This is the first day of what I’ve name ‘The Great SE Asian Cycling Trip’. Cheye and I have been planning this over the past nine months since we found some cheap flights to Bangkok and decided to do a bit of cycling through Thailand and into Cambodia. We were originally going to do it with a tour guide and support vehicle, but I think cycling through South Korea last year gave us the confidence to do more self-supported touring. So we decided to take the plunge and do it ourselves this time. I have to admit I was nervous coming into it, but quite proud of what we’ve achieved in our first proper self-supported, self-navigated cycling tour. We figured South Korea doesn’t count as it’s fully mapped out for you, complete with signage and passport stamp scheme – I’ll write about that another time. Anyway… onto Thailand!
We arrive in Bangkok after 7 hours in the air and glad to get off the plane. Everything has been planned out for our first day – we take out some cash at the ATM and catch the train to the bike shop ‘Sombat Kanamuji’ near Ratchadaphisek station to look for some mountain bikes for the next two and a half weeks. The plan is to take our bikes back to our AirBnB accommodation in Bang Na, located in South Bangkok, via the metro.
We arrive at the bike shop and at first it appears that no one is there. We walk past rows and rows of bikes before we spot a young bloke hidden amongst it all working on a bike. “Hello…uh, mountain bike?” we ask him. He takes us to the last few rows at the back of the warehouse and Cheye picks two bikes that look decent. They’re a bit pricier than expected so we try to bargain them down a bit. I check my wallet to see how much cash we have to work with and ask if we could possibly pay by card. Cheye goes to pull his card out and can’t find it – and we realise he’s left it in the airport ATM in our haste to get to the train station. We start panicking and try to figure out a plan. We barter them down to 9,500 baht (from 11,000) but still don’t have enough cash. As they don’t accept credit cards anyway I have to use my card to take the cash out, and the young guy gives me a ride to the closest ATM on his motorbike while the older man gets our bikes ready. I return and pay the female shopkeeper, who is playing with her cat she calls Garfield.
After we’ve settled down a bit from the discovery of losing the card and ready to get going, the old man gives us his Allen key set as a parting gift. We thank them and head down to the metro to get our train to Bang Na.
As we head down the stairs into the metro I notice a sign that says ‘No bulky items’. I wonder if that includes bicycles, so I leave Cheye with the bikes and race down to ask. Sure enough, it turns out they don’t let you take bikes on the train unless they fold up. That ruins our plan of catching the train…Bang Na is too far to cycle, especially in peak hour traffic, so we decide the only option is to find a tuk tuk. I’m not even sure if our bikes are going to fit! We try to ask a few drivers if they can take us but no one seems interested because it’s too far. Drivers start calling each other to see who is willing to take us all the way. Eventually one guy approaches us and quotes 700 baht. We bargain him down to 600 and cram the bikes into the back of the tuk tuk. The trip takes an hour in peak hour traffic as we cling onto our bikes.
Once arrived, I have nothing smaller than 1000 baht notes and the driver doesn’t have any change for the 600 baht fare. I frantically start asking people at the bus stop if anyone has change for 1000 and eventually some guy has a stash of notes which I am grateful for. I race down to the driver, who has parked at the gas station down the road as the traffic was too thick and there was nowhere to stop on the roadside. I pay him and we commence looking for our AirBnB.
Our meeting time with our host is 7:30pm. I had planned to wait in the lobby with our bikes but as soon as we turn into the building, security direct us around the back to the car park. There is an area for bikes and motorcycles but we have no bike locks. It’s 7:20pm so Cheye decides to wait in the lobby while I keep an eye on the bikes as I’m worried someone might pinch them. Cheye comes back 10 min later saying he needs to message our host and the only option is to buy something at the cafe next door to log onto their wifi network. I decide to leave the bikes and head to the café with him. As soon as Cheye logs in he receives a message which says ‘Are you guys close?’ We are told to wait at the cafe and after what feels like forever our host, who turns out to be the host’s wife, arrives to check us in. She says we can leave our bikes in the car park as they have a 24 hour guard keeping watch. It turns out we are able to leave our bikes unlocked outside throughout our entire trip without worrying. Everyone seems to do it and apparently crime rates are low. We get to the room and decide the easiest option for dinner is the convenience store downstairs so we opt for pretty much any vegetarian food they have (rice, corn, veggies and omelette). I promise there will be more exciting food to share throughout the rest of the trip. We are exhausted and end up crashing out as soon as we hit the bed.
I wake up around 1am to use the bathroom. As I get out of the bed, I try to grab my watch from the floor to see what time it is and smash my face against the wall. I roll over in pain and in tears, thinking this trip is going to be a disaster. Everything has been going wrong and we haven’t even started cycling yet! Cheye grabs a bottle of cold water from the fridge for my eye and I fall asleep with the bottle wedged under my face.