In case you did not know it, one in ten European babies is conceived in an IKEA bed. A little uncharitably, I have concluded that at any one time, a higher percentage of Thais are fast asleep in a hammock. We have had almost a week in Chiang Mai that could be described as, restful and frustrating in equal measure. We were staying with ‘ warm showers ‘ hosts, Michael and Kim. We told them what we needed to get done. An ambitious list, to which they responded, ” Don’t expect to get more than one thing done per day in Thailand “. That is an over estimate.
We set out from Li on a cool Monday morning. 17’c can feel like 8’c, once you have acclimatised to riding in the mid 30’s. It was cold enough to pull over and search in the darkest corners of the panniers for arm warmers. Had I not been feeling especially lazy I would have, but toughing it out until it warmed up in ten minutes was less hassle.
The road surfaces in Asia have been fantastic so far. There is a reflex thought to grab the widest possible rubber that will fit on your rims to ride here. You will find it hard to believe, when I tell you that we could probably have got this far on our race bikes, carrying a credit card and in the clothes we stood up in. Only the certainty of high mountain passes ahead and sparsely populated areas, consoles me when I look at the 30Kg of kit that I have lugged up the hills and so far not needed. Such smooth macadam is certainly a very modern joy here. At the food stall last night I counted the spokes in the back wheel of an old bike, 80! They must have been crap roads.
Until a couple of months ago it was genuinely cool here. We had listened to tales of travellers who had just taken the 18 hour bus ride down south. ” We had to wear a sweater up there in the evening “. This held out the promise of cooler riding as we moved up the country. Certainly, here the trees are still green with many of them in blossom now. The warmth brings out the rich fragrances. In the still air you ride into these bubbles of flower scents. First smelling the trees before you see them. There is the universally appealing aroma of tree pollen that holds your attention despite its subtlety. Spring, or at least some Asian equivalent of it is here, and we are riding into it.
We pass the fifth and then sixth very big wooden barn full to the eves with racks of drying garlic. This must be the garlic growing district. Just to confirm this we are passed by two trucks full of net bags of garlic. They are as usual piled high, and bags sag over the sides like the belly of a middle aged beer lover. We go up to one of the barns and are surprised that there is almost no smell. The dry heat has almost desiccated them as they have hung there.
We have covered the ground quickly today and get to Ban Hong early. We go into town for a coffee, pleased that we have got the riding done before the full force of the sun. It may have started cool enough, but it is appallingly hot any time after midday. It is now such a dry heat that the insides of your nostrils hurt with the passing of air. Strange how extreme heat and cold can feel so similar.
An early start. We turn off the 106, which has become a bit manic, and pick up the 1033. This is quieter and easier on the nerves for touring cyclists. It is these more minor roads where odd things flourish. A plot of land laid out for building but today it has a thousand or more hats. Each has been dyed the same eye strainingly vivid orange, and left here to dry. It is hard to think of any possible explanation as to why.
Michael has arranged to get off work and come out to guide us to his home. ” You have no hope of finding it, not even local taxis get there “. Certainly, our map and the WWW. give it three possible spellings and a number of locations. He leads us along a maze of back roads that form the suburbs of Chaing Mai here. Left and right we go with small fields of every vegetable and useful fruit tree both sides of the narrow roads.
We have known that we were going to have this rest and of course we just collapse mentally and physically. For the first 48 hours we try to organise things with what must be half our normal IQ turning up for work. We are trying to work a fool-proof method of applying for a 60 day visa for China. Trawls of the WWW. only give conclusive proof that any rules that may possibly exist are made up on the spot and almost certainly vary from one day to the next.
At the moment our application has been accepted. Possibly because we are asking for 60 days, rather than the normal 30 they made up one last rule on the spot, ‘ German passports do not qualify for the ‘ same day ‘ processing and need four days ‘. You have to smile. We have a long list of things to repair and stuff to buy each of which takes an age to complete. The application makes no mention of our intention to cycle in China, which is what the WWW. advises. It is a work of fiction that begins with one cheap hotel that we have genuinely booked. It has taken an age to put it together so that it is coherent alibi.
Chiang Mai is far from the worst possible place to be. It is chaotic, charming and badly polluted in equal measures. It has temples in the sort of quantities that Malls in the USA have Starbucks and a happy time can be had just wondering. It is on one such walk that I hear conclusive proof of my theory that Asian women have the highest pitched sneeze of any women in the world that I have so far encountered. If you can imagine a Pekingese dog sneezing, your are about there. It makes you jump every time. Fingers crossed for the visa now.