Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Bangkok, and a Change of Plan...
The uniqueness of travel by bike was made stark last week, as the photos above demonstrate - one evening I was enjoying cocktails till the early hours with a bunch of great people, 24 hours later I was eating dinner alone before retiring to bed at 8:30 pm. The latter was par for the course in the first 2 months of the trip from home to Istanbul but hadn't been a factor again since then. I remember now how dull and lonely it can be.
The scenery is beautiful - Cambodia's huge palm tree dotted paddy field horizons and roadside life, Thailand's wilder, less utilised land and forests - the difference between the 2 countries was stark, though too subtle for the couple I overheard in the immigration queue at the border who saw both sides as being identical. Immediately Thailand was more Western than 100 metres back in Cambodia. People live away from the main highway, and the connecting roads are mostly tarmac rather than dirt. Shops are less makeshift and stock more than a handful of products, and fancier houses abound. The highway is silky smooth and 4-6 lanes wide compared with Cambodia's maximum of 2, and there's no dust. It was hot, and though the 70-mile days passed quickly all the interest was within my mind, thinking ahead to what I will be doing next. I was making a beeline for Bangkok, though on arrival I wasn't sure it was the place I wanted to be.
Khao San Road is infamous as the centre of backpackerdom, where you can do and see things that don't generally take place back home - I won't go into details, but ping pong balls are involved in the most common offering, minus the table and bats. After 2 nights amongst this I retreated to the quiet alleyways and allowed myself to walk through the madness of an evening and retire to a cheap and quiet room at night. This place is the epitome of the much uttered phrase 'corrupted by tourism'. No longer a home to Thais but clearly a place where some of them make a lot of money. For the longer-term traveler it's a novelty to be briefly indulged in but the inflated prices and lack of sincerity quickly make it necessary to move on. Luckily I met Chris, a fellow long-term resident of Nirvana Hostel in Delhi, along with Tibo and Julian, a couple of similarly-minded French guys, so have been exploring the city with them for the past week and enjoying the realness that it is possible to find here.
So, to moving on. Back on the road towards Bangkok I considered my options. The one certainty in my life at the moment is my desire to spend time with Cecily, in Beijing. That person who was briefly alluded to in an earlier blog from Vietnam following our meeting on a beach and subsequent, incredible date together, has now taken up a pretty strong position in my life. We'll be spending Christmas together, and who-knows-how-long after that - so clearly I'm going to China, and clearly I'm not cycling there. On arrival here Singapore was still 30 days' ride away, so I took the easy option of 30 days of not riding and flying from here instead. Judge me if you will, but at least I made it to Asia before being waylaid and finding something more important than the bike - some feared it would happen before I was out of Holland!
I fly to Hong Kong on the 16th December so I have 3 weeks left in Thailand - another one in Bangkok and a couple on an island in the Thai Gulf, before leaving behind the heat that has been with me since April for a cold, snowy winter. Excited is not the word!
What happens next I'm not sure. I'm at the mercy of Chinese visa politics and the far more complex laws governing relationships - even though the Riding East has technically halted, I'll keep updating (assuming it isn't censored).