Abundant research supports the fact that when we exercise, or even sit quietly close to water, we experience an immediate boost to our immune system, to our relaxation response, and to levels of our ‘happy brain chemicals’ such as dopamine and serotonin.
Why this happens is a matter of some conjecture, but scientists suspect it has a lot to do with our evolutionary history. We are, after all, descended from arboreal simians who literally ‘came down to earth’ around 6 million years ago to adopt an upright, bipedal existence, based on hunting and gathering in tribes. We needed to find water each night to survive and it was here that we also found our food, our hydration and our safety. It’s little wonder then, that being close to water is chemically hard-wired into our beings to make us relaxed and happy.
In this COVID-induced time of stress and despondency, we are blessed here in the Andaman in having access to abundant water-fringed environments in which we can be outdoors to walk or cycle – a sure-fire way to boost both our mental and physical well-being, lower blood pressure, strengthen levels of immunity and vitamin D, and even increase the depth and duration of our sleep. For anyone feeling a bit low, or depressed in the current crisis, my advice is to simply get out of doors to walk and cycle alongside water for an immediate boost to both mood and physical well-being.
Deciding to follow my own advice, I recently headed off the island in search of some peaceful beside-water cycling and drove up to Khao Lak, my mountain bike strapped to the car’s bike-rack and my nervous little dog Cutie along for the adventure. Cutie is the sister of another of my dogs, named Polar, who sadly passed away and I remembered in a Blazing Saddles article just over a year ago. (The Phuket News ibid. Nov 17, 2019)
I drove less than two hours north along roads with little traffic and enjoyed a relaxed attitude to driving which seems to be our “new normal” these days. As soon as I’d breasted the hilly, winding road into the main town of Khao Lak, I turned left at the first traffic lights down to the gorgeous Nangthong Bay Resort set right on the beach of the same name. The setting of this lovely escape is one of the best I’ve found around the Andaman for a beachside stay and the chance to try some cycling by water. I checked into a lovely, air-conditioned cottage for just B1,200, beside a tinkling little stream running next to my balcony, within the cool glides of which scaly denizens frolicked in piscine dance.
The resort boasts one of the most charmingly situated swimming pools I’ve encountered, surrounded by an explosion of tropical verdancy and with stately stone Apsara maidens cascading water into it from hip-balanced stone jugs, and here I swam and loosened out my body after the drive up.
From the resort, I decided to cycle straight north along the hard sand at low tide for the almost 10-kilometre distance to the next huge, tree-covered headland.
Cycling on the hard-packed sand was a bit tiring on my legs, but the sensational vistas of vaulting Casuarina trees on my inland side, plus the beautiful colours of sunset, made it very magical and worthwhile. Exercising close to green trees also boosts your immune system and mood through the deluge of phyto-chemicals which they release, not to mention all their clean, health-giving oxygen.
The repetitive susurration of the waves generates another health-boosting, almost hypnotic, primal sound-scape and on the way back I also discovered the lovely La Flora Beach Club bar/restaurant right on the sands – a very beguiling venue for that all-important post-ride rewarding drinkie!
If you don’t want to do the hard yards of cycling on the beach, exposing your bike to the sand and salinity of that environment, there are also abundant tracks and little roads running along the beaches up here and nowadays they are quiet, safe, uncluttered and as clean as they’ve ever been! Nature seems to be springing back into happy dominance everywhere and I encountered sleeping monitor lizards and an alarmed viper on empty beachside roads which would once have been clogged with tourist buses.
While life may be a bit of a ‘bitch’ for many of us right now, with a bike and the beach at your disposal, plus a little of your own resolve, you have the perfect antidote to all the travails that life throws at us!
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.