Archive for the ‘Mountain bike touring North Thailand 2004’ Category

27th Nov 2014

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Our room was at the top left corner of this building. While the front of the Win Hotel faces a quiet car park, the rear which I assumed to be quieter has a morning market that wakes up at oh, only 4 am. Being tired, our sleep is deep, so noise wasn’t a big deal. Light sleepers, as I mentioned before should have earplugs by the bedside.

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 Agreeable hotel lobby decor

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 Knives are quite common sale items in an agricultural province. We’ve seen whole pick up loads of them.

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The hunt for breakfast and snacks begins. The professional here will buy just one item from each stall and make a taste bud assessment, after which any winning stall will see a return visit !

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 From the aroma and people hanging around, I assess this to be a yummy breakfast. Good ole morning JOK.

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 A dash of grounded red peppers makes all the difference. Devour slowly. Thb 30

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 Winter fashionistas are out. 20 deg C.

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Good to see the humble bicycle out and about. Although this one is pretty racy. An Italian with a Taiwanese parentage.

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 I’m suspecting that driving to get your supplies would suck big time at this market.

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 Spanking new Chevy folding bike perfect for more petite riders.

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 Doing the tourist thing by the lake, which in the distance is still fogged up. We start quite late at 10 am, delayed by that very interesting morning market in Chinatown.

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Highway 1 connects Thailand’s northernmost borders to Bangkok. 800 kms of tarmac and traffic in parts.  Uurrgghhh, but we have to do about 4 kms of it, outside Phayao to connect with the 1251 which leads to Chiang Muan.  Not many Thais have been to CM much less heard of it. On Google maps it’s just another small village. For the touring cyclist who has done thorough research, it’s a rest stop, which turned out to be one of the nicest on this trip. Mainly because there’s nothing here that a city dweller would fancy. Very fine by us.

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 Time for feeding after 25 kms.

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Oh yeah, carbs and chicken at Thb 35 each. You just can’t lose in Thailand….

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 Once off the main roads, we have the road to ourselves.

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Heading south east, I spot these ranges. I suspect we have to cross them later in the day, and hoping too that the road finds the lowest of passes to do so.

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If the iron buffalo can make it, so can we. The mountain road 1251 to Chiang Muan turned out to be not that steep, or are we getting stronger with each passing day ?

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Angels watch over us from above and even at this village drink stop. I pay for the big bottle of water and Nescafe. The smaller bottle and ice are on the house 😉

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At the top of the not too difficult climb, pilates is in progress. The dark shadows meant a fast setting sun and very cool temps in the shade.

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But we are making good time as usual, aided very much by a long downhill section into Chiang Muan in the distance. Beyond CM are even more ridges to ride over to Nan tomorrow. Ah well…. bring it on !

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 We have enough time to do another fancy coffee stop. Why not, even the jerseys are fancy today.

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 Thai public toilets do take the cake sometimes, even in rural CM.

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The P & P Resort in CM is highly recommended by touring cyclists. I did find it among some Thai road cyclist’s blog. We took the most expensive and family sized cabin for a princely sum of Thb 500. It was huge and well appointed, even with the polished and mismatched floor tiles. Most importantly, among all the the gaudiness, it was extremely clean. Rested a while before putting on or lights and getting dinner. ‘Downtown’ ie a few rows of shops at a T junction was about 2 kms away.

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 Sunset from our porch.

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Noodle soup…. again. Just different noodles. No full blown restaurants in this village. No fear, we head to the brightest building here, a larger sized 7/11. From afar it seemed like the twinkling lights of las Vegas.

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 I have dinner # 2, Thai/Italian, some munchies, as well as a puny breakfast, just in case.

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Monday May 3, 2004, 45 km (28 miles) – Total so far: 431 km (268 miles)

An easy and flat 40 kms or so brought us back to Chiang Mai. We rode 107 all of the way, like a time trial, but on a bike lane, seeing that we had enough off road riding the previous days.

At one of the bike shops, a customer tells us that the 75 kms from Wiang Haeng/Kong Lom to Pai can be done in a day. Sure, right, on an unloaded 22 pound MTB with a motorcycle at the rear hauling lots of food and water. We sort of figured that’s how the locals do it, starting at 6.00 or maybe a little later at 6.05 am. We wanted a slow morning, exploring dead end roads, so we started at 12 noon. Somehow they couldn’t comprehend that.

Since Paul wanted to test out his new carbon fork’s resiliency to stutter bumps and minor vibrations, or lack thereof, we rode 14 kms up to a nearby mountain top temple, Doi Suthep, and down again, before another mango-less shower hit us. Doi Suthep National Park has a myriad of off road trials down it’s many flanks, leading back to town, er eventually. Somehow after the Muang Noi episode, it was hard to convince Paul to ‘let’s go explore that interesting trail’ again. Not this year at least.

We get on a songtheaw to the airport. If it’s empty, it’s like taking a taxi, you pay more for the driver to go out of his usual route, the airport being a prime example to double fares from say 50 cents to a dollar per person. If there are two high school girls, as in the picture, we pay less, may be half. With boxes, the fares go up, so back to square one. The girls don’t seem to happy, especially if they’re late going somewhere, and two tourists like us jump in for the airport. Riding the songtheaw is a great way to meet locals or get on their nerves.

We had a potential Miss Teen Thailand say goodbye to us at the airport (she was dolled up to greet some tourists)  Power Ranger Paul did get his refund 30 days later, he just wasn’t billed for the $650, AND we did get to Laos in 2005, ticketless of course.

Research is important!

Maybe I should have read this first,

Reality Check Point

There are hundreds of dirt tracks and miles of great asphalt in the region. Organised biking trips are available through a couple of companies but they are by no means necessary. Bike hire is easy and cheap in Chiang Mai – about tenner for 24 hours. As nothing over 150cc is built in Thailand most hire bikes are imported second hand from Japan. The most readily available are Honda Baja 250’s. For those who want to stay on the main roads or just do a bit of light off-road work the water cooled Honda AX1 250 is the best bet. Exercise caution when hiring – check the bikes over thoroughly as not all hirers are reliable. Dang’s Bike Hire is good for AX1’s and should you break down they will come and get you or bring a replacement bike.

Plan your trip well. Do not attempt to go off-road here unless you have a realistic view of your ability both as a rider and a mechanic. Fill up at every available opportunity and carry plenty of water. Riding off-road alone is not advised. The terrain is testing and a breakdown could find you in a very sticky situation.

A couple of decent guides are available here namely A Motorcycle Guide to the Golden Triangle and The Mae Hong Song Loop, both by Chiang Mai based David Unkovich. A good source of information is David’s website.The best map is Thailand North by Brendtson and Brendtson.

The best time to ride here is during the cool season – November till early February. The hot season is unbearable and the rainy season makes dirt tracks impassable. Last but not least please make the effort to learn a little about the culture before you come – especially that of the Hill Tribes.

Published on 9/11/03

http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/2674

Sunday May 2, 2004, 95 km (59 miles) – Total so far: 386 km (240 miles)

We seem to have hit the northern Thai mango showers season. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mango_showers

Sudden, heavy rains with strong winds that start in the late afternoon and die out as fast as they started. No complains really as these rains bring a breath of fresh air each day and also less dusty roads to cycle on. Our first one was in Chiang Dao in the dead of night, and now a couple of times in Pai. As we sat sipping hot tea after a great two hour massage, another storm hit. Rushing to close the windows in the living room at the massage place, I realised that the new windows had no panes. It’s in places like these that remodelling a home carries on when the kitty has some money. Just like the lady who closed her sundry store and phoned a neighbour, then directed us to a bedroom above for our massages.

After two thoroughly relaxing days, we reluctantly left Pai down the 1095 to Mae Malai, the town with great tim sum. That was as much a driving force at the mumber of down hills that awaited us today. We followed a quieter parallel road for abut 15 kms before it rejoined the 1095 at Pai’s hot springs. There are a number here in the valley, but probably best experienced in the year end Thai ‘winter’ and not May’s sizzling 35 degrees C. That’s like steaming a previously boiled lobster, in an oven. Overkill. By now we were used to the heat and humidity, or was it the massages that made the 95 km ride not too daunting? Paul was all smiles, mostly because we knew where we were going. It’ll be a long time coming before following me on another, ‘the trail across the mountains looks interesting’ kind of ride. Ah, humbug to former roadies with no sense of adventure.

We check into the Mae Tang Hotel in Mae Malai. Mae Tang is actually farmland some 30 kms north of Mae Malai where tourists are brought on elephant rides and rafting trips, so if you ask for the Mae Tang Hotel without emphasizing ‘hotel’ you might just be sleeping with some elephants. The lady owner here is used to touring cyclists and there’s even a bike rack of sorts in the lobby. Plonk in the front wheel and lock. The restaurant has some really pretty staff, seemingly more interested in comparing make up and hairstyles, than showing us a menu. It was empty at dinner time, so you have to ask yourself why? Their menu’s pricey and there’s tons of street food outside, that’s why.

Last night, we pretended to be too tired and decided to sleep just after our bedding arrived at 8. We had to, if we wanted any real sleep further on into the night. What would the guys at a camp like this do to fill up their long nights? Two words, booze / women. We were invited for both. Hence the act to be tired and sleepy. We had a pretty good excuse. Cycling from Piang Luang most of the day. It wasn’t easy, lying flat on a floor, for 3 to 4 hours while a party was going on just beyond the walls of our room, while not really feeling sleepy at all. The guys must have packed it in sometime between 1 or 3 am. Next on the programme? The Muang Noi Border Patrol Snoring World Championships. Really sleepy now but kept awake by the ruckus above on the second floor.

What gives ? Only one guy is in uniform, the rigid one

Like a real army camp, MSG gave us about 30 minutes to pack up and follow their Unimog to Pai at 0730 hrs. What? There goes our leisurely morning, to eat, crap, take some photos (but not the camp proper) And what about the remaining 33 kms, downhill to Pai? No, no and no. Pulling us aside, he asked, “Do you want to die, today?” We took that as, take the free ride, as the road conditions will be just as bad as the day before. We must have looked like death yesterday, then. In all probability, he felt responsible for our safety, even after our departure from the camp. He looked like he had the worst hangover and couldn’t wait for everyone else to leave him to some quiet time.

As a slight consolation I must add that we did enjoy the ride on the unimog, interacting with some of the guys and finding out what goes on in camp after dark. OK not all the female company last night were 100 % female. They just looked like it in make up and heels. Yup pretending to sleep was a good idea after all. Life in camp, maintaining the border, took up 20 straight days a month, with the remaining 10 days for R and R in the towns of Pai or Mae Hong Son. To save money, the single guys would stay in other camps or their headquarters in the larger towns, while the married men returned to their homes. Today was Day No. 21 and there were many smiling faces on our truck, at times coming to a standstill, finding it’s way in first gear, down some very steep switch backs, on the bone dry road to Pai.

The daily 'bus' up the mountain

After we got off the truck at Pai’s bus station, I figured a token sum of 500 baht or about $12 to be given to the Captain for their hospitality last night. He flatly refused it and gestured that it was ‘thank you the Thai army’ Now we really felt bad and thankful at the same time. I knew what to do. We got a six pack of beer, some fruit and snacks at the market and put it all down on the driver’s seat while the rest of them were taking a break at a coffee shop. While we were cycling off later, they overtook us, the driver honking and thanking us, open beer can in hand. Though he didn’t as much as speak 10 words to us, we figured that he was the one who also bought two bottles of water and two cans of Coke, (his bunk was on the ground floor, where we slept) leaving them by our panniers last night. Amazing. Even more so is another of Paul’s random thoughts. Something that I’ll remember in my old age. “Do you think that they share their women too?”

From the Pai pictures, you can tell that we did more eating than cycling. It’s a small cross roads town, hemmed in by mountains, on the 1095, part of the Mae Hong Son loop, a winding mountain road boasting a couple of thousand hairpin bends. These days the loop and sleepy towns along the way is one very well beaten and ridden path in the Thai north. What’s interesting are the other thousands of off road trails within and around the loop. I once harbored thoughts of living here for a few months, but I’ll probably miss my wife and some of my bicycles, and in that order please. Mrs Paul will also blame me for being a bad influence. Interestingly enough Pai translates as ‘migrate, or ‘go’ from the Shan Burmese language, right across the border.

Over the last decade, Pai has bagged the gold medal for being the most touristy town in Mae Hong Son province. Another Chris sums it up pretty well, if not very detailed, http://www.allaboutpai.com Sacrifice your lunch hour and read on.

Like a kid in a candy store

Friday April 30, 2004, 80 km (50 miles) – Total so far: 271 km (168 miles)

Today’s dire stats :

Stage 1 : Piang Luang guest house to Wiang Haeng 13 kms.

Stage 2 : Getting lost 25 kms riding out on the wrong trail head to nowhere. Actually it dead ended at a small dam. No chance of riding over that.

Stage 3 : Wiang Haeng, rather Kong Lom, the correct trail head, to Muang Noi, as the crow flies 10 kms, as the wheels turn 42 kms

Having been to Chiang Mai 9 times from 2002 to 2009, I thought it would be nice change to ride off road trails close to Burma and seek out some ‘soft’ adventure options on a mountain bike. Strangely and feeling slightly proud of it, I’ve never saw the delights in doing the typical tourist thing.

Stuff like jungle trekking to hill tribe villages. Dining on cold, suspicious food, sleeping with a dozen strangers in a bamboo hut, sharing a one and only squatter toilet in the village, or riding on an elephant, seeing them play soccer, or go pet a tiger cub at the Tiger Kingdom, and experience the goings on at ‘the Monkey Center’ or ‘Snake or Buffalo Farm’

Instead we wake up today in Piang Luang, a one horse, two road village 4 kms from Burma. It’s one of those places that a Burmese refugee would mimic a throat being slit if you say you’re going to cycle across the border. Local Thais usually shake their heads in disbelief, after the initial shock of such an idea. Anyway the border crossing here catered to local traffic only. All others, keep out.

a great sunrise in Piang Luang

That said, I guess the startled army rangers at the two checkpoints, where we begged for water, could be saying the same thing. ‘What in Buddha’s name are Dumb and Dumber doing pushing their bicycles up our mountain trail?’

At Checkpoint No 1, after 12 kms of cycling and pushing uphill, we were greeted with suspicion and outright pity. After they turned their GPMG muzzles skywards and away from us, a low ranking GD Man (‘general duties’, ie, does everything as ordered) brings out a Godsend kettle of water which we promptly finished and asked for another. We even sat down at one of their picnic benches overlooking the Burmese border.

A spiffy young looking officer did the interrogation. He seemed in charge, and very relaxed in a baseball cap, a ‘I love Hawaii’ tee shirt and army fatigues elsewhere, while the others were in full battle gear. After checking our passports and a barrage of who, what, when and why, especially the why, he sort of pointed us down a very overgrown and unmarked trail 30 kms to Muang Noi. Huh ?

I wanted to ask him about his groovy tee shirt, but seeing that they were the ones with the weapons, I went a step further and questioned his sense of direction. We rode a great single track downhill for a while, then U turned just to ask him if this was really the correct way. Why couldn’t we just stick to the main dirt road? Well that was because the ‘big road’ leads to Myanmar, he would have to open his gantry and file a whole lot of paperwork, say if we disappear and a search party descends on his outpost a few weeks later.

Now he got angry and said that his map, pointing to his head, in his brain I guess, was more accurate, and to make his point, took my map and threw it to the ground. OK people with the weapons, I concur. Their campsite looked great too, but we had worn out our welcome, and drank a lot of their water, as the lieutenant practically shooed us away, going back to whatever kept him happy on this mountain top.

In situations like this, Paul likes to be as confrontational as little. I spot him hiding in the shadows of the trees, looking at his stopwatch and pondering lost minutes. He was keeping track of average speeds and the 40 kms or so we had to do today. We plod though 30 kms of singletrack and still doubted how the Thai troops could drive through paths narrower that a wide girth Hummer. At the very most Mr Hawaii would be sending us to oblivion just for the fun of it, but just imagine the paperwork? In retrospect our encounter with an English speaking Thai army officer was not so bad. He could have just turned us back to Wiang Haeng. Now that would really suck, big time.

Are we there yet ??

Here’s when the going really got tough. We were down to walking and pushing our bikes. In times like this, if you have bar ends, adjust them vertically, like some senior riders do. Grabbing the bar ends make pushing a little easier. When you’re on the verge of collapsing in a Thai jungle, every little silly advantage helps. We harbour thoughts of ditching the bikes and walking out to the first village we chance upon. No chance, no villages to be seen, or at least they were hidden. We did come across the only traffic on this trail, two barefoot monks who gave us a glimmer of hope as they had walked from Muang Noi or a village sounding like that.

That hope was demolished each time we rode ourselves into some dark and deep ravine, hauling out bikes over some small stream, seeing if the water was potable too. Then the inevitable, endless pushing up the other side into streaming sunlight, hoping to reach any ridegline with a view of somewhere. Nothing. If memory serves me right, we went through a dozen or so of these nothing viewpoints. At lucky number 13, the vegetation changed drastically. Going downhill the plants and tress were bone dry, there was the smell of smoke and even burning embers by the trail. This had better be a good sign of crossing a major watershed. It was, and the steep, rutted downhill path on which we made up some time, even had some views of cultivated valleys in the hazy distance. Semi civilisation, here we come.

I was relishing this downhill run, taking out my revenge on this trail that has zapped every bit of energy that I had the last few hours. After narrowly missing a few tumbles and wheel sized ruts by mere inches, I slowed down as Paul was nowhere to be seen or heard. No response to my emergency whistles. I actually had to stop as I did crash into a final rut and landed a few bike lengths away. Bike stops instantly, jump off and jog like a silly gibbon a few feet in front of it. Grab any vegetation if you don’t seem to slow down. I tore a glove and scraped a knee. Having your left SPD unclipped plays a big part in saving some pain and blood. Paul showed up a while later, both gloves torn and both knees scraped. Slightly moody, but brightened up when I explained my watershed theory. Twice.

He muttered that while we were separated for the first time on the ride today, he had crashed a few times. That would be normal, given this rutted trail, laced with dark, blind corners. Crashing, while riding uphill is just too embarrassing. That would be on par a few hours ago, with my pulling Paul aside and saying, ‘Whatever happens, please don’t leave me in this jungle!’ We can get our bikes later, but…..repeat previous sentence. I’ll blame that on a very deep, dark and slimy ravine and depleted energy. The two drops of water left in my bottles didn’t help either.

Now you know there is a God, of course there is, there are quite a few these days, just choose the proper One, and here’s where humanity will beg to differ. Oopps, better get back to what God has sent. A small beat up, black Honda motorcycle, parked by some burnt out tree trunk. Brudder Paul, check it out, a machine here. That means people, a village, food and drink and dare I say it, guest house.

It was 5.30 pm and light was disappearing fast as we found our spots, stretched some lycra and drained out what little trickle there was out of our bladders. As I looked down upon my trickle, it was making a plonking noise hitting a plank that read, ‘Muang Noi 1 km’

What a satisfying pee that was.

Fine art at the border patrol camp

The trail widened into more dirt and then turned into a concrete road quite common all over rural Thailand. Disused rice fields in the dry season. We see wide eyed Karen villagers, wooden homes, satellite dishes and a phone booth, minus the phone by a basketball court. Noticed a beat up Toyota Hilux, the village bus I guess. There’s transport and a dirt road to Pai 33 kms on. That will be on tomorrow’s plate.

As usual we find a small store and head for it’s refrigerator. Half frozen cans of Coke. Wow. We down a few, and started to look for the village Hilton. Apparently there are lodgings here, but secret ones, reserved for the chosen few and known only to a special class of leaders, like the north Thailand tourist trekking guide. Book such a trip and sleeping quarters are guaranteed.

As for us? No, no guesthouse here. Plan B. We found a school, that meant classrooms, shelter and possibly the school toilet. It was better than nothing and better than the benches at the sundry store. Salvation came when a soccer ball flew out of a cluster of white buildings that was to be Check Point No 2. I kicked the ball back over a fence and was waved to come over by some kids. I guess the guys here were used to lost, hungry and desperate looking mountain biking tourists. We were literally ushered into the compound, had our bikes parked in a garage for us and asked whether we needed a place to sleep tonight. The open garage seemed pretty good but we were shown into a huge and clean store room of sorts with a bathroom and shower attached !

Our luxurious store room, beats sleeping in the open

Our saviour had an Auatralian accent, wearing a fitting camo T shirt that read, ‘Special Forces, East Timor’. Rank was Master Sargeant or MSG. Our language problem solved, more surprises followed. A GD man appeared to sweep our floor, some bedding arrived and dinner was announced, as long as it was fried rice with sliced pork, out on a park bench by the garage. We were bowled over time and time again by such unexpected kindness and hospitality. Either that or we’ve just joined the mountain Border Patrol. Was that why we were asked whether we had any women with us or food in our panniers, in that order?

MSG also apologized that we had to eat by ourselves as the rest of them about 10 had an important meeting to attend to, at their dining hall cum kitchen that overlooked the school. I learnt later that night that the army had not paid their salaries for the last three months, so their Commanding Officer, just a Captain and some men were going to a bigger camp at Mae Hong Son town, 150 kms away to lodge a complaint, as the Captain himself had no more money to lend to his subordinates. Sad.

I totally regretted taking less than ten pictures of our off road exploits today. Must be the extremely low morale, thirst and hunger that puts photography at a very low priority.

Thursday April 29, 2004, 95 km (59 miles) – Total so far: 191 km (119 miles)

Today will turn out to be a very long day. In retrospect, the Chiang Dao area deserves a minimum of two days. The Nest’s website recommends you stay for a week. There’s some truth in that, not just clever marketing. Maybe that’s why recalling this trip five year’s on, I’ve laid my head on some really comfortable Nest pillows on three occasions. Yet I’ve still not reached the end of a country road at Muang Khong. I’ve heard that this country road now extends further on in to Huay Nam Dung National Park, very close to Pai. This is what happens when you hire a car on a vacation instead of bringing your touring bike. Ah well, back to 2004.

Trying to 'blend' in

With close to 100 kms to ride today, we added another 10 exploring this particular road to Muang Khong. What a steep one it was. Having to explain ourselves at the park entrance and military checkpoint, granny gearing for a while and then turning to pack our stuff and head out on 107. Thankfully the first 25 kms or so were gently rolling hills. After the turnoff to a smaller Route 1322, the hills got relentless and we didn’t really get to see the attractions along the way. Some guide book had extolled the number of hill tribe villages here, but all we saw was tarmac and dry hillsides fading into a hazy horizon, for about 70 kms.

25 kms of this !!!

Five years ago, we would baulk at hiring transport to haul ourselves and our bikes. This was made easier when the noodle stall holder quoted a price of 1000 baht / $25 for an hour’s life threatening ride in the back of her pick up. Meaning easier to decline the ride at such an exorbitant price. Five years on, 25 bucks divided by 4 equals just $6.26 bucks (2 bikes and 2 of us that is) Sounds like a deal. Five years ago, I was more gung ho too.

Paul and I take our time over lunch, while noodle soup lady kept pointing to her pick up, ever ready to close her stall to make some big money. Not today and thankfully so. We would have kicked ourselves as the road went downhill more than up. We plod on and get to Piang Luang close to sunset. I figured we could get a complete rest and a lot of massages during our two days in Pai.

Our Piang Luang prison cell

Wednesday April 28, 2004, 86 km (53 miles) – Total so far: 96 km (60 miles)

Our ride begins as we head north on smaller roads by the Ping River. We ride by the American Consulate a couple of times, looking as suspcious as we can in bright lycra, to see if their wall mounted cameras are for real. Yes, one actually moved. About half a dozen bridges span the Mae Ping and we cross them back and forth just to say the we’ve been on both banks of the river.

Two underpasses bring us even further north, our general direction, till we hit the Super Highway, make a left and connect with Route 107 that runs all 195 kms north to the towns of Fang and Thaton.

We pass by some local landmarks like a Women’s Prison, a Drug Rehab Center and some Special Forces training base. Needless to say, we didn’t stop at such illustrious institutions till Mae Malai 40 kms later. There’s a tim sum restaurant here that everyone stops by for lunch, and they sell out by mid day.

After a great lunch at Mae Malai, the hills appear and we grind up slowly, stomachs full, legs heavy and the sun becoming very hot. Traffic thins out, and the designated bicycle/motorcycle lanes that lined Highway 107 out of Chiang Mai have all but disappeared. In it’s place is dirt and grass, but the occasional car or truck gives us a wide berth. Countryside drivers never really seem to be in a hurry. Another 35 kms on, we get to Chiang Dao town proper, a narrow street with one traffic light and two rows of old wooden shop houses with a 7/11 as the only sign of modernity. A new bypass skirts the town, dissecting old farm roads and exposes previously hard to find country style resorts once hidden in dense foliage. We take a break, more like a second lunch at the busiest day time place in this sleepy town. A restaurant with a big car park next to a gas station. A lot of vehicles stop here and there’s an English menu of sorts, a pricey coffee place with a few pretty girls that hang out at such pricey coffee places. Look out for ‘Krua Chiang Dao’ opposite the Chiang Dao Inn Hotel. It’s another 7 kms on a slight incline heading west that leads us through a very shady road to an oasis of a place, the Chiang Dao Nest. It’s the low season and we’ve got the resort to ourselves. The resort website promises deep sleep on quality spring matresses and comforters. No TVs, just sounds of the forest. Sold !

Doi/mountain Chiang Dao is Thailand’s 3rd highest peak and supposedly a last vestige of the Himalayas in South East Asia. It’s very scenic around these parts and there at least 10 places to stay in and around Chiang Dao town http://www.chiangdao.com

A lot of cycling tour outfits do their tours around the trails near Chiang Dao. If like me, you’re averse to crowds and strangers, especially crowds of strangers, some with with supposedly better bikes (blonde Swedish girls on any kind of bicycle excepted) you can always buy the Chiang Dao hiking and biking trails map from Wicha at the Nest, and head out on your own.

Chiang Mai: First things first

Mountain Biking in ‘Sensitive Border Areas’

431 km (268 miles) over 11 days from April 27, 2004 to May 7, 2004

Tuesday April 27, 2004, 10 km (6 miles) – Total so far: 10 km (6 miles)

This ‘latest’ journal recounts an unforgettable off road trip to Thailand in 2004. There were many other trips, with many other people, on many fancy bikes, but those don’t count. Except for dates and distances from a notebook, every word is from my memory. Pictures do help too, a lot in fact.

My super fit buddy, Paul and I attempt an anti clockwise loop of sorts out of Chiang Mai in north Thailand, in mid May, the hottest month of the year. The ride is a mix of highways, secondary roads, fire roads, jungle trails and backtracking some 20 kms after we got lost. Other than that, Thailand always seems like a good place to pedal a bike, any kind of bike. If you have a dozen bikes, that’s a dozen trips in the bag.

The journal title’s a slight misnomer as I’ve lost my way once, well maybe twice, OK half a dozen times while cycling a spider web of off road trails in the Thai north. Thankfully I did not lose my way cycling solo, although losing your way with 8 other cycling friends, of whom 4 had conflicting GPS waypoints, and differing navigation skills, read personalities, made getting lost alone look quite tempting.

An hour of this seems like 60 minutes when suffering with friends

On this trip out of Chaing Mai, we were lost for about half a day in the mountains close to the Burmese border. A few hours pushing a loaded mountain bike in a ‘sensiitve border area’ according to our maps, doesn’t seem too daunting, but with a host of other compounded factors to make that day longer and more tiresome than it was, we would always recall the mountain village of Muang Noi with fond ‘will we ever get out of this jungle’ type memories. A true test of dehydration and friendship, amongst other things like patience, I guess. It began right at the airport…..

We get to Changi Airport in Singapore bright and early, 0630 hrs early one May morning. We smirk as we squint at an endless stream of car headlights heading the opposite way into the downtown business district. During the van ride to the airport, I ask Paul twice, twice as to whether he has all his documents, ie money, passport and air tickets. Yes and yes. We had bought a US$200 airfare and 3 night hotel stay deal from a travel agent.

At the Silk Air check in counter, voila, money and passport yes, ticket, um no, zilch. It was in his desk drawer at home. Mrs Paul who’s on her way to shopping, maybe work, chuckles over the phone and says. ‘That’s quite normal !’ I feel my blood pressure rising in leaps and bounds and we haven’t even started cycling yet.

Amazingly the airline could not do a print out of the ticket from their system. We are ‘in their system’ after all. It can do so for $25 only if you’ve say, through sheer bad luck or stupidity, lost it. And this can only be only at their downtown office which will open at 0900 hrs, 40 minutes after our flight takes off.

Buying a whole new ticket, with the same name, dates and route is strangely possible at the airport check in. What if the flight was full? I ask. Then you couldn’t really buy another ticket. That would be unfair to Paul who hasn’t ‘arrived’ at the airport yet, presumably with his ticket, according to the computer, although there is the real Paul, in the flesh, here and now frustratingly trying to check in! Wouldn’t someone be alarmed if there’s a passenger with absolutely similar names and flight data in the system? I guess not. Not at 7.30 in the morning.

After 45 minutes of Plan Bs and stand offs, mostly groveling with a bunch of ‘Sorry Sir, no ticket, no boarding pass’ airline staff, Paul whips out his master card and buys the same ticket for US$650. Cool.

I thought it was a stylish kind of move, and quite expensive if the promised refund did not materialize 3 months down the road.

From this incident on, I vowed never to fly with a paper ticket in hand and thus do my part in saving the airline industry a supposed US$5 million a year in printing and issuing paper tickets. Or maybe vow never to travel with a certain Paul, but then again, what are friends for, if not to disagree and even plan the next year’s northern Laos trip. As the wife would say, “Hmmm, shooting yourself in the foot again?”

Speaking of foot relief…..