Travels around Thailand: Chapter 5 – The road from Nan to Chiang Rai

Bend with wrong sign I left Nan to take the country route to Chiang Rai. I had a full English breakfast at Tony's before I left. I always try to start a days ride on a full stomach as I frequently end up miles from anywhere and Tony,s was a belly wedger; it even had a home made Cornish style "hogs puddin".

I was soon back in mountain country and back jarring potholes. I've found for some reason when I hit one unexpectedly I try to lift myself and the bike up thinking It will somehow make us lighter. Needless to say it doesn't work usually ending up with the seat coming up meeting me as I'm going down. I was negotiating a sharp left hand bend when something caught my eye which made me turn round for a second look and take a photo. The sign for the bend clearly indicated sharp right and the sign coming the other way a sharp left! Obviously the brief for the day was put these signs up on this bend but the box asking "are they pointing the right way?"  hadn't been ticked.

Golden clock tower The road from Nan to Chiang Mai is very mountainous and a biker’s dream with long sweeping bends and demanding gradients that make you forget the inevitable numb bum. After seven hours I reached Chiang Rai which unlike its big sister Chiang Mai retains a rural feel to it with little turned over to the tourist industry. There is a beautiful clock tower in the town centre which is gold coloured set with glass jewels that glisten in the sunlight. At night on the hour at 7, 8 and 9 pm the tower is illuminated by a twenty minute coloured light display complete with music and a statue that arises from the middle of the tower very reminiscent of the man playing the Mighty Wurlitzer that used to appear from the orchestra pit at my local picture house when I was a kid.

In Chiang Rai they make a very savoury sausage that is peculiar to the area and so very worth trying. It has a combination of chilli (not too much), lime leaves, garlic ,ginger and juicy pork made into a Cumberland type round sausage and served near the clock tower. The taste experience is typical Thai with the chilli first and the finish from the kaffiyeh lime leafs. You can guess they're a favourite of mine.

I stay at a commercial no frills hotel near the clock as apart from being cheap it is near the night food market. I find I spend the evening grazing rather than sitting down to a meal. The hotel doesn't do food but opposite is a cafe that caters for ferangs and I breakfast there although it isn't a patch on Tonys Place. They have a habit in Thailand of serving bacon and eggs with a side salad which try as I might doesn't work for me. I ordered breakfast and told the waitress "no salad" but as you might guess it came with one. I pointed at the salad but the girl just shrugged so the next morning I made sure she understood my Thai "no salad" . Breakfast came with the side salad again so I called the girl over and told her I did not want salad in Thai to which she replied in perfect English "it no salad it decoration", enough said!

The mighty Melong in the Golden Triangle I rode up to the Mekong river and followed its majestic course for a hundred kilometers ending up well within the "Golden Triangle". The river is still big enough to accommodate small ships that wouldn't look out of place in any tide way. They are mainly Chinese and carry on upriver carrying goods having been loaded by coolies at Chiang Khon using very narrow and bouncy gang planks. I spent a good hour waiting for someone to fall in but left disappointed. I left the Golden Triangle by a small un-numbered road which I have not found since which had a cheerful if somewhat dilapidated sign saying "You now leave the Golden Triangle have a good trip" , unfortunately the light was too bad to take photo.

Loading Chinese ships My last night in Chiang Rai was to be spent grazing again until I stumbled across a small shop/ bar on a cross roads run by a friendly Swiss man who like me makes his own sausages and had a selection of Wurst to try with a beer. I was sat talking with the local expats watching a new concrete road being poured and levelled outside with nervous guards stopping anyone driving or walking across. It was duly finished and the guards settled down for the night watch. About eight o’clock hunger got the better of them and having erected sturdy barriers they nipped off for food. They hadn't reckoned on any elderly slightly inebriated Americans being around. We watched with disbelief as Larry came round the corner as he always did this time of night and having set his sights on the bar crossed just as he normally did straight across the still wet concrete. Despite the mass shouting, which he took as a warm welcome, he trudged all the way across. The security guards when they returned soon made out the culprit by his grey hardening trainers. I returned there a few days ago and "Larry's monument" has hardened off complete with slightly zig zag foot prints.

A good evening of laughter to finish off my stay in Chiang Rai, next Mai Hong Son and higher mountains. Look out bike it's going to be a hard slog.

•  Read Chapter 1: The first visit
•  Read Chapter 2: Bangkok and beyond
•  Read Chapter 3: Kanchanaburi and getting around by train
•  Read Chapter 4: Travelling around Thailand
•  Read Chapter 6: Mai Hong Son and higher mountains
•  Read Chapter 7: Encounter with a monocled cobra

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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