Saturday 27 April 2013

Visitors from Another Planet


Current Location: Pai, northern Thailand
Distance Cycled: 10,192 km
Squashed Snakes: 37+

We were stopped on the side of the road getting our breath back before we pushed the tandem uphill. My left hand gripped the rear brake lever to stop the bike rolling backwards. Sweat trickled down my left arm, reached my bent elbow and dropped to the ground. Drop by drop, the dark patch of moisture on the road grew wider.
Mae Sae - there was nothing to indicate a guesthouse
behind the restaurant.
It would be fair to say we had under estimated this stretch of road. It was steeper than we had expected, especially as we climbed the switchbacks, and the weather was hot - 37 degrees C in the shade. Our water was running low. Despite the above, we were in good spirits. We knew that once we reached the top of this climb it was a downhill slide to Mae Sae where we hoped to have three guesthouses from which to choose our night’s stay.
An hour later, we cruised into Mae Sae and looked around us. There were no signs in English saying guesthouse, nor was there that strange Thai word that looks a bit like tsunami but means guesthouse. And nor was there the telltale number 24, which also indicates shelter. Never mind, we rode down a hopeful driveway only to find ourselves in the grounds of a school. Next was a drink stall where a woman told us the nearest guesthouse was 12 km back the way we had come, over the hill.
“What about the other way, the way we are going, towards Pai?”, asked Judy.
 “Nothing,” said the woman. “Next guesthouse Pai.”  
Over the creek ...

But if you went through the tea factory...

Past the tea drying ...

Through the chicken run...
And the orchids ...

Suddenly there it was, with a deck but no beer.

Past the hen house....

Three beds, a hot shower and fresh

We bought a Coke and a Fanta and sat in a small patch of shade to consider our options. Pai was 45 km away over a steep climb. It wasn’t impossible, but the day was getting on and we were hot and tired. We came up with a plan. I would buy four bottles of water to get us up the hill, and Judy would stroll across the road and ask someone else about accommodation - just on the off chance.
A couple of minutes later she yelled, “just going to look at a room” and vanished through a restaurant.
I took in our surroundings. There was no beer in the restaurant’s fridge, a point I noted with concern. There was also a small halal meat sign and two of the women wore headscarves. I may have been tired, but I was still able to deduce we must be in a Muslim village,* something I didn’t really expect to find in the north of Thailand.
An age later Judy reappeared and said the room was fine. In fact it was better than fine - it was big, clean and comfortable with a hot shower and satellite tv, but getting to it was a route march through a chicken run and the woman wouldn’t negotiate on the price, TB600.
We gave in without a fight and the family joined in to help us. We pushed the bike through the restaurant and spare hands carried our panniers across a stream, through a grassy area where tea was being dried in the sun, and the hen house.
It was a relief. We don’t carry a tent in Asia, and we really hadn’t liked the prospect of another 45 km ride.
We pondered our good fortune and wondered why the drink seller had said there was no guesthouse. As we chatted, two women arrived up the path with towels and extra blankets. A small boy was clutching a toilet roll.
That evening, they cooked us Pad Thai and refused payment for the tea and sliced pineapple they served as dessert. The next morning, they refused payment for breakfast and we felt a bit embarrassed at having tried to negotiate the room price.
It had been a delightful, if rustic, experience and we climbed back on the bike refreshed and eager to tackle that last stretch into the hippie haven of Pai – a place so different that we felt like strangers from another planet.
Judy on our sixth wedding anniversary - dining out
at a superb restaurant near Chiang Dao National Park.

Judy the Stoker’s Quotable Quotes

“One of the advantages of cycling is that you travel slowly so that when you take off with the room key you don’t get very far before you discover you’ve still got it” – on realising she has the key from our guest house at Mae Sae, 12 km on at the top of a hill. She arranged the key’s return through the police on a roadside checkpoint.

“It looks like a bowl of spaghetti, there’s so many wriggly bits,” while studying the road on our GPS as we climb into the hills.
Where elephants go when they've been rescued - Elephant
Training Centre south of Chiang Dao.

"Sorry I took so long. There's chickens and they got out, and we had to round them up before I got to see the room,"on disappearing at Mae Sae.

What mahouts get to do when the elephants have been
*Judy dug into her Lonely Planet and discovered that a “substantial” number of Hui-Chinese Muslims emigrated from Yunnan in China in the late 19th century.
What happens to old bikes if they are
lucky - a leafy garden and an


  1. Great story - persevere!

    1. Thanks Jen, back on the road tomorrow after three days in Pai. It's almost too comfortable here and ready to get back out there.

  2. as always, a wonderful read and so easy to visualise. Oh and congratulations on 2 magnificent milestones.

    Over 10,000 km cycled and a 6th wedding anniversary ! Both take effort and dedication - something you guys have bucket loads of.



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