Thursday 7th April
Miles on a train: probably about 120
Miles cycled: 15
Would we be able to get our tandem onto the train from Sakeo to Bangkok? The answer was: yes, without any problem. Tickets were 50 baht each, plus 90 baht for the tandem, making a total of about £3.50 (listen up National Rail!).
Today was our last day, and I was experiencing this knowledge like a slow punch to the stomach.
My memory of our time cycle touring is slinky-like, in that it warps between feeling very long and very short (though once you start imagining it going down the stairs by itself, the analogy somewhat falls apart).
Just over a year ago we were cycling through the farmland of Northern France after our first night in a field. I remember being knackered, numb from cold and extremely happy. I later learned that this broadly sums up cycle touring.
But today we had been forced to break the rules and take a train. “At least we won’t have to cycle into Bangkok,” said Eric. Good point Eric.
The line between the Thai countryside and Bangkok is very blurred. The odd house started appearing between the fields. Then a market. Then more fields. Then a gigantic freeway. Then more fields. Then a few rivers, houses, different marketplaces. More fields. And then suddenly we had arrived at Hua Lamphong Station.
Our plan was to take one of the many waiting songthaews to my Khun Yai’s house, where we would be staying. After twenty minutes of looking and asking, it turned out that there were no waiting songthaews. Only tuk-tuks and taxis, with their unimpressive non-tandem sized back seats.
“We could always cycle there,” I suggested gently to Eric. (He doesn’t like changes of plan. Also, let’s be fair, he would be the one steering the bike through the Bangkok traffic.)
“I really, really don’t want to do that,” said Grumpy Eric.
In the end we agreed to cycle in the direction of Chockchai 4 and stop if we saw an available songthaew. This was code for: we might be cycling the whole way.
As for our bent axle – it just had to get us there.
I was quite cheerful about being forced to cycle. It was our last day – it was good to cross the finish line by bike. I decided against pointing out the symbolism of it all to Eric, as he was busy negotiating a four lane road in the midday heat of the hottest city in the world.
I’ll tell him later, I thought.
Five months spent in mainly rural areas made Bangkok’s bigness and shininess seem even bigger and shinier. We gaped at the sight of glass skyscrapers and the sound of amassed, throbbing engines while we waited at two minute red lights.
Two minute red lights were followed by thirty second green lights. We slowly made our way (all the time ignoring the sound the back wheel was making) starting in China Town, past Lumphini Park, along the expressway, underneath the sky train stop for Siam Paragon and Central Plaza, and then we were seeing the subway stops we knew: Thailand Cultural Center, Sutthisan, and finally Ratchadapisek, where our next point of reference were the giant model dinosaurs outside of a nearby hotel. We counted the road signs all the way from Lad Phrao 1 right up to Lad Phrao 53, where we turned onto Chockchai 4.
And then it was just a short cycle to the last turning, where we would find Khun Yai’s house.
There is a definite strangeness to revisiting a familiar place by bicycle. When we made that first trip from Bristol to Eastbourne I remember feeling a blank amazement as, near the end of our journey, we rode past my old secondary school. I looked at it thinking nothing more than “That’s my old school!!” Coaches and trains had split Bristol and Eastbourne into two separate universes; cycling from one to the other had joined them together, and this weird feeling was making my head do backflips.
The oneness of the universe aside, our arrival back at Khun Yai’s house was pretty quiet and normal. The dog started barking as we pulled up, and Khun Yai came out. “You’re here!” she said. “It’s hot. Are you hungry?”
Yes, yes and yes. It’s good to be back!
And the big cycle tour, five years in the making, one year in the doing, was over. I’ve left enough jobs and moved out of enough houses to know that there’s not much point trying to digest it all in one go. We did it, and I would begin to think about that later, but right now let’s have lunch, and a shower, and then maybe a nap.
We now have one month left until we fly back to the UK, and we plan to spend this time in and around Phuket, doing regular tourist things. I am very aware that back in the days of employment one month would have almost been my ENTIRE YEAR’S holiday. So we are very lucky! And blog-wise, I will post an image of the overall route and some of the stats soon.
I’m going to try and be sincere now for at least a few sentences.
It’s been a privilege to see a small part of this amazing world on the back of a tandem. And I’m grateful to the people we met who helped us, were interested to talk with us, or even just smiled and said “hello”. The world would be a lonely place to travel without such people around.
I’m also thankful to our friends and family who have given us lots of support and stayed in touch with us through the magic of modern technology (including aeroplanes – hey Steve).
Every day I trusted Eric to keep both of us safe on the road, and he earned my trust every single day with his steadfast steering, unwavering concentration, impeccable judgement and the ability to thread our tandem through the eye of a metaphorical needle. Thank you Eric. Sorry that I called you “grumpy” about fifty times on this blog.
I’m sad it’s over and I’m happy it’s over, and I’m proud that we did it and I’m also slightly hungry. So you see I have a lot of feelings right now. (There goes the sincerity. I did try.)
Thank you for reading (don’t worry, I’m back to being sincere). Really, thanks a lot. I hope you enjoyed it.
The sun sets over Phromthep Cape, Phuket.