Greetings from Lampang in Northern Thailand

Yo dudes,

Well it’s been about 20 days since my last email so figured I’d get another one out before my Mom gets the Thai police out searching for me. Having read a few books about the Bangkok Hilton that’s something best avoided so here we go.

My last email was sent from the town of Plimmerton about 50kms north of Wellington on the North Island. We had two days rest as we’d done some hard cycling from Christchurch and had spent a day in Wellington which was taken up with sorting flights out for Thailand and the required visas. We set off from Plimmerton with the aim of spending 4 days on the bike before catching a train to Auckland. The plan was to get to Auckland a few days before the flights as we needed to sort a number of things out before heading to Bangkok.

This time my trip to Bangkok was going to be a bit more complicated. For one Bessie isn’t young anymore. She’s done 20,000 hard kilometres and it’s starting to show. I really needed to get her a quality service in Auckland but time constraints meant this wasn’t possible. The other complication is that my route this time requires me to be more self sufficient. I’ve needed to buy pretty much all the major components for both mine and Corinne’s bike because if anything goes wrong somewhere like Laos you’re pretty much on your own.

I left Kiwiland on the 31st of March. My feelings about NZ are mixed. It’s a beautiful country but not the amazing cycle touring experience I imagined or had been told about by others. Culturally the entire South Island is too similar. You don’t get the feeling you’re cycling through a real country but more a eco-disney park for adults. The North Island is supposed to be more culturally diverse but as a cyclist you have the problem that NZ doesn’t have a secondary road system so you share the road with all the other traffic. To me it was too similar to Europe but without the advantages of a well developed road system where you can pick a road and not see a car for hours. Maybe I spent too long there or maybe it just came at the wrong time in my journey but NZ is the only country I’ve left with no real interest in either going back or learning more about. Even Serbia stirred emotions and got me reading books and trying to understand the Balkans.

I arrived in Bangkok late on the 31st. Corinne was on a later flight so I spent a stimulating few hours in the baggage area trying to finish Crime and Punishment. Corinne arrived and it was out of the airport and into the madness and heat of the Bangkok night. It was 30C at one in the morning so after the usual haggle with the taxi drivers we headed for the air-conditioned luxury of an 8 quid hotel in Chinatown. We spent two days in Bangkok mainly to sort out our visas for Vietnam and get any last minute supplies we couldn’t organise in Auckland. Shopping in Bangkok is a great test of how two people get on. Shopping and dodging the traffic in 40C heat not my idea of fun.

After Bangkok we caught the train 70 kms north to Ayutthaya. Last year I cycled out of Bangkok but I figured it’d be more difficult with the two of us so we braved the world of Thailand’s third class public transport. We arrived in Ayutthaya with a plan to head off early in the morning. Temperatures of 40C were predicted and it was Corinne’s first time cycling in anything approaching that type of heat so I figured we’d get up at sunrise and see if we could get some miles in before the heat got unbearable. That night we did some touristy stuff and checked out the temples by night. Afterwards we went for some food and had one of those small world moments when I met a French guy I’d seen a month ago in Christchurch. Not sure if it indicates the world is small or that people tend to travel the same road.

In the morning we were up with the sun and heading for the town of Lopburi 80kms to the north-east. I was worried about Corinne coping with the heat but by 10:30 we’d made good time and had done around 50kms. We had 30 kms left to do and while the temperature was starting to climb we could take it easy and increase our stops for cold drinks. We arrived in Lopburi at 12:30, a town famous for it’s marauding monkeys.

In the morning we set off even earlier than the day before as the distance to the next town with accommodation was over 100 kms. It was the first time Corinne had ridden over 100kms and the heat was a worry again with 40C plus being predicted again. As usual I was worrying about nothing and Corinne managed the distance without any problems. We were probably helped by a downpour mid-afternoon but the rain only clears the air for an hour here before the oppressive heat starts again. Most days we keep our mind off the heat with my attempts at learning German. I’ve bought a German phrase book and the days on the bike are spent seeing how much I’ve learnt. Usually not enough and the principle of gender in language makes a tough job just that bit tougher.

We continued heading north increasing the daily distances as we went along. By the time we reached the town of Sukhothai and had our first day off the bike, we were averaging a similar daily distance as when I was on my own. The only difference is that we’re having more days off for enjoying the country. I’d still like to finish the round the world in under a year for numerous reasons so it’s a case of getting that balance right. Obviously the other thing is that Corinne isn’t trying to cycle round the world in under a year so I have to balance the miles I need and ensure we have enough time off the bike for Corinne to do the things she wanted to do before she agreed to cycle SE Asia. This may include her traveling ahead by public transport to give her more time but I think she enjoys the challenge as much as me so we’ll see.

We left Sukhothai to time perfectly with the Thai festival of Songkran. I’m sure the festival has some deep cultural meaning but from what I can see it’s an excuse for kids to throw water over people passing by with tourists on bikes seeming to be some kind of bonus. Every town we go through involves running the gauntlet of kids armed with buckets, hoses and water pistols. As in keeping with Thais being polite it’s always done with an apologetic word and we’ve had kids say “I love you” before emptying a bucket of water over us. Corinne even had the police single her out for a special drenching when we cycled past a police station.

As with the last time I was here, the Thais have been as friendly and as courteous as you could hope for. We had a puncture one afternoon in the hottest part of the day and after fixing the puncture we were beckoned over by some guys working for the highway agency who fed us and watered us before sending us on our way. I was even challenged to drink some of the local whiskey which didn’t help me cope with the heat.

We’re in Lampang now which is about 250 kms south of Chiang Rai. We have one more day off tomorrow and we’re planning to head for the Elephant Conversation Centre and do some Elephant riding and if we have some time head over the hills to Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai is about three days ride from the Laos border and after crossing the border it’s a 2 day slow boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Laos is going to be different and I anticipate a tougher ride than Thailand. Gaps between civilisation will be greater and it’ll require more thought and planning. It’ll be great to experience another country and a different challenge.

Anyways best go as it’s to try something new at the local restaurant.

Oh and for those people interested, my mobile is now working again although I’m not sure if I’ll have coverage in Laos.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

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