It is just past noon and I have a broad smile plastered onto my face. I have just cycled over my first mountain pass since New Zealand and am now flying down the other side, leaning into the switchbacks with reckless abandon and savouring the cooling wind on my skin. I roll past security checkpoints, nod to armed guards and fondly wave Malaysia farewell. I have chosen a remote and relatively unused border crossing in the mountains, frequented mainly by locals living close to the border.
I am quickly stamped through and continue on, gliding down into a picturesque tropical valley. Within minutes of entering Thailand I have been smiled at by everyone I’ve passed and am panting heavily, having narrowly lost a race to two Thai children on a tiny moped. I ride on for a few hours and camp at a waterfall just off the main road. The next day I continue on and rendezvous with my friend Geraint, an Australian cyclist who I had ridden with for nearly a week in Malaysia after leaving Singapore together. We have arranged to ride together once again as we are both aiming for Bangkok. It is good to have company.
We ride rapidly north, and with each day our daily mileage increases – on our final day we ride almost 200 kilometres. Travel in Thailand is easy, far easier than Malaysia or Indonesia. Roads are good, water is easy to find, people are helpful and the temperature rarely exceeds the low-30s. We camp in a forest the first night, enjoying the reduced humidity as we progress north. On the second day in the afternoon, we are finally caught by the monsoon, which quickly turns the streets into rivers and brings a welcome respite from the heat. Seeking shelter, we are invited to stay the night in a local wat (temple). After this, we end up sleeping in wats for the remaining 5 nights in a row, enjoying the luxury of a roof overhead and a daily bucket shower. The monks are very kind.
We ride 1000km north through Thailand watching the landscape slowly change, becoming ever more arid and rugged. We pass through the rainy season in the south, and almost every day the skies darken and we ride sodden for a few hours until the sun returns to dry us. We see huge limestone cliffs, magnificent wats, pristine forests and enormous golden Buddha statues perched high up on the hills, silent guardians visible for miles around. We also see glaring signs of western influence – 7/11s are everywhere and Coke billboards are worse than sirens to tired, thirsty cyclists.
We arrive in Bangkok on a Sunday morning, having ridden nearly 1200km in just 8 days. I am staying for one week to sort out visas and tune up my bike. Geraint is staying longer, and won’t be moving on for more than a month. When I leave, I will be alone once again. I have been too long in the tropics and am missing the mountains, so I will be riding high into the Chinese Himalayas on my way through to Central Asia. I am looking forward to my first over-4000m mountain pass.
The day before we arrived in Bangkok we made a detour to see the Gulf of Thailand. I was sad to leave, for I will not now see the ocean again until I reach the shores of the Mediterranean. I have a long way to go. Next stop: Laos.