Sunday, February 26, 2012

Northern Thailand Winter Ride - Day 6. Time to say Goodbye

We gathered for the final breakfast at Na Inn, fueling up on simple coffee and toast with the intent of getting our usual round 2 fill. CW meanwhile cycled to Tapae Gate to enquire about Sun's ride route with the Chiang Mai Sunday Riders. He flew back all excited telling us to hurry scurry as the ride to the CM Flower Show was about to start at 8am. Time check - 745am! So those who were ready went with him.

Poor Roland discovered disappointingly that his front handlebar stem clam broke and his Birdy was permanently grounded. So while the others went off with CW, I helped look for a rental bike for Roland. It was a tad early and many shops were still closed. However, he managed to get one for $1 day. Cheap as chips but seat post couldn't be adjusted and it rode terribly. Anyhow, to quote CW, "Bad bike is better than no bike!"

When I arrived at the meeting point, there was an air of electricity. About 70-80 cyclists were there mostly don in their distinct Orange jerseys. When we locusts saw the jerseys for sale at $20, we went into action and the vendor was overjoyed. Soon, we had the right "uniform". Prof Naradon who leads the group, gave us a formal welcome on the portable PA mounted on a Japanese Postie bicycle and we appreciated his warmth.

There were all sorts of bicycles and people from all over the world too. Being a BF owner, I spotted 2 other BFs parked discretely in the corner belonging to a couple from Colorado, USA and we got chatting. They live in CM to sit out the cold Colorado winter and remarked that their monthly hotel room charge is the same as their utility bill back home!

It was amazing to ride with the CMSC group as there were road marshals that stopped traffic for us and our big group literally caused the biggest traffic jam in Chiang Mai, for 5 mins at least. Everyone was so friendly and I cannot describe the sheer camaraderie that morning.

Just 10 mins into the ride, we pulled into a petrol station to empty out in the toilets, and to fill up in the food kiosks. In our haste, we forgot breakfast #2 so buns and canned coffee had to be it. But we didn't mind it one bit.

The ride to the CM Flower Show was exciting enough, travelling through quieter parts of town and even an off-road section. This was where I took notice of a white Louis Garreau mini-velo which handled the dirt roads most competently on skinny and baldy Kojak tires. Amy used to MTB and that explained her confidence and speed. Those on road bikes took a longer detour but we all ended up at the back entrance of the flower show and could not go in. So it was a big 3km loop to the front gate and certainly, this was the biggest flower shop I've seen with flags, pomp and even a huge balloon ship in the sky.

Our next stop was to see a temple that was a few hundred years old, another 5km away. The unique feature is that it used no nails to hold it together. It was interesting to see how everyone knew where the toilets were automatically and there was so much courtesy and order shown amidst the rush.  Even music was provided courtesy of the Japanese postie bike. Trust the Thais!

We soon had to bid adios to our new friends but not without Prof Noradon extending his usual courtesy to say a few words of thanks and safe travel, and Mary and I reciprocated on behalf of our team.  But how were we going back to Na Inn,  I wondered as we were out in the boondocks of Chiang Mai? We were so touched when Amy volunteered to graciously cycle us back to our hotel via the shortcuts.

On the ride back, I noticed poor Roland struggling to keep up with us on his $1 rental bike and we made sure we stopped lots. This is one sporting chap! He thought that we were just going for congee and ended up riding over 30km on the highways of Chiang Mai.

We had our last lunch at the same Blue Cafe where we ate on our first day, almost like a good storybook ending. It was really nice that Amy could join us and that was the least we could do for her in extending outstanding hospitality and kindness to us. She was amazed at how much we ate as part 2 to the beef noodles came in various delectable forms of Vietnamese dishes.

After lunch it was a mayhem trying to pack the bikes for the 4pm flight and Na Inn's lobby got all messed up again.

But Ms Maew didn't mind one bit, looking amusingly at these crazy cyclists from Singapore. When all was done, it was then a rush to get 2 Songthaews to ferry everyone to the airport. But not before goodbye pictures!

CW and I were very humbled to receive so many expressions of gratitude and we were just glad that our friends had a great time touring with us. We really had barrels of fun and we never laughed and ate so much. We wondered if this was indeed a bike trip!

When the flock finally stepped into the departure lounge, CW and I breathe a sign of relief as our role as Shepherds was officially over. As they flew home to Singapore, it seemed unreal that our last few days had passed so quickly. For them, it was over but for CW, Mike and I, we've only just begun. We had planned for a few more days to chill out and do a ride down to Lampang but that is another story altogether.

A song for all those who went with us, and our new friends - thank you so much for an unforgettable time on our bikes! We will ride again soon.


ps:  We held a post trip briefing on 28 Jan and there has been numerous requests to join us for another ride soon. Stay in touch... drop me a line here or on Facebook Ped Al if you like to be updated on the next tour.

Pic credits: CW, Amy, Roland

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