By 7am we approached Chalong Circle, long notorious for its horrendous traffic mayhem and pollution during the construction of the now-completed underpass, through which cars and trucks were now hurtling during this swelling dawn. The traffic was light and exhaust pollution almost undetectable thanks to the absence of tourists. Noticeable by their absence were the usual fume-belching tour buses and hurtling mini-buses, so roundly hated by Phuket’s cyclists during ‘normal’ times.
Such gains in the purity and cleanliness of Phuket’s air should be ‘locked in’ through forward-looking government policy, once ‘normality’ again comes to call. But will that be a priority once tourists start to return to these blessed parts? We can only hope.
Up and over Rawai Hill we pedalled then down to the Rawai waterfront itself where a brooding flotilla of longtails was moored a little way off the beach. “Where are the day-trippers and pleasure seekers?” they seemed to be wondering as they gently rocked at silent anchor on the susurrating tide.
Finally, we rode over one final steep hill and down to the Nai Harn Lake, with much of it still cordoned off by metal barriers. A scattering of morning joggers, dog walkers and enthusiasts using the exercise machines enlivened the scene as we cruised around the perimeter road and finally came to a halt overlooking the beach beside the Nai Harn Resort’s beauteous portals.
Nai Harn’s sands looked as clean and pristine as we have ever seen them, while many visibly happy early morning visitors were walking, jogging, playing with dogs and even swimming in the pounding monsoonal spume, as a cluster of life guards looked attentively on from their tented station.
It was indeed a glorious sensation to be back again on this iconic beach and made us realise how much we often took such things for granted in our pre-virus world. To have the opportunity to end a hot bike ride with a beach walk and sea swim in crashing waves, is indeed a great privilege of island life, and yet one which by dint of everyday repetition is often rendered quotidian and barely merits attention. Only when removed, as so much has been as a result of COVID-19, have we come to treasure such pleasures and re-evaluate them for the utter privileges that they actually are.
Coincidentally, just three months earlier my Blazing Saddles article had appeared concerning biking and breakfasting at Rock Salt, the restaurant overlooking the sands from The Nai Harn resort. That now seemed like a dispatch from a former universe which had long since vanished.
I dropped in to see the genial GM Frank Grassman to get his thoughts about ‘things getting back to the new, post-pandemic, normal’. Frank said he thinks that it will be a long haul and from the Nai Harn’s perspective, it’s far more important to get things right and safe, than to rush back into urgent commercial activity.
Walking along our wonderful Nai Harn Beach once again, then having a cooling romp in the thrashing surf, I couldn’t help but agree. In addition, if we can keep the sense of reverence and stewardship for our region’s magnificent natural resources which having been deprived of them has engendered, that will at least be one significant positive to come out of this tragic pandemic.
“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.