The Sting In The North

We got up before dawn, knowing we had a big ride to our Christmas rest stop. We are mostly clear of the chaos of roads leading to Bangkok, so the cycling is getting more enjoyable. We’d stayed in a small village surrounded by rice paddies, and the start to our day was a sunrise through the mists and a beautiful rural landscape. We had a tail wind that day for the first time in many weeks, and it was wonderful.

We stopped in a random town for a few days over Christmas, and the people at the hotel seemed puzzled that anyone would be there more than one night. The time off gave us a chance to fix some things that we’d let slide – a big hole in one of my panniers and in a pair of Richard’s shorts. We took the bikes to a business for car and motorbike cleaning, to see if they would just be able to power wash the bikes and get some of the grime off. They took this very seriously, and the bikes were given a full valet, with the tyres even sprayed with tyre dressing. Most importantly though we got our visa extensions, so we now had enough time to go further into the north west before we have to leave Thailand.

Before heading into the hills of the north, we cycled to a couple of the many historical sites in this part of Thailand. First stop Sukhothai and a visit to the Kingdom’s ancient capital, which dates back to the 13th century. The park in which the core of the old city sits is beautifully maintained, with moats and lakes full of water lilies in full bloom.  The park lends itself to cycling, and the entrance had hundreds of bikes available for rent. There were few visitors, except a group of school kids on a trip, cycling around laughing and racing each other. Cue an endless stream of “Hello!Hello!Hi!Hello! and waving. It was a concentrated example of cycling in Thailand every day, where people call out hello and wave to the extent that Captain Miserable actually said at one point “I’m a bit fed up of waving.”

We chatted at dinner to a restaurant owner, who confirmed how empty of tourists this place is. He says that the planes are full coming into Bangkok, but they all must be going to the beaches in the south. And of course even if the planes are full, there are still less of them than pre 2019, so tourism here is nowhere near back to normal.

We took small roads out of Sukhothai and stopped at a couple of even less visited ruins a few miles from the town. The sites were completely deserted, and there is something special about total silence amongst ancient things. The dirt roads then wound through head high sugarcane, before we could see through the morning haze the mountains we’ll be heading to. The hills, sugarcane, and rice fields dotted with some coconut palms and ancient tualang trees were like a greatest hits of Thai landscapes.

We had been told that wasn’t much in our next stop in Kamphaeng Phet, which wasn’t true at all. There are two main collections of ancient temples, monuments and palaces. The park in the town by the river was well preserved and very impressive. The park slightly out of town now sits amongst woodland, with roads and paths winding between the temples and monuments. It isn’t as neatly curated as the other but the quiet woods make up for that.

The next day’s ride was partly along quiet roads beside the river Ping. We had lost track of the days and forgotten it was New Years day. In the villages we rode through there were lots of people gathering together around food and music. The scenery was amazing, with corn and sugar cane fields and a backdrop of mountains. However, I’d decided to have pork rib soup and a panang curry for breakfast before a long ride with very few amenities, and spent the afternoon regretting my life choices.

We’d had a run of good cycling days, but they came to an end with a return of a headwind on a very long day of dusty towns and constant undulations. The terrain hadn’t looked that bad on the route profile, but it really took it out of us. Setting off the next morning, the instant sting and then burning in the legs on a small incline was worrying, but the main climb that day was only 10km, short enough to manage mentally. Day three in this stretch was the main event, with the climb going on for nearly 20km. The road was uphill all the way, but with a steep section at the start of the hill proper. Those are the worst ones for me to deal with; the stinging pain immediately, while knowing that it’s barely even begun. There were a pair of old tankers (not me and Richard) that barely made it up this section. Before the gradient eased off, Richard overtook them. I did not.

After most of the climbing was done we diverted into the countryside and stayed that night out in the sticks amid the most stunning scenery we have seen here so far. There is a downside to this. That night Richard went into the bathroom to clean his teeth, but shortly after backed out exclaiming “Oh God, what the hell is that?” He grabbed a shoe and inched back into the bathroom, then ran out again with an “Oh no, I missed it and it’s gone.” As someone with a paralysing fear of spiders, I know the answer to “Is it a spider?” And the answer is: “Yes. I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in a zoo.” These are not the right words to say to someone with a paralysing fear of spiders. He shut the bathroom door, and (now standing far away on the bed) I point out that the door has quite a large gap to the frame. I have mixed feelings about being told “Yeah don’t worry, it’s far too big to get through that.” Away goes anything I needed the bathroom for, and any sleep.

By my standards Richard is a fussy eater, and that is especially true at breakfast where he’ll eat toast and maybe an egg, but nothing more. This benefits me at situations like this. The grandma of the place we were staying made us plates of fried rice, which means I got to eat them both.

Our goal in northern Thailand has always been Chiang Mai, one of the main stops on the travel trail of South East Asia. After some more scenic riding, and over 2,000 km of cycling from Thailand’s southern border, we made it to the city. We are now looking forward to spending a few days seeing the sights and enjoying the food before we move on again.  

Food watch:

Green guava – North of Nakhon Sawan

Pomelo and Papaya – South of Phitsanulok

Corn and sugarcane – north of Kamphaeng Phet

Ceramics (not edible) – Around Lampang

A playlist for the ride:

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Ride&Seek

I want to see the world

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