Friday, February 24, 2012

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 3 Thaton

Mongkiangdao redeemed itself by serving us a lovely western breakfast on its open terrace, with amazing views of the mountains. At a cold 15c, we were all rugged up and enjoying this most special winter morning. Mary and Kimi were chattering excitedly like school girls about everything, especially about the fabulous brekkie.

Indeed, all of us were like noisy children - eating, talking, posing and laughing. I was wondering what CW was doing, until he mentioned, ahem, the more defined calf muscles thanks to years of riding.

We took a group picture with 2 huge ceramic roosters, and Maggie the dog came along for the pic as well before tally ho-ing to Chiang Dao Cave. CW insisted on visiting the Caves. Not so much for the beauty of the caves but because the road leading in is absolutely breathtaking with tall trees, giving a hint of the Californian Redwoods. Riding along in the cold and mist, it was refreshing and it was heartwarming to see faithful Maggie running alongside us once more. I do hope she is well taken care of by the hotel (we gave them some money for Maggie).

Chiang Dao Caves is pretty and certainly worth a poke. The pond is filled with all sorts of colourful carp fish and its surroundings are very thoughtfully designed to give you a sense of tranquility. It is said that the caves go into the mountains 5km but we had no time to substantiate that as we had a long way to ride today.

Playing tourists was over and the hard work of tackling the long hard ride began. We cycled through breathtaking views of the mountain ranges and then the serious climbing began. The first one lasted 6-7km and it really showed who really trained and who said they trained.

More climbs and descends came and the trick was not to think about it too much but to just take it in stride, on a granny if needed. Here, the experienced cyclists were coaching the newer ones on the finer points of tackling "slopes". I admired Uncle Teo on his Titanium NWT for his patience in guiding Hong along the way.

It was also a test of our bikes. I was pleased that my Bike Friday could manage the climbs despite having only 2 chain rings. What surprised me more was how comfortable drop bars can be for touring when set up properly.

I was impressed particularly with Mary on her NWT and Kimi on her super zhnged Tikit. Both ladies were really flying and spinning their way up those hills. While waiting for the rest, they still had energy to fool around and that speaks a lot about their fitness.

With each climb, the promise of a downhill awaits and it was truly downhill galore when KC's speedo registered an unbelievable 117km/h!

One or two folks got leg cramps grinding up those hills but all of us made it for our lunch spot at Amphoe. It was a simple coffeeshop restaurant but Khao Pad (fried rice) and Coke never tasted so good. However, despite the cheerfulness, tiredness was written on all over our faces.

It was another long climb and this one was really serious. I got worried when I finished all my lollies and there was no sight to the top. But the light lunch did its bit to fuel us up.  This time the downhill was extremely rewarding and the fastest rider was Bro Mike as he had an unfair "natural" advantage. Drafting behind him was fun and he was like a mother hen with all of us chicks following obediently behind. All the pain was quickly forgotten as our adrenaline rush came in buckets as we charged down at high speeds, gravity assisted, like racers in the Tour De France.

The end of the mountain range came too soon and we were back on flat lands. Cycling along "normally" once more felt a bit boring. Fortunately, a cluster of small Thai cafes by the roadside bided us for lunch # 2 and it was well earned. Kimi remarked that she was starving and the kitchen worked overtime to get things cooking.

While the team was gorging on Pad Thai and other Thai goodies, CW's razor eye spotted one Song Theow (a truck taxi) and arrangements was made for us to be transported to Fang, then ride the 20+ km to Thaton. It was a good thing we did this as being back in the low lands, the temp was hot and the roads were dusty. The 12 bikes + riders all fitted in nicely in 2 vehicles, and Matt and Andre had fun sitting behind.

Although the team was told the drop off point was Fang, CW and I decided to change tact and got our drivers to proceed straight to Thaton. When we got off, we told everyone to saddle up and make tracks as we had 25km to ride to "Thaton" and it was already 5pm. With strict instructions to follow CW, they all mounted enthusiastically, some perhaps with reservations. How shocked they were when CW made a turn into a small road after 3 mins of cycling and ended up in the lobby of the beautiful riverside Apple Hotel. It was a pleasant surprise for the group and getting brand new rooms with balconies overlooking the Kok River was just the perfect way to end a tough ride.

The girls had it even better as they packed into a huge "Governor's Mansion" and were squealing in delight. Not quite squealing but Uncle Teo was grinning like a cheshire cat with his own little pad.

Dinner was pre-arranged 6 weeks prior thanks to the foresight of CW at the Sunshine Cafe. The owner, Khun Yanee, is truly an epitome of sunshine-ness, serving us with great warmth and friendliness.

She advised us how to order for maximum value and taste. Needless to say, it was a first class dining experience. Coming across such nice folks just enhances the travelling experience and we were touched.

True to form, we had dinner #2 at a pub/restaurant, attracted by its wonderful music from the 70s and 80s, of Bee Gees, Journey, America and the likes. Though it was more a coffee and drink hang out, Messrs Mike, Andre, Matt, Steven, Hong and a few others went in search for street food and came back with BBQ Squid and some other delectable nibbles. This was in addition to the Lanna Sausage platter we ordered! But disappointingly, no hot soya milk was found.

Eating, drinking and yakking about the day's ride among new and old friends at a cool 18c, this was as good as it gets. We walked back to Apple, crossing the Thaton bridge, feeling absolutely in top spirits. If ever there was a perfect day, this must have been it.

Pic credits: CW - 1,6,22,25,26,27,28   Roland - 3,5, 8,13,14,19,  Steven Tang - 4,11,15,16,17    KC - 18

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