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.