Mai Pen Rai - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

February 8, 2024

Mai Pen Rai

Surat Thani to Phunphin and Back

Mai Pen Rai

Surat Thani was new to us and new is always fun.  The downtown looks right at a pretty big river, the Ta Pi River, which divides itself several times just across from downtown to form a bit of a delta area before it flows into the ocean.  That means that Surat Thani is not on the ocean, no beach anywhere nearby.  Surat Thani's big draw for tourists is that it's a jumping off place to go to the offshore islands, the most famous of which are Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.  Big overnight ferries dock at the waterfront and are constantly being loaded with supplies by day, passengers by evening.   A very nice wide and long promenade was made along the waterfront and every evening people are drawn to it.  We watched two different aerobics groups going through their routines and they were really good!  Then there is a long line of food carts and fruit vendors.  And there is a lot more room for installations that celebrate the appropriate holiday of the day and the celebration at hand right now is Chinese New Year. 

The bigger boat in the rear is a ferry to the islands.
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Fruit stands on the waterfront.
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Fruit stands on the waterfront.
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The waterfront Chinese New Year themed decorations were being installed quickly on our first night and by our second night they were up and ready and lots of people were enjoying them.  There were tunnels of colored lights, a beautiful and enormous cloth dragon, (This will be the year of the dragon.) lighted from within, a similar tall Kwan Yin figure, various lighted stars, flowers, etc. and the clock town was also adorned with colored lights that changed colors constantly.  People, especially kids, were loving the colorful scenes.  We did too.  We hadn't even planned on being anywhere for Chinese New Year but it was a nice surprise that it was being celebrated in a big way in Surat Thani.  We also had no previous knowledge that Surat Thani had so many people of Chinese descent or that Surat Thani had such a big Chinatown in which we had inadvertently chosen our hotel.  Fortunately, as I said, most tourists pass through to the islands.  Therefore, we had no problem getting a room right in Chinatown.  

Right after we ate our normal papaya/mango/muesli breakfast in our room we decided we needed to ride out to the Surat Thani train station to find out about transport of our bikes to Bangkok.  We were 99% certain they would have to go on a "Parcels" train and not with us on the "Express Train" on the 11th.  We were disappointed about that but we had had to do it before and it went well, just a bit more of a hassle.  We now have Air Tags on the bikes which help immensely in reducing our stress as we can watch to see where our bikes actually are at any given moment.  I think the Air Tags will go down as the best new thing we brought along on this trip.

Surat Thani has a population approaching 150,000 so it's not a small town but beyond my comprehension is why the train station is 16 kilometers (10 miles) outside of town.  The Surat Thani train station is so far away that another town, Phunphin, has grown up around it.  The ride out of Surat Thani towards the train station was on a busy divided highway with suburban growth almost the entire way.  There was only a mile or two stretch where oil palms and other vegetation sort of reappeared on either side of the highway before we entered Phunphin.  As we entered Phunphin I immediately thought the town was charming.  One reason for that was that smaller towns with a cute train station as the center of it all are generally pretty nice towns in Thailand.  I like when a town's center, or hub of activity, is the train station.  Towns anywhere seem to have more charm if there is something it is centered on.  Old train stations serve that purpose as do central markets.  We have seen a lot of such towns in Thailand.  

The dividing line between Surat Thani and Phunphin.
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A spirit house manufacturer on the way to Phunphin.
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On the way to Phunphin.
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I talked to the person in charge of parcels at the train station and fortunately she spoke some English.  She had a problem with numbers in English, however, and she misspoke several times which made me very confused.  I went back to Andrea who was with the bikes and said I wasn't sure about times we needed to leave our bikes there or when the "Parcels" train was to leave or when it would get to Bangkok or anything with a number attached to it.  Andrea and I went back to the woman and asked again and finally got it all squared away.  She was very nice.  

We would have to leave our bikes at the Parcels Office the night before we boarded our Express train and our bikes would arrive in Bangkok about three hours before us.  We also found out that the Parcels train would bring our bikes not to the big new, Bang Sue Station, where we would have to get off, but all the way to Hua Lamphong Station which was much better for us because we had reserved our last four nights in Bangkok right across the street from Hua Lamphong Station.  Otherwise we would have had to pick up our bikes somewhere at the Bang Sue Station, which is enormous and which we are not yet familiar with, and then get them, us and our panniers onto the shuttle bus to Hua Lamphong Station.  As it was, we, with all of our panniers, were going to have to disembark at Bang Sue Station (the end of the line for our train) and take the shuttle bus to Hua Lamphong Station.  Having the bikes already there was great news.  Bangkok is still figuring out exactly what they will do with the old Hua Lamphong Station and we were surprised that the Parcels Train still went there.  They are still in a transition period which means we are subjected to confusion not of our making, and believe me, we can create our own confusion quite well whenever we don't want to. It's easy.  

After we got all that figured out we went to the hotel nearest the train station to ask how much a room was and if they might have a room available on Chinese New Year's Eve.  We wanted to keep all of our options open.  Either we stayed in Phunphin the night before our train or we went out there, dropped off our bikes and took the bus back into Surat Thani for the possible big fireworks show.  Certainly there would be fireworks for Chinese New Year, right?  But then we would have to get a taxi out in the morning to catch our train.  It would be more efficient to move to Phunphin for one night but we had time to decide.  

The Queen Hotel was surprisingly nice, cheap and only a block from the train station.  We liked the area too.  We found a couple of beautiful mangoes for the next breakfast (always on the lookout for papayas or mangoes for the next breakfast), and we also found some old style Thai coffee and we even had rotis to go along with the coffee.  

Old style Thai coffee with the traditional weak Chinese tea chaser.
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Then we had to ride another 16 kilometers back to Surat Thani on the same busy highway and it was by then much hotter.  Why oh why did they not make a spur line to the center of Surat Thani?  Maybe when the train tracks were laid more than a hundred years ago, Surat Thani was such a small town that it was cheaper and more efficient to keep the line going straight down the peninsula.  

What we saw in the suburbs were nice modern buildings and gated communities.  All the big box stores were out there too.  It really contrasted with the center of Surat Thani which was quite old and not in a good way.  Everything in Surat Thani: all the exterior walls of all the buildings, the sidewalks and streets, everything needed a very thorough pressure washing with soap.  After a good pressure washing then all the buildings would need a new coat of paint.  The whole central district of town felt gross, greasy, moldy, black; the kind of place that after you have walked around it for awhile you come back to your hotel room and you feel the need to at least wash your feet.  

Downtown Surat Thani
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Downtown Surat Thani
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Downtown Surat Thani
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John SolemClean by 2567!
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo John SolemYes, sometime this year!
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1 month ago

So many times we have seen the same things in larger Thai towns: the centers are not being kept up and look pretty bad and all the modern buildings and growth is taking place on the outskirts.  It seems the central cities have been more or less abandoned for now.  It's a logical evolution that cities take as the population grows.  American cities went through the same evolution.  Eventually, when it is cost effective, the downtown buildings will be renovated, rejuvenated and probably young people will see the potential and it will be cheaper and they will open new businesses.  There is that great waterfront and there are some big parks too.  I liked Surat Thani, it just needs to be cleaned up quite a bit so it feels better.  The other big problem with most Thai cities is a pretty pervading awful sewer odor as you walk the sidewalks. Sewers in Thailand were made a long time ago and were not made to be nice to the environment or people.  I'm sure the sewers Surat Thani flow directly into the Ta Pi River.  In Prachuap we saw big sewer pipes lying right on the beach with sewage flowing right into that beautiful bay.  Thailand needs to clean this stuff up.  It's long overdue.

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After our ride out to the train station Andrea took a nap while I took a walk during the hottest time of the day.  I found most businesses closed for the holiday but open I found a huge wholesale fruit market and purchased a few things including the cheapest little bananas of the trip - 36 small bananas for one U.S. dollar!  The small bananas are some of the tastiest of Thailand's 19 varieties.  

36 per $
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On the way back I was parched and needed something with ice. I found a cha yen - Thai ice tea.  It was really tasty because it had a hint of bitterness and wasn't overly sweet as the Thais (they all have a sweet tooth) always like it.  I was close to our hotel and I brought it in and let Andrea try it.  Then I went back out to take some photos but I knew I was basically giving her my cha yen so I stopped back at the same vendor and bought another cha yen.  Knowing how much the Thais love to laugh I told the woman making my second cha yen that my wife drank my first one.  She laughed and said, "Mai pen rai, you can come back."  Mai pen rai is this wonderful saying the Thais use all the time.  It simply means, 'Never mind'.  I use it often and they always smile.  

The cha yen (Thai ice tea) maker.
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Even though we couldn't really explore the town because we had to ride a busy highway, in heat, a round trip of 32 kilometers, it was still a beautiful day of exploration of a different sort. Mai pen rai.  We got to see Phunphin!  And in the evening we loved seeing the finished decorations on the waterfront and really enjoyed watching dozens of regulars going through a very long and complicated aerobics routine.  I say regulars because it must have taken months for everyone to learn all the steps.  The teacher was there leading them.  He was obviously a dancer/choreographer and quite a serious guy. What a great teacher he was.  I've watched a lot of aerobics in Asia but this was a choreographed routine a half an hour long.  It was thrilling to watch.

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The Year of the Dragon
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Kwan Yin
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lovebruce

Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 1,247 miles (2,007 km)

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Rachael AndersonGreat photos of the lights! When we were in New Taipei, Taiwan, we went to a pizza place 3 miles away that we bicycled to and coming back in the dark we biked over several pedestrian/ bicycling bridges all lit up with beautiful cokoful lights. It as amazing!
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1 month ago
Jen RahnI want to remember this, so I will add it to my collection of quotes.

".. we can create our own confusion quite well whenever we don't want to. It's easy."

Thank you!
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1 month ago