Cars and Highways… Getting to Cambodia
We got done with those untouched parts of Nan province which left me lots of nice memories as we reached Dan Sai. Since we couldn’t find an appropriate place to camp there and a wild downpour began, we went to a hotel. There was a big market in town. Which meant that we could be able to taste some foods that we couldn’t find in Nan province. In addition I guess the town was famous of a festival held in July. In fact they were making masks from bamboo baskets which they originally have been using for cooking rice. During the festival thousands of these masks have been wandering around with people wearing interesting clothes. It was possible to see these masks at manufacturing shops, museums, temples and at the entrance and exit points of the town.
The road we take the next day brought us to the highroad 30km later and 2 days later it took us to wide highways with 4 lanes for each direction. It was odd that these highways that had been constructed to connect two towns were so far away from the life itself. These roads were boring and fast. We also speeded up on our bikes. The distance we make per day doubled up. But the things we saw were nothing compared to humble narrow roads. Because these roads were colorless. The roads had gotten grey because of the dust raised by the fast cars or the drivers who didn’t think anything else but the road as they were riding with 90km/h as their eyes had been dulled because of following the lanes on the road, those white dashed lines for hours. I didn’t want to look forward as I was riding my bike here. Because the road kept on as it will never end and scared one that looks forward. I was tiny with my bike on these roads.
After we proceeded like this for a couple of days, we were caught by a downpour. As we proceeded under the rain for a while, it slowed down but a strong wind came up instead. Even if the vehicles on the highroad didn’t get affected that much, infrequent trees caused us to be victims of the wind. After proceeding more, we came to an intersection where there was a police station. We saw that the signboards along the road which proceeded through it like an overpass were damaged by the wind as their metal plate surfaces were about to dislocate and waving like a hanky. Like that, we took the cautions of these signboards’ which’s duty was to warn and inform into consideration and decided to wait at the police station behind.
There policemen welcomed us like a cockpit crew; one of them immediately gave us some kind of a cologned wet towel that’s sold in the markets there to clean our faces and hands off the mud. Since those towels were made of cotton cloth, it was possible for you to reuse them or clean up your bike thoroughly. The other policeman prepared our coffee. On one hand we got warm, Elif went to the restroom and didn’t come out for a long time. As she got back, she had washed her clothes and had taken a shower. I also went to shower after her. After I got out, we examined the roads on the map that the policemen gave us which was made for traffic policemen and marked the places that they recommended to us for camping. As the wind stopped, we continued on our way, entered Saraburi province and arrived in a town 30km away from the city. It was a large town and if they didn’t have a camping spot there, we had to stay in a hotel. The police station was our only choice to ask if there had been a camping area or not. As we arrived, we explained ourselves to the policemen and we told them that we wanted to stay in our tents somewhere near the town. They immediately showed us the meeting room of the police station and told us that we could stay there if we’d like. We put our bikes there and set up our tents. There was also air conditioning in the room. Thanks to that, we could adjust the heat as we’d like during the night. However this time I thought that we began to misuse people’s good will. It was good that they have been treating us that nice but wouldn’t it be right at least to stay in an hotel where in such a town with lots of hotels. Our only purpose was to ask if there were any camping areas in town.
As we come to the reason of this comfort the policemen had, it was common for them that people stay in the police stations. In order to understand this, we had had to get through our journey in Issan province after Cambodia. Because there was an old routine; police stations had been used like our inns back then. Since the weather was always nice, Thai people had been travelling around and had camped at police stations at night, had spent the night in their tents or mosquito nets. This tradition was still being kept on in Issan province. There wasn’t much hotels in that region and even if there was, not everyone had to stay in hotels. For Thai people travelling with their cars to pay for an hotel just to spend the night, which means to spend money only to sleep safely was an extra luxury. We found out that the police stations have been used like this as we stayed in 4-5 different police stations with local people in Issan province. The reason that we encountered this mostly in Issan province could be that this region was less developed or that the schools were on holiday. Since families began to travel more on holidays it was possible to see more people on the roads. Besides the Sonkram water festival which would fall on that period was a determinant. During that festival Thai people were going back to where they were born, where their families were living and celebrated with their families. Because of this, Thai people was on roads on these kinds of periods.
As we got closer to the Cambodia border the roads got larger and even more boring. Even if there wasn’t much of a truck traffic, it was a huge constrast after the nice time we spent in Nan; here narrow roads were replaced by highways and small villages by big cities. Sun had roasted the asphalt roads during the whole day, we had had to struggle with heat on our bikes. After getting used to ride under shadows of the trees near the road in Nan, we had began to ride among buildings and gas stations.
Here people were boring, too. We didn’t want to see people passing like hell, trying to get to somewhere. These people were going on inside their cars on these roads between towns, wishing only for the road to end, without paying attention to anything but the road. For them, these roads were consisted of red light, green light, road lines, intersections and traffic signs. We were trying to get to Cambodia with automated people behaving like machines.
If you’re on the road in a car, you may not notice us with our bikes. In my opinion, a person in a car watches the world from a different point. You watch the world like a television screen behind a glass. You don’t look. Images you see fastly passes by as the display you see on the glass is like a fastforwarding video. It’s muted. There are sounds from another world in the car irrelevant to the view. You keep going without having clue about what’s happening outside. These views numb your brain slowly just like a television screen. Your brain that began to numb inside the car begins not to think and realize like brains that fell asleep across the same television with remote on their hands or watched the same commercial for thousands of times. You sleep in your car. You put someone on the seat next to you just for him/her to chatter. As you speak, you realize that you’re alive, you do something other than driving, staring at that screen, that glass and save your brain from numbness. But believe me, as I’m on my bike, the last thing I want is a babbler constantly talking to me.
The glass protects you from the outside. As a cloth protecting someone that went up to the space from the external factors. It protects you from noises – which believe me is nothing than the noise of your car – you play some music; it protects you from bad smells, sometimes it’s the smell of an animal carcass that another car accidentally drove over, you turn your air conditioner on; it protects you from rain, cold, wind, heat but most importantly it protects you from the people outside. Even the most courageous ones of us shut the window firmly when we see the children coming towards our car who wants to wipe our car’s window or to sell phone charger as we stop at the red light, block our ears to their voices, try not to see them. We become irritated. As children wait near the side window, we sometimes wait for the traffic light, sometimes we open the window 2 fingers down out of politeness and hand them some money. There are no windows to shut on a bike. But believe that when we stop with our bikes, people come nearby for other things. Their only purpose is to chat, to become friends. Just because, we don’t get scared by their friendship on the bike. After that point, our new friends who forget about what they’re holding in their hands to sell and become children again ask us about how many kilometers we make. And sometimes they just shout ‘hello’ from across the road. Of course no one shout at cars as hello. These ‘hello’s are the biggest gift from the roads to you. How many people do you greet, smile to or wave as you’re riding your car? You make an eye contact with people in every village, at every house as you’re on a bike, sometimes a 5-6 years old child runs after you waving, sometimes old eyes waiting for death slightly smiles, sometimes women, sometimes men, children going to school, working people look and smile. What they see is not you but a piece of their dreams, longings, what they always want to do, who they always want to be, being free on a bike. Just in a few seconds we make an eye contact with them, smile and reminds some things to each other. Sometimes we remind each other being free, sometimes being ambitious, sometimes being happy and how to smile. So our body may move slower on a bike, you may pass by us fast with your car but on our bike our brain works much faster than the ones in cars.
We got closer to the Cambodian border on these roads sometimes finding alternative ways to relax ourselves and sometimes being stuck between cars. We spent our last night in the hotel in Aranya Prathet 65km to the border which I’ve stayed in before. The next day, we rode the 60km to the border with an average of 29km/h and reached the border town. A wind blowing from behind got us to Cambodia with that speed. 5Km remaining to the Cambodian border we met a cyclist as we were eating in a town called Aranya Prathet. This fellow who had passed through Turkey and Iran had entered Thailand via Cambodia and was holding an inner tube in his hands. He laughed and told that he had been searching for that inner tube in Cambodia for a month. I smiled. After as I saw in his blog, he was using a Surly bike as myself. For some reason as he was telling me about this, I reminded the troubles I’ve been through because of the inner tube. It was easy to understand his happiness as he entered in Thailand for me.