Day 18: Sunday 22 January: Day off in Marlee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows, Chang Doa

The setting for the campsite, tucked into the base of the Chiang Dao mountain, was so sublime and the variety of people here meant we decided to stay another day.  All worked well with the camping stuff and we huddled in our sleeping bags with ‘bed tea’ in the morning listening to the birdlife all around. Malee’s husband Kurt is well into his seventies.  He explained to us that he came here from Switzerland for the orchids, found both amazing plants and love (we assume) and has never left.  He wandered around in the morning watering his thousand orchids; carefully nurtured in pots hanging from tree branches all round the grounds.  He said most of the orchids were from Thailand and one of the orchids had been DNA tested and the only place found in the world was his garden! A real enthusiast whose approach brought us both back to Orchid Fever, which will mean something to Bewdley book clubbers!

We strolled up the road to Wat Tham Pha Plong where we climbed up hundreds of steps to the main temple through a beautiful forest, helped on by buddhist contemplative phrases on signs along the way.  We must be getting fitter as we hardly drew breath as we climbed the 309 steps, but it was the cool of the morning. At the top were the monks quarters and the main temple, both set in a large cleft in the cliff. We took in the views and the atmosphere then strolled back down for breakfast.

Later we did a walk along a ‘nature trail’ through the rainforest. Kurt showed us the map and gave us instructions; just as well as we would probably have failed in the first hurdle of finding the tiny path as it plunged into the verdant forest. We clambered uphill, over rocks and tree trunks surrounded by enormous trees and huge clumps of bamboo. The sun glimmered through the canopy but we stayed reasonably cool in the shade.  This is a famous place for birders and the bugalows are full of people who know their wharblers from their partridges (and multiple varieties of all species).  We had left our binoculars behind this trip – they did not make the weight cull but would have been clueless even if we had them.  The bird song was loud and varied, even if we could not seem them.

The path came out at the Chiang Dao caves. Next door was a temple (of course) with lovely surrounding grounds and pathways lined with chinese lanterns.  It was Sunday and the place was teeming with people. The caves are almost an extension of the temple complex.  We paid our 40 bhat entry fee (about £1) and walked along lit passages with formations of stalagmites and stalactites, interspersed with Buddha statues.

When we re emerged into the light it was a hot walk back up the road so it was a lovely to have a cooling dip in the little pool when we got back.

We spent the afternoon lounging in the grounds.  David has cured the ‘squeak’ on my bike (hopefully) by greasing all my seat fittings.  We could have done other things but didn’t feel inclined to….we must be relaxing!

We cooked, Bernie caught up with her family on zoom and had a close run scrabble game finished off the day (David won, I will wait my revenge!)

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

Day 16: Friday 20th January:  Day off in Chiang Mai

Today we really relaxed into life in Chiang Mai and started to appreciate all it had to offer, as Thailand’s “Birmingham” ( second city – but with obviously less charm and humour).  We started the day wandering around a big market area. This was a ‘real life’ Thai market.  There were a few tourist souvenirs here but most were for locals; stalls and stalls of nuts, dried fruits, spices, dried fish, meat and all conceivable goods for the home. There was also a great flower market which was a colourful sight in itself.  Great fun just to wander around.

Next up was breakfast – great omelets in an unpresupposing cafe.  All coffee (to date) has been good in Chiang Mai, and this did not disappoint – so no worries there.  That set us up for a cultural session visiting Wat Chedi Luang . All the temple complexes are in the midst of the bustling city but we walk into a space that is incredibly peaceful. This one contained the remains of what was an enormous Chedi (like a conical tower) dating from the 15thC. In its heyday it housed a revered emerald buddha but had crumbled away to almost nothing until restoration work started in the 1990s.

Chinese style painting in a part of the temple from which all women were excluded – so only David could see this

Astonishingly, it was never finished because those in charge could not decide how to finish it off at the top – so the top was never completed! Can you imagine that happening to a Cathedral in Europe.  However it happened here and yet the result is strangely eerie and evocative.  Almost next door was Wat Pan Toa, a beautiful 14thC teak building (also recently renovated).

By now we had walked miles and it was getting hot so we retreated to the hotel for the afternoon, finalising our plans for the next few days and getting last bits of shopping,

In the evening we had our first disappointing meal in Thailand. We had Thai style burritos, which we thought would be quick (and a last chance of some ‘western’ style food for a while).  We enjoyed people watching for 20, 25, 30 minutes – then mine arrived but no sign of David’s.  Another 20, 25, 30 minutes and after he stomped around somewhat (so unusual in Thailand) it eventually arrived.  We ate up and left – after David applied a suitable discount for the delay (to which they did not argue at all)!

However, the evening finished on a real high.  We strolled to the North Gate Jazz Coop and arrived just in time for an hour and a half set in a cozy upstairs venue by a brilliant ‘swing’ group made up of a group of muscians who have found themselves in Chaing Mei.  The band contained 2 Russians (a female singer and a man (we assume her partner) who led the band from the double base), a Thai saxophonist, a Californian jazz pianist called Alan and an Italian drummer called Giovanni with a PhD in musicology.  They meshed together brilliantly and worked their way through some swing classics.  Who would have thought we would find such great live music.

We foot tapped our way home. Pleased with our Chiang Mai sojourn but ready to get back on the road again tomorrow. 

Day 15: Thursday 19 January: Day off in Chaing Mei

There is not a great deal to say about today – except that eagle eyed readers will have noticed that my OCD tendencies have come to the fore and I have renumbered all the previous blogs to get them right – so this is “day 15” and is Thursday (all day) and 15th January (again all day).  Someone will have been as irritated as me about our inability to number and date the blog pages correctly – and have quietly said to himself or herself “Just get it right”.  You are now put out of your misery – it is all now in order.  Now we can both worry about other things of equal (or possibly even of lesser) importance.

I cannot get over how conflicted I feel about Chiang Mei.  We rode 800km to get here and so should feel pretty good about arriving, but there is a slight feeling that this is Thai-ersatz, but that may be unfair.  All the bits of Thailand that we have grown to love are here, but the effect of being in a tourist hotspot is that they are packaged slightly differently – and thus work better for tourists (which include us of course).  I recall that when we were in Mexico were told that Cancun was a Mexican tourist city that Mexicans went to in order to learn what life was like outside Mexico.  Chiang Mei has something of that feeling, but at the same time a short away from the tourist main drag is a Thai city indistinguishable from those we have passed through to date.  It perhaps has a slight Morcambe and Wise effect – all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.  The bars and restaurants (almost every other outlet) all have menus In English (brilliant for us of course).

There are tattoo parlors on every corner and I feel somewhat naked without any body art.   am tempted to have “nil desparandum carburubdum illegitami” tattooed across some discrete bit of my body but have resisted so far – mainly because I doubt the spelling will come out right.  

Chaing Mei is a loverly, vibrant city where the centre is full of European, American, Australian and Chinese people – i.e tourists like us.  There are a surprisingly large number4 of oldies like us (not many on bikes) and the  Chinese are, without doubt, the best dressed and the best at applying make up (both sexes).  Appearance must be a high factor in China as I cannot believe they only dress up to go abroad.

But there are also marvelous cultural sites.  We went to a series of temples this morning but Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan stood out.  We were there as the monks did their morning chanting – and it was magical.  We could have been back in the Benedictine Abbeys of our youth.  The descriptions are best shown by photos but the tourists did not spoil the reverence.

The afternoon was a trike fixing, reading, relaxing and sorting out time.  We have planned the next week or so into Laos and are both excited and a touch daunted by the prospect.  The hills will get bigger and the overnight stays will become more basic – and we may have to camp.  

In the evening we ambled out to the tourist infected night market – dishes from all over the world on offer but we both plumped for Thai food and Thai beer.  I think we may have either acclimatised or gone native.  Then an amble back across a foot bridge where we specifically told not to sleep on the bridge – which had seemed so much more attractive than our hotel but we are law abiding folk at heart and so compromised by going back to our air conditioned room.

Day 14: Wednesday 18th January: Lamphun to Chiang Mai. 28km.

We knew we only had a short hop today so got up leisurely.  David’s cough and cold had not been good in the night. We had had a good meal in the evening – taking the safe options (my stir fried prawns and vegetables was stuffed full of a range of delicious veggies) so  we could not blame the deep fried frogs, pigs brains or blow your mouth off curries that were also on the menu for his demise.  (On this note we tried some ‘street stall’ bbq chicken in a little village yesterday – it was all skin and bone….yes literally just skin and bone….it may well be a delicacy for some but unfortunately had us gagging (luckily we were eating them out of site and put them straight into a bin!)

I therefore left David to recuperate while I went to see the main site in Lamphun – the Wat Pra That Haripunjaya. The temple complex was beautiful and peaceful.  Full of ornate gold and colourful paper lanterns. Most of the visitors were Thai, coming to make their devotions. Flowers were laid, candles lit, packages of food left and gongs and bells rung. People were buying bottles of liquid which were poured into a replica long boat, clearly something of great significance. I felt rather out of place as a stray western tourist.

Back at the hostel we packed up and cycled the rather tedious 28km to Chaing Mai. We checked in to Sri Pat guesthouse and we pleased that it lived up to it’s good write up in the guide book. A lovely building in a quiet back street, a large comfy bedroom and a little swimming pool.  The perfect place to hole up for a few days.

A video from yesterday – much nicer than today’s cycling but internet was too slow to download it yesterday!

Whilst we were cycling a remarkable thing happened – we were passed by someone on a two-wheeled recumbent bike. She just waved to us and carried on before we had a chance to ask “what, why or how” it felt to ride such a machine. She looked European, not Thai but cannot say more than that. So if, perchance, the rider is reading this, please contact us with some details. But we can say confidently that we are not the only recumbent riders in Chaing Mei today.

It was a shock to the system to be in a busy city full of western tourists – like ourselves of course. Chaing Mai is the second largest city in Thailand but the old city is crammed with hotels, guest houses, restaurants, an inordinate number of tattoo parlours and the occasional cannabis cafe. It was quite an adjustment strolling round and hearing numerous languages…but at least we are not the only people in the hotel!

In the evening we had a delicious meal in a Burmese restaurant, topped with deserts of sticky rice and mango and friend bananas and ice cream – a real treat.

Chiang Mei was our first target – and we made it. We have covered over 800km so far and seen far more of Thailand than on either of our two previous visits. We are now in “planning mode” to plot our way across the mountainous areas to Laos. The only thing we know for sure is that the hills get bigger from now on.

Day 13:  Tuesday 17 January: Ban Huai Thaen to Lamphun :  104km and 550m of climbing (but this is mostly about dogs)

The place we stayed last night – where we were the only guests – is not on any maps.  In contrast Lamphun is a major city, 26km South of Chang Mai and a place with its own history, sights and tourist industry – and we have traveled about 100km due north to Lamphun for anyone trying to follow us on a map.  We opted for a “hostel” in Lamphun on the grounds we might meet other like minded folk but found that we were the only visitors staying at the Pick Baan Hostel.  There is either a dearth of independent tourists in Thailand this year or we have to do something about our personal hygiene.  Given the fact that one of the major delights of any cycling day is a long, hot shower on arrival, we suspect it is the former.

You may have noticed that the distance today started with a “1”; yes we broke the barrier for cycling over 100km a day on the trikes for the first time.  We felt pretty good about passing that meaningless milestone – we have done it lots of times on the bikes but this is the first time on three wheels.  The last 20km were flat and we were going along at about 18/19km per hour.  So, although the trikes are heavier and slower uphill, overall things balance out across a cycling day.

Early morning mist and pillars

Today’s route was “mixed”.  It was mostly undulating – hence over 500m of climbing but no big hills.  Our route followed the line of the national route 106, but this is a major road and we were keen to avoid it when we could.  The first 20km were off the 106, along tiny roads with loads of small villages.  Villages are full of people – who wave at us – and dogs – who bark incessantly at us.  This stretch was cut short when we reached a stretch of dirt track (which the map indicated only lasted 1km) a woman caught us up on a motorbike and gesticulated that we could not go on. Tempted though we were to try it it, she was adamant and she carefully guided us through a wiggly route back to the 106 – no doubt wondering how we could have got so lost. It was very good hearted and we said our thanks. 

The woman who guided us back to the main road

Then we had a period on the 106 – busy but with the advantage of stopping for wonderful “to die for” coffee mid morning.  Then we played mix and match – sometimes on the main road and sometimes on near parallel side roads.  The 106 was busy, and particularly challenging where there were roadworks, a smaller carriage way and our first exposure to lorry drivers who regard cycles as something like skittles in ten pin bowling.  The side roads were wonderful, quiet and there were large numbers of really interesting – architect designed – houses with colourful gardens.  This is an area of some affluence and it was lovely to glide by on our trikes.  But whereever there are people, there are dogs.

It is probably time to say something about dogs – the perennial worry of long distance cyclists.  Bernie and I are dog lovers and dog owners.  But regular readers of this blog will appreciate that, as a cyclist, I (this is David writing) have a particular sensitivity to dogs.  Three months of last year was consumed in pain as a result of the attentions of our canine friends.  Dogs vary the world over, but the division between “wild” and “domesticated” dogs is somewhat fluid in many parts of the world.  The worst place we have experienced (apart from genuinely feral beasts in the desert in the USA) was Greece.  Every village appeared to have pack of dogs whose main aim in life was to attack cyclists.  By comparison, the dogs in Thailand are amateurs.  But there are lots of them – and they appear to be genuinely pets of someone – for the most part.  Some are in gardens but, in the villages, the majority run free.  Now these dogs don’t raise a canine eyebrow to a motorbike (however rickety the exhaust is), cars, lorries or even locals who are cycling.  But when we arrive on our trikes there is a near-pavlovian impulse to bark, chase and protect their territory.  They appear to instinctively understand that we don’t belong to their environment and so need to be chased off to protect their territory.  

Thus, as we go through a village, we set off a series of barking, mobile dogs who chase us away.  Our experience to date is the dogs have been 100% successful in scaring us off their ground – as (from the canine perspective) we always run away.  We have hooters on our trikes and some get put off by the sound of the hooter.  We also invested in “dog scarers” – a device like a TV remote control that is supposed to send out a high pitched noise that upset them.  This worked very well to begin with but has been less effective in recent days – probably need to change the batteries.

But – and it is a big but – Thai dogs may make lots of noise but they are total wuzzes compared to their Hellenic cousins. However loudly they bark, no dog has come close to the trikes or tried to bite us.  My dear friend David England suggested we carry a large ham bone for attacking them – good idea but we may not have got it through customs (along with the etrike batteries).  But, the ham bone would not be needed because none of the Thai dogs have come within striking distance – yet of course.   

So the mythical ham bone has not been needed to date and we remain dog lovers.

At one shady rest stop in the early afternoon we booked our hotel for the evening.  We like to do this because 1) it (usually) means the hotel exists, 2) It (usually) means it is open and 3) we can go straight there when we arrive – nothing worse than trailing round a town at the end of the day trying to find somewhere to stay. As we nearly reached the 100k mark we stopped to set up google maps for the final directions into the town to the hotel. We were somewhat dismayed when the directions said it was 82km to the hotel.  Bernie had booked a hotel in the wrong town – Lampang rather than Lamphun!  She felt duly chastened but alls well that ends well as we easily found our way to our own personalised hostel for the night (no problem sharing a bathroom if no one else is there!). 

Day 12: Monday 16th January : Thoen to Ban Huai Thaen.  60km. 640m climbing.

We woke early to the sounds of geese – but not right in our little cabin.  David had slept for 10 hours – very unlike him and turns he has inevitably got my cold, just as I have shaken off my symptoms. However we packed up, had coffee with Uwe and Nok and cycled the first 10km or so with them to the bottom of the climb……..yes our first proper climb of the trip and we were a bit anxious about how we would do.

Our wonderful hosts

We needn’t have worried.  Much of the climb was around 3% to 6% interspersed with flatter contouring as we wound through the hills.  The occasional steeper sections did not last long. The wooded scenery was fantastic surrounded by amazing vegetation.  Slow and steady we climbed around 500m and it felt like a relief to be testing ourselves a bit. Even better there was a village just the other side of the summit  with a little coffee stall selling good coffee.

After resting our legs and feeling the caffeine boost we zoomed off down the hill.

Good coffee but starting to feel rough!

Unfortunately soon after David got a puncture on his back wheel and again we had great difficulty getting his tyre on and off (Schwalbe marathon tyres – we have had them on our touring bikes for years but there must be something about 20 inch wheel size that is very tight). Eventually we found a technique requiring 3 tyre levers and 4 hands to get the tyre off and the enormous tyre lever we had brought a few days ago to lever the tyre back on again.  Only to find the tyre went straight back down again – the valve was leaking.  Aahhh.  It was much quicker to get the second tube done but the whole shenanigans had taken some time and it was now much hotter.

We should have known better and stopped for lunch then but after the long break with coffee followed by punctures we were anxious to get some km under our belts.  I can hear our son Anthony’s mantra ringing in my ears – you have to fuel properly. We had climbed 500m on a few snacks then set off again with empty stomachs.  When we really started to feel hungry there suddenly wasn’t a shop, cafe or restaurant to be found.  Surely not, this is Thailand with a noodle shop or street food vendor round every corner. Eventually with the help of googlemaps we ventured dubiously down a tiny road where hey presto, there was a little restaurant (by the way, googlemaps is often wrong!). The chatty guy there, who had effectively set up a restaurant in his front garden, cooked us up an enormous bowl of noodle soup. He spoke good english and was thrilled to have 2 foreign tourists eating at his place and he posed for photos with us as his sister took lop sided pictures. 

By now David was really suffering though and there was no need for us to continue. Again with gogglemaps we located a hotel a couple of kms away and rang and ascertained they had a room.  Good thing we did ring as if we had just passed we would have continued on as the place looked deserted……because it was.  However, the women with a few words of english heard the dogs barking and was expecting us and showed us our room.

More views of the climb – the best bit of the day

It was an amazing place – large very well kept gardens. a small swimming pool and what looked like a huge main house.  It seemed as if a few building were added round the side of the grounds as hotel rooms.  There was a little bar area but no signs of life other than ourselves and the lady with the dogs.  However, David was able to collapse and recover, which was the main thing.

We managed to ascertain with gestures that there was no chance of dinner there so I ventured out to look for some provisions so we could cook up ourselves on a veranda area by our room. I was trying to get back to the main road, where I thought it most likely to find a food shop.  However, as a swung round a corner, there was a village stall selling a few vegetables, fruit and unidentified meat and dried fish.  I opted for safety and got vegetables and eggs and a packet of sauce from the tiny little store next to it. The people clustered round the stall looked at me as if I was a Martian who had just dropped in (I guess I did look a bit odd…a strange white woman on a trike).  The young girl in the shop looked thrilled that I went in a brought something from her and she practiced her ‘thank you’ in English.

David had recovered slightly by the time I got back and made tea and cooked up a simple meal. We do end up in bizarre places!!

Day 11: Sunday 15th January: Ban Tak to Thoen : 88km

I am typing this under a shelter near a fish pool, in the company of Uwe and Nok, with a view of hills around three sides whilst we wait for the barbecue to cook.  Uwe and Nok are our Warmshowers hosts who have kindly offered a bed for the night to two passing cyclists.  The food was delicious, the company excellent and we learned not to feed fish to turkeys and how to cut open a coconut with a machete.  Both of which will be useful to know back in Shropshire.

The day started with a cool morning – so cool at 7am that I was tempted to dig out one of the two jumpers I packed for this trip.  I resisted as we warmed up once we started to exercise and, in any event, I had forgotten where the jumpers were packed.  They have not been used since we arrived in Thailand but we have been warned that northern Vietnam can be cold and wet – so they may still come in useful.

A Budda towering over the countryside

This morning was still, with a clear sky and quiet roads as we left the town of Ban Tak, following our friend, the Ping River, going northwards.  The Ping rises in the very north of Thailand and is 658km long.  It  is one of the two main rivers feeding the Chao Praya river which goes through central Bangkok and is a major source of irrigation for the farming areas we have been following for days.  Last wet season was longer and wetter than for many years (no doubt related to global warming) and so the river has retained more water in it than for many years.  It varies from about 100m to 200m wide at this point, even though we are now about 450km north of Bangkok.  

Our route took us through a series of villages and small towns.  These have a now familiar feel about them.  There are small general store type “shops” selling everything from crisps and packet junk food (quite a lot of that) through to all the essentials to keep a home running.  They tend to have no doors on the outside, just a walk in covered area with produce piled high on every side. 

Almost all villages have their own Buddist temple – the local wat – with a variable range of outbuildings.  There are plenty of schools and an amazing number of police stations, even though the crime rate here must be miniscule.  Ah – you may say – having lots of police leads to a low crime rate!  I am not sure the causal relationship is quite as clear as that, and high police numbers may be for different reasons.

The ppppppower of the river shown in this close up

Most places are clean and tidy, although the use of plastic bags is very common here, and the debris from the reliance on plastic is more apparent than on our previous visits.  It will be a long time before Thailand removes single use plastics.

Today was Sunday and most shops and businesses appeared to be closed and we saw many family gatherings.  People remained friendly and welcoming; with lots of smiles breaking out onto people’s faces once they saw the trikes and worked out what they were looking at (and it always took a few seconds).  

Uwe and Nock are  German/Thai couple who live on a small homestead near the town of Theon.  They are about our ages or slightly younger.  Uwe is a keen touring cyclist and gave us all manner of useful advice about cycling in both Northern Thailand and Laos, especially at this time of year.  He has the same desire as us to avoid the main roads, but is at his happiest when riding a gravel bike on a dirt track.  The trikes can manage some off-road but they are not set up for going along rutted tracks for hour after hour.  

We had a lovely time with them, saw round their amazing homested with its chickens, newly born geese, pond with large fish and turkeys.  Nok cooked a barbecue – giving instructions to Uwe from time to time (which he dutifully followed) and then we chatted until we felt the need to lie down – and then discovered it was only 7pm! Cycling plus socialising left me exhausted.

Nok working magic with coconuts

Day 10: Postscript 

This our second blog of the day – and there are more memories to capture.  We blogged before we went out for the evening for dinner in Ban Tak and, when we did that, we met a lovely chef at his pizza restaurant who had previously worked for the British Ambassador in Baghdad, Iraq and Oman.  He had also worked in top-end restaurants in Bangkok, but was now back home with his wife and running a small pizza restaurant on the banks of the Ping River. 

Sunset over the Ping

The pizzas were lovely and we chatted with him about his life, his career and his hopes for the restaurant.  Ban Tak is a Thai tourist town, though European visitor numbers are down on previous years.  We were the only people in his restaurant at the time and it was very relaxed.

We then walked along the riverside road and saw the celebrations for “Children’s Day”.  Lots of child shaped chaos and lining up for presents – and teenagers either looking at their phones or looking into the eyes of a partner as they wandered around in their own world.  All very familiar.

We hear the weather in Britain is horrid, Bewdley is under water and it is pretty dismal; so we are feeling slightly cautious about complaining about the heat.

Day 10: Saturday 14th January: Kamphaeng  Phet to Ban Tak.  98km. 200m climbing.

It seems our first few cloudy days were unseasonably cool. The forecast now is for bright sunshine and for the days to be hotter. We are therefore back to days of old of getting up early and setting off at dawn to maximise the cool part of the day. Although the alarm always seems cruel, it is always worth getting going early – there is something glorious about a cool morning, watching the sunrise and little traffic.  Our legs were also rested from our day off so we pedaled away from our guesthouse in good spirits.

Our route continued to closely follow the river Ping.  This time the ‘quiet side’ (ie away from highway 1) was truly quiet. We had a great morning’s ride along a pleasant road with a good surface through villages and verdant countryside. The views were more interesting as we ventured away from the central plain and passed hills and even spied bigger misty mountains in the distance. We even had a few minor undulations – a relief to test our legs slightly after pancake flat for the first week (although a total of about 200m climbing for the day is still pretty minimal). 

We were mildly amused by this sign – no accident was found

We ate up the kms and pressed on to the town of Tak. As we entered the town we joined Highway 1 for a short while – a grim line of concrete and aseptic shops along the busy highway. As soon as we turned off the change was instant with the place morphing into a pleasant riverside town. We found good coffee to give us a zizz for the final section and soon we were back on quiet, country roads hugging the river again. It was much hotter but a breeze kept the heat at bay – although we were aware that the sun had been beating down on us for hours (thank goodness for factor 50 suncream – we never cycle without it).

Crossing the Ping – not a cloud in the sky

The road bent away from the river for a short distance and on this stretch we saw some touring cyclists coming towards us up the hill towards us.  They were a couple of young, male Thai touring cyclists and were on their way south.  They were well kitted out with ortleib panniers, brooks saddles and surly long haul trucker touring bikes – in fact our exact set up before we switched to trikes. Their English and our Thai was minimal so we just did ‘bike talk’ with pointing, took some pictures, said good luck and on our way again.  They were closely followed by two further cyclists – clearly part of the same group.

The Thai Cyclists – Hardly any flesh exposed (a lesson for us)

Soon after we reached the pretty little town of Ban Tak. We hadn’t booked a hotel as there had been so few tourists so far so we were mildly shocked to find our first two choices were both full.  We had not clocked that it was the weekend and so the hotels fill up.  One was pretty upmarket and was hosting a wedding so it was not surprising they didn’t have room for a couple of scruffy, English cyclists.  The receptionist was very apologetic but who knows if she was mentally relieved to be able to say No. 

It is so easy to find hotels (or anything else come to that) with google maps.  There is no need to ask anyone for directions for the way to a hotel in broken Thai, or to misunderstand the response.  Now all the hotels in Ban Tak (and elsewhere) just show up on our phones; we press the symbol and can see pictures (most are in Thai script rather than roman script so we have no idea what they are called so recognising the picture really helps to let you know when to stop!). Soon we were at a pleasant motel style place with large rooms, hot water and pristine clean of course (so different from some of the grim motels we stayed in in the US!). It was a real relief to get out of the sun and to revive with a cup of tea!  We did not quite break to 100km marker but got near enough to feel pretty pleased with ourselves.

Endless road; endless sun

Day 9: Friday 13 January: Rest day in Kamphaeng Phet

It says in Exodus 34:21 that a man shall work for six days and on the seventh day he shall rest.  Women, it seems, were expected to follow suit!  So, after being on the road for 6 days, we had a rest day in the wonderful, ancient town of Kamphaeng Phet – hereafter referred to “KP” – not to be confused with a certain producer of nuts. We only belatedly realised this was ” Friday 13th”; but that does not appear to be a thing in Thailand – or not so far as we noticed.

We have covered about 350km from Bangkok so far and have about another 350km to get to Chiang Mei.  So, as this town has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it seemed a good place for a day off and a look around.

The town of KP was founded in the 11th century and built up into a fortified town to protect the Siam kingdom from the northern barbarians – in this case the Burmese.  It’s heyday was the period 1350 to 1750 when the city was protected by huge and extensive walls, containing a massive area with numerous temples.  Water was diverted from the river Ping to create a moat and there were guarded gates every few hundred metres, protecting both the city population and the temples inside the walls.  The temples were mostly from the Theravadra strand of Buddhism which originates in what is now Sri Lanka, but there is also a Hindu shrine here; showing the cultural diversity of the town in its prime and the extent of trade between different parts of Asia.

It all fell when the Burmese swept south in 1767 – leading to the destruction of the then capital of Ayutthaya (which we saw a few days ago).  We ambled out on our trikes in the early morning sunshine to collect a few bits from a bike shop – where we met the owner, his wife, his daughter and her daughter – all bike nuts and keen to talk about the roads ahead.  It was a sophisticated operation and one that had everything we needed.

The KP Historical Park is over two sections.  The first involved a walk around an area of temples, Budda statues (both upright and reclining) and lots of chedi (closely related to “stupas” which we have seen in other places – the pointy up bits).  The buildings were made of laterite rock – a hard, reddish volcanic rock with holes like Dutch cheese.  There is extensive evidence of fire damage and all of the roofs of the buildings have fallen in, but the remaining stones are hugely evocative of a sophisticated civilisation.  The rest of the description is far better shown in photos than in text – so this posting is more pictures than words.

The afternoon was a time for getting a few niggles sorted on the trikes, mending a punctured tyre and lots of reading and drinking tea.  The guesthouse is very relaxed and is perfect to while away the hours in contemplation.  However, it is nearly empty.  Holidays to the Thai beaches have resumed after the pandemic but there are far fewer independent travelers than pre-pandemic.  That is great for us but a challenge for anyone whose livelihood depends on servicing the needs of those who travel under their own steam. 

Tomorrow we follow the River Ping northwards and, I fear, have more hills to climb than we have had to date.

Day 8: Thursday 12 January: Khanu Woralaksaburi to Kamphaeng Phet.  77km.  

We woke and packed up in our pleasant hotel watching the sun rise over the river. Then on to the bikes for a day which started on small roads and ended on a much more major road. 

The morning started along the small roads weaving along the south bank of the river Ping.  After a few kms a car pulled over and a woman jumped out waving at us. Wondering what we had done wrong, but she was just being kind and handed over a bag of food with lots of bowing and words that we interpreted as welcome to Thailand. We passed fields of rice in various stages of planting, sugar cane, cassava, oranges and other things we could not recognise. 

Our welcome donor of goodies

30km (at least on the flat) is about our ideal time for a stop.  By that point we got to the town of Khlong Khlung and found a smart cafe which did excellent coffee.  After this we fairly zoomed off; driven by cafine.  Soon though the choice of small roads disappeared.  We crossed the bridge to the north side to avoid the main highway 1 but the road we had to join proved to be quite busy.  This side of the river was much more industrialised, and we passed huge factories and a massive plant for processing sugar cane.   It belched out huge amounts of smoke, which did not help the air quality.

The River Ping

As usual there was a wide shoulder but we had to navigate motorbikes coming the wrong way – and the convention seems to be that the person who is on the right side of the road has to move out – into the path of the traffic of course.  

Picking routes in Thailand can be difficult because it is not always clear whether a road is a tiny back road or a big main road. We use Kamoot but that depends on an algorithm which is based on the records made by other users – and there are not too many other Kamoot users in Thailand.  

The road remained flat and the wind was low, so we pushed on for the 30km until we reached the outskirts of Kamphaeng Phet,a modern city surrounding an ancient historic site. This is about half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai so a good place for a day off to see some culture, plan and recuperate. 

We stopped at the “three Js” guesthouse which was very relaxed and feels like the right place to stop for a couple of nights.

In the evening we went out to a colourful, thriving night market where stall after stall was stirring up delicious smelling food. We plumped for one that seemed very popular for a plate of fried noodles.   That was pretty good but who knows precisely what we were eating.

Day 7: Wednesday 11 January: Sawang Arom to River Green Resort on the Ping River at Khanu Woralsburi: 68km.

We woke as the only inhabitants of our guesthouse (other than the gekko we found in the sink).  The bed was rock, rock hard and the walls were bare plaster.  Not decorous and the bed’s hardness made sleeping a challenge so all in all we have had better hotels.  However, there were no other options in Sawang Arom!  

Every hotel needs a gekko in the sink

The freshness of the morning is always a delight.  It is so pleasant to ride before the heat of the day builds up.  Our route took us northwards along flat, minor roads with famland on both sides and the occasional village.  The roads were all quiet but the surfaces varied from tarmac to soft earth, with everything in between.  The trikes handle well on uneven surfaces – far better than touring bikes – but the going is slower.

The vegetation was lush, the people were friendly, we passed impressive temples and saw agriculture close up.  Thailand has 13 million farmers out of a total population of 71 million, and although agriculture is only about 10% of Thailand’s GDP, 40% of the population are concerned with agriculture.  Farms tend to be small, family run business with an average of 8 acres.  

The intense emerald green of a rice field

Rice is the main crop with over 50% of land being used for rice production.  However we also saw sugar cane being harvested.  Sugar cane production in Thailand reached a peak of 131 million metric tonnes in 2018 but halved the following year due to drought and farmers switching from sugar cane to cassava.   We also saw casava being dried in the sun to produce tapioca – another major cash crop.  The countryside is certainly not affluent but neither does it shout of absolute poverty.   I suspect there is more rural poverty than we could see but there were also new cars parked in drives and the shops were full of stuff that was far from essentials.  Farming tends to be labour intensive and, for some, involve long, back breaking days in the hot fields.  But this fertile land is still probably a better place to be a farmer than many neighboring countries. 

We reached the main “1” road, a dual carriageway with a wide shoulder which runs northwards from Bangkok, just before lunch time.  A few Km along there was the equivalent of a motorway services where we had noodles, vegetables and an undefined form of meat for 35 baht (less than £1) – Welcome Break take note!  It was delicious and filled a gap.  Bernie had been a fighting a cold all morning and we decided not to go on for too much longer, giving us the afternoon to relax.  The Ping River was nearby and so we headed for it and found the River Green Resort, a collection of bungalows at the river’s edge.  It was a lovely spot and just the place to relax.

Late in the afternoon we ambled across the bridge (the river being at least 100m wide at this point) and explored the town of Khanu Woralsburi.  There must be hundreds of similar towns across the central part of Thailand – clean, active and full of noise.  Not just the motorbikes on the main drag but the hubbub in the market where more or less anything was for sale and the long conversations at the roadside as if time were not pressing – which it may well not be.  We were – we confidently say – the only foreign visitors in the town but we were treated with kindness as we used google translate to buy food for our supper.  One of the changes since 2018 when we first visited is that there are more multi-lingual signs – Thai and English – than before.  It seems the government has decided that English should be the country’s second language, and there are far more people we encounter who have a smattering of English – even in the market.  We don’t pretend that it is the UK rather than the USA which is driving this but it is welcome to us.

The light fading over the Ping River
The main drag – usually motorbikes but cars in this picture
Looking South down river – this flows all the way to Bangkok

Day 6: Tuesday 10 January:   Near Wat Dom Neramit to Sawang Arom. 93km.

Today felt much more like our cycling days of old. We woke early in our pleasant comfortable hotel in a village of unknown name. Our morning coffee was delivered with 3 sugars so we declined but we were able to brew up and have our porridge, our usual cycling start to the day. Night turned to day in the space that it took the water to boil! We were off just before 8 in the cool slightly misty morning. The back road to Chai Nat was pleasant passing paddy fields and irrigation canals. David had to attend to more niggles with his trike but is learning more about the set up with each adjustment. An Australian passed in his car and passed the time of day.  He has lived in Thailand for 6 years and was astonished when we said that we found all the drivers extremely polite. ‘Haven’t you experienced the road rage?’ he said – perhaps he was the instigator of the road rage but it certainly is not our experience.

We crossed the massive Chao Praya river, which runs down to Bangkok and fills the irrigation channels of the central plains creating the bread basket (or rice and sugar cane basket) of Thailand. The road immediately turned into a 6 lane highway as we entered Chai Nat. Luckily there was a feeder lane along the side and it wasn’t long before we turned into the centre of the town. We passed a little bicycle shop and managed to get a hefty tyre lever (so we don’t have a repeat of the tyre problems from yesterday). Then with the help of googlemaps found a coffee shop selling ‘Italian coffee’ and had lovely coffee and cakes.

The road out of Chai Nat couldn’t have been more different. We took a tiny road that hugged the riverside and passing through pretty villages. This was more like it. As we crossed the Chao Praya river again towards Uthai Thani the road again got busier but stayed as two lanes with a wide shoulder (in fact most of the roads have a well paved wide shoulder, presumably to cater for the myriad of people on motorbikes). Uthai Thani was a characterful town where we stopped for lunch. We have learnt not to be put off by kiosks and plastic tables – this is where you can get a filling bowl of noodles with usually pork or chicken and vegetables for about £1. The one we chose was full of chatty women – only one of which could speak rudimentary english.  She dutifully repeated where we were from, where we were going etc to the oohs and ahhs of the other women!  

The noodle queens

Bikes seem the form of transport for those at the bottom of society here in Thailand – not many high end, carbon racing bikes on show here.  Push bikes generally have no gears and are only for people who cannot afford any form of motorbike – and some of the motorbikes here can carry 5 people without anyone wearing a helmet and without worrying about an MoT (or so it sounds).  There is a practice of wearing face masks and no helmet on a motorbike.  To us, wearing helmets on a trike but no facemasks, it seems strange but no stranger than lots of other things we have experienced. 

We hadn’t planned an end point to the day as we were not sure how we would feel.  We were 60km in but feeling good so aimed for a town another 30km on and booked into a guest house.

As we came out of Uthai Thani we cycled around the foot of a hill that emerged from the flat plain.  A buddist temple, wat khoo sakae krang, had been built on top and there were some impressive stairs for the faithful to climb (no doubt bare foot) to earn a step towards nirvana (the mystical state, not the rock band that is).  We still had 30km to go and so left the experience to those who wanted mystic experiences or maybe wanted to visit the nearby caves with 9 species of bat.  Neither was tempting enough to make us climb the several hundred metres to the top.

Our route took us away from the river with its main towns and struck more across country. The bird life was abundant and we began to see water buffalo. 

The last 20km or so began to get a bit tedious but the bite was going out of the sun and we eventually trudged into the town of Sawang Arom, very pleased to have covered over 90km. Admittedly it’s been as flat as a pancake but we are already feeling fitter (albeit from a low base due to age, winter in the UK and a small measure of laziness over Christmas).  There are, however, the beginnings of hills emerging from the flat plain.  Our days of only climbing 30m over 70km might be coming to an end and it might get tougher in the days ahead.

Saying farewell to the Chao Praya river

So far (at least) we have now come to see that the trikes are really comfortable.  The power is all in the legs so the rest of the body is relaxed. The fears that we won’t be seen are unjustified – partly because of our flying flags but we are so different from anything else on the road that we are hard to miss! 

We found the guest house we had booked into in central Sawang Arom – just by the police station.  But our spirits dipped as it was locked up and seemed completely abandoned. We were just wondering what to do when a lady turned up on her bike – presumably someone who had seen us knocking on the door and pacing up and down and had given her a ring. She duly opened up and turned on the lights – our online booking of lunchtime had not yet come through. We had the strange experience that we often get once we are off the beaten track of being the only people in the place. She showed us where we could make tea and coffee and left us to it – telling us to leave the front door key on the desk when we leave!!

Eating facilities in the one horse (or at least one main road) town of Sawang Arom were limited…..in fact we had the exact same bowl of noodles as we had for lunch!  Most of the world probably eats almost the same thing every day so we are spoilt when we expect an infinite variety of food.  We did get some cake and ice cream from the local supermarket though to fill the calorie gap after a long day!

Day 5: Monday 9 January :  Ang Thong to Caereen “Boutique Resort” on banks of River Noi : 68km

It is hard to describe what defines a day when travelling by bike in a foreign country – or travelling by trikes in our case.  Today was a mixture of delight and niggling frustrations.  I had my first puncture – and then failed for an hour to be able to put the tyre back on wheel as it was too tight (even following all the tips in the you tube videos).  The best of the day was the unexpected kindness of strangers – as to which below.  As always, the positives far outweighed the negatives.

We woke late.  Our basic hotel was made more basic by being next door to a bar where Thailand’s loudest rock band were playing a gig.  They persevered through to the end of the set to great applause – or was that cheering because they had finished.  Anyway, the noise kept us awake so we were relieved when it ended.

That meant we woke about 8.15 – not having set the alarm – and were not off until 9.30.  That is a late, late start for us but we were not 100% over jet lag and the uncertain nature of our route meant there was no need for a very early start.

The small town of Ang Thong is mega busy at 9.30.  It is plainly rush hour here and we went straight into competing for road space with people going to work, people travelling for work and numerous others, all bigger and faster than us. But Thai drivers are possibly the most courteous in the world and no one came near us, everyone gave way to us (and to others) and there was no road rage.  It was still a relief to get the other side of the town.

Outside town we followed the road through a small part of this irrigated delta.  Agriculture here is totally dependant on irrigation.  The land is flat, criss-crossed with dykes feeding from the rivers and numerous paddy fields are irrigated from the dykes.  Rice is a labour intensive but productive crop where the methods seem the same now as over hundreds of years.  We passed numerous farmers weeding, sorting and caring for this staple crop – and did our bit by eating the rice when called on to do so.

A lotus flower – a symbol of peace

After about 15km we came to Wat Khun Inthpramun.  A “wat” is a Buddist temple site (but you knew that already of course).  It has a 50m long reclining Buddha, which was originally housed in a temple hall but the hall was destroyed by fire, and the Buddha is now out in the open air.  It was impressive and is a centre of devotion, albeit there were only a few devotees there on an overcast Monday morning. 

Khun Inthpramun was a local tax collector who was too enthusiastic in his collecting and amassed enough of a fortune to be able to construct the temple. Khun Inthpramun was a local tax collector who was too enthusiastic in his collecting and amassed enough of a fortune to be able to construct the temple. Unfortunately for him, it was so splendid that it drew the King’s attention to his actions in over-collecting taxes (and not passing everything on to the King).  Khun Inthpramun’s vanity led to his execution, but the temple remains.  Equally impressive is the brand new building at the rear – probably a monastic centre but really impressive architecture merging the modern and ancient.

We plodded through flat agricultural land after Khun Inthpramun and, sorting out a few niggles on the trikes, arrived at Wat Pikul Throng Aram Luang, which has a massive seated Budda outside – even larger than Wat Khun Inthpramun.  We felt a bit “watted out” so admired from afar, but tried to mend a puncture, failed to get the trye back on and were guided by a lady collecting rubbish to a roadside motorcycle mechanic who had the right tool and got it back on within seconds – and would take nothing for his expertise.  I was humbled and grateful – and resolved to get a metal tyre lever.

After that the day got a bit hotter and, as we were going along, we were passed by a smart white car which pulled in at a roadside stall, a woman jumped out and bought two bottles of water for us from the vendor’s fridge, and held them out for us.  All she wanted was for us to know we were welcome in Thailand and to appreciate the kindness of people in Thailand – which we did profusely. 

We cycled on and experienced more flat, irrigated farming land, quietish (but often straight) roads and km to cover.  I hope I can download a video of the landscape which is pleasant but not stunning.

After 67km we got to our hotel for the night, tucked away down a series of back roads and not even on www.booking.com.  So we were relieved when we found it existed! A late start and lots of stops meant we did not arrive until 5.15pm, but the owner (who spoke some English) directed us to a basic restaurant where we got a meal (with the hotel owner translating on the phone for the “Maitre D”.  Yes a beer was possible – no problem – all he had to do was jump on his motorbike to go to the local shop to buy it!  The food was delicious – almost a given here – and we made use of our bike lights on the way back.

A passing local wat – like a parish church but more ornate

Finishing this now, we are both very tired but feel some measure of fitness and strength is emerging.  The trikes are heavier than bikes and so a bit slower but they feel far more stable, the views are much better and the ride is more comfortable.  So we feel content with our choice of transport but need to get stronger before we can tackle the mountains.