Koh Lanta- Cycling

Noticed some good looking bikes on display along the main roadway the past days, and made arrangements to rent two quality TREK bikes from Lanta E-Bike Tours and Rentals. The owner (Tim) and his partner were fantastic, and set us up so we could be off on our way. We really enjoyed the well serviced and quality bikes for our outing!

Our destination for the day was to head south to the National Park, and Tim mentioned this would be a great destination, and ride along the coast – though we were warned there were three ‘sporty’ hills near the end before, so prepare for a challenge. Donning helmets, we were off! The ride along the roadway was with light, mostly scooters and a few vehicles – always giving us plenty of space. As the only cyclists we saw that day, we definately stood out. The day was warm at 30C, but the breeze from the ocean helped temper the efforts. Hills were in fact sporty, and I have to admit we did walk up portions rather than try to grind up in the lowest possible gear.

Arriving as we approached the Mu Ko Lanta National Park, the forests would increasingly jungle like, and we definately saw monkeys… lots of monkeys on the road, and monkeys checking out the trash cans. Yep, we discovered ‘bad monkeys’. Arriving at our destination, we payed the park entrance fees, and make our way to the parking area: mostly scooters! We locked our bikes to a handy papaya tree, and headed off to the water front and ocean view for shade and the beach. The views were stunning, and the trails fun too. There was a park ranger keeping track of who went onto the trails – I’m guessing so everyone came back out. Enjoying ourselves in the ocean to cool down, we quickly realized we need to protect our gear from the eyes and hands of the monkeys lurking in the trees!

After the beach we took to the waterfront and trails. the lighthouse at the tip of the park on the cliffs are a natural destination, as well as a Geocache site! There is also a spectacular view onto the Andaman sea and the marine park has an unspoiled waterfront. There is an obvious photo-op spot, and we exchanged camera with other tourists for a rare team shot! The hike along the ocean front trail is also epic, and we had additional viewpoints there. There was a park ranger taking names of folks heading out on the trail, and checking us off when we returned – I guess you don’t want to lose anyone on these trails!

The cycle home was also challenging, with “the three sporty hills”. . . though we did have an advantage that they did provide an exciting decent along the way! There was also cheering from others on scooters, and locals along the way – we were the only cyclists we saw today! We did take advantage of the coastal route, and explored one of the beaches we pass along – nice spot for a swim and cool down more after getting out of the park and the hilly section. We really enjoyed getting to the next little town, and we quickly zeroed in on getting a cold beverage. Our hostess and her friends had a great laugh when we arrived on our bikes and leaned them against their restaurant – as the hills are impressive! Her first jest to us was “Do you need gasoline”, as this is the common tourist query for their scooters. “Ye!s” we said, “Gasoline for us – two icy pineapple shakes please”. This created a great laugh from the crew, and these were freshly made for us. Best frosty pineapple shake ever! After that pause, we continued our ocean side journey back to Lanta E-Bike tours and Rental.

It was another great day, and we’ve definitely fell into a groove for evening dining. There was a small family run restaurant right on the end of the beach amongst the rocks. We got to know the owners, and also put them on google map: “Moomsabai Food & Drink on the Rock” to help promote their business. This was a husband and wife team that made amazing meals – my favorite was the Massaman curries loaded with fresh spices and seasonings with rice. Best meals we had while in Thailand! Always washed down with fine large Chang Beer! The asian tables were relaxing and the sunset views with the distant shrimp boats priceless.

Chang Rai, White Temple

Of course, one of the most famous sites in Northern Thailand is Wat Rong Khun – known to foreigners as The White Temple. It’s a short 20Baht public bus ride from town, and as our hotel is less than 100m from the bus station, a simple task to hop onto our magic ride. The locals are always keen to help us ensure we get on the correct vehicle: fair mix of foreigners too, so we must be on the right bus to Mae Kachan bound we go, but of course, we need to hop off before the endpoint.

The White Temple itself is a total buzz of activity – food stalls and people swarming everywhere. It’s an amazing site to see and work the 100Baht entry to come in and check this out. It’s design and constructed by a local Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, completed in 1997: and everything is truly over the top!

Huge white Temples on the exterior, there is a more traditional though bizzare content on the inside. Photographs are unfortunately not permitted, so you’ll have to trust us on that! One of the items we saw was a place to purchase a thin tin leaf, that you sign your name on and hang as part of the display. There are 10’s of thousands of these in various ornimants. We could not resist, and somewhere at the temple you can find our donation.

Another key part of the display are the unique sculptures. There’s an unbounded amount of imagination in this area. This is a small fragment of the variations: even the street pylons are unique!

Of course, the part that caught my eye at some point in the afternoon was the public washroom. The men’s are a that I check out is highly decorated, and gilded in gold paint. I’ll happily rank this as one of the top-10 bathrooms I’ve had the pleasure to visit.

Enough of the White Temple, we head back to Chang Rai, and check out some of the more traditional temples at Wat Ming Muang. We still like the decorations and the dragons eating dragons for guardrails. Some of the construction efforts remain impressive as always. Bamboo scaffolding is in place, and the bare-foot laborer’s are working unaided without any type of safety harnesses!

Weary from the long day in the road, and in the 30C heat, we decided to take a break in a building that caught our eye: The Cat Cafe! There are limited seating, and once we purchase our frosty beverage, we can sit at a small table among the room with other patrons, and probably around 50 cats hanging out with their people. Of course, one almost immediately checked out my lap, and curled up for a snooze while his friends watched. Only in Thailand!

Of course the evening ends with dinner at The Night Bazzar food court. This is a nightly event that has food stalls along all the sides, and the large square in the center contains food tables. We love the Hot Pot with all the fresh vegetables, washed down with a icy fruit shake – wrap up another ideal day!

Chang Rai Cycling, Elephants, and temples.

Moving along though Northern Thailand from Chang Mai to Chang Rai closer to the Golden Triangle, we were looking forward to another great change of pace to get into the areas where there are still jungles and wildlife in the area. Our first day in town had us wandering around like we always to in order to get our bearings – and right near bridge over the Kok River we noticed some LadyBoy and mtn bikes in front of a shop: turns out to be the best bike shop in Chang Rai: Fat Free Bike Shop. Returning the next morning, we talked to the crew there and rented two quality Trek bikes to tour around town. This quickly changed when we chatted up the guys looking for a 1-2 hour ride somewhere. They all agreed a nice countryside ride along the Kok River on quiet roads would be ideal, and quickly gave us directions to a popular relatively car free cycle route: we were off!

Over the bridge and first road to the left – follow along. It was great rural countryside with lots of rocks, cliffs, statues, and buddhist temples along the way. We may have stopped at one or two of them – finding an abandon cave temple, before we found the legitimate “Cave Temple” we saw signposted along the roadway. Too tempting to pass, we parked the bikes and climbed the stairs to check this out, and were delighted at this accidental find. This came complete with a resident Monk, as well as locals doing their prayers and chanting in the caverns: quite a magical effect! There is also a section where you can purchase a bell for a 20Baht donation, and hanging this on a veranda with your names: Judy could not resist: any good luck is always welcome!

Getting back on bikes, we continued our hot ride in along the riverside, stopping at a few viewpoints along the way. It was probably 30C, and the 1L waterbottles we had definitely came in handy! We were heading in the direction of a National Park, but were never quite sure how far we got until we stumbled apon an Elephant Camp beside the roadway. This was a Thai tourist spot, with a few foreigners here as well taking brief elephant rides along the jungle and riverside – with a short stint along the hwy back to the main base.

There are alot of western opinions about these types of sites: being cruel to elephants and making them provide rides to people on these chairs. many of the locals point out these are now unemployed elephants that are not able to work in the recently banned lumber trade in the jungle. Used to hard work and heavy labour, the efforts here are a lot simpler, though the area they were contained in was constrained. Sadly, these creatures also need 100+ lbs of food/day: so need to provide some income during tourist season to augment their costs. We declined taking rides, but when we saw sugar cane and bananas for sale to hand-feed the elephants, we though that would be a good compromise! The elephants were fairly excited to see the goodies, and did not hesitate to snag anything we held up for them with grace and care. Hiding food behind your back did not help – that trunk knew exactly where to go!

Getting tired and weary, we decided to head back and stop in at some sights we passed along the way, as the initial objective this morning was to find The Blue Temple! We started to head back, and were admiring the short reddish groves along the way: a young pineapple field in the hillside. while heading back, we also could not resist pulling over and crossing a river stream on a rickety bridge to a large white impressive Buddha: probably 50 feet tall, and we were the only ones there at the site. Also found some go-carts and merry-go-round pieces, so looks like there are plans to create a festive plaza nearby. Our final stop/distraction was at a cave temple that had statues carved into the rocks themselves. Looking fairly abandon, we approached and climbed the staircase into the vaults holding more buddhas – no power at this site, and lots of dust on the floor: we found out later this was Wat Tham Tu Pu that is maintained by a solitary monk, and his cats.

Starting this morning, we indented to find The Blue Temple: Wat Rong Suea Ten. It was getting late afternoon, and we finally arrived. Touring the site, we definitely agree this is very blue! It was getting to be a super long and hot day, so we rode our bikes back to Fat Bike Rentals, and returned our cycles – delighted at the recommended route and the our discoveries today!

Heading back to our hostel, we passed through town and through the closing flower market once again. One thing I love about Thailand is the smells and colours: in this case the fragrant flowers at all the stalls as we headed home. Resting up and replenishing our fluids (beer?), we headed out to the nearby Night Bazaar for another festive dinner. Tonight we opted for Khao Soi Gao, which was a hot and spicy curie noodle soup with crunchy noodles. Washed down with a icy pineapple shake to keep things in check, this is another ideal evening winding down in Thailand.