Day 17: Saturday 21st January :  Chiang Mai to Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows, near Chiang Dao: 82km

 I am sitting in the early morning peacefulness of a forest surrounding, and listening to bird calls that I cannot identify having woken up from a superb night’s sleep in a tent.  The contrast between this jungle setting and the frantic pace of life in Chiang Mai is stark.  But this blog is about yesterday – and how we got here – not about today.

Yesterday started with a 6am alarm clock – a shock after two days of sleeping in until, well at least, 7am before we had gently argued who was going to get out of bed to put the kettle on.  We packed up, had porridge with mangos that we had bought from the market (delicious) and took our bags down to load onto the trikes just before 7.  We interrupted (or tried not to interrupt) the daily blessing for the hotel given by the Buddist monk who collected alms.  It is a ritual few visitors see and has a reverent quality on both sides that it is touching.  Hearing traditional buddhist chants in a modern hotel foyer shows the compromise of the new and the traditional which is at the heart of this country.

A wedding place – beautiful and calm

Once prayers were over, the hotel staff were fascinated by the trikes and we had photos taken with multiple “seewadikhars” expressed as thanks for our stay and good wishes for our travels.  Politeness seems to be hard-wired into the Thai mindset (just as it is hard-wired out of other groups, such as New York taxi drivers).  It is genuinely meant and a constant delight.

The traffic was light as we ambled on the back roads (thanks to Kamoot) out of the city.  Almost instantly, the tourist centre gave way to the back-streets with its usual variety of stalls, motor bike shops, plastic container collectors and numerous other small businesses, partially conducted on the street and partially inside.  

There are a few times when the wind is with us

We ambled along in the peace of the morning, following the banks of the river Ping.  This mighty river is much smaller here – maybe only 20m wide in places but it seems clear that living on the banks is prestigious as there were lots of architect designed houses with river frontages.  Thailand is not a country short of money – it is a successful capitalist economy with fertile land, a government that is a democracy (to an extent), issues of corruption, light regulation (or at least light enforcement) and cheap labour coming in from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar.  Those are almost perfect conditions in which the rich can grow richer, the middle class can develop and the poor have few opportunities to break out from the life of previous generations.  The fruits of this were shown by the lovely houses along the river – almost always with a boy in the garden sweeping up the teak tree leaves – a seeming endless job.

Crossing a pedestrians only bridge

Gradually the valley narrowed and we found ourselves on the main (and only) road heading north.  It was a dual carriageway at times with road works (always a challenge on trikes) but the number of lorries diminished as we got away from Chaing Mai.  Then it developed into a road through a narrow section – almost a gorge – with steep foliage on both sides.  About 11 we stopped for something to eat and were overcharged for lunch.  We nearly got all indignant about the cost until we realised that it was still under £10 for a full lunch for two.  We paid up and resolved to make sure we agreed prices in advance next time.  

A place where the Ping widened out

After about 80km we slipped off the main road into a series of side roads and arrived in an area which was full of holiday bungalows.  This is about an hour’s drive north of Chaing Mei and is where people flee the heat for a weekend in the mountains.  It is a famous area for bird watchers and is a setting off point for trekking into the mountains. 

We met Brian and Sugar – two young people from Chiang Mai who were up here for the weekend.  Brian is from the US and Sugar is from Thailand, and graduated from Nottingham university in computer science.  They had also cycled up from Chaing Mei.  Brian is a PE teacher at an International School who has taken a positive decision to live here as opposed to in the US.  Brian is a keen cyclist and provided us with lots of useful information about Laos.  Sugar works in IT for Exxon Mobile, both in Thailand and internationally.  They are planning to cycle around Europe at some point, so we introduced them to the concept of warmshowers.  It was a pleasure shooting the breeze with them both.

Although we could have booked a bungalow, we camped for the first time so we could check all the camping stuff worked properly.  We did not want to discover holes in the sleeping mat when we were wild camping in Laos.  I can report there are no such holes – or none found to date.  Today we have a day off and my main task is to dismantle the back of Bernie’s trike, grease everything and put it back together so that it stops squeaking.  We may visit caves, do a jungle walk and read books, but the removal of the squeak is my primary task.  Such is the change in my life when my daily task would be appearing in the High Court to sit as a Judge or argue a complex point of law.  Now it is “squeak detective”, and the change is super welcome.

Our first campingplatz

4 thoughts on “Day 17: Saturday 21st January :  Chiang Mai to Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows, near Chiang Dao: 82km

  1. Sounds good. Seems you’re making good progress and meeting lots of people along the way. Must be nice to camp.

  2. Sounds good. Seems you’re making good progress and meeting lots of people along the way. Must be nice to camp.

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