Wednesday, 11 July 2012
Forget tuk-tuks. Three wheels are one too many. Guest blogger John Borthwick explores Bangkok on two wheels — a bicycle at night, then a Segway, with its wheels side-by-side.
Bangkok by dark by night
I saddle up with other riders at Grasshopper Adventures, near Khao San Road. Our Thai guide, Anna gives a few instructions and we head off into the whirling tuk-tuk derby of Bangkok traffic. Next to me a young Asian banker is riding one-handed and tweeting with the other. The Polish couple behind us concentrate on riding two-hands.
We stop from time to time while Anna gives a potted history of the temple or fortress we’ve come to. Piling onto a ferry, we cross the Chao Phraya River then take back roads to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. At night its glittering stupas are spectacularly lit and the grounds are free of the throngs who flock here by day. We wander among its spires and Bodhisattva statues, all bathed in golden light. Other than the spells cast by long shadows, there’s not another soul present.
Back in the saddle, we glide along a riverside footway where you might worship in either a Chinese temple, a Christian church or Buddhist wat. Re-crossing the river we come to Pak Klong Dalat night flower market and its crush of perfumes, colours, buyers and sellers.
Wat Pho, home of the burial stupas of the first kings of the Chakri dynasty, is ours for the wandering. Cats and chatting monks have replaced daytime’s tide of visitors. I could loaf all night amid these golden spires but it’s time again to roll on. We pass the sleeping Grand Palace and too soon finish back in Khao San Road. Three hours have passed in a tweet.
BKK the Segway
“Think I’ll reinvent the wheel.” Did the Segway’s inventor say this to himself? A Segway personal transporter looks like a cross between a lawn mower and an upright vacuum cleaner that you stand on. I’m going to ride one of these mutant scooters around Bangkok’s Rattanakosin area.
“In 30 minutes anyone can be a Segway professional,” jokes my guide. I don a helmet and soon get the hang of this contraption: just lean forward and it takes off. Same for reverse. No brake, no accelerator.
Our electric pogo sticks are governed to 10 kmph — down from 20 — so we’re not laying down any rubber. Cutting through the grounds of a Buddhist temple, we do a circuit of Sanam Luang’s broad lawns. From a passing coach Thai tourists take pictures of us.
The large wheels absorb most bumps as we glide past the elaborate the Ministry of Defence and the 92 cannon in its grounds. Nearby, the dreaming spires of the Grand Palace rise over a high wall. “That looks cool,” calls a passing motorist as we stop for a break in Saran Rom park, previously a “royals only” domain.
As we cruise back to base, after 10 kilometres I conclude that, no, “Mr Segway” didn’t reinvent the wheel, but he did invent how to see Bangkok without breaking into a sweat.
(pics: John Borthwick)
Night Cycle Tour: www.grasshopperadventures.com
Segway Tour: www.segwaytourthailand.com