Even after taking a route that mercifully avoided the centre of town, the day spent riding out of a city like Bangkok is exactly what you’d imagine it to be; the sight of a hostel at the end of this hot, dirty, and tiring day was the death knell of any willpower left in me to go and find somewhere to camp. Luckily, it turned out this town was home to the Meeklong Railway Market. I went to check it out the next morning and it was quite a sight: a regular wet market sets up shop every day on the tracks of a minor line coming out of Bangkok. In a matter of a few seconds after the warning bells ring, every canopy and tray of freshly caught fish, vegetables, and takeaway curry is dragged out of the way to allow the train to pass through with just a few centimetres of room to spare. The only thing that remained in the way of the oncoming train was the occasional intrepid tourist needing to take that much needed ‘danger selfie’ and inadvertently vying for a position in this year’s Darwin Awards shortlist. It’s one of those sights where the more inept breed of human being you have to share the planet with are as interesting to watch as the thing you came to see in the first place.
After that one chaotic day leaving Bangkok, I found the Royal Coast Road and everything changed.
If I ask you to picture cycling in southern Thailand I bet you my bicycle that beaches and palm trees come into your mind’s eye. Sadly I have found over the last two years that this figurative optical organ has a tendency to be woefully overly optimistic. Let’s take wild camping as a case in point: my minds eye’s optimism never imagined that spot in China where I found a pig’s rotting carcass less than 10 meters from my tent but was too tired to do anything more than hope the wind didn’t change direction. But in Southern Thailand, and possibly for the first time ever, my expectations and reality matched. The Royal Coast Road had beaches and palm trees. Lots of them. Many that occasionally tipped off the high end of the stunning and deserted scale. I spent the next week or so ambling down a quiet road, that often boasted a bike lane, running parallel to deserted white sandy beaches in the shade of the palm trees that lined it. In the distance turquoise fishing boats bobbed in the ocean and just far enough apart to never go wanting was a quaint fishing village that still offered the arctic breeze of an air conditioned 7-Eleven. In the bigger towns like Prachuap Khiri Khan, I grazed at the night markets, and by graze I literally mean I never stopped eating during my entire time amongst the stalls: if there wasn’t food in my mouth, I had something in my hand to be eaten momentarily.
You’ve got to love the enabling nature of the cyclist’s appetite.
Thailand has a reputation for being one of the most cycle-friendly countries in South-East Asia and this single stretch of asphalt that stretches along the Gulf Coast from the outskirts of Samut Songkhram to Chumphon exemplifies and justifies this reputation.
Itook a rest day in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, camping in a forest right on the beach, and took a rest week on the island of Koh Phayam, where the lack of 24 hour power or WiFi really let you enjoy the quiet white sandy beaches with very little distractions from the outside world. I spent most of these days laying in my recently acquired hammock. Even on ride days I’d spent the hours of noon to 3pm avoiding the worst of the sun, gently swinging in the breeze. It’s safe to say that, in spite of all the cycling, I spent the vast majority to my time in Thailand horizontal.
After finishing the Royal Coast Road, I passed through Krabi’s limestone karst formations and Trang, which boasted amazing, locally grown robusta coffee and unique bug-eyed tuktuks. Each provincial town really was a charming place that was a far cry form the tourist hotspots of Bangkok, Phuket, and the busier islands. At Satun, I was stamped out of Thailand, my bike shoved on the roof of a ferry, and off I went to my final country on the Eurasian landmass. More on that later…
With the exception of the heat, Thailand really does deserve its reputation as a great country to ride. Cycling really seems to be taking off as a popular sport and there are sincere efforts being made to accommodate this; the Royal Coast road being a case in point. The hardest part is just getting off the beach, getting out of that hammock, and onto the saddle.