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Cycling to Singapore: Into Thailand

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Editor's note: American Jesse Millett is cycling from Kunming to Singapore as part of a group led by explorer Jin Feibao that will deliver letters of friendship from Kunming Mayor Zhang Zulin to mayors and other leaders around Southeast Asia. Millett will be sending us dispatches from the road to share with GoKunming readers as the cyclists make their way to Singapore. More of Jesse's writing about the journey is available on his personal blog, which requires a proxy or VPN connection to visit in China.

WARNING: Avoid main highways in Thailand at all costs; if not for your safety, then for your sanity. Roads in Thailand are exceptional, but unfortunately they are overrun with traffic and the only thing to look forward to is the next 7-Eleven. The scenery is bland, and the constant drowning noise of the passing trucks and cars ruins any chance of interacting with locals. If you have the time and energy, taking the small back roads is definitely worth it. The roads are curvy and interesting, the people have the chance to be much friendlier, and the scenery is ten times more beautiful.

Leaving Cambodia
Leaving Cambodia

Days 36-38: Sisophon, Cambodia – Bangkok, Thailand (340km)
We crossed the border from Cambodia at Poipet, and cycled – on the left hand side of the road – eight more kilometers to Aranyaprathet, where there are plenty of places to eat, stay, and change money. We had plenty of time so we continued on Highway 33 for 45km to Sa Kaeo where there are a few nice guesthouses and hotels. The next day we cycled 112km to Phanom Sarakham on Highway 359 (ask a local for shortcuts from Sa Kaeo) and then another 118 to Bangkok on Highway 304.

Phanom Sarakham at night
Phanom Sarakham at night

The traffic gets worse and worse the closer you get to Bangkok and you'll find yourself weaving around traffic more than anything. A GPS device is quite helpful once you're in the city. We took the most direct route to the city from Cambodia, along with every other vehicle. If you are in a rush, then take a bus like everyone else. Or instead, find the time, get off the main road, and explore the countryside and take in the welcoming nature of the Thai people.

Bangkok traffic
Bangkok traffic

Bangkok is a mess of a city but it has everything you could want and much more. We only spent one whole day in the megatropolis, but I think we had enough. After passing off our letters and visiting China Town, we continued on our way, south, towards Malaysia.

Day 40: Bangkok – Petchaburi (130km)
Many cyclists we talked to chose to take a bus the first 90km out of Bangkok to avoid the traffic and monotonous ride. The road is straight, the scenery is nothing but office buildings and shops, then mostly fish factories and industrial buildings, and the rush of traffic never ends. Also keep an eye out for the U-turn lane which sneaks up on you and you could find yourself backtracking a kilometer or carrying your bike over the barrier. At around kilometer 88 on Highway 35 you'll find a shortcut to Wat Khao Yisan, Ban Laem, and eventually Petchaburi that will restore your sanity and your respect for Thailand.

David checking out the mangroves
David checking out the mangroves

The scenery changes from factories to salt flats, pavement to mangroves, and office building complexes to small fishing villages. The sound of traffic changes to the welcoming greetings of locals, the monkeys howling in the trees and the ocean breeze. At Ban Laem take a right towards Petchaburi to find some guest houses, or stay left to camp somewhere on the beach. We have heard mixed reviews about camping in southern Thailand. It is convenient because towns and guesthouses are spread very far apart, but it is very hot, even at night, and stray dogs or monkeys could give you a hassle.

Day 41: Petchaburi – Prachuap Khiri Khan (170 km)

From Petchaburi we headed back to the coast to ride the beautiful country roads to Cha-Am, a nice beach town. From here you have no choice but the expressway which continues past Hua Hin.

Near Petchaburi
Near Petchaburi

About 20 kilometers south of Hua Hin you have the choice to go back to the smaller roads, but after cycling 100 kilometers we weren't about to take the chance of there not being any guest houses for another 100, so we fought the last 70 km on the expressway to Prachuap Khiri Khan, making it our biggest ride yet. Unfortunately my highlight of the ride was the air-conditioning and ice water at 7-Eleven. Prachuap Khiri Khan is a really nice town with a night market and a few bars, including a reggae bar called Small World that hosts live music on the street.

Day 42: Prachuap Khiri Khan – Bang Burd (120km)

There is only one road in Thailand heading south from here, so you shouldn't have trouble. Highway 4 or AH2 is the expressway that runs from Bangkok to Malaysia. From Prachuap Khiri Khan it's a grueling 80km on the busy road, though it is well paved and has a wide shoulder. Take a left on Road 3169 to Thalu Island and Bang Saphon. It's nine kilometers to the first town where there is a delicious bakery, then turn right to take the quiet road down the coast.

Fishing boats at Bang Burd
Fishing boats at Bang Burd

The ride is gorgeous with rolling hills, views of the ocean, and beaches everywhere. Make sure to continue to stay left near the shore and you'll eventually pop into Bang Burd, a small beach community with guesthouses, restaurants, and local fisherman.

Day 43: Bang Burd – Thung Wau Ban Beach (81km)

This was our "rest day" as we started and ended on a beach, and took our time getting there. From Bang Burd, take a left after about two kilometers to head down the new road. You will pass some cozy fishing towns in beautiful bays and "Chumphon's most distinct sand dunes".

Chumphon
Chumphon

At just over 20km you arrive at a newly built temple that will rewrite your idea of religion in Southeast Asia. It's a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism, with statues and figures every couple meters, built in a gaudy modern manner to please the flux of Thai tourists.

Ouch
Ouch

Continuing along the coast we finally arrived at Thung Wau Ban, a beach community 15km northeast of Chumphon.

Day 44: Chumphon Beach – Ranong (140km)

It was an easy 15km to Chumphon following the signs from the beach. Once you arrive in the city take a right to the train station, a left at the station, and then another right over the tracks along with all the other bicycles and motorbikes. This road will take you back to Highway 4, which cuts across the isthmus to the west side bordering Myanmar.

Salt mines at sunset
Salt mines at sunset

The road is a bit hilly, but it's also fast and curvy providing amazing views of the landscape, a mix of tropical forests and limestone pinnacles. There are a couple sights to see along the way including a nice waterfall right before the biggest climb of the day only 10km from Ranong. The climb is not more than a kilometer long, but it rises at least 200 meters.

Ranong is a lively border town with lots of diversity. There is a beautiful canyon nearby with waterfalls and hot springs, plus Myanmar is just a boat trip away. The Chinese members of our team took the boat across to Myanmar from here, but I was not able to get a visa so I had to wait.

Delivering letters in Myanmar
Delivering letters in Myanmar

Once they arrived in Myanmar their passports were taken and they weren't allowed to leave the town anyways, so it was just as well I didn't go.

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