Five-day: June 15th to 19th, 2010
Luckily, not everyone who comes mountain biking with us is out to challenge their physical limits, nor to push themselves into the pain zone. Three seasoned travelers from Australia joined us for a five-day trip that started near the Sarasin Bridge (the bridge to Phuket) and ended near the Surat Thani Airport. Steve lives in Bangkok, his relatives Andrew and Graham came over too. After a series of emails, I figured out a way to give them the best taste of the coast to coast route without hitting some of the harder stretches, yet not missing the most beautiful bits.
Also important, was comfortable accommodations and great Thai cuisine, so we opted to stay in bungalows each night.
The first day was our usual rural route. The beginning is wonderful shady flat riding through a rubber plantation. This is single-track riding at its best. The few locals that we pass all live in very simple houses in the middle of the plantation. Many of these are Burmese workers who work for the Thai land/rubber owner. They’re all very friendly.
There are a few mild hills right after that, but nothing too strenuous. Luckily for us, it was cloudy whenever we hit the hills that were exposed to the sun. This made a nice difference to our comfort level. Stopping to take breaks periodically helped too.
At one point we came to a bit of a hill that’s actually easier to push up than ride up. It is ridable, but I personally feel that it’s not worth the energy expended. Once at the top, there was a glorious downhill section. Care was given to one spot (warnings given) as there is a hole to miss, but the rest of the way down to the hill is fast and pretty smooth. At the bottom of the hill were a couple of houses where rubber tapers and oil palm workers lived. Again, they all smiled and said ‘hello’!
After a brief uphill tarmack section, we got another nice downhill to cool off. We turned into the dirt again and carried on through single track trails. This was easy riding in the shade.
Lunch was at our usual small local village restaurant. This place has lovely little salas (bamboo picnic tables with a thatched roof). The food here is usually fairly hot, though they can make less spicy food. Luckily, all of these chaps could deal with spice. We had an Orange Fish Curry, a Dried Anchovy Curry and Chicken with Basil.
After lunch, we headed back on the rural road for a bit until we hit an always-interesting stretch of undulating dirt/mud. This was perhaps the most challenging section of the day, not because it was steep, but because of the tricky traction issues. Shortly after that, there was a nice downhill into a secion of single track. There is one small, narrow bridge that you’ve got to hit with a bit of speed… or walk if you’re not sure of yourself. Just prior to that, there was a narrow bit of trail with a drop off to one side. Graham made the mistake of looking that way. It’s a fact that if you look one way, chances are you’ll go that way. Graham proved that to be true. He was fine afterwards.
The remainder of this day was rolling hills. When we had all just about had enough, the end was in sight. We ended at a eye-catching temple that happened to be across from one of our regular beer stops. After consuming numerous cleansing ales, we headed to Phang Nga Town to the air-conditioned rooms of the Phang Nga Guesthouse.
Dinner was at a riverside restaurant, a fairly recent ‘find’ for us. We used to go to a different riverside restaurant in Phang Nga Town, but this one is a good-bit better. We had a lovely meal of Larb Gai (diced chicken with mint, onions and dried chilies), Fried Morning Glory in oyster sauce, Sweet-and-sour Squid and Pla Duk Foo (fried, shredded catfish topped with shredded green mango) and more cleansing ales. I’ve been having a problem with toe and leg cramps lately, so I wanted to experiement to see if perhaps beer was the culprit. I had soda water.
The bill came and I suddenly realized that I forgot my wallet.. yikes! Khun Run, my friend and licenced Thai guide, asked them if we could pay the next day. They said, “sure, no problem.”
The next morning, we walked around the corner to our usual Roti restaurant. Roti is a Middle-Eastern fried flaky bread. I like it with a light curry. The guys got sweet Roti with egg, condensed milk and sugar. Besides coffee, we all had a couple of cups of a light grass tea that is made with Bai Toi, a fragrant and sweet grass that is boiled to make a tea. It was, as always, a wonderful way to start the day.
On the next day, we headed up to the top of the Hundred Curve Road, the old passage between Phuket and Krabi. It was raining. As we were not out to prove anything, we opted to start at the top of the mountain and cruise down the other side. I went first so I could signal to the rest when they got to the turn. I was taking my time as the road was wet. Shortly after the only fairly sharp curve on this entire downhill section, I passed an eighteen-wheeler coming up the hill. I thought, “I hope they’re paying close attention and going slowly as instructed.” I heard the truck hit its air brakes and wondered if that had anything to do with my guys.
I got to the turn-off and waited. And waited. They eventually arrived. Graham had evidently gone down around that curve, right in front of the truck! Geez, that explains the sound of the brakes. This is the last time we’ll go down this road when it’s wet. When it’s dry, it’s really easy. These guys were cautious and safe riders. That’s why I chose to enjoy this pleasant downhill section.
Next, we hit the cave temple. There are many steps leading up to the cave temple and big brass or maybe bronze bells to ring. Having felt like our karma needed a refill, we rang every one of the many bells as we ascended.
The view from the top section of the temple is really nice. We saw the whole valley, from where we just came to where we were heading.
Onward we went. This secition is a fun mountain pass on a single track trail. It rises and falls gently with a couple of surprise wood-log bridges. Once over the pass, it’s smooth sailing on a gently-sloping dirt then gravel trail. This eventually turns into a wide gravel road, and then into paved secondary road.
We reached a section of unavoidable highway for a brief period, then shot off onto a mostly shady concrete back road.
Lunch was at a small park that’s quite popular with the locals as a swimming/picnicing spot. On the weekdays, almost no one is there. We have a refreshing swim to cool off and then a light meal of fried chicken, sticky rice and Som Tum (a shredded green papaya salad).
The remainder of the day was spent on backroads, dirt and mud. The highlight was watching Graham do a slow-motion capsize into a mud hole! I wish I had my video camera out at the time, although it was in such a slow motion that it probably would have looked staged… it wasn’t.
We traveled to the air-conditioned rooms at the Pruksa Resort, just outside of Khao Sok National Park. After an afternoon nap, we headed to Takhun Town for dinner, which consisted of Garlic and Peppered Squid, a lovely White Snapper in Lime Sauce, fresh Shrimp Paste with steamed vegetables and a few other tasty dishes. Of course, there were ample cleansing ales consumed to help wash away any residual toxins.
After breakfast the next day, which included one of my favorites, Haw Mok, we headed to the next starting point.
Thai food Once there, we road down a nice concrete secondary road until we reached the Sok River. I changed gears and road down into the river. I didn’t choose wisely as I soon stalled and fell over… much to the approval of an elderly chap who was washing in the river. The lads followed me, though they were wise enough to walk their bikes.
From the other side, there were nice roads and dirt tracks. We reached the second river crossing and saw an old woman paddling a bamboo raft. We crossed the river, I took a refreshing swim, then we headed up the other side.
The rest of the way until lunch was a nice mixture of secondary paved roads, gravel roads and dirt single tracks. It was mainly flat and shady. Lunch was a nice noodle soup with wonton.
The after lunch ride was mostly dirt to start with, then a bit of concrete back road, followed by some mildly undulating dirt/gravel roads. It was almost entirely in the shade. The hardest part was a very long mild uphill grade. Though mostly shady and smooth, it was a bit tiring. Once at the top, we took a break before heading down a lovely section of dirt and gravel that coursed through rubber plantations and rural farmland.
Our bus was waiting to whisk us away back to the Pruska Resort. Steve, Andrew, and Graham went into town to get a massage from a very experienced older masseur.
We had dinner at the Isaan Restaurant next to the resort. Isaan is the northeastern part of Thailand. It’s known for its spicy food. We started off with an appetizing dried beef salad. We also had Larb Gai (diced chicken with mint, onions, lots of dried chili powder and some beautiful grilled chilies), a White Snapper in Three Tastes, a stir-fried Veggie dish with wonderful black mushrooms and, for a change, a bit of beer. This was all served outside in a charming wood and bamboo sala. After dinner we went into the inside restaurant to watch some World Cup soccer.
Our final day had arrived and all too soon.
We started off on with another gentle, but long uphill grade. The reward for our efforts was a delightfully-long downhill grade. Around from that, we traveled down a dirt road until we reached a drink stop.
Next, we did a bit of road riding, and then we had a nice dirt road section. Before lunch, we had a long section of flat secondary road that coursed past farms and small mom-and-pop shops.
For lunch, the guys had a stir-fried noodle dish with shrimp, pork and squid. I opted for squid with basil on rice. We also had a yummy Salted Egg Salad.
After lunch, we had a bit of road riding before reaching the final stretch. We reached a small village school, had a break and then headed off on some fantastic single track riding through rubber plantations to finish off the day.
We ended up at a beer stop (surprise) and probably put back into ourselves all of the calories that we burned this day. We sat under a nice sala that featured nice woodwork, a lovely stain and a thatched roof. Rain came in and we sat drinking beer and chatting about how much fun we had, but it wasn’t over. swimming spotWe had some time to kill before the guys had their flight back to Bangkok. Khun Run chatted with the locals and found out that there was a swimming spot down the road.
It turned out to be quite nice and indeed popular. There was a spillway with a road that leads from one side of the river to the other. The road was slightly under water, but that didn’t stop several motorbikes and a few trucks from crossing.
The water temperature was perfect. The locals were very friendly, with several coming by to chat with us. After about an hour in the water, we packed up and headed to Surat Thani so the guys could catch their flight to Surat Thani.
All in all, the trip was mildly challenging, we had a lot of great food, plenty of time to take it easy, Great scenery and quite a few cleansing ales to help counter all of the calories that we burned.
Some more photos taken during this 5 day tour
One of the roadside restaurants we visited, this one specialized in wonton noodle soup.
The river crossing.
Graham sneaking through a palm oil plantation.
Crossing a coldspring creek.
Graham, master of mud.
One of the gentle downhill roads.
Easy country roads.