On The Road

Day 83 – Mueang Chaiyaphum to Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima

Today we used Google maps to plot a course and it worked just fine. It shaved 10-15 km off the trip and took us down 50 kms of mostly sealed country roads. Sometimes the rewards are worth the risks.

We’ve done our fair share of back road searching, sometimes being very lost, sometimes in the mud, and sometimes having to go backwards for a while. The Google maps data is not perfect, but it does let us see some places the main freeways don’t go.

I have found that many Thai people don’t take the risk and try the back roads, maybe it’s because they do not all have a GPS unit and map in front of them, or maybe it’s because that’s just not what they like doing. After all, they can speak the language and are able to read all the signs along the road.

Natt posted our intended route on ThaiMTB.com and also made a couple of calls. Everyone said there was no road between Chaiyaphum and Korat (Korat is the short name for Nakhon Ratchasima), but we managed to do it all on sealed roads with very little traffic. There were actually more cows than cars.

At the end, we did opted for 10 kms of dirt roads in order to shave 2 kms off the trip. This kept us off the highway for as long as possible. Doing it that way could have turned out all wrong and we might have added distance to our day’s total kilometres, but no risk, no reward.

Overall, the GPS mapping data for Thailand is pretty awesome, and the road quality here is good. One nice thing is that some roads that are too bad for cars because of potholes or rough surfaces often make awesome roads for cycling, with little to no traffic. So take the risk.

We are using a Garmin 60csx. This is a $200 unit that is about 5 years old. It allows us to upload tracks/routes which I make in batches of 3-4 days worth using Google Maps, GPS Bable, and Garmin’s Mapsource software. Making the routes is really not hard at all, once you’ve done it once or twice.

Lately I’ve been plotting the CAR and WALKING routes that Google spits out and we use these 2 details to estimate our path for the day. If one path looks unfavorable we use the other, combining that with the pretty decent road signs that we come across during the day. It’s all very doable.

We do have the added benefit that Natt can speak to the locals, but we only use this if we’re trying to go somewhere and it looks like it’s a really bad decision. A road that looks like it’s a flooded, or a road that looks like it might head totally in the wrong direction, usually leads us to ask a few locals about the situation up ahead. Sometimes we find out that it’s only a short distance (500 metres or so) and after that the road is just fine. Instead of asking the locals I know we could just cycle up the road and find out for ourselves, but sometimes we’re lazy.

Anyway… we made it to Nakhon Ratchasima. The distance was 110 km today. It’s been just short of 350km in the past 3 days and that is a bit more than I like to do. Also, the daily temperature is going up and we;ve been getting lazy and leaving later in the mornings. I think today’s start time was 1-1.5 hours later than our best.

In my opinion, the best starting time is CIVIL TWILIGHT, NOT sunrise. You can actually get 5 plus kilometres done before sunrise and it’s usually a pretty magical time of day to be out cycling. We don’t usually eat until we reach the 20-25 kms point and that means that we get a lot of cycling done in the super cool morning air.

We don’t usually stop again until around 50 km. We so this so that we can stock up on water and snacks, but we don’t stop for long, maybe 5-10 minutes. Around the 75 km mark we’re looking for Iced Coffee of some sort, most big towns have a PTT petrol station about 5 km from the centre of town. This is our usual stop for an Amazon brand coffee and to have a final look at the map before entering our destination town, to work out where we’re going to when we finally arrive.

Before this point we don’t usually worry. We never have a hotel booked, we don’t know where the post office is, and we don’t know anything about the town in general. I would say this is true for 50% of the towns we’ve visited, the other 50% either I or Natt has been to before, so we have some vague idea of the layout.

Tonight, we will be having dinner with the head man from the TAT office. He’s generously offered to take us out for a meal and I hope it happens, often it does not. I hope we get to have a good chat to him about the benefits of supporting Bicycle Touring in Thailand. The TAT here does seem to be one of the more organized offices that we’ve visited, so I hope we can persuade him to fall in love with bicycling.

Day 84 – DAY OFF in Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima

We had a great dinner with the whole team from the TAT office in Nakhon Ratchasima. We talked a lot about cycling, cycle touring, and promoting green and healthy activities in Thailand’s tourism industry. It was a nice evening.

We’re meeting them again today and hopefully we’ll have a couple of media people there for an interview, if we’re lucky. We briefly discussed with them our plan to turn this trip into a book of some kind, which I have discussed previously in our blog.

By the way, I’m keen on finding a sponsor to help with the production of our book, someone that can get as much value out of the book as we can. I just don’t know where to start, perhaps someone in tourism, or a company that supplies services to tourists would be an obvious choice.

I have found the TAT offices to have very different feelings towards tourism. Some offices are very active, supplying great information about local and regional attractions and activities to tourists, while other offices are difficult to locate and are staffed by reclusive and ignorant bureaucrats. Of course it could be that we’re just talking to the wrong person in the office, or it’s just that it’s Sunday afternoon and they really want to go home.

Day 84 is a day off and we will use it to relax as much as humanly possible. Tomorrow, we will head off on the 300km leg of our trip towards the province of Petchabun, in the Central Zone of Thailand, that will serve as our gateway to Northern Thailand. In Northern Thailand we’ll be visiting the popular tourist destinations of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai.

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