We had enjoyed Thailand so much the first time around that we couldn’t wait to go back! Of course, we were thousand of miles away from the North, where we had cycled a few months earlier (read about it here), so we were expecting, and wishing, for this part of the country to be different from what we already experienced, and it was, in fact, awesome!
But let’s take it one step at the time...
We were still in Cambodia and we had a border to cross. By now, you might know that “borders” mean “trouble” for 421adventure. This one, however, was going to be different; we had purposely cycled to a very small and not touristic crossing (i.e. less chance of corrupted officials) near the town of Pailin and we were sure that everything would go as smooth as silk. We had previously applied (and dearly paid) for a 2-months Thai Visa at the embassy in Phnom Penh, so what could go wrong… right?
Wrong! Interesting story… read about it here
It’s not often that we go back to a country when on a long-haul bicycle trip. It’s a funny feeling, we already knew some vocab and we were looking forward to certain dishes. More importantly, we already knew “what to do”. We knew, for example, that evening markets are good places to get some grub and temples are friendly places to rest. And so we did both. Biketouring in Thailand is safe and easy and so we had a great first couple of days.
The other thing that we were really looking forward to, was reaching the coast and get some beach time. For the last 6 weeks the weather had been scorching hot and we had often dreamt of changing the pace for a while and doing some “cycling & chilling” before reaching Bangkok. What we hadn’t expected was falling in love so much with the sunsets in this side of the country.
South-eastern Thailand is actually mostly famous for its touristic resorts (ever heard of Pattaya?) and Durian. We are not fond of touristic places and love smelly fruit so we avoided the former and savoured the latter. In the province of Chanthabury, where “The King of Fruit” is grown extensively, we also had the immense pleasure of having the best breakfast EVER with Super Chai, a local who we had previously met months before near Sukhothai, who happens to be from this region and brought us to a local durian market to buy some really tasty ones!
Another thing we like avoiding is main roads; we believe that nothing worthwhile ever happens while on a busy road! Smaller ones, on the other hand, go through small towns and villages where it’s always impossible to predict what’s going to happen. This tactic also works in Thailand and it’s especially useful when approaching a 11 million inhabitants megalopolis. In doing so, entering the capital was a piece of cake and we even managed to witness heaps of cool everyday local scenes along the way. By the way, if you ever want to see exactly where we cycled, on our Strava it’s possible to view and download all of our itinerary (from Helsinki to… wherever we are right now!); our profile on Strava
In Bangkok, we were looking forward to spending some time with our friend Flo who was flying from France to cycle with us for 3 weeks. Also in Bangkok, another, much less pleasant surprise was awaiting; it was March 2020 and something called Covid19 was now being taken very seriously by everyone and not just countries around China.
So, while slowly making our way south in the good company of Flo (with whom we visited many small sites on the outskirts of the city), it suddenly became clear that being French or Italian wasn’t good. At the time, there were very few cases in SE Asia and those who had it were either white tourists or people who had been in contact with them. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t been back home in almost two years, whenever someone saw us (and they could spot us from miles), face masks would go up and doors would, sometimes literally, shut. In fact, we got turned away from hostels once or twice.
The most worrying thing for us was when banks stopped attending foreigners. We couldn’t even use the ATMs because they had also disabled all international banking functions and so for a few days we thought we would run out of money! Finally the government stepped in and measures were introduced. By that time though, most foreigners had gone back home since the epidemic was spreading like wildfire.
In the midst of all the panic, we decided to stay put and not to go back to Europe. We technically didn’t have a home of our own to escape to and after 2 years on the road we absolutely didn’t feel like crashing at one of our parent’s place for Buddha knows how long. Instead, we found a quite and secluded place to stay and dug in for the long run. There was a weekly market about 5 kms away and a big supermarket 15 kms away (so both reachable by bicycle) and we had good Internet connection. We initially told the owner we would stay 2 or 3 weeks. We ended up staying 3 months! If you are ever near Prachuap Chiri-Khan and need a cool place to stay, here’s the link (it’s also possible to stay here through the Warmshowers network …)
We also had some company! Remember Joel, the crazy Swedish giant we had the pleasure of pedaling most of Central Asia with? We met just a few days before the world went crazy and decided to stick together and went into lock-down in this beautiful place.
Our hope was that it wouldn’t last that long. Just like a huge portion of the world, this was our first epidemic and no-one thought it would go on for as long as it did. Furthermore, before the state of alarm was declared, we had managed to cycle to just a few hundred kilometres to the Malaysian border. By that time, we had taken the situation very seriously and we knew that it was going to be impossible to cross over but we still wanted to complete our “mission” and reach Singapore and so we kept a constant eye on the Thai-Malay border which, to date, two years later, it still hasn’t opened.
Europe, on the other hand, was starting to relax a little after a very hard lock-down and we realised that the time had come to head back. Two years without seeing friends and family is a very long time and with all the Covid “commotion” we were actually finally ready to do so. Bangkok was about 600 kilometres away and we were, of course, going to go back there by bike! It was going to be the last stretch of adventure before flying back to the old continent and we were going to make the best of it!
3 months earlier we had cycled down along the coast and this time around we were going to go up further inland, through an intricate maze of much smaller roads which treated us very well and gave us an incredibly peaceful and enjoyable farewell which, we think, we deserved. The amazing thing about this route is that, although it’s sometimes only a few kilometres from the coast, it utterly lacks in tourists/touristic infrastructure and it’s hence a lot more authentic than the coastal road.
And so the last days were pretty uneventful. We tried to breathe in as much of this incredible place as we could and tried to eat out as much as possible because we knew that we would soon miss those Pad Thai, Papaya Salads and Pad See Ews. Anyone who’s ever been to Thailand knows what we’re talking about… While on the culinary note, the downloadable PDF at the bottom of the page has helped us with getting food and trying different dishes (it’s really easy to just eat your favourite dish all the time which is great but also a bit of a pity…
Maybe the only really worthwhile event happened a couple of days before reaching Bangkok, and it was no accident; we stopped in a place which we had bumped into on our way down and in which we were eager to spend another night; Nawa and her mother run this amazing small guest house near the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and cook like angels! Anyway, amazing. After that we were really ready to go back home! Again, if you’re ever near Ratchaburi and need an great place to rest, here’s the Airbnb link.
Just one last surprise in store for us though, fortunately, another pleasant one; we once again choose the smallest possible road to enter Bangkok and cycled through Bang Krachao which is commonly known as Bangkok’s green lung; an incredibly lush (and surprisingly underdeveloped) neighborhood which makes you feel like you are anywhere but a few kilometres from one of the biggest cities in the world.
Only stressful stuff after that; finding boxes for the bicycles, packing everything up, arranging a taxi and flying in an extremely crowded plane feeling like a spaceman, landing in a familiar place and feeling like we belonged a little … actually, after so much expectation, it was a bit of a relief to be back.
Many people would later ask us if we were bothered about not reaching Singapore and the truth is that we weren’t; ever since the beginning we knew that it was only a place from which to catch a flight and what was really important was the way there. Yeah, sounds like a chiche but it’s 100% true. Also, having fundraised while on the road also contributed to making our trip a lot more about “feeling it” and not so much about the sights and looking good on Social Media (we definitely don’t!!). Maybe another cliché but helping others is really what makes the world a better place and when you manage to dedicate some time in doing so…
One small regret that we do have is not getting the chance to biketour in Malaysia. Ever since meeting Amir & Friends in Turkey, we just couldn’t wait to get there and learn more about their culture… but anyway, what you’re going to do? We know how immensely lucky we have been and don’t dare complain, especially during a pandemic!
And so after 2 years, 29.000 kms, 29 countries and millions of smiles, 421adventure was back in one piece. The end of the adventure? Come on, you should know us better by now!!