14,067 km so far.
On the map, I’d spotted a road that looked like it would take us along the Gulf for most of our ride into Bangkok today, avoiding the busier, more direct freeway routes into the city.
I was confident it would provide us with beautiful views of the sea for most of the day, a cooling inland breeze to push away the oppressive heat, and a relaxing ride through beautiful rural Thailand.
The reality couldn’t have been more different.
I should have realised that the coast south of Bangkok wouldn’t be all beautiful beaches and palm trees. The land along Highway 3, which runs along the coast, was once mangroves and wetlands.
Now it is your typical industrial wasteland, with factory upon factory, power plants, and logistics companies shipping everything and anything around the world. Scattered throughout this mess were dozens of fish farms. I hate to think what chemical run-off finds its way into the fish.
We didn’t see the Gulf of Thailand once today, even though we know it was only a few hundred metres away. Instead, we rode alongside a putrid metre-wide stream that separated the highway from the factories.
At times it was black and slick with oil. Other times it was a shocking bright red, and sometimes green and soupy, always littered with trash. The stream was not dissimilar from the effluence that spills out of many small Chinese cities, filled with who knows what toxins.
At one point we saw a large water monitor slinking through the soup, but we couldn’t figure out what it might find to eat, except maybe Blinky, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons.
The Great Divide
To make the day even more depressing, every once in a while there were small shacks of corrugated steel that were people’s homes. The homes weren’t that different from the houses we see in the countryside, but the shocking placement of these homes, in the midst of industrial waste and absolutely filthy ditchwater, was difficult to witness.
The glitz and glamour of Bangkok’s lifestyle, all high-rises and fashionistas, comes at an extremely high price for these people, whose families have likely lived here much longer than the industrial waste has. Yet their poverty means they do not have the option to move, to make things better, or to get away from the surely cancerous environment in which they are immersed.
In contrast, the people in rural Thailand, or across Cambodia, who live in simple corrugated steel homes, tend to live in the midst of lush fields, on the edge of the jungle, or at the seaside. The air is clear, the water blue, and life seems basic, but healthy and happy.
Here, the stark contrast between this life, and the life we were about to ride into in Bangkok was heart-wrenching. Life expectancy is 12 years longer in Thailand than Cambodia, but I would expect that for these Thai it is closer to that of their Khmer neighbours.
Crazy Busy Road
The difficulty of our ride today was increased by the endless stream of huge dump trucks and articulated transport trucks moving goods to and fro, whipping past us at the speed of light, filling our lungs with industrial dust, and clogging our pores with the same. There doesn’t seem to be any regulation on emissions from these trucks, and the majority of them spew black, oily exhaust as they cut by.
The drivers haven’t a care for us cyclists as they go about their work day, and it makes us nervous. It is a cacophony of noise that is unbearable, and the whole mess leaves us very tense and unhappy.
We finally found a coffee shop that isn’t noticeably surround by a black sludge river, and stopped for a break. Our senses overloaded, we decided to turn off the highway and head inland towards a smaller looking road we spotted on the map. In fact, it was a wider, busier road. At least it was filled primarily with cars and scooters, who don’t mind moving over a little to avoid hitting us.
We are staying with friends of friends in Bangkok, and they had recommended we take the Skytrain from the outskirts to their apartment. Before today’s ride we both thought that was going to be unnecessary.
We have ridden our bikes into Berlin, Beijing, and Hanoi without much hassle. But with today’s hectic ride wearing us down, we gladly took the advice.
So we spent the final 7 km into town in air-conditioned comfort.
Our hosts, Brian, Andrea, and Kaisa, had some friends over for dinner tonight, so we were welcomed to Bangkok with a delicious meal of homemade vegan chilli, red wine, and new friends who made us feel like old friends returning for a visit.
After 14,000 km of riding, it’s going to be really amazing to take advantage of their hospitality and spend a few days seeing Bangkok, running errands, and preparing for our push south from the comfort of a beautiful apartment.
Soundtrack: Lily Allen, Sheezus | Uncle Frank, Smiles for Miles | Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots ♥
Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.