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Cycling Plus

Cycling Plus #6:
South Thailand
1/5/99

'Welcome to Amazing Thailand' read the colourful signpost. Two cyclists from Kuala Lumpur were joining me for the week's ride from the Malaysian border to the island of Ko Samui, Southern Thailand.

Edwin holds a distinguished position in the Malay biking fraternity. Despite an injury-induced retirement from racing, he is still a national track record holder. His family run a chain of bike shops and his father coaches the Malaysian road team. His friend Louis is from the Philippines and is a member of the Kuala Lumpur bike club. It's the first time either have toured, and their newly set-up mountain bikes gleamed in the hot sun.

We had arranged to ride to the border crossing with a local bike group from Kota Bharu. At our meeting point, a throng of cyclists 45 strong were ready to leap onto their steeds and hurtle down the Malay roads. Kitted out with bug-eye shades, Lycra, and even leggings in the oppressive heat, they cut quite a sight in their brightly coloured cyclewear. Luckily I had put on my recently pressed 'Wheelie Serious' neon-orange top for the occasion!

Spending the first night in a small coastal Thai town of Narathiwat, home to the country's largest sitting Buddha (a lofty 24 metres high) we checked into a sparse budget hotel. The elderly and mumbling Singaporean owner proudly showed us his 50 year old Raleigh, from the days when horse and carts plied the country's tracks. Being the aptly named 'hot season', we rose at sunrise, the hour to catch the Buddhist monks padding around barefoot in their orange robes. Shops offered them food, for the Thais hold these monks in the highest esteem. Cycling fast, we took turns to lead the way and by midday broke from the heat and retreated to the shade.

Keeping off the main highway, we followed beautiful and quiet coastal roads. At times they would crumble into dirt tracks, forking off in random directions. (Friendly moped drivers would steer us back on course.) Running along the edge of the sea, they were dotted with villages of wicker-walled huts, naked children, cows and goats, and table upon table of drying fish. The fishing boats were decorated with detailed paintwork and scarves were tied to the bows to appease the spirits of the sea. Kids stared at our bikes, and delighted in squeezing the animal shaped horns that we had added to the handle bars! We really felt that we were riding through parts of Southern Thailand that we could only have discovered by bike.

A week later we arrived at the ferry terminal, the departure point for Ko Samui; the look of elation on Edwin and Louis' faces was worth remembering. Feeling all the more contented with our own form of transport as coaches arrived and unloaded streams of stiffened bodies, we boarded the ferry and watched the land slowly fade into the sunny haze. It had been a long and hard ride to get here, and tomorrow it was time to take a rest...

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