11,301 km so far.
Today’s ride was front-loaded with a 12 km climb. Normally I don’t like starting the morning off in such an undignified and sweaty manner, but today it was perfect. We got most of the agonizing work out of the way before the morning chill had worn off and the shade had made way for the blazing sun.
After 12 km up we enjoyed one of the best descents I can remember. Just steep enough to keep the wind whipping through our helmets and the corners exciting, not so steep that we had to touch the brakes.
At the bottom, we found a quirky rest stop where we got ice cream and coffee.
Chiang Mai Skies
Many of our friends have given us rapturous reports about Chiang Mai, so I was looking forward to being in this heavenly sounding town. Much to my surprise, as we finished our last bit of downhill and entered into the river flood plain upon which the city is built, the entire valley was a bank of smog. At this time of year, farmers burn off their old crops in preparation for planting new ones, and it fills the air with smoke.
It was so bad that Stephen stopped to put his mask on. I couldn’t bear the thought of doing the same, since it was already HOT and wearing a smog mask is pretty much the same as wearing a furnace on your face.
The last 20 km of the ride was a traffic-filled mess. I am continuing to have trouble adjusting to this “normal” style of driving. I keep expecting people to slow down or make way for us, like they would in China. Instead they just barge right through, or slip past us a little too close for comfort.
Everyone seems to blindly follow the rules, instead of looking out for one another. It’s all so fast and furious it makes my head spin. Except for all the scooters, it is exactly like riding bikes in Los Angeles. Yuck.
After almost an hour of dodging scooters and songthaews, we found our way to the quiet alleys of the city, just outside the city wall.
Booking Ahead Is Overrated
In the blazing sunshine, squinting at the tiny screen of the iPhone for navigation, we wound through Chiang Mai’s narrow, twisty alleyways. The connector between our Bad Elf and the iPad broke the day we arrived in Thailand, so we are using the phone to navigate until we can get a new one.
Eventually, after more than a few missed corners and wrong turns, we manage to find the hotel we’d booked.
It’s not cheap, but as we discovered in our marathon hotel-booking session last night, which took about 90 minutes and involved us looking at about a hundred properties, all the good cheap places are full. I thought high season was supposed to be over.
We had a little tussle with our guesthouse owner about where our bikes were to go. Not exactly the warm welcome we were desiring but it was all sorted out in the end – and the manager apologised for the fuss. Such is the hospitality we’ve received on our trip that we’ve become complacent about checking ahead on bike storage. Usually there is a good place for the bikes, and if not, the hotel is happy for us to put them in our room.
I guess popular cities with a million guesthouses are the exception, since the same situation arose in Ha Noi. The lesson we’ve learned is not to book ahead. There are so many options available, it’s too bad to get stuck in a place you’re not 100% happy with, just because of a cancellation policy that would see us pay even if we rode off in a huff to find somewhere more accommodating.
We met up with friends of one of my LA yoga students tonight. Lauren and Luke are also travelling around this part of the world, and the stars aligned so that we would all be in Chiang Mai at the same time.
It was fantastic to join them for drinks, and to swap tips about the places we have been, and they are headed, and vice versa. I am continually surprised when we meet complete strangers on this journey who we bond with as if we were old friends. They flew out to Ha Noi tonight so we won’t get to spend more time with them, but there is a chance we will meet again further south.
My philosophy teacher Douglas Brooks says:
You are the company you keep, so keep great company.
This extends beyond you, and reverberates into the relationships you share with friends of friends. Thanks for connecting us Cooley. You keep great company. ♥