Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – A Pit Stop in Sin City and a sprint to the Border
The night train to the big smoke
Leaving Ko Phan Ngan I headed straight from Bangkok, 500km north. I could have cycled but there was only one road heading into Bangkok and everybody had said what with the traffic it was not a fun road.
In addition my rear wheel was in desperate need of repair so I chose the sensible option. Once off the boat and back on the mainland I connected with a night sleeper train that (along with everybody else on Kho Phan Ngan) rolled into Huangang Central Station at 8:00am the next morning.
I jumped on the bike, map in one hand and headed straight through the crazy Bangkok traffic to backpacker central Tha Khoa San Road. I was wary of staying here, from what everybody had said it was as bad (or as good) as you imagined. A vortex that sucks in every traveler ever coming within the Bangkok city limits, only to spit them back out into Thailand a few days later all topped up on everything a young westerner needs.
The Khoa San Road did have a couple of particular advantages for me in that my objective for stopping in Bangkok was purely a pit stop to get a few essential admin things sorted out for the next leg of my trip. I needed a visa for Vietnam, a new rear wheel, a flight home had to be arranged and a haircut and a steak & chips would be a nice bonus. This part of town has all that and more all within 50 metres from your hotel. (except the bike shop which was a 30 minute cycle and 1 ? hour taxi ride away that crazy Bangkok traffic!).
Within an hour of arriving I had set the wheels in motion of the most of the above. The bike store were going to rebuild my wheel with a new rim rather than replace the whole thing and this would take 2 days but as my Visa was going to take 2 days also there was no problem. I just relaxed and spent some time absorbing the Khoa San Road scence, sitting in curbside cafes watching all the same people I had watched on beach side cafes in Ko Phan Ngan 2 days earlier.
A Tale of Two Cities
Bangkok was like many massive cities in fast developing countries, the contradiction between rich and poor is huge, you can eat dinner on the street is one part of town for 50c, then travel across the sprawl and visit a cycle shop equal to any in New York, London or Paris. Where a new bike can easily cost more than the average income of Bangkok resident. The business center has a new monorail system but it is a private enterprise and the only people who can afford to use it are the elite professionals who drive cars anyway.
I was told by an Indian storeowner that when Thailand became a member of the Newly Industrialized Countries club (NIC) they built a new convention centre to host a global meeting of all the international members. They leveled all the slums in that part of town so the guests would not have to see the poverty that truly exists in this crazy capital.
A ferry nice ride
Anyway, I dropped my bike off and took the said mono-rail to the ferry terminal (the train only covers the central business district) and took a passenger ferry up the main river to my part of town. It was dusk and although on a different continent it reminded me of the ferry you take up the Grand Canal in Venice. All the locals mix with the tourists and on a crowded but dirt cheap ride you get chauffeured past a string of beautiful monuments and stunning temples.
The Grand Palace
Other than a visit to the Grand Palace in the heat of the day I did very little other tourist stuff. The Grand Palace was spectacular, unfortunately the battery on my camera was running low so only a few photos came out. I will have to make another visit when I return. A Buddhist temple is in the scheme of things the same as a Church, Mosque or Synagogue, but what makes them different to me anyway is the use of gold, and glass and color that make them so visually outstanding. Im no expert on Mosques and Synagogues but when compared to churchs the temples of Bangkok compare easily with the grandeur of The Duomo, Notra Dame or Westminster Abbey. I wonder if a Buddhist was taking a tour of Europe whether he would feel the same way about the monuments the way we do here?
I did find time to catch up on my live diaries (hope you appreciated them!), get that steak and also I managed to visit a local Thai night club with a couple of other English guys. We were all rather excited about the concept but as the club was actually on the Khao San Road it was not as thai as we had expected. It was exclusively a Thai clientele but as we entered they were all singing along to Boys & Girls by Blur and watching the Manchester United v Derby game on the largest TV projection screen I have ever seen. Either way we had a good night and I had a bad hangover the following morning!
Back on the bike (once again)
Once everything was in order I jumped on a train for a couple of hours to take me out of the worst of the Bangkok traffic and ended up in a provincial town where nobody spoke English and I managed to find accommodation in a hostel for training Buddhist monks. All very quite and I was up and back on the road the following morning.
The road was back to being flat, windy and busy. One of those rides where you wonder why you are doing it. After about an hour a gentleman (Chenvalt we will call him because I left the piece of paper with his real spelling back at the hotel) in a pick up pulled me over and we talked for a while. Chenvalt was an engineer but was retiring next year and was thinking of cycling across Cambodia or India the following year. He quizzed me about my bike, my pre trip training (that didnt take long) and after he had taken some photos of me and assisted with my pursuit of the biking action photo I agreed to take a motorized ride to my planned evening destination. He spoke excellent English and we talked all the way. When we arrived he bought me lunch we said our good byes and I headed on a more pleasant and quieter road another 100km to a Thai town on the Cambodian border. My first full day riding for over two weeks turned into a 140km day, my legs felt it but due to the new saddle I purchased in Bangkok my behind felt on top form!(If rear ends can really have form that is!).
After one month in Thailand, it felt like the easy bit was over and the real adventure of the trip was just about to start!.