Joined: Aug 2009
I pulled back the curtains the next morning to have a look at Bangkok from the 11th floor.
The hotel breakfast was expensive and not open yet, so I figured I'd take my chances with street food at the nearby market. The city is full of places like this – backstreets where the entrepreneurial spirit of the locals has taken hold, and people just sell their wares wherever space allows.
Filled up with fresh coconut waffle and sliced fruit, washed down with the strongest iced coffee I'd ever had, I found myself back in another manic cab ride through peak hour traffic, with me riding shotgun as navigator with my GPS. After half an hour and only 4 near-crashes, I found myself out the front of Bangkok Bike Rentals - a quiet little house-turned-garage in the suburbs. I'd emailed these guys about a week prior, and arranged a days hire of a Versys for about $60 AUD (also less than last nights dinner). As he prepared my bike, I chatted with Alex, a French expat who helped run the place, about our mutual love for KTM's, and the best way to get out of the city without being killed.
My plan was to make a bee-line across the country back-roads for the Khao Yai National park, a secluded little patch of mountain wilderness about 100km north of the city. Alex warned me that it would be unlikely I could get there and back in one day, which seemed odd for such a short distance, and said I should take the main highway and not the back-roads. The traffic, however, was insanity. I really can't emphasise how crazy Thai traffic is – the best way I can described it is a continual state of emergency-grade accident avoidance. Indicating, lane markings, speed limits, red lights – all optional. Combined with a cratered, lumpy and often non-existant road surface, it made for a thoroughly exciting trip out of town.
After getting to the highway and finding it gridlocked as far as the eye could see, I decided to default back to my orignal back-road bee-line. So I took the nearest exit, and promptly found myself out of the frying-pan and into the fire. It seems the exit I'd taken led to a road that was still under construction – not that this stops people driving on it. I'd swapped crazy traffic, for crazy traffic on slick mud with road tires.
Mercifully, after 40 or so minutes of crawling along the-road-that-not-yet-was, I was out of the city, and the road conditions improved dramatically.
This turned out to be par for course for the roads in this area, I realised now why Alex had said my trip would take so long. Riding at even 80kph on these roads required serious concentration, and suspension to match. The Versys, however, coped marvellously, and before long I was blasting along the country highway at a good 100kph, watching the strange new world fly by.
The cool, deserted roads of the Khao-Yai were a welcome relief from the 35-degree madness of the low-country, and I frequently slowed to a crawl to enjoy the sprawling views of the rainforest, and the neat grids of ride fields beyond. That said, it wasn't totally empty, and it wasn't long before I ran into some locals (almost literally).
Still, my flight left at 10pm tonight, so I had to press on. Lunch was just the last few mouthfuls from my gifted bottle of water, setting a bad precedent of skipping meals that would become a problem later on. Up ahead was the Haew Narok waterfall, which turned out to be well worth the stop, both for the waterfall and the insanely steep steps that led down to it.
Being the only white guy for miles, and looking somewhat like a stormtrooper, I found myself frequently press-ganged into photos, and after one such event I enquired with the use of my best elephant pantomime whether I could find elephants nearby. Once the laughter had died down, I was eventually told that the elephants did whatever they wanted, and if I saw one it would come down to luck alone. It was getting on in the day, and as much as I wanted to see them, I decided now was a good time to leave. I bought 2L of bottled water for about 20c from the guide hut, and headed back the way I came. The ride back was as pleasant as the ride out, but it wasn't long before I noticed it was getting quite dark, quite early. The reason for this soon became apparent.
I was being chased, hunted by the dreaded South-East Asian Cumulonimbus. I ran as fast as I could, but to no avail. On the outskirts of the city, the heavens opened. Much like the traffic, I really can't emphasise the intensity of that rain. My suit held up and I stayed dry, but the weight of the water and the wind was enough to physically push your head around as you rode, and the previously-visible potholes became vast lakes across the road, leaving you know idea as to the road surface beneath. Then, to make matters worse, I hit peak-hour traffic.
It was quite literally lane-split, or die. You cannot ride like you're on Australia roads – all hyperbole aside, you will likely be killed. Vehicles swap lanes at random, pushing their way in with bluff tactics, even driving against traffic up the shoulder of the road. If you occupy a spot in a lane, cars will move into it without an indicator or a care, and expect you to simply move out of their way. The realm of the 2 wheeled vehicle is in the space that everyone else leaves spare, and you either use it or get trampled. And so, out of necessity, and for the first time in my life, I threw road rules and caution to the wind, and rode like an outlaw. I took any gap I saw, I did any speed I liked, filtering along behind locals on their scooters when the cars were stopped, and slaloming around all of them when the traffic opened up, blasting everyone behind me with a trail of muddy water in a desperate dash to get to the front of the melee. It was insane, it was incredibly dangerous, and it was the most fun I've ever had riding a bike in my life. I was genuinely sad when I pullled up back outside the BBR shop.
8 hours of riding like a nutter in tropical heat had left me rather pungent, so after discussing the days ride over a beer, Alex let me use the shower out the back.
No hot water, not that it mattered. I said my thanks and snagged a passing metered cab, where I discovered that my previous fares in unmetered hotel taxis had been ludicrous overcharges, and made my way back to the hotel for half what it had cost me to get out there (about $10). I picked up my bags and caught my ride back to the the airport, and the 11 hour flight to Zurich. For the sake of the person sitting next to me, I hoped my shower had done its job.