This section from Chiang Dao to Mae Ai is the thirty-sixth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

I haven’t slept this well for a long time, possibly not since the beginning of my trip. Almost ten hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep with the aid of a small bottle of Singha beer. Only when I wake up, I realise how tired I’ve been the last few days. I suppose only adrenalin kept me awake.

But now there’s birds singing and cicada chirping away even though the sun is still in hiding behind a thick veil of morning fog. I waste two hours playing Pixel Dungeon on my phone – best done when surrounded by only nature – and shaving and clipping my toenails and wringing the morning dew out of the clothes I’d hung outside to dry.

Breakfast. Tiny bowls of noodles, but they are cheap and taste great!
Breakfast. Tiny bowls of noodles, but they are cheap and taste great!

The landlady informs me that there’s a market on so I decide to take the road through town, it joins up with the 107 later anyway. I know myself: when there are too many people, I usually quickly push on, only to calm down when I’ve passed all the food stalls. So on my way to the market, I stop at a noodle stall and have a bowl of broad rice noodles. It tastes suprisingly good, but the bowl is tiny. I see an old man in front of me ordering two different bowls, so I figured I should do so too. The other bowl is equally small, but looks like egg-wheat noodle with crispy fried noodles and chicken, topped with raw veggies. I’m more or less satisfied and both bowls only cost 20 baht.

Market day means massive traffic jam. I can hardly park my bike to have a look around so I content myself with a peek from the roadside. There isn’t much interesting on sale: t-shirts, caps, herbs, fruit, the usual.

Market day = traffic jam
Market day = traffic jam

I start daydreaming about visiting a market where I can find something truly unique. I guess those days are over since the Industrial Age, and most of all since Made in China. From inside my ivory tower, I pity the tourists that visit markets all over South-East Asia, admiringly pawing trinkets they will be able to acquire at the next market in the next country or, simply, at the next stall. My dream is to find a beautiful and wooden Chinese chess set, hand made and previously used, for a bargain. Fat chance, as hand made is now expensive, and mass-produced the norm.

Waking from my day dream, I find myself on the 107 again, lustfully eyeing coffee signs. I’ve only 2 km on the clock but I already allow myself a break. While the grandpa manning the coffee stall puts on a pair of spectacles to call his daughter who will take my order, I dive into the fridge which holds Magnum ice cream. I play some more Pixel Dungeon (stupidly addictive, this game) while I sip on a deliciously strong ice coffee.

Rock formations
Rock formations

When I can no longer procrastinate, I hit the hills. They’re not that bad as people have told me – perhaps I’ve not come to the real thing yet. It’s undulating at first and then there’s one big hill as the road squeezes itself between two national parks. I check the altimeter and note that the highest point is slightly over 700m.

Traffic is not so bad but still very much present, and almost entirely consisting of four-wheeled traffic. The Toyota pick-up seems to be Thailand’s favourite private car. It annoys me so I put my earphones in and listen to Vietnamese Rock&Soul and Khmer Pop from the 60’s to soothe my brain and drown out the car noise. I can’t help but think that I enjoy riding in China and Vietnam more, if only because everything in Thailand seems to be made for tourists. There’s something… too slick about this country.

Reverse osmosis + UV water treatment. These machines give you 1 litre of drinking water for 1 baht (€ 0,02)
Reverse osmosis + UV water treatment. These machines give you 1 litre of drinking water for 1 baht (€ 0,02)

Something I do like about Thailand, is the availability of cheap water. By the roadside, water dispensers collect rainwater and purify it through reverse osmosis and ultra-violet treatment, and you can quickly fill your bottle or bag for 1 baht/litre. As bottled water goes for about 10-20 baht per 1,5 litres, this saves money and a lot of plastic refuse.

Having passed the nature reserves, the road widens again and drops me in Chai Prakan, a which is really a never-ending chain of villages along the road. I get hungry but I don’t see anything I like – mostly because I have no clue what’s on offer: everything is written in Thai. Finally, I decide that I’ll just have to take my chances and stop at a roadside eatery where attractive-looking pieces of meat lay dripping on the grill.

Farmland and hills appear
Farmland and hills appear

No-one knows what I want, and neither do I. So I just point at random stuff, and get papaya salad, sticky rice and a piece of chicken. The chicken, rice and papaya salad taste good, but when I spot a pair of pinchers I can’t help but retch – have they snuck in a scorpion? Fortunately, I see it’s crab and I quietly set it free in an empty plate. I have also pointed at another woman’s dish, but they apparently decided that’s too much for one person to handle and the dish doesn’t show up. Perhaps just as well, I feel pretty stuffed.

A second stop is at 7-eleven for a KitKat, some coffee drink and a coke. I consume while inspecting the bike for mechanical problems. When I leave, my stomach is upset. It feels like I have to puke, but after keeping it down for a few kilometres, everything seems to be fine again. Maybe there was mentos in my chicken.

The hot air distorts the image
The hot air distorts the image

I was originally going to stop at Fang but I pass the place more or less without noticing, so I head on to Mae Ai, 25 km further up the road. I also pass that place without finding a hotel and end up riding to the only English-language signposted guesthouse, something something Garden Hotel. At 300 baht for an air-conditioned room with my own bathroom, that’s not too bad. Yesterday’s views were more impressive, though.

At 7pm I feel hungry and decide to hit the town. I decide to try whatever I can find and order a bunch of things that I couldn’t identify even if there was a light. The woman refuses to sell it to me. “Pet”, spicy, she says. I say that pet is quite OK for me. A discussion between the people present ensues, featuring mainly the words pet and falang (westerner). I order a glass of Thai whisky to give the (false) impression that I know what I’m doing.

The food isn’t bad but seems to consist entirely of wild ginger. The other dish I got was a soup with some piece of animal in it. It wasn’t the meat. Rather some kind of cartilage or even fat and other organs. I have no clue, as I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately, enough sticky rice is served so I can keep my cool. It’s not enough so I decide to ride a bit further for more food.

This time I end up at a guesthouse that I haven’t spotted when I came up this way. I ask for the menu but to my disappointment they only have clay hot pot so I decide to go for beer only. The waiter is very nice/takes pity on me/is embarrassed about only having clay pot and brings me a complimentary plateful of fried pork fat, a great beer snack. When it’s time for the bill, he says “65”. “Sixty-five,” I repeat. “Eerrh 60, OK?” he pleads. I thought 65 was a bargain – bottles at 7-eleven in BKK cost more. He reminds me of Manny in Black Books nervously bargaining his buying price up instead of down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *