Saturday, November 6, 2010

We travel to Udon

I'm writing this four days after arriving here in Udon Thani, a medium sized city (pop. ~150,000) in northeastern Thailand, and the place my Homer riding buddies store their bikes and gear. Last year when I arrived here in early February it was uncomfortably warm. Then the air conditioners were humming full time as the long, hot Thai summer began. But this is November, the start of winter and the high tourist season. The weather is pretty near perfect with temperatures both day and night hanging right around 80 degrees (26 C). Two Homer bikers are here already, Al and DC, and Sean is due in next week. Last night we ate at one of our favorite spots to celebrate  DC's first full day in Thailand, a place we call Chicken Smoke Corner. Charcoal fires in sawed off 55-gallon drums burn hot all day cooking slabs of chicken and pork ribs, fish and sausage, and sending plumes of fragrant smoke out onto the street -- hence the name Chicken Smoke Corner.

At left: Nut, DC and Al finishing up our meal

So what have I been doing for the past few days? My motorcycle has a frozen front brake caliper so we're more or less stuck at the hotel. As if that isn't bad enough the new part must come all the way from Bangkok, a four-day wait. The situation was made worse when a local mechanic broke off part of the caliper when trying to free the piston. With such a badly weakened caliper the bike is not all that safe to ride. From now on I'll have all my work done at the Honda dealerships where they have trained technicians. The up side to the repair is that the new caliper will set me back only about $40 and that I'll get reimbursed by the owner when I return the bike.

Nut and I left Chiang Mai last Friday, October 29. We took our time once we left the busy 4-lane Route 11, the so called Superhighway, that points southeast out of Chiang Mai. Our destination was the village of Nam Pat, a town where I overnighted during my memorable first bike trip last February (more here...). I turned  onto a smaller road as soon as possible and the choice proved a particularly good one: route 1105 is a short, twisty, sweet ride through banana groves and rice paddies. I stopped several times to take photos of the beautiful countryside.

You can see me checking out the rice crop in one of the photos above. I had really never seen rice in this form before, that is to say, still on the stalk and close to harvest time. A couple more shots of the rice fields lining  Rte 1105 follow:

We arrived in Nam Pat after a 7 hour ride (5 hr 35 minutes actual ride time) that covered only about 190 miles (310 km). Riding two-up is more challenging for both the driver and the bike, consequently the maximum speed attained on this leg was only about 60 mph. 

Nut and me on a teak swing at our NamPat hotel - morning Oct 31st
Next day, the 31st, started out cool so I wore a long sleeve shirt atop a sleeveless one under my motorcycling jacket, and long pants. Amazingly, I was totally comfortable in this outfit all day. As you can see, Nut wore a poly-fleece jacket and, although she gets cold much easier than me she was able to stay out of the wind and stay warm by hiding behind my large carcass for most of the trip.  

We drove north on Rte 1047 out of Nam Pat. Although we were going out of our way the object was to make a swing through some of the pretty country, enjoying the ride and the scenery. Eventually we looped back southward on Rte 1241 and then in Ban Khok picked up Rte 1268 south. This is another of Thailand's great motorcycle roads. I'd ridden it going in the other direction last spring but now it is green and verdant, seemingly an altogether different road. Some photos follow:

Excellent motorcycling can be had on Rte 1268 in northern Thailand

Nut holding some longkong, another of her faves - Rest stop Rte 1268

 Nut at the Phu Soi Dao waterfall - Rte 1268

As the day wore on into evening the temperature dropped near 70 degrees, however, and both of us started to feel chilly. My new jacket, a Joe Rocket Phoenix, is designed for hot weather and is made from a very open weave mesh material that allows air to flow freely through it. That's fine as long as you're talking 80 degrees or so but in 60 degree temps, it's not so good. Our goal that day had been the small city of Loei but we decided to stop in Phu Ruea to escape the chill. We had driven 170 miles (274 km) in 6 hr 20 minutes on the bike; 8 hr 27 minutes door to door.

After a quick supper in the market Nut asked a local cop if he knew where the resorts were located. He pointed to a tiny street next to the market and indicated he owned a resort up there and that, surprise, surprise, it was a very good one. We drove off looking for his resort but we turned into the driveway of the first resort we saw, not his we soon learned, but it turned out well. Except for a couple of things. As we were unpacking the bike the cold started to get to Nut -- she began shivering and her hands turned icy. The night time temperature was way lower than what she's used to in Bangkok. The little old lady who ran the place, by the name of Lek, offered to build us a warming fire. Nut excitedly encouraged her to go ahead. Lek promptly hustled her over to a little gazebo and started building what turned out to be a very nice fire. (As far as I can tell, all the wood in Thailand is hardwood, which burns hot and with no sparks.) Her husband, Witthaya, brought out snacks and later drove into town for some wine.

Before long Nut was grilling bananas and sausages over the fire while Witthaya cooked up some strips of what I took to be fish at first but which turned out to be buffalo skin. I tried it but didn't think much of it -- it was tough, very chewy --  basically grilled fat -- but Lek and her husband wolfed it down.We shared some tasty local wine that night too. But the reason we were wined and dined, at least one major reason other than the fact that we're both likable and friendly, is that Nut is a massage therapist and I am a "wealthy" falang. They were seeking investors for Lek's struggling massage business in town and in their developing campground/resort. Apparently, much of the conversation Lek was having with Nut (and which I couldn't understand) around the campfire had to do with encouraging us to throw in with them. 

We turned in at about 11 pm after eating and drinking practically everything they brought out to share -- except the buffalo skins of course. When we went to take showers it turned out that, unfortunately, the water heater simply wasn't up to the job. Nut came out of the shower with the shakes. We laughed together until she crawled under the covers and began warming her hands on my back. We slept under 3 blankets that night, a first for my time in Thailand.

Next day we were up early and after saying good-byes to our friendly hosts were soon on the road to Udon. It was a short ride of 127 miles which we did in about 4 hours. I had called ahead to reserve a room at the Top Mansion, a hotel conveniently located near the night market, the Robinson's shopping mall, the bus and train stations, as well as other attractions.All my Homer buddies stay there and for obvious reasons.  At 370 baht per night (~12 bucks),  it's cheap and well appointed: A/C, hot water, balcony, TV, Wi-Fi, and it's kept super clean. Nut's happy because she's a clean freak and some of the other places we've stayed have fallen far short of her standards. LOL (I think most women are in agreement around this issue.)  We have no need for the A/C this time of year but it's essential in the spring or summer. Very nice accommodations!

I reckon I'll sign off for now. Be well ,wherever you are, and we'll be talking again soon.