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AsiaWheeling Cadet Program: Bangkok Edition

The next morning, we woke up on Dane Wetschler’s couch in Bangkok and took stock of our consciousness. Dane was already brewing some coffee in the room, pouring hot water over a cone of freshly ground beans, filling the room with a rich aroma. Scott and I were instantly brought into the present. After drinking just one 2/3 full mug of the stuff, we were just nipping to wheel.  While Dane was finishing off the coffee, Karona began making us bowls of muesli and yoghurt, taking care to stir each one lovingly, blending the cereal, milk, and fruit yogurt before giving them to us. For two hard-boiled wheelers used to the hard-scrabble streets of Tiruchirapalli, such hospitality was melting us like butter.

Before we left, we gave a little gift to Karona and Natsumi from AsiaWheeling Global Enterprises and our friends at Maui Jim. Along with the sunglasses, they had sent us a number of women’s small tee-shirts.  Being not small women ourselves, we were thrilled to find a couple on which to bestow these gifts.

Karona, Natsumi, and Dane agreed to take a taxi cab to the bike rental place. Scott and I would, of course, be wheeling there.

Dane marked the place where we needed to meet them on a map. It was a small enough Soi (the Thai word for side alley) that it was not actually shown on the map; we were wheeling toward a little blue circle in a blank part of the map on the other side of town. We would be getting there by taking one of the main Bangkok thoroughfares, a street called Rama IV. Rama IV is an English way to refer to the fourth monarch of Thailand under the House of Chakri. The current king is Rama IX. Rama IV, (his Thai name is Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — we dare you to look up the translation, and provide it in the comments) was the king for the better part of the 1800’s, and is also the Siamese king portrayed in that old favorite “The King and I.”

Today’s Rama IV is a boiling highway, populated with a cocktail of brand new Toyota Camry cabs and whizzing motor cycles.

It crosses the heart of the city, and always seems to have plenty of traffic. Bicycles are making a comeback in Bangkok, but are still a pretty rare sight on Rama IV.

You see, dear reader, it was not so long ago that cycles were, due to lack of funds and industrialization in Thailand, a necessarily popular form of transportation. As Thailand has developed, the new wealth has attempted to divorce itself from its poorer past in many ways. From Thailand’s worship of Japanese and Korean culture, to its embrace of fashion, flat screens, and frappes, the country is determined to show the world it’s made it. And it has. No visitor to the city can be confused about that. Unfortunately, though,  there still exists a scorn for bicycles, being seen as a vestige of poorer, harder times. But what about posh bikes, you ask? There must be a market for posh American, European, and Japanese-made bikes. And it’s true, there is. There is even a fixed gear hipster cycling scene here, but its expansion is relegated mostly to the hyper-wealthy. Due to a massive import tariff on cycles and components from abroad, most people here can only afford a heavy and poorly manufactured Thai cycle.

Rama IV is the nearest big street to Dane’s apartment, in a part of town called Sathorn, right near the giant Lumpini boxing stadium and as such would be one of our main avenues of transit in Bangkok, so we had better get used to the traffic, which while thick, was quite welcoming and none too fast (during the day at least). We took Rama IV through a number of fly overs, and stop lights, pedaling hard in the morning sun. Bangkok was surprisingly hot and humid for being the farthest north that we’d been so far. We were quite soaked by the time we made it to the old city, and began having to make turns.

We were totally unable to locate the streets that Dane had suggested, but with prudent use of our compasses and kind locals, we found the bike shop in no time.

Dane, Karona, and Natsumi were just finishing getting fitted for their bikes when we rolled up. Scott and I quickly sprung to action, teaching our new team the rules of wheeling.

After a little test run on some of the tiny Sois that ran around the bike rental place, we were ready for the real thing.

It was great to have a larger team of wheelers again. We’d had the pleasure of wheeling with Dane back in Providence, but we were most gleefully surprised to find Karona and Natsumi to be not only hard-core wheelers, but startlingly quick learners at the field commands and general rules of wheeling.

Dane took bishop and headed toward the river, where he took us off the road and onto the sidewalk (a “Mario Cart” call). When we exited the sidewalk, we found ourselves in a huge, semi-open-air market.

Here we locked the bikes and headed to find some grub. We started with some Thai rotis, stuffed with crab meat, then settled on a little restaurant.

The restaurant was a sort of point-and-eat place, and we wasted no time in pointing relentlessly. Dane had, during his time in this country, gained not only an impressive grasp of the Thai language, but also a deft sense of what to order at restaurants. “It’s much cheaper to eat out here than to cook at home,” Dane explained to us, “so I just eat out almost all the time.”

He assured us that the best was yet to come. And Thai food in Thailand was well on its way to a firmly applied AsiaWheeling seal of approval with just what we’d had already.

Our lunch consisted of a number of spicy curries, a sweet dish of meat and potatoes in a soy gravy, Thai sticky rice, a tonkastu-like piece of fried pork, a Chinese-esque garlic broccoli and chicken stir fry, and a plate of fried noodles. Paired with our rotis, it was quite the feast.

Back on the road, we headed toward the more historic temples and palace district of the old city, stopping by Khaosan Road, previously AsiaWheeling’s only port of call in Thailand.  It was so over-run with tourists and touts, that we wondered why we ever would have visited such a place. AsiaWheeling was obviously lacking a Thai Bureau back then.

Dane called a coffee waypoint shortly thereafter.

Although it was not cheap, it was the most delightfully European coffee of the trip to date, produced quite masterfully by Thai hands from an Italian machine.

Before leaving the table, I applied some of Karona’s peppermint essence to my back with a pump-action spritzer, which elicited an unexpectedly intense sensation on the skin.

We kept wheeling, now meandering aimlessly though Bangkok’s old city, stopping from time to time for water or a little shape to eat, until the sun fell low in the sky.

It was time to drop the bikes back at the rental joint, since Natsumi was catching a flight that evening back to Japan. Rather than wheel back on Rama IV at night, we just folded the speed TRs and threw them into the cab. Our new Sri Lankan bungees proved invaluable in securing the trunk, which would not quite close over the Speed TRs.

As we bid farewell to Natsumi, she and Karona were already making plans to do a little Japan wheeling.

AsiaWheeling: spreading the gospel one city at a time.


  1. Jack | April 14th, 2010 | 11:10 am

    Do you know the unofficial word on bus/cycle accidents? I heard the cyclist is always wrong, not matter the what actually happened

  2. Jack | April 14th, 2010 | 11:12 am

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to throw you gents under “the bus”, Im sure you wheeled hard and fair, but I saw multiple accidents there this summer where it was clearly the buses fault, but the cyclist got punished.

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