Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Bye bye Betty

We had a great couple of days in Chiang Mai doing things that all seem to start with C. 

Climbing - Danielle and Mike took us to a climbing wall and very generously spent most of their time belaying us (holding the rope so we didn't die) whilst we had all the fun scrabbling up a 25ft wall hanging onto little bits of stuff. No photos (sorry)

Cooking - Kate and I went to a cooking class and are now expert Thai chefs

Chang - That's a name of beer out here, no further explanation required

Chatting - With Danielle & Mike (and anyone else who'd listen to me!)

Choo Choo - We got the overnight train down to Bangkok which was quite a nice way to travel 

The dining car

The menu

The seats all fold down to make beds


I could go on......

So, here we are back in Bangkok in the same hotel and exactly the same room except 2 floors up.
The luggage we left here (for free) is all intact, including the £100+ cash we left stashed in it. What d'you think of that eh nay sayers?!
 I've got to say that we both feel pretty pleased with ourselves. We've achieved just about exactly what we set out to do on our little adventure (although the plans were a little vague) with no mishaps, no real hassle and unbelievably no tum tum trouble to speak of.

I read what I posted the night before we set off. 

"So the left over luggage is in the store room and all that we have is now in our panniers. We're heading off early in the morning. Feeling nervous and excited, mostly nervous. Kate says that's a good thing, I'm not convinced...."

The trepidation was genuine. I'm not now saying that I was over reacting, I think you should be a bit scared and excited (that's the point isn't it?) but to have done all that we've done with no problems just makes me so happy and if I may say, quite proud.
We haven't exactly achieved anything monumental but at times it felt pretty big (a bit too big actually) but we battled on and did it.

There are definitely quicker and easier ways to get around than on a bicycle but I do now feel that if you haven't traveled through a country on a bicycle, you haven't really experience it to the full. Yes, a car or motorbike will get you to more places in a fixed amount of time but the richness of the experience you get by pedalling is, in my book, far greater.

That'll about do I think. Thanks for all your positive comments and support whilst we've been out gallivanting around, it was nice to have your company. Here are a few random photos from Bangkok for your further viewing pleasure.

Another happy customer takes home his purchase on BuddaBay

The river boat is an absolute 'must do' if you're in Bangkok

I'm not sure the Health & safety dept on the Thames Clipper would be too happy with this technique



Tonight, our last night we sat in a bar and just watched wonderful Bangkok life pass us by. I reckon these photos could be taken in any 60 seconds of any day around here. We love it

It absolutely pissed down at dinner. Torrential! Luckily Kate had brought out 50 cent plastic bag capes with us :-) that just about kept us dry on the 5 minute walk home. The hotel car park was about 4" deep in water. Anyone know a good drainage and sewer engineer?


Friday, 20 March 2015

The life of Pai

We never found the Festival that night in Mae Hong Son.  We never found Benny in here either

We did however find a couple of very interesting people to talk to. A retired professor and his assistant who'd been doing a research project into which areas of northern Thailand hillside jungle and farms may need protection. Sort of scouting mission for the National Parks. They were Canadian and Belgian but could both speak Thai and were going out into the rural villages to talk to the chiefs to collect information. God it made my job seem so mundane and pointless....

The road the next morning was ace. No photos, sorry, it was either too steep and twisty to ride one handed or too much fun to stop.

We arrived in the little town of Pai by late lunch. To be honest we had reasonably low expectations for the place. It is described as being a bit hippyish and plenty of grungy looking backpackers had mentioned its name with glee. We planned to stay 1 night but actually stayed 2.  Yes it's touristy but its done in a laid back, nice way. I can't really work out why it's nice but it is. Maybe it was all the young, tanned flesh on view, poking out from under tie dye t shirts? Maybe it was all the dreadlocks? Maybe it was the melting pot of cultures & nationalities? It was fun to listen to the Asian tourists attempting to speak to the Thai's using English, their only common language (sort of)....

It would seem that I've not taken many photos for the last few days. Here is the sum total
A sticker

A dog

And kate eating a Nutella & banana pancake. I have to say, wiping up around our mouths with the toilet paper after eating this beast left some rather unsavoury thoughts...

All this time, Black Shadow and Grey Nomad sat patiently in the hotel parking area. At a hire charge of £3.50 each a day we didn't exactly feel obliged to ride them in the 40+ degree heat just for the sake of it.

Oooph, a 5.30am start! The Grey Nomad is a kick start only machine. All my bikes (except the 1st I passed my test on) have been graced with the 'magic button'. Imagine my male ego shrivelling to a walnut when, after several failed attempts to coax the Nomad into life, the young hotel receptionist tottered over in her pencil skirt and sandals, shooed me out of the way and with one quick, skilful movement, slipped onto the Nomad, kicked it, revved it, slipped off again and finished the act with a slightly "not so smart now are you white boy?" Smile. Hmmph ;-(

We had to get the bikes back by 10am so were on the road just after dawn. We caught this guy sleeping on the job

The morning air was cool and the roads were empty. Hammer time! Up we twisted, then down again. Bugger me, the air on the 'dark side of the mountain' was cold. 15 flippin degrees. Try that whilst riding in shorts and you're more accustomed to it being 40. Luckily kate had persuaded me to put on my fleece (first time on the whole trip) but we still both got really cold. The sun finally came up properly, slowly cutting through the smoke made from all the land clearing fires. Shadow and Nomad were in their element

Once we were down the other side we saw a little roadside restaurant so pulled over. Noodle soup sooooo makes sense when you're cold except trying to use chopsticks with cold hands that wouldn't work properly...

We got the bikes back to the hire place in Chiang Mai with 1 minute to spare. Why had we rushed? They were so laid back. No check in/damage report nonsense. Just a friendly "hello, here's your passport back, thanks". Now isn't that the way it should be?

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Phew, what a scorcher!

We picked the right day to go up into the cool of the hills. The little road wound its way across country.

And then up through the jungle. We stopped off at some waterfalls but being the end of the dry season they were pretty much, believe it or not, dry. The guy who worked there did an impression of flushing the toilet when he saw our less than impressed faces. The walk in was nice though.

Up we went to a height of about 1100m I believe. The riding was great, the little bikes making mincemeat of the twists, turns and super steep sections.

As we crested a rise, the jungle stopped and was suddenly replaced with pine forest. So this is why the area is called the 'Switzerland of Thailand'. There was a little village and then a campground by a lake (dammed reservoir actually but it doesn't fit so well with the Julie andrews theme). There was a little village and some cabins to stay in. There were even black swans on the water. The whole place was deserted and it actually felt a bit creepy. Apparently the area was done up & promoted as a project founded by the King and when in season, it's chockers.

On we went to another little village, this one's inhabitants are mainly Chinese exiles who didn't want to follow communism so came and settled here instead. There is lots of Chinese tea grown here. Fancy a cuppa?

We bumped into Herman & German again and had lunch with them. They told us we could ride up to the Burmese  border, so being 'Border Gate' fans, how could we resist?  We rode up and then walked to a lookout for a squizz at Burma from what looked like an old gun bunker. All we could see was a cronky looking village with a dirt road through it. The Germans (who are actually called Ben and Eric) told us that from their experience of riding through Burma, that was pretty much what the whole country was like.

So, it was back down to the gate for some gratuitous photo ops

That photo cost me a quid to borrow the gun from the guard who was thankfully smart enough to remove the magazine first. I did offer him some more cash so we could have a go at a few moving targets (there were some chickens around) but he said no ;-(

It did feel a bit weird being at a border gate with razor wire and gun turrets (think Checkpoint Charlie) holding a gun, standing next to 2 Germans. We have been reminded of war & human suffering throughout this whole trip, change a few details, wind the clock back 70 years....
We took a selfie to make friends. I hadn't mentioned anything to them about what was going through my head but this little photo made all the thoughts go away!

Back down the twisty, jungly road and into the valley bottom. The heat really hit us. 

We managed a couple of extra K's to Fish Cave where an underground river pops out from a mountain, revealing fresh water that is absolutely crammed with massive (2 foot long) blue carp that went mad when they were fed lettuce or papaya (go figure!) 

The 15km ride home was pretty unpleasant. What is the opposite of 'wind chill'? Whatever it's called, we were getting it. I had to blink constantly as my eyes were drying out in seconds and the blasts of hot air felt like a giant hair dryer. When we got back into town at 4pm, according to the thermometer outside the police station it was 103 degrees (40 in modern speak but 103 sounds much more impressive). On my little thermometer clipped to my bag that had been in the wind, it was 110. Yikes!

Apparently there is a festival in town tonight. It didn't exactly look like Mardi Gras when we came through just now but we'll go out a bit later and will be sure to tell you all about it.

TA ta

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Blazin saddles

When we pulled up at the guest house last night 2 German guys came over. They were cyclists. Their Germanic keen eye had spotted our cycle panniers strapped to the back of Black Shadow and The Grey Nomad. We had a quick chat and agreed to join them later.

Over a beer we discussed routes, hills and of course food. they'd both been a bit sick so were taking it easy. One guy (lets call him Herman) was very nice and chatty whilst the other one (ok just to call him German?) hadn't really said anything and was busy blogging. Now I don't like to stereotype people but when German suddenly piped up with "We can eat in 4 minutes, it is now exactly 4 minutes to 7 o'clock" I just cracked up. For real? They ordered and when their plates of very plain spag bol arrived, we went off in search of something a little more authentic. 

We thought we were doing ok. Our little waiter (like a teenage Thai version of Manuel from Fawlty Towers) took our order but somewhere in the translation from "Chicken Green Curry" to "Chikin Gwin ok?" we ended up with a plate of chicken wings. Kate didn't need to mention her disappointment, her face said it all.

2 minutes later a green curry did turn up, I looked over my shoulder to check if Basil or Sybil were about.

To make up for it though, whilst we were waiting, we'd finally found out what animal makes our favourite sound of SE Asia. We love the "cheep, cheep" of the little geckos but much prefer the rather un PC "Uck you" that we'd assumed was a frog. It also turned out to be a gecko but as the restaurant owner's torch revealed, a bloody big one, possibly 10-12" long and with an impressive girth to boot! 

Black Shadow and The Grey Nomad were keen to rip up the tarmac, so by 8.30 the next day we were back on the road.

Kate was flying along, the Shadow's frame flexed and tyres scrabbled for grip as she threw the awesome machine into bend after bend. For inspiration (she admitted later) and to add flair to her riding she'd secretly been listening to Valentio Rossi's autobiography on her iPod! Taking no chances on the tortuous road, she'd also taken the trouble to don her fully approved safety shawl.

Will piloted the Nomad with his usual skill & grace and was hot on her tail but with the wind resistance caused by his unfeasibly large helmet, he never really stood a chance of keeping up....

We did both manage to get past this guy who was taking no chances on running out of petrol.

By lunch we arrived at the town of Mae Hong Son where we discovered that this road isn't know as the "road of 1000 bends" but actually the "road of 1864 bends", well that is according to all the stickers, t shirts and fridge magnets that are on sale here.

It's hot outside (38 degrees, that's 100 for the oldies and Americans in the audience) so we've checked into another nice guesthouse had a shower and are about to make friends with the air conditioning unit but not we slather ourselves in this

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pinch me, I'm dreaming!

We got to the motorbike hire place at 8.30 as arranged. We were supposed to be renting a yellow Honda Wave ( already christened "the yellow peril") and another mighty Honda, a Dream. I'm not sure why its called a dream because it isn't as good as a Wave but there you go.
Anyway, neither bike was there. The guy said he'd sort 2 bikes out pronto and we went next door for a coffee. We wanted the little scooter type bikes as we didn't have any proper motorbiking gear with us and felt that if we took something 'proper' there was more chance of getting excited and coming a cropper. 
After a few minutes, they came into sight. "The Black Shadow" (kate bagsied it straight away) and "The Silver Dream Machine" for me. Imagine my disappointment when upon closer inspection I realised that the sleek bodywork was not actually silver but grey. Instant demotion to "The Grey Nomad".....
Anyway, we were off. The run out through the suburbs of Chiang Mai was a simple task. I can't say it enough that I reckon Thailand is such a great place to 'cut your teeth' in the sphere of Adventure Motorbiking. It's safe, cheap, friendly but still gives a great frisson of excitement and Asian mystique. If you're only half interested in doing something like this then just come here, you'll love it.
The road was flat and straight, the only down side was the filthy air quality. The farmers burn off the fields to prepare them for next seasons crop.  Mix that with the general dust and pollution and it was making our eyes sting and throats sore. We stopped at a 7-11 and bought some breathing masks.

If that's Wallace, where's Grommet?!

After an hour or so, we spotted a big temple on a hill so pulled over for a bit of a break and also some gratuitous bike photos. Feast your eyes on these beauties!

The temple itself was like nothing we'd seen before. A peculiar mix of the familiar and some pretty bizarre 'extras' including a pumpkin big enough to stand in and possibly a tribute to Steve Irwin

The reclining Buddha was massive but from a distance appeared to have some sort of bum fluff beard going on, which turned out to be wasps nests

We rode on to the town of Hot which lived up to its name

It was over 35 degrees in the little roadside cafe where we enjoyed our plate of 50p spicy fried rice

This guys bike made ours look a bit boring

We were now heading up into the hills. It was great to have an engine for a change. Long climbs just meant a quick down change of gears and a twist of the wrist, it made a mockery of that pedalling malarkey!
Kate getting her knee down (sort of)

Above all when Adventure Biking it is imperative that you look cool. Here I am doing my best Steve McQueen. What do we reckon to that?

Brochure shot???

More great riding through smooth(ish) twisty tarmac brought us to the town of Mae Saraing where we checked into a lovely riverside guesthouse (the river is a tad dry) with one of the nicest rooms we've had of the whole trip for £17 between us, including breakfast.

Oh, and for all you people who say/think we're adventurous, take a look at this