So Much Wondering - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

February 20, 2017

So Much Wondering

Phaya Mengrai to Phayao

Dear little friends,

This was going to be our last real day of cycling in Thailand, and it was going to be a haul to Phayao but we woke up determined, scarfed down our papaya/muesli/coffee mix, and plowed through the shell doorway. But first, a photo stop for the beautiful palm frond shadows while the mystified guest house boy came by to remove our Do Not Disturb signboard.

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I had spent quite a bit of time figuring out the quietest, simplest route to Phayao. But it was going to have to be one or the other, quiet, or simple, so we went with quiet and complicated. There would be quite a few road changes and cutting through villages and I would have to stop daydreaming and pay attention. Heading south once again, we rolled out into the Thai countryside.

The Thai countryside is fairly predictable. Between rice fields in varying stages of growth or fallow there is one village after another built next to the road, each with their cafes or markets or farm equipment displays. There will be lots of tiles on display in the home goods store, tiles that match tiles we have seen all over Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Vietnam has its own tiles. There will be a temple and in bigger towns, a Toyota dealership stocked with shiny pickup trucks mostly gray or silver. Where there is no rice, native grasses and flowers wave and ripple under the wind, and dry leaves scud across the road. Every few miles there will be a small open-air resting shack with a roof and a bamboo platform or wooden benches for people lounge on during rainstorms or the hot part of the day.

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We had never seen such a creature at a temple.
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To keep monotony at bay I ride along and try to decode the kilometer markers, which are sturdy cement and have lots of information on them. I can read just enough Thai to be dangerous, so the kilometer markers help me practice reading because I generally know what town is coming up next and the marker will confirm how I think it should be spelled in Thai and then I can further entertain myself converting the marked km. to miles. An irritating road is a road where the markers are on the opposite side, too far away to read, and I am left to wonder how you spell Mae Loi and if we are even anywhere near Mae Loi.

Not too long into the morning we hit some rough road works that bounced us around and led us through muddy puddles. The bouncing apparently knocked my rear fender askew and the next time we stopped Bruce had a good laugh at my mud-baptized shirt. It was time to find a place to pee, anyway, so we found a little grove of trees and I was able to change my shirt and water a few weeds. It was hot. And that headwind was winding up again.

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Teak leaves
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Our route had one stretch of highway that looked, if not busy, busier than what we had been on. As it turns out it also had little shoulder so that was a few miles of unpleasant riding but before long we had turned onto a little road into a quiet forest preserve. It’s too bad it was so hot and dry, but we still appreciated the quiet shade and bird calls. Dry teak leaves crunched under our wheels and we played our childish game of trying to hit them just right for maximum crunch noise.

There was some wending through a village to get to a connector road, it was a sweet village with lots of roadside gardens, the kind of village where you half consider getting a little place to come live in for the winter. Then you move on to the next village and wonder what it would be like to live in that one. You could spend many winters in Thailand going from village to village and wondering.

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Pa Daet looked like a Toyota dealership-sized town and we were on the prowl for lunch, it was a bit late for lunch and there was the quiet drowse of siesta hour. But we spied a spot to eat that had the look of a Vietnamese Com Binh Dan, with a glass display of tray food and a big steaming pot o’ rice. Bruce was drooling, I was looking apprehensively at the peppers floating in the curries and I just wasn’t up for it. The owners said that there was a place around the corner that would would make fried rice so Bruce ordered some heat over rice and then after he finished we found the fried rice joint.

Sometimes I walk into a place and it has the feel of another place in another time. The quiet hour of the afternoon with a fan overhead, a cook waking from her nap to take our order, no other customers, a shirtless older man watching a quiet television, the light blue paint, the photos of the king and relatives and a dragon calendar, a little bathroom in the back. I’m not sure what other place I’m feeling, maybe the old Surprise Cafe in Libby, Montana, or maybe someplace I’ve never been. Most likely I was just overheated and too hungry. The woman was kind and could see how debilitated we were. She made some fried rice with fried eggs on top and then left us alone under the fan, crunching the cool disks of cucumber and time-travel hallucinating.

Small restaurants often double as homes.
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The only king any living Thais have ever known.
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On we went into the hot, hot afternoon. I found a bright red ribbon on the road and we tied it onto Bruce’s brake cable housings to replace the one that had traveled all the way from Hanoi to Chiang Khong but got nicked by some little rascal visitor at Baanrimtaling Guesthouse. We stopped to note the bike computer turning over to 2000 miles. That is a lot of miles for the likes of us.

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Gates, even for modest homes, can be quite elaborate.
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The last stretch into Phayao was pretty tough, the heat, the wind, the rolling hills, the traffic, it was wearing us down. A Walls sign appeared and we stopped for ice cream at a place that turned out to be a library. Who doesn’t want to eat ice cream in a library? And it was air-conditioned! The young librarian sat and politely chatted with us to practice her English but we probably smelled bad so she sidled away and we didn’t stick around very long, we needed to get ourselves into town before dark. Over hill and dale we went, navigating to the neighborhood via various one-way streets until we arrived at Kwan Phayao Lake House, which was a restored wooden Thai house with guest rooms tucked to the side. They stashed our bikes in a hallway but seemed offended when we locked them. After they had stopped bustling around we unlocked them and whisked them into our room.

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After showers I attempted to get the first layer of mud off of my shirt, ignoring the “no laundry in rooms” sign. We are so close to the end of the trip that the next time that shirt gets washed it’ll be in the washing machine at home, so this was just a cursory wash to keep it from muddying anything else up. Once all was sanitary we strolled down to Phayao Lake, which has beautiful gardens and chi-chi vine-covered restaurants and upscale hotels. The food seemed expensive, we weren’t that hungry, so we just watched the sunset and went back to our room and crashed.

62 miles in a day is a lot for us, and the heat and wind had made our last real day of riding kind of a trial. If we had entertained any notions of riding onward a bit further before catching a bus to Bangkok, this day had helped us decide emphatically against that. The hot season was getting started in Thailand, we would while away a day or so in Phayao and then spend some real time in Bangkok. Our winter of wondering is nearly over and we aren’t going to spend any more of it out in the heat and waving grasses, as beautiful as they are.

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Today's ride: 62 miles (100 km)
Total: 1,994 miles (3,209 km)

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