Gettin’ Religion on my way to Bangkok

Just as the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.”

– Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

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Welcome to Thailand! Land of Smiles! Land of scams! Land of splendid sun! Land of endless rain! Land of coconut curries! Land of fried cockroaches! Land of hill tribes! Land of tropical islands! Land of devotion to the king! Land of deovtion to the dollar! Every country is a mess of at least a few contradictions, but Thailand seems to be a mess of all of them. Here we go…

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The first sign (no pun intended) that things are going to get interesting pretty quick. I guess the probability of me getting into an accident just about doubled. If you never see this post, you’ll know why.

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The roads out of Vientiane were, understandably, the widest I had seen in all of Laos: two lanes running in each direction. Accordingly, I saw more cars in my three days in Vientiane than I saw in the preceding thirty(ish) days in the north. And yet! I saw more cars than that in my first thirty minutes in Thailand. Not only more carse and lanes, but more of just about everything. Highway dividers. Billboards. KFCs, Pizza Huts, 7 Elevens, Supermarkets, Car Dealerships, Home Improvement Stores, Malls. Laos did not have – dare I say need? – any of these.

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But, to be fair, you know what else Laos didn’t have? Landscapes like this, where you could see almost out to the horizon. Vientiane to Bangkok was about six hundred kilometers of entirely flat roads. I may have written this before, but my average altitude gain in one day in Yunnan or Laos was double the altitude gain of one week in Thailand. What happened to all that energy that was no longer devoted to pushing me over mountaintops? I spent it staring at the endless sky.

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I lucked out with sunsets like this several nights in a row. Then unlucked-out when they turned into downpours.

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Following the advice of my bohemian hostel owners, I spent my first morning on a little excursion to check out the “Sala Kaew Ku,” a big maze of concrete Buddha statues in Nong Khai. The materials were crude and the designs bizarre, but (or so?) I still really liked it.

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For one, Buddhas are just awesome. Buddhism and (the best parts of) Christianity both preach compassion, care for the weak, humility, and the like, but for whatever reasons, be they historical or theological, most Christian art tends to be pretty gruesome. It may well remind us that we ought to be good, but it doesn’t really make us want to be. These Buddhas though, with their serene expressions, their composure, their peacefulness, their wisdom…don’t you just envy them? I don’t recall ever having that feeling when I lived in Italy, not even when I visited the Vatican.

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Like I said…don’t you want to be this guy?

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“The Wheel of Life,” quite a strange work of art. Part role-playing game: you, the sperm, enter the vagina of life, emerge as a child, and then go through the stages. Including, but not limited to…

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This sculpture praying to another sculpture is so Escheresque that I wanted to post it from two different angles.

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The death of love

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Later, on the road, another temple. With a concept I didn’t remember from my last trip to Thailand – before I knew much about Buddhism, I suppose – and with something I’ve never seen in China or Korea: animals praying to Buddha. Or Buddha blessing the animals? Is this Buddhism? Hinduism?

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I don’t know, but there was lots more stuff like this. At the concrete sculpture gardens, there were dogs praying to an elephant. At random spots on the roads, I also spotted lifesize plaster tigers and other animals bowing before Buddha. There was even one with a statue of a white backpacker (Tin-tin?) making an offering.

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Next stop: Phi Mai, an ancient Khmer temple complex, thought to be the predecessor to Angkor Wat. Looks mostly the same, minus the murals.

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Can we all agree that the old blocks are cooler than the new ones?

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And, lastly, a bit of Natural Religion: Sai Ngarm, a giant Bayan tree, also in Phi Mai.

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Banyans have been my favorite tree, ever since I first took note of them in Taiwan in 2008. So much so that I’ve been wanting to do a blog post about how cool they are. I’m scared of sounding like a doofus, though, so I’ll save it for later.

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But, I mean, come on….where does this thing start? Where does it end? Is it all one organism? If not, are they cooperating or competing?

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And how about this one? This one is clearly growing upwards (the trunk was pretty thick just below here), and yet these two separate parts somehow melded together.

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I hate to say it, but isn’t the Banyan kind of a metaphor for life? I mean, life itself? In the sense that all of us – humans, animals, plants, bacteria – are built out of the same stuff, descended from the same source? All this interacting that we do, all these relationships that we’re tied up in, food webs where even the top predators eventually die and get eaten by microbes – isn’t this just what the Banyan is doing when it multiplies out and swallows itself up like this?

Or maybe the tree emits some sort of pheremone that makes me wax philosophic?

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What, this picture doesn’t belong here, it should be part of a food post!

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Except, there’s a story that goes with it! This dude and his family stopped to buy some custard apples, dragon fruit, and corn (weird combination?) and started chatting me up. I figured that since he could speak English, maybe he could intercede on my behalf and see if I could buy one kg of custard apples rather than three. Instead, he just bought them for me! And his wife made him give me half of the dragon fruits. Here’s what he wrote about me on Facebook, via bogus translation:

How many people are expected to pedal a bicycle around the world, I know that who is a widow just to scare him that would eat the beautiful layout, but trader, communication education, I could overlook sanek fit?, I had to pay for the beautiful, brave people this way is OK? Nice to meet you is obviously Mike roy.


Nor was my good luck finished! Later that night, I happened upon a night market, parked my bike, and started wandering around with my begging pot in hand, searching for vegetables while allowing everyong to chuckle at me. I found a few edibles, and just as I was finishing up, this guy (in normal garb) approached me.

I’ll let him tell the story:

“I know the market Mikc roy Dong went to talk (he did not say Thailand. I use both English and sign language 55) I know he came from America and many other countries. And are traveling to. Bangkok, so I asked him. Where to sleep tonight. He said do not know. I invited him to sleep in the room. He is a Vegetarian. I had fried eggs for her to eat. I asked him about the trip to the world. He said he worked in Korea and collect money for the trip. And have a look at his photos”

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Not only did Tor and his wife shelter me and feed me rice, eggs, and mixed mushrooms sauteed with Thai basil – Tor rode with me for the first 50km the next day, accompanying me about 1/3 of the way to Bangkok.


Excerpts from Tor’s facebook report on our meeting feed:

“Take 7 hours 30 minutes. (One to go for AV 17-19 km / h because he was a Touring. Speed ​​is not too high. I have to wait forever).”

“First., I love cycling.
Two., I would like to appreciate the kindness of foreigners to Thailand.”

“(butt hurt very much).”

That just about says it all. Thailand: so far, pretty awesome.

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2 Responses to Gettin’ Religion on my way to Bangkok

  1. Andy Pekema says:

    That sunset photo is incredible; gave me goosebumps.
    Chrissy and I just did a 24 mile ride with 2500 feet of elevation gain, so we know how you’re feeling.
    Keep up the posts

    • Michael Roy says:

      Yeah, that sunset was killer. For about thirty minutes I stopped riding every thirty seconds or so to snap another shot. Unfortunately, it’s been overcast lately, so I haven’t seen many more like it.

      2500 feet…that’s about 500m or so, nothing to shake a stick at! It’s also about the same as the longest climb I’ll have to do during my time in Thailand. Just think about that next time you go for a ride!