Love and Friendship in Thailand

The thought of Karen leaving became more real once we crossed the border into Thailand. Staying present in the moment became more difficult however much we tried, it was like someting had switched in our minds: we were going to Bangkok and Karen would fly back to the UK.

We didn’t know what to expect from Thailand but were struck by the marked difference with Laos. As soon as we crossed the border we found ourselves riding in smooth roads, 7/11 supermarkets everywhere, more cars in one day that we had seen in the whole time in the neighbouring country and …fat people. We had entered a more developed, westernised country. It is not surprising that Europeans love Thailand, it is easy and comfortable country, there are familiar things everywhere and at the same time it is different enough to be exotic.

Smooth roads

King Bhumibol Adulyadej had died a couple of months before we entered the country. At the time of his death, he was the longest living reigning monarch in the world, he had been king for 70 years and 126 days. The reaction of the Thai people was moving, everywhere we went people dressed in black, supermarkets emptied at 7pm when workers and customers went out to pray by the altars set up at the entrance to honour the dead king. In Bangkok they moved the location of the bus station to be near the palace making it easier for travellers to pay their respects to the king and food and drink was distributed free for everyone.

People dressed in black everywhere we went
Shrines in many places
His image everywhere from schools to art galleries

We wanted to make sure that Thailand wasn’t just a ride to get to Bangkok and went to visit Khao Yai National Park where we hoped to see elephants and other wild life. Excited we climbed and climbed amongst beautiful vegetation. Since the Pamir, green has become synonimous with life and I find myself thinking how I can transform my London garden to make it a constant reminder of my travels, which plant will withstand the London climate or which one I could use as an alternative.  Each time I think about coming home I find myself worrying about what it will be like crossing the border, how Brexit is going to impact on my life. Brexit has become a stormy cloud on this, otherwise, magical journey;  questions surface as I cycle along – should I go back home now whilst I still can? should I take the citizenship exam? will they give me problems at the border when I try to get back in?  Stubbornly I choose se to ignore the whole thing, I refuse to give up on my dream. My garden and Brexit were filling my mind as we climbed amongst the majestic trees of the jungle.

Climbing amongst majestic trees
In thick jungle
Interesting road signs

Our stay in the park wasn’t quite what we had expected, it was a Bank Holiday weekend and thousands of Thai people flooded to the park to spend it outdoors. They came with their barbeques, their cold boxes, their music. Soon our little tents were dwarfed amongst their huge ones and the air was filled with food smells, the sound of children running around,  adults laughing and a general festival atmosphere. Of course we didn’t see animals with all that noise but seeing the light of dawn filling the day with colour, listening to the shrieks of the monkeys in the trees, soaking up the atmosphere made our two days there very special.

Camping was amongst hundreds of locals

And then the day came when it was time for Karen to leave, it was emotional . We had shared two months full of laughter and adventures throught which we got to know one another and our friendship grew. We said goodby with the promise to have anoter stretch together in the future. I saw the back of her taxi disapear in the crowded streets of Bangkok and experienced a sense of loss.

Exploring the many faces of Bangkok – temples
And everyday chores in her railwayside home

It was time to be on my own again but not for long, I would cycle south to Koh Samui to meet with my friend the adventurous Jenniffer Murray who had invited me to spend Xmas with her family. I first met Jeffa when I took part in the Atacama Desert Crossing and felt instantly in love with her indomitable spirit, her zest for life and adventure, her love of challenges, her can do attitude. Something about her chimed powefully within me and bridged our ideological differences.

To cycle to Surat Thani I chose small roads that took me to small beach villages through coconut and palm plantations. The crossing in the slow night ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Samui was perfect. I bought the ticket from a surly man parked by the boat with a parasol and sat to watch the boat being loaded with all sort of goods, scooters coming with packages big and small. When it got close to the 11pm departure time I took Foxtrot on board and settled myself in the wood panelled top section of the ferry where simple mattreses and pillows were provided. Snuggled in my sleeping bag I soon went to sleep with the rocking of the boat and only woke up when we were landing in the island just after dawn.

Cycling through coconut groves on my way to Jeffa
Trees full of fruit
On the way I met a procession of pilgrim monks

It was wonderful to see Jeffa again and be welcomed into the heart of  her family where I stayed not only for Xmas but also for New Year. I was overwhelmed by their generosity,  I had a stocking amongst theirs and presents wrapped under the tropical plants disguised as Xmas trees; I had a turkey dinner and thanks to Siena, her grand daughter I was able to have the 12 grapes of new year; I walked in the beach with Jeffa in the early morning whilst everyone else in the house was still sleeping and  I learned magic tricks from Simon, Jeffa’s husband. I was showered with warmth and friendship and by the time I left I felt fully rested.

With Jeffa and her family
Leaving Jeffa and Simon’s home on the 1 January

And there was more love to come. My daughter Amaya and her boyfriend John were coming to Bangkok to spend some days with me. In Bangkok I found a great hostel/bike shop run by Thai cycle tourers, Spinning Bear. Whilst  I waited for them with anticipation and found yet another little family. In the hostel I met with Lontxo Rojo who has been cycling for nearly 20 years all over the world, the life on the road etched in his face, years of self suficiency shaping his character and lots of stories to tell. He is heading back to the Basque country with the intention to stay – how do you get used to the walls of a house after so many years of the big outdoors? I have been away for a fraction of his time and sometimes wonder what it will be like for me and can’t quite picture it.

With a great group of cyclists in Spinning Bear enjoying Spanish omelette

And the day arrived when I met Amaya and John and time flew by. We went to the small island of Koh Kood and spent some precious time together that felt too short. After months of anticipation the days went in a heart beat and yet each of them went by at a slow pace – slow breakfasts, walks to waterfalls, sitting in the sun,catching up on news from home, snorkelling… How can time be running so fast and slow at the same time? It had been a year since I had seen them in Istambul but when I saw their smiling faces at the airport it felt that had been only yesterday. As I cycle along I experience this seemingly contradiction often and ponder about this poorly understood time-space dimension.

Arriving in Koh Kood
Amaya taking her PADI whilst John and I snorkelled
Happy days

It was heart wrenching to say goodby to them but their visit and being showered with love was the priceless gift they left with me. I didn’t take this for granted and I knew I was one of the luckiest women on earth.



17 thoughts on “Love and Friendship in Thailand”

  1. The twelve grapes are bearing fruit? LOVE! Another brilliant post… as I feel like my cycling journey is drawing to a close, yours just goes on getting better, Bianca. It was wonderful to meet, finally and I shall keep following.

  2. Beautiful post. I can feel the love from here. Try not to stress about your return. Things will fall into place I’m sure. x

  3. Dearest Blanca, you celebrated another birthday yesterday and I realise I should have organised a photo to send you- of Kathy, Carol, Sadie, Liz, Dagmar and myself at WOW on the Southbank this last weekend. But I didn’t take any pictures at all as I was immersed in active feminism, women’s and world politics and listening to ‘stories’ of courage, strength, survival and love in the face of unbearable oppression and inequality. The personal is political and the journey, internally and externally, that you are on still fills me with awe. Your blog is moving, thought provoking, passionate and political. It’s wonderful to read about the generosity of people you meet en route and the love you feel from family and friends who join you on your journey.
    Brexit is a bastard, the impact of the vote in UK only beginning to trickle through and there will be struggles ahead. It is beyond your control so I hope it doesn’t take up too much of your headspace while Foxtrot moves across the world. Planning your garden- yes! Stay as positive as you can in the face of worldwide political madness… Stay safe and keep spreading your positive energy and love of and for life as you meet more people and travel more miles. Sending so much love and sisterhood to you xxxx

  4. Dearest Blanca, Thank-you for sharing your wonderful experiences with us all. It makes me happy to see you progress through the World as your Soul opens up like a beautiful flower, slowly, confidently. Please I beg you, ‘do not worry about Brexit’ there is no need. Enjoy the next part of your journey, stay safe and may the blessing of God be with you!

  5. I totally love your posts. I was cleaning my bike at the weekend which was covered in winter grime with a filthy chain. I wondered about how much maintenance Foxtrot needs to glide along? Hoe much you have to do and how often you clean or replace the chain, sort out gears and cables, replace brake pads and tyres? Is this now run of the mill or is it a tiresome nuisance when stuff needs doing. Do you carry lots of spare essentials? Are you now a Foxtrot expert? Tell us more? Love Sonia

  6. My dearest dearest Blanca
    Only last night I was showing my friend Marie the videos I took as we stood bemused in the National Park. The sense of “no idea what’s going on – but it is entertaining to watch” still stays with me as one of the most memorable moments in Thailand.
    I can’t believe your birthday is already here – it seemed such a long way away when we were together.
    So good to see the pictures of the whole of your Thailand journey.
    Like you Marie is concerned about Brexit and as with you it’s ever present. May the House of Lords conquer!!!
    Take care on your travels and catch up soon……..

  7. Blanca, I can’t believe Istanbul was a year ago. Your posts from Turkey were so evocative they have stayed in my head. Don’t worry about Brexit. It’s a slow process. 2 years of wrangling to go and i doubt even then they will get agreement. No one will be saying ‘on yer bike’.
    What are your next destinations? Stay in the moment.
    I’d like to hear more about Froxtrot too. S/he is your silent partner. How many punctures have you had? Are you a cycle engineer now?
    Lots and lots of love. I think about you often. L xx

  8. kaixo Txuri!
    Siempre esperando a las noticias que nos aportas.
    Contenta de seguirte en tu viaje y disfrutando de las fotos que nos mandas.
    Aquí todos seguimos igual.
    Animo que cada vez te queda menos, y no te preocupes de la vuelta.

  9. Hi Blanca – I particularly enjoyed your Love and Friendship in Thailand post. Your thoughts about transforming your London garden into a reminder of your travels put me in mind of the indomitable woman traveller and botanist, Marianne North; if you haven’t already, when you do return to London you must visit her wonderful gallery of painting at Kew Gardens. I remember your London garden – such a haven of peace … and I remember that fox who sat and looked longingly through the window whilst we ate one of your delicious lunches! “I suppose that every wanderer started in a garden somewhere. So few of us are born into motion.”

  10. Qué pasada! no se me ocurre nada más. Un besazo!

    Eres una campeona!

    Qué bonito verte con Amaya y John!

    Más besos

  11. Hi/ Hola! I stumbled upon your sight while investigating cycling in Tajikistan. Thank you for writing and sharing your journey and process. Yay for traveling by bicycle and double yay! for traveling sometimes solo as a woman : ) I am wondering, if you end up being around internet, if you would be willing to be a resource around traveling through the “Stans.” I am also living out a dream right now- exploring more deeply and with more intention inner/outer worlds while pedaling my bicycle. Thanks! and again, thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Katie
      Thanks for getting in touch. Of course I’d be happy to help in any way I can with the stans. Isn’t living the dream just magic!? Happy cycling and wishing you tail Winds!

  12. Hi Blanca,
    I like to read your blog while being in hospital.
    How was the climate for cycling? We think about to cycle in Laos and Cambodia in October/ November 2018. Thank you for your advice.
    Best regards from Cologne

    1. Hi Evelyn
      I hope it was nothing serious and that you are fully recovered now.
      Octobe/November should be an ideal time to travel in the area as by then the rains should have finished and it won’t be too hot yet.
      I should be back in the UK for a few months sorting out my permanent residency card and would be delighted ‘to talk’ about the region if it is of any help.
      I’ll message you when I get back

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