“Sir! Sir! Taxi Taxi!!” Nothing screams Thailand’s southern beaches like an over zealous tuk tuk tout.
And nothing screams “lose some weight and do something about that mop you call hair” like a tuk tuk driver mistaking your gender and assuming your bike is a pricy ornament.
It had been just one day since we’d hit Krabi’s emerald coast after a wild ride south from Bangkok – and by wild I mean extremely slow, food-fuelled and (ahem, riddled with train rides) and already the locals thought I was a bloke who clearly didn’t use his bike to cycle.
And to be fair, they had a point.
Five weeks earlier we’d crossed into Thailand from Laos and in that time I’d become one omelette and sticky rice away from splitting my bike shorts.
In fact we’d been doing our best sloth impression over the past month, crawling at a glacial pace from night market to night market while eating everything in our path. Scott kept justifying it by saying “soon we’ll be in Alaska and we honestly can’t afford to eat there” but I wasn’t so sure … I reckoned even in the depths of the Arctic we’d find a way to deep fry caribou while our wind breakers tightened.
Lucky for me I knew we weren’t the only bike tourers with this problem.
This is a Facebook conversation I was having with my friend Clare a few days ago (she’s on a world tour with her husband Andy).
Clare: “I’m getting fat in Europe! Eat too much for the slow pace we’ve been going haha. We’ve met up with friends recently and I’m sure they’re surprised I’m not a stick.
Sarah: I totally hear you on eating too much for limited cycling efforts problem… I feel mildly embarrassed about telling people I’m on a world cycle trip at the moment… I feel like I have to tell them I’ve got a rare thyroid illness or something.”
Anyway that’s enough of me bitching about the rare phenomena known as “eating too much and thus gaining weight”.
Instead let me backtrack.
So before getting to Krabi and it’s clearly blind tuk tuk drivers we hit the road south from Bangkok with our favourite amigos Nat and Diego – the Colombian/Spanish couple who were clearly deaf as they’d managed to put up with us and our endless bullshit for almost two months.
We took a train for the first 200km (blaming the heat, traffic… you know anything but the truth, which was laziness) and a few hours later we were spat out in the palm-lined paradise that is Phetchaburi with the smell of frangipanis laying heavy in the air.
From there the picturesque road wound past golden beaches and through charming towns with seriously amazing night markets and so it took little convincing to ride at a snail pace in order to absorb as much coastal scenery and coconut soup as possible.
We’d left Bangkok with grand plans of camping on the beach every night and eating bananas and papaya for all our meals but after just a couple of days of 90 per cent humidity we’d opted for hotels and 7 Eleven sugar drinks and sandwiches instead.
It was so hot it looked as though I’d wet my pants every time I stood up while Scott’s t-shirt had an artists’ impression of the Bolivian salt plains on the back.
We lingered in the glorious coastal village of Prachuap Khiri Khan for a day (hanging out with monkeys and kicking back at the beach) before carrying on to Chumphon – a town that’s only famous because there’s a sexy beach about 15km from it.
Unfortunately the wet season had decided to interrupt our sandy frolics so after a soggy detour we cycled back to Chumphon. By this point our amigos were having problems with their bikes.
They’d scored them for the bargain price of about $100 in Singapore and while the bikes (to everyone’s surprise) had carried them 3000km things were starting to go wrong. After a memorable night’s camping at a train station they suffered several flat tyres in a row and Nat’s wheel was wobbling worse than an bachelor on his buck’s night. Thus it needed small convincing by them to take the train to Surat Thani. We paid a couple of dollars to get about 150km (honestly, it made sense on the math alone) and then from there to take a bus to Krabi (ok that bit was more expensive but by that point we’d gotten a taste for sedentary life).
From the seaside town’s bus station we pedalled 15km to the gorgeous white sand beach of Ao Nang and set up camp for a couple of days. From there you could take a long boat to the famed and very post-card perfect Railay Beach and so we spent a day lapping up the latter’s emerald waters and laughing at all the sunburnt Europeans – only to realise later on we’d also turned the attractive hue of lobster red.
Thailand’s new year was fast approaching which meant we needed to find somewhere to stay for it’s duration (on account of high prices and an enormous human migration). We’d decided to make for Koh Lanta – a picturesque island that was nevertheless cheaper than it’s more exclusive counterparts (such as the famed Koh Phi Phi).
A ferry took us from Ao Nang and spat us out at a northern western cove of the island on April 14 – the first day of the new year celebrations. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if Thailand celebrated the annual holiday like most normal people – you know, with food, beer and family feuds – but instead it celebrated by dropping buckets of water on people’s heads.
Koh Lanta is a largely muslim island (like much of Thailand’s south) and so we’d expected a more subdued version of the nation’s annual water fight.
We were wrong.
As we pedalled the 14km south to our hotel tourists and locals alike lined the streets with water guns and buckets, pelting everyone who did or didn’t stray in their path.
It was fun at first, but after the 10th bucket of water to the head almost caused me to crash I started grumbling like an angry old man faced with a neighbour’s house party.
Ah well, we’d finally found paradise and our reward for bugger all cycling was to spend the next week lapping up nirvana.
After several days of sitting on our backsides waddling between the pool, the air conditioned room and the beach the inevitable Thexit deadline came.
We set our alarms, checked Google maps and aimed to be “up an at ‘em” the following morning (leaving no later than 8am) to hit the road to Kuala Lumpur.
“We can get a good 80km out I reckon,” said Scott.
At 7am the final alarm went off and Scott hit snooze while I rolled over pretending not to hear it.
“One more day?” he asked.
“Yeah… I reckon so,” I agreed. Nat and Diego needed little convincing.
So that night we set the alarms again, checked Google maps and aimed to be “up an at ‘em” the following morning (leaving no later than 8am) to hit the road to Kuala Lumpur.
At 7am the final alarm went off, Scott hit snooze and I pretended not hear it.
By 11am we were on the road with Koh Lanta’s sun beating down brutally as we chugged along the coastal road.
Ten kilometres later an Italian restaurant we’d heard about came into view so we decided to “treat ourselves” to a big greasy pizza.
It was to be our final meal together – after all – so you know, we deserved it.
At 1.30am we were still sitting in the restaurant – carefully avoiding each other’s eyes in case someone suggested getting back on the bikes.
The mercury had hit roughly the same temperature as the sun’s surface (I’m positive) and the idea of getting back underneath it’s burning rays seemed about as much fun as jumping on a table, stripping off my kit and gyrating to a Justin Bieber number.
So we decided to look online for some good accommodation deals instead.
I’m actually a bit embarrassed to tell you what happened next.
We booked a room, stuck our fingers into the seriously sensational night market grub near Saladan’s pier and then vegged out in an air con room.
That night we set the alarms again, checked Google maps and aimed to be “up an at ‘em” the following morning (leaving no later than 8am) to hit the road to Kuala Lumpur.
At 7am the final alarm went off, Scott hit snooze and I pretended not hear it. Then we decided to stay one more day.
We actually did manage to leave the following day (and at the all together impressive time of 9.30am, thank you very much) and just 40 minutes later we lined up with the cars and scooters (paying seven times the local price for a ferry ticket) to exit Lanta.
We’d cycled two parts of bugger all over the past month and not surprisingly (despite my best efforts to fool them) my legs had noticed.
Every incline felt like Everest and every slight gust of tepid air felt like a howling headwind.
By 2pm we’d reached the crossroads where Nat and Diego would bugger off and leave us (striking west for Phuket) and we’d strike east for Trang before pedalling south to the Malaysian border.
We decided on one final meal together in a mini-mart but after some serious enabling by both parties we decided to instead sleep at the crossroads to spend one more “this time it really will be the last” night together.
Saying goodbye was pretty awful the next day (again we’d set the alarms early only to eventually pedal out after 11am) but after big hugs and countless jokes that we’d find some other cyclists down the road to replace them we went our separate ways. Just five kilometres later we stumbled across no less than 43 Thai touring cyclists.
They were a cheery group of middle aged bikers on a 15 day trip and the minute we pulled up for “a quick hello” they loaded us with cold drinks, coffees, fruit and even lunch. The group itself was a mix of men and women sporting everything from top notch touring bikes with European panniers to rusty fixies with cane wicker baskets for bags.
After a good old gossip and tea break they offered for us to tag along and sleep at the temple they were aiming for (in just another 40km) but we had our hearts set on reaching Trang (another 75km away) and so after many, many selfies we pedalled off laughing at our ability to find cycle tourers anywhere and everywhere.
Like complete morons we were determined to pedal through the hottest part of the day and by 3pm we had headaches and felt utterly rubbish. By late afternoon the temperature finally dipped and we cruised into Trang staying just minutes ahead of the dark, ominous clouds that heralded yet another tropical storm.
We found a cheap and cheerful hotel managed by a stoned-looking Thai guy before barrelling off to the nearby train station markets.
While Trang doesn’t make it onto many tourists’ itineraries, it’s a big hit with local travellers. Apparently the train station featured in a Thai movie and is called the “Station of Love” and after hooking into a delicious bowl of Khao Soi noodles just over $1 I was ready to declare my undying devotion.
The next day Scott had to go to a bike shop on account of the fact he’d been cycling behind me the day before when a spider ran onto my bar bag and I squealed like a pig and slammed on my brakes causing him to run up the back of me. His own brakes were loose and he was having problem with his pedal cranks and potentially his bottom bracket and so at around 10am the next morning we took off in search of the elusive shop. When we eventually found it we discovered the mechanic had buggered off until after lunch so we decided to “treat ourselves” to a coffee at a popular local eatery. We’d read that little ole unassuming Trang was in fact home to some of the nation’s best food and by time coffee (for just 80 cents) had turned into a bowl of Chinese style soup we were happy to give them the title. I mean for crying out loud these guys even have their own annual cake festival – which means it’s pretty much the best town in the world.
Just as we were preparing to jump back on the bikes to head for the shop the heavens opened for an absolutely mental rain storm.
In the end we admitted defeat and stayed another night in Trang (oh no, what a shame) but seriously the clock was ticking and our severe procrastination problem meant we’d have to do no less than 80km a day to make it the 700km to Kuala Lumpur in time for our flight.
From there Alaska’s arctic tundra beckoned and to make things even more difficult we had decided to up the anti on the final, brutal leg of our world tour. Over the past couple of years while we’d cycled a majority of the way, we’d also taken more than a handful of buses and trains at certain points. But the minute we reached Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, we’d vowed to cycle every inch to Ushuaia, Argentina.
It was a decision not to be taken lightly. Especially with visa restrictions, dangers in certain countries and even geographical issues. It meant we’d have to be less flexible with our route and more diligent with our daily targets but ultimately we wanted to challenge ourselves like never before (and you know, finally lose some bloody weight).