As soon as we got ourselves settled in at Pan and Neemo’s hostel, Granny bike, we knew we would find it hard to leave. The place is perfect for cycle tourists, with plenty of space to store our bikes, all the tools we could dream of to fix them and a quiet, green, clean space to rest and write.
Upon arriving in Bangkok the first thing we did was get in touch with Eleanor and her partner Dams who were in bangkok on holiday, but leaving in two days time. They met us at our hostel and we walked about 1km to the main tourist strip on Khao San road for dinner. The food was pretty extremely overpriced, but we did have a good tom yam soup and it was great to see Eleanor, who Bryony hadn’t seen in about 5 years since doing honours in genetics together, as well as to meet Dams.
We also managed to catch up with our friend Sinothai. Sinothai grew up in Bangkk but did his PhD at Otago, finishing about the same time as Bryony and following the much more common academic career path of undertaking a lectureship in Bangkok. Sinothai was an awesome host and on our second day drove to meet us and took us to Wat Pho, for lunch overlooking the river and then a water taxi/train ride into town. He showed us around some of the huge shopping malls – some of them had cars for sale inside the mall, although only if you had a very expensive taste in cars.
On Saturday Sinothai picked us up and drove us to the Chatuchak markets. This place was enormous and if it weren’t for the fact that we have to carry everything we buy, we would have had much bigger bags on then way home. We went in the morning, before the place got too crowded, but as we were leaving it became so full it was nearly impossible to move in the narrow alleys between the shops. As well as the regular market items like clothes, soaps and crafts, there was also a huge section for so many different kinds of fish. It was so great to have Sinothai there to show us round (or stop us from getting lost), and to tell us a few things about Thailand we were clueless on. For example we learnt that double parking is completely legal in Thailand, so long as you leave your handbrake off so that people can push it if they need to. This explains some of the parked car jams we’ve spotted!
As well as hanging out with friends we did a bit of exploring on our own. Wat Rachabopit was just at the end of our road, and we walked a little to the golden mount to get a view over the city. Bryony visited this 5 years ago with Reta, and its definitely been developed over this time. They’ve added a display about some of the temples history – it used to be the place to take people who had died of cholera to be cremated, although at times there were so many deaths that vultures would feast on the bodies before they could be burnt. Was pretty gruesome.
We found plenty of great places to eat. There was a morning market every day about 10m from the hostel so we would go get food and eat it with coffee at home. Our favourite, which we ate about 3 times, was the omlet filled with chicken floss, peanuts, sprouts and tofu. It came with a chilli, cucumber and red onion salad with a sticky vinegar dressing. we also found a man frying donuts just down the road. He had a huge queue every night and each batch was sold before it was made so we got to watch him furiously flipping the chromosome shaped donuts with chopsticks in a hugh wok of hot oil. The donuts were eaten dipped in condensed milk, just to make them extra healthy.
James had been in touch with a bar about 10km from our hostel before we got to Bangkok because it advertised that it was showing the Tour de France, so we thought we’d bike down and check it out. Turns out it was in a reasonably seedy section of Bangkok full of sex shops, sports bars and dodgy looking massage parlours. Neither of us felt particularly comfortable, so we just turned straight around and went home. Night riding was seriously fun though. The lights and noise seemed to amplify and you had to concentrate to weave cars, hold the right lane and go in the right direction. Bryony tried to take a video, but it’s not very good because the bits that are the most exciting, she was holding on with two hands and dangling the camera off the bars. Felt pretty awake when we got home so James went out and got some beer. We decided to try a new brand, which turned out to be rice wine instead. Not as refreshing as beer.
We spent a whole morning giving our bikes a proper clean outside Granny bike, to the amusement of a few of the locals. Our chains had both stretched by more than a link, so Parn got us some from his shop. Unfortunately the Disc Truckers have a really long chain stay so need a 120 link chain, rather than 116 which is standard. Even though we had nearly 6 days to sort it out, we were still up at 11pm last night patching chains. We had ordered new tyres as well, after our spate of flats. The paranoia kind of died down, and we reasoned that our tyres really shouldn’t be worn after only 2,500km, so we’ve left them with Neemo to look after until we get back to Bangkok. James also cleaned himself up with a cheap haircut from a meticulous barber, the service included being powdered, washed and a cut throat blade. Unfortunately the man was a little short to reach see the top of James’ head, so it’s a bit long up there.
Since watching Carly and Ryan (the Taiwanese cycle tourists staying at Granny bike before we arrived) trying to leave, we figured we shouldn’t try and have a particularly early start. So at 10am, just as another guest was rolling in we managed to roll out of Bangkok and hit the road again. We’re on our way to Cambodia, and have decided to aim for the crossing at Phsar Prum, rather than at Poipet where all the tourist busses between Bangkok and Siem Reap go.