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.

Categories
Asia/SE Asia

Days On and Days Off: Enjoying Mut Mee Guesthouse Garden

[slideshow]

Mukdahan to That Phanom 50.43 km
That Phanom to Sakon Nakhon 73.58 km
Sakon Nakhon to Wanon Niwat 83.92 km
Wanon Niwat to Fao Rei 87.3 km
Fao Rei to Nong Khai 73 km

Looking at the mileage this morning as I transfer it from my journal to the blog, I realize I’d already forgotten we rode for six days in a row, not the three days I’ve been telling people, through Issan, the name for this region in Northeastern Thailand. The forgetfulness comes from having been resting in a beautiful garden for the last 5 days (we arrived in Nong Khai on Christmas Day) and the ease we both feel being in Thailand.

The cycling was perfect – mostly quiet roads and no serious problems finding places to stay. We used the Thai map we purchased at the 7/11 in Mukdahan to find back roads (roads with 4 digits are paved but not highways); we have been able to rely on the Hotel indicators on the map for all the small towns we passed through. The exception was in Fao Rei where we roughed it for a night in a hotel that consisted of a number of small cabins that had not been used in what looked like many years. Upon arriving, we met an older man who was a bit perplexed by our appearance. He figured out quickly that we couldn’t speak Thai and we struggled to try and get him to understand we wanted a room for the night. He phoned someone and a few moments later his daughter (?) showed up on a motorcycle, a middle-aged Thai woman who spoke some English. She rented to us but was very embarrassed by the condition of the room. However, once they untied the bull who was tethered to our door and kicked the giant bullfrog out of the bathroom, we managed.

The Mut Mee guesthouse is a lovely place along the Mekong close to the center of town. We are housed in a small bungalow, basic, with a king-sized bed and a ‘jungle’ bathroom (outside but private with a roof and thatch walls and hot water). The garden and restaurant are really pretty and we have spent the better part of our time here playing computer as we are wont to do and talking to other guests. We’ve ridden around town a couple of times now and have liked what we’ve seen: a number of other guesthouses and restaurants along the river which also has a long promenade that we were able to cycle along, a couple of interesting looking markets, some temples, a park – enough to keep the mind alive if you have ebooks and writing projects. We’re spending 380 baht a night for accommodation here (12.00 dollars per night) and living it up eating most of our meals here and beer or gin and tonic every night :-0 We’re averaging 50.00 a day here for the two of us all inclusive.

There are a couple of fulltime yoga teachers here as well as a Thai masseuse so we have managed to keep ourselves amused when we haven’t been cycling or playing computer…if I incorporated a yoga course (they do a 7 day intensive) I could see spending a month here.

We spent out first night here talking to a Belgian couple who had cycled from Laos. They have these fantastic little books on cycling Asia that are written in Dutch. We’ve seen them before in Europe – someone should translate and sell to Lonely Planet :-0 They are detailed and accurate – Ian sat down with the couple and mapped out our route to the north south train line which is our next destination. We plan to ride about 6 or 7 days when we leave Nong Khai and then will take the train the rest of the way to Chiang Mai, giving some of the very hilly bits a pass. We are no longer on a cycling pilgrimage – just a cycling trip ☺

Ian has begun to work on me re not coming home next summer – it is a very tempting idea right now but being ever-so-practical I am certainly weighing things out. I am putting the boat up for sale for sure as that frees up 6000 a year in moorage (plus insurance and some maintenance). With rent coming in I can probably afford to be here; however, the issue is cutting myself off from the workplace for too long. I am looking for creative solutions on that front, including investigating working remotely. So…we shall see what happens over the next few months when decisions will have to be made.

2012 has been a very busy year with some amazing travel and good times with friends. It has also been a difficult year for myself and family with the loss of my brother Mike last January.

Here’s hoping that 2013 brings joy and peace to all my friends and family.

Happy 2013 everyone!