Trip Start Jul 07, 2008
270Trip End May 27, 2010
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Boon Bun Dan Guest House, Chiang Rai, Thailand (250 baht)
Chiang Doa - Fang (85kms) - Tha Ton (30 kms) total 115 kms
We stayed at the Phumanee Hotel in Fang but I would recommend doing the whole 115 and staying at Tha Ton, it's a very laid back, one-horse border town, but there's a really nice feel about it. We stopped at Fang because I was absolutely knackered, mainly because I had had 2 disturbed nights' sleep. The little hotel we stayed at in Chiang Doa was nothing more than a wooden box, so while the town was extremely sleepy (more of that later) every time a car or motorbike went past it sounded like it was coming through the room. Also, for the first time since being in the hills in India we were cold, so that woke me up. The night before was a similar story in Chiang Mai, music till 4am and Dave with his restless legs thumping about on the bed all night! I'm no good when I haven't had a good night's sleep, so yesterday was a short day.
What a shock it was in the morning when we left Chiang Doa, it was cold enough to see your breath! The ride to Fang was undulating and then we had some climbing to do, but it was the nicest day's ride so far. The highway turned into a mountain road that just wound itself gradually up and around with little traffic, except when the trucks turn up they are usually in convoy.
Now that we are 'up north' there are some subtle differences we've noticed. Towns seem to shut down earlier which means we have to get out and eat before 8pm otherwise we won't get anything. We have come across quite a lot of people of the hill tribes over the past 2 days, and they look quite different to the people in the south. Their features are more Chinese, or, generally more 'rounded'. Many of the Thais here have very pale skin, so much so that I do a double take in the non-tourist areas thinking they are westerners.
Last night in Fang there was a huge market in the centre of town, one half of the dual carriageway was blocked off and they had a PA system playing pop music, but later on a local band struck up. They were selling anything and everything, From clothes to dolls to bins to any kind of food you could care to mention. Rather than eat out (which they do a lot actually) quite often the Thais will get take away. So they will go to the market, or a stall (or several) and buy dinner in plastic bags to take home and eat. They have this way of bagging food, including soups, sauces, dips and drinks in plastic bags, leaving lots of air in the bag so it puffs up and is quite taught, and then tying it up with elastic bands. They never seem to leak, I'm amazed.
Today in Tha Ton we could have walked to the Burmese (now called Myanmar) border. The setting was quite beautiful with the mountains as a backdrop to the river we were going to cruise down later in the day. From the boating dock we could see Myanmar and some temples on the mountain in the distance, what a different life the people who live on that side of the mountain must have to those in Thailand. I bought a few little bracelets from a couple of the hill tribe women while waiting for the boat to leave, they were really funny when I took their photograph, one of them put on the multi-coloured pointy hat she was selling and pulled a face.
There is a public boat service from Tha Ton to Chiang Rai, it costs 350 baht and 150 each for the bikes, which I thought was a bit stiff, but apart from saying 'well in that case I'll cycle the 94 kms through the mountains then, thank you very much' there's not much to be done except pay up. We weren't taking the boat to avoid the mountains, we thought it might be a nice thing to do, and it was. Beware though, in the dry season do not wear long trousers or any item of clothing that is a bit precious because you may end up getting it rather wet. We had to get out several times to get the boat (a steel hulled, shallow draft, river boat, with a car engine and extended propeller shaft so that you can control it's depth) off the rocks and sandbars because we kept hitting them. At one point Dave disappeared down a hole and went in nearly up to his waist, I on the other hand stepped into some sand and sunk like a stone. Yippeee, and a fun time was had by all.
The boats tend to travel in pairs, thank goodness, because I don't think our guy was much of a navigator and I don't think having just one eye had anything to do with it. Everyone on the boat was going to Chiang Rai so we only stopped once to walk around a headland so the boats could get through some rapids, but I know other boats have stopped at villages and even for elephant rides at one of the places we passed. We passed some pretty luxurious looking places along the way but also some nice, simple home stays with little bungalows as well, that might be worth a look if you were thinking of getting away from it all for a couple of days.
There's a big safety campaign here in Thailand at the moment featuring very graphic posters all along the highway. One of them I found quite shocking, was of a young woman obviously having had an accident, on a ventilator with black eyes and all kinds of horrible injuries, breast feeding a baby. The only eye contact was with the child, who I guess would be about a year old, and was staring out from the poster, directly at the viewer. Creepy, but hopefully effective in deterring whole families (mum, dad, 2 kids and the family dog) from riding on a motorbike without a helmet in sight.
On a lighter note, Dave's insoles have completely given up the ghost and are now in the trash bin, I'm surprised they haven't walked off on their own before now. I don't think I've mentioned my 'new' saddle since leaving the UK. Anyone who read this blog between July and October would know the problems I had with my old one, it was an American Terry (womens) saddle but I'm afraid it just didn't suit my butt. So now I have the queen of saddles, the B67a Brooks, larger than life, looks like a tractor seat and we call her The Bummer. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm ever going to be comfortable on a saddle (anatomically I don't think I'm meant to cycle) but this one is manageable with a great deal of adjusting, a tube of Bepanthan cream and a gel cover.
Books: In my opinion
* Not great
*** Worth reading
**** A favourite
Reading: Brother Number One, A Political Biography of Pol Pot - David P Chandler
and Bleachers -(another) John Grisham (to offset the academic Chandler)
The Last Grain Race - Eric Newby **
Cancer Ward - Alexander Solzenhitsyn ****
Utterly Monkey - Nick Laird **
Atonement - Ian McEwan ***
The Tesseract - Alex Garland **
Mr Vertigo - Paul Auster ***
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro ***
The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank **
The Perfect Storm - Sebastian Junger ***
The Pelican Brief - John Grisham **
Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier ***
Gap Creek - Robert Morgan *
All my friends are going to be strangers - Larry McMurtry ***
Chasing Cezanne - Peter Mayle (rubbish)
The Broker - John Grisham *