Crossing into Thailand from Laos a few months ago had prepared me for the shock getting off the boat back into Thailand and returning to the 21st Century.
Air-conditioned shops, petrol stations, coffee stalls and western food outlets. I cycled onto a perfectly flat four-lane road and almost head first into a car. Whoops. I’d forgotten to switch back onto the left again. Perhaps those two celebratory beers on the boat hadn’t been such a good idea.
Fortunately I didn’t have to ride far to reach Ranong centre, where I found a hostel all to myself. It was brand spanking new and even had air-conditioning! Wow. It was the first time this summer that I’d slept inside a room with air-con. In fact, I’d only splept in an air-conditioned room once before (I can only ever afford a fan room) – when I reached Bukhara after an exhausting stint across the deserts of Turkmenistan. It had been magic that night back in Uzbekistan and it was just as good now.
Thailand is a country of indulgence. I know that now. Food is cheap and delicious, people speak good English, accommodation is affordable and camping is easy-peasy. Everything was familiar and I felt right at home.
I’d been pushing the last few days because I wanted to be here for England’s first game of the Euros against Wales. The WiFi never worked in Myanmar, but in Thailand I’d be able to set an alarm for 2am and stream the game – which is exactly what I did.
Myanmar had given a little spark back into my life on two wheels. I was excited about being back on the bicycle and even the days of heavy rain couldn’t spoil my good mood.
I asked a family if I could pitch my tent on their land, but they insisted I slept inside their home. Luckily I’d arrived just in time for dinner – my, what a feast I was treated to! I was back in the world of Islam. Down here there were more many more mosques than monasteries and this family were Muslim. I think most people in this country treat me incredibly well, but there’s no denying it’s the Muslim parts of the world where I’ve experienced the warmest hospitality.
The rains eventually did spoil my good mood. Soggy (as usual) I pulled into Khao Sok National Park at pitched my tent for the night. When the office opened in the morning I asked how much entrance cost. It was 300 baht (£6).
‘Which trails can I hike without a guide?’
‘You can walk to the waterfall 3km away’.
‘And to go any further I need to hire a guide?’
‘Just to confirm – that means it’s going to cost me 100 baht per kilometer?’
The guy smiled and shrugged. I don’t think it was the first time he’d had this conversation.
I didn’t get any further than the visitors entrance. But that didn’t bother me a great deal – I would’ve liked to explore the park but I didn’t feel like I was missing out trekking in the rain amidst the swarms of mosquitoes. The real reason I’d come to Khao Sok was to watch the football – it was a touristy place and I was confident I’d find a place to watch England vs Wales in the evening.
The ride out the park was stunning. Huge karst cliffs loomed over the road as it curved through the jungle. It was a long time since I’d cycled such a beautiful road. It was busy, but the scenery made up for that.
I camped that night outside a police station. After Myanmar I’d decided not to wild camp anymore around here. There’s too many mosquitoes, there’s nowhere scenic to pitch and there’s no need for it – I can always sleep somewhere safe with access to water, a toilet and a bucket shower.
A week ago I’d been getting escorted by troublesome police and now I was inviting myself over to the police station! They let me camp under a shelter, I nipped out for dinner, had a shower, connected to the police station’s wifi in my tent and went to bed wondering if life could get any easier.
I arrived in Krabi perfect timing – my mum was coming the next morning and I went to pick her up from the airport.
It was great to see my mum again. I haven’t seen her since I left Copenhagen 16 months ago. Having her visit me made realise how much I miss the rest of my family, but as much as I’d love to see them all – one member is better than nothing!
All the things that were routine to me in Thailand were new and interesting to my mother. It made me realise how quickly one adapts to a new environment and her excitement was contagious. I could put on my walking boots and be a normal sight-seeing tourist for once.
We hiked up to Wat Tham Suea where a golden stupa sits on a high peak overlooking Krabi town. My parents travelled Thailand in the late 80s and my mum hasn’t been back since. It must have been a very different country back then, before the south discovered the potential income of mass tourism.
At the bottom of the mountain was a couple of beautiful grottoes and lots of cheeky monkeys that stole tourist’s food (including my bottle of water).
From Krabi we headed over to Railay, where we found a little bungalow on Tonsai beach for 200 baht (£4) a night. Apparently they charge 1,500 baht a night in high-season. My mum bought good weather with her – there was still the odd shower but none of our days were washouts. Everything seemed pretty dead here in low-season, but we weren’t complaining. We had Tonsai beach largely to ourselves and nothing felt particularly crowded.
I hate monkeys. But I love beaches…
I find it hard to sit still these days, so I kept us both busy and dragged Mum hiking (not that she minded). I could only get her so far up up the steep mountain, and made my own way down to the lagoon by Phra-Nang beach. The scramble down was terrifying – one of the scariest climbs of my trip. The rains had turned the rocks into a slippery mud mess and the drops to the bottom required some upper-body dangling. It was worth the struggle – the lagoon was tucked into a sheer drop, surrounded by limestone cliffs. I had the emerald pool all to myself.
Tonsai beach is a hot-spot for rock climbers. My nerve-wrecking lagoon visit was enough to satisfy my adrenaline thirst. I was happy to watch the professionals with a beer in my hand…
Life was good off the bicycle. Too good? No such thing!