What a wonderfully relaxing day!
Was awoken by the music from the town loudspeakers at 6.30, and dozed 'til 7, then went to a friendly little cafe in a beautiful teak building for a breakfast of egg fried rice & veg. After a bit of discussion I gota good pot of green tea - she called it Chaa Chiang Mai.
Said goodbye to the Israelis I met last night at the guesthouse, and set off at 8.30 in the cool morning sun. From looking at my dreadful 1:1,500,000 scale map I was expecting a tough hilly day, so I'd only planned to do 70km to the next big town. But actually it turned out to be a really easy day with one gentle pass and lots of pleasant up and down through quiet valleys and pretty jungle. I stopped after a couple of hours for a second breakfast of fried rice. Saw a group of organ donors touring on their motorbikes - one almost crashed into a police pickup on a corner passing me. Saw the Israelis three times as tehy diverted up to see villages in teh mountains. Stopped again at a very friendly place advertising fresh coffee, where they fed me bananas (and coffee of course) and the old man who spoke excellent English told me how corrupt Prime Minister Thaksin is. They have beautiful looking bungalows there is anyone is ever in the area.
(Songvitthaya Siang-Arom, Waleekarn Garden, 53 Moo 6, Huaynamoon-Ban Huay Pong Karn Nok, Tambol Pabong Amphur Muang, Mae Hong Sorn Province 58000, tel 0-9073-9337. The phone connection can be a bit dodgy at night due to Prime Minister Thaksin's corrupt plundering and privatisation of the telecom sector, so if you can't get through his daughter in Bangkok takes bookings on 0-2427-4827).
Soon after that I came to a stunning viewpoint that I almost missed as I zoomed down the beautiful hill. The view was down to a steep valley that was just widening out with a small teak house down in the distance, with bright paddy fields surrounded by dark jungle above. Some Thai tourists took my photo there.
After that wonderful descent I passed three Brits on bikes doing a day trip going in the opposite direction, who shouted that the noodle shop a few hundred metres along the road was good, so I pulled in for lunch at a beautiful quiet cafe among the paddy fields and watched the women rolling cigars. After I finished eating I spoke to the women, mostly in sign language, and worked out that the cigars are rolled in banana leaves, and mixed in with the shells of a nut that has a shell like a huge peanut and grows on the trees here. I bought a bag of 5 cigars for 5 B. Not sure quite what I'll do with them.
The women were really friendly and chatty. They gave me something that they were eating - hopefully the the most foul thing I will ever eat. They were a solid soggy ball of dark green leaves, that were extremely bitter and tasted like concentrated sweat. I managed to eat half by leaving it in my cheek for five minutes waiting for the taste to subside, and then slowly chewing it until I was able to swallow.
One of the women told me that there were hot springs nearby where I could get a massage, and I replied enthusiastically, so she got me to turn around on teh bench and gave me an amazing back massage - it made my whole body tingle.
I said goodbye and cycled a couple of km to the hot springs, where for 150B I got a rather unglamorous room with a huge tiled bath, where I soaked my tired body in the deep hot sulphurous water.
I went to chat to the women at the massage area and shared some food and spoke what little Thai I could, then had my first ever full body massage. It was amazing. At first I found the Thai massage extremely painful - lying there on my back with the muscles in my left leg being pressed and squeezed - my other limbs feeling grateful that they were being spared. But after a while I appreciated the pain led to a good feeling and grew to love it. Having her walk her palms up the back of my aching legs was wonderful, and the hand and foot massage was phenomenal. I'd really like to learn how to do that.
I felt amazing. And one whole hour of massage for 150B! Two pounds! Incredible! I'm going to struggle adjusting to UK prices again.
I sailed the last 10km to Mae Hong Son, pausing only to visit a heavily advertised village of one of the hill tribes. But it looked exactly the same as many of teh other villages I've passed through over the last few days, except that the villagers were less friendly and seemed a bit fed up of all the tourists passing through staring to consume their culture. It left me feeling quite bad about the way these people are packaged for tourism as hill tribes to be consumed and ticked off a list, like bird-spotting or stamp collecting.
Mae Hong Son is a very busy place - quite touristy, but probably more Thai tourists than farang. I'm in a lovely cheap (100B) guesthouse next to a pretty lake surrounded by a few temples, food stalls, and old women doing some sort of yoga or Thai Chi. I wandered around town aimlessly looking at the temples and food market. At one pretty, quiet old wooden temple some boys were playing a game I'd seen most evenings in the villages and towns, and they invited me to join in. It's a sort of group keepy-uppy, but played with a small wicker ball. I'm absolutely crap at football, but gave it a go. The ball was surprisingly heavy, and extremely painful on my unprotected flip-flopped foot. The boys laughed pleasantly when I missed or kicked it in a random direction, and cheered when I managed a good header or knee kick. A great laugh.
I then hit a pleasantly run down cafe to watch the latest episode of Chanel 7's Thai soap that I've been following since Bangkok (tonight bumfluff boy's lost his memory and has been stolen from his girlfriend by the evil straight-haired girl). There I had a lovely fruit shake and painfully hot red curry. I bought the Thai English language paper, which had lots of interesting stuff about all the current scandal with the prime minister selling off their media to foreign companies.
One thing I forgot to write yesterday - I saw my first live snake (previous ones were all squashed). It was about a foot away from my wheel as I cycled slowly up a hill - about 3 feet long, dark green. I got quite a fright as it slithered away through the rustling leaves.