Thailand, by Land: Part Two

I headed out of Nakhon Sawon refreshed and with several goals in mind: 1) to make it to Chiang Mai by the weekend so I could spend time with my friend and my couchsurfing host; 2) concordantly, to bust my ass for four days so that I’d be able to say I’d made the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in a week; 3) to continue my four-night streak of managing free accomodation; 4) to savor my final days of riding solo. And, I suppose, 5) to complete my first year on the road without experiencing death, dismemberment, or other major trauma. Spoiler alert: I did it!

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Enjoying my last four days alone was by far the easiest of the missions I had set myself. By now I had grown confident that my map was accurate, that the back roads would all be paved, and that my language skills, pathetic as they were, would suffice to keep me full of veggies. All I had to do was lean back (figuratively) and watch the clouds float by.

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On some days, I listen to podcasts about current events, politics, linguistics, Buddhism, and philosophy for hours on end. Especially when the roads are wide and the sound of traffic predominates.

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When I get out into the countryside, though, it’s often enough to just look at the clouds and be blown away.

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I had to dismount and let my jaw drop for a few minutes; the words of Korean agricultural activitst Lee Tae-geun came to mind: “Simply breathing is happiness enough for me.”

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The most joyful moments of my trip often come about unexpectedly. Overwhelmed by cloud-awe and dying for a drink, I pulled over at a coconut stand staffed by three women and one man. Ask the price: 10 baht ($0.33), the cheapest yet! I order one, watch then gesture madly that I don’t need their straw and go over to my bike to get my own. Drain the coconut in one long, greedy suck while they all gawk at my spandex and desperation. Gesture that I want them to chop it open for me, then head over to my bike and return with my own spoon. Plop down next to the man on the bench and try my best not to let answering their questions about where I’m from, where I’m going, and whether or not I’m enjoying the coconut reduce the speed with which I devour said coconut. Everyone, myself included, chuckles at my oddity, my absurdity, and the utter single-minded focus with which I consume the coconut.

It’s hard to describe why this moment made me so happy; it wasn’t the satisfaction of desire or satiation of thirst, but the simple honesty of it all. No second thoughts, no reservations, no qualms, no doubts: just me, a couple villagers, a transaction, and smiles all around. I wish that I weren’t writing about it ten days after the fact…

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Determined to keep up at least 110km a day, I rode until just after the last light was gone, then found myself yet another temple to camp at. Each temple seems to be more or less totally different; this one had a couple of old monks and a whole crew of ladies (nuns?) in white. One of them told me to pitch my tent directly under the 4AM wakeup gong. Then they all retired to the main worship chamber at about 8PM and made sure I understood not to try to come in. I hadn’t managed to stop for dinner, so I stooped to a new low: a slice of bread from Tesco wrapped around a dwarf banana, topped with crushed potato chips that the monk three nights before had given me. Then another, this time with green pea snacks. And a few handfuls of whatever other fruit I had left over.

The following morning, I awoke at 3:45 to a monk shuffling around. I thought about getting up and prepping for an awesome action shot of him gonging right outside the tent, but my tent sponsorship deal (!) hasn’t officially started, so I rolled over and pretended to sleep through the clangs. I dozed a little more, packed up, and went to say goodbye, figuring that I wouldn’t have time to wait for the alms and that I didn’t really want to take too much advantage of their hospitality. Even so, they nuns fed me instant coffee, some sort of powdered soy milk, and the single most disgusting, pointless, depressing 7-11 style snack I’ve eaten to date: super-low quality white bread with filthy, thick imitation margarine slathered all over the top. Stored in a puffed-up plastic bag for months on end, no doubt. I guess the accommodation did come with a price after all.

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The nuns took me to the Buddha hall, led me through some devotional bowing, flower-giving, and incense-lighting, took me to a monk to get a goodbye blessing, and then let me go on my way. I rode all day long with my eyes glued to the mountains, trees, clouds, and their reflections in the rice paddies, every village I passed more beatiful than the last. Amazed by everything and everyone. A sense of total acceptance of the present moment.

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I guess there’s always a point where confidence turns into foolhardiness. I had moved from single-digit highways to double-dight highways to quadruple-digit highways to quadruple digit “rural roads,” all without incident, so I decided to follow an unlabeled shortcut on my map that connected two rural roads. After a few kilometers of promising paving, it turned into this.

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An hour-long slog through a forest with a sand floor! Even this couldn’t wash away my sense of “everything in my life right now is awesome.”

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And then, not too long after, “I am royally screwed.” Dirt road, no buildings in sight, and dark, thick clouds on the horizon. Rain within ten minutes, no doubt about it. Thankfully, it only took me twelve to find the nearest village and another two to make it to their temple, where I once again camped out and mooched Ramen from the monks.

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The next day, if I rode hard enough, would be my last. And what a last! No rain, perfect skies, and paved roads surrounded by longgan trees heavy with fruit.

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And a bit of Magritte-esque scenery.

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Longgan season! Sweet, succulent, clean…yet another perfect fruit.

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And, to round it all off…a field full of orange hats. Hopefully that will astound you enough that you don’t notice when I finish this post without any particular analysis into what a year on the road has done to me. I promise, though, that’ll be up…sooner or later.

Now, onto more farming!

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2 Responses to Thailand, by Land: Part Two

  1. 쿤밍의 권형님 says:

    마이크~~~
    안녕하신가?
    오랜 만이네!
    생각이 나서 보고 나가네~
    그림들 보니 느낌이 좋네
    언젠가 또 보겠지!

    • Michael Roy says:

      권형님! 확인해 주셔서 감사합니다 🙂 전 잘 지내고 있고 지금 엄마와 아빠와 함께 여행 중이에요. 다음 달부터 다시 자전거 타기 시작! 추석 잘 보내시고 어디서든지 또 만나요!