14,129 km so far.
As far as train rides go, last night’s fell somewhere between the best and the worst. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Shanghai to Hong Kong, but it didn’t come close to the smooth ride and comfort of the bullet trains we took in China.
Rumbling Through The Night
There’s something seriously wrong with the train tracks in Thailand. For most of the night it felt like one or all three of the following was happening:
- We were riding on the roof of a 1970s van driving at speed along a potholed country road.
- The train was bouncing right over boulders, small mammals, and other assorted debris on the tracks.
- The wheels were actually not round, but heptagonal, causing the train to slam and jerk along through the night.
Despite all this, I did manage to get some fitful sleep, but I was so not ready to wake up when our alarms went at 6:30am.
Turns out I needn’t have, because trusty Pocket Earth told us we were still 150 km from Hat Yai, and travelling at 50 kph. At that speed, we would arrive more than two hours late.
I guess we slowed down, because our actual arrival time was 3 hours late.
Upon disembarking, we found we had to wait while the crew decoupled the sleepers and the cargo car from the rest of the train, and sent the remaining cars on their way. The other section of the train was heading towards the area where the tracks had been bombed, so we assume some replacement bus service was on the cards for those passengers.
After a long wait, a couple of porters brought us our bikes and we were ready to go.
Hitting The High Notes
After seeing the heavily armed soldiers ranging up and down the platform at Hat Yai Junction, and knowing that there have been bombs in the city during the last few weeks, which a few of our fellow cyclists have been present for, we got out of town tout de suite.
As they say:
Safety first, people first.
Stephen’s note: We never wrote about it, but we actually saw a sign that said, “Safety First, People First” at the Chinese construction site where they are building the new hydro electric dam outside Luang Prabang. It has been one of our favourite catch phrases ever since.
Once we were finally cycling, it was a lovely day. It’s not quite as hot as it was further north, and the backroads we took today were just perfect. Nicely paved with a bit of shoulder and next to no traffic. I highly recommend looking at our route if you’re coming this way. It’s a little twisty, but so worth the extra effort.
The views were mostly rubber tree plantations, but there is a strange beauty to these forests that produce something so seemingly synthetic.
Our days in Thailand seem to have been pretty evenly split between great rides like this, and dismal highway rides being pushed around by traffic. We’re so glad our final Thai ride let us finish on a high note.
Another Classy Border Town
As we expected, the border town of Penang Besar is a little sketchy and a little rundown, just like most border towns.
It seems you always get a bad element crossing over the border to act a little worse than they would at home. All of the hotels we checked here have a monthly, weekly, daily, and hourly price.
The Berlin Hotel was the fourth or fifth we tried, and appears to be the best of a mediocre bunch.
The little market in town is actually quite decent though, and we managed to get what will probably be our last pad thai for quite some time. It might not have been the best we’ve had, but it was certainly among the top 5, plus it was served with style and a smile, so we can’t really ask for much more than that. ♥