Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Last Tour Part 2: the end of the tour

Yesterday, Erin and I rode 190 kilometres.

Note that I didn't say we rode our bikes 190 km; we only did about 130 km on the bikes. We did the other 60 or so in the back of a truck. It can actually be quite convenient to ride a bike in a country that uses trucks for public transportation.

We left Chaing Rai shortly after sunrise with the vague idea that we might just try to ride the whole 190 km back to Chiang Mai. Erin's ankle was a little sore, though, and grey clouds on the horizon hinted that they might not let us finish the ride, but we started off with optimism in our hearts.

We had an excellent start to the day. We'd ridden 90 km by noon, which was when the misting drizzle we'd been riding in for the last couple of hours turned into bonafide rain. I don't want you to think we're sissies; we're not made of sugar and we wouldn't melt in the rain. I've ridden in downpours before that would make you shit your pants and run for cover. The rain was being complicated by two things, however.

First, we didn't have the proper gear with us. We didn't bring fenders on our ride, which is something we've regretted on more than one occasion. Without fenders, your own tires shower you with muck from below while the sky showers you from above, and if you're riding behind someone without fenders, you get completely blinded by muck from their back tire, so you can't even consider riding in a paceline.

For you non-cyclists, a paceline is when cyclists draft off of one another by following closely behind. A paceline can save you about 20% of the effort that it takes to pedal, and when you're thinking about riding 190 km, that's a big deal.

The other piece of gear we were lacking was raincoats. We have good raincoats with us in Thailand, but we didn't bring them on this most recent tour because we've got a very limited amount of luggage space, in keeping with the moronic fast-and-light touring concept I came up with. Listen: fast-and-light is great if you're going for a weekend credit card tour. Fast-and-light is retarded when you're going for a whole week because you spend half your time either doing laundry in the sink, or worrying about how your freshly laundered clothes will have time to dry before you need them.

Raincoats, I argued, would be unnecessary, because when it rains on you in hot weather, you just take it like a man and get wet, because you'd get even wetter with sweat if you wore a raincoat. Here's the catch, which is also my second complicating factor: it was cold. I'm serious, it was cold in Thailand. I've never seen it get that cold in Thailand. It was well below 20 degrees, which might not sound so cold to you jerks shivering away in the Canadian winter, but when you're barely wearing any clothes, you're soaking wet and you're out in the wind on a bike, it's cold enough.

So we decided we were through with cycling for the day. Our options were to get a hotel room in the little flyspeck of a town we were in and try to kill all of the hours between noon and 7 the next morning without going insane, or we could try to catch a ride back to Chiang Mai, where we had clean clothes and a nice hotel room already paid for.

So we caught a ride and a short way into the ride home, it stopped raining. Naturally. It took some time to convince ourselves that the rain had really stopped, but after 60 km the road wasn't even remotely wet anymore, so we got out of the truck and got back on the bikes.

The rain was ambushing us, though. The rain was waiting about 10 km down the road, like a mugger in an alley, and when we got to it, it clubbed us over the head and soaked us thoroughly. Then it abruptly stopped. It didn't actually feel like raining; it just wanted us to know that we couldn't pull one over on it with our little getting-a-ride trick.

And now we're back and we're enjoying Chiang Mai for a last couple of days before coming home. It'd be a lot harder to leave here for the rain of Vancouver if the weather here wasn't so lousy. It's cool enough that I actually wore a jacket out tonight, and we haven't seen the sun in two days. This time of year is supposed to be cloudless and rainless, incidentally. We never should have been rained on in the first place. Stupid global weirdness.

How was the rest of our tour, besides that last day of cycling and my ruminations about speaking Thai while standing at a urinal?

How kind of you to ask. Quite nice, thank you. I might write another post about it later on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Speaking Thai at a Urinal

We were in a Thai tourist bar overlooking the Mekong river two nights ago, listening to a Thai band play western and Thai cover songs and watching Thai tourists from the south getting drunk as though it was a team sport, when suddenly I had to pee. I didn't exactly find this condition alarming -- it's a normal reaction of my bladder to either beer or cover bands, I can't quite figure out which -- but I knew from past experience that it would be best if I did something about it.

I walked to the men's room and found a long row of urinals, each of which were specially designed to receive and dispose of a man's urine. There was only one person using these technological wonders, and when he noticed my presence, he tensed up and looked down, apparently concentrating intensely on the task at hand.

I pulled up to a spot two urinals down from him, commenced peeing, and I started thinking about something friendly I could say to my pissing partner to set him at ease. As I've said previously on this weblog, I've been learning Thai, but my pronunciation is very imperfect and my vocabulary limited, so I'm not exactly able to throw off stupid urinal jokes like I can in English, such as "so, this is where all the dicks hang out."

Looking up at the night sky through the open window of the well-ventilated men's room, I decided I wanted to say something like "nice night." I don't know how to say, "nice", but I can say "beautiful", which I thought would work well enough, and I do know the word for "night". I began formulating this two-word sentence when I realized I might have a problem.

The grammar in Thai is super easy. For example, you don't need to put a "to be" verb in between a noun and an adjective. You just need to say the noun and say the adjective, like "night beautiful". The hard part of Thai for westerners is the pronunciation. The language has 5 tones, each of which can change the meaning of a word. The word "suay" (pronounced more or less like "sway") said with a rising tone means beautiful, but if you mess up the tone and say it flat, or mid-toned, it means "bad luck". I was pretty confident I could pull off the tone, though, so I wasn't worried about accidentally saying that the night was bad luck.

The other difficulty with pronouncing Thai is the vowels. The Thai alphabet has 32 vowels, many of which are only subtly different from one another. Our Thai teacher has a system of writing these vowels in our alphabet, doubling up letters to make a longer vowel sound, or by using upsidedown e's to indicate that they should sound like you're throwing up, and not like a normal e.

The word for night is spelled by our Thai teacher "kuun", except that he crosses both u's with horizontal lines about halfway up, to indicate that they are a different vowel from the normal u sound. I can't explain the difference between this u and a normal u, and I can only approximate the sound when I try to say it. Usually I rely on context and not accurate pronunciation to get me through linguistic ambiguities.

The real difficulty of my situation was that the word "kun", with one u, uncrossed, means "you"; talking about the night being beautiful would put me into a linguistic minefield from which the context of a men's room unoccupied by any other men couldn't save me. The very best misunderstanding I could hope for is that I'd botch both the vowel on the first word and the tone on the second word, and he'd think that I was calling him unlucky, possibly because of something I'd caught a glimpse of while he was urinating. Given my present ability in speaking Thai, however, it was much more likely that I'd nail that tone on "suay" and I'd totally botch the subtlety of the vowel on "kuun" (crossed u's) and he'd think I was saying "kun suay": "you're beautiful".

I decided not to say anything at all. Let him be uncomfortable about my presence while he pisses; it's better than him thinking that I think him either beautiful or unluckily endowed.

Sometimes when you travel you can have grand adventures without anything happening outside of your own head.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Last Tour

10 days from now Erin and I will be on a plane home. Erin is certainly not ready to come home. I have mixed feelings. I'm sure my feelings will swiftly become unmixed when I get off the plane in Vancouver and find that the atmosphere has been replaced by a steadily descending stream of icy cold water.

But that's 10 days from now; we still have enough time to go for one last tour.

Where to this time, Ben?

A fine question. Actually, we're not totally sure. Day 1 will see us go about 90 km due north, back to Chiang Dao. Day 2 might see us go to a place called Tha Ton. Then maybe Chiang Saen? And after that, who in hell knows? In the end, the trip might look something like this:



View Untitled in a larger map

Okay, I might not be totally serious about the last part of that route. We're definitely going to end up back in Chiang Mai, not off on the top of a mountain somewhere. I just really don't know how far we're going to go. It'll depend a lot on how we're feeling after the first few days. Maybe we'll be feeling great and we'll be eager to put in a lot more distance, and we'll do something really cool. Or maybe we'll just go to Chiang Rai and then take the main road back.

Either way, this is our last chance for a big trip, so we're going to get out there and put a few hundred kilometres of asphalt under our wheels.

Starting tomorrow morning... I should probably get some sleep now.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Banging round Bangkok

It's always fun to return somewhere I've been many times in many different states of mind over the course of several years. Bangkok looks different every time, partly because it has changed and partly because my eyes have changed.

As always, I've been haunting the area of town around Khao San road, while trying to avoid actually setting foot on Khao San Road. I'm fond of this part of the city, not because it's awesome per se, but because it's full of memories, and because every other part of Bangkok I've ever measured is an unwalkable, mind-numbingly boring, traffic-ridden shithole. I'm not saying Bangkok doesn't have other neighbourhoods that are built on a human scale -- I'm just saying that I have never seen any.

Erin and I are taking a night train back to Chiang Mai this evening, so we've joined the legions of other zombie-like tourists in this place, sitting in tourist cafes and slowly sipping Chang beer while waiting for something better to happen. Within a few days' time, most of the tourists we see here will be hundreds of kilometers away, many of them sitting on beaches drinking more expensive bottles of Chang Beer, but some of them will be somewhere interesting, like Rangoon or Luang Prabang or Saigon or Calcutta or Kathmandu.

Kathmandu! The idea of it makes me shiver. Why have I never been to Nepal?

I close with a status report on Bangkok, written for those lucky people who have shared this city with me over the years. Nate, Erin, Inge, Tom, Koen, Liam, Jesse and Tucker, here's what's become of the place:

- Nakorn Pink is pretty much the same, except they've put up new signs where they've finally corrected the spelling of the name to Nakorn Ping. Last time Erin and I were here, they'd brutally increased the rate for fan rooms to 490 baht; I'm pleased to report that they've now got a "special offer" room rate that's apparently been in place since August 2nd, and you can get a fan room for a much more reasonable 400 baht.

- The sidewalk bar where Jesse got kicked in the neck during an argument over the bill is still open. In fact, it's greatly expanded, with a bunch more tables now on the street, and a few more tucked inside a garage door in the building behind. We saw no sign of the neck-kicker, however; presumably he has died of internal bleeding from flopping himself down on the street while drop-kicking some hapless tourist in the neck.

- Every other sidewalk retail or drinking place has expanded off of the sidewalk and into the street. Word must have gotten around that the cops don't care if you use the street as your shop floor, because everyone has done it. Consequently, there's very little room for people to walk on Khao San Road anymore, much less to drive on it. Khao San seemed oddly dead, actually. Soi Rambuttri, which 7 years ago was much quieter, is now where the main backpacker party is.

- Popiang House (a.k.a. BBC World) is still alive and kicking. They've got tables permanently set up on the sidewalk across the street, where they used to set up mats on the sidewalk and illegally serve beer after hours. I have no idea what the after-hours drinking scene is like here n0w; Erin and I went to bed early because we are very old.

- The ruins of Samsen (two years ago I posted a photo here) are now partially demolished. They've taken the top few floors off, so now the roof is at the same level as the adjacent buildings. I would have thought that surely the entire building was worthy of demolition, but the owners apparently saw some economic merit in the crumbling bottom half of this half-built edifice.

- That hotel they demolished the gay baguette place on Samsen Soi 2 in order to build still isn't finished. They look like they're getting close.

- And finally, for the old man in me: everything is more expensive, the beer isn't as cold, the women aren't as pretty, the t-shirts aren't as witty and people don't smile like they did when I was 26. The whole world is going to hell and nobody else even notices because they're too preoccupied with playing with their Nintendos and listening to their Walkmen. By God, I remember when you could get pad thai served on a hooker's naked back for six and a half Canadian cents in this town. Nothing is any good anymore; it's all been ruined by all of these people doing exactly what I'm doing, except that they're the ones who ruined it because I was here first.
Actually, Bangkok is remarkably similar to how it was 7 years ago. I think the locals have more money than they did in 2003, and everything costs about 10 baht more than it did then, but the tourists are just as drunk and the Thais are just as forgivingly friendly and willing to take money from stupid people as they ever were.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cambodia

Fifty cent draft beer.

Seriously -- a decent-sized glass of mediocre (but not terrible) draft beer for US$0.50. So what do you expect us to do with our evenings?

Actually, we've been having a reasonably productive time. We were able to take three days to tour Angkor Wat, Erin's been interviewing people and researching crap for her story, and I've been muddling along in my work life in my own muddled way.

We rented bikes for one of our days of touring Angkor. We got some real classics -- old style bikes where you sit perfectly erect and view the countryside from a dignified, upright position. I can now actually see the point of this kind of bike, although they're built for a completely different kind of riding than we normally do.


If you're not going too far (although we comfortably rode more than 30 km) and if you don't expect to go fast (maybe 15 km/h) this kind of old style bicycle can be a great way to go. You don't have to crouch down in a super athletic position, so it'd be good for people with back issues, and sitting upright makes it much easier to look around and take in the view. With the gearing we had on our bikes, we couldn't go fast anyway, so the level of exertion was comparable to walking, and with the little speed we had we generated our own breeze, so it was actually much cooler than walking. I can't help but think that this style of bike would be very popular at home if it weren't for all the hills. You just can't expect people to want to ride a 40-pound bike with no gears in Vancouver.

We're now in Phnom Penh. This city is seriously entertaining, but when I first got here I felt a little trapped. The city is too big and too hot to consider walking long distances, and the last thing I want to do is haggle with a tuk-tuk driver every time I want to go somewhere. Then I rented a shitty little Honda motorbike and the whole world has changed. Now we can go anywhere we want, if we're willing to deal with the terror of getting there.

I've never seen a city where traffic is more chaotic than here. I was here 7 years ago and I thought the same thing then, and my thoughts haven't changed. They do this thing here that I like to call the "Cambodian left turn". You usually do it on a motorbike, but some people try to do it in cars.

When you're turning left from one busy road onto another, you start about 100 meters back from the intersection by veering left through oncoming traffic to get to the left shoulder of the road. Then you round the corner on the left shoulder and repeat the process, veering right through oncoming traffic to return to the right side of the road.

Erin and I did one today. I rented my moto yesterday and I was having so much fun scaring the hell out of myself and Erin was having so little fun having the hell scared by my driving, that she decided to get her own. On our way back from the rental place, we were forced to perform (or commit?) a Cambodian left turn onto a busy road. It's less terrifying than you might think. Drivers here are completely prepared for this kind of nonsense, and they'll get out of your way, as long as you don't do anything sudden.

Driving here is very Buddhist and can be summarized in four noble truths:
1. The essence of traffic is suffering.
2. The origin of traffic-suffering is attachment to the rules of the road.
3. The cessation of traffic-suffering is attainable by means other than stopping driving.
4. The path to the cessation of traffic-suffering is ignoring all traffic laws as they apply to both yourself and others; this means never letting the illegality of a manoeuvre prevent you from doing it, and never getting the slightest bit annoyed at another driver, no matter how illegally or stupidly they're driving.

I have no photos of Phnom Penh or how people drive here. Instead, enjoy these photos of Angkor. And check out the video -- it's pretty cool.




video

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Big Tour Part 3: Last day and the sad trip home

Not discovering the secret to Suvarnabhumi Airport


$9 for an hour of internet! $6 for simple meal of Thai food? $3.50 for a coffee? Who do these Bangkok airport guys think they are? What, they think they have a monopoly?


Hell, I have a 6-hour layover; I’ll just take the 50-cent airport train into the city and I’ll show them. The train goes straight to the central shopping district… not much is open here… except for this mall… where the prices are actually higher than they are in the airport.


Shit.


I guess I’ll just go back to the airport.


We’re not in simple, cheap Chaing Mai anymore.


Back to the tour!


In the Cave Lodge outside of Pang Mapha I was on the verge of collapse. We just hadn’t been eating enough for the amount we were riding; I wasn’t in any risk of becoming skinny or anything, I just felt like hell. Fortunately, the food at Cave Lodge is awesome, the rooms are comfortable, the staff is friendly.


There’s also a ton of stuff to do there, but I didn’t feel like doing any of it. Erin went kayaking down a river that goes through an enormous cave. She went black water kayaking for several hundred meters and then normal- (brown?) water kayaking for a few more. I stayed back at the guesthouse and read my book and ate. When she came back, we went back to the big cave together and paid a guide to take us through the cave on a bamboo raft, stopping a few times to explore the side branches of the cave on foot.


The cave was lightly developed, meaning that there were stairs here and there where we needed them and there were a few informative plaques, but there weren’t any lights or railings and there definitely weren’t any coloured lights and cheesy sound effects, like I’ve seen in some over-developed caves. The caves were cool. There was a lot of guano and birdshit. There was a sign warning us away from one chamber, saying that oxygen levels there were low.


It sort of freaked me out after awhile; a cave is one of the least hospitable places on earth. I think that the people who go exploring unmapped caves and worm their way through little holes in the ground for hours on end are mentally ill. Why would someone want to do that?


By the time we reached the far end of the cave, it was dusk. We got to watch literally hundreds of thousands of swifts circling in a holding patten over the cave mouth while waiting for their turn to fly into the cave and bed down for the night. At the same time, thousands upon thousands of bats were leaving the cave for a night of hunting. They were hot-swapping beds, I guess. The bugs in that valley get no respite, day or night.


The next morning we woke up early, pigged out on muffins and bread baked in the Cave Lodge’s stone oven and hit the road at about 7:00. Mist was still clinging to the trees as we descended into the valley down the winding, narrow, perfectly-paved road that connects Cave Lodge and the Tham Lot cave to the highway. The ride down was absolutely magical; it was largely downhill, with just enough uphill stretches to keep us warm on a relatively chilly morning. My bike and my tires were built for taking corners like that at high speed. I’ve seldom ever enjoyed myself more on my bike.


The rest of the day’s ride was almost as good. We stopped in Pang Mapha to hit an ATM and have another coffee and then carried on to Mae Hong Son. The ride was about 70 km in length with quite a bit of climbing, but the climb was divided up into three major hills, so we were able to alternate climbing and descending for a change.


The road surface was good, by and large, and we had quite a few cheerleaders along the way, including a young Australian couple on a motorbike; the woman thought I was beautiful enough to photograph, but the man just shook his head, and when I asked him how he was doing, he said “better than you, mate.” To be fair, this was in the middle of the biggest climb of the day, when we were pounding up a steep grade at around noon in the full sun. I probably looked like hell, but I was having fun. On the outside I might’ve looked like I was on the verge of collapse, but inside my head it was all stars and fireworks and neon and trumpets blowing celebratory fanfares. You don’t need to go to a pusher to get good drugs; your body is full of really great drugs, it just takes a bit of work to get them out.


On our way up the last little hill before Mae Hong Son, an extremely large-bellied middle-aged American man on a motorbike stopped to talk to us. He asked us his few questions, and then went on to tell us about how the rest of the world is messed up, workers are rioting in France, but Thailand is just how it should be: a paradise. Most of the people we’d see in Mae Hong Son were involved in fighting in Burma, he said; there are two private armies in northern Burma; drugs out, guns in, and business is good, he said. He was ex-military; he bragged about being a gun runner without quite saying he was a gun runner. I looked at his gut and I could tell that he hadn’t run more than five steps in the last 20 years, and that was to get a Philly cheesesteak. If anything, he was a gun-bureaucrat who thought that paradise involved drug trafficking and gun smuggling, and that labour unrest was a sign of the fall of civilization.


It’s a common theme among the seedier sort of expatriates in Thailand: this place is perfect and has absolutely no problems, whereas the country they’re from (or the entire western world) is a complete shithole and they can’t stand being there. One late-twenties english teacher from Vancouver Island spent half an hour telling me what a horrible place Canada was; when I asked him why, his main reason seemed to be that he isn’t allowed to drink and drive in Canada, where in Thailand he can get as pissed as he wants and jump on his motorbike and drive to the next bar.


Mae Hong Son is a surprisingly attractive town. I’d sort of expected a dusty Burmese border town, but the tourist part of town is centred on a little lake, with a couple of nice Burmese-style temples on its shore. Mae Hong Son is also a little boring, which is to be expected from such a small town.


We didn’t have much time to be bored. We ate a few times, slept, and got up early in the morning for the ignominy of loading our bikes onto a bus. A bus! A fucking bus! We, powerful cyclists, loaded our beautiful bikes on a bus. The shame.


But we had received the email we were waiting for; we had to go back to Chiang Mai and do our indexing, and we couldn’t afford the 4-5 days it’d take to cycle back, so we got on a bus and sat in squalid, sweaty misery for 9 hours and found ourselves back in Chiang Mai.


The indexing is done, incidentally. In spite of our lack of enthusiasm, I think we did a reasonably good job. And now we’re off to Cambodia to look at that cool temple and learn enough about bears that Erin can write an article about them.


Yeah, bears. Weird world, eh?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big Tour Part 2: the tour, days 1-3

Alright, we're dashing off to Cambodia in about a dozen hours, and if I don't puke this story out now, I never will.

Where was I? Right, 3 in the afternoon, cycling slowly. We wouldn't have bothered to leave town with so little daylight left, but we knew we'd be short days and we wanted to get about 50 km of flats out of the way, so that we didn't waste the cool part of the next morning crossing the flats and then hit the big mountain we had to go over during the heat of the day.


View Big tour day 1 in a larger map

We rode pretty slowly down little country roads, crossed the highway and started down the road to Pai. The sun was setting, we saw a sign for a "resort" so we got off the road to go have a look. The word "resort" can mean a lot of things in northern Thailand -- anything from a "resort" consisting of a somewhat run-down hotel that happens to have a pool, to a Resort consisting of a brand new hotel with a spa, masseur and swimming pool. Much to our dismay, the resort was a Resort and not a "resort". They asked us for more money than we've ever spent on a hotel in Thailand. We balked, they cut their price by 20%, which was still more than we've ever spent on a hotel in Thailand. We looked at the sun setting and felt how tired we were, and we ponied up.

The food was too expensive and not that good. On the bright side, Erin was in the pool within half an hour of our decision to stay, so she was happy.

The next day we started to climb. Over the course of the tour, I developed a personal relationship with a group of people called "Thai engineers", who I credited or blamed for all of the roads we cycled on. When we were on a particularly bad road, I generally blamed it on an individual, referring to the person as "him", or "this guy", like "this guy is a fucking moron! Who builds a road like this?"


View Big tour day 2 in a larger map

On our first day of climbing, I was very pleased with the Thai engineers. The climb over the pass to get to Pai is a big one; somewhere in the ballpark of 1500 meters, which is about 15% bigger than the climb from Hope to the Coquihalla summit in BC, for example. It made us tired, but it really didn't kill us. The road was built with ample switchbacks and all of the corners were built properly, so we never felt like we were riding up the roof of an alpine chateau.

The ride down from the summit was good fun, but unfortunately the quality of the road surface deteriorated a little, so I had to be "responsible" and try not to make Erin a "widow at age 28".

Fah.

I think Pai was suffering from a tourist follow-through from the lantern festival in Chiang Mai. Everyone talks about how laid back Pai is. I found it to be a bit like Khao San Road in Bangkok set in a beautiful valley instead of an insane city. If you've never been to Khao San Road, imagine a zoo where all the animals are monkeys, there are no cages, and inexplicably the few zookeepers around seem bent on supplying the monkeys with as many t-shirts, massages, french braids, and as much beer as the monkeys can handle.

We had originally thought about spending a rest-day in Pai, but the people returning to our guesthouse from their super laid-back all-night drunken dance parties changed our minds for us, so the next day we went to a town called Soppong by guidebooks and tourists. When those tourists call the town "Soppong" when speaking to any Thai person not involved in the tourist trade, they receive a quizzical squint. Thai people universally call the place Pang Mapha; I'm pretty sure that the Lonely Planet unilaterally renamed the town for reasons we can only guess at.


The ride to Pang Mapha was short -- only 40 km -- but it involved a serious climb, something like 2/3 the size of the previous day's. The difference was, this time I spent most of my time shouting abuse at the anonymous (and in my opinion, mentally defective) engineer who surveyed the road. Most of the grade is absolutely fine for cycling. Completely reasonable. But every now and then, that asshole engineer got himself stuck where he shouldn't have been, and he drove that road up the side of a cliff to get himself up on the ridge where he wanted to be. To make things worse, the guy was the worst builder of switchback-corners of all times. He graded the outside of the corner so it was a steady and reasonable climb, so the inside of the hairpin corner was ridiculously steep -- so steep that Erin would frequently get off her bike and push.

As we approached the top of the pass, every second car that passed us slowed down to shout encouragement (often just: "good!") or give us a thumbs up. In the valleys and on the flats, most Thais pay just enough attention to us not to run us over, but whenever we get near the top of a big hill, we turn into rock stars. Near the top of the summit the previous day we stopped to get some water and a Thai tourist from the south called me a "superman" when I told him we planned to ride to Mae Hong Son. People took photographs of us; later on the tour, one car who passed us did a u-turn so they could come back and take photos of us out the front windshield.


We're not doing this ride for the admiration, but let me tell you, when you're on the 800th meter of a climb and you're starting to bonk because nothing was open for breakfast when you left town and you ate nothing for breakfast but the loaves of bread you bought off of a French-hippie-baker selling bread from a motorbike the day before and you've eaten nothing since but the packages of cookies you had stashed on your bike, and the air is getting a bit cooler with altitude but you're still sweating your sack off because the hill you're climbing is in full sun, that little chuckle you get out of the ridiculous enthusiasm of the Thais who are encouraging you sure doesn't hurt.


The descent from the summit into Pang Mapha was just awesome. The pavement was good and the grade went from being not-too-steep-to-enjoy at the beginning to perfect-for-feeling-like-a-racecar toward the end. Sure, some of those ridiculously built corners were there to ambush us with a sudden cliff on the inside of a turn, but they were reasonably easy to see coming, so we could get on the brakes in time.

The lower part of the descent was some of the best fun I've had on a bike. It was largely downhill, with just enough rolling uphill from time to time to remind me that I was still responsible for my locomotion. The road wound around the amazing scenery of jungle, occasional farms, and cliff faces as the valley opened, just barely, out to Pang Mapha.

We were there. We were tired from the climb and the climb of the day before, but we were in reasonable shape and it was only noon. At the recommendation of Tucker, who was in Pang Mapha five years ago, we decided to stay at the Cave Lodge. What we didn't realize was that the Cave Lodge was 8 km off the highway on a tiny but well-paved road that rolled mostly uphill, halfway back up the side of the valley.

I was tired and I was bonking. I cursed Tucker, I cursed the assholes who built the Cave Lodge so far from the road, I cursed whatever asshole decided to put all those hills there.

But then we got there and the Cave Lodge turned out to be the perfect place to spend a rest day.

This is getting ridiculous. How can I ramble on about cycling like this? I'll tell you what: I've got three more days of tour to tell you about and I've got a 6-hour layover in Bangkok tomorrow. I'll see what I can do about finishing this story before I forget everything we did.