Applying for Visa for Myanmar in Bangkok

One of the main reasons for coming to Bangkok was so apply for our next two visas – Myanmar and China.

We wanted to be as efficient as possible with our time as staying in big cities always blows our budget. 

We made sure we arrived into Bangkok on a Thursday afternoon with the aim of getting our Myanmar visa sorted before the weekend. 

We just had enough time to cycle to the Myanmar Embassy (closes at 4:30pm) to double check the procedure/supporting documents needed, make a copy of our passports (there’s a photocopier there) and pick up the visa forms.

We planned to complete the forms that evening and get back early the next morning to apply. 

The current visa drop off times (Feb 2016) are 9am-1pm. I had read a number of blogs and posts saying that you needed to arrive really early if you wanted to be in with a chance of getting a visa and that people were known to start queuing at 7am…  

We set off at 8am but didn’t actually arrive until 10.15am due to traffic and waiting for busses. This wasn’t a problem. The office was very busy but if you have your form completed (front and back) and you already have your 2 photos and passport photocopy ready then you simply pick up a ticket near the door, sit down and wait until you’re called up. 

We waited for about half an hour and there were lots of people who arrived after us who also got seen. It was all very efficient and easy!

We coughed up the additional fee to get our passports back the same day (3000 baht total for both) and this wasn’t a problem either, she didn’t ask us why we needed the same day service. We were all done by 11.30am. There was no need to mention we were going by bicycle or entering/exiting via border crossings.

Pick up is between 3:30-4:30pm which meant we had time to make our way to the Chinese visa office and pick up the forms there in between. (Bus 514).

There is a lot to organise for the Chinese visa but we will have the weekend to prepare itineraries, book accommodation etc and print everything we need ready for application on Monday.

Pick up at Myanmar office took a total of 3 mins.

Kao Yai – Saraburi – Ayutthaya

After saying our goodbyes to the Gang Zu Club we have a great morning relaxing in the campsite, enjoying water on tap! Simple pleasures! 

The trees all around us start shaking and a number of monkeys appear poised and ready to grab anything they can. We turned our back for 2 seconds and one of them is off with our packet of rice. He shamelessly rips it open in front of us and starts stuffing his face. A couple more join the feast.

  

beware the monkeys!
 
There is a big family next to us and before they pack away to head home they bring us some leftover chicken soup for breakfast. Thai people are so nice!

In the middle of the day we escape the sun and head down one of the jungle walks which leads away from the camping. The track follows the river for the majority of the way. 

We come across a clearing near the river and we contemplate a swim but there are large signs saying ‘No Swimming, Crocodiles!’

I start telling Paddy that the signs are probably there to just prevent people from going in the water and there can’t be that many wild crocodiles so close to a campsite. He raises his eyebrows at me, smiles, and points to the river bank. I peer over and see this fella basking in the sun. 🙂

  
The jungle walk is great and we see some amazing butterflies, lizards and the secret twitcher in me is roused when we catch a sight of some amazing birds. Our journey is accompanied with a soundtrack of distant gibbon calls the whole way too.

  
The evening is passed quite happily cooking near our tent and before bed we feel the time is ripe to watch the first programme in the 1973 BBC TV series The Ascent of Man presented by Jacob Bronowski. 🙂

Paddy’s brother included the whole series on the external hard drive he gave us for Christmas and we’ve been waiting for a good time to start it. The book of the same name was a familiar object in both our homes while growing up… (This will make Kate And Em laugh!)

After another night at the campsite we pack up our gear and carry on through to the other side of the nature reserve.

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The road on the other side is even more spectacular than what we’ve seen so far and we have to stop more than once to cool down our breaks during the decent. We’re glad we didn’t come up this way!

Onwards to Muak Lak, this is the most picturesque scenery we’ve cycled through and on the way a guy flags us down on his motorbike so he can give us some ripe mangos.

Onto 3224 where we join up with the Pa Sak river. We find a suitable camping spot under a large bridge and set up camp.

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Another friendly Thai comes down to check out our set up, give us a bag of apples and take a quick selfie.

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We set off early the next morning and keep north of the river all the way to Saraburi where we find ourselves caught in the big interchange with the M1! Bit of a hairy stretch but Paddy keeps his cool and we manage to get away from the motorway soon enough. 

We stop to cook for lunch next to the canal and then get going again onwards to Ayutthaya. It is very flat again by this point and we follow the canal pretty much the whole way. We pass a HUGE snake on the road. 

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We arrive into Ayutthaya at 3 and locate the train station so we can suss out how to get the bike on a train to Bangkok the next day. We’re told to come back the next morning at 11.30 to catch the cargo train at 12.15. 

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We cycle past some of the celebrated temple complex while locating a cheap hostel, it’s nothing to Angkor but it’s still a shame we’re not planning to stay to explore for at least 1 day.

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We need to get to Bangkok ASAP to organise our visas though. 

The climb to Kao Yai

Having explored some of rural Thailand for a few days we were ready to hit the big hills and head towards Kao Yai national Nature reserve. 

We had both been looking forward to this for a long while. One of the things we’ve both enjoyed most about the trip so far has been the amount of time we’ve spent outdoors. The nature reserve is a UNESCO site and boasts some spectacular scenery, wild elephants, gibbons, guars and in the more remote areas, tigers apparently.

We knew it would be a tough day of continual climbing to reach the campsite situated at the top of the reserve. It was also Paddy’s birthday but he said he was very happy to spend it waking up in a Buddhist temple and climbing a huge mountain! 🙂

We had an early start thanks to the temple schedule (4am prayers and 6am breakfast!) and with our bellies full we headed north out of Prachin Buri towards the south entrance of the park.

Thanks to Paddy’s navigation app we made good headway for the first 15km and took the scenic route across a huge reservoir, the nature reserve dominating the skyline beyond.

We soon found ourselves in a tricky spot when the ‘road’ on the map turned into more like a dried up stream. We ended getting off and pushing/lifting the bike down this bumpy track.

Back on the road we rip up a few more miles just as the sun really starts to break through the morning mist. We both automatically reach for our cycling glasses but with horror realise we have lost them somewhere along the bumpy track (groan). We retrace our steps along the road and while I hold the bike (that kick stand can’t come soon enough!) Paddy runs up to see if he can find them. 20 minutes later he scampers back down looking triumphant. 

  
The glasses mission lost us an hour and by the time we reach the entrance it’s already 10.30, but anyone who knows us will know we’re used to losing our possessions like this.

At the gate we meet a friendly Thai cyclist who is out for a Sunday morning cycle from Prachin Buri. We explain we’re heading for the top while jealously eyeing up his unloaded lightweight road bike. 

We grudgingly pay our 400 baht each to enter the park (locals only pay 40!) and start the 35km climb.

It’s tough going, some of these inclines are 11/12% and our legs soon become aware of the 34kg of luggage we are dragging up with us (that’s not to mention the weight of the bike and ourselves!)

Paddy attempts to give me a boost by quoting motivational phrases at me which he apparently picked up in Scotland while doing a rowing race. ‘Pain is simply weakness leaving the body’ he tells me… I reply by telling him to ‘simply sod off’.

Despite our legs regularly screaming in pain and our painstakingly slow ascent (6km/h up one incline) we do make good headway. The route is obviously a popular one for road cyclists and we pass big groups of them streaming the other way. It’s nice to receive their supportive and empathetic cheers as they zoom past us.

We stop for lunch at a waterfall having done a third of the distance but two thirds of the overall climb. As long as the road doesn’t have too many down sections it should be easier from now on.

We fuel up on rice and meat and take half an hour out to walk to the waterfall. 

  
Back on the bike we continue to climb, we see lots and lots of elephant dung but unfortunately no actual elephants. 😦

There is lots of up and down sections, the road is CRAZY! We climb a steep hill and to our dismay are met instantly by a downward stretch… However, we finally reach the campsites (there are 2 to choose from) and settle on the second. As we drive into the entrance a Dutch couple are sat waiting with their two bikes. It’s always nice to meet other cycle tourers and we exchange stories for a while before we pick out a spot to pitch up. 

We choose the liveliest section- although it’s Sunday evening the site is full of lots of Thais – one group can be herd singing along to a guitar. It’s just like being in a festival back home! Perfect!

  
Once set up we realise that it’s not possible to get our hands on any beer. Alcohol is technically prohibited in the reserve, but all the Thai groups have brought their own and are happily sipping away at ice cold beverages. Damn, we should have done our research!

  

Once showered we enjoy watching the wild deer roaming the campsite and while taking a few photos we get chatting to the friendly group with the guitars who, on closer inspection, are all wearing t-shirts saying ‘Gang Zu Club’ on them. 

They have a great camping set up and are SO FRiENDLY! We love chatting to them and they invite us over so we take up the offer but in exchange, insist they have to teach us some Thai. 

We end up having a terrific night with the ‘Gang Zu Club’ who are here for the bank holiday (it turns out it is a Buddhist holiday in Thailand). We eat steak, drink beer :-), and share songs. Hilariously the first song they choose to play to us is Zombie by The Cranberries!

They teach us Thai and in exchange we teach them the dice game 5000. 

It was the perfect evening for Paddy’s birthday and we sleep soundly looking forward to a good jungle hike the next day! 

  

A Spiritual Stay

The 60km onwards to Prachin Buri from Phanom Sarakham pass without much drama and we arrive in the town at around 4.00pm without much of a plan for where we are going to stay. We vaguely think we might be able to camp if we can get to the other side of the town but the sun is setting fast so we keep an eye out for possible guesthouses too.

We pass a big temple complex and decide to ask if we can pitch our tent in the grounds. We haven’t stayed in a temple yet in Thailand but did a couple of times in Cambodia…

Paddy goes off to investigate and after a few minutes walks back down the driveway accompanied by an elderly monk. I wish I had been able to get a picture of the two of them as they walked towards me down the road – they are chatting as they walk, Paddy’s tall, skinny lycra frame towering over the orange robed monk who walks bare foot with a long walking stick. 

After consulting with the ‘Abbot’ of the temple its agreed we can stay. 

We’re not allowed to camp together in the grounds but instead get invited to join the other ‘temple visitors’. We split up, Paddy pitching our tent in a room with the group of men and me joining the larger group of women inside a big hall across the courtyard. After a few shy smiles and waves we get acquainted and they help me make up my bed.

  

  

At first we can’t really work out what this group of people are here for (around 15 men and 50 women, of all ages, the youngest must be about 10 or 11). They are all wearing the same lavender uniform and at first we think maybe the temple is housing them because they are homeless. Later we come to the conclusion that they are here on a kind of Buddhist retreat, how long for we’re not sure though. Later we discover it is an important Buddhist holiday.

At 5pm they all go to pray and we’re left to shower and cook our dinner. At 6pm they all take a walk in silence around the grounds led by the monks.

At 8 everyone goes to bed and Paddy and I part ways. I just have time to make a quick birthday card for P before lights out.

I wake at 6 to find Paddy already up showing the guys a map of our route so far (everyone has been up since 3.30am apparently!)
 

We’re invited to join the group for a big communal breakfast. We both have a good time explaining where we are from and where we are going next.

It’s been a very special experience staying here and we feel we’ve gained a real insight into the Buddhist way of life.

Onwards to Prachin Buri

After a day’s sleep at the guesthouse I was feeling ok again so we decide to push on and cycle through Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctury. 

The stop has allowed us (well Paddy really, as I spent the day sleeping) to sort the delivery of our kick stand and gear cables etc, from America to Bangkok (huge thanks Bren). We also notice that our back wheel rim has begun to buckle and so we contact a few bike shops in the city to organise new rims to be ready for our arrival.

After 35km we’ve done enough and we pull into the Forest Fire Centre and ask if we can camp in their garden. They are super friendly and even show us where we can shower. I’m still feeling incredibly nacious so am very grateful at having a good camping spot with amenities! 

The next morning I’m feeling pretty good and so we continue to push on, enjoying the scenery. 

We’ve enjoyed our detour South and now we head towards Prachin Buri which will be our final stop before we head towards Kao Yai.

This is the heart of industrial Thailand and although we cycle through lots of farm land we pass lots of huge factories.

Also, everywhere we seem to stop has these weird golliwog gnomes!

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Phanom Sarakham was a suitable stop and we arrive at around 3pm which is good as it took us a good hour to find a suitable priced room. (350 baht 100m past the Toyota show room if you ever find yourself there).

Again no English by the locals (for some reason we though English would be more wildly spoken in Thailand but not where we are!) and so we point at some food on the menu provided. We try to enjoy our cold crab salad and liver curry which is presented but it’s making my delicate stomach feel very queezy so we eat a huge dollop of ice cream instead! 

Thailand – Country No. 3

After completing the 110k to Sisophon the previous day the 55km to the Poipet border was fairly easy going. 

The ride was pretty unadventurous apart from Annie had to request a toilet stop in a rice factory. It is definitely the strangest place Ive had to stop.

Poipet crossing is notoriously busy and full of scams and thieves so we were on our guard as we arrived at 1.30pm and didn’t let the bike out of our sight the whole time. 

I managed to dive into the border control office before a huge group of Spanish tourists so the wait out wasn’t too bad in the end. We then headed down the short stretch of road to be stamped into Thailand. It was time to say farewell to Cambodia.

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We stayed a night in Aranyaprathet down the road. The difference between Thailand and Cambodia is instant. It was strange to see brand names we recognised… E.g. Tesco ?!

Stocking up at the small market and searching for kerosene took a bit of time in the morning but we finally got going at 12 noon and headed into the lush green countryside.

We’re instantly met by rolling green hills and it’s great to have some different scenery. We’re really enjoying sleepy, rural Thailand, the land is still intensely farmed but with a greater variety of crops than in Cambodia. It feels a lot more peaceful here and the weather is cooler.

We stop for lunch under the shade of some trees and enjoy the view. 

We continue on, this time keeping an eye out for a suitable camping spot but by 5.30 hadn’t found anything so some nice locals took us to a guesthouse.

The next morning Paddy had a bit of a shock. He went to put his shoe on and found this little fella hiding inside. Paddy is rather shook up by the whole experience and since has merticulously checked his shoes every morning.

 

We were both feeling very tired the next day, we had barely done 25km before we came across this perfect wild camping spot. We decided to have an afternoon resting and drinking up the view. 

   

We have been getting a bit bored of playing repetitive games of whist and rummy so decided to look up a new, 2 player card game and settled on learning the complicated rules of Sixty Six, it involves lots of counting! Once you get your head around all the various phases of the game it’s pretty addictive!  

We enjoyed a bath in the lake before dinner (a luxury when camping) and we ate both feeling very satisfied and content…

That is until I started complaining of feeling a bit queezy. Hoping it was nothing a good sleep wouldn’t cure, we locked the bike to the tent and settled under the fly sheet. 

Paddy woke later to the delightful noise of me being violently sick 😦 over the side of the bank of the lake… At 2am we finally managed to both drift off.

Morning came and we put our energy into finding a guesthouse. Paddy went to explore the options on the bike and came back triumphant. He packed the whole campsite up while I sat slumped in a Helinox chair in the shade. He even did his Dracula impression with big Agnus to cheer me up!

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I needed a full day of sleep to recover. 

New Personal Best

For those of you who aren’t that interested in cycling stats you may want to gloss over the below.
Sisophon is 110km from Siem Reap and we wanted to do it in one day. We had a very sleepy start though and didn’t get going until 10am in the end… not a great start for a long cycle when you have only 8 hours of daylight left and it promises to be a scorching 37• until 3:30pm.

Luckily we steamed along and had our best day of cycling yet:

We set a new personal best for:

Top speed (38.4)

Average speed (24.7)

Distance (110.5)

We also spent more time on the bike than resting which is also a first for us!