Recovering by the Beach — Enjoying Hua Hin


We finally left Chiang Mai last week, opting for a day train to Ayutthaya with a plan to start cycling south from there.

Well, best laid plans and all that…after much running around on our final day in Chiang Mai (mailing parcels home and getting a final dental check up on my new crown and packing after being settled for two months) and yes, I have to admit a wee too much beer the night before that, I came down with a nasty flu. I realized I was in trouble about hour 10 of the 16 hours we spent on the non-air-conditioned train between Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya. I had thought perhaps it was just the heat (somewhere between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius) and smoke particles in the air (farmers are burning fields now getting ready for next crop) that were causing a tickle in my throat up until my nose went into overdrive and I realized I had a fever. Arriving in Ayutthaya at midnight and then having to unload the bikes from the train and ride to a hotel probably didn’t help my situation.

We left our guesthouse in Chiang Mai at 5:15 to catch our 5:45 train. This meant cycling in the dark but I didn’t mind as I knew the trade-off would be no traffic and I was right. We did cycle by a few bars that were still hopping and had a good laugh at those silly people partying until the wee hours, unaware of course, that I was just about to come down with the plague. Karma at work I’d say.

At the train station Ian went to find out where we needed to go with the bikes only to learn that the train would be delayed until 7 am, which actually turned out to be 8 am and that we were to put the bikes into the baggage car ourselves.

We settled onto a bench and enjoyed a quiet couple of hours people watching. I felt remarkably peaceful, so much so that I was moved to reflect on it and I can only say that my decision to sell in Vancouver and to focus my life in some new directions felt very right that morning. I also think it was the degree of familiarity I now feel on the bike and in Thailand and so I was excited about moving on without any of the normal anxiety that often accompanies travelling.

I think also it was the people watching and realizing how much I like Thai culture. That morning I watched a young girl hanging out with her mom for the day, at her mom’s snack kiosk at the train station. The girl had her dog with her, a poodle shaved so she/he had a tutu, and the girl made a little bed for herself and the dog on the floor of the kiosk, maneuvering the dog so he had his head on the pillow beside her. Her mother accepted all this and just stepped over the pair of them as she went about her business in the kiosk. I watched another mom at work, the lady responsible for the power washer used to wash the train. Her son decided he wanted to ride on it. She scolded him the first time he tried to climb on it but then gave up and he sat happily on top of it while she took a break from washing down the cars. I loved that these ladies were able to bring their kids to work.

After being here for two months I really believe we are over-regulated at every level (municipally and provincially at least) and that this interferes with entrepreneurship and contributes to higher anxiety levels – or maybe it’s those higher anxiety levels that make us over-regulated to begin with. I’ve heard of a couple of recent studies in Europe that say we are regulating our children’s lives to such a degree that they are growing up without having ever taken a risk. Google the topic and you’ll see what I mean.

I enjoyed the last week in Chiang Mai, doing some of the touristy things Ian and I hadn’t got around to. We cycled to the zoo and although we both struggle with the idea of animals in captivity I have to admit I enjoyed it. I also spent a great day with Pat, a friend we met through Dave and Debby and we had a blast, visiting the hot springs again and then hitting up some of the artisan shops I’ve been wanting to visit. We then met up with Ian and made a great Mediterranean style dinner back at the guesthouse. Oh and yes I think I mentioned something about too much beer ha ha.

The silk factory is worth a visit – it is one in a whole string of artisan places along San Kampaeng Road and the next time I’m in Chiang Mai I will spend at least another day there (sans Ian who finds all that stuff boring). At the silk factory we got to see the whole silk making process from moth to worm to cocoon and getting the thread from the cocoon and then onto spinning wheel and loom. The silk was gorgeous. We also visited a shop that makes umbrellas and a lacquer ware workshop. Pat had arranged a tuk tuk for the whole day and we got an awesome deal at 500 baht (16.00 dollars Canadian). Photos of the silk factory are courtesy of Pat.

The flu is not fun under any circumstances but it certainly has been a challenge this last week and a half – I finally saw a doctor in Ayutthaya after three days of non-improving symptoms and opted for the whole-meal deal pharmaceutical solution: prescribed cold meds including antibiotics, anti-fever etc., all for 12 bucks including the doctor’s visit. Fortunately, Tony’s Guesthouse in Ayutthaya was a good place to be sick. We had a large air con room and the rest of the guesthouse, an old rambling teak building with some beautiful Thai art on display, had all kinds of cubby holes to sit in so Ian was able to escape the sick room and get some work done. The place is popular with backpackers and despite being ill I enjoyed watching them come and go when I emerged from my room for meals in the guesthouse restaurant.

As I write this in Hua Hin, whether it’s the meds or just time, I am finally feeling human again although still a day or two away from being able to cycle.

Ian and I had to rent a minivan to get us to Hua Hin with the bikes. I think the distance is a few hundred kms, through Bangkok and it took us about 3 hours. We paid about 100.00 dollars which seems a reasonable deal. I am much better as I write this but there was no way I could deal with trains or buses the day we left Ayutthaya.

We have found a lovely guesthouse in Hua Hin (Byrds). Our guesthouse and the neighbouring ones are old ramshackle places built on stilts out over the water. At night, if we turn air con off, we can hear the tide coming in under the building. We share a patio with the rest of the guesthouse and we’re enjoying the view of the small beach and fish boats so much we are reluctant to leave the property. The room is a little run down but well worth the 700 baht (23.00) a night and I would not trade our proximity to the water nor the sound of the ocean to stay at the Hilton next door. We plan to spend a couple of extra days here before we head south, making sure I am truly well as it is quite hot (35) before I get back on the bike.

Ciao for now.

Home is where the Panniers are — Winding it Down in Chiang Mai


After months on the road with no more than a week in one place, Chiang Mai felt like home pretty much as soon as we’d unpacked our panniers. That feeling of arriving home was even stronger after leaving our stuff in our room here in the R.C.N. Court and Inn and travelling for a few days up to Chiang Rai, Mae Sai and into Myanmmar to get our Thai visas stamped and then taking the bus back to Chiang Mai. I guess that ability to be home wherever we are and the sale of my condo in Vancouver confirms my nomadic identity – at least for the next 13 or so months.

There is comfort in knowing how adaptable I can be, although it is no particular talent of mine. I think all human beings are amazingly adaptable but I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to experience being nomadic and to learn that home is something we create no matter where we are or for how long we stay. Some painful losses have taught me that it is the loss of people we love that hurts, not the loss of our stuff. I don’t see the need for total asceticism but in a society that preaches absolute consumerism, to the degree that we often define the value of an individual according to the value of what that individual owns, I see value in learning not to be too attached to material things when that attachment leads to working at a job you don’t like or fear of change.

That being said, I am looking forward to buying a little house on the Island and I’m enjoying looking at the jewel colors and mirror mosaics on Thai temples and statuary and imagining them somewhat transplanted. I find myself thinking about how I might re-create bits and pieces at home — I see jewel-colored glass door pulls on white cabinets; I see jade-green, ruby red and gold glass mosaic on garden pots and vinegar bottles. I imagine a red lacquer-painted second-hand dresser with a gold naga stenciled on in metallic gold paint. I notice gardens and garden features in all the outdoor cafes we eat in here and make note of what might work in a back yard garden in Ladysmith. I like the creative challenge of defining a new home space.

And when I’m not wandering around looking at the head-dress on a white concrete temple elephant, I’m taking care of business, often in the early hours of the day when Chiang Mai and Vancouver time zones intersect during business hours. After many conversations with realtors, the financial advisor, and friends helping with logistics, and many trips to the photocopy print and scan store, I am happy to say it is almost all done. Still another couple of conversations with the notary in Vancouver and a trip out to a notary here and we can wrap up the condo sale and focus on the boat sale…

I try to take some days entirely off and we’ve had a couple of nice day trips when I do. We went out to the Sankampaeng hot springs with a couple of friends last week. We took a songthaew (a pick up truck with benches in the back) for 1.60 each, each way, about 60 kms round trip. In addition to the geyser, and pool where you can cook eggs (our friend Alyce cooked quail eggs for us) there was a small canal that was almost too hot to soak our feet in and then a large swimming pool which was about 98 degrees. We relaxed for an hour in the pool and had a couple of good water fights with a bunch of school kids who were out on a field trip.

We also managed to get out to meet the Chiang Mai Cycling club which meets every Sunday at 7 am outside the Tapei Gate. The membership director lady was very nice, spoke some English and handed us a microphone to introduce ourselves to the forty or so Thais decked out in spandex and ready to ride. I don’t know how many of them understood us, but they applauded and invited us to ride with them. We were actually there hoping for a swap meet (we read that these happen occasionally) as we had some bike grips that were too big for my handlebars. We were able to sell them for a little money and then declined the invitation to ride as we already had our own itinerary planned.

Then we headed across the street to the Art Cafe, across from the Tapei Gate and between the Starbucks and McDonalds (you really can get anything you want here) and after breakfast headed out of town on the bikes, passing through Chinatown and over the Mae Ping River, along highway 1006 out into the country where we found small concrete paved lanes to ride on amongst the rice fields.

Yesterday I had an early birthday celebration with Mary a new friend I’ve met in Chiang Mai. She wanted to celebrate leaving Chiang Mai and moving onto to her next adventure which is hiking the Santiago do Compostela with her partner Dan. We treated ourselves to a 3.5 hour spa. For 60 bucks including tip we headed out in a tuk tuk to Zabai Thai Massage and Spa and had a Thai massage, a body scrub, an oil/aromatherapy massage and a facial. A terrific deal and a lovely day.

We’ve had some very nice dinners together with another couple we met who live in Powell River, B.C. We got talking to Janet and Wayne in a local Japanese restaurant and discovered that they also have a boat hauled out in Jack’s Boat Yard up in Lund where we left Ian’s boat so many months ago.

I’ve finally gotten around to a little cooking in the communal kitchen and have spent a couple of fun afternoons shopping in our local market and doing a little entertaining. I love markets and Ian and I have agreed that this is something I am better off doing on my own. So I’ve also spent some quality time wandering around the Sunday night market that sets up two blocks from our guesthouse and sells local crafts. On my own I can take my time wandering around the stalls checking out jewelry, textiles and carving. I am practicing good restraint but have decided to get together a bundle of stuff to send home and to Ottawa.

As comfortable as we are we realize we have ten days left here and so we’re beginning to plan our next moves. We’ve got a rough itinerary that has us leaving Chiang Mai on the train and doing some cycling to the southern train line. We may spend a few days in a couple of small towns as we make our way down the peninsula by bike and train and then cycle across to the island we like in the Andaman Sea. We’ve got a tentative guesthouse reservation in Bangkok and our tickets to Instanbul are booked April 13. We are then on the road again in a big way until we stop in France in August. We are happy that we managed to find a place to rent in France as when I began to do a little research we discovered that places were getting booked up for August and realized that we had to make some decisions and commitments to ensure we would find a spot for our next month off the road. We found what looks to be a beautiful townhouse that we we will share with our friend Wanda who is planning a well-deserved extended summer vacation this year.

We are really enjoying a fantastic trip and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do so much travelling this year.