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Big Ole’ Mountains Round Here

July 13, 2010

After two weeks in Chiang Mai, Dengue Fever had led to cabin fever. I needed to get out. Old friend Becca decided to join me for ten days of sweating on the hills of north west Thailand. She sacrificed two weeks tanning on a beach in Malaysia to do so. Blissful ignorance. That’s the spirit…!

Thailand’s heat doesn’t rival my experiences during the Indian pre-monsoonal onslaught, but it’s hot, and coupled with long, steep climbs, it takes it’s toll. Our smiles occasionally disappeared, beaten away by confusion and exhaustion.

“How can we have been climbing for seven hours and still not be at the top of this sodding mountain?”

“I don’t know, but my heart feels like it’s about to explode out of my temples.”

“Mine too.”

Depending on her perspective, Becca either timed her visit well or badly. I’ve scaled my fair share of mountains this year, but I’ve never encountered such gradient. On our third day climbing I conceded defeat for the first time since Kent, and pushed my bike up a few particularly evil inclines. Here, happily, I just managed to stay upright despite struggling to keep the front wheel grounded. Syd, an Australian cyclist we met in Mae Sariang on the Burmese border, took to his feet shortly before me. Syd didn’t like cricket so I’m not sure if he was really Australian, but he sounded it.

Despite the hills, we loved this lush, mountainous and almost uninhabited corner of Thailand. We felt lucky to experience silence in a country that has become over-run with beer-swilling Europeans. At the edge of Ob Luang National Park we found a canyon-side camping spot and pitched our tent. As the sun set we were joined by hundreds of fireflies. We heated up food bought from a cafe earlier in the day. I enjoyed the first mouthfull before spilling the remainder. I went hungry that night.

At the end of one tough day in the mountains we came across a Karen village. The wild province of Tak is populated largely by the Karen tribe, and we were delighted to be invited to spend the night in the local school. We hung out in the staff room and were brought dinner cooked by the children – rice and vegetables. When it got dark we opted for some breeze, so stuck the tent in the external corridor outside the classrooms. It was a government-run boarding school, and the next morning the kids were up and active by 5am, which meant an early start for us. Hundreds of them watched as we packed up our bikes and were given more food. Rice and vegetables for breakfast.

And then it was our turn to do the staring as we witnessed Assembly. The kids ran the show, singing the Thai National Anthem, praying, and then launching into a series of Karen tribal songs. It was a fascinating morning.

We were grateful for a huge 20 kms descent the next morning. As we neared the Burmese border, the landscape got wilder, but we did find a paddy field for a spot of gymnastics.

Along the border are a series of refugee camps, built for Burmese forced out of their country. 40,000 people live in the largest, in a narrow, lush river valley less than fifty metres from their homeland. When we reached Mae Sot, a small town occupied largely by Burmese and NGO workers, Becca and I ate noodles at a cafe. The waiter was Burmese. I asked if he liked Thailand. He said no. I asked if he had left family in Burma. He said no, that he was alone in life. He told us that he held onto the hope that he might be able to return next year. Elections take place in Burma in October, and change is possible, but unlikely. How terrible to be forced out of your country and unable to go back? How frustrating to have to cling to hope for change, however unlikely? Becca and I had a contemplative walk back to our hostel.

Becca flew onwards yesterday and I’m now in Mae Sot, ready to leave tomorrow morning to head south. I will miss this part of Thailand, an unexpected gem of the tour so far.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Read permalink
    July 13, 2010 12:36 pm

    This is probably the the most inspiring entry you have yet made….I was there with you!..Fascinating stuff….enjoy….and all power to your legs….

  2. Becca Ratcliffe permalink
    July 14, 2010 12:27 am

    Good blog dude – though I dont think you stress enough the 70% gradient of climbing those mtns. What a kerfuffle!

  3. Annie permalink
    July 14, 2010 4:54 pm

    Photo 2 – where on earth did you pick up that beauty of a shirt?!
    Photo3 – why do you seem to be traversing the mountain climb? surely that makes it twice as hard!

    love them all though! xxx

    • July 14, 2010 5:02 pm

      Photo 2 – Becca bought it for me for my bday…£1 – steal…i love it!

      Photo 3 – i cant believe i forgot to mention this in the blog. You have to traverse some of the roads because they are far too steep to cycle up normally. Aske Becca (and she didnt have anything to carry!). Basically you just do a succession of really sharp turns all the way up. And keep an eye out for the occasional car! X

  4. Marian permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:40 am

    Brilliant Blog. Feel as if we are seeing the world with you. Love it. x x

  5. Chris Austin permalink
    July 15, 2010 11:33 am

    Great account, really vivid. Can feel the lactic acid in sympathy for the climbs. But the views look worth it! At the Karen school, was there a Life of Brian moment when you emerged from your tent, stratched, yawned and THEN opened your eyes?
    And why didn’t becca have anything to carry? not even the Monsoon?!
    keep peddling!

  6. July 21, 2010 2:00 pm

    Love you broomy ! Darlow x

  7. July 29, 2010 4:02 am

    If you need a bed and a beer for a night in Brisbane come and stay.

    • August 2, 2010 4:16 pm

      Thanks for the offer David but my folks are flying out to meet me in Brisbane and i think they’ve booked a place…i assume there is room for me! Come and say hi at the gabba when i arrive though! Cheers.

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