2009/01/22: Wiangpapao 96 km
After a second breakfast at a small place where a cheerful lady sang along with radio as she cooked, we climbed to a pass at 1,014 m (3,365 ft). We broke the slow granny-gear ascent with a few shady stops for liquid refreshments. As we descended, I hit an all time speed record of 73.5 kmh, albeit only for a very brief moment. We had crossed from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai province at the summit, and were descending into Khun Chae National Park, where a highlight is Mae Kha Chan Hotsprings … “The highest hotsprings in Thailand.”
I had been looking forward to soaking my entire aching body in sulfurous water, but despite various signs announcing “spa,” we could only see the water channeled into special streams that allow one to sit demurely bathing one’s feet. Perhaps my feet could have benefited, since my lumpy little toes are suffering in unforgiving cycling shoes. The extensive market of souvenirs, even if some were OTOP products (one tambon -community, one product) didn’t hold much appeal for us, and we didn’t really need eggs boiled in a basket in the geyser by a hill tribe woman. We pressed on looking for accommodation.
After a few queries, we saw a sign saying “room for rent”, and met Oum (her nickname), a woman in her forties who was just opening a tiny hostel. We were her second ever customers and her first foreigners, so various neighbours dropped by to say wat-dee and inspect us. Oum’s mother prepared a fried rice supper and we had an early night in a big bed with cartoon character sheets and ruffled pillows.
In the morning, we had an early and substantial breakfast prepared by Oum’s mother, and watched television cartoons that provide Buddhist instruction (with English subtitles) for kids. We had a round of photos with Oum and her mother, and left a Vancouver postcard as a thank you. After pedalling the first few hundred metres, we went back realizing that the fond farewells may have meant we hadn’t paid for breakfast. Oum just said “My mother want take care you.”
2009/01/23: Chiang Rai 107 km
It was misty as we set out, and Chris took quite a few rice paddy photos. He also stopped to take photos of a brigade of girls in blue hats who were armed with brooms and a few mattocks. We thought they were Girl Guides or something similar, because Scouting seems to be tied in with school system here. The teacher/leader (on a bike) invited us to follow the group to its destination, which we did.
They were a group of hill tribe girls (Akha?) who lived at a kind of residential school, since there are no schools in their villages. They were walking from their school to their dormitory grounds to do a cleanup. Their dorm reminded me of a very large Alpine Club hut. The teacher told me the project was “funded by foreigners”, that the students were “Christian”, and that they return to their villages every two weeks. We moved on, buying plantains (thinking they were bananas) from local vendors who spoke a dialect.
Further on, Chris stopped to photograph a modern wat, and we listened to a group playing various folk instruments. One of the players came over to pour Chris a shot of the home brew they were drinking, and announced happily that Chris was “lucky” as he poured it. He had learned we were Canadian. As we moved on, Chris shook his head and agreed fervently that he “bloody well was.”
Coffee is being promoted as an alternative crop to opium, and part of the awareness and marketing program is to have trendy Starbuckesque coffee and bakery places, both in the towns and along the roads travelled by tourists. We stopped in one to indulge, and met a Belgian/French father/son business duo who were setting up a business exporting prefab bamboo cabins to Europe. We have just supported a similar establishment in Chiang Rai. If helping the war on drugs tastes this good, then we’re all for it!
I noticed a woman in what I think was traditional Blue Hmong costume complete with ornate silver head-dress, travelling at speed on the back of a motor bike. As we rode on a more scenic back road for the last 30 km to Chiang Rai, we passed small mixed farms and orchards, and the buildings were of dark wood in Northern Thai Lanna style. It had been a long day when we arrived in Chiang Rai, and parts of our anatomies really needed rest, despite new bike shorts in Chiang Mai. (Note: MEC Rapide shorts are useless) We’ve booked ourselves into a hotel for three nights. We have a deep bathtub and a huge bed with crisp white sheets.
We are about to book two days’ boat trip from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang, Laos, for Tuesday and Wednesday. We think we’ll rent motor scooter to go to the Golden Triangle and the Opium Museum tomorrow. We’ll cycle to Chiang Khong on Monday. Today we need to tape Chris’s handlebars and clean our chains.