“Crazy,” “stupid,” “mad,” “death wish?” and “why?” are just a few of the puzzled responses I get when I tell people I cycle to school….. in Bangkok!
I particularly like the last one; “why?” my girlfriend asked me, “your school is so far!” True, at roughly 7 km from home it’s not exactly close, but it’s not at the end of the world either. I could pretend to be on some environmental crusade, or that I’m desperately trying to save my baht, or even the pretence of a trendy workout routine (all worthy causes may I add), but the truth is, I do it because I love it! I ride purely and simply for fun. Let me explain……
My day usually starts just before 6 AM with a quick wash and dress, followed by my first inhale of the Bangkok air from my balcony. It’s fresh and cool, just a few clouds, and a light reddish hue on the horizon – perfect conditions for a bike ride. Within a few minutes, I’m gliding past the security guard with a friendly ‘sawadee krap’ onto the Bangkok tarmac. It’s dusk, just light enough to see, and I’m alone softly peddling up my small soi. Bangkok is quite a leafy, green city in parts, and as I advance further, leaves from an overhanging tree kiss my left cheek. I set a steady, gentle pace, breathing in the cool refreshing air, to the barely audible voice of James Brown from my earphones. I love these first few minutes of my ride. Bangkok feels completely still. Just me and my bike (and James).
Suddenly, my senses spring into action, a motorcycle taxi zips past my right handlebar. A few metres later a curious dog ventures onto the road. Then the smell hits me, uurrghh! As I veer to the left onto the adjacent soi, I’m greeted by the giant rear end of a rubbish truck. Lovely stuff. Swiftly overtaking, I reach an intersection, and am greeted by the first rays of sunshine, as Bangkok begins to awake. I pass the hard working ladies who sweep the roads, with their long, witch-like brooms. There’s one lady I never forget; during my first week, she cracked me on the side of the head with her broom handle as I rode past (accidentally of course) and she has given me a broad smile every morning since. Now the cars start to overtake me, one after the other, but I keep my steady rhythm (despite James Brown telling me to ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’). Now the street vendors are awake and setting up, as I breeze through the smokey aroma of barbecued mu ping wafting from the roadside. My stomach tells me to stop, but in Bangkok you’re never far from yummy street food, so I carry on. Shortly after I meet a friendly face, he comes running across the road to meet me, tail wagging. I stop briefly to say hello, and give his soft, dirty, white fur a stroke. He used to bark at me, but now we’re good friends, I think we’re used to each other’s smell now.
I stop again, this time at a petrol station about 500 metres from the school. Dressed in t-shirts and shorts I enter the toilet cubicle. Five minutes later I exit, in shirt, tie, trousers, and waistcoat, my transformation complete. Several taxi drivers congregate here in the morning and they have their rituals too; shining their cars, smoking, and socialising. I recall my very first day at school where I had come out of the toilet and proceeded to the mirror to straighten my tie to a chorus of wolf-whistles from the congregation. Four months later, I’m not quite the attraction I once was, but in their broken English (and my very limited Thai) we can share a few laughs before school. By the time I arrive at the school gates I feel fantastic.
One of the main reasons I find myself in Thailand, is through a love of travelling and exploring. While we all travel for different reasons, I particularly enjoy adventure and the pursuit of life’s simple pleasures. Even though I’m working in a school, cycling there everyday fills me with the same thrills I get from travelling; whether it be a stunning sunrise, a friendly greeting, the ‘waft’ from a street vendor, or simply a playful street dog. What makes cycling such an amazing way to travel is your ability to interact with the world around you, at a pace of your choice. Yes, it rains (a lot), it’s hot and humid, the roads aren’t perfectly smooth, and people drive fast, but hey nowhere’s perfect. I choose to embrace these challenges – they make life interesting and give me a sense of variety everyday.
On the surface, Bangkok is a big, crazy, hectic city, but for me this is all part of its charm. By immersing yourself, and opening your senses to all that’s around you, there is adventure everywhere. No day is ever the same, Bangkok is never boring, especially on a bicycle.
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