Friday, December 27, 2013

No wet, no fun!

This was the motto of Tu, our boatsman, waiter, jungle and cave guide.
We made a tour to the lake of Khao Sok National Park. It's artificial, the damm was built in 1982 and on that occasion the surrounding area of app. 1000 square kilometers were designated as national park. The most beautiful one of Thailand, some say.
Though we were staying at the park's main entrance, we had to travel in a song thaew (an open pick-up truck mini bus) for one hour. Then we got on a long tail boat for another hour. These open wooden boats can accommodate some 10 people, for the propulsion they have a car engine on a lever, that is the helm at the same time, and they go very fast (and noisily).
Tu warned us before that we would get wet by the spray of the boat's bow. We would get wet anyway, since we were going to walk in a cave and we would have to swim to get through it. “No wet, no fun”, he said.
Well, we got wet. Not in the beginning when he cruised gently past the magnificent Karst cliffs in the lake. Then he speeded a bit to get to the floating guesthouse, where we had a perfect lunch. After that we made a 7 k jungle hike and a 1.5 k cave crossing. We followed a little river under the mountain and indeed, most of the time we had to wade and at certain points the water in the narrow corridors was so deep that we had to swim. Was a beautiful sight, ten of those little head torches wobbling over the water in the pitch dark cave. Later some said they had been a bit scared......
We all survived and were very satisfied about the whole expierience. A highlight of this journey.

When we returned over the lake we were a bit late and Tu revved up his Isuzu 95 hp car engine a bit. Again we got really wet. But, as said before: “No wet, no fun”.

Amazing . . . . . . . .awesome!

During our Australian tour we heard those words very often. We started to think that Aussies easily get exited about something. Whenever they were enthousiastic about something they exclaimed: “Isn't that amazing?” and “Awesome!”. In the beginning we thought that we had to go and see or do what was said to be so amazing and awesome. Very often we found it interesting maybe, nice, but amazing, or awesome.....? We then looked at each other and wondered where all this enthousiasm originated from.

But what happened to us this Christmas really does deserve the terms amazing and awesome. When we were in Melbourne this January (2013) we stayed with the Warmshowers hosts Jude and Astrid. We spent 4 or 5 days in their cosy home while we made our Melbourne city discovery excursions. And we enjoyed the company of this lovely couple, who only had joined Warmshowers shortly before, as they were planning their dream trip : cycling from Melbourne to Scotland. In April they set off and, to make a long story short, our paths crossed exactly with Christmas in Khao Sok, in the lovely garden guesthouse called Nung house. Can you imagine the excitement when we actually met, and the shouts and screams that sounded through Nung house garden?
We then spent some lovely evenings and made a hike in the National park together. On Boxing day we left and said goodbye. The ladies promised to see us again some time in 2015, when they will have reached Breda!
Well, isn't that amazing? And awesome?

I think it's even more, it's brutal!

Monday, December 23, 2013

7-eleven, blessing or curse?

7-eleven, blessing or curse?

7-eleven is a frachise chain of small supermarkets, between 50 and 100 square meters I guess. To be found in many countries in the world. They might be called convenience stores as well, and that's what they are for us as bike-travellers. It's a formula shop, so all 7-elevens are similarly organised, selling the same articles for the same prices. Staff is mostly young, dressed in uniform and working according to standard protocols. So you know what you get and how you will get it, very convenient for us. The shops are to be found in any town of more than a couple of thousand inhabitants and at the bigger petrol stations.
The products they sell are the same as those you would expect in any supermarket, though the choice is somewhat more limited and quantities are smaller, the shops are simply too small for more. But the articles they have are just the little things you daily need, except for fresh meat and vegetables. What we especially like is the coffee and the steamed rolls. You can make your own hot (instant) coffee or ice coffee, and in different sizes. The steamed rolls (in Holland often called Bapao) are hot and together with the coffee they offer an excellent alternative for a noodle-soup breakfast. When we are riding in the heat of the day the ice coffee is very welcome.
So for us 7-eleven certainly is a blessing.
On the other hand these shops (there are more) are one of the expressions of the growing influence of “western” culture. Though the shops are mostly run by local entrepreneurs, there's non-local investment involved, as well as the consequent profit drain. The shops compete with the traditional local retailers, who have their food and fruit stalls and who loose customers. It's uninevitable, happens and happened all over the world, but still, things get lost. So in this sense one might not consider developments like these a blessing.

Another thing we think we noticed is the number of Thai people with overweight. We remember from our first visit in 2006 that at that time it struck us when we saw a obviously too heavy person. It rarely occured. Now this is a regular phenomenon. Is the growing impact of western “civilization” going to have the effects that we know too well from our own country, or from big America? Seems inevitable as well, and is no blessing at all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Birds' nests and jelly fish

We have seen some new things recently. On several occasions during the last weeks our attention was drawn by the noise of a great many birds. Closer investigation revealed that each time the loud shrieking bird sounds came from tower like structures. Concrete towers up to five stories high with no doors or windows, just an opening in the top floor of mayby one square meter. Swallows (I think swift or screamers, Gierzwaluw in Dutch) are swarming around these ugly structures and flying in and out. We were told that these towers were built as to give the birds a place to make their nests, which they make mainly from their own spit. Then the nests are harvested and sold at high prices as a delicacy in countries like China and Korea.

This is not all. At the moment of writing we find ourselves in a swampy delta area along the westcoast. Here we witnessed the harvesting of another delicacy for the consumers in the countries mentioned above. Jelly fish (kwallen). They are caught at sea and then further processed (dehydrated) in nurseries as far as we could see. Thousands of pizza-size snotty pancakes were being gathered out of knee deep basins of app. 6 x 6 meters, sorted, generously salted, put in plastic crates and shipped of in trucks. Smelly affair, bon appétit!!
It's not a secret that the peoples mentioned above have more (in the eye of the westerner) strange, and sometimes unwelcomed, favourites such as dogs, shark fins, rhinoceros' horn, tiger balls and claws, ivory. And think about whale meat in Japan and Norway. And what about hamburgers and coke in the USA? :-)  A traveller will never stop learning and will keep realizing how deeply cultures vary and that real understanding each other is next to impossible. Each one in his own right, but some missionary work could be done here and there.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Big countries

We have pedalled away 1745 kms during this tour so far. And still we are in the same country as where we started, Thailand. And still we have several hundreds kms to go before we will reach Malaysia. All this time we have been not far away from the border with Myanmar (or Burma). Actually it was only a few days that we didn't have the bordering mountain range in sight. We passed the point where Thailand is the narrowest, only 10,9 kms between the sea and Burma. The last two days we have been riding along the Kraburi river, the border is in the middle of it.
Today we are in Ranong, a place with a border crossing with Burma. There are not so many of those and as a cyclist you are not allowed to enter the country. Tourists are only allowed to fly in and out of the country until now, and a visa is granted for maximum 30 days.
This was what we originally wanted, cycle through Burma instead of Thailand, and see this hidden country with our own eyes. Alas, we couldn't get it arranged. We hope for changing times and we might have a second chance some time later.

The border crossing with Ranong is the utmost southern point of Burma, so tomorrow we will finally leave it behind us.  

Burma on the other side.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cycling in Thailand…….

14.00 hrs. Just arrived after a 70 k ride. Checked in, had a swim in the sea from our own beach. Now dreamy Madeleine Peyroux on Spotify and  a cool beer.
Cycling in Thailand. Have been on our way for one month now, done nearly 1500 k. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Three and a half years.....

We met them today, a Swiss couple on their bikes. Xavier and Céline. And their 6 month old baby-girl Nayla.
Xavier and Céline departed from Switzerland three and a half years ago and rode through Turkey, all the ….stans, Russia, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, China, India (and more) and now we met them, riding in the opposite direction of ours, after they have stayed in Malaysia for more than 7 months. They said they liked Malaysia very much (good for us, we'll be there in a month), but the main reason for their prolonged stay was the birth of their little daughter Nayla, who was now quietly lying in the trailer behind Xavier's bike.

Ride round the world, who would not love to do it...….?


Krill is a very small shrimp like creature, its larve belongs to the zoöplankton. It's the main food for the blue whale, the world's largest mammal. If a creature can grow so big from it I suppose it is very nutricious. This morning we got it for our breakfast and I must say, we felt very energetic today. What happened?

Yesterday we stopped and found a very nice place to stay, Seaview place. Beautiful room at the side of a pool, the sea on the other side of the street. The owners, an elderly couple, spoiled us with treats of fruit and lots of attention. They showed us what was going on on the beach. In the water men were slowly walking in the light surf, pushing two long poles forward with a net in between. Every now and then they came ashore and emptied their catch in a big bucket. Krill, the shrimp-like thing, noy longer than one and a half cm, not thicker than one and a half mm. Buckets full of them. It was the once-a-year occasion to catch them, we were told. And the coastal people went for them in order to preserve them to eat later. Very interesting to see and “Wouldn' we like to have them for breakfast?”. Of course we would, if they are good for whales they can't be bad for us. Thus we found them this morning in our omelet. Not bad, they tasted like....not much actually. But we felt very fit today for sure.

Monday, December 9, 2013


The last few days we passed through the Asian equivalent of the typical Dutch polder landscape. It is low and flat land consisting of long and small pieces of land separated from each other by ditches, narrow and bigger canals, here called klongh.
In Holland these patches of land are generally used as grassland for dairy cattle or vegetable growing, here it was mainly coconut palm trees, for miles and miles. Roads have been built only during the last decades and we had to cross hundreds of bridges, sometimes very steep too.
This is therefore a region well known for its floating markets. These are places where traders, farmers and consumers meet, not on hard soil, but in their long boats. Trade is being done in and between boats. Originally this was necessary, since waterways were the only “roads” available. Now these floating markets have become more or less obsolete, still there are a number of them functioning and indeed, a lot of traffic is still being done on the water. Every family house is on the waterside and there is a boat moored along it.
We passed and visited the famous floating market of Damnoen Saduak. There is probably not a single person in the entire world that has not seen photos or commercials of this market. It's the calender and brochure spot of touristic Thailand. Colourful indeed, and for tourists only now. Like we have Volendam and Marken in the Netherlands, they have Damnoen Sadual in Thailand. So OK, been there, done it, got the t-shirt.

Today we spent in Petchaburi and behaved as tourists should. We visited a 1000 year old wat (monastery), an art-deco royal palace (and art deco is very rare here), a tempel complex on a hill that is owned by thousands of monkeys, who are very self confident and fortunately fully ignore human beings, and a cave with a reclining Buddha and wonderful light coming in. Tomorrow we will stop being tourists and become travelers again.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The bridge over the river Kwai

It took us two days of 95 k each to get from the old historic Ayutthaya to Kanchanaburi. No one will know this city, still it's the seat of one of the most famous tourist attractions of Thailand. It's here that the so called “Death Railway Line” crosses the Kwai river and of this fact we are all very much aware after the movie with Alec Guinness.
This railway line was constructed during WW II under the Japanese occupation of Thailand in 1942-43. It was meant to dramatically shorten the supply route from Japan to the west-Asian countries like India, Iran etc. Unimaginable to what extent the Japanese expansion must have reached in the minds of the Japanese politicians and military.
This railway connection, crossing the Thai peninsula and making it uneccessary to use the straits of Singapore with all its perils, was considered before by the British and rejected as being impossible. Rugged terrain, harsh climate. Still the Japanese army, with their skilled railway engineers, realised to build the app. 500 k line in 20 months. A fantastic achievemant, were it not that it cost the lives of an estimated 100.000 people. To do the work prisoners of war and forced labour of Asian people were used. Most POW's were British, many Australian and also a great number of them were Dutch military of the KNIL (Royal Dutch Indies Army). The latter had been captured after the capitulation of the Dutch East Indies. Thousands of them perished because od tropical diseases, malnutrition and maltreatment by their guards. In Kanchanaburi there is a war cemetery with almost 6000 graves, 1800 of them Dutch. There are no graves though of the multitude of Asians forced labourers, They were buried unidentified in mass graves that cannot be found anymore.
The bridge that is the tourist attraction now is not the one we know from the movie. There were two bridges built, first a wooden one (movie) and immediately after that a concrete and steel one. Both were bombed by allied forces in june 1945 and reconstructed later. The wooden one has dissappeared completely now, the steel one is still in use, though mostly by tourist walking to and fro. Like we did ourselves.
There are two war musea. One is next to the bridge and is a bit of a freak show of all kinds of parafrenalia that have to do with this war and other ones. A really good museum, that tells the story of the railway line and the war in this part of the world in general, is the “Thailand-Burma Railway Centre”, adjacent to the war cemetry.
It took us hours and hours to see all this and to try and grasp the impact of war on peoples' lives and the world's history. Time to process all this on the verandah of our bungalow, that is standing on stilts on the muddy banks of the Kwai river and that offers all the facilities that are necessary to do so.

Meditative cycling

The Santos Travelmaster has especially been designed for the long distance cyclist. As such it has proven itself to us during thousands of kilometers on several continents. As cycle tourers it is our reliable and comfortable companion.
Traveling on a bike gets you in touch with the real life of “the man in the street”, with all the cheers, the little talks, the noises and fragrances belonging to it. Quite different from the regular tourist. He just misses this contact and only starts relating to the people at the moment he leaves his secluded means of transport, at the place where we as cycle tourers stop, take a break and relax.

Long distance cycling can also be a meditative activity. During the ride, on the endless rithm of the continious pedal strokes, you perceive the landscape while your mind goes its own way. Your thoughts travel through the entire universe and enter deep into the inner self of the cyclist. It so happens that, meditating like that, you suddenly realize that you again have covered so many kilometers. And sometimes the Santos brings you to the Buddha himself.

Monday, December 2, 2013


We've seen some. In a few occasions we saw one hurrying across the road and disappear in the grass of the road side before we were there, but most of them sadly as dead creatures on the road surface. Mostly app.1 meter long and not much thicker than a man's thumb. Twice we saw two very big ones, roadkills as well. Over two meters long and as thick as a man's leg.
Yesterday we saw another big, and this time, life one. It was sitting in the grass next to the road and it had its head lifted. Impressive big head, much bigger than my hand. I stopped at the same time that Eveline yelled at me to look. Unfortunately, before I had my camera out, a noisy car passed and it suddenly slid away, leaving a deep and rather wide trace of flattened grass behind it. Amazed how exited we were, such a big creature.

Today we are sitting on the veranda of our guesthouse in the busy city of Ayutthaya. We are overlooking a big river, the Chao Praya. Lots of boats passing, including tugs with sometimes 3 huge barges behind them. Slow and sometimes noisy. Not a really quiet river . But nice to sit and look at it. Then suddenly somebody yells: “Snake!” And indeed, another huge one is swimming across the river, head up, just before a tug is passing by. For a moment it gives the impression of a crocodile. We looked it up in the Lonely Planet, it may have been a two-banded monitor. Though the enormous Cobra also occurs here....