Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chiang Mai Travels

It's been good to be back in Chiang Mai. It's still very hot in the afternoons but the humidity is less so it's much more comfortable than Bangkok -- mornings and evenings are idyllic. When we got here we had not yet arranged a place to stay so based on Internet reviews we had the taxi drop us at a new (to me) guesthouse off Ratchadamnoen Rd, Soi-1. Luckily Baan Nud-Kun had two rooms available and after glancing around at the pleasant surroundings we booked them. Pierre and Pai came here on a different bus and we teamed up at the bus station. We've been here for a week and this is decidedly a very nice guesthouse, one I'll be sure to visit again. There are many amenities for guests out in the open air lounge: toaster, hot water for tea or coffee, a fridge, a microwave, free fruit and bottled water, hammocks -- 500 baht per night (A/C, fan, hot water, desk, separate toilet/shower, Wi-Fi, all for about 15 bucks). Fabulous place, highly recommended.

Early next morning I walked over to Tony's Big Bikes to pick up the Honda Phantom I had arranged for over the Internet. Tony is a real nice guy, an English expat who's been living in Thailand for over 20 years. He has a stable of nice bikes but the dependable Phantom is the mainstay of his rental business. We talked about biking in Thailand and joked about Thai women -- he too has a Thai girlfriend -- apparently Nut's penchant for finding a bargain is a common one among Thais. Before I drove the Phantom back to the hotel I took a short spin on a Honda Super-Four, a small-displacement "crotch-rocket" -- it has a lovely sound, four cylinders, 400 cc - but it's not made for touring two-up. Tony suggested I rent one for a day after I get back from my tour with by buddies. Probably shouldn't but probably will ;-))

Nut and I took a couple of day trips to see how the Phantom would work for the coming trip. For our first trip we drove north for about 30 miles to the lovely Mae Rim Valley. We saw elephants in the road, some lovely waterfalls, and beautiful forests. Compared to my time here last year, during the dry season, Thailand is green and lush now. Flowers abound and the air is tinged with delicate fragrances. Below is a view from the road side high above the Mae Rim valley.

We stopped at the locally famous Mae Sa waterfall for a look see. There are ten separate cascades in the river; this one is number four. The heat was getting to me at this point so we didn't go any further.

We drank some iced coffee near the above spot and as we were gazing down at the view we noticed a lovely floral aroma. There were some tall yellow flowers nearby. They reminded me a bit of sunflowers or huge daisies. Sure enough, that's where the smell was coming from.

On the way back we saw elephants trekking along the roadside. There are tourist spots where you can see elephants working, and even ride one, but I typically avoid such attractions. Still, in Alaska where moose in the road  can present a big problem, especially at night in a winter snow storm, imagine running into one of these guys. Just about at this point it started raining. We ran for cover and just in time, found some under a veranda in a small village. The rain came down in buckets but as is typical in the tropics, it was over in about 10 minutes. We left the veranda a bit too quickly and soon caught up with the trailing edge of the squall. We got slightly wet but the water was so warm it was refreshing rather than life threatening as it could have been in Alaska under similar circumstances.

The next day we went south to Doi Inthanon in the national park by the same name. At about 8,000 ft, this is Thailand's highest mountain. The air was chilly and rain was threatening. Again, and stupidly because I brought a rain jacket and pants to Thailand, we did not have any of that gear along on this trip. We got to the pair of chedi (temples) near the top (at about 7200 ft) but decided to stop there and wait the rain out. Just as we parked the bike, down it came. We had coffee and cocoa in the snack bar and before long the rain stopped. It didn't really clear up enough for great pictures but the flower gardens surrounding the chedi were beautiful and the subdued light brought out the colors superbly. Below is a shot of one of those temples and one of the tile mosaic panels surrounding it.

 Nut and I at Doi Inthanon

As the sun tried to poke its way through the mist I took a bunch of photos in an effort to get the effect of air and cloud that was so lovely to see with the eye but so difficult to catch with a camera. Below is my best effort. I did a bunch of Photoshopping on this particular shot to bring out the cloud detail but it's close to what I remember seeing.

Below is a road scene from the trip home. Again, because it's just after the rainy season, everything is in bloom -- even trees -- it was mighty fine motorcycling in the shade of the trees that lined the parkway.

Yesterday we took another ride, this one to the west of town, up to Doi Pui. We wanted to visit the Hmong village up there and got lost on a muddy road before finding it. Later I learned that we stopped just short of the Maesa Elephant Camp. Had I known that we might've persevered and driven there but the mud was scary and difficult to ride through. The hills around here are full of coffee plantations and the cup of locally grown Arabica was the best coffee I've had in Thailand so far.

It's getting late and we start out on our 3 or possibly 4-day ride to Udon early tomorrow so I'm just going to load the photos from our visit to Doi Pui. There were some gorgeous flowers and some great food to go along with the colorfully dressed Hmong people. This is a popular tourist destination so we had to pay 10 baht (30 cents) to get into the town's lovely Waterfall Garden.

This little 7-year old girl approached us while we were eating lunch. She was a trip. She was quite a talker and spoke fluent Thai as well as Hmong. She and Nut chatted away while I shot photos of her and her 8 month old brother. Usually she charges 10 baht for a photo (remember, this is a tourist spot) but we gave her a persimmon we had bought for 20 baht and was seemed satisfied with the trade. What a beautiful and smart little girl. I was very impressed.

I have photos of the moo gra~ta scene in Chiang Ma that I wanted to include here but it's late and a certain exotic Asian woman is distracting me so I'll close for now. Catch you later....