Nepal and India had given us so much, both good and bad. These countries had tested our resilience and nerves to the fullest. We spent countless nights in dirty hotels and ate food that we feared to get sick of almost daily. These moments had made us stronger and we both agree that reflecting on this time brings more smiles than the moment itself. Now, bicycle touring Thailand and SEA (South East Asia) lay ahead. Here we would find a different nature of people, an awaited change of cuisine and more friendly strangers helping us along. But first we had to get there and due to land crossing restrictions from India into Myanmar we had only one option.
In Kathmandu, the confronting task of transporting our bicycles by plane had come again. We had our flight booked to Bangkok. The concept is simple, 2 bicycles, our luggage and our bums on a plane. The reality is normally chaos and pleading with check in staff to let it slide. Entering the airport, we knew our bicycle boxes were too heavy and that the bulging sides would raise eyebrows at check in. Nevertheless, we handed over our boarding pass with our biggest smiles, kindest hellos and wearing our rain jackets to cut down on luggage weight. It worked, the “boxes” were accepted with a grin and we crossed our fingers for our bikes to arrive in Bangkok safely. What a difference a smile and kind hello can make!
Bangkok, the most visited city in the world, and for good reason! Shopping malls, rooftop bars, nightlife, food markets, and entertainment of all varieties. We had left poor crumbling Kathmandu to booming Bangkok and Jasi was in heaven. She hit the shopping malls for two days straight, had her nails done and treated herself to a rooftop cocktail. It was more than deserved after what she had endured through India and Nepal. By surprise invitation, two friend’s of our good friend Max, invited us to stay with them. They had to leave the next day to return to Australia and left us to their Bangkok villa. They told us to make ourselves at home. We did just that. We had 4 incredibly friendly maids and a personal driver. Our time in Bangkok was luxurious. We had gone from a smelly tent to an 8-bedroom villa which included a cinema and spa. Thankyou Anou and Rachna, your generosity was very appreciated.
Respectful, is the first word I would use to describe the Thai people. Extremely well mannered, patient and at times shy would be the next few. The Thai people are ever conscious of the personal space they give to us and hold a great importance on one’s privacy (also a welcome change from our time in India). A local interaction with a young Thai lady sums up their cute respectfulness. As I was purchasing a drink in 7/11 (there is literally a 7/11 store on every corner), I placed my drink on the counter and the young lady working the checkout gave me a great big smile and the biggest wave from less than 1 meter away. I responded with a wave of my own and then followed with the traditional hello “sah-wah-dee-khrap” clasping my hands in front of me and giving a little bow. She followed instantly and the ear to ear smile remained. Very cute. We have only amazing words to say about the people of Thailand. However, if you are Thai and reading this, we have one thing to add: If you see us on the streets, please come talk to us, we do smell a bit, but we don’t bite.
After almost a year on the road, to meet friends of friends is a real treat! We had never met Pe Phruk and Pe Poo, but I was good friends with their very close Australian friend, Meredith. That makes us friends, right? Pe Phruk and Pe Poo (the title Pe is used as a level of respect in the Thai language), typified everything we had learnt and come to love about Thailand. So respectful, kind and very proud of their country and their kingdom. Upon meeting Pe Phruk and Pe Poo, they were curious about our journey. Naturally, the conversation topic of crossing the middle east and from this the questions regarding Iran arose. We told them of our incredible experience through Iran, where we were hosted by local families every night and hardly spent a dollar. They were shocked to hear this, from a country that they also have heard mostly negative press of. Not to be outdone, Pe Phruk proudly and very light heartedly said “You will stay for free with us too, we will beat the Iranians”. We can’t thank Pe Phruk and Pe Poo enough for their royal introduction into their grand country, thank you “Khob-Khun-Khap”.
Glorious, beautiful and wet rain. After sweating our way through the tail end of summer in Myanmar and central Thailand, the rainy season had finally arrived. Temperatures dropped 7-8 degrees and those uphill, rolling, jungle mountain climbs were again exciting! Not to get too sentimental but riding and singing through the rain made me think that a moments happiness seems only dependent on the way we view it, our ability to reframe our situation more positively. Now, the temperature was still 30 degrees and it seemed pointless to change to a dry t-shirt mid-day. So, we took our shirts off and cycled on topless (Jasi in a sports bra). The shock that a rice farmer must have got when he saw us two cycling past. We respected the people in towns by wearing our shirts again. Bicycle touring Thailand is such a rewarding challenge!
One day I will take my kids to Thailand, if only to explore the magical fruits they have. Markets are flooded with the most beautiful colours, shapes and sizes. Furry red rambutans are stacked high, Prickly Durians scent fills the air, the dragon fruits beauty inside and out makes you marvel at nature and sweet mangos dissolve on your tongue. Ah, yes the Thai food is a culinary legend but the fruit in itself is enough to bring me back again and again.
Now if you’ve been to Thailand you’ll already be reminiscing the flavors and variety of what Thai food has to offer. Including past countries that we have travelled, we can honestly say that Thai cuisine is a clear winner. At 6pm in any town, the street hawkers come alive dumping noodles, roasting pork and stacking the days fruit harvest. The freshness, flavour and variety of Thai food for about 1 USD per meal is unbeatable. The serving sizes however can be small for our cycling bellies, but we use this to our advantage to simply try more. Only two downsides: Since India we have developed a conscious attitude to realizing that we don’t need meat at every meal and finding vegetarian options in the small villages here can be a real struggle. Also, Thailand is amidst a plastic epidemic. Everything is wrapped, carried or eaten with single use throw away plastic.
Throughout the trip, we are not too proud to say that sometimes the hills and rain really do win. From these moments of despair have come such memorable times catching a ride with the locals. There is no travel alike the surprises. You are instantly thrown into the everyday life of the locals, instantly transported to their world. So, with yet another jungle hill standing before us and soaked through from the rain, Jasi held her thumb out for a ride. Ning, a Thai real-estate agent came to our rescue. Ning mentioned that Jasi reminded her of her daughter that was currently studying and working in Bangkok. From here on, Jasi was treated as if she was her daughter and I sat in the back of the truck holding onto our bicycles. Ning not only drove us all the way to a hotel at our destination, she also took us on a day trip of exploring mango farms and hot springs and to eat a delicious Thai lunch. In the end she insisted to give us about 5kg of raw mangoes that will be ready to eat in a few days. Again, we couldn’t say thank you enough!
There is only one crucial necessity for us whilst on the bikes. We can handle rain, manage our hunger and fix our bicycles along the way, but we need water. The day had come when we had forgotten to fill our water bottles in the last town, it was the first time this happened on our entire trip. We were half way into another set of hills, the wind had dropped, and the rain had cleared to reveal the stinging sun. We were exhausted, and dripping sweat in the sticky humid heat. Once again, our misplanning left us to depend on the people. I held out my empty water bottle upside down, looking as described. The first car stopped, motioned for us to stay where we were and came back with a bag of sugar drinks and water. They refused to accept our money. We are so grateful for the people on the road. Through every country we have travelled by bicycle and I am very confident in saying the following. I am sure the first car in every country would have stopped to help us in this time of need. The world is full of people looking to help, we only need to ask!
Talk to you soon,
Matt and Jasi