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Blazing Saddles: Racha islands offer great bike trails and wildlife spotting

The Racha islands, situated 20 kilometres south of Phuket, are better known for scuba diving than cycling, but I decided to head over there anyway with my mountain bike to see what I could find. I was very glad that I did!


By Baz Daniel

Sunday 25 June 2017, 01:00PM


Maybe it’s just me, but the sense of relief these days when I depart Phuket with my bike is palpable.

As cycling on Phuket becomes more terrifying, my inclination is to hightail it to quieter locations, bike in tow, to find greener pastures for a relaxed ride. 

The now familiar sense of relief came over me once again when I recently boarded The Racha resort’s speedboat from Chalong Pier, leaving the chaos, bad tempers and traffic-choked access road behind in the speedboat’s frothing spume.

Lying due south of Phuket are the paired small islands of Racha Yai and Noi, which to confuse matters are also known as Raya Yai and Noi.

The 20km speedboat trip took about 45 rib-pounding minutes, but as we cruised into Batok Bay, fringed by the talcum-powder white sands of Ao Tawan Tok (also known as Ao Bungalow) Beach, a sense of tranquillity settled upon the speedboat’s occupants.

The elegant Racha resort stands sentinel, white and lovely, upon the hillside overlooking Batok Bay and is one of the premier resorts in southern Thailand.

I had the pleasure of staying at The Racha seven years ago and knew that their standards of accommodation, food and hospitality were second to none.

I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with their seductive luxuries and re-connecting with Devan, the resort’s genial GM.

A big change since my last visit, however, was the schizophrenic nature of Batok Bay.

The bay is a total delight of quietude with a picture-perfect beach and azure sea for most of the time.

Unfortunately this idyll is compromised daily when the tourist day-tripper speedboats arrive from Phuket in a cacophonous scramble for space.

It’s best to give this beautiful bay a wide berth while this is going on, but after 4pm when the day-trippers leave, Batok Bay reverts to its true self as one of the most beguiling places in the Andaman to watch the sunset and The Racha boasts a terrific beachside bar for this.

Racha Yai is about three kilometres long and two wide, and covered in rocky trails that buck and weave their way around the island, providing interesting mountain biking with terrific ocean vistas.

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Immediately behind The Racha resort you’ll find yourself cycling through a bric-a-brac of restaurants and massage shops run by the island’s few permanent residents.

It’s charming in a forgotten, slightly haunted way, and made me feel a long way away from the tumult of Phuket.

I soon came upon a muddy lake where abundant fish were throwing themselves about in piscine abandon and a huge pair of water monitor lizards waddled menacingly across the track.

They stopped and glowered at me, daring me to ride any further. They were seriously big….over a metre long from tip of flicking tongues to end of lashing scaly tails… so I decided to give them all the time they needed to slope off into the muddy depths before I rode onward.

I cycled along a coastal headland for about a kilometre, as the sun began to cast magical pink and purple traces into the sky.

My heart had just recovered from the lizard encounter when rounding a bend I almost ran into a statuesque white goat, who looked as nonplussed as me.

We stared at each other, then he began to approach me steely-eyed. At the last moment he veered off the path and plunged down a steep rocky cliff towards the crashing sea.

Such are the adventures of biking on Racha Yai and the robust mountain bikes that The Racha thoughtfully provides for its guests are the order of the day.

Also, don’t forget to wear a crash helmet in case of spills, or being brained by falling coconuts!

The Racha islands are certainly a beguiling escape from Phuket and The Racha resort offers hospitality without peer.

At the end of my all too brief visit, I declared “game, set and Racha” the islands had won me over and I’m sure they will do the same to you.

 

“Bicycling” Baz Daniel fell off his first bicycle aged three... a case of love at first slight. Since then he has spent a further 65 years falling on and off bicycles all over the world, but his passion endures. When not in traction, he found time to become Senior VP of the world’s largest advertising and communications group, finally retiring to Phuket in 2006. He has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.

 

 

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Eagle | 25 June 2017 - 17:11:11

Racha Noi/Racha Yai and Raya Noi/Raya Yai.And this is confusing?Wondering why this writer still lives in Phuket,if he needs to mention in every article how nice it is to depart Phuket or how noisy,terrifying it is.

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