Sunday 21 April 2013

By The River

Laughter ripples across the water. Children are at play in the Mae Nam Kok, some of them floating in rubber tubes the size of tractor tyres. A few parents are in the water too, others have lines attached to the tubes so they can haul in their offspring if they start to drift too far - towards the Mekong, now way downstream.
Simple fun in the Land of Smiles
It’s a heart warming sight - simple fun in the Land of Smiles - to use that cliché, but it’s true. Judy puts it down to their religion - Theravada Buddhism which teaches Thais it’s okay to be happy, and unlike Christianity has none of those crosses and nails. (Story continues below)


Current Location: Fang, northern Thailand
Total Distance Cycled: 9,936 km
Maximum Recorded Speed: 70.0 kph
Squashed Snakes Seen on the Road: 35+
Weird Moments Number 1:Taking control of the music in a Laos restaurant to play Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” followed by Ryan Adams’ "Oh My Sweet Carolina". Several guests left immediately after the latter.
Weird Moments Number 2: Being hosed down with water as we walked and cycled during the Thai New Year.
No-one escapes the water over
Thai New Year.
Weird Moments Number 3: Visiting Sop Ruak, a nondescript little town on the Thai side of the border  with Laos and Burma. The town has become a tourist trap based on the premise that it was once the centre of the Golden Triangle. We saw no opium or big spending drug dealers.
Straightforward message

We're in Thailand, but behind us are Burma
and Laos.

(Story continues here) Whatever the reason we are in an ideal position to watch the fun.Tonight's guesthouse in Tha Ton is located on the river’s edge. When we arrived, Judy asked to look at one of the cheaper rooms - our usual practice as we try to stay within our budget of NZ$50 a day. But while she was looking at the room - set back from the water and with no view - I slipped around to the front and spied the super duper deluxe versions - each with their own little balcony and river view. We had a quick consultation and Judy entered into negotiations to upgrade.

View from the balcony upgrade

When the young woman handling the transaction turned to her father for advice, he laughed. Yes, he said, we could have the balcony room for TB500 instead of the usual TB600.
The family then proceeded to get back the extra TB100 as we lunched in the guesthouse restaurant - Chang beer poured over glaciers of ice and the inevitable rice with vegetables and pork or chicken. For a pair of hungry cyclists it was perfect, and we didn’t care.
For us, this is just another day on the road. They seem to have a simple rhythm about them which suits us. We rise early and usually cycle for an hour or two before finding breakfast. We try to reach our destination by early afternoon, to avoid the worst of the oppressive heat at this time of the year (mid April). We relax, eat and drink, take in the sights if we have the energy, eat some more and retire early. The days roll into one another, but each one is different.

Just another day on the road. Northern Thailand.
 Today we cycled just over 60 km through citrus trees, paddy fields and banana palms. We climbed several hundred metres but didn’t have to push the bike (something we had to do three days ago for the first time since Malaysia). We could have made it much harder for ourselves. At a police checkpoint, we ignored the turnoff and stiff climb to visit a tea growing area settled by Yunnanese Chinese. It was several hill climbs too far.
Instead, we coasted downhill and walked part of the way to minimise the chance of another flat tyre caused by overheating brakes. On the descent we were greeted by a toddler - “hello” she called from the side of the road, then “goodbye” followed by “I love you”. We chuckled and rode on and thought those Thai kids watch too much English language tv. But after the barren landscapes and obvious poverty of parts of Laos and Cambodia it’s nice to be back in the Land of Smiles.

Snake charmer at work. Chiang Saen.
Thai New Year (Songkran) celebrations in the
northern town of Chiang Saen.

We spent a week in Chiang Khong, just inside the Thai
border and as usual Judy was making friends. The woman
beside her worked at a Hainanese restaurant where we had
steamed chicken rice for breakfast every mornng. 
Postscript: Dinner this evening was in a restaurant hanging precariously over the river. We weren’t sure whether it was open to the public as we approached - a large group occupied several tables and there was no-one else there. But the proprietor waved us in - cautioning us that “this is a local restaurant, no western food, only Thai, no luxury.”We assured him that was ok and he plonked us down at a table on the edge of the trembling deck. There was no menu, but red curry with sweet and sour vegetables was suggested. The food was fine, and later we learned that the large group were members of “the military” involved in stopping the supply of amphetamines into Thailand from Burma. When we asked who was smuggling them across the border - just a kilometre or two away- we were told it was the hill people.“It’s a shame it’s happening,” we ventured. "They are shameless, the hill people, “said our host. “Money talks, nothing else matters.”

Judy the Stoker’s Quotable Quotes

“Chian Saen is melting pot city Arizona,” as hill tribe people arrive in town to celebrate the start of the Thai New Year.
“The (New Zealand) flag’s flying well on the bike today. Usually it looks like Aggie Dribble Drawers”.
Mother and daughter with Judy at our guesthouse in
Chiang Khong.


  1. Another great read Mike & Judy. When you've clicked over 10,000km on the trip - pause, enjoy the sights and have a beer to congratulate each other !

    1. Hello Kyle, we clocked up 10,000 km yesterday and took your advice - lashing out at a candlelit restaurant on the edge of a national park. Very pretty and the Chang beer was so cold we didn't need to add ice to it. Thanks for thoughts.

  2. Lovely words describing the pics haven't lost your touch :)

    1. Hello Scott,nice to hear from you - thanks for the feedback. Hope life is treating you well. Regards.

  3. So glad you got to enjoy the chaos and joy of Songkran! I miss Thailand so much, Singapore just doesn't compare. (Jo Dreaver here by the way :) )

    1. Hello Jo, what a nice surprise to hear from you. Yes, Songkran was fun - it's pretty full on isn't it? By the way, we're glad to be able to report that the dogs here in northern Thailand seem much better behaved than their southern counterparts. We've still had a few chase after us on the tandem, but we find that stopping suddenly really works. They back off and sometimes even run away with their tails between their legs. And last night there were four lovely little pups playing around our restaurant table.


Express a view here.