When we crossed the border from Myanmar to Thailand, we were in desperate need of a good meal and a shower, especially as we spent our last night in Burma sleeping in the cab of a truck at a Burmese truck stop!
When we cycled into Mae Sot we were blown away by just how Western everything was. I have visited Thailand previously flying directly from the UK and always thought it was distinctly Asian. Nothing has really changed between these visits, just my perspective I guess. Having arrived after five months in India, Nepal and Burma, Thailand felt modern and western; Tesco stores, home hardware depots and luxury shops everywhere – it was surprising. We were happy to be able to eat whatever we desired again and to be able to have the luxury of air conditioning on occasion.
Our route from Mae Sot on the border to Tak was a tough introduction to cycling in Thailand. It was hot, hilly, with steep long climbs! I have never felt so much affection for engineers as I do when cycling a well-graded road! Although the road was tough we had chocolate milk and cheese toasties for breakfast so were in high spirits – it doesn’t take much to make us happy anymore. The highlight of the road to Tak was the fantastic campsite we stumbled across on our first night, which we had, all to ourselves. It was serene with beautiful views over the valley below. However, we were probably most excited about the shower! We awoke to fog and an unusual feeling that we couldn’t put our finger on until we remembered – the cold! We were feeling cold, something we haven’t felt in months, we were so high up in the hills that we had to wear a long sleeve top for the chill! It didn’t last long; soon the sun was burning off the fog and beating down on us.
Once we descended 30kms out of the hills, the highway became very large, very flat and had a big wide hard shoulder, which was great. It made for a fairly dull cycle but an easy and fast one, which we were grateful for. After all the hills we had faced recently, we were ready for the change. One thing that made our lives so much easier was the constant stream of 7 Eleven convenience stores every 10 kms or so we would pass one on the side of the highway. We are both aware of how sad and deeply westernized we are to be so excited by a convenience store after five months of there being nothing even closely resembling a convenience store. But when the temperature was regularly pushing 44 degrees and you are hungry, having a vast array of cold drinks, cheese toasties and air conditioning whilst you make your pick of beverage is a huge deal so we are making the most of it while we can! Stalls along the side of the road were overflowing with produce and the food available to us now was a little overwhelming. We bought huge bags of exotic fruit and avocados and something very similar to pork jerky, which made André very happy! We were in food heaven.
We spent one night sleeping in a monastery but it felt very different to the monasteries in Burma. The monks, although nice, seemed a lot less friendly and willing to interact. There were also large numbers of teenage monks and they were hanging around in a gang, smoking, playing on mobiles and generally up to mischief – just like groups of teenage boys in every country; some human traits are definitely universal. The architecture was very different too, the Thai temples have multiple stepped roofs, larger and more elaborate finials and in general they seem to be more ornate and bejeweled, whereas the Burmese temples seemed to be simpler.
A particularly fond memory we have of cycling in Thailand was the first night (of quite a few) that we slept at a police station and this night was by far the best. As the evening was drawing in André spotted a banner outside a police station that read ‘Cyclist rest stop’ with wifi, coffee and toilet symbols – so we decided to stop and use their facilities – we had no idea how great that decision would be! The police officer on duty seemed so happy and excited to see us and immediately rushed to bring us cold drinks and snacks! We were then offered dinner by what seemed like the police station cook, she made an amazing meal with many, many different dishes, we were invited to stay the night, they picked us mangos and we chatted with them all for a while before being shown to our beds in the control room, complete with police radio! It must have been a quiet night as we slept undisturbed. In the morning we were made another enormous meal and given food and drink to take with us, it was an incredible display of kindness and we were blown away. One thing we noted on our many police station stops was that the police here drink a lot of whisky and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are on duty or not!
Bangkok was our opportunity to get our equipment, our bikes and ourselves fixed up and we spent most of our time there visiting doctors, dentists, and bike shops! We were kindly taken in by Neil and Ning – family of our lovely friends John and Charlie. Neil and Ning made us feel at home and were great hosts, Ning owns a beauty and massage shop and we were even lucky enough to get a free Thai massage. It was very relaxing and our sore muscles felt great afterwards. After a few days running a lot of errands we finally managed to find a small amount of time to do some sightseeing. We took a commuter boat down the canal, this boat was rammed and you just had to scramble in and out of the boat and hope for the best, health and safety regulations don’t seem to have made it to the canal boats in Bangkok. The ticket collector walks around a very narrow ledge as the boat rocks and sways and if it gets too rough and the water starts to splash the commuters, there is plastic covering that runs around the edge of the boat on a pulley system that you can pull to raise the sheet and protect yourself from the waves! Travelling along the river we got to see lots of beautiful old buildings and temples. Our last night in Bangkok we went to a restaurant on the edge of a man-made lake that was very pretty, all lit up with fairy lights, we had some great seafood and the dishes were delivered by waiters on bikes!
Due to André running out of time on his visa and the unexpected detour to Bangkok we took the train, or a better name for it might be ‘sweat box on rails’ to Chiang Mai. Apart from being baking hot the train was pretty easy and a good way to travel, with fold-away bunk beds we got a good nights sleep. Our time in Chiang Mai was brief but nice, staying with a very friendly scouser named Dell. The next morning we hit the road and headed to the border with Laos. The scenery had already changed dramatically from the south of Thailand, it is very green leafy and the hills have returned!
It was a two and a half day ride to the border and we camped two nights at police stations and one night we got given a lovely little wooden bungalow on the edge of a river to sleep in. It was picturesque and André even managed a quick dip in the river where he narrowly avoided getting caught up in a lady’s fishing net! The porch overhanging the river was a lovely place to sit in the evening and watch the fireflies, we would have stayed out there all night if it weren’t for the insane number of giant mosquitos. Most of the ride was through a beautiful National Park, switching between rice paddies and jungle covered hills jutting out of the landscape. On our last day in Thailand we visited the white temple (Wat Rong Khun) on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, an incredible temple all glittery and pristine, very lavish. The temple (which is actually an art installation in the style of a temple) also claims to have the most beautiful public toilets in Thailand with the building made of pure gold.
Crossing from Thailand to Laos was the most frustrating experience we have encountered at a border. The road from one immigration checkpoint to the other couldn’t have been more than 1km long, had no traffic and was smooth, new tarmac –yet we were told under no circumstances were we allowed to cycle, claiming it was an international law! We were told we had to pack all our stuff onto a shuttle bus and pay a stupid amount of money for such a short journey. Having spent our last Thai Baht on a smoothie several kms back we point blank refused to take the bus and a stand off ensued! The Thai authorities were not impressed but the rule was ridiculous so we stood our ground and eventually we were told we would be allowed to hitch a lift with a local in a flat bed truck – he drove us maybe 300 metres and then dropped us off on the bridge over the Mekong between Thailand and Laos – insane, and all of this took 90 mins to travel 300 metres! Stupid bureaucracy.
Thailand was a much-needed break and we felt rested and recuperated after the luxuries of a westernized country. However, it also felt a little touristy and unexciting after a while and we were happy to be heading into Laos even if it meant leaving behind the 7 Elevens and air conditioning!
For more photos from our time in Thailand click HERE
Read about our adventures as we coutninue on into Laos HERE