I am absolutely wiped out and feel like crap, but I'll attempt to capture some of the feeling of the great morning I had before illness began festering in my tummy.
Last night was pretty quiet. I went to a very small busy bar and had a tall bamboo mug of delicious herbal tea, followed by an even more delicious mug of ginger tea, and chatted to a rather dull Canadian teaching English in Korea.
I got up at 6 and as I emerged into the darkness and the sound of the crickets and cockerels a figure stumbled out of the darkness - a very happy man who'd spent the night smoking opium and weed, who was looking for his friend's room. We had a pleasant chat and he staggered back into the happy darkness.
I was packed and in town before sunsires to get a seriously unhealthy breakfast of deep fried dough, coffee and an egg pancake.
I set off through the beautiful cool mist - droplets of dew forming on the bleached-blonde hairs of my arms. As I reahed the big 1250m pass these droplets gradually mingled with the perspiration.
I really, really enjoyed the ascent. My legs were strong and rested, the jungle and views beautiful, the traffic light, and the temperature relatively cool. Did lots of thinking - jobs (a bad idea when you're having such a great ride - all you want to do is carry on riding), plans, relationships, forming a theory on Generation Lonely Planet.
I got an email yesterday from someone called Ian with an email address not in my address book, but that I vaguelly recognised. It was a short but friendly email, and I really couldn't think who this Ian was. It seemed to be from someone I'd met in Thailand but I couldn't remember giving my email address to anyone called Ian. I sent a brief reply. Today I realised that it was Ian from work, on holiday in South Africa. Doh!
The ascent was quiet as it was still pretty early - just a few mopeds and pickups, and a coke lorry and a beer lorry, slowly crawling down the steep twisting road, gears and brakes roaring, on their way to refuel Pai.
At the top of the pass I stopped at the cafe and had a delicious coffee, and sat there in the glorious sun, feeling great, and wrote a couple of postcards with a purring cat on my lap licking at the dregs of my coffee.
The descent was long and good. I almost hit a huge snake! It was wriggling furiously across the road as I swooped around a corner, going too fast to stop. If it had been crossing in the other direction I would have hit it. I had visions of it getting caught in my wheel and thrown on top of me...
Stopped at a row of cafes in a wee village, where all the cooks and diners entered into a big shouted conversation about which one had something veggie. I ended up with rice and omlette.
I met three guys cycling in the opposite direction. Didn't speak to the first one as he was ahead of the others and I was being half-heartedly chased by a dog at the time. But the other two were really friendly - a German and a Spaniard who had been travelling for 7 and 12 months across Europe and India. They recommended Nepal very strongly, and also the area around Manila in the Phillipines. Hmm, more trips beckon... They also said that they sleep most nights for free in Wats. Sounds like something I should try. Though it does feel slightly unethical because I can afford a guesthouse and will not really be many places where there isn't one.
Just before I hit the main road north from Chiang Mai I came across the Wat that the two americans on the boat to Surat Thani had been so enthusiastic about. It was incredible. Stepping out of the lowland midday head into the cool dark vast space, the walls beautifully muralled with scenes of Buddha's life, intricate collumns decorated with mirrored coloured glass and carvings, a beautiful ornate red and gold panelled ceiling, and a large gold buddha presiding over it all.
And then I hit the main road north. It was the busiest traffic I'd seen since I left Bangkok one and a half weeks ago, and was really shocking and unpleasant. I retreated into the big market selling deep fried chicken feet and gorged myself on roasted bananas and some kind of baked eggy, creamy cakes in an attempt to put off the unpleasantness.
As I set off along that road I began to feel so tired and unhappy, my spirits lifting with teh occasional break in traffic or a friendly wave from a family in their quiet cafe, only for my spirits to be slowly erroded by every blast of exhaust fume or short ascent. The road got nicer after 10 miles or so - quieter, back into the forest. I had a long break for a cold Pepsi and water and felt a little better, but still very tired. Passed elephants grazing by the roadside.
Eventually pulled into town at 5 after 85 miles and spent about half an hour trying to find the cheap hotel listed in the Lonely Planet (I only found it when I had to stop for a broken-down moped and happened to glance up a side-street). It was deserted. For once I was glad of the barking dogs, hoping they would alert teh owner. But no. They stopped and carried on scratching in the dirt. The only other person around was a lovely wizened old man sitting there chatting away to me in Thai, his green tracksuit trousers pulled up over his round naked belly. Eventually a kind shopkeeper showed me teh hidden bell, which, after two rings, produced the owner. It's a beautiful old wooden hotel.
Despite a shower and clean clothes and bowl of noodle soup I still feel awful and my stomach is aching. Either I gave myself food poisoning yesterday on my cooking course, or I've been eating too much sugary fried crap.
The only other farang in town is a rathe bemused French woman. This is her first night outside the cities in the north, and I guess this isn't what you might expect of a 'rural' Thai town. It's a typically untouristy, unglamorous, un-beautiful, uninteresting, busy, lovely little town with simple cafes, a few shops and a main road running through buzzing with mopeds.