Back in the saddle(s): heading north from Bangkok

Cycling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: part one

  

Sunday 22nd November

Miles: 49

We are back in the saddle(s)! We have 6 months to cycle around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia (and have worked a month on a beach somewhere into the time frame). We’ve ditched our camping and our cooking gear as we will be staying in hotels and eating out (fancy I know) and now possess a svelte 22KGs of luggage, consisting mainly of repair kit for the bike, clothes and diarrhoea tablets. 

Our first job was to cycle out of Bangkok. Over the past week we had had several discussions with family and friends-of-the-family on what the best route was, and after weighing up our options we arrived at an approved plan (which incidentally Eric claimed was the first way he had thought of, but I’m not sure that this is really true). 

However debatable the route was, the timing of our journey was very obvious: we’d set off at first light on Sunday morning, the time when the roads would be least busy. So we were up at 5 and ready to go by 6.15. 

A photo just before we leave.

 
Off we go!  (Photo courtesy of dad.) 

At 6.15 the temperature was nice and cool and the roads were reasonably quiet, though there were still quite a few people around (one guy yelled “Hey farang!” (foreigner) at Eric with a grin).  

  

For the next two and a half hours the scenery barely changed. Bangkok is pretty big after all. We saw lots of shop fronts, waterways and wats (temples).    

 

Passing over and under an express way. 

   

One of many road-side tributes to the Thai royal family, who are tremendously popular.  

By 9 we were officially out of Bangkok, and had joined the 347, a long, straight dual carriageway. The good thing about large roads in Thailand is that they all seem to have wide hard shoulders which we can use as spacious cycle lanes. 

I had been curious as to what the Thai countryside would look like. In the south the mixture of swampy land and heat makes the terrain green and lush. We passed miles of land covered in long grass, frondy-looking shrubs and palm trees, and it was all totally flat. 

By 11.30 we were heading into Ayutthaya, Thailand’s old capital city. We got our first glimpse of some of Ayutthaya’s famous ruins.   

Cycling in the increasing heat had been surprisingly OK. The breeze created by speeding along on a bike counteracted the fierceness of the sun. Cycling in the heat was in fact a lot easier than walking – or even standing still, believe it or not. I was relieved. While we hurried from air conditioned taxis to air conditioned buildings in Bangkok, I had begun to wonder how we would cope. 

After checking into our hotel (which was full of backpackers) we showered and then investigated the night market for dinner (which was also full of backpackers). After a lot of dithering and wondering what might or might not be freshly cooked we settled for sticky rice and pork… pretty much the same thing we’d had every day in Bangkok. I think we may have found the Asian equivalent of our European favourite: baguette, ham and cheese.

  


Monday 23rd November

Miles: 10

Today we had decided to take a day out to see some of the ruins of Ayutthaya. I say “some” because the place is stuffed with them, and in 35 degree heat there is only so much cultural appreciation we can handle. 

In a break with tradition we cracked out the tandem on a rest day, as the distance was too great to be walked, and we couldn’t be bothered with figuring out where the taxis were. 

First we visited Sri Nakakharh Park.  

There was a sign with a large paragraph of waffle that essentially said they had no idea when these ruins were built.   

Then we went to Wat Chaiwatthanaram, which was amazing!       

This was situated a bit out of town, but was worth the trip.  

       

It was built between 1630 and 1700 for the king.      

After this we made our way back into town to see Wat Lokayasutharam, which mainly featured a big old reclining Buddha.     

While we were here a policeman approached us. “Uh oh” we thought. But it turned out that he just wanted to say hello and give us a map! In Europe the police only ever spoke with us when they thought we were breaking the rules, so first impressions of the Thai police are very good. 

Finally, at around midday we cycled past the most popular ruin, Wat Maha That. But we were hot and tired, and thought that it didn’t look all that exciting, so we just cycled past and took a couple of photos.   

   
After getting dinner from a Tesco Lotus (yes, you can travel thousands of miles by plane and still pop into a Tescos) we retreated to our hotel room and turned the air con on. 

One thing worth a mention is the Thai Tescos loyalty scheme. So in the UK we have a club card and collect points… in Thailand you are given stickers with little yellow ducks on them!

   
 If I get 300 stickers I can collect a duck-themed table and chairs set.

As the afternoon went on I developed a bit of a temperature, and my stomach wasn’t feeling too good either. Seriously? It’s only day two!! 


Tuesday 24th November

Miles: 48

Still feeling not-that-great in the morning, I took a pill to ensure there were no – ahem – unwanted problems while I was cycling. 

We were on the road by the more leisurely hour of 7.20, as we didn’t think that the distance would be as great today. 

Here we are negotiating a bit of Thai traffic in Ang Thong.  

   

In Thailand electricity cables are not buried underground, so you see them like this (top left) everywhere.

The scenery was pretty flat and unremarkable, though we did see a lot of flags. They were everywhere. The national Thai flag budget must be pretty darn hefty.

 
We also saw some interesting road kill. We passed a cylindrical-looking dead thing, that was at least 30cm long (probably longer).

“Hey Penny, what do you think that was?” said Eric.

“Uh… it looked like a snake,” I said. 

“Nope…” he said, “it was a centipede!” 

We both shared a horrified laugh. 

By 11.30 we were getting very hot, and by 12.30 we were kind of regretting our decision to leave an hour later. At about 1.15 we arrived in our hotel in Sing Buri and clawed our way to the air conditioning. 

After yet another microwaved ready meal from 7/11 for lunch I decided that enough was enough… it was time to eat out. At dinner time we went to an open-air restaurant opposite our hotel, and had a giant steak, chips, bread and salad, plus a half litre drink each, for 145 baht, which is about £2.75. Wow. It was, as Alan Sugar would say, “with sincere regret” that we left our raw salads untouched, as our pathetic western stomachs are in jeopardy when it comes to uncooked foods. 

The food was delicious, especially after all but one of our meals since leaving Bangkok have been microwaved in supermarkets. The only slight downer was when something that looked suspiciously like a cockroach fell on my head. After that happened I put the lid back on my drink. 


Wednesday 25th November

Miles: 54

This morning we bumped into our first cycle tourists!  

We had a shouted conversation from across the road with them about routes and experiences of Thailand (they mostly gave us some good tips). They told us how great Thai people were as you travelled further north and stopped being regarded as “yet another farang”, and indeed today we got more waves, smiles and hellos from passers by than ever. It’s really nice, and it does make me feel like we’re welcome. 

Halfway through the morning we were stopped at some traffic lights by a policeman. He beckoned us off the road and we followed, both of us thinking “here we go. What is it, visa inspection? A fine for breaking some rule we didn’t know about?” 

He asked us our names. He shook our hands. Then he gave his pal his smartphone and took a picture with us!   

We got one too. 

I was chuckling the whole time. I couldn’t believe that a policeman on duty would stop us for a picture (not that I minded).

He then filled up our water bottle from the police station water cooler, said thanks, and we went on our way. 

This kind act came back to haunt us, as about 2 hours later, having drunk most of the water, we noticed a drowned weevil floating around in the bottle. Just like that time in Bosnia. Sigh. The rest of the water was poured onto the floor. We reassured each other that we would probably live and carried on. 

Today the landscape became a lot more interesting, and we cycled alongside some nice views.   

   
A little kid did his best to run with us while we cheered him on. Here he is getting tired.  
After reaching our hotel, which turned out to be a cute little cabin, we showered and went in search for food. We found a restaurant, and I both managed to impress Eric and amuse the cook with my attempted Thai.   

We walked around after lunch looking for a place to buy a chocolate bar or a biscuit. No luck. Shocking.

Views on the way back to our hut.

   

Today is the festival Loy Krathong, so we went to check out the celebration in the evening.

The tradition is to take a little float made of flowers, light the candle and incense and then make a wish as you release it onto the water.   

We paid 30 baht for our float and joined in.

   
  

   

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5 thoughts on “Back in the saddle(s): heading north from Bangkok

  1. Looks like fun and possibly less scary than I imagined cycling in Thailand would be! How have you found the situation with visa’s? Have heard a few stories about it being a bit of a hassle so would be interested in hearing your experience as we’ll be covering similar ground next year, though not on bikes this time!

    • What we’ve found funny is that whenever we talk to Thai people they are horrified that we’re cycling. They all say that Thai roads are very dangerous. Whenever we talk to/read about westerners who have cycled in Thailand, they say what a great place it is for bikes.

      We are only one week in, but my experience so far is that cycling in Thailand is fine. On big roads there’s a constant hard shoulder which is essentially like an enormous cycle lane. People do drive fast, but I have never felt in danger, cars and lorries have always overtaken us carefully when we had to share space with them.

      We have been warned about lorry drivers who are forced to work long hours so get high on amphetamines to stay awake. We’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled for any swerving lorries, I guess!

      We got our Thai and Vietnamese visas in advance (I think you have to). We plan to get visas for Laos and Cambodia at the border… we’ll see how that goes.

      Getting the visas for Thailand and Vietnam was fine, but we did have to send our passports to each embassy in the UK, so it took about two and a half weeks to get done. If you didn’t have that time you could travel to London and turn up at the embassy. Filling out the forms and making sure we had the rights fees/return envelopes etc. was a bit of a faff, but the instructions on the websites were clear. If you’re not returning to the UK before you travel to these parts I’m not too sure what you would do, but no doubt there’s a way!

      What’s your plan after New Zealand?

      • Sounds like it’s going well! We often experienced folk who thought we were mad to cycle on roads – we kept having to say how much better and safer it was than cycling in England. We head to Australia in February but probably too hot to cycle so might be back on the busses! Then to Thailand in April and we have six weeks to do Thailand Laos and Vietnam. As for visas we are planning to get them on the fly – which you can do if you can prove you’re planning to fly out within 30 days. Will be interested to hear how you guys find it. Look forward to reading more – safe riding and good luck!

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