Thursday, December 29, 2016

SRT Day 3 - Satun to Hatyai. 100km, coast to coast of Southern Thailand.

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Pic KC

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Pic KC

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Crossing state borders!

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Pic Berenda

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Pic KC

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Pic KC

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Pic KC

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Pic KC

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Friendly Thai Policeman who chatted with me at the lights!  Pic KC

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Spacious room at Colour Hotel, Hat Yai. 1300B per night only.

This must be one of the most relaxing LTF Adventures ever as today, the serious cycle begins only on Day 3. Not that anyone was complaining, but sometimes, we just have to learn to go with the flow. We asked for an early 7am breakfast and Gleam Resort was very forward thinking, taking our orders the night before. All the others ordered American Breakfast, while Christoph and I settled for Kao Thom or rice porridge.

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Somehow, I have always had my doubts about in-house breakfasts as compared to eating outside esp in Thailand where the choice is aplenty. But since it was part of the package and as we needed to start early, we were grateful for this arrangement. Everyone was punctual at the table and we fueled up for the long ride ahead. After loading our bicycles and taking some farewell pics with the staff, we were finally on our way!

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Pic KC

We headed along 406 and the cool morning helped us to spin at a very good pace. We took turns to lead and it was great fun to be on the saddle once again. Starting off fresh, we covered ground pretty quickly. The Bike Fridays were leading the charge with Berenda on her Brompton and we found ourselves having to slow down for the rest to catch up. Riding in a group meant staying together and we took some time to find a pace that was comfortable for all - which was about 22km/h.

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After about just over an hour, we made a drink stop at a small town where we were supposed to be just drinking. However, there was a banana pancake stall and we couldn't resist the sweet dessert that went very well with our morning tea.

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There were other temptations as well, glutenous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves but we were still pretty full from breakfast. The friendly locals were no different from Muslim Malaysians culturally as this area used to belong to Malaysia before the British ceded N Malaya to Thailand under the Anglo Siam Treaty of 1909. Thus, they could speak some Bahasa Melayu instead of Thai, a language that I am familiar with.

We jumped on our saddle and pedaled off once again and this time, there was a very slight climbing gradient as well as headwinds. This coupled with the late morning sun meant that we had to work harder on the cranks and we automatically went into drafting positions. This is where our small 16" wheels came into its element as it allowed us to cycle closer to the front bicycle, increasing our efficiency.

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Pic KC

We stopped again after 15km as I felt we needed to replace our fluids and Siew Yung expressed how glad she was that we stopped. We were in no hurry as we had the whole day to cover 100km and the key to touring is to enjoy the journey. The great thing about Thailand is the easy availability of ice cold drinks everywhere and truly, from Satun in the South all the way to Chiang Rai in the North, they are everywhere. On our 3rd phase, the plan was to take an early right turn into Highway 4287 but an even better plan was to tun right even earlier so that we can enjoy quiet country roads that linked up eventually. That was 25km ahead.

It was just about lunch time and our radars were switched on to look out for eateries. For some reason, this being in the thick of the boon docks, we could not find a suitable place to eat. Drinks yes, but no clanging hot wok. So we just continued on feeling weary as the kilometers pass by, wondering if something suitable would pop up. Somehow, nothing! We kept on going with our batteries fading really fast. Discouragement was felt especially in our stomachs but I knew something good will happen. It always does!

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We hit the jackpot when YC spotted a Coca Cola signed across the other side of the road. He went over to check it out and yes, there a guy who spoke Chinese ran this eatery and served freshly cooked food! We were so happy and sometimes, the pleasure is greater when we are made to wait a bit longer. And yes, there was a flaming wok as well with fresh eggs!  I ordered fried rice but somehow, it took a long time coming.

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Somehow, this place was a favourite for people to phone in advance for takeaways and we ended up waiting quite a bit for our food. Some of us took the opportunity to pump up our tires and to check our bikes.

It was interesting to over hear Siew Yung and Berenda discuss passionately about the type of bike pump they carry and the pros/cons of each. Indeed, newbies these 2 seasoned tourers certainly aren't.

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When our food finally came, we gobbled our very late lunch down like we have not eaten for days! Conversations were non existent save for the sound of chomping and clanging utensils. Free unlimited ice water was aplenty and this is always complimentary. I really love this aspect of Thai hospitality! With our bellies full, it was hard to continue but we had a mere 30km to go after this and the kind owner pointed us to a small road saying, this is the way to Hat Yai.

Little did we know that we have actually stumbled upon the quieter side road that we wanted to take and call it co-incidence, good luck or divine blessing (I prefer the last), we were all excited and fired up again. How God leads us on each trip to me personally is very humbling!

This country road we took was absolutely beautiful as we rode with almost zero traffic through small villages and rubber plantations. We could ride 2 abreast with no issue and it was fun just having lively conversations and I enjoyed some BFF moments.

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Pic KC

Ying Chang navigated us skillfully through all the back roads and we enjoyed taking sharp corners like we were in a motor GP as we barreled down these roads with vigor and adrenaline with not a car in sight!

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The back roads soon led to Highway 4287 and it had been an easy 10km but since we were so well ahead of schedule, we decided to break again as we didn't have our teas/coffees after lunch. We managed to spot a small stall selling fried bananas, fried sweet potatoes as well as fried mushrooms. What was supposed to be a mere coffee stop ending up a feasting stop and we ate in honour of VT and Claudine, who could not make this trip and who love these delicacies!

Turned out that this was the best Cha Ron (hot milk tea) that I've had and one look at the rich, deep and robust color says it all!

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Pic KC

The predication of the weather forecast for rains finally came true and we were all huddled under a bamboo atap hut. The heavens opened and we shifted our bicycles under the shelter of a dress shop that was closed. 

We must have waited for at least an hour and it was tempting to see the many empty Song Thews (passenger pick up trucks) stop at the stall to buy their afternoon tea. We wondered more than once, if we should just hop on all the way for an easy ride to Hat Yai for a a couple of bahts. After all, the wet roads were no fun to ride on and our bikes will be so dirty. But there was no honour in this!

The easing rains made the decision for us and we cracked the whip and got going. We waterproof our gear, put on our lights, and off we went. Riding in the rain was actually quite fun and very cool. Lovely to hear the spinning of wheels sometimes splashing over puddles. For some reason, the team went at break neck speeds and I started falling behind. Strangely, I had trouble keeping awake and this was despite the caffeine laced tea I had.  It was ever so kind of Ying Chang to keep me company and I caught up with the rest when they got stuck at the traffic lights.

Traffic was certainly much much heavier and with some trucks zooming pass us, it was quite unnerving at times. We try to avoid cycling on highways as much as possible but this was something that we could not avoid. 

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10km before Hat Yai, we spotted a lovely sign that beckon us to stop and enter. Like bees to honey, we had had to stop to check it out. Here at the restaurant of Pang Mai Resort, though they only served drinks at this time, we could enjoy cold beer and other drinks. The girls managed to get some jelly desserts and that really perked them up.

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Pic KC

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Pic Berenda

The last stretch into Hat Yai was not something I looked forward to as the roads started to clog up with the evening traffic. Hat Yai after all, is Thailand's 3rd largest city after Bangkok and Chiang Mai. 

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Fortunately, they have bicycle lanes and that was truly appreciated. Though insignificant to many road users, the blue line defines for us cyclists the difference between a safe zone and the danger zone. At least that's the intention.

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But as we entered the city, the blue lines meant nothing! With cars and other vehicles pouring into "our" lane.

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Pic KC

It was once again Chief Navigator Ying Chang's privilege to lead us to our hotel and due to a mistake by Google Maps, we ended up at the impressive railway station after battling the traffic. The rains were coming down as well and that made for a challenge. Fortunately, the Colour Hotel in which we were booked was just round the corner and we finally found it!

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Pic KC

As I was busy checking everyone in, KC noticed a hose at the car park entrance and that was most helpful to give our grimy bicycles a much needed wash. 

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I was most touched when KC after washing his bike, continued to supervise the washing of other bikes and actually washed my Bike Friday Tikit! The care and consideration shown daily among the LTF Team truly is what makes our adventures so fun and memorable.

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Talk about washing, we had our much needed shower and did our laundry. To our amazement, our clothes from all the road dirt were truly filthy and the laundry water was as brown as Cha Ron. This is the state of the water after the 2nd rinse! After our chores, we all met down at the lobby for dinner.

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It so happened that the #2 restaurant in Hat Yai was just a stone's throw away from the Colour Hotel and our meal at Kan Eng Restaurant was the best meal in our entire trip! This was despite the amazing meals we have enjoyed.

The restaurant was packed but we managed to squeeze in a table. An unexpected blackout did not deter the diners and made it o so romantic!

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Though we parked and locked our bicycles outside, Siew Yung with her most compact Brompton brought into the restaurant and stealthly parked in under our table. Urban cycling truly is the Brompton's forte!

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The meal was unforgettable as we ordered all our favourites! Pork in curry, fried Whitings, Green Curry Chicken, Mixed Vegs, Thai fish cakes, Claypot Tofu, Tom Yam soup and truly, this was a feast to remember.

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After dinner we all had a foot massage at the shop next door and boy, was it a real treat. So fun to have all 6 of us lined up having a chat and a laugh while being pampered! At 200B or S$8 per hour, it was such good value and with so many massage shops around, prices are kept low.

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The foot massage somehow provided a wee bit more space in our stomachs and we proceeded on for some desserts. The Thai stall was selling all sorts of goodies including Bird's Nest and we enjoyed those.

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Pic Berenda

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We retired happy, feeling very accomplished at the easy 101km we rode from Satun to Hat Yai. Some of the folks could not believe we rode all the way from the East on small wheels. The distance was made short by the excellent company and truly, I am very grateful to each one of my team for another amazing LTF adventure.

Berenda, Siew Yung, KC, Ying Chang and Christoph, my heartfelt thanks for giving me such sweet memories and I hope to ride with you guys again real soon!  Mekong anyone?

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