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.