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Published: January 12th 2009
Ancient saying: Man who go through airport turnstile sideways goin to ...
Bangkok In the fulness of time, when the moon was in the third phase of the second crescent, we sneaked into Bangkok
. It was at the crack of dawn on some random day in the year 2551
. That's right! 2551 B.E. And, herein, lies the reason for the tardy updating of our blog: we had to time-travel 500+ years into the future. If you believe that, well, we've got some prime real estate to sell you on Mars. The 'time difference' is because Thai years are counted as the Buddhist era (B.E.) which started 543 years earlier than the Christian era. Anyway, back to the story. Our intention was to tiptoe into the Thai capital without disturbing any of its 64 million residents. Well, maybe only one: the sleepy attendant at an obscure inn tucked half-way down a seedy alley which ran alongside a polluted canal. As a mark of respect, we removed our shoes at the entrance and padded up several flights of stairs before depositing our tired selves on a too-small bed in a too-small room with cardboard-thin walls. No, really! The walls were made
From our humble lodgings it was only a ten-minute walk to Hedonism Street, oooops Khao San Road, the beating heart of central Bangkok. What was once a rice market ('Khao San' literally translates into 'raw rice'
) is now an anything-goes, rough-and-tumble tourist magnet chocked full of bargain shops and bargain hunters, bars and bar flies. But it was only when the sun went down that the true Khao San emerged. Gaudy, haphazard light boxes provided most of the light as they advertised an intoxicating array of places for the night-crawlers to get liquored up. Wannabe 'Rastas' (or 'Rastitutes' as a Jamaican friend would say) got their hair braided along the roadside as they sucked on chubby reefers. Gas stations were overrun with dinner chairs and tables. Hilltribe people hawked traditional hats and carved wooden frogs. Street performers performed with differing degrees of success. A malodorous mixture of stale booze, barbecued scorpions and fried noodles, sweat, garbage, sex, hopes, dreams and determination blanketed the night. More men trolled the crowded streets some with obviously devious intentions. Khao San Road, by day or night, was not for us.
We spent the next day on buses taking in a
little of the city; a wat here, a wat there, a stroll thru interesting Chatuchak Market. But overall, we really weren't feeling Bangkok but since we had a flight out in two days we decided to stage a getaway and return on flight day. We boarded an early morning bus and rode it 175 km northeast of Bangkok before disembarking. Our destination?
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai, Thailand's second largest nature reserve, boasts a surprisingly diverse collection of plants and animals including a few tigers, wild elephants, black bears and wild pigs. From the reception clerk at the trendy hotel we stayed in we learnt of the staggering price for trips into the park. The cheapskates we were, we opted to ride a public songthaew to the entrance. From there, by foot, we followed the road for 40 minutes or so heading somewhere; anywhere. Shanna spotted the bicycles first; two child-sized, well-worn, BMX-styled bikes. They were collapsed, one atop the other, in the yard of some stranger's house. We exchanged glances and immediately understood the plan. Stepping thru the open gate, Vibert bellowed "Helloooooooooooo". Only one other bellow was needed to bring the homeowner, a rotund, motherly lady,
scurrying to the gate. Her eyes widened at the sight of these unusual and unwelcomed visitors. "May we please borrow these bicycles?", Vibert questioned. She showed no sign of understanding. After a few more futile attempts at communication, Vibert reached into his back pocket and whipped out a 100 Baht note. She understood. Nodding furiously the lady bellowed for someone else and soon a burly, bearded man lumbered into view. They conversed. The 100 Baht note disappeared into the man's pocket and we pushed the bikes out of the front gate. Just before we sped off, the lady handed us a bicycle pump. She was insistent that we take it along.
Truth be told, it was not a flat tire that we were worried about, although the tires were pretty ratty. We weren't even concerned that one pedal was missing. That was slightly amusing. Our main concern was that none of these bikes had working brakes. Flying downhill and around bends was a hair-raising proposition but we managed well. We rode for hours thru tiny communities and rice fields, on desolate roads and alongside dry river beds, pass a few wats and a school or two. We rode on
the shaded trails skirting the nature reserve listening to birdcalls and trying to spot the creepy-crawlies that scampered away amidst the blanket of fallen leaves. Our lunch room was a dry, dusty, desolate trail far away from human civilization and a few slices of bread packed with tuna never tasted so good. Just after 3pm we pushed off for a furious 2-hour pedal back to the 'bicycle rental'.
We got back to Bangkok in time to take a taxi straight to Suvarnabhumi, Thailand's mega-airport. And, on one bright afternoon in the year 2551, with no pomp or ceremony, we winged out of Bangkok. In so doing, we capped a 15-month milestone of being 'on the road'. 😊
😊 The friendly entrepreneurs at the 'bicycle rental'
Look out for our final blog: 'A Dream in Retrospect'
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