Together, we rip into our bicycle boxes like they're giant Christmas presents, throwing scraps of cardboard and tape and plastic wrap in a big pile in the corner of the room. Tyler spends the morning re-building our machines, while I reorganize our now tiny-seeming collection of gear into the panniers.
We've shed something like 10kg (22 pounds) apiece – anything we deemed unnecessary for cycling in Southeast Asia was donated or sent back with a friend in Canada. Most notably, our sleeping bag and tent have returned home; camping is now a thing of the past on this adventure, as we're told there will be guest-houses galore.
Knowing we'd be eating street food non-stop, our pantry was ditched, as were my spices. All that remains is our stove and an empty pot, just in case. No camping, just lazy, palm-lined guest-houses. No cooking, just fresh food straight from roadside vendors. Coming back to our bicycles is like coming home; everything has a place and everything is in its place. Except now, we're not bursting at the seams! Life just got a little roomier.
Though we're busy getting ready for the next phase of our trip, and I know we will very soon be spending plenty of time outside, I can hardly stand to be indoors today. Between packing each pannier, I run over to our little balcony, slide open the glass door, and stand outside looking down at the country we will call home for the next month.
There are children playing and riding their bikes, stray dogs lazing about in the heat. People are selling all manner of foods, and new and foreign music fills the air. There is so much new world out there to explore, and I can't wait! Eventually we decide to take a break, and venture into Thailand for the first time in the light of day.
I am in love. There's a warm humid air tempered with cool breezes, and palm trees swaying to and fro, and a new language lilting in my ears. I close my eyes and smile, breathing in deeply the smells of my new surroundings: nose-searing chili peppers, jasmine rice, and fresh pineapple, expertly cut from its sharp exterior by a smiling man. We buy a bag of the luscious, ripe fruit for pennies.
My body is happy here, seeming to thank me for feeding it fresh fruits and vegetables, saving it from the mutton and potato diet we subsisted on in Mongolia. I love the changes here. Radiant smiles beam from everyone we pass; a young child with palms together gives a little bow towards us as he grins and says "sawadee kap". This place, this change, is just what I need.
If today's meals are at all representative of what the rest of Thailand will be like, I know we won't go hungry. First up, fried rice, and spicy green papaya salad with a crab on top. The crab is a little intimidating because I don't know how to eat it, but I snap off a leg or two and suck out the salty brine inside. I'll figure out the rest soon!
After lunch, we go for a stroll, stopping to watch a man busy cutting dough, sticking two pieces together with a brush of water that acts as glue. Neither of us can figure out why they are frying them in these little connected pairs.
When they're ready, he slips them into a pot of hot oil:
…and cooks them until they are golden brown:
We have to buy some, of course.
Outside, at dusk, we go for a test-ride on our newly re-built bicycles, just to make sure everything is working properly. Some minor brake adjustments later and we're ready to go. Nice work Tyler! Elated to be biking again, we go for a lengthy ride around town, loving the feel of our legs pumping up and down, looking left and right at the constant buzz of activity occurring around us. The city feels like a movie set!
Light sparkles across the river cutting through town. We stop to lean over a bridge, gawking at the homes, built high above the water's edge on stilts. In the darkness, they seem to float. A lizard skitters by on the railing. Somewhere there's music playing, a haunting mix of rising and falling tones. Dogs are everywhere, mostly asleep, though we pass some adorable puppies pawing at their mother.
After our ride, we stop for one last snack: a crepe drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and "OBATEE, OBATEE!", which I eventually realize means Ovaltine.
I have to wait patiently while the man fries the tasty treat, his last of the night:
…and then he presents it proudly with a huge, joyous smile:
It's official. We love Thailand already!