Far in the distance in ThongPhaPhum I see this, and walk toward it
I walk the suspension bridge, climb several hundred stairs, and I find the gold Buddha. The book says it has real gold on it. I am there alone for a while.
- The mountains at the far horizon are in Burma. 80 kms away. I plan to pedal there tomorrow.
It is starting to heat up here. So I leave on bicycle before sunrise. I have what looks like 2 days of pedaling into the mountains to climb to the Burmese border. My first day went relatively well as I pulled into Thong Pha Phum. It is a small town on the River Kwai, at the edge of steep mountains. The river now flows swift, deep, and clear.
Across the river I see a glittering Buddhist Shrine atop a jagged pinnacle. I walk across a long suspension bridge to it. The bridge sways in the wind. I climb the 300+ steps to the top and I discover that I am the only person here. It is beautifully made shrine, open to all. Later, a few visitors arrive. As the sun sets, I take some pictures to the north, where Burma lies in the distance. I will try to pedal up thru the mountains to here tomorrow.
I load my bike and leave well before sunrise. Immediately I hit steep hills. Most of them are less than 7% climbs, and I can still make that, in the morning, while I am fresh. Something that I notice about the people that I pass is that they are no longer ethnically Thai. In general, they are smaller and darker than Thais. Most are Karen and Mon refugees from the Burmese government.
For the rest of the day, in increasing heat, I climb increasingly steep mountains. By 2 in the afternoon, I must stop and cool off at a Buddhist monastery. They bring me cool water. I have been drinking at least a liter an hour, and it is still not enough. If one cannot cool off with water, then one risks heat exhaustion. So I rest on. I covered 50 kms in the mountains this morning. I figure I can surely cover the remaining 30 kms before sunset.
But I am, in the end, wrong. It is getting hotter, the mountain roads are steeper, and I am more tired. The roads are too steep for me to pedal. So I hop off my bike and push my bike up to the top of passes. This can be 30 minutes or more, and although it is not cycling, it sure is exercise. At the top of each pass, I discover another mountain on the other side, higher than the one before. I coast rapidly to the bottom, and then begin the arduous walk/push bike to the top again.
When I get to the top of the last ridge, I am ready to congratulate myself. It is late, but I have made it to Sangkhlaburi, the end of the road. But wait, what do I see in the distance? Another mountain. I listen to the truck that has just passed me. I hear its engine whining loudly in first gear as it climbs up the longest slope. It will be dark soon. I look around. I could bivouac here for the night if need be. But I do not have a tent. I am so close to the city. So I try to wave down the next truck. The very first truck stops. Somehow, in Thailand, this does not surprise me. A middle-aged Thai couple stop, get out, and help me load my bike into the back. I ride in back with the bike. They take me over the last mountain, and it is the highest and the steepest one that I have encountered on this trip. Maybe I could have made it in the morning, but not now.
I find a lovely old hotel next to the town plaza and market. It is of tile and natural stone, with the fine workmanship of professional masons and stone workers. I choose a room with only a fan. That is good enough for me. At this altitude, it is not so hot. I quickly guzzle 2 more liters of water, take a cold shower, and wash my laundry by hand. I turn the fan toward the bed, and pass out. I had made it, of sorts.
The next morning before sunrise I go to the market to eat. Here was my breakfast of a green coconut curried vegetables. It tasted fine, and set me back 35 cents.
This was delicious, and set me back 35 cents. I am embarrassed to pay so little, so I leave tips.
Many Mon women paint their faces white.It can range from garish to striking. Most of them will not let you photograph them.
Most of the women have their faces painted white. Usually it consists of a smear of paint on either cheek and their forehead. But occasionally there is a woman who has elaborately painted her face up in the detail one would imagine of a Geisha. When I ask if I an take their photos, they almost universally say no. Here is one who did not. I notice that the refugees here at the border are particularly kind and helpful to me. I later find out that there are numerous NGO’s working here in behalf of the refugees. Many of the employees are Europeans, and the refugees have very good associations with them. They have most likely assumed that I too am an NGO employee and they are giving me preferential treatment because of it. Well, it sure beats being hated.
Then I take a short ride in the back of the truck to the Burmese border. I get there and hike up to the border. I want to check out the border before I arrive on my bicycle.
I ask the Thai border guard if Burma is allowing people to cross today. He tells me that they are only permitting Burmese to enter. But many of the Burmese are afraid to return because of political repercussions. I decide to find out for myself. I follow a loaded truck thru the no one’s land of the border to the Burmese checkpoint. I watch the customs agents begin to search the truck.
Then one of them glances up and sees me. He shouts something unintelligible to me. I am holding my camera as I pull out my passport. He begins gesturing angrily at me,. Then he starts to run at me with his hands held out forward, as if her were going to push me over. I turn and start running back to the Thai border. Another guard follows him in the chase. They continue to chasing me until I am on clearly marked Thai soil. One of them continues shouting something at me. Then they turn and walk away. This is the only picture that I got.
just beyond those buildings is Burma
- After I had safely run back into Thailand, I turned to take this photo. They could not get me from here.
Looks like I won’t be entering Burma any time soon.
This is the end of this line. I check my maps out, and I must now retrace 230 kms of road before I can branch off and bicycle another direction. I much prefer riding loops rather than retracing a route. So I go to the bus station. For $2.50 additional, the bus driver allows me to carry my bike in the bus. The Thai people are so kind about accommodating guests. So back to Kanchanaburi I go, one of my new favorite little cities in Thailand.
Thailand makes it very easy to carry bikes on trains or buses, for hybrid trips.
And will someone please help me with this?