Escape to Chiang Mai

A few years ago we drove the bike from CM to Lampang. It was a nightmare journey on a busy 3 lane superhighway with double sized trucks thundering past feeling very vulnerable on a small bike. We had found out you could put the bike on the train so enquired at the main train station in CM. It seemed easy. Train leaves at 6.30am, arrive an hour earlier bring your passport. 600 baht for bike and 45 baht each for train fare. We got up at 4.45 drove to station and they said you need your green book which is the log book. We explained it was a rental bike and they said NO cannot. Plan B was either don’t go or take a different route. We decided to take the bike the scenic route. Leaving at 6 it was teeth chatteringly cold as we drove up to the next mountain, Doi Suket. We passed the hot springs, it was tempting to stop! We thought we could stop for a coffee after an hour or so, nowhere was open. We passed a big group of elderly Thais with wobbly push bikes loaded with luggage going camping, the roads so steep their legs were pumping furiously one of them with an actual kitchen sink…

The road was amazing. More twists than a Chubby Checker summer and deserted. It was cold but we pressed on driving up steep hills and deep twisty drops. We eventually found a coffee shop in a coffee growing area. Growers were raking out the freshly harvested beans on big tarpaulins and all by the roadside large low tables were full of coffee beans in their varying stages of drying out.

The unmissable smell of woodsmoke lingered in the air and the smell of roasting coffee tantalising. Warmed by the dark, strong nectar we carried on.

We play ‘what’s that smell’ in the mountains. Dry leaf smells, herbally aromatics, food cooking, medicinal, animal, citrus it changes around every bend. The roads have ochre coloured steep mountain banks with tree roots, bamboo and saplings on the side of every road with deep gulleys to stop the water in the rainy season washing the road away. In these banks are holes, some inhabited with birds, occasionally snakes and spiders mostly funnel webs but sometimes tarantulas.

Chris likes to have a nosey about. He found a tarantula in its nest and when he put a stick just near the hole the spider came out like an angry jack in the box…..made me jump!

We came to a viewpoint and you could see for miles over several mountain ranges as far as Laos, misty mountain tops and valleys just rolling away, endlessly.

It was a 3 hour journey and when we eventually dropped down into the verdant green valley, the vista opened up and the suns warmth penetrated our many layers the heat bouncing off the long open roads.

The Temple is on the top of the ridge

The valley grew corn and rice, workers in the paddy fields had big bundles of rice plants in their hands which they threw into the water, perfectly positioning the rice like dart players. Big smiles all round.

There was a teak temple in the village, very simple

We found our bungalow accommodation and dropped off our rucksack. It had a perfect view of the big ridge where we were headed to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiet, the temple of the floating pagodas. One of the most impressive temples in Thailand.

Our accomodation

We set off across the rice fields and eventually found the temple road. About a third of the way up was a ticket booth and a very friendly thai girl advised us what to do. Her name was Nut who was with her brother Dao visiting from Lampang. We bought a ticket which included a ride up a very steep road in a pick up truck. Chris and Dao sat in the back with 6 visiting friendly monks and we sat in the cab at the front, not allowed to sit with the monks. They drop you off and then there is a 840 metre walk up to the top. If you go, do it in the morning before it gets too hot..it was steps all the way up.

The temple comprises of a golden pagoda, a prayer hall and white stupas that sit precariously on limestone pinnacles like Christmas decorations. Huge gongs and bells rung out, the monks having fun ringing everything, giggling and enthusiastic. Whenever we crossed paths they wanted to chat.

The view from the top was amazing, you could see for miles. We stayed with our new Thai friends who were good fun and spoke good English. The ridge itself is limestone karst, some of the rock is sonorous, if you hit it with metal it rings like a bell.

Looking back to our bungalow

We headed into the small town and found a noodle soup shop. Tom yam with extra dumplings which was really tasty. We then returned to our room for a shower. Later on, ravenously hungry (it was all the exercise) we went looking for somewhere to eat. It was a disaster, nowhere was open. We drove round and round the small town, the villagers were looking at us suspiciously, almost dragging the kids away as we had been circling like Apaches on a mission! We ended up buying fried chicken and sticky rice off a roadside vendor and returning back to the room. We never imagined you wouldn’t find anywhere to eat in Thailand but there were no tourists and obviously little money. We’d been spoilt by CM.

We slept well, the kind friendly owners brought us coffee at 8. We decided we would take the same road back through the coffee growing area and beautiful mountain roads but leaving later in the morning when it wasn’t as mind numbingly cold. We stopped in a very trendy coffee shop on the way back before returning to CM. It was a 200 km round trip, that night we slept like babies

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