Start of our second month in Thailand. I had been playing a lot of pickleball, meeting new people and improving my skill, even met some professional players as they were on a boondoggle “goodwill” trip to Thailand, but unfortunately, my back was becoming more of an issue and I did the smart thing, hanging up my paddle at least for the time being. Tennis was bothering nerves in my neck and now pickleball in lower back. I was running out of options to show off my athletic prowess, or at the least at least engage in some competition, exercise and socialization.
So we decided to hit some more meetup events to see the city. We rode the scooter downtown and struggled to get GPS to locate meeting spot, but eventually found it. I should mention there was some excitement when my GPS switched off from “Avoid Tolls” and took us onto highway, where I was pushing the scooter to 90km per hour. No bikes are allowed on the Toll Road, for good reason. I got to toll booth and just flew around some cones before having an unpleasant confrontation with the guard. On the way home that same night I repeated the error and sirens went off, the guy at booth told me turn around, but I was in a concrete canyon like the gauntlet run on the Death Star.
I am driving the wrong way on a one-way road, flashing my brights, as semi-trucks are barreling down on me.
At the meetup we ran into a nice group of foreigners and headed off to The Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC) which is the hub of Bangkok’s art scene and offers the widest range of contemporary art, design, music, theatre, and film in the city. Not really my thing but anything that includes Air Conditioning with the price of admission sounds good to me.
Then we went to Kwan-Riam Floating market. Took a river boat taxi for an hour. Kinda interesting as the boat functioned exactly same as a city bus, There were stops every ½ mile at a dock; a person driving, one collecting money and one roping the pier, briefly.
Wanted a simple coffee at the market and ended with this guy
Area smelled terrible, but we finally were able to sample some “Boat Noodles”. I felt sad for all the people fishing along this “river” as was their only source of food. Lots of trash floating about. We did not get back until 730 that night. About an 11 hr day with 6 hours spent in a boat of some kind.
Later in the month, we found a new Japanese restaurant opened around the corner from our house. Amy and I went for dinner and the 4 small table joint was full. We eventually got a table and it was a good new spot. I thought it was weird that the owner seemed to be a young, attractive lady who was not working. I commented that it seemed odd for a new owner not to be working at a new restaurant.
The next night we returned and brought Amy’s sisters. They immediately told us that the owner was a TV star in Thailand. Now it made sense why she was not working and why there were so many beautiful people in the joint last night…in addition to us. Amy’s sisters thought we should apologize to the owner for not recognizing her. I did not.
As most who travel can relate, the GI system does not like all the new flavors and spices of a new destination. For the first month, I chose to go into battle armed with Imodium. I was surviving, but not thriving. In month 2 my opponent upped his game. I walked down the hall and the next thing I know I was staring up at the ceiling after passing out. I spent the next 2 days in bed drinking electrolytes and Antibiotics.
One Saturday in January we headed to Chatuchak Weekend Market.
There were a few interesting stalls, but really they could have eliminated about 80% of shops and still had the same breadth of products. I was a much more discerning souvenir shopper these days. I no longer went for the interesting items on sale, but preferred to keep things I might find as part of everyday life (not for sale) from my travels. Maybe something I wrestled from a local opium dealer or won in a Muy Thai fight. So needless to say, I bought nothing. Amy found some clothes on the cheap.
Chinese New Year. It was the end of the year of the Tiger and the beginning of the year of the Rabbit. Some people tried to put a live rabbit and a tiger up on a table to mark the transition, but it did not go well for one of those involved. I will let you guess. Chinese NY seems like an event similar to our New Years, but lasting a couple more days. Everyone looked cute in their red and gold Chinese dresses. A lot was closed, but as usual, we probably missed all the excitement downtown as we were in bed by 9pm.
I saw the below on a food cart and thought it was a perfect metaphor for Thai way of thinking on how to fix something. Just keep adding a rock every year.
Besides our upcoming trip to Cambodia, the highlight of January was my trip up north to ride solo on motorcycle. After much research and route exploring, I created a mix of off-road and pavement. I originally was going to join a tour but that was 10x as expensive and a lot less dangerous as this would be. My friend Joe and I had done a similar trip in Northern Vietnam (Link to Vietnam trip) about 5 years ago. The only difference was that we had a local handler. This time I would be on my own.
My flight out if Bangkok to Chiang Mai was smooth. I figured something might happen at airline counter with checked bag as I paid in advance and Vietjet is like Spirit (low cost, high problems). I also thought my helmet would cause issues and not fit under seat or above and I would have to wear for entirety of flight. But all good and bag was there for me when I landed. I took tuk-tuk directly from the airport to the bike shop. I had reserved the bike over the phone after calling multiple rental companies. The bike left much to be desired. It was held together with electric tape. It seemed to be the only Honda 250 CFR in the shop, but all other Honda 500s were in mint condition. If I saw another 250 setup for offroad I would have made a stink of it. All the turn signal had to be tapped back on. The phone mount was broken. I was not sure what leverage I had. They gave me some bungee cords that were 4 ft long and long past their prime. I did get them to wire the phone charger I brought to the battery and get a new mount. They were not happy at first, and told me they couldn't. Come on! This bike is shit! Do something! Gas tank was empty as well. WTF. I am renting for a week at least look it over briefly before I show up. On the plus side, I did not need pictures or document damage. The girls showed me drawing of bike with damage Xs on it like when you rent a car. There was just a big X on the bike. She said the whole thing is damaged. I did not have to worry about dropping it. I only paid $12/day for it. I rode it over to hotel and unpacked and put on gear for a test ride.
After filling up with gas I took a 3 hr route around the mountain called Doi Suthep. Nice winding ride and no problems with bike. I had planned to off-road test it but was nervous I would break it, but I needed to find out, and shake stuff loose if necessary. So, I did a little off-road on the one trail that specifically said no motorbikes. Got back around 6 pm and went to dinner. I was riding down the mountain at one point earlier and passed 2 kids riding a scooter other way, laughing in the golden hour of sunlight. It felt like a moment I needed to hold onto. Like driving the dirt roads of colors in Stowe VT. Or a trip to Nicaragua on the beach drinking local rum.
After a couple of drink on the rooftop, I wandered the Old City and had the traditional northern Thai dish of Khao Soi
Next door to the restaurant, I had a couple of drinks at the Lost Hut
I then made my way back to the hotel at the East Gate for the night
The next morning I got started around 9am. Rode north to Chiang Dao National Park and took a hard turn left/West into the dirt roads of the National Park.
OVERALL TRIP ROUTE
I was only going to go as far as a river crossing, but it ended up being mostly paved to start and I wanted a little more dirt action so I pressed on. I ended up not paying attention on one of the many hairpin turns and slipped the bike on some gravel. I bounced my helmet off the pavement and got a bit of sobering in the process. I ended up scratching up the frame, but the most serious damage was that I had completely bent the brake pedal. It was almost impossible to engage and just relied on front brakes for the rest of ride. I reached the off-road section, and it was a bit more than I bargained for in a first day. It usually helps to ease your way into off-road, but I was faced with immediate 20-30 degree climbs in dirt and rocks, where if you did not have enough momentum, you were not making it up. Needless to say this happen to me, and I had to lift the bike and start in the middle of an uphill section. Not ideal.
This was getting really intense. So many things can go wrong and I am in about as remote as you get. I saw one village 30 minutes back. And when I say “village” I mean a bamboo hut. I had to keep it upright. On the downhills I had both breaks locked and just did a controlled slide downhill. Crossing a suspicious Indiana Jones-type bridge over a river.
Got to the pavement and stopped for gas basically only 5 miles from where I went off the freeway. I basically did a big “C” from bottom to top.
I got Khao Soi at a street stall, accidentally dumping half it in my lap.
I saw a guy fixing weed whackers and had a scooter taken apart in his shed.
I motioned for wrench and he brought out 3 ft plumber's wrench. we bent back the brake pedal but still had quite a twang to it.
I skipped two sightseeing spots and headed right for Fang as it was getting late. I was on windy roads and following 3 bikes, riding on people's bumpers and passing as a group. I did this with them until a pickup in front of me slammed brakes and I locked up and skidded right up to him. Was able to move just outside of him and grab his tailgate with my hand, saying hello to his family riding in the bed of the truck. Another sobering moment.
Stopped briefly at Japan World to gather my wits
Checked into the hotel. I was definitely in more remote Thailand now. No English speakers here
Walked the main street. Stopped at bar. Guy is like. "Aren't my women beautiful?" Um yes.
Breakfast was weak compared to the spread yesterday. Last night I watched half of the Thai vs Vietnam soccer match and was asleep by 10.
I stuck to roads today for my own sanity
I say this, and almost immediately went off-road and up a 20% grade hill into a Karen Tribe village. Then got to top of the road on an incline and it just ends. Like a run-away truck lane. Hard to turn this thing around.
Got back on the main road and stopped at a tea farm and had ice cream and sausage.
I continued on into Chiang Rai and the White Temple.
One thing was comical from this stop. They have this holy temple. You have to take your shoes off to go in. There are no photographs allowed. There is a statue of a monk in the center and I turn around to look at the pictures on the wall. As I peer closer there are these small images painted. One is Batman, another is Neo from The Matrix. Thai people are weird. Outside of the temple, I saw Captain America’s head hanging from a tree
I checked into the hotel and chilled on the porch with a book
Walking around town all I saw were 50 year-old white guys half asleep over their beers waiting for sundown. These are the shots you don't see on FB and Instagram. Walked through a weekend market sampling the local cuisine
I was asleep by 8 pm that night. Had early breakfast along the main drag in the morning
A quick stop at the blue temple on the way out of town
I also stopped at the Black House. Now, these places have real names, but I just use the names that work for me.
On the way out of town, someone passed me and started waving. I had no idea what was going on, but I stopped. They conveyed to me that my license plate had fallen off about 1 km back. I asked if they could show me where and they responded “ok” and then promptly drove away. I tried to circle back and find it but driving in Thailand does not leave a lot of spare brain cells to engage in much besides focusing on the road and all the things that cross your path. Also, the street and roadsides are littered with garbage. Needless to say, I did not locate it. Now I was a bit paranoid that I would be the subject of a police shake-down or even arrest.
At the gas station, I could not get my bike started. The key would not fit the starter. I had to play a version of the 80’s board game “Operation” to try and get the key back in.
I proceeded along the Myanmar border with military checkpoints every 5 km and 3k ft drop-offs on either side of the border spine I was riding.
Most checkpoints just waved me through, except one where they asked me to remove my helmet and take my picture holding up my Thai Drivers License. Then he said he needed to take a picture of my license plate. Here we go. He walks back behind my bike and bends down and takes picture of my license plate, or I should say, the place where my license plate should be. He then motions the guard to raise one of those gates you always see in the movie that separate countries at a remote border crossing. I was dumbfounded. Did he really not notice I had no License Plate or was he just going through the motions. Did he even have a camera, or was it just a block of wood? I did not wait around. Gathered up my stuff, piled it in my lap, and motored through the checkpoint and around a corner, before stopping to gather my crap and break out in a ridiculous laugh.
I was riding down the switchbacks into the Golden Triangle when my bike stalled. I could not get it started. Fortunately, I was on a downhill, so I could easily pop the clutch from second gear and start it, but it immediately died every time. Great! After 20 minutes of imaging how this day would play out I realized my kickstand had fallen down a bit and automatically killed my engine. Back in business.
The Golden Triangle is where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all come together in a triangle fashion. In this picture you can see the river color change as they merge together into the Mekong River.
This is the epicenter of Opium production. I even stopped at the “Opium Museum” and was actually quite impressed with their presentation.
After lunch I continued on along the river
I had a moment of reflection. I was riding along this river that holds such a strong place in the history of this area. It is on par with the Amazon of South America as far as its importance to the inhabitants.
I also began to reflect on my journey thus far and how it compared to my bike trip in Vietnam 5 years ago. Back then I was greeted in each village with smiling faces and waves, but here I rarely saw any waves, or smiling faces for that matter. I wondered if it was due to the overwhelming number of older white men that come over to Thailand and ride motorcycles through this area. And frankly their lack of respect for the people and traditions. For the most part, they are anti-vaxers, Trump supporters, sex-pat engaging idiots. They had ruined a beautiful country for me. I longed for welcoming people who would invite me to their table and share a beer. But years of Westerners engaging in seedy activities had left them jaded.
I pulled into the border town of Chiang Kong and had a nice view of Laos across the river from my hotel room
Stray dogs everywhere. I pondered why all the stray dogs look like similar breeds. How come there is not a town full of stray Bichon Frise? That would really draw the tourists in. Maybe that’s what I will do, open a hotel and bar in one of the dying villages and just turn hundreds of unneutered Bichons free like I was stocking a river with salmon. Then just wait for the row of headlights to line up outside my place.
I walked along the river bank and stopped for a beer
I moved inland and found my way to a Mexican restaurant
I was further contemplating my earlier thoughts on sex tourism in Thailand. It was getting in the way of having genuine interactions with people. Everywhere I went in Thailand, if I was alone, they would be offering drugs or sex. And people not offering me those things were looking at me as if that is all that I was here for. I was stereotyped for the first time and I did not like it. It was just the tip of the iceberg as it compares to what marginalized people have felt for generations, but I wanted no part of it. It was at this time that I saw two guys sitting at the bar in the Mexican joint drinking a bottle of Jameson. Let’s give this a whirl. I asked if I could join them and we proceeded to share how we all ended up here.
The owner shut down the restaurant and we all moved on to a local bar to continue the engagement I had been seeking since arriving in Thailand.
I had found my wolfpack. We drank through the evening. A German named Mark, who came here in his 20s and has been coming back for the last 20+ years due to the love of a local Thai woman named Mimi. Neil, is a local to Chiang Kong and me, an American in search of adventure and the unspoiled. At some point, they handed us rock hammers and nails for a bar game I have played in the past. I promptly shattered my glass with the hammer.
The drinking went on as long as was necessary
The guy on the left end of the picture was hilarious. I am not sure if he was just really drunk, but every 5 minutes he would yell out a name of a dinosaur in English. Neil would tell me that he was a genius, but very shy…”Stegasaurus!” I felt like quoting Good Will Hunting when Casey Affleck utters the words, “My boy is wicked smart” to a bar full of Harvard undergraduates.
I woke up the next morning to a knock on my door from Kai, the owner of the Waterfront Hotel. He was checking to make sure I was alive. I assured him I was and made my way downstairs for a cup of coffee and conversation. Kai told me about how the town had fallen on hard times. Originally a ferry was the only way across the river and it stopped running at 5 pm. Everyone would stay in Chiang Kong overnight and cross the next day. Once they built a bridge about 10 years ago, people could cross 24 hours a day and it killed the town.
I was tempted to stay another night and hang out with this group, but I like to be on the move and I knew if I stayed over I would end up ruining the experience in some fashion.
The ups and downs of these roads were getting more extreme
Climbed a hill overlooking Laos that Neil mentioned as a good destination
Wound my way back down and on into the city of Phayao
I was tired from the night before so a simple dinner by the lake and I was back to bed
Today I finished up the loop by heading back into Chiang Mai after stopping at a Hot Spring and engaging in a decent off-road section
I stopped at a Michelin restaurant outside of town for lunch. The bookcase on the wall was filled with action figures. What’s wrong with these Thai people?
I dropped the bike back at the rental. I tried to back it into place without them seeing the missing license plate but they were on it right away. I claimed someone stole it during the night while parked outside my hotel in Chiang Rai. Not the truth but I figured it more digestible then it, “fell off on the highway”
I sat by the pool until dark then wandered the back alleys of the old city
I was looking for another “unique experience” I felt like Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, creeping through the alleys of Saigon looking for that rush he felt in a Viet Cong Prison camp. Now, I was not looking for a game of Russian Roulette, but I did want something raw. I was spoiled. Seeing another waterfall, or temple was a bore. The stakes to get my adrenaline going needed to be higher with each new adventure. The mundane activities mentioned in a Lonely Planet book, Instagram, or Facebook post were not going to cut it. My appetite was whet years ago and I was a junkie.
I ended up playing pool at this local brothel-type place with these ladies in their 60s for about 3 hours. I did not know it was a group of prostitutes. I know what these Go-Go bars (one of many different names these establishments have and I am not well-versed enough to tell you the difference between them) look like but this one seemed different. I thought it was just a regular bar. That is until halfway through I asked them what they thought of all these westerners coming here just to get laid by these hookers and how it had ruined the place. To which they responded, “You are looking for sex? We do that as well!” Oh well. We continued to play pool, and I ended up paying way too much for my drinks and the drinks of many of the employees, but I felt we had some wholesome fun for a change.
I boarded a plane back to Bangkok the next morning. I had a great time on my own, pushing my comfort limits. I will be back in about a month for another motorcycle trip.
We finished out the month with a trip to Cambodia. We plan on doing a lot of trips to neighboring countries in the future but right now it seems less than ideal as COVID restrictions are still in place in some areas. We needed to make one exit by the end of January to be able to renew my Multi-Entry Tourist Visa and Cambodia made the list due to proximity and cost. As opposed to including that trip here, I decided to add it to a separate blog entry under Cambodia. You can Read the entire trip at this link: CAMBODIA BLOG ENTRY
Until Next Month
Thailand 2023 Photography Pictures
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