Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bangkok on two wheels

Back in Bangkok and we have plenty to do. First a visa for Laos and then off to the bike shops to find bikes. Fiona and Gordon kindly put us up again when we arrive, but as they're both travelling with work and sorting out the bikes is a lengthy process, we move to a guesthouse in Chinatown. I'm terrible at this shopping thing. We have been researching and thinking about cycling for six months off and on. Along our journey we have met a fair few cycle tourers doing incredible journeys and picked up tidbits of information from them all. (One of the first we met was a German riding across Hungary in 40 degree heat in June - he kindly donated us his washing line which we're still using.) So, in preparation, we have been e-mailing people and looking at websites and seeking advice. What's the most important thing? The saddle. The tyres. A steel frame. A good pannier rack. Decent panniers. The best comment we got was from John Harwood, who is on his last leg (not his last legs) cycling around the world, and who told us that if we asked a hundred cyclists for tips, we'd get a hundred different answers. He's not far wrong. John also reassured us that the first bike we would buy would be the wrong bike for us, so not to worry about it! We'd already drawn the same conclusion - we can get an aluminium framed mountain bike and adapt it to our needs.
sunrise from our bedroom window

For Christmas Santa brought us some quality German tyres which my Mum and Dad posted out to us with our cold weather gear. The latter seems a bit odd when it's reaching 34C here in Bangkok, but we're not sure what it'll be like camping in Sichuan in the Spring. We get our bikes from a small shop near the Khao San Road - Bangkok Tourist Central. The area is pretty dreadful and teeming with all kinds of tourists. Ae, the shop owner, is a very quiet but easy-going man - no hard sell - and I would highly recommend Velo Thailand to anyone looking for a decent bicyle shop in Bangkok. While his two assistants are putting the bikes together, we head off to look for racks and panniers and to draw cash from the ATM. This whole business looks like a large financial risk, but we're banking on travelling cheap once we get going, and much of the gear we buy we hope to be using for the next few years at least. The important thing for us is that we can cycle for the next few months back into China and over to Xinjiang province, the missing piece of our Silk Road jigsaw puzzle, before we return home.
After a week of toing and froing, we are, like a true Manc, sorted. We even have some rather weird clothing apparel. Cycling around the wide busy roads of Bangkok is quite an experience. The air is always blue - sometimes from the motorbikes and tuk-tuks, and sometimes from all the curses I utter. The drivers here are not too bad, but it's kind of hard turning right when you need to get across six lanes of traffic. At least they drive on the right side (that is, the left side) of the road. Finally we load up our bikes and do endless circuits of Lumphini Park on a Sunday, where we can ride carefree and find out how the bikes behave with all the luggage. We're amazed to find that it's much easier to ride the bikes than we imagined. Now all we need to make sure is that we have enough 'medical aids' to deal with the sores, aches and pains..........
Look Mum, no stands!

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