Allons-y, Alonzo: From Bangkok to Koh Tao

The motivation to leave Bangkok was undeniable, but the desire to pedal south was lacking. Leaving the city, much like entering the city, seems to take an eternity. Each loud, hot kilometer zaps what little energy you have left.

Long days on easy undulating hills. When the opportunity presents itself, escape to the side roads, to the country. Find your breath again. Off the beaten track, you are lost and found. Wats all around.

Rains start. Torrential as ever. Pull off to the side to try and beat the worst. Thirty minutes are spent under the overhang of a gun range. It isn’t going to let up. The agreement is implicit. If you can go over it and you can’t go under it, you must go through it. Onward. The next day is much the same. Ponchos and coats are left in bags, untouched. Let the water permeate your every pore, let it soak into your marrow. Feel it squish in your shoes, between your toes. Ring out your socks at lunch.

Signs posted along the way read scenic route- you have no idea. Stumble on bicycle lanes, how quaint. There are cyclists in abundance, more this 500 than in the last 3000km. Each makes you smile. We’re gonna’ start a revolution, yeah.

Dogs give chase, snarling and barking, you can do nothing but pedal. Fast and furious. Pump. your. legs. On the road, or up and out of driveways they surprise you. Hell hounds. Angry motherfuckers. Swear until you are blue in the face. Eye the four legged beasts from a mile away, try to anticipate, to know. Approach wearily and with caution.

Meet a dutch couple heading for Chumpon. Cycle in community. All wheels on deck. Together, the sound is that of a beehive.

Stop at a cafe in town. A map of Thailand is posted on the wall. The decision to take the night ferry makes itself in the moment. Koh Tao seems like the is(land) of possibility.

Blanket and pillow in tow, climb to the roof of the ferry. The stars are bright. Ils étincellent sur l’eau, qui demeure lisse et vitreux. The moon, full and bright, produces a halo, giving the horizon a gentle, sloping arch. The world looks round. Smile, watch the sunrise. This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful adventure.

Comparing and Contrasting: Southbound in Thailand

Crossing borders you don’t expect everything to be different and yet, it is. Everything about Thailand screams wealth, they are the haves and their neighbours are the have nots. Immediately the roads are full of sights unseen for sometime. 7-11, Esso, Shell, a driving range, a football pitch with painted lines and steel goalposts. It feels unnatural.

From the looks of vehicles passing by Xzibit and his crew have been busy. Adorning transport trucks and sky-high sleeper buses, taller than any bus you’ve ever seen, are neon lights and colors. These rides are pimped out. Different trucks pay hommage to different loves, from full murals dedicated to Winnie the Pooh and the cast of Disney, to mudflaps featuring Madonna and Bowie, there is no theme that can’t be displayed on a bus.

Crossing over also means switching sides. Traffic drives up the left here. Alright, Cool. The surprise comes when you see that most of the people actually do stick, to just one side of the road. People avoid construction zones. Cars respect signs, stop at lights. Most people are enclosed in boxes with four wheels, not two. It doesn’t make any sense.

Roads are littered with larger than life pictures of the king and queen, looking down from gilt frames, surveying you. Shrines on medians, on archways. Worship while you drive. They are everywhere, looking, staring.

At a junction, there is a choice. Follow the sign that says Bangkok or take the 33, the road you know leads there. With little hesitation, follow the sign. This highway is hot, chaotic. Let’s try something different.

Pedaling down the road you are all alone. There are few people and fewer towns. A sensation of strangeness abounds. Gone are the friendly faces and roadside stalls, gone are the bicycles and motorbikes. Instead, there are petrol stations strategically placed every several kilometers. This strip of land feels deserted. At the pumps there is a feeling, almost an expectation, that tumbleweed will blow across the black tarmacs. Workers stare hollow-eyed into screens. Gone are the excited hellos.

The signs tell you this is highway 359. A beautiful wasteland. It is bordered by tall fields of sugarcane and distant dark blue hills. Wheat brushes alongside the highway. 359 has recently been twinned, though it has been deemed yet under construction so, cars respectfully share the highway next to it. This ‘unfinished’ highway is nicer than all the roads in Cambodia and Vietnam. It is incomprehensible that no cars are on this road. Separated from the traffic by a grassy ditch, traffic feels a million miles away. You have this beautiful flat black fresh pavement all to yourself. It is strange, confusing.

A turn onto 304 brings back the chaos and noise. The road to Bangkok has begun. Every kilometer brings more vehicles. More loud. Bangkok begins a million miles before the signs. Nearing the city, traffic hits a standstill. Gleefully weave past cars parked in bottlenecks. Suckers.

A few days in Bangkok are quite sufficient to drive the sanest person to drink. Hot chaotic and loud, it’s time to go- but where? Driving down Khao San road, a bike wearing yellow panniers is parked. Smile. Hello! Enter François Dumas, a Canadian et un Québecois. No, really?! This is too good. We chat excitedly.

The offer is made and readily accepted. Together we head south. Les deux mousquetaires. 🙂