Wang PubPa Mek

Top of the Southwestern Thai peninsula would be my translation of Wang PubPa Mek. As per usual, I don’t know where I’m going until I get there, and in this case I still don’t know. What I do know is that we left with some 100-plus cyclists with our camping gear Saturday afternoon from the Tourist Authority and a film crew, and cycled some 40-km northwest above the town of Sikao, Trang Province.

Southern Thailand is trying to promote destinations other than the underwater weddings, caves, beaches, islands and national parks.  Last year I went with a group of cyclists to promote the Seven Dragon Spines of the Andaman Sea (narrow rocky shoals that are only visible off the coast with full moon low tides – seeing all of which will bring a person good luck).  Access to these off-shore Dragon Spines is limited to traveling down long mangrove-strewn roads to small fishing villages.

I was told toward the end of the ride that I wouldn’t be able to go all the way on my bike because it was too steep and too rough a road, and that I should snag a ride in a pickup. Sounded like a challenge. If this is to become a tourist attraction, like the Dragon Spines, it can’t be a challenge.

We were rewarded, however, with an exclusive look and outstanding view of a new “attraction,” not quite ready for prime time, a little over an hour’s automobile drive from Trang.  Interesting to note that once we arrived at the saddle between the new mountain top vista points, I’d realized that I’d been there 5 years earlier with a band of only 10 cyclists and a lady on a rented motor scooter (Stanna). We didn’t camp, nor were any of the improvements developed such as the cement stairway to a mid-level “sala” (gazebo) to gaze West over the inland karsts and those out in the Andaman Sea known as islands. It was easy to see their enthusiasm for the locale, but there still lies a road improvement ahead.

What was unique about this ride, was that once the cyclists reached the top of the mountain (and only about half of those were able to make the last kilometer under their own power, many hitched rides with officials and families who came to join the riders) those “adventurers” camped and pre-dawn next day scaled a  mountain, many camping for the first time in their lives, as evidenced by their quandary of setting up brand new tents.

Thai camping isn’t much different than RV camping in the States, or a camping platz in Germany, along the Mediterranean, or in New Zealand for that matter.  Cheek by jowl, only you don’t often have to pay for the privilege. It’s a true social event with talking between tents well after most have retired and are trying to get to sleep. This outdoor adventure had the added feature of a catered dinner: three kinds of fish dishes, vegetables and giant caldrons of steamed white rice.  And in the new multi-purpose sala (outdoor hall) they trucked in a stage and karaoke set-up for those needing to caterwaul into the wee hours.

At 4:30 am a truck PA system repeatedly entreated us to rise and start climbing the mountain, which I’d failed to notice was inland from the two vistas I’d enjoyed the late afternoon previous. Like an alpine start for some snow-covered peak, some 100 adventurers snaked thru the jungle and up a lightly trodden ridge line like a rhumba-line of ants with headlamps and bike lights. These climbers weren’t Outward Bound instructors showing off climbing in their flip-flop and thongs, but cyclists and their families, trying to maneuver the rocky, rooty, viney and dead-leaf-strewn slope with the shoes they brought for camping or the cleats they’d ridden in.  The going was slow. [photo was going down two hours later in the daylight – still tough]

Spectacular it was.  A 270° view of the entire Western coastline and far out to the karst islands dotting the horizon.  Even looking inland, watching the dawn break over the mountain range that forms the divide of this narrow Thai peninsula was worth the challenge.

The film crew staged and surreptitiously took endless photos, and the one I liked best was the crew standing on the rickety “only 10 person at a time” overlook composing the stragglers after sunrise for a last mountain photo in that special light.

BTW my skinny-tire, 26 -year-old road bike was the first to reach the top followed by a 19-year-old on a mountain bike. A fun time, good people and an adventure for everyone.  I learned later that they plan to only do guided trips up that ridgeline for 100 Baht a head.




“Many people have come out and said I’m right”* is Trump’s justification for his vision of the world.  By repeating something so often, and confounding the world with so many absurdities, both sides of the political divide are overwhelmed by his ludicrous and conflicting utterances.

This specter of absurdity blinds one with deeper confirmation bias such that the definition of normal shifts to the new un-real reality.

Please find the time to read: a long form essay and response to Trump’s attack on the media and independent thinking. 

*Interview with Bill O’Reily discussing voter fraud 2/5/17 6:49 minutes

Naiveté Exposed

Not since 2010 have I seen so dense a mass of foreigners promenading the streets as I saw this weekend in Koh Lanta. New Years’ Eve 2010 in Chaing Mai was the last time it was elbow-to-elbow with a throng of primarily Europeans, curb to curb carousing to find a bargain, drink or curiosity, from the collage of colorful street vendors, bars beckoning in English with “specials” on drinks and restaurants cheek by jowl, some even advertising “Thai food.”   All in their casual singlet’s or bikini-topped beachware playing the roles of carefree vagabonds with their newly minted tattoos. It was Disneyland for adults with a Sun, Fun and Beach theme.

About 15 cyclists from the Trang Cycling Club trucked or rode to the island to take part in a Koh Lanta-promoted 30 km circle tour of the island.

Never knowing just what the weekend event is, I just ask where and when to meet and find out once we start, or  get there.  The last time I’d visited the island with the cycle group we rode the 140-km distance and participated in a similar event associated with Lanta Koh Lanta, a festival in Old Town on the east side of the island.  It was more of a fair with a costumed parade and typical food stall tents and amusements lined up on a closed street in front of the school.  Yes, there were tourists but by far the majority were Thai.

It’s not uncommon for our group to arrange with a Wat (Buddhist Temple) to allow us to “crash camp” inside the temple.  We take over the Wat or school (like on Sukorn Island) sleeping inside with tents, cooking with gear trucked in, washing and bathing in their facilities, all for 50 Baht ($1.40) per person.  It’s all quite normal and acceptable, the monks even want to share their food, gathered daily with begging bowls on the streets of the local community.  One other reason to “camp” inside was the troop of monkeys that seem to like rifling thru human things.

This Wat is distinguished by several features: It’s the headwaters of a natural spring that supplies most of the nearby town, and with it’s proximity to the invasion of European Buddhist foreign visitors seeking a dose of enlightenment and merit making, it uses the English speaking monk to bless them in situ. In return this Wat has  received foreign funding for major capital upgrades to the worship hall, baths and toilets.

One of our group said they wanted to go to the “market” after dinner.  Thinking he was going after provisions, I asked to go along expecting a sleepy mini-mart or vegetable stand selling the last of the day’s products. Boy howdy, was I naive.

Around the hillside, less than a quiet kilometer away, was nothing short of “Gringo-town” fronting the western Koh Lanta beaches.  For the seeker of movie-grade bazaar crowd scenes and action, this is the place to be, the place to selfie yourself having the best time Facebook can offer. One time I saw graffiti on the back of a bench in Spain facing the tourist hotels saying “Hello Mr. Tomato” referring to the propensity of tourists to come and immediately get sunburned. This was also de rigueur in Koh Lanta: get a tan as fast as you can, to prove you had a great vacation.

The event the following morning was also on a beach, this one 12-km further south and far from the madding crowds. About 298 Thai riders and 2 fahrangs (one Italian guy whose Thai wife runs some kind of business for tourists), saddled up for the Tour d’Lanta.  Once again it was led by a “sound truck” at 20 KmPH so we were in effect a “lycra parade” of happy-to-be-riding cyclists with our personal escort thru villages, towns and countryside.

It’s amazing to see the two Thailands: the beach party version of a popular Asian beach town an hour from an International airport, and the local Thai people’s reality of a town like Trang. Evidently in the short time we’ve been visiting Thailand, 7 years now, the tourists have discovered a new wonderland that is just in-between Koh Lanta’s past beach shack quaintness and the high-rise hotel scene of Krabi or Phuket. If you want to see beach shack prosperity before it becomes high dollar fun, come join the tens of thousands ambling the night markets and renting scooters to find a secluded beach with only 100 other sun seekers on Koh Lanta.

We finished the ride with an all-you-can-eat typical plateful of rice topped with two kinds of fish and vegetables.  Cleansing our palates with unlimited watermelon wedges, it was hard to get up from our tables.

But we did. Some of our group opted for the 2 PM squid fishing contest, others returned to the Wat, and four of us challenged to road to the National Park at the far end of the island.  There were two challenges, neither of which I managed to photograph. The first was riding a narrow winding hillside road above the coastline along with no less than one thousand motor scooters piloted by first-time drivers. You could ratchet down the thousand to maybe 759, but I’d like to throw in all those 241 scooters parked along the road where a trail led to secluded beaches.

The second challenge was the road itself, a cliff-hanger of sorts rising from beach level to rocky hillside in fractions of a kilometer.  I only saw one sign that said 17% grade, but there were many 14’s 12’s and the rest were unmarked. Some of the scooters with two of the larger wide-load foreigners had to jettison a rider to make it to the top.  Slept straight thru that night.

This public “shower” where the water bowls self-fill was a new lesson in Thai bathing.  We’d seen isolated instances where they wrap themselves in a sarong and then splash water over themselves, but that was out in the open.  Here in the semi-walled shower four or five guys can dowse themselves in their sarongs all at once.  If you fling that bowl fast enough it’s kind of like a shower. [An above-ground cistern keeps the sinks filled via a siphoning principal.]

All good experiences, and I never need to go back to Koh Lanta.  Six of us rode home for a 140-km close to the weekend.

Valentine’s Day ride – 2017

Too many people for individual trophies this year, thankfully. The 50-km Valentine’s Day ride to Pak Meng on Sunday the 12th was over 500 riders.  That’s a line of 2 by 2 bicycles 250 riders long; imagining 10-15 feet between them, it would stretch almost ¾ of a mile long. It was surprisingly orderly except when encountering hills and rubber-necking flat tires.

The pace was 20 km/hour (12 mph) so just about everyone could hold their place in line. The second vehicle in the parade was this street “illegal” sound truck that took every bit of a single lane and most of the shoulder with it’s crew of “mic jockeys” who cajoled, encouraged (and scolded the riders who rode outside the twin rows) for the entire length of the ride. When the new King was Crown Prince he led a couple of nation-wide rides called “Bike for Dad” (for his father, the King who recently died) and “Bike for Mom” for his mother the Queen; the theme song from one of those rides, sung monotonously, filled the roadway when the microphones weren’t blaring.

Stanna and I had ridden this event round-trip last year, earning our name-engraved trophy on stage with the Provincal Governor (everyone got one). But Stanna opted to use the motor scooter this year, anticipating high winds on the return journey.  However, she needn’t have worried, the organizers planned for the tired masses by recruiting a motorcycle delivery truck and air conditioned bus to carry at least 100 bikes and riders back to Trang.

Pak Meng is the closest beach to Trang and the departure port for many of the daily island tours. Only two foreigners were among the fleet, myself and a Frenchman I’d never seen in Trang. One thing we’ve gotten used to is having our photo taken with lots of complete strangers, so after the group photo we asked to have just us in one.

A number of other riders and I chose to take the long way home on lightly trafficked roads, south along the coastline thru a National Park, on to a hot springs and back to Trang thru Kantang, turning the holiday event into a formidable ride of 120 km over 8 hours.


Still in Malaysia…

It was well worth cycling to Malaysia, or as Stanna is quick to qualify, we didn’t cycle the 160 km between Trang and Satun, but all other distances, because it gives you the freedom to explore anywhere you want without the hassle of taxis (only effective if you know where you want to go), buses (if you know the routes and schedules) or walking (which isn’t always popular when the distances tally in the miles).

We cycled to the Trang bus station, 12 km, where we put our bikes in the storage locker of a double decker, and then once we were “dropped” at the center of Satun (a favor we didn’t realize until learning the bus station was out of town) we cycled around town and on to our internet booked guesthouse on the river.


The port and ferry pier are 8 km south of Satun thru the mangrove groves making the otherwise hot trip delightful along the shaded roadway.  The Langkawi Ferry terminal rivals a small commercial airport with international glassed-in walkways to the immigration and customs areas.  We’re not certain but there must be four or five different ferry routes originating and terminating on Langkawi.  The long walkways of arrivals and departure retail and duty free shops easily matches some capital city airports.

The island size is about 12×12 miles so it’s not hard to get around on bicycle although we hardly saw any others, excepting one 70+ year-old Dutch couple who was halfway on a trips from Phuket to Singapore. With almost 100,000 inhabitants, the roads are crowded with cars but generally traveling at a reasonable pace.

We especially enjoyed seeing a urban renewal project which channeled a couple of river bends along an older market road.  They’d recently completed a modern two story fresh air market with almost 100 stalls.  Seeing the fresh vegetables, spices, meats being butchered and fish displayed is always worthy of photos.


We suspect this market is even busier before sunrise, as most of the heavy trading happens before folks open their shops and stands.

Our last full day was relegated to finding the craft market shown on all the road signs.  A pre-dawn ride I made around the island found that most the signs pointed to the same craft market 25 km over the mountain to the north shore.

Stanna opted for a lesser promoted batik workshop and showroom on our same side of the island with lesser hills to scale.  Great tour of the batik process (no photos allowed) and endless rooms of batik wares to peruse.  Back in our room and into the pool by 3 made the last day just right.  Cheese Roti was slighted for our dinner.

Two more legs of cycling interspersed with a 90 minute ferry ride found us back in Satun where we convinced the van drivers our two road bike could “no problem” fit behind the back seat of a van.



Previously, we’ve only been to the Malaysian border where, depending on the lines, one can check in and out of that country in less than 10 minutes. Even if you have two 60-day Thai visas, it’s still required to leave Thailand and re-enter: a curious requirement no doubt fostered by government officials who, like all country’s officials, are following edicts and directives that made sense at the conference room table, but not necessarily in practicality.  Or it’s simply payback for US requirements at our borders.

We often use this mandatory displacement to visit other countries, albeit not in the fashion that we prefer: long-term stays to suss out more of the culture, customs, the people and feeling toward foreigners, rather than being just tourists, which are tolerated as sources of cash, disdain, and amusement.  This time we took our bikes and an eighty-passenger ferry to the northern-most island of Malaysia, Langkawi.

Four days on an economically-dependent tourist island, replete with hourly international flights, daily cruise ships and high-rise luxury hotels, doesn’t really constitute learning much about the culture and customs of any country.  Nevertheless, it did give us a taste of food (wonderful and spicy), traffic (far greater ratio of cars to scooters), affluence (higher than Thai standards – but skewed by tourism in this case), religious influence (most women veiled and more prominent mosques) and cost of living (food prices in stores apparently 15% cheaper). [A web search validates the comparison of almost all consumer things from rent to beer at 8 to 18% cheaper than in Thailand.]

Thailand offers Roti, but not cheese roti, which is akin to a quesadilla or India’s flat bread, served with 3 flavors of dips. Roti’s are a flour-based tort thrown pizza-style, round and round, to get the circular shape and thickness and then flipped on to a smooth grill top and seared much like a tortilla.  Typically you’d want a sweet (condensed milk and sugar) or a fruit one with banana, but the cheese variety was definitely worth enjoying.  The 16″ diameter “bread” is folded in from four sides, after the filling is laid in the center, to loosely form an eight inch square. “To Go” orders, the most popular serving, are cut into hand-sized chunks, while the whole roti is severed on a plate for diners wanting to tear their own bite-sized morsels to dip. One dip was a delicious curry with some sauteed vegetables and another was a chickpea version that tasted like a flavorful humus.  The third was a stronger soy based mix which was a great contrast to the others. Our second cheese roti was a dinner serving of two each. Good thing there were a few vegetables in the dips.  We can relish a total carb meal when you do an all-day cycle tour of the island.

Our accommodations were definitely in the low-rise, past-it’s-prime version of accommodation now suited for and serving native tourists.  We prefer seeing and experiencing the local version whenever possible, so we ate and slept where Malaysians ventured.  Preferring a pool to the beach, where the beached whales garnered their tomato tans and slept on $200-a-night beach recliners with their novels on their bellies, we enjoyed several hours each afternoon in the pool out our front door, for $22 a night including a sparse breakfast.

Cycling to the high-dollar beach we found the parasailing, jet skiing, banana riding, sun seekers all breaking the fun barrier, and funding the local economy.  The sands are exactly what the brochures boast: long white sands, umbrellas galore, vendors, and foreigners in bikinis. Smart business makes for semi-private beaches, side by side with the next hotel, making free-loading public access difficult, save for entry at the very far ends. We refrained from photographing those lounging Russians in their undisclosed locations.

Eating at local curb-side/cycle-up buffets is how the locals dine and we joined various ones, depending on our route, for every meal. Why worry deciphering a foreign language menu when you can grab a plate and scoop up rice and whatever you fancy from a minimum of 20 or more quarter-steam-table pans lined up, spoons and tongs beckoning, without sneeze guards. A drink server tallies up your choices and lunches are less than $2 for a large variety of meats, fish, vegetables and rices.

Still more to follow….


Visa Dance

We took our bikes to Malaysia for the 60-day Visa Dance. It wasn’t as virtuous as originally planned riding the whole way, because the closer ferry we’d planned to take didn’t work for us.  The Satun Pier was 168 km from Trang and that was longer than the 50+ Stanna had trained.

Thailand requires visitors to leave the country in order to renew their 30- or 60-day visas. You merely have to check out, check into and out of another country, and then you can come back for another visa period.  This can only 20 minutes if you don’t stay in the neighboring country, or in our case, we usually plan to explore, as we did in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar in previous years.

We did cycle to the bus station in Trang and then after a 2-hour bus ride to Satun, cycled to the Port out on the coast. The Lonely Planet guide book featured a historical museum in Satun so we left a day early and overnighted there, allowing us a morning in the museum. Just a reminder that Thai guesthouses are quite a bargain, generally in the $12 to $18 range with all the amenities like A/C, TV, hot water and frig.

This guesthouse’s restaurant and cantilevered deck was right along the river front which had long-tail-powered fishing boats traveling from the coast inland with bounty. We had our choice of bungalows as we apparently were the only guests this night.



The museum was a large house built for a visit from a reigning king in 1887, but he failed to arrive so the provincial governor took it for his residence.  Interesting to learn that in 130 years the house had been not only a residence, but also government offices, a school and even occupying Japanese headquarters during WWII.  Now only “trophy-sized” in current term of Thai houses, this would have been considered a mansion compared to the average southern Thai’s domicile of woven-mat-walled hovels and perhaps the wealthy in a house of wooden planks.  The displays in the renovated home featured various historical dioramas, original furnishings and cultural themes.





I’m always enthralled with old technology dioramas as they glimpse a slice of life putting textual imagination into three dimensions. What was especially meaningful for me was the exhibit of Sakai artifacts and their own diorama.

Some may recall my post several years back, when the cycle club went up and along a mountain ridge in order to see present-day Sakai living their hunter gather lifestyle in the forests of Southern Thailand. The women and children wore salvaged t-shirts but the chief looked exactly the same including his ‘”Mai Sang” blow pipe weapon in his hand.

More to come on Malaysia.




LukLom revisited

Every year we get treated to a festival of “baby windmills” just outside of Trang’s bypass loop on the road to the Elephant Caves. As we reported last year with a more authoritative history, these elaborate bamboo-mounted windmills, some more than 30′ in the air with propellors 8′ across and tails of 12′, are part of a historic competition in the rice fields outside of town.

Originally designed to ward off birds and insects from the rice fields at harvest time with their movement and sounds created by “tuned” bamboo flutes on the propellor ends, they are only used in this millennium  for festive competitions.  This year the festival goes as scheduled even though the rice harvesting is well behind schedule due to the heavy rains in December & January and the rice fields are still flooded. [Note the limestone Karst in the background – Thailand has hundreds of these all across the long peninsula and out into the Andaman Sea]

Speaking of harvesting rice, we saw one of the harvesters in action trying to be one of the first to wade thru the still swampy rice fields.  For it’s size it’s quite nimble, running quickly across several rai (4 rai equals 1.2 acres) of rice fields. The yield requires two people, one to place a rice sack under the shoot and another to stow the freshly filled bags on the harvester. The driver uses a single lever to drive it forward, turn and reverse: a long joy stick.

Flood Follow-Up

January’s flooding was serious in southern Thailand, over 90 people died and thousands of families were displaced.  It’s taking several more weeks after the high waters for some Trang residents to get back into their homes. In the low-lying areas around town quite a few are still using small watercraft or wading to get home.  This is a small percentage of the residents, but high waters still have hundreds in temporary homes along the high ground and highways.

The water has receded 8 or 9 feet around Ban Wassana, our Trang home, so we haven’t been inconvenienced in the slightest, except for the wet season that’s been lingering.

Many of these homes are out in the agricultural fields and orchards around Trang.  It’s not uncommon to see a Palm Oil plantation totally flooded and trees not looking like they’ll survive.  In back of Wassana the island that was planted with banana trees appears to have about 80% loss.

This is the local version of a FEMA housing trailer, typically an “events tent” staked to the roadside with a 500-liter water tank and a port-a-potty just up the shoulder.  A few metal and wood folding tables are provided which function as beds with the quilts you bring from home.  Evacuees float their possessions to the highway and live on the shoulder and out in the traffic lane, where they cook, wash and sleep until they can get back home.