Posting blog entries is sorta a paradox – we want to write them all the time, but we have to actually have the time do so, which means there has to be a break from the daily awesomeness of such length that some diligent and self-retrospective thinking and typing can occur. Yes, Thailand is undergoing a bit of “awesomeness” right now, something about body-surfing between drink specials on the beautiful island of Ko Samet combined with having biked over 175km already is making us feel pretty grand.
Obviously there's a few days of insanity that you need to get the down-low on – so here we go.
Last thing you read we were going to bed, ready to arise early and begin our much-hyped cycling adventure. Well, we did it.
It may have taken us a bit longer than planned to eat breakfast, get all our bags strapped down, and take a few take-off photos, but by around 8am we were cruising through congested traffic, going south-east on Sukhumvit Road. Frankly, it was hot, all day long, which combined with the rampant noise and air pollution, was a bit much at times. Thankfully, a multitude of people honked, waved, and smiled their ways into our hearts the entire time. Seriously, almost everywhere we go we are greeted enthusiastically, despite our sweat, stench, and silliness – after all we are often biking on rather major roads, full of trucks and other large vehicles. Thais ride bicycles, but not across their country, so we definitely stand out at all times.
Disaster struck almost immediately, which was nice to 'get out of the way:' Christine blew a tire 90 minutes into our ride, rubber losing out to an invading nail. Blaise stepped up, despite a torrent of sweat upon his brow (and thus on the ground), doing an Indy 500-worthy job. Our current cycling schedule then emerged – ride for an hour or so, and then take a well-deserved break, which might involve beverages (almost always plural, we are sweating liters of water out so quickly that it's hard to earn a trip to the toilet that's not 'curry scurry' oriented), street food which is either rice or noodle based, or just pure standing satisfaction.
Right now we are averaging a bit over 16km/hr, which ought to be faster except we are carrying many kilos of stuff – Blaise's bike w/luggage weighs just under 30kg. His is the only weight we know, since so far no one else has bucked up the 1 Baht to weigh their ride. Perhaps soon.
Back in the heat, tire repaired and water consumed, we fearlessly rode onwards until hunger struck. Finding food proved to be a touch more difficult than craving it, as the first three places we stopped at were not able to provide any vegetarian food. Then a pad thai stand appeared, almost like a mirage (OK, that's a bit of exaggeration, but we were quite ravenous and drenched at the time), which ended up being the first in a series of unusual events.
Wading through the usual language barrier, we managed to sort out our order of two vegetarian meals and three non-vegetarian meals (chicken), and as much water as we could drink (!), before the whiskey-drunk-at-noon local man started asking us questions in Thai. Yep, he was already wasted, needed help opening another bottle, and wouldn't stop yammering even when we were eating. Thankfully, the karma police were keeping a lookout, as seated at the next table was an extremely helpful Thai man named Yan.
Yan spoke excellent English, wrote down a bunch of helpful Thai food phrases for us, and offered to meet up with us later in the evening, once we'd biked to our destination Chan Buri – which was located about 20km away. He gave us his business card to call him, and we figured we might as well since Chan Buri isn't exactly a tourist destination.
As luck would have it (well, when you're traveling you don't really want to concede it's luck, perhaps good fortune), his 1:30pm appointment was canceled, so perhaps 45 minutes later he drove back to the restaurant, where we were still relaxing in the shade, and offered us a ride onwards. With about 50km under our belts, and the afternoon sun still shining away recklessly, without much debate we loaded up his truck-bed with our bikes, and the truck-cab with our bodies. Despite the cramped conditions, the air-conditioning felt blessed, and the kilometers flew by in comparison to our usual pace. Without us really being aware Chon Buri flew right by (it was about 20km or so from where we had stopped for lunch), and soon we started seeing signs for Pattaya. It was there, about 80km later, on the outskirts of town at a petrol station, where we landed without much knowledge of our location.
Well, we certainly figured out quickly that we were in one of the sex capitols of Asia. Getting directions to the backpacker-friendly part of town (that means low prices, and perhaps equally low quality), we soon found ourselves on streets full of cat-calling and scantily-clad women, all at bars with cheap drink specials and flexible hours of operation. Our hotel, somewhat surprisingly, was rather upmarket for being only 400 Baht/night, especially since they let us pack three people in one room. They even changed our linens, and gave us new soap and shampoo – perhaps necessary given the usual clientele :-).
We spent one day relaxing on Pattaya's beach, which was, perhaps fittingly, a bit nasty. However, the sun felt great, Liz got a pedicure and a manicure beach-side for a mere 200 Baht, and our rented (30 Baht) beach-chairs provided good comfort for reading. As for the water itself, between the garbage, the glass, and the jellyfish (both dead and alive), we hardly spent anytime in it.
Being so Westernized, Pattaya had all sorts of chains, both restaurant and hotel. So Blaise got to eat some of his beloved Subway (could be the last time for a long while), and we got to see a scenic Holiday Inn looming over the skyline. On ground level the streets were full of bars, shops, and go-go bars.
“Comfort women” - if you will, were everywhere, and older white European men, rarely alone, were omnipresent. It was a strange environment, but we had fun with it, and all the workers (of all types) were friendly and polite to us, a few even recognizing us from our initial cycling about in search of lodging.
One night of partying late was plenty for us, though we could at least somewhat understand why most visitors stay for at least a month, so our second night ended around midnight so that we could start riding in the morning's cool. Things actually worked out well for us on our lengthy Saturday ride (Pattaya to Rayong = 70km and over four hours actually pedaling), as the sky overhead remained cloudy-yet-rainless the entire time. We kept a good pace, and the road (Hwy 3 primarily, which was still technically called Sukhumvit Road) was well-paved and flat, so the kilometers passed by. When we stopped for an early lunch, at 10:30am, we had already taken care of 50km. We ate at a fantastic place, owned by a Westerner and aimed at foreign tourists/golfers/businessmen, so the food was very well-prepared and yet the prices were wholly reasonable – most Thai dishes were 50 Baht, cheap considering that even out on the street they are thirty.
We took our time eating and drinking, and when the owner of the place recommended a non-touristy temple a turn up off the main road, we figured we'd check it out. Late last night this became Anderson's first collage project using Picasa, so hopefully it turned out to your liking!
We got to “relax” with blue Buddhas, and cute puppy dogs, too, before ascending a flight of steps through a bit of forest/jungle to get to the temple. We could see an enormous green Buddha towering on the hillside most of the way up – the hideous radio tower behind only became visible when we actually got to the temple. The entire temple was strange: everything seemed fake and cheesy, like leftovers from a Disneyland Buddha ride that never quite materialized. To add to the delirium, families were faithfully worshiping in our midst. What they thought of the herd of sweaty cyclists, in tight black shorts holding handkerchiefs, snapping photos and chugging water, we can only guess.
The final 20km or so went by quickly, though most of it was spent cruising though a series of adjacent towns, so we did take a pair of fast stops for more liquids. We got into Rayong just about dinner time, which means a little past 4pm, and after some city cycling and direction-asking, we found two great deals: 10 Baht/plate food at a corner store, and then the city's only real affordable hotel, the Star Apartments. Located in the shadow of the pricey Star Hotel, they were a bit dingy and ant-filled, but passable given the circumstances. Finding dinner was even a tad difficult, as our desire to actually sit down to eat turned a task into a chore. Blocks later we finally found a restaurant, only to have one of our meals forgotten (which has actually happened several times so far), but at least the eats were actually good.
We didn't realize internet was available at our hotel, else this would've been written/posted a few days ago, but so it goes. The night passed quickly enough, so quick we slept in a bit, so after we'd finished our rice breakfast, it was around 11am. But the 26km wasn't too big a deal at all, and after getting intentionally misled by a boat tout to an alternate pier, we found ourselves waiting for the public ferry. Cycling down the pier once the boat had arrived, we then had a bit of an ordeal getting our bikes actually on the roof of the boat. The only access point was a wooden plank walkway, so we had to take all the luggage off of our bikes, and then dangerously pass it over the open water while choppy seas swayed the boat every which way. Literary license aside, it was more intense than we'd expected – as was the actual ride, which really made Liz wish she'd taken some Dramamine.
We'd done some beach research about Ko Samet before arriving, so we were aiming for either the main Hat Sai Kaew (aka Diamond Beach), or Ao Hin Khok right next door. The former ended up being too upmarket for our needs, but the latter, after we'd finally found a way through the maze of shops near the beach, was just our style. Not too many people, good enough waves for body-surfing, and a nice white beach all awaited us, we just had to locate an affordable hotel. That proved difficult at first, as everyplace we checked out had prices double what we wanted to buy, but finally we found some dumpy bungalows for 300 Baht/room directly up the hill behind the beach. While not glamorous, Tok's Guesthouses are certainly functional, and with the fan blowing on us it actually feels quite cool in our rooms.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon, so we got several hours of immediate beach-time in. We also got numerous hours of dancing in that night at the Silver Sands Bar, where everyone drifts to for pounding dance music until 3am.
Monday was much more beach-time, sunning, swimming, and lots and lots of body-surfing. Plus plenty of eating, the food at our guesthouse is really quite amazing, and with a plethora of happy hour specials the drinks are also reasonably priced even if we weren't on an island.
We'll try again for internet usage on Tuesday - which as you can read has been successful, our attempt today (Monday) was met with “it's broken.” At least that's about as stressful as it gets here in paradise.
More blogging when there's news to blog about,