Where do I start? Today really was quite astonishing. It started getting more interesting than normal when I passed a decorated archway out of which a girl on a scooter came. She wasn’t wearing a headscarf. Putting two and two together, I came to the conclusion that the road through the archway must lead to a Buddhist village. For me (and it being Ramadan) this meant access to food. I rode through the army checkpoint at the start of the village and after miming my intent to find food I was led through the village to a little restaurant. While eating lunch, a soldier of the Thai army stopped in for lunch too. We tried and failed to have a conversation. Next thing I know he handed me his phone. On the other end was his brother, also in the army. His brother could speak English and invited me to visit him at his army post. This was about 20km away, east instead of north. I of course said yes. He sent a rough screenshot of a map showing where to find a big picture of the Thai king, at which point I needed to turn left. I rode east through Muslim settlements till I hit the coast, then turned north. Military presence increased and I passed a training ground busy with marching soldiers. Eventually, I came across the king and turned left. As I reached a barricade guarded by armed soldiers, I heard my name being called. Mom, the soldier I spoke to on the phone, had spotted me. We sat down at the barricade and then he pulled out his phone and said he wanted to interview me live on his Facebook for his 8000+ followers. Hilarious! As we talked, people from across Thailand were watching and commenting. After the impromptu interview, I met Mom’s ranking officers and we all took photos of each other, They forbid me from riding further north along the coast as things progressively get more dangerous – there was a car bomb in the area just two days ago – so my bike and I received an armed escort back to the main road.
Having made this detour to the army post, I quickly realised I wasn’t going to make it to my expected destination, so I started looking for another decorated archway that would announce the location of a Buddhist village that should have a temple at which I might be able to sleep. It took about 15km before I found such a place and once again I was welcomed. My tent is now set up between decorated pillars of a tiled space that has a roof but no walls. I had a bucket shower and was halfway through rinsing the sweat out of my clothes when some soldiers called me over. On entering the temple I had noticed that there were quite a few soldiers around and it became clear half of the temple grounds had been set aside as an army post. I wandered over and found them preparing a dinner to which I was promptly invited. One of the guys cooking was a chef before he joined the army. It was the best meal I have had in Thailand so far. I spent the rest of the evening hanging out with the soldiers and absorbing what I could about why they were here. I learned that their main job is to protect the Buddhist village. They escort monks, guard schools and man the checkpoints. A team is going on patrol through the night to look out for ‘bandits’. It really began to hit home that I am indeed passing through a conflict zone. I heard once again that the three southern provinces of Thailand are not safe and violence can erupt at any time. I watched several guys getting haircuts, having their back and sides shaved clean. I was added as a friend on Facebook by half of them. And I received gifts for good luck.
I had also received a nice gift earlier in the day from a very nice Muslim lady I met during a morning break. It was a bag of sweets, comprised of some kind of nut thing coated in some kind of gooey stuff coated in desiccated coconut. Some were green and some were black. The green ones were nice but the black ones tasted a bit like I imagine charcoal would taste.
My gifts from the soldiers included money. I almost created a problem when I tried to refuse the gifts (I didn’t want to take these guys hard-earned cash!). I could tell in an instant that the guy trying to hand me money didn’t know what to do when I didn’t take it. Fortunately, in the next instant one guy who spoke English really well discreetly expressed how rude and offensive it is to knock back a gift when it is offered. I was able to accept the money with a smile quick enough that my initial attempt to refuse it could easily be ignored. I received 50b from one guy, 100b from another, and an army skivvy from a third. I continued to hang out with them until I could hardly keep my eyes open, at which time I bid them a good night and retreated to my tent, where I am now. A couple of monks have just come by to check on me and turn on a humungous fan to keep me cool through the night.
|Accommodation||Free-camp (Buddhist temple)|
|Distance ridden today||88.27km|
|Average cycling speed||20.9kph|
|Total distance ridden||11,646km|