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Chiang Mai, Thailand to Kolkata, India

Bangkok Airport. About to fly to Kolkata (Calcutta). The bike is in a tatty bike box and the paniers are in a bin liner, sitting on a trolley outside the airport cafe I’m in. I don’t think anyone will steal them, but better just check they’re still there.

They are.

Ordered a mango shake. I’m not sure I like mango.

It’s hot in Bangkok. Someone said this is the hottest city in the world.

Didn’t get any sleep last night. Had a good massage though. Just a massage. Not the extras you hear about. I don’t know if they did offer that. I wouldn’t know what to ask for. After the stress of getting the bike packed up it was good, and quite erotic, though the masseuse seemed to get a bit bored after the left leg, though I think she might have enjoyed walking up and down my back. I don’t know, I couldn’t see her.

I couldn’t get the pedals off again. I took it to a bike shop a few days ago and got them to take the pedals off, spray some WD-40 on them then put them back on again, which the guy did, seeming to take them off very easily with a very large spanner, but then he must have tightened them up as tight as they were before because I couldn’t get them off with my allen key or with a small spanner. I left it until the evening and by then the bike shop was closed, but I still managed to get the bike in the box, it just bulges a bit.

I had just as much trouble getting a bag to put all the paniers and tent in. Airlines only let you take two items of baggage. One is the bike so the 4 paniers and tent + sleeping bag have to become one item. I went to the main post office and asked them to sell me a mail bag, which would’ve been ideal but they refused. They sent me to a local garage and I got a bag that tyres come in, which was quite strong but not quite big enough so it’s ripped and I’ve covered it with a bin liner, also not quite big enough so that’s ripped and tape is holding it all together.

When I have to go through this I wish I’d sold the bike in Vancouver. Airlines should offer a bike and panier packing service. When they insist the bike must be in a box it means I can’t cycle to the airport, and the size of the bike box means I can’t get a normal taxi, though in Chiang Mai the taxis are pickup trucks so I was okay. I flew from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok rather than getting the train because I don’t know of a bike shop in Bangkok. I don’t like flying any more than I have to, though I guess I don’t have to fly at all – I could just stay in one place, but which place? Chiang Mai seemed quite nice, though too many farangs and too many distractions, such as the massage parlours and lady bars, where if you buy a lady a ladydrink she’ll pretend she finds you interesting and attractive for as long as it takes her to drink it. A ladydrink usually costs a bit more than a normal drink – the excess is what the lady gets. Most bars in Chiang Mai are of this kind, full of farang men and Thai ladies. Very rarely do farang ladies go to those places. The only alternatives seemed to be sedate restaurants and the English, Irish, Australian and German pubs.

Or the wats. Sunday is the best day in Chiang Mai. That’s the day when the main streets in the old town within the moat are closed to traffic and taken over by local crafts people setting up stalls, wats becoming restaurants with the monks calling out bingo numbers, or prices, I’m not sure. I know Thai numbers so I know they were calling out numbers.

The lumps of mango at the bottom of the shake are quite good. Maybe I do like mango.

Just checked the bike is still there. I’ll see if I can check in soon. It’s now three hours to the flight. When I get to India I’m planning to head up to the mountains, probably Darjeeling. Maybe I’ll cycle, maybe I won’t. Either way I’ll have a nice cup of tea when I get there.

Lunch time, but everything in the airport is really expensive. Speak Thai: kow pat = fried rice.

I’m getting tired of people asking me where I’m from. Or I’m getting tired of saying I’m from England so I’ve started saying I’m from China, which is true in a way. I came to Thailand from China, though I only spent two hours in Beijing airport. Perhaps when I get to India I’ll tell them I’m from Thailand. In a bar the other night I think I almost convinced some of them I was Chinese, though they didn’t appear to understand my argument that since one in every four people is Chinese and since the other three people sitting at the bar definitely weren’t Chinese I must be. They asked me to say things in Chinese, which I did, explaining that I was speaking Mandarin Chinese. I don’t think I was. I just made up things that sounded Chinese.

Well, that’s how I’ve been passing my time in Thailand, hanging out in seedy bars talking Mandarin, so it’ll be good to be somewhere else. It’s too easy to be lazy in Thailand, and it’s a very hedonistic place. The tourists are hedonists and Thai culture appears to be based on the principle of sanuke (speak English: fun). I can’t say for sure though. I’ve been in the country for two months but have a very limited understanding of the culture. I’ve seen people praying in the wats, seen all the religious paraphernelia, the Buddha shops, but I don’t know what they’re praying or what they think about things since they don’t say. I’ve asked many of them what they think of all the farangs that come to Thailand now and have only once got a criticism out of someone, which was that many farangs are very big, but I’m alright because I’m Thai size. I also tried asking someone about the political situation, which from reading the Bangkok Post seems to be a bit of a mess – an election next month which the opposition are boycotting, demonstrations calling for the Thai Rak Thai (speak English: Thais love Thais) Prime Minister’s resignation, but haven’t got an answer, though that’s probably down to the language barrier. My Thai phrase book did have those kinds of questions in Thai but I rarely took the phrase book with me when I went out.

Speak Thai: choke dee kap/ka = cheers.

After a certain hour (about midnight) the ladyboys appear on the streets of Chiang Mai saying Hallorrrrrrrrr to passing farang males. When I see one I can’t help starting to laugh, wondering how long the Hallorrrrrrrrrrrr is going to be, which is a problem because I think they think I’m smiling at them and so they can be a bit persistent, though if I ask them what their opinion is on the current political crisis they usually go away. If not, they can’t run very fast in their high heels.

Thailand feels like a very safe country. The only violence I’ve seen is from farangs. Even when I went to watch some Thai boxing the other night there wasn’t any violence. It was a pretty lame fight, between a farang and a Thai. They just seemed to size one another up for the three rounds. I think the Thai won, but it wasn’t very clear. He went and shook hands with the farang so I assume that means he won, but I don’t think a single kick or punch connected so I’m not sure how the judges decided.

There was a Thai movie dubbed into English that they kept showing in the hotel I was staying in in Bangkok, a kind of Thai martial arts movie where this Thai guy who’s a kind of Thai Bruce Lee who doesn’t like violence takes on nasty farangs twice his size in the Khao San Road in order to get back the Buddha head that’s been stolen from his peoples’ village, in order to restore the honour of the village. It ends with the main villain being crushed by the giant Buddha head.


The plane touches down just after sunset, though it’s only 5.30. The clocks have gone back two hours. From the plane window the landscape is hazy. It doesn’t look Indian. It looks like it could be anywhere. Canada even. It looks cold but we’re told it’s 31 degrees outside.

The bike is already waiting for me when I get to the conveyor belt, but it takes a while for the bin liner containing the paniers to appear. There are many bin liners on this conveyor belt. Previously by baggage has always been easy to spot among the suitcases and backpacks because it’s by far the most scruffy. A bulging cardboard box held together with tape and a bin liner covered with tape, but here there are many bags almost as scruffy as mine, but when my bin liner does appear it definitely is more scruffy than anything else. A number of poeple handle it before it reaches me, perhaps wondering if it might be one of theirs.

I get through customs without any problems, though the woman checking my passport asks me what I do for a living. I tell her I make websites. So you’re a hacker, she says. No, I’m the victim of hackers, but that’s something for another blog, or maybe later in this blog.

A number of people ask me if that’s a bike I’ve got in the box as I wheel my trolley out, and then ask me if I’m really planning on cycling in India. When I get outside a few taxi drives approach me but I tell them I’m going to put my bike together and cycle to a nearby hotel. One of the taxi drivers is quite persistent and follows me to a quietish spot where I decide I’ll be able sort out the bike. He helps me get it out of the box, which is quite awkward since one of the pedals is pcking through the cardboard and is wedged. As I unload the box and the paniers a crowd gathers and as I’m reassembling the bike I’m being watched by a group of about twenty people. Occasionally they say things to one another but mostly they watch in silence. A few of them help out by holding something or holding the bike steady when I don’t have enough hands. At one point some police or army people get them to move back because they’re crowding me.

I get directions to the hotel I want to go to, which the Lonely Planet says is cheap and basic, but it’s only about a kilometer away. I don’t want to cycle the 17km into the centre of town in the dark. As I get out into the street and I’m confronted by the chaos, cars hooting like the hooter is what make the engine go. I realize the directions I was given were totally inadequate since they don’t take into account the chaos. I start to think I must have gone past the place, and it turns out I had because I eventually find it down a small alley way.

Is the shower hot or cold? It’s medium. Unfortunately no water comes out when he turns it on. He sticks a pin into the shower head and has a bit of a poke around and manages to get some water to dribble out. That’ll do, I say, just wanting to get rid of him.

I go out to a restaurant, the only one I can find. I don’t want to go to one of the street stalls, though this place cooks its food in the street but at least I can sit inside. There’s a bottle of water on the table but no glasses. I watch someone come into the place and drink some water, which he does by holding the bottle above his mouth without it touching his lips. After the chicken biryani I’m thirsty and even though people have said don’t drink the water in India, I think it’s probably okay here. But I guess I didn’t tip my head back far enough because most of the water went down my shirt and onto my trousers. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I don’t want to stand up and leave until the wet patch has dried off.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s the hotel owner again. He sees my packet of cigarettes. Can I give one? he asks, taking one. He asks me how much my laptop cost. £1000. That’s 80,000 Rupees. Earlier he was asking if I had any English coins. He said his son collects coins. I fished around in the bottom of my panier as he was fixing the shower and found some pennies, a two pence piece and a five pence piece, but he seemed to want something a bit bigger. I found a two pound coin but didn’t tell him. If I gave him that that would be almost what I paid him for the room, and I decided to change some of my Thai money into Stirling as a reserve just in case I can’t get cash out here.

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