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Kwaam-Lii-Lap Antarai



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

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• Hua Ting Guest House
• Noble Centre Hotel Shanghai
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Travelling alone, I've been lost in Bangkok more times than in any other place on the globe. North, south, east to west, throughout Thailand is straight-forward. Even the loops and twisty alleyways around Chanthaburi market are do-able with the right road-map, or the Lonely Planet guide handy. In Bangkok, however, I've managed to get completely lost every single time I've tried to get into or out of the place on the same day. Why is it so? It remains a mystery.

Hail me a taxi, open up the map-book, and I can give directions well enough. I see the signs. If I point out the window to one that says, "Thanon Nakhon Ratchasima", and call it, "Thanon Kolat", it usually gets a laugh. Put me on the bike though, with the same maps, and even if I can find a place to pull over, park the bike, and read a map, the same thing happens every time.

The number of laps I rode round in circles trying to find my way back to Rayong in 2005 marked the first anomaly in the space-time continuum. Last year, I just learned to head up Thanon 304 to Chachoengsao and stay out of trouble. From Samut Prakan down to the Pattaya turnoff on Sukhumvit, keeping east of the Big Mango, still no problem. West is still west. Anywhere north of Chaengwattana Road: Muang Thong Thani, Don Muang, Minburi; piece of cake. It seems to be purely a central Bangkok phenomenon.

It happened once on foot. Trying to get to an appointment at some uni in Dusit, I got the taxi to drop me off between the zoo and Chitralada Palace, thinking it would be simple enough just to walk back westward, make a quick mobile call, and find the right building. He hadn't told me the name of it. Just that it was in Dusit, near the zoo. I rang him. "Keep walking." He said over the phone. Next thing I've crossed over the Chao Phraya River, and looking for a taxi back to Nonthaburi. Bzzz. Sorry. Meeting cancelled. Didn't make it. That wasn't about direction-sense though. It was obvious which way was west. Almost noon, overcast skies, no help from the Sun. Maybe some innate sense points us in the right direction if we have the time to acknowledge its guidance.

Once I get on the bike though, in Bangkok, and Bangkok alone, that's the end of it. I have absolutely no sense of direction in Bangkok. At first I simply put it down to the cloudy sky, the tropical latitude, the proximity to midday causing the Earth's position in relation to the Sun to give no clues, but it doesn't seem to happen whilst on foot. Only on the bike, in traffic.

Now I believe that it has something to do with the effort required to concentrate in Bangkok traffic that causes this strange effect, but maybe wrong. It seems to require both eyes looking ahead, and both watching what's coming up behind in the rear-view mirrors at the same time. No time to think about one's destination when you're totally engrossed in holding a straight line and maintaining vehicular uprighteousness. It's a tough town to find your way around in on a bike.



So, after missing the Dusit appointment, I got a call from another agency about a job up in Mukdahan Province. We eventually agreed to meet at the MacDonald's outlet in some shopping mall in Din Daeng. Easy as pi. I got the job. Having only arrived back from the Cambodian border the day before, I requested the chance to give "the bike" a day's rest before heading up to Mukka' via Si Saket or Buriram – about two day's ride if you don't want to get too optimistic. Six or seven hours rumbling around at speed on a 100cc four-stroke single does tend to take its numbing toll on the arms and hands, actually. Sometimes the rider needs a rest too.

Sweet. Two days to make the trip. Take a break for a day. I'd met a couple of friends from around Surin and Buriram the year before, but never having been there myself, I was enthusiastic about spending an afternoon in someone's hometown, getting familiar with the local scene I'd read in the Lonely Planet. Doing the tourist thing for a night.

Then there was a "slight" change of plans. I got a call from the boss the day before leaving for Issan. Would I mind going to Nakhon Si Thammarat instead? Of course I could do that. I was already packed to go. Really just a directional thing from Bangkok, all this north and south stuff. (Not slinging off at you either Ron, if you're reading – it was all good fun.)

Thursday night, August 24th was an interesting evening. Ready to leave Nonthaburi for the remainder of the semester, I'd walked across to a little karaoke bar opposite the Major Hollywood to farewell a couple of friends. When I got back to my apartment, I couldn't get the key to work in the door. I tried to wiggle it in the lock, and had a good look in case something might be jamming it. Nope. Back downstairs to find the security fellow. Nobody there. Office closed. Back upstairs to try again. It got to a point where some sort of force was required. A quick knee at the door may have jolted the latch from the jamb, so I was thinking. Uh-uh, sorry. I went and put my knee straight through the MDF apartment door. So much for residential security. I still wonder how many apartments in Bangkok use MDF for exterior doors for budgetary reasons. Anyone could fire a pea-shooter through plywood like that stuff.

Then things got worse. I was looking at the damage I'd accidentally done when I heard footsteps behind me. Some outspoken young woman I'd never met in my three months of tenancy had fronted up with her tall, skinny boyfriend, rather after the event, beyond the moment when assistance would have been appreciated. "You must pay.", she said. Soon, I'd gotten inside. Someone must have phoned the security guy, (I didn't know his number) and he had the courage to climb in through my seventh-storey window. Very brave. Somehow, the deadlock had been snibbed. Considering that the door was impossible to lock unless the snib-lock was left open, all I could deduce was that someone must have been in my room, and, not wanting to be disturbed, had bolted the deadlock. That mystery remains unsolved. I was leaving on Saturday by then, anyway, and I couldn't find a single missing item. No strange foot-prints discovered, apart from the security guy's.

Friday went smoothly, apart from some forboding sense that that loudmouthed girl I'd closed the door on might have had brothers I'd need to deal with over the evening. Not the most sleepful occasion. At 6:00 AM on Saturday, I wen't down to the carpark to set off on the revised trip, the target being Chumphon for that day, in order to make Nakhon by Sunday and start teaching on Monday. Wrong again, Sean.

When I got down to the car park, the Honda had a flat front tyre, and somehow, the spark-plug lead had ripped itself from the cylinder head and disappeared. It wasn't hard to come up with the idea that the apartment door problem, and the wounded motorbike may have been causally related. It was good to be still alive though. After a little bit of a "MacGiver" act with a piece of wire, I got the bike to limp the 300 metres down to the nearest bike-shop at the Tiwanon intersection, fully-laden with rucksacks and all, and began to wait for the place to open. Chumphon was getting further away with each minute. By 9:00, the shop was open and within an hour, the tyre was hard, the plug-lead "sort-of" repaired, the bike reloaded, and I was away. They didn't charge me a thing for any of the work either. I revised my intended destination to become Amphur Ratchaburi, and stopped off at the shop where the Honda was purchased for a REAL required replacement lead. There was still quite a trip ahead without the addition of further mechanical failure.



Thanon 4, Phet Kasem looked like the smoothest option. Slightly further in distance, but perhaps less truck-infested than the more south-westerly coastal drag down to Hua Hin. All I needed to do, was to ride down Tiwanon Road, take a right onto Thanon Rattanathibet, then left onto Highway 9 (forget its name), and turn right again onto Phet Kasem Road. Instant Ratchaburi!

Then that same anomaly began again. Almost lunchtime, cloudy sky, and although I was expecting some sort of change in the pace, having left Bangkok for provincial traffic, it didn't happen. It seemed that the Ratchaburi mo-sai taxis were even MORE suicidal than in Bangkok. After crossing another bridge above a river who's name I didn't then know, it was astounding to be riding around ANOTHER Victory Monument roundabout. I never knew they had a Victory Monument in Ratchaburi as well.

Finally pulling up at some quiet little bit of road near the river, somewhere across from the MOE building, from memory, it still remained unclear what had happened. All I can put it down to is the on-ramps and off-ramps. In attempting to perform a right-hand turn at ninety degrees to head west on Phet Kasem Road, I must have turned it into a 270 on one of the on-ramps, so I thought I was heading in precisely the opposite direction that I really was. Perhaps that's a simplification, but the truth remains a mystery.

Throughout Australia, and in every other town in Thailand, with the exception of Chanthaburi on one minor occasion (Fridays are gem-market business days there), this is a unique phenomenon to me. Thankfully, second-time around, I worked out how to follow the railway line to Ratchaburi, getting there by around 15:30. Some serious contemplation was in order. Was it more sensible to ride the remaining distance, or put the bike and I on the train down to Nakhon?

The next morning, I chose the ride option. It was obvious that I was going to be a day late either way. After a restful Sunday night in Chumpon, Honda and I made it into Nakhon early on Monday afternoon. Benzine (95 octane) cost from Nonthaburi via Ratchaburi to Nakhon Si Thammarat amounted to 675 baht in late August 2006.



Riding down the peninsular, many environmental changes were evident. The air becoming fresher and cleaner was the most noticeable aspect, and something about the terrain, the road surfaces, the journey itself, was reminiscent of Australian country roads. Not exactly alike, but there was an uncanny similarity.

Climatically, the peninsular feels like somewhere between the humidity of Bangkok and the dryness in Oz, and the perfume in the air is not Australian eucalypt unless you're riding through a plantation. The rocky outcrops in the middle of flat plains, the bugs that hit your face, the trucks, the diesel fumes are all different. Something I can't describe just resembled country Australia – maybe the fresh air was all it was. Or maybe the magic of the Australian bush resembles a kind of magic on the southern peninsular countryside. Another mystery or just a dream?

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MAP LINKS:

Nonthaburi to Ratchaburi Map

Chumphon to Nakhon Si Thammarat Map

Stickman's thoughts:

Sorry, away from Bangkok and hurriedly putting submissions up so no comments.

The author can be contacted at: [email protected]