World by Bike 20: Thailand
After cleverly avoiding a two hour queue immigration queue at the border, I crossed into Thailand - haven of the gap year backpacker. Despite seeming marginally cleaner and more organised than Malaysia, food was cheaper and there were many more western options, with supermarkets and familiar brands. The roads were good too, with the main highway providing a nice wide shoulder facilitating easy progress north as the peninsular narrows as you close in on Bangkok.
A few times, however, there were opportunities to come off the highway and explore, without having to go on sandy roads or into such quiet trails that you wouldn't be able to find food or water. One of these times, just south of Bangkok, was a gorgeous limestone cauldron in Khao Sam Roi Yat National Park. It's a mouthful to say, but totally worth seeing. It was an epic ride on empty roads and a sky tinted orange as the sun faded. The evening was capped off by the opportunity to stay in an empty garage space in the next town rented out my two US expats for use by travelling cycle tourers. When I arrived, a touring couple had just moved in, and they were making their way up the peninsula too on their way to Hanoi (however, after hitting serious pollution north of Bangkok they flew to Japan to tour their instead). They were a really cool couple, who had met as tourer and host on the Warmshowers / Couchsurfing site a few years back when touring in Europe.
The next couple of days were a big push to Bangkok, saying goodbye to the ocean for the last time until Calais, and making my way through the sea-adjacent salt fields. The big miles meant a late arrival in Bangkok on a Friday evening, but the chaotic roads were rather fun in retrospect. I was hosted in Bangkok for a couple of nights by two generous twenty-something sisters, busily trying to keep up with the Bangkok rush. My host, Meen, had only cycled when invited to Europe for a tour with her then boyfriend. She didn't particularly enjoy the tour when she did it, but wanted to keep hosting and it was lovely chatting with her and seeing some of the less-touristy parts of Bangkok. It is a cool city though. It's gap year central and you can see why, with many English speakers, plenty of cheap alcohol and many tattoo parlours if you feel particularly inclined to have a permanent record of poor decision making. You could spend a long time exploring the city.
However, time was getting on, and I decided that I wanted to ride to Mandalay, Myanmar, and not Hanoi in Vietnam to end my ride through South East Asia. I was concerned I wouldn't get my Chinese visa through, and going to Mandalay reduced the big hole in my route across the world by being that much further west than Hanoi. I did want to visit Vietnam though, so it meant trying to squeeze in an extra 1500 miles versus riding directly to Mandalay from Bangkok. With my brother's wedding date back in London fast approaching, I had to get moving to catch my flight from Mandalay. This meant another couple of big days to the Cambodian border, camping one final night in Thailand, sweating kilos during the night and getting ruined by mosquitos too.
I had a great time in Thailand, it's a beautiful place with plenty of places I need to return to and others I need to explore for the first time. I found it interesting that the country could be so westernised but so cheap still. From what I gathered, part of the wealth of Thailand relative to its neighbours is that it was never colonised, acting as a buffer between British colonies in Burma, Malaysia and Singapore, and the French territories in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I'd imagine a lack of colonisation, and a disinclination to fight the invasion of the Japanese in World War II, meant that the country wasn't set back by disenchanted citizens and, shall we say, the more eccentric governments in Cambodia and Myanmar. Wikipedia is a useful tool when touring.