My Bicycling Adventure

Friday 1 August 2014

North Thailand

Huay Xia to Ban Ta - 72km

We thought we had the immigration  from Laos to Thailand sussed, enough Kip to cover the cost of a boat across the Mekong, a small amount of Baht for the port tax, then get enough Baht at the ATM just outside immigration to last us till Chiang Rai.

But that was all blown out of the water when we discovered that the new 'friendship bridge' to Thailand, over the Mekong, is now open. So it is no longer possible to take the boat. However, the bridge is about 10km south of Huay Xia and, more importantly, an equal distance from Chiang Khong on the Thai side where all the ATMs are. We decided to exchange $50 of our emergency cash into Baht at the exchange in Huay Xia to tide us over to the next ATM.

So it was a bit of a mystery what costs we may possibly incur crossing the border on the bridge. The ride there was strange, there are not yet any road signs on the Laos side to direct drivers to the bridge. At the Laos border we rode to the 'motorbike' lane but were re-directed to the 'pedestrian' queue. After the passports were stamped we came out into a bus queue. Only vehicles are allowed on the bridge, bikes have to go across on a bus. The ultimate insult is that this 750m bus journey over the bridge costs $25 each. A one month visa is only $35!

Coming through immigration in Thailand was straightforward but they had not installed an ATM there when we were there so we were pleased that we had exchanged some currency already. Also it is difficult to adjust to the sudden change of riding on the left.

Our plan for this first day was to head south on route 1020 as far as the turn off for Chiang Rai. The road was a newly surfaced four lane dual carriageway with a wide hard shoulder. We kept commenting on how wonderful it was to ride along a proper road at last after some horrendous roads in Laos. Even the passing fast traffic didn't bother us too much.

Victim of the road works?
After 20km the improved and widened section ended and for the next 40km it was pretty much Laos standard road again. Unsurfaced sections that were rough and dusty, and lots of noise from the road construction vehicles.

They had sprayed so much water on the unsurfaced sections to keep the dust down that they were wash-boarded and pretty uncomfortable.

Ban Ta, the town where we needed to turn off onto the 1152, seemed to consist of nothing more than a big market and a few eateries but just on the outskirts was a small 'resort' with several small cabins. There were about five staff but, in a trend that would continue through Thailand, we were the only guests.

Ban Ta to Chiang Rai - 62km
Shady road
It was an easy, flat ride to Chiang Rai. Traffic was light and there were lots of shady trees along the road.

Adjusting to the changes between Laos and Thailand was difficult. There were no children playing on the roadsides, no shouts of 'sabaidee' and no kids riding bicycles to school. Most  houses have high fences and  gates and  few people are about on the streets. Wide expanses of rice fields were brown and dry, awaiting the rains to be cultivated, with no-one working outside.

7/11 Heaven
On the positive side, there were 7/11's, Tesco Lotus supermarkets and air-conditioned coffee shop. So fuelled by caffeine, some delicious barbecue chicken for lunch and a smooth quiet road, progress was fast.


We had three nights in a very nice resort on the edge of the city. Our room overlooked the swimming pool, perfect for cooling off after the exertions of a long day's sightseeing.

Chiang Rai - Days off

Wat Ming Muang
Chiang Rai's main attractions are its beautiful temples which are easy to visit on  bikes. 

Traffic in the city was quiet during the day, more manic at night, so we travelled by tuk-tuk after dark.
Dragon steps, Ming Muang

Chiang Rai Clock Tower
Temple window carving

Chiang Rai to Suanthip Vana Resort - 75km

Early morning exercise
We left just as the sun struggled to burn off the morning mist. The old airport runway, at the back of the resort, was busy with people jogging, running and exercising.

Singha Park
The 'minor road' route that we had chosen turned into a dual carriageway, busy with  morning commuters, but they were heading in the opposite direction. Soon we were on a quiet lane, through small villages and woodland. A short detour took us through  the new Singha (Thai brewery) park.

After 30km of relative peace we turned onto route 118 which appeared on the 'Google' map to be a narrow country road. As the most direct route between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, we should obviously have expected the broad, four lane dual carriageway with fast cars, huge sleeper buses and heavy lorries. At least it was well surfaced, with a wide shoulder.

Perfect pose
Busy roads have their compensations and mid-morning we came to a resort serving coffee and cakes. In the grounds were a series of aviaries containing local birds. The peacock posed very well.

A gradual uphill climb continued all day, at first through featureless towns, but later more scenic along a wooded valley. We headed for only resort marked on our map, called Suanthip Vana.

Swimming pool
Of course it was at the top of a really steep section of climb. It was a very beautiful place on the side of a  wooded hill. We had an enormous room, with a private patio, big bath and coffee machine . Outside was another lovely pool and we were the only guests. 


Suanthip Vana resort to Ban Pong - 83km

Fairy tale house
Because we lingered too long over breakfast it was already hot when we set off, with lots more hill to climb and no shade. This part of the road was much quieter but the long distance buses still passed every thirty minutes.

New Resort
This strange Khmer style building at the side of the road was actually a new resort under construction.

How much further?
There was 50km to cover before the steepest section of hill began and, after two coffee stops in nice air conditioned cafes to cool us down, the sun was directly overhead.

Every 500m we had to stop, get into some shade, eat a banana and drink. At least there was a hard shoulder all the way, the road now was just two lanes.

There were no fanfares to mark the summit, not even a road sign giving the elevation (1,041m to be exact) and no views either. On the descending road there were long sections without any hard shoulder making the riding much more tense as the traffic squeezed us to the road edge.

While we ate lunch, Steve looked at the sat-nav  and declared 'we're nearly there', so when it turned out to be another 15km it didn't go down well with Karen especially as there were several small climbs in the baking heat.

Finding accommodation meant turning off the 118 where there were signposts for several resorts. After searching along the narrow country lanes and asking directions we found a resort and, guess what? We were the only guests.

Ban Pong to Chiang Mai - 53km

Country lane
A determination to find a quiet route away from the main road had us starting the day on an unsurfaced, sandy lane. It was only a few kilometres but very pleasant. Riding through woodland and small orchards that had fenced and hedged fields with  gates reminded us of English country estates.

There was a bit more downhill to do before the wide flat plain of the Ping river on which Chiang Mai lies. Our hotel was just inside the old walled city area. Outside the wall is a moat with a one-way road on each side, clockwise on the outside, anti-clockwise inside. It was one of the rare scary moments in Thailand, making a right turn on this very busy road.

Chiang Mai - Days Off

Buddha image Wat Pan Tao

Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand and was once the capital of the Lanna kingdom.

City walls and moat
The historic old city is still surrounded by the old moat and parts of the original city walls.

Decorated bridge Wat Pan Tao
This virtual separation from the sprawling modern city that surrounds it means the roads are quiet and ideal for exploring on a bike.

Wat Chedi Luang

 The streets have many cafes, restaurants and hotels, a liberal sprinkling of colourful and historic wats.....

Chinese temple

a few temples......

Ethnic minority market produce
and a lively market.


Night safari

In the evening we went for a 'Night Safari' at the zoo, driving around the various animal compounds in a bus with a spotlight, which was great fun.

Waiting for business

Chiang Mai to Chom Thong - 79km

Leaving early meant there were few vehicles on the road around the walls. We headed out following the general direction of the Ping river. Most of the traffic was commuters, heading into town.

The Ping river
Once out of the suburbs the road follows the banks of the gently flowing Ping, very flat with shady mature trees. Stretching across the plains on each side are even more mango orchards.

Wat Chama Thewi

We were joined by three road cyclists, who slowed down to chat with us for a few kilometres. They had ridden into Chiang Mai from Lamphung earlier and were on their way home. We followed them into Lamphung, a slight detour from the Ping, to see the historic town.

Wat Pra That Haripunchai
Lamphung is like a small version Chiang Mai. It too had a surrounding wall and moat although little of this remains today. It does have a couple of interesting wats and, more importantly, a coffee shop with cakes.

Tree with symbolic props
We continued along the Ping river for the rest of the day, heading to Chom Thung to find somewhere to stay. It is quite a large town with the very busy route 108 running through it, heavy lorries, buses and 4x4's nose to tail. The only place to stay was a motel on the edge of town. It wasn't bad and had a little cafe at the back where we could get dinner and breakfast.

Chom Thong to Li - 88km

The plan was to continue following the Ping River south along route 108. But having seen the amount of heavy traffic yesterday we changed our minds. Instead we backtracked about 7km to pick up route 1010 which follows one of the tributaries of the Ping.

Barn full of onions
There was little along the flat valley to excite. Houses line each side for most of the next 10km and beyond that are miles and miles of mango and the occasional barn full of drying red onions

Route 106 turned out to be a wide dual carriageway with fast, noisy traffic. We stopped to have a drink in the shade of a tree and a man came up to us to chat in Thai.

Roadside massage
He wasn't bothered that we didn't understand so we kept smiling, nodding and using sign language. Then he decided to give Steve's thighs a massage so Karen jumped back on the bike quickly before he decided to do hers too.

To escape the noisy traffic we turned off onto a cemented road which ran parallel to the 106. After 1km, uphill on a rough road and hassled by several packs of threatening dogs we gave up and returned to the main road. Over the next few kilometres the traffic thinned and the road went back to two lanes. Just as we were loosing hope of getting morning coffee there was a small cafe on a hill overlooking the valley. Sipping iced lattes we watched a group of agricultural workers preparing the ground for planting water melons.

Shoe seller
From there the road rolled through more mango plantations, gradually climbing into  thin secondary growth forest. We kept passing men pushing trolleys loaded with shoes, selling them door to door. A very hot tiring trudge of a job.

At this time of year, the end of the dry season, everything is very dry, no flowers or green growth and a lot of the trees have no leaves yet. Along the roadsides all the undergrowth was burnt off, presumably to lower the risk of wild fires.

Chopping boards
These hills are populated by some ethnic minority groups, mostly "Karen". They make a living harvesting bamboo and using it to manufacture fencing.  We stopped at a small roadside market selling local goods to try to find some lunch.

Roast birds
The questionable roast birds didn't tempt us, nor the strange dried foods. Instead we got drinks and brought a big bunch of bananas for less than 50p. Further on there was a  good,  cheap roadside stall with pad Thai for 60p each.

Different style of Wat
By 3pm it was so hot we had to stop again for ice-cream and drinks just before the turn off to  'Dewo's Home and Garden Resort', our planned overnight stop. Following the signposts we found this sweet little resort, owned by a German and his wife and, once again, we had it to ourselves.


Li to Thoen - 53km

Coffee shop hostess
We were in 'relaxed' mode today, lingering over breakfast and then stopping soon afterwards in Li for a coffee. The coffee shop waitress was extremely enthusiastic, taking many photos of us on her phone and getting us to sign the visitor's book.

Khruba Sri Wichai Steps

Not long after leaving Li we met another touring cyclist travelling north, the first we had seen in Thailand. The road was quiet and climbed up to the head of a valley and over a low col, topped with a memorial. The descent down the other side was beautiful, snaking through forested hills and past a small reservoir.

Nearer to Thoen was a long flat section of road through  rice fields still waiting to be ploughed and planted, again all dry and dusty.

Thoen is a small town  divided by the wide dual carriageway of highway 1, a daunting road to cross. But with the hotel on one side and the restaurants on the other there was no choice.

 Thoen to Thung Saliam - 71km

Love these tree seeds
The day started with a climb over a ridge and then a slow gentle descent through a wide valley all the way to Thung Saliam. A slick, newly surfaced road for the first section was a joy to ride. Round a corner we reached the re-surfacing road works.There were no warning signs, no cones, men with flags or traffic lights. With half the road closed the Thai drivers just slowed down and found their way round the obstruction.

Gateway into Thung Saliam
In Thung Saliam we stopped in a cafe to look for accommodation on the Internet. The cafe owner told us about a hotel and gave directions to find it which led us to a back road in the middle of nowhere.

A couple in a 4WD stopped to offer help and then lifted our bikes and gear into the back and drove us to the hotel, which was on the main road about 1km from where we had stopped at the cafe.


Thung Saliam  to Sukothai Historic Park - 57km

Today was another easy, flat, featureless ride. It was too much trouble to stop and take a photo, that was how interesting it was.

Oppressive heat kept us moving quickly and a few groups of children were getting ready at the roadside with  buckets, hose pipes and water pistols for  the beginning of the Songkram water festival.  We had booked accommodation in Old Sukothai and arrived there in time for an early lunch.


Old Sukothai - Days off

Wat Sri Sawi
Old Sukothai is home to the ruins of one of Thailand's former capital cities. Many square kilometres of ruins surround the small old town, with most of the services, restaurants and accommodation in New Sukothai, about 12km away.

Wat Mahathat
Preparations for Songkram were in full swing, with a
'water sprinkler' archway over the road to welcome us,  hose pipes and water barrels ready for tomorrow.

Wat Mahathat
By getting up at 6.00am the following morning we had the ruins to ourselves for the first hour, watching the sun rise set fire to the ancient red bricks.

Sunrise glow

King Ramkhamhaeng Monument
After a couple of hours the peace was broken by a noisy Songkram parade to the King Ramkhamhaeng's memorial

Songkram Parade

Wet, wet wet
By the time we were ready to go back to the hotel for breakfast the water festival was in full flow. Nobody could, or wanted to, escape the enthusiastic water throwers.

 From the sides of the road, backs of SUVs, hosepipes, water barrels, sprinklers the deluge was intense.


Steps to Wat Saphan Him
After changing into dry clothes we set off again in the late afternoon to see some of the more distant ruins, much more authentic, having received less intense restoration. 

Going for a goal
Steve got bored with ruins and went off to play football with a young lad.

Wat Chang Lom
The next day we hired a motorbike to travel to Si Satchanalai, a similar historic park about 50km from Sukothai.

Chedi Chet Thaeo
This place is much less visited, more atmospheric and set in a beautiful tree filled valley

Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Helping the temple busker

Back at Sukothai everyone was in party mood with water everywhere and queues of SUV's with families and friends in the open back, cruising up and down the main road throwing water.

Sukothai Historic Park to Phitsanulok - 88km

Hectic morning market
This was another long, flat ride through countryside with few scenic features. Riding on quiet country lanes we didn't see much traffic but we had to be constantly vigilant for water throwers. It was easy to spot the danger areas from a long way off as the whole width of the road was wet.

Abandoned bike
Most of the throwers were teenagers and they respected our requests to not drench us. Some daubed us with coloured flour paste instead.

Getting nowhere fast, festival mayhem

Getting into the city of Phitsanulok was a different matter. The roads were teeming with vehicles and the roadsides packed with water throwing crowds.

The Thais seem to have a belief that the volume of the music playing is a measure of how much they are enjoying themselves. So many families had set up their loudspeakers on the roadside, determined to be the ones having the best time. Deafening!

Dismounting from the bikes at the hotel, we deposited a trail of water all the way to our room. It would have been nice to visit some of the city landmarks, but the thought of a second drenching kept us hiding in the room until dusk, when it all stops for the night.

Phitsanulok to Sappraiwan Resort - 57km

We didn't sleep well, the constant noise of the hotel lift, the air-con and the fridge disturbed us but the bed was very, very comfy and it wasn't easy to find the will to get out of it. The morning was hot and very humid, following an overnight thunderstorm.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Before leaving the city we rode to Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat to experience the Thai temple vibe. Even at 8am the temple was buzzing with activity. Inside the gates was a plethora of market stalls selling temple offerings, herbal medicines, trinkets and tourist tat.

Offering bowls
There was an ancient ruined temple and a more modern one, housing one of the most revered bronze Buddha images in Thailand.

Pouring water

Throngs of people were lighting candles, offering gifts, praying, dropping coins into the begging bowls and pouring gallons of water over the religious images.

We could only spare a few minutes as the heat was already oppressive. Route 12 was our exit from the city, a six lane dual carriageway passing through endless retail outlets, shopping malls, garden centres, DIY stores and car salerooms thankfully all closed at this time in the morning. Even so, as it was the last public holiday of Songkram, the road was very busy.

Beyond the retail area the road narrowed to four lanes but the constant fast traffic had us examining the map to see if there were any minor roads to escape onto. There was just one possibility, from Wang Thong following the river for about 8km. It was a lovely, quiet, cemented country lane, through several small villages with plenty of shade and friendly locals.

Tyre swing
All too soon we reached the end and had a steep climb to get back up the the highway, contending with some quite threatening dogs on the way, and having to push up the impossibly steep last 10 meters.

Novel tyre recycling
From here the road starts a steady climb up to the Salaeng Luang national park, through low growth forest and rubber plantations. Upgrading of the road to a dual carriageway meant that from here all the way to Lamsok there were major roadworks.

Rice cooked in bamboo
By late morning the traffic was a constant stream of open backed SUV's packed with families and friends, barrels of water, buckets and water pistols. Anyone within range is a target for bucketfuls of water, with slow moving targets, i.e. cyclists and motorcycles, at particular risk.

Fish bbq
Most of the families were heading for the two waterfalls on the lower part of the river where there are market stalls and food sellers. We stopped for an early lunch of barbecue chicken and green papaya salad, deciding to give the waterfalls a miss.

There was just one small town to go through before we reached the resort. Having only received a few minor wettings during the morning, we now got absolutely drenched once again.

Feeding time
Our overnight stop was booked at Sappraiwan Resort, set in the foothills of the Thung Salaeng Luang national park on. Its grounds provide a sanctuary for ex-working elephants, which come up to the reception area each day for feeding by the guests. You'll never guess that we were the only, and very lonely, guests.

Sappraiwan Resort to Lamsok - 77km

Boulders or elephants?
Today had a bit of everything. It started with frustration as our attempts to get an early start were thwarted by slow service at breakfast and having to wait fifteen minutes to pay our room bill.

Clear blue skies meant it was going to get pretty hot later and the road was now climbing more steeply. The roadworks were a constant problem. Not that there was any actual work going on, because of the bank holiday, but the widening meant that all nearby trees had been removed so there was not a bit of shade. Sometimes there was no hard shoulder, and only one lane in each direction. In some parts we escaped onto the rough, yet to be surfaced lanes, but riding up these consumed much more energy than on the tarmac.

Today was a normal working day so there were only a few SUV's with water tossing occupants and most of the traffic was in a hurry to get somewhere. Climbing on the northern edge of the national park, the 3 road has tall forest on the south. To the north the slopes were fairly bare.

Scratch meal on broken plastic chairs
Cresting the first peak we expected to find somewhere to eat. There was nowhere except for a large hardware, building and animal foods supplier with a small food shop at the back. It reminded us so much of Cooper's in Pickering, even smelt the same.

What seemed like the top of the hill was followed by several steep down and up sections which were not fun in the midday heat. In some places the new road sections were much lower to avoid some of the steep inclines.This meant we were cycling along on the edge of the tarmac with a four meter drop on our left and traffic passing at speed on the right. On the final hill  the thunderstorm which had been threatening for the past forty minutes hit and we had to dive for cover under a food stall awning.

Then came the reward for the effort with the long winding descent. Busy afternoon traffic and the constant need to avoid traffic cones and changes in road surface kept the speed down but we were cool at last. Down at 150m above sea level the air temperature was much higher for the last flat section into Lamsok where there was a fairly new and clean hotel. .
Lamsok to Pechabun - 52km

Beautiful blossom
Turning south we headed down the wide Pa Sak river valley. To the west of the river is the wide and busy Highway 21. Avoiding that we kept to quiet minor roads on the east. Along the roadside the many trees were in flower and the flat smooth roads ensured fast progress. 

Tobacco pickers
Tobacco is one of the biggest crops here and the workers were just returning from the fields with the first crop of the day.

Tobacco barn
 All along the roadside were huge barns, full of tobacco, with each layer at a different stage of drying. Houses along this section were noticeably more refined.But that didn't mean there was any hotels, for that we had to cross back over the river into Pechabun.

Pechabun to Bueng Sam Phan - 89km 

Long, flat, straight road
We returned to the east side of the valley on a lovely quiet, rolling road with lots of shady trees and low mountains to the east.

Typical tobacco farmhouse
Tobacco was still the main crop with many small farms along the road.

Traditional water jars
All the houses here still had their traditional ceramic water pots although nowadays they mostly have a mains water supply. If only we could have got a couple in a pannier to take home.

Maybe it's just not completed yet
The villages along the road were too small to have accommodation except for this place which appeared to have a literal interpretation of the term 'Hut Stay'. So  we had to go west to Highway 21 to find a guesthouse.

It was Friday evening and the first place we tried was full. At the only other place we managed to get the last room.

Bueng Sam Phan to Si Thep - 71km

Family preparing a money tree
The first 5km of today's ride was along the hard shoulder of Highway 21,with only light traffic at this time of day. This took us through a largish town with a basic hotel,which was not not even marked on the Google map. Pity we didn't know about it the night before.

Caution mud on road
We had a fried rice breakfast at a little cafe on main road followed quickly by ice cafe latte and biscuits at a coffee shop a little further down, knowing that the chance of finding any cafes away from the main road was remote.

Cassava cuttings ready for planting
Turning east onto a small lane took us into a quiet rural landscape along muddy roads and dirt tracks. Leaving tobacco behind we now cycled through vast fields of cassava and rice.

Charcoal burning
Charcoal burners along the roadside sent up clouds of smoke.

Si Thep ruins
 Si Thep has a small historical park on the site of a former city.
Small mountain of a ruin

Temple carvings

Stone carvings


Si Thep to Chai Badan - 72km

'Engine refit'
Today was supposed to be a short ride, the direct distance down highway 21 was only 30km but of course we didn't want to cycle for 2 hours down the busy highway. So we went back east to the Si Thep historic park to navigate a route along the back roads.

Roadside oil well
The scenery was nothing dramatic and the roads flat and uninspiring so there was no excuse for missing  a crucial turn and ending up back at highway 21. That mistake added about 15km to the 'easy' day.

Chai Badan was a frustrating city in which to try to find food on a Sunday lunchtime. All of the restaurants appeared to be closed and we covered about 5km more just looking for something to eat. Across the road from the small railway station was a very welcome food stall and starvation was once more prevented.

Chai Badan to Muak Lek - 83km

To get a really early start we purchased breakfast from the 7/11 just up the road and were off by 6.15am. The roads were really quiet at this early (for Thailand) hour and we exited the city along a couple of back roads onto the 2089. Having planned the route on Google maps we were not sure what to expect. There seemed to be no towns of any size, with few services and it was not even clear whether some parts of the route were even surfaced.

The Muak Lek valley
In fact it was a lovely and enjoyable ride along quiet rolling and smooth roads passing, but out of sight of, the large Pasak Chonlasit reservoir. Wang Muang turned out to be a modern town with wide streets and air conditioned coffee shops so we had a break and light refreshment.

Muak Lek waterfall
A little further on we turned off onto the road which follows the Muak Lek river valley, gently climbing up a scenic wooded valley. There were quite a few  resorts here but they all appeared deserted. The river tumbles over several small waterfalls and the clear blue tinged water attracts crowds of bathers and picnickers. 

The biggest challenge of the day was crossing Highway 2, a wide and busy dual carriageway with no traffic lights or footbridges. We stayed at the Valley Garden Resort, and got a fabulous room with four poster bed and an outdoor shower. The first night we ate in the resort restaurant as it was so far from anywhere there was little alternative.

The next day we had a relaxing day swimming in the resort pool and sunbathing. We were the only guests of course. At 7.30pm we wandered over to the restaurant to eat and  found both that and reception closed and in darkness. The only person around was the night security guard and he didn't understand any English.  Our carried food reserves amounted to a couple of packets of nuts and a chocolate bar. So that was our evening meal.

Muak Lek to Thao Yai - 32km

We were still feeling a bit miffed about last night as we went for breakfast. The receptionist met us at door and apologised profusely but it didn't help much. We asked her to ensure that all future guests are informed about opening hours of restaurant and given an emergency number for nighttime. There was no way we were going to stay any longer so booked into another resort not far away.

Just the head of the planned Buddha statue
One thing we have noticed all the way through Thailand is that almost every Wat seems to have building work in progress. Toady we passed one where a massive new Buddha statue was being built. It was a shock to realise it was being made from polystyrene.

Butterflies drinking
Dairy farming is the main agriculture here, the milk still being collected in steel milk churns.

Nearer to Khao Yai national park an enormous amount of building work is going on, mainly blocks of condominiums and villas as holiday homes for rich Bangkok residents. We pretended to be prospective buyers so that we could have a look at one of them.

There really is a line of bats, just below the top of the central cloud
In the late afternoon we set off to try to find a bat cave that we had read about on-line. We asked at the resort but they just tried to sell us an organised tour. We rode up and down some delightful narrow lanes looking for the cave, Just as we'd almost given up hope and the sun was setting we saw a spiralling string of them in the far distance.

Thao Yai to Prachin Buri - 64km

working elephant
After a picnic breakfast in our room at 6.00am, we were off by 6.30, passing two working elephants and their mahouts.

River near the park gate
Just 4 km down the road we arrived at the Khao Yai National Park gate and paid the 400Baht entrance fee. to NP gate, paid our 400Baht admission fee.

It was still cool and pleasant as we started the 10km to the visitor centre, climbing a smooth two lane road.

Grazing deer
Tall trees on both sides provided lots of shade, necessary on a couple of very steep sections. Most of traffic that passed us was the National Park staff on motorbikes on their way to work.

Forest trees
We didn't see any elephants but there was lots of evidence of their presence, muddy footprints, paths through the trees and huge piles of s***. A raucous screeching from the trees turned out to be a giant horn bill. It flew away  above the trees before we could take a photo.

Views from 600m
Up at 800m it was slightly cooler and the road goes across an artificially created grassy plain which is an  ideal habitat for deer and other grazing animals.

Cogon grass plains

Bat-shaped spider
At visitor centre we walked through the 'dry zone' forest, full  of little interesting things, butterflies, insects, spiders, fungi, plants and trees.

Lizard on the path to Haew Suwat
Parking the bikes against a tree we walked over to some  food stalls for early lunch. As we ate we looked across to the bikes to see a monkey stealing the Powerade bottle.

Not as impressive today

Ahead of us now was 40km of downhill through tropical forest. There were lots of waterfalls signposted off the road at regular intervals, but all the watercourses were dry. The park information assured us that Haew Suwat waterfall, the one made famous in ' The Beach' had water all year. After climbing down the 197 steps they were right but it was such a little trickle it hardly shows on the photo.

Beautiful butterfly
On the way back we met a Spanish cycling couple, on the steps. They were climbing up the hill and planning to camp at the top. With only three hours of daylight left and a 400m climb over 26km, rather them than us.

Descent to Prachin Buri
It was more downhill from here on a smoothly surfaced road to reach Prachin Buri which is on the main highway 33 from Bangkok to Cambodia. It was nose to tail lorries and coaches in both directions with a roadside night market adding to the chaos.

Prachin Buri to  Nong Khae - 74km

Nice handbag
We planned to follow the back roads to avoid the busy AH1 (route33), but all the roads ran in the wrong direction, mainly north to south so the main road distance was 30km, back roads 50km. So instead we decided to do 30km on the highway to Ben Nha, then back roads for the rest.

Garden statue
The Saturday morning traffic was nowhere near as busy as the Friday evening had been. The roadside had distinct retail zones along it. First endless garden nurseries, then garden statues, then shrines and grave furnishings.

Dusty ploughing
Leaving the main road we travelled along the canal bank lanes. Mostly there was a lane on both sides, one surfaced in either concrete or tarmac and the other a rough track.  Roads along the canal sides were quiet, rural and very basic houses with not a lot of shade.

Roadside shrine
Nong Khae has a strip of eating shacks on the riverside where we devoured a whole roast chicken, papaya salad and sticky rice between the two of us. There followed a long search for accommodation in yet another city dissected by the busy dual carriageway of highway1.

Pretty temple
Sent south to find hotel by tuk-tuk drivers, then tried one down the riverside which didn't exist. Ended up at AK apartments. Had restaurant so didn't have to venture out over the road in the dark.

Nong Khae to Ayutthaya - 45km

Today, our penultimate riding day in Thailand, we managed to take a course along the canal sides until the suburbs of Ayutthaya. The houses and villages were noticeably poor, just small wooden shacks with outside toilets and blocks of showers shared between several  households.

Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya was the last 'must see historical park', another former capital of Siam. We stayed two days, using the bikes to get around the central ruins, and paid for an evening boat trip around the outskirts of the city to see the more distant ones.

Elephant tour

Wat Si Samphet

Wat Chiawatthanaram

Buddha's head encased in tree roots

Wat Mahathat

Ayutthaya to Bangkok - 103km

With our last travelling day ahead of us and quite a distance of flat riding ahead we decided that rather than plan a back road route we would take the shorter main roads, riding on the hard shoulder. Getting out of Ayutthaya was the worst bit.

We were off by 6.30am but already the traffic was heavy. The city suburbs seem to have endless hospitals and care facilities. The night staff had just finished work and were waiting at the bus stops to get home. The buses would approach at speed and then suddenly cut cross the hard shoulder just in front of us.

It soon got very hot and there was very little to take the mind off the long road and boring terrain. By 2pm we were checked in to the airport hotel with plenty of time to pack the bikes and gear ready for our lunchtime to Portugal the next day for the start of a new adventure.