Monday, December 14, 2015

Scootering again! Day 1 - 150km. The Mekong and the Northern Mountains of Thailand - Nov 29 to Dec 5, 2015.

It's not often I repeat a trip in the same year but we had so much fun scootering N Thailand in Feb this year that I had many requests to organise another one so soon. The key impetus for this came when my former Pastor Alastair Bain who has just recovered from a prolonged illness asked if I could take him along for my next one. He needed to tick off his bucket list and Alastair is such a special person to me, I had had to oblige and with great pleasure.

The team soon grew and what was so unique was that we had a family of 3 in Ying Chang, Doreen and 11 yo Mark. Then we had energetic young adults in Nic, Hilson and his girlfriend Iris. Siow Wei a retired banker whom I've know since US uni days in the 1980s and a born again biker signed up very early too. At the last minute, Pete and Jan Roscoe snucked in making our 3 generation team a largish 11. We rented 6 Yamaha Grand Filano 125cc scooters and The Roscoes a comfortable Suzuki Burgman 200 scooter. Our choice of using scooters are its ease of use, generous luggage capacity and the fact that this was a slow sightseeing ride where we would cruise 40-60km/h most times.

The route I planned this time was a bit different, going anti-clockwise from Chiang Mai to Phayao, then to Chiang Sien where the Mekong and Golden Triangle is. Then up the mountains to Mae Salong and down to Chang Dao where elephants are. Cutting westwards to the famous Highway 1095 towards Pai where we wished we could stay longer! Mae Hong Son is next, then southeast towards Mae Chaem and then back to Chiang Mai making this a 1300km trip.

Click here if you wish to see the route in detail - Thanks Ying Chang!

Many of the riders were pretty new to scooters but they are cyclists and seriously, if you can cycle, you can scooter as these are fully automatic and very user friendly. It is not necessary to have a license in Thailand at least as far as the rental companies are concern. 250B per day plus 50B insurance with a cash deposit or a passport as guarantee, you are on your way!

It was quite exciting to meet everyone in Chiang Mai coming from Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. At our welcome dinner at Jia Tong Heng, we had the privilege of having the bicycle legend Chris Wee and his lovely wife, as well as George and Wendy who were on a car and cycling trip. I was very touched when Wendy got me a most useful gift, Thai mosquito repellent!

Our stay at Lamphu House was comfortable as the hardware was decent with a swimming pool thrown in. At 890B, I would recommend it but the software or service was nowhere near the friendly and welcoming folks at Early Bird located at the next Soi. Alastair and I attempted an early morning swim 30 mins before the official pool opening time but were chased away! Nic and Siow Wei too had to pay 250B for a soiled towel the hotel alleged that they did. Sadly, customers come last at Lamphu House as far as we are concern.

Early Bird was so nice to arrange for our scooters to be delivered and truly, they are #1 to deal with. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the sticker on one of the scooters proudly proclaiming, "Fxxx the World!" and decided that particular one was certainly not for me.

We enjoyed breakkie at my fav place, Jok Sompet for Khao Tom, a Thai rice porridge. Coming out of Chiang Mai with a string of 7 scooters was a challenge with the traffic. Once on the outskirts, we refuelled and was shocked to find how under-inflated our tires were. That sorted, we made our way to Phayao some 150km. It was an easy and relaxed ride as we cruised the Thai countryside, surprised at how courteous the drivers were. This being the first day, it was a time of learning and getting used to the scooters for the newbies. We stopped to visit a waterfall and took breaks every 30km or so. It was great just to take it easy and smell the roses as things ought to be.

Upon reaching Phayao, we lost Pete and Jan through the traffic. That got SW and I scurrying in search of the missing Burgman. Nic, Hilson and Iris said a prayer while the rest made their way to Baan Ma Grood Hotel. While Nic was awaiting at the corner, lo and behold a white Burgman cruised pass him and all was well! Dinner was so "So Good", literally as that was the name of the restaurant located by Phayao Lake. We enjoyed the Loy Krathong celebrations at the lakeside later and send some hot air lanterns into the night sky, along with  many others.

Khun Kea the owner of Baan Ma Grood was so nice to accompany me later to make a booking for Thai massage. Great service really makes the difference and I would highly recommend this hotel. However while walking on a dark soi, she was nearly run over by a speeding motorcycle coming around a blind corner. My quick reflexes in pulling her inside to the kerb saved her! My good deed for the day... Unfortunately, the shop Kea recommended was full but the boys Nic and Hilson found another one. I declined as the lady negotiating the price with me at that shop did so while digging her nose for gold nuggets with her fingers. I still get night mares thinking about that!

We all slept very well at BMG and what a fantastic day it has been. Turning in with the distant sound of fireworks and crackers was hard as we were still so excited and it seemed the whole world was excited with us. I felt a bit guilty as I got here with absolutely zero effort and that is something I have to get used to in the next week or so.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eight is Great!

Unbelievable! Lovethefold has turned 8. In Chinese culture, the number 8 symbolises prosperity and I am not sure how this word fits into my present world of cycling and foldies. But if anything, I am certainly very grateful for the joy that my passion of cycling, and more specifically adventure touring brings. From a peak of 103 postings in 2011, I feel slightly ashamed to say there has been only 24 posts this year and almost all are focused on my trips.

Perhaps as one gets older, my interests have shifted from what is the newest, fastest or best-est to the simple pleasures of just cycling with people. After all, it is not gadgets or gidgets that give me lasting satisfaction, but sharing the journey itself with old and new friends. One may cynically and rightfully comment that when the bike stable exceeds 12 (and that is already quite a legful to manage) and therefore there is very little need for another bicycle. The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns can also lend support here but my personal take about this seemingly fading interest in things per se is maybe I have finally learn the true meaning of contentment. This is defined as "the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are." 

This is not to say I don't keep up with the exciting developments in the cycling world. I will toy with electronic shifting when the prices become a little more down to earth as my conversations with friends who use them seem very positive. But I wonder if that technology will be able to withstand the rigours of all weather touring?

One gadget that I picked up recently is a waterproof/shockproof Nikon AW130 camera. I have always enjoyed using the Canon Ixus super compact camera until a canoe-ing trip revealed it's limitations in a very expensive way. Though the pics of Smartphones today are very respectable, nothing beats whipping out a camera from your back pocket to snap those impromptu moments on the saddle. I am also impressed that the Nikon has a built in GPS as well as the ability to send photos thru WiFi when I eventually figure that out. These are features that seem very useful on a bike tour and I'm excited to test it out. 

2015 began with a trip to Betong Thailand with KC. I've always been fascinated by the history of the Malayan Emergency where the communists were battling the British post WW2 to gain control of Malaya. Betong was their last hide out and the chance to cycle there from Kuala Kangsar presented itself. After all the last bomb that went off was a few months ago so if you believe lighting shouldn't strike twice like I do, it's probably safe to go.

I believe that good things must be shared in order to fully enjoy and newbies VT and Claudine, friends of YC asked if they could have an intro tour. I was only too glad to organise one, this time to Batam and Bintan. I wanted to try the new southern highway of Bintan and Berenda, Judith and YC tagged along too. It was a great trip except that Claudine was and still is "shell-shocked" by the very rustic and basic accommodation of Shady Shack! Don't get her started on the toilet...

I had church camp in June at Malacca and took the opportunity to cycle back to Singapore with the honourable George Kee. We had fun cycling down 210km in 2 days but I thought I would die from heat stroke. Food is very important and I discovered a really cheap and yummy spicy anchovy bread bun made by Gardenia. For US 40 cents, this is the cheapest way to taste heaven!

August saw us continue our South Thailand Ride Adventure. This was part 2 of 3 parts. Last year we did Phuket to Chumphon. This time we went deep south starting from Langkawi to Krabi and had a wonderful time enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the people. 10 of us really had an amazing time together riding in the monsoon and it was great to have the usual suspects, Papa, KC, George, Wendy, YC, Celia and newbies VT, Claudine and Lance tag along. 

Cycling in Perth continues to be very satisfying given the beautiful weather most months and the unbelievably good bike paths. It however seems to be a season of endings and goodbyes. Our Wed usual rides with Rod and Uncle Ken which I have enjoyed since coming to Perth in 2009 came to a sad halt when Rod moved to Busselton.  

Yvonne who rides with us quite regularly also just moved back to Korea. It was also a sad time for Singapore with the passing on of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding father. I do not handle goodbyes well but we all have to learn to accept the seasons of life.

One unfortunate incident that happened was a recent bike accident where one of our dear friends fractured her leg. I feel really bad as we were cycling side by side when it happened at such a slow speed. It is hard to make sense of such an incident as she was training for our upcoming 321 ride in January. But times like this, we need to roll with the punches and keep our chin up. Misfortunes have a way of turning itself around into beautiful ways in God's timing, wisdom and grace. 

One new tour we did this year was exploring Northern Thailand in the winter month of February not on bicycles, but on scooters for a change. The mountains of Mae Hong Son left us winded 2 years ago on our foldies and I wanted to share the scenic beauty of this area to more people. Not everyone enjoy cranking on granny 12km uphill on one steep gradient after another. The 125cc Yamaha scooters made easy work of this and our group of 8 truly enjoyed this 900km trip so much.

Just in 2 days time, we shall be doing this again. Scootering Northern Thailand this time for an even longer ride - 1200km with an even bigger team of 11. This trip we shall be doing the loop anti-clockwise and going eastwards towards the Mekong to see the Golden Triangle. Pete and Jan Roscoe who did it 9 months ago have signed up again while the rest of the team is new. I look forward especially to spending time with Alastair, my mentor and dearest friend.

Next year promises to have some very new and exciting trips lined up. In January we shall be doing the 321 ride. This starts in Thailand, through Laos where we will explore the Bolaven Plateau as well as the 4000 islands, then pop into Cambodia where we end our ride with a weekend at Cosi Orphanage in Phnom Penh.

Feb there are plans to do a much overdue Singkep Linggi visit. These Indonesian islands lie far south pass the equator and the Japanese Battleship Yamato took refuge here during WW2. A long 2 ferry ride but the purpose is to see my friends Hardi and Dewi who has a new adorable addition. 

March should see me doing a trip to Taiwan this time exploring the southern western tip. August will be our Final South Thailand Ride from Chumphon to Bangkok. One exciting trip planned is in Oct where we hope to cycle South Korea from Seoul to Busan, then ferry across to Japan.

Looking back, my heart is very grateful for yet another eventful year that has gone by for Lovethefold. The privilege to get to know people who then become my good friends through the common passion of exploring new lands on small wheels is something that I feel very blessed to be able to do. All this is also possible because of my lovely wife who I will gladly carry her panniers to the ends of the earth.

In that sense, I feel a deep sense of contentment and gratitude on this 8th anniversary of Lovethefold. May I thank you readers and followers of LTF for your much appreciated support. It is my hope and prayer that this little bicycle blog can inspire you to go out on your bike and explore the world. In doing so, let us also bring a bit of cheer and love to the people we meet. As Burt Bacharach once sang, what the world needs now is love, God's love if I may add. The joy we get from that really is what makes life worth living! 

Wishing you God's blessings and tail winds. Ride safe ya?

1 Timothy 6:6-8 – “But Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”