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Riding to Bangkok

by Tara

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.

Bangkok Market

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.

Happy Tara

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.

Garlic & Pepper Chicken Fried 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!

Backhoe Paddling Down the River Backhoe Paddling Down the River

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!

Tara in Bangkok Traffic

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.

Thai Woman Cooking Our Lunch Thai Food Cooking Meat & Garlic-Chili Sauce Pad Kee Mao in Bangkok

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.

Our Bedroom at Shanti Lodge

I really feel like I could live here, amongst these smiles, eating this food. We're in Bangkok. And I never want to leave.

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I was lucky enough to live in Bangkok for a while. I would love to go back. The food really is that good, you are not imagining it - although after Mongolia your taste buds are probably being inundated with flavours. Thailand is a very livable place, Bangkok is one of the easiest cities I've ever lived in - that surprises a lot of people. It's the little things too, the smiles, the little touches like iced water when you sit in a restaurant or even visit the bank, the politeness of people. There are a host of little things that make Thailand special. Living in countries like the UK has its advantages, but it's like comparing Mongolian food to Thai food, one is bland and boring, the other alive and exciting - very different lifestyles.
Posted by Tony on November 10th, 2010 at 3:39 PM
Ah, I remember that excitement. It is such a change from Central Asia, so full of sensations and THE FOOD!!!! After mutton soup for months, nothing could be better. Enjoy it guys. And have an iced coffee for us.
Posted by Friedel on November 10th, 2010 at 9:41 PM
Ah, Thailand! It was a wonderful shock to us too, and we went there from New Zealand which was a cakewalk compared with Mongolia!!
Posted by Sarah & Jamie on November 11th, 2010 at 2:44 PM
So glad to see you back on your bikes again. I may have been the only one, but I was getting weary of reading about your friends' car troubles. :-)

Hope you enjoy Thailand as much as I did. Happy travels.
Posted by Andrew Smith on November 11th, 2010 at 3:33 PM
Andrew, you weren't the only one. :) One of the great pleasures of traveling for me is getting away from the car. In a "previous life" I used to spend far too much of my time commuting, the last thing I would do in my free time is try to drive across Mongolia in a clapped out car. I'm afraid the chaos of the morning commute scarred me for life. ;) Luckily I now work from home. Having said that, although all the car troubles were a bit wearing, I thoroughly enjoyed the posts anyway! :)
Posted by Tony on November 11th, 2010 at 3:41 PM
Hey, I wouldn't go so far as to say I was getting weary of car trouble posts. It was daily life for them and what sounds like a heck of an experience - no reason at all not to document it and the emotions associated with the adventure. After all, the journal is for them just as much (if not more) as it is for other readers.

I say, keep doing exactly what you're doing guys. It's the way you talk about everything, from the most exciting stories to the most mundane details of life on the road. :)
Posted by David on November 12th, 2010 at 12:49 PM
Hi David,
Absolutely it needed to be documented - it was an important part of the adventure and will provide Tyler and Tara with great memories for a lifetime. I just meant 'I'm' ready to hear more about the cycling.
Posted by Andrew Smith on November 12th, 2010 at 3:10 PM
Having spent a portion of my childhood in Bangkok, this post warms my heart. Thank you.
Posted by Tarina on August 13th, 2011 at 4:56 PM