Getting acquainted with Surly Temple
Chiang Mai had touched a part of my soul and had been the perfect introduction to Thailand but the time had come to say adieu.
I’d ridden Surly Temple the day before for 6km around Chiang Mai which was a very quick introduction to each other. She was completely naked, so it wasn't really a true reflection of what was to come. With a 05.30 alarm set, bags packed, I couldn’t wait to get this adventure underway.
I’d stupidly left my bank card in Triple Cats Bike Shop when collecting my bike the day before which both Nu and Michael had kindly informed me of, so after an early rise at 05.30 to load up Surly Temple for the first time which took a while, then locking myself out of my room, I had a quick detour in the opposite direction to where we were going.
Although I’ve been training hard, keeping pretty fit and doing a bit a spinning, I’d never ridden a fully loaded touring bike. Heck, I’ve never even ridden a road bike or a touring bike, so this was always going to be an interesting start. Now I’m no feather at around 90 kilos, Surly Temple comes in at around 14 kilos with racks, fenders, bottles cages and my panniers et all come in at a roughly 35 kilos, a total of 139 kilos; gulp. This realization came when I mounted the bike for the first time and zig-zagged my way up the road, wobbling around. “And we’re off “ I said out loud to myself, beaming ear to ear but focusing on staying upright.
The route I was taking was pretty simple, just 2 roads. Chiang Mai to Lamphun along the old 106 road and then Highway 11 to Lampang. At 08.30 I reached Lamphun, one of the oldest cities in Thailand, founded, according to legend, in 660AD and a flat, 30km away from Chiang Mai, feeling pretty comfortable. Along the 106 through Lamphun is a boulevard of giant trees called Tang Na trees, which is related to the rubber tree and really sets the scene. Planted in 1882 apparently; imagine the history these have seen!? The ribbon tied around them is apparently a blessing to protect these awesome tree’s. You can imagine the feeling right?
I pedaled along the road, marveling at these beast to the ooh’s and aahs of local people who watched quizzically as a ‘farang’ fully loaded with bright colours, stupid clothes and a ginger beard whizzed past. To everyone I pass I gave a big smile and a “ Sawadee Krap” which was greeted with the same.
45km in and Surly Temple and I are faced with our first hill. It’s hard on the legs but amazing and we reach the top to beeps from passing trucks who struggle up in 1st and 2nd gear. The road is a busy road, an A-road equivalent in the UK, so you always need to be on high alert. The hard shoulder is wide but appears to narrow every time there is a hill which isn’t ideal as I wobble up the hill. Moped’s are also designated to the hard shoulder, so every change of direction requires a double look over the shoulder, but I suppose that goes with out saying. What doesn’t go without saying is the mopeds speeding towards you in the wrong direction which happens..... a lot! Don't get me wrong, I used to like a game of chicken as much as Kevin Bacon in Footloose but not anymore and certainly not when I'm breathing out of every orifice pedaling up steep hills on a push bike.
10km after the first climb I stop for an iced cappuccino for 50baht £1.10 ish. The main roads are dotted with coffee shops and fruit stalls which is perfect for a cyclist and always a welcome excuse to give the bum a break.
It was here that I witness the harsh reality of animal welfare within farming. A double storey truck, loaded to the brim with very sad looking pigs, to the point where you couldn’t squeeze a piece of paper between them. It’s a harsh reality, but it is a reality. When you put it into a global perspective and you’re not vegan, our animal welfare system is pretty superior, but not without it’s faults.
I set off feeling great, then appears a sign that leaves a rather horrible feeling in my gut. “If the last hill didn’t have this sign, then what is this going to be like” I thought. 3km later and up to an elevation of 739meters from 233m I realize the difference. Once at the top my thighs burning like someone had mixed lead and deep heat together and injected them into my thighs and I am in bits. “You’re a tw*t” I said out loud jokingly and nervously giggling to myself. As with everything, what goes up must come down and the next 10 or so km is a glorious decent with up-to -8% gradients, which is great fun. A few more climbs after that and I’m on the straight and narrow. 'How cool is this" beaming still. 20km out of Lampang I stop on the side of what seemed like a main road but was very quite ; a vehicle every minute or so. I'm minding my own business, munching on an oreo to get me through the next 20km and all of sudden, about 6 ft away from me, a school girl comes skidding off her motorbike, her phone flying through the air. I stood there for a few seconds with that stupid look on my face, like the one when something happens in slow motion while your brain interrogates itself. I then jumped off Surly Temple, ran over, grabbed her phone and cycled off. No….. I threw Surly Temple down and leaped to lift the bike off her and help her to her feet. She had a few nasty looking scrapes down her leg, but apart from that she seemed ok. After an awkward, communication handicapped attempt at checking she was ok, she said thank you, got back on her bike and just rode off, leaving me standing there, staring at nothing, thinking "what the bloody hell had just happened". “Wow, there’s going to be some stories on this adventure” I said out loud.
After a great first date with Surly Temple and 115km covered, I arrived. Baptism of fire, but a bloody enjoyable one!
I hadn't booked anywhere to stay, but Note and Darren had recommended Hop Inn, so that's where I headed. 2 nights in what looks like and nice, clean and comfy room and they let me keep Surly Temple in their store cupboard which is great. At 600Baht, £13.70, it was perfec. Hopp Inn's are dotted all over Southeast Asia and are a really nice, clean, no frills place to stay.
After searching for local restaurants, I settle on Pradashabu which was amazing. Same style of food as the restaurant in Chiang Mai where you cook the food yourself in 2 different stock’s, but they bring you the ingredients as opposed to buffet style.
I order the pork platter, a selection of vegetables including enoki mushrooms and morning glory along with some rice and noodles, a Chang beer and a bottle of Coke. I don’t normally drink coke unless I’m dreadfully hungover, but felt I needed a little toxic sugar rush. After a broken conversation with the owner, he brings over another pork platter and says it’s on the house for “ your bicycle”. An absolute feast.
Popular in Thailand is morning glory, bottom right in the above picture. Also known as water spinach or kangkong, it is a semi-aquatic tropical plant with tender shoots and leaves used in Thai cooking and has a real aromatic flavor which offers an aniseed like taste and texture of tenderstem broccoli in the shoots.
I spend a good few hours sat there, cooking and eating away, watching the people around me and feeling exhausted but elated at today's ride.
Called Shabu-Shabu, this is a Japanese hotpot dish of thinly sliced meats and vegetables boiled in stocks. The term shabu-shabu is onomatopoeic, derived from the sound of the ingredient being stirred in the pot and is popular in Thailand and I can see why; it’s really delicious.
A good 10 hours sleep later and I’m feeling revitalized and still buzzing from the ride the day before. It’s a morning of writing at a cool, local coffee shop where I have a few coffee’s and a bit of toast and marmalade that is expensive by UK standards at 50 Baht, £1.14.
I arranged to meet with Khun Heng, Note’s father at 2.30pm at my hotel. The basic's in life are very important to me, remembering birthdays for instance but also politeness, so I'd made sure I knew what the basic polite phrases and expressions were before I came to Thailand, and Khun was one of them, meaning Mr.
Khun Heng is a gentle, friendly man who you can tell takes an instant interest in others. After introducing ourselves and having a chat in the lobby of my hotel, I am completely taken aback when Khung Heng pulls out a selection of treats from a bag as gifts. Fruit, a smart rain mack from Japan, biscuits from Venice, melon purée and dried pork. Quite speechless, we arrange to go for dinner in the evening at a traditional Lampang restaurant. I spent the next hour or so grinning from ear to ear, amazed at Khun Hengs thoughtful generosity.
Khun Heng picks me up at 6pm and we head straight to MaeHae (Mother Hae) restaurant. To the eye it is very very basic, but Khun Heng is Notes father, a real foodie, a lovely man and lives here so I trust him implicitly. He seems to know MaeHae very well as he lifts the lids off of every single dish in the front kitchen, explaining what each thing is and sensing my excitement. “I think I’m in for a traditional treat here” I thought, my taste buds giving me a premature, internal high five. This seems like a whole new cuisine compared to what I’d sampled to date in Thailand. “Traditional Lampang cuisine" Kung Heng states. He orders everything on the menu and my taste buds are treated to an outstanding meal with Khun Heng explaining what each dish is in more detail and I sit there, eating away, jotting down everything Khun Heng is explaining. Hunglay, Larp, Tam makhuea, Lampang sausage to name a few. The Hunglay, Larb and Tam makhue are the stand out dishes for me. Hunglay is an amalgamation of Indian, Burmese & Thai food. Salty, sweet and sour curry with tamarind, garlic, chilli, masala style paste and pork, which reminds me of Pathia in Indian cooking in the UK (which is different from Indian cooking in India), but with a couple more layers of flavor and outstandingly delicious. Tam makhuea is grilled eggplant with roast garlic, chilli and salt and then pounded to a mash and is really, really, really good. “ Eat with crispy pork crackling and cucumber” Khun Heng points. If there’s one thing I love about food, it’s contrast’s and this had it all. Salty, crunchiness from a Quaver like pork scratching, flavor packed, soft, sweet and spice from the eggplant and the fresh, almost fruitlike cucumber, combined is just wow! The cucumber could be mistaken for a slightly un-rippened melon. Larp, Khung Heng explained, is cooked at weddings, new temples, new homes and is eaten as a sign of good luck and fortune and consists of minced meat, commonly pork, thinly sliced shallots or red onion, coriander, mint, galangal, toasted sticky rice powder called Khao Khua which is used to thicken, fresh lime juice, fish sauce and dried chilli flakes and is a cold meat salad. It is the ‘unofficial’ national dish of Laos and eaten lots in the Isaan region of Thailand which is heavily influenced by Laos culture as I understand it.
The northern Thailand sausage is available everywhere and really packs a punch. I touched on it in my last post, but this sausage was slightly different and only noticeable after being explained. Khun Heng explains, " Lampang sausage meat is coarsley chopped compared to Chiang Mai sausage. Can you taste coconut?" I could, but only just, very subtle. " Lampang sausage is cooked over coconut shell used as charcoal." Like a good wine, sometime's your taste buds need to be guided to a flavour.
Khun Heng and I chat away, asking questions and sharing our stories. We finish our meal with Longken fruit, a delicious tree growing fruit from the Lychee family with a black pip which I’m told make’s soap.
At the end, I ask for a photo with Khun Heng infront of the picture of the grandmother, Hae.
Khun Heng kindly treats me to dinner and again, I am taken aback by his generosity and not for the last time either. We walk out of the restaurant and after no more than 10 foot steps, Khun Heng turns and walks into a bamboo type, open house with trickling water feautures and beautiful, woodwind and violin Thai folk music playing in the background. “Massage” he exclaims, taking his shoes off and pointing.
Incredible; what a way to finish dinner. I’m ushered to change into robe like silk clothing and feel like a wally when I step out and the lady giggles that I’ve got it on the wrong way around then gestures to sit down. A foot and leg massage, perfect after yesterdays ride. Khun Heng and I sit down on big wooden reclined chairs with comfy pillows next to each other, and within 15 minutes, Khun Heng appears asleep. The music is so calming and my first massage is bliss, so much so that I also feel my eyes going. I close my eyes but I make sure I stay awake to fully appreciate my first Thai massage.
An hour of mastery and it comes to end. Wow, that was amazing, if not a little eye watering at time’s when the masseur dug her elbow deep into my aching thigh’s after yesterdays ride. I was taught to smile and laugh at pain by my two older brothers and could feel myself grinning each time it got really painful. Make’s me laugh thinking about.
“Now we have full body” Khung Heng declares to my surprise and we go inside to lie down. Front first then back and I can’t help drifting off into a meditative state. My first massage but certainly not my last. After getting changed, Khun Heng is already out and has settled up. “Can I pay?” I suggest. “No, no, it’s done”.
We jump into Khun Hengs car and when I think the wonderful evening has come to end, we stop outside a small, open-fronted restaurant. Khun Heng shows me two pots, one with black rice berry rice, cooked in coconut milk the other being lotus seed cooked in syrup. The rice has savory tones with salt seasoning along with sweetness of sugar and coconut milk. It’s not like rice pudding, it’s more grown up, more acquired, but almost an afterthought, like someone fancied something sweet, had a few ingredients left over and threw them together and created something delicious.
Khun Heng also pays for this and at this point I feel a little embarrassed and I can only express my gratitude in thanks. I suggest that if Khun Heng is ever in England, he must let me know and I will take him for dinner which would be my absolute pleasure.
Khun Heng drops me at my hotel and even walks me inside; a true gentleman who I feel privileged to have met and spent time with.
I didn’t see much of Lampang, but of what I did, I liked and Khun Heng made it a memorable experience.
Wednesday was a tough day, but a great day riding so I was excited to get back on Surly Temple on Friday morning and head to Hen Chai. Khun Heng had looked after me so well the night before, I felt like I was ready to conquer the day. I left Lampang at 07.30 and knew I had another 80km day ahead of me with some tough hills. Little did I know how tough it was going to be or what I would find at the end of the day. Half way up a 9%, 3km hill with roadworks, I see my first bikepacker and boy is he excited to see me and I him to be honest! “Hey man, how great, cool!” he says in what is a noticeably French accent. French Canadian to be exact. Pierre and I chat for a while, sharing stories. It’s amazing how engrossed you can get in a conversation with a stranger about almost nothing when you’re halfway up a mountain; it’s like meeting a human for the first time. We both continue on with Pierre mentioning that I’ll be passing his 2 friends, Paul and Aaron a little way behind. 20 minutes later and I’m just over the hill and thankful to see a down hill caution sign, which is fast becoming my favourite sign. Just below I see what must be Paul and Aaron. I cross over and wave. Now I’m the over excited crazy guy. “Hi Paul, Hi Aaron I’m Andy” both looking tired and perplexed that this random, ginger bearded guy know’s their name’s. “ I met Pierre a short way back” answering their quizzical looks. We chat and they are both really nice also. It’s amazing how nice a feeling that is when you’re on your own.
It’s really hot, about 36° and I’m running low on water but I've got plenty of snacks. I check my phone for distance and I’m 30 km’s out, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Good in that I’ve covered the majority of the distance but I also know the biggest hill is yet to come. I see what I think is a shop across the road as I come down a lovely swooping gradient, only to get infront of it and realize it’s a police station/shack. 2 policeman in plain clothes come out with smiles on their faces and a friendly look of questioning. They stroke my bike and I suggest trying to lift it. “Wow, so heavy!” Don’t I bloody know it. One of them grabs my water bottles and takes them to fill up. I don’t know where the water was from and this did cross my mind for a while until I was 400m up the next steep climb and dripping with sweat and I would have drank Nile water. This climb makes the last look like child’s play. Halfway up and I’m experiencing my first lesson; you are not superman. I feel physically and mentally exhausted. I eat some nuts and get my sugar fix from some oreo’s and crack open my first sachet of Dyralite. Thank god for that water. It’s the hill that keep’s on giving. When I get to the top I am absolutely elated. That took my new favourite quote “ Limits only exist in the mind” to appropriate levels.
I turn into a small road as dircted by my host for the evening and google maps and I know I’m on the home stretch, Mulberry Farm here I come. After a wrong turn due to Google, and having to cycle back up yet another hill, I turn down a deep red, clay track lined with banana tree’s. “Woof woof, woof woof. ”Right, honestly, I mean it, stay away from me” I say out loud, exhausted and not in the mood for a mauling. I cycle past a few thatched and bamboo hut’s and hear a “Hello” from behind. I look back and see a big smile looking back at me. “Andy?
I've arrived! I gather myself. “Yes, hi”
“Hi, I’m Alek”
Little did I know that I’d just entered into a little piece of paradise.
Alek and Mike are the owners of this paradise called Mulberry Farm. Alek is a 38 year old, former large chain supermarket manager, originally from the Isaan region of Thailand and she’s lovely and has an incredible outlook on life. Mike, her partner is a 52 year former Bristonian who has lived abroad for 25 years now; Japan for 10 years and still has family there but divorced and Cambodia after that before meeting Alek, and is a really great guy. When I arrived, Mike was cutting down a banana tree with the bananas being served for breakfast the next morning along with papaya from the trees. Doesn’t get much fresher than that. Very cool.
After a long day of cycling in that heat, you’d think the first thing I’d want is a shower and it was, but instead, I went down to Alek and Mike’s stunning bamboo house which is the communal area, had a beer and continued to chat for the next 2 hours or so. Alek asked if I was hungry and I think my smile said it all. Within 20 minutes, I had a simple but delicious egg fried rice in front of me.
A shower and a few hours later, we were back at their bamboo house, getting to know each and Iearning about these lovely people and their lives. The chat turned a little philosophical which was fitting considering the location. You get a real sense of place here and a sense of love and happiness.
Dinner was delicious and I was introduced to Alek’s cooking. What a place, what lovely people.
Alek cooked eggs with a tamarind sauce and crispy garlic and shallots and it was such a delicious combination which I’ll be sharing the recipe for in the future.
After dinner, to my surprise and joy, I received a call from Khung Heng making sure I had arrived ok and to see how my journey was. Another gesture confirming what a wonderful man he is.
As we said our goodnight, Mike asked what time I usually woke in the mornings. “At home, 05.45, but probably about 6.30”. So we all had a giggle when I rose about 10.30 -11 the following morning.
Alek and Mike had welcomed me to Mulberry Farm like a friend they hadn’t seen for a while and after the first night, it felt like that.
In the corner of Phrae, Northern Thailand is this little corner of enchanting tranquility that they have set-up. Mulberry Farm is 100% organic and grows a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and plant based medicines. Banana, papaya, lime, mulberries, passion fruit, star fruit and the list goes on. Alek was saying how she was bitten by a snake and instead of going to the doctors, she knew to chew on the leaves of a plant and rub it on the bite. As we walk around, she point’s at literally everything and explains it’s medicinal or culinary uses. Very interesting. I had originally only intended to stay for 1 night, but that morning, after helping cut down a banana tree with Mike for more breakfast, I asked if I could stay for another night.
After breakfast, Alek took me to her parents a mere 20 yards next door which is a bamboo hut by all accounts, but idyllic. It’s all open sided and as I walk over, I see a monk in his robes sat in there as well. I take off my shoes and walk up the single piece bamboo step's. “Sawatdee Krap” with a bow like nod I’ve grown accustomed to doing, which I received back with a big smile.
Mulberry Farm, as the name suggest’s grows a lot of Mulberrys, what is then made as a bi-product from these mulberries is awesome. Mulberry jam, mulberry vinegar, mulberry tea, mulberry crumble and….. silk! Yes, Mulberry Farm produces it’s own silk. See, for those that don't know, and I didn’t, silk worms eat mulberry leaves and grow, then form cocoons, which are then harvested and the thread extracted, it’s then dyed, spun and woven. At the end, you are left with a lavae that is eaten, which I found out, much to the delight of the monk. There are now two things that I don’t eat; sea urchin and silk worm lavae.
Alek and Mike had another 2 guests arriving that day and needed picking up from Den Chai bus stop and suggested I went along with them and stop at the local Wat on the way down. Wat Phra That Suthon Monjoi Kiree, Den Chai, is a sight to be seen. A question that had been on my mind was why Buddha’s depiction in a lot of these statues was so androgynous? I'll re-visit this question in a later post.
Wat Phra That Suthon Monjoi Kiree is a spectacular sight on it's own, but behind it is a bamboo, two storey, Zen inspired museum. Shoes off before entering as is customary in a lot of places. On entering this room which is only lit by natural light, you get an incredible sense of respect and history. I walked around on my own, absorbing as much of it’s aura as I could. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such emanation from somewhere. Pictures of monk's, the king and artifacts, thousands of them. I stare at the faces of the people in these pictures and can't help but think that in their lifetime, they probably made a difference. No photo's allowed, but it wouldn't make much difference; some of the most incredible places and experiences in life aren't meant to be shared or explained, just appreciated and lived.
After the brief visit to the Wat, it was onto pick up Ty and Johanna from the bus station. Ty and Johanna are from LA and very cool and spiritual and you sense a genuineness from them instantly. Ty and I sat in the back of the truck and chatted away. We stopped at the local market on the way back and then headed back to Mulberry Farm. The evening was great and we all got to know each other even more. Ty and Johanna are passionate about sustainability, organic farming and both full of knowledge when it comes to the environment, trees, fruits and veggies, so combined with Alek’s knowledge, I learnt things on an encyclopedic scale. I found myself listening intently to everything they said. From miracle fruit berry that make’s even the tartest of things taste sweet to Gymnema Sylvestre it’s evil twin brother that takes away your ability to taste anything sweet, even a pint of sugar; Heston, eat your heart out!
Dinner is spectacular again and the conversation equally so. Next time you’re sat around a table with a number of different nationalities, ask ‘What does an animal say in the different languages’ it’s fun!
My second night at Mulberry and I pose the same question as the previous night,
“Could I stay for tomorrow night as well please?”
“Of course, but we’ve another couple of guest coming so we’ll need to build you a bed and clean the room. It was for my father, but he doesn’t like concrete and prefers to live in bamboo houses” Alek explains.
The next morning I woke early to crack on with my blogging. Alek appeared with her natural glow and prepared another platter of banana and papaya and a savoury rice porridge which was delicious; a staple breakfast called Khao tom or Joke. I offer to help but sense, much like myself, that her kitchen is her domain.
Ty and Johanna appear also and our conversation continues and feels so natural, like old friends.
Alex and Mike arranged to go down to the Wat again with Ty and Johanna and although I would have liked to, I had to crack on with some writing and admin.
On their return, Ty and Johanna shared their equal appreciation for Wat Phra That Suthon Monjoi Kiree, and bring gifts in the shape of sweetened rice crackers which are really really nice, albeit not usually my thing.
That evening we were joined by Roddy and Sian, cyclist from the UK which was cool. On arrival they looked shattered and I know how they felt. It’s a tough ride here. They are seasoned riders and share their wisdom with me, having recently come from riding in Japan and previous tours. It’s amazing how the smallest things make a huge difference to my experience and others'. Relive, an app I’ve been using to monitor and map via GPS and to create videos was recommended by them.
The last evening at Mulberry and I’m contemplating a fourth night, but I know deep down that the time has come to say à bientôt. Alek asked me to make a sauce for the pork steaks which I was more than happy to do. “What kind of sauce do you want?” I asked. “Anything!” was the reply. “Ok, what do you have?” I could really sense a ready steady cook moment coming on and I was right. The chef in me came out and I got to work.
-“What is that?”
-“Mulberry vinegar, homemade.”
I ended creating a sugar syrup from mulberry vinegar and brown sugar, adding chilli, some holy basil, oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic, soy, sesame, coriander and some cubed papaya. It was completely off the cuff, but went down really well. Alek asked for more which was a good sign. I love it when you remind yourself, like any profession or trade, what you’re good at.
Alek, Mike, Sian, Roddy, Johanna, Ty and myself sat down for dinner, surrounded by breathtaking surroundings and that chirping of crickets that you always associate with warmer countries and holiday’s, and it was lovely; conversation flowing, tales from this and that that kept everyone intrigued.
Sian and Roddy understandably bid us 'bon nuit' early after a grueling day, which left the 5 of us. There’s only one thing to do when there’s 5 people sat around a table and that’s get the cards out. Cheat was game and cheat was the aim. A game of bluff ostensibly. Here on was nothing but smiles, laughs and poker faces. I haven’t laughed like that for a very long time. It’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ moment’s which I’m sure the 4 people who enjoyed it with me will concur. At one point Ty creating a moment of complete hysterics; tears of laughter. At that moment, life gave me a little hug and whispered, “welcome back Bufty, well done you”. It felt like something out of ‘The Beach’.
We all walked out onto the gravel path, crickets, frogs, gekos chittering away, and we all stood there in silence, staring at the crystal clear sky, incredible and glowing with stars and only disturbed by the fact that I was busting for a pee to the point of wetting myself. 2 shooting stars, that’ll do! I realized later that I hadn’t made a wish and then further, that I hadn’t for a long time now. I’ve stopped wishing for things like I used to and started making it happen.
As morning came, the fruit platter I’d grown accustomed to was prepared by Alek.. Mike offered me a lift over the first big hill as it was full of road works and it was on their way to Phrae, but for a slight detour. I sat in the back of the open back truck with Surly Temple, facing behind, and drove 35km out of Den Chai towards Phitsanulok, my next destination. It was great, reflecting on the past few days, watching the world go by, forgetting I get travel sick until I start feeling a little unwell.
We got to the very top and stopped at the scenic area where I’d be on my way. We wandered for a while, this group of people I’d grown quite attached too in a short amount of time, but also knowing that life is such. My perspective of life has certainly changed even more so this year. When you consider the inexorable and the path, life becomes a little bit simpler and that’s something that I grasped previously, but acquainted with in the past year. My life will always be simpler from here on.
Just as I was preparing to leave, Alek, Mike, Ty and Johanna gave me a gift. A special, significant gift and a gift that symbolizes strength, power, stability and wisdom and that was later named Ellie by my incredible niece, Freya.
Freddie, my gift from Freya, Miller and Caspar now has friend, Ellie.
It turn’s out Ty and Johanna also extended there stay by another 3 or 4 nights at Mulberry between a brief trip with Alek and Mike to Chiang Mai. It really is an enticing place. Alek and Mike have a beautiful outlook on life and I’m thankful for my time spent with them and guests. It might be my first experience of Mulberry farm but It won't be my last. Thank you.
From here it was a gentle 40km to Uttardit, my next town, where I had my first experience of a proper headwind, something I’d be experiencing a lot more of and bating going forward. I’d booked into B’cozy that morning and arrived pretty early in the day having been driven 35 km of the way and was greeted by smiles and a nice, clean room when I arrived. A shower and bit of organising later and I was headed straight out for lunch, again, equipped with my usual surplus, survival kit.
I walked one way, then the other, then I saw it, the most local place possible. 1 dish only kind of stuff. Again, the kind of place where the owner laughs at you because you want to eat at their restaurant. Something I’m getting used to, not necessarily comfortable with.
£0.90 and it was absolutely delicious. “Arroy” I commented, much to the delight of the owner. Pronounced ‘Alloy’ which means delicious, if you are coming to Thailand, put that in your vocab book, it's really appreciated. The things I googled before I came to Thailand were signs of respect and what not to do and food was high on the list. Apparently one of the first things asked in the mornings by local to local is ‘Have you eaten?’ as a good morning question. I love that.
Following lunch which was really delicious and about £0.20p less than a pot noodle, which you might be interested to know was introduced to the UK in 1977, I was back into planning my next routes.
The next 360km was going to be very tough indeed; 20% climbs, long days and little choice of accommodation, so I’ll need to study the route well.
Post planning the next bit of route, the evening is starting and I find myself in what seems like a proper locals place where everyone knows each other. Open plan, industrial almost with tall ceiling, high top tables everywhere, live music and really good looking Thai waitresses. I seemed to have been noticed as I walked in, big smile on my face and the only ‘ Farang’ in the village. I’ve seen no one else. There’s a bit of confusion as to what I want to eat, so I end up just walking up to the BBQ and pointing at a few things. I’ve got a bit of the lingo so I’ve got a rough idea of what’s coming. "Moo" in Thai means pork which I find funny. Oink doesn't mean chicken I'm afraid. “Spicy”, sure, go for it, "I like spicy!" He smile’s an evil smile. "Know your game mate" I thought in a peaceable way. Little does he know that unlike most ’farang’, I can handle a bit of heat.
2 beers down and I get my food. Spicy and really delicious. So much so that I order the same again, beers also.
The music is really great and on come’s a song that, for the past year I’ve had to turn off as soon as it came on, but it doesn’t bother me now. In–fact, I enjoy it and I sit and smile and reflect; that dodged bullet is more prevalent now than ever. I tap myself on the back a little, smiling.
Phitsanulok is a 108km ride away from Uttardit with a maximum climb of 6.6% but with a number of gradients along the way. I’d wanted to do this in 2 legs but I couldn’t find anywhere to stay along the way so I just kept on going, Forest Gump style.
Phitsanulok, pronounced with out the ‘h’, was once the capital of Thailand, for 25 years. It was also the centre of the Ankorian empire during Ankorian reign and is also one of the oldest cities in Thailand dating back to the 11 century. I’m surprised by this considering Colchester in Essex was mentioned as early as 79 AD. For me, I find it funny when you look at global history and think that other, more cultural places should have a longer history than your's. I don't know why that get's me. Maybe because I feel the east is so in-touch with it's culture and heritage.
Due to the next leg of my journey, I choose to stay outside of the city which is a shame, but I’m understanding of the fact that there will be places I’ll miss along the way and that I can’t do everything and be everywhere. That and by the end of a days riding, you just want to find somewhere.
Chilling, planning and writing is on the agenda across the days and ensuring I know where I’m going for the next leg is crucial. The hotel is on a busy road and directly opposite the main bus station and is a gateway to nearly everywhere in Thailand. It’s a busy place with shops and pretty basic food stalls all around. I head over there late afternoon and take a seat at a table on the side of the road and order a Chang. It’s certainly not the most picturesque place I’ve seen, but each experience offers something new and this did just that. Watching the world go by, people living their lives.
2 hours, 4 beers and 4 dishes later and I’m suitably fed and watered and ready to tuck myself up and get some well earned sleep at Sampoon Hotel. The following day is so chilled out, I walk to a nice little café called café Lil which supplies me with coffee and food all day. Steamed rice and pork followed by chicken and noodles. I’ve always had a healthy appetite but since I’ve been working out hard every day and now riding, my appetite has gone through the roof. I’ve already had to amend my cash flow spreadsheet based on the fact that I’ve usually eaten my budget by lunch time. That and the food is top of the pops so I'm always wanting a little bit more.
Thursday 21st and I leave Phitsanulok for good vibes resort a short 45km away. I’m preparing myself for what should be the toughest part of the cycling so far and that is saying something. 10km in and a group of 6 cyclist pass me on the other side of the road and all sit up and wave and I back. It’s a nice feeling.
This section is a little up and down but nothing the thighs scream about. One thing you can’t take for granted though is the route planning and mapping which show the gradients. Some show very little gradient but after 5 days riding, I’ve learnt to ignore that and to always expect the worst. What would normally seem relatively flat is pretty tough with a fully loaded bike.
I arrive in a sleepy little town called Kaeng Sopha around 2.30pm . Nice leisurely ride today but still enough for my butt to be pretty tender.
Good Vibes is the choice and it does the trick. At 450Baht or £9 a night, it’s got AC, hot water, a fridge, a TV, towels and shower gel and shampoo which is excellent value. After some more route planning I head to the closest and maybe only 1 of 4 restaurants and order the exact same thing as I had for breakfast, just more delicious 2nd time round. Noodle soup with pork 2 ways, bamboo shoot and spring onion with a bit of chopped coriander. These little pork balls are a staple product here in Thailand and have a very clean but almost reconstituted taste and texture and the other is mince. Since seeing the pigs rammed into the lorrys it has made me think more about the pork I'm eating. It's something that has set off some intrigue so I think I'll look further into the animal farming here as well and share it with you all.
Almost every street food restaurant has the same four staple condiments on the tables; fish sauce, chilli flakes, sugar and a chilli vinegar and I always go heavy on these. I’ve found a whole new respect for fish sauce as well. It’s different to that in the UK and is used purely for seasoning. Coriander isn’t used much at all as I mention previously, but when it is you can really taste it. It’s stronger and far more aromatic than in the UK. A little goes a long way.
As I'm sat there, watching the world go by, two random cyclist ride by and turn into Goodvibes resort, lightly packed, followed by another, older, slightly larger gentleman dressed in tracksuit bottoms and a polo shirt. Not Thai, but definitely not English. It turns out they were Russians called Natalia, Grigory and Sergey, what else!? We have a nice, long broken chat with Natalia speaking only a bit of English and Grigory and Sergey speaking non. I think Sergey might be a mute as he just stood there smiling. I later found it he could talk.
Grigory natters away in Russian though, telling me about their journey and showing me pictures, all in Russian of course but I can tell he is a man with lots of stories so I duly oblige and sit and listen and laugh.
I experience the kindness of the Thais again when I order a beer, but I’m told they don’t have any. 20 seconds later, the owner goes whizzing off on her moped and comes back 3 minutes later with 2 large, cold Changs. “ Kop koon krap” with my now habitual bow.
Fed and watered and feeling good, I sit in the sun, close my eyes listening to The Spencer Davies Group 'Gimmie Summer Lovin' and ponder....