Day 69 Champhon to Lamae (total 3,038 km so far)

105km/6.5hrs

Small roads and highway (AH2). Little hilly in places. Plenty of places for food and water but gaps of about 20km.

Veg breakfast with Ralf. Then he wanted to rent his second motorbike so I drove it from his place to my hotel. Thus left late. Local road for first 10km. Turn right out of Sri Champhon hotel and keep going straight and diagonally across the highway when meet it. Then highway until Lang Suan after 70km and then took 4134 to signed turn off to Lamae (25km).

Lang Suan is a reasonably sized town but didn’t seem anything special and actually became boring as I tried to get out of it. Turn right straight after going under the railway line and keep going.

Light showers until about 5km before Lamae and then opened up where there was no shelter. Why does it do that? Arrived at Lamae soaked to a sour faced cow at the resort and a youth that had obviously just woken up and didn’t appreciate it. Only thing he said to me was, ‘Money!’. I showed how I was soaking wet and tired and would give it to him after a shower. He replied, ‘money!’ and I closed the door. Some resorts and hotels have very pleasant staff while others have studied being surly and rude.

Lamae has a railway station, few shops and few places to eat and one resort in town and one just before. First impressions are not too positive which are correct. Got accommodation (no wifi again) food and beer so not so bad for a night. There are also statues of the famous Thai wallaby at the garage. That is about as exciting as it gets in Lamae.

However, even one horse towns like this have a restaurant where people gather at night to eat, drink and socialize.

river and cables

river and cables

most foreigners do not know about the Thai wallaby

most foreigners do not know about the Thai wallaby

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Day 68 Somewhere to Champhon. Frustrating but ended well.

120km/9hrs. Flat and frustrating as got lost a lot trying to stay off the highway. Palm and rubber plantations. Bit hilly the second half of day just when one doesn’t want it.
Lot of dead ends but meant I discovered a number of beautiful beaches a secluded resorts.
Day started after 1km with a bloody puncture. Tire came off so could not even push it. Stopped and some men came out from a community party of some sort. They were looking for entertainment rather than the desire to help. Then prodded the inner tube and squeezed the tire and discussed the gears and generally got in the way. After fixing the puncture under the close scrutiny of the audience I was not able to pump up the tire. After a while of watching me dripping in sweat they got bored and wandered off. I then dismantled and greased the pump. Becoming a real mechanic. Then managed cycle to the nearest air pump with a very helpful and friendly woman and a disinterested man who seemed disturbed from his soap opera. A common occurrence. Woman working and man lounging.
Although delayed about an hour due to the puncture I still decided to get off the highway and get lost for another hour trying to find the route. When busy cycling north instead of south met Willy on a motorbike wearing an American Air Force uniform. It wasn’t his uniform but good for riding bikes but strange that the name and rank was still on the uniform. He speculated it was from Afghanistan. Did the owner loose it or are uniforms sold when a soldier dies? Willy had been in Vietnam which he considered as much of a mistake as future American wars. We discussed US foreign policy for a while and then he gave me poor directions and I got lost again. When eventually on the correct road and feeling good after a good lunch and thinking I only had 70km to go I went around a corner and saw a sign saying ‘Champhon 98km’. When on the highway hours earlier had only 85km to go. This was impossible and would have made 150km day so I resolved to cycle until 6pm and then try and find somewhere to change. As often happens my luck then changed. I think it was karma for living such an exemplary life. I found a new road that reduced the distance and then later a sign saying ‘Short cut to Champhon’ so I arrived before dark having cycled 30km less than feared and it didn’t rain.
When studying my town map German Ralf stopped and gave directions. He said, ‘Pity you did not arrive an hour earlier. We could have cycled up a mountain’. I suggested that after 120km I may not have been too enthusiastic.
Hotel Sri Champhon (440B) is conveniently on the road entering Champhon and  not bad. Friendly, although the room boy looked a bit shocked when I rode my bike into the hotel and up the corridor but he still waved friendlily.
Met Ralf later for a drink outside his friend’s shop. His friend is seriously sick and has no insurance and thanks  to the new 7/11 two doors away little business. He lay on a bed at the back of the shop looking very pale. Ralf had been in Thailand 20 years and speaks fluent Thai. Not the usual expat. He first came to Thailand as a student with his to be wife and they fell in love with it. Their son was born here and speaks without an accent. Ralf is fully integrated with no western contact and lots Thai friends. He makes money from buying and selling old bank notes which used to be a hobby. Lovely to meet someone who does not want to be here just for the women and cheap drink.

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Ralf

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A pleasant dead end

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another pleasant dead end. Many more and they would loose their appeal

 

 

Day 58 Wat Sing to sing Buri

Day 58 Wat Sing to sing Buri
79km/6.5hrs (lot of time lost due to rain and punctures)
3183 road all the way. Flat, not too busy, hard shoulder and not too interesting. The centre of Thailand is the rice basket of the country. Paddy fields and now the rain has started water pumps along the canals and rivers irrigating fields.
Woke to another puncture. A veranda overlooking a lotus pond and sink with a plug was not a bad place to repair it though.
Saw a resort at 18 and another at 20km that both looked ok.
No rain for two days so was expecting a storm and not disappointed. The temperature dropped and the wind started. I ducked into a nursery (plants not children) with a cafe as the rain started. A SUV drew up and a monk with a helper and a driver came into the cafe. The helper handed the monk a piece of saffron cloth to sit on and served him while the driver sat at a different table. Buddhism is about giving up material things and being humble and serving. After 40 min of only light rain i decided to move on knowing what would happen. Within 300 metres it opened up and poured in bucket loads. I found a bus shelter and sat there for an hour until the storm had passed and it was only English rain. First time on the trip I used my old gortex jacket bought for $5 second hand in Malaysia in 2008. It socked up the water.
The rain stopped and with only 3 km to go I looked forward to a shower food and a cold beer. Then I had another puncture. This was the third in two days while previously I had one in two months. The guest house owner in Kampeng Phet gave me a lucky charm which may have been a clever revenge for me barganing down the price of the room. It will have to go. While pumping up the tire hoping it would get me to Sing Buri a local came over. My pumping the tire furiously and cursing was probably more interesting than sitting and staring into space all day. He told me the tire was flat, poked it and generally got in the way. However, he did point me in the direction of a puncture repair place. I walked a few hundred metres down a small lane and just as I was going to give up I found a wooden house with a tire on the gate post. A nice old man in Thai fishermen trousers looked a bit apprehensive but we were soon laughing and joking offering to swap his bike for mine. A great job for 20B and a pleasant experience from an unpleasant one. He looked ok in his Thai fisherman trousers which backpackers also favour in the effort to go native. They just look silly especially as the trousers are usually brightly coloured and of material such as satin.
I left the old puncture repair man in better spirits were further lifted when cycling around Sing Buri to get orientated I found a cafe selling papaya salad grilled chicken and sticky rice. The sun started to shine.
Sing Buri is a nothing special but I liked it. There are a number of hotels around the centre which is convenient. I chose the worst but still had bed, AC and shower that all sort of worked. I also spotted a tap and hose at the back of the hotel so washed the bike. The hotel guard/helper suggested I might want a women come to my room for a massage, saw my look and left smiling weakly.
Sung Sing Bar had live music and friendly staff. Don’t think they get many falangs. The singer welcomed me in English.

woke up to a flat tire but nice place to fix it

woke up to a flat tire but nice place to fix it

second puncture fixed by a very nice profesional

second puncture fixed by a very nice profesional

puncture fixer's wife

puncture fixer’s wife

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the lucky charm that brought storms and punctures

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my hotel in Sing Buri. not the best

 

Day 42 Chiang Mai

Today was the day to collect my new passport and get a visa extension. eventually I found the British Council but not the British Consulate but asked the guard where it was. He didn’t know but kindly gave me a piece of paper with the address in English and Thai. I asked him directions to the address but he didn’t know so I cycled around the area for a while before calling the consulate for directions. It was in the same compound as the British council. A sheepish guard with a grinning friend opened the barrier as I approached. The helpful Thai lady of the consulate had perfected the upper class English accent a little too much but made lots of photocopies for me and felt embarrassed about her guard.

A government worker holy holiday, something to do with the king I think, meant a visa extension was impossible so the rest of the day was dedicated to wats.

I had previously looked up on the internet ‘how to wash your bike’ and found a helpful 10 step guide that took an hour and seemed a lot of trouble. I managed to devise my own one point guide: find a garage with a power hose and pay 60c. worked well.

Night market was a bit antiseptic and felt contrived and didn’t live up to its reputation but the roof top jazz was good. Expats jamming.

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elephants eat sugar cane so why not give statues of elephants sugar cane as an offering

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they stick their heads up everywhere

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park in the central area

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breakfast area of my guest house

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fish in the park. only monks are allowed to fish them and they are not good fishermen so there are a lot of fish

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British Council is never poor in real estate terms

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String attaches all Buddhas as a security measure. If someone tries to steal a Buddha they all fall over making a lot of noise and the monks run out and beat hell out of them

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Apparently emerald Buddhas like soya milk. I don’t blame them. It’s very good with oats.

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As Buddha images were not made until 2,000 years ago when people had forgotten that Buddha did not want images to be worshiped this date seems unlikely

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Can anyone explain this one?

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Two very valuable Buddha images. One is especially valuable as it was made 500 years before people started making Buddha images

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Buddha with four arms? A transition period from Hinduism perhaps

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nice to see a Buddha without all the gold leaf

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mosque. there are about 12 mosques in Chiang Mai. People originally from Yumman province, China and still speak own language.

mosque. there are about 12 mosques in Chiang Mai. People originally from Yumman province, China and still speak own language.

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a silly promotion of Finlandia vodka through bartender competition. No samples either

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night market

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Probably not the best transvestite in the world

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every town needs to have one

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does anyone eat this muck still in Ireland? Why impose it on a country with great food

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which would you prefer, top or bottom?

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jazz on the roof top

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more good jazz

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Day 40 Lampun to Chaing Mai

34km/1.5hrs. boring fast 106 highway.

left at 12.15 with a cheery and sad goodbye to the receptionist who seemed to feel just as sad to see me go. Could have spent a couple of days in Lampun, in another hotel. Lonely planet guide suggests it as a day trip from Chiang Mai which means that the backpacker obeys and leaves it in peace. In fact most of the places I have visited are either not in the LP guide or only mentioned in passing.

Large trees with yellow ribbons around them are the result of a dispute between two leaders of adjoining districts long ago. They decided to plant trees from their district to meet up on the road linking their areas of control. These trees are revered and any damage done to one is dealt with severely. Some say they are more important than monks.

I was not looking forward to Chaing Mai after hearing backpackers rave about it, ‘there is so much to do, it’s fun!’ Again being pessimistic meant that it was far better than expected. Lot’s of backpackers of course and apparently 60,000 falangs (99% men I suspect). Prices for food are higher and it is watered down after so many falangs saying. ‘no chilli please’. In my GH (Gap;s) where they have a cooking school also they have  no chilli so I had to buy some for breakfast. With about 400 guesthouses I realized the problem with trying to find the best so agreed to stay in the first reasonable one. Gap’s GH (450B) is in a nice garden with antique furniture in the rooms and garden and breakfast is included. Also central and quiet. I had a little problem with the owner when he told me that I could not put my bike outside my room and when told him that if his silly little dogs did not stop growling and snapping at me I would kick them.

Met Martin and Noynar who had met in Nan in evening with their friend Mark from NZ who had retired to Chiang Mai four years ago and said it suited his libido. Apparently young Thai girls like to have sex with an over weight 58 year old ex marketing man. Bars were almost all western and prices to match. I said had eaten as could not afford to in these places. Mark was delighted to have a friend to drink with but I fear I was a disappointment. I walked out of one bar which had girls in bikinis dancing on stage. Meeting members of the Lobo motorcycle club was interesting but when at 1am he took me to a bar full of girls wanting stupid conversations and money I left him hugging a girl saying, ‘I love this country’. I wonder how many young Thai go to bed and dream of a fat middle aged white man.

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holy trees

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my room at Gap’s GH

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hundreds of cooking courses, things to rent, safaris, night safaris, visits to long necked women, elephant riding, primitive tribes daily visits etc.

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Thai cooking class learning about vegetables in the market

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entrance to Gap’s GH

 

Day 37 Phayao to Chae Hom

Day 37 (8.5.13) Phayao to Chae Hom
114km 6.5 hours
The mountain range today has a name, Phi Pan Nam Mountains. Looked nasty on bkeroutetoaster and across the lake.
Guts still dodgy so full of Imodium and active charcoal washed down with water full of hydration powder I looked at the room with the sun shining in, nice wooden floor and desk and wondered. But being made of stronger things I left. Busy road at first but when turned left to climb the mountains became better.
Tips:
· dry your socks on the AC. The unit outside is warm so will dry clothes overnight when the AC is on. If dirty just cover with a plastic bag (AC not the clothes).
· A healthy snack that is easy to make:
1. take some squashed brown bread and make it fairly flat
2. Take one squashed over ripe banana, take the skin off and put on the bread
3. Take a tube of 7/11 honey (think I have mentioned this before) and squeeze generously over the banana.
4. roll into a tube (you may need another piece of bread) and put it in your mouth.
Don’t worry about honey dripping onto your hands. It improves the grip on the handlebars.
How can so many Thais afford SUVs? Today I would like to mention the damage they do. I see a lot of dead or dying butterflies on the road. Most of these people would not grab a butterfly in their garden, throw it to the ground and stamp on it so I wonder how they can do this with their vehicles. Perhaps there should be some research into this and then a public awareness campaign. There are also other creatures squashed on the road like snakes and scorpions but they don’t look nice and hurt.
I of course didn’t intend to go to Chae Hom. I thought the 60 km over the mountain to Wang Neau would be enough. The road over the montain had been engineered by a humanitarian or a cyclist. It wound in long waves up the mountain limiting the gradient and thus was far easier than I thought. That is the beauty of being a pessimist. You get pleasantly surprised more frequently than optimists who must suffer a lot with disappointment. I arrived in Wang Neau feeling ok and cycled around the village. Two very quiet residential roads and a main crossroads did not impress. It is a place between places. A road junction with a garage, 7/11 and small market. Finding itwas 54 not 74 more kilometers to Chae Hom finalized it. On the map it looked like a flat river valley. An example of rare optimism bringing disappointment. It went up and down a lot but was not too bad and made me feel I had justified all my healthy snacks.
I am used to people shouting and waving encouragement but today one man carrying his whole family on his motorbike coming down hill waved with his thumbs up in the air shouting,’Welly goo, welly goo’. One has to admire a man that is willing to risk his life and the lives of all his family to encourage me.
Chae Hom is a small town without much interest. I know as I went around it four times trying to find the only accommodation. A combination of vague directions and my Thai wasted over an hour. in fact it does have some interest. A lovely lady that sells noodles and speaks some English. You just know when some people are good. Spend some time chatting and laughing with her. After that I checked the town again but the 7/11 was the only excitement so returned to my pink dwelling with the heart shaped key ring.

Impending mountain in front

Impending mountain in front

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I laugh at mountains now

I laugh at mountains now

where i came from. Lake in distance

where i came from. Lake in distance

zoom in of lake

zoom in of lake

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Dinosaurs again. they are really milking this

Dinosaurs again. they are really milking this

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Intrepid cyclist sheltering from rain

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view from shelter. It of course pretended to stop raining and then let loose when I was far from shelter

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One of my favorite people. I flagged him down and had a crunchy chocolate coated vanilla ice-cream

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Catholic missionaries have got here. Americans.

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wooden house. no nails etc etc

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River in Chae Hom

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view from my accommodation. Called mountain View

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my accommodation in Chae Hom. Better inside.

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Famous temple in Chae hom. Some locals get exercise running up and down the steps at dusk. They asked me if I wanted to join them.

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The lovely noodle seller of Chae Homs

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Even have coloured fountain in Chae Hom. Very limited street lighting though

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Day 25 Chiang Khan to Na Haeo

Day 25 Chiang Khan to Na Haeo
120 km. 9 hours. Hell and really had to push myself.
When the owner of the guest house in Chiang Khan said help yourself to water I don’t think she anticipated my drinking 10 bottles. She brought some deep fried oily pastries for breakfast. I thought they were only for me. Don’t believe those who say that when cycling one can eat and drink what one likes. I think I am putting on weight. I told her where I was heading and she said, ‘ooh, ooh’ a lot and gestured with her hands steep up and down a number of times while saying, ‘ooh’ again. In fact think she over did the ‘oohing’ a bit but did prove accurate.
Longest I have ever cycled. Last 15km when stupidly turned to Na Haeo instead of left to Dan Sai was 2 hours of steep up and down with hills. 40 min hills of hell not your easy 5 min hills or what I used to call hills until a couple of days ago. It just went on and on. Looked at the open sided huts that locals rest in when working in their fields and nearly stopped and stayed in one. It was nearly the emergency tin of sardines scenario (see http://www.cycnicalsnippits.wordpress.com). Road varied from mess of potholes to a tarmac road with double yellow lines etc.
Asked a man dozing in a hammock directions. Think he was a policeman. Was just lounging in a hammock and not to bright so pretty sure he was. As the route near the Lao border check posts at most road junctions. Noodles near La Thai and then road deteriorated. Why the hell did I choose the mountain road to Na Haeo instead of the slightly longer road to Dan Sai? I thought that the hills marked on the graph of http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com were passed. immediately hit a hill that just went on and on for 40 min in lowest gear cranking the bike up. Just what one wants after 7 hours riding in 40c at 4pm. For every hill there was a down with a pot hole at the bottom. Perhaps an analogy for life. Thought or rather hoped each hill was the last. It wasn’t.
Arrived at 18.10 just as getting dark and found a guest house. I tried to bargan but was not convincing and and it was the only place for about 50km. Then my luck changed when I met Joy who had studied a masters in geology in Plymouth, UK and was then doing his PHd on that area. He looked at the map with me and we came to the conclusion that I was stuffed in a place where only way out was over nasty mountains. He then said he could give me a lift to the top one of the mountains the next day and became my best friend. He likes the British. I like him. Thank goodness he had not been to a Glasgow pub after a Celtic/Rangers match. Many Thais favor the UK as the more civilized option for study. Then a small open air restaurant with a cheery lady and good food with a cold beer and life looked better.
Did I say it was 120km and 9 hours of hills? Forgot about cycling through the storm.

not very busy roads

not very busy roads

just a small village in the middle of nowhere.

just a small village in the middle of nowhere.

typical house. more bamboo in this area

typical house. more bamboo in this area

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not all have SUVs here

not all have SUVs here

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seems to be a place for cyclists to sleep

seems to be a place for cyclists to sleep

nice ladies i bought water from. I tend to buy 4 litres at a time and impressed them with drinking 2 immediately

nice ladies i bought water from. I tend to buy 4 litres at a time and impressed them with drinking 2 immediately

found this place just as a storm hit and no guard dogs. Storm got its revenge later!

found this place just as a storm hit and no guard dogs. Storm got its revenge later!

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another possible place to sleep

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can anyone tell me what this is about?

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not the Mekong. Left that although it mimics the border at a distance. Wonder why

a bit of good road that randomly came across when storm hit again.

a bit of good road that randomly came across when storm hit again.

Na Haeo could never be called a bustling place. The only place to eat. Not complaining

Na Haeo could never be called a bustling place. The only place to eat. Not complaining