Do You Recognize This Song? - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

February 3, 2017

Do You Recognize This Song?

Mae Sai to Chiang Saen

Dear little friends,

In music, a repetitive theme is called a rondo. You hear a phrase, and start to recognize it later in the piece, you look forward to it and wonder what the next iteration will sound like. We have had few rondos so far on this trip, most days we have ridden on roads new to us. Today was going to be a repeat of our first day in Thailand two years ago after leaving Myanmar from Tachileik to Mae Sai. That was a day very vivid in our minds, the first bike touring we had ever done on a smooth road surface with a wide shoulder and little traffic, the day we knew we really were hooked on this mode of travel.

It’s not such a terrible thing to have a rondo. You can tweak it, improve it a little, note interesting changes, repeat the parts that you remember with happy nostalgia. To change things up, we were going to do something we had done before.

Our goal was Chiang Saen, an easy riding day. We hopped up early, packed up our bikes, said a fond goodbye to the adorable dogs straining on their leashes, waved half-heartedly to the guesthouse owner lurking in her service window, rounded the corner onto the street, and screeched to a halt.

Breakfast was there, within spitting distance of our guest house, two little stalls set out next to each other on the street, one for the tray food crowd (Bruce) and one for the soup crowd (me). Already we were grinning and rubbing our hands gleefully about our day ahead. The two breakfast crowds shared a common table and we tanked up along with various folks from the neighborhood.

Bruce says, "Mmmm..." and doesn't even photograph the soup.
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Two days before we had spied an antique store on the corner of the main street and Mueang Daeng Road , the road we would exit Mae Sai on. It was shuttered up then but this morning the shutters were rolled up and Bruce had to stop and window shop for all of the things we would not be carrying home on our bicycles. Come to think of it, this whole bicycle travel thing has done wonders for our house because we can no longer bring home a ton of stuff, as intriguing and exotic as it may be.

Thai/Burmese antiques are rare now days but with exorbitant prices and us on bikes they remain behind glass.
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Tearing away from all those potential fetters, we rolled along Mueang Daeng Road, aka Rt. 1041, until we saw the same coffee shop from two days before. On Nostalgia Day, even two days before can be nostalgic. The coffee was still incredible. The ladyboys were not up and about yet so the comfy couches were freed up for us. It was the kind of morning we would have liked to have had our coffee loving friends or family members there to linger over coffee with, seeing as how our day was steeped (ha, get it? STEEPED) in nostalgia. Maybe another time we can all meet there.

Same here.
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A most modern coffee shop and a most happy customer.
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Thai latte art represents.
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Leaving Mae Sai, I had my eyes peeled for something. For somebody who can barely remember her own middle name I did know that two years ago on the outskirts of Mae Sai we had stopped and taken a photo of Bruce in front of a… where was it, here? Here? I knew we were getting close and I slowed down and then called to Bruce, “THERE IT IS!” The huge unfinished faceless granite Buddha still sat patiently next to the sculpture factory gate, presumably waiting for the second installment payment to get his facial features done. It’s one of my favorite Buddhas, the unfinished mudra representing non-attachment to appearance, completion, payment, so many things. The granite twinkles merrily in its natural state. I took another photo of Bruce and maybe I’ll figure out how to show both photos in this journal but for now I remain unattached to that idea. (Edit: Yay!)

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Bruce still hasn't forgotten this face.
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The coffee takes its toll, we had to find a temple to pee at, and the one we found had a record amount of toilets and urinals. How many times have I been at an event in Portland and dashed to the restroom during intermission only to be halted at a line of women weaving through the lobby or across the grass in front of the porta-pots? A lot of times. You could have a rock concert with free beer at this temple and there would be no toilet lines. Impressive. Also impressive was the colorful temple out front that we stopped at on our way out so the few monks about wouldn’t think we had only stopped at the temple to pee. Boy, did we fool them.

Seed rice waiting to be planted out.
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There are lots of these new modern buildings in Thailand suddenly.
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Toilets galore at this temple.
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Toilets out back, cute temple out front.
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I hadn’t forgotten the hill. I had bonked on that hill last time because our breakfast was too spicy for me to finish. But, wa-ha-ha, not today, the beautiful soup powered me up and so did the fortifying peanuts. We still had to walk some of it but then it was smooth sailing down to the very bodega where we bought our Walls Cornetto last time. We have moved on from Cornettos to Top Ten ice cream bars, which are just as satisfying and half the price. Nostalgia and tradition are great, but as I said, one should tweak and improve on the rondo.

Roads smooth as butter.
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The ice cream stop is very near the Golden Triangle, a tourist stop that is busier than ever with a thousand huge tour buses and new hotels going up and an enormous golden Buddha simpering over it all. We stopped for less than five minutes and then got the hell out of there. I don’t think we would have stopped at all except that we get kind of emotional when we see the Mekong again. To think, we had last seen it down in the delta area of Vietnam when it was divided up into dozens of enormous branches of water rolling through the coconut groves ready to enter the sea. Here we were way upstream and it was running clear and mellow. We have seen so many miles of this river and have loved every bit of it, we hope someday to visit its headwaters up in the Himalayas. But not by bike.

I think Bruce took a similar photo two years ago.
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The big Buddha at the Golden Triangle tourist area.
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The last bit of road into Chiang Saen is easy and pleasant and suddenly we were there and homing into the same guesthouse as last time. It’s cheap, funky, but the room is large with plenty of room for our bikes and they both got a little shower with the butt wand. Then it was on to scout out lunch at a little place downtown, return to our room for a nap, then stumble back out to the riverfront where small tables are set up on mats.

Adorable bike lane signage.
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What becomes of most promenades built along the Mekong River in Thailand after just a few years.
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Chiang Saen Guesthouse room decor and glass wall reflections.
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Our lovely room at the Chiang Saen Guesthouse.
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"Thai Food" at a Chiang Saen restaurant.
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Condiments
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A school wrapped itself in grief over the king's demise.
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Tuk tuks
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An evening dinner cruise on the Mekong
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We've never seen a TV so secure.
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When you repeat a route, of course you also notice the changes, and things can change quickly and sometimes dramatically. Our little table meal was pleasant but there seemed to be fewer vendors and fewer food options. That’s how it goes. It was quite oversaturated last time and people can’t lose money night after night for two years just so two foreigners on bikes can come and recreate an experience. We know that, and appreciate that there were still vendors at all. The colorful boats are still going over to Laos and back but there are fewer of them, and that will continue because more bridges are being built and more dams are being built which impacts the fish migrations and so there are going to be less fishermen and not so many whole fish grilling over charcoal in all these little Mekong towns.

We really like Chiang Saen and probably would have stayed longer if our room hadn’t been sort of airless and too bright with the neighbor’s yard light shining in through the glass bricks all night. With a little looking around we could probably find a better place to stay, but it’s okay. We have a tune to carry, and a little improvisation makes one listen more carefully. Our sheet music catches a little breeze and flips to the next page and we can hardly wait to play it.

Room comforts!
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Today's ride: 24 miles (39 km)
Total: 1,853 miles (2,982 km)

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