Day 12: (62km) Fatigue & Fantastic Fire Food
We’re not sure whether it’s the cumulative effect of the 12 days of cycling or the impact of last night’s lodgings that made the first half of today such hard work. The cycling itself wasn’t too much of a graft as intermittent clouds tamed the searing of the sun and the elevation was temperate enough until a few halfway bumps: but the start was slow and lethargic.
The lack of a warm shower to start the day must have an impact both on the muscles and the psyche but we were keen to get away from the digs. Maybe it was the (very) strong suspicion that the sheets we were sleeping on last night hadn’t been changed since the previous guest (and maybe a few before that) or maybe it was the cockroaches that dove for cover behind the wardrobe when we switched the lights on, but when the offer of breakfast was made this morning, neither of us had the appetite for it, preferring instead to get wheels turning and take our chances on the road.
It’s startling the impact of your fuel levels on your ability on the bike and we were both ready to stop early at about 14km after we found a roadside banana stall. The last bunch looked very sorry for itself but at 15THB (35p) we figured we could grab enough bananas out of it to make it worthwhile, and we needed to eat.
So a couple of bananas each along with a shared pack of peanuts that we had bought the previous day. The peanut/banana combo really works for us in this climate as it pretty much covers most of the food groups needed along with the salt to replace the chunk that we’re sweating out. We both had some cramps last night and we’re very aware of it.
The roadside shouts had increased again and it was rare that we would pass anyone without them shouting out greetings in Thai or anything in English that they knew, “Welcome to Thailand” is the most common English greeting we get.
We knew that we had hills coming at 28km and planned a stop there but we were cycling a single-carriageway road that we, in the uk, would compare most to a 3-digit A-road and while it didn’t have the same infrastructure of some of the motorways that we had been riding, it did have some and at 20km there was a familiar petrol station sign along with the now much-loved “Cafe Amazon” signifier of the caffeine oasis. I’m a bugger for maintaining momentum and hate to break progress and although we had only just stopped 6km previously, resistance was futile. I love my wife dearly but it’s like a scene from The Exorcist if you don’t feed her coffee and it was now 2 days hence.
Admittedly we both felt a lot better after a jolt of caffeine and a couple of km later and we were back to cruising speed. The hills and 28km came and went and we cruised on until 50km when we stopped for another banana each.
Apart from the general level of fatigue that’s underpinning everything today, there’s also the smell. And it’s not a good one. We have been hand-washing the Lycra and as much of the gubbings as possible in the hotel sinks but the sweat has infused so much that it now all needs an industrial wash. It’s stuff like the webbing straps of the helmets, the watchstraps and the banadanas that need more focused cleansing.
After the hills we turned off the main roads into a series of backwater lanes that threaded their way around the swampland that is the Surat Thani river delta. I know there was a lot of flooding here in November and the impact was still very much evident. Poor communities rarely repair themselves quickly.
The river delta is home to prawn farming on a scale that totally dominates this part of Thailand. Naively I always thought that prawns were caught but the farms are huge and extensive. I don’t know anything about the requirements of prawn farming but the two things that hit you are the smell and the noise from water agitators. If you imagine a long row of paddles, each similar to the paddles on a Mississippi steamer but only about 4 foot tall, then you should get the idea.
Surat Thani comes out of nowhere as soon as you cross the river and you can see immediately that the region is more affluent than Chumphon.
We’ve had some reservations about coming to Surat Thani because it’s the gateway to the islands and is a major crossroads on the backpacker trail. That means that stories of rip-off operations and twatpacker behaviour are rife.
As we arrived at our very unimposing hotel we were a little sceptical and the, albeit, basic command of English from the staff compounded our feelings.
But a champagne glass of ice cold rosella and a smile, as we stood there dripping sweat in the atrium was just what was needed. Siubhan went up to the room and I stayed downstairs to derig the bikes. She came down in 2 mins and told me the room was lovely. After last night, it was great to hear especially since that, at 1071THB (£24.50) it had cost us just over twice what last night did, but at 10x the comfort. Lying in bed now, I’m thinking that this possibly the most comfortable bed of this trip.
In the derigging of the bikes, I usually give them a bit of a once-over and that’s where I spotted my broken spoke. It’s to be expected on a mixed terrain tour when the bikes are this loaded. I’ve already said that mine weighs in at 170kg and I would guess that at least 110kg of that is on the back wheel. We had the wheels handbuilt by one of the best touring wheel builders in the uk and he includes 6 spare spokes when he hands over the wheels. Changing the spoke was no drama at all and the wheel was surprisingly true once
I had repaired it. I felt strangely satisfied having done it.
Dinner is a story all in itself. I walked about a bit on my own earlier doing a recce of the local area and identified a restaurant just a few yards from the hotel that looked popular. It’s a funny thing how quickly you recalibrate your compass because we wouldn’t have given this place a second look in Europe, but you apply a different lens to things after you’ve been anywhere for a while and today marks a month here for us.
It was a Korean BBQ which, for us. was a new experience. Every day’s a school day and this was a learning experience. It took us a while to work out the cadence of things but it’s a bit like an all you can eat buffet that you order dishes from at your table but those dishes are raw and you have a cooker in the middle of the table where you cook the food. The waitress had about as much English as I have Thai and she was incredibly helpful in making our first selection of slices of duck, pork, mushroom, pal choi, salmon and about 15 prawns.
The idea is that you continue to tick the paper menus that are on the table, much like a sushi buffet, and they will continue to bring you waves of food for you to cook.
But, as previously, everything was in Thai and when we called our friendly waitress back we all had a good laugh at the Falang that wouldn’t know where to start with that slip. So she just ticked it for us as we described what we wanted in Thinglish. She also then ticked a few other boxes of salad and miso because she thought we should have those. Thailand is not a big tipping culture, but we left enough for her to let her know how grateful we were for her being so helpful.
Still not seen any Falang here and I’m sure that there’s a lot of truth behind the negative stories of Surat Thani, but it’s not been our experience yet.