I Would Have Missed That - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

February 19, 2017

I Would Have Missed That

Chiang Khong to Phaya Mengrai

Dear little friends,
After two weeks in Chiang Khong we shook off our lassitude and small-town routines and comforts and packed up the panniers again. Even two weeks off was enough to throw us a little off-kilter, I simultaneously felt intimidated by and excited about moving on. We are near the end of a long trip and there are some trip-end details to attend to in Bangkok that are going to take more time than one would think so there is a little anxiety about getting those underway. No way were we going to ride all the way to Bangkok, so we decided to get as far as Phayao, a two day ride, and then decide there if we would catch a bus the rest of the way.
Maleewan told her cook we were riding to Phayao.

“Mai dai,” she said flatly. Not possible.

We enjoy having somebody say that a relatively easy two day ride is not possible. It makes us feel buff and adventurous. But of course that speaks more to her experience than our bold fitness, she has probably only been to Phayao once in her life, if that. When I was a kid, going to Spokane from our town in Montana was akin to jet-setting to Paris, mai dai indeed. Seattle was on another planet. We all have our scope.

So our scope was to bundle the bikes up the uneven concrete steps once again, load them up, and pose for photos for Maleewan, who added a couple of fashionably diagonal shots to make us seem more edgy than we are. Then it was off into the land of the unknown, mai dai or no. We passed the papaya table, the tiny restaurant we had tried out one night, and of course our cherished Tesco Lotus, farewell, Chiang Khong, we hold you fondly in our hearts.

About to leave Baanrimtaling Guest House after lounging for two weeks.
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Luckily for us, little navigation was needed for the entire day. Shortly after the Mekong bridge exit you turn onto 1174 and stay on it for the entire day. My kind of navigation. We rambled through some villages and then it was a long southward road on the west side of a wide valley. Rice fields were flamboyant with their winter crops, it was stunning and peaceful.

It was also hot. And for the first time on our entire trip we were in a not insignificant headwind. We rode south in Vietnam for a thousand miles with the wind behind us so having an all-day headwind seemed like an affront, no matter how spoiled we had been before it didn’t seem like we deserved this! That’s how headwinds are. They sneer at you and put you in your place, mai dai, bitches!

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Never mind, we found a darling little coffee stop and sat on a colorful table with colorful accoutrements and swilled expertly prepared lattes. Coffee culture in Thailand is such a joy, and the joy increases knowing that this was not some tourist coffee shop but one used by locals. While we sat with our coffees we were joined by a older Dutch bike tourist who had left Chiang Rai that morning heading to Chiang Khong, over a pass, mind you and it was only 11 am, so any feelings of smugness about getting to Phayao in two days were dampened by his accomplishment. Dang those buff other cyclists out there. In our defense, he was riding the tailwind.

Tabletops can be confusing but colorful in Thailand.
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The road continued on, sweet, quiet, mellow, with a stupid but not terrible wind. On a long straight stretch we encountered two gregarious Aussie cyclists and we all traded tales of the road as the occasional Toyota HiLux roared by. As we chatted, yet another bike rolled up, this was an American who lives a few miles away, out for his daily ride. We later spotted his beautiful house surrounded by palm trees, he has an interesting website called Village Farang that is very insightful if you have ever wondered about Westerners’ experience living permanently in Thailand.

There are many stages of rice in this part of Thailand.
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The craze all over Thailand now is to paint buildings with bright colors.
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I’m not the only person who experiences temple fatigue in Thailand, almost all of them are colorful, many have enticing shady temple grounds, they are good stops for finding a row of toilets or to cool off, maybe have a look at their interiors or nod to friendly, dignified monks. But there are so many of them! You can’t stop at them all! But occasionally you spot a particularly gaudy temple and if it’s on a hill, you watch it get closer and you know what goes through my mind?

“I hope Bruce ignores this one.”

Nope. It was beastly hot by this time and at that point all I wanted to do is keep riding, let that wind blow through my shirt and dry the sweat off of my face, get to where I’m going, where the beer and the air conditioning play. But I am riding with a photographer, a guy who documents no matter how tired or hot he is, and it’s a good thing, too, or I wouldn’t remember anything about anything that happened or what we saw. I dug in my heels about going up the hill to the temple itself, and why should we? The lower grounds were a zoo of fanciful mirror tile animal statues, freshly painted Buddhas lined up like the king’s army, and most importantly, a little shade for me to stop and drink some water. After my thirst and resentment were quenched I was able to admire the adorable mirrored horse that posed in a most droll, sparkly way. See, on my own? I would have missed that.

Mirrored temple gate post.
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Since this is farming country there are plenty of feed and farm equipment stores so we stopped at two to check out the seed situation. We had decided to try growing Thai basil at home, because it seemed very different than what we get in the states. And some of the wacky squash we’d seen in the markets and longed to try cooking. So we bought seed packets and some ice cream and sat on the steps to watch the scene at the feed store. We could have been in Iowa, to be honest. The Iowa illusion only lasted until we passed the next temple however, where young punk monks on shaky ladders slapped red paint on their new gate and the elder monk supervised from below amidst the spatter.

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An enormous reclining Buddha has been squeezed into the temple compound.
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Painting the temple gate.
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A little break from the sun.
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The last few miles to Phaya Mengrai started getting a little hilly which was an insult to two people who spent the last two weeks lolling around Chiang Khong but we managed to find the guesthouse I had scoped out on the edge of town. This was a classic “love hotel” but quite nice. The proprietors tactfully put a signboard in the driveway where ordinarily the lovebirds’ pickup truck would park, in order to keep others away. There was a romantic shell curtain in the door, and a working tv that only seemed to have “king channels”. Ceremonies were beginning in Bangkok in anticipation of the cremation in October and there is much coverage of those on every station.

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They obviously had had trouble with TV theft.
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We love these 24 hour guest houses.
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We asked about food and the guesthouse owners made gestures toward town and “turn left”. First we had a lookaround for tomorrow’s papaya but had no luck, and then stopped at a humble restaurant where Mae and Pa were cooking up a storm at the front for takeaway customers, but they showed us to a table and gamely took our orders. The name of this restaurant, using Google Translate, is “Blue Restaurant à la Carte” so if you’re ever in Mengrai, look them up. Our food was terrific and our hosts genial and kind.

At a major crossroads buildings were also useful in the display of advertisements.
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The great little restaurant we found in Mengrai.
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Our lazy asses were beat and it was off to the shell-adorned love hotel. But first we looked up the word for papaya and asked Mae and Pa about buying one somewhere. Pa looked concerned because the market had already closed, but after a quick exchange with Mae he trotted into the back and returned with two small papayas. We demurred, reluctant to take their breakfast, but he waved us off and insisted. I don’t know, these small generosities spark something in me. He was probably saying that they would hit the market up in the morning and find more, his neighbor grows them, there will be an endless supply tomorrow, no problem, no problem, we don’t know. Maybe it’s because I am tired that the papayas make my eyes well up a little. That must be it.

Dok Fai, which must be an ancient kind of tree species.
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Today's ride: 39 miles (63 km)
Total: 1,932 miles (3,109 km)

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