Sunday, February 10, 2008
Thailand - Bike touring in Bangkok
This is now our third day in Bangkok and today we did a 5 hour bike tour. As this is my first time in Thailand and I didn't do any research before we got here (unlike some of you very well travelled people), I had no idea that Bangkok stood on so much water!!
We went to Recreational Bangkok Biking (www.bangkokbiking.com) and were presented with a great selection of mountain bikes. I chose a more upright model and a "big girl" seat rather than one of those skinny Lance Armstrong ones - a decision that would prove most fortuitous several hours later!! We asked about helmets but that didn't happen. At this point we didn't know how sketchy things could be (for those of you younger than 25 sketchy means dicey and for over 65 it is a cross between dangerous/unsafe and unknown).
We headed down a quiet residential street and then straight into Bangkok morning rush hour traffic(quite sketchy),This was our first foray into the wrong side of driving where we actually had to do something. I have to admit that it will be nice to have been a passenger on the right hand driving for a couple of months before I have to attempt to drive in Australia. My sister did fabulously during her tenure at Oxford and also in Perth as did my Dad, so I hope there is some genetic predisposition that will enable me to master it as well!
After a few blocks in traffic, we headed into quite a nice neighborhood. At one point, we were stopped by a crossing guard who was helping about 12 little preschoolers in their bathrobes cross this pristine clean laneway from their school to the swimming pool. This was contrasted sharply in the next block when we hit a slum area. Our guide who really was a Pet (actually that was her name) said that these were the working poor and not people who were into the sex or drug trade.
We stopped at a kindergarten where there wasn't a shoe in sight, but the kids had great big smiles and said lots of "Hellos". They were all dressed in yellow shirts as this was the color of Monday - the day the King was born. He is 80 years old and is very loved. He has been ruling for 60 years and is the longest reigning living monarch. The other colors are Tues-pink;Wed-Green;Thurs-Orange; Fri-Blue;Sat-Purple; and Sunday-Red. I don't have any idea what day I was born, but here it is all important.
We then continued on through these narrow little alleys that had people doing all the facets of life around every corner. Cooking, laundry, hair-straightening, shops, watching TV and various kinds of repair shops, grocery shops and food vendors. We started to feel sprinkles of rain - only the third time in this entire 76 days of travelling so far. Unlike in Rome and Greece, however, this rain was quite a relief as it cooled us a bit and the humidity is always good for making a gal look younger!!
We started to see more water and canals and found ourselves riding alongside a canal. At one point one of our family members stepped in a puddle and right onto a "flying toilet" that had burst open. This is a term that 3 months I was unfamiliar with. Through my training at CAWST (www.cawst.org) for the biosand filters, I learned that a flying toilet is essentially when someone poops in a bag and then it flies as they throw it out!! It is a well intentioned gesture, but they just tend to lie around and then burst in these slum areas.
We stopped and had to cross the river. We did this on a longtail boat, bikes and all!! On the other side we entered into a great park which went on forever and gave you the feeling that you were in the country, rather than a big city. We stopped and bought some fish pellets to feed the fish and they swarmed everywhere. There were some great big catfish that the kids had never seen before. We were all by ourselves in this park and it was very surreal. Somewhere around us were the 7 million people of Bangkok!
Next, we went into a large coconut plantation where there were big, beautiful villas mixed in with complete hovels. We were on a raised bike path that consisted of a concrete platform about 1 meter wide - very sketchy indeed!! On either side there was about a 4 foot drop to some brown water and we overheard our guide Martin saying that there are 3-4 meter long pythons in the jungle in Thailand. Was this considered jungle? Needless to say, it was great incentive for staying on the path. There were quite often some of the more mangy looking dogs that we see everywhere blocking the path. Pet would ring her bike bell and they'd disperse. The bikepath network went on for kilometer after kilometer until we popped out onto a main road and stopped for lunch.
We "washed our hands" with water that they poured out of a bucket. We had to presume it was safe and sat down and enjoyed the absolutely most delicious chicken and shrimp Pad Thai that I've ever tasted. They made it right in front of us and we washed it down with cold Fantas and Cokes - I know you have to have a coke every once in a while. I don't want to say anything about how hot it is but about 33C and humid is the answer.
We got back on the bikes and wound our way past temples and under the most incredible bridge I've ever seen. It looked like the one that fell in pieces during the San Francisco earthquake in the 90's except it had 3 or 4 branches and was gold in color and went on forever. I really can't describe it. We went past stupas where the Buddhists bury the ashes of their dead and again through all of these alleys that were the main road system for many of the houses and shops around us but were only a couple of meters wide.
We found our way back to a water Taxi stand and climbed in bikes and all to head back to the bike rental place. Again we wound our way through back streets, alleys, main streets and even through the parkade of a big shopping store (covered parkade), We went up and down a pedestrian ramp under a main street which was really quite fun. The kids did really well as it took a great deal of balancing on all of the narrow places. We covered about 25 kilometers in all and we absolutely loved it!
This day will certainly go down as one of the highlights of the trip so far as we not only got close to the people, but could see and smell Bangkok as well as say Hello to all the people who were so happy to see us go by!
We will now take a well-deserved break by the pool.
Posted by Gunn Family at 11:33 PM