Thailand. Burned (again)

Thailand

by | Feb 24, 2017

Getting on a plane in India after 2 months and landing in Thailand was like an alcoholic leaving an AA meeting and going straight to Mardi Gras. Overload. The food. The conveniences. The FOOD! “Thai Suicide” is what my friend Taylor calls it, after recently cycling through Thailand. The food is so amazing that it may in fact be possible to gorge oneself to death. “Of course. You’ve been eating dirt for 2 months,” scoffed my friend Rex from Hong Kong. Now that I think about it, that isn’t far off. The street food in Thailand is truly a spectacle, especially in a touristy city like Chiang Mai, where I will begin my cycle tour of the northern mountains. Fresh fruits, juices, vegetables, curries…everything that I love. Everything that I have been without but didn’t realize I was missing. I’m eating like it’s my job.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to consume enough fresh mango.  There are also the ubiquitous meat sticks on every corner, which I don’t indulge in. My favorite however is the street sushi, about $0.15 per piece (which I overdosed on). I label myself a “vegaquarian”, a vegetarian who eats the occasional sushi. In the evenings, there is a night market where all the food carts gather in one area. Seriously, it’s dangerous here. I need a sponsor because I cannot be trusted to go out alone.  The first night I spent less than $6 and could barely make it back to my hotel. Speaking of…the accommodations are equally as amazing. The rooms all have zippy fast wifi, crisp CLEAN white sheets (the kind you can sleep IN instead of ON) and hot showers. I’ll confess. I didn’t need a hot shower since it is 95F, but I took one…because I could. I have had only cold bucket baths in a dark cinder block room for nearly 2 months. “You were sleeping in dirt for 2 months,” quipped Rex again. Noted, and also not far off. “We got bed bugs in Myanmar,” was the message from my Swiss cycling friends today. “I got room service,” I jabbed back. After 5 months cycling through the Himalayas, living a very basic, yet fulfilled lifestyle, I needed a quick respite. A reset. My bike, my body, my mind were all failing. Cycling in Thailand will be just that. Or not…

I was prepared to book a flight from Imphal, India, in the Manipur state where I split up from my Swiss friends, back to Kathmandu.  The night before, while chatting with Taylor, he planted the idea of Thailand in my head. I honestly had not considered it after my near literal melt down on an island there in December.  The next day I landed in Chiang Mai. That really has been the basis of my travels. When a door opens, take a step forward and walk through. Always say yes.

Thailand is hot. Like volcanically hot.  Exactly as I remembered.  Burned again.  It was 95F by 1030 a.m and with a slight breeze, it was like being in front of a hair dryer. The roads are walls, albeit perfectly manicured, paved walls without an ounce gravel or grain of sand. They are diabolically steep. I didn’t know concrete could be poured that steeply. There are signs showing “8%” but there are also signs showing a truck going uphill without a numerical demarcation. Those roads are REALLY steep. It’s a good thing I slimmed my bike down to just under 70 lbs from the prior 80lb (that is sarcasm if it wasn’t clear). At least the Tai save money on cement and don’t waste time putting in switch backs. It’s a much faster travel to simply go straight up (hint: more sarcasm).

I’m cycling the Mae Hong Son loop in the north, bordering Myanmar and Laos. It is famously known in the area as “1862”…as in there are 1862 curves in the road along this 400 mile-ish route. Climbing these hills is like a climbing a ladder. Out of the saddle, knees up for sometimes 1-2 miles at a time at a pace that barely qualifies as forward, over the top, then plunging straight down hill, with just enough of a curve to require the use of the now melting brake pads, thus preventing me from carrying any real speed up the next approaching wall. Repeat.  It is relentless. ALL DAY, for three straight days without a cloud or tree to provide shelter. I couldn’t even listen to ear phones to distract from my suffering because I was literally sweating out of every pore in my body, including my ears. It was like laying down in the bathtub as a little kid, head fully submerged, and trying to make sense of the garbled sounds as your mom was talking. Sorta the way Charlie Brown’s teacher sounds. “Wah, wah wah, wah wah wah.” Or maybe that was just because my ear drums were also melting. At one point I started laughing out loud when I looked across the valley at the road going up the other side. It just seemed physically impossible in my current state. Call it heat exhaustion. Call it delirium. It was the same. I was cooked. Burned by Thailand, again.  After 6 hours of this shellacking, I put out a thumb and grabbed the first truck that passed me by. Fuck it. No shame. The Ben and Jerry’s ice cream motto is, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”. This was not fun. I sat in the cab of the air conditioned Toyota Hilux pickup truck, sipping a now warm box of soy milk, chuckling at each hill that the truck groaned its way up, each time the driver dropping down to 1st gear and taking just a little more life out of the clutch.

I know my place. I belong in the cold, high mountains where life is simple. Basic. I was spoiled by the Himalayas in northern India and Nepal. The quirkiness.  The things that logically don’t make sense but somehow just seem to work.  On this route, there are no broken roads. No villages that time has forgotten about. No kids walking to school in their colorful uniforms, full body smiles as they chase after me yelling “Cycle, cycle!” I know there are remote places in Thailand that would provide the adventure that I crave, but honestly, the part of my brain that controls curiosity has been effectively melted and I’m pretty sure I would die if I got too far off the main road (I’m only slightly kidding about dying). Thailand is an amazing place. The people are beautiful and kind. They are soft spoken, courteous, and polite. The vehicles don’t blast by, honking, passing other vehicles uphill around a blind corner. It is more refined, almost like being in Europe. In fact, on more than one occasion, I have had a vehicle stop and wave me through as I crossed a street in town. This would never happen in India or Nepal. They would simply whiz through, 40MPH, blaring their horn, because of course, they are bigger. I want to be inspired here. I truly do.  Perhaps I have put Nepal and India on an unreachable pedestal.  Yet still, I know now after 5 days here in Thailand and a previous visit in December, that it just isn’t for me. I’ll smile as I’m sopping up the sweat that is hemorrhaging from every inch of my body, grateful for this opportunity and experience. I’ll continue to cycle each day and fight the good battle, taking in all the beauty that Thailand has to offer, but I know that the honeymoon is over. I’m getting a divorce.  I know my place.

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Last road junction in India

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Will miss my Swiss friends

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Airport bound.  Next stop: Thailand

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Tuk tuk driver on the way to the airport.

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Last night in India I was invited to a Sikh ceremony

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Sikh ceremony

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Everyone has to cover their head so I was given this

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First hotel in Thailand

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Street sushi!

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Night market

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Sunday service in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai

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Found this Colorado gem in Chiang Mai.  Owner was from: Colorado

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They sell winter hats here.  Still can’t figure it out

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Perfect roads

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No Shame

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Mae Hong Son

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Pretty sure this road used to be black but turned red from the heat

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What happens when you combine pad thai and an omelet?  Goodness…

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The World Spins By is an intimate journey of loss, curiosity, and love—recounted one pedal stroke at a time along Jerry’s two-year bicycle journey back to himself. 

1 Comment

  1. You are seriously hilarious. Laughing over here. Love it, “need a sponsor” and “getting a divorce.”