We may have to stop calling ourselves cycle-tourists….it’s been the best part of 3 weeks since we arrived in Bangkok and during that time precious little pedalling has taken place.
We started off quite well, arriving at our friend Andrew’s on Thu 27 June and then on the Saturday morning travelling in a minibus with him and some friends of his to Hua Hin, a couple of hundred kilometres south-west along the coast, to take part in a Bike Hash. Bike hashing, to the uninitiated, sounds a bit bizarre. You follow a paper trail, which may contain false trails and dead ends, or a ‘check’ where the trail is interrupted and you have to split up and look in every direction to find where it starts again, which could be up to 500m away. I thought the back and forth nature would be very frustrating, but it actually worked brilliantly as a way to keep a group of differing abilities together and fostered a nice sense of camaraderie as we hunted together for the paper trail. Post-ride there was beer and food and ‘the circle’ where newbies were welcomed, the hare (who laid the trail) was thanked, mishaps and misdemeanours were recounted and celebrated with ‘down-downs’ of beer (and an appropriate song made up on the spot by song-meister Chris) and we were made to feel very welcome indeed. A shorter hash ride took place on the Sunday before we headed back to Bangkok.
On the Monday our friend Andrew took us on a tour of Bangkok’s transport system – a very useful exercise as different methods of payment are employed on different forms of transport and it really helps to be shown the system. We covered the underground, the river boat, the skytrain and the klong boat. Klong is the Thai word for the canals (or, as I prefer to describe them, open sewers) that criss-cross the city. If you can stomach the smell and are agile (and stout-hearted) enough to make the leap from shore to impatiently revving boat then they’re a good way to beat the city traffic and see Bangkok life from a different perspective.
In such a bustling and, to be honest, rather malodorous city, you might expect to see a few rats, but Bangkok has a great solution to rodent control: the klongs are home to water monitor lizards. Disliked by the locals the Thai word for the monitor is apparently pretty much the worst insult you can throw at someone…but on the plus side they are voracious carnivores and do a fine job of keeping the rodent population in check…and probably local cat population too given the size that some of the monitors grow to.
Our friend Andrew returned to England mid-week, but kindly let us continue living in his apartment until the weekend when a removals company came to collect his belongings. We happily fell into expat life and on the Thursday night met up with some of our new bike hash friends at a running hash, and then again on Friday at a party to celebrate the third birthday of the very useful BicycleThailand.com website.
As well as the pleasure of making new friends, all this socialising meant when we left Andrew’s at the weekend we didn’t have to look for a guesthouse and instead relocated to the other side of the city to stay with Josh (bike and run hash) and Lasia in their pretty little shophouse. A shophouse is a typical SE Asian urban building. They’re usually one room wide and have a shuttered frontage that opens from the street into an area that is most often used for business purposes (retail, workshop, office) with the living quarters on the 2nd and 3rd floors, but sometimes, as in Josh and Lasia’s case, the whole building is simply for residential purposes. It’s taken a while for us, as repressed and essentially private westerners, to get used to seeing semi-naked locals sprawled watching tv, cooking dinner or just taking an afternoon nap in full view of the street. But when actually living in one it was really nice watching the world go by whilst we typed the blog or fettled the bike.
Our first afternoon with Josh and Lasia was particularly good fun as no sooner had we arrived we all jumped into a taxi and headed back across town to a US Independence Day party being held at one of the many international schools here. Beers, burgers, hotdogs, an egg-tossing competition and plenty of Stars’n’Stripes Americana.
One of Josh’s neighbours, Dale, (also from the bike hash) was away for a few days and let us move into his shophouse for a few days, which was great as he has two cats, one of which was exceptionally playful and affectionate. We’d been feeling a bit ‘templed out’ so instead of seeing the sights of Bangkok we ‘played house’, watching movies, laughing at the younger cat’s antics or simply surfing the sights and sounds of the world wide web. Lazy, lazy, lazy.
When Dale came back we returned to Josh and Lasia’s, and started to think about getting on the road again. There are loads of bicycle shops in Bangkok, but the tiny Bok Bok Bikes was particularly good for Schwalbe tyres so we re-shod the Pino with a 2” Schwalbe Mondial (they didn’t have our usual Marathon Plus) on the rear and a 1.75” Marathon Plus on the front. Keith stripped rear hub and reported that it is in surprisingly good condition considering it’s done 19,000km. It should keep us rolling for a good while yet. Our gear cables on the other hand have been suffering from the constant rain. They need lubing daily when we’re on the road, which is a bit of a drag, and one of the reasons why we’re going to be heading south in search of drier weather when we leave Bangkok. The other item to be suffering is Keith’s Brooks saddle. We keep it covered overnight, but during the day it been soaked in either sweat or rain on a fairly constant basis since we entered the tropics. Whether it’s this or simply the fact it’s done over 35,000 km on two different tandems we don’t know, but the leather’s starting to tear around the rivets and the metal support under the nose seems to have splayed and keeps twisting around. A squeeze with some pliers has hopefully sorted the twisting nose, but at some point the leather’s going to pull away from the rivets and it’ll be new saddle time. Having broken in a Brooks saddle in the past all I can say is “rather Keith’s ar*e than mine!”
At Josh and Lasia’s we came across an interesting article in Crank magazine – a Thai/English cycling publication. It was an article about Peter Root and Mary Thompson, two cyclists we met briefly in Kazakhstan last September who were killed in a road accident in Thailand in February this year. Although we hardly knew Peter and Mary we’d been upset to hear of their deaths and have thought of them often as we’ve pedalled along. Their story had also touched the hearts of Thai cyclists who gathered at the site of their accident to remember them, and who took the trouble to write a beautiful eulogy to them in the magazine. As well as being an eloquent memorial to Peter and Mary, the article also gave us an interesting insight into Thai cyclists’ perception of western cyclists. We have met many nationalities of cyclists on the road, French, British, Dutch, Aussie, Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, but it’s fair to say the majority have been westerners rather than Asians, and it seems this has given local Thai cyclists a somewhat skewed view of the west. Here is an excerpt from the article: “Peter and Mary had left England in mid 2011. They had travelled through 23 countries, circumvented countless obstacles…..For most westerners, such a journey is nothing new. Riding bicycle [sic] alone or with your partner across the world is not the strangest thing to do.”
This was news to us as I think that the majority of westerners think what we’re doing is fairly strange!
We relocated for the last time in Bangkok yesterday and are currently staying with Paul and Natt, who are also Pino riders. They’ve ridden extensively in Thailand – most notably during their “Every Province Challenge” which took them through each of Thailand’s 76 provinces. We’ve met a handful of other Pino riders on our travels but we’re the first ones that Paul and Natt have seen. Our first afternoon with them was spent eagerly comparing and contrasting the set-ups of our bikes – particularly the placement of mirrors and speedometers, the relative merits of bar-end shifters or twist-grips and the position of the stoker hand grips.
Paul and Natt have come up with a great solution to the problem of the ferrules on the stand wearing out…we’d been thinking of gluing bottle tops to the bottom of the stand, but they’ve discovered that cheap bar-end plugs fit perfectly, and as most bike shops chuck cheap bar plugs away and replace them with fancier ones it’s a cheap and easy solution that we’ll be trying out ourselves.
We’ve also been picking Paul and Natt’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Thailand’s road network to plan our route out of Bangkok avoiding the busy road bottle-neck on the peninsula down towards Malaysia. Our lazy city break has refreshed us and talking to other people about our trip has fired up our enthusiasm again. We’re looking forward to getting back in the saddle. Let the journey resume!