Phayao to Lampang

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

Monday October 5, 2009, 32 km (20 miles) – Total so far: 516 km (321 miles)

If you’ve been checking my daily distances cycled above, and have the Berndtson Thailand North map and a calculator handy, don’t bother. Map says 158 kms from Phayao to Lampang. Road signs on Route 1 are more optimistic. 125 kms. I cycled 32 kms today around Phayao and Lampang, both pretty small towns. In between, I let the Thailand Green Bus Company fill in the gap, 3 hours at an average speed of 50 – 60 kmp/h would add up to 150 – 180 kms. That’s a really long way, even on a 7 kg Italian racing bicycle, so the bus was a wise choice. Leave Phayao late at 12.00 noon and get to Lampang in the early evening. The rough plan was to see the lake shore in the morning. It was misty, cloudy and gloomy, unlike yesterday’s sunset. There are some nice, and well kept old wooden homes, some are huge mansions by the lake whose heyday must have been decades ago.

In a matter of hours, I have spoken to a local who tells me he has a Miyata ‘California Road’ race bike and some carbon Trek MTB. The guy sports very red shoes, and is walking his very frisky 9 month old German Shepherd, named ()bama. I kid you not. I call out ()bama and get a tongue full of saliva. Such is the attraction of the lone cycle tourist. Then my criterium around Phayao’s small hills with nice views of the lake fills up the time before I pack up and ride to the bus station. Before this, I pull up to one of the town’s 4 7/11s (that’s also a German cologne) get a dog to guard my bike, while I takeaway a sticky rice spicy pork burger for brunch.

Don’t knock any of the thousands of 7/11s in Thailand, they may spell the death knell for some mom and pop businesses, but to the lone cyclist they are oases of cool weather, icy drinks like Coffica, or mineral water, if you’re a purist, and fast tasty food that cyclists crave. Once my BP skydives, I might even patronise Tesco Lotus Express, arch enemy of the 7/11, as they deal in imported frozen meats like hickory smoked bacon. I’ll just have to figure out the grilling part.

At Phayao’s bus station, 2 minutes from my hotel, the bike and I are minor celebrities. Even on the open road, I am sometimes gawked at like an oddity. I don’t mind that as I am on the move to another exotic village or same same town. At the bus station people should gawk at well, other people. I remove the panniers, pay up Thb 65 and get a receipt, then wait at the bench with the Lampang sign over it. As there are no buses to be seen, I guess the bus is coming from somewhere else. No point asking when, as no one knows, not even the driver I guess, whom you can’t ask as he’s on the way from somewhere else. It arrived within 20 minutes.

On an irreverent side note, glitzy, Swedish made Singapore buses are satellite/GPS tracked, and there are electronic signboards at smoke free bus stops, that have LED displays of bus numbers and their arrival times. What our first world buses are seriously lacking in, are the cargo holds of Thai buses, a real important feature for the lazy or fatigued or both, solo cycle tourist. Maybe it’s because our savvy bike commuters would rather commute on our buses, mostly to Starbucks on a folding Brompton with titanium bits. Hence, no real need for a cargo hold.

It’s quite a nice change to ride a Thai bus, or in a Thai bus, as now I can become the gawker, observing the goings on in and outisde the bus. I still look like a tourist, as the conductress makes a pedalling motion with her hands and says ‘ha sip’ or Thb 50 for the bike. No receipt though, just a big smile from her. She’s short in one leg, but I don’t want to insult her by giving some more baht. Conductors also scream something like, ‘Aye-eeee’ after some one has alighted, thus telling the driver to move on. Stopping the bus is easier. Press the stop bell.

Monks get priority seating on a public bus, and no female is allowed to sit next or even near him. I see a monk and another male switching seats just because a woman finds an empty seat next to the monk. Soldiers have it better. One is really excited as he spots a really good looking woman in denim shorts and a t shirt tighter than her skin, as the bus pulls out. He indicates to me and his soldier friend not to miss this opportune moment. Soldier friend rebukes him, as in what’s the big deal or behave yourself, then goes back to sleep. I know he’s sleepy. In love or gay, not sure. Insufficient empirical evidence.

I am also at the rear of the bus where there’s an open space for all manner of cargo to be dumped on. Small luggage, bags of vegetables, a guitar, some fruit jostle for space among my pricey waterproof panniers. At some point I doze off, then wake up to find 3 school girls next to me. Being of that age when boys are a new discovery, or a real hassle, the girls are chatty, smile a lot, check out their faces and hair every 30 seconds and for some strange reason are wearing hooded polyester jackets in a tropical country, the back of which read, Faculty of Medicine, xxx University. Wow, that is a lot of studying left to do. The girls get off at Lampang too, but not before a final touch up with Kao brand facial blotter to remove excess oil from their noses. They should turn out to be pretty doctors or just pretty if they fail their exams.

Outside the bus, there are really long, lonely down hill stretches, of Route 1, but it’s still all highway, concrete barriers with lots of evidence of skids and crashes around the tighter bends. If not for the pretty, potential doctors, and the blazing mid day heat today, I’d feel a tinge of regret for not riding.

Once I am clicked in and cycling, I promise not to write this lone gawker, micro observing life on a Thai bus, thesis again. I cant say the same, once on a Thai train. There’s one from Lampang to Chiang Mai.

nfo from guide books claim that Lampang is a more laid back and less touristy town than Chiang Mai 120 kms northwest. This is very true as I see very few signboards in English and a serious lack of say Italian, German, French or any other non Thai restaurant, that you come across every 50 metres in Chiang Mai. The Thais too, love Lampang’s slower pace of life and appreciation for all things retro, be they old homes, cars, buildings and even bicycles.

Baby boomers here, and for that fact even where I come from, hanker for an old Volkwagen Beetle or Vespa as collector’s items and for showing off, but in Lampang the old stuff is actually lovingly looked after or if need be restored because they are still very useful and I suspect, sentimental to their original owners. I stop by a business which even repairs old horse carriages. Another pleasant surprise were the number of restaurants, pubs and coffee places that have custom made racks for bicycle parking. Better to smash up your bicycle than car after a night of drunken stupor. Actually not.

There are few overt signs of modernity in this town except for new cars and a huge Big C supermart which I did not have time to wander in. Lampang’s sights took up what was supposed to be a rest day tomorrow.

I’ll spend 44 hours at a great intenet find, the arty fartsy, Akhamsiri Home, nestled in a quiet leafy neighbourhood. My pink room is best described as modernist Flinstone-ish. The surrounding homes are large, meaning posh and hi-so. There’s a granny selling beef noodles and fresh fruit juice in the mornings, outside her modest wooden house, on a large plot of land, which I suspect has not yet been bought over by some yuppies, or waiting to be sold off by her children. If my Thai was better, I would ask her to adopt me. Then any touring cyclist passing by, giving me the secret password, like ‘Neil Gunton’ will get a free fruit juice.

If I venture just 5 minutes down the road, I’ll reach the Wang river that winds through town. There are 5 bridges spanning the river and I manage to ride across all of them several times during my stay. Close to the river banks are many rustic old wooden shop houses of old Lampang. On ‘Old Market Street’ lined with beautifully restored buildings, there are quite a few guesthouses and riverside restaurants of the Lonely Planet persuasion. Found them a bit too cramped, crowded and backpackerish. I don’t think my LHT would like it too. Too many world traveller gawkers, might get dazzled by it’s twin strobe lights in front, and Knight Rider style red rear blinker.

I lost my way in the dark for a while, and though some people looked intelligent, no one could point me in the direction of the very visible during the day, Wang river that floods from time to time causing bridge damage. Met some guys riding fixies and they put me on the right path.

Dinner was a 3 course takeaway, bought from 3 different places, while I was hopelessly lost. No point eating out when I have a designer room to have a Sabai time in.

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