Michael talks about swapping his Europe cycle adventure with the wonderfully exotic, 40mg culturally rich and mindbogglingly fun cycle tour with SpiceRoads.
Asia has always been an interesting and appealing travel destination but when it comes to cycling I have always been a Europhile. Europe, from an America perspective, represented the holy land of cycling. After completing the Bangkok to Phuket tour, I now realize how parochial and narrow minded I had been. By any measure – food, history, roads, terrain, or weather- Thailand is now my new standard.
Since returning to the US, I have had difficulty explaining to people what a great trip it was because I start with a topic such as the incredible food, switch to the wonderful SpiceRoads team, rave about the roads, describe the amazing temples, and start talking about my next trip in a stream of consciousness fashion that sounds a little like babbling. My first clue to how good the trip was going to be came at dinner on the first day when over a delicious Thai meal I learned that all but three of the group had been on a trip with SpiceRoads previously. Of the 15 riders, six had been on the Bangkok-Phuket tour previously and were doing it a second or third time because it was such “a lovely ride”.
They were right. It was a lovely ride through beautiful and varied terrain. One of my favourite days was riding from Hua Hin towards Sam Roi Yot National Park. We rode below towering peaks of limestone then along the beach to Prachuap Khiri Khan. I have no idea if there are really 300 peaks in the park and I was too in awe of the landscape to even think about counting. Another favorite day was riding across the Isthmus of Kra from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea. Along the way we stopped to look across the border into Burma. I can now say that I rode from sea to sea all the way across Thailand in a single day.
The people we met along the way were great. Small children would shout “Hello!” from the roadside. Their faces revealed absolute delight when we answered “Hello!” I imagined them saying to their nearby mothers, “See! I can speak English”. Drivers often waved as they passed. Riding out of Ranong a small group cheered us as if we where Tour de France riders coming through town. The famous Thai smile is not a marketing slogan invited by some Bangkok advertising firm. The smiles and warm welcomes that greeted us on the road and at every stop were genuine.
Aum and Bottle, our Thai cycling guides, ordered multiple dishes for us to share at each lunch and dinner giving us a chance to sample the many delights of Thai cooking. Traveling by bicycle meant that we stopped at many small cafes and restaurants which would normally be overlooked by tourists. One of my favorites was a café in Takua Pa that served iced coffee. The iced coffee was the best I have tasted. I drank a second glass to confirm that my initial opinion was correct. I can now report that Thai food is better when eaten in Thailand.
Thailand was never colonized by Western nations. You can see this in the wonderful architecture of the temples and other structures which are totally absent of Western influences. Buddha’s watched over many areas as we bicycled through giving a sense of serenity as we moved towards Phuket. This was especially true when we stopped at the Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Park. Words cannot adequately convey the emotions of visiting the park. The design and structure of the park conveyed a sense of sadness, remembrance and respect for the more than 4,000 people who died in the Khao Lak area.
I could say much more about the tour but the best way to appreciate what a “lovely ride” it is from Bangkok to Phuket is to take the trip yourself. It is within the physical capabilities of most recreational riders. I am returning in October 2016 but not to Phuket. Several of my fellow riders raved about the Northern Thailand and the Chiang Mai to Bangkok tours. I have made my reservation for the Chiang Mai trip. I still love Europe but Thailand is now my new destination for international cycling vacations.