Archive for the ‘Chiang Mai and Pai with a tikit 2010’ Category

Lush and green Chiang Mai, from Doi Suthep 600 m above

Yes it was wet, very wet. Thank God for a raincoat, mini mudguards and good brakes which made cycling less miserable. This (photo below) being the 2nd last day of a very short 5 days in Chiang Mai and Pai, I was getting used to the daily deluge come 5 pm. I had to count my blessings as there was usually semi sunny / cloudy skies with light drizzle in the earlier part of the day. Weather stats for August, the height of the rainy season was rain for 20 days (out of 30) and a 60% chance of rain and thunderstorms each day.

If you’re looking for blue skies and getting a tan, you’re just 4 months too early or late. The best time to be in the Thai north  is between November and February. Little chance of rain with cool winter winds from neighbouring China bringing temperatures down to as low as 2 degs C in the mountains. In the valleys and cities like Chiang Mai, Thais and tourists alike will find the daily average of 20 deg C with deep blue skies most agreeable. Welcome to the north’s winter season.

Waiting out a rain storm at a cosy coffee shop where I was invited into. The Ping River will burst it’s banks with just another meter more of floodwaters

So why was I in the Thai north in the most inappropriate month of the year ?  Well the trip and expensive air fares were taken care of by Coleen’s relatives who had never been to the north, didn’t care if it was raining or not and most importantly were there for a slow paced vacation spiced up with a visit to Gems Gallery to hunt down some precious stones. What was I left to do ?  Update myself with the goings on in Chiang Mai (not much really, the roads were to put it mildly, very slick) and see whether the former hippy hangout mountain town of Pai in Mae Hong Son was worth a return visit. It was. No crowds thronging the streets and cars with Bangkok plates jamming up the roads for kms on end.  Resort rooms at half the going rate, sometimes less. Just rain and misty hillsides. A full sus mountain bike would be fun to have.

It’s better to use the green one during rush hour in a city with narrow one way streets and the rain just seconds away

Now with the Bike Friday tikit folded in the boot of the rental car, I could be ready to ride anytime. Well almost. The best times were early morning from 7- 9am when everyone else was slumbering and maybe after dinner in the dark, to ride off dinner in the cool hours of the night, in search of midnight munchies. Mike’s Burgers ! Yes, I know it’s a vicious circle. Eating and riding.

Thankfully there was only one episode when I got really drenched, riding back to the hotel after getting some goodies from a hard to find bike shop. I had forsaken the nice dry Toyota Vios for the tikit, but did not refuse my wife’s advice to pack my raincoat, very essential for keeping the camera dry. Anyway with the evening rush hour traffic building up, the tikit was the saner choice wet or dry. The bonus if you can call it that was, splashing through the quickly flooded streets of Chiang Mai in semi darkness, while everyone else were practising their clutch control in 10 kmp/h traffic.

What traffic?

This certain bike shop near Wat Gate and the Chiang Mai railway station across the Ping River is almost impossible to find. Not only was their map inaccurate, the shop front was a huge wooden house from eons ago fronted by a hardware / grocery shop. There was space for 4 pick ups and more in it. The bike goodies were at the back, visible only after the owner switched on the lights. It  was more like a store room / office in a forgotten corner of a massive warehouse. At 6 pm it looked like he was about to close and head out to dinner, but uncannily 2 other customers walked in after me and they bought a lot. We were led into another room where some more exotic (for Thailand) stuff like Brooks saddles and imported race clothing were kept. As usual I was given a further small discount from the already good prices, without even asking !

Earlier on, a kind passer by took one look at the map and decided to call the phone number printed on it, telling him to stand outside and wait for me, on the street I had cycled up and down 6 times. Somehow telling me (on a previous trip) that his shop was close to Dr Wong’s clinic on such and such a street just doesn’t cut it. I got some saddles, a road tyre, nearly extinct 8 speed cassettes  and cycling shorts  AND a lot of moisture afterwards.

If I hadn’t made dinner plans, it would have been fun splashing about a bit more in the streets that resembled shallow rivers at sunset.

Bike goodies laid out like a buffet spread, yum !

With just about 6 kms to ride across town, I carefully kept my camera in a ziplock bag under my rain jacket and went out into a heavy drizzle. My shopping in 2 white bags was dangling from the handlebars and I blended in with the evening market crowds jamming up the already crowded streets. I barely rode for 2 kms before the skies really opened up and visibility went down to a few car lengths. Just in time I turned into a small coffee shop, dripping water all over a nice sheltered wooden deck as a resident cat gave me the evil eye as in ‘I was here first, go away!’

A nice young woman came out and sort of gestured me into the airconditioned shop. Dripping wet as I was I declined and mentioned that I’ll keep kitty company outside. She smiled, went in and brought out a small towel. I am planning a return visit in better weather 😉

Bikes from a bygone era

* Chiang Mai  has a couple of pro bike shops with the latest and the ‘bestest’ from around the world, with prices to match and where cyclists congregate to check each other’s bikes out. I generally try to avoid these, as there are dozens of such shops back home, but it was fun to find one in a hip neighbourhood of  fancy spas, pubs and bars in Nimanhaemin Soi 13.  You never know when you’ll need some help in case of a bike malfunction.

Who knows what you'll find in the narrow streets of Chiang Mai's old town

Cutesy at the Sunday Walking Street

*If you’re really interested in this back of a warehouse bike shop, just show up on Sunday mornings @ 8 am @ Thapae Gate for their Chiang Mai Cycling Club Sunday rides. The enterprising owner of  ‘Lek Bikes’ will have a pick up full of bike accessories ready for sale on site. Just ask him to redo his map !

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