Twenty days on with 1,022 miles pedaled we have reached Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city and our last stop before flying down to Bangkok on Wednesday evening.
The route down from Chiang Saen has been very beautiful with a few long and sometimes steep climbs up through the northern hills. Where possible, we have cycled quiet roads through villages and farmland – so much more enjoyable than some unavoidable stretches along big highways where the traffic noise and fumes get quite wearing. We have generally felt quite safe though.
Despite an awful lot of broken glass on the roadsides we have had no punctures. However, we did have a couple of mechanical issues leaving Tha Ton. The two bolts that hold the eccentric bottom bracket on my bike had worked loose, resulting in some worrying clunking and lack of positivity. Gavin had to do something quite clever to his front cone nuts with a pedal wrench and adjustable spanner when his front wheel stopped spinning freely. Fortunately all running repairs held good.
The Thai people are simply delightful and go out of their way to be helpful, none more so than the owner of The Reset Resort in Chiang Dao; we spent last night in one of the four guest cabins, set in a beautifully tended garden, he and his wife run as B&B accommodation. He is the happiest, most smiley person I have ever met. The extra blankets he got us were very welcome as the night time temperatures have plummeted.
What a beautiful 50 mile ride we had from Chiang Khong, following the Mekong northwest, to Chiang Saen. The scenery, looking across the river to the hills of Laos, is just magical.
Before checking in to a well equipped rustic hut, just back from the riverbank, in the port town of Chiang Saen, we pedalled another 5 miles up river. This brought us to the point of The Golden Triangle; the confluence of the Mekong with the Ruak River where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. The tortuous Ruak River forms much of Thailand’s northern border with Myanmar.
A significant drop temperature, to the mid twenties during the day, is much more pleasant to cycle in and provides for better sleep in cooler nights.
We are staying in Chiang Saen for a second night tonight, which paved the way for a more leisurely breakfast, some much needed bike cleaning and maintenance, a long conversation with fellow guests, the delightful Mr T and his son, from Bangkok and a cycle around local sites. A long walk up a steep hill with a modern Wat on top provided a spectacular view point over the river.
Our 65 mile ride from Chiang Kham to the Riverside town of Chiang Khong was a straightforward blast up the main highway, sharing the wide shoulder with the odd moped. The traffic including freight trucks was fast but not too heavy; the noise got wearing after a while. However the bouganvillea plants flowering the length of the central reservation was pretty. The countryside is becoming evermore scenic as we head north, the hills of Thailand and Laos are covered in indigenous forests.
A temperature drop of about 10 degrees, together with a lot of cloud cover made the ride much more pleasurable and less tiring.
Chiang Khong is a sleepy border town directly across the Mekong River from Huay Xai; the Laos town from where we set off on our two day, slowboat, trip to Luang Prabang in 2014. We look right across to the little hotel we stayed in then from the balcony of our room in the best hotel we have stayed in. It has lovely staff, an infinity swimming pool and a comfortable bed!!
We are spending two nights here in Chiang Khong and have so far had a lovely day just mooching about on our bikes as far as the fourth ‘Friendship’ Bridge that link Thailand and Laos along their mutual Mekong border. The bridge was opened in late 2013 and has now replaced the ferry that operated from the heart of town. As the bridge is about 8km downstream, the town has suffered from reduced through traffic.
We are sharing supper tonight with Geoff, an Australian national living in Seattle, who we met whilst on our mooch about. He is traveling in the opposite direction to us, on his first solo cycle tour so there will be much to talk about.
Saturday’s 58 mile ride from Song to Pong included almost 900 metres of climbing, with two major hills. The only other traffic, on this very quiet road was a couple of Canadian cycle tourists. They came over for a chat as we were having an orange juice and breather at the top of the second climb. We were absolutely delighted to meet Chris and Heather, whose blog of their trip down the Mexican Baja inspired and informed our 2018 ride down the peninsula. They are spending 6 months riding around SE Asia, in part to escape the Canadian winter. Their description of cycling in South Korea has planted a seed! It was extraordinary meeting up, but maybe just proves that the long distance cycle touring community is quite small
The scenery, as we venture North and into the jungle like hills, is ever more scenic. The birdsong, especially during the magical early mornings before the sun is fully up, is wonderful, with many exotic sounds alien to our English ears.
Both Song and Pong are small towns where western faces are a curiosity, clearly not on the tourist trail. However, we have been made very welcome, from the owners of our various accommodations to street restaurant owners who have kept us in either chicken, pork or shrimp fried rice. Whilst there are small supermarkets in most sizable towns most food items, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit are sold in markets which start very early in the morning and go on well into the evening. The produce invariably looks very fresh, the fish are still flapping in most we have seen.
A short 33 mile north from Pong this morning has brought us to Chiang Kham, a larger busier town than either Song or Pong. Having arrived by 10.00 am we have had plenty of time to potter about, dodging the many young teenagers riding scooters home from school, many with at least one or two younger siblings or friends on the back. Almost none wear helmets.
Ninety four percent of the Thai population are Buddhist, almost every village has a highly decorated Wat (Temple). There are many in the larger towns. Wat Nantaran here in Chiang Kham dates back to the late 18th Centuary when Burmese teak traders lived here.