Friday, August 21, 2015

VSTR Day 2 – Satun to Thung Wa (75km)

I woke up early to pouring rain. The skies opened relentlessly through the night but for me, that only made my sleep sweeter. Pooh of Ti Baan recommended an eatery in the next alley for breakkie and I left at 0730 to check it out, donning my rain jacket. Turned out to be a jackpot! Not only was the elderly lady selling my fav Kau Tom (rice porridge), she did Wanton noodles as well which I bought back for Celia, who was too comfortable in bed.

The team was excited as soon as we entered the simple restaurant and formed a line like school children, placing our orders obediently. It was great that the elderly lady could speak some Chinese and she prepared the food with so much passion, thrilled to feed 9 hungry cyclists. I could not help but feel like a grandson having a special birthday breakfast made by dear old Por Por. Washed down with robust hot sweet Thai tea, Chai Ron, we were all ready for some serious wet weather riding.

It took us some time to get ready our bikes and gear where everyone had their own version of what worked. Celia "Glad-Wrapped" her shoes in the hope that it would keep out the water, otherwise it could be a heavy and soggy affair for her. Shower caps were also the order of the day. Many don on their newly purchased colourful rain coats. But for me, what works is a Da Brim fitted with a shower cap, a light jacket not to keep dry but to keep warm and Kroc closed type plastic sandals.

After a prayer of blessing, we rode out of Satun at about 10am passing the obligatory Clock Tower of every mid-size town and braved the rains. Fortunately, the weather improved and within 5 mins of riding, those who were thoroughly waterproofed with their thick raincoats were soon throughly overheated. Those raincoats became an unwelcome sauna. The newbies started stripping at a petrol station feeling a bit silly. I very wisely kept my mouth shut and we carried on, feeling much much more comfortable.

Just as we were nicely settling into a rhythm, a quick left turn into Highway 406 just 8km saw a stall selling fried bananas, sweet potatoes and jackfruit. It's sight and aroma attracted us like bees to honey. Foodies VT, Claudine and Papa did their bit to generously shore up the Thai economy that day and we were not complaining. Chomping away merrily, I was wondering if this was an eating trip rather than a cycling one.

I was glad when we started spinning again and the cool morning air coupled with fresh rain drops really invigorated me. It is always hard to ride together as we all had different cruising speeds and the team fell into its "natural" order. YC would lead mostly as he had the Garmin GPS and Lance very graciously took the role of sweeper. Claudine was another rabbit, preferring to dart out happily in front with her faithful bodyguard VT while the rest of us just went on our own pace. Uncle KC renowned Legend (for his 117km/h downhill record) was also taking it easy which made us glad. He had some weeks ago suffered a small neck fracture due to a despicable hit and run accident at Singapore's ECP.  It really wrecked his brand new Bike Friday Haul-a day's front fork. The fact that he recovered enough to join us truly is a testament of God's grace and goodness.

This route was very enjoyable as it was relatively flat and we were moving a good clip. As the distance grew, the team grew apart literally. The opportunity to regroup presented itself when we chanced upon a beautiful bed of flowers just by a motor workshop. Someone had made great effort to add colour and brighten this drappy neighbourhood and it was photos galore by the creative Uncle KC.

It's surprising how easily the stomach empties when cycling and just 7km later, we stopped for a simple lunch break at about noon. One thing about this group I quickly learned is that everyone is passionate about food. I was seriously contemplating changing my blog to Lovethefood Adventures, at least for this team. I ordered one of the my fav Thai dishes, Kai Jeow, a simple omelette with rice but was a tinge disappointed that there was no minced pork due to the religious requirements of the people here. Those who ordered Pad Thai and other dishes fared better.

What I truly appreciate about these humble Thai eateries is the amazing hospitality which is 2nd nature to these wonderful folks. There is always a large and often unlimited supply of complimentary ice and water, which we thirsty camels truly need. The people in this region are happy and family orientated and when we were about to leave, a little boy came out with his own bicycle wanting to join our ride. His parents wanted a picture of us with their Prince and we were only too glad to oblige. We wish that kind family all the very best.

It is always a challenge to ride with full stomachs and from the numerous stops we did, I wondered if we will ever get to Thung Wa before sunset. "20km before our next stop!" I urged but I knew this was wishful thinking as that was met with polite smiles with the "Yeah right!" expressions. As we set off, we were punished for our relaxed attitude by some serious headwinds and moderate climbs. At about the 10km mark, we waved the white flag for yet another stop and George took this opportunity to grease his chain at a motorbike shop, hoping this would somehow miraculously make cycling a bit easier.

Continuing on, we finally reached the beautiful town of La Ngu, which was the last town before our destination. A quick stop for drinks and some Otak Otak got us revived. YC suggested we explore this town and that was a big mistake. Just 1 min on the saddle, we spotted a mango sticky rice stall on our right and I had to stop. This is my fav Thai dessert after all, and nobody complained. We laughed at ourselves as we truly are the Lovethefood Riders. It was enjoyable to chat with the elderly Muslim owner who spoke in beautiful English and both he and his young wife showered us with warm hospitality and sweet treats.

After we had umpteen servings, we pottered through the busy town lined with shops, a school and government buildings. Making a right towards Thung Wa, we were like a Boeing 777 just accelerating for take-off when heavy rains like enemy fire from above pelted us. We were forced to take evasive action and duck for cover to don our wet weather gear.

We braved the rains which mercifully, became lighter and it was good to find our momentum again. Unfortunately with all the drinks, our bladders were getting heavier and I spotted a petrol station with a cleanish toilet. This was a real blessing stop because most unexpectedly, opposite laid a rather upmarket bicycle shop, Keem Bikes!  Like kids in a candy store, we all trooped in to ogle at its tempting offerings. The young sales lady with her baby was overwhelmed by us smelly, smiley folks on small wheels. This shop was started by a cyclist with good taste as demonstrated by his choice of personal bicycles. A fully kitted Surly LHT as well as stylish Brompton in the corner of the shop. It was nice of the kind lady to lend us her foot pump and we all filled our tires to optimum pressures, something a hand pump struggles to achieve.

Our last 20km or so felt so much better with harder easy rolling tires. We whizzed into Thung Wa through intermittent rain and this small town was a big disappointment compared to La Ngu. Most of the few shops were closed except for the 7-11 near the market but it made sense to stop here strategically as it laid exactly midway between Satun and Trang, 75km each way. While the team re-grouped, I rode off to explore dinner options and the choices were grim. A nice lady recommended us to go to a restaurant 500m south of Thung Wa and it was more than acceptable. The staff welcomed us warmly and as we were getting seated, an unexpected full blown monsoon occured. That got us scurrying further inside and we were led to a Blue Room where it was most comfortable, especially when Papa took out his Creative Boom Box to fill the room with good music. 

I was in a bit of a dilema as we had booked another hotel some 4km out of town. With the monsoon and darkness upon us, nobody felt like doing any more riding. Fortunately, the restaurant owner also ran the Captain's Resort, an abode for Officers and Gentlemen we would hope. A quick recce with Claudine and Lance proved successful and we negotiated a very special rate of 350B only. But what was I to do with my initial booking? A quick call to Prim my uni-mate in Bangkok sorted the problem. The kind owners said we could cancel the booking with no penalties. I felt so bad about this but once again, deeply touched by the kindness of the Thai people.

It was a mere 200m to ride into Captain's Resort, located along a dirt road behind the highway. The secluded location served an amorous purpose, that of being a "love hotel" condoms included. But we didn't care one bit. With basic but clean, functional rooms, we were truly blessed once again by He who looks after us so well. The owner too very thoughtfully provided a coffee and tea stand outside VT and Claudine's room, remembering a request made earlier.

The free Wifi which was working upon inspection was strangely out of action when we checked in after dinner but nobody complained as we were all dead tired. Sleep came easily for most of us. It was another wonderful day of cycling and eating, or is it the other way round, despite the rain. Hopefully, the weather tomorrow will be better but it does not really matter as we are the all weather Lovethefood Interceptors!

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