Saturday 5th January: Ayutthaya to Near Muak Lek: 104 km

We both slept much better – nothing to do with 85km cycled the day before of course, but welcome nonetheless. Porridge with bananas and coffee set us up for the day and we were on the road by 7.30. The traffic was just as busy as on a weekday. As we crossed the bridge from the sleepy old centre of Ayutthaya where all the tourists stay (like us), we found there was a thriving modern city of the same name. We battled our way through the traffic and had our first encounter of the trip with a Thai motorway.

Thai motorways are similar to their European cousins but have a number of key differences. First, there is always a relief road at the side of the motorway – so with 4 main lanes each way there are another 2 or 3 lanes of the relief road running alongside the main carriageway, with a hard shoulder on the edge of the relief road. Secondly, there are no restrictions for bicycles – but we stayed on the relief road rather than venturing onto the main carriageway. See we do have some residual sense left. Thirdly, the hard shoulder is effectively 2 way – in that if you go in the direction of the traffic, you keep meeting motorbikes going in the other direction. Thirdly, there are only a few junctions but the occasional “U Turn” space in the middle for those who wish to cash in their life insurance. Finally, there are lots of trucks, pushing out lots of fumes and so the air is pretty horrid. Having said that, there has been some impressive investment to create a network of roads that carry a vast amount of freight around the country.

The first motorway we encountered was outside the modern, busy Ayutthaya and was impossible for us to cross. So we had to do a 20km diversion before we finally got onto quiet roads. Then we left the main roads and suddenly the air was clean, there was less noise and we were ambling through paddy fields. It was all flat in this part of Thailand and rice seemed the staple (if not nearly the only) crop.

The landscape was criss-crossed with canals to provide water for the fields, with little pumps constantly at work to draw the water out of the channels to irrigate the fields. It was idyllic cycling, albeit we had to stop frequently to check the map (thanks Mr Google) to make sure we were moving in the right direction.

We stopped for a brew about 11, having covered about 45km. It was easy going apart from the irritating but not strong headwind. People looked on as we passed, generally without initiating any contact. However if we smiled, waved or made any small gesture which indicated we were friendly, smiles would break on the faces of men and women and they waved, called and encouraged us on. Rural folk appear to be quite reserved at first, but very friendly if we made the first move.

A few km outside Saraburi we stumbled across a lovely Buddhist temple, which was clearly a cherished part of the local community. It looked stunning in the late morning watery sunshine.

After 60km we reached the town of Saraburi and so hit the inevitable traffic jam. We stopped for a quick lunch at a cafe and then found a bike shop to replace the tyre lever we had misplaced in Bangkok – a boring story which is best left untold.

After Saraburi we knew that we had a tedious afternoon making a close acquaintance with the “2” motorway as it was the one road going where we wanted to go. The hills started and this was the road – the only road – so it was the “2” or nothing. We clung to the hard shoulder – mostly with a relief road but sometimes not – for about 35km. It was noisy, polluted and not much fun. But eventually we climbed our way into the mountains and found the exit we needed. It even had a road under the motorway and so we didn’t need to take our life in our hands with the exits.

The road climbed up to 250M with climbs of about 5% at worst. However, even at that gradient, we found ourselves going about the same speed as some of the larger trucks. Not that we were going fast of course, but they were working hard to go at 10kph and pushing out vast quantities of fumes just to show how hard they were working. So not ideal cycling!

Then all changed in an instant. We were off the motorway and into a joint venture area between Denmark and Thailand involving a model dairy farm which was set up for “agro-tourism”. Black and white cows replaced trucks as our scenery. The road suddenly deteriorated and I nearly rode into the cow dip which was in the middle of the road. We then found the road deteriorated further, and we found ourselves cycling along a dirt track which was a new road under construction.

Eventually we found the main road again and reached our “Home stay”. All very confusing with owners, using google-translate to try to say “yes we have booked” – looking at emails on the phone and eventually reaching a consensus. 105km was more than we wanted to do today as we are not yet fully fit, but feel like we might be getting there. Our lives in the UK already seem to belong to a different life. Cycle touring is totally mind absorbing – because if one loses concentration for a moment, there will be a motorbike coming towards one on the wrong side of the road and expecting us to move!

Another first – we cooked for ourselves. A single pot meal of noodles, tuna, carrot and cashew nuts. Anything tastes fantastic when we have cycled for over 100km in the humidity of the day.

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