Thailand – Km 75,603
From Calcutta I studied the road to keep cycling to the Southeast Asia, but all the frontiers with Myanmar were closed, so it was impossible to arrive to Thailand by land coming from India, thereby I had to take a fly to Bangkok, the capital city of the country.
And to reach in Bangkok was impressive, because it has a population that overcomes the 6 million people and because it isn’t only the political, social and economic centre of Thailand, but of Indochina and the Southeast Asia. It is a cosmopolitan city in constant movement which exposes its past, present and future with their old temples or with their impressive malls and skyscraper.
Bangkok is also known as the “Venice of the East”, because formerly the transport of people and merchandises were made by the channels of the Chao Phraya River which crosses the city and communicates it with the interior. Therefore the life of the Thai people was centred in these vast nets of channels and thereby they were considered the watermen. And although the time has passed many people at the present time use the Chao Phraya Express, the marine transport which reminds the old fluvial life. During the rain season the water in the channels and the river overflows giving place to serious floods and thereby it is murmured that the city sinks a couple of centimetres per year.
During my stay in the capital city I have contacted the local media and few local companies too, but with the last ones I was not lucky. The answer of the Vice-President Marketing and Communication of one of them was strong: “we sponsor big events, millionaires” she told me, “and your project is small and it doesn’t fit to us”. I loved her sincerity. Thereby I preferred to spend my stay in Bangkok doing a Thai massages course, working on my new website and visiting the touristic places. So I went to the Ratanakosin area which is the oldest part of the city, the vital centre of the Thai Buddhism, one of the most worshipped and sacred places of the country. There, the Wat Pho exists, the biggest temple in Bangkok which has the largest lying Buddha of the country (46 mt), and an important collection of images of Buddha. According to the local people the architecture of the temples symbolize elements of the religion; their roofs are built usually in series of three staggered levels which represent Buddha, his teachings and his followers.
During my tour I also visited the exotic Chinatown, and the famous and busy Khao San and Sukhumvit roads. Also Patpong street, which is known as the red district. According to Jorge, a Mexican guy who is living in the capital city since more than 3 years, Bangkok is a touristic destination in which many men visit it just for the sex, either hetero or homo, but there are also options for the lesbians or for that one who looks for a lady boy, striptease show or a sex show. “At the present time all these places attract more tourists than searchers of pleasure”, Jorge told me, “and although some bars announce their gratuitous shows they usually have hidden overcharges and thereby when someone tries to avoid the shocking bill two bouncers appear to block the door”.
But what surprised more it is the quantity of foreigners who very proud walk hand by hand through the whole city with their Thai girlfriends so ugly.
Cycling toward the north
Due to I wanted to avoid the big traffic of Bangkok, I left the city on Sunday morning toward Ayuthaya. And because it didn’t have any city map neither a Thailand map, (only Southeast Asian map) I found very difficult to reach the road which would take me to the north. Thereby to each turn I stopped to ask to someone if I was in the right direction, but most of the times it was difficult to communicate with people, because they don’t speak English.
Then, everything was easier, the road was flat for several days, the climate was ideal (February 2010), and I had a gentle wind from the back which allowed me to cycle as many km as I wanted. But that noon, when I stopped in a small town to have lunch I didn’t like. Because in spite of the fact that I told them: “Mae pet” what means without spicy, the food was so spicy; curry, pepper, chilly, ginger, all what I tested had a little of everything, or too much for my taste. The Thai food is too seasoned and without salt. Sometimes it can be sour, sweet, bitter or spicy, but I don’t like them because my sense of taste ever goes to the classic. Most of the times that I eat in local places my lips burn, thereby when I get up, I wish to kick the table. It is why the doctor’s indications who I visited in Bangkok come to my mind. Due to my abdominal discomfort, he ordered me to do a gastro-endoscopy and then he told me: “You have chronic gastritis, so you have to take care with the food, don’t eat anything spicy”. “But how can I do it travelling through these countries”? I thought. Finally during almost my whole trip through Thailand I cooked myself, and I really ate much better, because even the Thai portions are so small that when you see it you wish to order another one. Therefore, my menu was not so varied, but at least I was satisfied, spaghetti with tomato sauce and tuna, or potatoes with pumpkin, eggs and tuna once more.
During my trip I stopped in Ayuthaya and Sukhothai, two touristic destinations which describe the history of the country through their ruins. It is believed that the first Thai emigrated from the south of China and they settled along the fluvial valleys forming small agricultural communities who finally were conquered by the Khmer empire, current Cambodia. In the XIII century the Buddhist Kingdom of Sukhothai arose. It is considered as the first Thai state in the region, well-known as Siam. During this Kingdom the writing Thai was created and important temples were built. But one century later the Kingdom of Sukhothai was overshadowed by another power thai which arose in the fluvial island of Ayuthaya and became an important cosmopolitan port of the commercial route of Asia. Therefore, between the XIV and XVIII centuries Ayuthaya was the capital of Siam and more than 30 kings governed it, until the Burmese were able to invade it. Finally the thai reconstructed its capital in the current Bangkok, been founded by the Chakri dynasty who still hold the throne.
According to Wan and Mou, a couple of Thai people who have also travelled through the world by bicycle in spite of the European pressure, Thailand is the only country of the southeast Asian which has been colonized never by an European power, but its price was to give territories of the current Laos and Cambodia to the French colony of Indochina and three southern counties at the present time of Malaysia to the British colony.
During my trip through the north of Thailand I cycled on the freeway and also through secondary routes which allowed me to go deep into the country and to know more about its people. The Thai are calm, relaxed and educated people. Contrary to other countries I was never invaded by the people’s curiosity but the paradox that although several times cyclist came near to me on the route or another local people in the places where I stopped, I was never invited to a house to spend the night, for a lunch or just to drink a tea. It is very different if I compare it with the Arab world. I feel that the Thai go their way. Thereby I have always slept in simple hotels, in my tent or in temples where I asked to stay the night. But there, the monks always attended me with a place to sleep and with food.
When I crossed the Wiang Kosai town I found a school of monks, where there were about 250 initiate posing for a picture. So I stopped and I asked them to stay the night. There I was received by Ven Charnsak Kantigo who welcomed me and explained to me a little about their traditions. According to Ven the country, the family and the daily life of the Thai people are bound to the religion. All the men must be monks a short stage of their lives, traditionally the time that pass in a temple is three months. Thereby a family acquires great prestige when a son “takes the gown and the bowl”. That morning I attended to the daily program of the school which begins with the song of mantras at 4 am. and meditation. Then, according to Ven, the beginners have to learn about the Buddhism, the Dharma (righteous duty) and discipline along the day; and on the end of afternoon the mantras are sung and people do meditation again. The initiation lasts 40 days. Ven was the only monk who spoke English because he had been living in Australia where he formed his family and had two restaurants, but according he explained to me since more than two years he had given up everything, because his objective now was the monastic life.
In route to Chiang Mai I also met Julian and Lorena, an Argentinean couple from Boulogne, Buenos Aires. They travel around the world by motorcycle since 2002. Since then the guys have travelled more than 170.000 km through America, Europe, West Africa and Asia. But according to Julian, things are getting more difficult each time, the reason he told me: “for some documents of the motorcycle and because we are travelling with a dog since 3 years”. Julian and Lorena want to complete their trip around the world and thereby they support their trip selling handcrafts. For several days we share the route, the lunches and the nights of camping. Julian, who had always worked as carpenter, had become a storyteller and he never stopped and Lorena a former hairdresser, in his inseparable partner.