hat Yao, heading towards Yan Ta Khao, we kept spotting the same car again and again.  One of the occupants was clearly very keen to get some pictures of us.  We don’t have many shots of us in action so a big ‘thank you’ to Mr Wirat Juirod (the photographer) and Mr Nares Chookird (the driver) for emailing a few to us.

The Threewheelers in action.

Threewheelers in action – courtesy of Mr Wirat Juirod .

Our Thai visas expire in two days time and to end our time in Thailand in high spirits we’ve (completely by accident) managed to coincide our last few days with the four day Songkran festival celebrating the Buddhist New Year.  It’s a time for renewal and cleaning and traditionally household Buddha images would be cleansed with water and the then ‘blessed’ water used would be saved and gently poured over the shoulders of elders and family to bring good fortune.  Over the years, and particularly as the festival takes place at the hottest time of the year, this has morphed into a gleeful flinging of water over all and sundry, and in some areas degenerated into a four day drunken water fight.  Satun is a predominantly Islamic provinces so we have avoided the worst excesses (drunk drivers and buckets of water being lobbed into the faces of motorcyclists) but nonetheless have enjoyed several refreshing, good-natured dousings from children and adults alike.

We’re in Satun (the province capital) today but our plan to nosy round the museum to learn about Muslim life in southern Thailand was stymied as it turned out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Tomorrow we’ll be making our way uphill past some waterfalls and staying at a nature reserve before crossing to Malaysia at Wang Prachan, one of the less-well-travelled border crossings.  We’ll see you on the other side!

Chong Mek to Hang Dong 16 February – 13 March 2014

Hot days, barking dogs, some interesting guesthouses and rather a lot of lazing around.  Our return to Thailand and, more specifically our return to our friend Andrew’s house, has seen us slip easily back into non-cycling mode.  We WILL leave soon Andrew, we promise!

The weather’s become noticeably hotter in the last few weeks and when on the road we’ve had to discipline ourselves to rise early.  We’re up, breakfasted and on the road by 06:45 to enjoy deliciously cool temperatures of around 25oC.  By 10.30-11am the sun has burnt off any morning mist and it’s over 35 degrees in the shade and remains like that for the rest of the day.  If there’s a hill coming we try really hard to reach it first thing in the morning.  When it’s flat we often knock out 100-110km by lunchtime and then spend the hot afternoon in either air-conditioned splendour or fan-assisted cool depending on guesthouse prices.

Coral trees cheer up an otherwise drab roadside.

Coral trees cheer up an otherwise drab roadside.

When choosing a route to take us the 1000+km from Chong Mek (where we entered Thailand) to Andrew’s house in Hang Dong, we didn’t so much consider what tourist attractions may be en route, but rather what the profile would be, and picked one that would be as flat as possible.  It’s been a bit boring on some days – rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, non-descript provincial towns, rice paddies, fields of sugar cane, you get the picture – but there’s been the occasional unexpected treat, like the mobile-conveyor-belt-automated-rice-paddy-planting-machine.

Rolls of rice turf are transferred by hand to the sloping delivery system at the rear, and  plugs are automatically plucked from the bottom of the turf and planted.

Rolls of rice turf are transferred by hand to the sloping delivery system at the rear of this contraption, from where small plugs are plucked and planted in neat rows.

Is there a collective noun for sugar cane trucks?

Is there a collective noun for sugar cane trucks?

Cycle tourists?  Where?

Cycle tourists? Where?

From Ubon Ratchatani we took route 23 to Yasothon, and from there headed west on the 202 to Chaiyaphum where we spent an afternoon at the Star Tiger Zoo and then took a day off the bike in a nice art-deco influenced hotel…unfortunately with a karaoke bar next door.

We have mixed feelings about zoos.  I like the idea of engaging and educating people – hopefully inspiring a desire in them to save what remains of the natural world – but I really don’t like to see animals kept in inappropriately small cages with little to stimulate them.  As expected, the Star Tiger Zoo was a bit of a mix, with a few reasonable environments, and quite a few wholly unacceptable ones.

Bored tiger.

Bored tiger.

Watching me, watching you.

Watching me, watching you.

A bask of crocodiles.

A bask of crocodiles.

This little parrot was far more interested in licking the salt from Keith's collar than in eating the seeds we offered in our hands.

This little parrot was far more interested in licking the salt from Keith’s collar than in eating the seeds we offered in our hands.

On the way out we had a bit of a run-in with some of the unruly school children who were milling around unsupervised near the entrance/exit.  The bike (which was loaded with all our gear) was the centre of attention and I feared for our mascot Meerkat’s safety as he was petted and stroked and no doubt presented something of a temptation for grasping little hands.  Thankfully he survived the ordeal, as did the children, who scattered rapidly upon our furious approach.

Continuing westwards, this time on the 225, and then north alongside the Bangkok-Chiang Mai railway to Mueang Pichit, we then wiggled our way northwest on various minor roads to Bang Rakam, which came at the end of a hot 110km pedal for us and was somewhere that we’d earmarked as a place likely to have a guesthouse.  It didn’t, and we had to pedal an additional 35km in the blazing afternoon sun to Kong Krai Lat, just east of Sukothai.  The guesthouse, when we eventually found one, wasn’t at all bad with free hot and cold water for drinks, and a nice enough restaurant across the road.

The next day we continued our generally north-westerly wiggle through Sukothai towards Thung Saliam.  Our lack of tourist-attraction planning became painfully apparent as we pedalled out of Sukothai and noticed a distinct increase in the number of guesthouses and western faces.  We found out later that Sukothai is a World Heritage Site, full of historically significant old wats.  I think Keith is a bit disappointed we didn’t take the time to explore there, but to be honest I’m a bit ‘templed out’ myself so don’t mind too much that we missed it.

Not quite authentic branding.

Not quite authentic branding.

After several long, hot days to Thung Saliam we did a short, 65km day to Thoen, setting ourselves up nicely for a cool, early-morning start to the one significant climb we faced on our route.  We arrived in Thoen before lunchtime and, after discounting one guesthouse due to the questionable mozzie-proofing of their windows and walls, we found an unusual but perfectly pleasant alternative set out on the forecourt of an abandoned petrol station.  Not the most salubrious of surroundings and it was noisy overnight due to the proximity of the busy dual-carriageway, but we liked the inventive re-imagining of the site.

The climb from Thoen over to Li was probably our nicest morning’s ride since re-entering Thailand.  The road rose gently, twisting and turning through hillsides painted gold and green by the turning leaves.  We left behind the villages and towns with their perpetually barking dogs and rose into a quiet, sparsely trafficked idyll where the only sounds were the chirps of birds and the steady whirr of our chains.  After several days of feeling like we were just putting in the kilometres to get to Andrew’s it was really nice to enjoy the actual cycling.

That evening we had a choice of two restaurants near our guesthouse in Ban Hong, both of which were karaoke restaurants – oh joy!  As we sat, me with my fingers in my ears, debating whether to just get a takeaway to eat in our room, the waitress indicated a separate, empty room where we could close the doors against the worst audio excesses, so we decided to stay.  We ordered our meal and were a little irritated when, unasked, the waitress brought us an already opened bottle of mineral water, which we would be expected to pay for, along with an also unasked for bucket of ice.  A moment later a man came into the room and started fiddling with the air conditioning and the fan, to little discernable effect, so with a little to-and-fro gesticulating and Keith’s ever-improving Thai language skills, we got him to stop fiddling with the fan and instead help us with the far more appreciated task of switching off the karaoke machine that was burbling away in competition with the cacophony filtering in from outside.  With volumes down to tolerable levels the meal was pleasant enough but when the bill came, in addition to the expected charge for the unasked for mineral water and ice they’d also added 30 baht for the (barely-functioning) air-conditioning.  Bl**dy cheek!  It was only about 55p, but we objected on principle, particularly on top of the water, and refused to pay it.

Our ruffled feathers were smoothed the next day when we reached the tranquillity of the little cottage our friend Andrew lives in just outside Hang Dong in the heart of the countryside, accessed by a series of little dirt roads.  There’s a resident dog (Henry) who is always happy to be taken for a walk, and I think we’re in danger of overstaying our welcome here as one week has quickly slipped away into two.

Time for a new hub.

Time for a new hub.

Inked by Bee at The Best Tattoo Studio, Chiang Mai.

Inked by Bee at The Best Tattoo Studio, Chiang Mai.

Keith has been catching up on some admin, updating some of the blog pages, rebuilding the rear wheel on a new hub and working with a local metal-worker to put more robust feet on the bike-stand.  I’ve been indulging my fondness for body art with a new tattoo and trying to migrate our old 2011 blog from the Bec Cycling Club website over to this one.  I apologise to those of you who have recently received emails containing 2011 post content and apologise in advance for any future emails of that nature that you may receive.  I’m not particularly savvy at the technical side of things, so whilst I’m doing my best to work out how to move the old posts over without those of you who are on our mailing list receiving notifications, I can’t promise I’ll achieve it.

We’re planning to drag ourselves away from the peace and quiet of Hang Dong this weekend and start the 2000+km journey south to Malaysia.