When I tell friends that we are off on another bicycle touring adventure, the response often is an incredulous, "You're going where, to do what?" Now that we are a couple of days before returning, I am also starting to question myself by asking "You've gone where and did what?". But I am a bit ahead of myself.
From Battambang in Cambodia, we decided to head to Thailand and its beautiful beaches, which took us on another less travelled road to Pailin. I use the word road'' advisably, since about half of the 90 kms was dirt or under contruction and Pailin itself, was like a construction zone on all the main streets. As such we wanted to get to a guest house which was described as about 3 kms north of town but without any road signs the only clue that I followed was that there was an unexpected paved cross road which suggested that this may be the Bamboo Guest House we were looking for and would eventually lead us to the Thai border.
Intuitition proved right and after a comfortable night's stay, we headed for the border, only to discover that the last 15 kms were not only like rough tracks, but the terrain was also hilly such that the appearance of several multi-storey buildings, hotels with casinos, were a welcome sign, since they indicated that we were just a few meters from Thailand, and the casinos and hotels were built to attract gamblers from just across the imaginary line.
The crossing was nearly effortless, as we were not asked for a bribe at this location and with a quick visa from Thailand, we were soon on our way on well paved roads with smooth shoulders, manicured medians but alas, non of the warm greetings of "hello" we had become accustomed to in Cambodia and Laos. Even swithching to the left side of the road came naturally, as we had ridden thus in India and Australia.
Our ride to Chantiburi was quite easy as we could avail ourselves of the modern gas stations with convenience stores and eateries so we were well fuelled and fed. Chantiburi turned out to be much larger than anticipated but it still had a charming row of shops along the river, dating from about a hundred years ago.
Eager to see the sea we left early to Ban Leam Phim, which deserved a one line mention in Lonely Planet, to discover a well developed beach community with kilometer after kilometer of hotels and restaurant on one side, and umbrellas and chairs and simple foodstands on the beach side. Seeing the turquise ocean for the first time, after so many months of inland riding, was a spectacular feeling.
Our accomodations, Bali Villa, also did not disappoint as we stayed in this cosy development of 20 cottages, each named after a tropical fruit tree which was grown at its front steps. Ours was the Mango and it was truly reminiscent of Bali with the open air feeling shower and the teak construction everywhere.
After a two day stay on the beach we wanted to go to a similar setting and road along the ocean for nearly 50kms to discover that our possible destination Rayong was a bustling industrial town and not at all inviting. I knew that further along the coast there were several options but using some basic logic, I concluded that the best chance of finding a place would be around Sattahip which not only has a military and civilian airport as well as a major naval base. The town proved to be a charming fishing village sorounded by a few block of stores and the aforementioned uses, but alas, only one hotel, that by northern Laos standards would have been quite good, but having enjoyed the comforts of Bali Villas, we only had the option of going further still towards the famous beaches of Pattaya.
After turning off the main highway several times to follow signs, we would either end up at some multi-story condo develpment or a massive hotel, such as the Ambassador with 4,000 rooms, we ended riding another monster day in the heat of 135kms to the smaller community of Jomtien just south of Pattaya, thinking that it would be quieter and less commercial.
We looked at several standard and luxury hotels but after such a long ride, none seemed inviting, when at the southern end of the Jomtien, on a small side street, a few doors from the beach I came acrossa pizza restaurant, guesthouse and pub with the unlikely name of "Miracle Mirage" owned by a Dutchman Gerard and his Thai wife, Kwan. It only has three rooms but has a European feel of a guesthouse or as we soon discovered, more like a guest home, where at each turn, they anticipated our needs, including the offer to use their computer. www.miraclemirage.com
Their pizza lived upto its billing as the "Best Pizza in Thailand" according to the Pattaya People TV and their pasta was equally good. Our plans were to ride to Bangkok Airport, about a 130kms from here, but we discovered that Monday is a public holiday, so elected to use our time here by sampling all the great cuisine and enjoy the beaches and all of the major hotels with such inviting pools, with Gerard driving us in his truck, directly to the airport for Tuesday's departure.
We did ride into Pattaya which is truly an urban jungle and even mid-day it lives upto its notoriety for sex tourism, discos, outdoor beer bars, go-g- clubs, that attracts its share of prostitutes of every shape and form.
We were happy to return to the quieter beaches of Jomtien where last night, as we watched the sunset over the Gulf of Thailand, for the third night in a row, and as I looked back in the opposite direction, I notice a brilliant full moon, did the realization hit me that the previous full moons we had enjoyed were in Jaisamer, India, camping in the desert where it was a brilliant white globe, and in Champasak, Laos, where during the full moon festival, it was a red globe as it was framed by Angkor era ruins, that we have been gone for a considerable time.
The four months seemed to have by so quickly; that we had travelled in five countries, India, Australia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, that we had cycled about 4,500kms, is only now raising the question in my mind of where we have been and what we have done.
With a few minor exceptions, the trip seemed effortless and needless to say extremely enjoyable and stimulating, with each day a minor revelation. Looking back, Alison and I are astounded that the trip is nearly at its end and that we went on bicycles where we did. Still, I know that soon after we board the plane, to Mubai, then London and then to Toronto, the first thing I will do is browse the maps at the back of the airline magazines and contemplate the few inches of ground we have covered, and how on four wheels, we uncovered yet another small piece of the planet and that it will be time to plan the next trip as there is so much more to see and to experience.