The biggest challenge in Chiang Mai was going to be the 57km bike ride that I (Cliff) had booked before we left New Zealand. We knew from our previous rides in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2015 that it would be hot but we had not ridden this far in heat since our riding in Provence in France in 2013.
On the appointed day,’Murphy’s law’ kicked in. It dawned clear with the promise temperatures in the early 30s and while we were getting our bikes organised, our guide, Gun, let it slip that the ride was 62km. Being hard of hearing I missed that little gem and wondered why Ruth was giving me the evil eye when I looked up from adjusting my seat. One participant waved the white flag on hearing this little disclosure but I was still smiling oblivious to the fuss. Being deaf has its advantages.
We had a train to catch and the station happened to be on the other side of ‘the moats’ and we were immediately thrust into the rapid stream of peak hour traffic. Gun set a blistering pace, obviously conscious of the need to get to the station before the train left. At least the air was still a cool 24 or 25c.
Having bonded with the bikes on the ride to the station we enjoyed a relaxed train ride to Lamphun, about 30 minutes along the track and before we knew it we had hit our first stop, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai. We had visited Wat Pra That Doi Suthep the previous day – it was teeming with tourists. Hariphunchai did not have the same impressive location (3,300ft up a mountain) but it was equally as impressive in terms of the site and buildings and there were only a sprinkling of devout Thais visiting. Ruth was showing heaps of enthusiasm and getting carried away with Guns tuition on how to pray in the temple. We could see a change of ‘brand’ on the cards before our return.
Gun stopped regularly as we rode through the countryside – every plant was edible and he insisted on us trying them. Some were ok, some were discretely spat out while others jet propelled us (raw chillies) and depleted precious water supplies.
A Thai lunch was enjoyed in a quiet village setting and we were soon pedalling through rice paddies before hitting Ban Tawai, a village where every imaginable creation is made from wood.
Coconut ice cream complemented with sticky rice and chased down by deep fried banana flowers, jack fruit and some other fruit, the name of which escapes me. These helped to boost the sagging sugar levels but we were conscious that the headaches most of us were starting to develop were a sign of dehydration. Despite drinking litres of water, the bodies were starting to complain. “How far to go?” ” Any hills” asked Ruth. ’15km and yes, some tiny wee hills”.
We were now pedalling towards the 5,500 ft Doi Suthep and I could see what Ruth was thinking – “another lying male”. A quick visit to a Thai crematorium just so that we knew how it would all end and we were soon pedalling toward an impressive buddha high on a hill. As we stopped, Ruth proclaimed, adamantly, that there was no way she was walking up to the Buddha, this came as a bit of a shock give her earlier enthusiasm for the faith. In fact she was now glowing like red hot coals. 9.5km to go.
The hills were, thankfully, very small but it was obvious that we had been climbing for some time as there was no opportunity to ease off the pedals. I kept Ruth company as she fell back behind the main peloton (the other five) but as the slope turned into a descent and with a sniff of the end we were soon back with them.
Another ‘Wat-stop’, this time Wat Umong which also had a meditation centre attached to it. We entered the caves that had been built to keep a wandering monk occupied – Gun gave us more instruction, this time in the art of relaxation. Ruth’s enthusiasm had dwindled but she participated as it gave her a chance to have a quick sleep and the caves were cool.
As the sun started to set, we set out on what was to be the grand finale, a suicidal dash through peak hour traffic back to the moat-side depot. This involved biking manoeuvres that I have only ever seen stunt men undertake. It also required you to call on any higher being to protect you as you cut across traffic, weaved in and out of stationary traffic, all undertaken at considerable speed. Ruth, who refuses to ride on pretty quiet New Zealand highways, handled it with ease although the only thing that was motivating her were two words she keep repeating to herself ‘THE END’.
We dropped the bikes, hailed a tuk tuk and headed ‘home’. Ruth was not well, she had literally had a melt down. Time and gallons of water were not reviving her when she remembered the rehydration sachets that she had included in our medical kit. That had an immediate impact and was a salutary lesson for us, take rehydration liquid on any future rides. Ruth is adamant that there will be no more group rides in the tropics – she wants to control the pace and distance.
It was a great ride but those last 15km were death defying in more ways than we needed.
Note: The photos were taken on the iPhone5 – I was minimising weight so decided to leave the Fuji at the hotel.