Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A Very Wet “Dry Season”

Chumphon - Krabi

On our first day without Nick as we cycled from Saphli Beach to Arunothai following an estuary out of a small fishing village we couldn’t help but notice the air felt a lot more humid than usual and the dark clouds on the horizon started to look a little more menacing. Little did we know what Mother Nature had in store for us.||

Without Nick, communication was a little sketchy and even though we were sure we knew the words for “fried rice with chicken” by now (how can we forget, “Cow Pat Guy”! In India it was cow, now it’s chicken, we are wondering what Guy will mean in Malay), we often seemed to end up with a plate that contained everything but chicken, often prawns, squid, pork, cow’s tongue or liver… With a little chillie sauce and imagination it all tastes like chicken anyway. In general Thai food hasn’t quite been what we expected – in rural Thailand, there are no Green Curries, Pad Thai’s and Sticky Rice with Mango. Instead, it’s much more basic, usually fried rice, fried noodles or soup from a little food stall with no menu.

Arunothai was a small beach town which seemed to be set up for local weekend tourists. As it was mid week, it was very quiet, and we were the only guests at the bungalow resort we stayed at. We decided to have a rest day before pushing on to the West coast and Krabi. It was very relaxing. Guy busied himself by giving our kit a once over including an oil change for our Rohloff hubs, while Freddie caught up on our journal.

Thai bungalow   Motorbike barbeque

We seemed to be developing a habit of moving from one beach to the next, so the following day we ended up at yet another beach. Once again we were the only guests. Just after we had arrived, a torrential downpour ensued. Assuming it would pass we awoke the next morning to grey clouds and more heavy rain.

There’s only one thing that makes cycling in heavy rain worse: roadworks. We were riding through roadwork areas where the red soil had turned into sticky mud, and to top it off we weren’t really sure where we were going as we hadn’t had internet access for a while to plan our onward route. Our map wasn’t really detailed enough for the job, but with the help of the locals we decided we had to detour 10km into the wrong direction to get to a hotel.

Red mud   A break in a bus stop

It was still raining hard, but the following morning we felt good and set off to cross over to Thailand’s west coast. We found the cycling easy and followed a decent but fairly quiet road west for about 90km. We ended up at a small bungalow resort. Like many Thais, the girl who managed the bungalows was quite shy, particularly when dealing with foreigners. We have found that although almost everyone waves and shouts hello when we cycle past, as soon as we stop to ask for directions or order some food, people get the shy giggles and sometimes shops mysteriously empty as we approach.

Cycling onwards through endless rubber and palm oil plantations, we really struggled to get into a rhythm. We had a fairly short day of only 75km ahead of us so we were hoping to arrive early afternoon and kick the feet up. Unfortunately we had no rhythm, stopping every couple of km’s for a loo break or to take our rain coats off or to put our rain coats on or to eat something or to drink something or to take a picture of something or to buy some of those weird looking fried things etc. etc…

Around lunchtime we noticed two little puppy dogs by the side of the road. They were very thin and clearly not in a good state. We figured they might have lost their mother, so we fed them our last piece of banana cake to give them some nourishment. Not quite sure what else to do, we called our friend Aom and asked if there was an equivalent of the RSPCA in Thailand, but this didn’t seem to exist. We decided to look for a vet in the next town, to see if he would care for them. However, the language barrier proved impenetrable. We showed pictures of doctors and animals to countless people in our Point-It book, unsuccessfully tried to pronounce the Thai word for “vet” and even fruitlessly tried to explain our quest to someone who spoke a little English. Nobody understood what we were asking for, but one man suggested we could go to the police station where they would speak English. We trudged through the rain to try and find the police station, but this was also a failure. One man even ran away from us when we pointed at the picture of a police man in our little book! After a frustrating hour we gave up, feeling intensely sorry for the puppies but unable to help.

The day didn’t get much better. Shortly afterwards, Guy had his first fall of the trip (Freddie hit the tarmac once in Hungary under very similar circumstances). We were cycling along a small tarmac road with a narrow hard shoulder which was slightly lower than the main part of the road. As the conditions were so wet, the road was quite slippery and when Guy tried to get back onto the road, his bike fell from under him. Luckily the bike took the brunt of the fall, so Guy had no serious injuries, just a bruised pride as his entertainment act tool place in front of a small fruit stall!

Even though it was raining hard at times the scenery was beautiful with jagged limestone cliffs jutting up vertically all around us from the lush green jungle and the hovering clouds and mist rising from the valley gave it a mystical touch.

Krabi landscape   Limestone cliff

We arrived in Ao Nang (Krabi) in a torrent of rain as tourists scurried around with umbrellas looking totally miffed that their week or so in Thailand was looking like a complete washout. We had expected a few bungalows and a quiet beach, similar to most of the beaches we had visited on our way down from Bangkok. However, when we arrived we were presented with a town heaving with tourists and all the related facilities from Burger King to Starbucks.

We found a fairly affordable hotel and decided that after 10 months of getting us up and down hills it was only fair we treated our poor muscles to a nice relaxing Thai massage. Well don’t be fooled by the size of those little Thai ladies, they may look pretty harmless but they have the strength of 10 water buffaloes! For the next hour they proceeded to treat us like an over active child might treat a clump of playdo - pressing and stretching and twisting and lifting our bodies in all sorts of interesting positions. At times it was entirely relaxing and you could feel yourself drifting into a serene sleep, moments later you were being straddled from the back and your legs were flung skyward as you performed some death defying double act straight out of Cirque Du Soleil.

The area around Krabi is famous for its stunning beaches and beautiful islands such as Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta and Railay Beach. We had been looking forward to some beach time and to exploring some of the nearby islands, but this was not to be. For the four days we were there, it rained and rained and rained without a break, even a small dash to the local eatery over the road left us drenched (we opted against the purchase of an umbrella citing it as an extravagance!). According to the locals this was unheard of in the dry season and had never happened before.

The full impact of the rains only became clear to us a little later, as the rain caused heavy flooding across southern Thailand, in which 53 people died, some of them in landslides in Krabi not far from where we were staying. As we prepared to leave after three days, the hotel manager shook his head and informed us that the road out of Krabi was impassable due to the flooding, forcing us to stay an extra day. 

Clean-up in Ao Nang, Krabi   A wet beach holiday

We hoped that the rain would stop today, as the following day we would have no option, cycle or swim the clock was ticking as we only had a little over two weeks until our flight from Kuala Lumpur, which was over 1000km away!

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