Day 1 of our bike trip had us out the door for 7am, in my haste I managed to drop my phone and smash it, again. The second time in as many months! Now the sole responsibility for navigating our adventure lies with Rob and his phone, uh oh. Before we could make progress towards Kanchanaburi we had to escape from Bangkok, easier said than done. Our first 10 miles were on crazy Bangkok roads, cars and motorbikes tooting their horns constantly, sometimes to say watch out I’m coming through, sometimes to say hello or in our case sometimes to tell you you’ve just cycled onto a highway get off it immediately!! Fortunately we could just throw our bikes over the wall and we were back on safe land, a few more wrong turns and and close calls later the roads gradually became less busy and after 20 miles we were free from the city! Then we took to the rural roads running through villages and alongside canals, much more peaceful than the chaos we’d left behind. We had a lot of miles to cover so in the morning we only stopped for water and a bag of tesco cookies. We found a small village at around 50 miles and somehow, using broken Thai and animal sound effects, managed to order non spicy chicken and rice with an egg! Result.
Being a person who loves to plan, up until now on our travels I’d always booked our hotels at least the day before. But because we’d decided to attempt our furthest ever bike ride in a foreign country with rented bikes I wasn’t convinced we’d make it so hadn’t booked to avoid tempting fate! We’d made good time by lunch but without a wifi sign in sight we’d have to chance it all the way to kanchanaburi! The afternoon cycle was slightly slower, our bums were not used to this excessive saddle riding so we were beginning to feel the effects! We stopped to share a banana muffin with a friendly dog and then were run off the road by a herd of charging cows! We made it within 5 miles of the city before the heavens opened so we arrived to Kanchanaburi soaked and with no place to go. We jumped at the first hotel we saw, technically it wasn’t actually a hotel, it was a few rooms stuck together on a floating barge but at £5 a night who are we to grumble. Turns out they didn’t have electricity or toilet roll so we did grumble a bit and went in search of better pastures the next day. Anyway it had beds so it was a good enough place to rest our heads. Leg 1 of Tour de Thailand complete, over 7 hours in the saddle and 86 miles in the legs, smashed it!
The next day after pancakes for breakfast we discovered the touristy area of Kanchanaburi and got a little place for £4 a night. It’s not a hugely popular place for backpackers but there were a few restaurants and hotels, most people tend to visit on day tours from Bangkok to tick off the a few attractions. Kanchanaburi is probably best well known for the Bridge on the River Kwai which was built by prisoners of war in WW2. We visited the bridge, which has been re built after it was bombed, and the also went to the museum to learn about the history of the area.
Stuff we learnt: the Japanese wanted to build a railway line to connect Burma and Thailand to aid with their war efforts. They wanted it built fast, the line would need to run through mountains and would be over 400km long, not an easy task. Over 60,000 POW’s were used (mainly English and Australian soldiers) and over 180,000 Asian labourers were forced to work on the line. The conditions were dire, much of the work was carried out in the jungle were diseases were rife and access to medical care was impossible, on top of that food was limited and the Japanese guards were brutal. This amounted to huge casualties about a quarter of the POW’S died and almost half of the Asian labourers. Such a tragic story and the museum really brought home the horrors of war. After the end of the war a lot of the POW’S were recovered from the mass graves alongside the railways and were given proper burials in Thailand. The Kanchanaburi cemetery is in the heart of the city and has the graves of 3,865 British personnel there, the victims families can take some small comfort in the fact they are laid to rest in a beautifully kept cemetery which is respected by locals and foreigners alike.
There’s a couple of touristy areas in Kanchanburi but for the most part it’s a very local place. One of the highlights of my trip so far happened as we were heading to the museum. As we were biking into the centre we passed a mini parade with a full band and people dancing in the street, obviously we wanted to see what was going on so we parked our bikes and walked over. A couple of the blokes dancing spotted us and asked us to join in, in after that there was no leaving! The parade consisted of one bloke on a horse (turns out it was his party to celebrate becoming a monk), an amazing 6 piece band and plenty of happy Thai people dancing away. Everyone was so friendly, they taught us how to Thai dance, gave us bottles of beer and passed round a suspicious whiskey jug that everyone was drinking from, it didn’t matter that it was 10am! It was such an amazing atmosphere we ended up partying all the way down the street. The poor monk was the only one who didnt look like he was having fun as he had to ride in a full white suit on a dancing horse for the whole journey!
A lovely lady called Joom could speak some English and she insisted we joined the party for lunch as well, can’t say no to that! After about 2 hours of dancing and drinking and singing we finally made it to the marquee, we were seated and immediately welcomed by the other guests who hadn’t been at the parade, no questions asked as to why two white people were at the party, they thanked us for coming and then fussed over us no end! We were served a traditional green curry, not spicy they said! I had to put my sunglasses on to hide the tears coming out of my eyes! Someone must have caught on that I was struggling because all of a sudden our table was filled with alternative food options for us to try. Plus more drinks of course! By far one of our best days we’ve had so far! Especially after I’ve been reading about some of the horrible hate crimes going on back home, the kindness and generosity of these Thai people to to two foreign strangers was overwhelming. What a day!
The morning was time to say goodbye to Kanchanaburi, but we had time to nip to our new friend Joom’s house for breakfast. She runs a small restaurant out of the front of her house, she told us she makes a profit of between £4-£6 a day which is better than the £3 she used to make working a 10 hour shift in a restaurant for someone else. Something not spicy was our only request for breakfast, ok she said I’ll just make a little little spicy for you. I got carried away with my first spoonful and almost choked, definitely in the top 2 spiciest foods I’ve eaten, only beaten to the top spot by yesterday’s green curry! We ate up and said our goodbyes and thanks, it was time to head to Suphan Buri!
The route to Suphan Buri was rather uninspiring, one long busy main road but it did have nice fields to look at on either side. The places in between are definitely not used to tourists either, we turned quite a few heads on the way, I swear one guy even crashed his bike by craning his neck for too long! Yet again everyone was so friendly, if we ever stopped to look at a map a local would pull over and offer us help. We decent time and covered the 57 miles in just under 4 hours. Leg 2 complete!
Suphan Buri didn’t have a lot to offer us except a lot of rain, we visited a few temples, ate some food and then got an early night ready for leg 3. Ayuthaya is our next stop, the ancient capital of Thailand! We were on the road early, before breakfast! Fortunately one thing Thailand isn’t short of is food! Along every road even in the middle of nowhere you can guarantee you’ll find someone with a bbq cooking up some chicken! We surprised an old Thai couple by stopping by at their roadside grill, a stick of chicken was only 20p a piece so we grabbed one each and pulled up in the lay by to eat them. Turns out that was just outside their house, a metal shack at the edge of the field, the lady then insisted on giving us bags of rice each, sauce to eat with it and drinks, all for 20p! The generosity of Thai people never ceases to amaze me!
The rest of the route was slightly more rural than the day before, we passed through tiny villages and along country roads before Ayutthaya came into sight. It was the ancient capital of Thailand so the temples are pretty old but even more impressive for that fact and they’re just dotted out around the city. There was a lot of European settlements in this area too so we cycled past a french Catholic church on the way in too, very out of place amongst all the temples! We made it into the heart of the city and checked in at big tony’s place, without a reservation might I add, damn I’m getting spontaneous! That’s leg 3 complete, a steady 39 miles ticked off.
We’d allowed ourselves two nights in Ayutthaya to allow the bums to recover, plenty of time to explore the temples! Ayuthaya was a massive Kingdom between 1351 and 1767 but the Burmese kept attacking…yeah we didn’t really know that much about what we were looking at but the temples were still pretty bad ass! Here’s some pictures so I don’t bore everyone truing to explain what they looked like…
We spent both days cycling through town and mooching round the temples and spent both nights eating Thai style on the street with the locals. Had the best Pad thai of my trip so far, and I’ve had a lot! And we had the most amazing homemade coconut ice cream, the whole lot only cost us £3, not surprised nobody cooks in Thailand!
The final leg of the journey was back to Bangkok, by this point our legs were achey and are bums were in bits so we just wanted to get home! The first 20 miles were pleasant enough, we followed the canal so got to see the locals going about their daily fishing routines, these guys know how it’s done, they had spears attached to fishing wire attached to crossbows, no messing! Once we were 15 miles from Bangkok the cycling dream was over, we were back on the crazy roads with the thousands of other drivers! Some how got absolutely filthy whilst fighting our way through the traffic but we finally made it home, well our temporary home, Tiny Hostel. Leg 4 complete, 47 miles done and back in time for lunch!
We’ve covered 229 miles and there wasn’t a puncture in sight, pretty pleased with ourselves and our tour of Thailand. I might have bruised my bum beyond repair but it’s been such a good way to see the less touristy side of Thailand!
Here’s a few things I’ve learnt whilst we’ve been exploring these last few days:
1. Red lights are optional
2. It’s completely acceptable to drive down the wrong side of the road even on a motorway
3. If you’ve not seen a 711, a temple or a man BBQ’ing chicken in the last 10 minutes you’ve probably accidentally cycled out of Thailand.
4. The only thing Thai men love more than whiskey is dancing with whiskey.
5. It’s wise to make friends with as many budding monks as possible because they throw one hell of a party when they arrive at monkhood.