Saturday, March 23, 2013

Last scribblings from Thailand

We did a big tour, my last motorcycle trip of the season, last week. We had intended to drive over to one of my favorite areas, Lake Phayao, stay a night or two, and return. But the weather was so fine and the scenery so beautiful we decided instead to go on up to Chiang Rai. Plus, I wanted to map as much new territory as I could. We have a new friend, Daniel, a recently minted expat from Maine who has taken up residence in Chiang Mai. We met last year through our mutual friend Albert and corresponded over the intervening months about living in Thailand. Danny has made a firm commitment to living here already. Like many expats, he can afford to retire and live better here than he can in the U.S. on his retirement income. Anyway, he was able to get an apartment in our little residence and since then we've become very compatible neighbors. He recently bought a 150cc Honda PCX and readily accepted an invite to go on tour with us.
On the way to Phayao - Tantong Waterfall on Route 120
(N19.06982667, E99.72897833)

After a wonderful cruise we reached Phayao, checked in to a nice hotel and took a quick ride around the lake as sunset was coming on. It's always a lovely ride and this one was no exception. We spotted an old Thai who was harvesting seaweed. We had a chat with him via Nut, our interpreter, and learned that he owns a fish farm and uses the seaweed to feed his fish, which are almost ready for market.

Fisherman - Lake Phayao

Seaweed harvester - Lake Phayao
Sunset at fish farm
The historic Kwan Phayao Stupa House in Phayao is being refurbished
Next morning at Nut's urging we visited a temple in Phayao city, Wat Sri Khom Kham (N19.17672000, E99.88981167), that turned out to be very special. I've driven by this one many times but always on the way to somewhere else. Thailand must have 10,000 wats scattered throughout the country and after a while one just stops noticing them. (Correction: Actually, there are more than 40,000 wats in Thailand. See this Wikipdia article.)
Reclining Buddha
Enclosed in a walled garden near the temple itself is a collection of statues unlike any I had ever seen before. Nut told us these were meant to remind people that if you do bad things in this life, you will suffer bad things in your next life. Whatever, much of the statuary was fantastical, grotesque.

Tormented souls

We found a new to us cafe near our hotel where they make a delicious latte and decorated it in exquisite style. Aptly named The Coffee, it's located on the corner of Chaykwan and Thakwan Roads.
Latte from "The Coffee"
 We made an excursion to a couple of parks north of Phayao that afternoon before heading to Chiang Rai. Mae Puem N.P. and its nearly empty reservoir are shown below.
The Mae Puem Reservoir at low ebb - in need of a refill from the April rains
We took the long way to Chiang Rai going northeast to the Phu Sang Waterfall almost at the Loatian border before turning west. This waterfall, a popular tourist spot for Thais, runs hot at about 35 deg C (95 degrees F) which is why I wanted to see it. It was beautiful but crowded so we ate a quick lunch across the road and took off.
Phu Sang Waterfall (N19.66353 E100.37622)
We spent two nights in Chiang Rai. The intervening day was taken up with a trip to the Golden Triangle. Nut and I had been there earlier this season but Danny hadn't, so off we went. This is the point, actually in the middle of the Mekong River, where Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Laos meet, which is famous because it was a major drug trafficking center years ago (for all I know it still is).
Chang (aka: Dave) and Chang at the Golden Triangle
(N20.35320 E100.08259)
We drove back to Chiang Mai the next day. The heat in the afternoons is getting intense as summer closes in. Riding in full motorcycling regalia in that heat gets uncomfortable so we doused our clothing with water several times on the way home. The "coolth" lasts about 20-30 minutes and for that time driving at 50 mph is quite refreshing. One of our favorite stopping places along Route 118 overlooks a small river. Danny and I waded in and flopped in the cool water.

Getting cool on the way to Chiang Mai
(N18.96639 E99.24110)

Even though mapping bores most of my friends to tears, it is still the thing that gets me out of the house and keeps my mind from straying too much to the heart surgery. And I'll continue with it until I leave Thailand. We've had a run of beautiful weather for the past few weeks — cool and often cloudy and not at all typical for this time of year — positively fantastic motorcycling. Tomorrow morning I'll stick the GPS in its mount, make sure my camera battery is fully charged, and off I'll go, exploring, and mapping. The rural countryside surrounding Chiang Mai is truly lovely. Again and again I'm reminded of rides in the country around Buffalo we used to do when I was a teenager. Being a city boy, I always loved being out in farm country with the smell of new cut alfalfa coming in the open windows of my dad's old '55 Ford Victoria. Oddly enough, these trips remind me of those days.

I've written two posts about mapping and they have widely different numbers of page views (hits). Blogger, a Google product that I am using for this blog, makes it easy to track various statistics. My last post, on Feb 12th, about a Mapping Run to Lamphun, has only been viewed about 50 times. The first one, Mapmaking 101, which talks about the Homer area among other things, has had 320 hits to date (posted Dec 12).

I've almost finished my Homer area mapping projects. The two main focal points were downtown and the end of East End Road although I hit almost every road in the Homer-Diamond Ridge area. Using the Bing imagery I've got pretty much everything straightened around and with the help of Tiger data and my memory, most of the roads named. You can see an overview using the two links below. You may zoom in and out using your mouse wheel or by using the "+" or "-" on the dashboard at the right.

Homer downtown

East End Road terminus

To continue in that vein for a moment: some of my other scribblings have been fairly widely read. It's gratifying to know that people are reading what I write. The posts about Africa top the popularity chart with, at this point, about 3600 hits each for the Zambezi rafting and the Ngorongoro Serengeti screeds.

Ranking below those, one about Phnom Penh and carrying pictures of some beautiful bar girls has had almost 2000 hits (Feb 2010), while one I did in October of 2010 after returning to Thailand and Nut has surprisingly garnered 1000 hits.  And this one, about my visit to Bilbao in 2009, has had 1200 hits. I cannot for the life of me understand that one.

Other popular posts include: one about Vespas, with 950 hits, Dirtfish Rally School, with about 830, and two about the CBR250 , Maiden Voyage and Riding the Honda CBR250, each have about 850 hits.

One drawback to having a blog that is more widely read is the spam it attracts. I had to start moderating comments because I'm getting 3 or 4 every day that are designed to get my readers to visit commercial sites. So if you want to leave a comment you'll have to wait for me to approve it before you see it on the screen.

It's getting close to the time when I'll be leaving Thailand for the summer. This year is different though because of what awaits me back in the states. I'm scheduled for aortic valve replacement (AVR) surgery on April 23rd and it's finally getting to me. Everything is in place, the paperwork transmitted to the Cleveland Clinic, and I have a very experienced surgeon who has offered  "minimally invasive AVR" instead of the standard operation that involves splitting the chest completely. He does about 120 of these operations a year so I reckon I will be in good hands during the ordeal. Still, it's daunting to say the least, especially for one who has never seen the inside of an O.R. except on TV.

Friends are telling me to look on the bright side, to think ahead to the time when I'll have improved endurance, to be thankful that my condition can be solved by modern medical science. I have done that for the most part. Wasn't it just the other day that I was writing about how good my life felt, how happy and content I was? Things are looking decidedly bleaker now that the operation is only a few weeks off. I'm surely gonna miss my easy life over here.