Day 14: 41.3km
It’s a strange feeling because we didn’t ever think that we would make it here. We never declared Koh Samui as an intent because it was only ever intended to be a journey with a nominal destination and we would give up when it stopped being fun.
But it never did. It got tough in the last 3 days and there were moments when we had to dig deep for motivation but the rewards always outweighed the effort.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a solo trip to the South Pole or an Everest climb and I don’t want it to sound like that, but it was a graft for a couple of fifty-something louts.
Although we celebrated the 1000km point in Thailand a couple of days ago, the total for the trip is over 1200km with the contiguous run from Pattaya to here on Chaweng Beach is a spooky 1000.1km 😱
We had booked a 10am ferry this morning that was about 9km from where we were staying and we set out phones for a 6:30 alarm call with the intent that the wheels would be rolling at 8am. The interweb advice was to arrive at least an hour early for your ferry and we intended to.
The 6:30 call was a bit rude because the night was disturbed. I love the tropics, but the heat and humidity make for a biological environment that breeds little flying critters that see you as dinner. I knew last night that as we ate fried rice that there were a thousands mozzies that were eating the fried Falang and, usually, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue because they’re not like the Scottish or the French blood sucking critters in that the Thai mosquito irritation is usually minor. “Usually” is the key word here. Last night’s bunch must have been a McMosquito import because the itching woke me at 2am and it was widespread. My ankles are a war zone and there are multiple bites to my hips, shoulders and elbows.
I took one of those 24h anti-hysterical tablets at 2am and managed to get back to sleep but it was disturbed.
Siubhan leapt out of bed at 06:30 as if she were ejected and I knew that if I lay there for 10s longer that I would get 5s of Marge style disapproval noises before 5s of raw verbal abuse. So I matched the ejection and made a poor show of energy and enthusiasm.
It must have been effective though because our re-laden wheels were rolling through the gates of the resort before our target departure time.
The ride to the Ferry terminal was a little undulating but relatively uneventful. Siubhan said that the freshness of the earlier start was very pleasant, but my suggestion that maybe we should have done it more often opened a small can of whoopee.
The Raja Ferry Terminal was typically Thai, disorganised and very relaxed followed by overly officious. We were waved through the first 3 security and ticket checks without a glance at any papers, but at the final one we had to dismount and go and visit the admin office where our tickets had been printed out for us. I went there with both passports and both electronic confirmations of the 190THB (£4.35) each booking.
The printed list was checked and I was handed pre-printed tickets that were stored in a clear A4 sleeve in exchange for two signatures from me. As I exited the office I handed them to the ticket collector who ripped them in half, those tickets had a full life duration of less than 2 mins. After the ripped tickets we and our bikes were waved through to the advanced waiting area. The bonus was that it’s an obviously quiet time of year and/or day and that we were now waiting for the 9am ferry to disgorge its contents before we could board.
The ferry itself is an antiquated thing but looks generally ok. The amusing part was when I asked Siubhan rhetorically, “how many cliches can you get on a boat?” There were manbuns galore, preppy gap year types, middle-aged hippy-chicks in tie-dye, ageing Falang Buddhist converts and a variety of other over-sunned lobsters.
It’s a subtle thing but one thing we’ve learned in this trip is the value of being confident without appearing arrogant to the Thais. We cycled cheerfully onto the boat smiling and acknowledging those in charge of boarding and we were led to the front of the boat. Very helpfully one of the chaps pointed out a couple of bits of hardware sticking out from the wall and a suggestion that we should tie our bikes to them.
Before we came away I bought a couple of packs of Zuru Raptor Bungees (Google them) and they are rubber bungees that won’t scratch the bikes, they’re super strong and stretchy but they come with a bit of a weight premium. We brought them with two specific purposes, to secure the bikes on the ferry and in the freight carriage of the train journey we’re planning back to Bangkok. I am pleased to report that they did their job well on the ferry.
I’m a bit paranoid about leaving the bikes unlocked anywhere, especially if we have to leave anything rigged on them. Generally, we have packed stuff of value (mainly cash) in the front panniers so that they’re within constant eyesight and heavy stuff in the rear. The pricey tech is mainly in the handlebar bags. So when I had tied up the bikes in the hold of the boat, we took the front panniers upstairs with us, along with the handlebar bags, to the air-conditioned lounge.
Twenty minutes later we were underway and I asked Siubhan to go down to the bikes to swap water bottles over, but really to check on the bikes. Nothing untoward to report.
30 mins after that I had been down to the mid-deck shop to buy breakfast of a green Thai custard bun and some drinks. But of course I went via the bikes to check again, but no-one was at all interested in them so I chilled a bit.
We went touring with our goof friends Scott & Faith in August and one of the reasons that I like going with them is that Scott is probably the only person I know that is more paranoid than I am about these things. He really needs to chill the fuck out 😂😂😂
We had picked a good day to cross as the sea was the calmest that we had seen it on this trip. A short visit to the pointy bit of the boat made us quite excited to see Koh Samui coming at us with all the small steep-sided islands that reminded us of the South China Sea crossing from Hong Kong to Macau.
Back to the bikes and we were now re-rigging them and getting ready to disembark. Below decks and looking at the vertical steel wall that would become our exit ramp raised our pulses and when it started to drop we were poised to depart.
The ramp leaves a drop of about 8″ where it meets the pier and 4 guys run out with loops of old rope to soften the drop. The pick-up that was between us and the exit soon cleared and we were the very next off the boat. Despite our fatigue, Siubhan was off like a whippet at White City and I was chasing. There’s something about docks that she doesn’t like and the adrenaline was slightly raised.
Koh Samui is a mountainous lump that is steep and we were looking for a route that’s sensible. The bumps and 20% climbs are unavoidable in the whole but we don’t fancy trying Mt Ventoux at this end of the ride.
We decide to ride anti-clockwise to Chaweng beach where our hotel is and we don’t want to take the main drag that is a perpetual stream of resort minibuses and westerners on scooters. Koh Samui is one of THE main tourist areas in Thailand and i don’t think we were mentally prepared for deep jungle of the island. Within 5km of the port we were in the same sort of foliage that we had experienced in Chumphon and Surat Thani. The different here was that the hills were perpetual and there was little flat relief between the ups and downs; the hills blocked any wind relief and it was hugely claustrophobic in its airlessness. Also, the surface was largely compacted sand, sometimes less compacted than others and we had to abandon the jungle trail twice because the sand was unridable. But where it was, it was a joy and was akin to a mountain bike red run in many places. Following Siubhan and watching how her riding skill and sense of balance had developed over the last 16 days was very satisfying. I can’t comment on mine as I nearly went over more than once; as is often the case with me, confidence can develop quicker than competence!
We popped out of the jungle onto the main drag and immediately saw the 7-11/Amazon Coffee combo that we had come to love and as we stopped we were soaked in sweat – it needed a couple of iced cappuccinos each to cool us down.
We probably took longer than we needed to over the coffees and it was left unspoken that neither of us was looking forward to what was coming next. Afterwards, I described it as a 600-mile run up at a mountain and that pretty much described it.
It was now about 12:30 and any cloud cover was gone. This was the full heat of the midday sun and we were going at the steepest hill of the trip. To my cyclist friends, I raise my hat to you for loving the big climbs but I’m not there yet. In reality this was only a couple of 200′ climbs but it was the 20% that did for us and we walked twice. We walked when the heart rate hit 150 and I was left panting in the 30C+ heat and 80% humidity which had us both pouring the now tap-hot water from our water bottles over our heads and necks.
Once again, I heard, my experienced cycling friend, Matt’s voice telling me that it never gets easier, you just get faster.
The 20% upwards inclines became the downwards inclines and the downward race raised the heart rate almost as much as climbing it, but fuck what a buzz!!! The deep storm ditches on the side of the roads were intimidating and the minibuses flying around you were a constant source of concern but after 2 weeks, their behaviour was now predictable, it was the holidaymakers on the scooters that were the greater concern as they were way more unpredictable; I can easily understand why much travel insurance specifically excludes scooter rental in Thailand, especially Koh Samui.
Arrival at the hotel was a non-event but it was immediately obvious that this was a tourist destination and that, although the desk staff were professional, they lacked the immediate and semi-intimate friendliness that we had enjoyed so much over the last 2 weeks. We got there in about 10 mins though and then everyone was way more flexible with stuff like where we could and couldn’t ride our bikes to the room and where to lock them up.
The hotel is a delight and we’ve booked in for 4 days of R&R before a different adventure back to Pattaya for the final phase of this trip and the manager who is now our friend helped negotiate with the security guard for us to keep the bikes outside of the generic pen and secure them instead to a fire control panel. I don’t feel anywhere near as comfortable here leaving the bikes out of site and having carted 5kg of locks and chains for 1000km I was grateful for them now.
My favourite seafood restaurant is J Sheekey and my favourite dish there is the salt baked cod. It’s a whole cod that has about a 2″ crust of salt on it as it is baked. That’s how I felt when I stepped into the shower this afternoon. It was the third application of shampoo before I got any lather to it such was the matting.
Worse though was that when the hot water hit the bites from last night that they all erupted into an all over and unbearable itching. They had to be scratched and I drew blood in several places before I took another antihistamine on getting out. One of the downsides of a good hotel though is that the towels are soft, I would have preferred sandpaper at this point.
So what do we think of Koh Samui so far?
It’s very touristy and, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat (never bothered me before) it doesn’t really feel like Thailand. I feel inadequate with my lack of man-bun and we feel a bit out of sorts.
But we’re enjoying some of the trappings of a good burger and now sitting in a bar enjoying the resident band playing Cream numbers. Tomorrow we will acclimatise, Sunday we will chill, Monday we will be full of energy, making plans and Tuesday we will be moving again.
Thank you everybody for your very generous sentiments and support. We’ve been talking over dinner how lucky we are to have such a good bunch of family and friends. We really appreciate it. Thank you.