Biking in Thailand
|Enjoy the ride|
Each day, we biked from 10 to 40 kilometers through grasslands and forests, past gibbons, wren warblers, and Sambar deeranimals as exotic to the city-dwelling Thais as to me. Along the way, we'd occasionally meet a villager, a thin local dressed in a sarong, often with a hoe over a shoulder walking to a distant field. It makes for an interesting cross-cultural experience, as a Westerner, watching the urban Thais experience a culture that in many ways is foreign to them. Out here, past and present meet to stare at each other curiously.
We'd cycle on, and with the exercise, I'd learn more about Thai culturethat they are great lovers of speeches and food, for instance. One such occasion occurred when we stopped for lunch. Sitting in a big circle, everyone would get up to talk, introduce themselves, tell how they feel about the trip, and share their food. The women had packed plenty of sliced mango, dried plums, cashews, rice cakes, rose apples, and coconut sticky rice with sweet raisins.
"We Thais do everything with good food," a woman named Cak told me. She translated for us foreigners when someone stood up to make a speech.
One woman got a laugh out of the group with a comment that "Whenever we get farang (foreigners) and Thais together, the cultural differences come out. Thai bikers never want to start and the farang never want to stop."
Partway through lunch, Pan Lop, the tour leader, stood up to address the group. "Fifty years ago," he said, "our country was seventy percent forest. Now, it's less than twenty-five percent." From the rapt faces and incredulous looks, it was clear that environmentalism was new, yet interesting, to many of the Thais. He talked of the basic tenets of ecology, how each of us is responsible for the planet, and that any cultural change must first come from the individual. Pan Lop lay down the ground rules of our trip. He told the Thais not to leave their cigarette butts behind, to pick up after their lunch, and how to take an eco-poop in the woods.
I realized then that I had stumbled on the seeds of a budding Thai environmental movement, homegrown in part by cyclists.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication