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Getting a Good Soaking in Chiang Mai

Posted by on Jun 17, 07:44 AM
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Thai SmileWords are inadequate to describe the feelings that overcame me as I pedaled through lovely Chiang Mai after unboxing and reassembling my bike and trailer in the airport. I suppose they were just a blend of nostalgia, relief and anticipation of good things to come. The weather was overcast and refreshingly cool relative to the south of India, and the aroma of lime leaves, blooming flowers and several memorable Thai delicacies wafted through the air, bringing back fond memories tinged with a touch of melancholy.

The quiet reservedness of the infinitely mellow, delightfully amiable Thai people, along with their frequent and easy smiles, makes them a joy to live amongst.

SoupThe first thing you notice when you leave India is the lack of chaotic, deafening noise. Cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks cruised past at a calm, sane and respectful speed, and while pedestrians paused to look at my strange trailer as I spun past they never guffawed, hooted or hollered like obnoxious clowns. The quiet reservedness of the infinitely mellow, delightfully amiable Thai people, along with their frequent and easy smiles, makes them a joy to live amongst.

BambooI met my friends Jeff and Margaret from New York, also touring cyclists, at their Winter town house in the city after following the broad, multilane avenue that runs alongside the moat surrounding the Old City. They kindly put me up for as long as I needed in order to find quarters of my own. It only took two days, thanks to their previous research, to find a clean room in a guesthouse. It was well-situated north of the Old City near a large, fantastic food market and equidistant from several of my frequented destinations, such as the nearby mountain, Doi Suthep; several fine eateries; and the cathedral on the Mae Ping River.

At least two days a week I climbed to the summit of the mountain…

Tanin MarketJeff and I went for a 125km ride to the south and into the lush hills, but, as I had expected, I could not keep up after taking so much time off the bicycle in India. At the end of the day I was completely spent! It was a goal of mine to return to form during my two-month stay in this cycling paradise, and that did. At least two days a week I climbed to the summit of the mountain and then sped through the jungles down several trails and dirt roads that wound through lychee orchards and teak forests before connecting with smoothly paved country lanes leading back to the city. Other days I would explore these small roads alone, or ride to one of the universities to the north which had a serene reservoir and network of narrow trails beyond it in the forested hills.

SawangIn Samarkand, Uzbekistan, of all places, I had met a man from Chiang Mai who was also touring by bicycle at the time, and we reunited for some local riding as well. Easygoing Sawang, a member of the Karen indigenous peoples of Thailand’s North, is involved in several community-based projects for work involving children, and in his spare time, once he has saved a chunk of money, he continues on another leg of his own round-the-Boysworld bicycle tour. He’s sojourned in many of the same places that we have on this trip, and Sawang also has had the opportunity to traverse Tibet in 2007 before security was tightened by the Chinese government. Two books on his travels have been published in the Thai language and there’s a third on the way.

…enough tourists to support a myriad of bad ones.

I am hesitant to begin describing my culinary experiences in northern Thailand because (A) I’ve dwelt more than enough on the the exotic delights of the palate in this blog and (B) my summary could easily consume a several pages with litanies of Soakedpraise. Not only is the Thai food excellent beyond words, but one can now find top-quality western food here, such as French and Italian. The reason for this is that it’s not uncommon for men from the West to marry Thai women, settle here and start a business. There is now a sufficient number of these permanent expats around Chiang Mai to support a handful of good restaurants, and also enough tourists to support a myriad of bad ones. Also, there is a growing neighborhood of middle- and upper-class Thais who enjoy a night of foreign food from time to time.

SongkranApril is the month of Songkran, the Thai New Year. This festival is consummated by three days country-wide water fights accompanied by the jovial imbibing of beer and rice whiskey. Chiang Mai, though it’s only the second city of the kingdom, is the heart of the animated celebration. I could not walk one block without being dowsed with buckets of ice water and sprayed by children with massive water canons. One time I was carrying my ebook reader in a pocket and swerved to avoid a group of children armed for battle, grinning with delight at the specter of a foreigner to hose, and glanced off of a moving car which sent me swiftly to the pavement. Bruised but not dispirited, I gingerly pedaled back. Normally April is high Summer in Thailand and Songkranthe weather is hot. In 2011 the summer has been much cooler than usual (global warming? Oh, right, I meant cliiimaaate chaaange.), so the chilly soaking was not always welcome, but the overall experience of Songkran was one that I will never forget!

Comments:

  1. Darn it Andrew, your making me drool with those food portrayals and photos, but keep them coming, they are a delight! On the wild Lychee trees, are there ever any ripe fruit for the picking? Please load a small barge of nice twenty foot bamboo logs and send them on home, we can go into the bamboo bicycle, and bamboo boat/canoe/strip kayak (and probably many othere things) manufacturing business. Don’t know about your other readers, but more and more, after hearing of your love affair with this country, the beckoning call to travel there, becomes harder and harder to resist! Love Dad

    — Dad · Jun 18, 01:13 PM · #

  2. Not wanting to doubt your truthfullness I have to belive that the country is as Utopian as you describe it, next time I travel I have to book Thailand with nothing horrible (such as exercise) to do when I’m there. Monica

    — Monica · Jun 21, 08:42 AM · #

  3. Hi andrew, Looks like you are doing well its great to follow your travels thru the blog keep it up. The people and food there seem amazing.

    — steve iblings · Jun 26, 09:03 AM · #

  4. I’ve done a little bike touring with my brother and I’ve been following your blog since the very beginning of the trip. Then this last week I’m chatting with my friend Jeff at church here in Bellingham and he’s telling me about his visit to Thailand. Wait, what? Small world.

    Brian Russell · Jun 28, 01:08 PM · #

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