Thailand was my first introduction to traveling in Asia.
We could have started anywhere in Southeast Asia with an
international airport. After some research we chose Thailand because it provided a softer
culture shock than say landing in Laos or Cambodia. The area we visited
was modern and welcoming but sadly we only saw a three week sample before
we reached Cambodia. I found Thailand mysteriously appealing and
wanted to visit longer. I must be patient and wait until we return in
Our Asia plans, are to ride into Vietnam from
Cambodia in a couple weeks. Vietnam has a reputation for excellent
bicycle riding. We will spend two months riding north through Vietnam along
the coastline. Cindie
pre-arranged our Chinese Visas in the USA and we have between 6 - 9 months of
riding time. By mid-summer we
plan to be in northern China and visiting the Great Wall. Eventually winter
will chases us south into
Laos which is a place that I never thought I would ride a
bike. Continuing south will bring us back into Thailand.
All this will require 12 months but I will finally get an incredible ride from top to
bottom in Thailand. We also consider Malaysia,
Singapore, Indonesia and then on to Australia as continuing possibilities. Our
plans are always expected to be changed but this route takes advantage of the
best weather and seems logical at this point. Come along with us
through our web site and see how it all turns out.
I have received several emails requesting information about our new Koga bikes. It has been hard to finish this page
are back down the road and typing in hotel rooms again. The page that explaining our new touring rigs is finished and can be found
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Landing in a Whole New World
When our plane touched down in Bangkok we could identify
our luggage quickly, ours is cardboard boxes covered in duct tape. We used disposable
cardboard boxes to consolidate our eight
panniers to the allowed two pieces of luggage. Everyone
else had modern luggage with designer labels and little wheels. A
Canadian couple, we met on the long flight, told us that we would not be allowed to enter Thailand because
we only had one way tickets. We unexpectedly sailed
through Thailand's customs with no questions about papers for the bikes or
computer but hit the anticipated scrutiny with immigration. Before
they would stamp our passports in with the free thirty day tourist visa they
wanted to know how and when we were leaving. Apparently, Thailand has a
problem with international hippie types staying on the beaches until they
are broke and stuck in their country. We must have looked the part with
one way tickets and tattered cardboard luggage. When the official
questioned us about our lack of a departure tickets I explained that we would leave Thailand by cycling across the border into
Cambodia. They had no problem with that and stamped us in.
Cindie set up our hotel and transport on the internet from
the USA weeks ago. We expected to be met by a uniformed driver holding
a sign that said "Travis" but we were stood up. We waited for a long
time and must have looked distressed because an official from the Thailand
Tourist Agency offered help. We showed her our printout of the hotel
and arranged ride. She found a new ride for us and our bikes to the
hotel. When I went to enter the passenger side of the mini van I found
a steering wheel. This was the first time I realized Thailand drives
on the left side of the road and the cars are set up opposite from what I
know. The driver must have seen this mistake before and had a big
laugh. I switched to the left side of van and we were whisked away to
After 27 hours of airports and flying from Indianapolis we finally arrived
half way around the world in Bangkok, Thailand.
It was unreal to land and have my wristwatch read 12 noon and the
local time be 12 midnight. Our internal clocks were half a day off.
Jet lag! The first two days were spent sleeping at weird times and trying to stay awake when the sun was up.
Once we were adjusted we ventured out into Bangkok and saw
some of the many sights. Bangkok is a large city of nine million and
centuries of history. We made excursions to the king's palace and the
royal barge museum that housed ancient barges. These long boats had
many sets of oars and transported royalty. The barges were opulent
with every space decorated with detailed carvings covered in gold and
rubies. Thais love their royal family of past and present.
Billboard portraits of the current King, Queen, or both can been seen along
the roads big and small.
We also visited several Buddhist temples or "Wats" as they
are called here. Wats consist of groups of beautifully decorated
buildings with ornate statues of Buddha's sitting, standing or reclining.
Buddhist monks could be seen meditating with their
shaved heads, bare feet, and bright orange robes. They appear to live a simple
life devoted to study and prayer with few personal possessions. This
was my first experience with a religion outsides the boundaries of
Christianity. I admittedly knew very little about this unique way of
life but I was drawn to its doctrine of nonviolence and peacefulness.
It was indeed different from the religions I had observed in North
and South America. I was excited to think that this religion, in its
various forms, would be observed during the next several months as we ride
through Southeast Asia.
An unexpected gift found us through fellow bike tourists
from Thailand. Wan and Mou are a couple from Thailand traveling around
the world who are currently in the USA,
thaibikeworld.com. Through email, they introduced
us to a twenty-five year old Thai cyclist living in Bangkok named Yu
(pronounced "you"). He emailed us with his cell phone number and brief
introduction. He worked for a company that leads groups of foreigners
on bicycle trips in Thailand and Southeast Asia, the name of the tour
company is Spice Roads. Yu had
taught himself English only six years earlier but was
now fluent due to study and hours of practice with people on his tours.
We called his cell phone and he answered while riding his bike through
Bangkok's congested traffic. He knew of our hotel and came over.
We knew who he was as soon as he walked in. He had bike gloves and shoes
on with a detached handlebar bag under his arm. His legs were knotted
with the muscles of a man who has seen many kilometers despite his lack of
age. We have met total cyclists in almost every country we had visited
and it is always a lot of fun. Cycling is a sport that transcends
international boundaries and cultures. Yu was dreaming about his own world bicycle tour and
preparations daily. I believe he will realize his dream because
it is the sole focus of his life at this time. That is what it
takes to live out ones dream. He reminded me of myself before we left
on our own trip.
Yu took us to a top end bike shop called Probike, probike.co.th it has everything
a cyclist needs from qualified mechanics to Lance Armstrong posters. The owner spoke English and offered to help us if we ever had
bike trouble. Yu offered to lead us out of Bangkok and we set a time to
meet on the morning we left.
Riding Out of Bangkok: When the Right Side is the Wrong
Leaving Bangkok on our new bikes was like the very first
day of our trip two and a half years before when we left our home in
Prescott, Arizona. Back then all of our gear was new and unfamiliar.
During our break in the USA we replaced most of our equipment. We now have two
new Koga World Traveler touring bicycles and two complete sets of Ortlieb bike
panniers (saddle bags). We did not have the time to ride the bikes
before we left the USA except
around the parking lot of the bike shop and had never mounted the panniers.
Our first ride with this new gear would be out of the largest city that we
had ever ridden. What worried us the most was the
completely unfamiliar traffic pattern of driving on the
left hand side of the road instead of the right hand side that North and South
America use. I had never ridden on the left and it went
against all of my instincts. To complicate matters we were
out of shape and overweight, again.
As we rolled out of the hotel lobby and on to the
unfamiliar roads of Bangkok I kept repeating "stay to the left - stay to the
left" in my head. I heard Cindie, behind me, actually saying it out
loud. When we came to the first intersection I instinctively looked to
the left, saw that it was clear and went. In this country traffic
comes from the right when crossing streets and I nearly got hit. I
made a mental note of this difference. Certainly mistakes made in high
speed traffic can not be repeated to often without serious consequences.
We were very fortunate to have Yu guide us out of town.
I am sure we would not have found the correct road. A large
amount of the confusion, besides riding on the left, was the thousands of
motor scooters buzzing in unpredictable directions. At every stop
light we were surrounded by noisy scooters with families of three
and four people each. Usually the driver was talking on a cell phone.
In fact, everyone in Bangkok seemed to talk on the phone while they drove.
Even Yu's phone rang several times as he led us down the busy road. He
had an elaborate "hands free" system so he could steer, shift, brake, and
talk all at the same time. We felt behind the times in this high tech
Yu took us fifty kilometers before we stopped to eat at an
open air restaurant. Cindie and I both thought we were still in
Bangkok but Yu told us that we had left the city over two hours earlier.
The industrial outskirts of Bangkok seemed to go on forever. After a
rest and long conversation with Yu about the dos and don'ts of Thai customs
we said goodbye to our new friend. He will be missed but we have plans
of returning to Thailand in a year. We are always saying goodbye to
the most extraordinary people.
Not more than two kilometer after separating from Yu I
rode over a sliver of metal that pushed three centimeters (about an inch)
into my tire. This is hauntingly like our first day out of Prescott,
Arizona when I had a similar flat. I pushed my bike under the shade of
a furniture store and began the task of locating all of the necessary items
that I hastily packed the night before. I was no better organized on
this day than I was on our very first day. Some lessons I never seem
to learn. I have learned a long time ago that a traveler has to "go
with the flow" and I composed myself and concentrated on the task at hand.
A nice salesman, from the furniture shop, anticipated my problem and brought
me a pair of needle nose pliers to pull out the piece of metal. I
looked up the Thai word for "thank you" but pronounced it so poorly that I
had to have him read it from my book. He gave me a quick lesson on how
to pronounce this phrase and we were back on the road struggling in the
hottest part of the day.
We rode into the town of Chonburi which was supposed to
have several hotels and be our first day destination. This is
when we realized that we could not read Thai and few signs were in English
outside the tourist areas of Bangkok. We looked at the squiggles of
Thai script and were completely lost. We did not know how to ask any
of the thousands of people around us for help. First, we looked up the
word "hotel" and "please" in our phrase book but no one understood our bad
pronunciation. Next, we tried to memorize the first few character of
"hotel" in Thai script. Thai letters are completely different than the letters
of Spanish or English. I resorted to using the back of a
white business card to underline the word "hotel" in our phrase book and
showed it to people. They would have an expression of nurturing
concern and point us further down the road. Finally I saw the word
hotel on a sign in English. Cindie went in to secure us a room, after
saying hello in Thai to the hotel clerk, she pointed at different words and numbers in our phrase book
and agreed on a room. The hotel staff helped us one at a time into the
elevator and we were off to our first night of hundreds to come on the Asian
roads. After that I hung on to our little phrase book with extra care.
It covers the seven or so languages we will encounter in Southeast Asia and
is far more necessary than I originally thought.
From Chonburi we rode to our first Thai beach, Pattaya and
then on to Ko Samet National Park. Ko Samet is an island and required
a boat ride to reach. On the island we kicked back in a tropical
paradise. We removed our bags and went on a long mountain bike ride
across the island. On the way back to the mainland the boat was
smaller than the one we took out. It did not have a wooden ramp so our bikes
to be loaded over the side of the boat. There was a moment when my
bike was being passed over and a gust of wind hit the heavy boat. My bike was hanging over the ocean and the heavy wooden
boat was slowly going out to sea. I had to pull my entire rig back on
the dock, I came close loosing my bike or at least would have had a good story to
tell about fishing it out of the ocean.
I always look for ways to interact with locals, but few
Thai outside the tourist areas spoke conversational English. This did
not matter because what really made Thailand great was the Thai people
themselves. They have a reputation throughout the world of being
friendly and cheerful. The Thais call Thailand "The land of many
smiles" and I have seen several hundred first hand. My main love of
travel is to meet the people of the world and the Thai are some of the most
fun loving people I have interacted with. They have an unstoppable
sense of humor. They love a good joke. For example, while
waiting at a red light with the usual pack of motor scooters, I like to
pretend that I can't start my imaginary bicycle engine. They jokingly
offer me tools or pretend to push start me. They laugh so hard that
they miss the start of the green light.
All this interaction
confirms something I believe to be true.
Although we can be very different in physical characteristics, languages, and
cultures we all have the same wants, needs, dislikes, and the occasional
thing we hate. Parents want their children to grow up with the best
opportunities, teachers want their students to learn, workers want the work
day to end, and everyone admires a job well done and honesty. These
similarities are the language we all speak and the only language I have to
communicate with until I learn more.
Experimenting with the Local Food
We had really been enjoying the great Thai food.
Thailand quickly beat all of Latin America for good food. For me the
only close competitors are the fantastic steaks in Argentina and the great
traditional Mexican dishes. We had settled into a routine of waking up
at 5 am and hitting the road by 7 am. This way we rode in the coolness
of the morning hours. By the time 11 am arrived the street venders
started cooking lunch. The variety of smells and textures of Thai food
are dazzling. At about US$0.50 a plate we had no choice but to stop
several times to eat. We seldom made more than a hand full of
kilometers once the eating began.
During an overnight stop in Klaeng we had our first
experience with just how different the food and culture is in Thailand compared to our own.
We had already secured a room and were on the street at a large makeshift
restaurant. Cindie and I have different approaches to
with the local food, she is always looking for something new to
try while I like to stick with what I know is good. Cindie always
gives me a sample off her plate and when I like something she has I add it to my
list of things to eat. Please remember that the language barrier
reduces ordering to looking into simmering woks and pots and pointing at
what we want or repeating traditional favorites. In Klaeng Cindie ordered a
reddish meat that looked to be
peppered or otherwise covered in seasonings. It smelled good and was
served with rice and vegetables. I ordered Pad Thai because I already
knew that I liked rice noodles, vegetables, spicy seasonings, and pork.
We both enjoyed our food and sampled from each others plates. Cindie's
dish tasted good but I could not place the origin of the meat. When I
went back to order seconds I asked the woman what it was. I was
thinking about ordering the same. I opened my trusty phrase book,
pointed at the red meat, and then at the list of meats in the book like
Pork, beef, and chicken. I could tell that she understood my question
but could not find the answer. I rephrased my question. I
pointed at the pot with the red meat and made the "Mooo Moooo" sound that a
cow makes. She indicated "no". I then made the "Oink Oink" sound
a pig makes. It was no again. Next, to save me the embarrassment
of going through the whole barnyard like a pre-school child, she made a
"Herrrrr Herrrr" sound. I was not sure what that meant. She saw
my confusion and then made the "Herrrrr Herrrr" sound while scrapping her
foot on the ground. I stood there frozen in fear. I now knew the
answer to my question about the red meat. She thought I was still
confused because of my silence and started to act it out again but I stopped
her before she yelled "High-O Silver - Away"! I discovered that the
red meat was horse. I switched back to ordering Pad Thai and returned to the table
where Cindie was sitting and saw the whole exchange. "Tim, please tell
me that I did not just eat a horse." I jokingly told her that I
doubted that it was a whole horse because that would feed a hundred people.
I added that the horse could not have been a race horse; well, at least
not a very fast race horse. Cindie looked sick. She grew up
working in a horse stable and loves them very much to this day. My Pad
Thai was delivered. I gave the lady an "Oink Oink" and thumbs up just
to double check. She returned a smile and an "Oink Oink" which
indicated "yes". Cindie could not speak much for hours. From
that day on, whenever we ride past a horse pulling a plow or wagon I mimic "Herrrrr
Herrrr" and ask Cindie "Do you remember that time in Thailand back in
We learned to be more careful before ordering. A few
days later we saw such delicacies like fried maggots and cockroaches.
I was glad that they are recognizable by shape because nobody can imitate
the sound that a cockroach makes.
As a geologist Cindie is naturally drawn to gemstones.
Chantaburi is seldom visited by foreign tourists but it is one of the worlds
most important gem trading cities. Our guide book said that more than
60% of the worlds rubies pass through a few blocks of this city. We
spent a two days resting in town and wandered around bazaars where piles of
expensive gemstones were being bought and sold at fluctuating market values.
The only thing that kept Cindie from buying her own mound of gems was living
on the bicycle. She is very practical and knows that gems and bikes
don't mix well.
We rode over some low-lying mountains before reaching the
At the start of the first climb, we expected it to be like the mountains we
had grown used to in the Andes. We settled
into listening to music and spinning on our bikes to the top. The
effort was over in a couple hours and
painless. We discovered that just because there were mountains
indicated on our map it does not mean that they take days to climb. My
altimeter watch is practically useless here. We arrived at Aranya Prathet and the Cambodian border and made
preparations to enter the undeveloped and war torn country of Cambodia.
We heard reports that it had bad roads, land mines, and widespread poverty.