Cycle Touring Part 3: Thailand (1-4 Jan 2024)

Following from Part 1 and Part 2

The border crossing at Poipet/Aranyaprathet was slow and hot. First we had to exit Cambodia, that didn’t take too long. Then walk across to the Thai border. Our Group Leader, who was Thai, was through in 10 minutes. But the rest of us, with our foreign passports, queued in a hot room for over an hour. Eventually we were all through. But then we needed get money, and as it was International New Years Day (as opposed to Thai New Year which is in April) the banks were closed. We found an ATM, but at 4 minutes per withdrawal, and 10 people needing to get money, we were there for a while… Eventually around 2pm we had our first meal in Thailand – pad thai at a road side stall for 40 Baht (~A$1). And it was pretty delicious, at least according to most of the Australians.

The itinerary had us doing 40km for the day and we only got on the bikes mid-afternoon. Needless to say most of us were dubious we would do the distance before it got dark, especially when we had a swim break with no urgency at Karbark Dam.

One of the interesting ‘features’ of the Thailand leg of the tour was that we gained a photographer, Mr Black. And not just Mr Black, also two of his teenage/adult children. So three photographers. Our group leader had already warned us before arriving that we would be photographed a lot, and there was “nothing he could do about it”. I think we were all a bit bemused at this comment, until after day 1, when we were forwarded the album link, and 15 minute Youtube video. And then we saw just how detailed the photographers were, including documenting those of us who went for a swim at the dam in multiple images. This blog post contains many photos by Mr Black and family – however, they are a small selection of the hundreds (literally) that Tom & I featured in over the course of the 3 days in Thailand.

First cycle stop in Thailand, Karbark Dam

Having a swim, along with the locals enjoying “International” New Years Day

Apparently most of the time no one is at the Dam, but there were plenty of people there enjoying the water. It seems only 5 in our group were interested in swimming, whether because it was too much of a pain to get wet/dry, or they were worried about getting something nasty from the water, I’m not sure.

It was a really refreshing break, and the next 34km were some of the most enjoyable riding of the trip. As it was so late in the afternoon we got quite a lot of shade over the road, and the temperatures were more bearable. We were also delighted to find Thailand had curves and undulations in its roads – something we had very little of in Vietnam & Cambodia. Unfortunately for me I ended up towards the back by myself – and had a couple of dogs have a go at me (and some of the others), which left me a bit shaken. I was very glad to finally get to the next snack break.

Me looking serious on the bike

Arriving at a snacks break late on our first day in Thailand

We re-grouped late in the afternoon as it was becoming seriously dusky. A few of us were thinking we would ride as a pack into our hotel, since we didn’t have lights on the bikes. But no, the final 6km of the day, we just rode in the low light and hoped the quiet roads were enough to keep us safe (they were). It was a very long day – 7:30am departure from the hotel in Cambodia – with the bus/border crossing/lunch taking us through till 3pm, and then 2-3 great hours of riding in the late afternoon. Despite some of the challenges, it was an enjoyable cycling day. The place we were staying put on a great banquet style meal for us that evening, and I think we all went to bed quite content.

The next morning we had a short ride to the local market, where our group leader gave us a tour. Some us would have rather have started riding to take advantage of the cooler part of the day…

The photographers photographing another photographer during our market visit in Kabinburi

Market delights

At the markets we purchased some turtles and live fish. We rode a few km along the road, for another break, to release the turtles and fish into a dam, to get good karma or something.

Turtles from the market, which we then released in a lake

Part of the reason for my frustration at the slow start was this was to be our longest day of the whole tour. Advertised at 70km on the itinerary, but if we wanted to ride hotel to hotel then it was 100km. We hadn’t had any other opportunities to avoid the bus so most people were pretty keen to have a crack at the 100km. Anyway, after the market and turtle release, we got down to business.

Group riding, Team #6 very visible!

The roads in Thailand were good quality, but with enough bends and undulations to make them interesting. Late the day before Tom had managed to fix himself on the back of the strongest riders and draft his way to the end, unlike me who had battled into headwinds for much of the afternoon. We managed to both get up with the strongest riders this day – what a joy it was to have finally found my cycling legs after the previous few days. While there was no way I could lead out the group I could hold on in the draft. Less time on bike was an obvious consequence of being up the front – in some sections we were averaging 29km/h. By myself I was probably capable of 24km/h.

Tom, fashion icon

me & Tom on the road

Are we riding in Australia? (Eucalypts a common plantation crop) Tom & I holding on to the back of the strongest riders.

Thailand snack breaks were a smorgasbord of delights

We knocked off about 60km before lunch. The heat was upon us, so the afternoon was broken into 10km segments. This meant a drinks break every half an hour or so, and by chunking it out like this, it meant everyone in the group managed the 100km.

One of many dogs we encountered. Mostly they were no problem….

Arriving at a drinks/rest stop

That’s not to say there weren’t some Strava fails. The strongest rider in our group had forgotten to start his tracking until 10km in, so he spent part of the afternoon riding out ahead, and then coming back to us, to try and make up the “missing” 10km. Another lady got to the end with her Strava only tracking 98km (though others had 100km), so she proceeded to ride around the car park for a further 2km. Only to have her Strava die just as she finished (don’t worry, it recovered later!).

Hotel car park… venue for 2km of laps

The crew packing up the bikes after our penultimate day

Our final day of cycling was 50km, which seemed like a breeze as Tom & I once again hitched our wagons to the front riders. That morning may have been the most enjoyable – lots of curves and small hills and an excellent rest stop at a cafe with coffee frappes.

Tom the cyclist

Rachel the cyclist

Playing it up for the cameras

Start of the final leg of the trip

Enjoying the final section

Most of the group

We finished up in the middle of the day at Khun Dan Dam, where the same 5 of us who had swam two days earlier, had a swim. Then it was onto the bus for a few hours into Bangkok.

Having a swim below Khun Dan Dam, at the end of the cycling

All up the Thailand cycling was the most enjoyable for me. This was for several reasons;

  1. We spent more time riding point to point, instead of taking the bus, making it seem more like a tour/journey
  2. I had found my cycle legs and worked out how to draft
  3. The roads had curves and undulations instead of being dead-straight and flat.

That said, the overall tour was good for seeing 3 countries while getting a decent amount of exercise. Riding around Angkor Wat was also a highlight.

Overall Summary