Day 13: 63km
The day started before 7am, when we woke, but it was after 10am before we left the hotel in Surat Thani.
We picked up a couple of Thai DTAC SIM cards when we landed and have kept them topped up so that we have had continuous internet connectivity on at least two of the iPhones. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the coverage and I can only remember one drop of service in a remote rural area. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think the coverage in Thailand is better than Oxfordshire.
Apart from the mapping product that we use to navigate (Cyclemeter), the main reason that we need internet connectivity is that we are managing the two holiday rentals from afar. Although we have a concierge in London and a cleaner/manager in Salisbury, we manage all the quotes, bookings and money ourselves.
Overnight we had 3 bookings and/or enquiries and a current guest that wanted to extend by a day and stay tonight. The conversion ratio of enquiries to bookings is very closely related to response time and most agencies (TripAdvisor, Airbnb & Booking.com) adjust your ratings according to your response time. Therefore, these enquiries took priority and about 90 mins out of our morning.
Whilst Siubhan was propped up in bed doing some of this I did the hero thing and popped downstairs to the coffee shop and returned with a cappuccino for Siubhan and an espresso for me. Something that I would repeat 20 mins later.
Admin done and Lycra donned, we were downstairs at the bikes loading them up for the day. The hotel manager that didn’t think that I looked much like a cyclist was fascinated by the bikes and some of the tech that was loaded on them, especially the solar panels and how they powered both the iPhone for navigation and the GoPro. At about £45, that has been an excellent purchase and has alleviated any battery anxiety knowing that I can run everything for at least 3-4 days without needing a power socket. The solar panels don’t pump out enough to fully run everything but they do charge the power bank that is juicing the phone and camera.
I had a good chat with the manager, called Tree, and we need a truck to assist with the return journey through Surat Thani on the 9th and in Thailand, most things are possible if you ask nicely and make it clear that you are expecting to be quoted a cost at the next conversation.
Leaving Surat Thani was the same traffic chaos as leaving any other big Thai city. I hadn’t fully appreciated just how big Surat Thani is, it’s the largest city in Southern Thailand, and it was about 10km before we were clear of the urbanisation.
The wind wasn’t strong but, what there was, was a headwind and our legs complained. Instead of our usual pace on good roads of circa 24km/h we were down to about 17, half down to the wind and half to fatigue.
At 20km we climbed a hill where there was a 7-11 at the top. It was now nearing noon and the humidity made the streets an open sauna. As soon as we stopped, we just melted and I was soaked from head to toe. I volunteered to go into the 7-11 and buy the breakfast and provisions. Partly because Siubhan had done the bulk of the work with the apartments earlier and partly because I needed the aircon of the 7-11 to bring my body temperature down.
I didn’t hurry as I bought a couple of coconut waters and some overly sweet crabstick sandwiches. The pricing is very different to what we’re used to as the sandwiches (standard 2 slices of bread, albeit smaller than the uk) was 13THB; that’s less than 30p. But the bottles of coconut water were about twice the price each than the sandwiches. We also had a bag of peanuts for the salt content; Siubhan’s cramp is under control but it needs managing.
As has become a bit of a habit after a 20km stop, we motored on to 50km before we stopped again. The roads and terrain was mixed with a little main road, but mainly we did the back roads and we were paid well for our efforts.
Cycling through a largely Muslim community alongside a river was a noisy event, mainly with shouts of greeting followed by laughter; I believe the sight of us was providing more than a little entertainment. One of the things that has been a repetitive theme has been our height as on the bikes we are significantly taller than all that pull alongside on their mopeds or scooters. The flags exacerbate the effect but we are treated like Mr & Mrs Gulliver.
One of the tracks that I had planned was a quiet concrete track through the jungle and palm plantations. Not coconuts this time but a crop of large clusters of red berries that were typically about two foot across and shaped like Durian. It took us a while to work out that this is the crop of palm oil.
The dense concrete path opened out into a very deserted 10km but still with palms both sides of us. The trees closest to the road were different though and then we saw that most were laden with green banana waiting to ripen and be harvested.
It was a calm and peaceful experience. Right up until the monkey ran out on us screaming and I nearly shit myself, it wasn’t one of those little things, this was a big fucker. We locked eyes, the monkey was screeching and I shouted an exclamation of surprise. It was like one of those internet cat videos where the cat jumps 3 feet in the air surprised by the dog, except this time I think we both grabbed some air.
At 50km, there was no infrastructure to rest and we just pulled up at the side of the road and stretched our legs and anything else we could stretch. The sun was now mainly hiding behind the cloud but the humidity remained stifling.
Glutes and quads stretched we got on to ride the last 13km and 10km of it were again different. Tarmac gave way to compacted sand and the palms closed in around us. The claustrophobic effect of the palms, the quiet and the humidity was all-encompassing. It was all a bit spooky and the very few houses we came across all looked like a set from some sort of Deliverance style horror movie.
We kept pedalling.
Now we’ve arrived at Don Sak ready for our last day in the saddle tomorrow. Again it’s a small collection of chalet bungalows and again it’s exceptionally friendly. We were told that there’s a restaurant on site, but the reality is that we’ve sat down to eat with the family. The difference was that we were served a menu and got to pick what we wanted; prawn fried rice, stir-fry veg and a delicious panang curry.
Just as we were about to leave, a young man approached us who spoke some English. I’m guessing he is the son of the owning family and we had a good conversation about our journey so far and the experiences in Thailand. There’s a strong national pride in the generosity on he seemed very keen that we’d had a positive experience throughout. Our last bit of conversation was about how much a little Thai language breaks down the barriers and 30 mins later we’re having a masterclass on the 5 tones of the Thai tongue. Really helped, but I fear that only 10% of what he was imparting landed with us.
One more day tomorrow. One last push for 50km then it’s time for cocktails and a short holiday.