Free is No Misunderstanding - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

February 1, 2017

Free is No Misunderstanding

Mae Chan to Mae Sai

Dear little friends,

The Tharntip Villa guesthouse had a little common area with coffee fixings and cookies, which we took full advantage of before setting off. The plan was to grab some noodle soup somewhere in Mae Chan and then follow a promising rural route to Mae Sai, the border town where we could renew our visas that were two days away from expiring. Yesterday the routing had been simple, we got on the highway and we stayed on the highway because there was no other choice. Today was going to be a delightful route but with lots of turns to follow, provided by our thoughtful buddy Pocket Earth.

Some residual mosquitoes were biting in the coffee area so we didn’t linger long, still, we didn’t pass the gauntlet of gate-guarding doggies until 9 am, and immediately after that there was a stop to photograph the gorgeous purple flowering vines adorning Soi 7.

The sign for our guesthouse and the sign for the soi (lane) which in this case has its own tiered roof. Very intricate!
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For some confounding reason unknown to humankind in Thailand, we did not see a single noodle place on our way out of town. We put breakfast on hold as we would be passing through several small villages. This is kind of risky because in very small villages people eat at home, but we live on a knife blade of risk and adventure here and besides, we had eaten some cookies.

One minute we were in Mae Chan, the next, out on the quiet roads.
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There is a beehive on the face of this temple and Thais believe it's very good luck to have a beehive even in a cabinet inside of their home. Nowadays there are more screens on windows so beehives inside of homes are not as common as they once were.
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The old signs are slowly becoming abstract paintings.
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Immediately we entered rice fields where the winter crop was being planted. There are few landscapes more intriguing and picturesque than newly planted rice plants in their watery beds. It is backbreaking work and I sometimes feel weird watching people do it from the relative leisure of our saddles but we do sometimes find that our presence breaks up the monotony for them and provides amusement. They are good sports about being photographed, and we always give them a thumbs up or a “strong muscles” gesture to show them we respect the labor-intensive effort it takes to feed millions of people without machinery.

A newly planted rice field.
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Rice is seeded in nursery paddies, germinating densely. The young plants are divided up into small bunches and the workers place them into the soil of a flooded field. Rice fields need clean, moving water, and Asia's millions of rice fields have been engineered to drain and run into each other for generations.
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The supervisory staff.
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After planting the water level is lowered so that the plants' roots will go down deeper and the plants become more stable.
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The valley was flat and the roads sinuous, but we could see some pretty tall mountains to the north and west, and near those would be the border with Myanmar. We passed through pretty villages as quiet as can be. As Bruce has noted, temple decorations can sometimes border on the outlandish, and one temple in particular specialized in very large sitting Buddhas in some quite startling colors. While Bruce snapped away, I pretended I was a five-year-old standing in front of the Barbie display at Toys ‘R Us. “I like the green one, but the copper-colored one is nice too.” A teal-green Buddha, now I have seen everything.

Anything you can imagine is carried on a motorbike in S.E. Asia.
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The Thai number "neung", one.
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A fence/gate made with some old bicycles and wheels welded on.
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We passed through many small villages but it was too late in the day for the markets to still be open.
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Very large Buddhas in very strange colors.
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There was a crossroads where two dogs came out to sniff out our intentions. We had stopped to listen to some old Thai music drifting loudly from the window. When I say “old” I don’t mean the ancient traditional Thai music with wooden xylophones and drums and such, but music from the 50s or 60s. The king introduced Thailand to jazz and other western music back then, he was an excellent saxophone player and it is possible that it was his playing we could hear in the background of a sultry cha-cha number. The next track crackled with a woman’s crooning voice, the dogs advanced slowly toward us indicating that perhaps we had worn out our welcome, and a guy in a pickup truck needed to park where we had stopped. What we had thought of as a routine and urgent displacement peculiar to Vietnam has become evident also in Thailand. Odds are high that if we halt in some innocuous quiet place, somebody will come along within seconds and need to park their motorcycle or Toyota Hi-Lux in the same exact spot. The Hi-Lux drowned out the music, drowned out the birds, and reminded the dogs of their protective duty, so we left the dreamy music and carried on.

Our road was enchanting, with much-appreciated shady tree tunnels and friendly people. By this time we had given up on noodle soup and figured we would be in Mae Sai soon and could eat there. A moment after we discussed taking a snack break we spied the unmistakeable accoutrements of a soup place- a glass booth with a stack of bowls, a plastic bag of fresh noodles, a pile of fresh herbs, and a steaming pot.

Our favorite kind of road.
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Mae and Pha Soup were as friendly and kind as any people we have met on a trip full of friendly and kind folks. They scurried around preparing our bowls of noodles and broth, fluffed up the greens, brought us extra lime wedges, and oohed and aahed over our bikes. We chatted as best we could and they filled in the passersby on how far we had come and that we were Americans. The soup was outstanding, just another example of the quality of food in Thailand, no matter how humble the table. As we rose to leave we were plied with oranges, “Free!” they assured us. This word has translated without any change in meaning or pronunciation into Thai so there was no misunderstanding, and we were touched by their generosity.

By noon we were on the outskirts of Mae Sai, whose suburbs metastasize block by block, sealing off the paddies. Who is moving to Mae Sai and buying all of these homes is a mystery to us because Mae Sai is sort of a shady place, a conduit for all kinds of drugs and human trafficking from Myanmar’s Shan State. One can only imagine just who is setting up camp in Mae Sai. We would try to make this as quick a stopover as possible.

New suburbs on the outskirts of Mae Sai.
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But Mae Sai is not pure shadiness. We stopped at a coffee shop that would not be out of place in Portland, full of hip young people on laptops or lounging on leather couches with their dates. We sat on barstools at the window so we could watch our bikes in the street, and having three ladyboys flounce past Bruce over and over just made our excellent coffee more tasty and exotic. They are certainly far better looking than I am, but the attention-seeking comes off as a little sad and desperate, to be honest. Mae Sai has a lot going on under the surface. An innocent coffee stop becomes no more simple than the milky flower floating on the surface of our lattes.

The ร้านสังคมนิยมกาแฟ Coffee Shop. Aka, Socialism Coffee.
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We returned to our usual guesthouse, which no longer advertises in English anymore. This is Mae Sai, and it’s best not to question these things. Perhaps the owners were sick of weird western tourists doing weird and probably illegal things in their guesthouse so they were passively discouraging them, and our room ambiance and hygiene reflected that. We stowed our stuff and walked out for a late lunch in a restaurant built over a sewer, hurray. You’d think we’d learn!

Our guest house in Mae Sai - Little Bear - but no more signs in English which is interesting.
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Mae Sai is packed with huge buses of tourists who are mostly there to shop. We elbowed our way down packed sidewalks through endless piles of crap, mostly pirated. It’s kind of fun for awhile and then it isn’t. Every time we come here there is less and less we want. We found the lady we have bought pearls and silver from in the past and found some goodies for the girls back home. The antique shops were full of fakes so that speeded up our shopping considerably.

The main street of Mae Sai, Thailand leads directly to Thai Immigration and a bridge to Myanmar.
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Food/snack/drink vendor set up right at the immigration gate.
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Mae Sai is filled with trinkets for tourists, mostly Thai tourists.
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Near our guesthouse in the evening we noted a stream of motorbikes carrying women and their shopping baskets, and we followed the ant trail to a lovely evening market, stocked up on bags of this and that and sticky rice, and ate like kings back in our room. We were excited about our visa run in the morning, excited to visit our beloved Burma even if for just one day. In Mae Sai, you can glance down an alley and see Myanmar within spitting distance across a small grossly dirty river. It is seedy, poor, and twinkly with pagodas. If you stand on the riverbank you can smell it. We got a good whiff of Burma, and were ready to go.

Across this bridge is Tachileik, Myanmar.
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Today's ride: 29 miles (47 km)
Total: 1,829 miles (2,943 km)

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