The flight to Bangkok took under 12 hours. Packing for this trip took many more. How do you cram 3 weeks worth of essentials into two small panniers & a backpack? Especially when the backpack is full of camera gear! Well the answer is that there is not much that’s essential when you boil it right down. However, including motorcycle helmet, jacket, trousers, gloves and boots stressed a standard suitcase to its limit!
Queuing for a taxi at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport was an interesting experience. Having stood in a mile long queue for what seemed like an eternity, we got closer to discover that it split into several distinct lanes. One of them was for short rides, which is what we wanted. Moving into this seemingly empty lane, we then discovered that the mass of swirling humanity at the end was in fact a crowd bearing numbered tickets. At the back of this mass was a small desk, issuing these ‘lottery’ tickets on a first-come first-served basis. We weren’t first & the number 26 I grabbed didn’t seem too high. But we had to wait for 25 taxi drivers to disdain to appear before we were finally off.
On Google maps, the hotel I’d booked was at one end of the airport. This translated into a 35 minute taxi ride! More about Google maps later...
In the morning we had to get a cab into town to collect our bikes. Having handed over 600baht (take off a 0, half, then take off a bit more for NZ$), about $28 to the hotel to secure our taxi, we thought we had probably been ripped off; that is, until we took the ride. Bangkok is a huge, sprawling, concrete metropolis with more highways, overpasses, bridges and billboards than you’ll find in Bladerunner. And the billboards! No wooden frames for these guys. The billboards are steel structures the size of football pitches - no it was too early for an local brew! The ride went on and on, winding into smaller & smaller roads, until we were in alleys too small for two cars to pass comfortably. Over 90 minutes later, we felt the fare was justified.
You know that packing I mentioned? Well, we then had to put it into practise. Needless to say, it was nearly lunchtime before we were able to start our journey. First we had to shoo away the curious cats. There were several at the bike rental office & they were into everything! They found our bags especially curious, burrowing into the pockets. Our challenge was to navigate out of Bangkok and head out towards the South Eastern corner of Thailand. We had been told that morning that other bikers had taken several days to cross the Thai-Cambodian border at PoiPet, which is the main crossing point. So we hastily adjusted our plan & decided to head to the southernmost crossing on the coast, Cham Yeam & visit the Cambodian coast first before heading north through Pnhom Penh. No problem, Google maps will help us there. I had my phone on a mount on my bike, loaded with offline Google maps & a communicator on my helmet so I could hear the instructions... and talk to Simon. Well... There is a very little known problem with offline Google maps, that I only discovered today. There are large blank parts due to “licensing and translation concerns”. What that meant in practise was that my carefully prepared route assist was useless! At least in major parts.
We set off using my well developed Spidey sense. I think you can guess where this is going! I did quite well at first - right direction, sort of right roads. And, I should mention that motorbikes are not allowed on the motorways, so we couldn’t touch the main arterial roads. About a quarter of the way out of Bangkok it all started to unravel. We came across roads we’d seen before & ended up going partly back on ourselves. So, I switched on my mobile plan & went online. Yes, the problems were caused because I was trying to keep off the grid, save a bit of cash! Not worth it. In the end it will cost me $20 for the time we are in Thailand at the beginning, because the Spark roaming pack only lasts one week. What we do in Cambodia, I’m not sure yet. With maps online, at least our direction was clear. The toll roads nearly caught us though. Motorbikes aren’t allowed on toll roads, but Google maps obviously doesn’t recognise them as motorways, so led us right to them. Diving off an escape lane at the very last minute, we then had to guess until Google could redirect us.
After many hours of concrete jungle riding - we literally rode on a six lane road, underneath a massive parallel motorway above us, for several hours - we eventually escaped into the countryside, going cross country to head towards Pattaya City, a destination we never thought we’d see because it is too close to Bangkok. But, it’s only the first day. We’ve got ourselves packed, mobile & out of Bangkok. We found a reasonably priced hotel in what used to be a rather quaint resort, but is now trying to spread it’s tentacles up to Bangkok & had probably the most fabulous shower we’ve ever had. It wasn’t the shower itself, you understand, just the relief of shedding the heavy bike gear & getting refreshed!
We didn’t wander far. Just to the main tourist hub to find a bar & and a bite. Feeling a bit weary, we asked a cab driver if he could take us back to our hotel, just around the corner. “300 baht” we felt was a bit much for a 4 minute ride, so we walked. What a day. The sights and smells of Thailand bring back so many memories for me, and are possibly a bit of a culture shock for my riding companion. Either way, there is a fundamental difference to life here. Nothing is the same as in the West - the food, the language, the culture, the values, the architecture, the scenery, the road rules...