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.
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!