We have just reached Chiang-Mai today, after almost 3000km across SE Asia in the last past 6 weeks, and 2000km from the Malaysian border. Since January, each country visited has revealed its “annoying stuff’’ for cyclo-touring:
- the yokels in the NZ South Island
- the list of venemous animals to worry about in Australia
- (we cannot think of anything in Singapore…but not sure that really counts as a country either! 🙂 )
- the humidity-heat sauna of Malaysia
Without doubt, if we must mention our main issue in Thailand, it will be dogs!
Several factors in Thailand: it has one of the highest number of dogs in the world, at about 9 million – a particularly high number per capita. About 10 percent are abandoned and are surviving completely on their own, and often even thrive and reproduce generation after generation. Among the other 90%, a good part also looks like they do not have any owners but get fed by whoever has a house nearby. From the different answers we have had, it seems like that any dog sitting between the feet of anyone ‘’is not mine but from the neighbor’’ or ‘’is not mine, but it’s been living at my place for the last 5 years’’. Well, we hardly make the difference between stray dogs, almost-stray dogs and pets…
Other good news with dogs in Thailand: rabies is a sickness widespread in the country – with tens of thousands of dogs infected (apparently about 10% of all dogs in the Bangkok region!). In case you did not know, rabies is systematically deadly, in a quick and ugly manner. They cause among humans several hundred deaths in Thailand every year. We did the complete vaccination procedure (according to our doc in Augsburg we shall have the ultimate shield…), but that’s still not very reassuring. Yet people let dogs going around freer than free, anywhere in the country, and from time to time enjoy a dog-lick (which is with or without rabies disgusting anyway looking at the habits of dogs here!).
Most of the country is also animist and Buddhist, implying that great-grand-uncle might be reincarnated into a four-legged creature, and most likely either a ‘’good-looking’’ or ‘’human-related’’ animal (we haven’t heard of woodworm or guinea fowl reincarnation). That means, nobody would take the risk to threaten making the spirit of great-great-uncle angry. I exaggerate obviously and over-simplify, but there is part of it in the problem. Southern Thailand is however mostly Muslim (proximity with Malaysia and Indonesia), and you get to enjoy a see a lot more wildlife there – but fewer dogs!
It is also a very calm society, where raising your voice and violence are considered bad-mannered (although as a contrast, some favorite hobbies in the country are Thai-boxing and rooster-or-various-animal fights…). There are frequently some (often old) people having an insane number of dogs (we are talking about tens) in their house (neutering is not common here, and some religious groups even oppose it) that they clearly do not control at all (yet feed all of them despite their basic means). They do not attempt to educate or correct any of them and become almost enslaved by the burden of dogs- ridiculous. We decided after a few days to simply boycott any shop, accommodation or restaurant having any dog that would simply bark – we have the choice of usually going to the next place a few hundred meters further, and even if the long-term effect is probably minimal, the decision is easy to make (even if we have to get back on the bike and restart pedaling).
In short, the dogs seem to be a problem for everyone in the country. I have mentioned rabies, but they are causing accidents, bites, sicknesses, dog fights in the streets, waste, etc. It is even being a problem for the vital tourism industry (Thailand is by far the top destination in Asia) as being repeatedly listed as the biggest issue visitors have had.
What that meant to us? Well, we tried to take a lot of very small roads along the way and spent the last 3 weeks having about 10 to 20 dog chases per day. Surprisingly, there are almost no dogs on the highways, and dogs on the large roads are usually quieter (they possibly have been lobotomized by the diesel exhaust-pipes, or maybe the truck vs. pooch natural selection has been effective). But yes, we are talking about several hundred of dog chases in the last past weeks, to a point where Cassie refused to steer the tandem in the last days (and getting dog-related nightmares!). We even had a mini-Cassie-breakdown after yet another chase – realizing afterwards that this one was a miniature chihuahua (that was an exception and made us laugh later).
That has made us focus a lot more than we would have wished on them, and even though our love for mutts was not very high at the beginning, we now have a complete aversion towards them (and their owners by the way – although only about 99% of dog owners think that their dog is completely different from the others and way friendlier…).
Okay, the post is long enough, let’s not make it a shaggy-dog story!
Because you can’t teach on old-dog new tricks… we have tested and developed a few counter-chase techniques:
- The “organic’’ technique: wear the stinkiest, sweatiest T-shirt. Easiest technique, as we often carry around a stinky T-shirt. It repulses humans, humans are mammals, dogs are mammals, so that could work too?
- Result: effect null, it probably makes them feel that you are one of them… and they attack each other anyway.
- The “go-as-fast-as-you-can’’: the goal is to outrun the dog! In this situation, you play the role of a doggy fast-food, also known as the KFC – Kilometer-Fast-Cyclist. They seem to run fast, but dogs in Thailand are not that big and probably get to eat too much Pad-Thai remains topped with plastic sauce. They run at maximum 25km/h, rarely more than 150m… so if you already go faster you should be fine, if you can go faster keep on pushing, and if you have already passed the dog before it realizes it can attack you, you have a good chance to win the pursuit.
- Result: It works pretty well if you have a road without much traffic (zigzags and looking at the dog instead of traffic is rarely the safest bet), and for obvious reasons if it doesn’t go uphill). You get to joke how suckers those dogs are whenever they stop running – vexed and exhausted!
- The “you’ve got teeth, I have ammo’’. This is the favorite technique of the locals when they are annoyed with the dogs. Pick up a bunch of stones at the beginning of the day (because there will be some chasing for sure), put them in your shirt and get ready whenever you have a dog facing you (otherwise save your ammo and try technique 2). Some dogs who already experienced this art of warfare understand quickly and deter just at the sight of a raised hand. If you are good enough at targeting (not our case), you make the newbies understand very quickly that things are getting serious. If the stone flies within 2m of the dog, you get to observe a 25km/h run in the opposite direction of the initial chase (probably a forgotten part of the Newtonian laws of dynamics…).
- Result: works amazingly well! However, you need to save the stones throughout the day to not run-out of ammo at a bad encounter. Also, Cassie usually somehow manages to lose most of her stock before seeing the first dog. Targeting a dog while steering a 200kg loaded bicycle is however a bit tricky, and I unfortunately never managed to hit the goal… although some dogs will for sure remember the day when a meteorite flew right between their ears!
- The “you-want-to-fight? Show me what you have!’’. Stop calmly the bicycle, put it on the kick-stand (because you want to finish it seriously!), then go towards the dog with mammoth steps, showing your eye-teeth (also called canine teeth… that’s the reason!) and make the dog understand that you are done eating chicken skewers on the side of the road.
- Result: seriously annoying technique as you lose all momentum and energy cycling, however this is the most effective technique if you cannot outpace the dog or if going uphill. If the owner sees you after the fight (Thais usually are quite passive and seem to just be annoyed to have to wake up because of dogs fighting), make him understand with gestures that you haven’t tried anthropoid skewers…yet.
- The “monsoon-approaches’’: empty your bottle of water in the face of the dog.
- Result: Apparently an efficient method, but because we drink a lot of water and get water mostly from bottles we buy, we are saving the water (and use the method 3 instead). We cannot confirm the results because we haven’t tested.
- The “hammer-of-Thor’’: that technique is a bit the last resort solution but requires some good steering skills to perfectly execute. If the dog is definitely too close to win a pursuit, and you don’t have anything to throw at it, unclip the cleats of the shoe (correct side preferably) and extend your leg (for muscle preparation), then flex, and send the metal front of the sole right in the nose of the dog.
- Result: fantastic! The dog stops immediately, wondering where on hell did the teeth come from. You get to enjoy a huge unload of adrenalin during the action, and an even higher dose of dopamine afterwards! Probably better than any sort of drug or steroids usage. The dog will also probably remember for a while that cyclists are not funny people and will probably go back to its favorite hobby next time (usually licking its balls or sniffing its compatriots urine). We fully executed that figure only once, and that doggy still probably gets seismic aftershock in the snout. I almost got a second one a few weeks later, but it dodged the hammer at the last second. Every time, with a huge happiness to have finally got one: it’s just a dog-eat-dog world!
- The “bamboo-stick’’: cycle around Thailand with a 5ft long piece of wood and try to impale whatever runs into you. That technique probably descends from medieval knighthood melee tournaments.
- Result: that works very poorly against dogs, mostly because maneuvering the stick while cycling is a difficult task. It works better in combination with technique for when no longer on the bicycle. Some dogs may however believe that the stick if for playing… It works remarkably well however against car drivers, as people are wondering what on earth you are doing with your bamboo (and also can no longer overtake you because you take the entire width of the road). It can be a little occurred whenever you encounter law-enforcement-forces (although they don’t enforce much on roads in Thailand)
- The “very-very-spicy-hot-dog’’: yes, we are riding with a pepper-spray nearby (that we actually purchased as an anti-dumb-German-driver a few years ago) and take around as a last option against irksome humans (there are some…). Yet, its original purpose is against animals – mostly dogs in Europe (and only reason why it is openly sold, although a lot of ladies use it against inappropriate harassment)
- Result: the result is particularly good in laboratory conditions, but yet the reality is more mixed on the field as you have to target the dog’s eyes very accurately at low level (but still while possibly riding). It also makes a cloud of capsicum that is likely to also spray yourself – the pepper lasts a loooong time and is not water or soap soluble! It however works as a preventive measure if you feel that a dog may relieve itself on your tent or tires (a small amount on the wheel hubs and you will see animals taking a long detour around the bike). It also works against cats who decide to sharpen their nails on your tires (as seen in Krabi).
- The “vocal cord test’’: the simplest and easiest technique. Open you mouth, send some air from your lungs and make the membrane vibrate. The loudest the better. After a few days, you can compete in the yell-louder-than-the-space-shuttle category. In a country where people are very quiet, it also works to wake up grandmas taking their 4th nap of the day on a hammock.
- Result: It works surprisingly well, especially against medium sized dogs. Small ones are a desperate case of brain liquification, and larger ones don’t seem to care much (but those also usually don’t run particularly fast, so you can attempt other techniques). This is the technique we have used the most, even if not super enjoyable during times of pharyngitis…
- The “full-frontal’’: if the dog is in front of you, in the middle of the road, do not try to go around, but accelerate right into it! The dog will eventually figure out that the 200kg bullet might be a little too much, and quickly jump on the side of the road. It is likely to chase you as soon as it is behind you though.
- Result: It avoids stopping the bicycle and gives a few seconds of extra time to take a leeway in the pursuit. That technique needs to be used together with any other one and does not work alone.
- The “cannonball’’: it is more an exasperation technique than an avoidance method. If a dog seriously pisses you off, stop the bicycle safely, grab the biggest rock you find in the area (including part of a wall, the owner will just watch, quite stunned, at this hairy guy acting like a lunatic). Run behind the dog for a distance longer than the dog has ever been chased before (usually 20m), continue running so that the dog feels that something bad is going to happen, and then try to remember how Hulk does it in the Marvel movies! Load the rock over your head and try to create a crater right where the dog is located.
- Result: Very poor results, according to the uncertainty principle in flea-bag-quantum-mechanics, the location, speed and trajectory are not correctly known simultaneously. It is however excellent to calm the nerves, it also works as a local entertainment event for local folks in the town where you complete that technique!
- The “weatherman’’: probably the most “surrendering” approach to dogs. Simple facts: dogs don’t like rain (and even less heavy downpour) and they apparently don’t like heat either. The idea: bike whenever you see a thunderstorm (lightning very appreciated) or when the thermometer goes over 38c (100F).
- Result: it works very effectively, the rain works as a particularly strong repulsive (who has ever said that it’s raining cats and dogs in Thailand?), the heat is funnier though, as dogs usually have the memory of a carp – they will leave their shadowy spot, start to run 10m, realize that life is too hard to move, put their tail between their legs, and go shamefully back to that nice shaded spot…
Note: no animal has been harmed in these experiments and the making of this post.