Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cycling South Thailand 2016: Day 6 - One Scary Cave!

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Cycling South Thailand 2016 : Day 6 - One Scary Cave!
Tour of South Thailand: Day 6, 16th April 2016
Small Group Cycling Tour -Trang>Le Khao Kop Cave>Wang Wiset.
Cycling Distance - 65.63 km.     Level: Medium
Time : 6:00am to 3:35pm
Time Taken :  9hrs 35mins (including short tours of Trang town, a once-is-enough boat ride through the Le Khao Kop Cave, stops for breakfast, lunch, & rest).

This is page 6 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
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Route Recommendations :
1. Trang town is somewhat similar to San Franciso. Built on hills, the roads in the town slope up & down.
2. Between Trang and Wang Wiset, there are mini dragon-backs that skirt and bend round rubber plantation foothills of the region.
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 most of the main roads, there are wide cycling lanes.
4. Places & Scenery
    - Trang old town is quaint with lot's of old colonial buildings and some street art wall murals. Visit the market too, see the traders in action.
    - The Le Khao Kop Cave (GPS: 7.7935, 99.57224) is a must place to visit. Take the scary boat ride through the cave system, it's a good experience - more scary than a haunted house!
5. Food
    - Trang has many coffeeshops that sells dim sum in the morning for breakfast, they are cheap and good. Some shops also sell noodles to go with the dim sum.
    - We stopped at a shop at Ban Na Wong (GPS: 7.75563, 99.49447). The lady operator here serves quite good Pad Thai and her unique style of Som Tam that comes with salted and century eggs.
    -  Dinner was packed take-away dishes from Che Maeo Restaurant (GPS: 7.73728, 99.39747). Tonyo Greenview owner graciously allowed us to use his cafe for our dinner.
6. Accommodations
    We stayed the Tonyo Greenview Resort (GPS: 7.73777, 99.42087). It's a chalet/linked rooms style accommodation, with an excellent coffee-house up front, run by Mr. Kittipong Klinchan and his family. They are very warms hosts that go to extent to help their guests. Their contact telephones are 066-086-2699777 & 066-086-2726156. Room & chalet rates are at 350 Bahts & 500 Bahts per room per night and include free Wi-fi.


The day before was a tough one as we took on the slopes at the hill range between Phatthalung and Trang. We made a total of eight stops along the way to rest and get away from the heat... Heh! Heh!



Cycling Route -Trang>Le Khao Kop Cave>Wang Wiset.
Cycling Distance - 65.63 km.     Level: Medium.
The route take us onto mini dragon-backs that meander round the rubber plantations foothills of the area. An interesting stop was at the Le Khao Kop Cave for a scary boat ride through the cavern system.

6:00am - Learning from the previous days late start up; we decided to kick off earlier after all by 6:00am the skies were already getting bright. We started with a ride around Trang's old town centre and went to the wet market. Traders were already busy putting up their stalls and locals have started their marketing, haggling for the best prices.

Monks were doing their rounds receiving alms. These group of novices caught my eye; in Thailand (and most other South East Asian Buddhist countries), young children and teens were sent to the temples to do a few months stint as novice monks. It's a good practice as it made the children more aware of their religion and disciplines. Some stay on to become full time monks.

Here we are at a road-side table, enjoying our breakfast, looking very localised. Trang has many dim sum shops, one can find them in almost every other street.

Our breakfast dim-sum & porridge fare - overall it was good, the green pandan paus with pandan flavoured paste filling were very good. The yellowish-orange deep fried noodles at the foreground were to go with the porridge, crumple some and put them into the porridge and they give a mix of crunchy-soft bite.

7:40am - We checked out from the Queen Trang Hotel and started our journey to Wang Wiset. I could not help but notice that the sloping streets of Trang were somewhat similar to those of San Franciso.

Out of town, the roads were mini dragon-backs; sloping up and down as they meandered around the bends of the rubber plantation foothills. Trees were all around, but there was hardly any shed along the roads.

A quick stop for cold drinks at a petrol station; the owner must have a liking for pigs, there were cute statues of these at the entrance into the station.

10:30am - Arrived at our first destination, the Le Khao Kop Cave. We were going to be tourists now, taking a boat ride along a stream that run through the cave system.
The boat ride goes through a two kilometre stretch of the stream within the caverns that run below the Banthat Mountain Range. At the middle is a stop at larger caverns for a short walk to admire the stalactites & stalagmites and and pray at a few shrines. The middle cavern looks like the backbone of the dragon, and some believe going through it is auspicious as it is like going through the belly of a dragon. With the "Le" in its name, I wondered what the French connection was?
The boat ride started innocently out in the open with vine lined banks of the stream, riding for a short section through secondary jungles. Then we saw the cave entrance.... IT'S LOW! The cave's roof was just about a meter above the water. The boat guides instructed us to lie down flat on the bottom, not to bend our knees or arms up and keep all body parts within the boat!

And.... it gets lower... with the ceiling just about a foot above us. The boat men had to bend down to paddle to get through. We lie down there, for the moment having the fun of our life. It's like a ride through one of those amusement parks but only that is one naturally formed, At at some points stalactites come down like dragon's teeth trying to bite us. It does get scary as we zoomed pass the rock above us; sort of reminded us of movies where cars or space-ships goes flying pass the cheeks of the heroes.

At the middle we disembarked for a short walk through the middle cavern while the boat waited. The entrance was low and we had to walk hunch-back to go through. Inside were wonderful rock formations.

The narrow pathways led to this shrine. Many come here to pray and make offerings.

If coming in was scary... then the 350 metre ride out was even more frightening... any time more heart-stopping then haunted houses! The ceiling comes down really low; at many points just a mere inch above us, and at some points touching us as we get stuck while the guide slowly manoeuvre to get us through.

It's so low that even the guides have to lie down now, using their hands to push against the ceiling to move along.... SCARY IS THE WORD!

Above is a video made by my buddy Sin (of the hApPy HaPpY blogs), view it to feel how the boat ride was like, and this was only for the first section; the last 350 metres was even lower.
Operating hours of the cave is from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Boat hire rates are were 300 Bahts per boat that can sit up to seven. For more details of the cave click here. 

Yong Sin pointing at pants where his leg scratched the ceiling of the cave.
We came out with evidence of the tight fit inside, our pants and shoes with stains showing where they had touch the ceiling. For many, it's a once-is-enough experience... NEVER AGAIN!

 After that heart-pounding experience it was time for some ice-cream, a lady sold pretty good coconut cream ice-cream nearby. Then there was this stall operator who saw my Malaysian flag fluttering from my bicycle and offered to trade his worn and dusty Thai flag for mine... a sort of sealing of bilateral ties. The flag may not be new and clean, but I will always cherish it for the memories that it brings.

As we continued our journey, at Ban Na Wong a golden apsara (Thai angel) prayed for us as we rode pass. Yes, we are doubly blessed today, once by the cave dragon and now by a lovely angel.

Then Sin started whispering "Makan..." (meaning eat in Malay), his whispers started getting louder and I soon I joined him in the chant which slowly got louder and louder. Yong Sin got the hint and we stopped at the nearest convenient shop.
The dragon & apsara blessings must have been strong, for here we found pretty good Pad Thai and an amazing Som Tam that was served with dried prawns, salted duck eggs and century eggs. Some pulut (glutinous rice steam-cooked with coconut milk) came with it; this must be the local style here of eating Som Tam.

Here too was where I found out about the secret of the Thai pink egg.
I had seen many of these eggs at food stalls during our trip here, and had thought them to be Thai version of the red hard-boiled eggs that are used in Chinese celebration of a baby's full moon. Actually these are century eggs, very differently from the ones in Malaysia which are covered with dried mud-straw.
Well, we always learn something new... so don't go using this egg for a baby's shower celebration!

The strong heat had not only affected us... our equipment were also affected, the bright green stripes of my helmet had faded to a paler green. And Roger's pannier bags had slowly started breaking opened at the seams. He tried using masking tape but these were not adequate, so he bought a few more bungee cords and strapped it round the panniers.

Nearing Wang Wiset, the heat was getting to us and conveniently there was a shady bus stop for us to rest, AND by coincidence on the opposite side of the road was a similar bus stop. There a couple of cyclists were taking a snooze too!
They were simple tourers; not high-tech equipment, and with interesting cloth panniers (which looked self-made).

Kit & me went over to greet them and found that they were an old Chinese couple who had cycled down from Yunan a couple of months back. In our smattering of Mandarin we managed to converse with them and found out that they were heading down south to Peninsular Malaysia. That being our home-ground we were quick to give them advise on cycling in Peninsular Malaysia - like no cycling is allowed on the highways or at the Penang bridges. To get over to Penang Island they could use the ferry, pointing at a map on their phone to show where the jetty was.
We said our goodbyes and wished each other a safe and pleasant cycling trip.

3:00pm: We reach Wang Wiset, stopped by a 7-11 store to get drinks and enjoy their air-conditioning.... (it's free ^_^). Here's Sin acting as a guard for the store and jokingly said that he had run out of budget by having too many Thai massages and now has to moonlight.
To our disappointment found out that the motel we wanted to stay in did not have enough rooms for us, so now it's a hunting for rooms!

But now worries, it's not that difficult to look for accommodations in Thailand, just look out for blue signs like the above with the numerals 24 which means 24-hours opened motel (or something like that, I guess).
The cashier girls at the 7-11 were also helpful and pointed out that there were some motels back from where we came from, so we backtracked a bit and looked out for these blue signs. One led to a very nice, cosy motel that with an air-conditioned dining annexe. But the whole place was closed and vacated; probably the operators were still celebrating Songkran and had gone for their holidays.

Further down the road was another one, the Tonyo Greenview Resort (GPS: 7.73777, 99.42087), it looked cosy and more importantly it had enough rooms for all of us! Here too, the operator had a small and cosy coffee-house.

And the place came with a bonus! Mr. Kittipong Klinchan, the owner, and his family were warm and friendly people who take the extra step to make their guests feel at home.
We were tired and the thought of cycling out again in the hot weather for dinner was rather discouraging. Fortunately Kittipong's son-in-law and his son were heaven sent angels (that apsara blessings probably was still working); they offered to take me out to go pack food from a nearby (3 kilometers away) local favourite restaurant and off we went zooming away in their truck.
At the Che Maeo Restaurant (GPS: 7.73728, 99.39747) they even help me read the Thai menu and make our orders. Above is what we packed back - two large bowls of tomyam, fried chicken wings, crispy fried pork, Thai omelet (again?), stir fried mix vegetables together with white rice - all for just 630 Bahts which was more than enough to feed the five of us.

Here's a photo of us just after having a dinner at Tonyo's coffee-house.
From front left: Mek (son), Kit, Yong Sin, Nu (son-in-law), Mr. Kittipong and Roger.
Kittipong used to be a manager at the Genting Hotel in Golok, just across the border from Malaysia. He slowly recalled his time there and even managed to speak to us in some Malay. Nu is an engineering graduate who teaches English in Bangkok (he was back to bring his wife for a filial visitr during this Songkran holidays). Mek, still schooling, was an enthusiast of motor-cycles.

Okay, before we end the day, here's a photo of me with dark roasted legs and hands after six days of cycling in the hot sun. Oops... tummy looks slightly bulging after all the good and cheap Thai food *grins sheepishly*.


This is page 6 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
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