Bangkok to Koh Tao 16 July – 1 August

Snorkeling, swimming, monkeying around, painting the Pino, playing cards…and a little bit of pedalling too.

The indolent mood that enveloped us in Bangkok has continued as we’ve meandered down the east coast of the Thai peninsula. In fact, in 17 days we pedalled just 640km. I’d love to dramatise and announce with world-weary stoicism that it’s the cumulative effect of many hard months on the road that’s reduced us to our current enfeebled state…but in reality we simply have no particular deadline driving us at present and are really enjoying beach life.

The mid-afternoon sun tends to have a soporific effect on us.

The mid-afternoon sun tends to have a soporific effect on us.

We left the hustle and bustle of Bangkok slowly…which is pretty much the only speed possible on Bangkok’s traffic-choked streets. There’s only one main road to take you down the peninsula from the city, and so, unsurprisingly, it’s usually quite busy, especially at the weekend with hordes of urbanites heading out to Hua Hin. However, our Bangkok hosts Paul and Natt showed us a cunning route to avoid the worst of the traffic. Instead of heading west, we headed south east from Bangkok on Sukumvit Road. At Samut Prakan we heaved bags, bike and trailer onto a small river ferry which took us across the Chao Phra Ya River.

Keith and Pino on the Chao Phra Ya river crossing.

Keith and Pino on the Chao Phra Ya river crossing.

We then followed a canal-side road west to Samut Sakhon where we were forced onto the main road for the next 40 or so km, but after that took a quiet back-road past sea salt fields and shrimp farms from just after Samut Songkran all the way to Hua Hin.

Using techniques very similar to those we saw in France in 2011, the Thais evaporate sea water from shallow ponds to extract the salt.

Using techniques very similar to those we saw in France in 2011, the Thais evaporate sea water from shallow ponds to extract the salt.

Salt for sale on the highway.

Salt for sale on the highway.

Chasing down lunch.  If you can’t quite make sense of the picture this is a rear view of a motorbike with a sidecar kitchen. The lady riding pillion (visible) is cooking whilst her partner (not visible) drives the motorbike. The food smelled so good as they passed us that we put on a spurt and flagged them down.

Chasing down lunch. If you can’t quite make sense of the picture this is a rear view of a motorbike with a sidecar kitchen. The lady riding pillion (visible) is cooking whilst her partner (not visible) drives the motorbike. The food smelled so good as they passed us that we put on a spurt and flagged them down.

Although we’d spent a weekend in Hua Hin for the bike hash we hadn’t really seen much of the town as we’d been based at a hotel out on the southern edge, away from the main tourist centre. This time we booked into the Mod Guesthouse which is built out over the sea on stilts and well-located for pottering around the tourist markets. If you stay at Mod try to get room 10 at the farthest end, out over the sea. It’s the lightest, airiest room with the best views. We liked it so much we stayed for 4 nights.

Keith tried out the snorkel, mask and fins we’d bought in Bangkok, but reported visibility to be next to nothing in the turbid water, so I decided to wait and christen my snorkelling kit in a more visually profitable location.

The night we arrived we met up with John (a friend of Paul and Natt’s) and had a splendidly chatty evening with him. We’d met up mid-afternoon and the plan had been to relocate during the evening to a bar showing the Tour de France…but the next thing we knew it was closing time and the TdF was over. It felt like our conversation had only just begun though as John’s such an interesting guy – thanks for a brilliant evening!

The company in Mod Guesthouse was also very friendly. We particularly enjoyed meeting the family from Crawley in West Sussex. Small world!

From Hua Hin we rolled along coastal roads to Prachuap Khiri Khan, the county town. The place to stay in Prachuap is a guesthouse called Maggie’s. The rooms are basic, but there’s a kitchen and large sitting room/dining room so plenty of opportunities to socialise. We stayed for 6 nights, but still felt like blow-ins as it seems that most people who get to Maggie’s like it so much they stay for weeks or even months. Our stay was over too soon…we still have an outstanding card-game of Five Hundreds with Aussies Bart and Paddy to account for one day.

Long-tailed macaques.

Long-tailed macaques.

Keith did some more snorkelling in Prachuap, but reported the same poor visibility as in Hua Hin, so my kit continued to stay dry and instead we headed up the 369 steps to the small Buddhist monastery which is overrun by long-tailed macaque monkeys. Keith made the bold decision to take some bananas with which to feed the ravening beasts. I told him it was a bad idea, but he insisted. We ascended cautiously, stepping with care over the casually strewn tails of well-muscled, sharp-fanged simians. On a flat section I stood well back and watched as Keith withdrew the carrier bag containing the bananas from his rucksack. Within moments he’d been rushed by a large male which grabbed the bag, and, after a brief tussle (which Keith lost), the macaque scarpered with its prize just before another one landed on Keith’s back, causing Keith to retreat to a safe distance and give up on any idea of handing bananas one by one to the polite and patient primates of his imagination.

The banana thief with his spoils.

The banana thief with his spoils.

 

Baby macaques are far less intimidating than the adults.

Baby macaques are somewhat less intimidating than the adults.

We went back the next day devoid of food but with a freshly-charged camera battery (our other big mistake on our first visit was to forget to check the camera) and began to relax and enjoy ourselves. The macaques are definitely not to be trifled with, but if you just walk quietly among them and don’t try to interact then they’re more than happy for you to be there and will just get on with their monkey business. If you’re a regular visitor then it’s possible to get even closer. Keith saw one of the locals (who feed them daily) stroke one of the big males on the head – although not when there was any food around – but for strangers like us that wouldn’t have been a good idea. We spent a good couple of hours just walking and watching. It felt like such a privilege to be there. It was as if we’d been allowed into the enclosure at a safari park. In many ways it was actually all the nicer for not physically interacting with the animals and just watching them go about their natural business.

Grooming...the monkey equivalent of a massage by the looks of it.

Grooming…the monkey equivalent of a massage by the looks of it.

In mum's absence a tail is something comforting to hold on to.

In mum’s absence a tail is something comforting to hold on to.

Quite a few monkeys had discovered that scratching stones on the concrete left interesting marks....monkey artwork or just a by-product of play?

Quite a few monkeys had discovered that scratching stones on the concrete left marks….monkey artwork or just a by-product of play?

One of the few temple roofs with tiles left on it...but not for much longer if these two vandals have anything to do with it.

One of the few temple roofs with tiles left on it…but not for much longer if these two vandals have anything to do with it.

After a while we felt much more comfortable getting closer to the macaques....but not too close.

After a while we felt much more comfortable getting closer to the macaques….but not too close.

Feeding frenzy.

Feeding frenzy.

The roiling mass of monkeys parted to let the big boss have his fill.

The roiling mass of monkeys parted to let the big boss have his fill.

A large male relaxing with a full belly.

A large male relaxing with a full belly.

Don't try this at home kids!  I think this local lady has been feeding the macaques for quite some time to build up this relationship with them.

Don’t try this at home kids! I think this local lady has been feeding the macaques for quite some time to build up this relationship with them.

Whilst we loved watching the macaques, we still couldn’t resist a bit of interactive monkey business so we paid a visit to the troop of dusky langurs that live over at Ao Manao, on the other side of the bay from the macaques. Dusky langurs are smaller and are much more gentle creatures than macaques. They have a penchant for peanuts and we didn’t feel at all threatened even when they leapt onto our shoulders and tried to pry extra nuts from our hands.

The comical little dusky langurs were a lot more approachable than the macaques.

Comical little dusky langurs are a lot more approachable than macaques.

Tamar having her eyeball stroked by a langur.

Tamar having her eyeball stroked by a langur.

Gis a peanut!

Gis a peanut!

Dusky babies are orange for the first 3 months.

Dusky babies are orange for the first 3 months.

Keith also took the time at Prachuap to do some bike maintenance. The Pino’s handlebars had become quite rusty in places so Keith sanded and painted them with some anti-rust paint. I lounged around reading books of course, useless partner that I am.

From Prachuap we rolled sedately down to Chumphon taking 4 days to cover a distance we could have easily covered in 2 days, as we stopped off overnight at Ban Krut, Bo Mao beach and Thung Wua Lan beach (where I finally christened my snorkelling gear). It had been raining a little each day but never for too long until the day we rode into Chumphon when it poured all day and we arrived soaked to the skin. We had a couple of chores to do before getting the boat across to the island of Koh Tao, the first and most important of which was to enquire about renewing our visa. One of the guys we met at Maggie’s mentioned that an immigration office has recently opened 8km from Chumphon (if travelling from the north then it’s on the left hand side just as you turn off route 4 towards Chumphon), so even though our visas were still valid for a further 23 days, we wanted to know whether we could extend them for a further 30 days at this early stage, or whether we’d need to wait until they were closer to expiring (necessitating an early departure from Koh Tao). Thankfully they said they could do them early, and indeed could do them while we waited. We tried not to leave too many damp patches as we filled in the requisite forms, and about 30 minutes later we were on our way back to Chumphon (via Tesco Lotus to pick up a few bags of muesli and other items we anticipated would be pricey on the island) with a new exit date stamped into our passports allowing us to be in Thailand until 22 September. Anyhow chores completed, we made our sodden way back through Chumphon and down to the car ferry terminal. It wasn’t a large vessel and after a couple of trucks had driven on the remaining deck space was soon packed with a variety of cargo including mounds of fresh fruit and veg. Last on were a Harley Davidson and our Pino, lashed unceremoniously on the steeply sloped bow end of the deck.

On the bright side, the bunk beds were comfy and we managed to get a little sleep between our 9pm departure and 2.30am arrival. After docking we were allowed to stay on the boat and sleep for as long as we wanted, but only after we’d moved the Pino on to the shore so that the rest of the cargo could be unloaded. OK, so when I said “we” I really mean Keith, and of course, knowing the Pino was standing unattended on a busy dockside wasn’t really conducive to careless slumber so by 6am we were on shore and hunting for a) breakfast and b) somewhere to stay for the next two to three weeks. Both missions were accomplished by 10am and by the end of the following day we’d also selected which of the multitude of scuba schools we wanted to attend.

For the next few weeks we’ve got some serious underwater fun to engage in. Expect the next blog entry to be even less bike-oriented than these last two. I apologise in advance to those of you who want to read a cycle touring blog!

Fisherman at Hua Hin.

Fisherman at Hua Hin.

Thai fishing boat.

Thai fishing boat.

Unloading at the docks.

Unloading at the docks.

Mending the nets.

Mending the nets.

Superficially Thailand can sometimes feel more Muslim than Buddhist, but this head covering is actually for sun protection rather than religious reasons.

Superficially Thailand can sometimes feel more Muslim than Buddhist, but this head covering is actually for sun protection rather than religious reasons.

It's a hard life on the road.

It’s a hard life on the road.

Chalok Bay on Koh Tao.  This is about 50m from our  room, with our diving school just out of sight along the walkway to the right.  I think we can handle a few weeks of this.  :-)

Chalok Bay on Koh Tao. This was taken about 50m from our room, and our diving school is just out of sight along the walkway to the right. I think we can handle a few weeks of this. :-)

 

5 responses to “Bangkok to Koh Tao 16 July – 1 August

  1. Sounds great. Say hi to Duncs and Spring.
    While you are fighting traffic in the rougher parts of your ride, you might like to dream that everywhere was as friendly to bikes as Holland.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23587916
    Cheers
    Quent

    • Hi Quent,
      A fully loaded Pino on some of the tighter bike-lanes in Holland, and on some of the lanes around the roundabouts, was quite a challenge though, and having to stop in the middle of lanes or even at cycle-lane traffic-lights with our trailer sticking out behind us … I’m not sure their cycle-lanes were designed to cope with that as we noted when we travelled there in May 2012. Pino aside however, the system in Holland is amazing, and it works!!
      Ta for now – hope you’re all well,
      Keith.

  2. We’re very jealous. We spent a couple of weeks on Koh Tao 10 yrs ago, also learnt to dive there. Beautiful place, crystal clear waters. With nothing to rush for suggest you drag it out as long as possible.

    Also, Just been reading an article in the Sunday times money section. Everyone reckons uk interest rates will remain low for at least next 3 yrs…. So definitely no rush…..

    • Hi James,
      So who alerted you that we were here? Or do you manage to find time to keep up with our blog yourself???
      Open Water & Advanced Open Water now complete … and budget blown completely apart … and now wondering if we should stay on the island even longer … but at the same time trying to be sensible grown-ups !! Koh-Tao is such a nice place, it could captivate us for quite a while.
      Cheers for now, we’ll think of you on our next fun-dive,
      Keith.

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