Seaside

December 22, 2012

After the last couple of 5am mornings, it felt good to sleep until 6. Breakfast was included with the room, which saved us from our usual half hour routine of searching for a meatless meal. We have learned that “orange juice” here seems to refer more to the color of the beverage than the actual fruit content. After some eggs, toast, nescafe and tang we were ready to head out.

Chandler had a shortcut to the ocean which “may go through”. We ended up biking through an industrial area. First a propylene plant and then a nitrate plant, which smelled really bad. Even though it wasn’t the most scenic or direct route, we were so happy to be on the bikes again. The short cut was cut short with a large barbed wire fence, so we had to jog back inland to get back to the coast.

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Very scenic

After some pretty leisurely riding we made it to Ban Phe and decided it was time for a pineapple break on the beach. We biked on the beach for a bit, but gave up on that idea pretty quickly.

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Chan and the bikes

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Biking on sand

We realized that the Cambodian border is only 120 miles away and we have 8 days left on our Thai visas. We don’t really feel any rush to leave Thailand yet, so we decided to camp in another national park, Khao Laem Ya – Mu koh Samet.

After setting up the tent and having a cold beverage, it was time to swim. The beach was sandy and the water was clear. The moment we jumped in the water, two little girls came swimming over to us. They must have been about 9 years old. We spent about an hour playing with them. Mostly swimming around, picking them up and launching them into the water and at one point they braided my hair. We had fun figuring out everyone’s name and trying to communicate in different languages.

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The girls playing

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Our new friends

At some point, we realized one of our metal water bottles had gone missing. Chandler agreed to go back to where we had our pineapple snack to look for it. I stayed near the tent to keep an eye on our stuff. I also got to watch a number of Thai people set up their camping areas. It was impressive the amount of stuff they brought with them. Barbeque, brooms, tables, all sorts of totes. One couple even brought a satellite and TV and another couple brought their birds along. It looked like people were moving to the campground, not spending a weekend.

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Camping bird

Chandler came back empty handed which is annoying because now we’ll have to get a new water bottle. Oh well.

He picked up a hammock in Sangkhlaburi and finally had an opportunity to set it up. We took turns relaxing in it until dinner.

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First use of the hammock

It was a thoroughly relaxing day, and it felt great to be back on the road and back on our own schedule.

Trains and buses

December 19 – 21, 2012

We woke up at 5am to make sure we didn’t miss the early bus which supposedly leaves at 6am. When we got to the bus station it was such a relief to see the driver and the baggage boy look at the bikes with a “no problem” expression. They helped us pull the bikes on board through the back door of the bus and tie them off to the window frame. They told us to sit in the back next to the bikes, but right after we did a very young monk and a very old monk got on board and we were obliged to give up the back seats of the bus to them as is customary here. It was a great relief as we really didn’t want to bike over those huge hills again. When we got to the first hill on the bus Chandler and I exchanged grins as the bus barely crept up in first gear, motor hammering the whole way.

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Bikes on a bus

After that, the ride got really boring really quickly. It was nice to cover so much ground but it just wasn’t fun like biking. We stopped about forty times in 3 hours, as our bus also served as a sort of school bus. We asked to be dropped off at Hellfire Pass and after we were pretty much tossed overboard onto the grassy shoulder we headed off to a nearby museum.

The museum is actually a memorial dedicated to the allied prisoners of war and indentured asian workers who died during the construction of the “Death Railroad” during WWII. The railway was intended to create a supply line to the Japanese/Allied front in Myanmar. Due to a lack of machinery and a sense of urgency, most construction activities including rock excavation were done by hand. Hellfire Pass was the deepest rock cut done on the route. It took 20 months for 415km railroad to be built with more than 100,000 men dying of disease, starvation and torture (10,000+ POWs and 90,000 Asian workers/slaves). The museum displays indicated that most of the allied POW were British, Australian and Dutch troops captured during the surrender of Singapore. There were also a few hundred American POWs who were captured in Java.

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Hellfire Pass

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Hand tool

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We spent some time walking through the actual pass trying to comprehend how unbearable the conditions and the work must have been for those forced to be there.

After the museum, we rode our bikes 15 miles to the train station in Nam Tok. Again we were lucky that the bikes weren’t too much of a problem. The train was exciting at first, but it also lost its appeal after an hour or two.

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We finally made it to Nakam Pathom where we needed to transfer to get to the main Bamgkok train station. Our train had already gone, so we had to take the morning train. We found a Chinese hotel which was kind of scary, but it was cheap and right next the station. We also got to see the largest pagota in Thailand which is apparently a “must see”.

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Pagota

We got up early again to catch the 6:20 train to Bangkok. Everything went smoothly until we got to Bangkok. The train to Rayong province had already left and we would have to spend the night in town. That was not ideal but we had some errands to do anyways. I decided to hang out and get a few of the blog posts done because we are about a week behind while Chandler did our chores.

Our wonderful host at the Hidden Holiday House had warned us that biking to Rayong is a little miserable because we would be on busy highways almost the entire time. He suggested to just take the train. All of his suggestions and warnings have been correct so far, we were going to follow his advice again.

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Train at the station

The next morning we got up to the train station early. Chandler purchased our tickets and the agent told us to go to platform 10. Chandler then went to talk to the guys at the scales to make sure our bikes could go on the train. The officer said our train had already left from platform 6. What?

We went to talk to the ticket agent and sure enough it had already left. They also refused to refund the ticket or reissue it for the next day. We were both getting super frustrated at this point. We decided to first go check out a buses, otherwise we would just deal with biking to Rayong.

Luckily, there was a bus that could take us and our bikes to Rayong no problem. We had to hang out for a few hours and wait. We did have a lovely chat with an American visiting his son. The bus ride was a little uncomfortable for me because I got carsick. But, we were so relieved to finally make it to Rayong with our bikes.

That night we had an amusing dinner. I tried to explain that I was vegetarian, and the waitress started pointing at things on the menu that had meat in them. I kept saying “no meat” but it turns out this was misinterpreted and we ended up getting all the things she pointed to with no meat. It was a big dinner and Chandler was nice enough to eat the whole bowl of bean curd soup we nicknamed “Velveeta marshmallow soup” if you can imagine the texture.

We are excited to start biking again tomorrow.

Baan Unrak

December 16 – 17, 2012

We spent the first day in Sangkhlaburi relaxing and catching up on emails and the blog. We found an excellent cafe that served real coffee rather than the Nescafe stuff which is usually what passes for coffee here. Our plan was to leave the next day and go back to Bangkok, but we saw a flyer on the door of the cafe at changed our minds.

The Baan Unrak home and school is a place for Burmese refugee women and children. The kids have no papers and are therefore not allowed to attend Thai schools. Two didi’s or nuns came to Sangkhlaburi and opened the home and school to help them out. The school has grown so much that one of the nuns’ home is being used as a classroom. A new building is being built to house the nun and several disabled children.

The superstructure of the building was constructed with steel and concrete blocks. The non load bearing interior and exterior walls were being built out of mud bricks. We were pretty curious to see the project so we figured we would stick around to help out. It was a really awesome experience and we were happy to help a great cause. Plus, the school uses Montessori methods and all the food served there was vegan, so how could I not help.

We helped make mud, bricks and built exterior and interior walls. The mud is a mixture of local clay-rich soil mixed with rice hulls for some tensile strength and water. The mud is then put into a mold to form the bricks, the mold is slipped off and the bricks are left to dry for several days. Once dry, the bricks are smoothed of rough edges and debris. The same mud is thinned with water and then used as a mortar when constructing the walls. We were also given a lesson on making “cob”, a mud, sand and straw mixture. It was incredible how strong the cob was. The cob was used at the end of the walls, to bond the walls to the wooden door frames.

A Canadian named Dan who has lived in Thailand for a while was running the show. A few other volunteers were helping Dan with the construction including a group who bussed in from Bangkok just to help out for a week. We felt bad we couldn’t stay and help longer, but we had plans to head east of Bangkok to continue our ride to Cambodia before our visas run out!

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Mixing dirt and rice hulls

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Mixing the mud

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Making bricks

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Chan pouring mortar

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Exterior wall building

The next day we wanted to take a bus back to Nam Tok then catch a train to Bangkok. We could take a bus the whole way, but we figured a train would be more fun, and we wanted to see the Hellfire Pass Memorial which was on the way. We got up early to go to the Mon side of town for breakfast. Chandler had read about Roti Ong, a roti filled with chickpeas, onions, garlic and spices. After some searching we found them in the main marketplace. They were awesomely delicious.

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Roti ong

We then headed to the the bus depot and tried to buy tickets but the agent wasn’t sure if we could take the bikes. When the bus arrived it was clear we weren’t going. The undercarriage was completely full of cargo. So, we went over the second class bus depot, to find out the 9am bus wasn’t running and that we should come back at 1:15.

We hung out, read, did laundry and had fruit shakes. We got to the bus depot at 12:50 only to find out we still weren’t leaving. The bus had either already come and gone or wasn’t coming at all. It was a frustrating day, but we ended up glad we could spend one more day in Sangkhlburi, which has a very nice laid back vibe. We went back to the guest house for another night and hoped we could get on the 6am bus out of town otherwise we’ll be biking up our favorite hills.

Misery makes memories

December 15, 2012

View Dec 15 2012 in a larger map

The morning started out well. We were cheered going up a steep hill by a bunch a Thai farmers. How can you not love a place when people cheer you on? Thai people are all really friendly. We are constantly getting waves and thumbs up. People honk at us to yell hello or ask where we are going. Little kids are the best though. They are all super excited, waving, blowing kisses.

The plan for the day was to get back on the highway and go to Sangkhlaburi, about 50 miles away. Getting off the dirt road was nice, but the highway was very hilly. We had to take a break around noon, as the heat was becoming unbearable. We found a little rest area at an immigration checkpoint and decided it was as good a spot as any to stop. We got a couple Cokes and then hung out reading in a covered area overlooking the river.

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Nice place for a break

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River

At 3 it was time to finish the last twenty miles. Our host at the Hidden Holiday House had warned us about three big hills that we would go up and back down and back up. We had already gone up and down several large hills and we hoped we were through the major climbing. A few kilometers from our rest stop we began to climb, and around each bend the road kept going up, up, up.

The hills were brutal. Again we were stopping after every switch back to drink water and take a break. We crested each hill, then immediately lost all the elevation we gained on steep descents.

By the last hill my legs had turned to jello and I hated everything everywhere. At one point, I was really upset and Chandler started singing “misery makes memories”, I didn’t know if I could handle any more hills.

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Finally, the top, only to go all the way to the bottom again

It was such sweet relief when we were finally over that last hill with no more big ones in sight, but we still had several more miles to go. We stopped at a 7-11 at a highway intersection and had our favorite snack of juice and Ovaltine cookies, then headed into Sangkhlaburi.

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Buddha welcomes us to town

It was getting dark by the time we made it to town. We didn’t know where the guesthouse we planned to stay at was, so we spent a while roaming around trying to get oriented. We actually ended up on the wrong side of the lake, in a Mon village. We were able to cross back to the main town over a large handbuilt wooden bridge. Finally Chandler found the guesthouse, but just our luck, they had no rooms and we had to keep looking. I really started to lose it at this point. We had just biked 46 pretty difficult miles and I was only interested in a shower and pineapple shake.

Chandler was able to keep it together and found us a bungalow at a homestay nearby. We had a simple dinner, watched some incomprehensible Thai TV and went to sleep.

I dream of pavement

December 14, 2012

The morning started with instant coffee and a hardy meal of rice and omelette. It was then time to hit the road. We were able to take a “closed” paved road from the park to a fork in the road. The way we came was about 4 miles or we could take the 1.5 mile shortcut the GPS was suggesting. We opted for the shortcut.

Of course it was uphill the whole way and on a narrow little trail I’m sure only the locals use. It was extra gravelly, meaning I had to walk my heavy bike up most of it. But in the long run, it did cut out some hard miles of steep ups and downs.

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Not the happiest camper

We had been warned that the steepest sections of the road were paved and right when we finally connected with the main road, it was paved with concrete. Oh no. It started out gradually steepening, but then suddenly the road seemed to go vertical, which continued for a kilometer or so.

I didn’t know if I could handle another monster so early in the ride. I noticed I need a few miles to warm up before I can efficiently go up steep long hills. Luckily, this was a short hill with a nice long flat portion at the top to cool down on. The road was nicely shaded by jungle on either side. We took a little break to drink water and Chandler said based on the map we had another 300 meters of vertical before we were on top of the plateau.

I kept waiting for another giant hill, but it never came. Even the paved sections weren’t too steep. I did see this guy though. Anyone want me to big him home for you? Thank goodness for zoom. For scale, its legs were broader than an outstretched hand. Yikes.

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My new pet

Being on the plateau was wonderful. Not too humid or hot. We had no problem riding the entire day. The only thing we were wishing for was pavement. Riding on dirt roads all day is definitely an arm workout, and pretty dusty when a rare car would come by.

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Rubber tree?

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Limestone mountains

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Quiet beautiful riding

We didn’t really have a plan for where we were going to sleep except at one of the national parks. We got to the visitor center of a park with lots of caves. About ten people came out to greet us. They gave us cold water, maps and a place to rest. It took two of them and the two of us about 20 minutes to figure out their park was closed and there was another park up the road that was open. They showed us pictures of the inside the caves including one of a giant stalagmite that is “#1 in the world, 62 meters.” The caves are only open in March and April.

We finally got to the park that was open and were escorted to the area we could camp. The park staff tried to tell us they would put our tent together for us. We politely declined which led to much confusion. Four of them looked on worriedly while we set up our tent. They gave us pillows and blankets. They also thought we were crazy because we weren’t cold. We were clearly the only visitors at the park.

Chandler went down to check out the waterfalls while I relaxed in the tent. While he was swimming with a few locals in one of the pools he noticed a park ranger watching from the edge of the jungle. Chan walked down the river to the next waterfall and the ranger followed, but kept his distance. A bit weirded out, Chan asked him where the tallest section was. The ranger then proceeded to sprint down the river with Chan barely able to keep up. After a very rapid tour of the rest of the falls he led Chan back to the road and left abruptly. The whole thing was a little strange.

Anyways we met another sweet stray dog to end the day.

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