Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Strawberry Ride

Nut's on her way to Bangkok tonight to be with her daughter, Dui Dui, who's about to give birth to her first grandchild and I've been hanging out with Willy and Janice, Homer friends who are here on the tail end of a two-month trip around SE Asia. Lots of great chit-chat, gossip and travel information were passed back and forth across the table at one of my favorite restaurants near Thapae Gate in the old city. You might recall I talked about Janice in some of my early blogging because she has been a friendly and knowledgeable influence on my traveling and my destinations: she's been practically everywhere in the world, and sometimes more than once.

Anyway, yesterday was a beautiful day (aren't they all?) and seeing as we're pretty much settled into our new place over breakfast I suggested a ride into  the country to buy some strawberries. Nut, always up for explorations involving food, immediately started gathering up her motorcycling gear. Strawberries are both a tradition around here and an important crop for which the area is famous. We repeated a ride we had done with Big Al a few months ago before the strawberry season, a loop through the little town of Samoeng, which is about 30 km west of Chiangmai. The roads are, well, I imagine you'll soon tire of hearing me say it, perfect for motorcycling. Absolutely perfect. Smooth and very twisty, with light traffic and just enough ups and downs to make it interesting. Goddamn, it's pretty country!

View Samoeng Loop in a larger map

As we approached Samoeng, Nut began to notice signs on trees and fence posts advertising a certain strawberry farm a few kilos ahead. There were roadside stands selling berries along the highway but for some reason Nut had become fixated on getting to this particular farm, so we persevered, or I guess I should say, I persevered, until we reached the Wongwan Farm just a bit south of Samoeng. Nut's intuition is seldom faulty and I reckon I should just learn to trust it more because the little farm turned out to be quite an interesting place -- a farm, resort, and restaurant located in a fertile and pretty valley nestled in the same hills that make motorcycling so damn much fun. People come here to buy strawberries and to pick them. Some even stay in the funky little bungalows to get away from the city and immerse themselves in the rural atmosphere.

At Wongwan Farm - smoke from burning fields is plainly visible

The CBR at Wongwan Farm (N18.83837, E98.72796)

Nut attempts to carry a heavy berry-burden -- about 40 lbs of berries on a bamboo stick
Nut picking strawberries
In the photos you can see the pall of smoke that curses the northern provinces every spring. At this time of year rural Thais, farmers and townspeople alike, burn everything they see. At least that's the way it seems to me. I can understand burning weeds and chaff in fallow rice paddies, but they also burn roadsides, deeply forested hillsides, railroad corridors, in short anything or any area that has combustible material present. It's crazy and seems to serve no definable purpose, there are even laws prohibiting it, but every spring countless fields and forests are burned to the point that visibility drops to few meters in some areas -- busy urban airports actually close. Nobody, no farang anyway, can understand this frenzy to burn but it's widespread and totally out of control. Many folks look forward to the beginning of the rainy season when the water will wash the air and subjugate the smoke and heat from this annual burning.

I struck up a conversation with this nice young fellow, the owner of a new 150cc Vespa scooter, as I waited for Nut to finish picking berries. Like most Thais, he was very friendly and cooperative especially as I had asked him if I could take a picture of his bike. I've become curious about Vespas because two of my Homer buddies (Sean and Al) told me one night over drinks that they would gladly pay $4,000 for an older restored Vespa scooter. I  don't understand that and intend to do a short entry about Vespas at a future date.

Talk to you later, and stay tuned....