I often stop at road side stalls that have covered the roads from Bangkok and my favourite snack is the local fruit. The pineapple and water melon are the best I've ever tasted and like the straws for drinking, you get a little skewer stick for each package.
The City of Phayao is another one of the small riverside towns that I visited on my way north and it too did not get a lot of visitors as most head to the western part of the country. Once again it was a town I really enjoyed and with a short biking day, was able to take advantage of the longer days and get out to explore.
With my iced coffee in hand I watched a group of ladies doing very light movement exercises to music. They were having a great time and they noticed me watching so a few asked me to join. It was very relaxing as they just do basic walking and arm movements with deep breathing. It was so easy I could keep up and at one point almost fell asleep. They all clapped when I joined in and it was so nice that I stayed for 15 minutes until they were done for the night. They meet every night if it doesn't rain and the few I spoke with have been coming here for years. The Thai people really do like to smile and make you feel welcome.
On Thursday March 24th I arrived in Chiang Rai, another small city with a welcoming atmosphere. I have been feeling a little fatigued with the reintroduction of the hills so decided to take advantage of the fact that I still have 4 days left on my visa before I have to leave Thailand. I arrived in late afternoon after a visit to one of my coffee shops on the main road.
After visiting another night market and wandering around town I was sitting in my hotel room reading when the room started to shake. My first thought was that we must be right beside a train track but I quickly realized it was an earthquake. I grabbed my clothes and went outside and the entire street out front was full of people. I have never felt an earthquake and it was surreal, there is absolutely nothing you can do except take cover. After returning about an hour later that was another smaller tremor so I slept in my clothes, packed my valuables in one bag and left it by the unlocked door in the event I had to get out quickly. There was no major damage and on Friday we heard that a 6.8 earthquake hit Myanmar and the epicenter was 69 km from Chiang Rai. The City did not have any real damage but the phone lines were cut out. There are deaths being reported in both Myanmar and in the western parts of Thailand and the tremors were felt as far away as Bangkok and even into Vietnam. The quake was far enough inland that there is little risk of a tsunami on the coasts. These things happen very quickly and I realized how helpless the people are when they strike.
The people in Thailand do not speak a lot of English but I think many know some of the language but are just too shy to speak. I was in a little café one evening and a girl in her early 20's served me. She had a few friends at the table beside me and so I asked them a question about the homework they were doing and was met with a round of giggles. They clearly understood me so I asked if they learn English in school and the girl from the café decided she would be the brave one and responded (while the other continued their laughing) by saying they do learn but don't have a lot of opportunity to speak. I then asked her if they could count to ten and she said yes so I said I will try to count in Thai and she could respond with the same number in English. I started with "neung" and the table erupted in laughter. When the one girl repeated "one" the other girls could barely contain themselves. By the time we counted to 4, the other girls were almost on the floor In hysterics and had tears on their faces so that was about the end of our English/Thai class. I am starting to figure out why they are hesitant to talk.
I continued north to the town of Chiang Saen which is located on the Mekong river with Laos a few hundred meters north. There were signs for a triathlon on Sunday March 27th (the next day) so I asked around and was told it would start at 8:30 am. I decided to stay around a night and watch some of the race in the morning. On Saturday night they had a concert with dancing girls and the obligatory Karaoke music and I wandered the quiet town and ate at a few of the numerous street vendors.
On Sunday morning I walked to the transition area to watch the racers get their body markings and check in the bikes. It brings back memories of my triathlon days but with the cool morning and threatening skies, didn't really miss having to jump into the cold Mekong river.