Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Aranyaprathet - Thailand

--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--

In order to make my life easier I decided that this time I wouldn't cycle to the airport, since my flight from Kolkata to Bangkok was very early in the morning, getting to the airport by bike and then having to disassemble part of it and to prepare the bags could be risky, so I did everything the day before and went to the airport by taxi.

Well that worked fine but let’s just say that not everything made my life easy at the airport.

As opposed to the policy of other airlines, the one I was flying with didn't want to consider my bike as an extra item, i.e. when you pay an extra fee for taking something with you that is oversized. They weighed everything together and wanted me to pay the excess.

Since I was only allowed to carry 20kg and everything together weighed 50kg, I immediately knew that it would be no good. I left the check-in desk with the paper to pay the excess at another desk.

When I heard that the amount they wanted to charge me was something like 70% of the price of my ticket the fun began. We talked for a long time, with me making my point clear: I wouldn't pay that much to take my bike with me, it was absurd! But the guy was adamant saying that “If” I wanted to take the bike with me that’s what I’d have to pay.

Things only got worse when he realized he’d been charging that amount thinking that the excess was only 13kg, but since the excess was 30kg I’d have to pay even more. For me that was enough, I took my passport and left without hearing how much the amount was.

Once back at the check-in desk I gave my passport to the attendant and he asked about the paper with the payment. I told him I hadn't paid and wouldn't pay, because it was completely absurd, it was like I was having to buy two more tickets for my bike.

Fortunately that guy was more flexible, and after listening to a lot of my arguments and to me explaining about my bike tour, he allowed me to take two bags as hand luggage with everything I could carry in them. I put as much as I could in those bags, but I knew it wouldn't be enough to avoid the excess.

But I think they were fed up with me by then and a bit embarrassed by the big fuss my bags and I were making in front of the airline's desk. So the “It’s OK” put an end to all of that. My bike and I were relieved; we would travel together without having to pay anything extra, not even the normal fee.

The flight took about two hours, once at the airport in Bangkok I reassembled the bike and headed to my CouchSurfing host, about 25 km from there, on a typical winter day of 30°C (86°F).

That’s something amazing about the CouchSurfing community, you arrive in a country where you've never been before, don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone there, but there will be someone waiting for you, someone whom you have a lot in common with, the person enjoys traveling, meeting new people and sharing stories. And will be pleased to host you for free.

Since I travel by bike and it’s hard to know in advance where I’ll be, I can’t use CouchSurfing that often, but in the big cities and places where I want to stop a few days to visit or rest, I've always found a nice CouchSurfing host.

And in Bangkok it was no different, I had a very nice host who was also hosting another three guys. That was one of my best CouchSurfing experiences, we hung out together, had fun and a great time sharing our different worlds, by the time I left the city it was like we were already old friends.

Despite all the attention that the political crises in Thailand has generated abroad, with governments even alerting their citizens to the potential risks of traveling in the country, I must say that I was surprised with what I saw, or should I say with what I didn't see. Bangkok, the epicenter of the protests seemed to be in a quite normal mood, with the protest area looking like a concert spot, very entertaining, with live music and a lot of food and things being sold in the surrounding neighbourhood. I wondered if I was in the same Bangkok that was in the news.

After having cycled so much in India I really wanted to take it easy in Thailand, even more so because if I cycled long distances I wouldn't be able to get back in time to make it to Cambodia. I spent almost a week in Bangkok, was amazed by the wonderful temples I visited, went on a day trip with my friends to Ayuttaya and leaving Bangkok I went to visit the famous floating market of Damnoen Saduak. There you see the river packed with wooden boats overflowing with fruit and vegetables, which they sell to people standing on the shore. I must admit it’s a bit tourist-oriented but was worth cycling there.

From there I cycled back through Bangkok heading to Laem Ngop, from where I got the ferry to Ko Chang island where I spent a week. Bangkok was the only place I had a place to stay, everywhere else in Thailand I slept in my 5-star tent, and on the island it was great camping on the beach.

The nicest thing I did in Ko Chang was going on a elephant jungle trek, and at the end swimming with the elephants. It was a really memorable and fascinating experience.

Cycling is very popular in Thailand, almost every day I was greeted by Thai cyclists and met a few foreigners also touring by bike there. The thing that pleased me most was the silence on the roads, after having been driven crazy by the endless honking on the Indian roads I appreciated the fact that the drivers here hardly ever blow their horns.

One funny thing was to see how persistent the dogs are, this was the only place I've been that every dog after seeing my bike would run after me for tens of meters trying to get a piece of this delicious shin, fortunately none of them were successful.

So Aranyaprathet is my last stop in Thailand, from here I’ll be crossing to Cambodia. I hope someday to have the opportunity of visiting Thailand again, I know there is so much to see here but I didn't have enough time to explore more.

With the coins I have left I can travel for two more months, so Cambodia and Vietnam may be the two last countries I’ll be visiting. But if the miracle I’m waiting for happens, the month of May, when I complete a year on the road, may not be the end of this trip but a new begining.

So it’s wait and see what this crazy life has in store…