Hattie and Christina did the hard core version: Hanoi to Bangkok, 1,225 miles in the saddle through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand over 2 months. This is the softie version: Bangkok to Saigon, 300 miles in the saddle (and a lot more on the bus) through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam over 2 weeks. So make yourself comfortable, it’s going to be a long, slow ride. ……….. or dismount now and google something else.
THAILAND: Day 1 Khao Yai to Pranchinburi provincePicture yourself sitting on an exercise bike in a sauna, pedalling for several hours and marinating in your own sweat, while someone blasts a hairdryer on a high setting in your face. Now substitute a real bike, beautiful tropical scenery with miles of green, green paddy fields and tapioca fields, almost empty rural roads and dirt tracks and the heady scent of tamarind, jasmine and frangipani & you’ll realise that, despite the heat, this was a ride to be savoured.
Our lunch stop on the first day was idyllic – a pool in the jungle which could only be reached on foot. The prospect of a cooling swim was so enticing that it was impossible to resist getting in fully clothed. Dozens of stunningly coloured butterflies were gathered on the smooth rocky surfaces surrounding the pool to drink from puddles of mineral-rich water.
Day 2 - to Sa KeawOn the second day the sun tightened its grip so that by lunchtime it was an effort to eat, despite the need for fuel and the delicious meal produced on a tiny portable burner at a roadside ‘café’. We had hit the hills at midday and were about to meet some more. Now, these were barely more than undulations in the road and at 25°C would have been easy, even for a non-hill climber like me. At 40°C they were mountains! The slower the ascent, the hotter it felt and the hotter it felt, the slower the ascent. I was longing for total immersion in water.
If I’ve made this sound like more of a trial than a pleasure then I have misled you. The cycling was wonderful and the sense of satisfaction was immense. On this ride my brain switched off completely; no surfing the internal net, no innovative problem-solving, no singing. Just nothing---absolutely nothing! As someone who generally has a head full of STUFF, this emptiness was a fantastic experience and I’m not sure I could have achieved it in any other way.
Day 3 – to AranyaprathetThe morning ride towards the beautiful Pang Sida National Park again took us through long stretches of mainly flat rural roads and dirt tracks. We swam in Tha Krabak reservoir with views across the waters to untouched jungle. Leaving the reservoir we cycled a short distance to a wildlife park to lunch on fresh pad thai and curry. The going was slow as the track was bumpy, soft and undulating. It felt like cycling through porridge. After lunch, the heat radiating from the tarmac was fierce and unforgiving until late afternoon when we reached Aranyaprathet, 10 km from the Cambodian border. Here we said goodbye to our Thai bikes. Sleek, elegant and tough (who does that remind you of?) they had served us well.
Next instalment 'Cambodia leg' coming soon...