Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | South Thailand – Trans Thailand Trip (Phuket – Surat Thani)
After finally leaving Patong on Phuket Island I have spent 3 days cycling and another few hiking and sightseeing through the National parks in the center of Southern Thailand. Going from the West coast to the East coast. Visiting the islands of Phang Nga bay and the national park of Khao Sok.
Back on my own again
I think after leaving my dive buddies in Phuket I recommenced the cycling with a new, fresh attitude. I felt refreshed but also a little more realistic as to what my objectives were.
Rather than cycle every mile and every hour I had a more relaxed perspective. I left Rolf (my on-land dive master; always there to make sure I got home alright!) after a late Breakfast with an easy 60 miles to be completed by the end of the day. It did mean I was out in the hottest part of the day, but phh! 60 miles, I road 200 miles in 2 days only the week before!
Cycling beside the clear blue ocean and beautiful beaches of Phukets west coast was perfect. Although a couple of steep climbs reminded me what a week of eating, sleeping and diving does to ones fitness!
I crossed over the bridge linking the island to the mainland and everything started feeling more normal again. On the bike solo, conversations with locals about the heat and Michael Owens fitness resumed (I never realized how much they loved English Football here, even if it does seem to revolve around Liverpool & Manchester United; Arsenal need a new head of Asian marketing!).
I headed east, skirting the bay and ended up mid-afternoon in the town of Phang Nga. Not a particularly inspiring town but it is the stepping of point for boat tours around Phang Nga bay. A beautiful area that has become ‘the day trip tour’ for the Phuket sun seekers since it was made famous inJmaes Bond movie ‘The man with the Golden Gun’.
Shaken not stirred
I arranged a tour from my local hotel for the following morning. It turned out I was the only person on ‘the tour’. This which involved me be driven by the hotel owner on the back of his motor bike (my first time on a motorbike, it must hurt if you fall of one of those things, they go so fast!) to a little village where ‘his brother’ (it’s always their brother) had a long-boat, which when he got eventually got started took me into the bay.
It was actually an excellent tour, I was keen to avoid the main tourist rush of 200 seater boats of lobster red north Europeans and get back on my bike by midday. Having the boat to myself meant I could sail around the amazing limestone mesas taking photos at my leisure. I didn’t bother getting off at James Bond Island itself, I asked the guide whether you could look around the inside of the rock where Christopher Lee, playing the evil doctor death, kept his nuclear rocket launcher and shark infested swimming tank. I don’t think he understood exactly what I was talking about but I am sure it must have all been sold as scrap by now!
Back in town I had a quick lunch and a chat with the hotel owner about the tours he puts on (he has a few brothers apparently!!) It has been their business for 15 years. He says it is OK money but when you realize I paid $9 for my solo tour (It would have be $4 if there had been a group). An organized tour from the Marriott in Phuket charges $40, so you can see where the profit is being made.
He gave me some smarter directions than the limited number of roads on my map (surprise surprise) and I left heading cross-country comfortable in the knowledge that I only had 80km to ride with the only major climb being in the last 10km.
Nothing Wheelie Serious!
Things were going OK for a while until I realized that my rear wheel was slightly out of true. A surprise but not a huge problem, with my superior wheel building skills I could just re true, or so I thought. On further inspection I realized the rim was actually cracked and splitting apart. Again not a huge problem as I only had a few days more riding before Bangkok but still a little annoying.
I didn’t buy a new bike for the trip but upgraded most of the components on an already good mountain bike frame (my orange Klein). The one thing I didn’t bother with was the wheels as these only had about 3,000miles on them prior to the trip and most of this had been on roads. One would assume mountain bike wheels to be sturdier than the road wheels I had used for long tours before so I was not too worried – until now.
Because of this pit stop I got grease all over my hands. I partially removed this with the last of my drinking water. The remainder of the oil still on my hands I managed to rub into my eyes, which meant I had to remove my contact lenses and wear my ill-fitting glasses. So for the last 10km climb over the pass I was covered in sweat, dehydrated, my rear wheel was rubbing on my brakes, (bring me to a virtual standstill from my already painful 6 mile per hour climbing pace), my glasses were slipping of my nose and the hill just kept going up. It’s funny how a good day can be ruined so quickly!
Its a jungle out there!
Luckily I knew my destination was only a few kilometers from the pass. I was heading for Khao Sok national park and the park headquarters where 5km down a paved (luckily) road off the highway. Around the park HQ a number of huts and bungalows had opened and tours could be arranged to trek or kayak deeper into the jungle.
Unfortunately for me the Kings sister was visiting the lake at the center of the park and thus overnight treks were cancelled for a couple of days. I managed a gentle hike from the park entrance the following day. This was great a 2 hour walk to a remote waterfall. The last 1km involved wading up river. Once there, no people, just fresh water and natural swimming pools, an ideal Sunday afternoon.
Heading back along the trail to the village I met a Dutch girl and we ended up going for a quick drink. Within an hour there were about 7 or 8 other hikers relaxing in the bar and as is so often the case the quick drink took a little longer than planned!
The locals in the village where exceptionally friendly. The bar itself was very small, just a small table, a couple of stalls and bench by the side of the road. Later that night the owner took me, a few of his family members and friends to the commemoration of a recent monks cremation at a Buddhist temple in a nearby village. I was expecting a sobering religious affair but what it turned out to be was more akin to a church fundraiser. The main attraction (at 1am when we finally arrived) were Thai pop singers in spangly costumes and a group of Thai comedians that were employing a 4-year-old girl as the straight man! Everybody, everybody except me and the German guy I was with that is, thought it was hilarious, the one local who could speak English tried to explain, but we both accepted that the humor didn’t really translate. I am sure it would be like me trying to explain to him a Monty Python sketch!
Saving the Planet one trip at a time
Pairot (Ed to his friends) who was the owner of the bar had only built it the month before and it was already doing well. He unfortunately only had 2 CD’s, Bob Marleys greatest hits and a 2001 live recording of the Scorpions (Thai people love the Scorpions for some unknown reason). I’ve promised to send him some more suitable music when I get to Bangkok. Prior to the bar he had worked for his uncles lodge further up the road, he drove backpackers and nature lovers from the more tourist hubs back to the village. He was very interested in worldsurface.com and how he can effectively have his own web page on the net. (If you search under Khao Sok on the location search above you should be able to see the village and his bar, amazing!!!
The development of sustainable, local tourism has always been the foundation of worldsurface. I have just started an excellent, if not sobering book about globalization and the expanding northern world vs. southern world divide – When Corporations Rule The World by David C. Korten (a must read for everybody!!). The whole thing got me wondering if there are any organizations out there that specialize in offering micro-loans exclusively to develop long-term tourism within the local community. I was once involved with a quality charity called Opportunity International (www.opportunity.org) who were experts in this self-help funding for many 3rd world projects (if you want to know more about micro-loans). I am not sure it is something worldsurface will be doing for a decade or so but who knows one day people like Ed may be receiving grants to buy German soft rock CDs and maybe the odd kayak funded by our members we will see!!
Off to the party island
The next day was spent sleeping, reading (and thinking!) on my riverside balcony, and listening to the sound of the jungle all around. The following morning I was up early and off on a 130km ride to Surat Thani, and the ferry terminal to the islands of the Koa Samui archipelago. The locals were a little confused as to why I would cycle when they had a minibus heading there that cost $3 and took 2 hours – I did try to explain, but they didnt get it! The ride was great to start, heading up and down through the same massive jungle landscape. As always the heat got hotter and the wind turned to face me before I arrived into the town a little dazed and confused as to exactly where the terminal was. Some road signs said 80km it wasnt possible even for my mapmakers to be that wrong, I hoped. I ended up getting a taxi from out of town into the center where I luckily connected with a bus that too me back out of town to the terminal, 5 minutes from where I stared! Either way I was on the boat and heading for the unspoiled Backpacker Island of Kho Phan Gan