I cycled my way back up to Krabi from Satun (it taking two days) to return to the Pak-Up hostel I had previously stayed at. Given I had spent longer in the deep south, and wasn't cycling back to Bangkok I had several days to kill in Krabi before heading to Bangkok. I didn't really have any plans apart from wanting to have a rest and see the Tiger temple. In the end my days typically were made up of long lie-ins, plodding around during the day then drinking in the evening (my first real nights of drinking on the whole trip). Once in Bangkok I had to get a new Chinese visa, repair my bicycle and do any typical touristy stuff.
Having befriended Pui (one of the hostel staff) and a few fellow Brits most evenings were spent drinking firstly at one of the hostel bars before moving on to the Joy bar (an awesome bar, go there!). It's basically a party every night with live music and crazy-happy Thai's mixing with any westerners that manage to find it.
One infamous night was spent at the Playground bar at Pak-Up hostel. I only had a couple of shots, but a few others had many more. It ended up with a certain Thai girl (no names) being sick multiple times then passing out. We looked after her, a little worried, then at 0400 between two of us, had to carry her tiny 50kg dead-weight frame back to her hotel. It was surprisingly hard to carry her as she flopped about like a rag doll, slipping out of our arms. To make matters worse when we arrived at the hotel we couldn't find the key to her room in her purse. We eventually found the security guard who gave us a spare key. Upon getting in the room we found the original key lying on the bed, typical! Needless to say, she never drank again during my time in Krabi!
Feeling embarrassed the next morning, and as a way of saying thank you, Nok drove us to Noppharat beach. It was low tide, but it made for some dramatic photos as the sun began to set. We teased a few crabs and instigated them to fit one another before finding what I believe was a cuttle fish (a live one). Then the rain came (hard) so we set of for dinner. Nok took us for some proper Thai food, which I found to be very similar to Chinese village cooking. She was useless when it came to names though... "What are these (fish sticks) called?"..."An entrée". The food was all very tasty and a nice break from the typical touristy dishes, Phad Thai, Red/Green curry.
On my final night out in Krabi I once again ended up at the Joy bar until 0400. Walking a sober Nok back to her hotel, she insisted we pop to 7-Eleven as she wanted me to try some food she was thinking of exporting. Chinese boiled herb eggs...quite possibly the most unnatural looking and smelling things I've ever tried. They come vacuum packed, and look like chocolate eggs but don't be fooled. I wasn't even able to swallow a mouthful, spitting it out on the side walk. I kicked the remaining part of the egg over to a wild dog in the road. The egg rolling right under the dogs stomach. Instead of eating it, the dog looked up at me with a "why the hell are you kicking that crap at me" expression. It got up and moved two metres then went back to sleep. Given a wild dog wouldn't even eat the egg I advised Nok to never ever export them. She didn't seem convinced.
One of the advantages of staying in Krabi town is that everything is easily accessible. James (at Pak-Up) was kind enough to drive us the 6km to the Tiger Temple. Apparently it's one of the highest funded temples in Thailand now and it showed. At the bottom are a number of tourist shops and a 7-Eleven!
Once you start climbing the steps though that all goes away. The steps are actually very steep and in places quite high (as in to step up). It was a similar climb to the Yangshuo TV tower in terms of height, but the ascent was far steeper so you get to the top faster (sort of anyway). We wisely chose to climb to the temple during the midday heat on a 34C day, so I was dripping in sweat after the first 200 steps (there are 1236 in total). The temple is infamous for the monkeys that live around it. Depending upon the day, the monkeys station themselves at different points. They're basically little beggars and will pull at your leg, jump on you, try to grab your water bottle, or simply pick your pocket. They can also be aggressive and will bite if they want something (resulting in a trip to the hospital, luckily not for me but one of the girls at the hostel had it happen to her).
It took around 35 minutes to climb to the top. The view was great, looking right across Krabi and the surrounding islands. Even more impressive was how they built a temple up such a steep rock formation as there were no lifts or pulleys. Among the statues, there was a locked door, which looked like a broom cupboard, but was actually where a monk was locked away (we could see him through the vent) meditating. Apparently he is there everyday, locked up meditating, so respectfully have a peek through the vent if you are there.
My bicycle arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport again without any problems. I didn't wrap or protect it this time, merely turned the handlebars and removed the pedals when checking it in. Trying to get from the airport to Bangkok proved a bit of a problem. Despite what I'd read on-line I wasn't allowed to take my bicycle on the Express train. I was stopped by security who were kind enough to genuinely apologise. I couldn't be bothered to try and find a shuttle bus and decided to brave cycling the 34km in. In the end it turned out to be around 42km as I had to double back a number of times from getting stuck on the wrong highway. The flyovers were especially confusing, splitting off in different directions, then re-converging and once again splitting off. I'm not even sure if I should have been cycling on them. I had to ensure I picked the right lane as once I was on a flyover there was no turning back. And when they re-converged I was unable to switch to another lane due to walls dividing the lanes before they split off again. It was a cycling nightmare. The roads were typically six to eight lane highways most of the way and the traffic got worse the closer to Bangkok I got until it eventually became gridlock. By then the cars weren't a problem, it was the motorbikes that posed the biggest danger, filling every possible space (to the point I would have nowhere to go if a crash occurred). I like to have space between myself and vehicles and having that filled by motorbikes all around me created a nasty sense of claustrophobia. After two hours of cycling I arrived at my hostel near Lumphini park, what a relief!
Chinese Visa & Bike Bits
My first couple of days were spent going to and from the Chinese embassy, which was located annoyingly out of the way of anything interesting by the Thai Cultural Centre. In the end I had to opt for an express visa due to time constraints. It cost me 2850BHT for a same day, double entry visa for China (British passport). I applied in the morning at 0900 and returned at 1600 to pay and collect it. Had I planned a little more, a standard four day application would have been nearer 1600BHT. Applications can only be made from 0900-1130, and the queues can be quite big. The office then closes until 1500 at which time you can only collect your visa (no applications). I was glad to have my passport back in my possession and it meant a weight had been lifted as my passage to China was now taken care of.
The third day was spent visiting bicycle shops in Bangkok, mainly in the Lumphini area. It was a fruitless endeavour as most of the shops only stock components for road racing bikes, or mountain bikes (despite me emailing and them confirming they did!). I found very little (namely tires) for touring bikes (no Schwalbe Marathon tires), mine would have to last! Services were also not possible with at least a six day waiting list (as I leave Bangkok before then) in each of the shops. Another thing I would have to do myself instead of exploring Bangkok.
Bars & Clubs
Having met a few people at the hostel, we ventured out on a couple nights to the surrounding bars and clubs. The Sky Bar was a 15 minute walk away, so we spent two hours drinking cocktails and enjoying the view. I tried getting in with my orange Vibram finger shoes on, but was refused entry by one of the girls as she "could see the definition of my toes". I had to run back and put on my cycling shoes which were allowed in the Sky Bar. The "clacking" noise from the cleats as I walked caused the staff a bit of confusion and jokingly telling them I was a tap dancer just added to the confusion. Annoyingly, the bar didn't open until 1800 every day, yet sunset was at 1748, so I never caught a proper sunset. At night it was still stunning. I made my cocktails, costing 560BHT each (with tip, £11 each) last a long time! It was worth it though for the view and brief experience of luxury.
Having experienced Pa Tong I wasn't overly fussed about going to [wiki]Patpong[/wiki]. I met a few guys that wanted to go so reluctantly tagged along. It lived up to expectation. A small area full of stalls selling fake-you-name-it surrounded by expensive bars full of "girls" most of which were lady boys. And to top it off everyone is trying to rip you off and get money from you. The second you enter the area you are a tout target, constantly being hassled to part with your money. At least in Pa Tong the skin-head Thai hostel staff had been out with us so we were fairly well protected, but in Pad Pong we had to forgo that luxury. Everyone who goes to Bangkok always seems to go there, but in my opinion it's really not worth it, even for the fake gear (there are better markets). Ten years ago it may have had a seedy underground atmosphere to it, but these days it's purely a tourist trap, something you can easily spot as non of the locals go there (unless it's to work!).
One of my favourite parts of Bangkok was visiting [wiki]Chatuchak weekend market[/wiki], a huge 38 acre market located in the north of Bangkok. You could buy almost anything there, ranging from clothes, to pets, to garden furniture. While it did become boring after a few hours, it was great fun walking around the huge maze of market stalls, many of which are under cover. I didn't buy anything, but if you did want something it seemed like a good place to bargain and get a fair price. There was a nice mix of locals and tourists so it didn't feel too touristy.
I had to fly back to Shenzhen for a few days before continuing my journey to Vietnam. This time I opted to take a taxi-van (my bicycle was strapped to the roof) rather than cycle the highways and arrive at the airport all sweaty. It cost me 600BHT which wasn't too bad given the size of the taxi and the distance to the airport. It was the King's birthday on the day I left so the taxi driver was on the phone to all of his family. He was arguing with his daughter, before turning to me to tell me she's 30 years old and not married. To comfort him, I pointed at myself and said "same, same, 30 years old, no marry". This turned out to be a mistake as he saw it as a matching opportunity. I had to spend part of the journey talking on his phone to his daughter (her English was very poor) while he kept showing me photos of her he had in the taxi. The daughter was asking for my email address, but I just played that I couldn't understand and handed the phone back to the taxi driver. He then started to ask if I have Facebook and email. Luckily upon arriving, during the commotion of having to unstrap the bike from the roof the subject was briefly forgotten and I scurried off before he remembered.
Flying Back To China
At the airport the staff didn't like that my bicycle wasn't boxed, but after talking with them for a while it was accepted (I told them I had flown to Bangkok in similar fashion with the same airline). Arriving at Hong Kong International I took the ferry to mainland China (avoiding immigration for Hong Kong). It was a slightly worrying process as you don't collect your luggage (as it would mean going through immigration). Instead someone collects it for you and brings it to the ferry. It took them a while to find my luggage so I couldn't board the ferry until they did so. Annoyingly upon arriving in Shekou (China) and collecting my luggage, I noticed the bike had a nasty chip and graze on the paintwork, right where the name is. I'm mummifying it in cling film next time!