Wednesday 30 January 2013

Brothel Blunder


Distance travelled: 7,629 km
Backside rating: Judy the Stoker 7/10, Mike the Captain 5/10
Biggest bike problem: Spokes breaking on front wheel, necessitating rebuild
Most interesting place in Thailand: Old capital of Ayutthayah

The stain on the sheet said it all, but it was getting late and we needed a roof over our heads.
Darkness had closed in as we reassembled the bike on the platform at the Prachin Buri railway station after our journey from Bangkok. A nice railway man gave us some rather vague directions to the Sophia Hotel, which he said was ok. But when we came to follow them it turned to custard and the hotel was nowhere to be seen.
Party time in the cathouse with potato chips and iced lemon tea.

We rode along in the dark, trying to keep out of the way of the traffic and hoping to find any hotel or any sign with a word that looked a bit like “tsunami” but means “hotel” in Thai.

Eventually, Judy spotted one and we turned down a poorly lit street.
A disturbed night and planning our escape the next morning.
The young woman “receptionist” and her male colleague - wearing white powdery makeup - couldn’t have been more helpful. Yes, they had a room, and yes it had air conditioning. Forever looking for a deal, Judy asked if there was a cheaper room with just a fan. The young woman said yes, but seemed in no hurry to show it to us. Afterwards, we realised it was probably occupied, probably by the hour.

After getting the bike repaired, we took a train from
Bangkok back to Prachin Buri. This time there was
no luggage van and we had to uncouple the Beast of
Bridgwater and pass him in through a carriage
window. He was stored between two hand basins.
We took the one with aircon and the stain on the sheet, and wheeled the bike in. I was reluctant to examine the stain too closely, but it looked suspiciously damp so I found a plastic bag, strategically placed it over the spot and threw our blue silk sheet over the bed. In a corner lay an empty condom packet - at least someone was practicing safe sex.

When we ventured outside our door to find something to eat, two young women, overdressed and over made up, were lounging in the foyer with a male minder. Awful music poured from a bar. Judy gave the threesome her usual, confident "sa-wut dee ka" but they ignored her. Something made me keep my eyes averted but I glimpsed high heeled gold shoes cast on the floor, long orange hair and Angelina Jolie lips. It was terrifying.
We walked out to the main road and tried unsuccessfully to find a place to eat. The dogs roamed and I picked up a couple of broken pieces of masonry as potential weapons.
The only place open looked like a small family run business where the family was on the turps. A couple of bottles of whisky sat on the table and a third bottle, possibly rum, was almost empty. We bought potato chips, two small packets of biscuits, some strange looking baked things and something to drink.

Back at the cathouse, business must have picked up because one of the women was missing. The other continued to ignore us.
After a simple meal the previous night, we were ready
for breakfast.
We barricaded ourselves in our room. Judy stuffed a blanket against the door to try to muffle some of the noises and we sat down to a bleak and rather odd evening meal. During it, we tried to convince ourselves you haven't really cycled in Asia without spending the occasional night in a brothel.
When we went to bed, the plastic bag under me rustled every time I moved and I had trouble sleeping.
The next morning we set out early. Two hundred metres up the main road we spotted a sign. It said Sophia Hotel and in Thai there was a word that looked like “tsunami”.

South East Asia Without a Tent

For nine months our tent has been our safety blanket. We slept in it most nights in Europe and loved the shelter, privacy and comfort it offered. We are camping people.
Shadows from an olive tree on the walls of our tent, Greece.
The decision to post it was a big one, but we have not used it once since setting out from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Having to go to Bangkok presented us with an opportunity to get rid of 3.5 kg of deadweight. It may not sound much, but you try lugging it up hills and into headwinds, and we anticipate plenty of those in the months ahead.
Packaged up and ready to go. Our tent and our multi fuel stove about to be
posted in Bangkok.
The decision on whether to take a tent is one that is given careful consideration by many touring cyclists visiting SE Asia. The consensus seems to be that you don’t need one, yet many cyclists (including ones we’ve met) have a small tent strapped to the rack above the rear wheel.

Our decision has been driven by the desire to get rid of weight. The tandem’s front wheel has had to be rebuilt and any weight we can get off the bike may reduce the chances of further problems. It feels like throwing away our safety blanket, but we still have a mosquito net if we ever get really stuck. And at a pinch, we may even find a brothel for the night.
We've found no use for our expensive multi-fuel stove here in S.E. Asia
 so have posted it off. Of more use is this simple little electric element
 (shown above with red handle) which enables us to make a morning cup of tea
 in our hotel bedroom.

Monday 28 January 2013

A Spoke in the Works


Current Location: Bangkok 
Distance travelled: 7,538 km
Broken Spokes: 3 (1st at 5,900 km, 2nd at 7,274 km, 3rd at 7,515 km)

 “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today,” Thomas Jefferson, American founding father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence. 

Well, here we are. Bangkok. It’s exactly where we tried so hard not to be. Our efforts to avoid the teeming millions have failed because we ignored the advice of Thomas Jefferson, a man who knew a thing or two.
A third spoke breaks and we know we have a problem that can't wait in the
hope that we will find a good bike shop somewhere in Cambodia.

The first sign of trouble with the front wheel of our tandem came way back in Malaysia.

We replaced a broken spoke and went to considerable efforts to find a bike mechanic who could true the wheel for us, then moved on. The second spoke went 1,374 km later.We replaced it but did nothing more.

See more at tttp://

Being entertained by a family while we wait in Prachin Buri
for a train to take us the 100 km to Bangkok.
For nearly a week we rested up at Ayutthaya, the old Thai capital, relaxing in a comfortable  teak guesthouse and only emerging to go wat watching and stuff ourselves with food and beer. But as most touring cyclists know, once a spoke goes there is something wrong and the problem needs to be dealt with. When two go and you do nothing about it, there is a constant gnawing in the pit of the stomach. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, that feeling won’t go away.
We rested up at a lovely old guesthouse in Ayutthayah.
When we emerged it was to take in the sights, not to bother about the squeaks coming from the front wheel.
Ayutthayah boatman
 We could easily have surrendered a day in Ayutthaya to a quick train trip into Bangkok to one of the few well equipped bike shops in the country. Instead, we were just too comfortable. When it came time to resume our cycling, we set out in trepidation not knowing when the next spoke would break. Would we survive the day, would we get as far as the Cambodian border, perhaps even Phnom Penh or maybe, just maybe, all the spokes would hold up indefinitely. The first day there were a few squeaks, clicks and creaks from the front wheel. We hit some rough patches of seal and the occasional pothole but the wheel stayed intact.

The second morning, I stepped particularly hard on a pedal as we pushed off after a breakfast stop and suddenly there was that ping sound with which we are becoming familiar. I replaced the spoke on the side of the road while Judy checked the map. The next nearest town with a railway station was Prachin Buri, 25 km away. We rode off in that direction as gently as possible, hoping to avoid another breakage. By 4.30 that afternoon we were on a train bound for Bangkok and enjoying the company of two English cyclists who were making for the Thai capital after four months in S.E. Asia. Four hours later, all four of us were negotiating our way out of the city’s main railway station and trying to find somewhere to stay.

Burnoff fires after sugarcane's been harvested. Taken from
train window on way to Bangkok.
 The next morning Judy and I dropped the wheel off at a bike shop and 24 hours later it was waiting for us - rebuilt with all new spokes, the old ones taped up ready for us to carry as spares.

Coming off a Bangkk train with our respoked wheel.
Cost: TB620 or about NZ$25.
Now, having found ourselves in Bangkok after all, we can’t quite bring ourselves to leave. We’ve found some excuses to linger and who knows, maybe tomorrow we’ll catch a train out of town and resume our cycling. It will have taken us three days to get the wheel sorted.

If we’d listened to that sage advice from Thomas Jefferson, we could have done it in one and avoided that gnawing sensation in my stomach.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Sex in the Saddle - Part 2


Current Location: Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Distance Travelled in SE Asia: 2,015 km
Total Distance: 7,224 km
Snakes Dead and Alive: 18 Road Kill, 2 Live
Bottoms’ Status: Mike 3/10 when 10 is bliss; Judy 7.5/10


Sex in the Saddle – Part 2
Notes from the Road
Dog Tucker Update


Dear B 17 or Miss Brooks (whichever you prefer, I don't care any more),

It pains me to have to write this letter but the pain is nothing compared to the daily suffering you inflict on me. I have no choice than to complain.
New, padded bike shorts of the type worn by wooses and
women's blouses.
As you know, we have been together for eight months - long enough to tell whether we have the makings of a permanent relationship. We knew at the start this was no rip-your-clothes-off fall-into-bed kind of affair, but we hoped our relationship would gradually deepen. It would be a meeting of minds, of shared common interests and an understanding that as we became better acquainted we would learn to care for one another.
The reality is that I seem to do most of the caring, and you are nothing more than a pain in the arse.
Moisturiser has done little to soften
Miss Brooks.
I regularly apply moisturiser to your features, caress you and even give you facelifts. Instead of softening and giving me the ride of my life, the friction you cause has given me raw patches on my backside. For comfort, you have slipped to 3 out of a possible 10.
Now, I know you’ll argue it’s not all your fault. It’s true I have lost weight and where once there was flesh to add some padding, there is now just skin and bone - like an old horse. And the climate in Asia doesn’t help - all that heat and humidity. But as I’m adjusting to the environment, so I  have expected you to do the same.
Skin and bone like an old horse.
It’s with sadness I have come to the conclusion I can tolerate this state of affairs no longer. So  have bought a pair of fancy, lycra, padded shorts of the cycling variety worn by wooses and girls blouses. It never occurred to me that after 7,000 kilometres together I would be reduced to such action. And I’m afraid it’s not going to stop there. Once you have absorbed the contents of this letter I am going to reach into the tool kit and take out a spanner to reverse your last facelift by adjusting your love bolt.  By slackening off your leathery features I only hope your skin will sag, soften and be more comfortable during the long ride ahead. 
Tweaking Miss Brooks' love bolt or pleasure extender to
reverse her facelift.
If neither of these measures work, I can see no future for us together.
Mike the Captain


It was a relief to cycle into Kanchanaburi and hole up at a guesthouse
with a view over the River Kwai.
It was with a sense of relief that we rolled into the town of Kanchanburi (scene of the infamous “Bridge on the River Kwai”) after days of cycling up the Gulf of Thailand. Highway 4 north from Chumphon has been mostly dual carriageway with lots of traffic, heat and not much else except for a wide shoulder which kept us safe. Finding alternatives to the main road has not been easy, as the map on our GPS is not detailed and we’ve felt under some pressure to maintain daily runs of 80 to 100k as time ticks by on our 60 day tourist visas.
The towns have been conveniently spaced so we’ve had little difficulty finding somewhere to stay. And some of the towns, like Hua Hin and Petchaburi, have beaches and history which make them worth a stop. But it has not been our favourite cycling. 
A dual carriageway with lots of trucks
and heat and a wide shoulder.
For days we’ve been aware of a clicking/creaking sound from the front wheel bearing. We got it tightened at one bike shop which quietened things, but didn’t fix the problem. The grumbling could still be felt by resting a hand on the front forks and spinning the wheel. For TB200 ($8.00 NZ) we had the ball bearings replaced at the ProBike shop at Hua Hin in the time it took Mike to have a beer.


You're dog tucker, mate.
One of the advantages of being on a main highway is that the dogs tend to leave us alone. We were both unsettled by our experience around Khanom, where we were regularly chased by up to four at a time. But with lots of traffic around us, the dogs (mostly) keep to themselves.
That said, we are taking notice of some tips from our friends Stuart and Alison. They’ve suggested carrying a metal container with a chain in it, and shaking the container as required. Apparently dogs don’t like the sound.
Another option “requires some bravery,” according to Stuart and involves jamming a fist down the dog’s throat. Hmmm, we’re going to pass on that one, thanks Stuart.
And the third suggestion is to get a metal anti-dog whistle. We’re keeping an eye out for one of those. As Alison says it would be a lot less cumbersome than a metal container and chain.

Nice name but where was it? We never found it.
In the meantime, we are taking the advice of a man we met on Koh Samui. He said when a dog gives chase, just stop. We’ve tried it several times and it’s worked sometimes with dramatic results. On two occasions, the dogs  panicked and ran away into the shrubbery. Perfect.

Saturday 5 January 2013

A Bus Ride

Current Location: Chumphon, Thailand
In case you missed the last blog: Mike the Captain has lost 10.7 kilos since setting out. Now weighs 75.8 kg. Judy is keeping her weight to herself, but is trending down.

“Oh no, I’ve put lip balm all over my arms instead of moisturiser. I should be taken out and shot,” Judy the Stoker, unwell and grumpy with herself.
The tandem uncoupled and squeezed into the space by the
rear exit.
The bus was one of those local ones - familiar to backpackers all over Asia. Garishly decorated, it ground its way dutifully north stopping from time to time to pick up and deposit passengers and their cargo which included sacks of vegetables and two durian fruit which were dumped on the floor near us. They gave off that heavy, sickly smell that’s enough to turn the stomachs of most Europeans.

All Aboard

The bike was jammed near the rear exit, making it difficult for passengers to use the door. Judy's sore throat was no better, so she tried to sleep on a bench seat but a youngster from the back row kept scrambling past her to pass a cellphone between two adults. He was wearing a dark green military style shirt with a picture of a pistol and the words, “The Angry Amputees”  and “Infidents” (sic) stamped across it.

He was the oldest of four dark-skinned, beautiful children who gazed at us constantly until one by one they fell asleep, and lay in a tangled heap against one another.
While Judy dozed, I tried to enjoy the novelty of riding a bus. At 70 kph, the towns and countryside flashed by but it was a dull landscape and we weren’t missing much by not being on the bike.
Like a rainbow on speed.

A Secret Nightlife

The interior of the bus was multi-coloured, the ceiling like a rainbow on speed. Oscillating fans kept the air moving when we stopped, and underway the breeze blew through wide open windows. Loud speakers were spaced at regular intervals in the overhead luggage racks and lights - looking like car tail lights but not only orange and red but green and yellow and blue - gave the impression that the bus might have another life as a disco or karaoke bar. At the front of the bus, a picture of the Thai King and Queen showed them on what appeared to be a balcony somewhere, waving to an unseen crowd. Nearby, the driver’s spare keys dangled from a row of hooks stationed in front of a fluorescent lime sunshade – tasteful.
Judy shows brief signs of recovery - tucking into pineapple.

Another Option when it gets Too Tough

We arrived in Chumphon, tired, stiff and in need of toilet stops, but reassured in the knowledge that if necessary we can squeeze the bike onto a bus. It’s not something we  want to do, but the mountain country of north Vietnam and China’s Yunnan Province lie in the distance. If the going gets too tough, we know what we can do.

Christmas and New Year Pictures - 2012/3

Sam the Man

Son Sam, 27, has tossed in his job in Sydney and taken to the road, and by co-incidence was on the Thai "party" island of Ko Pha Ngan as we were on neighbouring Ko Samui. We managed to get together for one day - all too brief - before he and us went our separate directions. 
I must admit to a tear in the eye as I farewelled him onto a ferry back to Ko Pha Ngan. He's grown up in the years he's been in Australia and there's an awful lot of catching up to be done. 
He has a standing invitation to join us cycling if he wishes, but for the moment he's determined to go it alone. All the best Sam, take care out there.

Sam's writing a blog which is already putting us to shame - he has a nice style. It's at: /

New Year's Eve - Ko Samui

New Year's Eve - Ko Samui
Mike's brother-in-law Ross, son Tai, aged 4,
and sister Sarah.

Leaving the car ferry on Ko Samui.

Night market at Bophut, Ko Samui. Note Judy's striped suntanned legs.

Mike's sister Sarah, Tai and Ross' daughter Dana.
Father and son - Ross and Tai

Pancake maker - Bophut, Ko Samui

Loading the tandem onto a ferry for the short ride from Langkawi Island,
Malaysia, to Satun in Thailand.

The Uncoupling

View South East Asia in a larger map TANDOIDS Current Location: Chumphon, Thailand. Mike’s Weight Loss since Departure 8 Months ago: 10.7 kilos. Judy’s Weight Loss since Departure 8 Months ago: Not saying, but going the right way. Shortest Day’s Ride between Separate Overnight Stops: 1.7 km. THE UNCOUPLING The recent performance of the play “The Uncoupling” is the best yet by the highly acclaimed duo known as 2xtandem. This was street theatre at its very best, as the pair showed once again they are not too old to work when the chips are down. Their audience of bus drivers, ticket sellers, hangers-on and passengers watched enthralled as they uncoupled in public in a few short but action filled minutes. THE BACK STORY The play assumes a degree of background knowledge by the audience, and for those who are unfamiliar with this work it’s perhaps necessary to explain the following. The story begins on a tropical island where the couple have spent Christmas and New Year with family and friends. As the others return home or resume their travels, the principal characters – Mike the Captain and Judy the Stoker – resolve to leave the island too. But their efforts are hampered by a lack of seaborne transport prepared to carry them and their tandem bicycle to the imaginary mainland port of Chumphon, a passage which would save them 250 km of riding through dull and uninspiring countryside. They are forced to return the way they came to the island – on board a car ferry heading in the opposite direction to the way they wish to travel. As they set off, Judy the Stoker is struck down with a sore throat, phlemy chest and various other aches and pains. STREET THEATRE Cut now to the street theatre, and we join the couple once they have disembarked. They have found a bus driver prepared to take them and their tandem part of the way, which is just as well as by now Judy the Stoker is unable to speak and is living in a world of her own.
The driver insists they take their tandem apart so it will fit into the luggage compartment. As the audience draws closer, the couple strip the bike of its luggage. Judy the Stoker stands guard over their possessions at the same time as she delivers a fine performance of an unwell person. The tension builds as someone tries to sell her ferry tickets thinking she wishes to return to the tropical island paradise. Meanwhile, Mike the Captain takes a spanner to bicycle and the audience bites their nails – will he complete the job before the driver insists the vehicle must depart. It’s a race against time, and the five minutes seems an eternity as he releases the gear cables and the back brake cable and finally twists undone the three couplings that connect the machine. The crowd marvels, he has them eating out of his hand. THE CLIMAX In the penultimate act, Mike the Captain strikes his forehead on the handlebars as he stands up to pass the uncoupled machine to the baggage handler. He touches his forehead and sure enough, blood is trickling from a scalp wound. The crowd groans, the baggage handler crams the bike into the bus and the driver fires up the vehicle. In the final scene we see Judy the Stoker applying damp tissues from the pocket of her cycle shorts to the wound in a touching scene that could be interpreted as a demonstration of love on the road. She’s overheard saying “I must stem the flow”. The bus draws away and the audience is left wondering whether Judy the Stoker has perhaps harboured a secret desire to be a nurse. FOOTNOTE “The Uncoupling” was followed by a sequel “The Coupling” a couple of hours later and both performances were repeated the next day as the 2xtandem crew took a second bus to reach the imaginary port of Chumphon