Day 30, tungtako to laem sai beach

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On the road again! We are back on coastal roads through coconut groves, and it is very scenic. Today is our last day of cycling along the Gulf of Thailand. Tomorrow we head inland toward the Andaman Sea.

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We hit a bit of road improvement work again today. Thailand is taking good care of its roads. Most were smooth today. And they are working on getting other parts like this improved!

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We believe this woman is gathering fronds and leaves, and drying them on the shoulder, to make brooms. The Thai people are very tidy, always sweeping!

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The Road Kill Club examined this snake today. Woody says this species is not poisonous to man as the cobra. The crows were snacking on it.

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Fish drying in someone’s side yard.

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Over a bridge we came to this quaint fishing area. This man pulled his boat right up to his house!

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The fishing fleet had returned!

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Here the fish are being sorted by size and species, for sale nearby on the dock.

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Of course there is always the book keeper! You got to pay the man.

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We came across another macaque and his handler, working on retrieving coconuts from the crown of the trees, located by the side of the road.

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This monkey is nearly seven years old and nearing retirement. Up the tree he went!

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You can see him up in the tree. He knocked 6 coconuts off the tree with his feet, and the coconuts crashed to the ground below. Woody told us these macaques are bred and raised in captivity for this work. Not all of the young monkeys are appropriate for this work—not unlike dogs being chosen  and trained to work as aides to people! These coconuts are used for their milk and meat.

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Interesting flower at our morning coffee stop.

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Classic: classic coke, classic sign, classic bike!

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And here is the new classic: the TREK CheckPoint! But Rick needs to get new tires, as he has had five flats on this trip! He wins the prize for the most flats to date. And the roadsides and shoulders seem to be very clean, free of problems that could cause flats. So new tires it will be.

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A government bank ATM that did not work for two of  the couples! How can we spend money in Thailand if we can’t get more Baht?!

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These gals are weaving palm fronds into fishing traps to camouflage the traps to unsuspecting fish.

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Crazy driftwood/deadwood with bromeliads growing on it! Beautiful yet odd.

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Mr Rin prepares chilled coconut milk treats with just five cleaver moves!

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Barb and Tom are happy campers with their refreshing coconut water and meat!

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We did not see many temples today, but passed by this one being constructed.

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Here is a little roadside shrine for a monk who must have  really liked chickens!

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These spirits must really enjoy cherry pop! Every day treats are left at the family’s spirit house. There must be a bigger story here!

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We noticed several bigger houses that would fit right into the suburbs of Madison!

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Smaller but very nice.

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It is always fun when you ride through a village and the locals come out to meet you! The cattle are close to the road like this big boy, but are always tethered.

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This guy was using an interesting driving contraption to take coffee beans to the local buying station. Two miles down the road Rick saw him pull onto a scale at a co-op to weigh his load. Maybe if he sells enough beans he can buy a new vehicle!

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As we pulled into the hotel parking lot, Woody was there pointing out an ant nest up in the tree. This is the kind of nest we saw the woman working on yesterday. She pulls the nests down with long bamboo poles. The ant eggs go into soup with lots of herbs and interesting ingredients . . . perhaps to hide that you are eating ant eggs?!

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After 69 miles, it felt great to settle into our hotel. We are on the second floor, no elevators. The brand new hotel is U shaped, wrapped around a pool, with the ocean shore just 50 feet away!

. . .  and we had a GREAT happy hour, held right on the beach in front of our hotel.  80 degrees and a soft, onshore breeze . . . lovely!!!

. . . ‘love is in the air, I can feel it everywhere’ . . . did that sift seabreeze, a few  Leo beers and the warm temps lead to a wedding at the restaurant’s Honey Moon party for the RobHel’s . . . you will have to wait to find out!!!!

Day 31, laem sai beach to cheow larn lake

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Time to go! We met up outside our hotel for our usual 8:00 lift off. We were all excited for the day ahead that promised boats, Buddhas, and more.

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Our ride was along the coast early on, and we admired the kid’s bikes at this rental station.There were thousands to choose from! Even a pink bicycle with a side car!

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Ahhh…we breathed in the sea air for our last day on the Gulf.

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A tribute to the crab and its impact on the local economy.

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Kites for sale!

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The prawn business continues to prosper for many!

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Many areas had been planted to rubber tree plantations. With prices so low and China now producing its own, Thai farmers are converting their plantations to other crops.

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New crop going in. But what is it?!

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After a scenic, brisk 43 mile ride, it was time for Buddha! We piled into the vans and drove to a cave and sinkhole system that has been a temple for hundreds of years. Wat Thamsingkorn is known for its statues, paintings, and for a footprint attributed to Lord Buddha.

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We are trying to learn the significance of the various hand positions!

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This creature welcomed visitors to the entrance of the cave. Come on in!

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Cave entrance. There were very old paintings on the ceiling above us.

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Most of these Buddhas had little jars of something on their laps.

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Going up the stairways inside the cave, hoping the power didn’t go out….

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Dramatic sinkhole! And we were in it!

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Getting out was as much an adventure as getting in to the cave. We walked on over 1,000 little steps and stairways, up and down, and over a log like you see here!

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As we left the cave grounds we noticed this shrine to… roosters? puppies? piglets? A mix of the animal kingdom anyway!

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This must have been a very important tree!

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Spice Roads staff guided us into this tidy, neat airconditioned restaurant…

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Where we made a mess of things in short order! Another yummy lunch that made us crave dairy products to cool the heat in our mouths!

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On to our next adventure. We vanned for another hour which took us to the southwest, to the center of the peninsula. A rugged forested area was dammed about 30 years ago. According to Woody, Thailand has limited freshwater resources. This reservoir provides was for a variety of uses, and also produces hydropower. A growing use of the area is for tourism. Here we wait for our boat to go across the lake to our lodging for the night.

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Thai longboats waiting for passengers!

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We all boarded this one,carrying our overnight backpacks. Like we are going to summer camp for adults!

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This map depicts the reservoir and all the lodging that has been built here. We entered our boat near the Ratchaprapha Dam in the lower right. We had a long scenic ride to the location noted by arrow on the left. Lodging is typically the floating type, on little houseboats. We heard a story of a previous group that stayed at an older, government built floating lodge…and one of the lodges sank! In the past they were on bamboo floats, and now they are sturdier aluminum.

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It was an interesting boat ride…

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…but it was LOUD! Greg used an app to show us the decibel level. Happily we had been instructed to bring hearing protection!

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About 30 minutes into our ride, our friendly captain pulled up to another boat …

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… and we got a new captain!

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This is a limestone area, and the jagged hilltops are now dramatic islands.

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We boated through some scenic areas on the way. Like the Wisconsin Dells!

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And here we are, pulling up to Phupha Waree Floating House village!

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We all had our own little house boat moored solidly to the walkway.

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Sweet!

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Dreamy!

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View from our houseboat, no kidding!

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We jumped off our little docks and into the comfortable water for swimming and paddlesports.

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Then it was happy hour which we hold daily at 6:00 p.m. We relaxed on the astroturf of the boat landing zone!

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Like young people everywhere, the staff working here were super connected through their mobile devices.

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Happy hour and internet connectivity discussions.

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A lovely waxing moon came out…followed by a multitude of stars..

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We consumed a lot of beer! Greg gave a short lecture on acoustics and sound abatement, related to our noisy boat ride. Great to have knowledgeable engineers in the group! Of course that might be why we needed so much beer!

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Dinner was another treasure trove of local delights, including fresh sauteed greens, and delicious local fish. They got the memo about spiciness and no mouths burned tonight.

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After a great happy hour and full dinner, we returned to our little floating bungalows to sleep the night gently rocked by the lake waves.

Day 32, cheow larn lake to khao sok

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We awoke from our little houseboat to this beautiful sight.

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All these fish were just off the dock. You can buy snacks for them and feed them. Dinner tonight?!

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It was a big time for all of us out at the floating hotel. The stars in the sky during the night were VERY, VERY bright!! You can see our little hacienda, above, complete with kayak tethered out the front door!!!

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By 9:00 we were leaving our little hideaway on the lake and headed back to the other side. It is a 15 mile ride across the lake. Still noisy!

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We learned a bit more about the project to dam this river and natural area 30-some years ago. The federal agencies worked to both identify species that would be affected by the dam, and worked to move some of them. Still, many animals perished as formerly connected landscapes became islands in a big lake. One leading wildlife biologist and forest manager working on the project actually took his own life when he saw the impact of the dam on the native wildlife. Today, one could argue that even more species are lost due to illegal hunting and habitat loss than were lost by the reservoir project. Tough balances between man and nature.

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The karst topography is breathtaking.

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Today’s flocks of tourists were on the way out in longboats as we were headed back to reality!

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Happily, we were vanned out of some steep and busy areas to our starting point. Here is the mighty dam that created the lake.

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…brought to you by a major Thai power company. Bringing you happiness!

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We had a beautiful, winding route through the karst topography.

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…including a stop at a rubber plantation being tapped. Looks like Elmer’s Glue!

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Rick and Tom made friends with a group of women on holiday from Bangkok! This was at our coffee stop next to a suspension bridge over the river that flowed out from the reservoir.

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MJ gets scary in cat glasses. Stay away!!

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These sweet ladies made us delicious Thai iced tea and mochas.

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Some of the riders met this monkey and his handler today.

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The monkey twists the coconut just so to get it down.  See monkey business  movie here!

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Before we knew it we were stopping for lunch at the best barbecue place around!

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Then we proceeded for 20 miles through the spectacular landscape of Khao Sok National Park. Breathtaking! 300 million years ago, Khao Sok was part of a colossal coral reef that stretched from China to Borneo. Geological activity pushed the area upward, creating the towering limestone karst peaks the park is famous for.

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Our hotel for the night sits on a river. We have been warned not to feed the monkeys, and not to put anything on the porch! No windows open. Monkeys, stay out!!

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Fun towels folded like elephants greeted us.

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During happy hour, half of the group squeezed into the small kitchen of a local restaurant to learn the wisdom of Chef Pin. Here she is preparing ingredients for a papaya salad.

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She used a knife from her nice selection of knives!

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The girls of our group followed Chef Pin’s actions to create the recipe.

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The final product looks good, ladies!

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Chef Pin tastes the sauce, made of fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice.

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And she gave it a thumbs up! (Even though she thought it should be a bit sweeter.)

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Next Chef Pin demo’ed making the sweet chili paste that we have been enjoying all along on this trip. She only put one Thai chili pepper in the demo, noting that if she was making it for Thai customers, she would use 7 chilis!

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She chopped the ingredients and put them in a hot wok, cooking until it had thickened nicely.

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She used a dry wok with no oil, to help caramelize the ingredients and bring out the aromatics.

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All this demonstration by Chef Pin was underway while her staff were nearby, creating dinner for us and the other customers! These fried bananas went into our dessert of fried bananas in coconut milk. The Spice Roads team enjoyed a double happy hour and delicious dinner at the Misty River Resort Restaurant. Thank you, Chef Pin!!The owner of the resort is a former competitive bike racer in Thailand. So we fit right in.

Day 33, KHAO SOK to KHAO LOK

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Meet the king of the monkeys!

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Our day began with a visit to a temple that is populated by long tailed macaques.

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Some of our bikers offered the macaques peanuts and became good friends!

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There were lots of male and female adults and their little ones.

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We had a lovely ride today, continuing through Khao Sok National Park. The park, along with nearby reserves, protects the largest tract of high quality natural forest in south Thailand.  Over 285 sq. miles of habitat contains elephants, tigers, bears, monkeys, and over 188 bird species! There was a lovely ride today up and over a pass.

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Thailand has highway police just like we have the state patrol!

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At our first refueling stop, the Spice Girls posed to fly the flag!

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Our ride took us past palm plantations with limestone hills in the distance.

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Woody took us on “adventure roads”, and our first adventure was to see this water buffalo cooling off in a pond!

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Next adventure was passing over a metal bridge over a creek and wetlands. It was built in the 1960s with scraps from a big dredge project.

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Stupa of the day. This is a new temple.

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We spent time in the old town Takua Pa, which has been a site of tin mining which brought Chinese and Portuguese influences to the area. Here are Portuguese style colonial buildings.

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We stopped at a traditional Thai coffee shop for our break.  We enjoyed iced Thai tea…

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… while our ride leaders enjoyed breakfast! Noodles, spices, greens. Add your own and mix it up!

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This town was severely impacted by the tsunami of 2004. The family photos on the wall at the coffee shop include a young woman who worked at a nearby hotel that was completely destroyed.

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More palm plantations!

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They need to keep their feet a little wet so there is much irrigation here!

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Looking down a rubber plantation line of trees.

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We stopped at a memorial to the tsunami victims.  The dead were cremated and buried in unmarked graves.

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As we rode through a neighborhood, Woody found a family making cigars from palm leaves.

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She splits the young palm leaves into smaller pieces, using her hands and her feet to hold on!

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And here is the shop owner who was happy for our interest!

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In the town of Takua Pa, a clever entrepreneur discovered awhile back that the  swiftlet birds whose nests are used for the delicacy birds nest soup, will move into “bird condos” as residents.

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So now this town, which is attractive to the swiftlets, has a bunch of high rises — for the birds! The prized component is bird saliva which has solidified. Only 40% of the nests are removed at any one time. High nutritional value, and tasty to boot!

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We pedaled on down the road to a bigger memorial to the tsunami victims, complete with a contemplative Buddha.

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Monica walks past the wall of victims’ names.

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Many were German and English tourists, visiting during the December holidays in 2004. As well as many many local residents.

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Our lunch stop offered non-Thai dishes, so Rick ordered a seafood pizza!  Mmmm Mmmm!

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The rest of the cyclists opted for a seven-course traditional Thai meal.

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What is wrong with this picture? Spice Roads drivers and guides had hamburgers, pizza and fries!!!! No Thai for you!

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We began to notice tsunami warning signs. When the tsunami hit in 2004, people had no warning.

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Soon we rolled up to the lovely Apsara Resort and Villa. Could have stayed here a few days!

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The entry to the resort was scenic.

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Complete with elephants, their mascot!

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There were flowers everywhere.

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We were met by smiling staff at the entrance to the hotel.

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This was our personal greeter and guide to our new room! Sweet.

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This is the pool area near the hotel entrance.

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We piled oito golf carts because the place was soooo spread out.  How could we walk 2 blocks after biking 50 miles?!

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We were happy to find our new homes in the Villa section.

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Seems to be another feral situation here! At least we did not see any at Apsara. Their approach must be working!

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We had a villa …. complete with our own pool!

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A nice sitting room…

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His and hers sinks, hooray, and an outdoor shower….

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A lovely bedroom looking over the pool…

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Aaaah! We were swimming in no time.

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Fresh flowers and cute elephants greeted us.

Click above to see tour of estate!!!

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This is the pool near the front of the villas….the common pool!

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With a nice bar.

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Soon there would be cooking classes! Ingredients are ready.

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The restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast is right next to the pool.

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More fresh flowers! Clever weaving idea.

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We enjoyed happy hour on the beach, again! Getting used to this!

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Lovely sunset.

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It was international buffet night at the hotel restaurant, and we enjoyed many different choices of cuisine.

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And now it is time for bed!

Day 34, KHAO LAK to PHUKET

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The dogs of Khao Lak! These guys were running on the beach as we walked to breakfast.

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We missed out on the group art activities, but here are some of the fun things you can make at the Apsara Resort if you have time!

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After 31 days of cycling with this group in Thailand, Tom has decided to go on the wagon! He’s joining the anti-alcohol campaign.

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Today we rode in the vans past a rough area of road work, then jumped on our cycles for a classic Woody ride.

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This woman was drying Betel nuts.

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Spread out neatly by the side of the road.

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Looks like artwork!

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Woody stopped by a cashew tree to show us how the nuts grow.

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Here is the fresh pod. It smelled—nutty! A lot of work goes into drying and processing them, so now we will appreciate the higher price when we buy them!

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Someone’s summer home located in a rubber tree plantation!

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Snack time, and today Mr. Rin found us fresh sweet coconuts.

Click above to see him become the ‘machete machine’!!!

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Delicious! And sweeter than the bigger chilled ones we had the other day.

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Our adventure road took us past more rubber plantations.

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And before we knew it, in just 38 miles, we were biking over the bridge into Phuket! It is Thailand’s largest island. Originally prosperous due to tin mining, today Phuket is known for its beaches and nightlife.

We rode together across the bridge– the last moments, of the last day, of our cross-country ride .

A welcome station greeted tourists along the bridge. We enjoyed yet another amazing lunch nearby.

With a tinge of sadness and nostalgia, we check in to the Nai Yang Beach Resort for our last two days in Thailand.

The attendant walks our bags down the leafy path to our room.

Our room . . . but not for the night! We settled in for about an hour, and realized that the air conditioner sounded like a jet engine, with no way to dampen the noise.

A team of two engineers were sent, then four technicians . . . and as they tore the whole thing apart, the room got hotter and time moved on. So we asked for a new room in order to get ready for the evening festivities!

It seems the Corona virus sweeping China and beyond is driving more folks to wear face masks! It did not stop him from serving tasty beverages, though.

Happy hour with Gregory and Leslie.

First, Rick had one martini  (getting the olives was sort of a challenge) . . .

. . . and then another with MJ! Life is good.

The focus of tonight’s dinner was to celebrate and thank our tour leaders and drivers. These wonderful guys!

Cocktail time, as managed by Woody, usually allows two drinks. Here MJ and Laurie learn of their options.

Our sweet and efficient and friendly server!

Greg points out the green flash of sunset, just above his finger!

Our host for the night, the owner of Phen’s, made sure our drinks were never empty and that the food just kept coming . . . .

Gregory and Leslie serve as Masters of Ceremony for our celebration of the staff. Here, biking guide Bird hears how much we appreciated his energy and enthusiasm, plus his constant advice: Don’t eat too much rice! — in order to save room for the delicious local dishes.

Barb presents Bird with the thank-you gift from Tom and Barb. Deep and appreciative bows!

MJ  shares a few words as she presents Bird with the appreciation from Rick and MJ.

Our driver Mr. Chin is newer to the team, and he did a great job of hauling our bikes and supplies, and herding the riders when needed. Laurie shares her thanks with him.

Barb was so happy to have excellent help when she was thrown off her e-bike. She has a soft spot in her heart for Mr. P and the whole team, who gave her wonderful care in her time of need!

Leslie tells a story of how Mr. Rin was always there, to help us, to show the way, and to feed us energizing snacks!

Mr. Rin and MJ share their fondness for each other.

Woody, our amazing leader, earned a standing ovation from the riders. Two major Thailand rides run back-to-back set some records for Woody, as well as the guests. Lots of kilometers!

Hugs all around. We so appreciate that Woody and his colleagues leave their homes and families for many days for their bike guiding professions.  Cycling is a tremendous way to see Thailand, and these guys do the best in sharing their country with visitors like us!

The entire gang! After so many days together, how can we stand being apart?! Our dinner and celebration were a fitting end to an epic ride in January, down the length of Thailand.

On our stroll back to the hotel, Laurie points out some huge shrimp!

Back to the sparkly wonderland of the Nai Yang Beach Hotel!

Day 35, Phuket

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After breakfast, part of the gang took the opportunity to go biking with Woody and Bird one last time. The rest of us came out to see them off! They had a 20 mile ride around Phuket, complete with a police escort for part of it!

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The ones staying behind went about getting our bikes ready for transit. Here Mr. P and Mr. Chin remove the pedals from Rick’s bike, as Rick works on MJ’s bike nearby.

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Five of us ventured to Old Town Phuket for some shopping! We were in the heart of the old Chinese-Portuguese area, and you could see it in the architecture.  Very colorful!

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Souped up bike with an engine!

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Hum Wan Company is a four-generation store  owned by Chinese immigrants to Phuket, and still in the same family. They sell building supplies and are proud of their role in developing Phuket!

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MJ was on a hunt for a good textile store, and we found it in Ban Boran Textiles! We hit it off with the staff, Ay and Lena. Lena was excited to meet Laurie who is from Canada, because Lena is marrying a man from Canada in two months and moving to Vancouver! Has anyone warned her about the rain and cold weather?  She exudes tropical warmth so she will improve things in Vancouver!

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Laurie is happy to be in one of the colorful shops and she even made a purchase!

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Lena, MJ and Ay with a beautiful weaving from the northern hill tribes of Thailand, the Mae Aw.

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You never know what you will see! This bride and groom were hurrying, with her beautiful train dragging on the street!

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Old Phuket is still very much a working area of shops needed by the community. Here you could find machine parts.

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The trip was made possible by our cab driver, Mr. Rich. Laurie negotiated a good rate with him. He drove us to Old Phuket, which took 45 minutes, then waited two hours as we shopped, then drove us back to the hotel during rush hour. Nice guy! He pointed out important statues and answered our questions during the drive. Very fun.

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Sigh … our last dinner on the beach. Woody and Bird took care of all our dietary needs, once again.

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And not to disappoint, we devoured the seafood fried rice, eggplant, delicious lightly fried fish, papaya salad, and bananas in coconut milk. No one wanted to leave! But alas, tomorrow the staff team leaves at 6:00 a.m., followed by the rest of us off to varied distant points over the next few days. Great trip, great people, great food, great country.

Final thoughts and conclusions

Rick:

This year’s Thailand trip was quite the event. Excellent weather, excellent scenery, excellent biking and excellent companionship. Everything you look for in a trip.

The Thai people are very warm and inviting and VERY tolerant of sharing the road. We were never honked at, given the finger (or whatever the local version might be) run off the road or coal rolled. Although recreational/ touring biking is not very common, (we saw less than a dozen other riders) drivers give you a wide berth and respect when passing. The roads were excellent, either asphalt or concrete, with very few potholes.

Our guides and the service Spice Roads provides were exceptional. With only 13 of us and 5 staff the client to staff ratio was almost unheard of!! They were all  very genuine and by the end of the trip we all felt like family. Woodie, Mr.Rin, Mr. Bird, Mr. Phree and Mr. Chin gave it their all. Especially Woodie, who was ‘on deck’ almost 24/7. And . . . working behind the scenes our ‘travel concierge extraordinaire’, Bow, did a FABULOUS job keeping all the logistics straight and making things ran VERY smooth,

The Thai food was fantastic, with 6-7 dishes being served at lunch and dinners with VERY few repeats. Americans can take a lesson in the use of vegetables. Not surprising, there are very few overweight people in Thailand (I came home only .4 pounds lighter after biking over 1,000 miles!!).

The accommodations were exceptional, large rooms with all the amenities . . . and the air con worked at every overnight!!

Truly a great cultural experience!!

Although the funny tan marks produced by the cycle gloves I wear will fade, the memories of this trip will not . . . especially due to the fact I now have a full time traveling companion emJay, the love of my life, who retired in November after a 38 year career with The Nature Conservancy. As we travel through our retirement life now everyday will be a new adventure!!!

Mary Jean:

Now I am feeling “officially retired” as I have completed my first big adventure in retirement.  When people asked me “What are you going to do now?!” I answered “Bicycle across Thailand!” My first two months were focused on getting ready for this trip (spinning, biking, packing, ordering visas, etc.) so now I get to focus on figuring out this next phase of my life! I’m sure it will include more trips and biking.

This trip was a test in some ways, of bike-tripping with Rick, and being away for 5+ weeks. Bike tripping with Rick was great; fun to share these experiences. Being gone for that long: challenging with an elderly canine at home, but happily neighbors and friends took care of Miss Daisy which made the trip worry-free as far as she was concerned.

Thailand is a beautiful and welcoming place. It is a real privilege to experience a place up close and personal, from the back of a bicycle. It is also a luxury to have so much time to spend getting to know  people and culture.  Great memories include crashing a wedding party; visiting important cultural sites; learning more about Buddhism. And interactions with friendly vendors!

Back in the U.S., I find myself valuing our environmental regulations, and hoping we don’t slip too far backwards as a nation in that area. Thailand struggles with air quality, evidenced on our trip by intensive agricultural burning in the north, and awful air quality in Bangkok that sent children to the hospital and made our lungs burn. Also, there are rules on the books in Thailand outlawing trade of wild species, yet it happens in Thai markets and in other countries, regularly.  The fact that the novel Corona virus, probably from bats, emerged out of China during our trip underscores the seriousness of this problem.

As is usually the case, the people you are with make the trip. From our excellent and fun Thai guides and drivers, to our US and Canadian travel partners, my life has been enriched by getting to know new friends. We were a congenial group, sharing interests, openness, and curiosity. It is an intense experience to live with the same group for 4 weeks, then POOF! it is over and you are back to  your routine. But the memories remain and make me smile.

There are two big gifts that remain with me after this trip. One is knowing that Rick and I have more opportunities to share travel adventures; hooray! The other is being reminded that we are part of the global community. People are people everywhere, valuing their families and friends; their traditions and religions; and the beauty and resources of the natural world. We have so much in common with each other, and if we can remember that, the world will be a better place for all of us.

. . . we are on the road again!

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