Today I felt a bit better, so I decided to press on. I still felt weak and slow, but didn't find it so frustrating because I knew I was a bit ill. I pretty quickly turned off the main road and spent the day on one of the quietest roads I've been on. The area feels very different to anywhere I've been before. The land was more open, and felt more like forest than jungle. I saw my first citrus trees of the trip.
Half way through the morning I met two nice Belgians who were riding teh same way as me, nd over teh day we rode together quite a bit and chatted.
At lunch I paid with a 500B note, something I try to avoid in rural areas. She gave me change as if I'd given 100, but I smiled and said five, and immediatly she put her hand in her apron and brough out the other 400 - she didn't even pretend or make a fuss.
and after lunch came a headwind (my first of the trip) and the steepest, toughest hills of thr trip! I would have struggled even at full fitness. I caught up with the Belgian couple and we pushed and rode together. They've ridden all over Europe (including the alps) and New Zealand and said that this was teh hardest they'd ever done! I'm not sure what altitude we reached, certainly over 1000m. It got so beautiful - lots of really steep mountains on all sides, one of the most beautiful places I've seen.
When I reached the junction to teh first place with accommodation I stopped to wait for the Belgians to see what their plans were. Two young Thai guys stopped to chat. One of them tours a lot on his bike - the first Thai I've met who does.
They ended up giving the Belgians a lift to the next village, and offered to let me camp with them, so I followed behind on the first downhill all day. They had a spare tent and sleeping bag, and we pitched up in the garden of a school among the cherry trees. Had a chilly Thai-style shower - baltic at first, but as always I slowly adjusted to the cold water. Then we went for supper in teh village.
It's an amazing place - nestled amongst the mountains. It seems predominantly muslim, and most of the residents are Yuannanese from China. The two Thai guys - Ton and Tha Ton (like Tom with an 'N'. Tha means 'tall') - chose some delicious veggie dishes which we shared. This area is much cooler than the rest of Thailand, and is famous for its vegetables. One dish had amazing mushrooms in a dark, sweet and sour style sauce. Another was delicious veggies in a similar sauce. One was a cripsly vegetable a bit like fried seaweed, with some kind of dark pickled eggs that looked rank, but tasted amazing.
We chatted lots. They both work for a company that provides business advice. They are up from Bangkok working in Chiang Mai, so drove to this area to camp for the weekend. It seems a very popular thing to do for Thais - there are loads of people camping at the official campsite. Apart from the Belgians and me there don't seem to be any other farang. Thais only get about 7 days holiday a year, so weekend trips are very popular.
Ton made me an amazing offer. On the 11th I can go with him and some friends to a remote village in the very north to take some donations. We'll camp for a night or two, then he'll drive me and my bike back all the way to Bankok, stopping to see a place where monks ride horses to get their morning donations, to see teh coffee fields, and to see a long neck Karen village if I want to. And we will be in Bangkok at midnight or so before my 5pm flight on the 14th! Such an exciting and great offer!