10 Dec Making it to Bangkok: Dusty roads, heavy traffic, and please move those market stalls
The first 20some miles today were great cycle touring miles along fairly quiet roads through the Thai countryside. Drivers are courteous like usually. We cycle close to the ocean where small fish on big screens are drying in the sun along the roadway.
At other times we are surrounded by shallow pools of water. Some are just being prepared or cleaned and are still dry. They look like they are saline fields, but we are not a hundred percent sure. Unfortunately, we did not find anybody to ask.
This is also, where we get to ride on the first official bike lane in Thailand.
Further down the road we ride past many fields and over several small bridges leading over the many distributes of the Mae Klong river. Children greet us with big smiles and laughs. People wave and shout out their cheery hellos and give us lots of thumbs up. We try our best to return all the waves and Sawaddi khas.
As we take a break at a rest area, we check out some of the colorful Thai trucks. It seems to be real serious business around here to get your truck all decked out with all the bling-bling, bells and whistles. Not only do they seem to explode with colors, they also have the most bizarre patterns and pictures painted all over the main body, the front, the back, even the windows are colorfully decorated…maybe that is why they need the pleura of shiny chrome review mirrors. After a cold drink and snapping a few pictures of the truck–to the delight of the proud owners–we continue our ride.
Unfortunately, the quiet dreamy ride stops abruptly with a right turn onto the Rama II road. Suddenly we are engulfed in dust on a loud, busy 4 lane highway. Trucks and cars are zinging by at a much faster speed and with every passing car we get another cloud of road dust in our faces. Since it is so dry and the pollution in the air just quadrupled it makes it hard to breath. After a few miles of coughing we look for our buffs. Although it is steaming hot, we pull them over our mouths and noses, just so we can breath. Like three “banditos” we continue our ride for another 20some miles, where we turn off the main road into Samut Sakon, that’s where we plan on looking for a guesthouse.
The traffic into town is even more busy. We are supposed to take a right turn near the beginning of town, but with the steady flow of cars and constant assault of Scooters going every-which-way, we just can’t phantom getting over there. Instead we decide to keep going straight and try to cross the 4 lane road at a quieter section…unfortunately there was no such place. Traffic just remains steady: bumper-to-bumper. There are no traffic lights to stop the flow. We have a quick bite to eat at a street vendor and watch traffic. Apparently , people just slowly pull out or step out into traffic and somehow they magically make it across unharmed. A lady from across the vendor talks to us and tells us “Just go! Everybody just go!” and confirms what she says with a big pushing gesture.
Oh well here we go…half looking, half squinting we slowly push our bikes out into traffic. Surprisingly, nobody honks their horns. Traffic slows down around us but it is not completely stopping and somehow we make it into the “u-turn” lane without even getting close to being scratched. In the turning lane a guy on a scooter gives us a thumb up and gestures “now the other side” to us. Luckily there are a few other cars turning as well, so we just cross over as they pull out slowing the oncoming cars. Traffic in this town seems chaotic, but it works!
After some asking around, we finally find a room for the night.
In the morning, we are looking for the local train station. We have heard about the Mea Klong railway from our two German backpacking friends at the national park. Unlike the long distance trains, which are full of tourists, these local trains only go short distances and cost only about 10 Bhat (30 cents) per leg…and they are supposed to be quite the experience. The Mea Klong railway has two sections: one from Samut Songkhram to Samut Sakhon where one has to get on a water taxi to cross the river. On the other side is the next section which leads into Bangkok…that’s the one we want to take.
We find our way through the crazy busy street market, because the train station is dead smack in the middle of the crazy mess.
When you get up close, be sure to explore the trays of vegetables and fish along the rails. You’ll notice that many are on wheels so that they can easily be slid out of the way when the train comes through. Other vendors have to physically lift their goods out of the way but there is always enough warning so that no one’s goods (or physical self) are harmed. – hotelclub.com
Yup, the train goes directly through the market…about 8 times a day when the train arrives at Samut Sakon, or at Mea Klong for that matter, all the stalls along and on the tracks are moving so the train can slowly pass by.
Finally at the station, we get our tickets and try to get on the waiting train to depart. Unfortunately, it is already filled to the brim with people and goods. So we wait for the next train at the platform. We buy some fruit and watch people sell and buy goods, food, veggies, meat…really anything imaginative at the surrounding stalls.
An hour later our train arrives. One of the train station attendants helps us lift our bikes up the steep narrow stairs and over the railing and tells us where to place them on the train…right behind the engine, where a few special seats are reserved for the conductor and apparently a couple of military looking officials. Initially the officials do not look very happy, that our bikes are blocking their seats. But after the conductor snaps a few photos of the bikes and all of them make some jokes about the heavily loaded bikes and the useless bike racks on the train, we receive some smiles even from the officials. During our train ride, we chat with a couple of Thai girls who are also translating a few questions and answers from the officials. It looks like the officers are really interested in our z-lite mats: what they are, what they are for, and of course they want to know where we are headed to. At the end they even help us unload our bikes and wish us farewell.
From the Mea Klong rail station it is still several miles of riding on busy Bangkok roads before we reach the main train station.
Although traffic is dense and seems chaotic at times it is really not so bad as long as we go with the flow. Cars seem to keep their distance, but scooters are zipping around every-which-way: sometimes with traffic and a lot of times against traffic. They zing around cars and pass left or right. Supposedly, there are street rules, but they seem to be more of a guideline to scooter drivers.
Once at the main train-station, we quickly realize that our bikes will not fit on the only train heading to the airport. So we try to figure out plan B: cycle or find a ride. Since it is already getting late in the day we opt for finding a ride.
Some tuc-tuc drivers offer us rides. How they plan on squeezing 3 bikes and 3 people into a 2-seater tuc-tuc remains a mystery to us.
Eventually we find a guy with a minivan and a lot of determination.
Looking at the vehicle, we doubted that even half of our stuff would fit into his van. Yet, after a few trials of squeezing the bikes into place, panniers flinging, a little bit of rope holding bikes, bags, and tailgate in place, he and his buddy managed to somehow squeeze it all in there. Ron somehow found room to sit on top of everything in the back and Jessi and I squeezed into the front passenger seat. With a lot of laughter and “Sorry Papa” from the driver ( pertaining to Ron hunching over the bikes) we make it to our room by the airport, where we’ll wait for Randy’s arrival.
Thai trucks are a colorful blast to look at