For the third time of the trip I had a culture shock crossing into Thailand. The first was in Bosnia, where it became clear I was no longer in Western Europe. Heck, it didn't even feel like Europe any more. The second was flying to India. India is India, nothing prepares you for that. But normally cycling is slow and you learn a country's culture is a spectrum and subtle changes blend one country into another. But, entering Thailand was an abrupt surprise return to development, a mad, crazy world I don't think I understand anymore, where people actually wait for others to get off the train before piling on themselves and where there are bins instead of litter. Mum! They even obey red lights and railway crossings here!
1 km into Thailand everyone was in a rush, clutching an expensive iced coconut cappa-frappa-macchiato or whatever from Starbucks as if their lives depended on it. The existence of Starbucks, and other chain store giants like McDonald's and Tesco's, is noteworthy alone! And the shops have prices on them! This is the true mark of civilisation. For the past year when I have asked the owner the price of something they have seemed to hesitate to decide the price, gauging the most he can charge me.
The roads surface is heavenly and I have a nice wide shoulder to myself which I share with the many lycra-clad locals who cycle here as a hobby (what a strange concept!), not just because they're poor and need to get from A to B. Even the minor white roads which used to promise dirt-roads and adventure, are now paved, wide, monontonous, characterless beasts.
It took me a week from the Thai-Myanmar border until Bangkok, every night of which I found someone to stay with; as usual, these stays were the highlights.
I stayed with Ton, who left Holland in 1997 to cycle around the world (back when it was difficult). He reached Thailand, met a girl, liked the area, got a job working with Burmese refugees, and he's still there now. Maybe one day he will finish his trip. I like the idea of this; rolling over a mountain pass, spying a small village below, and thinking 'Ah, that's so beautiful, I want to spend the rest of my days there!' For two days we both parried tales from our trips between us. He had mastered the art of storytelling, as he jumped around and acted the story out, arms flayed with wild gesticulations like it was a magnificent game of charades as he transported me straight back to Pakistan in 1998.
I managed to invite myself to a local Thai wedding which, by the way, seems to be my magic superpower (my fourth wedding in three months!), but hey, you'll never hear me moaning about a 10-course feast. I stayed with a group of internationals teaching English in a school one night, and then a crazy Korean guy the next.
Quite simply, everything has become easier, more comfortable and less adventurous. I'm reminded this is somewhere people come on holiday, to relax, unlike Kazakhstan for instance. I'm sure sooner or later I will be craving some difficulty and adventure again. But for now, I'm due a bit of a holiday so I'm going to embrace the holiday atmosphere!