Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bangkok

Three hours after our rushed departure from Chennai we landed in Bangkok (the reason we flew is because it is not possible to cycle through Myanmar at the moment). Relieved to be reunited with our bikes and luggage, we caught an airport bus to Khao San Road, the bustling street many backpacker’s lives revolve around in Bangkok. It was still early and we had breakfast at a little cafe while we put our bikes back together in the muggy morning air.||

On the recommendation of Tara and Tyler from Going Slowly we had booked a guest house about 2km north of Khao San Road, a little removed from the tourist area. We had been in contact with Tara and Tyler for the last year or so, ever since we asked them for some advice to help us plan our trip. They have been on the road for two years, cycling across Europe, driving through Russia and Mongolia and then cycling around South East Asia, and were planning to finish their trip in Bangkok.

Bangkok was the only common place on our routes where we could have possibly met up, and by chance Tara and Tyler rolled into Bangkok on the same day as us!

As we pulled into Shanti Lodge, their bikes were already there, waiting to be unloaded. We spotted them busily working away on their laptops in the restaurant. It was great to finally catch up in person after following their incredible daily blog for so long.

Tyler and Tara   Chao Praya river boat

Shanti Lodge had a comfortable, leafy restaurant and chill-out area downstairs, with free Wifi. As our room was quite small, we generally hung out there and enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings. Being in Thailand, we suddenly realised how tough India had been at times. This was easy: there was a great menu with delicious food, our orders arrived quickly, everything was so clean and orderly. This was also the first time for 6 months that we were in a country where women were treated equally to men. Our interactions with women in Turkey, Iran and India (and to an extent the UAE) had been very limited, and pretty much all restaurant and hotel staff were male. Here, the whole guest house was run by women.

We also spotted a few more touring bikes in Shanti Lodge, one of which belonged to Mel, an American girl who had travelled around South East Asia and was now bound for Turkey. The other two bikes belonged to a Belgian couple who had come through Europe and China. All of us had dinner together on our first night, and Mel presented us with a humorous little cycling guide to South East Asia that she had just finished writing and illustrating. By the end of the evening, our heads were spinning from the social interactions. We had just met more touring cyclists in one day than we had met in the whole of India!

Whilst we were not planning to do much sightseeing in Bangkok as we had covered the important Wats and palaces during our last visit, Freddie had signed up for a cooking class at May Kaidee’s vegetarian restaurant. We used to go to this restaurant a lot when we backpacked around South East Asia in 2003, and Freddie had been determined to do a cooking class there should she ever return to Bangkok. As Tara is also into cooking, she decided to join Freddie. May graciously invited Guy and Tyler to come along too – they had the important task of taking pictures and testing the food we cooked.

"Thai ladies" at the market   Fruit seller

First, we visited the market where we learned about the local vegetables and tested various street foods. The girls had been loaned some traditional Thai umbrellas and a wicker basket to make the visit feel a little more nostalgic.

All the ingredients for the recipes had been prepared earlier, so we had no chopping to do and quickly completed 10 different dishes whilst singing the Thai songs May and her team taught us. “Sop sop sop sop soooong!” Guy and Tyler took their taste testing duties seriously and ate everything that was presented to them, from green curry to fried tofu veggies and spring rolls. A fun morning ended with May teaching us some Thai dancing, and we took away a little cook book to help us reproduce her delicious creations in our own kitchens.

Massaman curry   Tara and Freddie in the kitchen

Happy times, and not just because we were having fun in Bangkok. At the airport in Chennai, Freddie had received a call saying her sister was in hospital, and during our first day in Bangkok our little nephew, Felix, was born. We were very proud to become an aunt and uncle. In fact, so proud that we are planning a little excursion to Germany for a week to see Felix and catch up with Freddie’s family. As we are moving to Australia, Freddie may not see her family for a while once we are busy finding jobs and settling down. The flights are much more affordable from Malaysia than from Australia, and we will finally be reunited with Boris, our tent (on holiday in Germany at the moment), who will be an important part of the team once we reach Australia and cross the 3,800km of Outback that separates Darwin from our destination, Melbourne.

Our flight to Darwin will be from Singapore, a 2,400km ride from Bangkok. To help us on our way, our friends Nick and Aom  came over from the UK to meet us. Guy had met Nick whilst hiking in the Indian Himalayas 8 years ago. Nick, who is from the UK, was living in Bangkok at the time and met his wife Aom there. They later moved to the UK where we regularly caught up and did some weekend cycling trips together. Nick is planning to cycle with us for a week or so, while Aom catches up with her family in Bangkok.

We met Aom for dinner as she had arrived a few days before Nick, and once Nick had landed, they invited us for a very posh breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the number one address in Bangkok where celebrities, politicians and writers hang out. We were able to catch a riverboat there from near our guest house and arrived in style at the pier of the Mandarin Oriental. Waiting in the lobby, we felt a little underdressed in our khakis and cycling shoes, but we soon settled in on the terrace overlooking the Chao Praya river and enjoyed our delicious breakfast – a huge egg-white omelette for Guy, a salmon bagel for Freddie, and various pastries. The service was outstanding, in fact world class to the extent that they remember details like the side of the bed you get out of and which fruits you prefer in order to enhance your future visits. It was a fantastic breakfast treat on our last day in Bangkok. Thank you!

At the Mandarin Oriental with Nick and Aom

Having spent a few lovely days hanging out with Tara and Tyler and comparing notes on cycle touring, IT questions and life goals in general, we took them out for dinner to thank them for their advice and inspiration over the last year. We had a few challenges getting to the restaurant, which was on the other side of a large demonstration by 30,000 anti-government protesters, but eventually we found our way and had a fun night. We also had dinner together in the guest house on our last night and as we prepared to say goodbye, Tara and Tyler decided they were going to get up at 6am the next morning to see us off!

True to their word, they were there as we loaded up the bikes, got us iced coffees to help us wake up, and took some photos as we took off. We were very touched by this sweet gesture. Thanks guys, it was great to spend some time with you!

Half an hour later, we rendezvoused with Aom and Nick and his bicycle beside a 6 lane highway. Whilst we merged into the busy morning Bangkok traffic we hoped we could live up to our promise and return Aom’s husband in one piece.

1 comments:

Marco said...

Myanmar? You didn't confuse it with Miramar?
Because I don't think you two characters could make it at Top Gun.

... Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.

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