Pretty much the first thing we do on Friday, our first full day in Bangkok, is head to the train station. Our email requesting a reservation on the Chiang Mai sleeper had met with no reply, so we thought it best to just do it over the counter.
A guy who randomly started talking to us at the airport (with bikes as accessories, suddenly people start talking to you unprompted, we are quickly learning) said they’d be booked up for a week, but luckily we’re able to get a couple of berths in the sleeper carriage on Monday night, only one day later than planned. It’s all very easy (thanks partly to helpful station staff) and we’re told taking the bikes on will be no problem, just arrive two hours before departure to load them on.
Even though we don’t really mean to, and despite spending much of the daylight hours sleeping off jet-lag, we end up cramming a heck of a lot in to three days of Bangkok – all bike-free, sadly (the roads are just too big and busy to take on, even though we see a few brave locals doing just that… there are even a few cycle lanes! Ok, two.)
We wander through night markets, queue for the best pad thai in town, surf the Sky-train, play cards in the park, ride a ‘boat bike’, narrowly avoid an elaborate 50 quid boat cruise scam (but get a fun tuk-tuk ride out of it), use the legitimate river ferry and eat a riverside meal while listening to the Beatles, watch families fly kites, get pooped on by a pigeon (a first, but lucky, right?), go to the travel clinic for malaria tablets (only to be told the biggest risk we face will come from other road traffic), watch everyone in the park stand frozen in motion to observe the 6pm rendition of the national anthem, visit Jim Thompson’s house (interesting and great value at only 100bhat/£2 entry), drink in hipster Sukhumvit to a soundtrack that veers from Italo-disco to Locamotion-era Kylie, visit almost every 7-eleven in Silom, and sup a beer while watching tourists buying and then using ‘selfie-sticks’ on the Khosan Road.
Leaving our bikes in our room and then in storage for the day at our friendly Silom guesthouse, Sunflower Place, proves no problem. Pushing our bikes the mile or so from there to the station, in the dark (many streets aren’t lit), and around countless obstructions and huge kerbs – this city really isn’t designed for those on wheels – is more challenging, but we make it with plenty of time for the 10pm sleeper.
The cost for the two bikes is 360bhat – about £7 – and the bikes are stored in a third class ‘cattleshed’ carriage no longer used by passengers. The guard encourages me to lock the bikes securely, which I willingly do – let’s hope they’re still there tomorrow lunchtime when we pull into Chiang Mai…
…They are, of course. The 15 hour journey goes surprisingly quickly, with a decent night’s sleep gained as we rattle through the Thai countryside. Come about 10am, attendants walk through the sleeper carriage to take away the bedding and convert the beds back into seats, allowing us a view of the fields and hills as we approach Thailand’s second city.
A friendly German couple give us the lowdown on the city (they’re regular visitors), whetting our appetite. Tyres pumped up and bikes checked over, we finally take to the roads on two wheels. 5km from the station to the Old Town isn’t too hairy; they drive on the right side of the road (left, that is) and, although it’s busy, it’s not crazy busy or aggressive. Everything just kind of flows.
We can’t wait to take the bikes for a proper test run tomorrow, up to Wat Doi Suthep.