Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cycling South Thailand 2016: Day 5 - The Climb To Trang

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Cycling South Thailand 2016 : Day 5 - The Climb To Trang
Tour of South Thailand: Day 5, 15th April 2016
Small Group Cycling Tour of South Thailand - Phatthalung>Su Mano Caves>Trang.
Cycling Distance - 62.20 km.     Level: Hard (Due to the tough climb through the hills between Phatthalung & Trang provinces)
Time : 7:10am to 3:20pm
Time Taken :  8hrs 10mins (including stops for breakfast, lunch, visit to Su Mano Caves, siesta & rest stops at Palian Junction & Mueang Trang Park.

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Route Recommendations :
1. Out of Phatthalung, the route is a series of mini-dragonbacks that skirts the bends of the rubber tree foothills. This section is slightly shady.
2. Then there is has a hard climb through the hills between Phatthalung & Trang provinces. There is not much shade along this stretch. There are some cycling lanes in both Phatthalung & Trang.
3. March to June is the hot season in Thailand, it does get extremely hot. With the El Nino effect this year's day temperature shot up to almost forty degrees. Most of the main roads are unshaded, so do cover up and rehydrate frequently.
3. Along the main road, there are wide emergency lanes suitable and safe for cycling
4. Places & Scenery
    - The Su Mano Caves (GPS: 7.58679, 99.86813) is a small cave system with shrines inside, and is worthwhile visiting.
    - Right at the border between Phatthalung & Trang provinces is the Theparak Shrine (GPS 7.58172, 99.80317). It sits on the top most point of the hill range. Motorists when the drive pass will toot on their horn as a sign of greeting and respect to the deity.
    - The Andaman Trang Gateway Park situated just into Trang province, with its elephant statues, is an interesting place to stop.
    - The Praya Ratsada Monument Park (GPS: 7.56518, 99.62314) is a nice, shady and cooling park to take a rest in.
5. Food
    - Phudinsow Cafe (GPS: 7.57472, 99.94441) situated just after the first climb is a good place to rest and have drinks before taking on the real climb.
    - Laytrang 2 Restaurant (GPS: 7.55791, 99.60735) serves very good dim sum with a speciality called Volcano Dumpling.
6. Accommodations
    We stayed the S2S Queen Trang Hotel (GPS: 7.55855, 99.60892). There is a annexe dining area where we were allowed to keep our bikes.


The day before was one of the best of our trip when we took a boat trip around the Thale Noi Waterfowl Reserve. The place is so naturally beautiful and alive with birds flying around and water buffaloes wading in the water. We then rode to Phatthalung with a couple of stops in between.



Cycling Route - Phatthalung>Su Mano Cave>Trang.
The route was quite straight forward, with it now heading inland and over a range of hills. We expected some climbs but was surprised by a few tough ones nearing the top of the range. Needless to say, in this hot weather we stop several times to rest and one time to take a siesta *grins*.

This elevation showed that we did a Category 3 climb (i.e. by cycling standards a difficult climb) over a distance of 20km, with a very steep climb of 10km just before the peak.

We kicked of the morning with breakfast near the Phatthalung Railway Station as we would be sending Min and Keat back. This was at a shop operated by a Hakka family which sells good noodles and chicken rice. The owner was very happy to see us and insisted on having a group photo taken with us for keepsake (probably to hang on the walls of his shop) so that he can recall this crazy bunch of cyclists from Malaysia.

Goodbye Min! Goodbye Keat!
They would be taking a Thai train from Phatthalung to Hat Yai spend a night there and then take the Malaysian sleeper train back to Kuala Lumpur. This gave them some time to explore Hat Yai a bit (something which we missed on our first day).

8:00am - The rest of us headed out for our journey to Trang. It was already getting a bit hot. Point of note, we have to start our day earlier at 6:00am instead of 7:00am to avoid the hot sun.
Just at the outskirts of town, we stopped at a 7-11 outlet to top up our water. Sin took this opportunity to adjust his bicycle seat, it was tilting a bit upwards and had been causing him some butt discomfort.... this can really be a pain in the ar**!
This was Pit-stop #1 as the rest of us took the time to enjoy the air-conditioning of the shop.

The road out was some mini dragon-backs, one that goes up and down and meandered round the bend of the rubber tree foothills.

9:00am - Pit Stop #2 at Phudinsow Cafe, 17km out from Phatthalung. A break after the first series of mini dragon-backs.
This was a nice cosy place to stop, a modern, nicely landscaped coffee joint which also serves some cakes. No, Sin is not sending a letter of complaint about his bike, that old post-box is just part of the cafe's décor.

After this the road got steeper and steeper. There are lots of rubber trees around in the estates but sadly not much overhang the road to provide shade.

The scenery was quite nice, with beautifully shaped hills soaring above the rubber trees...

... and limestone outcrops adding to the colour of the place.

10:00am - Pit Stop #3 at the Su Mano Caves. This was really a pit stop as it was a scheduled stop to visit the cave temple, but it did give us a chance to rest and have ice-cream from shops at the entrance.
The cave was found by by Master Monk Dej Sumano in 1987 when he was looking for a perfect cave to be a centre for dharma and the image of the cave appeared in his dream in 1982.

The entrance to the cave system.

Pathways led deep into the caves, there's even a stream running inside (in above photo, it's on the left, too dark to be seen). Several shrines dedicated to the Buddha can be seen along the way, there's even on of a Sleeping Buddha.

10:45am - All covered up and ready to battle the hot sun.... let's see who will win!
By the way, the photo shows me carrying a spare 16" tire (which would be hard to find here) and the blue colour Impraboards for packing my bike later on when we return to Malaysia by air. I just used a Brompton C-bag for my luggage, inside it was packed like sardines, looking very pregnant.

Some photos of the dragon-backs; it was a tough route to cycle but at the same time it was very beautiful too.

The crazy dragon-backs went up and down, and round sharp bends over the range of hills separating Phatthalung & Trang provinces.

The long stretch at the final climb, this is almost at the top of the hill range.
Aiks! Only see the bicycles can be seen, where are the owners? .... Well, they were hiding at a shady spot behind the pile of stones on the left (see top-most photo).
It's 11:30am, and this is Pit Stop #4. Roger and me were feeling exhausted from the climb and the heat; looked like Mr. Sun was winning the battle. I sent a phone message to Yong Sin, but up here in the hills there was no signal and he did not receive my message.

Just about a couple of kilometres up was the top, it marks the border point between the two provinces. Right there too is the Theparak Shrine, with the temple proper on one side and a statue of the monk (on the right of above photo). Colourful banner flags flutter above the the highway to mark its location and motorist toot their horns as they drive past - a show of acknowledgement and respect, and perhaps a prayer of thanks for a safe journey. With no horns, we just rang our bells.

11:55am - Pit Stop #5.... well that was fast for another stop! Just after the shrine we saw Kit waving at us, indicating that they had also stopped for a break. Well might as well join them; here's a photo of us looking exhausted!

After this it was zooming all the way down (almost, as there were a few climbs, but these were made easy by our down hill momentum). We zoomed past the Trang Andaman Gateway Park but did not stop as we were running late. Statues of elephants mark the spot of this park.

In all this fast zooming, one had to be careful here. The highway here is made for fast travel with retaining walls at the bends to allow for super-elevations so that cars do not have to slow down at these bends. Fortunately, there were wide emergency lanes to ride on, but we rode nearer the inner edge just to be careful.

12:30pm - Pit Stop #6: getting thirsty Kit & me stopped at a road-side shop to get some isotonic drinks to refresh ourselves. These kids here were very friendly, giving us warm wide smiles; but when it came to being photographed, they were a tad shy.

12:50pm - Pit Stop #7. Just further down the road the others had also stopped at a hut near the junction that leads to Palian, we naturally joined them. There was a concrete platform which was cooling to lie on and soon some of us were snoozing. Nearby was a small market, this hut here was part of the market and the concrete platform was probably used to sell fish. It did smell odd but we were too bushed to bother.

2:00pm - Pit Stop #8, Yup! it's lucky eight as this was the best spot to rest.
Sin told the rest that he had to rest; Yong Sin remarked that we were just about a couple of kilometres from our destination. Sin really needed to rest, the heat was too much and was getting to him. I had to agree as I was developing a head-ache, onset symptoms of a heat-stroke, best to get away into some shade. We stopped at the Praya Ratsada Monument Park; with shady trees and cooling fountains, it was an welcomed enclave from the heat.

Into Trang, a quick lunch of Ladna for all of us. Taste was not too bad but what got my attention were posters of guns and rifles for sale pinned on the walls of the coffee-shop.

On the way to the hotel, we passed by this roundabout with statues of manatees. In fact, in our stay in Trang, we saw many of these statues - big ones, small ones, in souvenirs items, etc. Made me wonder whether the manatee is the mascot animal representing the Trang region.

Our stay in Trang was supposed to be the Garden Hill Mansion hotel (GPS: 7.56235, 99.61469). We were still into the Songkran holidays and in larger towns they celebrate it for a week, so this hotel was fully booked by many locals. Although full, the owner was most pleased to see us with our bicycles and asked us at length, curious questions about our trip. The hotel is called Garden Hill Mansion as it is built just across his beautiful mansion (the one in the background of above photo).
For those keen to book this hotel in advance, their phone numbers are +66-081-979-0831 and 066-075-571633. Their e-mail address is gardenhilltrang@gmail.com and website is www.gardenhilltrang.com.

Our actual stay for the night was at the S2S Queen Trang Hotel (GPS: 7.55855, 99.60892) situated in the town itself. It's quite an old but well maintained hotel, at the lobby are photos of old Trang.
Cost per night was 450 Bahts per room.

After doing laundry and a good rest, in the evening we rode out for dinner. Trang is an old city, once the centre of the rubber trade of South Thailand and with close commercial ties with Phuket, Penang and Singapore. Evidence of this could be seen in the many the may colonial style building at the old town centre.

Dinner was at the Laytrang 2 Restaurant (GPS: 7.55791, 99.60735), it's dim sum time again together with some Thai dishes. Their steamer for the dim sum looking like some pagoda towers.

Their speciality that I liked most was this Lava Dumpling. It's a dumpling with slurppy salty-sweet salted duck egg syrup inside.... so nice that I went for seconds!
Back at the hotel, a few of us had Thai massage at 400 Bahts for a 1-1/2 hour session, but it was not as good as the one we had at Phatthalung.

It was a tough day's ride but one which we felt satisfied with having done.

Till tomorrow then!

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