Ao Nang (Krabi) – Chalung (Malaysian border)
Despite the floods and the relentless rain, we had little choice but to crack on and leave Ao Nang as the clock was ticking on our flight out of Kuala Lumpur. So we pulled out our wet weather gear again and tried to tell ourselves that riding in the rain all day, every day was a character building experience. Fortunately the rain was much lighter as we left town, and the floods seemed to be slowly receding, surely this was the end of the rain. How wrong we were! ||
Initially the seriousness of the situation had escaped us, but slowly we realised the full impact of the floods, particularly when speaking to the locals and reading newspaper reports about the dozens of lives the floods had claimed. Usually the weather is completely dry in March, but this year there was more rain than at the height of the monsoon season. Rivers had been transformed into raging torrents of water, swallowing up roads, farms and houses.
We had planned to stop around the 90km mark at a hotel that was marked on Google Maps, but the hotel did not seem to exist and we were pointed down the road to the another town, Sikao, 20km away. The ask-three-different-people rule rarely fails so we were surprised to arrive at the town and be told there was nowhere to stay and we would have to do another 10km to the beach were there were most definitely bungalows to stay in. It was getting dark and the rain was coming down harder, we were getting desperate, for something, anything! Fortunately arriving at the beach we spotted a resort that looked open. Arriving at reception we had to loudly excuse ourselves as the manager was practising his karaoke, business was obviously quiet.
As we put out heads down on the pillow at night we could hear the rain pattering down on the tin roof, but in the morning we woke up to bright sunshine. Back on the bikes we soon came across a police blockade. The highway ahead of us was closed as it was inundated up to waist level. We turned right, but the next road was also closed, forcing us to make a detour to cross the raging river, which was swollen well beyond it banks, extending for hundreds of metres inland. Only the tops of some palm trees were visible, and many houses were flooded, some up to the roof. In some places, emergency shelters had been erected on the road where people were waiting out the rains, unable to return to their homes.
Just after we had crossed the bridge, another downpour ensued. Assuming it was just a shower, we took cover in a bus shelter to wait it out. However, after an hour we noticed that the road was slowly beginning to flood. We watched as council workers arrived and frantically cleared the blocked drains with their bare hands, sitting in the ever deeper water on the other side of the road. When we spotted the barriers in their truck, ready to close the road, we realised we needed to get moving, and get moving fast.
It started raining so hard we could barely see a metre in front of us. The water was quickly rising over the road so we had to regularly cycle in the middle to just get through and at times we were doing a slow-motion ride through water up to our knees. A sudden realisation struck us, “we could get trapped here, we’ve got to get to higher ground”. At the next junction we could see the road ahead was closed as it was completely submerged, the decision was made for us, we turned inland, leaving the swollen river and the flood behind. Later in the afternoon the clouds lightened and the sun began to shine once again, we felt relieved to have made it through but sad for all the locals we passed that had just lost their homes.
Weary after all the adventures of the day we again struggled to find accommodation. Luckily a lady who spoke good English helped us out and escorted us to the only place in the town of Yan Ta Khao. As we pulled into reception she enquired about a room on our behalf to a row of ladies lounging around on an outside sofa. One of them stood up and though we couldn’t understand the conversation, said something like this:
“Mmm, mmm, mmm, what do we have here! Look what the cat dragged in,” snigger, snigger, snigger. To which the other girls laughed in unison.
A little strange we thought, but then we looked around and noticed the seediness of the place, the discrete parking bays, the dress attire of the “staff”. Ah huh, it’s a brothel! The last time we had stayed in a brothel (we swear, we have only ever stayed in one) was on a motor bike tour in Eastern Cambodia in 2003. It hadn’t been a nice experience and we had resolved to avoid them in the future, so we felt a bit of trepidation at spending the night here. To be fair the ladies running the place, once you got beyond their gruff exterior, were quite friendly, well apart from Madame who continuously scowled at us as she strutted around the complex in her high heels. Unlike our last experience in Cambodia, this room was very clean. It also included a special feature in the form of three little steps at the end of the bed, presumably designed for a theatrical performance.
When the coast was clear and Madame was “occupied” we walked back into town for dinner and found an interesting market and a lovely little cafe run by a Burmese guy. Outside of tourist towns, you are more likely to end up on a little plastic chair in someone’s front room, which does not feel like a place to linger over a coffee, but this place had a few nice tables and even a couple of atmospheric lamps. Tea was served in pretty cups and traditional Thai pancake was on the menu, delicious.
Back at the ranch we realised that choosing a Friday night to stay in a brothel was probably not the best idea. Needless to say, we, nor anyone else got much sleep that night.
The following day we had planned to cycle around 100km along a quiet and scenic route. On arrival in town, we were told that there was no hotel (or brothel), so we pushed on for another 20km to the next town, Chalung. It felt like a déja vu, and whilst we usually don’t like to do such long days in the saddle, 120km per day seems to become a new habit as our quest to find a hotel in Thailand was rarely easy.
In Chalung, we noticed some bungalows at the town entrance, but unfortunately they were full. We then spent an hour cruising up and down the main street of the town, following pointed fingers in all sorts of different directions. After being told by a pharmacist that the next hotel was 13km away, we cycled back to the start of the town where we had seen an advertising sign with a picture of a bed (all signs are in Thai script so we can’t read them). Pointing at the sign, we asked some people at a food stall to explain to us the location of this place. After much giggling, a young girl took pity on us and escorted us to the hotel on her motorbike. It was a great place, very cheap, really clean and best of all not a Madame in sight!