At 4am I’m wide awake. I stare at the ceiling in the last cheap hotel in nameless small town of our trip willing Justin to wake up with the same urge to get going. Sensibly he doesn’t stir. By a slightly more reasonable 5:30am we haul our panniers down a flight of stairs one last time and clip them onto our bikes on a dark street. I wave goodbye to the half asleep security guard. He has no reason to suspect that this day will be different to any other.
Turning left onto the multi-lane highway which will lead like an arrow into the heart of Bangkok, we have almost an hour before the sun will pull above the skyline. The sky starts to lighten on the scruffy edges of urban sprawl. Justin stops to capture light trails of buses and trucks. There is a delicious coolness to the air and it reminds me of many other pre-dawn adventures.
A few hours later I call us to a stop at a roadside stall, even though I suspect Justin would ride the entire 95km to our hotel without breakfast if I let him. I’ve spied a vendor making the gold elixir of Asian breakfast – rice porridge – and its with the finely honed instincts of a seasoned cycle tourist that my brakes are pulled. As we sit down we’re offered ice in big stainless steel mugs in which we pour weak brewed tea. The ice melts instantly.
Our chosen dining establishment is set against a drainage ditch filled with dirty water. A swarm of mosquitoes is barely kept away by burning coils placed at our feet and the benches have a thick layer of grime. We watch the cook crack an egg into Justin’s bowl and are a little surprised that it appears to slide out perfectly poached. We too are feeling a little poached, our foreheads are already slick with sweat before we bend to the task of eating our boiling hot meal.
After nailing a few more kilometres we stop for one last roadside coffee at a coffee shack incongruously placed across the parking lot from a strip joint. We sit in the shade to drink luxurious blended ice drinks while playing a game of quick fire ‘remember when?’ about the past two years. We’re a long way from the wobbly exit from London, the freezing cold passes we climbed in Spain or those amazing moon-like landscapes of Turkey. Today we’re thankful to have easy access to water and to no longer be concerned about our bicycles falling to pieces. I can’t believe that we’ll be done by lunch time.
Before long we’re in the middle of Bangkok, seemingly one big wall of high rises and concrete overpasses. To us the city is a blur as we concentrate on a road fraught with danger – the worst are drainage grates running parallel to the road which look like they might just be able to jam bike tires. Aided by our GPS, Justin leads us towards our hotel via gated roads and back streets where traffic is surprisingly light.
I’m wise enough not to expect ticker tape lining the streets or a marching band heralding our arrival but I can’t help but feel a little bit of elation when we finally turn into the road to Shanti Lodge. This will be our base until our flights back to New Zealand in just over a week. We lean our bikes up, then I slip off my sandals and go in search of reception. Aside from a week of clothes buying, bag packing and preparations for our return to New Zealand, we’re finished. That’s it. We’re done.