We're cycling again, feeling carefree and happy as we pedal out of our airport hotel, heading to a more centrally located hostel in downtown Bangkok. We're in a new place that smells of flowers and frying garlic, with foodstalls on every corner selling the juiciest pineapples, the tastiest fried rice, the spiciest stir fries, and the iciest drinks we've had since we left home.
Riding amid colorful tuktuks and scooters, big buses and small cars, it's only the two-wheeled folk who can zoom around slow-moving traffic, convening at the front of the line when faced with a red light. Brimming rivers abound, looking full and ready to overflow. The sky holds potential as well with grey clouds tempering the heat, holding the promise of rain.
I cannot get over how lush everything is here, the plant life is so green and tropical! We've haven't even seen the proper countryside yet, and we are falling fast and hard for Thailand.
We decide that every ten kilometers, we'll stop for a snack. First there's delicious noodle soup (with an unknown animal testicle(?) in it, which Tyler bravely eats, reporting it tastes just fine!), and then our second meal is tender chicken cooked in garlic and chili and pepper, fried with jasmine rice.
Ten more kilometers down the road, it is time for an iced coffee. I cannot even describe in words the elation and relief I feel about the fact that they get ICE here. They get the concept of ice, and free ice water, and iced drinks. Oh heavens be praised! We've missed this so much during the last year and half!
After the iced coffee comes a luscious, fragrant pineapple, sweet and delicious, devoid of any acidic bite. The vendor expertly slices it for me, scoops it into a plastic bag, and gives me a skewer with which to stab my fruit. He also includes a bag of what looks like salmon-colored sugar. It turns out to be a mixture of salt and sugar and some other flavor I can't put my finger on just yet. I dip the slices in the crystals to bring out their flavors.
Then there's magenta watermelon, delicious and dripping… Thailand is going to be GREAT.
We've made it through the suburbs and are now in Bangkok proper. We're enthralled by the scenery; everywhere we look there is something going on – women sewing, food vendors cooking, old men repairing fishnets, dogs sleeping, tuk-tuks sputtering along, and the ever-present mass of scooters zooming to and fro.
The road is flat, except for the small bridges that span the dozens of canals and waterways snaking around the city. We stop by this canal to watch a backhoe paddling up the waterway!
The dark, heavy skies we've been riding beneath have finally decided to unleash their bounty. One huge, fat drop gives way to thousands in a matter of seconds. Scooters pull over to don rain coats and wait out the deluge, but we cycle onwards, whooping and hollering with joy. This is so much fun!.
While I don't like being wet and cold, I happen to love a good summer (er… October) rain. It's a different story when we don't have a wet tent to live in, and clothes that won't ever dry no matter how long we hang them up. Today is different. It's a cathartic, joyful rain, a cool drenching gift, which makes for an exhilarating, splashing-through-the-puddles kind of ride.
I've heard that riding in Bankok is crazy, but I feel just the opposite as I'm navigating my way through a maze of traffic. Cycling is the way to go here, and drivers seem respectful of us. There are hardly any honks, and we receive more smiles, waves, and thumb's up than I can count. This isn't crazy; this is one hell of an awesome ride!
Just before we arrive at our central Bangkok hostel, we stop for a proper sit-down lunch. The waitress gives us an English menu, and we each pick our favorites: Panang curry for Tyler, Pad Kee Mao for me. The flavors are complex and delicious. Maybe we're just excited to be here, but they seem to have more depth than we've ever tasted before.
Our hotel is a dream. For twenty dollars a night, we are sleeping in a lush tropical bungalow. The site is on a relatively quiet street (still bustling with scooters and food sellers and markets), surrounded by huge leafy jungle plants. There's an open terrace with dark teak beams, and red lanterns hanging from the ceiling creating a fantastic ambiance.
I really feel like I could live here, amongst these smiles, eating this food. We're in Bangkok. And I never want to leave.