I don’t think people realise until they come to Thailand just how much Thais love their monarchy. Once upon a time, I’d gawp at huge billboards expressing Thailand’s love for the King. It’s soon no surprise to see the multitude of large-scale portraits of a member of the royal family framed in gold on the side of the motorway every few kilometres. It again came as little surprise when this past weekend, Thailand held a nationwide organised cycling event in the name of the Queen.
The Queen is affectionately referred to as the country’s Mama, with Mother’s Day annually coinciding with Queen Sirikit’s birthday on the 12th August. My Wednesday 12th was spent drinking my body weight in lemon juice in my flavour of the month coffee shop Yellow Pumpkin with some good wonderful music and even more wonderful people.
Mother’s Day dinner was eaten with my Thai family where Ama (Grandma) blessed us with good fortune and serenity. These folk make me feel truly blessed.
Sunday’s mid-afternoon ride, lovingly named Bike For Mom, reminded me of going on bike rides with friends or knowing families that would go on a (slightly cringey) cycle ride together to various places, stopping for Sunday Lunch on the way back home. Though this time it was with a bunch of locals who seemed very impressed by the farang on the chakayan, the 29 km cycle ride covered a beautiful route outside of the city running through scenery that was slightly similar (well, the closest I’ve seen in a very long time) to the land that surrounds my true home in the English shire.
Queen Sirikit was born on a Friday, so her colour is the same as a bright blue sky. The result was blue shirts. Everywhere. I spoke very broken Thai to some of the older people taking part, one of which asked if my bike was on fire (?) and replied in such well-spoken English it put my Thai to absolute shame. What makes Korat super special is and will continue to be the people that live here. En fait, Bike For Mom reminded me how strong the sense of community is in Thailand, let alone Korat – strong enough to close the roads of a handful of cities (including Bangkok!) for one day.
Bike For Mom is believed to have had a few main goals in mind. Mama’s bike ride was started with live video footage of the crown prince leading the event in the capital. It was shown on air here in Korat before we could begin, as was the procedure in all Thailand’s participating cities. It says a lot to many speculators that this nationwide event was led by the heir to the throne at a time when the nation’s adored King is thought to be declining in health.
Anyone who has been to Thailand knows that moving places by foot that aren’t noted as key points of tourist interest is a true challenge. Whatsmore is that there are zero legitimate cycleways in the country, despite the fact that there are a fair few people who enjoy cycling. To me, the event showed Thailand’s potential to make itself a cycleable country, where with the promise of safety, who knows? Maybe even more people would choose two pedals over an engine for one day of the week!
This isn’t the first time mass exercise has been done in the name of the royal family whilst I’ve been spending my days in Korat. The summer sun has also shone on Olympic Day, in which people by the hundreds walked 4 kilometres or ran a Thai-style 10 kilometres (or if you go on normal standards of what a kilometre is, 12) to celebrate the Princess’s birthday anniversary (am I the only one that thinks “birthday anniversary” is a bit strange?)
At the less civilised time of 5 a.m. we were on our way to Korat’s stadium, which sees the local football team play and has hosted the South East Asian (SEA) games. True to Thai punctuality and organisation, the race began a good hour and a half after the 6 a.m. start we’d been rushed for, but the sunrises here are almost always worth getting up for anyway.
Unlike the cycle ride which was planned to go in a big circuit, the route for the 10k was a little dull and felt a little like we’d just gone up and down a road again. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do it though; it’s a real sight seeing so many people dressed in the princess’s colour purple and hanging out the back of countless pick-up trucks and songthaews (the local hop-on-hop-off-for-8-baht buses).
It was also (due to several reasons) the first long(ish) run I’d done in a year. Olympic Day triggered something inside to help me get back into the swing of things. Another long(er) run is on the cards, and nowadays, after the initial moan of having to get up at 5.30 to fit a run in before school, it feels pretty special waking up at the same time as the sun.