Sunday, January 31, 2016

Scootering again Day 3 - Chiang Saen to Doi Mae Salong 100km

I woke up early hoping to catch the sunrise over the Mekong and my effort paid off. It was special to see the beginning of a new day with the sun taking its time to light up the darkness. 

Today was to be a shorter ride so we had an easy morning enjoying the hotel's complimentary breakfast. I have always found these not quite up to scratch perhaps due to "mass" cooking and the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality. Anyhow, we had fun practicing "serving one another" and at 9am, the Roscoes who stayed at another hotel showed up. 

We rode a mere 30 mins to the famous Golden Triangle where the countries of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and further up, China meet together at this point of the Mekong. It was good that we were there early before the tour groups came and had the place all to ourselves. The golden Big Buddha glistened in the morning sun and made for great photos. A couple of ladies presumably from China started posing for pics but they could not beat our resident model Doreen, who was in her element!

Our next stop was Mae Sai, the border town where people go for visa run to Myanmar. We took the "must-do" group picture with the Immigration Building, had a quick lunch at Top North Hotel and headed south along Highway 1 for 36km until we made a right onto the scenic 107 where we started our climb towards Doi Mae Salong.

Climbing up meant cooler weather and a more interesting ride through many sharp hairpin bends and that got my heart pumping even though we were on small 125cc scooters. I made a wrong turn, strayed and we ended up at a crowded flower festival where we enjoyed the best coffee ever. Felt rather embarrassed! The kind policeman then redirected me back to the right and noble path and cutting through the mountain ridges were nothing more than sheer magic.

We had to stop at a scenic point to soak in the magnificent views and it was one of those "Kodak" moments which was imprinted in our memories forever. Looking down the valleys and far into the horizon, the beauty was sheer magic. Where we stopped there were village kids playing soccer happily and their carefree laughter and joy reminded me of what childhood should be. 

We reached the hamlet of Mae Salong just before sunset and this town has a rich history. A former KMT Army hideout base, it was used to stage raids against the Chinese Communist Army. But when the war was over, the soldiers were given permission by the Thai King to settle here in exchange for their protection against the Communists. The town has a distinctly Yunnan flavour and most of the hotels and businesses are Chinese owned. Mandarin is widely spoken here and it truly feels like being in China.

Our hotel was the brand new Wang Put Tan Boutique Hotel where our rooms offered amazing views of the mountain side. Everyone was thrilled with their rooms. Alastair and I sat at the balcony and broke out in praise to Him who created all these.

Dinner that night was at the hotel where we enjoyed a nice Yunnan feast. We had the famous stewed pork with buns, all sorts of fresh veggies including mushrooms, omelette, soup and enjoyed the different distinct flavor.

We all slept very well that night high up in the mountains of Doi Mae Salong, with natural air-conditioning and the freshest of air. Perhaps you could say we were all a little bit closer to God that night.

Scootering again, Day 2 - Phayao to Chiang Saen 130km

Coffee Cowboys - father and son team!

Hot Wok - seldom goes wrong!

Waking up earlier than usual, I went to recce for breakfast and borrowed the hotel's bicycle for a short morning spin. Phayao is certainly a quiet, charming country town with hardly a Farang. Ended up walking at a nearby school running field where the locals were doing their morning exercises. Saying goodbye to Baanmagrood was hard as we received exceptional hospitality and made a new friend in Khun Kay.

Took the team for breakfast at an eatery near the bus station which served rice with numerous Thai curries where everyone could select their favourite ones. Then, it was coffee at the cafe next door.

All fuelled up, we rode out of Phayao back to Highway 2 heading north to the famous white temple, Wat Rong Kun. Here, we pushed out little scooters a bit faster, cruising around 70km/h and that helped cover the 75km quickly. I was surprised at how courteous the Thai drivers were and enjoyed our faster than usual morning ride.

I have been to Wat Rong Kun many times so I volunteered to look after the bags while the others went wandering. While enjoying a quiet lunch, suddenly the thunderous sounds of big bore Harley Davidsons descended upon us. A group of leather and tatooed bad-boy looking Westerners parked indiscriminately and had their lunch. Many tourists took pics of their large polished chrome steeds with great admiration but I knew somehow that all that glitters is not gold in life.

It is always nicer to take the unbeaten path and this proved true as we headed towards the mountains and valleys of Highway 1271. Skirting Chiang Rai Airport, we GPS our way and soon ended up scootering on beautiful quiet roads passing through quite small towns and freshly harvested rice fields. One very sharp curve in a small town caught many of us off guard but fortunately, no one crashed.

It was a big surprise for us to find a beautiful English style Cafe here in rural Thailand and we enjoyed this little oasis for too long. When it was time to leave, Alastair surprised us by clearing the cups and cleaning up. It is just so like him to always be so considerate and immediately, all of us followed suit.

30 mins after pressing on towards the Mekong River and unto Chiang Saen, I signaled for the group to stop as right before us were the most beautiful sight of rice fields bathe in golden sunlight.  We were awed at what we saw and had a great time just taking lots of photos. The field workers too were waving at us and moments like these remind me of the special bond we have as God's children. 

We soon arrived at the T-junction and turned left towards Chiang Saen at Highway 1290. What was supposed to be an easy ride skirting along the Mekong River proved complicated as road works and an unfinished flyover meant we had to detour inland for awhile before rejoining 1290. It was a small annoyance but soon, the sight of the Chiang Saen night market before us got us all excited. But checking in was the priority and we booked ourselves into the plush Mekong Gin Resort with swimming pool and all. It was nice to have a quick swim before dinner and that really was invigorating.

Thoroughly enjoyed our 10+ course dinner as we perused through the numerous night market food stalls. How much can one eat? It was a good thing we could share so that we could sample more till we were truly stuffed. So I thought! Once out of the night market, I spotted a road side stall with a flaming wok and I could not help myself but to order my favourite Pat Krapao Moo (Thai basil pork with rice) and managed to squeeze in some hot soya milk drink for a most satisfying ending.

Like many Thai towns, Chiang Saen would have the traditional Thai massage shops and we spotted one on our way back to the hotel. It was managed by middle-age heavy weight Thai Aunties and that can only be a good sign. The massage we received for a mere 200B prepared us exceedingly well for a good night's sleep and if only we could have one every single day of our life before bed!