Monday, June 9, 2008


About 4 kms from Wiang Pa Pao, we turned right at Foe Hai. At once, we were greeted with a mountain range in front. Time was about 3:30 pm. It was like riding into the hills.

On both sides of the road, the golden harvest of padi blanketed the horizon. For mountain lover like Rahim, he would be more focused on the joy of tackling the hill. For me, I prefered the flats of this golden harvest. The milestone showed 44kms to Phrao. On a normal cycling route, we would reach our destination before the sun set. This time around, it would be a different story

I took a shot of Rahim passing by, a slight contrast of his white T-shirt against the golden background of the harvest. You can see his smile, in antipication of challenging his heart rate on the slopes ahead.

After about 3 kms from the junction, the road started to inch upward, slowly but surely. The sound of Rahim crackling his "Yee ha", enjoying the gradient filled the air. My gears were slowly changing to the granny and the heart rate increased with every pedal, tackling the gradient. I glanced at my Polar ever so often to ensure I was in my safe zone. Reaching my own set limit of 175 bpm, I dismounted and pushed. This action slowed down both the heart rate and the speed. I cannot have the best of both worlds.

From the GPS reading provided by GPS KC, we reached the first peak after about 6 kms of huffing and puffing and pushing. It was about 330 metres of climbing over the 6 kms. By this time, the cyclists were no longer bunched together. The stronger ones were ahead while the non mountain-lovers like me would be at the rear. I was at one time alone when I saw an empty pick-up van. I thumbed for a lift and it stopped. It was roughly a very short 2km ride to the first peak. Not realizing there were many more peaks up ahead, I thanked the driver to stop. He was telling me something in Thai which I did not understand. Later I realized that he must be telling me there were many other peaks further ahead and that I should just continue to "ride" with him on his pickup. But I disembarked. The driver must be gleefully telling me "it's your choice!"

At this first peak, it was an exhilarating 2kms downhill and I told myself that the worst was over. Enjoying the fast cool wind in the face on this downhill, it was to be a very shortlived joy. A small uphill welcomed me and as I cleared this uphill, I saw a village at the valley with another upswing of the gradient. I stopped to capture this new challenge.

Our group congregrated at the only sundry shop at this village. We almost "sapu bersih" whatever was in the shop - mineral waters, buns, crackers. I was sure this roaring business would never come ever so often to this sundry shop. I walloped two buns, drank as much water as I should and filled up the water bottles and bought some spare buns to bring along. By this time, I was anticipating the possibility of a hard time ahead. The sun was already setting. The group of MTB's we met told us of several more kilometres of hills before we reached the final peak which would take us 22kms of free-wheeling downhill. A great promise indeed but how many more kilometres of uphill was rather vague.

Right from the start at the village, I started pushing. A few cycled on, zigzagging to reduce the gradient. Soon, we were again seperated into a few smaller groups. The gradient was taking its toll.

As the sun was slowly sinking, a pickup truck was sympathetic to our three gutsy ladies Wendy, Alia and Siew Ping. The pickup, with all women inside, picked up our 3 ladies. I managed to tumpang my panniers as there was no space for a 4th bike. The 3 ladies proceeded on to our final destination Phrao, with the task of securing us the night-stop.

Soon, dusk was approaching fast.

Together at the rear with me were GPS KC, YB BOH, AZMAR and ALAUDDIN. It was also getting cold and we were geting hungry. In between us, Azmar had a half-tin sardine and I had 1 bun to share amongst the 5 of us. We shared. We were now preparing for the long dark journey, uncertain of what could lie ahead.

We decided we should bunch together and pushed as a group. The jungles were fringing both sides of the road. Earlier, vehicles zoomed past us. None stopped and some were already fully laden. As the night got darker, less vehicles were zooming by. We continued our push. Occasionally the full moon would appear through the thick foliage to light the road. Otherwise, we could only see as far as our bike lights could shine. But we knew the road was still uphill. The batteries on my torchlight was already half-dead. Being an early-bird, I was not really prepared for a night ride. Tonight would be different.

While we huffed and puffed, our minds must have gone to our 3 ladies who by now should be safely in Phrao. We didn't know what had happened to the other cyclists up ahead - Don and Rahim, who were last seen riding together. There was also Caroline with another cyclist. They were strong riders but they too would be caught in the dark.

In my mind, we were now seperated in 3 groups, ours being the rear party. There was no mobile connection in this hill and therefore unable to communicate with the group upfront or with the ladies in the pickup.

Much later, Don told me he was not with Rahim as Rahim had gone ahead. Being alone as darkness was falling, he had made the right decision to hitch the ride on a pickup. It was easy as there was space for a bike and one passenger. He was brought to the Police Station at Phrao where he met our three ladies who had arrived earlier.

Unknown to us, our 3 ladies in the pickup were very much aware of the continuing uphill after they were picked up. They made the right decision, helped by the pickup owner, to seek assistance at Phrao Police Station for us. Unknown to us too, the Thai Police was already on the way to pick us all up.

It was about 9pm, still uphill pushing and puffing when we saw a light up ahead around a bend. Jokingly I recalled saying "it's the rescue". Then we saw the flashing of the siren light and pleasantly saw a Thai Police logo on the pickup door. All hands automatically shot up to stop the pickup. Then we saw Siew Ping in the pickup. What a great relief. Rescue was there.

Quickly, helped by the 2 police-officers, we were already putting the bikes up on the pickup. Great. Space just enough for the bikes. No way could we squeze in. Prayers answered. Almost at the same time, we saw a vehicle light approaching from behind. Stopped by the Police, the pickup certainly had to stop. A few exchanges between the Police and the owner, they agreed to ferry us to Phrao, in the canopied rear of the pickup.

We stumbled in, reliefed that the ordeal was nearly over. However, in the cramped condition of the covered pick-up, it had to be another experience. The driver could have been a retired rally driver as he roared on the twisty road. We were swayed from side to side. I almost threw up.

Even in our dizziness, we realized that the road was still going up and up. If we had not been picked up, we would still be somewhere in these hills well past mid-night. When the pickup finally reached the last peak, it was roaring downhill at what we felt was a fast speed. We were burping frequently, to release air from our system. When the vehicle stopped, it was another great relief.

Soon another pickup stopped. In the pickup was Rahim and Caroline and their bikes. We did a head count, again relieved that everyone were now accounted for. Next destination was to proceed to Phrao Police Station to sort out our accomodation and makan. One of the pickups belonged to the resort owner. Packed food was ordered. It was already well past mid-night. Tired and hungry, we were then transported to the Amdoi Resort for a well-deserved rest.


Perhaps the right phrase would be "looking up". Back home, GPS KC produced the drawing of the terrain we went through from our branch-off point at Wiang Pa Pao (the yellow marker on extreme left). The Village in the valley is the yellow marker in the middle of the chart. The last yellow marker on the right is the police pick-up point. Beyond that, the road was still climbing.

The picture below provided corresponding view of the mountain range in the background, with the uphill slope visible even from the distance.

The Thai cyclist we met earlier was very correct when he said "Phrao...tall...tall...". Would we have done it had we known the terrain beforehand? The 11 cyclists would have their respective answers. I did not solicit for any answers. It wasn't necessary. We were glad we went through the challenge safely.


Our cycling ladies of Alia, Wendy and Siew Ping who had the foresight of seeking help.

Above all, words alone would not be sufficient to express our gratitude and thanks to the Phrao Police personnels who came to the rescue. I will personally write a note of thanks on behalf of the group.

Ultimately, it's always the charm of its people that draws visitors to Thailand. Insyallah, this would not be my last cycling trip to Thailand.

Khap Pun Kaap!

Sunday, June 8, 2008



Today we begin our cycling on our return trip to Chiengmai. There had been discussions between leader Alauddin and several parties in the group to the route to be taken. One option was to cycle back the way we came, i.e. following the bus route. This route would mean overnighting in Wiang Pa Pao, about 92kms away, leaving 100kms for the 2nd day ride.

However, there were others interested in taking an alternative route through Phrao. To go to Phrao, we would branch off just after Wiang Pa Pao and head into a mountain range and would cover about 140kms. The argument was that we should do a longer journey on Day 1 for a shorter and hence relaxed ride on Day 2. There were hopes amongst the proponent of this route that it would be more picturesque. The decision was made to cycle to Phrao.

The morning was cool when we gathered at the Hotel ground, hooking our panniers on the bikes and last minute check to ensure our bikes were ready. A short briefing by Alauddin and we were off at slightly past 0700.

The road was pretty quiet, it being a Saturday and we made good progress on a relatively flat road. Almost everyone was in white and orange coloured Thai cycling jersey, purchased a day earlier in a well-stocked cycling shop. The shopowner and wife was just too pleased to give their best hospitality service ever to a noisy but "buying-appetite" Malaysians. They made a killing that night in sales but we were happy with our purchase of relatively cheaper accesories. So, it was a win-win!

Azmar got a TREK wheel-bag, made in Thailand for RM50. A great bargain and he was happy to display his purchase all the way. That's Azmar (pic below) at the rear with his his wheel-bag securely fastened. Jealous..jealous...

Alia ever the patriot in our group had her trademark flag fluttering from her helmet. Combined with her "roti" horn, she could easily attract some attention.
Having cycled for 2 hrs and 30 mins, the stomachs then refused to allow the legs to pedal! We have reached Mae Suai, 52kms away and our hungry eyes began looking for food. After several stops asking for Halal food, we backtracked a few kms and was rewarded with the Halal sign at a stall in a petrol-kiosk. The "crescent and star" sign came with a great relief. The picture of the steaming bowl came to life. In an instant the smoke looked real. I could smell the mee-curry just looking at the picture. Ah, the power of Visualization!

The cooks were rather amused with the orders from 12 hungry cyclists, using more sign language than spoken words. I noted someone eating Nasi Minyak Ayam half-way through my mee-curry. Don was seated besides me, also sipping his mee-curry. He too noticed the Nasi Minyak Ayam. We exchanged understanding glances at each other and we understood the universal language of an extra order! Ha...ha...a hungry man is a glutton man.

My Polar registered that I had burned 1464 calories. The Mee Curry, Nasi Ayam and the Coke would have easily wiped out all the calories burned! But that's ok. That's the side benefit of cycling. You get to burn calories and in return you get to bury yourself with some spoils at times - e.g. nasi beriani, pralines from Baskin Robbins, etc etc.

I recalled meeting a gentleman on his way to Chiengrai. On his pickup was a MTB. Being a fellow cyclist, he stopped to chat with us. We were asking about the route we would be taking to Phrao. In broken English he was saying something like :"Phrao...tall...tall" gesturing with his hand the mountain we would be facing. "Here...small...small" telling us so far it had been relatively flat. If only we understood him better!

At the halal stall, we also met a "Tiger Wood" wannabee. Well, probably more of a Tiger Prawn or a Plywood, depending whether you are a cook or a carpenter! I thought he was Thai. I was wrong. He was a Japanese and he loved golf. So he toured around to play golf but he too felt the pain of rising petrol price. So, he became an inventor and a color-coordinated golfer too - blue and red.

We spent almost an hour at the kiosk, almost reluctant to leave the halal stall. We may not find another one too soon. We moved on heading towards Wiang Pa Pao. We made good progress and made another stop later at stalls selling grapes. The seedless grapes were planted here itself.

The Vineyard
With gentle rolling hills and scattered shades as we meander through the roads, we made good progress.

We arrived at the wet market in Wiang Pa Pao, a small town. We feasted on coconuts while some went for the canned drinks at the seven 11 next door. Time was 2:43 pm. Chiengmai was 100kms away. We met a MTB cyclist who spoke very fluent English. He was on his MTB and was heading towards the same direction we were heading, but not to our destination at Phrao. He had some colleagues waiting at a small village at the foot of a hill for some off-road adventure.
We continued on for a short while and reached Foe Hai, the junction where we turned right to Phrao. The milestone indicated 44kms to Phrao. Time was closer to 3:30 and on a normal route, we should be in Phrao before the sun sets. We were wrong!

Monday, June 2, 2008


CHIENGRAI is the gateway to the Golden Triangle. The GT conjures my thought of the notorious drug trade of yesteryears. And drugs continue to be a world's menace. The Golden Triangle got its name from the 3 bordering countries of Thailand, Laos and Burma, seperated by the mighty Mekong River that has its source in the heart of China. It is "golden" because of the lucrative drug trade.

This would be my second trip to the GT. Back in 1997, I made this journey with my brother and 3 friends from KL to the Golden Triangle by road. It took us 5 days, riding an average of 600kms a day. It was on two wheels too, but motorised with powerful engines.

So when our cycling group decided that Day 2 is a touristy day for us, it was a "down memory lane" for me. I recalled visiting the Karen long-neck tribe, which was on our visit list. I recalled too arriving at the Golden Triangle, riding from Chiengmai almost soaking wet from a hail-storm towards the end of our final destination. Then, 5 of us gave each other a high 5, a proud moment for achieving our longest journey ever on a motorbike.

Our itinerary for today would include the famed RAI MAE FAH LUANG which is the art and cultural park. It's a sprawling complex housing the Princess Mother's Palace up in the cool mountain air and offering an expanse of mountain view into Burma and also a valley of flowers below the Palace. This too was our first destination for the day.

The journey took us on a nice winding road uphill. As cyclists, we admired the nice winding road inching upwards to the site. As a cyclist, one tends not to take the slopes for granted too. As we disembarked from the van, we immediately felt the coolness and the freshness of the mountain air. Ah, what a feeling! The peace of the place was also not disturbed by peddlars cajoling you to buy handicrafts as one would expect at tourist spots. A little bit like Cameron Highlands, but certainly with much lesser traffic.

An entrance fee of Baht 120 got us to visit 3 places. The first was the Princess Mother's Palace. Made entirely of timber, it was too small to be called a palace, but certainly big enough for the Princess Mother. The Thai monarch is highly revered, and so was the Princess Mother.

To enter, one had to be decently attired. Short pants were out. The guard provided us with loose blue pants to wear. Very comfortable. I wished I could just wear it unreturned! Notice our cool "pyjama" pants?

The walk was pleasant and the road was heavily landscaped.

The shades from the tall trees offer additional comfort to the already cool and fresh air as we made our way to the palace ground. I can't help but notice a cute watering station, not that I was thirsty.

And there was order everywhere. Everything was neatly arranged. Even fertilizer sprayers were in the correct military precision.

At the palace entrance, a lady politey told us we need to remove our shoes to enter the palace. No photos allowed too inside the palace. So we need to capture everything in our memory. A guide showed us around. The bedroom, the study and several other rooms were off-limit. Hence some of us peeped through the glass doors. The palace was made mainly of timber. I could not however believed what the guide told us that the timber was taken entirely from old wooden ships and that no trees were cut for the Palace.

Exiting from the Palace, I had to pose with these 2 soldiers who I presumed were ceremonial guards of the Palace. Notice my cool "pyjama"?

Next we moved into the Garden. There was an aboritorium where plants were cultivated. There were beautiful landscaped water features .......

and beautiful subject.........

taken by an equally enthusiastic photographer......

I was moving around with Rahim and Alia and we had this same professional photographer to take our Alia and Rahim

There were other picture-perfect gardens, manicured with love and tender care

and finally there was this picture-perfect subject too.......ho....ho....

Our next destination was FOOD. We arrived Mae Sai town which bordered Burma and had our fill of Halal food in a Muslim restaurant. It was just after Friday prayers and there were many Muslims coming out from the mosque. Of course I would be "jamakking" my prayers. Rain came suddenly.

The next destination was the Golden Triangle. The name itself had made this small town famous and Thai Tourist Authority knew how to capitalise on its name. It had grown much more since the last time I visited 11 years ago.

I did not recall seeing any "elephant" then. If there was, I wouldn't have dared being under its belly!

But we did stop for a quick visit of a 100-year old Wat (temple)

and had to make sure we follow the right direction to enter its gate

Our final destination was a visit to a Karen Long Neck village. At the entrance, we were told that the entrance fee would be Baht 500 (RM50), a rather steep price to see people with long neck. The lady in charge knew through our own shrug of our neck that we were not interested to enter for such a steep price. It was quickly reduced down to Baht 200 and several of us decided it was worth it, after having come a long way from Malaysia.

I chose not to as I had seen them before. And I had our own Karen long neck, which was a very willing subject.

On a parting note of our tour, I must give praise to the creativity of the Thais at recycling. Paying 2 bhat for the toilet facilities, I was wondering what the 2 sewing machines were doing in a toilet.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


The flight to Chiengmai was under 3 hours. Being the only flight arriving at the new Chiengmai airport, immigration clearance was pretty fast, so was the bag clearance.

The main task at hand was to transport all the luggages to a vehicle big enough to carry 12 bicycles packed in a bag. Back home, we would need two 1-ton lorry for the job and a mini van to carry the passengers. In Thailand, there will always be options.

The police at the airport suggested the passenger pick-up van. Though designed to carry passengers, there's always room at the top. The police even helped to call for two vans. The hospitality we get from the police was just the beginning. Little did we know the Police would be playing another major role later!

So 12 bike bags were loaded onto the van, a few securely secured on the roof. One van was for the passengers and in no time we were heading into the city and to the Arcade bus station.

At the bus station, it was another 3 hours wait for the bus to Chiengrai.

The journey was uneventful. We have used the VIP bus and with 3 passengers to a row, we settled in very fast for the 3 hours ride. A steward was on hand to welcome the passengers. We dont know what he was saying but when later he handed everyone a pack of crackers and mineral water, we really don't need to understand what he was saying.

I was setting up my Polar watch to check the altitude as the bus meanders up and down towards Chiengrai. Alauddin, as the tour leader had a map in hand, checking the towns as we passed them and looking for accomodation, planning for our return journey 2 days later. The road was scenic, with the expected ups and downs as one would expect on the roads in the mountain. We passed by a small town with a hot-spring. There were also certain stretches of the road under repair. Don who was seated besides me was concerned. With the rain, the road under repair was muddy, hence slippery. On a mountain-bike with knobby tires, it would not be a problem. Don is using his converted road bike with slim tires for this trip. I can understand his concern. I would too if I used a similar bike.

I have to mention here the cleanliness of the toilet on the bus. For that matter, Malaysian public toilets would be soundly beaten if there was ever a competition between Thailand and Malaysia. It's something the Malaysian public can learn from our Thai counterpart.

Arriving at Chiengrai, the next task was to find accomodation. With help from the a passenger pickup van, we headed for the White House hotel. A room for 400 baht (RM40) twin-sharing was a bargain. It was also operated by a Muslim, so food was not a problem. I settled in fast.


I must mention about a Garfield who was friendly with us. He reminds me of our own pet back home, PEDRO. So Pedro look-alike, here's your photo.