Cycling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: part one
Sunday 22nd November
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This was situated a bit out of town, but was worth the trip.
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.
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!
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
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.
“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
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?”
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.
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.
We paid 30 baht for our float and joined in.