Koh Tao – Surat Thani (via Hua Hin) 27 August – 15 September

Boats, trains, bleeding brakes, elephants, flying snakes, and catching up with old friends and familiar places on a re-run of our previous Hua Hin to Chumphon route.

In the ‘stop press’ addition to the last blog entry you’ll have read that Keith saw a turtle whilst snorkelling and I didn’t as I was busy posting the blog, and as you can imagine I was jealous as hell.  We returned to the same site the next day….but no turtle.  The day after that was our last full one on Koh Tao and we got up at the crack of dawn and were in the water shortly after sunrise.  We snorkelled around for almost an hour and were about to give up as I wanted to go to the vets, but then….there it was, about 6m below us, looking like a large rock.  We started to swim down to it but it cruised away to settle in deeper water at around 10m.

Thankfully it stayed put after that and we enjoyed several dives down to eyeball it and managed our deepest snorkel diving to date.  Eventually it tired of us, swam slowly to the surface for a breath (a surprisingly brief event…especially compared to our noisy and prolonged gasping) and disappeared into the blue.  I am now very happy.  It was a very satisfactory end to our time on Koh Tao.

The night ferry trip back to the mainland was uneventful and we docked at around 6am, giving us plenty of time to ride into Chumphon to get the 7am train to Hua Hin.  We’d decided to take the train rather than to ride back to Hua Hin to give us as much time as possible on Koh Tao…in hindsight, cycling might have been a better choice.  Reports of cyclists easily getting the train didn’t factor in the reaction of the train guards to the Pino.  Having first been assured we could take a large bicycle on the cheap 7am train, we bought our tickets and then rolled back round to the goods area to buy the bike ticket, at which point the ticket man changed his mind and told us that actually the 19.30 train would be much better for us.  No amount of pleading could change his mind, so, after getting a refund on our tickets, we were left to amuse ourselves in Chumphon for the day.

Don't sit under the Jack Fruit tree.

Don’t sit under the jackfruit tree.

We happened across a small, unassuming, but surprisingly well-stocked bike shop so Keith spent the morning fitting a new rear mech and changing the worn-out gripshifts to trigger shifters, which are much easier to use with sweaty hands.  We killed time in the afternoon by riding out to the large Tesco Lotus and doing some shopping, and then ended up back at the train station for about 17:00.  I passed the time watching plump rats gambolling on the platform (I love rats) and Keith kept checking in with the train officials who assured us that we could take the Pino on either the 19:30 or 20:30 train….until, that was, around 19:25 when they changed their minds again.  Yet another pair of tickets had to be returned and refunded, and Keith was told that we could definitely take the Pino on the 20:50 train.  Uh-huh. Really?

With no real faith Keith bought tickets for the third time that day and we sat around to wait for the 20:50 train, which eventually rolled into Chumphon at 22:35.  To our relief we were actually allowed to put the Pino, panniers and trailer into the goods van, and were on our way by 22:45.  Whoo!

Looking on the bright side, the whole time-wasting fiasco saved us a night in a hotel as by the time we got to Hua Hin it was 3.30am and we just pedalled down to the beach, unrolled the blanket, and slept under the stars until about 8am when we awoke to the stares of curious locals and bemused beachcombers.

A stroke of luck meant our old room in Mod Guesthouse (L10 – the best one in the building) was being vacated at midday, so we had breakfast and amused ourselves with a fish pedicure until we could move in.  In the afternoon we pedalled out to where the 12th King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament was being held, which was the reason we’d returned to Hua Hin.

Elephant polo is played in teams of three elephants, each ridden by a mahout (in charge of steering) and a player (in charge of hitting the ball and screaming encouragement and instructions at the elephant and mahout respectively).  A game comprises two chukkas of seven minutes, although stoppages for various rule infractions, mallet retrievals and elephant changes mean some games take a bit longer to play out.  It’s very easy to follow and quite possibly one of the most hilarious sports we’ve ever seen.

Tussling for the ball with  unwieldy 3m long mallets

Tussling for the ball with unwieldy 3m long mallets

The instant the ball is hit mahouts and riders shout, scream and kick their heels to encourage their elephant to move.  The elephants slowly shift gear from a sedate plod to an animated lumber, and in particularly tense games the elephants seem to understand what’s at stake and their ‘sprint’ is accompanied by raised tails and trunks and loud trumpeting.  Eventually, two or three excited elephants converge on the ball, at which point any novice players are quickly exposed by their utter inability to connect their 3m long mallet with the ball….which to be fair looks bloody difficult, especially from the back of a prancing pachyderm.  At last though, one of the players makes contact, slicing the ball out below their elephant’s trunk and between the legs of the opposition, and off they all go again, mallets swinging and trunks trumpeting.  Brilliant fun; we went back the next day for more.

Charge!  The race for the ball.

Charge! Sprinting for the ball.

One of the people we met at the event told us there are still wild elephants to be seen on the road to Pa La-U waterfall, but it turns out that wild elephants are not necessarily something you want to see from on board a Pino.  We were stopped frequently on the road by people warning us about the elephants as a local woman had been killed by one just a few days previously.  We discussed elephant avoidance strategies as we pedalled along but didn’t really come up with any reasonable solutions apart from abandoning the bike to its fate and legging it towards the nearest sturdy tree…but thankfully it was never put to the test as we didn’t see any wild elephants anyway.  One piece of wildlife we did see though was a small green snake that hurled itself from a tree and flew just in front of the Pino before hitting the road and wriggling away across the tarmac.  We were both rather startled and very glad it landed in front of us and not in our laps.

At the entrance to the park there is a free campsite and it dawned on us that Thailand is the first country where we’ve seen designated camping grounds (with drinking water, loos and showers!) since leaving Latvia, over 15,000 km ago.  Three Thai cyclists had already set up camp so we said hello and found out that one of them was a bike mechanic at LPR bike shop in Hua Hin.  He also seemed to know about hydraulic disc brakes.  This was a real stroke of luck as our brakes had been getting a bit spongy and we don’t have a bleed kit.  We’d already tried one shop back in Hua Hin the day before cycling to Pa La-U, but unfortunately they were only familiar with Shimano brakes and after spending two hours dicking around with our Maguras they managed to make them even worse than before and then told us quite seriously that they recommended we buy some Shimano brakes instead.  So after our visit to the waterfall we figured we had little to lose by seeing what Mo at LPR could do for us.  To our delight he made the brakes quite a bit better and, best of all, was able to supply Keith with the gizmo required to fit into the Magura brakes so all we had to do was buy a couple of large syringes (easy enough from any chemist here) and Keith could then finesse the brakes at his leisure.  Top marks to Mo and thank you very much.

Keith, Mo (green & white shirt) and friends at Pa La-U.

Keith, Mo (green & white shirt) and friends at Pa La-U.

Keith at one of the Pa La-U cascades.

Keith at one of the Pa La-U cascades.

A freshwater crab...that wasn't as pleased to see us as we were to see it.

A freshwater crab…that wasn’t as pleased to see us as we were to see it.

From Hua Hin we rolled back along familiar roads to Prachuap Khiri Khan and back to Maggie’s Guesthouse.  It was lovely to be welcomed by familiar faces.  Aussie cyclist Aarn who we’d met six weeks previously was still there, as were a couple of others.  New residents included Aussie George who was travelling by motorbike and who took very little persuading to take me for a ride, thus popping my pillion cherry.  It’s amazing how quickly you go from feeling rather precariously perched and vulnerable to having an enormous grin etched onto your face.  They’re a bit more expensive to run than a tandem though so I don’t think we’ll be swapping any time soon.

Tamar & George on the Honda.

Tamar & George on the Honda.

Keith spent his time rubbing down and painting over some rusty spots on the trailer, and bleeding the brakes again so they’re now working perfectly.  If you’re interested in seeing how much work is needed keeping a loaded tandem running sweetly then check out Keith’s maintenance log.

One thing we’d regretted missing the first time we’d stayed at Maggie’s was the weekend Burmese market over at the Myanmar border (no, we don’t know why the the adjective still used in all the literature is ‘Burmese’ when country is now called Myanmar).  Thailand is only 11km wide at this point so Myanmar is tantalizingly close, and although we didn’t have visas to visit across the border the market is right next to the border on the Thai side.  It was an easy luggage-free ride from Prachuap to Dan Singkohn to admire the orchids, gemstones and enormous wooden tables on offer, and to look over the border at the densely forested hillside of Myanmar.

Beautiful Burmese orchids at Dan Singkhon market.

Beautiful Burmese orchids at Dan Singkhon market.

God knows how they transport all the furniture across the border each weekend.  This table was too heavy to lift and the stools weighed in at around 30kg each.

God knows how they transport all the furniture across the border each weekend. This table was too heavy to lift and the stools weighed in at around 30kg each.

As before we stayed longer than planned at Maggie’s, but eventually made our way down to Ban Krut where we stayed at Siripong Guesthouse, again.  John in Hua Hin had recommended a pizza place just round the corner that’s run by some friends of his, so we decided to treat ourselves and pedalled round to Kasama’s.  Kasama and her husband Byron are dangerously hospitable and their bar and restaurant is a fabulous little slice of New York Italian in a sleepy Thai fishing village.  We totally recommend it.  Book the next morning off though as a hangover may well follow.

One thing we’ve noticed about Thailand is there’s no consistency in the way that Thai words are transliterated into Latin script, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the spelling of Ban Krut.  Here are some of the ways we’ve seen it written on various signs (and yes, it makes marrying up the map and the road signs somewhat awkward at times).

Ban Krut, Bankrut, Ban Krud, Bankroot, Baangrood, Ban Kurt, Baan Good.

So, from Baangrood we made our way south past white sandy beaches and through little fishing villages, back through Chumphon (for the third time) and, at long last, into territories unknown.  The terrain remained predominantly flat, but there were a few little undulations and as we left the coastline we found ourselves pedalling along through acres of palm oil plantations.  We try to make use of the time on the road by listening to language audios.  Keith’s Thai is progressing nicely but I have lost patience with it and switched to Spanish.  My pronunciation needs a little work though.  One morning Keith thought I was in pain until he realised I was furiously trying to roll my Rs.  How do people do that???

The lazy days on Koh Tao have definitely taken their toll on our fitness, but tired legs and Keith’s sore butt notwithstanding we’re enjoying being back on the move again.

We’re now in Surat Thani where it’s snack heaven at the night market.  We sensibly ate dinner before going there (we’d have spent a fortune if we’d gone there hungry), but still couldn’t resist some juicy, soy sauce soaked grubs.  Mmm…mmmm!

Soy sauce seasoned grubs.  Delicious.

Soy sauce seasoned grubs. Delicious.

We’ll finish this blog entry with a few snaps of some of the sights that, for us, epitomize Thailand:

The King.  Having been on the throne since June 1946, King Bhumibol is the world’s longest serving current head of state, and you can’t go far in Thailand without seeing a picture of him.  He is generally revered by his subjects and seeing “Long Live The King” emblazoned across the front of a truck probably doesn’t mean the driver is an Elvis fan.

The King. Having been on the throne since June 1946, King Bhumibol is the world’s longest serving current head of state, and you can’t go far in Thailand without seeing a picture of him. He is generally revered by his subjects and seeing “Long Live The King” emblazoned across the front of a truck probably doesn’t mean the driver is an Elvis fan.

Chang Beer.  At 6.5%  beware of the next morning’s changover. Also, Chang means elephant in Thai.

Chang Beer. At 6.5% beware of the next morning’s changover. Also, Chang means elephant in Thai.

Squashed sparrows on the road signs.  Doesn’t this bird motif just look like roadkill?

Squashed sparrows on the road signs. Doesn’t this bird motif just look like roadkill?

The King.  Seriously, his picture is EVERYWHERE.

The King. Seriously, his picture is EVERYWHERE.

Tesco Lotus.  Excellent value meals for hungry cyclists: stir-fried noodles 20p or two curries with two portions of cooked rice for a pound.  No marmite though. :-(

Tesco Lotus. Excellent value meals for hungry cyclists: stir-fried noodles 20p or two curries with two portions of cooked rice for a pound. No marmite though. :-(

The King.  We’d been in Thailand for quite some time before we realised the King is not a young man as the vast majority of pictures show him as such...he’s actually almost 86.

The King. We’d been in Thailand for quite some time before we realised the King is not a young man as the vast majority of pictures show him as such…he’s actually almost 86.

Fantastically decorated luxury coaches complete with on-board karaoke (hell on wheels).

Fantastically decorated luxury coaches complete with on-board karaoke (hell on wheels).

Seven Eleven.  Located approximately every 500m these are almost as prevalent as images of the King...and a cheap source of iced coffee.

Seven Eleven. Located approximately every 500m these are almost as prevalent as images of the King…and a cheap source of iced coffee.

The King.

The King.

Est Cola.  Launched in November 2012 by the erstwhile bottlers of Pepsi in Thailand (after five decades of doing business together), Est cola is giving the traditional big brands or Pepsi and Coca Cola a run for their money.

Est Cola. Launched in November 2012 by the erstwhile bottlers of Pepsi in Thailand (after five decades of doing business together), Est cola is giving the traditional big brands or Pepsi and Coca Cola a run for their money.

The King.  Long Live The King.

The King. Long Live The King.

 

2 responses to “Koh Tao – Surat Thani (via Hua Hin) 27 August – 15 September

  1. Glad to see you are back touring. Love the elephant polo shots.
    Brenda in the Boro

  2. now i know how do u come from England to Malaysia. must be a great experience. :) i’ve posted about our meeting today on my facebook. nice to see u.

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