Day 2 of Tak to Mae Sot

After our struggles yesterday we enjoyed a lie in and a lazy morning before setting off to complete the mountain pass to Mae Sot.
There was still some climbing to do but we held on to the knowledge that the majority of the 55km we needed to do would be down hill.

It was tough going initially but the road is MUCH better on this side of the mountain with a decent hard shoulder (although the other side going the other way didn’t seem to have one) and wider roads. The traffic was still busy. We are very glad we made the decision to do this stretch over two days. (A lot of cyclists try to do it in one)

We finally reached the highest peak marked by a temple complex (all the trucks and cars beep as they go past) and some impressive rock formations.

  
We have a short stop at the top. This sign gave us a sense of what was to come.

  
We reach the bustling town of Mae Sot at around 5pm and take some time to find a suitable guesthouse near the bus station (Green Guesthouse 240 baht). This will be our last night in Thailand. 

There seems to be a large Muslim community here and on the map we notice that there is a significant UNHCR centre. Yesterday Paddy also noticed that there was a refugee camp some miles south too. Both perhaps a stark reminder of what is still going on over the border in Myanmar.

The town is a good place to stock up on everything you might need. 

After washing clothes we head to the night market where we have an excellent dinner and finally get round to ‘celebrating’ being together for 3 years! 

Thai Stats

Total Days: 26

Total km cycling: 843

Trains: 2

Wild Camping Nights: 4

Warm Showers Stays: 5

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Applying for your Chinese Visa in Bangkok

The application process for a Chinese visa is a lot more time consuming than any other Asian country we have been to. 

We considered applying via an agent but in the end decided to fly solo with it all. 

We felt we just needed to get organised with prolonged access to a computer and printer.

 While we waited for the Myanmar visas we made our way north to the Chinese Embassy to pick up the forms.

  

First things first, the visa application centre is NOT in the Chinese embassy like it is in every other consulate. You need to go to New Pretchaburi Road to Level 5 in Thanapoom Tower (10 min walk). 

  
Going to the embassy first did prove quite useful in the end because they showed us examples of some of the supporting documents we would need to submit.

 It seems that the Embassy, no doubt because the application process is so onerous, has subcontracted the management of the first phase of the application procedure out to a private company. http://www.visaforchina.org

This company offers advice, information and runs a first stage tick box exercise on your application before its sent to the Embassy for final approval.

In a way it’s sort of good because they give your application a thorough once going over before you handover and wait for the outcome… Also unlike other consulates you pay on collection.

They are open 9:00am to 15:00 Mon-Fri. But if you want the 2 day express service you need to drop off before 11am.

We were told it was only possible to apply for a 1 month tourist visa in Bangkok, although we have heard of others successfully applying for three months in other cities… (we hope to extend ours at least once when we’re there).

The form is very detailed and requires supporting flight bookings (!), accommodation bookings (!), a detailed day by day itinerary, bank statements and a ‘Letter of Certificatin of myself’ which details your intent of travel, employment status etc. Having a bank statement was important, especially if you are currently unemployed.

  
Everything has to be done on a computer and printed off. You also need photocopies of your current immigration exit stamp (Thai in our case) and passport page.

We had also read that including other supporting documents like our travel insurance document was a good idea, but these weren’t needed in the end.

The detailed itinerary itself took a long time to write out and then there were flights and accommodation bookings to organise.

If you want more information on any of the above and how we went about it please leave a comment and we can try and answer your query.

Anyway, everything was good and efficient and we submitted on Tuesday and collected on Friday morning paying 3200 baht total.

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! 

  

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! 

Visas

Please note that this information was posted in 2016.

The only planning in terms of route we have done before setting off is to look into the visa and border situation for these countries:

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey

We obtained visas for all these countries. 

Yes! That’s right, me a British citizen cycling got a visa for Iran!! If you want more info on this please read this here and then leave a comment and your email and we’ll contact you.  

It’s a good idea to ensure that you have at least 6 months validity on your passport when applying for all visas.

Take a stack of passport photos with you for your visa applications and always keep your departure forms safe. Women need some passport photos with their head (no hair showing) covered for Iran.

If you are quitting your job before leaving its also a really good idea to steal some company headed paper (preferably stamped at the bottom if your company has  an official stamp). Visa applications may need proof of employment so having some company paper to print onto is a good idea. 

If you’re not taking a laptop we would advise mocking up some simple documents such as a basic letter and cv formats which you can edit easily. 

Flying into Vietnam

Visa required before travel.

On 22 June 2015, the Embassy received the formal notification that the Government of Viet Nam decided to exempt visa for British, German, French, Spanish and Italian citizens travelling to Viet Nam (for all purposes) for a period of up to 15 days, and on the basis of meeting all conditions prescribed by Vietnamese laws.

Applying for a loose leaf visa which doesn’t require sending your passports in is possible.

Length of Visa: 30-90 days, single and multi-entry both possible

Extension Possible: 30 days or 90 days depending on the type of visa

Vietnam to Cambodia

Suggested Route Based on Macmillan Cycle Tour

Visa on arrival at border. No prior registration required. Payment must be made in USD (we paid $35). e-visa also possible: www.evisa.gov.kh / help@mfaic.gov.kh

Length of Visa: 30 days

Extension Possible: 30 days extra

Bavet, Kaam Samnor and Phnom Den crossings are open to foreign travellers and issue Cambodian visas.

The other border crossings at Trapeang Phlong, Prek Chak, O Yadaw and Trapeang Srer are reported to be open to foreign travellers and in some cases issue Cambodian visas.

We have also read about a $25 departure tax from Cambodia…

Cambodia to Thailand

You would think that Thailand would be the simplest visa situation but the rules regarding border crossings and visa exemptions make it more complicated for cycle tourers and we have the added complications of needing a multi-entry visa for Thailand.

Thai Tourist Visa Exemption

Passport holders from 41 countries and 1 special administrative region – Hong Kong SAR – are not required to obtain a visa when entering Thailand for tourism purposes and will be permitted to stay in Thailand for a period not exceeding 30 days on each visit.

If such foreigners enter Thailand at immigration checkpoints which border neighbouring countries (overland crossing), they will be allowed to stay for 15 days each time.

Since 20 December 2013, Nationals of (G7) the following countries who enter via a land crossing or enter via an airport will be entitled to a 30 day visa exemption, UK, U.S.A, Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, France.

Foreigners who enter Thailand under the Tourist Visa Exemption category and would like to leave and re-enter may only stay for a cumulative duration which does not exceed 90 days and is within a 6-month period from the date of first entry.

Foreigners entering Thailand by any means under the Tourist Visa Exemption category are required at the port of entry to have proof of onward travel (confirmed air, train, bus or boat tickets) to leave Thailand within 30 days of the arrival date (otherwise a tourist visa must be obtained).

If we need to stay longer than 15 days we need to apply and pay for a Tourist Visa for Paddy – we won’t have proof of onward travel either – which probably means applying for a Tourist Visa before we reach the border.

Extension Possible: yes for both types but need to be applied for at the Immigration Bureau located in Bangkok. 

Applying for a Thai Tourist Visa

It is possible to apply for tourist visas for Thailand (circa $40 for a 60 day double-entry) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This takes 3 days.

Siem Reap looks like it is possible via an agent who has connections with the embassy in PP but would require us to send our passports to PP. Might be safer to do it when cycling through PP.

  • Single entry tourist visa will be valid for 3 months (you must enter Thailand within the validity of visa from the date of issue)
  • Double/triple entry will be valid for 6 months (you must enter Thailand on your final visit before expiry date)

Thailand to Myanmar

Arriving and departing across land is definitely possible.
When travelling over land to Myanmar, you must always obtain your visa beforehand; it is not currently possible to get Myanmar visas at the border and e-visas are not valid for border crossings.

Bangkok visa address:

132, Sathorn Nua Road, BANGKOK 10500

(662) 234-4698, 233-7250, 234-0320,  637-9406

Nearest Train Station – Surasak

  • The Visa Section is now open for applications only from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.
  • Afternoons 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM are only for pickup.
  • Bring your passport, a photocopy of your passport, 2 passport photos and an address of where you will be staying in Myanmar.

Apparently 4 official crossings are now open:

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Myanmar to China

Blog on getting to china on bicycles.

Reply on forum re Chinese Visa

Our experience of applying for a Chinese visa in Bangkok.

Our experience of crossing the border between Myanmar and China (Muse) – check out the comments from other cyclists at the bottom too.

Will require bank statement and other proof documents. You apply in in Bangkok via the Embassy and the Bank of China. Takes at least 4 days. Need proof of $100 for each day of your visa.

Central Asia (check out Carvanistan forum pages for latest info)

Kyrgyzstan – free 60 day visa on arrival! 

Tajikistan including GBAO permit – one day $55 in Bishkek – easy!

Uzbekistan – see our blog here re applying in Bishkek 

Turkmenistansee our blog here re applying in Bishkek and experience with the e-code.