Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tuesday 31st Jan, 8pm, Pai

Today was one of those days when i should have got up at 6am, and been riding with the sunrise.

Today was one of those days when i shouldn't have had a large bottle of beer the night before.

Today was neither of these.

Today was one of those days that started with a big four-egg scrambled egg and pot of green tea reading the paper, followed by a big mug of delicious coffee at another place, only hitting the road at 9.

Today was one of those days where I resorted to caffeine and sugary junk food to get me over the four high passes and 110 km/70 miles.

Today was wonderful.

The first four miles were along a beautiful valley with steep jungled cliffs rising up through the morning mist. There was an amazing view at one opint of the sun just peeping over the cliff - it's rays spreading through a palm tree out onto the mist. I was completely unable to photograph it.

From there I started up the first pass with a stunning view back to the mist-filled valley past a pretty Burmese-style Wat. That first pass wasn't too tough, and at the bottom I stopped for my 11 o'clock egg fried rice & veg.

The second pass was a bit tougher - quite like yesterday's. On the descent I actually braked despite the great road - the views over the mountains was breathtaking! Breathtaking views on the descent, after a breathtaking, lung-bursting ascent. It got me thinking that cycling is rather like Thai massage - painful, but you know that it's worth it. Slightly (only slightly!?) masochistic. I met a German couple there going in the opposite direction having cycled through Laos (and like everyone else they gave it a glowing recommendation for cycling). Very friendly folk. We exchanged route advice, then carried along on our separate ways.

The third pass was the killer - high, steep, hot. I made it, and stopped for a delicious local arabica coffee at the top to the sound of the beautiful bamboo pipes that they play here. Met another German couple on the descent and chatted. They'd cycled Cambodia & Laos. Their altimeter was showing 750m well below the summit.

Stopped for lunch in Soppong in a rather seedy, fly-infested cafe. It was market day, so the village was busy with rather poverty-stricken looking folk from the local mountain villages.

As I left the village looking at the mountains ahead I really wasn't sure whether I should carry on and try to reach Pai in one day. I knwe that there was one big pass ahead, and the 2nd Germans had told me that Pai was at the top of a 1400 m pass, and that i wouldn't make it. They were wrong on both counts.

But the pass was a struggle with my tiring legs. But once I got into the rhythm of it all I had a great time - the views, the steep switchbacks, and the regular waves and beeps and shouts of encouragement from passing mopeds and pickups. But from 2km before the top, and for the majority of the descent they were doing resurfacing work (levening the road according to the sign - apparently unleavened roads are not very practical), and the riding was horrible. At one point I was riding through mud - it flying up covering my bike and me. For the descent I couldn't even think of releasing my back brake as I crawled at 7mph down the steep loose sand and gravel, the dust from two aggregate lorries spewing up into my face and eyes, making me even more filthy than I already was. i was so sure that I was going to come off that I stopped and put my T-shirt back on so that the gravel rash wouldn't be quite so bad.

But I made it, and even managed to overtake the two horrible lorries. And when i reached the completed road, the riding was fabulous - fast 40mph roads, swooping bends, stunning views, and an excellent surface. And then I passed the 15 km marker - the point in the day when i know I can make it. And at sunset I arrived in Pai - the hippy capital of Thailand.

I've got a lovely room down next to the river. I'm dressed in my swimming shorts and spare cycling top as every single other item of clothing is being washed for the first time in rather too long. I've arranged to have a vegetarian thai cooking course tomorrow (a REST day!) and I have a beer full of belly (can't believe I just typed that). Sorry. I have a belly full of beer and pad see-ew (delicious flat noodles cooked in soy sauce with veg & tofu) and am feeling rather sleepy, but really want to make the most of being in a lively town with no cycling to do tomorrow.

And for once the internet cafe isn't full of testosterone-fuelled teenage boys shooting each other screaming with excitement thanks to the wonders of online gaming. Instead every internet cafe in town is full of farang checking emails and football results, and in the case of the chap sitting next to me, looking at porn.

This time tomorrow I shall be a culinary master...

Oh. A few folk have said that I should include a map of where I am. I would, but it's rather a hassle. OK I'll try. but in case it doesn't work - find a map of thailand. If you look at it there's a big lump at the top, and a tail going south. I spent the first three weeks cycling down the east side of that tail from Bangkok to an unmarked town, then got the boat to an unmarked island just next to Ko Pha-Ngan (diving), crossed it from Surat Thani to near Krabi (rock climbing), went to an island half way between Krabi and Phuket (partying) then got the bus to half way up the big lump from Phuket via Bangkok to Sukhothai. I then cycled west to the border with Burma (just north of Mae Sot), then cycled all the way up that border to the north, and I've now just reached the top and started cycling east (I'm just north west of Chiang Mai). My vague plan is to head north some more following the border to where Laos, Burma & Thailand meet (the golden triangle), then head down the Laos border until I run out of time - then popping back to Chiang Mai and cycling up Doi Inthanon (yes, rather high and steep) then bussing it back to Bangkok and then to Cambodia for a couple of days in Angkor Wat. But my plans are rather susceptible to change.

And here, hopefully, is a map of thailand...

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