Tuesday, January 16, 2018

MHS Day 5 - Pai to Soppong. 50km


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Pic - Siew Wan

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It was hard to leave beautiful Pai but we must. One day, I will spend a week here! When we woke up I felt a bit chilly and a quick check on the weather forecast explained why. Coming here during the Winter months is probably the best time and don't forget to bring your woolies.

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We arranged a beautiful bacon and egg breakfast with Bannamhoo and they gave us a breakfast that was more than satisfactory.  The boys wanted seconds. It was that good!

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I cannot praise the owners enough for their helpfulness, warmth and friendliness. I had to make a deposit for a booking in Maewin and had trouble finding a bank. They did it for me through their own internet banking and that saved me lots of effort and time. Such is the unbeatable hospitality of Bannamhoo.  If you are ever in Pai, please stay here!!!  The added bonus of Ben the Golden Retriever truly makes this a wonderful abode to explore Pai.

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Once again, I took off a bit earlier with KC and Cynthia while Lance and Wayne went to check out some mountain views. I'm always amazed as their boundless energy - the blessing of youth. It was a good downhill start as we glided 2km to Pai town and then turn left to Highway 1095.

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But I needed to say hello to an old friend whom I have not seen for nearly 10 years. Khun Pai Lin runs Pailin Homestay and we stayed there when we first came to Pai. She is a very nice lady who wanted my Carry Me bicycle in exchange for a month's stay. I was so pleased that she recognised me and it was good to see her again. She didn't age one bit!

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Highway 1095 started out pretty flat and it was pure joy to be cycling on the flats for a while. Then the hills and climbs started. The route is pretty straightforward, up 20km or so and then down to Soppong. Sounds easy enough.

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All the rest and 2 massages in Pai made us seem stronger and we powered up those climbs with not much effort, much to my surprise. The power of rest indeed. As with all climbs, the views just get better as go higher up.

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The thoughtful Mothership soon swung by to see if we are ok and whether we needed more water, food etc. The crew of YC, George, Wendy, Mark and Loh behind are truly wonderful blessings.

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Nothing like seeing smiling faces and receiving much needed encouragement from dear friends as we face tough challenges. Having support is important not just in cycling long and steep hills but as we face the hills and climbs of life. Indeed the wisdom of the Good Book testifies to this...

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Reaching the peak, Doi Giwlom, we were greeted by quite a horde of cars and other traffic, and for good reason. It offered breath-taking views and has good amenities with proper toilets, cafe, many vendors selling all sorts of snacks. 

Great video by Sinn Tail

Getting up there is definitely not a walk in the park and I was drenched in sweat when I arrived. First thing I did was to get myself a much needed drink - ice milk tea! I also bought some grilled sweet potatoes - and I reckon this is probably one of the best energy food for cyclists. 

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KC, ever the avid photographer, had fun taking portrait pictures on the ledge where the beautiful backdrop of mountains provided the perfect background. 

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Some very enterprising Hill Tribe children all dressed in their colourful traditional costume were there too for photos. I came across 2 beautiful sisters from Lisu tribe and when I asked how much to take a pic with them, one replied very politely in perfect English with a big smile, "Up to you!"...  and that deserved a generous tip. One common trait I noticed about the wonderful Thais is their pure happiness everywhere and across the land.

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It was only an easy 18km downhill to Soppong and we were excited about the descend. We took off like figher jets from an aircraft carrier and saw speeds of 70kmh easily, esp from Lance and Wayne. I took it a bit slower to enjoy the amazing scenery that passed before me and also to impart some downhill techniques to Sinn Tail, who like many, are a little fearful of fast descends especially when there are hairpins involved. It helps if you ride motorcycles as cornering line is everything. 

Before we know it, the thrill was over in about 30 mins! And to think that it would take 2.5 hours to climb the opposite direction. Soppong is a very quiet hamlet with only 3 hotels that I know off. We stopped at Busaba Restaurant, rated #1 in TA, for our lunch. They were quite busy and we had to wait awhile for our food but it was ok as we had the whole afternoon free. I was alerted to a very nice bicyle - a Thorn Sherpa to be precise that was parked upstairs near the loo. It is not often you see such a pedigree bicycle in this part of the woods and it could only belong to the lady tourer that we spotted in Pai just yesterday. 

I wasted no time to go up to bring greetings from Lovethefold and saw her lying down resting on the matted floor of the balcony. I felt really bad disturbing her solitude and wasn't sure if I should. But sometimes in life, there are some people whom you just have to meet and this inspiring lady is one of them. "Sawadee Krup!  Sorry to disturb you but we spotted you in Pai, and just wanted to say a quick hello!"  Fortunately for me, she was happy to return the greeting and we chatted for a good 10 mins or so. Mallika was doing a solo tour of N Thailand and is a retired teacher or Kru in Art and English, both my favourite subjects. It was a great privilege to just exchange stories and I felt an instant camaraderie with Khun Mallika. Little did I know that this was not the last time we would meet.

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Our meals finally came and we ate it quickly as we were hungry. The owners were apologetic about the wait but we fully understand and it did not bother us and we told them "Mai Pen Rai" or no worries.  Checking into Soppong River Inn was easy as they were expecting us. Very efficient check in and the boss lady was very warm and friendly.

This is my first time I have stayed here. Little Eden was not bad but we found SRI much better in terms of decor and esp rooms with river views. We settled in comfortably and YC and boys enjoyed a nice family room while George and Wendy had the honeymoon suite. Here is my room mate KC making himself feel at home!

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SRI is located by the beautiful river and we had lots of fun taking photos of these gorgeous surroundings.

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What caught us that night was the cold wave from China that really hit N Thailand. Temperatures dropped to 7c that night, lower than the foreasted and even at dinner time, it was already 13-14c and we were shivering. It was the coldest night we have ever experienced in Thailand in all my years. Cynthia came to dinner all wrapped up and prepared!  Clever her.

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We enjoyed a steamboat dinner at a restaurant across the road 100m on the left, which was most appropriate for a cold winter's night. We all ate heartily and fueled up for tmrw's very challenging ride. 

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SRI was very thoughtful in providing us with extra blankets for the cold night and it came in very handy. I don't know about the others but I certainly was cosy and warm in my bed. It had been another amazing day and a relatively easy one for our trip. My soul has been stirred more than once through the beauty I experienced today. I slept feeling very inspired by our new friend Mallika and wondered if we would meet her on the road tomorrow?

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Pics KC ST n AL

Saturday, January 13, 2018

MHS Day 4 - As easy as Pai

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Bicycle centric hospital - Pai!

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Thai Garlic Fried Pork - a favourite! Can never get tired of eating this.

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What can I say about Pai that hasn't been said? This is such a beautiful town in Northern Thailand and has been the hangout for greenies, hippies and druggies until it was found out some 15 years ago and it changed quickly into tourist Mecca. Every time I come here I spot new hotels, restaurants and cafes and thankfully, not at the lightning pace of Siem Reap. For today, the agenda was to take it easy and rest. No cycling, only sightseeing.

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This time what really got super developed was the KMT Village 5km up the hill from Pai Town. It used to be a quiet Chinese village but has turned into a tourist circus with big money pouring in and turning it into a Chinese Disneyland. What put me off was when we were going to see the sunrise (yes, a few of us actually got up and drove up there), they wanted 300B or $12 as parking/entrance fee. The whole car park was also littered with shops selling all sorts of the same stuff for tourists. We said no thank you and went off. After all this is the sunrise and it is open and wide for all to see.

Fortunately, I remembered a beautiful restaurant on a hillside that had a wide balcony which was 5 mins drive away. Though it was closed at this unearthly hour, we managed to open the gates and quietly made our way to see the majestic sunrise. The owners didn't seem to mind so long as we were quiet.

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It was special to be watching the breaking of dawn at a coldish 13c - darkness turning slowly into light as the majestic sun peeped through the mountain range. I admired the changing portrait of God's artistry in front of my very eyes and it stirred my soul. Truly, we were all so glad and blessed we came to experience this moment.

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We hung around for at least an hour until our stomachs started to rumble. Looking for breakfast in the old part of Pai near the market was easy as there were plenty on offer. I settled on Kwey Chap, some sort of stewed pork in soya sauce while the others had Kao Tom (congee) and for 40B, it was a breakfast for champions. 

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Sitting beside us was a Thai father and his kids also having breakfast and we enjoyed their company. It was a true joy seeing the little boy enjoying his Khao Tom!

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We then went for Round 2 for some hot soya milk and side dishes. This particular store was pretty crowded even at such an early morning but the service was friendly and efficient. I particularly loved the little donuts with coconut jam. It was fun to see the local traffic passed us and a man riding a sidecar, with the cutest dog in it, caught my eye! KC also spotted a lady on a full laden touring bicycle and that got exciting when we spotted her in Soppong the day after.

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We went back to collect the late birds who then went for breakkie. This was also a good time to bring Lance to Pai Hospital to get his dressing changed. Here compared to Samoeng Hospital, there was an additional 200b fee for foreigners which was understandable but we appreciated the immediate attention.

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For a start, we visited the KMT Village once again for the sake of the rest. As mentioned earlier, investments have been poured in to make it tourist friendly and especially catering to the China Tourists as they are the ones with the Bahts to splash these days. 

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The "rent a traditional costume" booth was kept busy as many came in beautiful dresses and gowns of old looking great and they made for colourful photos. Loh, a fluent Chinese speaker, went into a museum that explained their version of the war against Mao and the many "victories" they had. The keeper then asked for a substantial donation for the education of the children - which he instantly smelt a rat.

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Our next stop was Boon Ko Ku So Bridge some 12km from town. This is a bamboo bridge built across the rice fields near a river and it was something new to me. Getting there involved going through some very steep, narrow roads and slightly harrowing roads but the reward was worth it. We stopped at a waterfall along the way for a break.

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I have always enjoyed rice fields for they symbolize life-giving as rice is the staple for many Asians. This one is a bit different as its vast green fields are surrounded by beautiful mountains and credit to those who thought of making this a tourist attraction by simply building bamboo bridges so that people can walk across and above the wet fields and admire the beauty. Smack in the middle was also a nice cafe and I enjoyed my Cha Nu Ron. Unfortunately, we came just after the rice was harvest but it still was worth coming. 

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We hung around for too long until our stomachs growled and we drove back to town for lunch. Wayne and Lance met us in the restaurant but not before visiting a rabbit cafe. There they took lots of cute photos of these critters.

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We ate at Om Garden Cafe. It lived up to its name with lots of greenery and plants. The food too was fresh and very organic themed and this attracted herds of Western tourists. It is definitely worth a re-visit and no wonder it is currently the #2 restaurant in Pai according to TA. 

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It was back to the hotel for a rest before we head out to Charlie and Lek for a Thai dinner. This has been around for a very long time and like Nong Beer, Pai's eating institutions. We were welcome warmly and the food and service did not disappoint. 

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After that, it was off to the night markets once again to get some last minute souvenirs and gifts. The vibrancy and atmosphere truly are unbeatable. We also bought some Chinese Hot Air Lanterns for later before making our way back to Ban Nam Hoo. 

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Pad Thai with the longest queue in Night Mkt Pai

The temperature was definitely dropping and hitting around 15c and expected to fall to 11c. This was the perfect time to gather around a campfire and our arsonists-in-residence Wayne and Mark skillfully got a bon fire for us going in no time. It was fun to sit and huddle around a warm glowing fire on a cold evening.

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Our last activity for the relaxing day was to launch our lanterns. At only 3 for 100B, they are very affordable and during the New Year, thousands are launched into the air making for an amazing spectacle. 

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But we launched only a few, saving this fun activity for later days. It was special to see how the hot air slowly fills up the lantern and it is a good way to teach the young the value of patience.  Upon launching, it left our fingers and drifted up slowly into the night sky filled with a million stars that was sparkling clearly in front of our eyes.

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What a special way indeed to end our enjoyable and easy day in Pai, and to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Lovethefold Adventures! The best part was that we were only half-way through the tour and my heart was thankful at this privilege given to me by the good Lord to see this beautiful part of the world with such wonderful friends.

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Pics KC ST n Al