The wind picked up, the sky turned a deep indigo and a few moments later the clouds burst. The rain fell fast and furious, pelting the thin metal roof under which we were sheltering. I was grateful to the Thai monks for their tradition of welcoming travelers.
Tonight we would have a safe, dry place to rest. We would not be swatting mosquitoes as we bailed water from a flooded tent.
Local women would offer us a fine meal of hot coconut curry and a sticky rice sweet for desert. We would not be rationing out the last of our food reserves on a windswept Andean pass.
Well before dawn, we would be woken by the temple gong and the monks’ melodic chanting. In the calm and cool of daybreak we would pedal off on a silky smooth road following a narrow canal. For a few blissful hours, the roads would belong to us. We would not suffer heaving our bikes through the deep sand of the Sahara or bounce around on the backroads of some developing country. (Not to say those experiences aren’t pleasurable).
By noon, the searing sun would be almost unbearable. It would be time for a dip in the sea and a quick snooze on the beach. Or perhaps we’d just slip into one of Thailand’s tourist-friendly and ultra-air-conditioned police-boxes and while away a few hours on the free Wi-Fi. There would be no need to push on in the burning heat. Not need to search for our next water source or meal or safe place to sleep. We were in Thailand: the easiest place on earth to go bicycle touring.
I love a good adventure. Reading Getting Nowhere’s account of cycling Nepal’s Anapurna circuit got my heart racing. I wanted to do that! Challenge myself. Test my limits. Find out if my middle-aged lungs are still up to a high-altitude climb.
But there’s something to be said for taking it easy once in awhile. It took us along time really take to heart that basic truth. We rather rushed through Africa, bent on making it to Cape Town. We raced through South America, wanting to pedal triumphantly all the way to Ushuaia. Over the years, thankfully, we’ve gotten better at finding the right balance between relaxed riding and tough touring.
That said, the situation had gotten somehow skewed recently. The highlands of the Philippines were often grueling. Indonesia was also pretty taxing at times. It seemed there was little time for dawdling. There were always more hills to conquer and another island to dash across. The food was often lousy, the traffic horrendous at times and all the attention we garnered really very draining.
(Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot to love about cycling in Indonesia. It is, after all, home to the best coastal cycling road on the planet. All I’m saying is this: it’s tough at times. Ultimately rewarding, but you’ve got to work for it.)
Touring in Thailand, on the other hand, is like being let out of school for summer vacation. Days in the saddle are care-free and undemanding. Roads are relatively flat, temple stays are hassle-free (if you don’t mind the 4 AM wake-up call) and Thai food is fabulous (which I’m sure you already know).
The equivalent of $1 will get you a tasty plate of noodles or some stir-fried veggies and rice. For around 100 Baht (about $3) you can treat yourself to a delicious seafood coconut curry and some lemongrass soup. Even the tiniest Thai town boasts a market chock-full of food stalls. The grills are always going, making markets a carnivore’s heaven. Vegetarians can dig into spring rolls and tofu concoctions. Iced coffee and banana shakes are perennial favorites and I always go for the fried bananas. For an extra-special treat, we indulge in the coconut-mango desert topped.
Of course the easy life isn’t fulfilling forever. Sloth is only satisfying for so long. The Laos border lies just 400 kilometers to the north. We’ve got a few more days of the easy life and then it’ll be back to what we ultimately love: sweat and suffering.