Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekend Spins: Pratumnak Hill, Pattaya

The Spin:

Happen to be in Pattaya for the weekend and need a place to work out? Pratumnak Hill between Jomtien Beach and Pattaya South is a tiny oasis perfect for walking, biking or running. There is plenty of parking on the hill, and the people watching and ocean views are second-to-none in Pattaya. The hill is circled and criss-crossed by a number of roads, stairs and paved walking paths. If you work out on the hill in the hour before sunset, you'll have plenty of company.

The Scoop:

After a day of sailing at Royal Varuna Yacht Club, it is always tempting to plop down by the beach with a beverage and some food and watch the sun set. Pratumnak Hill is a convenient place for my wife and I to get a quick and easy workout in an hour or so. 20 kms on the bike or 10 on foot and we feel less guilty about ordering that wood-fired pizza and German beer for dinner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Weekend Spins: Tha Jin Adventure

The Spin:

Nakon Pathom seems like a cycler's dream compared to the hectic streets of Bangkok. As soon as you cross highway 9 (the western ring road), you find yourself on quiet country roads and dirt trails criss-crossed by canals and dotted with fruit orchards, orchid farms and vegetable plots. By the time you reach the Tha Jin River, you'll feel like you're hundreds of miles from the hustle, bustle and commercialism of Bangkok.

If you journey west to Nakon Pathom, you might want to bring a set of binoculars. Storks, herons and other birdlife abound in the rice fields and along the waterways. You'll definitely want to bring a camera to capture the waterway lifestyle and the beautiful temples that stand tall over the flat horizon and guard over the banks of the Tha Jin River. You'll certainly need your wallet to shop at the floating markets and the local weekend bazaars.

Hidden Holiday House, on the banks of the Tha Jin river, is the perfect destination for a weekend ride from Bangkok. Depending on your route and starting point, you can ride anywhere from 50 to 90 kilometers. If you stay at Hidden Holiday House, Chris and Areeya are the friendly and gracious hosts. Chris is an avid biker who specializes in finding out-of-the-way trails. He is able and willing to lead tours of the Nakon Pathom area and can arrange a number adventures for you and your travelling partners.

The Scoop:

Our ride to the Tha Jin River started out almost like throwing a dart at a map. We needed a weekend ride to prep for an upcoming cycling tour, so I opened google map looked for an area with no major highways and typed "resorts in Nakon Pathom." Needless-to-say, there weren't many options. Holiday house looked promising, and we were lucky to get rooms on short notice. What we had planned as a training ride ended as an unexpected weekend adventure thanks to Chris and Areeya.

When we arrived at Hidden Holiday House, the only thing on our minds was a shower and some ice cold beer by the river. Chris and Areeya set us up with what we needed and then set out to get us some food from a local restaurant. Chris returned with some food and the news that the old gentleman who used to run the river ferry before the completion of the bridge was available to take us up-river to see the roosting storks and visit a temple market. 

I never pass up a chance to get out on the water, so in the late afternoon Mr. Ferryman motored us up stream to see the hundreds and hundreds of roosting storks nearby. We see storks wading in the rice fields of Nonthaburi and Pathumthani nearly every time we ride from home, but seeing hundreds  of them roosting on the trees and bamboo along the river was quite a site.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pattaya's Answer to your Coffee Jones-Mokador Breakfast

Cappuccinos, Lattes hot and cold, Macchiatos or just plain 

black coffee. Drink till you drown your caffeine jones at Mokador.

For around 200 baht, you can choose from a number of breakfasts, from a traditional egg, bacon and ham breakfast to  my favorite, salmon, gouda and eggs. The best thing about breakfast at Mokador is the limitless coffee that comes as part of your meal. You can drink as many specialty coffees as your nervous system can handle. 

The second best thing about Mokador is that it is a comfortable place to relax and read the paper or use the free wi-fi. Order a breakfast and your favorite coffee beverage, and the next thing you know it's nearly noon.

The location is convenient to reach on Thappraya Road between South Pattaya and Jomtien. It's on the east side of the road, near Mike's Mexican restaurant.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Weekend Spins: Pakkret Ayutthaya Rural Route

The Spin:

Looking for a weekend escape from The Big Mango but can't bear the thought of a hectic drive to get out of the city? A weekend cycling trip to Ayutthaya starting from the edge of town could be just what you need. There are beautiful cycling routes through the rice farms and mango plantations to the west of the Chaopraya River. 

Pakkret pier, where Chaengwattana Road crosses over the Chaopraya River, is a convenient starting point. There are a variety of ways to get your bikes to the Pakkret pier. You can take the express ferry up river, take the train from downtown and pedal west to the pier or have a car or truck haul your bikes there for you.

Only a few minutes riding north of Pakkret, and you'll feel like you've left the city far behind.  Rural farm houses replace urban shop houses. Traffic becomes light and interspersed with tractors. You'll even have the chance to see a bit of wildlife including monitor lizards and birds like storks, egrets, herons, and kingfishers.

With the many rural roads north and south, it is easy to create a loop to Ayutthaya and back. The route we took heads north-north-west to Chedi Hoi then straight north to Sena. From Sena, we headed east to the Old City of Ayutthaya. On the return, we went south and crossed the bridge at Bang Sai, went a few kilometers west past the Bangsai Golf Course and headed south through the farms down a variety of small canal-side roads and dirt farm roads back to Pakkret. 

There is no need to pack excessive amounts of liquids and snacks. There are numerous mom-pop shops scattered around the area, so you can easily reload you camelback and get food along the way. Noodles or grilled chicken are your best bets for lunch.

The Scoop:

My wife Laura, my friend Don and I were looking for a training ride to get ready for a tour of southern Laos. We needed something we could start from home in Pakkret, but was interesting enough to make it fun. This was the ride we decided on and it was well worth the time spent. A little adventure on the edge of the big city.

We met up at my place on a hot Saturday morning, loaded my new paniers with just enough clothes, spare tubes, etc. for a two-day ride and were off by 8:30. March is the hottest month in Thailand. We knew that temperatures would probably reach at least 35 degress C, so we planned on stopping frequently to get out of the sun and rehydrate. 

Our planned half-way point was Chedi Hoi temple, where we had often eaten som tam, grilled chicken and sticky rice at a family run shop. In our minds, we could smell the chicken sizzling on the grill and the lime and fish sauce being pounded in the krok. But the shop wasn't there. In fact, the entire market area in the back of the temple grounds was deserted. The abandoned buildings still showed the broad dark scar of the flood waters that had risen to 2 meters. People all over the Pathumthani/Ayutthaya area are still repairing homes and rebuilding their lives. Some, like our grilled chicken vending family, have packed up and moved on.

We've always enjoyed visiting Chedi Hoi where we could feed the huge turtles chunks of cucumber on the ends of long wooden skewers and visit the make-shift museum with an odd assortment of items from dinosaur and whale bones to old typewriters and Chinese pottery. According to the a monk at the temple, the turtles had been washed away but had returned because they knew it was safe. Hopefully, they are predictors of the future and know that next October they will be safe from the kinds of floods they saw this year.

If you follow our trail during the hot season, be sure to look for fresh mangos on the right side of the road when you cross over the Bang Sai bridge. They are sweet and delicious.

Have you been on this ride? 

What have you seen? 

What adventures have you encountered?