Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The amazing moving hotel

Sir Walter Raleigh

Now pay attention. The hotel Seri Malaysia Rompin is not in Rompin. The Rangkaian Hotel Seri Malaysia however, despite its title not containing the word Rompin, IS in Rompin (at least Google maps thinks so) so we can, with hindsight, begin to understand the dilemma of this morning's taxi driver, who, having been despatched to the Hotel Seri Malaysia in Rompin, was bemused to find himself having to drive 22km further than he had bargained, and we had paid, for.

We first learned of his travails when he flagged us down on his way back up north to Pekan, as we were riding south. We spent the first few minutes of the conversation thinking he was a dangerous lunatic, but as the strange distribution of Hotels Seri Malaysia became clearer, and a call was made to the one called Rompin (which was, you will recall, not in Rompin) we agreed that he deserved an extra 40 ringgit for the extra kms, managed to scrape enough notes together between us (the ATMs in Pekan had not liked the look of us at all that morning), bade him goodbye, and set to wondering whether we could possibly ride the extra distance, on top of the 90km planned, or whether we would have to find the Rangkaian Hotel Seri Malaysia, or similar, and have the bags taxied back to us there.

Well, we needn't have worried. Thanks to Walter and the Girls of Steel, who took turns to ride Sir Walter's new Raleigh at speeds at least the equal of the mighty Zocos (unburdened by panniers and batteries, it must be said), we reached Rompin with time to spare for the extra leg to the ill-named establishment. We looked around in Rompin for the other Seri but it seemed not to exist, and was probably an incarnation of the more southerly Seri, relocated and partially renamed by Google. Reassured about the distance by a friendly Indian called Steve, who arranged our drink orders in the Osama bin Laden-themed cafe despite not working there, we completed 115km for the day to the correct Seri, to be flawlessly reunited with the bags.

It rained pretty hard in the morning, so at least Mirjam has got the first wet-socks experience over with. Our next challenge (we like to have at least one a day) is to find somewhere to stay halfway to Desaru. According to every map we can conjure up the relevant section of road contains...Absolutely Nothing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back to the real world

A mosque and Mirjam

The van Praag content of the team has now doubled. We welcomed Wal's cousin Mirjam on Saturday night in Kuantan, and spent Sunday getting his Zoco adapted to fit her (Van Praags come in different sizes) and going on a test ride out to the black rocks beach so she could get the hang of it, which she did in no time, being terrifyingly fit and strong. Walter, meanwhile, was riding…… his new mountain bike! He went shopping on Saturday, with Mark as technical advisor, planning to buy a road bike and, as so often happens, came back with something else - but he is well pleased with his new back and brown Raleigh, and will no doubt put the specs on Facebook…

The plan was for Wal and Al to share the mountain bike, but we were going along at a fair pace when we realised that Mirjam didn't even have her motor turned on. Told you she was terrifyingly fit. So after lunch she took over the MB and flew along. We made the 50km or so to Pekan without a hitch, though it was particularly hot, and even the slight reduction in speed was noticeable in reducing our personal aircon. Karina also sped along all day without battery assistance.

Google maps lied to us about the location of the Melati Inn, but at the second attempt it was easily found. Bags had made it unscathed and it's a small and friendly place, back down to our usual standard, where we don't expect things to work too well so are rarely disappointed. The Malay lady in charge has been reading the blog!  Mark has now joined the boys' dorm, with extra bed installed. There are the 2 biggest mango trees I've ever seen in the garden. The fruits just fall everywhere - you couldn't possibly pick them - and they gave us some, and very scrummy they were too.

The walk out to dinner, advertised as 'short' turned out to be 'long' as we ended up walking right into town a good 20mins away, but eventually had a good Malaysian Indian job with extra nice lassis.

Tomorrow will be a more serious test of the MB and, more to the point, its pilots, as we have 90km to go. Watch this space...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

From the Legend to the Zenith

The team deftly outmanoeuvres some coconut trees

The sun streamed in through the window of the Legend resort this morning and continued to stream all day. We made good our escape from the L, and at the second attempt found a beautifully attired Mr Syed the taxi man, in full robe and cap, to take the bags to Kuantan. Today is Hari Raya Haji, so perhaps that was why he looked so fine.

The holiday meant that our prospects for morning coffee were not at all good. Everywhere was shut. But eventually we spied a Chinese place, which turned out not to have any coffee, but no matter; other drinks were ordered and even a bit of chicken curry to keep us going for the strenuous 40km slog.

We cruised into Kuantan down a satisfyingly steep hill, had a quick snoop in a bike shop in passing (tomorrow begins the serious bicycle shopping so that cousin Mirjam can take over one of the Zocos while Wal and Al take turns to be proper cyclists without batteries. Jim - think of us!) and got settled in to the Zenith hotel. After which it was time to hit the huge Mall over the road, though most of the time was spent trying to get Maxis the phone company to sort out why a) Wal's 10R credit was used up by a single brief phone call, not to mention about 80 pretty damn quick before that, and b) why Al's data has not worked since the first day in Malaysia. The first was blamed on the iPhone hoovering up data even though the data limit had been passed, and never mind a Sorry, sir, here's 10R free credit for your trouble - more like that'll be 30 for a new card plus 1 for paying by credit card. Al's sim was tried in 2 different phones without success before they agreed it was defective and replaced it. Whole thing took ages - Wal and Mark both got their hair cut while it was going on. Remains to be seen how the phones go tomorrow.

Didn't fancy Mall food so went to look for Chinatown which, oddly, seemed to be shut for the Muslim holiday too. Eventually found a solitary open restaurant which turned out to be vegetarian - yay Mark! - and very good.

Resting tomorrow (and bike shopping and exploring Kuantan) so the plan is not to get up early......

Friday, October 26, 2012

90km and a beer

We had considered staying 2 nights at the Mayangsari, but the breakfast convinced us otherwise. It is much less easy to wriggle our way down side roads than it was in Thailand so the day was pretty much on highways, though not horribly busy ones. We are a bit underwhelmed by Malaysian hard shoulders, too - patched and potholed and often dwindling to nothing.

The monsoon took a day off today and we rode in the sun - thank goodness for our self-generated 23kmph cooling breeze. We will draw a veil over our brief foray into McDonalds. Even people who are enjoyably immersed in foreign cultures need a coke occasionally.

We covered 90km in good time and got to the allegedly 4 star Legend resort at Cherating only to find that Walt had done the booking on agoda just after midnight so inadvertently booked for tomorrow and the next night instead of tonight and tomorrow. Not hard to change you would think - say nothing to agoda, they get paid for 2 nights, we stay for 2. Who cares which nights we are actually there? They insisted we pay for the first night and go back to agoda to cancel at great expense, agoda nothing to do with them, blah, blah. Agoda website said 100 dollars to change - but Wal rang them in the US, they rang the hotel, all sorted in 2 minutes, no charge. A million points to agoda, nil to Legend resort.

But they have beer! Very expensive beer, but beer nonetheless. We sat down in the restaurant, which was quite small and ominously empty for a place with hundreds of rooms, and surveyed the menu without optimism. A very small list of the usual suspects - fried rice, fried noodles - for 4 times the price  of a roadside cafe. We thought we were trapped in the middle of nowhere with no alternatives, but Wal made enquiries and we were cheerfully assured that 5 mins walk away there were other restaurants. Quite true - we had not been paying attention on the way in. So had Chinese food - and beer! - at only twice the roadside cafe price, and very good it was.

An odd thing, though. There is invariably a dessert involving bananas on the menu, when there is a menu - fried bananas, banana split, whatever, and we have often tried to order one, and they never have any bananas. On this occasion we could see a stall over the road with about 50 000 bananas on sale, but the restaurant had none. Just one more thing I don't understand about the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The blog will be silent today in memory of Ree and Walter's wonderful dog, Mouse, who died this morning in Devonport at the age of nine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mr. popular. 23 Oct, 2012.

Cycling south along the east coast of Terengganu gave us cool and steady onshore breezes, smooth road, sunshine and a ferry crossing that looked like a recently completed bridge. The freshly laid upward approach being the hill climbing event of the day. The sandy coastline stretched on and on and on, a prime turtle habitat.

Karina's search on Trip Advisor for attractions at our stopover in Dungun  had "no attractions or things to do".

Cycling along the coast two young and attractive ladies on a motorcycle pulled up alongside and asked in giggling broken English to take a photo of me. It became apparent they wanted to stop.  The surprise was that excitedly the ladies took turns taking pictures posing next to me. They were then surprised when asked to take a photo with my camera.

I've decided that having a day without monsoonal rain and being an exotic ethnic minority or mistaken for an attractive man or skinny foreigner in funny shorts, or mistaken celebrity in east Malaysia is rather pleasant.

Mark Collins.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Little to report today as we are officially resting. There was a plan to take a boat to pulao kapas but it rained all morning so we had a snooze instead, followed by a stroll round town, such as it is, and lunch surrounded by feral cats.

The lack of beer is beginning to take its toll on the team! We are holding out for chinatown in Kuantan in three days time.....

I love the feel of wet cycle shorts in the morning. Not.

The hunchback of the Crystal Mosque - Karina put the provided robe over her rucksack.

Not sure why the shorts didn't dry - aircon a bit warm and blowing the wrong way, I suppose. Luckily it soon rained and made them wetter so it didn't matter any more. It rained a lot. Last night Karina spotted a page in the paper about the top 10 mosques in the world to visit. It's funny how 5 were in Malaysia, and didn't seem quite as splendid as the worldwide ones - but one was called the crystal mosque, looked interesting, and whaddyaknow, is in Kuala Terengganu, the town we had to pass today. So Wal informed the gps that we wanted to have a look, and eventually, after a few mud roads, villages and dead-ends, it duly brought us there. In torrential rain. The thing is made largely of bronze-tinted glass and is rather small, for a world top 10 mosque, and would perhaps have looked better on a sunny day, which this resoundingly wasn't.

Had a pretty dodgy lunch in the pilgrim's canteen and were going strong again - the sun had even come out for a bit - when something clattered round Al's front wheel. A smallish key, with a ring and another key attached, was firmly embedded in the tyre. We have spare tubes in the luggage but not with us on the bikes, and no spare tyres at all, so were a bit worried about the size of the hole in tyre and tube. But when we got the tube out, the hole in it was tiny, so a quick patch later we were back on the road to the next adventure....

....which involved the bags again. We got to the Seri Malaysia Marang hotel with ease after only 60odd kms, but the bags had found it more of a challenge. We weren't getting far explaining the situation to the Malay-speaking fellow, so he called the manager, who was terrific, and discovered that the wretched taxi man, who spoke English and was explicitly told to come to Marang, and had charged accordingly, then decided to misunderstand and go to the Seri Malaysia Kuala Terengganu instead, which was only 2/3 the distance. So we had to pay another taxi to bring them the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the kindly manager sat us down - in our wet shorts - and plied us with milo and teh tarik while we waited, and once the luggage finally arrived and we scuttled off to shower and change, invited us to join him for dinner, which we did, for a very good buffet, with specially-provided fish crackers which are a local delicacy.

This place will - finally - do for our rest day. Plans are being laid for a boat trip to an island......

Sunday, October 21, 2012

We arrive at a hotel full of invisible people

The rather splendid room at the Bukit Keluang (you can't see the stained sheets from this angle)

A pleasant if rather hot ride today from Bukit Keluang to Merang, where Walt had managed to book us into the Suria Resort hotel on the internet, despite being told on the phone that they were full. The taxi driver stopped on his way back when he spotted us on the road to say the Suria had tried to refuse our bags as we didn't have a booking. So he tried the Sutra resort, who didn't want us either, so he went back - stalwart fellow - to the Suria and insisted we had booked on the net. On arrival we were pleasantly surprised to see the pile of bags waiting at reception.

Next problem - one room was king size bed, and as they were booked out, no more twins available. But agreed to put an extra bed into the double.

The question is - apart from two kids in the pool and a woman with an iPad, we haven't seen another soul. Where is everybody? The restaurant can seat 144 (I just counted) but was full only to 1/36th capacity (= the team) all evening. We can understand them not wanting to eat here as the food was lousy, but there's nowhere else.

We are learning to be pretty sanguine about the word 'resort'. This place resembles, on the inside, an 80s old people's home and on the outside, a prison. When Walt asked at reception about excursions and things in case we wanted to stay 2 nights, she could only come up with boats to islands, whereas Karine found a list of things in a moment's googling - though we probably won't do them as the second night here doesn't really appeal. We're going to see a crystal mosque instead!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A straightforward kind of a day with a bit of adventure at the end

The team hit the coffee shop adjacent to the Tune hotel - noted for its free wifi, in contrast to the hotel itself - for a fine breakfast before setting off in the rain for a gentle 60km or so to Kampong Raja and the pleasant-sounding Manor Beach resort - bags despatched, everything under control...

The ride went smoothly - rain until lunch (good chicken rice), easing after, once the gods were satisfied that we and the contents of our panniers were sufficiently damp. The Manor Beach proved elusive for a while - overshot quite a bit, people directed us with a marked lack of accuracy until Wal asked at the Bukit Keluang  resort and they sent him back a ways. He thought it looked quite nice and they asked if he'd like to stay there, but of course we were sorted.

The Manor Beach's front elevation was a rather large and imposing and unfinished building. We had to call them and be directed round the back down a dirt road to get into the 2 rows of facing bungalows which comprised the resort. We had been promised a bungalow with 2 twin rooms, but were shown to one with one room containing 2 double beds. Fond as the team members are of each other, this was not in the manual - but it was all they had. The sweet girl in charge called the manager who suggested we took 2 rooms at a cost of 350RM - more than the 300 we had rejected on the phone, preferring the bungalow at 230 or so. It was becoming clear why this place was empty, while the huge resort next door which we hastily called as an alternative, was booked out. The girl, however, was so kind she called another place, booked for us and offered to drive the bags over. This place was the above mentioned Bukit Keluang, which is where we are now ensconced in a rather overgrown villa, with 4 beds in one room, so we can all accuse each other of snoring. The place is popular with Malay families, whose kids are happily splashing around, fully clothed, in the pool. The review did mention that you might feel out of place here in a bikini, which is putting it mildly. I think we are a little... unexpected. But the staff are nice to us, and the wifi in the restaurant is tolerable, even if the food isn't.

Walter's search for a 'proper' resort to give the team a rest day continues........

Friday, October 19, 2012

First full day in Malaysia

The proprietors of Nur Inn. Unusually, this photo was their idea.

Can't give enough praise to the family owners of the Nur Inn. Refused any payment for taking Al back over the border, drove our bags to Kota Bahru in their car for fair price, sent Wal a message to say the bags were there and when he thanked them wrote back again to say how much they enjoyed having us. Such nice people.

39.6km today. It was tough, but we made it. Stopping for breakfast after 500 metres helped. It was raining at the outset but  gradually cleared, then came on quite heavy again just after we arrived at the Tune hotel in KB. It's getting quite uncanny.

The Tune hotels are owned by Air Asia and it really shows. Room rate reasonable - then add aircon, hairdryer, TV, wifi ….. towel! (we settled for just the towel) Room tiny - Wal has the window seat, Al the aisle. But in the end, it's comfy, and still cheap. Al, Mark and Karina had a wander around town - not a great deal to see, really, as the day market was shutting up and the night one yet to open, but we whiled away the time  - snacking, mostly -  until the food stalls opened up and had a fine eclectic dinner. Watching rats running around made a pleasant change from karaoke.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The team crosses the border. Some members more often than others

It all seemed to be going so well. The girl at the hotel in Narathiwat called a taxi driver who turned up in a rather battered but splendid old Mercedes, was told we were going to the border, asked for a rather modest 250baht, which Wally doubled if he would go over the border and drop our much-travelled bags at the selected hotel and conference centre (of which more anon) and much nodding and smiling and OKing ensued. Off the bags went, and off we went to start our gentle 68km jaunt for the day. We had already procured breakfast from the good ol' 7-11 round the corner, so needed only to stop for morning snack and lunch before arriving at the Sunghai Kolok border crossing, where nobody seemed keen to process us before we had freewheeled all the way to the Malaysian immigration side. Maybe the Thais didn't care about our overstay and just wanted to be rid of us. Too good to be true? Of course! They sent us back to the Thai side where all our charm, cajoling and mentions of charity, sickness and heroic efforts to traverse the entire country in only 15 days failed completely to get us out of having to pay a fine for overstaying our visas for two days. At least the 1000b each for the 3 of us was less than we would have paid to extend the visas via the proper channels (Karina, who had arrived at the airport and received 30 days entry, stood by smugly and complained about the lack of chairs for non-criminals to sit and wait). Much worse was the amount of time the officious official took to fill in 200 forms in triplicate, longhand, before he would let us through.

But eventually, through we were. There was, at first, no sign of the massive and well-appointed Nur Inn hotel and conference centre. Only one small and tatty-looking hotel called the.....uh oh.

Despite its smallness and tattiness the Nur Inn was friendly and welcoming. Its main drawback was that it did not contain our bags. The owners had been sending us texts and emails, but we have had no phone coverage for the last 2 days; it seems our friendly Mercedes man had called them from somewhere in Malaysia and was demanding more money even to come to the Thai side of the border and hand them over.

This had been our fear ever since we lost the services of Nam and Mom and had been handing the bags over to an unproven taxi man each day. Would they ever be seen again? We were unable to work out exactly where the bloke had gone, and why, but he had offered to come to the border at least so the hotel owner drove Al back to the border - lucky it was only 2 minutes away and we had decided not to go another 40km into Kota Bharu, thank you GA - back out of Malaysia and into Thailand where we waited in the car park. Within 5 minutes the Mercedes appeared containing driver, wife and kid, and the bags. Al had our last few baht - half the 200 asked for - and was not inclined to part with anything more, but it soon became clear that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. There was another border crossing, which our maps had not shown us, much nearer to Narathiwat, and it was there that the hotel girl had told him to go. All the nodding and smiling and agreeing to go into Malaysia had been just that - nodding and smiling, with no underlying understanding of what was being talked about. AUD were handed over to more than the difference, and Al and driver entered Malaysia once more - this time avoiding a fine, having been in Thailand for about 20 minutes.

Dinner round the corner consisted of 3 fried rice with chicken and one vegetarian fried rice with chicken. Another language, one we actually know a few words of, and we still haven't cracked that one.....

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Karina reporting

 Nice road, Wally. Nice and quiet

 Vegetation encroaching a bit, perhaps

 and maybe there's a bit of rubbish here and there


Well after my first 2 weeks I have settled into Team Farkle quite well. This morning we fiddled around with my bike computer to set the correct tyre size as I was averaging an extra 5kms per 100 on the other guys which I didn't mind, but it was a little deceiving! Then it was on and off the bikes to put rain jackets on and off and the rain came and went. Then after a huge 7kms Wally leads us down a "bike side lane" into a market where we had to stop to sample the local delicacies.

Now I thought I had signed up for riding a bike, but for this morning it was pushing a bike through sand! The road had been washed away and alarm bells should have rung as the approach road had vegetation creeping into the centre of the road so was obviously little used. As we passed chunks of tar half buried in sand at the waters edge we literally pushed on in hope of solid tarmac. 

The wats are slowly being replaced by mosques as we approach the very muslim area near the Thai/Malaysian border. One mosque had a huge kids playground out front to cater to everyone, and another had creatively used green shade cloth to shape their minarets. Our morning stop was run by some friendly Muslim men adorned in their little hats who we convinced to serve us proper Thai coffee with condensed milk rather than the Nescafe muck everyone seems to want to serve us white foreigners. 

As we pedalled back to the safety of the highway our lunch was not the usual rice or noodles, but fried purple yam and fried bananas which made a nice change. Our afternoon stop was like a Thai version of ice˜ kacang - a refreshing but strange bowl of shaved ice atop bit of fruit and colourful jelly. The mute girl working there was very excited by our adventurous ride to Singapore. 

There is a huge military presence as we near the border and have passed through dozens of road blocks today, but the guards armed with guns are as friendly as everyone else. If we waved to every person that sings out 'hello' we would be permanently riding one handed. 

The last 10kms into Narathiwat  we met some members of the Thai cycling team who kept up with us on their shiny manual bikes. It was an easy navigate to the Pacific Hotel as we slipped in just before dark to our threadbare blankets and towels, yet perfectly comfortable rooms at AUD$15 a pop. In true Wally style our predicted 88km day miraculously turned into an enjoyable 105kms.

Karina Deans

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A brief message from Pattani

The Zoco electric bikes having a well-earned rest. They don't need one but we do.

There was indeed a lake view, including large fishing boats (one in the process of being cut up into small pieces). Hard pedalling today, but enjoyably so, as we go hell for leather to the Malaysian border and hope the Thais don't notice that we should have left by the 15th. After that we will be able to slow down a bit as, barring unexpected adventures, we will have plenty of time to ride through Malaysia and reach Singapore on schedule.

Please forgive brevity tonight. Your correspondant needs sleep and he needs it now.....

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another day, another ferry

Mr Water crosses the water. Our bags, when we eventually found them, were under the name of Mr Water.

A latish departure from our friends at the Holiday Hotel (see coughing4cf on Facebook for just how friendly they were), due to a bit of chain-oiling and tyre checking added to the normal ritual of water-filling, sunblock-applying and so on, meant that we had only got as far as the hot springs at khao chaison, about 20km down the road, when our advertised late breakfast stop became, due to it being one o'clock, lunch.

The more perspicacious among you are probably wondering why we might want to hop into a hot spring when it's 32º and about a million percent humidity, and you'd be right; we didn't, but it was on the way (or so we believed until Walter revealed after the fact that it hadn't been) so thought a stickybeak might be of interest.

Well, the lunch was pretty good, but when Mark went to check out the spring he found the bath bit empty and the spring bit full of suds as they were cleaning it.

So we resumed, and had to push the pedals pretty hard to have a hope of covering the remainder of 106km before dark. The goalposts seemed to keep moving - I'm sure Walt said there were 20kms to go at least 3 times. And then there was the question of a stretch of water. The gps said go round - it's so conservative I swear it does cross-stitch of an evening - while google maps said go straight over the lake that was in the way. There was no sign of a bridge so we assumed a ferry, but couldn't be sure of  reliable answer if we asked around,  certainly not if we wanted details of departure times and so on. So we took it on faith, belted on full power into the gathering dusk, and were first encouraged by a big sign saying ferry port, and then relieved to be waved, free of charge, straight up the ramp and onto the ferry, which departed about 6 seconds later. It was a replay of Cambodia - our bikes the last four vehicles right at the back, though at least this time there was a barrier between us and a watery grave.

The crossing took all of five minutes, and we disembarked right in the large town of Songkhla, where the trusty iPhone led us to the rather tautological Lake Inn Hotel. The collection of large boats outside our window lead us to believe that in the morning we will be enjoying a lake view.

Oh yes, the bags. When we got here our rooms were booked but there was no sign of the bags. The words bag, baggage, luggage and cases were not familiar to the hotel girl, and even Al's drawing of a taxi, a bloke and some luggage produced no understanding. She brightened at the mention of a taxi, and tried repeatedly to call us one, but we failed entirely to convey the idea that our bags should have preceded us. Wal tried to call the taxi man so he could explain to her, but couldn't get him. So we opened a door at random near reception and there they were, all 10 of 'em, sitting patiently not 10 feet away. The girl said something in Thai that may well have been Oh, you mean THOSE bags, and we were sorted.

GAs in human form. 12 Oct, 2012

Leaving the resort late is a requirement to fully take advantage of the included breakfast. The menu implies a single serving but we are burning a few extra kilojoules so we request many different dishes because the appetite is fierce and the oatmeal with honey soaked raisins soooo good.

Riding at our normal rate was putting me behind the closing time of a potential bike shop at  Nakon Si Thammerat, so after our usual 2:30 lunch finished off with a coconut icy pole from a traveling vendor that was sooo delicious, I purchased a black rice icy pole that was chewy and even more delicious.

If you think dear reader that food is my preoccupation then you are correct, but a bike is needed to chase it down, and being a Friday arvo... Arriving at Nakon in advance of my companions the roads were chockers, but out of the traffic and competing businesses shone the beacon of hope "Action Bike". The time was 4:35 but the fit looking older proprietor was courteous and proficient.

He rose from his office desk above which a broken bike helmet was suspended in two pieces, a reminder of the two helmets that gave their lives to protect my brain box and poignant reminder to others. Completion photos on the wall showed he was not living in the past, he had completed in a marathon earlier in the year.

He slid out a chair for me, had the bike on a proper bike stand and his young assistant gave me a plastic cup of drinking water with a sealed plastic lid with the straw pushed through, chilled and refreshing.

Turns out the assistant studied English for ten months at the Gold Coast, his stay in Oz being 16 months. Knowing almost no English before his studies he spoke confidently and correctly, amazing.

By the time I finished this idle chat the proprietor had the spoke in. He invited me to inspect the wheel was running true before putting on the rim tape and completing the job, good service indeed.

This little shop had the stuff a touring cyclist would need including a Surly touring bike being assembled, a bike on my short list when I replace my aged and much loved Apollo.

Turns out a festival was happening so despite the directions from the bike shop I lost my way. A call to Walter giving him the name of the business I was near and in no time flat he appears on the back of the bell-hop's motor bike from the Ligor City Hotel. The Thais are indeed kind people.

Speaking of kind deeds, the rear dérailleur that broke was replaced by a good samaritan that spotted me and Jim on the side of the road outside La Grande Oregon during our trans US trip in 2006. He put our bikes into his pickup and took us to a friends busy bike shop and replaced and paid for the dérailleur just before the Saturday closing time. I love bicycle touring.

Mark Collins

Sunday, October 14, 2012

To the Holiday Hotel

Yup, this definitely isn't the highway.

Today there were alternative roads we could take, so we took 'em. GA must've whispered something in Wal's ear as he called an early coffee break and sure enough it rained while we were under cover. We did 113km which was no great stretch but we all felt tired at the end. High humidity may have been a factor, although it wasn't that hot and it rained on us a bit.

The Holiday hotel in Phattalung is very modest but nice. Our fridge is a rather fetching shade of deep turquoise. We wandered out to look for dinner and ended up in the BEST restaurant. That's not a review, that was its name. They had a 'menu for farang' (foreigner). Just the one - we had to read it in turns, but were distracted by trying to decide whether the waitress was a drag queen (verdict - probably not, despite looking a lot like one). Dinner was good, if not actually the BEST. Made a run for it when the rock band started - the Thais really like playing loud music to each other. And, unfortunately, to us.

We stopped and admired two lambrettas and a vespa restored by a young Thai bloke on the way back. He was sweet and we all agreed how nice Thai people are in general. Then we stopped and bought water from a real sourfaced grouchbag of a woman. Ho hum.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Just a few of the souvenirs we will not be bringing home....

Today there was no escape - it was the highway or the not-at-all way. At least the traffic is thinning out as we get further south, so we decided not to try and wiggle our way down unconfirmed side roads but just put the bikes on full power and pedal. Had to wait a while for a lunch stop as Walt had ordered three breakfasts at the hotel, in addition to his chocolate Muscle Milk, so didn't run out of fuel for a long time. Those who had signed up for the trip on the understanding that W needed to feed every couple of hours, and they could join in, were feeling a bit miffed, not to mention peckish.

We are in Nakhon si Thammarat tonight, in a hotel organised by the GA. At reception this morning another hotel had been booked, but a Portuguese/Thai couple overheard and said they knew that hotel, but knew another that was newer, nicer and cheaper. The Thai woman even called and booked it for us, and very comfy it is too.

Further adventures of Mark

A rest day along the beautiful Thai coastline at Nadan Beach. What to do after thousands of kilometres cycling? Cycle some more of course.

After a sleep in and a full breakfast the others sensibly relaxed. I wanted to see the Krung Ching Waterfall proclaimed one of the most beautiful places in southern Thailand. A quick web search revealed that a flood had damaged the viewing platforms so it was closed to the public.

Never mind, two waterfalls were just ten or so Kms south and north of the resort. Off I go, the day is hot, the sky and sea clear and blue, the way poorly sign posted.

Let's just say the Hin Lad Waterfall doesn't deserve it's poor signage. Trekking upstream to be sure finds a coconut grove. But never mind, the Samed Chun Waterfall is only 20 Kms north with better sign posting and off I go. Dirt road, a steep climb, a sign saying 500 metres to go when the rear dérailleur on my 30 year-old Apollo road bike breaks with a loud crack and swings up into the wheel breaking a spoke.

Never mind, the dérailleur can be untangled, the wheel wobble doesn't foul the brake blocks with the calliper opened and the opposite to up is down. A call to Walter and he springs into action like a web search panther thinking ahead of the whinger on the line.

Left foot in the pedal cleat, bum cheek on the top tube and right leg scooting back and forth while a bony ass absorbs the shocks, stopping once to learn from Walter that he has arranged a car to collect and take me to a bike shop that has the needed parts and mechanic.

When I reach the black top I discover elderly Thais will not speak on mobile phones. Never mind, eventually I'm able to find someone to provide the location.

Off we go in the driver's shiny new Prius retracing some of the previous day's ride to Surat Trani, 70 kms north.

The bike shop had the parts, but no mechanic as advertised. Never-mind, we go to a mechanic around the corner. This crotchety old bloke was closing a five and he'd put on the rear dérailleur but not fix the spoke because he didn't have time. Never mind the mechanic's personality, his work was efficient and his price very low even by Thai standards. And never mind the broken spoke, my driver knows a mechanic and off we go.

And this mechanic? He works out of a shop in Khanom about 20 Kms north of the resort, not so far from where  I broke down. So I ask the obvious question about parts and firsts; he only shrugs . Never mind, because the mechanic was not working at the shop until next week.

I had asked my regular bike shop whether the front and rear dérailleur could make the trip and supporting the CF Awareness ride. Unfortunately the answer was yes and no, not no and yes.

The front dérailleur was held together with wire until Bo Bo's Bike Shop at Seim Reap kindly donated the repair, but Bo Bo had no rear dérailleur.

Will the wobbly wheel find a mechanic with chain whip and cassette remover at hand on tomorrow's journey? Walter's search skills and the teams eagle eyes make it a certainty.

Mark Collins. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The team living it large in the lounge/garage of the hotel in Chaiya

Apologies for being off radar. A couple of late arrivals, lack of usable wifi (Thailand so much worse than Vietnam and even Cambodia in this respect), blog monitor having other work to do and sheer slackness are the only excuses I can muster.

The last couple of days have seen Wally gradually winning the war with the gps - it trying to drag us back to the highway, Wal persuading it to join us on little winding village roads through groves of coconut trees. Last night's stop sounded promising - the  Mukda Resort near Chumphon turned out to be less of a resort and more of a motel. In fact it was not in the least a resort and entirely a motel, but a comfy enough one for all that. It was bang on the busy highway, and lacked a restaurant, so going out for dinner involved being escorted along the hard shoulder of the tumultuous road for several hundred metres in the dark by the little Thai lady proprietor, past a couple of food stalls that she didn't approve of ("NO, NO!" - about a quarter of her English vocabulary), to a row of stalls with quite a few young diners and their cars - one with both doors open and music thumping out.  We had fun discussing the menu with the waitress, each in our own language, until a lot of pointing and kitchen visiting produced, in an instalment-plan kind of way, an agreeable repast, and one almost, but not entirely, free of karaoke. Sadly a large machine, half TV half jukebox, was put through its paces by some of the young blokes.

The day before the ATMs had been grumpy and refused us money. Walter reassured us he had plenty so we didn't waste too long on it. It transpired that his well-known sunny optimism extended to the contents of his wallet and we didn't have enough between us to pay the motel and a taxi for the bags. Mark came to the rescue by riding off in the early morning to the next town to find a more friendly machine. It gave him a chance to ride at a speed and in an air temperature much more to his liking than the rigours he goes through hanging out with the team….

A good day's ride brought us to the dusty but rather nice little town of Chaiya, which had the most fabulous night time market where we fed ourselves dinner walking from stall to stall trying things out,  including some yummy big nuts nobody had seen before - shiny brown, thin shells, about 40mm long, flesh yellowish white and soft, for a nut, tasting a bit almondy. Two different English-speakers, in different towns, said exactly the same - they only come from the south of Thailand, they don't know what they are called and they don't know what sort of tree they grow on. I've had no luck googling them - does anybody know?


A brief study in comparative caninology in the Indochina region

by A Murray Taylor NRQ

It seems to me there are distinct national differences between the dogs we have encountered so far

The dogs in Vietnam are on the whole playful and fun-loving, often to be seen gambolling about by the road, chasing each other and behaving quite puppishly.

The dogs in Cambodia are nearly all asleep. As are a good many of the people, come to that.

The dogs in Thailand, however, are a hyperactive bunch, given to much barking and a good deal of bicycle chasing. We find ringing our bells often helps to make them pause long enough for us to escape.

An exception was the mutt who joined us yesterday as we sheltered from a downpour in a Buddhist assembly hall. He came in from the rain looking rather bedraggled and sat a while, obviously scared of the thunder. Then, as we tucked in to some munchies we bought at the 7-11 earlier (love those aircon 7-11s), we realised he had curled up under one of the terrazzo benches we were sitting on and gone to sleep.

I do hope our presence gave him comfort for a while.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mark's log

Long shadows over the golf course green rice fields toward the end of a day in the saddle. The light off Karina's Zoco bike reflectors shining back from this sunset on the way to Cha Am.

We leave our "stonking big 20 storey hotel" and wind our way along the quiet secondary roads, the coast to the left and the bike compass pointing east nothing can go wrong, right.

A wrong turn to a dead end reveals a white beach, lounges with bikinied beauties, a needed rest for Walter and the second best lemon smoothy this trip.

Black road surfaces are a handy thing to drive on, or dry coffee, rice, fruit, yams, hay or sort prawns. It's okay, traffic can wait and go around. "Road user" has a broader meaning here.

In typical Walter timing we stop for lunch with a proprietor that understands vegetarian food and the rain storm hits. We wait it out then continue through the town seeing dozens of monkeys lining the road which turns into a sand and pot-holed beach track which the Zocos handle like a regular MTB, unlike my old steel roadie that kicks and tracks while following the tail lights of a kind lady leading the way on her moped to Huai Yang.

Foul weather friends

A sudden downpour in the Vietnamese Highlands and cycling alone, Jim dropped off behind on "Bike China". A call from the only shelter about. Occupants appear surprised I turn my bike toward them. They huddle up even tighter in the lean to that barely holds the leaking canvass roof.

They motion that I should put on my helmet to keep my head dry. I look through the numerous vents of my cycling helmet at them which apparently in mountain villages without cycling helmets is hilarious. Laughter is the common language.

The rain buckets, water rises over my ankles, the road disappears, then out of the gloom comes Jim on "Bike China". Running out Jim rides past shouting "not stopping". Turning back I snap a photo, my foul weather friends are pointing after Jim,  Faces have universal meaning.

I point my camera at myself and fellow saturated occupants, the flash goes off. This trick was apparently new. A fluke good shot first time. The camera is passed around the eight pairs of wet hands with much laughter.

The rain eases, saturated I farewell smiles and waves. Cycling a few kilometres the road is almost dry. Jim is well ahead.

Log supplemental; Saturday Sept 15, 2012.  Mark Collins.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Er, about that quiet coast road, Wal.....

It got quite idyllic by the afternoon - the sea was just to the left.

We continue to be inexorably sucked onto massive Thai highways despite all our efforts to avoid them. The much looked-forward-to coast road proved not to be continuous - rather the beachfront was a series of high-rise hotels and condominiums and goodness knows what lifestyle apartment complexes. Of course the denizens of such places didn't want riff-raff like us pootling through their exclusive environs so it was the dreaded route 4 for us again for much of the way, though at coffee time we did manage to gatecrash a very exclusive small hotel and have drinks on a sun bed. In the afternoon, too, Walt managed to lead his ducklings off the highway and through some pleasant gentle hills to arrive after a gentle 80km or so at this little bungalow-style hotel right by a quiet beach at Sam Roi Yot. Half the team went for a dunk in the Gulf of Thailand (temperature - warm bath). The contrast with the condo-strip could hardly be greater. A little potholed road runs along the beach with a few modest restaurants and the like straggling along it; some half-built but long-abandoned holiday chalets on stilts, brightly painted boats, some kids playing volleyball on the sand, a small handful of fat white people propping up bars. (we know all this because - yes! - we arrived in daylight!) The word sleepy comes to mind.

Or at least it did until the damn karaoke started. Actually it was a proper band this time. Worse, because karaoke is usually just a keyboard - this was 2 guitars, bass and drums, all amplified so the people at the back, about 15 feet away, could hear. This was in the little hotel's open air bar/restaurant, where dinner was quite good (though Al's green curry wasn't green but white, as they assumed the green spices would scare him), but had to be curtailed quickly when the band started. I think Honky Tonk Woman was probably the low point, though it was all bad. Surprisingly, we were the only ones who made a quick exit - the fat white people seemed to quite enjoy it, in a glazed-over kind of way.

Tomorrow we get up early. Ha! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bangkok behind us at last

It was a day of two halves......

Once again we bashed down the big highway for the first 40-odd km, until succour arrived in the form of the Cha Am beach short-cut road. This was much more our cup of tea and took us through villages, past prawn farms and salt pans and even avoided the black skies which were threatening in the afternoon.

Then to our dismay we were led - by the gps, which has a bit of a penchant for such things, back onto another 3 lane highway. Walt put up with this for a while, then in a masterly bit of gadget-juggling (his mates will know how well he does this) he managed to navigate by a sort of compromise between the gps and his iPhone, taking us down some picturesque little lanes and at one point a dirt track, to bring us neatly into Cha Am just as dusk was falling. Oh all right - it was dark, and we had just ridden through clouds of crepuscular insects which whacked into our faces in their thousands, despite the noble efforts of numerous bats to scoff them.

And what did we see in Cha Am, from a considerable distance? A stonking great 20 storey hotel, that's what. And guess where we turned out to be staying.....

We've promised ourselves a shorter day tomorrow to recover from Bangkok. Looks as if the road goes right along the coast so that should be nice......


Into the abyss.......

After a brief delay when we found out that the hotel we had booked wasn't actually in the town where Google and its own address said it was, we were off to face the perils of Bangkok traffic. But the start was a phoney war - Walt had persuaded the gps to plot a course away from main roads, and we tooled along on tiny village lanes between fish farm ponds and banana plantations. But the rural idyll was not to last. We didn't exactly notice it happening, but the roads escalated in size and traffic volume until we were on 4 lane highways with fast traffic, going over flyovers and bridges and who knows what else.

Walt's guardian angel at least put in an appearance. We were stuck at a spaghetti interchange, unable to get onto a huge bridge to cross the Chao Prayha river. Back-tracking, we found there was a toll and we weren't allowed on anyway. While trying to interpret directions from the toll girl, the GA sent along a young Thai fellow on a serious bike who knew enough English to explain the way to the bike friendly alternative bridge. He himself was planning to go another way, but at some point decided we were obviously too incompetent to find the way on our own and ended up leading us there himself.

It was a long, hot, noisy, dusty, fumey slog to Samut Sakhon in the outer suburbs, and of course we got there in the dark, but it was a relief to know that the worst of Bangkok was behind us, and the karaoke was at least quieter than the night before

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The plot thickens

The further adventures of our bags - being loaded up outside the dreadful Kawee hotel

This morning at breakfast Al heard from the TCC man and it transpires that Jeab is a man. The woman whose name is partly Jeab and whose business card is about bicycles was an entirely coincidental drive-by philanthropist. It's all very strange.

We had our first full day dose of Thai roads today and they are of an entirely different order than what we have become used to. Nice and smooth and with a fairly wide shoulder outside the white line for us to lurk on, but the traffic is like grown-up western traffic. Cars and trucks and buses thundering past us all day at 120. Tiring and stressful. The roadside coffee shacks have given way to rather posh cafes doing iced lattes and cakes, though for some reason we passed the Cowboy Love cafe and went into Coffee Please.

We made it to the Grand Plaza hotel in the dark, again, recoiled in horror from the loud karaoke in the restaurant, went out to look for something else but the stalls were shutting and nothing appealed so had to grin and bear it. Wouldn't have minded if the food was good. At least our bags had arrived safely.

Apologies for the belatedness of these posts - internet connections have left a little to be desired the last few days

Across the border

Border crossing days are never that easy and this one was less easy than most.

We rode the 45km or so to the border, at the seedy-looking town of Poipet, without mishap, and weren't even particularly late. Our new contacts at the Thailand Cycling Club had got in touch to say that one of their members by the name of Jeab would wait on the Thai side for us. Lucky was at the Cambodian side with the luggage and after a bit of sim card buying and money changing we were stamped out of Cambodia in short order and went and joined the queue for Thailand.

We stood in this stationary queue for some time. Then realised that there was a gate at the front of it which was opened periodically to let a batch of about ten people through. It wasn't a long queue, but the gate opened so rarely that it must have taken an hour to get to the front. when our batch went inside to the passport control hall, we found that our queue had only been the queue for the queue. Or rather a whole roomful of queues in front of a row of desks. We duly chose one, served our time and got through - Wally's wet Australian passport raised a smile but was happily accepted! - only to trot back round to the back of the first queue to retrieve the bikes.

Into Thailand we rode, quickly and unexpectedly changing to driving on the left, and couldn't see Lucky anywhere. Walt was short of fuel so we found lunch instead, and Al rode around a bit looking large, white and conspicuous until Lucky spotted him. By this time we had heard that Jeab had business and had had to leave, but we were to go to a petrol station down the road a bit and call, and he would come.

Well, the map wasn't big on context so we couldn't find the petrol station so with Al emailing hurried apologies to the TCC folk on his barely functional phone we decided to press on. Lucky had gone off in a rather expensive taxi with the bags. Then at a water stop at another petrol station a big Hilux pulled up and a woman started yelling at us and mentioning bikes. This, it seemed, was Jeab - she gave us our card and sure enough, the second part of her name was Jeab. She was most voluble, though sadly only in Thai, and kept trying to make us put the bikes in the back of her ute so she could drive us to Sa Kaeo where our hotel and bags were. Then Rit from the TCC happened to call so we put him onto her and they jabbered for ages on Walt's last 15% of battery. Then she continued jabbering on her own phone to someone else for ages, then insisted we stay the night with her friend in Sa Kaeo. We really needed to get going as we still had 50km to ride and it would be dark, but she wouldn't stop jabbering, and when we tried to politely go she almost screeched at as to wait as her friend - another one, it seemed, was coming to see us.

With many obeisances, we left, promising to call her when we got to Sa Kaeo, though suspecting, rightly as it turned out, that we wouldn't have the energy. We made it around dusk.

The Kawee hotel was probably built in the late 60s, and probably last cleaned in the early 70s. Even the walls were filthy, though mercifully the sheets were not. The rooms each had a tiny TV, padlocked into its own little cage lest it should try to escape. The bathrooms….. no, I'll stop there.

The upside was - Karina was there to join the team, having found her way to the dodgy Kawee from Bangkok. What must she have thought?  Welcome Karina!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Last stop in Cambodia

"It's definitely Van Praag, Sir! Send backup immediately!"

We said a fond farewell to Cindy at breakfast this morning and set out to ride 112km to Sisophon. A small plane flew over our heads at 10 something - I wonder if that was her?

The team was flying along since resetting the gear ratio on Al's bike - he was getting left behind before while Walter was just coasting. Now Walt has to work harder and about time too. Weather was perfect - cool and cloudy - and it even chose to rain while were sort of under cover having our drink and sweetcorn break. Cambodia came up with something you could call a hill today! All of 25 metres above the plain that has been going on for hundreds of kms. Walt simply flew down the other side to register a higher maximum speed - he hit 38.

We toured Sisophon for a while as we didn't have an accurate fix on the hotel for the gps, and we pronounced its name so badly that people were directing us all over the place, if they didn't just shrug. That's when we met the character with the gun, who spoke some English and made a call, then commandeered a bloke on a moped (handy things, guns) and made him lead us to it. Meanwhile Lucky, who was at the hotel already, had the presence of mind to jump on the spare bike and ride out to meet us. Which he did, at a junction where the bloke on the moped was resolutely taking us the wrong way.

It's a biggish hotel and has a lift! So we don't have to do the traditional weary slog up to the third floor. It's always the third floor.

Tomorrow Thailand. Lucky will come with us over the border and help us take the stuff, via a rendezvous with Karina, to Ka Saeo. Though we also hope to have a fellow from the Thai Cycling Club meet us at the border -- we shall see....

The previous adventure!

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