So I know a few posts ago you were promised tales of a Belgian in short shorts and I have no doubt you have all been logging onto this site daily in the hope of such tales being divulged. Well my friends, your time has come… nearly. First however I think I should give you a quick update about the 6 month period that fell between my farewells to my family in Cambodia and cycling away from Bangkok with a Belgian in short shorts. In a nutshell then, I said au revoir to Mum, Dad and Ami, worked in Japan for the winter, popped home for a few months and then came back to Bangkok! That’s a particularly short version so to elaborate ever so slightly, I have a job in Japan over the winter season. This not only grants me the opportunity to repeatedly embarrass myself on a snowboard but also to top up a bank balance that seems to deplete itself with surprising haste and as such buy myself a few more months on my wonderful little bicycle.
I love Granny Bike Bed. It’s such a sweet little hostel and a great place to meet other cyclists and it is here that I can finally introduce Geert. Tall, tanned, and with a head of some of the most enthusiastically curly hair I’ve ever seen as well as the owner of the now infamous short shorts so tiny they’d be more at home on a Brazilian beach than a Belgian wandering around Bangkok. Geert’s cycling trip seemed to be subject to little in the way of planning and followed no discernible route. Bound by neither time constraints or any of the usual bike touring “rules” he uses flights, trains, buses, ferries, anything really in combination with his bicycle to focus on a particular area in which to tour before choosing somewhere new instead of purposefully cycling from A to B. We had a fun few days hanging out in the city (something to which I directly attribute my dramatically increased expenditure in Bangkok) drinking craft beer and setting the world to rights and it was on his advice that I found myself the owner of a brand new hammock, complete with integrated mosquito net. For someone who is arguably carrying too much already an additional hammock and tarp could be seen by some as unnecessary extra weight but as anyone who’s camped in Asia will tell you, the heat and humidity can wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep like nothing else and I was willing to give anything a go if it made for a cooler night… even if it did weigh an extra couple of kilos.
The night before I was to leave Granny Bike Bed Geert made a somewhat impulsive decision. In an attempt to avoid the rainy season in Myanmar he decided to make the ride up to Ayutthaya with me before catching a flight to China… where it just so happened to be the rainy season. I didn’t quite grasp the logic of this but seeing as it meant I’d have some jolly company for a few extra days and someone to introduce me to hammock wild camping I kept quiet. Other than me forgetting my GPS tracker and having to go back for it we had a fairly uneventful ride up to Ayutthaya and upon our arrival set about looking for somewhere to sleep. After vetoing a spot by the river we found one of the coolest camping spots I’ve had on this trip. It was perfect, tucked away in the trees in the middle of the city by the water and within 50m of one of the ancient temple sites.
Not wanting to set up until dark we went for dinner and a celebratory back-on-the-road beer before returning later that evening. Riding into the dark park felt so much less spooky with someone else and arriving at our chosen spot we set about putting up our gear. Being the first time I had set up a hammock I, perhaps unsurprisingly, made a right hash of it. My knots can only be described as imaginative (embarrassing really for someone who’s supposed to know how to sail) and while Geert was chilling in his hammock within minutes I was tediously tying my line into an increasingly complicated muddle of loops, bends and hitches. Eventually satisfied I wasn’t going to hit the deck with a bang a 2am I settled down feeling incredibly smug with both my new bed and the beautiful view of an ancient temple under a sky full of stars in front of me.
As you have probably guessed then when all seems to good to be true it usually is and my good fortune was not to last. Around 1am I found myself awake and not entirely sure why. The temperature had dropped and the branches above us started swayed ominously. I heard a faint rushing sound which quickly grew louder and the lake suddenly started to hiss. By the time Geert and I had realised what was happening it was too late. Within seconds (seriously) we were in the midst of some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced. Scrambling out of our hammocks shrieking and laughing we frantically packed everything up but within seconds my clothes were saturated and water was streaming through my hair and down my back. Of course Geert was ready in moments and somewhat guiltily made a dash for a nearby pagoda but my absurdly complicated knots made for a painfully slow get away. What’s more, I had chained my bike to a tree and then in my panic to pack up had stuffed my light into my pannier. As such I was stuck in a downpour, in the dark, unable to see the numbers on my combination lock or my light in my bag. Eventually of course I managed to free my bike and I staggered towards the shelter; not an easy feat with one arm stuffed with dripping hammock and the other balancing a heavy touring bike. I lost my footing in the mud a few times careering once, quite dramatically, directly into a tree. The whole situation was so ridiculous I soon got the giggles which succeeded only in making my retreat harder but I finally fell panting into the shelter soaked to the bone. Laughing, Geert and I assessed the state of our sleeping gear concluding that it was in fact drenched. There was nothing we could do other than re hang our hammocks under the shelter and hope they would dry quickly in the wind, before making the most of the downpour and having a quick shower. It was, I thought, rather comical that what with Geert’s successful hammock sales pitch our first night was to have been disrupted in such a dramatic fashion. I have no doubt that my tent would have stood up to the storm without batting an eyelid and yet here I was, in my supposedly improved sleeping system, wide awake and soaked to the bone at 2am. At least I was clean I suppose.
Geert and I had been planning to leave Ayutthaya the following morning but we accidentally spent the whole day sat in a cafe drinking smoothies and eating. I’m not entirely sure how this happened but it did occur to me that perhaps it was a good thing that we would soon be parting ways as I suspected we wouldn’t make for a very efficient team when it came to actually cycling anywhere. We finally got around to exploring the UNESCO Heritage temples the following morning after a dry night, you’ll be pleased to hear, camping under the shelter to which we had fled the previous night.
The ruins really were quite impressive and the site was way quieter than the complex at Angkor. In fact, we had the first temple to ourselves bar one young Thai couple and it was awesome to wander around without hordes of other tourists.
There were a few more people around later in the morning when we rode over to the second complex but it didn’t remotely compare to Cambodia. A meer 80km from Bangkok it surprised me that Ayutthaya wasn’t more prominent on tourists’s itineraries. I guess most backpackers (myself aged 18 included) head straight for the beach parties on the southern islands or to the hippy highlands of the north. It is a shame that these wonderful ruins are skipped by so many although it sure does make them more enjoyable to visit.
After looking around the ruins Geert and I finally parted ways. I suspected my progress would undergo some considerable improvement as a result of our split although I was a bit sad we couldn’t have ridden together a while longer. I’d found it surprisingly hard to find a cycling partner that a) doesn’t ride too fast and b) isn’t too annoying and Geert had proven himself to fall in neither of those boxes. As it was, we were in the midst of the wet season in south east asia and it was time to get moving… me to the wet season in northern Thailand and Geert to the wet season in China. At least we were both sleeping in those weather proof hammocks.