Chiang Mai is one of Northern Thailand’s biggest and most touristic cities. We had plenty of time left of our visas so we spent three rest days there. We had pleasant weather, sometimes it rained, it wasn’t hot. The town was convenient because many diners had English names of the meals and prices on the menu. It was time to taste more Thai food. Chiang Mai’s specialty is a soup with curry, coconut milk and chicken, called khao soi. It has a very unique taste. Besides that we ate a lot of rice and noodle dishes, all of them were delicious. Thai people are good at cooking!
We discovered the city on foot and by bike. There are millions of temples. Our favourite was Wat Umong. This church built in a tunnel is further from the center and somehow much more intimate than all those other overdecorated ones.
We got back on the road rejuvenated. We enjoyed to see locals again, not just tourist like in Chiang Mai. For a while we cycled in urban areas, we got back to nature in the afternoon. We found a tranquil place near a reservoir with gorgeous view.
Then came our life’s second hardest climb (the first is still Oman). The road went straight up the mountain without zigzagging. At least it was tarmac, but unbelievably steep. We were pushing the bikes for hours, toward the end we had to stop and breathe after every couple of steps. There was a waterfall on the was and a village with many shops and tourists. There a man helped me push my bicycle. It’s a pity he didn’t stay till I got to the peak.
We wanted to have lunch at the summit, but the flies didn’t let us enjoy the place. These fucking bloodsuckers were flying around and biting me that I didn’t feel at all, I only noticed the bloody wounds on my legs. For some unknown reason they only bit me. I was full of itchy spots for days. On the way down we found a crematorium. We were exhausted so we stayed there for the night. It might seem creepy, but the gathering places next to incinerators were the best camp spots. We had asphalt beneath and roof above us, usually there was water and once even electricity. We loved to rest at crematoriums at noon or night, nobody ever bothered us there.
That was the only difficult day, from there we started to go down. After we got out of the jungle and changed our worn out break pads we got to pleasant rural roads and cycled to Lampang town. The view of the plantations with mountains in the background was lovely. We saw Pha Lad volcano, of course it isn’t active anymore so it looked like an ordinary hill. Golden Buddha statues are never unexpected in Thailand, but when a forest of statues turned up out of nowhere, we got surprised. There were two wild looking hogs guarding the Buddhas so we didn’t approach them.
Twice we found ourselves on dirt roads. The first one led us across an idyllic forest full of bamboos as high as trees. We enjoyed being far from cars, it was so quiet. And despite being dirt, the road was very smooth. It was one of our favourite sections in Thailand. The second unpaved road was not so much fun, it was too rocky and steep. Tarmac road were excellent all over the country with few exceptions. When we were going down on the straight roads of perfect asphalt we often rode with 50-60 km/h. Adam loved the speed, for me 25 km/h is more comfortable. During one of the less steep downhill rides we spotted another cycle tourist coming in front of us. This time it was an old Swiss man. It’s so good to be a Western European pensioner.
We turned to Uttaradit to buy ethanol. We found some at a hardware store, in Thailand we never had any difficulties finding it. The town was full of food. We had our cheapest and most delicious meal here, a Tom Yum soup full of noodles, vegetables, peanuts, meat and fish. Adam had a back pain so we decided to stay in town. We checked out around five hotels, all of them were too expensive, but in the end we managed to find the cheapest room of our whole stay. The modest guesthouse was perfect for us, we don’t need the extras of the pricy hotels. In the afternoon I walked to the market. There were many goods I’ve never seen before, but at least I recognised durians. We wanted to try this fruit famous of its rotten smell and delicious taste so I bought one. In the evening we took it outside to protect our room from the smell. It was useless because after cutting the fruit, it turned out it was unripe. Although from the outside it looked completely ripe, it didn’t have any taste, not even bad smell. It was a huge disappointment. Well at least the chicken-noodle soup bought for dinner and the oats with mango cooked for breakfast were tasty.
Our next three days were rather uneventful, except for a free lunch. We were having a rest on the benches next to a monastery when a man arrived. We didn’t understand what he was saying. He went in the monastery and came back with crab soup, Tom Sam papaya salad and rice. The soup was delicious, the papaya extremely spicy. The man was super kind, he even brought a second plate of soup after we finished the first. He also offered us whisky, but we refused. He was a little tipsy, the nice kind. A bit after we left, I noticed that my hat was missing, I left it on the bench. When we got back it was already on the man’s head, he gave it back to me.
In this section we cycled on the same road for days, we didn’t have other options. Next to us were houses and plantations, we couldn’t find hidden places in the evenings. Not even crematoriums. Where do people burn their deads around here? We had plenty of time left of our visa, still we had to cycle long distances each day to find a place to sleep. We had to spend four nights at guest houses. All of them were much cleaner than our accommodations in the previous countries. Most of them came with decent wifi and hot water. Except for the hostels of the touristic towns, these places have attached bathrooms, two bottles of drinking water, soap, towel and toilet paper, sometimes refrigerator.
The next town was Loei. Here we stayed in a well-equipped guest house with fridge, kettle and free tea and coffee and it cost less than the ‘resorts’ of the previous days. We strolled to the center to have dinner and shoot Christmas photos. Christmas traditionally isn’t celebrated in this Buddhist country, but a lot of stores and restaurants put up holiday decoration. We found a big installation with sledge, reindeers and presents next to a closed restaurant, we could pose there without an audience. Later we found a park with many cool lights and lanterns, it was some kind of fair. There was a painting exhibition too with some pretty good stuff. This isn’t normally our style, but we really liked the place. It was a pleasant surprise to find something like that in a random town.
On the 24 December we walked up to Phu Bo Bit, a mountain near Loei. We had to climb 1400 stairs to see the stunning panorama. The way up was alright, but while we were coming down our legs started to shake, it was weird. We spent Christmas Eve in our tent, we cooked rice with fish for dinner. We didn’t feel the holiday spirit this year – was it because of the lack of cold weather or the crowds in a mall while buying presents? But we were together, at a great place so we enjoyed it.
From there it took us two days to get to the Mekong. We cycled a little on the riverbank, then spent the night in a town full of old tourists. Next day we crossed the river what meant that we arrived to Laos.