Most people start their vacations by sleeping in…not us. It was Saturday morning, and we were up at 6am. Of course it felt more like 8am given the time difference from Japan, so it really wasn’t a big deal. The sunrise was soooo beautiful, and we had a delicious full buffet breakfast waiting for us.
There was more food in that buffet than was humanly possible to consume: a large selection of fresh fruit & juices, pastries, yogurts, muesli, smoked salmon, cheeses, salads, noodles, soups, breads & jams. We could also order anything off the hot menu. We not only tried a bit of everything on the buffet, but we ordered hot meals as well. Heck, why not, we had an active 9 hours ahead of us. And I’ve got to say….my banana pancakes with mango gelato were particularly scrumptious.
As promised, our bike guide and driver picked us up at 8:15am. We found out we were the only ones scheduled for today’s trip – which was an added bonus. We got into the truck and started our 1 1/2 hour drive north. It took a good 45 minutes to get out of the city, but it was worth the wait to see the beautiful countryside. The roads became curvy and less crowded and the mountains and hills became more visible. Eventually we entered a wide river valley and began traveling on small rural roads. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t find this place on my own. The last stretch was on a dirt track (with no signs). We eventually drove thru two large open wooden gates. Within the walled compound was a beautiful little complex. I felt like I was in some scene from Romancing the Stone. There was another group of people (from REI) that had spent several days biking in the area and they were getting ready to leave. After our quick 15 minute rest stop, we were fitted for our mountain bikes and helmets, grabbed some bottled water, and headed on our way up the dirt road.
Kiki (our guide) lead the way. She was great. She’d stop along the way and point out the different types of trees, fruits, nuts, rice, coffee, and plants they grew (which is just about anything you can think of). We stopped and watched the locals picking, packaging and hunting. Sometimes we’d stop just to take pictures of the countryside. In the course of about 2 hours (and 12 km) we also got to ride through and visit 5 different hill tribe villages (Karen, Akkha, Lahu, Lisu and Palong). These villagers migrated from either Myanmar (Burma), China or Tibet over 100 years ago and each have their own distinct culture and language. The women stayed home and watched the kids, while the men went to work in the fields or to hunt. They shared one vehicle in the village. The women worked on crafts made of cotton (hats, coin holders, purses, wall hangings), stones/gems (for jewelry) or bamboo (for baskets). They were always excited to see foreigners and would lay out blankets and display their creations in hopes of making a sale. Chickens, dogs and pigs roamed freely. Their houses and possessions were minimal, yet they all seemed content, and it was very clean. Some of the old women had a very bad habit of chewing on betel nut (a stimulant), and their teeth had become chipped and black. Actually learning about these people while you meet them was very interesting.
Before we knew it, we were back at the lodge. It was good timing, because riding on dirt roads without biking shorts and cycling up some good sized hills had started to take it’s toll. The lodge offered us some soft drinks and a huge spread of food. While it was all very good and healthy, we were a little disappointed it wasn’t that spicy. Looking back, however, it was probably not only a good thing, but also intentional – especially since we still had 30 kilometers to go.
We rested for 20 minutes and then restocked our water. Off we went, this time down the hills and across the valley. The single dirt track we took was fun. It had a good bit of sand on it (probably from the recent floods), and we would occasionally get stuck. We rode through forest, and then past fields and orchards. Finally we ended up on the rural road from which we could see Doi Chiang Dao mountain in the distance (the third highest mountain in Thailand). The cave at the base of this mountain was our final destination.
It was pretty warm that afternoon and the sun was pretty intense. We stopped at a rice “factory” and at a newly planted teak tree plantation for water breaks. The driver followed us in case we needed a break from riding. Fortunately, the closer we got to our mountain, the more shade there was. We made it, but we were both glad to get off the bikes. Walking around felt good. There was a large market here which specialized in natural and herbal medicine. If you had an ailment, they had a fix. I forgot to ask if they had something for my numb bum. We ended up not purchasing anything though, since it probably wouldn’t have gotten through customs in Japan.
We walked around the place to stretch our legs, take pictures of all the cool stuff, and cool off before we went inside the cave. It was similar to other caves – except for the religious statues, articles and decorations scattered throughout. There are supposedly 5 interconnected caves (at various levels) believed to stretch some 12 km under the mountain, but tourists usually only see the first 1km – which, quite frankly, is enough. It’s humid and damp and some areas are pitch black. We went as far as we could without lanterns and a cave guide. At the end of the lighted area, there is an imprint on the wall of the royal emblem – the King and Queen paid a visit here in the ’60’s and someone left their mark.
It was now time to head back to Chiang Mai. We were back at our hotel by 5:30. A nice long shower and a short walk to dinner was the only thing on our mind. What a great first day. We packed a ton of stuff in and we knew we’d sleep great. We were also looking forward to a leisurely day exploring the Old City tomorrow – if we could still move in the morning. 🙂
We took over 150 pictures that day. Check them out on our picassa website:
|Day 1 – Biking in Chiang Dao|