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.