30 May 19 – Mae Sot to Tak – 85km
Mae Sot was fine for my recuperation, but to be honest there’s not much to the town, so we were quite glad to leave. We wanted to get on the road a few days back, but it just wasn’t possible as I was still sick, and our ride today confirmed that it was the right decision to stay put. Thailand is half an hour ahead of Myanmar time, so it was still pretty dark when we got up at 4.15 and packed our bikes. And despite the early hour it was already very humid – but at least it was reasonably cool.
Straight out of the town to the east was our first very tough ascent of the day and though it was cool we sweated a lot! Within the first hour everything I had on was not just wet…but sopping! There was a bit of a respite in the form of a downhill stretch on the other side of the ridge we’d just crossed, but it felt very short.
The next hour-or-so was along undulating terrain with a few short sharp uphill sections thrown in for good measure, which was then followed by a second tough uphill climb, which was even bigger than the first and just seemed to keep on going! About an hour before the top we stopped at a roadside shack for some cold drinks and snacks in a seating area that gave us great views down into the valley that we’d just climbed …
….steep-sided hills covered with lush green forest with loads of weird-sounding birds and the continual “zip zip zip” noise of a million crickets all going at the same time! It was very picturesque and it was nice to be able to relax and appreciate it instead of just gurning up the hill.
Apart from being drenched in sweat I was pretty tired at this point – probably a throwback to the fact I’ve had the lurgy and I’m still on antibiotics. The break, however, did us good and we managed the last push to the top. In total we climbed very close to 1500m which for us is a big climb – and one of the best things about it was the fantastic truck drivers on both sides of the road that cheered us on, gave us thumbs up and constantly beeped their horns to chivvy us along!
The subsequent downhill was very pleasant and we managed to stop for lunch and dodge some rain clouds which had been threatening. We made it to Tak by 1:30pm and found suitable digs for the night, booked in and settled into our room. About 30 seconds after closing the door the heavens properly opened and there was a torrential downpour. We counted ourselves very lucky as we drifted off for our afternoon snooze!
Tak is a reasonably big town and it’s quite modern …and we managed to find yet another mall in which to get a few essentials. Apart from that it didn’t appear to have much else going for it until I discovered that it has a very small ‘old town’. So, before dinner we decided to check it out, to discover that it consists of just one old alleyway called Trok Ban Chin. It is where Chinese merchants, loan sharks and businessmen lived and traded 150 years ago and is made up of really nice old teak houses and buildings.
It didn’t take us very long to walk the length of the alley, but it was still nice to see. The buildings are still lived in and one is a museum, but we actually thought it was someone’s house, so didn’t bother going in… a bit of a shame really as when we looked it up later it seemed really nice!
31 May 19 – Tak to Sukhothai – 94km
You would think that after a punishing day like yesterday, we would have slept soundly… but oh no! Rather disappointingly neither of us had a very good night, which meant that it was pretty hard dragging ourselves from our scratchers (old RAF word for bed) at 5am. Nothing unusual about our get-up and we were on the road just before 6am.
It was a complete contrast to the hills of yesterday – nearly flat with just a few rolling hills early on in the journey. An hour in and my legs definitely knew they’d worked hard on the hills yesterday, but luckily their tiredness plateaued and didn’t feel too bad. Martina, on the other hand, seemed to take it all in her stride!
We had no expectations of our ride today other than it was going to be functional to get us to Sukhothai. However, about 20km from destination we saw a sign to the Sukhothai Historical Park and as it was on our way we decided to check it out. It was also only 10am as we’d made great time on the flat roads.
And how glad are we that we went to have a look? Very! Set within a fabulous woodland is the remains of the 13th to 14th-century royal capital of Sukhothai, which was the capital of Thailand at that time.
We’d never heard of it as we’d only just seen the sign, but it’s a huge site with loads of amazing Buddhist temples, statues and a palace.
As the site is so big, cycling is one of the recommend ways to get around, so the fact that we didn’t have to lock up our loaded bikes and leave them was an added bonus for us.
It is an absolutely beautiful UNESCO world heritage site that is really well-maintained and set in stunning grounds and it sort of gave us an idea of what Bagan, in Myanmar, could be like if it was given the same TLC.
We spent about an hour and a half looking around and could easily have stayed longer, but it was starting to get hot, so we decided to call it a day and head towards the town. Apart from the remains of the buildings, what made it so special for me we’re the trees – this one below is just an example of the thousands of fantastic trees in the park…
Next surprise was a backroad bike path that would take us all the way from the Historic Park to the town, 14.5km away. This turned out to be a fantastic route which wound through small rural villages and made us feel like we’d finally arrived properly in Thailand.
We managed to find a small shack for lunch along the way, but eventually left the bike path about 4km outside of town as the growing black clouds behind us looked ominous so we needed to get to our accommodation as quickly as possible. And for the second day in a row we managed to get to destination without getting wet….twenty minutes after arriving the heavens opened and there was a massive downpour.
1 June 19 – Sukhothai to Phitsanulok – 63km
For what seems like the first time in ages we had enough time in the morning to have a proper breakfast so we indulged in full fry before setting off. The ride was pleasant enough, if rather dull, along a very flat road with took us to Phitsanulok.
We had been in touch with WarmShowers host in Phitsanulok, Mark, who was a cyclist in the past and now runs a hostel in the centre of the town, where he offered us a place to stay. Mark, originally from Southampton, came to Thailand about 10 years ago and never really left. He’s now married and has a family here and has never looked back.
We settled into our room and had a rice lunch in a restaurant next door. Later in the afternoon we ventured down to the river to indulge in an open air traditional Thai massage alongside lots of locals all doing the same thing.
Having a Thai massage is rather like going a few rounds with Mike Tyson and can be very painful at times. The masseuse makes use of elbows, knees and just about anything else that might inflict pain during the process. A full-body combat sport! Though there was definitely a fine line between pain and pleasure, the overall effect was great for our muscles and we actually went back for a second one the next day!
Mark is a very inclusive host so dinner was a fun gathering of all the hostel guests in a local restaurant with some amazing food.
2 June 19 – Phitsanulok
A very pleasant day around Phitsanulok…
To start we took unloaded bikes out to a lily pond, which may not sound that exciting, but the lilies in question were huge, so well worth a look! It only took 15 minutes to get there and once there we spent about half an hour enjoying a quiet Sunday morning with the place to ourselves…
There are two temples in Phitsanulok, which are the main attractions there, so we visited both…
Firstly, there is the 700 year old Wat Rachaburana which is a very quiet serene place (sort of what I had expected Buddhism to be like) next to the river. The complex consists of a stupa…
…a main hall with a nice sitting Buddha (the gold one!)…
…and a tree with a hole in the middle…
Legend has it that if you climb up the silver steps, through the hole and down the gold steps the other side three times it will bring good luck – so we both did, just in case we need some luck!
Across the road there is a more popular temple within which is the Buddha Chinnaraj, which is said to be the second most beautiful and revered Buddha statue in Thailand…(the most beautiful and revered is in Bangkok).
It was almost 6 pm when we visited this one, which is prayer time, so it was a nice experience to sit just and listen to monks and local worshipers chanting. It’s rather like hymns in a Christian church but with no accompanying music – and it’s quite hypnotic.
While we were being tourists another long distance cyclist had arrived at the hostel. Tamu from Spain has been on the road for the past 10 months and has travelled through Turkey, Iran and much of South-East Asia. In fact she has just completed our upcoming route in reverse so we had loads to talk about! Really lovely to talk to a fellow cyclist and we continued our conversation later whilst at dinner, which again was a mass gathering of most of the hostel guests – plus Mark, of course…
Tamu is to my right in the picture and we hope to meet up with her again in the future…perhaps on a future Spanish cycling trip!
Our 2 days in Phitsanulok were great. It’s not somewhere that we’d heard of before, but it turned out to be a lovely place with plenty to see and do – and it has a very good vibe. There is also a very nice coffee shop by the river, where I enjoyed the best coffees I have had in quite a while!
Mark’s hostel was great, he’s a fantastic host so we were sorry to have to say goodbye…