By the age of 10, I had drawn more diagrams of Shadoofs ( go and look it up ), and knew more about the irrigation of the Nile delta, than was possibly needed in the education of a child from just north of Birmingham, in the English Midlands. It was one of the twin obsessions of Mr Yard, my teacher.
His other was rubber production. Page after page of drawings were devoted to this, and annotated in my scruffy ‘ boy ‘ handwriting. Perhaps these were topical vestiges from a colonial time, when the map of the world was still mostly coloured red. The teacher in the next class was obsessed by the rituals of American Indians, so who knows.
What Mr Yard did not know, and having now biked behind or been slowly overtaken by pickups brimmed full of balls of harvested rubber, is that the process stinks. I thought it was some unmentionable part of the abattoir sweepings that were being gathered for the curing of leather. Somehow, when you gather sap from a tree, it stinks.
The ferry back to the mainland from Koh Jum managed to take exactly half the time for the return journey. We had just a short ride planned for the day, but it was good to get as much done in morning cool.
We had stayed a day longer on the island and had not really paid attention to how much money we had on us. It was a nervous count as we settled up, and waved goodbye without breakfast, and with the equivalent of €1 in our pockets.
We could afford one stop for tea, before the first ATM that was happy to do business with our credit card. That was close to being embarrassing for all concerned. The town of Krabi, is a backpackers hub for all of the ‘ fleshpots ‘ dotted along the coast, and we were there before midday.
We walk around the town. I have an ice fruit shake and it is very nice indeed. Too nice in fact, too nice by far. I gulp down several big gulps in quick order, and bring on the mother of all ice cream headaches. I am writhing around and on my knees on the pavement. Death would be a blessed relief were it to come swiftly and right now.
An early start and we pick up the 4034 to ride out through the stalls, markets and car showrooms of the back end of Krabi. Limestone plugs or peaks are dotted around here and out into the Andaman Sea. If you have seen the dual scene in James Bond’s, The man with the Golden Gun, you will know what I am on about. They drip with foliage,like well maintained hanging baskets. Just as we leave the town, the first of these has a reclining Buddha statue, and we stop for photos and contemplation.
We search out the quiet roads that run next to the sea. Once again, the gps earns its space on the handlebars. All the signs are in Thai and the junctions are complicated. There are smiles, waves and shouts of ‘ hello ‘ from all around, as we pass through villages of fewer than a dozen homes.
This is stunning riding. A moped is coming towards me and at the last moment he almost losses the front end as he swerves. It is only then, when I am almost level, that I see the largest snake yet. His front wheel just misses it as the snake goes into the scrub opposite me. It is black, well over a metre and moves with such speed. Shit, that woke me up.
We are now jumping at shadows and skid marks, along with the usual bits of tyre, rope, branch and discarded electrical cable. These coastal roads are, as ever, lumpy. The roadside culture more than makes up for it. It is midday, 34’C and there is now no alternative to highway 4. We have the bulk of the days riding done thank goodness. We stop at a Tesco store, just to compare and contrast, with the ones back home and to spend a few moments in ‘aircon ‘ heaven.
I am having quite a job working out at what age you can legally drive a moped here. On today’s evidence, it is not much over 8, but may possibly be as high as 9. Someone flicks on another bar of the fire. It is up to 39’C, not ideal conditions for searching an unknown town for a hotel.
Over the two years we have been on the road we have developed a keen sense for finding accommodation. We can judge the merits of an establishment with a single glance. If there is a good place to rest a road weary body, we will find it. The thing is, in the town of Thap Put, we could not find anything. This was not good. But the simple fact is, that despite its size and important position, there is nothing.
But then we had a stroke of luck. We ask at the police station for a place to camp. Just as we are doing this, the local chief of Police drives up. Joy of joys, he is a cyclist, a mountain biker admittedly, but that still counts. We stay as his guests, for which we are eternally grateful.
We start the day early, but it never ends up being early enough to avoid all of the heat of the day. We take the 4118, a right turn that climbs slowly away from the town. One eye and a single ear raised, by 10 am it is already too hot for dogs to do much more than watch us pass. We take a left onto the 401 and it all feels like too much today.
The sole is parting company with the rest of my SIDI shoe. Asia is being hard on our kit, and I am searching the shelves at the back of a stall where we have stopped for tea. There are all combinations of bizarre things, but absolutely nothing that looks like glue. I give up and show the shoe to the happy gentleman who runs the place. He opens the chilled drinks cabinet. Somehow he has got completely the wrong idea. But no, he pulls out a small bottle and asks for the shoe. This is going better.
Then he does the Thai thing. He just pours what turns out to be super glue straight from the open bottle and all over the front of the shoe, and his hand. He is now in a desperate dance to avoid having my cycling shoe chemically welded to his hand. Big smiles all round at a job well done and he settles down to spend the next half an hour with a sharp knife removing glue from his hands and clothes. He refuses payment for the tea and his services.
Twenty minutes later we stop again. This time we are given two bunches of bananas as a parting gift. Such things could easily make you cry. What could also bring you to tears, is how we are going today. We have just not ‘ got the legs ‘. The distance to the next known hotel has worked out to be further than we thought and it is all going wrong. You know it is going wrong as you are looking at the bars, searching for the next kilometre to click over on the computer. This is not good, not good at all.
It looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. In this case, it looks like a hotel, but everything is in Thai. We push up to the reception and joy of joys, we have saved 15 Km, it is a hotel and not as it might have been, a very relaxed open prison or something similar. We sign the guest book, adding 2013 to the row of 2556 above. This is the buddhist year and marks the time since the death of the buddha. There was no sprinting for signs today. We were, if truth be told, more than a bit rubbish. We have a big hill on the route tomorrow, which is worrying. We do however have some simply stunning scenery to look at as we ponder our day.
It is misty. Still 24’C, but misty as we throw a weary leg over the bikes and pedal in the direction of Khao Sok national park. We have, by shear fluke, timed our ride through here to perfection. Misty cloud is just now pealing away and rolling down the steep sides of the limestone peaks. This is amazing, truly breathtaking. The sun that will hit us in half an hour is already catching the tops.
9.00 am and we get to the base of the climb and just have to dig deep. It turns out to be not too bad. It is one of those visits to the dentist when you just need a polish. The descent is perfect and on smooth black top. Good thing too as it is a good deal steeper than the way we came up. We let the touring bikes have their legs and rush down. We ride on, pleased with ourselves.
Bugger, another short but horribly steep hill. How can this possibly be here, this is not fair. I get off and walk. The last few kilometres into the town of Takua Pa are a bit of a blur. We end up staying at a nice quiet hotel, but not before we have gone away and looked all around for a hotel. For some bizarre tax avoidance reasons, there are no signs indicating that this is a hotel. Looks like a duck though and we will not be caught out a third time.