Saturday, June 24, 2006

More Cycling

Phayao - Chiang Kham 80km

A fairly flat ride to get to Chiang Kham. This is the beginning of the hills into Nan though.

Chiang Kham - Pha Lang Kha 45km

A tough ride up and down the mountains, started okay, but lots of climbing. Finally found the hotel, 5kms further on than advertised. At least I hadn't gone past it, always a worry when there is not much up ahead. Situated at the top of a mountain overlooking a valley, with a nice view. A simple bungalow is the order of the day. At night time, some food is cooked and shared with the owner, his friend and his daughter(?). Not quite sure who she was, she couldn't speak, but was Thai with pale-blue eyes, strange. The owner and his friend guzzled a bottle of whisky that night. I just had a small shot as it would be up early tomorrow to tackle the mountains again. I can see the road winding down into the valley and then up the next ridge.

Pha Lang Kha - Tha Wang Pha 80km

Aye Carumba! A swelteringly tough ride here. At 6a.m. I was whizzing down the mountain I had spent most of yesterday climbing. After about only 4km it was all over, a short flat section through the bottom of the valley before the climbing began again. By 7a.m. I made it out the other side of the valley but I was ready to go back to bed. While it might of been cooler early morning, still sweating buckets. Down the other side of this mountain leaving Pha Lang Kha, holding on to the brakes as the road is weaving down the mountain is a series of switchbacks. Down at the bottom I narrowly avoid a rummaging pig. My wheels rims are too hot to touch from all the breaking! The day continues up and down through seemingly never ending valleys. Up, up and up for ages, lots of bike pushing. And then an all to swift journey down to the bottom of another valley. I get some more water at a shop, they are few and far between in cycling terms here. After drinking thirstily, it's on and upwards, this time along a mountain ridge, fantastic scenery! Eventually a long down hill brings me to a small town, only (a relative term when mountains are involved) 10km from Nan. I ask some locals if the road to Tha Wang Pha is flat. "Mountains!", they say. My face falls, and they dissolve into laughter. Thankfullly they were joking, it's pancake road into town. Now, I just need to find a hotel. I was cycling past the post office when I here "HELLO!". I pulled over and asked somebody about a hotel, they gave me directions written in Thai to show people. After asking many people with my piece of paper I got there. I wouldn't of found it on my own!

Tha Wang Pha - Nan 45km

Back on the flat roads, which is just as well, as my legs are having a hard time on the slightest incline. After a few hours I make it to Nan, find a hotel, and have a look around town. I duck into the museum at the skies open and it pours for an hour. After that off for some dinner. Steamed Lemon Fish, not that you would know as it was doused in chillies. Oh well, I found a pub and watched Argentina destroy somebody. I decided to push on down to Phrae, as I needed to get the bus back to Chiang Mai in a couple of days for a dentist appointment.

Nan - Paradise Resort! 40km

There wasn't much in the way of accommodation between Nan and Phrae so I stopped off here. Seemed like I was the only one here. Suprising the solitaire playing staff, by being a customer. A got a little bungalow, and some lunch before a huge storm came in for the afternoon. Not much to do here anyway. At least the food was nice.

Paradise Resort - Phrae 80km

On down to Phrae, a fairly flat ride but I was needing a rest day! Rolled into town and got a room. I tried to explain to the staff that I was going to Chiang Mai and would be back, not sure they understood but never mind, by bike was still there when I returned. I had a look around town at the tourist sights, but not much seemed opened. I went along to Prathat Chai House, a big house made out of 130 logs of 300year old teak, then filled with cheap plastic souvenirs!
Some noodles and dough balls in the night market. Fairly quiet place, only a handful of foreigners here. I went for a shave, and ending up with a haircut as well.

Phrae - Si Satchanalai 131km!!

Things didn't get off to a good start as I headed out of town on the wrong road to Lampang. Mistake number two was trying to take a short-cut back to the main road. I ended up going through small villages alongside a river on a road that had no predilection for direction or directness. Apparently it led to Den Chai though, which would get me back on track. And after 40km I did indeed arrive at Den Chai, staring at a 25km to Phrae sign.
Then it was into the hills again, not as steep as the roads at Nan, more depressingly just a dead straight road rising and rising. Back to pushing the bike! It was getting hot again. Then I got soaked in the rain, most welcome! But all too soon, the sun was burning again. On and on I made it out of the hills, and down to Si Satchanalai. Now, I just had to find the Historical Park where I wanted to stay. I doubt I took the shortest route but I made it to Wang Yom just beside the park. It was late in the day an I just wanted a shower. Of course, it took ages to get the room sorted out. After cleaning it out (many places never seemd to be prepared for guests!) they found out the air-con didn't work. So cleaned out the one next door, and the shower wouldn't work. Eventually a geezer came along and fixed the taps. Hurrah! After a shower, I rightly felt like a bit of dinner. Unfortunately the hotel restaurant had closed already (it was before 19:00). Seems like everything here is set up for bus tours. Passed big restaurants and a beer garden (both closed) presumably busy during the day. Found a small Thai restaurant for a couple of dishes to fill me up and off to bed. Zonk!

Si Satchanalai - Sukothai 75km

The next morning I had a very quick look round the ruins and then onto Sukothai. Not many days left for cycling so I wanted to push on down to Sukothai and have a rest day there. After leaving late (arround midday) I ended up getting rather toasted in the sunshine. Now I've got a big red nose. I had a look around the ruins the next day. Quite impressive not as grand as Angkor Wat, but still on a large scale. Spread out over a large area it is fulls of ruins mostly from around the 13th century. They start to look all the same after a while though. Wat Sri Chum stood out as having a buddha almost encased in a large building, approaching it you can see through just a small gap.

Tommorrow it is onwards west to Tak, then north to Thoen, Lampang and finally back to Chianh Mai.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chiang Saen - Phayao

Chiang Saen - Mae Sai 45km

Just one big hill to get up and over and then fairly flat along almost a country lane till I reached Mae Sai. Here I got my new visa again. I was asked to show 10,000 baht for my stay, I didn't have it so I asked for an ATM and said it was I going to China and the guy said doesn't matter. Mae Sai is a busy border town lots of shopping spilling out on to the pavement and road selling all sorts. A short road through Mynamar links China to Thailand through which trucks rumble along. I decide I would check out Tham Luang (Big Cave) on my bike. It was about 6km away, I cam to a t-junction and took a right, I should of gone left. Anyway I got there eventually, nobody was about. My guidebook said you could hire lights there but it was spookily empty. Just a dark, dripping, dank entrance to a large cave. I went in about 5m and that was enough, back out into the sunshine. The cave is part of a green mountain spurting up out the plains rising high above Mae Sai. A lot bigger and steeper close up.

Mae Sai - Chiang Rai 65km

Back down to Chiang Rai, this time down the main highway. A fairly easy cycle but hot today, seemed a long way. Stop for cool drinks, at least no hills on this road. A bit late starting out, so I was hungry by the time I got to Chiang Rai and grab so lunch and lots of liquid.

Chiang Rai - Phayao 98km

Long ride, but flat, just seems to take forever, chugging along slowly. All about just keeping the pedals turning, not going fast! I stopped off at one of the rain/sun shelter for a rest. A truck pulled out and out jumped a Thai with a form, he wanted my to help fill in the English form, as a widowed friend wanted her kids to be Swiss citizens. After helping with that back on the road. Have a long lunch and a rest before continuing on. Eventually arrive in Phayao and cycle round in circles trying to find somewhere to stay. Decide on the Wattanna hotel, not too bad for the price. I've got a TV so I can watch some of the football. My legs hurt! The anniversary of the King's 60th Ascension to the throne is this weekend. A lot of people join in a parade to the local park. A big band, soldiers and civilians wearing the yellow t-shirt make up the throngs. I didn't think there was this many people here. Phayao is a small provincial town based on a artificial lake. I popped along to the main Wat, but undergoing repairs. Here is housed the largest lanna style buddha, but I get only a glimpse through the scaffolding. I visit the attached musuem, which even had exhibits in English, not bad for a small town. I am nearly the only foreigner in town. A bus comes each days and deposits a tour-group of foreigners for 20 minutes of coffee and a toilet stop before they are whisked off. I bumped into a couple of people who are actually living here, but they are working at the bible school. Now I'm addicted to ice-cream.

Tomorrow I set off for Chiang Kham, I suspect there may be hills involved!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Back in Chiang Mai (again!)

Wed - Mae Chan to Chiang Saen - 35km

I found some dinner in Mae Chan, one of these cook 'em yourself types. I didn't feel so good a few hours later, I'm blaming that round squidy/fishy thing. But I managed to get on the bike and cycled along to Chiang Saen, at the North East border of Thailand. The Mekong runs down past Chiang Saen, across the other side is Laos. As flat a ride as I'm likely to get on the way here, barely a hill was climbed. Chiang Saen has some old ruins in the city and like Chiang Mai has/had a wall and moat surrounding the perimeter. I went for a look round the museum and then booked a bus ticket back to Chiang Mai. Why? Because I've got toothache :(. I decided I would rather take my chances with a dentist in CM rather than out in the country!
After a 5 hour bus journey, I dumped my bag at Kavil's Guesthouse. The owner was suprised to see me again. Then I headed off to Chiang Mai Ram the new hospital at the north-west corner of the moat. They had a dental clinic, at first I made an appointment for the following day, but after some persuasion I managed to see the dentist (just for an examination they said). Turned out my wisdom tooth need removed, so they gave me some antibiotics and then 30minutes later started the pulling and yanking and general unpleasant tooth-pulling type stuff. So I'm down a wisdom tooth and munching on pain-killers. A bit better today than yesterday when it was very sore, a big gaping hole in my gums! Went and saw XMen 3, quite good in a special effect sort of way. I'll head back up to Chiang Saen in the next day or two and return to cycling, need to go to Mae Sai and get my visa stamped on the 7th.