One, two, three upshift, four, five, six, upshift, seven, eight, nine pedal strokes and I am passing cars already. My unladen touring bicycle is a featherlight rocket, powered by calves delivering torque meant for a machine well more than double this weight. I am superhuman. Ten kilometers per hour, twenty, upshift, thirty, upshift, forty.
This city is a perpetually gridlocked obstacle course, a sea of idling engines, collectively ensuring that no one gets anywhere. I am speeding through a gang of tuk-tuks spewing pollution into the air. I am weaving through an opening here, now an opening there, narrowly missing mirrors everywhere. I love riding in heavy traffic.
Scooters jockey for position, blasting down the streets from all angles, beside, behind and in front of me. One passenger, two passengers, no, make that three plus driver to a single bike! A microcosm with a thousand nooks and crannies to explore flies by with every passing block – Bangkok is a planet unto itself!
I am track standing in a crosswalk with thirty scooters. We are watching a countdown on the traffic light in front of us, waiting for it to reach zero, signalling the change to green. 5, 4, 3… close enough, and GO!
Tyler just tore off into traffic, on a mission to buy a frame pump, so we can inflate my slowly leaking rear tire. Our spare was destroyed by leftover sands of the Gobi this morning. The discovery that we could disassemble it to clean out the grit came just a few minutes too late.
Our main pump? Stolen in Romania. (Which is still one of our favorite countries!)
I can't say that I mind having to push back our day of errands and sight-seeing for an hour or so. There are worse places to be stuck for an hour! With a sigh of peaceful contentment, I park myself on the dark, teakwood swing just outside the patio. It hangs under a canopy of green viney plants with sweet-smelling flowers tucked amongst their leaves.
Behind me, inside Shanti Lodge's open-air restaurant, pink lanterns sway in the breeze. Near the staircase leading to our room, a trickling fountain tumbles into a small, koi-filled basin, providing a soothing soundtrack of lapping water. Rocking to and fro, lazily journaling, I observe the comings and goings of the narrow alleyway before me.
Under the shelter of my porch swing, I watch as overcast skies open up for what is becoming a daily ritual: the mid-afternoon downpour. While the clouds above hurl fat raindrops towards the ground, many people reflexively pop up their oft-used umbrellas. The ill-prepared run for cover, or use whatever they have in hand to unsuccessfully shelter themselves. Still others continue on uninterrupted, as though the downpour isn't happening. I wonder how Tyler is faring in the rain. I bet he's enjoying it!
I've successfully purchased two new bicycle pumps, and a patch on a slow leak has made Tara's rear wheel as good as new. The rain has stopped, but water still flows in rivulets throughout Bangkok's busy streets as we zip through traffic once more. My wet clothes are already dry when we arrive at our first destination of the day: Siam Paragon, a glitzy, modern shopping mall of mammoth proportions.
Pulling up, we gape at a line of people stretching three blocks strong; it snakes around two sides of the mall! After we've locked our bikes, curiosity gets the better of us, so we follow the crowd to see what the fuss is about. We both crack up laughing when we see the object of several hundred Thais' desire: a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop with the neon light brightly indicating a hot batch, fresh out of the fryer!
We skirt around the American institution, and walk into the mall via a door adjacent to the long line. Inside the building, we're assaulted by a jarring abundance of advertisements, placed at every possible line of sight. There are irresistibly delicious signs for food, ridiculously overpriced high-fashion merchandise, and hundreds of flat screen TVs all playing different movies in high definition.
It has been a long time since we've seen the inside of a real mall, and it strikes us as very, very over the top. Having a mountain of resources at an arm's length is appealing, though. Avoiding temptation, we walk quickly to a huge English bookshop where our goal is to buy is a set of guidebooks for Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
The strongest temptation of all awaits us inside; we are such suckers for books! Entering the travel section, we find Rough Guides books for each country, and head to the checkout counter. On a related note, we were recently commissioned to write two articles for the company! One of them is about cooking on the road, and the other is on finding a good wild-camp.
Our next port of call is Bangkok's lively and colorful Chinatown. On the way, a combination of hunger, and the ubiquity of good street food on every corner waylays us. We screech to a halt when an irresistible smell wafting from a noodle stand calls out to us.
Two girls (the noodle-chef's daughters) who have been occupying the only places to sit, happily hop up and are thrilled to use their budding English skills: "seet, seet down!" Then, they bring our plates of pasta, steaming hot, fresh from the wok. I got these thin round noodles:
Tara went for her favorite wide, flat, translucent rice noodles:
Like everywhere else in Bangkok (so far) smiles follow us. After delivering our noodles to us, the chef's elder daughter delightedly assists us in ordering iced coffee, "gahfay yen", and also teaches us that "arroy" means "dee-leesh-us"! What a sweetheart!
While we eat, we learn from an old man, also patronizing the small noodle stand, that this coming week is Bangkok's yearly vegetarian festival in Chinatown (take note, Tim!) A yellow flag at a restaurant means the chef is cooking with meat-alternatives like tofu and tempeh during the holiday.
Eventually, we make it to Chinatown and snap a zillion photos as we wheel our bikes around, marveling at the mass of crowded streets and narrow alleyways clogged with bustling humanity and many things for sale.
By the time we're done, it's nearly dark. A bit wearily, we follow the bright lights of the tuk-tuks, and head back to our hotel. Tomorrow, we're off to see the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.