11th APRIL 2019
My final cycling day of this trip begins with an exotic mix of 7-11 sandwiches and a pineapple pastry. I ride back towards the wide, busy expressway, knowing that I can follow it all the way to Bangkok by using the quiet ‘Frontage Road’ that runs alongside. This is such a bonus, as travelling into a city on a bike can be a right pain in the arse. My only issue is having to haul my bike up, over and down the same footbridge as yesterday to reach the correct side of the expressway. So, although my day looks reassuringly straightforward, I’m sweating buckets within minutes.
I follow this Frontage Road all day, the main body of traffic on the noisy expressway to my right while I trundle up the quieter road alongside scooters and local transport. With about 25km to go I stop at a roadside Plastic Chair Cafe for lunch and a break from the scorching heat. This establishment is precariously close to the road and is basically a series of benches on the pavement under a corrugated iron roof. I’m wistfully happy that my final lunch will be street food in a simple, family-run shack with a bit of language barrier confusion. I think I’ve ordered chicken today, but who knows what will be served. It turns out to be a tasty chicken soup, with real strips of chicken meat instead of the usual bony, gristly offerings. Mercifully, there’s no sign of chicken feet either. I’m going to miss that weird feeling of jeopardy and never quite knowing what will arrive on my plate.
After travelling North for the last few days, I’ve rounded the top of the Gulf of Thailand this afternoon and am now heading West towards Bangkok. The traffic continues to build as I get closer to the capital and the expressway junctions get ever more complicated. My turn off to Suvarnabhumi Airport involves a sweeping right hand curve that manages to rise up over one road, while at the same time dipping under the massive concrete expressway. Then, for a couple of kilometres, I have the cool experience of cycling right under the flight path as planes are taking off. As one particular plane roars directly overhead, I look up and notice the orange Jetstar Asia logo on its undercarriage. I have the strangest moment of realisation and stop to check my phone. It’s just after 12.50pm, which is the same time my own Jetstar flight will take off from here in two days. What are the chances of me arriving at the airport just as the flight I’ll be on in two days time is thundering over my head ?
Continuing round the airport’s perimeter, I ride parallel to the take-off runway for about 5km while being blown along beautifully by a hot, strong tailwind. I get a few greetings from maintenance workers resting under shady trees, while a plane hurtles down the runway every five minutes with a loud, heavy rumble. At the roadside I notice a couple of ‘No Cycling’ signs, but I’m not sure I can see any alternative route options. I’m now so close to my destination that I can’t be bothered detouring, so I simply ignore them and keep going. Once I’ve ridden the length of the runway I turn left past the main airport entrance, through hordes of taxis, buses and yet more signs saying that I shouldn’t be cycling.
On the opposite side of the airport I pass under a different flight path – this time for planes coming in to land. I stand for a while on a road bridge, videoing planes as they descend noisily over my head, before they land a few hundred metres ahead of me. Once I resume I’m able to freewheel effortlessly down the curved bridge and I’m at the Best Bed Suvarnabhumi Hostel within two minutes. It’s a clean, modern building that exists primarily as an overnight stopover for people arriving in, or departing from, Bangkok. I check in and chain my bike to stair railings on the ground floor, where it’s destined to remain for the next two weeks while I’m in Phuket with my kids. The family who run the hostel are lovely, and have been extra helpful in agreeing to store my bike until I get back. They even offer to do a free clothes wash for me, which is a really nice touch, but might also say something about my appearance.
To celebrate my arrival I pop to the 7-11 next door, buy a large Chang Beer and make my way up to the hostel’s roof terrace. I sit there, slowly supping the cold beer while watching a steady procession of planes coming into land on the runway ahead of me. They start as tiny specks in the high distance, way off to my left, before looming larger and touching down just past my vantage point. It’s the perfect spot to relax and mull over the journey I’ve just undertaken.
It’s almost three months since I left a Scottish midwinter and flew to a Hanoi midwinter, which turned out to be only slightly warmer and completely unfamiliar. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of Vietnam, but after cycling it’s length and spending half my trip there it has now become one of my favourite countries. One of the joys of cycle touring is that you get to know a country a lot better by travelling at such a slow pace. Now, almost 3,000km later I’ve made it to Bangkok, grateful as always that I’ve managed to reach my target without any major calamities. It’s not all been plain sailing of course, but I would have to say that this cycle trip has now jumped to number one on my list of favourites.
I stay on the roof terrace until sunset, which brings welcome relief from the exhaustingly hot afternoon. By dusk, the street below is coming to life with food stalls, and beyond the runway the Suvarnabhumi Airport sign has now been lit up in giant purple letters. I go back downstairs, enticed by the street food stalls, and on the way get chatting to some of the family at the front desk. They can still barely believe that I’ve cycled all the way from Hanoi, and ask if I’ll ever return to Bangkok. I reply that I might come back next year and carry on my adventures. They have a laugh and seem to think that I’m joking. I laugh too, but with the insight to know that I’m not joking.
To Be Continued …