We roll the bikes out of the room in which they have been stored in the hotel. The back of Esther’s bike is making strange squidgey noises as it rolls across the foyer. Sure enough, it has a puncture. A super early start is downgraded, to quite early.
Nakhon Pathom is already busy when we do manage to leave. The little town of Bang Len is programmed into the gps and we are weaving through the back streets, following the little purple line on the screen. We go through market areas that are bought to a grid locked standstill by people trying to do their shopping from the seat of a mopped. It would end in a fist fight back home, but here it works, but only just.
A man squats down on his haunches. He watches us pass, four panniers just passing in front of the tip of his nose. A European would never sit like this, possibly even couldn’t. Meals are eaten like this and the world discussed. They even make it look comfortable.
“When do you think we will see our first caravan?” Actually, thinking about towing a caravan around the world, I realise how difficult that would be. ” Wonder when we will see our first LIDL supermarket? “.
We are, according to the gps, heading directly North. I am the guardian of the gps, it sits on my handle bars and I treat it with due reverence. I will side with it at times of dispute, when Ether still continues to distrust it and occasionally argue against it. Like the tv remote monopoly, and the willingness to spend huge sums of money on Hi Fi, it is possibly a man thing. I think Garmin would be a great dog name.
There are now rice fields on both sides of the road. Workers in wide brimmed hats are industriously dotted across the fields. Rice growing is a major topic on which I have absolutely no knowledge. I am trying to compare it with any of the crops that I understand, and I am failing. It appears to be at all stages of growth. Just sown to recently harvested, and often in adjacent fields. I have not a clue what all these wide brimmed hat people are doing and that bothers me perhaps more than it should.
We stop for an early meal. The usual pantomime of half a dozen words and laughing. The owner disappears and is back a few moments later with what must be every gram of 5Kg of bananas. A gift for the road. It half fills one of the panniers.
We are nearing the town of Bang Sai, when on the horizon a huge white Buddha statue forms from the heat haze. It is unmistakably a Buddha statue and quite unmistakably towering over the trees.
We have stumbled across Wat Phai Rong Wua – Thai Hell on Earth. The WWW. describes the place as ‘ one of the most bizarre tourist attractions on the face of the Earth. Featuring scenes of torture, performed by devilish creatures, this Buddhist temple complex is what Thais expect hell to be like.’ It is a theme park of your worst nightmares.
It is, as far as we can make out, quite a hotspot for Thais looking for a day out with a bit of a message for the kids. It covers a huge site, the focus of which is the Buddha, which is the tallest in the world.
We walk around, rather stunned by what we have walked into. The place is huge and absolutely not on the tourist map. The temperature rises to 40’c, with a migraine inducing intensity of light. It is too hot to linger and we make our way back out to the road past the food stalls and souvenir sellers.
We have been trying all day to find some quiet roads and to be honest we have failed completely. If anything, things are getting busier. We end the day about 50Km short of our next target, the town of Ayutthaya.
This time we do make an early start, and are back out onto the busy dual carriageway at just after sunrise. There is an old country saying ‘ an hour before midday is worth two after ‘. I am a firm believer in this when touring, and here of course you get a choice of 25’c or 35’c to motivate you to get up when it is till dark.
We know from the WWW. that we are in for a treat. Ayutthaya is a World Heritage Site, primarily for the preservation of its vast areas of temple ruins. The rice fields have grown in size as we near the city. It is a fertile area and the city ahead was once the Thai capital.
Smoke from the charcoal fires of stalls hangs in a yellow haze. There is no wind and a low sun. Cherry blossom is out on some of the trees here. A car swerves on an almost blind bend, blocking the road. It does a slow three point turn as he struggles to find the gears. He pulls away. A hundred metres latter, he parks up. The shaved head is followed out of the drivers seat by saffron robes. I would have given him a right bollocking back home for that sort of driving.
Spectacular ruins begin whilst we are still on a busy dual carriageway, with 10Km to the city. We have a hotel in mind and are following the gps to the main temple complex. To left and right there are temples, all in ruin. You could spend a week here to do it justice it is so vast.
We store the bikes and walk to Wat Mahathat. We have got the last two hours of light and already we almost have the place to ourselves. It is stunning, an absolute must for a visit to Thailand and you can read about it here.
A perfect day ends with the first Roti in 500Km. It will be a very sad day when these run out. It may be here, so we buy four of these banana filled treats.
We manage to pick up a quite road first thing in the morning. There is a half hour where the light of an Asian morning, the coolness, the smells and of course the undeniable smugness of having got on the road so early, combine in a cocktail of utter perfection.
It ends quite abruptly. We had been wondering where all the industry was. Thailand has many millionaires, it probably has billionaires, and it certainly has multinationals and a king ranked number 1 in the world monarch rich list. It is not going to be doing that on ‘ gap year and backpacker tourism’.
It is the coolest day we can remember. Just 31’c which makes pedalling past rows of warehouses on a manicly busy road tolerable. It is cool enough for more than one pack of dogs to fancy the tangy flesh of cyclist, and be willing enough to put the effort in. The whistle stops the savage beasts and we get a salute from one impressed Thai.
As we near the town of Phra Phutthabat, there are hills on the horizon. It has been hundreds of kilometres since this last happened and certainly long enough ago for this to feel quite strange. It is early but we start to ask about accommodation. We pick a total lunatic to ask. He laughs, he shakes our hand, he points first this way and then that. Never once does his eyes come to rest or even any sharp focus.
With one last and very firm handshake we move on. The next person considers the concept of maps to be one of the very darkest of black arts. He is actually scared to look at our map or even touch it. He has lived in the town all is life. So, it is a little unclear why he sends us off 6Km in the wrong direction.
A full hour and 10Km later we are standing outside a hotel. It is less than a kilometre from where we had the conversation with the lunatic. The place looks fine, the young lady behind the desk speaks a competent English and looks like a ‘ Bond Beauty ‘.
Bit of a surprise then that I get just 1 hour sleep as prostitutes ply their oldest of trades up and down our floor. I let Esther answer the knock at our door at 4.00am to save confusion.
The highlight of the evening had been a great meal and the very best of ‘ car crash tv’. We have in our 2 years on the road seen Germany’s got talent, through every local variation of indigenous cheap television. Thailand now takes first place with ‘ Dance Your Fat Off ‘.
Half a dozen morbidly obese contestants compete for a dancing prize. There is a twist, as first they are weighed before they start to prepare their performance. Guided by their dance partner, they tone, stretch and then do both to music along with other synchronised movements. Come the big night in front of a hysterical crowd and a panel of judges they strut their stuff.
Points are then awarded for performance and the contestants are reweighed and this nudges their result up or down depending on how good they have been at keeping out of the fridge. You could not package up more ritual humiliation more perfectly into a tv format.
Obviously, we are not so sparkling in the morning as we turn the first pedal stroke. The hills are tree covered, but here is the problem. They look as if in mid winter, with a few hanging on to the occasional brown leaf. Is this the preparation for the blistering heat of summer? It would make sense, but then there is blossom on other trees/ I need to find out.
There are sunflower fields, Cane sugar and rice. This is agriculture on a .LTD after the name scale. I have travelled a long way and most of it I had an idea what was going on in the fields. This is all strange and unknown and a little worrying. Every night almost without fail we have at least one Gecko in our room. For thousands of years people have looked at them as they climbed up and across walls, and then across ceilings. I am so glad that we know how they do that now. We only just found out and I am glad we did, or that would be worrying me too.