Archive for the ‘Mountain Bike Touring North Thailand 2014’ Category

9th Dec 2014

P1220165

Wattana’s homely dining room/reception/entrance on the ground floor. Just 10 rooms in a 2 storey block. Immaculately maintained.

P1220572

A breakfast only a true Chinese would love. But not the fussy ones. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I am partial to porridge even though this is plain boiled rice that’s lukewarm in a rice cooker. The dough fritters are pseudo Thai Chinese and the salted egg is like bacon to Asians. Usually tongue curling saltiness, though some here are not that salty. A good thing.

The rice cakes with egg custard, wrapped in banana leaf are a Thai surprise, easily available from the morning markets for a few cents. Great portable cycling food ! These are just starters, disappearing after an hour or so, of cycling, leaving space for more sampling on the streets.

Wbeds copy

Wattana’s Thb 800 rooms. Recently refurbished from an old apartment block. Google Maps will show up a jungle clad blue building circa 2011. This is all new, clean, spacious, well lit, and well furnished. I guess this is the benchmark for CM now. What’s lacking is a fridge, but there’s a big one on the ground floor stair landing as well as a water cooler for everyone’s use.

WBath copy

Our water heater died one day but was quickly fixed in the few hours that we went out.

WWarning copy

A lengthy warning, laying down the law. I guess it’s needed because of the clientele. I did see one specimen, trying to light up outside his room. Upon seeing me he walked down and out onto the street. By the way at reception this sign is also in Thai and Chinese. I don’t read both that well, so I took this pic. There are also,’Don’t slam the door’ signs in every room.

WLaundry copy

A bunch of university age school girls stayed a few doors down. This doesn’t bug me as much as smoking and karaoke, but just watch your step if they’re dripping. And if it’s 7 am and you need to get some drinking water, outside your room, it might be prudent to have a bra under that very transparent night gown. Or get your husband to get water. That’s what we are there for ….

P1220583

Here’s what I like about the streets in CM’s old city. It’s quiet when there’s no traffic, lots of nooks and crannies to cycle to, the smell of fish sauce at the markets, the smell of fresh laundry hanging on a rusty fence, the smell of BBQ chicken next to the laundry….and this classic MBenz 190 that graces the front of Pak Chiang Mai, a boutique guesthouse. I think it’s pricey Thb 1500 and up.

P1220589

And very close to such expensive rooms is this, a recycling business. I still have hopes of finding a tossed but  flashy vintage bike or parts of it amongst the rubble. You never know.

P1220602

At mid day we face the inevitable. Airport check in. Cycling is really popular here. Man in blue has a fancy downhill mountain bike in a $700 hardcase in black. He’s flying to Singapore, taking a taxi to a ferry terminal and ferrying himself back to an Indonesian island south of it, and still has someone waiting to drive him home. He spent 4 days n 3 nights in CM.

P1220612

As Watanna’s puny breakfast was fully digested we did the usual before boarding. This is wifey’s spicy tom yam. Loads of spices, chilli and oil.

P1220613

I dare not take such chances while in the air and settle for this. Heck they’re going to feed us on the plane anyway!

Advertisements

8th Dec 2014

P1220403

I last climbed Doi Suthep 11 years ago in 2004. Sure it’s manly to ride up all 18 kms to this point below the temple, but since we’re on a vacation of sorts and I had the numbers ie .2 more cyclists, it made more sense to get onto a red taxi or songtheaw and at Thb 300 less rich, we can start sweat free,  three quarters  up and across the mountain, and back down to Huay Tung Tao, the town’s largest lake.

From there on an easy 8 kms ride back into the city, in time for dinner or so I thought…

P1220410

D was not too happy about the 4 km climb through the forest lined road from where we dropped off to Phu Ping Palace where the royal family has what else, a palace. She has done this before, but would like to head straight for a second breakfast.  Haha.

There are also food and souvenir stalls and a parking lot for the hordes to linger in, as entry into the palace grounds and botanical gardens is limited. We avoided all these and plonked down to another snack of fried chicken and tete a tete, again. Time was on our side so we did not rush. I mean how long could a downhill off road ride of 20 kms take?

P1220448

P1220454

Dire warnings as the place is popular with all manner of vehicles and help is far away…..

P1220472

This is the town’s most prosperous hill tribe village, because of tourism. It’s another 3 kms down from here and the road is congested with minivans. It’s only Monday. I suspect some residents head down the mountain to spend time in their weekend condos in the city.

P1220479

 At 1100 m the air is refreshingly cool and cold when the wind hits our sweat soaked tops. It’s a beautiful 4 km of rolling road, mostly rolling down. Do watch out though, it’s still a 2 way road, which should never be widened.

P1220501

There’s a camping ground at the park headquarters and the end point for yesterday’s ride which we did not do. I can’t imagine 500 people and their bikes here.

P1220508

Further down the road there’s a coffee plantation, so guess what beverage is sold here? There used to be even a few cabins if you fancied staying the night, but sadly they’ve been left to rot. The banana wrapped rice snack was courtesy of breakfast at Wattana’s.

P1220517

P1220527

Downhill glorious downhills runs through a shady forest, that go on for 15 kms. Unfortunately for me, 3 successive punctures or rather valve blow outs on the front tyre, had me walking for at least 8 kms, while the girls slowly made their way down at crawling speed…….

P1220538

 Views of the city in the evening light were amazing.

P1220548

Flap flap flap. Never did such sounds sound so irritatingly depressing. I made the fatal mistake of using a presta valved tube in a rim with a schrader hole. Apparently, the skinny valve would start to creep sideways in the wider hole till it could move no more, resulting in the hole practically slicing the base of the valve off. Then all air inside would just leave the tube in double quick time. Kinda dangerous if I was going fast at that point. So I destroyed my existing tube and 2 more prestas in under an hour.

Ironically, I had purchased a schrader tube from Chaithawat on the very first day in CM, but left it in the room today.

Even more astounding was in well over 800 kms the past 2 weeks, over across and down mountain roads at high speed, the valve did not creep one bit. The devil must be working overtime this Monday.

Hike2 copy

I tried to be positive, but at times sucked it in and walked and walked, occasionally breaking out into a slow jog. To catch up with the girls. Things could have gotten worse, like an injury. Needed to count my blessings first. Top most worry was darkness and not having enough time to go to a nice fancy dinner as it was our last night. That’s just me. Least of my worries was which bike to use the next time I’m here….and I will be back.

P1220554

When I had given up all hope of even riding slowly once the road levelled, I saw the girls at a junction, and D was talking to a pick up driver. He was heading out and seeing our, mostly my silly situation, nodded, smiled and motioned us to load up our bikes for the ride out. What a stroke of luck! There was at least another 5 kms out to the main road, on broken concrete that would surely destroy my relatively new shoes and strain my calves even more. They ached for the next 3 days. Legs are meant for cycling, not walking a bike on a dirt trail.

Unfortunately there was only space for 2 of us and 2 bikes, so D graciously told us to go and she would ride out alone in the fading light. She still had at least 30 kms to go before reaching home. It was too quick a goodbye and I felt really bad to leave her in the lurch, but she said not to worry and she’ll be back in Singapore next month, for more eats and gossip.

P1220626

It was not that easy to locate a bike shop in these parts. There’s a lake and food stalls here, And a posh housing estate. Most bike shops were back in town. Dropping us along the 108, I tried to tip the driver, but he would have none of it. Another angel sent to help us out in the most dire of moments. He was on his way to a doctor in Sansai and I just noticed that he has a set of crutches on the back seat!

We finally found a motorcycle shop and viola he had the last 2 mountain bike tubes in a cabinet. I installed one in a flash, pumped the tyre and we left just as fast. Now my tummy was rumbling so we popped into a 7/11 and I downed 500 ml of fresh milk to Coleen’s amazement. Liquid food for an angry cyclist I said….

Getting back to Wattana’s was all a very fast blur of overtaking evening traffic and a fat air filled 55 psi front tyre that hummed so beautifully, I could cry. What a day it has been ever since the first damn flat.

I thought back to other major bike malfunctions and consoled myself that the last one was in Bali in 1998. A $300 Machine Tech rear hub that failed, again on another downhill ride. I guess it could be worse if we were going uphill for 30 kms.

I should be so lucky.

After a nice long bath, our final dinner in Thailand beckoned. I wanted somewhere posh, as in a mall even. A promise to Coleen, but it has to be for for another trip.

5 minutes walk from Wattana’s there was mookata, a Thai kind of steamboat.

Crocodile was on the menu.

P1220562

P1220561

7th Dec 2014

It’s Sunday, a supposedly rest day from our trip. Right. We got up early though to meet the usual CM Sunday Cycllng Club folks who do this ride every December in honour of the king’s Birthday. Ride up the highest road in their town, to the steps of Doi Suthep, a non stop 18 km climb. We will pass as I figure a ride up this mountain the next day, would be less stressful without 500 other cyclists from all over the country…

P1220158

I capture a moonset just as it sinks over the Doi Suthep Pui National Park, from our guesthouse balcony.

P1220166

More on Wattana Guesthouse later, suffice to say their breakfast was way better than some Thai rendition of a western breakfast. Here it is the very polar opposite, the same menu day after day, catering to a 99% crowd from China.

P1220175

Like clockwork every Sunday at 7.30 am there’s a motley gathering of cyclists from CM at Thapae Gate who do rides as far as 100 kms, 3 times a month. The 4th weekend is sort of relaxing and usually leads to some spot of historical or cultural significance in town. Today is pretty important, that hillclimb in honour of the King’s birthday, hence the all yellow tops for 2014.

P1220193

Doi Suthep in the far distance.

P1220202

A hardcore runner that I’ve seen a few times in CM. She is going up the mountain too, earphones plugged in, and singing out loud for self motivation. Cheerful and waves to anyone who gives her the thumbs up….

P1220231

 I hope he makes it.

P1220261

We leave the peletons and ride to the Bike Festival set in the under maintained CM University Culture Center grounds. The whole trip was conceived to end around this event, in January. I had expected more but being their first time there were teething problems. Still lots of weird and wonderful to gawk at and really good bargains to be had from some Bangkok retailers.

P1220272

P1220294

P1220295

P1210846

P1210836

P1210830Backroads is a US based bike touring outfit. They must be classy cos that’s a very pricey Merlin Metalworks mountain bike frame with Backroads decals in a font that Merlin uses. Maybe from a mid 90’s production.Their usual fleet in SE Asia are red Cannondales, as is the red Cannondale rear trunk bag on this bike.

P1210865

An almost new looking Bridgestone Radac aluminium road bike from 1990. I am seeing bikes that shop owners lovingly maintained through the decades. It’s a feast for the eyes. Thus lunch is delayed to 4 pm or beyond….

P1210823

Indeed

P1210853

Bok Bok Bikes from Bangkok has a slew of top end touring bikes on display.

P1210876

Watcha going to do when they come for you?

P1210891

In this corner, the Japanese mamachari convention is in full swing. Remnants and used bikes that are collected all over urban Japan and shipped out by the container load to start a new life in South East Asia. Sometimes you might find the odd diamond in the rough, say a Brompton or classic titanium Panasonic road bike. It has happened before. A red Cannondale road bike was hanged up here and was sold in minutes.

P1210897

Some locals have really drool worthy stuff. Here’s a UK made Thorn Sherpa touring bike with a US$1500 German made Rohloff rear hub.

P1220310

A couple of ‘plastic’ bikes outside where else a coffee shop in Nimanhaemin, CM’s hip district

P1220322

A lanky cyclist on a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen. Double top tubes for taller riders. Probably the only one in town if not the country. Take out US$2500 for the frame and fork only and wait patiently 6 months or more for it to arrive.

P1220279

Of course there were a couple of food stalls on the grounds and this Thb 40 plate of pad Thai did not disappoint.

P1220352

Don’t let the blinking lights fool you. Apart from a so so food court and nice air conditioning, it was pure boredom inside. Opposite Maya Mall, was a more practical place. Think Park incorporating a hotel, open grounds, outdoor seating, lots of trees and small independent shops, food trucks and a generally relaxed open bazaar feel to the place. It was packed. I even chanced upon the sole owner and proprietor of Brown Bikes.

If one so desires, he’ll even teach you how to build a bamboo bike. I might take him up on that one day, but for now his bags are quite tempting. He directed me to a small shop where he had a showroom of sorts and of course, a few thousand baht left my wallet. It was all good, all waxed leather, all hipster even…..

P1220365

P1220373

6th Dec 2014P1210991

Days and dates are immaterial now ……….

P1210995

D used to have 16 cats and 2 dogs in her Singapore apartment. Yes 16. Here, there’s only one. It’s not even hers. This old frisky boy pops in every so often, for a free tickle and of course breakfast. Cats can smell a cat lover from another province away. And I’ve heard this one crying and moaning each of the 2 mornings, we’ve stayed here.

P1220039

 Before leaving we get a tour of the estate. We’re headed into town proper, and headed to a favourite Vietnamese restaurant at Kad Kiang Wiang.

P1220051

As the main road 121 is kinda jammed up and stinky exhaust fumes abound, we take the dirt road into town. Our mountain bikes are darned useful as we amble by some gridlock…..

P1220053

We are led to another noodle stall breakfast. The place is teeming, but it was really good and bike parking was swift and easy. I bet the nice lady we met while cycling, in her gleaming black BMW couldn’t agree more. By the time she found parking we had finished our meal.

P1220063

 Toong’s was just across the main junction, so we dropped by to get caffeinated.

P1220083

Kad Kiang Wiang is a nice open space downtown. A rarity in chiang Mai’s old town. That’s the one encircle or ensquared by it’s ancient moat on 4 sides. Heavenly beef noodles as well as a quaint Vietnamese place. There’s a large courtyard that quickly fills up in the evenings with diners, and it gets even more crowded on Saturday nights when there’s usually a jazz band. Sunday nights are absolutely crazy with the Walking Street night market. All roads and lanes leading up to it are closed. If you’re caught, come and get your car after midnight or the next day. You wont have that dilemma if you’re on a bicycle. I guarantee it.

P1220096

 Moments before deleting. Moments before recording…….again and again.

P1220105

A sign of the times at Chaitawat bike shop, one of the pioneers in Chiang Mai. Progress has deemed that they open another shop next to the original one dealing only in Bianchi brand bikes. Although sounding very Italian, 90% of the affordable ones are from Taiwan. There are at least half a dozen such franchises in town. I much prefer the older shop that I can rummage through looking for quirky stuff. The more retro the better.

Hey any new shop can churn out the overpriced and the mundane to the clueless or those with tons of online knowledge. I meet up with the senior male proprietor, and catch up on some biking tales. He did cycle to China once and started right out from this shop. On one Sunday ride he came back disappointed because only 25 flat kms by the Ping River and not a 70 km hilly ride that was promised. Not bad for an almost 70 year old.

He said the franchise was inevitable, having resisted it for quite some time. That was what the market demanded, and that was what they needed to keep up their business afloat.

I asked about the sign out front. Oh that. That’s also to keep up with the times as too many a rental bike customer from nearby businesses were always bugging him about pumping their tyres. And those shops refuse to invest in a humble floor pump.

Time is money, that is universal.

P1220123

 Sustenance for the night. Can you tell who ate what? His and hers respectively.

P1220149

There’s a rash of burger joints in town to tempt every taste, tummy and wallet. This at the Chiang Mai Gate night market was pretty good, at unbeatable prices too. If you need to sit there are even tables set up inside the market. Just that you’ll have the accompanying day market smells to go with your burger. I took mine away back to Wattana’s. So much more civilised. Maybe one day I might even try the $25 ones at Dukes. It’s an American themed restaurant that John Rambo, I mean Sly Stallone went to everyday, while filming Rambo 4 here, some years back.

P1220154

P1220148

These boys contribute to the atmosphere, and smells at the CM Gate market.

5th Dec 2014P1220035

A bright and early morning example of a gated community home 15 kms out of Chiang Mai. Just an example, it’s not D’s place. There are bigger properties than this one also. One even has a scale model railway track running around it’s perimeter.

P1210722

Out beyond the gates is development. I don’t necessarily look forward to urban sprawl but with increasing incomes and wealth in and around Chiang Mai, there’s also increasing numbers of establishments dealing in ‘artisinal coffee’ and ‘bespoke bicycles’

Thus I approve, especially Toong’s coffee. It was right up there. Imported coffee beans are taxed 95% and other dubious shops mix local and imported beans to save on costs or increase profits. Toong’s assured me that they don’t stoop to such a level.

This junction at the southern exit point of the hilly 70 km ‘Samoeng Loop’ is popular with cyclists, hence the increasing numbers of coffee places and bike shops. This end of the Loop is also where the canal road intersects, hence it’s dual, dual ie. 4 lanes, carriage way. All were built in the last 3 years.

P1210705

The Cannondale shop is also brand new, they’re sill getting their act together inside. A very friendly and barefooted elder French mechanic lurks within. Their workshop space is as big as the showroom. 2 units.

P1210714

 Dedication to roasting and road cycling. I am impressed !

P1210742

 Breakfast was decidedly non Thai in a pet cafe. We need the change.

P1210755

 Here comes trouble !

P1210766

Someone told me the measure of a town’s wealth is when people actually go out to buy pricey food and toys for their pets.

P1210723

We cyclists on the other hand are treated to a place that D haunts. A local cyclist who imports ‘race clothing’ from dubious sources in China. Imported clothing are taxed at Thb 20 per kilo. Though jerseys and shorts are lightweight, the owner asked if I knew of any ideas how to circumvent that? Heck I am not even Thai and sure as hell no tax evader, unless the sum involved is astronomical !

His outfits the only ones that practical cycling fans can afford without paying $200 for a jersey and shorts. I found one that even had ‘Made in Italy’ printed inside. Do buy the ones you’ve tried on as the letters S, M or L do not mean a thing in China.

P1210775

We move on to Baan Tawai, the local source for northern Thai furniture and homey decorative stuff. Streets upon streets of furniture stores to set up your dream Thai home. Of late there’s been a slump hence the quiet desperation from the looks of the stall holders. People are just buying trinkets and smaller items. Wholesale enquiries from Europe and the US have trickled to slightly above nothing, so says D.

P1210788When a slump hit’s the smarter businesses start dealing in food and drink. Everyone has a tummy and everyone needs to fill them up. Make the place cosy and appealing, don’t gouge your customers too much and you’re set. Use mom or dad’s shop front so that rent is non existent. Humour customers with easy on the eyes staff and wifi even. 😉

P1210800

Catching up with D is hard work, there’s lots to gossip, er talk going on, so she brings us to a noodle joint which does not have too heavy meals. This is like our 4th drinking/dining option before 1 pm.

P1210829

We drop in on the Chiang Mai Bike Festival, really just an excuse to look and buy cycling related stuff. That took up most of the afternoon of a Friday. We made a return trip on Sunday.

P1210833

P1210954

Having D around was a godsend. We never knew the suburbs could be so interesting. Here’s how the locals almost live without having to enter the congested city proper, which I’ve been doing all these years. And we also avoid the tourist hordes downtown. Having been a resident here, and alternating with Singapore, D avoids downtown like the plague. As a tourist and possible future resident, I reciprocated with some downtown gems (what else coffee and food) that D would never discover while driving around it’s congested streets. One would need a humble bicycle for that.

More importantly I’ve plotted all the important places in my database between the ears for future sojourns. For back up, I do have paper maps.  I’ve also noticed some nice and very new looking hotels, that line the canal road and just cannot believe the prices they’re advertising on their huge banners. Thb 400 – Thb 600 a night, much less for longer stays. I’m guessing there’s a glut, lots of competition or both. No such luck getting those prices in the old town where the hordes are.

Every place I’ve been to before has changed hands or almost doubled their prices without so much as a 1% increase in quality or service. This has also led to a rash of dormitory style hostels charging quite a bit for just a bed. Backpackers don’t know any better. 6 Thb 200 beds to a small room = Thb 1200 in still a small featureless room. 3 kms away, an almost 4 star room plus breakfast can be had for Thb 500. Sure it’s out of town, but with a bike any radius of 50 kms is so very easy to reach.

D says one of the hotels even caters for the ‘Bangkok crowd of cyclists’ who come for the weekend to ride outside of town. Bikes in rooms are welcome or they’ll open up a large store room for 50 bikes if there’s a larger crowd.

P1210963

In one last surprise, D drives us to what is loosely translated as ‘an imaginary jungle’ themed restaurant. As we are already stuffed, we visit some very jungly bathrooms and toilets and takeaway a pricey Thb 95 brownie. We’ve come a really long way since…………Phayao, by the lake.

P1210977

4th Dec 2015P1210477

The morning fog greets us or is it the other way around?  Even though I wasn’t that tired, seeing that we were busing the last 2 days, last night’s sleep was deep and the sort I just cannot get back home when REM kicks in around 5 am and screws up the rest I usually get a few hours before. Over here, it’s like good sleep is in abundance, so much so that it’s a joy to wake up to birdsong, crowing roosters and if really unlucky, quarrelling neighbours.

P1210489

Plern home in its morning glory. It was really dark last night, but hey it’s a new day and I have a 4 legged tour guide who is rearing to go.

P1210492

I was asked at what time we would like breakfast, last night. Perhaps 7 was too early. That was my timing.  Someone had hers lukewarm and was not too happy.

P1210511

I guess this is what everyone comes to Mae Win for. Not us.

P1210507

 As I am early, I go rustle up the surrounding wildlife. Some are nice some have loads of attitude. The predominant colour also seems to be ‘honey brown’

P1210519

 This one is just waiting to play tour guide. My name is Cookie. C’mon move it people !

P1210535

We head into a dirt road away from Plern’s. It dead ended after 4 kms. What kind of guide are you Cookie?

P1210531

Chanced upon an elephant camp where all is calm before the minivans from Chiang Mai arrive.

P1210539

 The scenery was gorgeous for both eyes and camera.

P1210555

We turned back at this spot after which the dirt road turned into a foot path. Apparently it leads to a Karen hill tribe village. Ah, next time then…

P1210558

Beyond the horizon lies a spider web of dirt roads and one good one that will torture cyclists for 60 kms before reaching Doi Ithanon. It is on my list of Thai Rural Roads to cycle.

P1210592

P1210600

P1210581

Most eating places will have a mutt or two. Here we get one to guard our bikes as I have one of the best pad kra prow moos in my entire life.

P1210623

P1210615

 The part of 1013 that leads to Doi Ithanon. Next time.

P1210645

A few days into our trip while we were in Phayao (that seems ages ago) I get a message from an ol but not old acquaintance to come visit her at her mansion outside Chiang Mai. Sure, I was planning to do that, the last 10 years! but never quite got around to doing it.

D was also a neighbour who had upped and left for Chiang Mai sometime in 2006.. D, myself and a few others also went on a mountain bike trip to Bali in 2000. Most importantly D had shipped her fleet of delectable mountain bikes also to Chiang Mai, so I was visiting not one but 5 friends at at one go.

We agreed to meet at Plern at 12 noon, but I could only do so, after our morning jaunt and lunch at 12.30 hrs. Mai pen rai, I spotted a green Kawasaki scrambler and D hiding in the shade. She had lunch at another Plern property, a much newer and flashier one along the main road 1013. Somehow we missed that in last night’s total darkness ride.

This would be the much flashier  ‘Plern Malee Resort’ incorporating also ‘Plern Malee Coffee’ After packing the 3 of us made a beeline for it.

P1210635

The Plern conglomerate is very well to do. One of the co owners or sisters had worked in the San Francisco bay area for 16 years before deciding to come home  and ‘help out’ in her parent’s new venture. I wondered if the Jeep was shipped back too. It looks badass! To delay our departure from Plern 2, I realised that I left my gloves and cap at Plern 1.

Did i want to cycle back 6 kms or ride D’s bike to get it? I would, cos those were pricey items. Ms Lada at Plern 2 came to the rescue. One phone call and a few minutes later the caretaker from old Plern 1, came by on her moped with my gear. Bless their souls!

P1210643

P1210646

After a lengthy lunch catching up and taking Ds offer to host us for a few days, Coleen and I hit the road with a green Kawasaki in front. It soon disappeared cos it has an engine ! But we sort of knew the way to D’s estate. Make a left along 121 aka the Canal Road.

P1210654

Crafty Coleen slows D for 3 minutes by offering her a coconut at the Mae Wang market. We always take care of our guides.

P1210655

The Kawa disappears again and we are left on our own along the Canal Road. It is rightly named Canal as there is a real canal under the middle portions. After 25 kms of highway we turn into a gated community where land is sold and you build your own mansion. It was huge and welcoming. It looked spanking new even though it was built more than 10 years ago.

D’s husband, also a D, works in the IndoChina region and is ‘home’ not frequently, leaving D all the time in the world to go cycling or Kawasaki-ing.

D had actually ridden the 1013 to old Plern the day before, so that she would not get lost today. Talk about planning!

P1210663

 Inside the palatial D & D mansion.

P1210665

P1210676

Inside Ali Baba’s cave of high end mountain bikes

P1210689

We treated D and ourselves to suburban Korean BBQ. Of course we finished every last bit. Didn’t matter if we could not walk after this. D drove her Honda Civic !

3rd Dec 2014

P1210278

Our Ratsada ‘residence’ in the morning. It filled up quickly last night, and the same people checked out quite early too. I guess the ease of parking makes it popular with the local driving crowd and roving sales people, and not so with the backpacking traveller. As for cyclists like us it created quite a stir among the lone grandpa manning the reception, telling us that we could park our bikes under a nearby tree. His body language seemed to say that the bicycles resembled the AIDs virus and thus should not be brought indoors. I get that he can see the bikes from his frosted reception windows, if he doesn’t have his legs up or dozing off. We get the same treatment from building security back home.

Aha ! but I am trained and used to ‘bicycle paranoia’ and silly fear from such people. I willingly park and lock our bikes in the day time, but come nightfall, it’s another ball game…and I always win. Tap the entry card. Wife holds the door and I carry both bikes in, into the room. If there’s any protest or resistance, I turn instantly deaf and dumb. There will be no reply. Not even a thank you. Easy. (we didn’t have any problem last night, grandpa was too tired from the day and didn’t even look up as we walked in, with our bikes)

P1210280

The early morning ruckus from across the road was actually a donation drive of sorts. If you’re donating bicycles instead of lottery tickets, that can be a good thing. People in as many trucks were converging into the residential grounds of Lampang’s Governor and unloading fridges, washing machines, clothing and bikes.

P1210283

As this was my 4th time in town, I knew where to get breakfast. Cross the pre war Ratsada Bridge into a quieter neighbourhood of leafy lanes and palatial houses and viola, it’s Granny’s beef noodles right opposite the Akhamsri Guest House. Google that and you’re there. Did we partake, because on a previous trip, she was closed and the disappointment after cycling 120 kms from Chiang Mai was just unbearable. I now have her home and mobile number, just in case, ‘she’s not there’ again.

Granny’s secret lies in her condiments pictured below as well as her homemade chill sauces. Then there are the noodles, a myriad of choices. Then there’s the beef. I suspected that the beef balls were outsourced as they didn’t taste as good as the first time and I was right. They came in a plastic bag with some commercial prints on it. Then again her soup broth made up for it. The 2 of us had 3 bowls.

P1210293

p1210287

p1210288

P1210301

P1210292 Not gas but good ol charcoal.

P1210324

 Granny’s mutt provided some entertainment

P1210374

We did the usual rounds to check out familiar places like the riverbank promenade that lines the Wang river for quite a distance on both sides.

P1210376

LampangCarriage copy

It’s a quaint old town that still has horse drawn carriages and a bygone era bridge that’s just right for 2 wheelers. In fact there are about 7 or 8 bridges across the Wang that can be traversed back and forth if time permits. We had an appointment at the town bus station, at around noon. It was like a repeat of yesterday. Bike, bus and bike again.

This midday bus thing gives one a leisurely morning, an afternoon rest in cool surroundings whilst still moving, and an evening ride into the sunset. It was so much more meaningful as the cycling option was going to be a flat, noisy highway, another mountain pass, culminating with lots of traffic into Lamphun just 30 kms south and shy of Chiang Mai.

P1210388

Before all that action we came by a bike friendly coffee place and had to stop for caffeine and something light, well almost…

P1210395

P1210406

Although this looks bad, it isn’t. The contact points are the right grips and the saddle. Once I close the door, the wheels were snug and shut tight. No scratches on the frame and/or seatpost as the photo would tend to suggest. Bike 1, bus 0.

Initially the lady selling the bus tickets said ‘No bicycles on bus’ She was quite vehement. I got Coleen to buy the tickets and she wasn’t too pleased at my ‘changing of ticket buyers’ Still the nice teenage girl in a school uniform sold the tickets. She spoke passable English and I think it was after school work for her. You do get quite a few English speaking tourists at bus stations. I figured angry bus station lady to be in a supervisory position of sorts, thus the attitude….

Here’s where ‘mai pen rai’ comes into play. Or just let it slide, nevermind is more common. We were saved by the bus driver and conductor who also got a small lashing from dragon lady. Seeing our bikes, the bus driver said OK, No problem ! So I loaded the bikes. He got a conductor (presumably from the same bus company) to issue Thb 100 baht of paper tickets for the bikes and I paid up. Problem solved. So it wasn’t a space for the bikes thing but one of M-O-N-E-Y. and money that goes to the company and not the driver’s pockets…..It was definitely not a safety violation thing…..Whateva….

P1210418

The bus was on a direct route to Chiang Mai, but clever me asked to be stopped in Lamphun. A few others also alighted. From 10 kms out of Lamphun we made a beeline for Sanpatong a southern suburb of Chiang Mai and then on to rural road 1013 to our destination, Mae Win, a ride of about 45 kms with the last 10 or so being hilly.

P1210426

 Outside an air con bus, it is freaking hot !

P1210435

 Just lovely, another road being widened. The 1013 that leads all the way to Doi Ithanon. That’s Thailand’s highest mountain, albeit the quiet non touristy way. Another back road to explore. Many a local expat have been doing this on motorcycles as the back route does not have a National Park entrance ticket counter, or rather bypasses the official touristy one down the road. Well guess what? They’ve moved the ticket counter further up the road. Would they take pity on some cyclists who’ve just ridden a 60 km mostly uphill route to get there, and not charge them the foreigner rate of Thb 400? I guess not.

P1210442

 A first. Cycling into sunset with a million sandflies. I think I swallowed 2 or 3…

P1210445

The hilly part that soon got very dark and to make things interesting, Coleen dropped her rear blinker along that dusty road outside Mae Wang. My rear blinker is bright enough for both of us.

P1210453

 I light up the way with 200 lumens which wasn’t enough…

P1210456

Safe and sound at Plern Home in Mae Win village. It was old but well kept. Thb 500. Thick bedding suggests cold nights, but I still had the AC on. The caretaker was nice enough to ask if we needed dinner. Of course we do. As she did not have a stocked kitchen, she got into her car and drove off, returning with some fried rice and 2 cold bottles of water. We had it on a very cosy porch outside the room. Beyond anything 5 metres away, was total darkness. Sleep came easy. And the wifi was blazingly fast. OK delay sleep a bit….

P1210459

2nd Dec 2014

It was great to take our time checking out of Rong Kwang as we only had about 30 kms to ride to Phrae, yesterday’s destination. As we did not make it to Phrae, we would really have to double up just getting to Lampang and Phrae before that. This is when I need to execute Plan B. Sure there’s some cycling to do, but somewhere at midday when the sun is at it’s highest, we should be shrouded in air conditioned comfort, as the bikes can rest as well, in the unglamorous hold of a public bus as it makes small work of the mountain roads that lie in between Phrae and Lampang, all 111 kms of it.

Upon reaching Lampang’s bus terminus we still have to ride to our guesthouse, maybe all 4 kms of it. Oh my.

P1210129

The busy streets of Rong Kwang are perfect for cycling.

P1210138

 The mountains of Laos are on our left on a sunless morning.

P1210151

Coffee and biscuits and wifi enroute, as we are in no hurry.

P1210152

This is either a toilet and snack stop or both. I think there was ice cream on the cards too.

P1210165

Cute sign at a Phrae night club

P1210184

Rest well dear friend. Thai buses have huge holds. A tandem would fit in easily with some deft loading. As I am careful, the only contact points here are the tyres, the left handlebar grip and the left side SPD pedal that I bought in Santa Cruz, California in July 2001, for US$15.00 for both the left and right sides.

P1210194

 Our speedy bus overtakes another bus on an incline. Route 11. If we were cycling on that shoulder at this very moment, it could have been very dicey as you can see the slower bus, or for that matter any traffic would have squeezed anything on that shoulder.

P1210206

We got to Lampang and found, wheat else, a brand new apartment block or ‘residence’ as they are now called, since long term stays are available. Thb 590 for tourists and probably 1/3 the rate if staying a month. That is mega cheap !

P1210208

Mid sized fridge and ‘dining’ area’ It is ALL NEW.

P1210224

Lampang’s latest and newest bike shop, chance upon accidentally on the way to dinner.

P1210226

Night market stalls at the railway station. This one is huge. There are a few all over town.

P1210232

 This is my third time eating in this town. Funnily enough, also my third time eating at this stall, ordering the same pork chop set, for the third time. That’s the one with the puny toast. Madame has ordered the grilled chicken, or something that looks like it. The stall is always crowded at they charge only Thb 60 for a pseudo western meal. It also tasted good and a hint of romance is included with the heart shaped chill and tomato ‘saucers’

P1210254

A hipster bike cafe with appropriate bike parking, and damn good coffee ends the night for us in Lampang.

1st Dec 2014

P1200946

The mornings are getting warmer without any fog. Makes for different clear and coloured skies.

P1200959

We go to a famous local institution. A stone’s throw from the hotel. Hot Bread for breakfast. Home made bread after umpteenth meals of noodles and rice. But we order the local stuff which has little bread in them. What gives? I call it a Lonely Planet mistake.

P1200965

The pork is kinda wrong. It has to be processed like a sausage or ham. Maybe this is the real deal ?

P1200966

Madame’s Khao Soi is perfect for her. It is modified with sen lek or skinny rice noodles instead of the usual yellow ones. Hot Bread also uses a coconut less gravy which is not filling and with higher than normal prices we are treated to a small but full leg of chicken. Hmmm. Featured in Looney Planet that’s why…see how I make amends with dinner tonight.

P1200981

The road out of town got foggy. Yay ! Hwy 101 a straight shot deal to Phrae, or so I thought.

P1200989

We follow the Nan river for a few kms, which has many bridges across it as well as a few dams. None too exciting during the cool dry season…

P1200986

….well until grandma showed up ringing her bell non stop, chuckling merrily on her slicked tyred Jamis MTB. Makes my bike look like an old tired Toyota. 😉

P1200998

A fine example of your grandfather’s road…..

P1210019

The 101 is supposed to be flanked by tall teak forests on both sides. I guess that was an accurate assesment in Lonely Planet’s 1970 Thailand guide.

P1210023

Thank You, Thai armed forces. A nice rest stop with a few shops and lots of soldiers cooking their lunch. We were kindly invited too, but all we needed were drinks.

P1210030

If you’re cycling to Nan from Phrae, it will be a long hard climb in some places, we were riding away from this sign. Clever no?

P1210035

A much need sala stop to stretch my back and doze off for 10 minutes. You can literally feel yourself slipping away into sleep, sweaty body nothwithstanding.

P1210041

Slow down, we’re in the shade.

P1210053

A late lunch at 4 pm. Check out the sewing machine table legs and OK the Thai lasses.

P1210054

A water truck came by to spray the road. It gave the girls scooter a good wash too. I am slightly more kiasu.

P1210057

Spicy pork noodles, a first, as this was what they had left at 4 pm. Surprisingly good. We asked if there was a hotel nearby in Rong Kwang. To locate it, the noodle lady brought out her bank passbook. It was shocking pink. Oh I see… Turn right when I see a pink bank in town. I had seen, posters for this hotel lining the road every km or so. Good advertising and her directions were just to reconfirm it’s place.

P1210060

Again, quite new and luxurious, Thb 590 or was it 490? That’s a $4.00 difference, baby ! Someone has her leg up already, and playing with her phone.

P1210063

Slide open the door and there’s our rides on the ground floor. Locked of course. I like it when reception doesn’t bat an eyelid when we roll in 2 bikes through the lobby to our rooms.

P1210080

I’ll get the name when I view the relevant photos. It was a long one. Some parts of the parking lot were just cemented. It’s that new.

P1210092

The revenge dinner. A stir fry stall set up for dinner outside someone’s house. It’s good to keep an eye out, for such stalls, as I did while cycling by earlier.

P1210093

A chicken dish for madame

P1210094

An eggy porky dish for moi. Can you say khai jio moo sap? They could be related. Chicken and egg.

P1210096

Round 2 since we rode 95 kms and did not reach the intended destination of Phrae, another 30 kms on…we will get there tomorrow.

P1210097

Underwhelming but it was finished also. Onto a 7/11 for other snacks and TV tidbits.

1st Dec 2014

P1200347

I won’t profess to be a Thai temple aficionado because I am not. Thai temples have been a source for great photography, especially in the cool season when skies are a deep blue. They also are hiding grounds for all manner of stray dogs, who take refuge in their grounds, from abusers, from traffic and generally human selfishness. Most are abandoned in the dead of night. Thai temple ground are also providers of great shade from the scorching sun, and sometimes a clean toilet for those bowel emergencies. In the larger towns like Chiang Mai, food vendors set up stalls in the temple grounds during Walking Street. A smart way of keeping food stalls off the street.

Nan temples have upped their game. They have secure bicycle parking.

I have now opened a book of mine. A Guide to Northern Thailand and the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna, by Michael Freeman. $24.95

It has a section on the Nan Valley at page 176. I will plagarise some sections so that you will be sufficiently informed, if you want to visit Nan and revel in it’s temples, like I did. Or you could buy the book in Thailand, it costs much less than $25.

P1200354

P1200355

The whitewashed exterior of Wat Hua Kuang are a start contrast to the deep blue skies. It is old as major renovations took place in 1860. Same age as Wat Phumin somewhere in the 1600’s

P1200360

P1200370

P1200372

P1200377

P1200384

Gilded golden nagas. If ever I get tattooed here’s an idea

P1200388

A boisterous bunch of ladies on a temple tour. We kept seeing them on this bus as well we were also doing our rounds on our bike, only faster. They were pretty noisy even inside the temples, but just look at the fun they were having. I have a video  somewhere…

P1200396

P1200397

P1200398

P1200416

P1200420

Wat Pra That  Chang Kham Vora. It’s chedi has 24 ‘fore elephants’ 6 on each side of the square base representing Mount Meru and is supposedly a very Sri Lankan influence, that arrived in the Kingdom via Sri Satchanalai, a town that I visited in 2010.

P1200424

P1200768

In another time, this was main street Nan

P1200850

Wat Phumin 1596, is said to be the city’s finest. It’s 4 sided with 4 entrances flanked by massive naga (dragon) balustrades. I did not enter because I plain forgot, missing the famous whispering murals that is on every painting and t shirt in town. Ahh next time.

P1200844

It’s hellish inside !

P1200860

P1200864

I hope I don’t dream of you guys tonight !

P1200866

P1200770

Another fantastic find, the Nan Lanna Hotel. Brand new at Thb 600

P1200772

A rare instance where shower and pooping areas are separated. The designers passed their exams and the owners were not stingy. We shall return.