Saturday October 3, 2009, 80 km (50 miles) – Total so far: 358 km (222 miles)

After a really restful night’s sleep, I woke up to cloudy skies again. My thermometer read a very agreeable 20 deg C. Air conditioners are rare here. It’ll get colder in the following months, the record low being in the single digits when ever cold winds blow in from the Chinese winter. That’ll be the high season, packing this small ridge top town with expensive SUVs sporting China license plates and tour minivans from as far as Bangkok, with everyone indulging in tea tasting and bringing home large quantities of oolong tea. My ‘bangalow’ wiil cost Thb 500. If there is one available.

Most of the locals in Mae Salong, like Little Home’s owner and his family, originally hail from from Yunnan province in southern China. Their ancestors just couldn’t agree with Chairman Mao’s plans for a unified China in 1949. Like all less powerful armies, those aligned with the Kuomintang rebel faction fled to Burma and then to this remote part of Thailand on their pack mules.

What do refugees do in a strange land? Recreate the place they left in a hurry and thankfully for the typical tourist, there are pretty cherry blossoms in the cool season, endless tea on the hill sides, quaint little wooden guesthouses in town, with satellite TV channels from China and Taiwan, while the pack mules have been cleverly recycled into horses for rent. Those in the tourist trade are also trilingual in Chinese, Thai and English.

Opium cultivation used to be rampant in these forested, hidden hills, but it seems that the new opium is plain old Chinese tea.

There are a couple of KMT army war museums outside town, but I don’t have a thing for wars or museums. There’s also a sizable Yunnanese Chinese Muslim community here, so that explains the mosque on a hill side. Women in scarves and men in white caps. I wanted to try their delicious spicy and oily chicken noodles, but after some thick coffee and one too many ‘yu tiao’ or deep fried bread dough sticks, I felt stuffed all morning. Quite a dilemma, eating with the eyes. You see, you want, but you don’t really need it. Applies to bike parts too.

For the crazies cycling their thoroughbred touring bikes, there’s the 30 km roller coaster of a road, the 1234 to indulge in. Make that 46 kms, if I had not wimped out yesterday. I am indebted to the Thai Department of Rural Roads for smooth tarmac, guard rails and clear road signs pointing skywards. They’ve made it quite shady too. Always a plus.

The kind and caring owners of Little Home sent me of with such fanfare that they woke up the still slumbering backpackers upstairs. I reassured them that I’ll be alright as they seem to look more worried than me for today’s ride down to Chiang Rai.

The 1234, what a road number, hugs the ridge line as much as it can, before descending into the depths of deep, dark ravines, crossing a bridge and no surprises here, climbs steeply back out the other side. As I am fresh as a lark, or is that happy? I clear two such ravines slowly but surely, but the third one, after 20 or so kms, as they say, is a real b*tch. No offence to female dogs.

My handle bar and controls are wet, and it isn’t raining. It’s me. I try zig zagging uphill when there’s no traffic, but the blind shady corners are dangerous, as most motorcycles with 3 or 5 people on them, like to coast silently downhill. The speedometer doesn’t work when you’re crawling along at doing 3 – 5 kmp/h. Any slower and my bike will develop a reverse gear. Might as well stop, so that my lungs don’t implode, play with the camera, and drip sweat onto the road instead of the bike. On the 1234, I also come across two side roads and the inevitable military checkpoint, as the side roads undulate and lead closer towards the Burmese border.

There is a 12 km side road northwest that brings you to the infamous Burmese rebel general, Khun Sa’s little exiled kingdom in Ban Turd Thai, now corrected to spell Ban Thoet Thai for obvious reasons. Just a small village and another museum with many pictures of life on the run in a jungle. 24 extra kms to see a museum. Not today.

Here’s a downhill video,

Temperatures rise as I ride on a great 8 kms downhill that does not lead to a bridge, there are rice paddies and more housing, some pricey resorts and spas before I see signs for the country’s main highway, aptly numbered Route 1. Bangkok is about 830 kms away. I’m stopping at Chiang Rai, 33 kms on.

Sometimes ‘AH 2’ follows the ‘1’ Seems confusing at first but it means ‘Asia Highway 2’ Although it’s flat, there’s a 2 to 3 meter wide shoulder reserved for 2 wheelers. I get to Chiang Rai at 3 pm for an early look see around town and a late lunch and afternoon siesta. My stomach is also churning from a blueberry and chocolate ice cream cone and fiery hot fried rice with pork combo that I had 10 kms apart. It really bugs me when I am pedaling that I have to think of a toilet.

I find Baan Warabordee down a very quiet lane and ask for a ground floor room. The receptionist would like me to have an upper room, but I say no. Stair climbing on a bicycle tour is plain illogical. Oh I see, Room 106 on the ground floor does not have a fridge, so I am forced to accept a Thb 50 discount from the regular Thb 500. Cool, I hope this trend of forced discounts lasts the whole trip.

I think ‘happy as a lark’ is correct.


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