With one hour of cool riding lost to a change of the clocks since Malaysia, we are now up at 6.00 am. We eat a Roti with banana, then retrace our route 13Km to pick up the 416 to Trang. The road is big and fast, but a wide shoulder makes it stress free enough for the touring cyclist. Rubber plantations on both sides, with small settlements of a dozen homes spaced every 5Km or so. We get to 30Km and then get ‘ second breakfast ‘ at a stall. As ever, we bring the place to a standstill.
Esther goes to pay. Trying to work out the system, the one thing that she has not expected is that our bill has been paid already. This is just typical. There are shouts of encouragement and ‘ good morning from all directions. Often we just have to wave back in the direction of an unseen greeting. I have done races back home where I have had less roadside support than here. We are deeply touched by the response.
10.20 and we have done 52 Km already. The sky has darkened and we pick a good time to sit at a stall. We have needed a storm for a few days now. It gets the job done in under an hour and leaves the road awash. That smells a lot better. We push away to put more cool distance into the day. Our luck with the weather runs out within 10 Km. I have taken cooler showers, so it is not uncomfortable. It is relentless though and our clothing is now saturated and hanging from us. Too many days like this would be a hard on the moral.
We end the day at Thung Wa. Just a cross roads on our map, but turns out to be a bustling place with a market and food stalls. Four Roti as a late snack takeaway. We ask what time the stall is open in the morning ‘ about 5.00 ‘, perfect. Roti in the morning then.
Things have been flat for a while. I have not needed the services of the granny gear for a few days, but the road ahead changes that. It is not dramatic, but a steady drip of sweat is leaving the end of my nose and heading for the computer and handlebars. There have been Army and Police road blocks since the border. They have a very relaxed atmosphere at the moment. If I say I am from England, the response is ‘ Liverpool, Chelsea or Man United ‘. When we say we live in Scotland, the response is ‘ Whiskey ‘.
Another stall. Esther is again trying to work out who to pay. There is a great roar of laughter as she has not worked out that our bill has again been paid. 11.30 and we have done most of the 52 Km in quite heavy rain. Back home in Scotland the forecast would be for ‘rain’, locally heavy with some possible localised flooding. ’27′c makes this more tolerable, but still not fun. A guy is beaming a big Asian smile at us. He is trying to tell us something of importance, but we never quite get to find out if it is forecast to rain for 2 days or we have 200 Km to go.
We get to Trang, just in time for the rain to stop. This is where we are going to see in the New Year. The first hotel wants to charge us a Kings Ransom and we walk away. It turns out my long division was at fault, but never mind. We book into a hostel and take a snooze to prepare for a long night.
The town centre is full to overflowing with a couple of thousand partying 16 to 25 year olds. Almost without exception, they look spectacular. Happy as puppys they make it a great evening. 2013 is greeted with a hundred sky lanterns being released. It is all done for a far smaller bill than Edinburgh picks up a few hours later.
We cancel the planned ‘ day off ‘, when the morning dawns cool and dry. The 4046 is going to take us west, towards the coast. Quickly the town fades behind, and again we are on remote stretches of road. A stall will be there if we need a tea, but it is quiet rid ing. We are passed by a pickup full of monks, then a second, and finally a third, all saffron coloured, smile and waves. They have their Alms bowls with them and are lining up at the next village when we get there. It must be a favourable day for all today. We have a good and constant tailwind.
31 Km into the morning. There is a long thin, and very green leaf or twig. I steer around it. Esther is right behind me and I hear a squeal. She is close enough to realise that it is a long green snake, and she has just gone over it. Thailand has more roadside snakes than anywhere we have ever biked, and we are already jumping at bits of rope, slithers of tyre or electrical cable. We are now even more on edge.
We stop at a stall for tea. Gifts almost always come with our tea. This time, it is a bunch of bananas. These are small and tightly curved, which we have come to expect. Something about these bananas turns out to be startlingly new, shocking even. There is the theory of ‘ The Black Swan ‘. The basic concept of this is, ‘ just because you have never seen something, it may still exist ‘. Europeans, surrounded by the evidence that ‘ all swans are white ‘, did not even begin to propose that not all swans were white. Not until they got to Australia that is, and they came across swans that were black.
I have got through 52 years without giving any thought to the possibility of bananas having stones in them. Big hard ones the size of a descent ball bearing and 12 of them in this small banana. I am shocked beyond words, betrayed even. The most safe and least dental work of food has let me down and I simply did not expect it.
We turn left onto highway 4, and within a kilometre come to our accommodation for the night. The only part of the sign that we understand is the number 24. This whenever you see it, indicates a motel of sorts. It looks like a ‘ pay by the hour ‘ establishment. A sort of grey area between the sex trade and tourist infrastructure. This one is very nice indeed and has a restaurant across the road.
6.30 and we are on the road next morning. The usual banana leaf wrapped food treat is our gift at the breakfast stall. Everyone has fun, first as we stumble over trying to pronounce the name of this new food. Next, the locals get the fun they have been expecting, as we try to eat a new food. This one is chewy, and goes down with smiles all round.
There are elephants in a paddock next to the road. This is our chance to meet some elephants, so we push the bikes up to where they are. It is an elephant hospital and these three are getting some attention from vets. This is our chance to donate the bananas to a good cause. Esther feeds them one at a time to a happy beast. The eyes are just so small. I have seen cows with bigger eyes. It all looks out of proportion a bit. The bananas are posted carefully into the mouth, skin and ball bearing sized pips in one.
The gps shows a quiet road will pick up the coast. We are heading to pick up a ferry at the little town of Leam Kruad. We have time in hand, and stop at a stall. This time the ‘ try this food ‘, is fishy, spectacularly hot and spicy and comes with laughter and smiles, even from us when we get our breath back.
Leam Kruad has a ferry terminal that gives you access to many of the islands that are dotted along the coast here. It is the right side of chaotic, but only by a very small margin. Maintenance is, and may remain, a closed book to people in Thailand. They apply their happy-go-lucky attitude to painting. Never will you see any paint applied in a straight line, and always painting something will include applying a coat and dribbles to everything nearby. It would be harsh to call much of the engineering shoddy or bodged, but not completely unfair. The ferry that we planned to transport us and our bikes was a prime example of this. It was a calm day, for which we were most grateful.
Koh Pu island, and there may be more than the four different ways that we have seen it spelt, is a tropical paradise. It gets a bit hectic for 10 minutes when a ferry pulls into the harbour at Moo Tu, but it soon calms down. As ever, photographs of sand and palms really do not put across what a nice place this is. We took a day off, then two and finally extended that to three. It would be madness not to. Our hostess, Dela is full of energy. This morning it may be 26′c, but she is in the kitchen ‘ To keep warm ‘.