Monday 3 June. Phitsanulok to Kaeug Sopha (Poi waterfall). 69km.
We left Mark’s hostel as quietly as we could at 6.15 and headed off into what we thought would be a day a hard climbing. Although we were were definitely going up, it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated, and thankfully nowhere near as torturous as the climb into Tak a few days ago. Maybe the benefits of having 2 Thai massages while in Phitsanulok were paying off!
The road we took is known as “waterfall road” – for the obvious reason that there are lots of waterfalls along it, so we decided to break up our journey by visiting a few of them. And it was a nice change to see some natural sights rather than man-made temples and tourist sights, which we have seen a lot of recently.
The first one, Sakunothayan waterfall, was set in a very green and lush botanical garden and national park, which in itself was lovely to visit – especially as we had the place completely to ourselves.
Initially I wasn’t that impressed with the muddy brown water, which is there because the rains have disturbed the mud and silt from the hills and washed it into the river (in non-rainy season it runs clear apparently!). But I changed my mind at second one (Kaeng Song waterfall) as it looked like an iced tea fountain that just kept going…and was pretty mesmorising to watch!
The area was also full of really bright butterflies that seemed to take a shine to my jacket and/or whatever sweaty smells I was giving off!
Our third and final waterfall of the day, (the Poi waterfall) was at our end destination on the edge of another national park. We had earmarked a place to stay, which was right beside the waterfall – and what a great find that was. A lovely little cabin in a forest overlooking the river about a 2-minute walk from the waterfall – another iced coffee fountain that was just lovely to watch.
Although we visited the waterfall before lunch we ventured out again in the late afternoon and spent a lovely hour just sitting watching some locals fishing. Unfortunately there weren’t many options for food in the area and our resort didn’t have anything so it was a early bowl of noodle soup at a shack near the waterfall and an early night. But to be honest we didn’t mind, as we think the unsettled nights when we weren’t feeling great have started to catch up with us.
Tuesday 4 June. Kaeug Sopha to Lam Sak. 79km.
We set off in rain at 6am – nothing too heavy, but enough to soak us through after a few hours. Even though we are climbing hills we have decided to wear our sandals while cycling as it makes wet, sweaty feet more bearable – and so far it seems to be working, It was another day of hills and although we had 40km+ of up, they were rolling hills so didn’t feel too arduous, but we did seem to make very slow progress. I had obviously got used to the rain or maybe I was distracted by the stunning scenery but I can’t particularly remember noticing when the rain stopped….it just dawned on me at one stage that the sun was shining!
There was another waterfall en route, which we set off to expolore, but when it quickly turned into a steep descent we knew we would have a climb back to the main road, so we aborted that plan pretty swiftly!
Near the summit of our hills for the day was a major temple attraction, Wat Phra Tharp Pha Kalewa, and knowing it would be downhill for the rest of our journey we decided to give a final push go to see it. Although the Buddha statue and mosiac temple are impressive and in a beautiful location in the middle of the hills, it definitely wasn’t our favourite temple experience. They were surrounded by hotels, children’s activity attractions and restaurants, which didn’t make it feel like a religious site at all – but we still had a pleasant hour wandering around taking it all in.
The most impressive thing for us was definitely the views, which unfortunately the photo doesn’t do justice to.
Once we were done, we cruised 20km downhill into Lom Sak, which like most of the other towns and cities we have visited doesn’t look how we imagined Thai towns to be, with a very western look and feel.
For a change in our afternoon routine we ventured out to the supermarket on bikes provided by the hotel, which was quite an adventure to get on small light bikes. Mind you the gears were pretty rubbish, so we would struggle on hills riding these!
Wed 6 June. Lom Sak to Tambon Sila. 67km.
Our accommodation last night was one of the lovely traditional Thai teak houses that we have seen throughout the country here. Lovely on the inside….
…..as well as the outside, but with no insulation the air conditioning had to work hard to keep us cool and we could hear every car, dog and person who passed the building. But despite that, we both slept relatively well. As we were the only guests staying and there was a little kitchen area we made use of it and had scrambled eggs for breakfast. A nice change from our usual cold porridge and banana (sounds a lot worse than it actually is!), and we still managed to be on the road for 6.15!
Unfortunately we had a bit of a false start, because 10km outside Lom Sak Nigel realised we potentially had an easier route than the one we had embarked on. So after a quick discussion we turned around, cycled back into town and headed off in a different direction. Just to be sure we were happy with our decision, we stopped for a coffee break to check accommodation and roads on the new route, so we lost about 2 hours in total and had cycled 20 unnecessary kilometres before we were properly on our way.
But it wasn’t a bad route in terms of terrain so we were glad we had made the decision to change. However, over the last few days the temperature has definitely gone up so the heat and the sunshine were today’s challenges. From our google maps searches we knew there weren’t many hotels or guest houses on this route so around midday when we saw a sign for accommodation we decided to check it out. Turns out it was a remote holiday park with lots of individual pods and cabins set in a forest, and as they had the all important air-conditioning we decided it was just what we needed so booked one and checked in.
And we had just unloaded our bikes when we heard the first rumblings of thunder …so once again our timing was impeccable!
As we had expected to be in a remote location on our original route, we had planned ahead and had the making for lunch with us. And for what seems to be a lifetime since we had one, we indulged in a lunch of salami sandwiches and crisps…white processed bread has never tasted so good!! There were no restaurants nearby but we’d had the foresight to ask the owner of our accommodation if they provided food, which they did. And at 630pm as arranged we met him and his wife coming towards us with 2 plates of rice, a delicious stir fry and a plate of fried eggs, which we scoffed sitting outside on picnic benches, watching the sun go down. A really lovely relaxing end to a hot sweaty day.
Thursday 6 June. Tambon Sila to Wang Saphung. 79km.
So the monster hills that we had been expecting over the last few days materialised as soon as we hit the road this morning. And after about an hour they came into full force in the form of HUGE steep climbs. Not many hills have beaten us but a couple of these did, and we both had to get off and push a few times….although to be fair one of the times I had to come off was because a dog chased me at the foot of the hill and when I stopped to scare him off I couldn’t get started again so had to push for about 15 minutes. Dogs have definitely become problematic again and they aren’t all wild feral dogs either…a lot of them are country dogs that are roaming their territory and when they smell us come snarling after us, often with the he owners looking on and doing nothing. Nigel is brilliant though – he snarls and shouts back at them and that generally scares them off.
The hill climbs (and pushing!) took 3 hours and although it was only 9.30 it was really hot, which meant we were blinded by sweat, which didn’t make it any easier. We were also both regretting our decision to wear sandals as we discovered that either they don’t fit us properly or they are just not designed for hill-climbing as our feet kept slipping and squelching with our sweat. We might have to revisit that decision!
When we eventually made it to the summit we stopped for a well-earned rest and a drink. As we pulled in a guy in a car looked at Nigel, pointed down the hill and then at the bike, and when Nigel nodded his mouth literally fell open….he was aghast that we had actually cycled it, which made us feel a bit chuffed with ourselves.
Some pretting stunning views to take in ….
…after which we had a much easier ride on more manageable terrain that eventually became an open flat road into Wang Saphung. On this stretch we passed what we thought looked like Smaug’s mountain (dragon from The Hobbit)….a volcanic plug that we could see from miles away.
Even though it was flat we found the last 30km hard going…it was very hot and we were obviously pretty shattered after 4 days of hot, sweaty, humid hills.
Arrived at our hotel which we had booked in advance, and the lady on reception was fantastic – gave us chilled water while we checked in and changed our room to one on the ground floor where we could take our bikes inside or lock them to the rail outside…exactly what we needed as carrying our bags upstairs could have tipped me over the edge! And yet again we dodged another rain storm because we were snuggling down for our afternoon snooze a raging thunderstorm kicked off right above us.
The rest of the day was spent recouperating, eating and we even indulged in a couple of cold beers to celebrate the last of our epic few days in the hills of Northern Thailand. From here to Vientiane in Laos, where we hope to be by Monday, should be relatively flat….