Travertine Pools

IMG_2081Quite a mixture of experiences this last weekend, which is fitting because it was our last full weekend in Trang.  Next weekend we’ll be heading to Bangkok on Sunday in preparation for departure to Durango on Tuesday. Ever since we got waylaid in 2011, heading north when local flooding stopped our train in it’s tracks, we now stage our departure at least a day early to Bangkok.  This year the flooding is in Bangkok, so you never can never tell.

One last bike camping trip was on the agenda for this last Sunday, while Stanna took a trip south to our friend Chalong’s family gathering.  I’d accompanied the Cycling Club to marshal in the Sai Rung Waterfall Fun Run in years past, but this one was more special as more than a hundred Trang cyclists came over early Sunday morning to join us at the event.

IMG_2033What those cyclists missed on Saturday was hiking up the famous Sai Rung Waterfall (or infamous if you want to mention the historic flash flood there that killed 38 in 2007).  All-granite cascades of falls and ponds roll down (or up in our case) hundreds of meters providing vistas, ponds, slides, pools for swimming and slick rock scrambling.  Mists from the falls shine with rainbows giving it the name “Rainbow Waterfall”.

bottlesOne of the best experiences was standing chest deep under a pounding falls that kneaded your shoulders and neck.  Once again my Thai friends that don’t swim had their 4-one-liter-bottle-belts serving as PFD’s. I towed one cyclist across the pond to the falls so he might enjoy the massage too.  Frolicking in waterfall ponds is an often sought destination for our Sunday weekend tours, and there are quite a number to choose from in the vicinity of Trang.

Preparing food for wake

Preparing food for wake

In the meantime, Stanna (also unaware of just what her “field trip” was about) went with Dr. Chalong (she just last week defended her dissertation in English – she is the Thai lady who visited us in Durango last summer), to attend her uncle’s wake.  Evidently the Muslims hold a wake or memorial 40 days after the death and all acquaintances are invited to stop by.  Giant caldrons of food are prepared and served to the guests in respect for the deceased.

The only other similar celebration we’ve attended was one for a past prime minister’s mother here in Trang in 2012, and that was attended by thousands, with bus-loads of “respect-payers” coming from all over the southern peninsula.  This one was smaller by comparison, but even in this tiny village drew several hundred.  We see these events every day in Thailand, where a large tent is set up adjacent to a house, generally taking up one lane of the roadway, with tables and chairs for the attendees but we rarely get invited to attend.  Depending on the religion you might see the elaborate flower-decked refrigerated coffin in situ in the carport.  Muslim passed are buried within 24 hours.

IMG_5848All these southern Thai communities have a mix of palm oil or rubber tree “water” as their source of income, and until rubber water dropped to a sixth of it’s price.just recently all land owners have been quite prosperous. Chalong’s family has IMG_5842added a bonus to their rubber tree groves by raising mushrooms in rows between the trees. The mushrooms can be picked daily.

IMG_2075After the 5, 10 and 20K Fun Run the entire cycling contingent rode 30 km to a rural school to present donations of school supplies and sports equipment given by the Trang Tourism Board, banks, other schools and various cycling groups.  Thai’s are prolific in their presentations with speeches and recognition of everyone and their sisters.  Even I got to “present” a gift (twice) to students who dutifully paraded up for photos with the donors.

The finale of the day was cycling to a nearby waterfall that is not on any paved or dirt road.  40 or 50 of us followed several guides up rivulets of swampy jungle streams until we came to travertine dams and pools which got grander in scale the farther we pushed up the mountain.  This was veritable jungle with

IMG_2082mangrove sized roots blanketing the ground creating fallen leaf covered hidden puddles of muddy water.  Tarzan-like vines hung down everywhere you passed and if it wasn’t uphill you could swing forward as a navigational aid.  The only solid footing, besides a dry tree root, was the limestone edge of the travertine walls. IMG_2080My cleated Keens made secure footing problematic, but far better than for those in regular bike shoes.  Half-way into this mire, many of us realized it was time to wrap-up our cameras and phones in case of inadvertent dunking caused by a slip or fall. As a consequence not many photos document the travertine traverse up the mountain.


Cooking Curry

Panang CurryIMG_0908Everyone here in Trang knows that we’re hung-up on a great-tasting Panang Curry made at Mai Muang, a restaurant that has moved much farther out of downtown than when we first became affectionados. We’ve been enjoying Panang Curry at least once a week in the outskirts now, and sometimes twice when we can find another source in town.

ChoAnother restaurant, owned by a member of the Trang Cycling Club, has added it to their menu and we need only park our scooter outside their dining deck and the Panang Curry starts simmering on the gas stove. We don’t even have to order any more.

Stanna has tried to replicate this dish in Durango, with a Chaing Mai cooking school cookbook and ingredients from an international food store in Albuquerque. It just hasn’t been the same: too runny to appreciate the fine flavors and tastes. So we mustered up our courage to ask if we could have a lesson at Mai Muang on just how to cook Panang Curry her way.

IMG_1748Surprisingly, Lee the wife and chef, enthusicatically welcomed us into the kitchen, and even offered to let Stanna try to cook it herself. (“Next time,” we said.) We just wanted to photo document and watch the process as she produced it.


IMG_1811Lee turned up the flame under one of her many woks to high, and poured in a cup of coconut milk.  This was such a surprise, because we’d figured in Durango that our recipe was in error, since our Panang was so runny we thought we must be using too much coconut milk.

IMG_1816With the coconut milk boiling she added the simple ingredients: sugar, fish sauce, Panang curry, chili paste, kaffir lime IMG_1825leaves, sliced red chilies and chicken.  This was more of a soup boiling in the wok and we couldn’t imagine what would happen to turn this into a succulent sauce with chicken.



Simply boiling the milk down to a sauce, stirring occasionally, adding fresh basil leaves near the end, and then sliding the meal onto a plate was the answer.



shoppingWe got treated to a follow-up lesson this next week when Sunsern (our cycling fixer friend) volunteered his wife to come to  Wassana’s kitchen to show us how she cooks Panang curry.  This lesson started with a trip to the market, where she selected the ingredients and said we needed to cook some vegetables along with the curry.

IMG_1891Thai cooks use a meat cleaver rather than a variety of knives for chopping or peeling, and Toi (Sunsern’s wife) was deft at wielding one whether she was pounding garlic flat before mincing, severing a chicken breast or peeling a mushroom.  (BTW the preferred chopping board is a 3″ tree BW Kitchenround sliced like a carrot and dished-out from wear, like granite temple steps.  Wassana’s kitchen is so modern only a white polycarbonate one was available.)

Once again we photo’d every step, primarily for our memory, and took hasty notes to record measurements on an iPhone. Sunsern had to repeatedly request Toi to use a spoon so we might glean whether she was pouring a teaspoon or multiple tablespoons of seasonings into the wok.  Her choice of measurement was her taste buds, when she spooned a bit of sauce between her lips.

IMG_1919Her stir-fried vegetable was unique in several ways: after she put in the oil and garlic, she added about 3 or 4 bites-sized chunks of chicken (for flavor we assume), in addition, she’d pre-soaked some angle hair rice noodles and added them to the vegetables when all was thrown in the wok.  She used oyster sauce as a seasoning along with fish and soy sauces, and finally she threw in a splash of water.  On medium to high flame the stir-fry was done in minutes.

IMG_1936Her Panang curry was basically the same as we’d learned earlier, only the order of ingredients varied.  She only put in half the coconut milk to start, before adding the curry paste (we’d purchase pre-blended red curry and chili paste from the market, rather than the special blend Lee at Mai Muang had in store). Two other variations Toi used were half a bullion cube and coconut sugar rounds.  IMG_1938And her preference was three times the amount of Thai basil which Sunsern extracted so a comparison might be more fair.  Again, the secret to the sauce was boiling down the mixture to a thick viscous liquid before turning off the flame.

two dishesNot quite the same as Mai Muang, but we agreed if our Durango version could be this good we’d have a new family standard.  And just to be sure Stanna knew how to do it, Toi insisted she try, preparing the entire meal a second time after we’d finished lunch. (Dinner was wonderful having Panang Curry “left-overs”.)

Lingua Franca

We’re always thinking about language, talking about languages, interpreting languages and learning languages as we migrate around during our winters. In fact, one important reason to learn Spanish in America is that most likely our end-of-life care-givers will be native Spanish speakers and it would be good to know what they are saying about you.

Unfortunately Americans don’t put enough emphasis on learning a second language and when we do, it’s in high school when kids are already too embarrassed to speak in front of classmates, let alone speak in a new foreign language. There just isn’t enough reason to speak French, German or Chinese yet in America. But there could be an excellent case for Spanish since we border on, trade with and travel to Mexico and Central America, not to mention the always growing population of Hispanic neighbors and co-workers in the States.

Thai’s have a much bigger problem and an opportunity to learn a second language, And that language is English.  Right now most of the private schools and many of the public schools in urban areas have native English speakers as teachers. (They are mostly recent university graduates from English-speaking countries who, while traveling over here, find that they can extend their stay, earn some money and postpone returning to the inevitable: a job search in their home country.)

This program has been good for many Thai students as well as the travelers, but there are too many shortcomings in the system.  Primarily the teachers are more transient than is good for the students, because those native-speaking teachers may only “teach” for a couple of months or a contract year at best.  And every teacher speaks a different dialect of English (which we found almost comical when talking to, or trying to understand, the Irish English teacher here in  Wassana guesthouse last year).  And lastly, the entire emphasis is on passing a written test, not on simple conversation.  The average grammar school graduate speaks no better English than an American high school student who has taken one semester of Spanish:  Hello or Where you from? in Thailand, or Buenas Dias or ¿Como Esta? in the States.

Certainly there are many, many Thai’s that speak passable English and we appreciate each and every one of them, but they are few and far between.  We’ve turned down, every year, the opportunity in Trang to teach an English class for business professionals and more specifically the Provincial Court employees. (We don’t want to be on a schedule.)  Our best friend here in Trang is a Court Mediator who speaks English and they feel it’s mandatory for at least two of the rotating Mediation team members to speak English.

What has really struck home this last week was learning that Thailand’s participation in the recently formed ASEAN Alliance of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, means that they are economically binding with a population of 600 million people: twice the population of the US, and probably the size of the US and Europe combined.  This is now an Asian “Euro Zone or a Union” where the only Lingua Franca between all these disparate countries is English.  All the trade, commerce, tourism and business needs to be done in English.

And this is where Thailand is aware of their shortcoming.  Not enough of their students are learning sufficient English to supply the managers, directors, salespeople, engineers and workers to fill all these new employment positions that the ASEAN Alliance and the global business world demands.

How do we convince our young US students to learn Spanish, but more urgently how will Thailand improve their younger generation’s English language skills to compete with Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia who can easily migrate to fill those positions?

We’re so fortunate that we don’t have to struggle with a Global Lingua Franca.  Every tourist that comes to Thailand has to communicate in English, and most often their proficiency in English is far better than the hotel desk clerk or the bar tender servicing the tourist needs for a room or a beer.  My favorite story is listening to a Korean scientist and a French physicist discuss over coffee scientific theories at a level that we could only identify as English words, their Lingua Franca.

Ice creamI thought this was my Lingua Gastronomica:

Thai’s like theirs with sticky rice and peanuts topped with condensed milk.




But after seeing a text photo of Captain Al spinning on Dragonfly.  I realize that my Lingua Franca has been bicycling here in Thailand.


Pak Lak Peninsula

PennisulaEven though Trang is 40 km (as the bike travels) from the coast I’ve managed two weekends in a row to visit an island and now a peninsula that I’ve never seen before. These locales have been much further (150 and 90 km) from “home” but do offer the warm Andaman Sea vistas and waveless water.  Winds for half a year are predominantly East to West and then West to East when we aren’t in Thailand.

pano 4

However we don’t always get in the water, since it’s often only a highlight of the ride.  And in my case bringing the swimming kit (extra shorts and a sarong) on my road bike isn’t always practical and I don’t often like cycling in my padded cycling shorts wet with salt water.  Not that I haven’t done that, but generally where there has been fresh water to rinse.  And on these longer rides, even though it dries sooner, chafing is common.

IMG_1764This Sunday’s event (again, I never quite know what, where or why – just a distance number and type of bike recommended) was another rally of sorts to plant trees near the coast.  It was one of three national rides sponsored by the Thailand Tourism Board, the local Province Tourism Commission (State) and a willing Sub-Department (County).  In this case the location was just about as far north in the Trang Province you can ride so it had two starting points: one in Trang (80 km away) and one in proximity to the tree planting site (15km).

IMG_1758As with all these Thai events, participants all relish the souviner T-shirt featuring the event and it’s sponsors. (Printing a T-shirt in Thailand must cost less than a dollar because even when one must buy one [without sponsor logos] they only cost $3).  And with the ubiquitous advent of Facebook everyone is snapping and posing the entire time. They expected 500 planters and if you add the riders from the local start point and the local school kids to the 120 riders from Trang, they must have filled every T-shirt.  They only had 600 trees and the planting only took a few minutes per rider.  I got to plant two since I was a novelty (actually they wanted more photos of the only foreigner).


Whether this was symbolic (we planted 24″ mangrove slips next to the road on a vast peninsula of mangroves similar to where in November 1956, Castro and 81 revolutionaries sailed from Mexico aboard the Granma, crash-landing near to Los Cayuelos [wikipedia]) or they really needed to revegetate this narrow strip along the road on this remote peninsula doesn’t matter, it was fun being part of this mass tribute to ecology, cycling and Green Tourism.  I did ask three different English-speaking Thais (including a reporter) and never quite got a suitable answer how this effort benefited tourism as this half-kilometer bare strip certainly wasn’t a blight along this otherwise desolate road.

IMG_1802I just like the interaction and the off-the-beaten-path experiences my Thai cycling friends expose us to each weekend.  The tree-planting was over, just about noon.  We had started from Trang at 6 AM, the cadre of Trang cyclists I ride with said they were going to hang out until the heat of the day was waning (3 hours) and would I be interested in seeing a fresh water well right on the beach.  It ended up being in my estimation a spring along the rocky limestone cliffs in a sandy cove.  Never-the-less it proved to be an even more interesting cycle to the bitter end of this peninsula thru several tiny fishing villages built on stilts in the tidal mangrove swamps.  Our splinter group of five made an even more remote detour and went right into a beachside village and I’d swear one of the riders asked a Muslim lady in one of the nicer cinder block homes if we could rest and and have water on her front porch.  Shortly thereafter we were drinking green coconut water and scooping green coco meat from trees in her yard and chilling on the cool tile front porch.  A very pleasant way to spend an hour or more of our “beating the heat” delay.


All in all it was a 13+ hour day and 154 km on the Strava log, but like backpacking, when you spend all day going that distance it’s surprising how easy it is.  Thai cycle touring includes lots of rest stops, food and diversions.  Most the riders use a mountain bike and cycle in Crocs.

I’ve gone somewhat “native” in that I’m trying riding with a tubed head scarf like many of my friends wear.  Made of polypropylene you cover your face up to your eyes and down into the neck of your jersey.  I’d alway sworn that was way too hot for me to try, but the last two long afternoon rides in 36 to 37 C (98° F) heat it has felt remarkably cooler.  Mike Taylor reminded me that all the desert camel jockeys wear a head scarf, and I even have one I got from a Tuareg back in the Sahara in the 70’s.  head

Stanna says I look like a cycle terrorist, but at least I’m not wearing the black tights my Thai cycling friends all wear.  I hope to try this in the Southwest backpacking. That will bring out all the stares, but first I’ll have to weigh it, and see if it qualifies as Ultra Light.  They come in all the Dirty Girl Gaiter patterns if you’d like to order one.

Holiday vision


Before breakfast ride to the end of the island

It’s been 90 photos since the last post, and that’s after editing out the foot and finger shots. For some odd reason one looks forward to getting back to the condo for a long rest, but that might just be after a particularly active week, if you could include both weekends. In eight days of cycling, Strava has logged 754 km and the map shows tracks on both coasts, with a mid-week climb just to get some vertical in the mix.

Koh Lanta Ride


As per usual I have no idea where the weekend rides are going, nor what to expect the feature or event will be.  This weekend it was “camping on an island”, so who could pass up that chance since the island was unfamiliar.

Turns out we rode 130 km to take part in a 20 km rally with 300+ riders kicking off the annual Laanta Lanta Festival in Old Town, Koh Lanta.  Gathering at a small college on the north-western corner of the island, we rode en masse along the east coast to the leeward “old town”. None of the photos captures the spectacle of a IMG_166520 minute swarm of cycles passing along a two-lane coastal road between villages, rural communities and into Old Town.  You’re constantly reminded of the spectacle uniqueness, when most everyone along the side-lines is holding a camera, with mouth open in awe or cheering.

Old Town Koh Lanta

IMG_1683Koh Lanta is one of the tourist hot-spots, where the more adventurous of the thousand upon thousands of Thailand tourist per day venture. We never wheeled by anything remotely exclusive or touristy looking, nor any of the brochure-worthy white beaches with rows of umbrellas, white and soon-to-be tanned European “foreigners.” They were only evident on wayward scooters, song-tows and vans paused on the roadside.

IMG_1681Not until we arrived in Old Town did one realize that we were involuntary “extras” in this larger than life village “movie set.” My aversion to being part of tourist throngs was pegged the moment the sun started to set and the festivities commenced.  This density of tourists is only reached in the Bangkok Arrivals terminal or at something like the New Year Chaing Mai Night Market. (Sure, Chinese New Year gathering in Trang had crowds, but that was locals.} The costume department worked overtime fitting out this crowd of foreigners on holiday.

IMG_1700Surely the night market in Old Town is a regular event, however for the Laanta Lanta Festival the entire town became the Studio set, with just about every flat spot or store front a venue for food, shopping, entertainment or art.  The famous restaurants set up whole “gardens” of dining, the various indigenous peoples marched in the parade and had booths to promote their ethnicity or handiwork. At least four performance stages were set up on the “lot”, one with the requisite three jumbo-tron screens giving you live action video if you can’t get close enough.

IMG_1702As in many of the coastal communities the primary population seems to be Muslim and in the 5-block double-sided phalanx of food stalls there wasn’t any MuPing to be had, but just about all the other Thai food on sticks or in cups and Styrofoam take-away containers could be had.  It wasn’t hard to replace the 4,092 calories Strava logged.

Walking along with the meandering throng, grazing the food stalls, didn’t quite pull in the entire cast of characters, tattooed European tribal millennials, and bit actors.  Only once you found a un-retail-covered flat spot to pause and let the extras flow back and forth could you envisage  this was just one continuous “take” like the filming of Russian Ark. At first it was easy to use the Disneyland metaphor, but the rides were few, only a traveling ferris wheel and kiddie train.  This is the set for the “foreigners holiday vision” of Thailand. All the kitschy trinkets, the side-walk pubs, restaurants and food stalls, the bars with lonely guitarists and jazz trios covering well-known and trite tunes.  The foreigner frenzy finding “Thai clothing,” clown pants, or jewelry (which no-one in Thailand wears anymore – except in parades or on stage) to take home as souvenirs. However, it’s their party and both the Thai entrepreneurs and the foreigners like this movie or theme park.  A symbiotic relationship.


House front porch where we “camped”

Our group, some 18 or 19 riders from Trang, split into two groups: one snagged a house on the water with deck large enough for six tents and the other half went to the temple grounds and camped there.  We all grazed and “acted as extras” in town for a couple of hours after showers and bucket washing our lycra, but were eager to bed down for the following day’s 150 km ride home.

We got up early to watch the sun rise across the northern end of the Straits of Malacca with it’s tidal mud flats, and were among only a handful of people where there were hordes just hours before.

IMG_1709 IMG_1716


Deck over the tidal basin



House interior where we “camped” on the deck


Audax 200


My rule over here in Thailand is that I don’t enter any races or competitions, which I’m continually encouraged to do. This does several things: keeps me from doing things that I probably shouldn’t be doing at 68 years old, keeps me from getting involved with the Thai emergency medical system, and allows me to keep doing all the physical things that I want to do here in Thailand without being laid up with an injury.

IMG_1426.JPGThe Audax 200 sounded like an event without competition involved other than the clock. Of course you want to get your best “time” and that brings out the oft-cited Joe Berry quote, “It’s always a race.”  Audax is French inspiration that has chapters across the world featuring events for long distance cycling of  200, 300, 400 and 600 km.  You have to “qualify” at a lower mileage in order to register for the next higher distance.  The big goal is to ride in the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200-km ride in September of each year.

IMG_1421.JPGAfter learning four Trang riders were going to enter, I hooked a ride to Hat Yai  to ride with 254 other aspirants to notch their handlebars with a 200 km ride. These retired guys only wanted to finish within the time limit and took most of the 13 hours.  I, on the other hand, went for time, and was doing real good until the 170 km mark.  I’d flatted after a long stretch of road construction along with another rider. It was there that I broke my plastic tire tools, which proved to be fateful later in the day. (Strava map below – red flags are course segments that Strava riders clock themselves on)

audax mapAt the 150-km check-in, our group of five was first into the 3rd Check Point, and we never knew how far ahead we were from the rest of the pack. At 170 km we entered the backside of Hat Yai, our starting point, I stopped at a traffic signal and realized I had a flat. The group started out and left me behind and so I sat on the side of the road holding up my wheel, hopefully indicating to another rider coming along that I needed some help, specifically their tire tools. It seemed like a long time but probably only 30 to 35 minutes with no one coming along. A customer at one of the local shops came over to see if I needed any help.  He knew of a local bike shop that was only just down the road and offered to see if it was open on a Sunday which it was. I didn’t want to jump in the back of his truck because that would void my riding in the 200 km, so I walked the “short distance” which ended up probably half a kilometer. But there, in the middle of nowhere, was a full-fledged mountain bike shop with probably 70 bikes inside.

IMG_1563They took my wheel and changed out the tube and I was ready to get on my way. I had the presence of mind to try to buy another set of tire tools, which I did, unfortunately they were also plastic but the guys gave the assurance that they were much stronger than my earlier ones. That proved to be false, because evidently the two young guys that repaired my tire with a brand-new tube must’ve used metal tools to get the tire back on the rim pin-holing the inner tube. I flatted about 10 km away from the shop.  I broke one of the new plastic tools getting the tire off and discovered that there was a small pinch made from a metal tool putting the tire back on the rim. I got that patched and flatted in five more kilometers, finding the second pinch from a tool 4 inches from the first, and then finally a third.

All the plastic tire tools had now broken and I was now resigned to finding flathead screwdrivers at various little food stands. There still were only a couple of riders passing and those didn’t see me or were on the home stretch and didn’t want to stop.  I’ve always loved Continental Gator Skins but they’re extremely hard to get on and off the rim.  In my four years of riding here in Thailand I think I’ve only had two flat tires before yesterday’s total of 5 in 1 day.

At one point just after the 2nd Check Point, we took a ferry across a sound.ferry audax

Arriving back in downtown Hat Yai, the 3rd largest city in Thailand with 160,000 people, I got lost finding my way to the finish line.  With the help of several locals I managed to get there. After shooting for an eight hour riding time I was disappointed to finish with a 10 1/2 hour time although my Strava GPS showed that I had eight hours and 25 minutes in the saddle. Good ride, good time and new countryside.