The tale of the campsite wild goose chase

Tuesday 8th March saw us ascend the hills towards the Mae Sot border with Myanmar. It’s time to say goodbye to Thailand and start a new adventure in colourful Burma.

In the previous two days we had covered the 150km from Phitsanulok to Sukathai (where there is a pleasant collection of 13th century temples) and onwards to Tak.

The day was a challenge in many more ways than one.
The week of rest days in Bangkok had softened my bum and by the end of the second day I had angry saddle sore which we had to soothe with Bikers Balm and Savlon.  

 We had had a frustrating evening the night before the climb, having had difficulty finding a suitable wild camping spot. We were forced to take cover on some bumpy, sandy farm land, where we were forced to duck down for passing traffic on the road. Our stove was very temperamental and it took an age to cook up our stew.

The evening was suitably rounded off when we woke at midnight to a perculiar crackling under our heads. We had pitched out tent under an ant/termite highway… We were forced to get up and move the tent, significantly interrupting our nights sleep.

Tired and grumpy, we set off in the morning aware that it would be a tough day of climbing. We were heading for a campsite marked on our map 80km away and 800m up. The prospect of this climb did not improve our mood.

It was unusually hot but we managed the first 50k without too much problem. The gradient was constant but very manageable and we pedalled on as the landscape around us became more and more mountainous.

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Our mood was significantly cheered when we stopped to chat to another touring couple from France going the other way and guess what THEY WERE ON A TANDEM. They had been on the road for long while (and looked suitably travelled) having cycled from France. We swapped stories and tips for the roads ahead before carrying on.

8th March 2016 happens to be International Women’s Day and so as we climbed we celebrated by exhausting our full list of women artists on both my iPod and Paddy’s phone.

Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Florence and the Machine, Ani DiFranco, The Albama Shakes and many more kept us company as we pushed on.

At 2.30 we had reached the beginning of the last 20k with still 600m to climb. I knew that this trip would really test my endurance and today confirmed it. By this time it had reached the hottest part of the day and we were sweltering as the sun beat down from above and the tarmac radiated from below.

Stretches such as these have a timeless quality about them. All you can really concentrate is the climb, staring at your sweat drenched forearms, griping onto your handlebars and willing your legs to just keep spinning. 

It was a tough climb, no let up the whole way, and it was a very busy road with extensive road works taking place on either side. Huge trucks passed us going both ways and there were more than a few scary moments. Paddy did a sterling job as pilot though and finally at 5.00 we reached the turning off which led to the campsite. There was still a way to climb but we were spurred on by the thought of a cold shower and pitching our tent in a picturesque camping spot. 

The road gets narrower and narrower and steeper and steeper. This campsite better be good.. but we can’t help noticing that the lane we’re cycling up seems horribly overgrown… 

The slope gets so steep that we have to get off (a first for us) and push the last 200m up the hill. No joke!

We pass an abandoned building which is crumbling into the jungle…

When we finally reach the top we’re faced with this glorious view…

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Yes. That is broken glass on the road!

There is nothing quite like the crushing feeling of despair you experience having cycled up a (very) long mountain and are faced with nothing but a dead end!

To top it off we were nearly out of water and it was approaching dark fast.

Alls well that ends well – as usual, we are saved by the generosity and kindness of local people who replenish our water bottles and take us to a lovely home stay where we are given our own wooden chalet.

When our stove finally packs in (Paddy thinks he can fix it!) they let us use their kitchen so we can finish cooking our noodles – nothing can burst the bubble of relief, not even when Paddy accidentally drowns our dinner in fish sauce thinking it is oil…

More climbing tomorrow towards Mae Sot! 

Nos Da!

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Not much sight seeing in Bangkok

We have spent just over a week in Bangkok. It has been a very busy week, but we’ve not spent much time exploring the city as tourists. 

Now two months into our trip, it was necessary to spend some time planning the next stretch (Central Asia really doesn’t seem that far away now). 

Applying for visas and permits, replacing any gear and giving the bike a thorough service were also high on our list of priorities.

Bangkok is an excellent city for cyclists do all of the above, especially as there are LOADS of warm showers hosts dotted all over with good transport links to everywhere you need.

A couple of weeks ago we had noticed that our back wheel rim had cracked (it held up well for three weeks after). As we have 15000km still left to do we decided it was worth replacing both with new Andra 30 rims. For more info on how we went about ordering these parts and building the wheels in Bangkok click here.

The first 5 nights were spent with Mike (Joseph is his warm showers name) and his great friends east of the city. 

Mike has travellers turning up pretty much every day of the week (he’s also a couch surf host) and our stay crossed over with two Russian travelling musicians who had found each other online and hitch hiked the whole way from St Petersburg, and a family of four from Italy who were in their last week of a four month trip across Asia. There was plenty of space to spread out and reliable wifi. image

Their street was a real community and everyone was incredibly friendly. We cooked together every night and we both really enjoyed staying with them. 

We then headed north to spend four nights with Tim, an old friend of Annie’s who currently teaches at Harrow International school, his boyfriend Mick and their little beagle ‘Stevie Nicks’. It was a treat to have our own bed and great to spend some time with a familiar face. 

Tim had very kindly received a package for us (with our kick stand) sent from a friend in America (took 4 days with US postal service, roughly $80 with a 500 BHT custom charge the other end). If you’re having trouble finding an address to receive a package try asking your embassy. The Irish embassy confirmed they would have done this for us.  

day time walk
Tim and Mick are avid game players and shared a range of new dice and card games with us including Perudo, Yatzy, Diamonsters and speed Monopoly which is the most ruthless game either of us have ever played! (must get a pack for George)

 

Yazi scoring card!
 
Visas took a good chunk of time as did dropping off and picking up our wheel rims. We also made a trip to Outdoor Unlimited in Amrin Plaza where there is a range of outdoor and sports gear, although, in the end, we didn’t get much except a second sports bra for Annie. 

We also met up with another cycle touring couple who we contacted via the warm showers forum. We have been desperately trying to find some up to date info on the Myanmar/China border crossing at Muse – in the past it has not been possible to cross here without a special permit and guide due to regional fighting. Geart and Sytske also want to take this route and will be in Myanmar at the same time so hopefully we can team up and cross together. We’re still exploring the options but are pretty sure already that it’s possible and safe enough to cross.

We have both been reading books about Myanmar. Paddy has nearly finished Orwell’s Burmese Days and I’m deep in the midst of Letters from Burma written by Aung San Suu Khi. We’re both keen to cross the border now and will meet up with the Mum and Dad Sheen in Mandalay/Bagan which should be fun!

So, onwards north to Phitsanulok (by train) and then a four day cycle to Mae Sot border.  

No need to hold the bike when parked with the new kick stand!