Cycling Plus #7:
Laden with trucks, buses and cars Highway 4 cuts a concrete trail from
Southern Thailand to Bangkok - an unavoidable 500 km grind, or so I thought.
With its reputation for traffic and pollution, this was one stretch of
road I had been dreading: I envied bus-bound travellers who saw it as a
few roadside stops in the darkness of a long night.
The Road to Bangkok
But as luck would have it, I met Frenchman Claude, who knew a network of
unmarked costal roads heading north. With a backpack strapped to a bike
bought in Bangkok, this lean 50 year old and I cycled where the roads were
smooth and quiet, linking small villages to towns, in areas bereft of
foreigners. Our challenge lay in deciphering sign posts written in ornate
Thai script and cycling under the hot season's oppressive sun.
One such town was Prachuap Khiri Khan. The big, open-plan hotel I found
was typically Thai: a life size portrait of the King framed by the
entrance, sleeping bodies, children and dogs in the reception, and a
dignified Buddha surrounded by offerings. Summoning a few last iotas of
energy, I ascended the 400 monkey-overrun steps to a temple overlooking the
bay, where young Buddhist monks in their saffron robes watched life below.
We left at sunrise as a motorised trishaw driver, a hammock slung across
the cab fixed to his motorbike, slept on.
A detour through a beautiful national park exposed hidden temples and
villages nestling in the rock face. By now an impending storm had brought a
welcome coolness to the air. Tucked away on the third floor of a seemingly
empty Chinese hotel in a town dotted with temples, I pondered the nomadic
lifestyle of long distance bicycle touring - a different hotel almost every
The day had come to cycle to Bangkok - driving rain and a strong headwind
cast further gloom over my mind. Pickups, stacked perilously high with
baskets of food and clothes, disappeared into the wall of rain ahead. A
truck sped by, carrying a water buffalo roped in by its horns, a dozen
Thais clung to the framework and onto the roof, shouting out in rapid fire.
'What is your name/where are you from/how are you?' They too were soaked to
the skin; smiling at each other. I felt a kind of camaraderie which lifted
me above the miserable weather.
Hell began 20 kilometres from the capital; I was caught amidst the trucks and
buses which had ground to a halt, breathing in their dark clouds of fumes.
But once within the city, masked traffic police funnelled me through the
chaos and I weaved my way between Tuk Tuks, Bangkok's colourful three
wheeled taxis. I had made it!
And far from being the expected grind, the discoveries of the last week had
reminded me about enjoying each day and sometimes stopping where you least
expect - even if it's only half way to your destination. In the 6th century
BC, Lao Tzu said: 'A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent
Well, at least I won't have to worry about arriving for a while yet.