Our first real cycling day in Southeast Asia begins with a farewell breakfast from our favorite local vendor. Every time we returned from sightseeing this past week, he waved us in like we were a fighter jet, and he was the flight deck crew. These silly gestures always won him a round of laughter (and a sale) as we coasted the last hundred meters home.
This morning, we say our goodbyes, and buy one last batch of his tasty watermelon:
Though I relished our time here, in the electric buzz of Bangkok and the throng of the traffic that comes with it, the countryside is calling. I am eager to leave the hustle and bustle behind, but my enthusiasm to get moving is no match for the city's tangled mess of traffic – getting out takes quite some time.
After an hour or more spent weaving through a maze of busy city streets, we breath a sigh of relief as we reach the comparatively relaxed suburbs. For most of the day, we pedal down a secondary road which follows a canal directly to our destination of Ayutthaya.
For lunch, we pick up several skewers of unknown meat. After being re-heated in oil, the hawkers toss them into a plastic bags with a ladleful of sweet and spicy chili sauce. A few of them are strangely fishy, but the rest taste just like hotdogs. We're not sure what they are, but they make for a nice high protein snack.
After much deliberation, we've opted to skip getting a rabies vaccination in Bangkok. Our attitude towards dogs has become decidedly cavalier after a year on the road. Though we've heard lots of horror stories and read plenty of how-to-deal-with-dog tactics, we just don't see what all the fuss is about.
Everywhere we've been, the animals we have encountered were overwhelmingly friendly and non-violent. Thailand is no exception, and we stop frequently to say hello to our local canine friends.
We're taking a quick roadside break, sipping from our water-bottles, watching as truckers pull over for the night. The semis coming to rest look more like circus vehicles than long haul machinery, for they are brightly colored and raucously decorated. Even more amusing are the posh coaches that pass us by, painted like rolling Lisa Frank trapper keepers.
While we're busy ogling the whimsical trucks and buses, another cyclist approaches. He's clearly a road biker, decked out in skin-tight lycra, looking like a radioactive parrot. He doesn't have much to say, but when he learns we're riding to Ayutthaya, he says "Follow me!" and dashes away with great, unladen speed.
We don't need his help to find the town; we've been passing very obvious signs for it every few kilometers. As well, we have a GPS leading us directly to the guest-house I picked earlier this week. Even so, we are grateful for a gentle nudge to get us moving faster. The sun sets early here, so if we can keep up, we'll spare ourselves some night riding.
In a race against time, I pedal my heart out, following our Thai cyclist, while Tyler takes up the rear. Every time we pass a parked car, a small puddle, a puppy, or anything else in or near our path, our leader puts his left hand behind his back, and without looking at us, waves the air, pretending to scoot us over with his fingers.
He seems serious and stern, eyes constantly scanning for possible disaster now that we are under his wing. His level of care is sweet, but hugely unnecessary, and we have to stifle laughter every time he gives us his safety wave.
With the help of our new leader, we reach town safely, without running over any people, or speeding headlong into parked cars. Just as the skies surrender their last bit of light, we thank the cyclist for his help, shake hands, and say our goodbyes.
Message from the future: Safety waves are now a regular part of our ride. A guaranteed chuckle every time!
Tonight's guest-house, Bann Kun Pra, is on the river, a rambling, colonial bungalow that used to belong to a wealthy family. In our room, there's a jungle safari hat resting on an antique bookshelf, old paintings, photographs hung on the dark wooden walls, and a rusty fan churning cool air around.
There are so many interesting books, photos, and paintings decorating the room, that I feel as if we've just walked into a stranger's very full and interesting life. On the wall, there is a picture of a handsome young man in uniform, and I find myself completely enthralled with it. Who was this person? Where was he stationed? Did he leave his love behind?
We're so excited about our atmospheric surroundings and the free wi-fi that comes with them, that we give Tyler's little brothers and sisters a call. We take them on a tour of our room, showing them the nifty old pictures and jungle hat, and then Tyler spots a couple of real, weighty swords leaning up against the wall that we hadn't even noticed. Gabe is a little disappointed that we don't get to keep them.
Then, we take the kids on a short tour of the guest-house. Just as he is showing them the terrace, one of the hotel employees walks by and sees that a few young little faces on-screen. Without missing a beat, she walks up and smiles, placing her palms together at her chest. She gives a quick bow and a very sweet "sawadee kaaa" before going along on her merry way, leaving a few central-Minnesotan kids in a state of utter shock.
Tyler laughs and says "that means hello!" Isaac stares out in dumbfounded silence, and Gabe, still agog, manages to stammer "I know, I figured, I just didn't know what to say back!"
As we snuggle together, ceiling fan whirring overhead, thunder rolls in across the river and rain begins to fall heavily on the roof of our little room. The pale yellow lamp at our bedside flickers as lightning crashes, and we feel like we've been transported back in time to the 1800s.
Our imaginations are getting the better of us, and we're talking excitedly about what it must have been like to travel then. What an adventure! Exploring the unknown without guidebooks, or the internet – seeing places where scarcely another foreigner alive had been. In our minds, we're no longer in Thailand, but in a wilderness of our own imagining…
We're intrepid young doctors or scientists, anthropologists or school teachers. We've hacked for days through the jungle just to get here, and we had to get special permission from the local chieftains just to be allowed passage. Rumors of tropical diseases lurk outside in the dark, and there's an ever-present fear of tigers and snakes and deadlier creatures. In our tiny little palm hut, our hurricane lamp swings wildly in the stormy gusts of wind, sending shadows dancing around the room.
Eventually, we come back to reality; it's just us again, modern day travelers in a very small world, ready for bed. The storm continues unabated throughout the night, the sound of pattering rain and rumbling thunder lulling us into a deep, restful sleep.