The Hunt for the Gulf

The Hunt for the Gulf

by Todd Kuipers

On January 9, 2546, Todd and Scott headed out bright and early after a harried night sleep to find a passage to the Gulf of Thailand. The sun was bright and spirits were high as we hit the pavement and got under way. The night before didn’t afford us much sleep as we anticipated the effort and comraderie of the next three days – working together, working hard. This journey had been talked about for almost eight months and was finally underway.

The route map

The route map

Actually what happened was we got up late and doddled getting our gear together. Neither of us slept well as we didn’t get to sleep at a reasonable hour and then got up a couple of times during the night. The anticipation might have messed up the snooze but we certainly didn’t get it together with much speed. We did finally get on the bikes shortly after noon. Scott and I had talked about this trip for quite a few months and the time had come for us to actually stop talking and finally do it. We had no real plan though, only a compass, the Gulf as a destination and a willingness to ride for a few days.

The ride started on our street in Bang Kapi, an eastern suburb district of Bangkok. We’d packed enough clothes and gear for a three day ride, hoping to not just make it to the Gulf of Thailand but also find some untrammled routes that we could take friends and clients on in the future. Within minutes we were riding the elevated sidewalks on a canal very familiar to Scott – a glance at the compass and we headed off in the direction where a boat across the Chao Phraya could be found.

There are a number of very large canals on the map that we tried to follow by riding the sidewalks, but those main canals aren’t always well marked nor is it always very easy to tell the difference between a side and a main one while you’re on them. Only until the sidewalks end (precipitiously sometimes) and you have to turn around do you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the river on the canals – for our last few klicks we had to hit the road to make it to a ferry point and get over the river in a reasonable amount of time.

Prawn farms

Prawn farms

Across the river after a four baht ferry ride we arrived in a very different place. The next hour biking was through one of the most beautiful areas of Bangkok – Phet Chahueng. Literally in the city proper, this area has survived as mix of suburban-rural because there are no bridges that cross over the river to it. The only main road on the peninsula goes through a small neck of land about 500 metres wide. Scattered between the fields, canals, ponds and orchards there are a number of villa type houses, that surprise you as you come up on them. Obviously quite a few wealthy Thais find the area as relaxing and beautiful as we did.

Passing into Phra Pradaeng we decided to make a run for Samut Sakhon and a hotel or guest house for the evening. We asked a local fellow in Phra Pradaeng how far it was to Samut Sakhon – he said about 20 km. There is always a potential problem when asking directions, since all provinces in Thailand are named after the capital city of that province. What we didn’t realize was that it was 20 to the provincial border and another 40 to the city itself. We figured this out another 10 klicks down the road, when we stopped at a gas station and asked again. Figuring there was no hope of getting there before sundown we decided to stay at a hotel on the freeway for the night. Roadside hotels around the world usually don’t have the best reputation, but our digs for the night was a completely new entery in the category. A hundred parking spaces with discrete curtains to pull around your car, each leading to a door – your windowless room for the hour/night. A baby blue mood light entertained us and when we ventured out for food, found out there are no room keys available for guests. Apparently most people don’t check in, head out and come back – it’s literally an in-and-out sort of place.

Up the next morning, slightly earlier than we were the day before we got on

We reach the Gulf

We reach the Gulf

the bikes and cursed our seats. Within 15 minutes we stopped at a bike shop for a quick look while I marked a GPS point. Scott and the owner chatted for a couple and he decided to close up shop for the day and join us on our ride. Vit Two-Wheel was very excited to be off riding instead of fixing bikes for the day. We weren’t really sure at first, but figured that at the very least it couldn’t hurt.

Vit Two-Wheel, a name based on his love of bikes, proceeded to lead us through a 65 km run of the prawn fields, farms and orchards, of Bangkok, Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan. It’s tough to describe what we saw – much of this coastal region is at or below sea level with only small roads and ridges between the prawn pools. The prawn pools average two to three acres in size and the width of the seperating mounds range from about road-sized 20 feet to rounded mounds less than 5. The homes ran the gamut from small bamboo and thatch huts to huge homes owned by rich and possibly famous types. There are points at which the canal water level is higher than the surrounding area, and where the canals are so wide and extended by side sections that they look like lakes. Two solid hours of riding in and around this was pure fun.

The highlight of the trip was finally making it to the Gulf of Thailand. The last one and a half km were along a boardwalk through mangrove forest full of fighting crabs and mudskippers (everyone remembers the Muddy Mudskipper Show right?). The whole area was highly undervisited by foreigners as virtually everyone we went past giggled, pointed, giggled and pointed, or giggled, pointed and followed us. We don’t get reactions like this anywhere, even up north in the hills. In the remote places in the north there are more foreigners travelling around in one day than get down here in one year.

Bangkok's canals

Bangkok's canals

The next three hours were a combination of road and tricky pond-wall riding. There were quite a few times where we could have blown a sidewall or pitched ourselves into one of the prawn pools. Our guide definitely kept us on track – no mishaps – and knew where to see some very cool sights. At no point did we have to back track in this maze of trails. It was a fabulous trip, and tougher than we expected, leading us 25-30 klicks further than we expected to do in one day. We were getting beat and he had another 20 km to get home after our anticipated frop off point.

Vit lead us to the boat bus at Wat Phra Samut Chedi where for another four baht we crossed over to Samut Prakhan, about 20 km south of our apartment. A few clicks of freeway riding, looking for a hotel and we decided it would be cheaper and easier to find a ride home. A very friendly young couple agreed to drive us home in their truck for a reasonable price. We fought the traffic, finally made it home and had some dinner. We were beat, having just been on one of the longest rides we’d ever done, through some pretty challenging terrain. After 73 km on the second day we decided to sleep in a relax. No day three of the Hunt.