5. Phuket We spent an afternoon at the Phuket Immigration office trying to get our passes extended. Americans in Thailand then didn’t need visas; they were given a 30-pass upon entering to country. We had too little time on our original passes to get to Bangkok (where the head office was) by bicycle. Officials told us when we entered the country that we could easily extend our passes before Bangkok, but it turned out to be quite a chore. We had to have a guarantor, someone who would forfeit either $500 US or considerable property if we didn’t leave the country by the end of the new 30 days. After considerable running around and talking with officials, the Seventh-Day Adventist pastor with whom we were staying was able to convince the officer to accept his word that he would forfeit $500-worth of his possessions if we got into trouble or didn’t leave on time. So we got our passes extended. We were really grateful to the pastor, Jerry Aiken. He had just met us, yet he spent most of a day trying to help us and finally became our guarantor. He was quite a guy!
We were both in good health. In fact, when Peggy was riding she had less headaches and leg aches than when she wasn’t. The fresh air and exercise did us both good.
6. Pranburi After leaving Phuket we covered more than 600 kilometers (or close to 400 miles) in a week. Towns big enough to have hotels were further apart here than they were in Malaysia. An easy day was 48 miles, but one day we rode something like 78 miles, most of it up and down hills. In Malaysia we had no trouble getting a place to stay in small villages, but in southern Thailand it became a problem because English was not very widespread.
One day we got caught in a terrific rainstorm at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We traveled with raincoats and with our luggage fairly well rain-proofed, so rain was generally no big problem. But that day it was a deluge, accompanied by a strong cold wind. We finally managed to take shelter on the porch of a small store, but we couldn’t tell if the storm was going to be a long one and if darkness would come early. Nobody around spoke English, but we managed to indicate through sign language that we wanted to spend the night on the porch. At first they were hesitant, but later they had us move into the store, where we were able to spread out our mat. Their living quarters were connected … in fact consisted of a room next to the store proper. It turned out to be a very pleasant night, but it was certainly frustrating not to be able to carry on a conversation with our hosts.
But in Pramburi the situation was very different. A Thai who was staying in our hotel had gotten his Masters degree in the U.S. and spoke very good English. He came to our room, and we spent the whole evening talking to him. It was good to talk to someone who could give us some information and answer some of our questions about Thailand. He had some interesting comments. He was very concerned about the image that G.I.’s in Bangkok for Rest and Recreation (from Vietnam) was giving of Americans. Boys on R&R were thinking only about having a good time, and they were forgetting about Thai’s around them. According to this fellow most Thai’s living in Bangkok thought all Americans were like soldiers on R&R. So a lot of misunderstanding was being generated.
We were then only a little more than 300 kilometers (about 190 miles) from Bangkok. Almost every town between there and Bangkok, however, had something of interest, so we thought we would stop for a day or two in some places. We also thought we’d make a side trip (two days on bikes) to the famous bridge over the River Kwai. Thus, we thought it would probably take us a week or 10 days to get to Bangkok, where we planned to spend some time. But we were also anxious hear from home.
Our side trip (to the famous bridge over the River Kwai) turned out to be quite a long day. Early in the morning we headed inland from Ratchaburi without a map. (Maps weren’t readily available.) I thought by relying on my sense of direction and by asking directions we could find the bridge. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We rode through water all morning, some of it pretty deep, and a few times we thought we wouldn’t make it. Then some time after noon we ran into someone who spoke a little English, and he told us if we continued the way we were headed we’d soon come to the Burmese border. Then as a warning he ran his index finger across his neck. It had already been a very long day. We were tired, wet, and frustrated and knew we couldn’t go much further, so we hitched a ride on a truck back to the hotel from which we started the morning. We never saw the bridge over the River Kwai. It was no longer a priority.
Peggy and Randy Ford