Thursday, July 7, 2011

Biking Bangkok By Night

Just north of the Khao San Road area, there's a little canal. And right across the canal is a residential neighborhood with a feel of real old Bangkok, along with several cheap guesthouses and bars. I imagine this was how Khao San Road was when the first of the onslaught of backpackers stumbled onto it in the mid-eighties.

The bike shop, Velo Thailand, is also over in this little neighborhood. And that's where I headed now for the Bangkok night bike tour.

I was introduced to my guide, a young woman who was studying archeology, and a Dutch family of two parents and two toddlers on kid-seats. Thanks to the Dutch family, we had a trip. I'd been waiting for other tourists to sign up for weeks, and the few times they had, we'd been rained out.

Riding around the streets of Bangkok at night on a bicycle does seem a bit mad, I admit.

One of the toddlers got a squeaky toy instead of a bike bell. He trumpeted our arrival everywhere we went for the evening.


Here were the tourists on bicycles.

Squeak! Squeak!

Yes, they see us. We cycled down some alleys, through some back streets, and somehow came out at Santichaiprakar Park along the river, at the tip of Banglamphu. Many Thais hang out in the park at sunset, when it's atmospheric and pleasant. A few dozen people were doing free aerobics, as they do every night at six. I loved the variety of ages among the participants—young Thai women to old Thai men were out doing their free six o'clock aerobics class.

Leaving the park, we cycled along a metal footpath over the river. I was remembering quickly how to go around sharp turns and distracted people on mobile phones.

Finally, we crossed the grounds of Thammasat University and came to a river taxi pier. "Follow me," said our guide. She dismounted and led us through a busy marketplace and onto a ferry. Standing, we held our bikes up and crossed over to another busy market. next to a hospital. "Our king is there," said our guide, pointing to the hospital.

Thais love their king, though he is unfortunately old and ill. No one wants to think about what happens next.

The market shut down quickly and we were able to cycle through rather than walk. A brief ride on the other end brought us to Wat Arun.

I'd been here at night once before, maybe in 2003 when I stopped in Bangkok en route to Sri Lanka from my then-home in Australia. Wat Arun is lit beautifully at night and I'd been curious enough to find a ferry so I could cross over and examine it.


We cycled then along another narrow riverside walkway, me nearly plowing into a few partying teens, and went up a slope onto Memorial Bridge. Crossing this with dozens of pedestrians was terrifying, but nothing compared to the traffic madness of the night market that we descended into back on our own bank of the Chao Phraya River. Fortunately, most of the traffic was stopped so we were able to weave through.

Finally, we locked our bikes and walked, touring the flower and vegetable markets, the Dutch kids fascinated by every new bright sweet.

The kids were tiring by eight—they wanted to go home and go to sleep. But we had one last stop to make.

We cycled to Wat Po, which I'd been to many times by day. Wat Po is an amazing monastery with ornate tile work and what seems like hundreds of stupas. (This is also where you'll find a fortune tellers pavilion and a massage school.)

Wat Po at night is now on my Bangkok must-do list. The pavilians and stupas were lit, peaceful, serene, atmospheric, and lovely. Even the toddlers climbed the stairs with the adults to stand quietly. The Dutch mom and I waited while they climbed down with their dad.

"Amazing," she said.

I nodded my agreement.

We cycled slowly back to the bike shop, quiet now with no more squeaking announcing our presence.

I bid my cycle and new friends good-bye and headed back to Rambuttri for some pad thai and then paid someone to poke my feet with a small stick (foot massage).

The busker across the street was singing "Bohemian Rhapsody," my passport was successfully making the visa rounds, I'd seen two temples by night, and had made it through old Bangkok on a bicycle without getting smushed in traffic.

A perfect night in Bangkok. Even though it was a bit mad.
More photos are here.

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