Day 7: Nakhon Sawan – Khanu Woralaksaburi (62km)
The best cycle so far. Every km was lush and the roads straightforward. We covered 62km in four hours of cycling with plenty of photo stop offs.
Get out of Nakhon Sawan as fast as you can and head north towards the smaller roads shouldering Ping River again. We stuck to the left side of the river for the entire 62km, with only very minor twists and turns until reaching our destination. The whole ride was quiet on the roads and with most charming countryside, from the probs more middle-class river side suburbs of the city, the almost continuous roadside settlements and the sugar cane/tea/corn/coconut farming of the more remote final leg. One highlight included cycling past about hundred school kids doing an organised ‘Bike For Dad‘ ride as part of the King’s birthday celebrations. Not so many 7-11s or fancy stop off points but plenty of decent smaller shops and restaurants, including the sweetest mother and daughter restaurant about 5km north of Kae Lieo who indulged our terrible Thai with encouragement and good grace.
The ‘town’ of Khanu Woralaksaburi was not on our map much to our surprise, especially to find an entire fun fair and Chinese New Year celebration including Thai covers of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Bit odd. Convinced this was actually a zombie town and we were going to be eaten by nightfall. Local people the most perplexed and astounded to see westerners so far. Interestingly this is where we saw the first other white person for a week.
Day 8: Khanu Woralaksaburi – Kampheang Phet (67km)
Crikey this day was hard, but for no particular reason. The road was flat, good and straight the whole was but especially uneventful scenery made for a hard slog and a bit of a boring day. And it was really hot.
Turn right and over the bridge through Khanu Woralaskaburi (actually great views over thw wide river) and then just keep heading up the highway just to the right of the river until you reach your destination of Kampheang Phet. Pretty simple. Not too many towns along the way to break up the monotomy but there are loads of smaller settlements along the road with ample pit stops for food and shady rest. We stopped at a very good BBQ place about 45km before Kampheang Phet and were glad to be able to diversify our meals by learning the words ‘salad’ and ‘grilled’.
Highlight of the day was being honked at and pulled over by this very naturally hospitable woman who listened with great glee to my wonky Thai explanation of what we were doing, where we’d been and where we were going. She then have me some of her home grown bananas and then drove off to do the same for Olga who was a little behind me. Thai warmth at it’s best.
Kampheang Phet itself is a nice spot and I would recommend it. It seems to be quite a large town that has at least some passing tourist trade. Pretty sleepy and quiet with a no stress vibe. Ate at a very good Vietnamese restaurant opposite Three J Guesthouse where we stayed and topped up on vegetables.
Day 3: REST DAY: Kampheang Phet
Kampheang Phet has quite a few attractions within a short-ish distance so makes for a good pit stop. Defo recommend. You can hire motorbikes and head west to the hills for a variety of waterfalls, or head towards Sukothai for hot springs and more Thai massage as we did to soothe very aching muscles. The hot spring was so soothing but also quite a challenge not having heart palpitations in 50 degree water when it’s already 34 degrees.
Was too zoned out to remember to take a photo of the massage experience but it was memorable. The foreigners were pretty much pounced on by about ten trainee masseuses who could not have been older than twelve/thirteen but claimed fifteen. They didn’t quite seem to know what to do or what was going on, creating quite an odd hour of being prodded by a team of laughing children who kept trying to ask you how old you were. Some grown ups took over after a while for the real pain, giving us a two and a half hour massage for £3.50.
There is also a historical park with ruins of the Sukothai empire era that sadly we didn’t make it to as we were held in traffic for hours because of road closures due to more en masse Bike For Dad celebrations. What is all these cyclists problems ffs, can’t they just stay inside and develop diabetes like everyone else?
We also found a pizza restaurant called Oasis on tripadvisor just outside of town and could not have been happier to turn up on a motorbike and fill our faces with the familiar and delicious wheaty based foods of home. Rice is nice but it’s very repetitive.
Day 9: Kampheang Phet – Tak (81km inc detours)
This was a real belter of a beautiful cycle that my eyes and legs embraced whole heartedly. Today Olga and me cycled separately as she wasn’t feeling on top form and I had itchy legs so we agreed to meet in Tak. I whizzed almost 50k before stopping for more than a few minutes and was feeling in fine fettle, I think from a new strategy of eating something every 45mins to keep energy up.
A 40min stop and what was almost a conversation at a roadside spot with these lovely women and then I finished the final stretch in good time before 1:30pm! You can leave Kampheang Phet many ways to get onto the not mega highway of Tesa 2 that is smooth and whips you along. There are various options to get onto even smaller roads closer to the river (right side) and that will take you through more lush villages and very friendly folk (and a high proportion of dogs…).
Pictures won’t do this gentle journey justice, but it was about 60km of a combination of almost zero traffic, enthusiasm from locals, banana planatations and the final stretch of winding around the first low lying hills before hitting the smelly Tak highway.
Bit of a polava with hotels as both of the ones we had pre agreed were fully booked and neither of us had phones to communicate while we were a far distance apart. Safe to say that my holiday Thai app was insufficient in this situation, but short story is we settled at Domethong Residence in the highway infested town of Tak, right opposite a giant Tesco. We didn’t go into Tak as the presence of massive scary highways with shit loads of traffic put us right off.
Day 10: Tak – Mae Sot (70km or so BY BUS!)
Having thankfully listened to (Olga’s) reason we decided not to cycle to Mae Sot as it is not only a mega long shlep up a very steep mountain but it is a bit of a vile road also. So glad. Please, cyclists just get a bus. I don’t think you’re missing that much unless you’re someone who is absolutely adamant that they won’t travel more than a metre that isn’t pedal powered. You can’t even really see the mountaneous glory of the mountains as there’s too many bloody trucks and minibuses trying to cut each other up for at least the first narrow laned 20-30km. The road does get better and thankfully wider but despite winding through mountains it isn’t so scenic.
Instead we loaded out bikes onto the roof of a minibus for an extra 100B (£2) and saved about seven hours of pain and fear and arrived in lovely Mae Sot in about an hour and a half. Buses from Tak bus station go very often. Dead easy.
Days 11-12: Mae Sot REST DAYS
Inspired by the previous day’s avoidance of cycling we took our feet of the pedals in style and checked into a suprisingly cheap hotel, Raimaneethip Homestay, about 3-4km out of town in the surrounding rural areas. It had a SWIMMING POOL and a farm where all the food you eat is picked and grown. It was proper lush and would have been perfect if either we spoke Thai, the Burmese staff spoke Thai, or English, or we all spoke any other common language as it was quite an effort to order any food. All in well humoured good grace however.
Mae Sot is a bit special and we were very glad to stay and be lazy somewhere very friendly and easy for a few days. Got overexcited about finding a curry restuarant with chapattis and also got my bike gears tweaked and a kind mechanic erased a click I’d been fiddling with all week in about eleven seconds. So quick he didn’t even charge. I tried to watch and learn but he was too quick
As a border town between Thailand and Myanmar the town is a bit of a mish mash of things. The Burmese (Myanmar-ese?) influence is strong, to the point that it’s harder to recognise Thai spoken on the street, the food available is quite different immediately and there is a very notable increase in ethnic diversity.
Over the years the western hills of Thailand have become home to large numbers of Burmese refugees, many of whom lack proof of identity of citizenship and the human rights this affords. Maybe this will change with the political shifts occuring in Myanmar and perhaps many of the Burmese refugees and working migrants will choose to move back over the border. Early to say perhaps. The town is also home to a booming NGO scene, resulting in a higher proportion of westeners and non local Thai/SE Asian workers and the luxury businesses that follow (loads of coffee shops).
Leaving Thailand feeling I’ve only just gotten started and that the dominance of the cycling and adapting to the new ryhthm has meant I’ve not learnt anywhere near as much as I’d like about the country. Hoping that I’ll be less physically exhausted once I get in my stride and will have enough juice left to learn about Myanmar more meaninfully.