21 Again!

12 September 2019

Friday 6 September 19 – Sisophon (Cambodia) to Aranyaprathet (Thailand) – 57km

As ever it was with some trepidation that we set off for another border crossing. It was a dull grey day with skies that threatened rain, which did appear for a bit during the ride to the border, but nothing to slow us down. We got to Poi Pet on the Cambodian side of the border by 9am and it had obviously rained hard shortly before we arrived as half the centre of town was flooded, which meant we had to cycle through 20cm of water trying not to get too wet.

The border itself was utter chaos! Probably the most disorganised crossing point we’ve been through. There were people, cars, scooters, trucks, roadworks all vying for position, which meant that we completely missed the departures building in Cambodia. We’d cycled across no-mans-land before realising our error and had to turn back and fight our way back through the melee again! A friendly (he was friendly, honest, the picture doesn’t do him justice!) policeman looked after our bikes…

…whilst we were checked out of Cambodia by surprisingly friendly staff and a speedy process. We then retraced our steps back to the Thai border gate, filled in an arrivals form, had our passports stamped and were through to Thailand – back into country 21 of our trip again! The whole process, even with our cock-up took no more than an hour. In the process we crossed over to ride on the left hand side of the road again, probably the last changeover in our journey!

So, we  arrived in Thailand just after 10am.  We had planned to stay with a WarmShowers host in the border town of Aranyaprathet, but as we’d done so well on time we decided to explore whether we could get the train to Bangkok a day early. As ever we got local currency and a SIM card sorted and then found the train station where we discovered that there was a train at 2pm…. result! Though we don’t like letting people down, the WarmShowers host was very understandings and said we should jump on the train.

As we have said before using aeroplanes, buses, trains and boats are quite traumatic for us because things have a tendency to get out of our control. Getting on this train was no exception. The guards helped put our bikes and bags on the train, which was great, but they stood our bikes on their back wheels to fit them into a small space on the train – not ideal. We have 16 bags altogether and there’s every chance of losing something, but after a quick check we appeared to have everything and were on the train, which was already moving anyway – with the doors all open!

This was definitely the slow train to Bangkok.  All told it was 6 hours of quite dull scenery, so we don’t feel we’ve missed anything by not cycling it! As it was very warm and humid all the window and doors were open – not something you’d see in the U.K. as health and safety wouldn’t allow it. It did make for a crazy hair experience for Martina though…

The train stopped at literally every tiny station along the route (note the sleeping men in the picture)….

 

We were a bit nervous about getting off the train on arrival in Bangkok but as it was the final stop it was easier as we had loads of time to get our stuff off. We then loaded the bikes up on the platform and wheeled them out of the station. Of course, by this time, it was dark (8pm), so our 5km journey to our accommodation was a little more exciting than we’d want after such a long day, but largely uneventful. The traffic in Thailand is positively brilliant in comparison to the other South-East Asian countries we have been to recently.  No one pulled out on us or cut us up – just remarkable!

We were pretty grimy by the time we arrived so our well-deserved showers were bliss and then it was time for food and a we’ve-made-it-to-Bangkok celebratory beer…

Bangkok 7 – 10 September 19

Our Bangkok visit was a blend of chores, sight seeing and bicycle stress over the course over four days….

Because we arrived a day earlier than expected we got last minute accommodation sorted in the same building, which was great at the time but unfortunately meant hanging around on our first day to move to our correct room. But it did mean that we could get our chores mostly out of the way – especially a haircut for Martina, as the last one was in Mae Sot at the end of May.  She hadn’t been brave enough to try for one in Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia! We also got a load of shopping for our onward journey and managed a stroll around Lumphini Park, which was very pleasant…

It’s rather like Regent’s Park in London with loads of people out and about jogging.  There was even an open-air concert by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra going on!

We took advantage of the coin-operated street-side washing machines that we loved when we were last here.  Saturday night in our room was a bit like partying in a Chinese laundry…

Oh, the glamour of life on the road!

On Sunday we were fortunate to meet up with Hannah, another long-distance cyclist, who we last saw when we were cycling into Vang Vieng in Laos on 16 June and have been in touch with since. Hannah is on a 2-years-or-so trip to England and had been rather side-tracked in Bangkok hooking up with friends, which meant our schedules collided in a good way! We met her for lunch in the MBK shopping centre and had a good old yarn for a couple of hours….comparing notes and talking all things biking of course!

We then had to drop our bikes off with a mechanic to get the much-needed service and other necessary bike maintenance done. The cycling journey across Bangkok wasn’t half as difficult as we’d expected and we were back at base in time for dinner.

Finally, by the time Monday came around we had some time to do some sightseeing and first on the list was the Grand Palace and the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. To get there we took a river taxi as the notoriously slow traffic in Bangkok was living up to its reputation…

The Grand Palace is the official residence of the King of Thailand and is right next to the complex of temples and other buildings, one of which houses the famous Emerald Buddha.

We were warned that there would be loads of tourists at the temple and sure enough they were there! The complex is stunning though…

…and although the large numbers of people was more of a slight annoyance they didn’t really detract from the buildings, which the photos don’t do justice to at all.   There is a large golden stupa, which is said to house remnants of Buddha himself – there was no mention of which bits of Buddha this time, unlike at some of the stupas we saw in Myanmar where there are bits of tooth and bones. It does make you wonder what exactly happened to Buddha’s body when he died though….

Mosaics made up of coloured ceramic tiles, gold tiles and small mirrors cover nearly all of the buildings…

…making the whole complex it very spectacular. There’s a no-photography policy in the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha, so no pictures, but it was also very spectacular. The Buddha himself is quite small and is, in fact, made out of Jasper not Emerald. He has different costumes to wear for spring, summer and is currently wearing his rainy season outfit. The murals on the walls on the inside depicting Buddha’s life were particularly good, however, the experience couldn’t be described as serene with the hundreds of people all vying for a look. It is the most sacred Buddhist site in Thailand, so it was a bit of a shame that’s people weren’t paying it a bit more respect.

The Grand Palace is no less spectacular, but it was a shame that we couldn’t go inside any of the buildings…

 

 

We then went for a wander through the centre of the old part of Bangkok. I had some preconceived ideas (based on nothing!) of what Bangkok was going to be like – something akin to old town Dhaka, with tall old buildings, narrow streets and very dirty – but it’s nothing of the sort. The whole inner city area is mainly made up of colonial-style low-rise buildings (so no more than 4-5 storeys), wide roads and has very little litter, so it has a nice feel to it. There’s also lots of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants at ground level…

We passed a very unimpressive ‘Giant Swing’, which is still used for Brahmin ceremonies by the nearby temple, as well as the Democracy Monument on our way to Wat Saket, a temple set on the top of a hill. This was very much a randomly-selected destination and turned out to be quite a find as the small hill that the temple sits on gives great views over Bangkok…

The whole experience at this temple was much more serene than at the Emerald Buddha, which we really enjoyed. The old part of Bangkok is located in a corner of the Chao Phraya River and outside of this area is modern-day Bangkok, with big skyscrapers, new apartment blocks and multi-lane roads. We stayed in one of the ‘villages’ which we assume used to be outside the old city but has been consumed by the new.

We also visited Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho), which is better known as the temple of the reclining Buddha. We have seen plenty of Buddhas during our travels….sitting, standing, reclining, etc… so we didn’t know if this one would be any different. But the complex was very spectacular and much less crowded than at the Emerald Buddha…

..and the reclining Buddha was very big (though not the biggest reclining Buddha we’ve seen) and impressive…

We particularly liked the soles of his feet which were inlaid with mother of pearl…

We wandered through the very extensive China Town area of the city…

…we even managed to make chores fun by each taking a motorcycle taxi to the train station to buy our advance train tickets for our onward journey …

 

One big downside to our entire time here was that we were of course stuck with the song ‘One Night in Bangkok’ as an ear worm. It wouldn’t be so bad if we knew more words than just ‘One night in Bangkok der der der der…’!

And in the midst of all the sightseeing we had some bike drama going on the background that we hadn’t expected. When we dropped the bikes off at the mechanic’s shop it was almost as if they did that thing you see where the clown’s car stops and all the wheels, doors and panels fall off….! From having perfectly functioning bikes until now they both just seem to fall apart here.

We’d noticed that bottom bracket bearings on Martina’s bike needed replacing and we’d been carrying a spare set, but the mechanics couldn’t replace them as he didn’t have the right tools.  He was also to change the seals and oil in our hubs, put on new rear tyres, fit new belt drives (which we were also carrying) as well as give the bikes a full service. He couldn’t fit a new belt drive on my bike as the chain ring appeared to be bent. And while while doing the work he could get done the mechanic noticed that they bikes had badly cracked rear wheel rims – not good – especially as he didn’t have a suitable replacement. After much humming and haaing we organised for new rims to be sent from the U.K. to a shop in south Thailand where we can get them fitted. Riding on cracked rims is really bad especially when carrying the weight that we are. We’ll just have to hope that they last until we get to the next shop but we do have bus and train options should it all go horribly wrong.  And looking on the bright side, if there’s a country to have dodgy rear wheels then Thailand is it as they have super smooth roads here. We also ordered a new chain ring from the U.K. so that my belt drive can’t hopefully be fitted in south Thailand when we get there…an 800km ride away!

Our onward journey is now slightly dictated by when our spares arrive from the U.K. and hoping the other shop can do the work to get the bikes back in tip-top shape.  Fingers crossed!

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