Paul and Natt were great hosts! They live in a house built of converted shipping containers with five dogs, each with their own unique personalities, near the tourist beach at Cha'am. After our pretty dreadful night's sleep at the wat, well... few hours sleep, we were really grateful for the hospitality. Paul and Natt had actually got in contact with us a couple of weeks beforehand as they like to keep an eye on who's moving through south east Asia by bike. We had left feedback for an earlier host, Simon, in Vietnam and that's how Paul and Natt found us. We had actually intended to get in touch with them ourselves as their profile on warmshowers was super helpful with lots of great cycling advice for riding around Thailand. They themselves had recently completed a tour through every province in the country. The real deal sealer for us was the fact that they had five dogs and Natt volunteered at Rescue Paws, a charity in Thailand that rescues street dogs, gets them healthy and tries to rehome them overseas.
When we arrived with Paul and Natt they knew what to do: send us to our room, let us clean up, chill out for a while, catch up with messages from home and feed us beer. In fact, Helen had a beer in the shower! After getting to know all the dogs: Tiny, Hiccup, Wookie, Hans and Lexi (we never really got to know Lexi because she's really shy but Natt's working on that), Paul and Natt took us to dinner to have some western food which was greatly welcome. While Helen had her standard burger I ventured for pie and gravy with mash and peas and it was glorious! Small, but mighty. So good. It was just like being at home except it was 35 degrees and incredibly humid. Our hosts were so easy to get on with but we were pretty tired and headed back for an early night. We had a big day in the morning.
After an early start and curry for breakfast we headed for Rescue Paws, 50 km south of Cha'am. I squeezed into the back of the Hilux with Tiny (an enormous gangly 10 month old weimaraner) whilst Helen rode in the front as we went to collect Pancake. Pancake is a former street dog made of love and sunshine who Rescue Paws took in, made healthy and Natt trained. In a few weeks she is jetting off to live with a Luxembourg couple and Natt will be going with her to settle her in. She's still a little nervous around men but her and I got on surprisingly well given what we had been told. At Rescue Paws we were greeted by the staff and volunteers, many of whom are westerners spending some time on their travels helping out in return for free accommodation and the chance to do some good. Mine and Helen's duty for the day was to walk some of the ten puppies that the centre currently had to get them used to walking on a lead, walking on the beach and learning to swim. Under Natt's guidance we took them for a good long stroll and some reluctant paddling. The funny thing is that although they don't like being in the water, they know exactly how to swim and if you hold them above the water's surface they'll start to paddle before their paws are even submerged. They key is to get them used to the water, though, so they don't panic in case they're ever accidentally dunked or stuck on the beach. Our first walk was a success, although Helen's puppy was reluctant really to move more than a few feet at a time! After lunch it was time for round two of walking.
That, however, didn't go so well...
Our next dogs were thought to be mother and daughter. I was given the mum who was said to be very scared of walking along the beach while Helen had the pup that was slightly older than some of the others in the kennel. While we got them both onto the beach without too much of a problem, the puppy soon slipped her collar and was free! Charging up and down the beach making a game of the fact she was much faster and wilier than Helen and I combined, she took great delight in collecting dead and rotting fish from the strand line and guzzling them before Helen or I could stop her, then running off to find her next "treat". As she was so unwilling to be caught, Helen eventually took mum back to the kennel to try and find the others to help catch the puppy while I kept my eyes on the young dog, hoping she's stray no further than the beach.
Rescue Paws is situated in the grounds of a temple, and all of the temples that we've seen have packs of temple dogs which are, at the very least, fed by the monks who live there. While they've never showed any signs of aggression to us, they clearly didn't appreciate the puppy running about their beach. As I was trying to coax her back towards me, one of the large temple dogs snapped and growled and chased the puppy off the beach and onto the scrubland behind. Thankfully she ran roughly in the direction of the kennels and not into the woods. I managed to chase the temple dog away and now my job simply became keeping an eye on where the puppy was going and there wasn't a great deal more that I could do until help arrived. It should go without saying, but the puppy was having an excellent time! We later found out she had done this many times before. With Natt and the centre staff on hand the rogue dog was soon back in her kennel to my enormous relief. Soon we were back in the car, squeezed in with Pancake and Tiny headed home for pizza and it wasn't long later that Helen and I decided that after all that we needed another day off which Paul and Natt were cool about.
The next day we did absolutely nothing and loved every second. The following day we were back on the road again after saying our goodbyes. Our route took us off the highway and down the spectacular coast through one of Thailand's many National Parks and past more monkeys and limestone cliffs. We'd intended to camp at a small beach but on arrival we were told that while camping would only cost $1 each a night, gaining access to the beach would be another $7 each. On hearing this, we declined and set off for a nearby temple where we were welcomed without a problem and set up camp under the spectacular temple building set among palm trees and limestone cliffs with monkeys wandering the ground.
After the standard coffee-porridge breakfast combo we rode towards the town of Champhon. Helen had been contacted while we were in China by a Scottish guy called Peter who, along with his friend Lee, was planning on cycling from Singapore back to the UK. We'd given them the advice by email that we could and now their adventure was underway and it just so happened that we would be crossing paths in Champhon. It was a tough day. The heat and humidity combined in Thailand really took their toll and we find that we can't always keep up a great pace. Thankfully when riding along the highway there are plenty of very comfortable gas stations where we can stop and rest frequently. I'd found the preceding week to be made more difficult still by the fact that I decided to stop taking my antidepressants altogether which had been making me feel sluggish and irritable for some time. So after suffering during the day we stopped at a cheap "resort" with an air conditioned room and were able to eat on site before an early night.
The following day the heat and the humidity continued but the cycling was phenomenal. We were off the highway again, this time cycling past palm fringed beaches and quiet roads until we found a secluded spot by the beach to camp and watch the sunset. It's always hard camping when the temperature at night doesn't drop much below 30 but we were able to get comfortable and get up to watch the sun rise again before the heat of the day kicked in. Riding on past more beaches we stopped around 1.30pm to cool off in the sea and think about just how lucky we are to be experiencing all of this. While we didn't have much further to ride, Helen's saddle sore was starting to bug her. It had been developing over the last few weeks but there's not much we can do except manage the irritation and try and calm it down with some antibiotic cream which we found in Bangkok. Today, however, the mixture of sand and salt in her shorts after the dip in the sea made things a little worse.
3 kilometres out of Champhon and just as the rain was starting, Helen got one of her rare punctures. Four every four I get, she only seems to get one and she's still on her original set of tyres! It was soon fixed in a hotel car park and as the rain continued on our way to the budget guesthouse we were flagged down by a crisply burned ginger Scotsman, thus we were introduced to Peter. Peter and Lee were good craic and once we were showered and dressed in more respectable clothes we met them for a few beers and a Thai feast beside the local night market and shared with them our questionable wisdom.
Feeling the effects of the lack of antidepressants I called again for another day off which we spent looking around bike shops for some spare parts, and after that doing nothing but eating cake and watching Jurassic Park. At this point at Chumphon, we'd considered crossing to the west coast of Thailand and cycling south from there to the ferry port at the Malaysian border where we'd take a boat to Langkawi for some beachside R&R. That plan was based mainly on the presumption that the weather would be better in the west at this time of year but as it's happened it really hasn't been too bad and we actually don't mind the rain at all since it cools us down. So turning to our maps, we decided to stick to the east coast and make the crossing to Satun further south. This'll shave a few kilometres off the section in Thailand but it'll give us more time for riding in Malaysia before Christmas.