Saturday, February 25, 2012

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 4 Chiang Rai

Care for some low calorie protein?

We started the day early with an extreme climb up the famous Wat Thaton temple, but not before a quick cup of coffee just to get things going. The apostle Paul's words, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," proved true here when the flock saw what was being served at the coffee shop. Pots of delightful Thai curries and food, including piping hot deep fried chicken. I too succumbed.

Oblivious to the steep climb before us, it was "lets stuff ourselves silly time" and that made it impossible for many to make it up the mother of all hills. This speaks for itself...

I didn't noticed this at first as I was too busy panting away but there are 8 levels to get to the peak. Barely at the foot of the hill someone developed chain trouble, an example of how much we all strained our gears to its limit. My Pocket Sport with its minimal climbing gears surprised again with its ability to make respectable progress. I had fun going up with Matt, Andre and a few others as we encouraged one another to cycle instead of push. This little experiment proved the old saying true, that its the rider not the bike. Uncle Teo who had a custom built NWT with impressive 21" climbing gear also ended up pushing. I asked him why. His candid reply, "Bike very good. Engine not so good la!"

Eventually, by hook or crook, all made it up to level 8 of Nirvana, where the beautiful white temple is. This was completed only a few years back and is magnificent. Perched strategically, it can be seen for miles and offers spectacular views of the valley, the Kok River and surrounding mountains of the region.

With dark clouds and sunlight bursting out, it was a sight of heaven which our cameras hungrily captured. We savoured the time together and had plenty of laughs. Mary for some reason was fixated on rubbing a brass bell continously, and we thought she was starting a new religion.

If going up was hell, coming down was heaven. The steep gradient made my rims red hot as I braked continuously to control the speed of descend. Uber fun just flying without wings together with my fellow Tikiteer Kimi! A pre-ordered breakfast at Sunshine Cafe awaited us and even the biggest eaters had trouble finishing no thanks to unexpected Brekkie  #1.

Trust Matt to go up alone to Wat Thaton for round 2. We were stunned! Some people love their pain but he had a small crash coming down too exhuberantly. Good thing it was minor and he was still all cheery and jovial. One tough cookie Matt is.

CW and I left the group early to do some quick exploring around Thaton and to check out hotels and sights. Apple seems to be the best and brightest, for now. Things are always so fluid in Thailand. Part 2 of the day's adventure was to travel on 2 long tail boats and cruise down the Kok River to the Elephant Camp, 20+km from Chiang Rai. It was lovely to have Tui and her Dutch "mom" see us off.

We managed to fit all the bikes, gear and people snugly into the sleek boats. When the powerful engine fired up, I knew we were in for a treat. The boat could literally fly on water and there was never a dull moment as our driver skilfully dodged rocks and other obstacles. It was also very cold and we were shivering especially when we got splashed every now and then.

The 2 hour boat ride passed by quickly and it was very considerate of the boatman to plan a toilet stop and a break halfway. The journey ended too soon and what greeted us at our destination, Baan Ruammit, were several elephants walking downriver with orange safron monks. It was a real bonus. CW and I were asked if this was planned and the answer was, "Of course!" We hung around for a while to enjoy this spectacular spectacle, and for some reason, the girls went to squatting position - village mode, again.

It was hard to get back to cycling again after being in the boat for awhile, and the hills did not help. Hong asked me whether there were more hills and I said, "Look around us!" I don't think it encouraged her one bit.

To dampen things even more, it started to rain which got us scampering to water proof our stuff. While cycling, we met 2 elderly British gentlemen on fancy Bianchi road bikes. This route was part of their training and their presence lifted us up. If those guys in their 60s can do this, so can we. Peter and Don were nice enough to ride us into town. Peter was surprised that I could draft behind him on my little wheels, with panniers.

We said our goodbyes and then it started to pour. For some strange reason, CW's front wheel lifted off the road and he unceremoniously cleaned the muddy and slippery road with his yellow jersey.

This prompted Matt and Steven, who were behind him, to do likewise. Crash #2 for Matt. A case of monkey see, monkey do? Fortunately, KC managed to swerve and came out unscathed. Experience comes with age. Thank God all injuries were minor but Bro Mike, ever the caring doctor, went into action with glee. CW's beef was not so much the crash but losing his 10 year old cyclometer. Despite our best efforts to look for it in the verge, we were not successful.

Taking shelter from the storm in a coffee shop, we ordered hot coffee and Milo which were so welcome in the cold. Whiling away our time, we just waited and did a detailed prognosis of the respective crashes. Lessons learnt include don't follow so closely, be careful of disc brakes especially in the wet (Matt) and practise how to fall properly (CW being a seasoned MTB, has plenty of experience).

 KC avoided crashing because he was alert, cool and planned an escape route through the bush. We were also fortunate helmets were worn. So much for the case of freestyle riding, it could very well be game over without helmets for situations like these.

We couldn't resist stopping in a bike shop when we hit town where CW got another Cateye cyclometer. Afternoon tea was taken at the Swiss Bakery and it was delicious feasting on all sorts of Danish and cakes, with aromatic coffees.

Our abode for the night was at Baan Warabordee, a lovely hotel in a quiet back lane. What is most strategic about this hotel is its a stone's throw away from the Night Market as well as the best congee shop in Chiang Rai.

It was a good thing that Chiang Rai marked the official end of our ride as the rain clouds came and did its job with a vengeance. It was certainly an event filled day with lots of thrills and spills. Some blamed it on it being Friday the 13th but I was glad that we were being watched and cared for every step of the way by our Creator.

It was good to be back in the "big" city again and the night was busy spent eating, shopping malling and a well deserved massage. Our most important mission in Chiang Rai awaits us tomorrow morning, and it promises to be Fat Free.

Pic Credits: CW, Roland, KC & Steven


Michael Khor said...

Great pics, Al! One of these days, I'll join you guys :-))

Oldyonfoldy said...

Hi Mike, I would certainly cherish that privilege. Lets do it soon. Hope your arm is healing well.