Upon returning to Thailand, we were met with quite an unpleasant surprise. We had dropped our bikes off at Velo Thailand, a shop with good feedback from other bicycle travelers. We liked the idea of supporting a hip neighborhood business rather than the slicker high-end chain stores around the city. We had opted for an "overhaul service" with the outlook that paying a little more for prevention would save us headaches down the road. Unfortunately, we would have been better off following the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality.
It only took one motorbike taxi, one longtail ferry, one "sorngtaaou" (shared pickup truck transport), and one minivan to return to Prachuap Khiri Khan from the little island of Koh Chang. Back in the scenic town, we enjoyed the night market and repacked for the next leg of the cycle tour heading north to Bangkok. The next morning we braved the ridiculously large population of urban monkeys guarding the 396 steps up to a derelict temple complex perched on a hilltop overlooking the bayside town. It was certainly worth the sweaty effort and proximity to primates expecting a handout for the views north and south along the coast.
Leaving Prachuap Khiri Khan, we adopted a leisurely pace essential to survival in the 90-degree-plus sunshine and made camp on a beach at Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park. The following morning we cycled in between dramatic karst pinnacle formations to reach the trailhead for another famous feature of limestone: mesmerizing caverns open to the sky. We hiked up to the entrance for Tham Phraya Nakhon, featuring a pagoda-like "meeting hall" built for King Rama V's visit in 1890. In our typical fashion, we arrived about ten minutes too late to see the structure illuminated by rays of light filtering down through the opening, but the tree-filled cavern was a lovely blend of nature and culture nonetheless. Next we explored the aptly named Jewel Cave (Tham Kaew), featuring the usual cave formations but with the sparkly addition of calcite crystal deposits and the bonus of bat colonies and a whip scorpion sighting.
Our primary reason to come to Ranong was to make a "visa run" by crossing the border into Myanmar briefly and re-entering Thailand. This common practice for tourists in Thailand is actually a misnomer since we had received a free 30-day entry stamp rather than a formal visa. We haggled with the boatmen at the dock to get the going price (for tourists at least) on a decrepit long tail that would motor us half an hour across the inlet separating the two countries. As the boat pulled in to the Thai departure stamping station, the boatman announced we needed to hand over an additional 50 baht per person. We said, "No thanks... Nice try, buddy!" and ignored him since we were not aware of any legitimate departure fees. The older Scottish couple also in our boat complied without protest though, so he tried again with us. I get particularly worked up about scams during times when travelers are at their most vulnerable, such as border crossings, so I got off the boat and walked up to the official in his office window with our boatman following behind me. I politely but firmly said, "I'm sorry, but I thought it was free to leave Thailand." He just looked at me and smiled, but remained silent, so I added, "I'll take that as a yes then." I returned to the boat and we were not pestered to pay any more mysterious fees for the duration of our trip. We docked in Myanmar and efficiently took care of the formalities. During a quick look around town, the hilariously naive Scottish couple had bought some off-brand cigarettes that were promoted as top quality American ones. They were a bit disappointed when they showed them to us back on the boat and we didn't recognize them. Now let's think about this, why would there be any American cigarettes in a border town in Myanmar!?!
If you can't afford travel insurance, then you can't afford to travel.
How many times have we begrudgingly witnessed a pricey travel insurance payment drop our bank account before travel, only to return home without incident and a sense of wasted money? Too many to count, of course. But as lucky or as invincible as we may seem on our adventures, the risks will certainly outspend the savings once they catch up to you. And they will eventually catch up to you.
Let me share my story with the intent of convincing anyone who believes otherwise.
After returning to the mainland from a week spent on the little dive island of Koh Tao, we were hit with a full dose of Thailand's heat as we cycled north. April is reputedly the hottest month of the year. After melting along the roadside despite our proximity to the beautiful coastline, we don't disagree with that statement one bit.
In search of threatened places, cultures, and species…before they're gone.