Sunday, January 26, 2014

1000 Hills - Day Zero. Twin Propellors to Mae Hong Son

NOK Mini alright! It has a very limited and mini cargo capacity. Pic KC

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It took about 6 months to plan for our 1000 Hills Adventure and seeing how 8 folks on 4 different flights from 2 countries came together at Chiang Mai brought immense joy to my heart. I was the last to arrive at Na Inn on Wed Jan 8 at 3pm and was greeted by the sight of packed and to be packed bicycles in full size boxes in the spacious store room. I had pre-ordered the boxes through Chaitawat Bikeshop, which was located just 300m from our hotel. The "brilliant" plan was to dispose of them after our flight to Mae Hong Son, keeping our original packing, be it Samsonites or boxes at Na Inn. We enjoyed an evening ride around Chiang Mai town and the Aussies had their first taste of "freedom" cycling - where road rules were largely optional, Thai style.

We celebrated our get together at Jia Tong Heng Chinese Restaurant and had the privilege of Amy and her friend, Kitty - a very chatty tour guide who spoke Japanese and Mandarin, join us for dinner. There, we defined our roles - Ian kindly volunteered to be our Chief Financial Officer, Mike and Celia - medical support, Pete and KC - technical and mechanical support, Anne and Jan - daring adventurettes! It was to be an early night as we had to leave for our 940am flight to Mae Hong Son the next day and everyone was too excited.

It took 2 Songtheows to transport our 8 bike boxes to CM International Airport and it felt like a precise military operation. But little did I know that Nok Air's SAAB 340 33 seater aircraft was officially capable of taking only *one folded bike in a box! No wonder it was called Nok Mini. The check-in staff were at a loss seeing our boxes and rejected them! This was a most disappointing start to our trip and demanded a real test of quick thinking on our feet. Time was ticking away as we tried to work out a solution literally on a wing and lots of prayer.

Pic KC

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One plan was to hire a Songtheow to transport the bikes by road 235km through mountain passes and that sounded like the only way out. Thus, I went out to seek a Songtheow and the asking price was around 4000B or US$130. I was touched that Mike volunteered to accompany the bikes through the arduous journey however as it turned out, a divine hand was blocking this option. There were many talkers but strangely, no takers! It was rather frustrating and a real test of faith.

While I was busy Songtheow hunting and getting desperate, Celia tenatiously managed to chisel out a whacky but workable solution with Nok Air. This was to repack the bicycles - fold them and just cover up with cardboard and tape! I felt sorry for the poor staff particularly this nice lady who probably had 1 year's worth of stress compressed into 30 mins. Her dazed face said it all.

Time check - 40 mins to take off. So we got cracking, repacking our bikes in record time, and the Nok Air staff provided us with plenty of small boxes and tape. In addition, they lent their hands to do this record speed packing and we appreciated it very much.

Because they were foldies, the package turned out to be surprisingly compact and with smiles breaking out everywhere, our bikes were accepted for check-in and the 8 of us scuttled our way to the boarding gate. This was truly a miracle that not one, but 7 more foldies were unofficially and miraculously allowed for the flight.

As we settled into our comfortable seats in the Blue Woody Woodpacker twin prop Bird, I breathe a big sigh of relief and thanksgiving. We were all in the highest spirits!

The take-off was smooth as silk and soon, we were enthralled by what we saw on the 35 min flight. Majestic mountain ranges, shrouded with white mists, bathe in golden morning sun and that took our breath away.

It was hard to imagine that in the following days, we had to cross those ranges on our own strength powering small wheels but for now, we were not going to think about that. Life is best lived one day at a time, and for this adventure, one crank at a time. The words of our Lord in Matt 6:34 ring so true. "So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today!"

It was a nice surprise that we were given tasty in-flight refreshments and the morning's excitement really got me famished. Touching down at Mae Hong Son airport, Gims Hotel had arranged for us to be picked up. It turned out to be by one 3 wheeled Tuk Tuk and a funky looking yellow 4WD. It was another high adventure loading our 8 parcels and 16 panniers onto these but 2 trips soon saw all of us at the beautiful and cosy grounds of our hotel.

Pic KC

As we settled into our warm and inviting villas, it was hard to imagine that just a few hours ago things could turn out very differently. Gims Resort happens to be a most impressive place with lovely greenery and certainly deserves a few nights to be fully savored.

It didn't take long to assemble our foldies and I appreciated Pete's Tern P24 seat post pump which could do 100psi effortlessly. A quick wash up and it was time for a short ride to town to test our bikes and make any needed adjustments.

Lunch was at the Salween River Restaurant and Bar, which was rated by Tripadvisor as one of the top eateries in MHS. It didn't disappoint and we fed heartily, and so did the mozzies under our tables. I was grateful for the warmth and camaraderie that we enjoyed. A spirit of teamwork and looking after each another are really important for what we are about to embark.

Mae Hong Son is famous for its temple on the hill - Wat Phra That Mae Yen and we had our first taste of steep climbs. It didn't help that we had full stomachs and our legs were not warmed up. There was no shame to push, something we learned in the days to come.

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Our reward was a commanding view of the town and the runway and the temple itself is quite spectacular.

We had fun just soaking in the scenery and beating the gongs to drum up enough courage for our upcoming battle with the mountainous terrain.

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Our next task was to find the bus station. Mike was under strict orders by his Orthopedic Surgeon NOT to cycle due to a worn out right knee so as far as I was concern, it was prudent for him to be on the bus part-way for our leg to Soppong - 70km away. This was after all where the worse climbs were and a rider from Crazyguyonabike described them as The Wall. 830am was when Mike had to check in and the cost was an unbelievable 45B or US$1.50.

Wandering around town, I was glad to chance upon a lovely upmarket Huai Hom coffee cafe (300m before the Toyota dealership) that looked out of place in this "boondockish" country town. They served lovely Cappucinos, Lattes and ice teas and with free WIFI in lush green setting, it was the best way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Dinner was at Fern Restaurant and riding there from our hotel, it was obvious that the cold had descended upon us. 15c and falling. We fed well and carbo-loaded in anticipation of the Wall that awaited us tomorrow.

Pic KC

Reflecting back upon the day,  I realized it had more excitement that I had bargained for and I knew in my heart, we were in for a real treat on this 1000 Hills Adventure. It helped that someone up there is definitely watching over us!

Pic KC


From Nok Air's email to us dated 21st Jan - For the flight which operated by SAAB-340, a folded bicycle is allowed to load but not much more than one piece per flight. 

As our investigation, your flight of DD8200 CNX-HGN 9 JAN 14 was operated byNok Mini (SAAB-340), so that is the reason why our staff denied your bicycles for the checking in. 


Amy said...

When I read this blog , I always smile.

Crumpets said...

mucho thanks ! .. Mr.& Mrs.Marvellous !

Unknown said...

Great blog as always Alvin! I especially love the last photo of the reflection of the plane :)