It was to be a long 100km journey to Thaton today from Chiang Dao but we were not too worried. We took our time to enjoy a nice breakfast and said a leisurely goodbye to the lovely ladies that ran CD Huts. The beautiful thing about Thailand is the warm hospitality and it was more like saying farewell to family than anything else. One of the staff wanted to try our foldies and had fun, squealing away!
Riding out at 830am, it was still chilly and misty as we left the beautiful woods and headed for Highway 107. It was a great privilege leading our team of riders through such a delightful route and we all felt very excited about what laid before us.
We passed the James O'Fraser Centre on our way out and that fascinated me. Why a bible school in the middle of nowhere, and in the heartland of Buddhism? The story about a brilliant English engineer James Fraser is a fascinating one. He is recognized as one of the most successful missionary in Asia. Known for his perseverance, he once rode his bicycle 300+km without dismounting! Called to bring God's love to the the Lisu hill tribe people in China and Northern Thailand at the turn of the century, he did so with great success despite enormous difficulty. I discovered later that Ian Howard, my touring buddy, has an aunt whose fellow missionaries actually built this centre some years back!
I have done this route 2 years ago and felt very familiar with it. It has nice gentle climbs but some bits go up for quite a distance thus the need to find your pace. Doing it the 2nd time and especially after those killer hills at Mae Hong Son, I found it easier and managed to ride through all without pushing. With hills mean fast descents and it was here that Uncle KC hit his famous 117km/h 2 years ago downhill with everything in his favor.
Some say his wireless computer went a bit haywire due to the speeds but I will just leave it as that. All I know is that once he is in front of me where there are downhills, he hits warp speed and disappears pretty quickly. That's my buddy KC for you!
We stopped at the usual restaurant and enjoyed a morning tea of Khao Pad (fried rice) and noodles which somehow tasted so good, and downed with too many sweet drinks. Just 25km or so and all our breakfast was gone! Such is touring I supposed and this is one of the joys of our sport - to be able to eat wholeheartedly without guilt.
As the hills began, we were separated by the law of natural progression. Uncle KC was ahead, then followed by Cil and I, then the Howards and pulling up the rear were Papa Mike and the Roscoes. I must say this being Day 6, everyone got fitter and stronger and the waiting time at re-grouping got significantly shorter. The last climb proved really tough but it was great to see everyone still looking quite fresh and not like the living dead.
Zooming downhill was exhilarating but I went slow deliberately so as to enjoy the scenery longer. I have learned the value of not missing out on opportunities for photos too. As once passed, they are gone forever! After about 50km or so, we had covered the mountainous segment and glided onto flatter terrain. As we approach the intersection at Chai Prakarn, I spotted 2 Songtheaws parked, waiting for customers. A quick negotiation led to an agreed fare of 1000B to take the 8 of us all the way to Thaton. The reason for taking transport is simple - this part of the journey is flat, dusty and boring with a fair amount of traffic. It was amazing that the yellow Songtheaw could take all of us in - 8 foldies and 8 riders! Times like this really makes me appreciate the versatility of the folding bike!
The ride on the Songthaew to Thaton was like flying without wings literally as the driver kept the pedal to the metal. We were speeding way past 100km/h fully loaded and with our precious bikes tied on the roof rack. Every time we hit a bump, I dreaded the thought of seeing a foldie flying off the roof and bouncing onto the road but fortunately, everyone and every bike survived.
Got this booked some 3 months back just to make sure we got the best rooms and I was delighted to see the same friendly golden retriever welcoming us, tail wagging and all. The team was also thrilled to bits and just soaking in the view from the balcony after hanging up the laundry was so special.
We had afternoon tea at the Sunshine Cafe but Yanee our friend was at Chiang Mai so the cafe was severely short-handed, with only grandma managing the business. Understandably, it took forever to get our drinks so dinner had had to be somewhere else.
A bit of a walkabout led me to a lovely seafood restaurant just opposite the river from our hotel. The owner had invested lots into building a brand new glitzy hotel named Saranya which comes even with a swimming pool. She extended her warm charm on us and even arranged for our long tail boats down river to Chiang Rai. As usual, we over ordered on delectable Thai dishes and were well and truly stuffed.
It was a real shame that we only had one night here in beautiful Thaton so we really stretched the evening as long as possible. Thaton remains one of my favourite small towns in Northern Thailand and I will certainly be back real soon. No better town to end our 1000 Hills ride than at beautiful Thaton! Tomorrow, we go hi-speed down the river.