Thailand: Can’t We Stay Just a Little Bit Longer?

We have come to love Thailand. It’s so full of life and humanness. The people are precious and the culture here just makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped in a warm cozy blanket. Buddhist beliefs permeate all aspects of life here, and people continually try to make good karma by doing good. Thais are good people. They are inspiring. As tourists we have felt safe—always. More than safe, actually. We have felt like Thais were watching out for us, and sending good karma to keep us that way.

Although we had big long faces at the prospect of leaving, we are taking with us a lifetime of memories. Six weeks flew by like lightning, yet it seems so long ago that we hopped on our bikes all wobbly and uncertain about what lay ahead.

Randy and I have loved Thailand twice. Just as we were completing our 2020 tour COVID had broken out. It took three more years before we could return this year, but we never forgot how much the experience meant to us. As with all good things, we wished others could see, feel, smell, and taste it all for themselves. That’s why we brought along Deana, who is hungry for adventure and capable of long tough days in the saddle. We had a lot of fun, epic rides, and grand experiences.

We left the hotel at 7:30am to get to the airport with time to spare for our 12:00 noon flight. The immigration and passport control lines were so long and so congested we actually found ourselves running down the terminal at top speed, bags in one hand and boarding pass in the other to make our flight without a minute to spare—like a scene from a Hollywood movie.

On the airplane I was watching the ground crew on the tarmac as we readied to taxi down the runway. Workers who probably see hundreds of flights per day. As our plane started to move the two men put their hands up in the air and waved bye bye to all on board then gave a little wai (a Thai bow of respect). Yep, even the very last person we see on Thai soil before going airborne gives us a warm & friendly sendoff.

How can we not love the people of Thailand?

Khob khun kha….Thank you so very much Thailand. We don’t know when or how, but we do know one thing—we will be back!

Bangkok—Fitting it all in

We can’t do it all. We need to recognize that our flight leaves on Thursday and accept reality (maybe cry a little too). So we prioritize. Shopping at The Bobae Market, then massage, then an evening bike tour of Bangkok.

The Bobae Market is a clothing market that primarily sells wholesale but will also deal with bargain hunting farangs like us. We can’t try anything on, but that’s to be expected when one bypasses retail. At the canal boat pier we must have appeared to know what we were doing because first some Australians and then some Americans asked us for directions. After helping them figure out the system we realized—we’ve been here a while! We know where things are and how to get around (‘Cept for that bus). We feel like regulars! We don’t wanna go home! Can we stay a little longer???

The massage was a fantastic experience. Those ladies find every single tight muscle and work them hard (you might cry)! For having petite hands and tiny sized Thai bodies, these massage providers somehow morph into Incredible Hulk when it comes to power and strength. Deana and I came out all bendy, twisty and pummeled into muscular submission. 60 minute Thai massage—highly recommended if you have $10 to spare! ($12 if you leave a tip—worth every bhat!)

Randy opted  to shop at MBK mall with Ben in order to avail himself of the air conditioned atmosphere, spend some time with his son, and maybe find some treasure to bring home. (Despite returning empty handed).

We had a final opportunity for some two-wheeled exploration. We took the Evening Bike Tour excursion with Jay, from Velo Thailand and it was an exhilarating experience that exceeded our expectations, and one that can never be replicated at home! Amazing Jay knows her way around the city. She took us down hidden alleyways that would have been impossible for us to discover on our own. Jay is also a wealth of knowledge and was able to answer some enduring questions we’ve had. We saw Bangkok the way we love to see all of Thailand—on bikes, seeing it all—the beautiful, the flawed, the gnarly—all utterly interesting! In the lesser visited west side of the Chao Phraya River we saw tiny communities connected by even skinnier knobbly pathways that twisted and turned into hidden areas that enthralled and delighted. We visited The Flower Market, Wat Arun, and Chinatown. The road through Chinatown was crazy with cars, people, taxis, tuktuks—we squeezed through, around, in front of and behind all the moving road users. Jay confirmed what we’ve come to learn—there are no real rules (not that are followed, anyways). You go by instinct. Look for an opening, put your hand in the air to stop traffic then flow to where you need to go.

We flowed to the Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market, Thailand’s largest wholesale flower market, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s a sprawling market with endless rows of roses, orchids, carnations, and miles of marigolds, jasmine and lotus flowers to name a few. It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of its size and the scale of production. If we didn’t have so many questions it could have rendered us speechless.

Night time riding in Bangkok is amazing!

Bangkok—Lots & Lots of Wats

One could, but shouldn’t miss the important Wats in Bangkok. The Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit, which we didn’t see). There’s also the Grand Palace which is…well, grand! If you love beautifully maintained, ornate, shiny gold & glistening architecture of cultural importance, then doing some wat-hopping in Bangkok should be at the top of your list.

Interestingly, although Emerald Buddha is housed in an enormous, gorgeous structure on the grounds of the Grand Palace, the physical size of the Buddha image itself is a mere 66 cm (26 in) × 38 cm (19 in). Photographs inside the temple are not permitted (so you’ll have to Google it), and people must have fully covered shoulders & knees to enter. You must kneel on the floor and not face your feet toward Buddha. Also, you must remain silent. The Emerald Buddha is adorned with three sets of gold seasonal decorations: two were made by Rama I, one for the summer and one for the rainy season, and a third made by Rama III for the winter or cool season.

The Reclining Buddha statue represents Buddha during his last illness, about to enter Parinirvana, the stage of great salvation after death that can only be attained by enlightened souls. Reclining Buddha is big. Like, really really big. in contrast to Emerald Buddha, Reclining Buddha is 46m (151 ft) long and 15m (49 ft) high. Buddha’s feet are also inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Alas, pictures are better than words!

Bangkok—The Quiet of the Night

It’s absolutely stinkin hot during the afternoon. Relentless and overbearing, we are sweaty and sticky just stepping out the door. Even your kneecaps sweat—it’s just that hot & humid! It’s not a heat wave—it’s just normal and people learn to live with it. Therefore, evening exploring is far more comfortable—especially since Bangkok comes alive when the sun recedes.

It’s not always noise and chaos here—there are quiet little neighbourhoods just a stones throw from our hotel here on the canal. Quaintness abounds in the tiniest nooks & crannies. Locals live & work along the canal. We are now regulars with “the canal lady” who sells drinks & beer and other essentials at her little hut sandwiched in the tight dark space between a wall and the canal’s edge. Her pet tortoise sometimes walks the narrow walkway. Friends & families sit outside on rickety chairs (or just on the concrete) to watch Muai Thai on a shared television. Just beyond the canal we discovered a gem of a community, Ban Pham Thom. The wooden houses look and feel from a different era, and restaurants just place their tables & chairs on the narrow street. It literally all happens on the sidewalkless narrow street—People stroll, bicycles roll, salted fish BBQs on the grill and people sip beer.

If you suddenly crave fresh juicy pineapple (all cut cubed & ready to eat), just walk 5 minutes in any direction and it will appear. Looking for some late night fresh noodles & veggies? Probably an even shorter walk. Care for some chicken satay? Two doors down. There are some things we will miss terribly.

Bangkok: Public Transit for Newbs

We wake up and venture out into the street to rustle up breakfast and plan our day. Actually our “plan” usually means no plan and we go whichever way the wind blows.

The wind blew us to the Palladium and the Platinum shopping areas via the public transit canal boat. We look like total tourists when we board as we run to the back seats where we can pull out cameras and video the unfolding scenery. We gawk and point, our heads whip left and right, looking bedazzled by the ordinary. Yep, we are high-rollin easily entertained travellers!

Speaking of public transit…..Randy, our Navigator, thought we should attempt a Bus for the first time. Randy flagged down a bus, just like he would a taxi. With our coin collections in hand we were ready for the required fare, whatever it may be. We step aboard. Curious eyes studied us, people looked at each other…Thai grins ensued. We probably overwhelmed the non-English speaking bus driver trying to pay our fare but he didn’t appear to understand why we were flashing money at him and he resumed driving. Not sure what to do, we sat our bums down, still holding our hands out with fare money. Who should we pay? The bus suddenly turns an unexpected corner….omg no! We are on the wrong bus! Stop the bus!!!! We rang the bell frantically. Passengers appeared to be  smiling and asking among themselves if anyone knows how to speak English to us farangs. Unable to resolve the farang situation, the bus driver gives up and opens the front door so farangs can self-eject! Randy is still waving his 20 bhats around as we disembark. Honestly, I suspect they are still laughing at us….and we ride the bus for free (short a trip as it was)

We hailed a TukTuk instead to the subway, heads hung in failure…..

The subway was cram packed.  One lady recognized our farang-ness and through conversation we learned that she’s a Thai living in Florida. She knew what Ontario winters were like, so she understands why we are here. She was happy to hear about our love for Thailand and our cycling adventures. Just thinking about the snow back home reminded us how much we love being here!

Ben (Randy’s son) has arrived from Japan. He will visit for the remainder of our time in Bangkok. Being young and energetic, he was KhaoSan-curious so we introduced him to the late night Lunatic Madness of the district—then retired back to our lovely, peacefully quiet hotel letting Ben take on Khao San….

Morning came. We regrouped and went to the colossal & sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market with its 15,000 stalls and 11,505 vendors, divided into 27 sections. It’s the world’s largest and most diverse weekend market. We have been to many markets, but we opined that if you can only visit one market, this is the one. This has it all. Fine art, hand-made Japanese paper, clothing clothing clothing, bags & shoes, gems, singing bowls, sculptures, socks, home decor, electronics….absolutely endless. If you can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. And much of it was roofed, so at least we weren’t broiling in the convection oven that the sun delivers by day.

After dinner we strolled the side streets near the canal. We discovered yet another charming little quiet neighbourhood with traditional architecture. We remarked how quiet, peaceful and serene it looked and felt. Bangkok at night isn’t always loud and crazy.

Bangkok is not singular in dimension. It’s a wildly imperfect convergence of decadence, beauty, and the whole array of human experience. It somehow all fits together like a chaotic but cohesive painting you just gotta love.

We are not wishing to hurry our return to Canada…if we could, we’d hit the rewind button and do it all again!

Video: The Phanpha Canal Boat, Bangkok

Bangkok—By Night (Khao San Craziness)

Night time in the Khao San Road district is beyond description. We can however say that the human interactions that punctuate our experience enrich us.

We don’t just walk by vendors. We stop, talk & connect. Laughing with the guy from Myanmar who works at La Moda Suit (30 Ram Buttri, Phra athith) who  tells us how they are trying to recover economically from COVID and make a living in the custom-made suit business. The woman crafting beautiful hand-made beaded bags who negotiated in our only shared language—laughter. The tattoo covered young man in the back alley polishing his bike and thrilled that we wanted a picture of his bike and him. The English teacher who places his students at tables & chairs then invites tourists to sit and converse with them so they can build their language skills with English speaking people of all nationalities. The happy young man with his tray full of lasers and lighters for sale who wants Randy to be “happy happy”with his new purchase.

Khao San at night—pounding music, and cannabis vendors every 20 meters. Cannabis not your style? Try some laughing gas for a little fun. If you have the bhats, you can buy anything you can imagine. Want to munch on black scorpion on a stick? (Maybe the laughing gas helps with that) Men, women, ladyboys, undefineds—gender diversity thrives. As we looked around one thing was clear—Night time on Khao San is an alternate reality that will sear itself into your entertained and stimulated memory bank forever.

We sat down on a side street just to people-watch, drink beer (water for me), eat spring rolls and take it all in. We noticed five dogs all laying about our feet (literally). We are ok with that (remember, we made peace with the dogs of Thailand?). A little convo with the vendor we learned she has 13 dogs at her home and these were a few of her pets.

You never know what you will encounter. If you get bored standing in your current location, just walk another 50ft and you’ll encounter fascinating new things. Like the street dancing (break dancing?) show-down that we happened upon. They held us mesmerized with their skills, entertaining us and enriching our evening. We recognized that they too are trying to make a living and we were more than happy to contribute to their livelihood when we noticed a collection box circulating

Bangkok at night is an intense experience and is anything but boring! It’s like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone—it simply must be experienced first hand to grasp it. Most of the time seeing Thailand by bike has been the most rewarding. In Bangkok however, we need to have feet on the ground to be able to live, breathe and feel the people and their culture

Video: Night Clubbing in Khao San

Video: The Khao San Craziness

Video: Custom made suits in Khao San area, Bangkok

Video: Street dancing (break dancing) show down in Khao San, Bangkok

Bangkok—By Day

Bangkok—According to the World Meteorological Organization, Bangkok is the world’s hottest city. By day it is a mega-city And at night it’s a steamy, intensely turbo-charged sensory extreme overload—and it’s magnificent. Having never been to Bangkok, Deana didn’t know what to expect. I knew one thing—we will not be bored!

We left Surat Thani on Thursday for the final destination of our six-week exploration of Thailand. Bangkok. We had it all organized—bike panniers and other baggage all bundled up for the one hour Thai VietJet flight. We had some bargain tickets, around $85 each including the bikes. We arrived at the little airport, tossed all our bags on the weigh scale, and that’s when we got the Big Shock—everything except the bikes was considered “excess baggage” and was exorbitantly pricey. That’s all we’ve got to say about that….we just had to suck it up and carry on.

Our first hotel looked great on The Palace Prince Hotel was considerably less than great—it was downright disappointing. Our new rule: no matter how good it looks online, no matter how good the reviews, never book more than one night. Grimly committed for one night, we pulled up stakes first thing in the morning and went to a newly built hotel, the Lilit Bang Lumphu Hotel and it’s fantastic.

We took a canal boat several kilometres to capture scenery from a watery perspective. Homes butt right up against the canal edge and their contents spill out of their confines. Laundry and other personal wares hang out to dry suspended over the water. Honestly, if a big windstorm comes along there are gonna be a number of naked Thai people looking for their clothes downriver! Plants grow in pots along skinny strips of concrete edging, along with pots & pans and other instruments of daily living. Families sit together eating & socializing perched on the skinny edge of the canal. Riding the canal boat allows us to peer briefly into lives that we can only imagine.

We took the canal boat to the end of the line (we think) and exited to see whatever we might see. Being Canadian and from a small town we are entertained easily, so perhaps there’s that…. But we found the Pratunam Night Market. It was a chaotic jam-packed swirling mix of street vendors, food, clothing, shoes, massages, scooters & cars squeezing through tight narrow spaces that were crammed with people.

There are just some experiences that can only be fully understood by being there in person to witness it all. Bangkok is just that.



Bye bye Koh Samui—Back to Real Thailand!

Back on the mainland—and oh, so happy!

Van, Ferry, Bus, TukTuk—we took them all (in that order too!) and with no pre-arranged bookings cuz that’s how we roll! It all fell in place as transportation does here in Thailand. 4.5 hours and 320 bhats later (about $24) we were in our new hotel in real Thailand (on the mainland), swimming in the big pool.

We took a TukTuk ride to the bike shop downtown. While sitting at a red light in a very busy intersection the driver gestured diagonally down the road toward the bike shop that was around the corner. We didn’t understand, and what we interpreted was “You farangs! Get out right here, right now! Quick!” So we scrambled to collect bags and Randy ejected himself lickety split straight out the back of the TukTuk in between lanes of busy city traffic. Suddenly Tuktuk-driver-lady spots Randy scrambling in between the moving traffic as the light turned green. She’s gesturing wildly to “get back innnnnnn!!!”, but by this time Randy’s hopped skipped & lept over to the safety of the sidewalk while Deana and I reflexively remained on the TukTuk. What TukTuk lady had really been requesting was confirmation it was that bike shop we wanted to go to. Forced to move with the traffic we had to abandon Randy, all of us laughing. Bye bye Randy!! Poor Randy…

And now there’s the 2023 Surat Thani Food Fair. We saw it advertised last week before going to Samui. Since Thailand is a virtual food fest extravaganza every day, we tried to reconcile in our minds what might actually happen at an actual food fair! Tonight we ventured down crooked misaligned sidewalks to answer that very question.

Food! Music! More food! Enough food to feed a million Thais (or half a million Canadians). Food as far as the eye can see. Squids on sticks, crabs of every size & color, prawns big enough to scare small children, fish rotisserating around charcoal grills, and even buckets with live eels squirming ‘round and turtles trying to escape their buckets….we hate to think they are being sold as anything but pets, but we didn’t really want to know. It’s a seaside city, so no surprise about the quantity and variety of seafood. There were also twisty foreign looking pork parts that might have been their innards—again, we will leave that question unanswered and also un-tasted.

We’ll let the pictures do the talking!

Bye bye Randy! Sorry ‘bout the traffic, lol!

The wonderful lady who boxed up our bicycles at Racing World in Surat Thani

Monkey Biz at Ang Thong National Marine Park

Paris Hilton sunglasses, inch long gel nails, false eyelashes, designer shoes & hats with 12” ruffled brims, and snorkelers in Speedos and thong bikinis. Samui is everything we are not, and never aspire to be! But we made the most of the day and took a day trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park by high-speed powerboat.

They packed us into that speedboat much like an airplane. Rows of seats with minimal legroom. No windows at eye level to see out of. First stop was snorkeling. Randy and Deana both snorkelled while I chose to just float merrily above water. They each reported a lot of colourful little fish, but the reef didn’t appear to be too terribly healthy. It’s surprising there were any fish at all, given four or five high speed boats dropped off about  a hundred and fifty sunscreen-slathered people into the water to see the sea’s offerings. Repeat daily, every day of the year and it’s no wonder it wasn’t more “alive”.

Next stop…another island where you can climb steps steep enough to qualify as ladders up to see the Blue Lagoon, followed by yet another island stop for more view-seeking climbs. Randy and I chose to skip the hike to the mountain top, opting instead for the beautiful glorious powdery white sandy beach. We plunged into the waves and made like bobble heads, up and down & bouncing around the whole time, happy happy!! It was among the most beautiful swimming spots we’ve ever experienced.

We noticed a few camera snappers on the shoreline making a fuss about a tree. It was incumbent upon us to extract ourselves from the water and wander over too, camera in hand. Right in front of our eyeballs was a harem of Dusky Leaf Monkeys feeding on leaves in the trees. They were un-disturbed by our proximity just 12ft away and they just went about their biz. If you don’t see the video below, click on this link, Dusky the monkey in Ang Thong

The boat ride back to shore was, to say the least, a turbulent choppy bumpity bump blast across the big sea water waves. Surprisingly, we all survived and we didn’t lose a single person overboard. Not convinced the speedboat could have sustained all the crashing up & down without damage….

On another note, it was Deanas birthday today. At breakfast she was relaying stories about her visit to the elephant sanctuary yesterday when the resort staff produced a cake and sang Happy Birthday to her in their sweet Thai voices.

Tomorrow we escape Samui!


Koh Samui: Let me off the Island!

Our plan was to use the week for sun, surf, and other watery explorations of Thailand which we are now doing. Our adventurous spirit was divided and apprehensive about coming to Koh Samui, the country’s second largest island and a most popular touristy destination in the Gulf of Thailand. Although we free-range explore we don’t do it without researching beforehand. Academically we knew what to expect but somehow the lure of an island experience overrode our better judgement and we capitulated.

So here we are—at the moment we miss “Thailand”—because, after two two trips (2020 and now 2023) and about 4,000 kilometres of really connecting with Thailand by bicycle we feel qualified to say that this, Koh Samui, is not the Thailand we have come to know and love. It’s a cram-packed touristy drag net.

We booked our first night and landed at a hotel that turned out to have a small beach that was pretty, but had some rocks that made the beach rather unswimmable, at least for the wave bouncing escapades that we hoped for.

There’s a saying—a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. We should have stayed put but we set out for “greener pastures” the following morning. We looked for a TukTuk that would take us 30km to our new even more expensive beach resort on the other side of the island. We’ve grown accustomed to 50-100bhat fares and experienced reality shock to discover it’s not happening for any less than 800bhats (about $32). Ok, whatever—just get us to our new retreat so we can leap into the waves, goshdarnit!

Our new fancypants hotel has no beach. It’s on the beach, and we can look at the lovely blue water but there’s a big retaining wall where our mind, body and spirit anticipated a sandy beach. Beach loungers overlook it, but we ain’t swimming in that beach. The hotel booking is non-refundable (and three times what better judgement would have prevented us from paying) It feels like a cruel joke, really.

Determined to make the best of the situation in our own ways, Deana chose an excursion to visit an elephant sanctuary and Randy & I decided to do whatever it takes to make that beach experience happen. It took an hour of walking the shoreline to find the three essentials—shade, seating, and waves. We finally found some beach loungers for rent—$16. ($15.40 more than we paid for the day in Prachuap Khirikan) But—there were waves! Big white-capped rollers! That’s what want, oh yeahhhhhh! We handed over the extortion money then planted our bums happily. Nevermind the red flags protruding from the sand everywhere warning people not to go into the water because the seas are too dangerous. At this point we refuse to accept any more disappointment. Big splashy waves, and sweet salty fun—we finally found a tiny drop of heaven and we are not going to just look at it. We bounced, leaped, twisted and cavorted in those big rolly waves all afternoon—defiantly and gleefully.

We are here, we can say we’ve seen it—now let us off the island!

Longtail to Ferry Boat to Koh Samui

West coast to East coast. We travelled far today!

Absolutely stunning! It rates up there with our all-time most beautiful places to have visited. Our cameras were clicking non-stop.

Before hopping into a van to the Cheow Lan Lake long tail boat trip we talked with the family we’d met the previous day from Coburg, Germany. (How cool is that!) Sebastian and Isabell are also travelling with their daughter Hannah. They gave us some tips about getting to our destination. It was about an hour long ride through some breathtaking scenery that we managed to capture from our backseat truck window. We couldn’t even imagine what was in store for us when we got to the lake. Super excited, but we felt momentary angst when we saw the throngs of organized-tour-tourists that had arrived. We envisioned crammed boats! But we had a plan (thanks to Sebastian). We fast tracked over to hire a small boat just for the three of us. Luxury!!! We had the whole loooongboat to ourselves. We could stretch out and enjoy.

Omg. Jaw dropping stunning turquoise blue water and beautifully shaped limestone mountains. The boat operator’s name was “Eeeen” (or so that’s what it sounded like to us) and he took us to all the beautiful spots. The pictures can only capture a tiny glimpse of this paradise!

Afterward we decided it was time to blast out of the Park and head back to the east coast. Found a comfy cozy van that we hired just for the three of us. Three hours later we had fast-tracked to the ferry to Koh Samui. For 180 bhats we are sailing and by 6:00 we should be Islanders. It’s not a pretty ferry by any means but hey, we rode our bicycles throughout Thailand, stayed in some $16 hotel rooms, and ate dinner in 7-Elevens all grungy & sweaty (hoping we’d never run into anyone we knew). This is a cruise ship to us!

Again, no bookings, no tickets, no reservations. We just fly by the seat of our pants and await the adventure!