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How I rediscovered Thailand
11 February 2008 Mohammed Eryk Khalifa

From the hammock to the wilderness - impressions of a first-time cycle traveller.

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An excellent Asian adventure

Before I decided to travel with Hervé and Gośka, I had a few questions about cycling across half of Asia. One of them was whether I really wanted to cycle 8000km and whether it’s not too much for a first trip. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to start with something less ambitious, such as a trip along the river in my town? - I thought. Seriously though, the trip seemed predestined from the beginning. I was invited by my friend Kasia to stay at her house in Bangkok where I would meet my cycling partners three months later. There was a hammock on the veranda and a capoeira group in town - my three months in Bangkok were easily planned out.

Since I arrived in Thailand I tried to learn about the culture and mentality of the people around me. As it turned out later, Bangkok represents a different Thailand to that which I am now discovering outside of the capital. Many Bangkok people are much more concentrated on money – they want more, quicker and often easier money, a tendency often accompanied by a lack of basic human kindness. They treat you like just another "farang," (foreigner), a source of dollars. People I met outside of Bangkok talk to us about things other than how much we should pay, really want to know where we come from and whether we like their country.

Travelling by bicycle makes it much easier to see the surrounding world. I really wasn’t expecting that travelling to a different place every day could be so fascinating: people, animals, plants, landscapes, as well as the physical effort – all this has a strong influence on perception.

The first day of travel was exciting. Preparations, waking up early, saying goodbye to Kasia whose house we stayed at with Herve and Goska. Leaving Bangkok I felt relieved, and at the same time slightly nostalgic for all the people I’d met and all that I’d experienced over the last three months.

As we cycled out of Bangkok the city revealed some of its less known places to us. Mistakenly taking a road via Mo Chit we ended up cycling through the slums, narrow streets the width of our bikes with hundreds of little shed-like houses along a stinking canal. When we thought we were lost, an English-speaking farang living locally showed us the way across a little bridge hidden by weeds. This time we chose the right direction – North.

After that each day took us further, revealing new landscapes. One of our first interesting stops was Khao Yai national park. Entering the park we were surprised to have to pay 20 Bhat extra for our bikes – paying more for a clean, quiet form of transport that really gets you close to nature in a national park didn’t seem logical. The road through the park was full of cars, many of them very loud, polluting and deafening any wildlife that might still be left near the road. Some might say cars represent comfort and security. I came to other conclusions – thoughtlessness and laziness.

I wondered how animals could live in this noise, but we did see many signs warning tourists of cobras, elephants and even tigers crossing the road. After seeing this last sign we started to pedal faster, peeking into the jungle that darkened with the setting sun, looking for the silhouettes of animals. The campsite was around 30km from the park gates, so we had a chance to look around. Cycling along the road illuminated by a pink and red sunset and with few cars now, we saw and heard beautiful, majestic birds with horned beaks flying overhead like prehistoric dinosaurs. The loud whoosh of their wigs through the air gave us an idea of their size.

When we finally found the campsite it was dark and chilly. We were at 710 metres above sea level. We quickly put up our tents and went to sleep. In the morning we decided to spend some time discovering the park and the waterfalls. But our day of rest turned into an exciting race through the jungle where we almost spent the night in the company of elephants, tigers and monkeys. Luckily Goska’s orienteering skills brought us back to civilisation just before nightfall. After an hour’s run through the jungle, searching for the narrow and sometimes completely overgrown path, we were safely back in our tents.

The next day in the national park brought us new thrills thanks to Daniel, an American living near Khao Yai park with his family. He invited us to his house and took us for another trip into the jungle, this time to look for a lost plane that had crashed somewhere in the area about two months previously. Our host was well prepared for the search, with good maps, a GPS, lots of information, and especially the will to methodically comb through the jungle. We spent the day in the bush walking along a dry riverbed and climbing steep bamboo-covered hillsides. All this convinced me that the cycle tour that I joined is far from just monotonous pedaling, but a whole series of adventures, often giving me goose pimples and causing my heart to beat faster.

All the beautiful places we reach every day, the Buddhist temples, huge golden Buddha statues, all this is like a good travel book peppered with adventures, which so far, knock on wood, all end well. I am hungry for the next kilometres and places on this continent which I still know so little about…

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