I could have gotten used to the good breakfast at one of the local restaurants near the Siem Reap night market. Especially after I found out that in the morning shortly after sunrise you can still relax along the east bank of the small Siem Reap River. After a half-hour jog in the heat that is not yet so oppressive in the morning, the omelette and the muesli with fresh fruits are a great way to start the otherwise hot day. Later I cycled more than 30 km to the Angkor Park and back.
From northwest of Siem Reap, where one of the two international airports of Cambodia is located, I fly back home over three stages and within about 20 hours via Bangkok and Frankfurt to Berlin. This more or less simple connection is taking a bit of the myth of a clean kind of traveling, on the other hand wouldn’t it be possible to travel in this way at all.
The bicycle goes as special baggage onto the journey and as Bangkok Airways has different demands for the transport of a bicycle (the part of Lufthansa first starts in Bangkok), I have to dismantle the bike and pack it with more effort than for the flight to Singapore. When I was in Bangkok 2 weeks before, I already found a robust canvas of 2.5 x 3 mtr. at a local manufacturer about 4km away from Wongwian Yai Station, that I carry since then on my bicycle with its 3 kg of mass. It took me half a day to find this small workshop, to ask and ask again at the shops and little craft-stalls in the region, along Somdet Phra Chao Tak Sin. Sometimes it helps to ask the right question to the right person.
Under the roof of the small court of the hotel in Siem Reap, district Nam Dak, I then need about one hour to get teh bicycle ‘ready for shipping’. Some fragments of used cartonage, that I had collected during the last days, help protect parts of the contour of the bike. The front wheel has to be taken off the fork and I wrap the bicycle then with the canvas and use my laundry rope to wrap and fix it. Ready for transport is the package of about 23 kg. This shows the meter later at the airport and this is also a surprise for me. I’m sweatened after this little work and the temperature now around noon has reached 37° while I’m waiting for the Tuk Tuk that’ll bring me to the airport.
They are everywhere in the streets, used as taxi’s, I often had to deal with them when riding on my bike throuhg the city and the Angkor Park an now, for the few kilometers to the airport, I can enjoy one of these all-purpose vehicles. The driver takes care about the overload, because the bike hangs over both sides of the Tuk Tuk. So it takes about half an hour to come to the airport, and I really enjoy the time sitting in this small vehicle, despite the dusty air and the heat of the afternoon. It’s like a little goodbye from this interesting country, that still has to develop so many things.
The next morning my baggage really is dis-embarqued in an undamaged condition, what not always happend in such a good way in the past. But I don’t unwrap and reassemble the bicycle on site, even the sun is shining and laughing in a similar manner, as it did at last in Cambodia. Only similar, because at -6°C I quickly take and wear all layers of my thin clothes and move the baggage (incl. the packed bike) out of the terminal building and into the sun, where I’m lucky enough that both supervisers at the taxi kai, also packed into thick, warm clothes, organise a big taxi within minutes for me. Winter-wonder city Berlin, nice to see you again – but must it be at these deep temperatures ?…
Old stones can fascinate, especially if they were worked on and stacked at times that are foreign to us and far away from today. If there is also a slightly mystical environment, then the temple complexes that are present here in large numbers at Siem Reap and distributed in a very wide area have a double effect.
It makes a difference whether I am walking through the imposing complex of Angkor Wat, surrounded by a square of water laid out like the temple itself and embedded in a subtropical jungle, through one of the entrance gates of the former capital of the Khmer Empire, or whether I am taking a walk look at the Cologne Cathedral in the middle of Cologne. Although it is older and of course also impressive.
In the Angkor Archaeological Park there are a number of temples built in the Middle Ages and the surrounding complexes, some even older than the most important temple Angkor Wat, as well as parts of the former royal palace and the capital of the Khmer empire. But this park is fascinating because of its size. The huge area, which is still partially overgrown by jungle, quickly makes you forget the here-and-now, especially at the more remote temples such as the Ta Nei or the Preah Khan temple, which have decayed to a higher degree. At the Ta Nei temple in particular, you are almost alone with one of the park guards, while at Angkor Wat or at the Ta Phrom temple, visitors step on each other’s feet.
The usual means of transport in the park is the tuk tuk or motorcycle with a coach trailer, as well as many minibuses, because large touring coaches cannot reach all corners due to the sometimes narrow streets. But a bicycle is also ideal and there are many tour organizers in Siem Reap who also rent bicycles. Simple bikes that are modeled on Dutch bikes up to mountain bikes of quite good quality, but they are used by only a fraction of the visitors. From Siem Reaps center it is only about 7 km to the park, about 8.5 km to the main entrance of Angkor Wat, but if you want to explore more temples, even a small round, you quickly add about 25 – 30 km and you still haven’t seen much.
If you have to buy a ticket first (which is the normal case), then you have to add about 5 kilometers, because the ticket sale takes place at a fairly new visitor center, which is, however, outrageously far from the access road. However, there is hardly a place at the park borders that can handle the current flow of visitors – and the trend is rising.
As I said at the beginning: the stones are fascinating. I myself am always available for something like that and have now traveled about 32 – 38 kilometers at each of my four visits to Angkor Park.
Ultimately, there are three stages in which I divide the Poi Pet – Siem Reap route. The first part to Sisophon is a very short distance. Breakfast is again included in the room price, I order an omelette and as a hot drink I get a slightly spicy coffee. On the veranda of the Ly Heng Chhay Hotel, you can sit comfortably in the shade of the roof, as water trickles around the wooden frame from top to bottom. The traffic passing about 15 meters away is not what you want when having breakfast, but it is full of variety. There are mopeds, cargo motorcycles, single-axle tractors with long trailers, coaches, trucks and, of course, the wide city SUVs, all-wheel drive, dark-glazed, and also simple cars that make up the traffic, sometimes sneak past, sometimes with a high-revving engine rush, and the horns annoying again and again. A behavior that I will have to get used to in the near future. At around 10 a.m., I head east.
The little post office that I found yesterday afternoon is unfortunately closed today. The officer wanted to be there because he had something to do, as he told me. But he is not there. So I won’t get rid of my already written mail until Monday.
Yes, the city is booming. It is being rebuilt in many places. Houses are sometimes very narrow and here the structural steel for later construction does not protrude from the walls upwards as in many southern European countries, but laterally from the walls so that there can be added later. A finished pointed roof is already on top of the two, sometimes three floors. But there is no asphalt off the main road, the closest parallel roads are concreted, most of them just simple uneven slopes.
I quickly realize that the consideration (which I often feel) of two-wheelers riding on the roadside in Thailand must have gotten stuck in front of the border. Here in Poi Pet you are rather ignored and marginalized and later on the route hardly anyone pays attention to the weaker traffic. If someone wants to drive onto the trunk road from an entrance or junction and there are no larger vehicles in sight, they just drive off, supposing that the two-wheeler will probably stop. And in general, the horn is used diligently to indicate that – whoops – that someone is coming.
What was a broadly marked edge of the road in Thailand, reserved for mopeds and teams, is here a dusty, sometimes sandy matter with no clear marking. The dirt from the street also collects on the verge, but at least there is one.
At a roundabout the tarmac is suddenly missing, I can see the dust cloud already from afar. But it is only this one point without a hard surface and over the next few kilometers the traffic gradually equalizes and a few kilometers outside of Poi Pet containers are handled on a dusty surface, and behind this spot the truck traffic also decreases significantly.
I am now driving in an easterly direction and I am still a bit lucky with the wind, which is currently coming mainly from the south and at least not noticeably influencing my pace. Otherwise the landscape is unspectacular. Dry, harvested rice areas, or simply wasteland – flat and wide. As in Thailand, temples and monasteries are more or less close to the street. The access routes here always lead through open archways, which, however, are more simply decorated than those of Thai temples.
I stop at one of the decorated archways and want to take a picture. Immediately children come running from the area behind, make faxes and also want to be photographed. “Hello!”, “Helloo!”, is called shrill.
In Thailand, people were more reserved, children were in school during the day until late in the afternoon and greeted at most curiously. Sometimes they laughed at my appearance, but were never pushy.
Here they shout “Hello!” after or towards me.
In the area of another ‘Wat’, where I want to watch at the many animal figures there, a boy immediately comes running and starts to beg. I don’t understand him, but at least it gives me this impression. Girls are more reserved than boys and give friendly greetings.
I want to eat something in the early afternoon, but it is not as easy as in Thailand, because the selection of outpatient food stalls or restaurants is not very large. In the village of Tuek Thla, just a few kilometers before Sisophon, I spontaneously stop at a woman’s stall where I see a few closed pots lined up next to each other. She has various meat dishes with different vegetables in more or less opaque sauces, as well as cooked fish with ginger, carrots and pumpkin.
I then eat it of this fish together with a plate of sticky rice, and apart from the many bones of the fish, that’s not bad at all.
Just before Sisophon, the only change in the landscape is a few small elevations from larger rocks. From a distance it looks like a mountain range, but it’s isolated, isolated hills. There is a larger monastery at one of them and a military base a few hundred meters away.
In the city there are several hotels and at least one guest house, a little off the main street, in which I also find an inexpensive room.
I still have to get used to playing with the different currencies in Cambodia, even though I haven’t changed any money in Poi Pet yet, as I have enough US dollars as a reserve for a few days anyway. But I had already ‘exchanged’ a few thousand Cambodian riels when buying the stamps and postcards and now had an overview of three currencies. Because Baht are also accepted here in this region.
The landlady wants 25,000 Riel for the room without air conditioning, which corresponds to about 5.40 Euros. She also takes Thai Baht, or of course US Dollars, which is the main currency used here in the country. Since I still have enough Baht, I give the woman a thousand Baht bill and get 95,000 KHR change back after deducting the room price. So for the moment, I also save myself the search for a money changer. However, the thousands soon run through my fingers again.
The city of Sisophon is also a junction of National Road 6 eastwards, to Siem Reap and further to Phnom Phen, and Road 5 southwards to Battambang, a larger city that many tourists like to visit because of its colonial architecture, as well as to the north, where there is a protected landscape area in the Banteay region. So in the evening I meet some French people in a larger local restaurant on the outskirts of the city that a French woman recommended and in the morning, in another restaurant right next to the two hotels, which unfortunately was closed in the evening, some people from Germany, who must have stayed here, too.
A party had taken place somewhere in the city that evening. The music was heard all afternoon from an undetermined direction. Even when I visited the monastery / temple on the rocky hill about 2 kilometers before the city just before sunset, music could be heard from somewhere. Cambodian hits, snotty music that somehow sounds scary. Sometimes there was music in other places, too. In Poi Pet, a workshop operator had diagonally sounded music from his amplifier across the street from my hotel there.
The next day I drive from Sisophon relatively late towards the east. The wind is still helping me, so I don’t have to worry about the time I need to cover the 54 kilometers. Nevertheless, driving on the now deteriorating asphalt is tiring me more and more. After less than 30 kilometers, I meet a Swiss man, a little older than me, and head west with his bike. He has been traveling in Vietnam and Laos for a few weeks and still wants to meet friends in Thailand before flying back home. The encounters have become a little rarer since Bangkok.
Shortly afterwards I take a short break at a young family’s snack bar on the outskirts of Rohal and drink a chilled cola. I eat later in Kralanh after I have found a room in another, fairly simple guest house. After all, there is air conditioning and it costs US $ 12 for the night.
Kralanh is somehow the typical street village. Apart from the school and district administration, two guest houses (one of which seems to be closed) and two banks, there are hardly any larger buildings. But workshops, mini shops and flying traders are lined up along the street, in the area of a central intersection also the usual, simple restaurants, where there are a few tables and chairs under a tin canopy, but all of them in the early afternoon, and some even in the evening, do not operate.
The young women, whom I have the vegetables collected from two meat pots and then eat with rice, also try to sell their chilled drinks and packaged biscuits, rice cakes and other nibbles to stopping drivers. This business is going surprisingly well. Sometimes someone takes a portion of the dishes out of the pots, filled in transparent bags, the usual way of transporting the ‘take away’ gastronomy in Thailand and Malaysia.
The Da Gamnan Guesthouse is very busy at night, people move from room to room, there is constant loud talking or laughing. I keep waking up from the noise.
The next morning I start looking for breakfast and lo and behold, in the many small restaurants closed the day before, the tables are now largely occupied and the mini kitchens are in operation.
I do not want to eat rice in the morning, so ask for pasta and would like fried egg and get a bowl of noodle soup with rice noodles and vegetables and a fried egg with a glass of delicious coffee – well, it works.
When I start the last 50 kilometers towards Siem Reap, I quickly notice that the wind has changed a bit. It now comes from the south-east and almost towards me again.
I meet a young couple of cyclists from the Czech Republic shortly after breakfast. For the first time, young cyclists who are touring Asia with thoroughbred mountain bikes and extra wide tires. Their starting point is New Zealand and they want to drive straight home in the next nine months. This is the reverse option, as many Europeans tend to drive from home to Southeast Asia.
We only have a short chat, I don’t want to stop them and we wish each other good luck.
Until Siem Reap, the landscape changes a little. Rice continues to be grown on a large scale, but it is becoming greener overall. Field paths off the road are increasingly lined with rows of trees, eucalyptus, teak and other woods are broken up by coconut and other palm trees. Sometimes the palm trees are loosely in between. Private residential properties away from the street are also often planted closely.
In one of the villages I come through, there are a number of sculpture workshops side by side. There is probably a clay pit or other source for the base material somewhere nearby. The various Buddha variants and animal figures on a scale of 1: 1 can be bought directly from the manufacturer.
Since I finally have the time, I take a closer look at a monastery about 1 km off the road. The driveway there is closely planted with trees and shady, but the supposedly gravel slope turns out to be a brittle, dilapidated concrete road, the rough remnants of which are roughly as difficult to drive as cobblestones in Brandenburg. So it takes me much longer than expected.
But when else do I see such an ensemble of turrets, shrines and tombstones? – every monastery is ultimately unique and if I were seriously interested in it, I would have to stop a lot more often. So I just take a few photos and work my way back down the road on that bad track.
A few kilometers before Siem Reap, the development along the road increases significantly and at a large reservoir north of the road I turn onto a slope that leads about three to four kilometers along the reservoir through forest to a first temple ruin (Ak Yum) of the Khmer period, so to speak as a foretaste of the next few days in the ruins of Angkor.
Cake for breakfast and dry bread from last night, with a slightly sour pickled mango and hot water for the coffee powder. Sometimes breakfast just has to be canceled. When the sun rose shortly after half past seven, it still looked peaceful, but now that I leave shortly after half past ten, the thermometer shows 31° C in the shade again, which rises quickly.
I quickly drove out of Sa Kaeo and lined up on the left side of Route 33, which is also signposted as Asia Highway 1. There is now a bit more heavy traffic on the road again, mostly unloaded trucks that dance across the asphalt at far too high speeds. Later, these or similar teams meet me on the other side of the street, overloaded with sugar cane. The sugar refinery lies
With a light tail wind, driving is still quite fast on this wide road. More or less undisturbed on the wide hard shoulder, except for occasionally parked vehicles. In Watthana Nakhon I take a longer break after about 33 km at a petrol station with a rest area, with an air-conditioned café and with a further, simply covered restaurant hall.
When I get off my bike in front of the restaurant, a middle-aged Thai man speaks to me. He would have seen me on the road on the way and would find it fascinating that I would ride the bike and all my luggage and at such a relatively high speed in this part of the world, and he wishes me good luck.
The offer from the existing pots is unfortunately very meat-heavy, so I eat a portion of rice with the rest of the existing vegetables, two eggs and a little chicken.
Until Aranyaprathet I drive a little more than an hour in the midday heat, hand in a card at the local post office and slowly roll on to the border.
The entry to Cambodia is then much less problematic than I expected. You don’t have to believe all the stories of travel guides just because of the fact that they are printed in a book. If you obviously make a mistake somewhere, someone will come who shows you where the relevant counter windows can be found or where you should park your bike.
It’s actually quite simple: get a farewell stamp from Thailand at the local border police, a farewell photo will be taken right away, then roll about 300 meters through the no man’s land and change the road side to the Cambodian side of the border, because oncoming traffic does the same. In Cambodia the traffic is right-handed again.
The casinos that I pass are highly visible, the entrance to the Immigration Office behind them is hardly to recognize instead, but an official shows me where the counters are in the barrack. If you pay attention to it, then suddenly you see the signs.
Fill out the entry slip and line it up, but it doesn’t take long. Passport main page and visa are scanned, fingerprints are not taken. The official then skilfully compiled three stamps into one on paper, as well as on the entry slip, half of which was stuck in the passport again, and I was allowed to stay in the country for 30 days. Would they be enough to deal with the culture shock?
In any case, the town of Poipet connects seamlessly to the border, and here the travel guide is right: it is a dusty, booming nest.
I already traveled from Bangkok on Tuesday and now have moved three more days away. Especially today the wind was favorable, so that I was able to move forward quickly despite a slightly undulating terrain. With the temperatures now rising a little, I really like that, because I automatically take more breaks and still don’t need any longer.
Since I had my accommodation in the Thai capital west of the broad Chao Phraya River and the actual center, I first had to cycle across the city and then from the eastern edge towards the airport. A constantly busy route, on which I was able to drive past the ever long traffic jam on the left, as well as all the many moped drivers, who fearlessly work their way to the next traffic light, gather there, always groping, and then as a growl, roaring swarm pour over the not yet clear crossing already two seconds in advance of the next green phase.
About 17 km of stress, hectic pace, dust and soot clouds from sometimes old trucks took more than an hour before I could take a deep breath on the arterial road towards the airport. The traffic there was not much thinner, but the road was a little wider.
Full attention requires shared taxis that drive relatively slowly in the left lane, sometimes not much faster than I do, and whose drivers look more at potential roadside customers than at me.
Only far behind the airport, which I didn’t see much from a distance, did the traffic really get thinner. There are several depots of coaches and dozens of these buses, which presumably pick up or deliver their passengers directly from the airport, either go to these depots, dusty open spaces behind high fences, or turn at a widened turning point and drive towards the airport or Bangkok as their return destination.
After far more than 30 kilometers, there was also time for me to finally take a longer break and eat something. However, one can no longer speak of restaurant density, I have to drive a little further until I find one, and on the sheltered outside area with a view of a small lake I sit in the shade for about half an hour.
No more commercial areas and industrial settlements along the road, just settlements and shops. For example, a bicycle dealer where I was allowed to take a large air pump to properly refill my tires. With around 5 bar in the wheels again, it rolled so well again.
But shortly afterwards the really dusty part of this day began: the road was turned into a construction site for many kilometers, the roadway was milled and reduced in width, the substructure was expanded on the right and left, and some were newly created. Now I was an obstacle for trucks that only passed me when there was no oncoming traffic. I got really big so that nobody tried. The drivers can’t help it either, but if such a wide truck drives in front of me and burrows in the dirt with its big wheels, then I have to swallow the dust.
Luckily, I was able to switch to a smaller road ahead of time and, like in another world, I drove towards Chachoengsao much more relaxed.
It is also a larger city, which I then reach after 78 kilometers that day. Rice is grown again in the wide landscape, which is crossed by many canals.
For the next two days, routes 304 and 359 were mostly expressways in my direction, which I could avoid only partially. It was actually pretty easy to drive on these fairly straight roads, since the wind now comes from western directions and pushed me well here. In addition, the traffic on Route 359 was significantly less than the day before on 304.
The landscape has now become much more barren and drier, a lot of sugar cane is grown and this afternoon, before I reached Sa Kaeo, I could see black columns of smoke standing over two fields. As in Africa, the fields are burned to make it easier to harvest the sugar cane. The region is relatively sparsely populated, restaurants or comparable micro businesses have become rare in villages, and even more so outside of them. But what people have, they offer you.
In the afternoon heat I had a big appetite for an iced coffee, tea or at least a cool coke and at a restaurant that was separated from the street by a narrow ditch, I disturbed the lady of the house from her afternoon rest in front of an old-fashioned television, which ran outside in the shade, and asked for a cola, since coffee or tea were not very likely. I also got it and a glass of shredded ice, too. I hadn’t even seen her husband in the shade on the bench next to her simple chair. But he obviously woke up and came to me and added a packet of toasted bread to me, apparently the only thing his kitchen could offer at the moment. A nice gesture, I thought by me.
The Chinese New Year is now over and many small fireworks were lit this morning around the motel where I stayed. In each case a small carpet of firecrackers that rattle and closes with two loud firecrackers. The birds in the surrounding area always feel terrified. I had heard something like this already in several mornings here in Thailand, but never as massive as this morning.
In Sa Kaeo I am now shortly before the border to Cambodia and in the evening I eat typical Thai again, have Pad Thai made and also let prepare a delicious, spicy papaya salad with seafood in a mortar.
In Samut Songkhram I get the flair of a larger Thai provincial town again, after a long sunny day on the bike and a somewhat unfriendly landscape. I have now said goodbye to the northwestern beaches of the Gulf of Thailand. Chao Samran was the last nest in which several beach resorts vied for guests and where the first-class touring coaches from Bangkok apparently made the first stop south to unload their passengers at a large, mass-processed beach restaurant for about three-quarters of an hour.
The bus then drove south, for me the landscape became more barren in the north. On a large surface, water is distributed and evaporated from the sea from an extensive trench system, and the salt that remains is then laboriously extracted. On some surfaces there is simply water, on others the salt sludge that has already remained due to evaporation is leveled evenly with small rollers. No tree, no shade, for many kilometers.
The city of Samut Songkhram is a little north of long-distance connection 4, on which I had to drive a few kilometers due to a lack of alternatives. The hard shoulder is wide there, but the constantly passing traffic with its permanent noise annoys and is quite a burden. It is almost relaxing again to slowly move through the streets lined with unadorned, dilapidated concrete buildings. I have to drive even more attentively here than on the edge of the trunk road, because the many motorbikes, shared taxis, small vans that stop abruptly at the side of the road or come from an entrance or side street are no exception, but rather the rule. Moped drivers also like to drive in the wrong direction.
The streets of the city are hopelessly congested when I get there in the late afternoon, but over the weeks I’ve got used to cycling past the traffic jam as cheekily and persistently as the motorcyclists do, and if necessary between the standing cars change lanes to advance to the next set of traffic lights. Later I am cut or ‘disconnected’ by vehicles that are illegally stopping at the side of the road.
I still find my hotel near a sports stadium without any problems, however, and I get a room on the upper floors for well under 1000 Baht. The prices in the holiday resorts near the beaches have been significantly higher lately.
I don’t have much time to explore the city because of the dawn. There is already a night market around Wat Phet Samut, the streets are full of people and only partially closed to traffic. Getting through on foot is not that easy, but it is extremely exciting. The background noise is indescribable, where in the twilight thousands of birds are now settling on the roofs of the houses and in the many cables that are routed above ground all over the streets.
For dinner in a street restaurant on the outskirts of the city center, which is very popular with locals, I first have a wok serving and later a second portion of rice noodles with seafood, vegetables and eggs. Since I have asked again for a version ‘not so spicy’, the cook does not use any spices at all, so I still have to order a bowl of fresh chili. I also eat it empty, because now I’m used to a certain hotness that I don’t want to miss.
At night it is somewhat cool at the moment, the temperature drops to below 26° C, but the next morning brings a lot of sun and I have to do an 80 km stage. From Samut Songkhram I first drive on the smaller route 3092 for less than 20 km almost straight with a few kilometers distance parallel to the wide long-distance route 35. Furthermore, there are salt pans that take up space on both sides of the road. After about half the distance, however, the asphalt suddenly stops here – the beautiful road turns into a construction site. Fortunately, only for a short piece of road.
But the side route then flows into the trunk road just before it crosses the Sunak Hon River, and on the edge of this 2x three-lane, highway-like road I cycle towards the capital Bangkok. If it weren’t for the noise and exhaust fumes of the many vehicles, it wouldn’t really matter. I benefit from truck traffic on the edge of the broad road, in that the air vortices that these vehicles bring, reduce the wind resistance a little bit, so I ultimately make much faster progress than if I were just pushing the air in front of me. But the noise and the dust are very unpleasant in the long run.
Along the wide trunk road there are industrial and commercial areas, car dealers, a kind of amusement park, a shopping mall, but also a large temple complex and after about 40 km I take a longer break in Samut Sakhon and eat fresh from the wok again in a side street. The women who run such small food stalls keep laughing when I try to put together a dish by pointing to their ingredients, some of which are in bowls, some of which are spread out.
Samut Sakhon is also located not directly on this expressway and there is no direct junction there. I have to take an exit with the traffic that first leads in a different direction and then catch the right way at a larger roundabout. When changing lanes, of course, I’m careful, but I’m sure to drive, pushing myself between the vehicles with my hand signals, which is not that difficult because you can’t drive fast in a column. Because nothing is worse than having to stop somewhere on the left edge with the heavily packed bike and then cross over several lanes to the other side from a standstill because the desired exit is there.
At this point, the roundabout leads straight to the ramp of a bridge, which then crosses the motorway. Behind me is a police pickup truck, on the back of which there are several officers, one of whom later, when the car pulls past me, waved my gestures while maneuvering across the various lanes and rewarded them with his thumbs up.
I then reach Bangkok in the afternoon. From Singapore it has become a little over 2600 kilometers, which I have covered by bike in the last six weeks. Highway 35, along which I mainly drove from Samut Songkhram, became a 2x five-lane imposition, whereby the traffic out of the city was apparently even denser than that in my direction towards Bangkok.
But I set off of this street about 15 km before the center, drive on one of the smaller suburban streets, which also run straight to the center, in the direction of Chom Thong or Thon Buri, where I ultimately find a nice room for three nights in one of the smaller hotels. Extend your legs on a wonderfully designed, padded windowsill.
I already have stopped counting them, as they simply are too many, the number of other traveling cyclists that I meet on the road here in Thailand. Often it’s not more than a ‘Hello!’ or a sign, beckoned by the hand. And even some of them do ignore me; maybe they too, they already have seen too many other travelers on a bicycle.
The northern part of the Gulf of Thailand is a good region for cycling tours, and the more I come to the north now, the better the touristic infrastructure gets. More southward, in the area between Chumphon and Surat Thani, the resorts are small, simple and partly abandoned, maybe because it’s not the season now for local tourists. But there I could find a rural and more original Thailand that doesn’t exist in the north (at least not along the coast line). European or Australian tourists usually do not come to that region, with maybe some rare exceptions. Accommodation there still is relatively cheap, what doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be simple or on a lower level, but the quality can just be different. And around the city of Chumphon the ranges are somewhat hilly, so maybe because of this fact bicycle tourists see this region as the southernmost boundary for longer tours starting from Bangkok.
But north of Chumphon I meet several cyclists who travel through the country for two or three weeks, as I do, besides other tourists or people who stay here for the whole winter. There are a lot of retired people from all corners of Europe who circle on their scooters through the cities and along the beaches, deeply bronzed of the tropical sun.
And there are places between Chumphon and Prachuap Kiri Khan with a more or less concentration of people from Northern Europe. Beaches in this region are not the beautiest, with few exceptions that could be an insider’s tip.
In proximity to Ban Krut, for example, where a 20 km long beach region is terminated to the south by a wonderful and picturesque bay. And also near Huai Yang, which is almost completely in the hand of Scandinavian expats and tourists. There the beach is ending in the north at the boundary to a natural reservation and inside the village and in its surroundings several ad-signs promote the sale of cottages and the development of properties in swedish language.
The little train station remembers also a little bit to Sweden, because it is made of wood and painted in yellow and red colors. Most of the stations along the line Surat Thani – Bangkok are arranged more or less in this style, but here at this station the association to Sweden is obviously.
And now, about 100 kilometers north of Prachuap Kiri Khan, the beaches are no longer an insider’s tip, here the hotels stand close to each other, almost seamless, restaurants court for clients and shops offer souvenirs and colorful beach tissues besides suitcases and bags (e.g.) and have creative names, such as “The Hugo Boss Collection – Beach Schneiderei”.
Tourists are jogging along the beach in the morning, others cycle with rented city bicycles up and down the promenade or lie for half the day in the sun. At the edge of the city Cha-Am hundreds of beach umbrellas are arranged in several rows along the beach, like they are at the Italian Adria or the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
This isn’t mine, but the high demand for accommodation creates a diverse range of possibilities to find a bed, and so I can choose between beautiful arranged facilities with private security and affordable rooms in also nice hotels, also near the beach, but which maybe have their best seasons already long behind. Maybe they are a bit dusty but they aren’t that booked-up as modern hotels and nevertheless they offer the comfort that I’m searching for as a cyclist after a long stage. At least I experienced this in Pak Nam Pran and also in the near of Cha-Am, where I stay for another day of relaxation.
In Thailand it’s obviously not a problem to rent reliable bicycles with a luggage rack for a good price. Yesterday I met two cyclists from Germany in the restaurant of a seafood farm where I had a longer break for lunch, who have rented bikes in Bangkok and were cycling from there southward. Like others I met before, they also want to return to Bangkok later by train, doing a one-way tour with the bicycles. The mountain bikes they are using now cost about 150,- Euros for three weeks, an affordable price. At least compared to the transport costs, charged by an airline for the shipment of an own bike and the effort for its packing, that also has to be taken into account.
The two just have taken their own cycling bags and saddles from home and use this gear now with the rented bicycles.
Less though, but kind and surprising chance encounters that I remember well, did I have at the beginning of my journey in Malaysia. On the one hand there has been the driver of a mini-van that was trying to stop me on a hot and sunny morning with signs of his waving hand while he was passing me, which was successful first in his second attempt, because of my skepticism with such behavior. It was a big surprise for me when he was giving me a can of an isotonic drink (Plus100).
Another time, few days later when I was starting early in the morning only with a banana and some cookies in the stomach, because the hotel wasn’t able to offer breakfast (in Batu Paha), I had my first break at a restaurant that seems to me likeable by the side of the road. It’s a sunny morning meanwhile (after an overclouded sky earlier this morning) and some of the tables under the wide awning are empty.
In the small vitrine close to the cooking plate, where someone is baking chapati, there are some dough balls stapled on display, beside a bowl with raw eggs and another one with green leafs and spring onions. In front of the vitrine are placed some smaller bowls with different thin sauces – could be hot and spicy. In a big and isolated bucket is some sticky rice.
I ask one of the two women, who obviously manage the restaurant together with the man at the cooking plate, for coffee, which I get delivered shortly later in a glass by the other lady. Hot and black with a spicy note and a little bit sweetened. I ask the woman what I can get to eat and make sign to the dough in the vitrine – Roti, is her answer, that I don’t understand, but I make sign that I would like to get two of them, accompanied by two fried eggs, sunny side up. A short while later I have two crispy thin chapati on a dish right in front of me on the table, topped with a fried egg. The second egg maybe was getting lost in space (or in the surrounding noises). Additionally I get a small bowl of a brown and viscid sauce that also contains some chili seeds, a fact that lets me hesitate to taste it. But then it turns out, that this is just a delicious and mild peanut sauce with a note of curry that also gives a good taste to the roti. So I’m really satisfied with this kind of second breakfast, and maybe I also let on about it.
While I’m eating, I write some notes into my diary, as usual when I have a break, and I’m still not finished with the two roti, when the kind lady that was serving the meal talks to me about money. Yes sure – I’m thinking, I also have to pay for the food, and I touch my wallet in the small bag at my belt. No, no – she is denoting, it’s already paid, an elder gentleman who is sitting at a neighboring table, did pay the bill for me.
Uups – is my first thought, and I don’t have the right idea what to reply to this generous gesture, as it astounds me a lot. I definitely noticed this friendly Muslim at the table next to me, an elder gentleman dressed in a grey colored caftan and wearing a white Taqiyah on his grey-haired head, accompanied by an also elder lady, when I was arriving respected them, but then I didn’t pay more attention to them.
I don’t know what to say, am at least thoroughly thankful to him, while the lady is nodding friendly to me. He also smiles without saying a word, while he is moving away slowly. For me it’s not clear what was making the man paying for me, but I’m glad about his gesture.
This kind of encounters makes a part of the charm and excitement of such a journey, that I wouldn’t want to do without it, neither those random encounters with other travelers or globetrotters, who have developed this special love for locomotion with a bicycle, like me, too.
There are e.g. the two young Swedish couples, that both started in Stockholm to travel the world (one of them), or as far as Singapore, that I met within an interval of about 2 weeks, and there are Kanzo from South Korea and his wife from Thailand, who I suddenly had right in front of me, cycling in a slow manner, the morning when I was leaving Malacca in the north direction, and who also were taking the time to talk with me about their experiences and travel plans.
This was more or less the best encounter, that I had in Malaysia. To meet such friendly and unhurried people is a rare experience.
Theoretically we could have travelled together till the border of Myanmar, as they were putting their focus on that country, and I was passing a border checkpoint to Myanmar first two days ago, but my travel speed is too high for them. So we only roll together along the edge of the main road for few kilometers, beside some heavy traffic, found a place in the shade and with some meters distance to the road, where we could talk for a while. Kanzo has already retired from his former work, has enough time to really move slowly, and both of them don’t travel for the first time through Asia. But he is the first and only that I met traveling with a recumbant bike.
Before I started my journey I have supposed that I would meet cyclists, have anticipated this, but not that it would be so many over all. In Africa it have been rare encounters, when I was traveling there in the past. One time a German cyclist in the south-east of Burkina Faso, who was traveling through the whole West-African region, a Canadian in the north of Malawi who was on his world tour, two French cyclists in Zambia – that’s it. But anyway, nowadays no-one is really alone, who travels with a bicycle around the globe.
A day like this starts with little surprises. Once I wake up from a morning power cut. The main switch of the bungalow drops noisily due to a lack of mains voltage – no cooling and no running water. Brushing your teeth with drinking water from the kettle from the day before (yesterday I had boiled water for coffee), shaving is currently out of order and I use the toilet flush with care. It would be good to have a spare bucket filled with water here, as they had actually been in the respective bathroom in some hotels in Malaysia, but it doesn’t exist.
Another time it starts to rain after the clock rings. At first gently, but the sound of the drops of water falling on the floor in front of the hut slowly swells, turns into a noise and quickly increases from a patter to a roar on the tin roof.
For the time being, I can’t get out of here, not even to walk (or to run) the approx. 300 meters to the main building of the complex, in which I had stayed here on Bang Boet Beach for one night. But since I want to have breakfast and at some point also to continue to drive (the rain has to stop again), I go after more than an hour of waiting, in which I was able to sort photos and mail, but with an umbrella and a thin jacket. In the meantime, however, the water in the bungalow complex is ankle-high in places on the already higher, tiled paths. It is the first time that my otherwise water-repellent shoes are full. I can let it dry for a while later. This morning I don’t leave until much too late in the morning. But it is also the first day on which the temperature remains fixed at 24° C. Permanent clouds, drizzle, wind – actually not so bad for cycling.
From Chumphon I don’t go too far at first, only to Saphli, which I want to use as a starting point for a short mountain hike in the afternoon, the view from Dinsor Mountain is also great later. It only takes a while to find accommodation, because the first two hotels / motels where I want to ask for a room are closed. But I find a facility just outside the village, in which at least two of the rather large number of huts are already rented. Here I get a wooden Thai-style hut for the night.
The next day I start a little earlier after I have written two cards. Due to the strong wind from the sea, I occasionally have a tail wind on the road in the north. The climb to Dinsor Mountain is a little easier than expected. I buy fresh bananas from a large fruit stall on the street (lots of pineapples and melons). The area remains hilly for about 10 km until it joins Route 3201 towards the beach. Now it goes flat again and from here the hard shoulder is also signed as a bike path in both directions. Really, with round, blue signs and a bicycle symbol on the asphalt. Is that maybe for tourists? – Unfortunately, the strip marked in this way is parked right at the beginning.
On the short sections of road that I drive directly to the east, the wind blows strongly towards me from the sea, but I will soon turn north again and then have the wind gusty and transverse to my direction of travel and at least that doesn’t matter noticeable. Today I have two encounters: behind a long bend, in which the street turns its direction by almost 270 degrees, and where also recently newly paved, there is a restaurant on a narrow river, which runs a bit parallel to the street and that Restaurant leaves little space. It is therefore long and difficult to overlook, but there are four bicycles with panniers on the wooden fence to the street that catch my eye immediately. The associated drivers sit in the shadow of the restaurant and spoon pasta soup, nice people from Holland and Belgium. I order a fresh pineapple and apple juice and sit down with them, we chat for a while in German, which is sometimes good for me. They are cycling from Bangkok to Chumphon (I was there two days ago) and want to go back by train.
This is a pretty clever idea when you look at the main wind direction.
I only take a lunch break a little later and experience that the cook can also miss the right ingredients. The portion of “Stir fried seafood” is not particularly large according to the menu (rare that there is a menu at one of the many small street restaurants), but this small portion is hopelessly seasoned with ginger, chilli and green pepper. Okay, I’m hungry, but it has never tasted as bad as here.
It is actually really wonderful to cycle along the beach like this, deep in Southeast Asia. I am now more than 2000 kilometers from Singapore and have crossed 10 degrees of latitude.
This area is sparsely populated overall, larger towns are mostly further inland along the railway line to Bangkok, but rarely directly on the coast.
During a short break in the shade on the beach, two other cyclists loaded with panniers roll past me on the street in the opposite direction. They don’t notice me, they are obviously happy to be able to get on with the wind very quickly.
It is not only coconut trees that give shade in the narrow strip between the sea and the street, cedars are loosening up the image more and more frequently. In the wind, however, they look rather disheveled with their rather shaggy branches. In some places, their long needles form a carpet along the edge of the street.
Every few kilometers, karst rocks and sometimes smaller mountains with small islands off the coast strip form a natural end to a longer stretch of beach. The tidal range does not seem to be very significant, at low tide the flat beach is 20 – 30 meters wide, and there is practically nothing left of it at high tide. The bays can be 8-10 kilometers long.
The thoroughfare then winds further into the country, adapts to the terrain in many curves and sometimes long detours around such a mountain. A Buddhist temple complex is often located in particularly exposed locations. There is plenty of variety.