Sunday, July 30, 2017

Joyful Anticipation

They say that one of the best parts of an adventure actually is not the trip per se, but the waiting for it to happen. Next week, 11 of us will embark on a similar ride adventure which I did 6 years ago in 2011, where we rode 230km along the Mekong River from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan.  We hail from Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.

The planning of this trip began as early as last Dec, some 8 months ago and all reservations and transportation arrangements have been stitched up. The choice to cycle in August is questionable as it is the rainy season. However, I much prefer the cool intermittent rains to the hot blazing sun which gives me a migraine literally.

This stretch of the Mekong is particularly beautiful because most of the route hugs along the mighty Mekong River and opposite, is Laos. It is relatively flat and passes through green rice fields  one one side and the river on the other side. Cruising past quaint small towns are special too as they are relatively tourist free which is good, as I prefer to be far far away from the maddening crowd if possible.

The difference this time is that we shall be taking the brand new train from Bangkok to Nong Khai. We flew there last time. There is a certain romance about travelling by overnight train and Thai Railways recently commissioned impressive China made carriages. Our good friend Prim in Bangkok helped us booked fully appointed luxury First Class cabins and we are so excited. It took a lot of effort to get these tickets as they are opened for booking only 2 months in advance and gets snapped up rather quickly.

Do check the amazing new trains of the Thai Railways!

We shall also be crossing the river through the Friendship Bridge into Laos and spending a night in the romantic French colonial capital city of Vientiane. Most likely, we shall be taking the train for this 10 min journey from Thailand to Laos as bicycles are generally not allowed through the bridge, not with 11 of us at least. I have ridden across with 2 people but as far as I know, it's a touch and go affair.

The missus and I will be using Bike Fridays, she the very fast Pocket Sport and I, my trusty touring Tikit with the new Ergotech Space handlebar. I shall be travelling light using only the Topeak Saddle Bag. As this trip requires multi-modal travelling, all 11 of us will be on foldies -3 BFs , 2 KHS, 1 Brompton, 3 Terns and 2 Dahons. As the roads are relatively smooth, 16" foldies are actually the best choice especially when travelling with bikes are involved.

One of the lessons learned from the last trip riding in the rain is that mudguards are very essential if you don't want 5 days of rear wheel spray of sand and muck up your back. Also, a Da Brim helmet visor with shower cap is very helpful as it helps for visibility in the rain.

As for ponchos and rain coats, I have found that the best wet weather gear is just getting wet. A good rain coat is just too hot and sweaty.  I would bring a highly visible light outer layer just for warmth and safety. For footwear, the best is not socks and shoes but rather, the humble crocs. Make sure it has toe coverings for safety though. 

Our hotels are a mix of 2-3 stars but they are all chosen for some special and unique features. The costs average about 800B, slightly more in the bigger and touristy towns. Food in Thailand is a given as they are so delicious and it is hard to go wrong with any Thai dish but this region is Isaan and the food here is especially aroy mak mak!

Of course one key plus of any adventure through Thailand is the Thai Traditional Massage - where every kink and fibre of your body will be stretch, pressed or cracked. This is like the art of appreciating Kimchi - the first few times can be rather unpleasant but after a while, it is sweet! $8 or 200Baht for an hour of "bliss".

Taiwoon, co-founder of LCSG going through the Thai torture rack!

So it is still a week before we go and the anticipation is killing me. Still quite a few things to do, packing the bike, panniers, tools, changing money, etc but the thought of riding through this beautiful strip of Thailand with great mates on our machineries of joy truly is what makes the life God gives us worth living!

Check out this musical video as it beautifully captures a bit of our joy...    

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Abang Adek Adventure to Songkhla, Thailand - Final Day

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

This morning it was KC's turn to wake up early and go for a dawn walkabout while I was enjoying a longer than usual snooze, all tucked in. We didn't have to rush as the agenda was to get back to Hat Yai to Tyro Bike, an easy 34km away at 10am and we gave ourselves 2 hours for this.

For those who know me, I do not like repeats especially in my meals and hence, yesterday's decent breakfast at Club Tree became somewhat boring as it was almost the same today.  I didn't eat very much but enjoyed my Kao Tom (pork porridge) and I wish I wasn't fussy seeing how KC was enjoying himself.

That said, it was hard to leave this beautiful hotel especially to say goodbye to my new rather stiff friend, Ginger the dog. I have the feeling he will be in the same position for many years to come.

Continuing on the tradition of not wanting repeats as far as possible, we rode out of Songkhla a longer but different way, this time through the Highway 407 passing by the airport and Thaksin University. At first I thought that this uni was named after the controversial PM Thaksin Shinawatra who was and still is very popular in the North but Thaksin simply means Southern. 

Traffic was surprisingly quite heavy in town and many policemen were stationed to manage it. Surprisingly when one considers Songkhla a rather small town. We had to wait for ages at this lights and look at the queue behind me!

The ride down Highway 407 is flat as a pancake and offers a nice wide shoulder for cyclists. I believe this is a great beginner's tour as the 30+km distance is very manageable, traffic is light and no hills.

After about 16km, it was time for a little break and my eye caught sign of the famous yellow Shell station. We enjoyed a beautiful cafe yesterday at a Shell station and bingo, there was one too in front of our eyes. It seems to be a trend to put beautiful cafes in Shell stations and that can only be a good thing. Coffee De'Sunrise was not as flash as yesterday's but still, very nice. 

The interior was decorated with bright colours and I wanted to plonk myself on the nice red sofa except that with all my sweat and grime, it just would not be good manners and a wee bit inconsiderate! We settled for normal chairs, much to the relief of the counter staff, and enjoyed a lovely cuppa of Cha Ron. An added bonus was the addition of a pot of Chinese tea a a chaser, and that was really a nice gesture.

It is always hard to get back on the saddle after too comfortable a break and this time, for reasons I cannot explain, it was hard to get back into rhythm. Perhaps it was going from cold aircon back to the dense humidity, or a stomach full of liquids, or that I simply didn't want the adventure to end so quickly. But I believe that God always knows me intimately and as I was huffing and puffing, a big yellow tractor came from nowhere and overtook KC and I!  Immediately like a wild dog, I gave chase. It was hard as I was cruising at about 18-20km/h and the tractor was at least 30km/h and a bit more.

KC tried to whisk out his camera and as he did so, he was too far behind to catch him but at least he got a shot. As for me, I found new legs and pedaled furiously and managed to finally catch up. Once behind the tractor, it was so easy as the huge vehicle blocked off all wind and cycling at 30km/h felt like 18km/h. As I enjoyed the blessing of drafting, poor KC was no where in sight. I must have got a free ride for at least 3-4km until Abang Besar decided to turn off. 

Pic KC

It seemed ages as I pulled back and crawled before KC appeared, all jolly and well as he always was. By this time, we were nearly at the turn-off from Highway 407 and we made a left turn and cycled into Hat Yai through the smaller country roads, which is always the better choice for so many reasons. 

The quieter roads were literally a breath of fresh air as traffic was nearly non existent. Gliding through villages and minor roads, it was wonderful to see how the locals lived. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Hat Yai proper and arrived at Tyro Bike 5 mins before schedule.

Pic KC

It was great to be the first customers and we were received warmly, even given 2 cold drinks. They were expecting us - 2 mad cyclists all the way from Singapore to collect 6 handlebars. But then again, these were not just ordinary handlebars but German designed Ergotech Space bars, a sort of riser touring bars. 

Tyro is not just a bicycle shop but a bicycle lifestyle shop, filled with all sorts of goodies that easily fulfills Madonna's call to,  "Express yourself"... 

KC took the opportunity to check out all the latest fashion gear and decided that this bag would best express himself, style wise!

We took this opportunity to do a mini-service of our Fridays where my RD needed some adjustments and KC's Llama needed a rear hub service. I decided too to get my brand new Ergotec bar fitted on my Tikit in Tyro's most professional aircon workshop.

While that was being done, I got out of my smelly clothes and had a shower in their bike friendly facilities. How many bike shops do you know have shower facilities? Tyro Bike really rocks!

I managed to take the Tikit with the brand new Space bar out for a test run and first impressions are very good. The stability seems to improve and I was able to cycle hands free. The riding position is also more upright which can be a good thing while touring but I will test it further in the upcoming Mekong Ride Adventure in August. Meanwhile, KC took it for a spin and liked it in an uppity sort of way.

It was great of Tyro to provide me with a Dahon bike box so that I could pack my Tikit in, ready for my 230pm flight to Singapore. One advantage of travelling with the Tikit is that it is so easy to prepare for travel, with very little parts to dissemble. I only needed to remove the handlebar and that was all! The other Ergotech bars could also fit in as there were tonnes of room.

Lunch was a simple affair near Tyro and just rice and egg. 2 of those with drinks costs only 100B, a new record low. It was wonderful too that I managed to meet up with Khun Antz, the owner of Tyro who is a remarkable young lady with a flair for design. She rides a Dahon Boardwalk Anniversary model among many many other bikes. The perks of owning a bike shop!

The lovely staff of Tyro arranged a taxi for me to go to the airport for only 250B and I was pleasantly pleased to be picked up in a brand new Toyota Prius Hybrid, a most green vehicle. Turned out the taxi driver was also a cyclist, a MTB to be precise and we got along very well.

Checking in the small bike box was easy enough and when I arrived at Changi, I expected the box to pop out at the odd-size luggage. However, it came out on the regular belt and that goes to prove how easy it is to travel with a foldy.

It was good to be back in Singapore and my mission had officially ended. However, KC's adventure part 2 continued where he rode from Hat Yai to Satun the next day, ferried to Langkawi to meet our friend, Sandra Loh, author of Peddling around the Peninsula, then off to Penang, Malacca and as I write this blog post, KC had just returned from his adventure.

Thank you for following Abang and Adek and we hope it inspired you to pay a visit to Songkhla, a most beautiful destination.

Pic KC

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Abang Adek Adventure to Songkhla, Thailand - Day 2

Chiang Mai style city walls in Songkhla.

Pic borrowed from -

Pic - A Ragunathan

I don't usually wake up before the sunrise but somehow today, I did. Perhaps its that sense of excitement of a brand new day given to us, and the promises it hold. While KC was still in dream land, I quietly sneaked downstairs, made myself a Mocha at the hotel recep complimentary coffee machine, and went out for a sticky beak. I sat at the front lawn, with the brightening sky, enjoying my hot drink observing the many activities before my eyes in the cool morning air.

The street in front of Club Tree was already buzzing with shops opening as well as street stalls doing breakfast. It was great to see a few cyclists doing their morning rides too. But what caught my eye is the morning ritual of offering food to monks. This ritual is called Tak Bat where people perform their good deeds by giving to the monks the best food. In exchange, they receive a blessing from the monks.

Breakfast was taken at a most beautiful wing of the hotel, which was so Euro in it's furnishings. I expected to be served a grand Western breakfasts of oats, bacon and eggs, etc but it was to be a Thai affair, which was quite good too. KC was fascinated with a Great Dane replica and so was I as it looked really life like.

Our first port of call was the National Museum of Songkhla which was an easy 1.5km away. However, we got distracted when we passed by Songkhla Cycles, a bike shop specialising in road bikes. They were fascinated with our small wheeled Fridays and one customer came out to take a closer look.

The magnificent National Museum was the home of the Governor built in 1878 and looks like something straight out of China with its beautiful Oriental architecture. Unfortunately, this 100+ year old attraction was under renovation and we could not go inside though we were welcome to explore the grounds and its exhibits. 

Pic fm Trip Advisor

It was very well kept and informative, describing the busy trading city Songkhla was then, with a milieu of Western and Eastern influences on Thai culture. The turn of the century must have been such an exciting time with the introduction of the bicycle first, then motorised transportation. KC was amazing in his knowledge when he identified correctly a rusted out Puch French moped.

It was also interesting to see a section on the Japanese invasion of South Thailand in WW2 where the Thais fought bravely to repel the mighty Japanese Army until a truce was called.  A sign reads, "The phenomenen of Japanese attacked Songkhla during WW2 still ungers in its people's memory to this day".

Our next destination was the 16th Prime Minister's house - General Prem Thinsulanoda who was best known for negotiating with the Communist Party of Thailand successfully. His house is surprisingly very simple for such an important person and kept spotlessly clean by a friendly housekeeper.

Songkhla is one of the few cities in the world that has 2 coastlines on each side of the city on a peninsula and we headed toward the north western Samila Beach. The aim was to see the famous Golden Mermaid . It was very nice to be cycling along the coast with brand new paved roads and we noticed many new shops and cafes sprouting out. One that stopped me in my tracks is Coffee Beach. With the promise of cool aircon and gourmet coffees, we pulled in instinctively, like bees to honey.

We ordered our drinks and a basket of fries which came in a generous portion. That coupled with cold aircon, powerful wifi, cosy surroundings, great 70s music, we were glued to our seats. When it was time to "check bin", the bill came to only 160B or S$6.50! Songkhla is getting more and more attractive each day...

When we arrived at the 51yo Golden Mermaid, it was thronged with tourists all wanting to take a photo so we had to queue obediently like sheep under the hot sun. KC decided to give the mermaid a little freshen up with a garland of flowers around her head, so that she will be more "appropriately dressed" when taking a photo with "atas" company - Abang andAdek.

Our next point of interest was Tang Kuan Hill, less than 1km from the Mermaid. This is a popular scenic spot where a lift takes you to the top of the hill for a bird's eye view of Songkhla. 

There is a shrine on top as well as a 100 year old lighthouse. I was hoping that it would be cooler up there but that wasn't to be so as the blanket of humidity still pervaded. Here, many have pledged their love for each other as can be seen by the many rusted locks.

It was then time to stop playing tourist and to switch gears to being tourers. We decided to do the Ko Lo Loop anti-clockwise since we were here and this is a very scenic route requiring a ferry ride, passing through fishing villages, crossing 2 very long bridges and all in, a decent 25km. 

Using the ferry was easy enough. I thought we had to pay but the staff just waved me on... Perhaps bicycles go free and that is a great start. Cars had to board the ferry first, then motorcycles and bicycles. 

The ferry across the sea took a mere 10 mins and I always love being on the water. We passed by a Thai naval ship docked on the side with its impressive guns. Other ferries were busy going up and down while fishermen were casting their nets oblivious to time.

Cars were the first to leave the ferry, then motorcycles, last were us and we turned left to skirt south on the island. This fishing village was very much like those in Malaysia with Malay Muslims all enjoying the idyllic life by the sea. One old man had a great collection of Myna birds and was very proud of them. We also rode passed a boat repair dock which KC pointed out Tg Pagar in Singapore used to look like that.

We also saw fields with cows and horses, as well as cemeteries which ironically, had huge round tombs of Chinese patriarchs. The folks were friendly enough but I don't think they get many bicycle visitors riding through this area.

We soon hit Highway 408 and turn left towards Songkhla town. The sun was really blazing at this time and I spotted a Shell station, which meant aircon mini-mart! But we strike gold this time as the owner built a beautiful designer modern cafe on the premise. Deli Cafe looks more Orchard Road Singapore than in the boon docks of Ko Yo and we wasted no time to enter the cool zone!

This cafe was so beautiful we could literally stay here and we knew we belonged here. Perched prominently on the wall was a bicycle picture extolling the virtues of the bicycle and we could not agree more! Trust the Thais to be so artistic.

We had to wrenched ourselves out to continue our ride in the afternoon heat and it was still a fair way to go back to our hotel. I was really missing my Da Brim sun shield at this time and applied extra sunscreen. Though the road shoulders were comfortably wide, traffic here traveled quite fast as this was the highway. Looking across the lake, we could see a small white building and reaching there would only be the half way point!

Tikit Adek the little brother set the pace and in the blistering sun, a blistering pace was called for. We cruise at a speedy 25km/h, topped at 30+km/h and covered ground in quick time. Still, stopping for pics was essential as this long bridge truly, is quite magnificent.

We finally arrived into Songkhla city drenched in sweat and as we rode past some stalls, one particularly one with the huge mangoes caused us to make a sudden U-turn.  After all, we absolutely cannot resist mango sticky rice! Upon closer inspection however, they were made of plastic and we both had a good laugh. We fell for cheap but effective marketing.

As we got into town earlier than expected, we went for a bit of a ride-about. Songkhla has fascinating shops if we keep our eyes peeled. I saw a Gun Smith and we stopped for a chat with the friendly owner who was sandpapering the wooden handle of a rifle. His wife and child were happy to see us and he kindly showed us an antique genuine Winchester rifle, the type used by cowboys in the Western movies which was passed down to him by his father. Needless to say, we were impressed!

A much needed shower and some aircon therapy at Club Tree Hotel got us ready for dinner. At that time, the rains came and that was much needed. Donning a rain coat, we cycled out to Fresh Baker restaurant. I've read that they do good authentic Thai food in an aircon and clean environment and we went there to find out.

We ordered a highly recommended curry fish dish with bamboo shoots and authentic Thai meant spicy - very spicy. Though both KC and I attacked it, we had to go through a couple of tissues as our noses were running. Fortunately the other dishes we ordered were mild. Still, we rated dinner at 8/10 and the mid-age waitress was very thoughtful to keep topping up our fire hyrdrants, I mean glasses.

Fresh Baker had lots of locals eating there and that is always a good sign. We waited for our dinner to settle and the fire to be put out before heading for the perfect place to end the long day - a Thai massage. This place looked like a clinic and run by an elderly Aunty. At 200B, and having to wait for our turn, we surely can't go wrong.  Both of us had a great Thai traditional massage where every fibre of our body was pressed, stretched or cracked.

We came out feeling brand new and still had the energy to go out to find dessert. This time we knew where to get our perfect type - bean curd with ginger syrup and that really helped to settle our stomachs.

It had been a long day and indeed a day well spent. Felt very grateful for a marvelous day. Songkhla truly is beautiful and though we covered many attractions, we had missed many as well. Which only means a return visit is in the pipeline. Anyone like to join us?

 I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.  Psalm 9:1