19th February 2020
Today is the day I finally get to cycle out of Bangkok; one whole week after leaving Scotland. In reality, a few days of taking it easy was just what I needed to acclimatise and recover from jet-lag. Now it’s just my lack of fitness I have to work on.
My last Casa Picasso breakfast fills my belly, before Yorshi helps get my bike onto the pavement outside. He takes a couple of pictures of me in ‘about to depart’ pose and gives me his phone so I can find the Nine Miles Per Hour facebook page for him. My journey starts by following the same route I’ve already walked as a city tourist, past the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and over the Chao Phraya river. The road carries me South until a huge, complicated junction has me joining the Frontage Road that runs alongside the Rama II Motorway. This side road is for slow moving traffic like scooters and cyclists, but it also allows access to businesses that line the route. As I moved further away from Bangkok, I thought the glut of industries along the road would begin to thin out. They don’t. It’s a constant, built up trail of service, commercial and manufacturing companies all the way out of the capital.
For lunch I stop at a Plastic Chair Cafe, which feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. It’s right beside the road, noisy and has a very home-made feel to it. I point to the rice cooker and the lady owner nods her head. She then points to some kind of meat and I nod my head, although I’ve no idea what she’s offering. Once I get stuck into the meal I realise that it’s pork strips with rice. Strangely, being surprised by what arrives on my plate is something that I’ve missed.
I struggle for the last 10km or so, devoid of energy, even though I’d only pencilled in a 40km day. Slowly I trundle to my accommodation at the New Friend Hotel, which is essentially just motel units right next to the main road. The thunder of traffic noise is destined to continue throughout the night. It’s not the most pleasant overnight stop, and it’s certainly not picturesque, but the main aim was just to get myself out of Bangkok. So, although I’ve not travelled far, I have achieved today’s objective.
The next morning I have a shower before leaving, due to the room getting stiflingly hot once I switch off the air-conditioning. I’d kept the air flow on all night, which I know isn’t the healthiest thing to do, but I just became too hot otherwise. Sleeping under air-con is probably the reason I spend most of the morning with my nose running like a tap. It’s a habit I’ll need to get out of. Breakfast is taken across the road from the motel, in the same Plastic Chair Cafe that I had dinner in last night. A simple chicken fried rice with fried egg on top does the job.
I’m back on the Frontage Road today, riding alongside the motorway but safely separated from it’s speeding mass of traffic. That is, until roadworks on the Frontage Road means that everyone has to join the main highway. My tactic is to keep as far left and out of everyone’s way as I can. I plod up a long sloping bridge over a river, noticing uneven bumps every few metres where the tarmac has begun to crack. On the down slope I’m particularly careful to freewheel slowly, yet still manage to jolt over one bump quite violently. I swear out loud using the worst possible combination of curses. It was such a bang that my mind turns to thoughts of punctures, and I check my rear tyre as I’m rolling along. Of course, if I’m ever having tyre issues it always has to be the rear wheel. Looking down it actually looks slightly warped. Fuck Sake.
Worrying about my back wheel means I take it even easier than before, lumbering along a road that’s still flanked by as much industry as when I left Bangkok. The bright side is that I do appear to have a lovely tailwind helping me along today. The ever-present Thai national flags at the roadside are all being blown to the horizontal in the same direction I’m heading. Being assisted by this wind is such a boon, as I start to wilt with about 10km to go again. It’s scary how unfit I’ve let myself become.
Just before the city of Samut Songkhram I stop for lunch. At a dirt floor Plastic Chair Cafe I’m supping my pork soup, thankful for the break and blankly staring at my bike. Absent-mindedly I notice the pattern of the spokes and see that one looks way out of kilter. It takes me a couple of seconds to realise that it’s become detached from the hub in the centre. I bet that was from the big jolt this morning. Double Fuck Sake. Although I’m annoyed, I know there’s not much I can do about it till I reach the bigger city of Phetchaburi tomorrow. I’ll just have to be a bit more careful until then.
My accommodation isn’t too far though, so I nurse my bike along and find a tranquil little oasis that’s the perfect antidote for two days of busy, urban cycling. I can still hear a dull traffic rumble as the place is only a few hundred metres from the main highway, but it feels like I’ve ridden into another world. The building is on wooden pillars, at one end of a large mangrove pond and sitting just in the water. As I push my bike along the walkway to my room I can look down and see shoals of large grey fish languishing in the shallows below. Every now and then something spooks them, and the quietness is broken by a frenzy of splashing.
The accommodation owner gives me an iced welcome drink, flavoured with Butterfly Pea Flower and served in a dimpled, silver bowl. She shows me the type of purple flower that has gone into making the drink and even shows me it’s Google images too, just so I know what I’m about to consume. It’s refreshing, predictably flower-scented and has a subtle bubble-gum taste to it. I drink slowly, taking in the surrounds while sitting on the boardwalk above the pond. There are a handful of wading birds, standing motionless in reed beds until they shoot their beaks into the water like an arrow, trying to nab an inattentive small fish. Then I spot something swimming along the water’s surface, looking almost snake-like in it’s movements. Blimey, is that a crocodile ? It takes a few moments to realise that it’s probably some kind of water monitor, a large aquatic lizard that’s native to South-East Asia. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
In the evening I go for a walk round the mangrove pond, just in time to witness an orange ball sun descending over a forest on the opposite side of the water. I return to the decking outside my room and sit down for prawn curry with rice and another flower-based drink, this time mixed with lemonade. All the while I’m eating there are about half a dozen geckos on the walls and ceiling, picking off any insects that are attracted by the lights. I sit there, quite content and happy to be in such a peaceful, idyllic spot. The battle to get out of Bangkok and the busy main highway already seem like a distant memory. Right then I make a vow to try and avoid the main highways as much as I can on this trip. If these sorts of destinations are my reward, then it’ll be worth cycling a few extra kilometres.