Tag Archives: Thailand

Empty beaches, challenging roads and old and new friends in Myanmar

February 2017

So there we were, at the same point were we had been roughly five weeks earlier. This time with the plan to head south to see some beaches and rarely visited areas. At first we would have to cycle to Kawkareik again though. This time we took the old road over the mountain which was a beauty to cycle.

With a nice and steady gradient of about 6% we climbed to the top easily and even if the road got a lot worse coming down on the other side – the lack of traffic was completely worth it.

In Kawkareik we met up with our friend SuSu, a local warmshowers member, and Kevin from the border crossing group. SuSu showed us a local temple and we were lucky to witness a beautiful sunset.

Later she took us to see two local noodle factories and the ladies absolutely loved Torsten’s longhi.

Apart from that it was fascinating to see how the noodles we eat a lot are made. It is hard labour, believe me!

On the next day we wanted to take a shortcut to Mawlamyine and found a few of the worst roads we have ever cycled on. I was not a happy camper but fortunately it didn’t last too long.

We arrived in Mawlamyine rather late and as the search for a guest house took some time we decided to stay for an extra day. And when we met not two but four other cycle travelers staying in the same guest house we opted to stay one more day. Thus we would be able to cycle together to the south.

When we cycled out of Mawlamyine Torsten went ahead while I chatted to Victor and Heleen, two Belgian cyclists. Suddenly I heard him shouting from a small road side cafe and only then I noticed the other touring bike. And that’s how we reunited with Jan, another member of our border crossing group!

The next two days we cycled to Ye, sometimes in our group of five, sometimes we split up for a short while. I found it really nice to have company while Torsten did have some difficulties adjusting to the slower group pace.

We found beautiful small roads through salt fields and many villages.

We did stop much more frequently than usual in order to satisfy all the different needs of the five of us. Some bicycle problems had to be attended to and of course there was food to be eaten, coffee to be had and fried bananas to be found.

Arriving in Ye we unfortunately didn’t quite see eye to eye on how to haggle for a room which ended on a bit of a sour note. Maybe this as well as Torsten’s growing impatience with the slower pace (we still hadn’t left at 11am on a scorching hot day planning to cycle up a mountain) made our group split up for a while. So Torsten and I cycled on alone again towards Dawei.

The main road was in surprisingly good condition and only in a few places left to be resurfaced. The small amount of traffic left us to enjoy our cycling days and the surrounding scenery helped immensely.

Apart from that we were gifted water that cured Yellow Urine disease – how awesome is that? ­čÖé

In between we found a small monastery to stay. The head monk invited us without problem and gave us Sprite and canned fruit. We left a donation the next day including some food. With the increasing number of cycle tourists coming to Myanmar I think that’s only fair.

Just before Dawei we had a funny encounter with a person who out of nowhere started to massage Torsten enthusiastically. I must say I did enjoy that a lot :D.

Dawei was a nice place to walk around for a bit especially for the beautiful partly wooden houses. Funnily enough we also managed to run into two friends we had previously met in Laos and shared some beers.

Afterwards we were beach bound again, maybe the last time for a while? The hilly cycle to Maumangan was short but rather exhausting in the heat but when we arrived at the beach we found our friends we had cycled with a few days ago and decided to stay with them at a camp site. We had a very relaxed afternoon and a nice joint dinner in one of the many seaside restaurants.

The following day we continued along the beach towards Panit. Torsten was set on staying on a different, more remote beach. I must say that I had a hard time convincing myself to go there before and during. Before, because it was scorching hot and I actually liked the beach in Maumangan, too. And during, because… look at these roads!! Sandy and incredibly steep – not my favourite combination.

As we only arrived in the evening after an exhausting cycle we decided to stay another day.

And it was perfect. There was no one around except for the occasional locals going somewhere on a motorcycle. But only three girls talked to us for a while. For the rest of the day we indulged in lots of glorious doing nothing, some reading, lots of napping and enjoying the view.

And some shots of Torsten pretending to work :).

From Panit we planned on cycling towards the Htee Kee border and then to Bangkok for our flight to Kolkata.

After we joined a river we enjoyed some beautiful roads and found a place to sleep in school for Buddhism that was still under construction. The person in charge actually went to get the police to ask for permission to let us stay. The police guy was very friendly though and except from jotting down our passport details on a peace of paper also invited us to stay with them at their station.

Unfortunately the road deteriorated a lot the next day: The tarmac vanished and we cycled / pushed up and down on steep gradients. After doing not much more than 15k in one and a half hours we threw in the towel. It was still about 75k to the border and we did not have enough provisions to stay overnight. That would be necessary with our slow pace though. A truck carrying empty fruit and vegetable crates took pity on us and within minutes we bumped along towards Thailand.

I was beyond relief not being forced to cycle that road and thus ended our last two weeks in Myanmar. We had an amazing time getting to know many people but also finding small roads to cycle through different natural environments.

While I am writing this several news stories about the Rohingya people and their militant suppression through the Myanmar army come to my mind. I won’t attempt a summary here but I want to at least invite you to read about that, too. While we met so many friendly and incredibly generous people, the police and army were ever present, too. This was mildly inconvenient for us but imposes a much greater inconvenience and even risk of life to people living in Myanmar.

With that in mind let’s have a look at how we treat refugees all over the world and do better. Everyone has a right to a dignified life after all.

 

Racing through Northern Laos and Thailand

December 2016

Coming back to Laos and Thailand was really beautiful. This time around the temperatures were much better than last year in April and May and so we thoroughly enjoyed our cycle through the hills of Northern Laos.

We would have loved to spend more time if only to enjoy nice guest houses like this one. But we had a date for New Year’s with my newly wedded sister and her husband in Myanmar that we didn’t want to miss. So we ate some more noodle soup, enjoyed the night market in Luang Namtha and then hitched a lift for about 200k to the Thai border.

We weren’t allowed to cycle over the friendship bridge and instead had to take a bus. Save for the waste of money it was all easy enough though and we soon cycled into Chiang Khong and the cycling paradise that is Thailand.

I will always cherish Thailand as one of the most convenient places for cycle touring. Everything is just so easy somehow: Nice small roads with not much traffic, the availability of good food almost everywhere, iced coffee stands and for everything else you’ve got your 7-11. Oh and the night markets, what a beautiful thing! After the sun has gone down and the air gets cooler, everyone gathers at the market area and the focus lies on all the delicacies you can imagine.

We soaked all that up once more, especially on Christmas Eve in Chiang Rai where we had one of the most relaxing and beautiful guest houses. Once more we would have loved to stay just a little longer but there was only one week left to get to the beach in Myanmar. Not a bad thing to hurry for.

Racing to Cambodia – on passion, hospitality and being sick

May 2016

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Man it was hard to leave Bangkok. We loved the family atmosphere at Toom’s place and will be forever grateful to him and all the people staying there for our time together. But our visa time was rapidly coming to an end and so we had four days to make it to Cambodia.

On spontaneous hospitality and a lot of passion

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As it was still unbearably hot and no clouds in sight we decided to look for accommodation in Chachoengsao. We asked and asked but it was all too pricey for us. It already got dark when a passing road cyclist took pity on us and ended up leading us to a friend’s place. There we would be sure to find a place to rest and spend the night. And oh my how we did!

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Mit Saladin and his family created a very special place indeed. The Saladin Cafe is a former workshop / now cafe / restaurant / bar / future hostel. They are in the progress of building some rooms where travelers can stay and we got to test one of them. It is in the cellar with very low ceilings and will thus be one of our most memorable sleeping spaces.

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Love the atmosphere! There was also a toilet and a bath tub but fortunately not ready to use yet…

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… which is why we got to use the family bath room! And this is hands down the most beautiful nature bathroom I have ever seen!

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Of course it helps when there is no winter :). In the morning we enjoyed some freshly made noodle soup and got together for a photo shoot with Mit Saladin and his family. What a fantastic start after our break in Bangkok!

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Going to Cambodia

Afterwards we left the populated areas and enjoyed the hell out of the small roads leading us to Cambodia.

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And just before we entered a natural reserve we rolled over another big mile stone: The first 10.000 km! Not that numbers are that important but it amazes me that you can get that far on a bicycle. Not an engine powered car / motorcycle / plane, no, just a simple bicycle. Here’s to the next 10.000 km – I wonder where they will lead us…?

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For the time being we were still in Thailand, cycling through a natural reserve. We had been warned before that it would be dangerous cycling through as there are elephants living here. And said elephants are known to chase cars and motorcyclists. Oh well. The only evidence of those beautiful animals we saw were those heaps of shit. Which seemed most interesting to a bunch of butterflies. What can I say, tastes vary a lot!

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It was still unbearably hot during our last days in Thailand. But the appearing clouds promised a soon to come rainy season and with that some relief from the heat.

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We cycled past many of these spirit houses that Thai people often have in front / near their houses.

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On the very last day of our Visas we finally entered Cambodia. Shamefully I have to admit that I was a bit confused about which side to cycle on. After leaving the crowded border most people seemed to drive on the right side which did confuse me a bit. Eventually Torsten asked me why I was cycling on the other side of the road. Ooops! After almost two years of driving and cycling on the left side it had become so normal that I totally forgot to check about Cambodia’s road laws. Oh well!

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For the rest of the day we turned away from the main road and cycled on dusty dry roads towards Battambang. Temperatures were at an all new high today and as I had an appointment for my last rabies vaccination at 5pm, it turned out to be a bit of a race against time and against the wish to just lie down in the shade and consume a bottle of sugar cane juice per hour.

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But we made it, I got my vaccination, we found a hostel and I got really sick the very next day.

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Which made us stay in Battambang for a week. With lots of tea and coffee, baguettes from one of the bakeries and ample down time it wasn’t too bad for me, but Torsten was getting restless. But sometimes there is just not much you can do except to wait it out. After about a week I finally got better and we set out towards Pnomh Penh. More on that next time!

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Busy, lazy, old and new – Bangkok has it all

April 2016

Bangkok has given me everything that I needed without even knowing what that was. For a while now the city had been the goal we kept moving towards. Our list of errands was higher than ever and we were also looking for a little break from cycling. After being seriously overwhelmed by all the warmshowers and couchsurfing hosts on the two sites we took our friend Anselm’s advice and asked his friend Toom if we could stay with him for a while. I felt a bit nervous about that as we never actually met Anselm himself, let alone Toom. Oh boy was that unnecessary!

Toom’s couchsurfing / warmshowers / friends paradise

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Toom has an apartment in the north of Bangkok and there are almost always people staying at his place. For some reasons that are his story to tell he likes having guests and friends around and due to the relaxed and inviting atmosphere most of those people tend to stay a bit longer than planned.

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There is not a lot of privacy as everyone shares the available rooms. We slept on beds or mattresses on the floor, as close to the fans as possible to get some relief from the April heat wave. And I absolutely loved it. Usually I need some time to myself and some privacy at that. But somehow at Toom’s place I did not miss it at all. First of all, Toom is an amazing person. Funny, softspoken, interesting to talk to, he is one of these people who manages to include people into the group so that everyone feels welcome. And we met so many more awesome people during our stay and I loved all the talks, the cooking and eating together, the time to just relax and not do much. The feeling of having a home base for a while is something that we don’t have very often during this journey and thus enjoye even more.

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Cycling in Bangkok

We had quite a few errands to run during our time in Bangkok. From finding affordable sunscreen with a high SPF to finally getting our Chinese Visa and repair / replace my waterlogged phone.

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At first we tried using public transport which was partly fast (Metro) / fun (boat) / not moving at all (several busses) / not showing up (busses again). So in the end we cycled mostly everywhere. From reading many blogs I had thought that cycling in Bangkok would be a nightmare but it was actually fine. We were usually faster than public transport (excluding the metro maybe) and the traffic didn’t bother me too much. Yes you have to be a 100% alert at all times and listening to your favourite drum n bass band at high volume is probably not the best idea.

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But given that traffic was either stuck in gridlock or slow moving most of the time it was actually fine for cycling. We’re not talking fine as in meandering along a quiet country lane, it’s still Bangkok. But you know, fine. Overall traffic here is really just too much in my opinion. Too many cars, too many traffic jams.

High and low, old and new

p1180751 We didn’t really do any sightseeing per se but cycling through the city we still discovered a lot. To me Bangkok seems to have it all. There are the huge skyscrapers but also small wooden houses nestled in between sometimes.

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There are crazy busy 8 lane roads and then you take one or two turns and find yourself in a narrow motorcycle road in old Chinatown. There are touristy areas but it’s not hard to avoid them.

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There are western supermarkets and a myriad of local markets which are absolutely amazing. Lots of parks, gardens, nice cafes, museums and so much more. My tip to stay sane: Don’t try to do it all, it might overwhelm you. Take it slow, get lost in it all and find a thousand big and small surprises.

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In the end we stayed for a full two weeks. When we noticed we were both surprised as the time had passed in an instant seemingly. There was just so much to see and do, people to meet and talk to, coffee and beers to be drunk and food to be eaten.

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For all of that, thanks to everyone of you and especially to you Toom!! Never ever would it have been the same without you and your oasis of friends. Thanks heaps and please do come visit us anytime!

It was also fantastic to meet May, one of Torsten’s friends back from his studies in Bangkok and to see Lily, our friend from Penang again!

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Cycletouring Thailand – from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Bangkok

April 2016

After a few days of rest we left Prachuap Khiri Khan early in the morning and cycled past Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.

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When we got hungry there was always a small store or restaurant nearby.

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Sometimes when we took a break at the perfect beach location…

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… the perfect food (fresh Papaya Salad) even came to us!

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Life cannot get much better really! On our way to Bangkok we still encountered several highlights though:

We cycled past some stunning salt fields:

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We also visited Tha Kha Floating Market which is just a bit south west of Bangkok. There are some tourists there but overall it was pretty quiet and nice to just wander around and sit on the dock watching people.

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For our last night before Bangkok we had contacted a warmshowers host in Nakhon Pathom who had written to us that he wasn’t home but invited us to sleep at his cafe. We accepted gladly as this meant that we would have a short day cycling into Bangkok. And this is how we found another paradise…

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We were heartily welcomed at Kumnumm cafe which doubles as a book and art store. It felt like a small oasis in the city and was a good place to relax for an afternoon. So we enjoyed a good night’s sleep and took our sweet time the next morning before cycling into Bangkok… More on that next time!

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Cycletouring Thailand – Ranong to Prachuap Khiri Khan

April 2016

After getting our first rabies shots in Ranong, enjoying the hell out of the small town Songkran festival and doing a visa run to Kawthaung, Myanmar, we left in the general direction of Bangkok.

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Songkran was still going on, so we enjoyed the occasional splash (or bucket) of water over our heated bodies. Oh and we got some face paint :). I loved cycling though the country side and meeting people with water buckets and paint along the road. Everyone was very respectful and we were usually asked if they could pour water over us. Somehow it felt like a blessing each time.

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Four our route planning we trusted Google Maps and were usually quite happy with it. Many of the smaller roads changed between tarmac and gravel a lot but we were so happy about the beautiful rides out in the countryside that it didn’t really matter.

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A short while before Chumphon we met Frank, a German long distance cyclist. He had started in Germany and was planning to go at least to Australia (which he did in the meantime).  It was awesome meeting him and we quickly found a small store, bought some drinks and chatted for about two hours. We also liked him because he was carrying even more luggage than us :).

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After Chumphon we cycled along the beach. It was absolutely stunning scenery wise…

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…what you can’t see though is the heat. April is the hottest month in Thailand, just before the rainy season starts. We often cycled in about 40 degrees Celsius. Combined with the high humidity that is not a perfect combination. Of course we tried starting early each day (and sometimes we were even successful) but when it has 35 degrees Celsius at 8am there is really only so much you can do.

One windy day we tried camping at some sand dunes and even put up the tent. Of course at about 8pm the wind completely died and our tent turned into a sauna. So we just slept on the beach. The nights didn’t really cool off any more and so we spent a restless night, sweating continuously in the humid 30 degree heat. After that we decided that camping during the hot season in South East Asia is not for us. I keep admiring people who can always sleep outside but I can’t seem to get any rest when it’s that hot. Thankfully there is a lot of accommodation with relatively cheap fan rooms in Thailand.

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Food was available really is almost everywhere around us. We especially loved finding those small town night markets where everyone just buys a lot of different food to bring home to their families. It just bums me out how much plastic is used to pack all the delicacies. After documenting that here we promised ourselves to use our reusable containers to get street food whenever possible.

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Writing this entry on a cold November day from Germany I can’t really see the appeal of very sweet iced coffee any longer. But when cycle touring in that heat there’s just nothing better than a pitcher of strong iced coffee. Mmhhhh…

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After a few more days of cycling on the beach…

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… and on some inland dirt roads…

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… we arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan and took some days off. We slept in, wandered around, had coffees and frequented the local night market a lot. It seems that we take more and more breaks compared to the beginning of our cycle tour. It might just be the continuous heat or also the overall length of our tour and the need to let all the impressions sink in. Who knows. For now we love our time in Thailand! p1180546 p1180548 p1180549 p1180555 p1180563

Island days on Koh Payam

April 2016

So how to cycle in Thailand and not spend some time on an island? Exactly. That’s why our next destination was Koh Payam, just a couple of hours off the coast of Ranong. We spent a few days there, enjoying the beach, sunsets, cycling around, cooking and eating out, doing nothing. Not a lot of stories to tell here, so enjoy the pictures:

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It was pure bliss until we were innocently looking at some coffee at a shop and I felt something climbing up my leg… Wait. I looked down only to see a baby monkey on my leg trying to bite me. So this was not a deserted beach with monkeys in the trees or the monkey forest in Ubud. This was in the middle of the main village on Koh Payam and apparently the coffee shop owner’s pet monkey was trying to play with me. Or something.

Anyway, nothing really happened but as there is still some danger of getting rabies, this incident cut our island time a bit short. So we left Koh Payam first thing next morning which was also my 30th birthday… More on that next time!

Cycling paradise in Southern Thailand

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Look at the windmill – that’s where the wind is blowing to.
Look at the trees – that’s how strong it is.
Look at the distance┬á– that’s the actual amount of traffic here.
Look to the┬áright –┬áthere is food where the huts are.
Look at the asphalt – what more could you ask for?

Pure bliss!

So this is it I think: We have arrived in cycling paradise. I can’t think of any other way of describing it. Everything just… works.

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But let me explain from the beginning:

Our route and the roads

We cycled into Thailand at the Padang Besar border crossing. Not our first choice as we would have preferred the smaller one near the west coast. But with the idea of applying for a Chinese Visa in Songhkla we went east.

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Just after the border we found ourselves cycling on an actual bicycle lane – what a novelty after the past months! And while we’ve had a few busy highways towards Hat Yai and Songhkla, there were oh so many quiet and peaceful roads afterwards.

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We had a nice break in Songkhla at our couchsurfing host Tom. Unfortunately our attempt to apply for the Chinese visa was not successful as non residents are supposed to apply in Bangkok now. Oh well. So we cycled northbound along quiet coastal roads with an inland stretch towards Suratthani.

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Sure, sometimes we would find some sand on the road or maybe even a tree. Or Google Maps shows bridges which are more fiction than reality. But I prefer that to cycling on a main road any day.

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Food

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There is literally food everywhere. And I can’t rave enough about Thai food. It is oh so easy to find street stalls which prepare food freshly and with an array of herbs and sauces. What I especially liked was the amount of vegetables used! Also almost every eatery however small offers free drinking water. We often used that to top up our bottles (after asking of course!).

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For an added bonus, there are also big supermarkets. Usually we prefer buying fruits and vegetables in markets but sometimes supermarkets are convenient, too. They tend to have more choice and some occasional treats. Not the one in the picture above though, way too big!

Accommodation

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We both never plan to much where we are going to end up after a day of cycling. We usually have some ideas where to find guest houses and if that doesn’t work, camping or asking people are other options.

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In southern Thailand accommodation was almost as ubiquitous as food. Sometimes we were surprised about finding places to stay in rather remote corners. And if you don’t find anything, the beach is really not a bad alternative as long as there is some wind!

A shift in attitude: On compromising

It might have been that cycle touring in Thailand is just overwhelmingly easy as for the above mentioned reasons. Or it might be that our discussion on cycling and distances and compromising was fruitful. In any case I noticed a shift in my attitude towards compromising. Torsten and I might still have different ideas on what distances we would like to cycle on some days but somehow all our talking made me realise that it’s important to compromise. That may sound mundane but is has grown more important recently. In the beginning of our trip I was far from being able to cycle the distances / dirt roads / altitudes we cycle today without it being a major event. Now I’m much more capable and even if I don’t enjoy cycling 130k for several days in a row I can do it for one or two days. And as Torsten enjoys cycling longer distances sometimes I’m fine with doing that as long as we have some easier days in between.

That may sound trivial but it’s actually quite important for us to both enjoy touring together. When cycling with someone the chances are high that you won’t always agree on everything. So our solution is now that we sometimes cycle more, sometimes less and I’m doing well with the mix.

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Of course the shift in attitude has a lot to do with the shift in physical abilities. Not only that I can now cycle longer distances, I am also a lot more confident on dirt roads. And we had a few challenging ones going inland to Suratthani.

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I still don’t enjoy cycling over rutted tracks on a loaded touring bike for hours but if it happens I am much better at dealing with it. And mostly I actually stay on my bicycle, even going uphill ;).

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So as I said, cycling in southern Thailand really has it all: tasty food, a choice of accommodation or camping opportunities and different levels of easy or difficult cycling. Almost like a holiday!