Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nam Pat

The area surrounding Nam Pat, a little town in Uttaradit province, is simply beautiful (N17.72766 E100.68595). It's in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains and the climate is friendly this time of year. Rice paddies, sugar cane and pineapple fields, and groves of teak trees line the twisty, well paved highways -- a motorcyclist's dream. Nut and I traveled here with DC yesterday. It was a long drive from Udon -- too long. We left Udon on a cloudy day after waking up hearing rain patter on the rooftop. We considered postponing our departure but it didn't look like the rain was gonna continue so off we went as soon as it quit. We hit a small patch of very light rain after an hour or so but we pushed on through it and were rewarded with sun and a balmy 75 degree day. We were on the bike for almost 8 hours of ride time in a 9 hour trip -- we covered only 241 miles. By the time we got here it was dark. Thailand is a tricky place to drive in the day time -- driving the Phantom at night with its ridiculously inadequate headlight is scary and something I always try to avoid. But when you're only 30 miles from a nice hotel and hot food you simply journey on hoping a dog won't run out onto the highway or a foraging chicken take flight and end up in your face. I intentionally followed a late model pickup for quite a while on the last 30 km leg of this trip using its bright white headlights to scope out the road ahead.
DC and Nut on the road to Nam Pat
Nut and I were in Nam  Pat a few days ago on our trip to Udon and yesterday we basically retraced our journey back here and right back to the same little hotel. From here we'll head north to Chiang Rai maybe, and Phayao for sure because Nut really wants to go there. We like the Nam Pat area and this hotel so much we stayed an extra day. We visited a teak tree forest preserve, the Sak Yai Forest Park, (sak = teak, yai = big) to see a giant and very old teak tree that is ensconced safely in the park. The Nam Pat region is, or was, all about teak. Almost everything in this hotel is made of teak which is a heavy, weather and rot resistant hardwood. How heavy is it? It doesn't float. In the old days when logs were floated out of the forest on a river, teak logs had to be chained to other lighter logs to keep them afloat until they reached their destination, usually a lumber mill.  World demand for this wood has reduced its abundance to the point that the Thai government has designated forest reserves to protect and preserve the remaining trees for future generations, somewhat akin to our redwood groves I imagine. The Sak Yai Forest Park is one of those reserves.

Nut posing with the majestic Sak Yai - it is 1,500 years old
( N17.65659 E100.56854)
The area abound with caves so we headed west for another 10 miles past Sak Yai to visit the Chan Cave. The day was warm, the sun bright as we ambled through the pretty farm country. We hiked up a small hill to get to the trail junction and then another rocky path up to the cave itself. It as impressive, and refreshingly cool I might add. Naturally, we took a few photos.

The trail head - it helps to have a translator. Chan Cave is to the right.
Chan Cave (N17.58449 E100.41969)

Forest scene near Chan Cave - Nam Pat
Aside from the beautiful country, Nam Pat doesn't offer all that much for the tourist. It doesn't have a 7-11 store, and believe me they are everywhere in Thailand, or much in the way of regular restaurants. We eat at the market or at small mom & pop places. The food is good but Nut complains that it isn't actually Thai food but Lao food. (But then she's a south Thailand chauvinist.) It's generally much spicier and not as sophisticated as Thai food in her opinion. Sheesh, I don't care -- I like it just fine. It's super cheap too. Our breakfast this morning was a tasty pork and noodle soup, rich and dark, spicy of course, and flavored with blood, a common ingredient in the dishes here, and actually, all around Thailand. Breakfast for two, including some coconut custards and a waffle, was about 60 baht -- 2 bucks!

BTW, the Phantom is running just great. It's amazing what a difference the new chain is making. The little thumper has considerably more power on the hills and shifting has improved noticeably as well. I'm thinking now that many of my problems with last year's bike had to do with its chain which was, like this one, badly worn to the point of being noisy. And the new sprockets no doubt play a role too. As they wear, the gaps between both sprockets' teeth get deeper and thus the chain rides lower than it should. This generates increased friction and extra heat. Due to that increased frictional resistance such a chain steals significant power from the Phantom's already small engine, and this in turn demands more shifting. The increased heat causes the links to stretch and ride even lower on the sprocket which in turn causes more friction, more resistance, and more power loss. It's a vicious cycle. Anyway, long story short, I'm enjoying the bike much, much more now. Even riding 2-up it climbs hills in 5th gear where before it required a downshift into 4th.

In a closing note I want to add that my search for a motorcycle is narrowing in and is now focused on the Suzuki V-Strom DL650 twin. (While I still love the Beemers the costs of buying and maintaining one are significantly higher than for most other bikes.) I hadn't really considered the 650 before, focusing instead on its big brother the DL1000, because its engine is smaller than my old Honda CB750 -- a purely academic (and admittedly stupid) argument at this point because engine technologies have changed greatly in the years since 1975 (gasp!), and today's 650 cc engines (4 valves and 2 spark plugs per cylinder, with fuel injection) probably outperform my old 750cc Honda. Many owner's reports and forums I've read on the Internet indicate that the smaller V-Strom, nicknamed wee-Strom, is a very capable bike. It's lighter and more maneuverable than the bulkier DL1000 and gets much better gas mileage, in the neighborhood of 55 mpg. Having ridden a 200cc bike for many miles now I was forced to ask myself, what's up with this need for a bike with a 1000cc engine? A 650cc engine is more than three times the size of the engine on the venerable Phantom. Do I need a bike that will go 125 mph  (DL1000) as opposed to the 650 which will top out at 115? WTF am I thinking here?

2007 Suzuki wee-Strom DL 650
Next stop, the small city of Nan. We'll take a ferry, visit a small fishing village and drive on some gravel, all firsts for me. Talk to you soon.