North from Chiang Mai

HaystacksWe'd arrived at Chiang Mai, won the battle with the Baht bus drivers and as an added bonus found our hotel in the middle of the old walled city. My initial reaction to the hotel was to about turn and look for another. It had no reception area just a desk in the corner of the ground floor parking area with washing machines behind and building work going on in one of the ground floor rooms. There was no one in attendance and the builders told me to go to a shop around the corner for help. Eventually we got access to the rooms and were amazed at the quality of them and the new reception that had been built at the opposite end to the tradesman's entrance I had used! It was so good and only £12 a night we stayed for two nights.

I needed to rent a car and to do this had to get to the airport so I asked about a taxi at reception but the young lady said I could borrow her step through motorcycle so off I went. Car booked for the next day the hotel offered to drop me off as they were passing the airport the next morning. I was somewhat perturbed when we went to the staff entrance at a nearby shopping mall and the driver pointed "here we are" , I still have no idea how my pronunciation of "Airport" became "Central Plaza"!   Car hired, bags packed and we were off. I always find driving in big cities in Thailand stressful especially the people on motorbikes who have no regard for rules and regulations, they weave in and out of the slow moving traffic clipping wing mirrors and occasionally getting it wrong and ending up laying in the road. The worst of them are the grannies who cut you up with an emotionless look on their face as if you are not there. I look at these and wonder what my reaction would have been to see my dear old mother riding one but somehow I can never imagine it.

The bar/restaurant where they told us there wasn't a roadMy route would take us due north from Chiang Mai and once we had reached a place called Chiang Dao we would do a large loop to the left then following the border to our final destination of Chiang Rai. I have a large scale map and it clearly showed a road so when stopping for lunch I was surprised that the cafe owner told me there was no road along the border and that she would see us on the way back. Fed and watered with bets placed on our return we set off for the border and as expected there was the road along the border but not Tarmac just the usual red dirt. Road sign place names were in Thai but the kilometers to them understandable and it didn't take much to calculate the distance shown to the map. Thus filled with confidence and the sun on the correct side of the car we set off. I have written before about travelling these red earth roads but this road had been repaired using the fine Meakon river silt and had been turned into a dust as fine as talcum powder. The result of this is any cars approaching at speed , which means all of them, have a dense cloud behind them that forces you to stop until you can see where you’re going again. After one particular fast lorry the screen was so bad I had to stop and clean it but as I indicated to pull over I realised too late I’d hit the wiper lever and now had a mud pack on the windscreen. Oh how we laughed as we used our precious drinking water to clean the fast drying mud off.  This area is not very mountainous but is very rural and unspoilt with old fashioned style haystacks that took me back to my childhood, it was so unlike the modern giant plastic wrapped rolls we see in the UK now. A limestone cragThere were limestone crags jutting out of otherwise flat rice paddys and as my friend commented very easy on the eyes. After fifty or so kilometers  we again found Tarmac, and turning left on solid ground I accelerated hard to get my speed in time with the other traffic, this went well until I hit the inevitable pothole and the resulting jolt shook every last hundredweight of fine dust from under the car and I lost sight of anything behind me.

On then into the famed Golden Triangle where Burma, Laos and Thailand all meet on the Meakon river and a night in Chiang Rai exploring the food market.

•  Read Night train to Chiang Mai

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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