Chiang Mai

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Cycle touring North Thailand 2009
Tags: , , ,

Thursday October 8, 2009, 49 km (30 miles) – Total so far: 672 km (418 miles)

The deal for today was to head south, a direction that I had not done over the years. Follow the lazy, winding Ping river all the way to Lamphun 20 km on. (not to be confused with Lampang) This old trunk road, the 106 is lined with huge and tall gum trees, ‘yang’ I think in Thai, and there are about 900 of them making for a very shady ride. Some over development does clash with the height and majesty of the trees, but this being Thailand, the fact that these giants have not been cut down, is already a blessing for conservationists, as well as the lone cycle tourist who covets shade.

Speaking of shade or shady, I pass by a huge karaoke place, a few actually, in a district called Chiang Mai Land. Huge posters of what’s on offer, the least of which must be vocal talent.

Most or all were closed at 8 am, so I move on in search of Chiang Mai’s oldest settlement at Wiang Kum Kam. This wetland area was buried by the river’s frequent flooding, but some parts have been dug up revealing another ancient walled city and many temple ruins. You can get here on a touristy river barge, from downtown Chiang Mai, but since I had a bicycle handy, I rode there. Saw two ornate temples out of a dozen or so, they were beginning to look too familiar, and the two I went to, did not have vicious temple dogs, whose barks were louder than some monks chanting through an amplifier, in the noonday sun. Most Thai temples are infested with them. These cunning critters know that temples are a great refuge. Monks cannot mistreat or kill them, so they have free reign to pester this innocent lone cycle tourist, who couldn’t care less.

An interesting find on the shady 106 was a very old style coffee shop, decorated with things from decades past. Old Coke and Pepsi bottles, one whole wall was made out of these, creaking furniture and floor boards, a Kelvinator fridge, and an old bicycle which the owner’s father rode around selling coffee. Sat here for 30 minutes nursing an iced coffee and gawked at a bunch of roadies flying by at 40 kmp/h. I shall be back.

The trip is winding down, especially when I am left to watching others cycle, but duty still calls and I remember that there’s some last minute shopping to be done. As it was getting hot, I plot a route in my head for the Central Airport Plaza Mall to seek refuge in it’s air conditioned confines. I have to do this as, silly me left my greater Chiang Mai map in the room. Navigation wasn’t that much of a problem, as soon after I left the temple complex of Wat Chedi Liam, I saw a huge sign saying, Central Airport Plaza. The name is quite misleading, as the mall is bigger than the airport terminal buildings, thus it is not in the airport per se, but a km east by a highway.

The bike is stealth parked and locked today for 50 minutes in some thick bushes behind a taxi stand.

This mall is the city’s largest and good forced discounts are many. Thais like to dress up for the mall, or movies, so there’s a lot of eye candy to be had too. 5 floors of movie theaters, restaurants of Thai, Japanese, Korean and more Japanese persuasion, a whole floor of IT and electronics, umpteenth internet and coffee joints, a Robinson’s department store, a video arcade, a factory outlet meaning GAP and North Face rejects, a basement food court and Tops supermarket, an aquarium with a shark in it, etc, etc. You might even encounter a Mormon or rather two. They do come in pairs, but are always overdressed for cycling.

No Thai city has arrived unless they can boast of a having a Central Mall.

My parents love this place and can spend a whole day in here while I’d probably do Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao in that time. The ‘Northern Village’ section is great for first timer. They’re the ones with the wide eyed gawking syndrome, wallet in hand ready to buy something, anything. It’s a show case of all things, well northern, handicraft, clothes, furniture and enticing Thai street food on the ground floor.

Best of all, everything has a price tag, so I can save my energy by not haggling and use it for cycling instead. Today I am still mesmerized, though I dread being gawked at, as I am in my Tour de France best, and the SPD cleats are really not made for contact with glitzy mall floors. But I soldier on, and buy 3 kgs of organic and fragrant Thai jasmine rice, 2 boxes of Acuvue contact lenses and some Thai made, but Hollywood titled DVDs. Look out for the Mang Pong Brand, only licensed original titles. Quite the forced discount deal at Thb 88 each.

In my wallet there’s Thb 3000 left, not too bad as I’ve spent Thb 7000 thus far or 70% of my budget and I fly home tomorrow. The trick now is not to visit too many bike shops, five grand can disappear in the blink of an eye. A Salsa Ala Carte MTB frame and fork is priced at Thb 19,000 or about $570. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Yes.

Then it’s off to Chaithawat bike shop in the old city to get a bike box. Buy more stuff and get a discount without asking, such sweet people. With such a busy ‘off’ day, I forgot to get lunch, but I usually make up for it by having dinner and dinner. That turned out to be quite interesting, as a Dutch couple who had seen my bicycle in the Phu Thong Hotel, Phayao, 4 days ago, recognised it again, locked to a nearby tree, and sat themselves down at my table and introduced themselves, as the Dutch couple who saw my bike at the Phu Thong Hotel in Phayao, 4 days ago.

Well OK, it’s always nice to exchange stories of each other’s bicycle trips. They are on Koga Miyata’s no less, but have never heard of the LHT, so they took a picture of it, the minor street side celebrity that it has become. They had cycled down from Vietnam and Laos, but were headed back to Amsterdam, via Bangkok, the next day, and it looked like their post tour blues had set in already. We drowned our sorrows in sodium laced Thai street food and later, I introduce them to deep fried insect section of the Chang Puak night market. As if this wasn’t enough, I wrote them the CGOAB web address and thus changed their lives forever.

Cycling 1045 meters in Thai traffic, back to the hotel with a big box under one arm requires many blessings from Lord Buddha. Please don’t try this at home.

If you’re contemplating a Thai tour with hotel stays, just go with you gut feeling when it comes to securing your beloved bike. Thais keep their motorcycles indoors, in living rooms or kitchens even, as long as it’s in a secured area. This should be the same for your bicycle, though most Thais will think of bicycles as toys and don’t deserve to be in carpeted hotel rooms. The fact that you rode halfway around the world, to be blunt, no one gives a rat’s rear end. Hence it’s quite vital, even more so as a lone cycle tourist that hates stairs, to get a ground floor room. Recumbent riders will empathize.

Posh hotels that charge Thb 499 or Thb 10,000 are a challenge, if your room is on the 6th floor. I locked my bike in the basement during the day, but heck, it’s packing time tonight and walking the LHT in the marbled floor lobby with many gawkers might be a pain. Plan B. Carried the bike up one floor, got to a lift unseen, in a corner of the lobby, and viola, I am in. Cargo elevators are the best, as bicycles are perceived to be dirty, but might not always reach guest room floors. Sometimes there is no point asking for permission. Receptionist, doorman or bell hop, when unsure and cowering under a picky management or boss, will always say, no bicycles. Then you’ll end up having a sauna in a dark basement, feeding the mosquitos, just doin’ yer packing.

Hotel security, what a joke sometimes, is no better. Instead of keeping any eye, might be messing with your shifters and what not. On the other extreme, I ride in and out a few times and no one bats an eyelid. Phone, girlfriend or sleepiness comes first. That said, in 95% of hotel, guest house check ins, you’ll get wonderful and welcoming people. It takes the remaining 5% in nice suits with gold plated name tags, to mess with your day. No, no park in the car park, it’s very safe. What if it’s not there in the morning? No, No very safe. Will you get me the same new bike if it’s stolen? No. No. Very safe. Beware, one of the nos, means ‘no new bike’. Period. Didn’t read the limitation of liability sign in the pitch black car park, did you?

Once, in 2004, I removed both wheels from the frame and made two trips up 23 floors to my room, thus getting around the hastily thought up, no bicycles rule, not even in a cargo elevator. 1st trip were just two wheels, thus not really a bicycle. On the 2nd trip, I said I was carrying my ‘science project’ Needless to say, management and security were not amused, but I was, very highly.

Sealing of the box takes place an hour before checking out, just in case I have to carve a watermelon or papaya during breakfast with the Swiss army knife, which goes into the tool kit, which goes into the bike box. Fret not, if the box is sealed too early and you still have knives or box cutters, maybe a Made in Thailand, Baby Glock 26 replica that will drive airport police bonkers. Stuff them via the carrying holes in the sides of the bike box.


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