A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Mai

Extreme Mountain Biking

sunny 28 °C

PictureJ9 010.jpgWell, it's Wedneday evening here in Chiang Mai and I had to write this blog befoe I forget what a truely hair raising day I had today.

It began yesterday, during the Thai cooking course. We had a full day of preparing, cooking and eating 5 delicious Thai meals all in this little Teak house just down the road from where I was staying. We had a really nice group of people including an Austrian girl called Mooni who I got chatting to whilst we were making Thai Red Curry.

I was deliberating about whether to go for a trek or whether to go mountain biking, or both. I really fancied giving the mountain biking a go and she said that she'd come with me, so after the course we went to book a tour. There were a number of different rides to choose from and we fancied the Himalayan as it looked a bit more adventurous then some of the others and yet it said it was OK for beginners which I clearly am seeing as I've not ridden a bike for years.

Anyway, after speaking to the bloke that organises the tour he said they weren't doing that one at the moment for safety reasons (!) and so we chose the Highlander. Pick up is at 9:30am and they provide all the equipment including body armour...

So, this morning I climbed into the truck with Mooni and met a Scottish couple (Fran and Paul) and an English guy (Simon). Fran was saying how nervous she was despite being quite a keen cyclist and having a mountain bike back home. Simon then started to inform us how difficult the terrain was where we were going and showed us all his cuts and bruises from 2 day ago. This is when I started to worry too.

When we arrived at out starting point, high in the mountains (about 4000 feet up) I really started to panic when they got all the safety equipement out. We had helmets, elbow guards, lower leg and knee guards and chest plates.... We looked like American football players when we had all the gear on!!

When I eventually got on the bike I really really started to worry - it seems I have become some sort a bike riding spastic for want of a better word. It was the most difficult bike to ride EVER. It only had about 18 gears but as soon as I started riding I knew that I'd only be using 1 gear and the brakes.

We set off and on the road it wasn't too bad and I started to feel a bit more comfortable. Until of course we broke off onto the dirt roads and that's where the touble really started. The roads we went along were too treacherous to walk along, never mind ride a bloody bike across. I fell off instantly.

Our guide was very nice but mostly he shot off into the distance with Paul and Mooni (who I later found out does loads of mountain biking at home) and so it left Fran and I riding at what I felt was break neck speed through the jungle and twisty turny mountain roads but in reality I'm sure my granny could have ridden faster....

It took us about 4 hours to get down the mountain and it was the most scary yet exciting day I've had. It was mostly downhill which made it more difficult (you'd be surprised!) because the whole time you had to stand up and lean back and apply the brakes (mostly me doing that as I didn't want to go too fast down a rocky mountain track with a sheer drop on one side). It was really really bumpy with treet roots and boulders all the way down and really steep.

Luckily I wasn't the only person to fall off although I'm sure their falls were far more spectacular than mine given the speeds they were riding at!

At the end, our guide said that it was a medium level course that he'd taken us on so I was quite pleased that it wasn't the novice track but more pleased to be off the bike!

We all decided that it was definitely Extreme Danger Mountain Biking!

Well, at least I did it. I have sore thighs (from standing up on the bike) and sore shoulders and arms from tensing so much all the way down! Some sort of massage is in order but that will have to wait until tomorrow night, as I have a full day of trekking tomorrow - just call me Action Woman!!

Posted by J9travels 03:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Luang Prabang - Huay Xai

The slow boat - it is what is says it is

sunny 28 °C

Friday morning I was up early to take the slow boat to the border so that I could cross into Thailand and head down to Chang Mai.

The slow boat was a long thin wodden boat with wooden seats (some with cushions, I managed to get one!) and very little leg room. It's a two day trip to Huay Xai along the Mekong River.

The first day took us about 10 hours to get to Pakbeng, the half way stop. There's not much to do in Pakbeng really, it's mostly a stop over point for the slow boats, so it has a few guesthouses and a few restaurants. I found a room for 500baht but managed to pay 400b as the electricity wasn't working! A quick dinner and then straight to bed, no wandering the streets that night in the pitch black!

The next day we had another 9 hour trip to Huay Xai. It was a nice way to do the journey as again, the scenery is beautiful and it's very chilled. We saw the speed boats going passed (it takes them 8 hours to do what took us 2 days!) but I don't think I would have enjoyed that as much. You don't get to see anything and your crammed in with your knees by your elbows for the whole trip. We had a nice group of people on our boat too and it wasn't too busy so we were able to stretch out a little.

Another overnight stay at the border town and then the next day I took the short ferry crossing over the Thailand. I then took the short ferry ride back to Laos as I'd forgotten to get stamped out of the country and then I took the short ferry ride back to Thailand again. I've now been to Laos twice and Thailand 3 times!

Getting a bus down to Chang Mai took a little more effort than I thought it would. My motorbike man dropped me off at a guest house and not the bus station and then my tuk tuk driver dropped me off at the market and not the bus station. I eventually found somewhere that sold bus tickets to Chaing Mai and was on my way.

Another 6 hour trip on a hot bus. I also had the unfortunate luck to get a drunk Thai police border control man sat next to me for some of the journey. He told me that I was beautiful (couldn't really argue with him about that!) and wanted to place his hand on my leg or squeeze into me as much as possible. I told him that no, this was not something that I was going to allow and studiously read my book. Luckily he got off after a short while. Sometimes I really don't like mixing with the locals!!

So here I am, in Chaing Mai. Today I have wondered the streets and found a new place to stay as the place last night was a little dirty. Tomorrow I am having a day learning Thai Cuisine and then I might do another trek on Wednesday and then it's back to Bangkok and see what I can fit in before I have to be in Singapore.

Posted by J9travels 01:08 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

semi-overcast 24 °C

I nearly missed my bus to Luang Prabeng - I failed to notice that I had to be at the bus station at 8am so when I rocked down to reception at 7:55am there was quite a commotion. Luckily, the nice receptionist man gave me a lift on his bike and I made it, just.

I got sat next to an English guy called Steve, from Essex. He was 80 years old and was just having a little tour of Asia for a few weeks. Here I am thinking I'm doing something brave by travelling around on my own in war stricken countries and then I meet 80 year old Steve.

It was an 8 hour bus ride with a lunch stop in between and we talked the whole way. A very nice man with lots of interesting stories to tell and some quite personal ones!! I won't divulge them here but I've obviously got some kind of aura about me which makes people tell me all about themselves (he said that!). Maybe a should become a Samaritan!

Anyway, we arrived safely. The journey was really nice, we went through some spectacular scenery and I only noticed 2 armed guards on the road. We took a tuk tuk into town and Steve went off to find his pre-booked guesthouse and I slogged about trying to find myself a room. I did, eventually, but it was windowless and right next to reception, so not great but cheap and that's what matters!!!

I went to find Steve at his guesthouse as we'd arranged to go for dinner but he'd already left. I couldn't believe it, snubbed by an 80 year old bloke....... I consoled myself with a nice curry, a beer and an ice cream.

I went on a day trek to a waterfall. We had a French guy, a Swiss guy and a German guy and me in my group so you can imagine how we joked and laughed.... We were late to pick the Swiss and the German up and they sulked for a good hour or so which was quite amusing. In the end it was a really nice day, quite a hot day and so this obviously meant that all the mozzies in Laos spent the day irritating me.

At the waterfall we were all looking forward to a nice swim but when we got there the sun went in and the water temperature was definitely below freezing point! So we all took some photos and headed home.

That evening I went to the Royal Palace to see some Laos theatre. I'm not really sure what we were watching but the costumes were nice although the singing wasn't up to much, Simon Cowell wouldn't have let them on stage!!

The next day I spent chilling. I had brunch with a nice American man and his mom and then I watched a film in the little mini cinema that I found. Then I spent more money at the night market, I just can't help myself!

Posted by J9travels 00:45 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane

Very chilled

sunny 28 °C

So, I took the wimp's option of getting to Vientiane, a 1hr flight rather than the 24hr bus ride. Everything went well despite it being the smallest plane that I've ever been on. It would have felt like we were getting on a private jet apart from the fact that the plane looked about 100 years old. It had propellers. Do big planes have propellers? Will have to look next time.

Anyway, got into the country with no problems and it was a short tuk tuk ride to find a guesthouse. $12 a night which is a little expensive but it was nice and clean and airy and I had a little balcony so I was happy.

The town seems really small, not like a capital city at all. Very quiet and hardly any traffic.

I spent the first day just wondering around. I saw some of the Wats and got chattting to a trainee monk who was asking me lots of questions about religion in English. I made some stuff up so as not to appear too uneducated!! He found the fact that our going to church mainly on Sundays and singing a lot quite funny... The he opened the Wat especially for me so that I could take a look inside and there was a huge golden buddha in there, very impressive.

In the evening I was having dinner when Caroline walked by (one of the girls that I met in Vietnam) so we went for beers and arranged to meet the next day.

The next day.... We spent it walking around and visiting the market (had some tasty waffles), going up the mini concrete Arc de Triumphe and visiting a big temple that you couldn't get into. Not sure wether it was a temple or just a big gold structure, but apparently it's very famous (in Laos).

We went for dinner and beers in the evening and they put on some Malaysian dancing. Not quite sure why it was Malaysian dancing and not Laos dancing but it was nice! We got chatting to an American guy who told me about the bus journey to Luang Prabang - twisty turny roads through the mountains with arm guards dotted here and there - excellent.

Posted by J9travels 00:27 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Hue - Hanoi - Halong Bay

Goodbye Vietnam

overcast 26 °C

Next stop was Hue, another World Heritage site because of the Citadel and the Forbidden City within in it. I only spent 2 days here as my time is starting to run out and there's still so much that I want to see.

A tour around the Citadel was worth it - although a lot of the buildings within the Fobidden City were destroyed by American Bombers there are still a few to see and it's very impressive.

I also did a cruise down the Perfume River (which is brown and doesn't smell of perfume) A very relaxing day, cruising along and visiting some lovely temples.

Then it was on the night bus to Hanoi, a 12 hour affair that I wasn't looking forward to. We had quite an upmarket bus but the only seat that was left when I got on was near the back and it had a raised floor where the wheel of something was and so I spent the next 12 hours with my knees by my ears.

We arrived in Hanoi at 5am and I got a bike to the Old Quarter to find a hotel. Obviously most were still closed but my driver managed to knock one awake and I took a room. First glance was not impressive but I was so tired I agreed to take it. After sitting in the room for 20 minutes and spying 2 rather large cockroaches crawling out of the mouldy fan in the bathroom I decided that I just couldn't stay here. So, I went downstairs and informed the receoptionist man and asked for my passport back. Obviously this was not something he was prepared to give up so easily so he tried to promise me another, better room but I was having none of it. I put on my best authoritative voice and DEMANDED the return of my passport. That didn't work. After a good 15 minutes of arguing I wondered whether to start crying and appeal to his sensitive side but all of a sudden he decided that he couldn't speak English and walked away. In the end I paid a dollar, he gave it back reluctantly and I marched out into the morning feeling very pissed off with Hanoi.

Luckily it didn't take long to find another hotel which promised breakfast included and free internet, awesome! I tried to sleep for a few hours but soon realised that my sparkly new room smelled quite badly of damp so I got up and wondered around Hanoi.

It's a big city - it has about 4 million people living here and there are 3.5 million motorbikes so the roads are a little bit busy! I took a bike to the Museum and it's the most frightened I've been on the back of a bike so far, we had so many near misses. Again, there are no road rules and it's every man for himself.

Yesterday I took a boat trip to Halong Bay which was really good. The Bay is amazing, very picturesque and impressive. We cruised around for the day and also visited some caves which were amazing. They have large stalagmites which the Vietnamese translation into English is Penises from Heaven, cue lots of smirks and giggles (just from me!). It was a really nice day and we had a really good group of people on our boat.

Today is my last day in Vietnam. I've decided to visit Loas which I hadn't planned on doing and I also need to think of making my down to Singapore for my flight to OZ in 3 weeks so I need to push on. Next stop is Vientiane - I'm taking a flight because the 26 hour bus ride didn't appeal...

Posted by J9travels 17:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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