Just like marathon runners might 'hit the wall', the same thing can happen to someone cycling around the world but rather than a physical wall, it is a mental one – indeed, most of the challenges cycling around the world are mental. By the time I entered Thailand I was tired of cycling; no matter how beautiful the road I just didn't want to grind in the saddle for 6 hours each day, alone except for my thoughts. I'm not interesting enough for that. But at the same time, I wasn't enthused to meet other people; I was weary of the carousel of meeting new people and saying goodbye soon after. A year and a half of fleeting interactions. A wave at an excited child, jokes shared with the shopkeeper, a smile exchanged with the pretty girl. Sometimes I'm lucky, and stay with someone a night or two, or travel with someone for a week, but still, eventually we part ways and I'm alone again. I love meeting so many people, but I find it emotionally draining.
Also, the novelty of travelling had begun to wane. I remembered the early days of the trip, with a sense of nostalgia, bumbling my way through Europe where everything was new and exciting. Now it was just another temple to visit, another beautiful mountain vista, one more round of food and beer with new friends. Maybe I've been spoilt by the world. Have I just done and seen too much. My mind found itself wandering back to family and friends in England a little more each day – Was it time to go home?
I needed a holiday, I realised. (You could say my whole cycling trip is a holiday. In that case I needed a holiday from my holiday.) And I was in the fortunate position to be able to take a holiday when I wanted, a luxury. Secondly, this realisation happened in Thailand, the King of Holiday destinations!
Reaching Bangkok I put my bike to one side and celebrated that I didn't need to ride it – I wouldn't even look at it! - for a fortnight. An American cyclist called Gary had got in touch with me through Facebook, inviting me to stay in his spare apartment when I reached Bangkok. Naturally, I accepted. It was a good start to the holiday; one week before I had been evading police capture and sleeping in bushes in Myanmar, and now I had my own 15th floor apartment with a commanding view over Bangkok's glittering concrete skyline. I'm not much of a city person but the view was undeniably beautiful; I was glued to the balcony as the sky changed from blue to orange to black, and all the while the fast pace of city life never seemed to slow down. It was a contrast to the simple, farming lifestyle I had been pedalling through for months before.
My time was split between gorging on food, soaking in the apartment's rooftop pool, and sleep. Until the third day, that is, when I had a very important person to meet. If you've been following my adventure a while, you may remember Talaaibek, my Couchsurfing hero in Kyrgyzstan, whose family lovingly and generously adopted and hosted me for 6 weeks while I awaited my Chinese visa. When I booked my flight to India, he pleaded with me; 'Can't you just stay with me another year? I will find you a job. A wife.'
I had recently got a message saying his family were going on holiday to the Thai island, Phuket and would I like to accompany them? Why, yes I would, thank you very much! My bike stayed in Bangkok, I flew to meet them, only just catching the flight after a short visit to the wrong airport beforehand. We greeted with hugs, and they presented me with chocolates and horse meat. It was awesome to see them again.
After the holiday I felt hugely rejuvenated. I had caught up on some sleep, put on some weight (which is an achievement itself when cycling around the world), and I was actually looking forward to getting back on the bike! In Bangkok I was only two/three weeks of cycling away from Singapore, the tantalising end of Eurasia which I have dreamt about since getting off the Ferry in France, 24,000 kilometres and experiences ago. But as excited as I was to get there, and up to the Australian finish line, I didn't want to miss out on what South-East Asia had to offer, so over the next two months I will be heading away from Singapore. First, east to Cambodia, north through Vietnam, and then West through Laos, back to Thailand, and back to Bangkok. It was difficult to get so close, and then head in the wrong direction, but I'm sure I'll look back on it as the right decision.
There were lots of things I was carrying, which I wouldn't need in South-East Asia. Minus 20 degree sleeping bag? Nope! Stove for cooking? Are you kidding - The street food is too good and inexpensive to bother cooking myself! I left more than half my weight in Bangkok, to pick it up when I return. Cycling with so much less weight now feels like I am flying!
But, the holiday had one final surprise. I love the spontaneity of bike touring where anything can, and will, happen next, and this next story is as good an example as any. I propped my bike up outside a shop while I went to buy some things. I saw someone admiring my bike, and I strolled over for a chat. I met Peter, a British guy working as a skydiving instructor in Thailand, who also happened to be interested in travelling by bike. After a few minutes he offered to take me skydiving for free. You don't say no to an opportunity like that!
The next day the skydivers invited me to join them for an all-day boat trip/party on one of their private million dollar yachts. There were jet skis, snorkels, mountains of food, and a colossal $7,000 of alcohol (which is clearly the logical amount to share between just 14 people!). This wild day with some truly insane skydivers finished my holiday with a BANG.
It may surprise you that I was somehow on the bike by 8am the next day, rejuvenated, and once again excited to see what other surprises South-East Asia had in store for me.