Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cycling North Thailand

Day 1 (22nd) Chiang Mai to [null] (0km)

Drank too much Chang Beer last night playing some Scottish geezer at pool. Cycling postponed.

Day 1 (23rd) - Chiang Mai to Windmill Country (46km)

Even though I had the whole of yesterday to pack, I left it till the morning of departure. Typically I had too much stuff to cram into my daypack, but eventually by some quirk of fate I managed to zip it shut. The self-satisfied smirk was soon wiped from my face as I turned round to discover a spare inner tube pleading to be included on the trip. Eventually bags were packed, rucksacks stoved and helmets fastened. Strangely enough the rack on my bike was a lot narrower and my bad a lot wider than I anticipated. Still after ten minutes of experimentation I jury-rigged the daypack rather precariously to the rack. Didn't look the most stable of arrangements, but as long as it didn't drop off and land in front of a truck (like my last bike tour!) then I would be a happy chappy.

Soon I was weaving my way amongst Chian Mai's finest motorbike, tuk-tuks and songthaews, towards the river. My first mistake was to think I knew where I was going, the second was to think i would be able to get there. I ended up being forced along Chiang Mai's one way system. I did make it over the river and through the construction zone of the superhighway. However, I was not going in entirely the right direction. Still as I stopped at the traffic lights I surveyed the bloke idling his motorbike, he was carrying a package on the back attached with bungee ropes. Within ten minutes I had procured a bungee rope for the pricely sum of 10 baht. Now with the luggage safely attached I sped on in the slightly wrong direction. Soon, I took a swift left turn and 6kms more than needed I was back on track, the 118 to Doi Saket. I was easing my way slowly out of Chiang Mai. The traffic thinning the further I proceeded. Out on to the open road, free of traffic lights and now I even had a lane to myself, everybody else likes the fast lane. Building thinned out, greenery appeared, you could even breathe the air!

After an hour of so I reached the turn off for Doi Saket, the last point before heading into mountain wilderness. Stopped off here for a spot of brunch, chicken fried rice. Legs were already feeling a bit heavy. I'd hardly been out on the bike the last couple of weeks. Not a good sign especially as I knew what was up ahead, hills, big ones too. Even at this early stage I'd ruled out getting to Khun Chae National Park, 60km from Chiang Mai. I would instead head for the windmill place I had spotted whilst on the bus doing a visa run. After about 25km from Chiang Mai, the hills started. Big undulations at first and then a steep climb. The road split into three lanes, two up, one down. This allowed all the old bangers to crawl ever so slowly up the hill, not to mention the occasional sweaty Scotsman on a bike. I was soon in bottom gear, threatening to blow a gasket as I wheezed up the mountain. I stopped off for a well deserved breather at a shrine. Everybody in their cars beeps their horns when passing the shrine, maybe it is the god of Road Safety. Onwards and upwards I went (thankfully not much more upwards). Then down, down fast. Stopped at the top for a coke, at least in the middle of nowhere you can still get a drink at a stall in Thailand. Then a another stop for ice coffee and a flick through Architecture Monthly (it was either that or Thailand Tattler). Judging by the adverts, anybody reading this is interested in either a new kitchen stove or wealth management. After a lazy half hour I was back on the bike, shouldn't be far now. But then the sun came up to fry my brains! Eventually I arrived red armed and rosy faced. More expensive than I wanted to pay, but the owner was not for giving a discount. Well I did get 50baht off, which he got back as I guzzled five bottled of water in my stay. Besides I wasn't like I was going anywhere else. Cold shower, aaah! Then have a quick nosy about, it is a nice spot. Still not quite sure why there is a large windmill as there is never a steady breeze up these parts. I had some garlic chicken, but it didn't seem to keep the mozzies at bay :(

Day 2 (23rd) - Windmill Country to Suan Charin (103km)

I knew a long climb was the beginning order of the day, but it didn't make it go away. After a hearty ABF (2 egss, 2 sausages, 2 toast & 1 coffee) I was set, ready for an apres-brekkie nap that is. But this bike wasn't going to cycle itself over the mountain (at least not without me cannibalising a lawn-mower). Things started slowly and went downhill (or should that be uphill?) I couldn't get my legs into gear. They refused to go uphills and struggled even on the occasional downhill, not a good sign. After a few more rests, I stopped off at another shrine high on the hill. Here I spotted some brightly coloured birds one with slashes of brilliant red, the other yellow. So vibrant were the colours I wondered if bird-painting might be a national pastime. The certainly caught your eye. Somebody stopped off at the shrine I was at. I though maybe to place an offering for the Buddha, like I had seen in the past. That notion was quickly dispelled at they ran off into the woods clutching a bundle of toilet paper. A different sort of present then, I thought, time to be going. I leaped to my feet and pushed my bike up the next hill. Rounding the corner I spotted a sign for Khun Chae National Park. Indeed a splendid sight as I thought it was still 5km away. I knew that this meant the peak of the big hill. Soon I was whizzing down the other side of the mountain reaching speeds of 60km. Then on past what looked like a "Main Bridge out of order, drive through the mud" sign. It was indeed. Like a scene out of Glastonbury, the road had turned to sludge. Certainly not the easiest surface to cycle through and I ended up rather mud-splattered from the passing cars and my own treacherous bike! For a few more km's mud was dragged through the streets. Then a bit of cleanliness. That didn't last long. I had a made a mental note that the road was awful for about 15km, but it most of fallen down one of the folds on my cerebrum. The edge of the road was mostly dust and rubble held together with potholes. I had to push out to middle of the road for something to cycle on, but so did everybody else. Anyway, I came to to some hot springs. Not the sort to dip your toes in at 90C though. A strong smell of sulphur was in the air but that might just of been the eggs that were being cooked in the water for the tourists. In a "too little-too late" moment I purchased a small bottle of suntan lotion (for 300baht!) to try and keep my red bits pink. I thought I might stay at Wiang Pa Po but it was dusty and unappealing so I pushed on. After 30 minutes I saw a sign saying Wiang Pa Po - 3km. Huh? I guess that was some other town back there then. Still now the road was flat and after some Phad Thai I was feeling resurgent and soared along the road for another hour before fatigue started clawing again at my legs. The kilometres to Mae Suai slowly but surely ticked down. I arrived at a T-junction (how did this get a dot on my map?) I could take a left to Fang Oil well, I continued straight. Accommodation was available a short distance after this village. I checked my map and indeed it did look a short but bendy ride away. The road seemed to consist of giant U-shaped sections through the valley. Rounding a corner I could see the same road looping back in a giant curve. Still I pedalled on, as I was wondering if I was ever going to get somewhere, a fantastically welcome signed proclaimed the hotel to be only 200metres away, hurrah!!

I settled into a room and tried not to fall asleep, just yet. The restaurant, the only one for miles around, closes at 18:45. After that cycle, which by the dubious calculations of my bike computer burned off 1660 calories, I was feeling, what shall we say? - A trifle peckish. After munching down on the ever dependable chicken & cashew nuts, I tucked into a cheese & ham sandwich. There wasn't much else to do except a quick read of my book and off for an early night as I suspected that the translucent curtains would do nothing to prevent the room lighting up at dawn.

Day 3 (24th) Suan Charin - Chiang Rai (51km)

I woke up at 6am, promptly buried my head under the covers and got up at a more realistic time 3 hours later. After some toast & egg I was underway. It was going to be a relatively short day as Chiang Rai lay a mere 43km away. Again a slow start (note to self: double number of morning star jumps) but I had stopped in the right location, all those monster hills were safely behind me. Just some gentle undulations and mild climbs. Ahead lay highway number one, the Pan-Asian highway. Through this road you could (theoretically if not legally) traverse from Singapore all the way to, ooh, Skye! Instead I oped to go the quiet back road the 1211 into Chiang Rai. The 1211 barely had any traffic on it as I cycled along. The quiet road lent a lazy feel and a slow pace of life was in evidence. This stupor even extended to the dogs as they couldn't be bother to bark never mind chase me. Not one whimper! A fairly uneventful ride culminated in my arrival at Lek's house. A more reasonable priced guesthouse than the posh places of the past 2 days. I did pass a couple of intriguing signs on the way here though. First up "Fish Reserve & Buddhist Studies". Seemed a little odd until I cycled past a sign for the "Ostrich & Rottweiler Farm".

Oooh, I just found 50 paise (1/2 ruppee). Actually I didn't as your not supposed to take money out of India. Whew, a close call. Still it wasn't at all what I was looking for. That object being rather important if you want to leave the country. Yep, in an outstanding display of clot-headedness I left my passport in Chiang Mai. Tomorrow I return by bus, sigh...

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