So Christmas Day was quite hard work. It was time for us to relax. Our plan was to go to Chiang Mai, get our bike checked over, eat pizza and ice cream (a combination that is not just for children’s birthday parties) and watch the new Star Wars film. Yes!!
Today was an easy and basically flat cycle back to Chiang Mai, though we did whimper whenever we hit a slight incline.
Then, about halfway there… a funny noise. But not “ha ha” funny. It didn’t take too long to remember that this was the same “clunk, clunk” we had heard just outside of Mae Hong Son. The back wheel had come loose again.
My chief emotion upon discovering this was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, so strong that I almost wanted to fling myself over the bike, sobbing.
Bike, I’m so sorry that we made you go up and down all those mountains. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not breaking halfway up Doi Inthanon, which we both so wanted to cycle, or thirty miles from any help in between Mae Sariang and Hot, when we were desperately tired.
(These vehicles are kind of halfway between a taxi and a bus. You can hire them out, but they normally carry several passengers at once.)
The taxi driver had stopped to pick up some medicine, and she returned to find her next customers waiting! For 400 baht she took us and the bike the rest of the way (20 miles or so) to our hotel in Chiang Mai. What a good result.
After finding our hotel we went out for lunch, and here, for Eric, things took a turn for the worse. He started feeling sick, and within three hours his food was making multiple bids for the nearest available exit. He was in the bathroom. I was in the bedroom with my fingers in my ears, removing them now and again to ask if he was OK (such a good girlfriend).
Sunday 27th December – Friday 1st January
We were back in Chiang Mai for a week, a place where the farangs roam free and small-town friendliness is sacrificed for convenience… but also a place where we can find a bike repair shop and order pizza, so it’s not all bad.
Having made sure that Eric had plenty of liquids and medicine, I left him to convalesce, and went walking around Chiang Mai to see the sights like a good little tourist.
It’s temple time…
You may think that this is a lot of temples for one day, but in Chiang Mai Old City there are temples everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I probably saw about 10%.
… And let’s not forget the Three Kings Monument. According to legend these three hunky-looking kings worked on the plan for the city of Chiang Mai. This is one of those “must see” attractions, but to be honest the temples were much more interesting.
I also got to talk to some monks thanks to the “Monk Chat” programme. You get to meet monks and learn about their lives, and the monks get to practice their English. I learnt a lot about Buddhism from the senior monk, who was 26 like me (quite strange being the same age as someone who leads such a different life). I then spoke to the much shyer novice monks. I eventually got a novice monk called Noy warmed up when I learned he came from Laos. I got him to teach me some words and tell me about Luang Prabang. There’s Noy on the right.
That evening I tactfully removed myself from Eric’s side to eat dinner at the Sunday night market (he was not in a condition to smell food). I like night markets, delicious cheap food and lots of interesting things to see (very crowded though).
Eric recovered and we saw the new Star Wars film… a couple of times. (In Thai cinemas you have to stand and pay your respects to the King before the film starts.)
We ate a lot of western food, as after Eric’s bad experience (which I personally suspect was caused by dirty ice, but who knows?) he didn’t fancy Thai food for a few days.
Deep fried noodles with rice noodles in a tasty curry sauce. It was good.
The founder was an extraordinary woman who had studied mosquitoes for 50 years and compiled a vast amount of research about them. She had also spent her time collecting insect species, shells, paintings, model elephants and anything else that interested her… all of which she had put on display.
While taking our bike to the repair shop we bumped into a guy who recognised us – he had been cycling up Doi Inthanon while we were on our way down. We had a nice chat with him, and he warned us about how dangerous Thai roads were, citing a recent tragedy where a driver had ploughed into a peloton, killing five people. Gulp! Reassuringly, he told us that we had already cycled the most dangerous part.
We ended up getting a whole new back wheel. Way back in Rome we were told that the back wheel wasn’t looking too good, so I think that this job was quite overdue. Eric laughed when the bike mechanic told him over the phone that our back wheel was “basically shit”. It cost about £120 to replace, but if that means a bike we can rely on, it’s fine by us.
We were here over New Years, and I was enchanted by the lanterns, and un-enchanted by the crowds and the selfies. Though when midnight struck and the fireworks went off everywhere, I had to admit that it was a bit magical.
One of the great things about being on a tandem is the interaction with people as you cycle by. In Thailand we’ve had lots of people laugh in surprise, wave and say “hello”… but this week we heard my favourite ever comment. As we cycled past a man he pointed to us and said (in a distinctive Indian accent):
“Oh, that is very romantic!”
After several years together and ten months in each others’ pockets, nothing is more likely to make us laugh than the notion of “romance”. But thanks anyway!
Next we will be heading further north to Chiang Rai along the back roads. I’m looking forward to seeing some more hilly terrain (safe in the knowledge that it won’t be quite Mae Hong Son Loop level!).