Saturday, January 30, 2010

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Malaysia! (Hat Bang Ben to Langkawi, Malaysia)

Time is getting hard to keep track of, so let's say it's been about a week that we've been biking beach to beach along the western coast of Thailand. Somehow, the mornings of hot but lovely cycling, afternoons of lounging by the ocean and evenings of delicious fresh seafood have all melted together a bit (and I literally mean they've melted.... we spend about half our biking hours and much of our restful afternoons in about 38C - 42C heat!)

After our rest day in Hat Bang Ben, we cycled down the coast of the Krabi, Trang and Satun provinces, catching highlights such as the watery national park of Phang Nga, with its many limestone caves and islands, including one nicknamed after a James Bond film shot there.

Some drawings on a wall of one of the limestone caves, said to be some thousands of years old...

A fishing village on the edge of one of the islands, built almost entirely over the water...

Mike still managed to find some bikes lying around the village, though their use in such a village must have been severely limited...

Cycling here is very easy, logistically and otherwise, especially compared with some of our earlier destinations. Roads are perfectly paved with large shoulders. Between sunrise and early afternoon we can easily cover a hundred or so km with as many roadside drink and noodle stops as we can possibly handle. The odd ferry we have to take is also very easy, with none of the hassle we had before arriving in SE Asia about bringing bikes on public transportation - they get LOTS of bikes here, those battles were fought long ago.

Afternoons, evenings and the rare rest days (we've only needed two since Bangkok, as the early starts leave lots of time in the afternoons for lazing around) are almost exclusively spent in shady hammocks, beachside huts and other such wonderful places.

The only thing we feel we've missed out a little on this route is some access to "real" Thai culture. It's a little too much "falang" (foreigner) culture we've been exposed to on this stretch, though we certainly expected it, hopping from one beach resort to another. We were ready for a break - the most special glimpses into real-life local culture seem to come at a price of muddy roads clogged with haze and construction, lack of accomodation, communication barriers and such... We've taken many a break to re-energize our legs, but after almost seven straight months, we were ready for a chance to re-energize our "cultural" endurance as well. If/when we come back to Thailand, we'd love to visit the many areas north of Bangkok where so much of the local activity isn't dedicated to catering to tourists.

As we left the beach-happy province of Krabi, headed south through Trang and Satun, the falang-stops did get fewer and farther between, and the towns got progressively more Muslim as we approached Malaysia.

A bunch of girls on their way to school that we shared a ferry back from Ko Lanta with...

On our second-last day in Thailand, we were sad to say goodbye to Hera in Trang, where she left us to go to Chiaya on the east coast of Thailand for a 10-day meditation retreat. Luckily it was only a temporary goodbye, as we plan to meet back up with her in Bali in a month or so. That said, we had such a blast cycling and beach bumming through Thailand with her, so we couldn't part ways without a tinge of sadness as we left in the opposite direction.... :(

Our last day in Thailand turned out to be a bit of gong-show. We had planned for about 115km to the ferry at Satun, where we would take a ferry to the Malaysian island of Langkawi and do a quick bike to a beach resort on the island to stay that night. It ended up to be a bit longer, hotter and windier of a day than we expected, but we showed up at the pier in good form with plenty of time to spare before the ferry took off.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Langkawi we had lost our gameface a little, and set off without bike clothes, supper, good directions or hotel reservations towards the beach town we planned to stay at. By the time we arrived the light had just disappeared, and our sweaty, hungry, tired hotel-search left us empty-handed. Turns out reservations are required on a Saturday night at the most touristy-spot in the country!?! Not the best news after what turned out to be not only one of the hottest, but also our longest and farthest biking day yet, at a total of 147km from sunrise to sunset.

We managed to snag two beds in the sketchiest hostel dorm we have ever been in, packed in a barn-like structure with about 20 other people, right next to the spitting and wheezing fellow who had what seemed like the Ebola virus, wistfully thinking of our beautiful Thai beach huts as we fell asleep to the buzzy horror-film-like flicker of the bathroom's defective fluorescent lights. Not a great start to Malaysia, but that must mean it only goes up from here!

(Note to reader: we now post this from the comfort of our equally comfy Malaysian bungalow, so last night's horror can safely be blamed on the authors, not the new country in which they find themselves.)

1 comment:

JanL said...

Ugh the dude with Ebola is exactly when I would have booked my flight home....assuming I had made it that far...which I wouldn't have... :) It sounds like you guys are really enjoying yourselves, can't wait until you visit!!!