*Warning: excessively long post, only immediate family need feel obliged to read*
For anyone who knows us or has been following our blog, you would not be wrong to assume that we were not at all prepared for what lay ahead. For example, instead of purchasing appropriate road bikes, we opted for the cheapest bikes we could lay our hands on, which happened to be mountain bikes – not at all fit for our purposes (in fact they tethered us to the road!).
DAY 1: ‘NOT THE BEST START!’
Chiang Mai to Lampang – 106km/66 miles (Route 11)
And so it begins… 0km down, 800km to go…
We’d aimed to start at 5.30am, so rising at 7.30 we were slightly behind schedule. We were slightly put out further when first mounting our bicycles and discovering our little rucksacks were far too heavy for the front baskets that we’d bought to save weight on our backs, and we couldn’t turn the bike handles to steer. Nevermind… they’re only little…. on our backs they go! Rather than panicking at these small hindrances, we went for a calming latte in Starbucks to send us on our way! Of course this was an error, and the enormity of actually doing the bike ride, rather than just talking about it, soon sank in. Continue reading →
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in the last six months, it’s this: we hate travelling by bus. However, backpacking on a budget in SE Asia rarely leaves us with a wide variety of transport options, and three weeks of travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam saw us on four ‘sleeper’ buses, and a total of 41 very, very uncomfortable hours.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than the wait for the bus (usually a couple of hours on the edge of a road by some bins), and the same questions circle our minds every time: will we be sitting near each other? Will the air con work? Will my neighbour be a vomiter? What time will we arrive – 4am? 1pm? (Both equally possible.) Why do they demand punctuality from us when it’s so hard to achieve themselves? Will they have toilets on board, or should I go to the toilet just one more time? And lastly, why do I still have some hope that it won’t be that bad? It will be.
The most modern and popular areas of ‘new Bangkok’ are accessible by the skytrain (BTS). This floating train network is a really simple and comfortable way to travel, with long trains and some serious air conditioning! Also a great alternative to swinging off the back of a motorcycle in a haze of fumes, if you want to get somewhere quickly. It’s one of the few places in Bangkok where you won’t catch a whiff of food – strictly no eating or drinking. It’s refreshingly cool, clean and crisp (except for rush hour and the inevitable face to armpit stampede).
Whilst in Krabi town, we met loads of people who were just passing through for one night. The backpackers we spoke to seemed to see it as an opportunity to touch base with home, catch up on some sleep, and avoid spending too much money. It is a midway point between the Andaman Coast and the Gulf of Thailand, as well as being perfectly placed for those doing visa runs to Malaysia or flying to Bangkok. It has large ports and an airport, naturally making it a transport hub. Lonely Planet pretty much reiterated this, calling it ‘a necessary transit link’ – such an injustice!
We’re too scared of the motorbikes, the weather was overcast and we blew the budget back in Koh Phi Phi, so we rented bicycles. It was a chance to have some guilt-free fun and get some exercise after the buckets of noodles we’ve been scoffing.
Our trusty transport….
Obviously it was mayhem. Terrified of the roads and constant beeping, irrelevant road markings and traffic lights, along with the scooters that came head on at us down the wrong side of the road, we boarded the pavement pretty sharpish. Spending a good 20 minutes walking alongside our bikes, weaving between market stalls, cats and hurried Thai people who found us very amusing, we eventually confronted our fears and took to the road.
After two days in the capital, the Southern islands were calling with their promise of picture perfect palm trees and wooden huts ten feet from the sea.
We researched the ways of getting to Phuket and quickly ruled out the flights as too expensive. This left us with two options: get an overnight 14 hour coach all the way through to Phuket, or get the 12 hour sleeper train to Surat Thani and then the short 2 hour bus ride. We had heard horror stories about the coach, and the thought of sitting upright for that long with rucksacks wedged in the aisles was daunting. Having never been on a sleeper train before we found ourselves falling for the romance and novelty!
Hua Lom Phong, Bangkok Train Station
Our hostel in Bangkok was really helpful and our train tickets were delivered to us within the hour. There was no availability in the cheapest beds in the fan carriages, so we chose two fold down upper bunks in an air conditioned carriage, priced at a reasonable 800 baht (£16) each. (These are cheaper than the wider bottom bunks with windows.) Catching our 6pm train was really straightforward, it was clearly listed and sign-posted in the station. Continue reading →