Sidecars And Side Roads

posted by: Emma

When an official-looking man in a orange fluorescent jacket waved us off the road, I thought our bribe-dodging karma had finally worn thin. Only with the slow realisation that I had seen our assailant earlier, I pulled the brakes, coming to a stop a few metres ahead. Nic had passed us an hour earlier cruising on his motorcycle, while his son lounged in a deck chair side-cart as if they had the whole afternoon to kill. Introductions to him and his son Boy were made, and we were quickly offered huge slices of watermelon and an invitation to visit his home and farmland about 70km away. What we’d figured would be a fairly quick and boring sprint to Bangkok suddenly got a whole lot more memorable.

Nic's motorcycle Market food in Trat

Even glimpsed in a small 500km strip from the border, immediately Thailand seemed a very different country to its neighbours. The tarmac was better, and although the much flasher cars went significantly faster, for a change us cyclists were granted a decent shoulder to ride on. We stopped at a mobile steamed bun van surrounded by lunching labourers and the first time we saw a 7/11 convenience store we considered taking photos to commemorate this air-conditioned modern marvel.

The same day we met Nic and Son, we stopped for the night in Trat, just outpacing a thunderstorm which rolled into town directly after us. A second lunch of Thai curries barely filled hungry stomachs, so we soon headed for Trat’s night market, ducking the rain by diving from one awning to the next. From a huge selection of eats we picked a feast of curries, rice and sweet dishes to haul back to our hotel room.

The next day we spied Nic’s motorcycle outside his house just before lunch time. He answered the door in work clothes and invited us to check out the bird room above us and the roof above while he showered. The view from his huge empty deck almost stretched to the sea and directly below the third floor of the house was in the process of being converted to an attractive home for swallows.

Justin by Bangkok sign Oyster farm

Bird houses are big business in Thailand, and Nic explained the ins and outs of bird nest harvesting, pointing out numerous empty buildings in the town which have been converted to swallow nesting grounds. The business nous was unclear to us until he explains the huge profits to be made. The most prized nests formed from swallow spit fetch up to $10,000 USD a kilogram and are destined for use in Chinese bird’s nest soup. I’m sorry to say we didn’t get a chance to try this expensive delicacy.

With energy which outshined both of us, retirement-aged Nic gave us a motorcycle tour of the town, took us out by boat past mangroves to a nearby crab farm, walked with us through two pieces of his land showing us tropical fruits ripening on trees. He has tried to tame nature through these farms, carving paths and swimming pools, elaborately re-routing rivers to run below cabins and through man-made caves as part of an epic plan for a picnic, accommodation and camping resort.

After helping a team of workers move wood from one site to another for more accommodation, Nic expressed his disappointment that it is too late to take us to a huge tropical fruit tree museum. Instead he offered to give us a tour of the local Buddha park. The almost empty grounds were filled with an extraordinary collection of brightly painted sculptures funded by pious individuals. He pointed out the mysterious beard on the largest Buddha – it was where a swarm of bees have decided to form their hive.

Nic's motorcycle + trailer Emma cycling at dawn Laem Mae Phim

With Nic, we ate like the locals, at unassuming small roadside eateries which each have their own speciality. He explained that he doesn’t keep any food at home because he simply doesn’t have time to cook. We weren’t surprised – by the time we leave at 6am the next morning Nic has already been up for hours carting his daily load of coconut husks back from the market using a specially commissioned trailer attached to the motorcycle.

With our eye on the coast, we cycle away from the security of the main highway to a string of minor roads which aren’t on our high level map. We had been advised that we won’t go wrong if we follow the sea, although we find that a few roads peter out into dead-end cul-de-sacs. The signposted ‘Scenic Route’ lives up to its name as it stretches out along a relatively quiet coast and even has a dedicated cycle path most of the way. In the late afternoon we detour to Cape Mae Phim, recommended by some cyclists we’d met a few days earlier. Its warm enough for a late afternoon swim and we find it hard to tear ourselves away from the sea the next morning.

Back on the main highway which is increasingly busy, we get a little put off exploring the towns we pass because of the constant bombardment of billboards lined across the highway. If the ads are anything to go by the waterfront is a strip of time share resorts and exclusive hotels, and the coastal roads seem to be just small loops off the highway. The few beaches we pass have views down the coast to the biggest tourist beach towns complete with gleaming high rise buildings a la Australia’s Gold Coast and we spend an unmemorable night in one strange expat-filled town. When we’re cycling its often too loud to hear each other over the din of traffic and we escape from the noise at regular intervals in petrol station convenience stores.

Emma relaxing at Laem Mae Phim

Wanting to avoid the most popular beach towns before Bangkok, we find ourselves just 95km from Bangkok with a day to spare before we’re due there. In the town of Chonburi, it already feels like we’re back in the modern world with a cafe across the road from our tiny hotel, posh restaurants and hotels just streets away, and a six lane motorway which we need to cross to get to a busy street-side restaurant.

Realising that the next day is a Sunday, leaving us to ride into Bangkok on a Monday morning, its a no brainer to give up a break day that we scarcely need so we can arrive in Bangkok a day earlier. We go to sleep early, anticipating an early alarm call in an effort to beat Bangkok’s notorious traffic. It sinks in that we’ve got just one day left to cycle before we are done.

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route map for this post

The map below shows the waypoints for this blog post. To view the details of our trip to date take a look at our complete route map.