Goodbye Thailand (July 21st - August 16th, 2012)

(Bangsaphan - Prachuap Khiri Khan - Hua Hin - Phetchaburi - Nakhon Pathom - U Thong - Chainat - Nakhon Sawan - Kamphaeng Phet - Tak - Thoen - Lampang - Chiang Mai - Wiang Papao - Chiang Rai - Chiang Saen - Chiang Khong)

Distance biked so far: (18,961  km)
Thailand is a big country and you don't realize it until you bike from one end to the other. I started this leg of the trip in Singapore; over 3,600 km's ago. That is almost half the distance across Canada and 2,400 of those kilometers were part of going south to north in Thailand.

One thing that I noticed here in Thailand as well as in the Philippines is the problem with overhead wires. It seems to be a problem in every city in both countries and something I didn't realize in any other place. I can't count how many times I wanted to take a photo of a nice building or scenery and had to move to avoid the clump of wires. In a few places I saw them putting up more wires but hopefully they will start moving them underground in the future.
I often stop at various places to take a rest and get something to drink and in many cases end up meeting Thai people curious about where I am from, where I am going etc. One question I often get is "so what do you think of our country?" I remember getting that a lot in India, as it was rare for them to see someone from the West on a bicycle, particularly in the more remote areas. If there is one consistent attribute of humans around the world it is a pride in their country. Everyone takes pride in their homeland and wants to showcase the best they have to offer. It's sometimes easy to think that everyone wants to be from the developed countries but in the overwhelming cases I have seen, if people have a choice they would prefer to live in the country where they were born and raised.  No event captures this more than the Olympics and I think that is what makes the games so special. In Thailand, there is a young boxer that made it to the finals and was fighting for his countries first gold medal this year. He is from a small town I went through called Kamphaeng Phet. Most of the world has never heard of him or his city but the pride in their fighter is the same pride you see all over the world right now whether you are Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or a rifle shooter from Zimbabwe. For the few minutes you stand on top of the podium and listen to your national anthem, your country is standing still, particularly the small countries that do not have many chances to win. I thought about how this same sense of national pride would be occurring in all corners of the world during the past few weeks and was again reminded that people have far more things in common than differences.

I rode by this site and thought it was a giant water slide but I can't read the sign and the few people around didn't understand what I was asking so I'm not quite sure what it represents.
I biked through the Central part of Thailand for the second time and this is the typical scenery in the main rice growing part of the country.
The elephant is a revered animal in Thailand; they even have their own hospitals and schools.
On my way out of the City I came across one of the North's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep. Here is a view only partially blocked by overhead wires.
The landscape in the north is decidedly mountainous and you can start seeing the beginning of the road that will become more challenging as I head north into China. The air is fresh and much cooler than Central Thailand so that compensates for the increasingly difficult biking.
I had mentioned earlier that many cities have clock towers that are typically in the center of the town. The nicest one I have seen is in Chiang Rai.
I arrived in Chiang Saen with the idea to board a passenger ship that runs into southwestern China. When I checked into my guesthouse I was told that in October 2011, the same passenger ship was attacked and 13 Chinese crewmen were killed. They found millions of dollars of drugs on the boat so it was being used to run drugs between China and Myanmar. The Chinese government closed the ship for foreign tourists so that option was now closed. I already have my visa for China so biked to the border town of Chiang Khong and will bike across into Northern Laos and then into China. The change in plans will mean about 10 extra days of cycling but I do enjoy crossing borders by land so will get that chance in about a week.

On my way out of town I watched some crewmembers load a cargo ship that was bound for China. The guys would lift 2 heavy sacks on their shoulders and walk the 6 or 7 meters across a bouncing narrow plank and not one fell in.
I cycled the 60 km from Chiang Saen to the border town of Chiang Khong on what started out as a sunny morning.
There is a small mountain in between the cities and just as I started up the torrential rain started. It was so hard that small rivers of water started coming down the road. The weather was warm though and it was like biking in a shower, actually quite refreshing, but I did wonder at one point if the road would completely wash away.
I ended up in Chiang Khong, the border town and am staying at the place I stayed last year. I love this old teakwood guesthouse situated on the Mekong River and they gave me the same room as last year. Here is my view from the bedroom.
I will be heading across to Laos tomorrow morning for the few hundred kilometers to the Chinese border and then into China. I wasn't planning on updating this journal until I entered China but the change in plans allowed me a few more days in Thailand.

I arrived in Thailand in March 2011 after 6 weeks in India and found it to be an oasis compared with the noise and chaos of the sub-continent. In my time here I have cycled the entire length of Thailand twice and also spent 10 days at a Buddhist retreat and a full month in Bangkok. I am not sure if I will ever return but Thailand will always be my favorite country.
I spent 6 days in Chiang Mai waiting to get my visa for China. I had a lot of errands to run to get my biked tuned up, new tires, some warm weather gear, rain pants, Chinese money etc. I also ate a lot of food, drank a lot of coffee and wandered around the City. Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in Thailand outside of Bangkok and is the northern capital of tourism. There were so many tourists that I often forgot I was in Thailand. It has a nice Old City that is surrounded by a canal and is a pleasant place to stroll through.
One thing I have noticed is that it is much harder to start biking if you take more than a few days off. You would think you are more rested but the relative inactivity, later nights and more eating that I do in the Cities means a real lethargic feeling once I get going. My first day out of Chiang Mai was a struggle with very hilly terrain and a lack of kick in my legs. The anti-dote is to have a relatively short day with light eating, lots of water and no eating after dinner. That recipe will give me far more energy tomorrow. It also helps if you find a nice place with a river right behind your room like this one north of Chiang Mai. I stopped at a resort on the side of the road and asked if I could set up my tent and they said I could sleep near the waterfall in the back.
After 3,600 km's of coming north since Singapore I finally made it to the top of Thailand and could glance over the Mekong River and into Laos.