It’s a Wonderful Day in Thailand

Satun to La Ngu 56.17 kms
Lan Ng to Ban Thung Yao 54.05 kms
Ban Thung Yao to Kantang 56 kms
Kantang to Pak Meng 46 kms

It’s a wonderful day in Thailand.

I know I’ve been a bit verbose on the political side of things lately so I thought about this title as I cycled along the day before yesterday. So I’ll just get this one thing off my chest and we will move onto wonderful, I promise. We need to be very vigilant as we are living in dangerous times…in addition to voting for non-maniacs when you can, please take political action this year more than once…fund the real media, fund a refugee help organization, fund planned parenthood and feminist organizations, fight fake news…help the right politician win using social media. Read outside your comfort zone. Be open to new opinions. Back up your arguments with facts.

Ok done and back to wonderful.

It was a wonderful day of cycling in Thailand the day before yesterday so I will give you a synopsis of the day.

7:30 am (awake and up — astonishing for us…well for Ian…he has a cold so he went to bed at 8:30 the night before).

8:30 am. Out of our motel in Kantang (even more astonishing with our panniers packed, helmets, sunglasses, and bike gloves on and for me bandana tied around my neck so I can wipe away sweat and when it is very hot I pull it up over my nose protect myself from fumes and sunburn – I look like a bank robber). I enjoy the cool morning air (morning being a novelty) as we ride out of the Kantang Park Hotel which was actually what we would call a motel. Although it was a bit worn at the heels and decorated (by western standards) in brothel pink, it was clean and had air con and cost 15 dollars Canadian for the night.

8:35 am decide to ride along down to the river and see if there really is a ferry (as per my Thailand map which is now downloaded on my ipad). We can’t find the pier and based on feedback from a Canadian couple we met on the ferry from Langkawi to Satun and with whom we have been traveling with for a few days there probably isn’t a ferry anyway.

8:45 make the pleasant discovery that we are somewhat accidentally on the back road that will take us over the bridge and en route to our Pak Meng destination. We see a small grocery store that has a stone table and benches in front of it and we decide to stop for breakfast. The Thai owners seem happy to see us. We survey the shelves and decide on some pastry with mystery filling, two cans of cold nescafe and two orange juices. An elderly Thai woman comes to the front of the store and the owner comes out to talk to her. The woman is very thin and has no teeth. She is dressed immaculately in a pink crocheted short sleeve blouse and a sarong. She has two wicker baskets neatly lined with paper and she shows the owner the contents. The owner chooses a few pastries and then gestures for me to have a look. We don’t know what’s inside (more mystery pastry) but I figure its probably good so I nod yes. The owner kindly opens the pastry so I can see what it is – one has corn niblets the other some kind of bean paste…or maybe its tuna. We nod yes and she sells us two and then and this is so Thai generous…gives us two. Ian and I share the corn one and although it is a bit weird as it is a sweet pastry it is actually very good. We give the thumbs up to the old lady who made them. Ian suddenly remembers the word for delicious in Thai (it is aroy). We both start saying aroy, aroy and she is tickled pink and goes into the store to tell the owners (we hear her repeating aroy aroy).

8:50 We fill up our water bottles and hit the road after I take a few pictures of the spirit house outside the store (the store owners would have erected this when the store was built. It is an old animist practise that is mixed with Buddhism now…often there are wee buddhas in the shrines. They are everywhere in Thailand). I notice what I think is a small cemetery beside the store and take a few shots of that.

9:00 – 10:00 am We are over the bridge and I see a lot of Thai fishing boats painted in bright primary colours in the river below but I am enjoying the ride and decide not to get off the bike to take photos. A little while later we see a guy on a motorcycle attached to a side cart and attached to the side cart is a water buffalo. They are moving very slowly! A few moments later I see a family in the same kind of metal side car and they pass me. The road has a good shoulder and the traffic is light. There are a few hills but they are minor and rolling (and when they roll you can scoot down one and get most of the way up the next one on momentum alone). We stop for a drink at a coffee place. It is very neat and tidy and a bit girly with lots of ceramic flowers and hearts. Sure enough it is run by two Thai women in their twenties. We enjoy a couple of iced coffees. Ian sees two cyclists ride by and runs out after them. He’s recognized them – our new cycling friends. We’ve been meeting up with them in the evenings since then as they typically get up earlier than we do (surprise surprise) but today, for once, we are on the road earlier than they are. They stop for coffee and we figure out a plan to meet up later in the day.

10:00 to 12:00 The last ten kms of our 45 km ride is along the ocean where we see our first karst formations. The view is gorgeous. We stop at a restaurant and order curries and pineapple juice and enjoy the view. We pack up and get to our ‘resort’ which turns out to be a bunch of bungalows at the north end of the beach. Although it is overpriced (a bit run down for what they are charging) it is very quiet and our balcony looks out over a lovely garden.

1:00 to 5:00 We rest up, check email, stock up on some beer, read.

6:00 pm to 10 pm. We meet our cycling friends at 6 for a few chang beers on our terrace and then eat at the local restaurant and are pleasantly surprised with very good green curry and chicken with cashew nut. One of the local cats joins us at the head of our table (jumping up onto a chair) and Robyn feeds her prawn bits.

10:30 Its lights out.

The Road to Butterworth and the Georgetown Break

Teluk Batik to Pantai Remis 47 km
Pantai Remis to Simpang 50 km
Simpang to Sungai Jawi 56 km
Sungai Jawi to Butterworth 38 km
(Butterworth is the city on the mainland where ferry to Penang is caught)

It is the last day of our five day ‘rest’ in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia and the end of our Malaysia ride.

We head to Langkawi (Malaysia) by ferry tomorrow morning and probably directly to Satun, Thailand the same day if we can manage it.

We’re not sure we would do the whole Malaysia ride again or recommend it but we don’t regret it either. These kind of epic cycling trips are really pilgrimages for cyclists…there’s some sense of accomplishment in seeing a whole country or a whole stretch of country and the only way you can really do that is to hike it or bike it. And we do see things no other tourists see…We talk to locals, we talk to their children, we see how they make a living running little side of the road businesses in front of their houses. They talk to us because they study English in school and they are happy to practise and happy to see us. They don’t see a lot of foreigners in the places we stop…in fact we didn’t see any tourists or westerners for days at a time. We make it a point to be friendly and smile…we are ambassadors from the west…

It is also a kind of meditation. Both Ian and I feel the need to leave where we live on a regular basis as it provides perspective. It is also a way of forcing a certain level of physical activity I find hard to achieve at home. Once you are out there on the road you have to keep going…that becomes the focus of the day, everything else disappears.

I think about all kinds of things as I cycle along, changes to the book I am writing; how I think one of the resorts we stayed at would make an amazing yoga retreat. I spent a whole 50 kms thinking about how that might work from a business perspective.

And of course I reflect on where I am. Malaysia has become very developed since I was last here and because we stick to major roads (it is very difficult to navigate side roads and manage any real distances) we see the worst of the western lifestyle being adopted by Malaysians and see how it is destroying the environment. There’s a lot of plastic garbage, ugly architecture and traffic fumes. But given the west has created the consumer lifestyle that creates all this stuff, and some of that stuff can make you very comfortable, and some of that stuff gives you status, we can’t criticize because we all indulge in the same things. We can only recognize that it is not sustainable…

Of course if you cherry pick your destinations and only go to five star resorts you will catch glimpses of the old Malaysia from the comfort of your teak verandah where you will probably drink alcohol, watch the sunset, and perhaps see a monkey or two. But if you are riding your bike you will pick whatever hotel or homestay is handy when your legs start giving up for the day. That might mean a Chinese-run side-of–the-highway motel in a strip mall or it may be a whole house that is rented out by a Malaysian family. We stayed in both in the last days leading up to Georgetown. Sometimes there is a restaurant nearby…sometimes there isn’t. We stock up on granola bars, bags of peanuts and yogurt at the 7/11 when we find them and we are always able to make due if we need to.

As I ride along I am never that far from the jungle. I see it in the mountains behind the strip mall developments. I hear it – birds and cicadas and monkeys on the quieter stretches. I also see dead turtles, dead monitor lizards and dead snakes as I cycle the highway…

On other trips like this I have appreciated the generosity of the people (and for the most part have experienced that again here) and I have held out hope that as the more developed countries learn about climate change we will set examples and help other countries to recognize the issue and work together to create strategies, including economic policy that helps us all create a global economy that is sustainable.

Of course that was very optimistic even before Donald Trump was elected.

These last two weeks his insane behavior has overshadowed that hope and left me melancholy at times as I cycle along…

So here we are in Georgetown, Panang. Georgetown is an old British port (Panang is an island). It has been a wonderful place to take a rest and I would put it on my list of possible longish-term expat winter escapes for future.

It is wonderfully multicultural and as a UNESCO heritage site the old houses in the old town are being refurbished or have been restored. We have visited Chinese temples, and walked by the beautiful main mosque everyday and enjoyed the Indian temples and street life in the neighborhood known as Little India. There are a lot of tourists but it is still a functioning town with great food and easy to walk around. We visited the old British fort, a mansion that was owned by a Chinese family and which has been restored and furbished with antiques and art from the period.

And so off we go to Thailand where we expect to ride between beaches to a certain extent as we head north for Bangkok.

I am doing my best to try and not think too hard about what’s going on in America or the upcoming French elections but it is a challenge. Even from here…Fingers crossed that the Marine Le Pen propaganda machine is not as successful as Trump’s and the Brexit machines were and that every intelligent, global-thinking French person gets out there and votes so that the populist protest vote doesn’t destroy Europe.

I don’t know what to say about America. Let’s hope he’s impeached before he does an further damage?

How about let’s hope he doesn’t start a war.