After a two-week hiatus in Chiang Mai to allow Karen’s broken arm to heal a bit it was fantastic to get back on the bike today and clock up a ride. I’d purchased a copy of GT-Rider’s “Golden Triangle” map a few weeks ago from Book Zone in CM – I’ve already got a copy of this map at home but I hadn’t brought it on this ride as space was limited and I was already carrying a dozen maps or so – and with Aad and Mike we’d looked at a route that deviated from the 107 – the main road connecting CM to Tha Ton and instead veered north through the mountains along the roads 1178 – 1340 – 1249.
Karen and I were a bit slow in getting ready for breakfast at 7:30am today – with her injured hand I had to do a lot of the packing and carrying etc, and so breakfast was closer to 08:00am and we finally rolled down the Panda House driveway about 08:38am, with Jenny (aka Panda Lady), our hostess and her sister waving madly at us as our three bikes coughed and spluttered into life. Karen had made a gift to Jenny of the blue love heat cushion she had been given in hospital as thanks for her concern and kindness.
Aad gave Karen a boost up onto the back of the BMW – she’s still got her injured arm bound up in a cast and will need to continue wearing that for the next four weeks. With the zip we had inserted in her jacket arm she was able to easily slide her arm into the jacket, however she discovered later that morning that with a little bit of jiggling she could slip her arm into the jacket without using the new zip – all good – at least we were ready to deal with getting the jacket over the cast if necessary.
Traffic wasn’t too bad as we made our way north out of CM, but we were all glad when we turned off the main road and picked up the country road that led towards the mountain, leaving behind the roadside businesses, houses and small industrial sites and replacing them with open fields and rolling hills.
We stopped at a servo about an hour into the ride – we’ve loaned a GoPro video camera to Aad and he wanted to check to see how it was working, and Karen needed to take some tablets for the pain, something she hasn’t needed for a week or so but the exertion of getting on and off the bike etc and adjusting to riding with a broken arm had been a bit gruelling for her.
A short while later we stopped again – Aad thought he’d spotted a roadside stall selling fresh coffee so we pulled over, but it turned out to be a very basic store that had very little to offer, so Karen and I shared some water from one of our water bottles off the back of the bike, and Aad and Mike shared a bottle of warm Coke they had found lying round in the store. Aad bought a small pack of nondescript nibblies that we shared as we chatted under the shade of the lean-to out the front of the store.
It wasn’t too long later that we stopped again, and again so Aad and Mike could check their cameras. I moved the BMW off the road and into the shade, and Karen and I bought some small and sweet bananas for morning tea that we shared with Aad and Mike – 1 baht for a banana. As we pulled out of the car park about 10 or so motorbikes rode past – we stopped at a lookout a bit up the road and had a brief chat with some of the riders – they were friends from Ireland who had come over to Thailand and Laos for a couple of weeks riding. The rider Karen and I were chatting with was on his sixth overseas ride this year, having already visited Morocco (twice), Norway and South America.
Pushing on we started to enter the mountain range proper, the road climbing very steeply. We’d seen warning signs on our “Golden Triangle” map and the road was very steep in places, but Karen and I both agreed at the end of the riding day that they weren’t the steepest roads we’ve ridden – that dubious honour would go to the Torr Road in northern Ireland where the road was that steep I was struggling to keep the front wheel of the bike down on the ground even with all of my weight over the front.
The sky was a lovely blue colour without a cloud to be seen, and the temperature a pleasant 23 degrees or so, fantastic conditions for riding. Karen and I sat behind Mike, whose bike seemed to struggle up some of the steep inclines at times – later in the day he said that his gearing was too wide to enable him to easily climb the hills and he was having to work hard to keep the bike going. The BMW meanwhile just ate up the road – hairpins were first gear jobs but otherwise we could motor along quite swiftly.
“What goes up must come down” is the saying, and eventually we crested the mountain range and started dropping down the steep descent towards the plain below. I had a sneak preview of my GoPro footage this evening and usually it’s difficult to gauge the incline or decline in video but the video I filmed on these steep descents gives us almost a helicopter view above Aad and Mike as we followed them down the steep and twisty mountain road. I was grateful that the road was dry as it would have been a challenge in wet weather.
Down on the flat Mike pulled into a servo to refuel and we all followed, quickly refuelling before parking our bikes out the front of the adjacent ‘Maple Coffee’ cafe. Parking is often a bit of an exercise for me – searching for some ground with just the right slope so that I can park the heavy BMW on enough of a lean that it won’t stand up and fall over to the right, but not too much of a lean that I can’t get it upright again. If I misjudge the slope I usually need to reposition the bike, and here I needed Mike (usually Karen’s job) to give me a bit of a push so I could reverse the bike into the parking bay and get it to lean over properly. With that said Aad was struggling as well in the same spot – he needed to use his wooden chock to lift up his Triumph.
Bikes safely parked, we joined Karen inside. I had a semi-decent coffee served in a dainty tea cup, and Karen had some insipid lemon tea served in a shot glass. Our choice of cakes were no more successful, but Karen had a cuddle with a giant teddy bear on the couch where we were sitting and that made her a bit happier.
30km down the busy road we had just joined saw us arriving in Tha Ton, our destination for the day. Mike led us to the riverside retreat we’d booked – a two-room bungalow we were all going to share (1,600 baht total, inc breakfast). The bungalow was quite basic inside – a rickety bamboo four-poster double bed on a raised platform overlooking the sitting area, whilst the second bedroom was just a little alcove off to the side, separated by some bamboo screens that didn’t extend all the way up to the ceiling.
After unpacking and sorting a few things out, Karen and I went to the resort restaurant where we struggled to place an order for two chicken curries with the nice lady looking after the resort, ending up with one chicken and one pork curry, which we ate overlooking the Kok River that flowed past the dining area. Aad and Mike fancied home cooking tonight so they fired up their Coleman stove and had noodles and hotdogs, spiced up by Mike.
After dinner and chores, Karen and I watched the end of “Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides” – a movie that has taken us three goes to get through, and then it was time for bed. Tomorrow we head towards the border crossing into Laos with a side trip out to a village to see some local tribes, and the following day it should be entry into Laos and the start of a new phase in our adventure. Yippee !!!!!