January 29, 2020. 500km since Bangkok
Things are proceeding well for the four of us. Lucy and I have learned to operate the tandem without all the tension we had at the start. Joël and Irène are excellent people. They complete the square nicely. Mainly, this is because we enjoy learning new cultures and languages. Our four person team has members from three continents. We are traveling in a fourth.
We get together and speak a mix of Spanish, English, and French with surprising fluidity. Apparently there is a lot of similarity between French and Spanish. Joël and Irène are familiar with Spanish already having spent some time in Mexico, Cuba, and Spain recently. They have a wonderful ability to roll with others even with some uncertainty in understanding.
Joël has planned much of the trip for us. He finds excellent routes and places. We stay in comfortable hotels, mostly. We did spend a night wild camping in a Buddhist temple.
Even though it is winter here in Thailand, it gets quite warm during the day. A high of 36C (=97 F) is common. So we beat the heat by getting on the bikes before sunrise (6:30 am). We usually ride to about noon and stop for the midday siesta in an air conditioned hotel room. There is room in the schedule to stay at one place for two or even three nights occasionally. This gives us time to explore a town if we like.
With us four, there is much laughter. Joël and Irène have a great attitude about the trip and life in general. They have taught us a few card games we play when we have down time. We can laugh at our own mistakes.
I would like to follow in the footsteps of Joël and Irène who have been traveling the world since 2014 and producing excellent blogs of their journey. CycloMigrateurs.fr They have friends all over the world. They tell good stories. The best ones are about their moments of failure.
Lucy is my partner. She has a fearlessness that I admire. She has endured this rough start with a guy that doesn’t really speak her language and is only now learning to operate the tandem they are using. She says she likes my laugh. It reminds her of her son’s laugh. At least I have something to offer.
I am deeply honored to be part of this team.
The four of us see remarkable things that are everyday occurrences for the locals. For instance a family of four traveling on all on one motorbike or scooter. At the same time, the locals are astonished to see recumbent bicycles, and especially a tandem rolling down the road. From each perspective, the other appears like something from Dr. Seuss.
Thailand as I see it
We are now hundreds of kilometers from Bangkok. Out here the life is tranquil. The people are eager to help us. Even when there is a language barrier, the local people are familiar with using automatic translation on the smart phone. I have had many successful encounters.
Travel expenses here are low compared with Europe and US. A meal for two at a restaurant is $6. A night in an air conditioned hotel room with WiFi is less than $15. I’m told that if you have an account in a Thai bank with at least $25,000 USD in it, you can stay in Thailand indefinitely. You will only have to go to the local Embassy every three months to demonstrate that you still meet the requirements. It is also easy to work here if you start a small business and employ at least three Thai citizens. A common startup business is teaching English, for which you do not necessarily need to master the Thai language.
The presence of western culture is apparent. We see many late model automobiles and pickup trucks on the roads. Though life is inexpensive here, I am sure that automobiles and gasoline are not cheaper than in the west. I suppose the country attracts many from the west, looking for an inexpensive retirement.
I do not object to this migration. The most beautiful part of the culture seems to be uncontaminated. That is, the people have a genuine interest in other cultures. They show curiosity in our adventure. Locals approach us with many questions or take photos. Even when there is a language barrier, when we are on the bikes we regularly get a thumbs up from the locals many times a day.
Also there is a trust between humans. The high level of security I found in Eastern Europe is not needed here. As I write this I notice though there is a lock on my hotel room door, the windows are not locked. If I accidentally locked my key in the room, I could easily get back in to fetch it.
In the cities, the traffic is chaotic, but the drivers are not aggressive. I feel safe enough. It takes more effort for me driving on the left side. But the drivers here readily yield, even when they have right of way. Yesterday we accidentally turned onto a busy one way street going the wrong way. We continued for one block before correcting. No one honked, they simply made room for our exit.
In the countryside, we encounter villages small and large. In these villages, prepared food can be bought for pennies in the many small stands that are run by the families that live there. I enjoy this food often, and have had no ill effects. Sometimes it can be spicy hot or odd tasting. If you ask for help, the merchants will guide you to the milder stuff. ‘My Pete’ (phonetic spelling) means not spicy in Thai.
Out between the villages there are roads both major and minor. The main roads have more traffic of course, many tractor trailers, some double trailers, carrying sugar cane. We also see farm tractors. In many cases it is a two wheeled tractor pulling a four wheeled trailer, which I have not seen in the Western world. There are pickup trucks and other small trucks carrying farm workers each wearing a single cloth covering their heads and faces. Only the eyes are visible. It looks like a truck load of ninjas.
In the spaces here we see many crops. At this time of year, the sugarcane is in full harvest. We also see many rice patties, fruit trees too, bananas, mangos, papayas, figs, and others I cannot identify. I occasionally see a corn field, but this is not common. We also found a tobacco plantation.
I would say that the mangos are not ripe yet. However one can find ripe mangos in the market place in larger towns. Possibly imported? I have not seen any grapes since leaving Bangkok.
We feel safe riding the ample shoulders of these asphalt paved roads. But it is not as interesting as the smaller side roads. The side roads are frequently paved in concrete with almost no traffic. We find stray dogs asleep in the street. These concrete roads can turn to dirt without warning.
On the bikes we are using there is no problem traveling on the dirt for long distances. When it becomes muddy or deep sand, it can be tricky to keep the bike upright. In these cases, there is always the option of walking the bike. But I have twice taken a chance and dumped the bike.
Joël who is in the lead, is usually waiting to take a picture of my failed attempt. The bike dumps when there is not enough speed to keep it balanced. These are low speed painless dumps. They are good for maintaining ones humility. Lucy has learned to laugh them off.
On these roads we are entertained by what we find. Many stray dogs chase us for a few moments and then quit. I learned from my daughter Raina that many dogs have an instinct for herding larger animals. I believe this is the main interest the dogs have in us.
They make a lot of noise and sound scary, but they never get closer than one meter. They mostly like to chase Irène, probably because she barks back. We always get a good laugh at the exchanges. Irène once got a pack of five or more dogs to turn and run all at once. She was more than they were prepared for.
By the way, How do you say ‘Get off the couch’ in Thai?
To me the dogs of Thailand seem to have more fear of humans, than I am used to seeing in the west. I wonder if they realize that they are sometimes eaten by humans in this region. That being said, I have seen two or more dogs wearing a muzzle. Probably these are not stray, and I am thankful that someone has seen to this.
We also see farm animals running free range on these back roads. Chickens are most common, but we also have seen ducks and pigs roaming about. Cattle are usually behind a fence, but sometimes we see them being driven by men with dogs on foot. Horses are rare here.
Fish are farmed in the rivers. We see places which seem to be packed with fish. A handful of fish food thrown into the water will cause a stir that looks similar to boiling water. We also see nets draped above these places in the river. The nets protect the fish from waterfowl which would otherwise be eating the fish. We came across a fish farm next to a smoke house which was producing smoked fish with wholesale capacity.
Joël and Irène carry quite a bit of photography equipment. It shows in the blogs they create. Joël has a drone so that he can take aerial photos. He can produce some amazing videos and photos.
We found a cable bridge high above the river Yom near our hotel. Joël got out all the equipment and shot quite a bit of footage of the team crossing the bridge on bikes. He turned several minutes of raw footage into this remarkable 30 second video.
Bikes on the train.
Train travel in Thailand is affordable. A three hour train ride covering 100km costs about $3 USD. With a bicycle, the cost is about twice as much. Joël has arranged two legs of our journey by train in Thailand.
The first time from Lop Buri to Nakhon Sawang was a bit of an adventure because the freight manager was uncomfortable with putting all three bikes on board one train. We managed to make it work by traveling on two successive trains. Lucy and I folded the tandem in two and took the second train.
We made it to our train stop at dusk. By the time we reassembled the bike and were rolling, it was dark. We were equipped for night riding, just a bit new at it. It was a tense 8km ride in the dark. I find barking dogs are no problem during the day when you can read the dog’s body language. At night my imagination creates a much scarier image of the dog. We made it without mishap, just a bit frazzled.
Thailand has many Buddhist temples. It also has many temple ruins that are several hundred years old. They were attacked by the Burmese in 1767. A few years before the United States existed. The ruins are now protected national monuments with on-going restoration projects in many cases.
Lop Buri City of Monkeys
Lop Buri is known for the monkeys that run freely in the streets. Here you have to be a little careful because the monkeys can get into mischief with you. Lucy was cautious but couldn’t resist the opportunity to feed the monkeys.