Friday, November 20, 2015

VSTR Day 5 - Trang to Pak Meng Beach 60km

Cycling Pak Meng Beach Thailand!

It was hard to say goodbye to the ever hospitable Jo of Yamawa Guesthouse and to the very quaint town of Trang. While waiting for the rest, we gave TLC on our foldies. The rains have taken its toll especially on the chain but a squirt of chain lube and all was good. After a group pic with Jo, we gathered to commit the day to the Lord and said a prayer of blessing for Jo and his family. It was still raining, and quite heavily that morning. But the plan was to catch the 11am train to Kantang and we were in no hurry. Riding through Trang town one last time, our long line of foldies made our way to the train station area and decided on a Malaysian style breakkie.

The Muslim eatery served Roti Chanai, which is somewhat like comfort food to us. The friendly ladies all covered up in their Hijabs are living reminders that this area used to belong to the Malay States some 200 years ago, and their culture is still strong. It was truly a laid back morning and we were entertained by Papa Mike when he demonstrated to us how he ordered an egg dish. Language barriers especially for food are easily overcome with this truly gifted brother and that got all of us cracking!

The covered ladies of course were enthralled by Papa's charm and I caught the fluttering eyes of one lady who probably harboured that secret dream of riding on the back of Papa's Dahon TR into the sunset.

Young Lance on the other hand set his eyes on more down to earth things - like a new pair of sandals. His old wet weather slippers had given up the ghost and he came back buzzing like a bumble bee - joining the FCC. Fake Crocs Club. The choice for the more sophisticated cyclists is often Kleen Sandals but they go all soggy in the wet despite their high price tags. For 5% of the price of a Kleen, you get a Made in Malaysia or Thailand 100% waterproof sandals that work well and comes with accented safety colours. Believe it or not, this I reckon is the best wet weather footwear.

A quick hop to Trang train station, I met the lovely officer who served me yesterday. I took out a princely sum of 50B or US$1.60 to pay for the fare to Kantung. This was for all TEN of us! I have come across great deals in my life but this truly is impossible to beat. However because we had bicycles with us and they needed to be in the Goods Carriage, we were ushered to another office. Here, we were slugged 900B for 10 bicycles and that quickly wiped off our gleeful smiles.

Unlike Japan, trains here are notorious for being late and we whirl the time away by playing games and celebrating Singapore's 50th National Day. I gave away face stickers and we had fun just posing with the Singapore flag, dutifully brought by a Malaysian and honorary Singapore citizen.

KC in his bid to now gain Thai PR, decided to put his engineering skills to good use to improve the aerodynamics of the train thus potentially saving millions of baht in fuel. The station master was most impressed and wanted a word with him but alas, we had to board as our train to Kantang finally arrived.

We chivalrous men all helped load the foldies onto the goods carriage and ensured that they were stacked properly. 10 bikes went in quickly and upon the approving nod of the train officer, who took this opportunity to molest our bikes, we clambered into our "au natural" 3rd class Carriage #3, singing away like children. The train did a long whistle signalling the start of the journey and soon we were on our way. Celia wore a big grin and when the wife is happy, all is well.

I always love train rides and it was exhilarating zooming through the Thai countryside on rails, wind in our faces. Papa brought along his boom box and provided some great music from yesteryear. It accompanied this ageing train perfectly. We were all in high spirits humming along. As this was the last leg of a long journey for the crew, clean up began and I was somewhat intrigued to see the cleaner wearing a T-shirt of my alma mata ACS, a school renown for producing the who's who in Singapore society. Perhaps he used to work there but whatever his story, we appreciated how hardworking he was in keeping the carriage clean for our comfort. 

As the train slowed down, we knew Kantang was approaching. Everyone was getting ready to disembark and we gathered our things in anticipation. My first impression was that the architecture of this wooden station was very interesting and painted in shades of yellow. It looked very well maintained considering this truly is the backwater of Thailand. 

There seemed to be a fair number of people who were waiting to board and Kantang was surprisingly bustling, at least at the train station. We spotted some Western tourists as well and perhaps, it is not as unknown as I thought.

We unloaded our foldies and once again, more hands made for less work. As we excited the station, what caught our eye was a lovely drink/gift shop with a bicycle hanging on its wall. Love Station, what an appropriate name indeed and we took a group pic here. Though we wanted to check it out more thoroughly, we had a long ride to Pak Mong Beach and had to get our wheels spinning for this 60km ride.

No sooner than 2 minutes of riding, we were hijacked by the sight of a Chicken Rice eatery. The chef looked like he was doing this for years, and he held a very sharp cleaver. So we obediently trooped in and fuelled up for our ride. It was truly an old school coffee shop with old school chicken rice that did not disappoint. With our bellies satisfied, we mounted our steeds with great effort and headed for the next transport surprise.

Riding through the quiet streets of Kantang, I noticed that most shops were closed but it could be because it was a Sunday. It took all of 5 mins to encircle the town and we found ourselves by the riverside. We had to get across and until the bridge is build, we had to do it the old fashion way via a car ferry. If we were elated with the 5B train ride, this ferry costs us 2B each! Claudine nearly fainted when she heard the fare. It was great fun riding onto the spacious ferry. Bicycles and motorcycles were neatly parked at the side while cars and trucks took the centre. 

The ferry ride ended in minutes as we crossed the murky brown waters of the river. Once across, the riding began. We had to cycle through small roads with very little traffic. As we made a left turn, I noticed Papa was missing so we stopped to regroup. Lo and behold, he appeared with an ice cream seller following him. Trust Papa to be a magnet for food sellers! We were all so glad and surrounded the ice cream man like hornets, looking at his offerings. I managed to get myself the top prize of a Magnum ice cream and that really was God's gift to us on this hot day.

With that sugar boost, we started to make tracks. Just as we were getting into the rhythm, signs tempting us to turn right to the Hot Springs beckon. Everyone was curious and wanted to check it out. I can understand enjoying these hot water offerings in colder countries, but here in the warm humid tropics, they are hard to appreciate at least for me.

We soon found ourselves all sitting around the hot springs pool, bare feet soaking up the minerals. At this stage, we must have cycled less than 20 km total and I was beginning to wonder if we are are on a Senior Citizen Outing with all the food and stops we have been enjoying. But hey, everyone is happy and that at the end of the day, is what a good tour adventure is all about.

If that was not decadent enough, George discovered that the Hot Springs Resort offered massages! We all felt guilty about going for that considering our lack of cycling today so far but one after another, we succumbed. After all, the Thai economy is going through a bad spot, and we had had to do our part as good tourists. On a hot and slow afternoon, a massage puts you straight to sleep and so it was to be. Those who didn't go for massages also went into horizontal meditation. 

As much as we love to take it easy, we had to make to Pak Mong Beach before sunset and so I had to gently wake everyone up and get the troop spinning again. Of course those like Claudine who was half daze did not appreciate the rich timbre of my classic bicycle bell and dragged herself back to the saddle. As we left the resort, the young staff got together and bid us farewell in unison. Such is the hospitality and niceness of the Thais which really made our day.

Pressing on after all the mucking around was challenging but we soon got into the rhythm of spinning. The road had a nicely defined bike lane on the side but we didn't need it as traffic was super light. A few rolling hills thrown in got everyone working hard. As this was the later part of the afternoon, the sun was not so hot and it was actually a very pleasant ride. However, there were headwinds thrown in at us but that was part of the challenge. Our hard work was rewarded when we took the opportunity to regroup at a hilltop cafe and had an upsize ice cold milk tea which was so refreshing.

At this point we were not far from the coastline and when that finally appeared, the beautiful sight of waves crashing, fresh sea breezes and islands ahead just lifted everyone's spirits. Pak Meng Beach! It was lovely to be riding along the Casuarina Trees on our right with the sea on our left and this is what touring is all about. 

We stopped quite a few times to take photos of this beautiful area and just enjoyed a slow and easy pace. When we came to a Sea Cow or Dugong Monument, it was appropriate to take a group pic. Seeing how the folks were clowning around and still so energetic made me wonder if I should have planned for a longer day ride. But 60km or so is a very relaxed pace.

We passed by Papa's favourite seafood restaurant Yok Yor and he suggested pre-ordering the food for dinner. With Papa on board, the food is always wonderful! The rest of us made our way some 3 km further to Sai Thong Resort where we checked into our airconditioned villas and had a much needed shower. As much as I admire people who like to camp on a tour, in my books nothing beats a cold room and a hot shower at the end of the day.

The seafood dinner was superb as expected and at a most reasonable price too. For all that we ate, it worked out to be just around US$10 per person. We called this our Singapore National Day Celebration Dinner!

But what really caught my eye was the spectacular red orange sunset that was a real time colourful performance put up by our Creator, an affirmation perhaps of his great love for all of us. I was blown away and spend my time just gawking in awe of the beauty before me.

We ended our day in an upmarket aircon Cafe near our hotel, reminiscing about the amazing trip we enjoyed today - on a train, ferry, hot spring, mid-day massages, awesome food, spectacular scenery and though all these were important, it is always the camaraderie that truly makes the difference. 

O yes, and Happy 50th Birthday Singapore too!

Team Lovethefold on a 5 Baht train to Kantung!

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