Leaving the tranquil Wat Pho, we return to cycling in Bangkok's bustling city traffic. As we make our way towards the hippy/backpacker ghetto of Khaosan Road, I get a little disoriented. We've been told getting lost in Bangkok is a top number one way to see the city, and it seems to be good advice!
Trying to navigate back to where the GPS says we should be, I make a wrong turn on to a really busy street. Suddenly, the road is packed with people, the sidewalks are lined with electronics shops, and food stalls fill out every empty space as far as the eye can see.
This city is staggeringly dense with activity. While I poke around, ogling piles of cheap connectors, and gawking at a legion of Thai workers with soldering irons (dissembling circuit boards for parts):
…Tara gets us some smoothies, iced coffees, and coconut ice cream. Lunch of champions! Fueled up, we hit the pavement for Khaosan road once more.
After five minutes at backpacker ground zero, we are already ready to leave. Everywhere we look, there are rowdy bars advertising their cheap happy hour prices. It seems to be working, as they are packed to the gills with travelers and locals alike. The more of Bangkok we see, the more we appreciate the quiet location of our guest-house.
Though this street could certainly provide it, we're not here for a wild night out. Tara had a hunch it would be a prime location to find a pair of cheap, comfortable pants. Indeed, after a half an hour of searching, she purchases a pair of bright blue baggy harem pants. They make her look like Aladdin's Jasmine. Or MC Hammer. Successful shopping trip completed, we head towards home.
We are lost again. I have officially given up using GPS in this city. Paying any mind to it only results in a convoluted mess of wildly unnecessary turns and indirect routing. Turning off the tech, I switch to using a compass – our neighborhood is northeast, I reckon following that general direction, and my gut, will do a better job than a piece of electronics.
Bangkok isn't finished with us yet (neither of us particularly minds, it is a lot of fun!). The next turn leads us to an impossibly crowded and narrow street. Before we can look back, we're blocked in by a crowd which has filed in behind us, plugging the exit with a mass of bodies. Unable to go back, we hop off our bikes and inch along with the crowd.
We can't even see above us, the thin band of sky overhead is obscured by hundreds of uneven umbrellas and awnings. It's a fascinating walk, being in the swarm, a mad, in-your-face world of buying and selling. Occasionally, scooters and cars pass through, creating a bow-wave of people pushed to the fringes, scooting to the side, ducking into dark alleys, under awnings of hole-in-the-wall shops.
Once the vehicle has passed with centimeters to spare on either side, its empty wake is instantly swallowed up by the crowd once more. Everywhere, something is happening. I try not to roll over anybody's toes with my bicycle.
By the time we escape the street, the sun has set, and it's dark, save for the yellow glow of lamps and shop signs. We've wound up in Chinatown again, this time by night. Feeling tired, and in great need of re-fueling before finishing our trek home, we stop at a noodle shop for a soya-filled, vegetarian bowl of soup.
It seriously feels like a movie set here – a surreal Epcot version of China, perhaps.
Eventually, we emerge from the maze of Chinatown's narrow, twisted alleys, to a busy, bright main street that I know from yesterday will lead us more or less straight home.
Pulling up to Shanti Lodge, our local fruit seller waves and smiles, directing us towards the side-alley with his hands like he's an air-traffic controller. While I put the bikes away, Tara buy us a couple of watermelon slices, which we devour upstairs in our cool room.
Tomorrow, we're going on a canal-boat tour. I love this city.