Southern Thailand: Heat waves, Eloy in hospital and New Year for the 4th time!

Southern Thailand: Heat waves, Eloy in hospital and New Year for the 4th time!

Travel period from 31-03-2023 to 11-05-2023

You are our heroes

After Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia we are back in Thailand! After crossing the border, we happily (and a little disorientated as we have to drive on the left again) stop at the first roadside stall to buy some bananas from an elderly lady. She speaks no English, but when we ask her to carry on, she smiles and gives us bottles of water and a bag of a different kind of fruit we have never seen before.

We drive on to Di. A Thai woman we contacted through Warmshowers. When we arrive, she leads us up a flight of stairs to a hut and then takes us into a local restaurant. She explains that she had seen several cyclists heading to or from the border and wanted to help them, so she joined Warmshowers. “Everyone is welcome here”, she says. After all her stories, we want to pay for the food, but she refuses, saying: “Because you are my heroes“. We reply in kind: “You are our hero!” Back at the house, the neighbour also grilled corn and hung it on the door of our room. Incredible!

Over the next few days we take as many shortcuts as we can towards Bangkok. Every day people stop and turn around to give us food and drink. A motorbike overtakes us and returns in the other direction with 2 bottles of coke. A woman drives by on her pickup to sell things, but stops a little further on to give us pineapples, sandwiches and cold drinks. A woman rides by on her scooter, holding out a bunch of ‘longan’. Fruit we have never eaten before. When we stop at what looks like a Thai Starbucks chain to escape the scorching midday heat, we hear the young staff behind the counter giggling and occasionally throwing in a few words of English. Suddenly a girl brings in 2 bottles of orange juice. “It’s from him, for you“‘ she says, pointing to the counter. Later we exchange details and to this day they follow our journey on Instagram.

When we stopped to eat in the shade of a temple, we didn’t have time to take our lunch out of our bags. Further on, a family feast with food seems to be going on. And when Thai people make food, they make A LOT of food and they want you to try EVERYTHING! They stare at us in amazement as we stare at the table filled with more and more plates. They look expectantly at our reactions to the food and we try to hide our physical reactions to the spicy food. You are OUR heroes!

Wild elephants?

On the way to Bangkok we cycle through an area where wild elephants live and are warned by the locals to be careful of wild camping. The plan is to camp by a lake. When we get there (it’s the weekend) it turns out to be quite crowded. There’s a loud bass sound and motorised paragliders flying through the air, but later in the evening everyone goes home and the elephants don’t show up. We eat and when it gets dark we pitch our tent and go to fetch water to wash. Only there was no water coming out of the tap… So we use the already full basin. This is also used to flush the toilet with a bucket. In front of the toilet building we stand stark naked and rub ourselves with soap, desperately trying to get rid of the mixture of sunburn, DEET and sweat. It’s refreshing though! Although we are sweating again when we get back to the tent….

The next morning Eloy hears someone panting behind him as he sits on the toilet. It turns out to be one of the stray dogs taking shelter from the heat on the toilet next door, drinking water from the same barrel we used to wash ourselves yesterday. Before we leave, a vendor brings us 2 more bottles of water. It promises to be another hot day. Before we know it we have to stop 3 times within 5 km. The wind chill rises to 45°C. This is April, the hottest month of the year in Thailand, with a normal (!) average temperature of 35°C.

(Ban on) durian

The next day we stop in a village outside Bangkok. Suddenly there is a heavy storm outside with rain and thunder. As soon as it stops, we ride the last 500m to a guesthouse. The 2 owners couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw us arriving on our bikes. They are delighted as the man is a keen cyclist himself. Without asking, they upgrade the room and we park the bikes in the room. That’s the way it’s done in Asia. They also give us some more Durian. A type of fruit that is very popular in South East Asia, both for its smell and its taste! In many public places, such as trains, buses and hotels, it is forbidden to eat durian. But here, the owner of a guesthouse is serving the durian herself. Before we know it, Eloy says, the whole room smells like a mixture of garlic, onion and sweat socks. Trying a bite doesn’t make it any better. Our taste buds don’t really appreciate it. They say you have to eat it at least 3 times before it gets better.

Back in Bangkok!

Today is the day! After 3 months we hope to make it back to Bangkok in one piece. With a population of 10 million, the traffic 80km from the city is maddening. It is unbelievably hot and the heat radiating from the cars and the asphalt is almost unbearable. We cycle from 7-Eleven to 7-Eleven to cool off. 7-Eleven is a supermarket chain of which there are 11,700 in Thailand, sometimes as many as every 500 metres. They are open 24 hours a day and never close, with 44% of all stores in the Bangkok area alone… Dogs and cats also use the air conditioning.

Suddenly we see a blue-purple bicycle lane called ‘Happy & Healthy Bike Lane’. So we can’t resist the temptation to cycle along it, away from the rush hour traffic. It’s a world of difference, but unfortunately the fun is short-lived and a kilometre further on the navigation sends us in all sorts of impossible directions through central Bangkok again. We finally reach the apartment building where Sean and Emma are staying. We stayed with them three months ago and left our winter clothes with them. We go out for dinner with Sean and eat fried fish, where even the bones are fried so hard that they can be eaten like chips, says Sean. Eloy tries it but is still cautious, last time Sean had something stuck to him, as he later admitted….

The next day we work out how to send a parcel home, buy a new airy mosquito tent and drink iced coffee in a nostalgic shop in Chinatown. The average age is at least 75, as is the oldest visitor who comes in every day. Look out for the giant cups, which are actually buckets with a plastic bag and straw in them, that you drink out of….


We try to leave Bangkok in a rickety little boat, barely a metre wide, with our two packed bikes. We (fortunately) do not go into the water and within a few minutes we are in a completely different world. A small, quiet, green, overgrown island. In no time at all we are cycling along the Gulf of Thailand. After the Persian Gulf between Iran and Dubai, this is the second time we see a sea. Bizarre after 13,000 km! 🫣

We see a very colourful cycle path and decide to take it. It leads through the mangroves to the sea. We learn that mangroves are very important in protecting the coast from storms and tsunamis, and that they can store 5 to 10 times more carbon dioxide than a rainforest! The trees’ long roots trap sediment, slowing the water and stabilising the coastline. They are also home to many animals, such as the ‘mudskipper’. They are a type of fish reptile that can live both in and out of the water. They splash around happily, a funny sight.

Sea salt!

After visiting the mangrove we find an abandoned campsite. Later the owner comes by and a scrawny stray dog keeps us company while we cook. He also gets a portion of rice, beans and mango. With 29°C at night and no wind, it hardly cools down and we sweat so much that we jump in the shower again before going to sleep. It cools down for 2 minutes 🙂

In the morning, Eloy jumps in the shower again, Audrey is busy looking for her sandal. She hides a dog and walks around the grounds. And indeed, there is a piece missing, but after a wash it should be fine for a while.

The stretch we cycle today is partly along a busy motorway. We have to take steep steps to cross the motorway, and later we pass through a large salt mining area. Sea salt is mined in the scorching sun during the dry season. About 10 per cent of the salt ends up on tables, the rest is used in other industries. Workers are busy collecting the salt and carrying it away in bamboo baskets, balancing on a narrow piece of wood. To do this work, in this heat, on a bright white reflecting salt pan, is unreal.

A train through a market

In Mae Klong we spend the night in a small but very nice hostel with air conditioning, plus breakfast for 6 €, for 2 people… Our neighbour turns out to be an elderly man from Canada who is also cycling in Southeast Asia. The heat seems to be playing tricks on him. The next day we visit the Maeklong Railway Market. It is one of the biggest fish and seafood markets in Thailand. The market has been around since 1905 and sells a lot of fruit and vegetables as well as fish. Later the railway line was built to distribute the products faster. Now a train passes through the market 4 times a day, literally. It is a bizarre sight. A few minutes before the train passes, all the tarpaulins and stalls are folded down and any obstacles that are too high are removed. The boxes of fruit and vegetables on the ground just stay there, disappearing under the train as it passes. You can touch the train with your nose, but we didn’t try.

Back to Bangkok

At night Eloy gets a stomachache that goes up and down. We decide to stay an extra day at the hostel to see how it goes. During the day it would get better and then the cramps would come back. He can eat and has no other complaints, but when we walk back to the hostel after dinner and he has to stop every few metres, Audrey decides we can’t wait any longer. Eloy wants to go to a local hospital, Audrey wants to go to Bangkok. Neither is ideal as we are 100km from Bangkok, it is 10pm and Eloy is in extreme pain at times. Reviews of the local hospital are poor and Audrey is feeling confused.

We decide to pack a few things and ask the hostel owner if she can arrange a taxi. Five minutes later she is at the door with her own car. She wants to take us to Bangkok. The road is still very busy and it takes us more than 2 hours. When we arrive at a hospital, she says she will continue to wait for us, but we try to make it clear that we don’t have to as it will take a long time. After a few hours we tell her that she really has to go. She wishes Eloy well and will look after our belongings and bikes.

After some tests it turns out that Eloy has a ‘knot’ in his bowel. This is caused by scar tissue from an operation 7 years ago for appendicitis. Fluid has removed the knot, but the scan shows signs of damage to the bowel wall. So he will have to stay in hospital for a few days for observation. If the piece of bowel dies, he will need surgery; if not, it will end with a hiss.

Luckily Audrey is allowed to stay in the room at night and we sleep together in the single bed with a view of the Bangkok skyline. There is still something romantic about a shoot like this. Things are moving in the right direction and the moment he is allowed to eat again is almost a party.

After a few days we are allowed to leave and take a taxi back to the hostel in Mae Klong. Eloy has to stay on a diet for a few more days and he still has a few stomach aches, but eventually they disappear completely.

Photo above right: How do you recognise a cyclist in hospital? Look at his feet!

Songkran: the biggest water fight!

Songkran is a hugely important festival in Thailand. The Buddhist Thai New Year is celebrated in full from 13 April, and how! The celebration lasts several days and people, especially children, throw water at each other to start the new year fresh. Water is very important in Thai culture. Big barrels of water, water pistols and pickup trucks filled with people throwing water are everywhere. And as a cyclist, you are an easy target…. Children in particular are shy of us at first, but once the water has come over us, they are quite proud if they can hit a foreigner with their bucket of water or water pistol. What the hell! April is also the hottest month in Thailand, so this is a welcome break from the scorching heat. So we go for it.

During Songkran, people spend a lot of time with their families. They visit temples and make offerings of food and water. Eloy is being sprinkled with water by a monk. Hopefully it will bring good luck and prosperity to his bowels. We also see many people with some kind of white paste on their faces. This is one of the oldest Songkran rituals. An older person will usually smear the paste on a younger person as a sign of protection. Of course, it also ends up on our faces, bicycles, cars, etc.

The festival is usually celebrated outdoors, by the side of the road. More than once we were invited by huge families to taste their homemade food. Often very spicy, but unbelievable. There are also colourful markets and cultural shows all over the country.

There is even a place in Petchaburi where anyone can come and eat for free. An elderly Thai lady donates money so that the whole community can enjoy a tasty meal. The women at the table can’t stop laughing as we try to eat the noodles with our chopsticks.

This was the 4th New Year celebration we have experienced in a year! We have had the opportunity to experience different holidays such as Hmong New Year, Chinese New Year, Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), Midsummer and Songkran. They give a deeper insight into the culture and traditions and customs that are unknown to us, which makes travelling so enjoyable.

Camping in Thailand

We cycle further south and decide to camp in a forest park in Cha-am. Cha-am is a busy, touristy (and expensive) seaside resort on the coast. In the nature reserve, however, the city seems far away. Monkeys swing between the trees and whistle accordingly. In 2019, Thailand had a whopping 156 national parks and 120 forest parks, which together with nature reserves cover almost ⅓ of the country. In some of these parks you are allowed to camp, surrounded by nature and animals such as monkeys. There are often toilets, showers and rangers, and camping is free or for a small fee (€0.80 per person). The forest rangers sometimes stop by to take a photo, study the bikes or borrow the pump for their own bikes. In the morning we are woken at around 5am by the loud screams of monkeys and an incredible bird concert. Even at night we’re still panting and sweating. Eloy goes to the toilet block three times in the night to take a cold shower, but eventually manages to sleep under a wet towel.

Sometimes there are Thai people in the campsites, and it doesn’t take long for them to come over and have a chat out of curiosity. In Cha-Am Forest Park, a Thai motorcyclist camps next to us. In the morning he joins us at a table and kindly asks if he can make a video. Then he went back to his tent. At the same time, a woman comes to the table and hands us a bag of biscuits, drinks and snacks. A few minutes later the motorcyclist comes out of his tent and says: “I have 2 hammocks, I only need one and I want to give it to you!” He is at the end of his motorbike trip and wants us to take him with us. Along with bags of instant coffee and a handbag. Once again we are at a loss for words.

Accidents happen

We were sitting somewhere having a cold drink when we heard a loud bang and saw a delivery man lying on the ground next to his scooter. The man seemed unhurt, but we regularly see scooters involved in accidents. We had been warned earlier that Songkran, the festival we talked about earlier, is also known as the ‘week of death’. There is a lot of drinking during the festival and people get on scooters and into cars. Road deaths double during these days. Thailand has some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Especially the combination of motorbikes and pickups causes many deaths. So we take extra care and avoid the main roads as much as possible, which is fortunately easy in Thailand.

After a day of cycling along the coast, we arrive at Pran Buri Nature Park. It is on the coast and there are still a dozen or so tents owned by local people. It has a cosy atmosphere.

Sam Roi Yot National Park

We continue down the coast and pass through a village where the monkeys are clearly in charge. Unfortunately, they are fed by many people and hang over rubbish bins and walk along the roads. The number of stray dogs in the area is also quite worrying. Especially near the temples there are often many stray dogs. This is because the monks give them water and food, so they often stay here.

Tonight we camp in Sam Roi Yot National Park. The rangers are friendly and it is even possible to order food from them. It turns out that an Australian cyclist, Oleś, is also camping there. We chat about all sorts of things. He is on his way to Central Asia and is cycling in the opposite direction to us. We exchange a few tips and stories. In the evening he plays his guitar by the sea, which he carries on the back of his bike.

Luckily there’s a light breeze, but in the middle of the night we wake up in a cold sweat when the wind dies down. Eloy wakes a few more times because of insects he thinks are crawling over him. From the tent we watch the sun slowly rise on the horizon. What a sight! Audrey quickly jumps into the sea to start the day. The water is about 30 degrees, almost shocking when you are used to the temperature of the Dutch North Sea.

Ice creams and pizza at Patty😬

The following days are so hot that Audrey sometimes despairs. For several kilometres we have to cycle on the hard shoulder of the main road and there is no shade. The heat radiating from the road and the cars is oppressive, unbearable and even dangerous. Every few miles we have to stop and hope there is a place to cool off, but we can only do this if there is air conditioning somewhere, which is rare in the countryside. Sometimes we eat and drink ice creams, iced coffees and fruit shakes with ice, which can be found in many places.

After leaving the main road, we take as many back roads as possible and suddenly pass a temple. The kitchen crew motioned for us to come and eat. It was Sunday and they were cleaning up after a big buffet that had just finished. They set up a table with all sorts of things on it. Of course, the first bite is an explosion of spice, so we can’t taste the rest, but it’s good. They also bring a big bucket of ice cubes to cool the water in our water bottles. For dessert we eat gummy coconuts and also get gummy ice cream. We get back on our bikes in disbelief.

In the evening we arrive at Patty’s, a Thai lady who makes and sells her own pizzas from a small car parked in front of her house. We meet her through Warmshowers and also meet 2 cyclists from the UK and a solo cyclist from Canada! We all enjoy a large pizza, spend the night in her small garden and share 1 fan which provides a bit of cooling between the tents.

When we wake up at 5am, Patty has already left for the market. The Canadian cyclist has also left. The heat is having a big impact on daily life.

Eloy: the tourist attraction

We cycle over the Rajjaprabha Dam towards Krabi. A well known tourist destination in the south of Thailand. But when we get there, we turn out to be the tourist destination…. A group of Thai women want their picture taken with us and one selfie after another follows. Eloy is particularly popular and after 50 photos Audrey wants him back. We have a bite to eat with roti from the market for dessert. Along the waterfront, a group is doing a special dance, but when we see our bikes being dragged between people on the other side of the road, we sprint towards them, thinking they are being loaded into a pickup truck. Eventually, it turns out that a stallholder wanted to display his stall where the bikes were parked, so he moved them briefly…. Phew!

Reservation on Koh Lanta

Suddenly we are on Koh Lanta, an island in the Andaman Sea. Here we take a few days off to recover physically and mentally. We stay in a small guesthouse run by a lovely family with 2 small children. We are the only guests, the high season is over. Eloy can no longer manage his long hair, so he comes here to the hairdresser. When he goes to open the sliding door to the shop, it is locked. Then he sees the barber sleeping on the couch and rings the bell. She jumps up and greets him with a giggle. As she starts the haircut, Eloy explains why he wants a short haircut and is amazed at our trip. She shaves the sides very short, but is very pleased herself. She takes a few photos and selfies and wishes him well.

On the island we see some of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen. As the sun paints the sky in a mix of orange, purple and blue, the temperature starts to get a bit more bearable and we cherish these moments very much these days. The sun puts a lot of stress on our bodies, but it also marks the most peaceful and coolest moments of the day: sunrise and sunset.

We have been cycling almost every day for more than 2 months with temperatures over 35+°C and high humidity. Heat records have been broken in every country in South East Asia for several weeks now. Most days the wind chill reaches 40-50°C in the SHADOW… We, probably not like others, cannot get used to the heat. We have tried many things, but too often we are desperate to find an air-conditioned supermarket. Like the stray cats and dogs trying to survive the hottest hours. We cannot imagine having to live in these conditions all the time. And yet many people do, without air conditioning. Poorer parts of Southeast Asia are particularly vulnerable to changing climate and weather conditions now and in the future. The heat is unbearable for people and animals, and causes many other related problems (such as water shortages, disease and death, school closures, economic losses for farmers and businesses, etc.). Climate change is not something that will happen in the future. It is happening now, in front of our eyes, and the sad truth is that for some it is already too late.

Wondering the (underwater) world

We also decide to explore the underwater world while on Koh Lanta. We go diving and see all kinds of tropical and big fish! Even Nemo comes around the corner. Later, as we walk along the beach to end the day, we see some children playing and they teach us an important lesson about life:

Never lose your sense of wonder, explore, leap into the unknown, learn from each other. Give and take a helping hand, because that’s how we both grow. Many people are somehow afraid of losing sight of the shore, and so were we when we set off without a destination a year ago. But this cycling trip has taught us that there is nothing to be afraid of. That fear of the unknown is the greatest obstacle to learning more about the world, life and others.

Will we teach our future generations that most people are good and kind?

Coconuts, rubber and palm oil

Cycling through southern Thailand also means seeing big industry up close. Every day we cycle through rubber plantations. Thailand is the world’s largest producer and exporter of rubber. The rubber is mainly exported to China, where it is used to make car tyres. The trees are fascinating to watch as the white sticky liquid drips into a basket.

Then there are the coconut plantations. Palm trees grow hundreds of millions (!) of coconuts every year, but Thailand consumes even more. It also imports from neighbouring countries to make coconut milk, oil and so on. Some farms use macaques (monkeys) to harvest the coconuts. They can pick about 1,000 coconuts a day, much more than a human. This method of harvesting has been used for more than a century, although in recent years there have been increasing questions about animal welfare on some plantations. We regularly see a car or scooter pass by with one or more monkeys sitting on a pile of coconuts. The monkeys are usually tied up.

Finally, the palm oil plantations. We are already impressed by the many palm oil plantations, but apparently they are still quite small in Thailand compared to those in Malaysia and Indonesia. Thailand accounts for less than 4% of world production. Malaysia and Indonesia account for 90%. The problem with palm oil plantations is that global demand for palm oil is high and tropical rainforest is being cut down or burned to make way for the plantations. This releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and dramatically reduces biodiversity as plants, insects and animals disappear from the area. In 30 years, palm oil production has dramatically increased by a factor of 15.

Much food for thought…

People with warm hearts 💚

The Warmshowers community is incredibly warm and welcoming! Even in Thailand. On our last day in Thailand we met Pot and his family. We were amazed by their two young boys’ English, their enthusiasm for playing football and 11-year-old Alex’s cooking skills. His dream is to open a barbecue restaurant, and the octopus and meat from his barbecue prove he is well on his way. Alex likes the travellers who often stop by. He can speak English with them, which he now enjoys more than Thai. Pot rides his bike to a nearby mountain every day and has even made his own Warmshowers sign, which stands proudly outside his house. We eat outside on the grass. Rice with fish, grilled meat, vegetables, squid, octopus and for dessert ‘Singapore flower’. A kind of green gelatine. Then the youngest takes out the Uno card game. After 3 games, Audrey starts to build a house of cards and the boys quickly join in. With great patience, they manage to build 5 or 6 levels, and with the last card, the structure collapses after a few moments.

The day before we met Kim, originally from the USA. He now lives in Thailand with his wife and daughter. He showed us his puppies and took us to a nearby night market.

For those who have never heard of Warmshowers, it is a digital platform for cyclists around the world. It is impressive to see and experience how local people live and share their stories. Some are cycling enthusiasts themselves, some want to learn about other cultures and languages, others have used it while travelling and want to give something back.

If you ever decide to cycle, make sure you get in touch with these people.

1706 km in 42 days through southern Thailand

On the small roads, through temples, mangroves and plantations, there were many unexpected encounters with the kindest and most curious people. There was always a helping hand when needed. One day we were a bit lost between the coconut palms, looking for a path, when a man spotted us. The first thing he did was laugh and point to the huge trees: ‘Shall I get you a coconut from the tree? We didn’t see that one coming!

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