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Cycling in Thailand

Posted on 26 January 2012 by RJtravels

Let’s go cycling in Thailand this weekend! Rather than taking an organized cycling trip with other tourists, which is fun as well, this time we will ride our carbon road bikes to experience Thailand at full speed!

Medical-, wellness- and sports tourism are boosted by a greater focus on healthy living and when it comes to cycling Thailand is paradise. Here we find good roads, beautiful scenery, a lovely climate, food and drinks sold along the way, friendly locals amused by foreign cyclists and sometimes a few pretty ladies that ride along with you on their scooter! So pack your bike and come to Thailand!

Koh Samed in the distance

Koh Samed in the distance

 Laem Mae Phim

This trip starts in Laem Mae Phim, a small fishing town in Rayong province, about 200 Km south east of Bangkok. To call it a ‘town’ is hardly deserved; Laem Mae Phim is simply a coastal strip with a beach and restaurants on the south side and some hotels on the north side. This is still a piece of undiscovered Thailand – at least for foreigners, or ‘farangs’ as they are called here – which is set to develop at a fast pace in the years to come. The farangs that do hang out here are mainly Swedes, looking for some sun and tranquility. Yet if the fast growing number of new hotels and condominiums is any indication, this peacefulness will rapidly disappear in the near future. But as of now, those looking for the famous Thai nightlife will find little of interest to them in this beach town.

Fishing boats on Laem Mae Phim beach

Fishing boats on Laem Mae Phim beach

Laem Mae Phim is situated about 25 Km east of Ban Phe, a town that will be more familiar to farangs as most boats to Koh Samed depart from there. Road number 3145 runs along the coast between Laem Mae Phim and Ban Phe, with magnificent views of the Gulf of Thailand and Koh Samed. There is a wide hard shoulder on this road used by slower traffic, such as scooters and foodcarts, which gives a relative feeling of safety when riding on it. I use the word ‘relative’ on purpose as there is no greater waste of white paint than road markings on Thai roads. At least on a road bike it is acceptable to be wearing brightly colored lycra clothing, so at least make sure you are visible to other traffic!

In Laem Mae Phim one can arrange for cheap accommodation at independent hotels such as Villa Bali and Tamarind Resort. Both resorts offer a small private bungalow for anywhere between 1,000 – 2,000 baht. Those with bigger budgets should check out the X2 Rayong Resort. This weekend we check in at the Tamarind Resort which is managed by friendly Tom and his wife, for around 1,500 baht per night.

Road along Laem Mae Phim beach

Road along Laem Mae Phim beach

Undiscovered Thailand

At 7 am, after an early breakfast, we ride west towards Ban Phe. The beach is on our left hand side, and some fishermen are preparing this morning’s catch for sale. Traffic is very sparse, and we see monks from nearby temples collecting alms from local villagers. After a few Km the road turns a bit inland and the scenery is getting greener. We ride past weather-beaten road signs pointing the way to deserted beaches, past fruit vendors, temples, hotels and small convenience shops. Tourism has not yet left its traces here…this really is undiscovered Thailand!

A small truck, loaded top, bottom, left, right and center with inflated airbeds and toys is driving in the opposite direction towards the beach. As the windscreens are covered with product we can’t see the driver, yet we do catch a glimpse of a cigarette holding hand poking through the inflated toys. We wonder how the driver is able to see at all.

The many street dogs don’t really bother us, and we have a very effective weapon against the more aggressive species: a firm well aimed squeeze in the water bottle usually takes care of business. After 10 Km we pass the brand new Phuphatara condominium rises, situated next to a Marriott hotel under construction. After another 2 Km we pass an older Novotel, the first big chain hotel along this road.

The road now turns back to the coast and we see the sun being reflected in the water of the Gulf of Thailand. After passing another new condominium and villa project, Oriental Beach, we ride through a small town where as long as we can remember an old rusty car is parked by the side of the road. The model looks to be at least 40 years old. We notice the tempting smell of charcoal grilled chicken.

Beautiful view of Koh Samed

Fish market

Fish market

Not much further we join the coast again at Suan Son Beach. This is a beautiful tree-lined road with lush vegetation running parallel to the long beach. Whilst riding under the trees we have a beautiful view of Koh Samed in the distance. There are many small restaurants and bars along this beach. The beach is not the most beautiful or the cleanest beach in Thailand yet its undeveloped and rough character is appealing somehow.

We approach a busy fish market at 35 Km/hr and now we really need to hit the brakes. Thai usually don’t look for other traffic when crossing a road, and certainly not when there is food at stake. Those that do have trouble estimating the speed of a road bike. We ride a little further on the tree lined road and about 45 minutes after leaving LMP we enter the town of Ban Phe.

Disco bus

Disco bus

Ban Phe

Although Ban Phe is effectively a small and friendly coastal town, after the tranquil 25 Km behind us it now feels as if we ride into a metropolis. We see travelers in transit, minivans, (disco) buses, souvenir shops, markets and even a real Tesco Lotus supermarket. This all causes the relatively heavy traffic to move in all kinds of unpredictable directions, everybody seems to have a different final destination. English signs near restaurants, hotels and bars are the silent witnesses of the presence of farangs here, who are often in transit going to or returning from Koh Samed. We ride through the town as fast as we can, stared at by scooter taxi drivers that quite likely ask themselves why ‘rich’ farangs like us choose to ride a bike, the typical poor man’s means of transport here. 

Rest stop: pai nai?

A rest stop or any other interaction with the local Thai gives great but by now predictable conversations. The guaranteed first question is ‘pai nai?’ which translates into ‘where are you going?’ When, in simple Thai, we share our route of just under 100 Km, we are stared at in utter disbelief. Another tough sell here is explaining that we will finish at the same point where we started. ‘Thamaai?’ or ‘why, what’s the point?’. We try ‘okkamlangkaai’, ‘exercise’ but a resolute shaking of the head signals a total lack of understanding of what these crazy farangs are up to.

Checking out our bikes

Checking out our bikes

Next, the bikes are subjected to some thorough research, which always starts with the bravest Thai feeling the tires. These must be pumped up a lot harder than expected, because usually other bystanders are invited to really squeeze those tires, accompanied with loud expressions of surprise. The next guaranteed course of action is lifting the bike. This too gives an unexpected result, although most Thai are familiar with ‘carbooooon fibuuuuuuur’ material, with that typical charming Thai emphasis on the last syllable.

'Hey, come check this out!'

'Hey, come check this out!'

After everyone finished lifting the bikes, it is time for the ultimate question that must have been on everybody’s mind. ‘Taorai?’ or ‘what does it cost?’. This is always a difficult moment. Should we give them the real price of the bike, an unimaginable sum of money for the average Thai onlooker which would confirm all prejudices against ‘rich’ farangs, or should we go really low and run the risk of disappointing them? Knowing that in the end it will all be compared to the price of a scooter, we decide to go middle of the road here. ‘Muen gan motosai’, ‘the same as a scooter’ it is then. ‘Peng mak!’, ‘very expensive!’, is the immediate reply. Those crazy farangs. They spent such a fortune on a bicycle, and for that same money they could have been riding a brand new scooter.

Mae Rumphueng

And further we go. We now ride over a small hill that is a natural divider between Ban Phe and the next coastal strip Mae Rumphueng. Nothing to worry about here, it is only a small incline of around 6% – we change gears and soon we leave the hill behind us. With a sharp right turn we enter the 10 Km long road along Mae Rumphueng beach. The sea here is known for its strong undercurrents; people drown here quite regularly. 

Mae Rumphueng

Mae Rumphueng

We ride past unfinished buildings and half empty condominiums, the sad remains of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. This coastal area looks rather desolate, and it is referred to as the ‘Gaza strip’ by a befriended restaurant owner in Laem Mae Phim. For around 600,000 Baht you can call yourself the owner of a small beachfront condominium here. On this strip we have seen quite a bit of development lately, just like with the rest of the Rayong coast. So who knows if that cheap condo will turn out to be a great investment.

Towards the end of the beach road we take a sharp right turn, past the local weather station, and we head north towards main road number 3 that connects the cities of Rayong and Chanthaburi. When we reach the town of Taphong we can turn left towards Rayong, just another 8 Km. As traffic on the road into Rayong is quite heavy today we decide to turn around instead and repeat the ride in opposite direction. Laem Mae Phim, our home base, is situated 42 Km to the east. That is 42 Km with headwinds from here!

Today I am lucky as I am passed by 2 ladies on a scooter doing around 45 Km/hr. I speed up, get right behind them and for a few Km I make a nice positive contribution to my average speed for that day. The girls think it is hilarious that I am able to keep up with them, and of course they also want to know where I am going: ‘pai nai’? Unfortunately they turn off the road not much later (careful: Thai brake before indicating, if they indicate at all) and I am facing the headwinds in full force once more. In Ban Phe we stop at the pier for a quick coffee, and about 3 hours and 85 Km later we ride back into Laem Mae Phim where we finish the ride with a little sprint.

Rest and relaxation

The rest of the day is spent with a Thai massage, a lunch on the beach with fresh seafood, a little swimming and some reading. In the evening Laem Mae Phim is rather quiet, but there are enough restaurants and little bars to still have a good time. Apart from excellent Thai seafood there are quite a few other options. Our favorite is the small Italian restaurant La Capanna, where Marco serves the best pizza in Thailand. Sausage and sauerkraut lovers can visit Tequila Garden. If your idea of fun is sipping cocktails on a deck overlooking the sea, then the Phish Café should be on your ‘must do’ list. It’s a beautiful teak wood bar with great staff!

Sunset at Laem Mae Phim

Sunset at Laem Mae Phim

If you really want to party all out, then head to a nightclub in the city of Klaeng, 16 Km north of Laem Mae Phim, where without doubt you will be the only farang visitor. In the other direction, go around 15 Km towards Ban Phe, and you will find a typical Thai country style karaoke bar named ‘Sabai Sabai’. There is a serious party here every night; don’t miss out on watching the local lady boy brigade dance to Thai tunes. We’re going to skip on all this and have an early night though…tomorrow morning is the next cycling ‘stage’! 

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Diving Sipadan

Posted on 16 December 2009 by Nellie Huang

Hawksbill turtle

There are some sights so extraordinary they make you cry at the wonder of it – the ocean floor around Sipadan was one such marvel. I was literally swallowing back tears in my diving mask.

Giant turtles peddled past me and a whole plethora of coral gardens hung below while tornadoes of barracudas swam up a storm above my head. We were almost caught amidst a school of trevallies as they swam in a swirl. A turtle swam so close to me, curiously examining me while I lreturned the look of astonishment.

Clown fish
Sipadan, one of the oceanic islands off Borneo, is a Mecca for many diving enthusiasts including myself. Blessed with a prolific biodiversity, there are over 500 species of coral and 3000 species of fish around the reefs of Sipadan. From the intimidating white-tip sharks to an abundance of hawksbill turtles, Sipadan is one of the few sites in the world where you are guaranteed a visual feast of marine life.

What makes Sipadan a world-famous dive site is its majestic drop-off that seemingly cascades down to endless depths (700metres).  Sipadan Island is only 14 hectares in size, encircled by vibrant coral gardens, which are cut steeply vertical into the deep sea. The drop-off is where you can find incredible diversity and density of marine life, and the most popular dive sites including the barracuda point, and white-tip avenue.

Tornado of barracuda
How to get there: Fly to Tawau and then take a taxi to Semporna. From there, many diver operators arrange dive trips to Sipadan island. Overnight stay is not allowed on the island.

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Flying Sky High

Posted on 03 November 2009 by Nellie Huang

Kitesurfing in Boracay - Photo by Alvin Gumba

Kitesurfing in Boracay - Photo by Alvin Gumba

Forget surfing or wake boarding. These days, golden-skinned surfers prefer to fly sky high. Or at least as high as the winds can bring them.

Kite-surfing has caught the eyes of many, becoming a sort of celebrity in the water sports scene. Rightfully so, with a lethal combination of strong winds and wave-cutting surfboard, kite-surfing is here to stay.

If there is only one place you”d kite-surf in South East Asia, it has to be Boracay.With an extended shallow shoreline and consistent cross-shore winds, Bulabog Lagoon is secretly hidden in a secluded end of the island. Plenty of kitesurfing schools organize courses ranging from 2-hour discovery lessons to 3-day certification course. (Prices start from US$80. Check out Isla Kite or Extreme Sports Cafe.)

White Beach, Boracay

White Beach, Boracay

Beyond the surprise of many, the 8-mile long island has managed to escape the ravages of  mass tourism.  The island can only be reached by boat, and the main beach sprawls across the length of the island.

Powder sand, clear skies and turqoise waters (as emerald as it can get), and you can find a nice combination of the three at White Beach. It’s quite a rare piece of heaven.

Begin your education in beach-bumming by chatting up the local folks on the beach. You’ll be surprised by how laid-back these friendly bunch can be. After all, in Boracay, life is a beach.

A View of White Beach from the Sea

A View of White Beach from the Sea

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Amy Ma

Food & Drink + Hong Kong

Amy is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal amongst other publications. [...]

Pua Mench

Hong Kong

Pua is a writing and traveling enthusiast based in Hong Kong, with a weakness for all things related to the culinary arts and healing modalities, and a passion for sustainable living. [...]

Kim Inglis

Wellness Spa

Kim has been an editor and journalist for over 20 years, more than half of which has been spent in Asia. [...]

Nellie Huang

Travel Adventures + Singapore

Nellie has been published in Food & Travel magazine and Lifestyle, and is a contributing author of V!VA's Guatemala Guidebook. She writes to travel, and travels to write. [...]

Sarah Jane Evans

Travel Adventures + Borneo

She has published travel articles in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia in publications including: Vacations and Travel magazine... [...]

Carrie Kellenberger

Photo Blog + Taiwan

She has traveled throughout Asia, finding work as a writer, editor, educator, voice over artist, photographer, and nightclub singer. [...]

Mark Lean

Kuala Lumpur

From writing about music, Mark expanded his focus to design, fashion, food and travel. In recent years, he has explored the highs and lows of Asia. [...]

Joel Quenby

Entertainment + Asia News

Joel is a British writer and journalist who's lived, worked and traveled in Southeast Asia since 2002. He's filed yarns for numerous publications...[...]

Alex Gunn

Chiang Mai

After several diverse careers as a circus performer, school teacher, psychotherapist, stunt pilot and university lecturer he can now be found poking about far flung markets, museums, restaurants and odd places in and around Chiang Mai.. [...]