Thursday, August 21, 2014

STR Adventure Day 1 - Phuket to Khao Lak 90km

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

It was exciting to be dropped off at Changi with my Bike Friday snugly boxed up, at 0645. "Yoo hoo-ing" away was KC, way ahead in the Jetstar check-in queue. George and Wendy were nowhere to be seen, but knowing them, they would have checked in much earlier. Our flight to Phuket was just under 2 hrs and we landed at about 9am, still in disbelief that our South Thailand Ride adventure has actually begun!

We took our time to assemble our bikes in the comfort of Phuket Airport and what greeted us were pouring rains. In the world of Feng Shui, water is always a good sign but when we have the Living God ahead of us, we ride confidently under His care, come what may. Ying Chang, Pete and Jan had flown in earlier to enjoy Phuket and were to meet us at Turtle Village, some 15km north late morning.

As Aug is the wet season, the rains were what we came for so we set off on our bikes, literally singing in the rain. Sloshing out of the airport, we initially made the mistake of turning right when we should be turning left along 4031.

We were soon on our way towards the T-junction of 402 along a rather narrow road where we headed north. Then, it was a quick left along 3033 just 1.5km or so along quieter country roads. The rain seemed to have eased down and we were soon enjoying the fresh forest air. It was special to be riding again with great friends even though I was feeling a bit crooked from stomach troubles and had absolutely zero prior training.

3033 soon joined back to busy Highway 402, but it didn't matter as we were shortly turning into Turtle Village where we were to meet our 3 friends. They were patiently waiting for us at the Coffee Club and we exchanged the warmest of welcomes.

With hot Lattes and freshly cooked food in a beautiful setting, we could not be more delighted. KC and George queued up at the street vendor for Cha Yen, an absolutely lovely Thai milk tea that we soon grew to love.

Pic KC

We set off just after 1pm reluctantly, destination Khao Lak some 70km to go. The roads were still pretty wet and some parts were literally flooded. But that just meant more fun for some us! Whoopi woopz...

It was very special to cross the Sarasin Bridge, where we said goodbye to Phuket Island and hello to the Thai mainland. George remarked that he has been here once but have never gone further north than this point. Well, we will be going much much further north from here, all the way to Chumporn 500km eventually!

Pic KC

The ride took us along the beautiful coastline, but this being the wet season, the waves and winds were frighteningly strong. No wonder it was the low season as the only safe swimming possible is in a pool! But we were here to cycle and this season meant nice cool rides albeit a bit wet. I honestly prefer this anytime compared to getting burnt under a blazing sun.

Being the start of a long adventure, we just took it easy and rode leisurely at 20km/h or so, soaking in the sights and enjoying a good chat with one another. We passed by some really seriously luxurious holiday homes and exclusive resorts out in the boondocks, and wondered if they are Tsunami proof. In 2004, a huge Tsunami struck this area and Khao Lak was very badly hit. More than 3000 lost their lives, and many more were injured, not counting huge losses in property.

We took breaks every 20km or so or every hour, and there were no shortage of local drink cafes even along this quiet stretch of 3006. At the major Chinese town of Thai Muang some 50km, we stopped to have a good rest at a noodle shop. Though we drank a lot, nobody seemed hungry somehow much to the disappointment of the noodle seller. KC was still full of beans and jumping up and down literally in front of the local police station!

Sadly, I was not feeling so good as my stomach pains were getting stronger. But the show must go on and Khao Lak was a mere 25km away. It didn't help that the weather was taking a turn for the worse too and I felt like we were in the movie Storm Chasers, only instead of riding towards them, we were trying to get away from them.

Pic KC

We stopped at a small roadside cafe as I was feeling very famished and exhausted. An order of freshly cooked Khao Pad (fried rice) served with piping hot radish soup strengthened me gradually. In addition, popping some painkillers thanks to the kindness of our resident Dr, Papa Mike did wonders for me too. With all the rain, there seemed to be another problem I faced. An abundance of mosquitoes and for some strange reason, they preferred my Type A blood over others. So I ended being the de facto sacrificial lamb to these blood suckers. I supposed someone has to "volunteer" for this! I really appreciated the kindness of Wendy who offered me her special repellent. Looking after each other makes all the difference when we tour and I cannot emphasize this more.

We knew Khao Lak was near as we began to pass Tsunami memorials. The local fire station had a big stature of a heroic fireman rescuing a rather well endowed lady, and that warranted a closer inspection for some of us. I always have the highest respect for these fine professionals who risk their lives everyday for others.

Pic KC

We had to climb some steep hills before arriving in Khao Lak and that was hard work! When we finally arrived in town, we were greeted with bright lights, restaurants and shops all lined up on both sides of the wide road, ready to entice the Farang tourists. There is even a McDonalds, which in many countries, determines a certain level of civility. I was very glad to have reached 80km in one piece given my condition but the bad news was that our hotel, the Aspara was still 13km away from town!

Pic KC

By the time we got to our hotel, the sun was just about to set. The consolation was that the Aspara Spa Hotel was indeed a very impressive 4 star resort with its own private beach We wasted no time to check into our lovely rooms, and hit the shower in the very spacious bathroom. It was commendable of the reception to allow our bikes to be kept safely in the hotel office.

Dinner that night was taken at the beach front restaurant. Though it was to be a candle light dinner, the strong winds blew out any hope for a romantic evening but we didn't mind one bit as our romance of traveling on our foldies with the magnificent 7, exploring the Isthmus of Kra, had only just begun.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not XTR but STR. Our upcoming adventure...

Thanks YC for this map!

Its just a few days before we set off to yet another adventure. This time, it will be our ride to Southern Thailand, exploring the region surrounding the Isthmus of Kra. We will fly to Phuket and make our way northwards to Khao Lak, then Ranong. We hope to make a day trip into Kawthaung, Burma just for the heck of it.

Then its a 140km ride to Chumphon on the East Coast, where we will hop on a ferry to snorkeling paradise of Ko Tao island for a few nights. We will either train or bus our way to Hat Yai, where we may meet a friend and ride across the border into Malaysia. Destination - Penang where we will meet up with our wives,  friends and 3000 other cyclists who will participate in the yearly Campaign for a Lane CFAL event.

What is interesting about this part of Thailand has been the idea of carving a canal for shipping through this narrow stretch of 44km land like the Suez Canal. This has been mooted as early as 1677 by the Thai King Narai as it would bypass the Straits of Malacca. Various initiatives have come and gone due to a myriad of economic and political factors. China who now harbors ambitions have expressed interest in funding this and it would be interesting to see how far this goes,  especially geopolitically.

Khao Lak, a renown beach resort, is also intriguing as it was the most affected area of the 2004 Tsunami. Sadly, it swept away a few thousand lives and caused unbelievable damage. There still lies a big naval boat stranded way inland, and it will be interesting to see that on this trip.

My weapon of choice will be my ultra comfortable Bike Friday Expedition touring foldie. Weather wise, it is the wet and rainy season. A most perfect time actually to beat the tropical humidity. All in, it should be a fun 500 or 700km ride with the Magnificent 7.

Stay tune on our STR Adventure with Lovethefold!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taiwan Spring Ride 2014 in Videos

If a picture paints a thousand words, then a video splashes a million! Trust the ever talented Joeel Lee to put together an amazing video of our recent April trip to Taiwan. Nothing captures it better than this! It details the fun and adventure we had together so well, and do enjoy it on full screen.

And not to be outdone, Esther his wife took a collection of selfies too and that also became another hilarious video. Love how this video starts and ends so naturally! Truly a very gifted couple that I'm so blessed and privileged to know.

Thank you so very much Joeel and Esther!

Spring Ride in Taiwan Day 7 - Chishang to Taitung. 55km. Saving the best for last!

Pic Roland Lee

Pic Roland Lee

  Paparazzia everywhere!  Pic Siew Ling

It's usually not my thing to enjoy breakfast with hordes of Chinese senior citizens all talking loudly and slurping nosily in the same restaurant but this morning somehow was delightfully different. The Taiwanese seniors were very sweet, friendly and inquisitive about us "youngsters" all dressed up in tight, colourful attire. I found out in my limited Mandarin that they were on a conducted tour of Taiwan and I was very glad to see them having a whale of a time. Once again, eating Taiwanese porridge for breakfast was absolutely delicious and I felt sad gobbling it down as this was our last day of riding.

The plan was to cycle 55km from Chishang to Guanshan and catch the 330pm train at Taitung all the way back to Taipei. But first, we had to have a special warm up session with none other than the famous Choo Choo cycle train. This is what the Dapochi Hotel is renown for. Basically, this is a special tri-cycle that can hook up together to form as long a train as possible. The Senior Citizens have the advantage of having an "├źngine" that pulled them around the beautiful cycle circuits but for us youngsters, there was no such thing. The hotel staff divided us into 3 groups and with our rice farmer hats all donned up, we soon were pedalling furiously, tearing down the bike paths at a paltry 15km/h! Boy, they were so heavy.

Pic Roland Lee

We soon figured that if we were to join all 16 tri-cycles together, we had one long road train and that would be real fun. Of course we made sure we did this far away from the hotel as they would not have approved of such a long train. However, with some folks cycling and some goofing off taking pictures and what not, our train was really crawling. Which is a practical lesson in communism actually - why it does not work. Afterall, why pedal when there is someone else who is doing the pedalling? You still get the same reward... So those who pedalled eventually gave up as it was too difficult and the whole train just stopped!!! Here is what I mean...  :)

Someone sleeping!  Pic Roland Lee
Another clowning! :)

As the morning was getting on, it was soon time to hop on our real bikes and ride south towards Taitung. After slogging on the choo choo cycle, our foldies felt like fighter jets, nimble and fast even with fully loaded panniers. As we rode through the lovely green rice fields, our destination is the famous spot where there is a huge picture frame a short ride away. It was pretty crowded with other tourists but we soon got our chance to take the obligatory group photo. Esther of course managed to get all of us on a selfie and that was incredible. I was pleased to have a nice framed portrait of myself too.

This particular road just after the Frame is perhaps the most beautiful road for photography as it is straight as an arrow, surrounded both sides by rice paddies and right in front are mountains. Many commercials were shot here and I felt very privileged to be riding on this famous Mr Brown Ave.

Riding out of Chishang, the roads soon became less scenic and the hills started appearing. We were leaving dreamland and facing touring reality once again as we headed south on Highway 9. Still, we savored every kilometer as we knew that the long ride was soon coming to an end. We did a pit stop at Guanshan at our favorite 7/11 to fuel up and that was really appreciated by all.

To make things interesting, YC had a very nice detour planned for us so that instead of waiting for the slower riders, we could take this scenic 3km detour and rejoin the gang at the highway. This is an old section of Highway 9 and is a lovely side road into the woods, passing the Taitung Drug Rehab Centre along the Wulin Green Belt. It is traffic free and it was fun crossing a scenic bridge. I had a blast just cruising along at a fast pace with Carolen and Chor Kooi on our foldies. 

What goes down must go up and as we rejoin the highway, it was a gradual climb. Only 30km to Taitung! What is intriguing were the many signs informing the cyclists how many calories were burnt off and that was supposed to serve as a motivator as we cranked our way up slowly. At this stage, some newbies were really feeling worn out but with constant encouragement, everyone got up those hills.

The reward was a beautiful long downhill towards the Luye River and we had a blast spinning our small wheels at top speed. As we approach Taitung outskirts, I was drafting KL Mike and Carolen. Mike was really flying at 45-50km/h and we were covering ground like that was no tomorrow! We went so fast that we forgot to stop for Custard Apples unlike the rest who did. It was providence that when we stopped at the Family Mart to regroup, there were a couple of Custard Apple shops and we bought heaps and got them delivered to Taipei.

It was fortunate that one of the vendors looked rather familiar so we felt very comfortable buying from him. He showed us the best ones and we were very pleased with our purchase.

Lunch was at a simple local eatery and the poor seller was running out of food with 16 of us hungry cyclists swarming around. Roland was kind enough to sacrifice the last bowl of Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice) to me which was my favorite. I really appreciated that so much and many a times, Roland and May extended such kindness to us all.

Pic from

Our timing was clockwork and we made it to the Taitung Train Station with 30 mins to spare. It was great to have all our tickets sorted out early and this was to be a long 5 hour train journey. After all, we will be boarding nearly at the southern tip of Taiwan Island and would make our way all the way north. As usual, a group selfie was in order!

It was amazing to know that we actually made it! A great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment filled our hearts. We owed it to Ying Chang who put so much thought and planning for every detail of this trip, and to everyone for their contribution big or small.

As we boarded the train, we were booked in a special compartment where half of it was solely dedicated to bicycles and the rest for passengers. This is another shining example of how bicycle friendly Taiwan is. 

Although we were all visibly happy, in our hearts we were somehow sad that this great ride has come to an end. The last week has been like a dream and how I wish we do not need to wake up from this beautiful dream on our foldies together!

Our hearts have indeed been touched by Taiwan...

Spring Riders 2014 are - Ying Chang, Papa Mike, KL Mike, Oreo, Chor Kooi, Siew Ling, Carolen, Elaine, Joeel, Esther, Roland, May, Benny, Pru, Celia and I.  

And not forgetting Doreen, Wayne and Mark!