Categories
Asia/SE Asia

The Expat Experiment — A Month in Chiang Mai

[slideshow]

Chiang Khan to Loei 50.59 km
Phu Ruea to Dan Sai 50.00 km
Dan Sai to Nakon Thai (10 kms beyond) 61.13 km
Nakon Thai (about 10 km outside ) Phitsanoluk 81.85 km
Phitsanoluk to Chiang Mai – we took the bus. Its bloody hilly!

We’re off the bikes for a month except day rides and commuting in Chiang Mai. This is the first of two one-month breaks we planned for this year of cycling. The next one is scheduled for August in France. We will, however, continue to take the odd week off here and there.

We are almost at the 4000 km mark and I have to say the big mountain climbs are still hard for me. They must be easier since I started this trip I guess but after all that flat riding – essentially since the Lao/Vietnam border, getting into the mountains en route to Dan Sai and to Phu Ruea was still tough for me. We were about 10 km out of Loei when the first long climb started – probably about 10 km with some steep bits. We also climbed out of Dan Sai for five or six, again with steep bits. As usual, though, the mountain scenery was beautiful and the traffic light. Maybe one day I will manage to get through a climb without cursing at some point…Close to Phu Ruea I passed a sign that said STEAK AHEAD and was very happy to find that Ian, who was ahead of me of course, had pulled into the roadside restaurant to stop. We had a great meal (steak!) and continued on for another 10 km or so and then stopped at a mountain resort (and there were a number of lovely resorts) frequented by Thais, all wearing toques and scarves (it was 15 degrees at night oh brrrr ☺) We were the only farangs and the only downside to a beautiful night was a lot of bad singing. The Thais do love their karaoke but I swear they are all tone deaf! Luckily they stopped by 10 pm.

We both felt a huge wave of nostalgia when we arrived in Phitsanoluk. I don’t know if it was because it was the end of another cycling leg or because it was such a typical large Thai town, a city really and we loved all its Thai characteristics. It was also quite hot once we hit the plains and I enjoyed rolling by brilliant green rice fields and coconut palms.

I also enjoyed the bus out of Phitsanoluk, especially when I got to see the 20 km climb I missed on highway 11. Although it has a wide shoulder it is quite busy and I think I will prefer practicing some hills around Chiang Mai on quieter roads. As usual the bus was great: we were charged 3.00 each to put the bikes down with the luggage and then less then 10.00 for the two of us to ride for 8 hours.

We both love Chiang Mai. It is very western in the old town and if this was the only part of Thailand I’d ever seen I would find it too commercialized. However, given all the beautiful rural places we’ve seen and all the small towns we’ve visited I am not bothered by the western aspects at all. I am thoroughly enjoying the fact that there is a pub on every corner and an amazing choice of restaurants. Within a 10 block radius we have an Irish pub, a middle eastern restaurant, a few Indian restaurants, a number of Thai restaurants of course, British places with fish and chips and bangers and mash, a big Mexican place, a French-inspired bar called the Writers Club where you can get steak and frites and red wine. The list is endless and it is all easily walkable and in a perfect climate – 20 degrees at night and 25 in the daytime (although I hear it is supposed to get up to 35 this week).

Our room is large, air-conditioned if we want it, has cable tv, internet, a fridge and western style bathroom, a large wardrobe, a desk and a small café table and chairs. We have a view of a temple. We are paying 200.00 dollars a month. There is a small restaurant on the premises where we can lounge about outside and eat pad thai or a curry dinner for 1.25 each. There is also a shared kitchen if we want to cook ourselves. An expensive meal out with a carafe of wine, a steak with peppercorn and frites and a pork chop with mashed potatoes, apple pie with ice cream and an additional glass of wine was 28.00. Last night we had an Indian meal for 18.00 (for the two of us). Breakfast is typically 3.00 for eggs, coffee, croissant and often ham or bacon. Many of these places are outside or have outside spaces and I love being able to be outdoors much of the time.

We can’t afford to come home!

And so I am seriously thinking of retirement with some freelance work thrown in and a lifestyle where we are here for 6 months and somewhere in the Gulf Islands or Vancouver Island for the other six months. Accomplishing this sooner rather than later has become a serious project in the last week and will be what I focus on while we are in Chiang Mai. I’m building complicated retirement calculators in excel… I’m selling my boat…I’m looking into health insurance costs and property taxes on the island…I’m trying to do a little freelance article writing to prove to myself that this is all doable…

And when I am not sitting at my computer calculating the cost of my existence I am wandering about the neighborhood. The old town in Chiang Mai is a maze of little lanes called sois. On a typical morning we walk 200 metres to our favourite restaurant and bakery, saying hello to neighborhood dogs along the way. We have made our first trip to the expat grocery store where I can buy cheese and wine…not cheap but no worse than home and possibly better as wine is 10 to 12 dollars a bottle rather than 15 to 20 (although there is a selection of pricier wines as well). Riding a bike around town is the best way to get around and I am really looking forward to more exploration after number crunching in the mornings.

The tough part is missing friends and family and we will eventually rectify that with our six months in Canada, six months in Asia plan.

Ciao for now from Chiang Mai…

Categories
Asia/SE Asia

Chilling in Chiang Khan with Thailand’s Yuppies

[slideshow]

Nong Khai to Sri Chiangmai 44.62 kms
Sri Chiangmai to Sangkom 47.03 kms
Sangkom to Pak Chom 54.6 kms
Pak Chom to Chiang Khan 48.45 kms

The best cycling of our Asia trip has been in this first part of 2013.

This area of Thailand is fabulous for cycling. It is warm but not baking (we need blankets at night and sometimes a light jacket). The scenery is pretty; Highway 211 is tucked up against the mountains and borders the Mekong. The road is rolling but the hills are not too steep or long. There is little traffic and there are interesting towns, guesthouses and restaurants — all the winning characteristics of a great road trip.

Given we don’t need to be in Chiang Mai until Jan 15, we have been poking along doing an average of 50 km a day.

The highlights: Aside from the wonderful Mut Mee guesthouse, the sculpture park in Nong Khai is another attraction there with its weird and wonderful sculptures (those are the large sculptures of the nangas (snakes) and buddhas in the blog photos). Leaving Sri Chiangmai we followed the road along the river rather than highway 211 and we were treated to 8 km of paved road bordered by farms and views of the Mekong River and absolutely no traffic. The wild and rustic garden at the Bouy Guesthouse in Sangkom was beautiful and we stayed three days enjoying the flowers, the views of the river and some great company, including a lovely woman named Amelie, who bears a very strong resemblance to our friend Susan Fiedler. Amelie is a French winemaker who regaled us with lots of traveller tales and gave us some advice on Thai wines which we will follow up on once we are in Chiang Mai. Between Sangkhom and Pak Chom, Highway 211 follows the river and is bordered by mountains which come right up to the road. There were stretches of Highway 211 between Pak Chom and Chiang Khan that reminded me of California around Loleta; the combination of rolling hills, farmland, art shops, and coffeehouses (and western toilets ☺) giving me a little Thai flavoured déjà vu.

Ian spent time in Chiang Khan (where we are today) 8 years ago. At that point it was a sleepy town along the river with a few old teak houses that had been converted into simple guesthouses. It has enjoyed a tourist boom since then, attracting yuppies from Bangkok and we are guessing Chiang Mai and Udon Thani as Bangkok is 500 or so kms away. But there is no mistaking the Thai yuppies and the number of guesthouses and boutique hotels along the river front, all either upgraded original teak buildings or wood replicas, has proliferated since Ian was here. The Thai tourists here wear expensive sunglasses and carry around little apartment dogs dressed up with bows and other very fashionable doggy wear. Our first night here there were hundreds of Thai tourists wandering along the main river front road shopping in tourist boutiques that have also sprung up and eating from the hawker stands before stopping in for whiskey, beer or latte in the waterfront restaurants. Not a bad way to spend a few days. The prices are higher here as a result (30 to 35 dollars a night instead of 10) but its fine and fun for a short time.

We leave tomorrow and head to Loei, then Dan Sai, and then some as of yet unknown town between Dan Sai and Phitsanoluk. We catch the train to Chiang Mai from Phitsanoluk. Our easy 50 km days will become 80 km days once we are on the road to Dan Sai.

We are looking forward to our month in Chiang Mai, a favourite spot in Thailand, where we will do some day trips and work on some non-cycling related projects. I am also very much looking forward to some Skype sessions with friends and family.