The flatness of Cambodia and the middle of Thailand had given way to rolling hills as we approached Chumphon, and neither of us had realised that we missed climbing until we were doing it again. So we changed our route again so we could do a few more hills before we reached Malaysia. Immediately from leaving Chumphon though we kept going south and soon found ourselves in the midst of multiple rain storms. Just outside of Surat Thani, we stopped at a small guesthouse (always identifiable by a '24' written on a sign). The place was right next to the highway but with no owner to be seen but we were greeted by four rather bored looking policeman who rang the phone number for us and made us a cup of coffee whilst we waited. They could speak a little bit of English so we managed to have a small chat about where we were from and what we were doing. The further south we go in Asia, the more people kind of understand what we're doing. Up until now the concept of cycling so far is lost and I assume people think they have misunderstood us.
Another wet day of riding meant another guesthouse to try to dry our clothes and shoes and the following evening saw us checking in and very soon checking out of one guesthouse. On initial inspection of the room it looked perfectly clean but looking closer, there were quite a few ants roaming around on the bed... And then we saw them on the floor camouflaged by the patterned tiles. We followed their trail to underneath the mattress and as Mike pulled back the bed sheet, we could see thousands of ants. There must have been an ants nest *IN* the mattress. We didn't wait to pack up as time was getting late and we had about 45 minutes of day light left to find somewhere else to stay. Getting our money back was fairly easy, though we had to translate to the owners 12 year old daughter 'we go. Money back' on our phone. Thankfully, we found another guesthouse about 5 km down the road and settled into a clean (and cheaper!) room for the night, this time ant free.
The deluge of rain continued as we pushed on across the ridge of hills down the east coast of Thailand and down towards Phatthalung. Our aim was to cross into Malaysia via a brief stay on the island of Langkawi, just off the coast from Satun which is still Thailand. We had made contact with a warmshowers host in Satun and pushed our daily kilometres up to 130km to make it to him a day earlier than originally planned. Since we did the 151km day into Bangkok with our Swedish friends, we've enjoyed pushed our limits again. I think since we got so exhausted in the south China mountains we took 'having a rest' way too far and stopped feeling like we were pushing ourselves every day. This may sound a bit strange coming from two people cycling around the world but we've got to a level of fitness now where the act of just getting on a bike and cycling a 50-60kg bike all day every day isn't the tough challenge anymore. We need to remember to push ourselves further and whether that be adding in extra climbing or increasing the kilometres, keeping the adventure challenging is important to us so we don't get lazy and, above all else, bored.
We've been thinking a lot about Aussie logistics since we're only four weeks away from flying over there. That is where the physical challenge is going to ramp up a gear without us deliberately seeking it out. The winds are supposed to predominantly come from the east and it's summer so we'll be crossing the Nullabor (Eyre Highway) against headwinds and searing heat AND we need to make it all the way to Brisbane by 25th March. We're really raising the bar with this next section and mentally we're trying to prepare ourselves for it. One of the biggest preparations here is having the right kit for the job. We need to increase our water carrying capacity so we'll post our winter gear across from Perth to Brisbane and use the space freed up in our panniers to store water bottles. We need to make sure the clothes we do have with us provide full coverage of our skin so we don't get seriously burned and put ourselves at ridiculously high risk of skin cancer. We need to make sure we have two working phones for entertainment across the Nullarbor so we don't go absolutely bonkers and our relationship isn't strained by trying to share one phone in the desolate outback. We also ideally need to get a large travelling solar panel to make sure our phones are always charged. Luckily, the Eyre Highway is not the full on outback; road trains and the Grey Nomads will always be passing us to help us out if in desperate need, but we want to be sensibly prepared and with the added difficulty of the heat and the headwinds we're trying to not underestimate how hard this will be.
With all of this going on in our heads, the rain we're experiencing in Thailand is quite welcome. We're trying to savour the cooler temperatures (like, mid twenties) because we probably won't get anything like this until we land in the USA in March. We made it to Satun and found Pot's house and after three days of cycling in the rain we managed to eventually dry off and wash our clothes. Because of the humidity, these didn't dry even in two days and our shoes remained wet too, but such is the nature of cycling in monsoon season!
Whilst we stayed with Pot we had a new 'first' experience on this trip, or in fact ever! We were asked if we could do a few hours of English with some student friends which, of course, we said yes to. It turns out that Mike is an extremely good teacher, very patient, clear and creative with his teaching. We stuck to teaching the proper pronunciation of numbers; the difference between -teen and -ty, how to say numbers in the hundreds and thousands, then sound differences between th-, tr-, ch- etc. Our two students were absolutely brilliant and so keen to learn, at one point we asked if they wanted to stop or do more, and they wanted more! Really awesome to see such a positive attitude towards learning.
A proper English teacher then turned up, a friend of the family, called Phuyada who came with us to see the local Satun history museum. This is a small but adorable museum about the local people and their culture presented within an old house which was once used as the Japanese headquarters during the war.
No rest day would be complete without fixing something and Mike spent the rest of the afternoon sewing and seam sealing a number of holes in our front panniers where they've taken a bit of a bashing and tiny holes have appeared. We only realised they existed with it raining so much but luckily they weren't big enough to be a problem - Mike, in true Mike style, fixed the issue. Finally, we went for dinner with Pot and Phuyada who told us about all the other tourist things we could see in the area which settled it: we would have to come back in a few years.
The following morning we set our sights on getting to the Satun-Langkawi ferry. We thought it was at 10 am; the result of poor Googling. We arrived at 9am just as the ferry was meant to leave and were very quickly rushed through checking out of Thailand, buying our ticket, changing our money and boarding the boat in a super speedy 11 minutes! In Thailand you can really get stuff done if you want to - or if they really want to get you on the boat and not have you waiting around for 5 hours until the next one...