Monday, 6 January 2014

New Year bike tours in Northern Thailand

Retirement = Freedom

I retired six months ago and it's wonderful. Now that I've embraced the concept I can appreciate what true freedom is. I love not having to sell my time. Time on earth is precious and we can't buy it back when we're old. Luckily, I'm free to indulge my whims anywhere anytime. Magic. With this in mind I turned down two full-time job offers teaching maths in Chaing Mai. It's glorious sitting in interviews knowing you don't need the position. Liberating.

On the way home from an interview in Hang Dong (love these names) I rode up to Doi Kham temple for a view of the southern half of Chiang Mai city. Strangely, there were no tourists here. It's closer to town than Doi Suthep and doesn't have the touts or hassle. A great place to have a post-interview coffee and contemplate the derisory teaching salaries on offer in CM.
Shopping Malls

We went for some Japanese food at a brand new mall on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. I was surprised to see an ice rink. These are becoming popular in tropical Thailand as the mall near where I lived in Bangkok had one too. This one's packed, a frozen version of Bangkok.

A new flat screen TV for 1.3M THB. (£22,000).

I Love Chiang Mai. Jing jing.

There was a man right at the top of this xmas tree outside. Can you see him? Canny high up like.

Anywhere you go in Thailand you'll find ample parking space for cars and never enough for motorbikes. It's crazy. Every bike-park is always packed. Always. Why don't they sacrifice a 20 car parking slots to allow for 200 extra bikes? This always has me scratching my head.

Samoeng loop

I've done this 90km loop many times now. It's hugely convenient for a quick city escape. The views are brilliant and the twisty road is a treat. 

There's a cafe that does cheap food, wifi and views of rice fields with Doi Suthep in the background. It's near an elephant park where you can play with ten day old baby elephants. They're so cute man!
Online guru 

Given all this free time I've been doing a lot of work on this site. I guess it's a hobby now. I've installed google-analytics which provides fabulous statistics on how few people visit. I spent £60 on a top-level domain name for the next ten years. The most time was spent re-writing old posts from 2006 to 2009. I used to bash them out quickly in internet cafes with few photos and content from memory. Shoddy.

In an attempt to make a few bob out of this endeavour I'm doing affiliate advertising. I met Susan Hover at UniTEFL and if anyone signs up for her courses after clicking through from this site, I get a small payment. The same goes for ThaiLoveLinks. Needless to say I've had nowt so far but I'm enjoying the technical side along with the writing.

Apparently, it's all about traffic. With this in mind I've started writing for outside publications. My first one was for Chaing Mai City News about early retirement. It's odd to see your work in the public domain being exposed to a far larger audience than normal. Anyway, the editor was happy to link back to this site and the traffic has increased noticeably. Still no money though! Work in progress.

Samoeng Loop MKII

I did the loop again with Oil riding pillion. However, this time we took a detour up to Mon Jem. The views are stunning. I met these kids from the Hmong tribe - good laugh. We got lost on back roads to Sameong - quite an adventure. I love riding around remote Northern Thailand.

Look at the outfits the girls are wearing. If you ride through the Hmong villages of Hang Dong district you'll see that these clothes are not just for tourists.

Doi Pui

Oil needed to make merit so we rode up to Doi Suthep temple. First we went to the top of the mountain for views of nearby Doi Pui village. Alex and I had previously walked up here so it was nice to cruise up on the bike this time.

Next was Doi Pui gardens where poppy seeds are grown to make opium. Nice. As we descended the mountain around dusk we managed to capture amazing views of the city.

You can make out the super highway to the left and the north and south sides of the moat that surrounds the old town. I got talking to a US/Japanese teacher here about how he could have students drawing the landscape and implementing suitable scales. I have to stop thinking about classrooms.


The sugar in beer has rotted the enamel off my two front teeth. Cosmetically this has never concerned me, however, they were starting to hurt. I got them both cleaned, smoothed and filled for 2000bt. I had two oot-fans (the third item on the list).

Outside the building I noticed something that's all too common here. Builders never seem to cut the steel bars that reinforce concrete. It leaves a shoddy finish and I wouldn't want to be walking around here at night. Accident waiting to happen. Tut tut.

Mae Hong Son mini loop

Another day another bike trip. This time a two-day 525km loop taking in Pai, a night in Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, Mae Jem and Doi Inthanon. Splendid. This has to be one of the best rides in the world. I never get tired of this view 20km south of MHS. This was about 0900 as the clouds were beginning to lift.

There was a lot of corn being processed in the hills around Mae Jem leaving huge piles of organic waste.

After Mae Jem you have to skirt the southern flanks of Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain. I stopped ocassionally to admire the two stupas near the summit and maginficent waterfalls cutting through the dense foliage.

Bike issues and Doi Saket

All this riding causes wear and tear. Noi runs a small motorbike workshop and on Christmas Day he fitted a new chain, sprockets, brake-light switch, headlamp and oil filter. He had to weld the Allen bolts to the rear sprocket as the nuts were seized. A bit of a nightmare. The whole job took around two hours and cost 3000bt all in. The chain cost 1700bt of that! Top bloke Noi - I'll buy him some Lao Cao one night next week.

I took the bike for a quick 85km spin to check it out. I rode past SamKamPeng and along small roads to the Doi Saket hot springs. After a cappuccino and a foot wash I rode back down the main road and was pleased to see everything in order. I have to take more care of the chain - 24,000km is too early to be replacing it!

While I was here a man jumped out of an ancient truck with a dead chicken. He dumped it in a boiling hot pool. He told me it makes plucking easier.


I've been in Chiang Mai over two months and I've had most of my meals at Sai's place. Unfortunately he closed his little shack on New Year's Eve as the rent's too high. I'll miss Sai and his son.

I never realised how short Sai is until this photo!

The mega bike trip

Oil had four days off over the new year so we decided to hit the road again. We ended up doing 845km through some of Northern Thailand's most spectacular scenery.

CM - Doi Ang Kang - Fang - Tha Ton - Mae Salong - Mae Sai - Golden Triangle - Phu Chi Fa - Phu Sang - Chiang Kham - Payoa - CM.

I'd never even heard of Doi Ang Kang. I don't think too many foreigners have either as I didn't see any up here which is a shame as its amazing. We took the back roads approaching from the southwest. Incredible views.

Thai people like to camp here. The temperatures are low and it was bitterly cold when we were there.

As you can see from how wrapped up Oil is. She looks like she's going on an Arctic expedition here. It's been very cold in Chiang Mai for the whole of December. We've had some unusual weather from China! Unfortunately the cold weather produced fog which obscured the view. However, I'll definitely be back here as the ride down the east of the mountain was death-defying. Many cars had to be rescued going up as they couldn't handle the crazy gradients. The hairpins are the sharpest I've ever encountered and our ears popped all the way down.

Myanmar border

The first night we slept at Fang. We were lucky to find a room as half of Bangkok seems to be here over the New Year. Most of the cars we saw had Bangkok number plates! I can understand their urge to escape after spending a year there. I still shudder when I think of it. Near Fang are Thailand's largest orange fields that go on forever.

We rode through the tea plantations of Mae Salong, past Doi Tung Royal Villa and 20km along the Burmese border to Mae Sai. We had to pass Army checkpoints and could see Burmese soldiers watching us from their side of the border. Here's Oil defending Thailand with Burma in the background.

Again, like everywhere in the North, the scenery is incredible.

Next was the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. We took a riverboat trip which culminated in a visit to a Laos market. This was Oil's first time in Laos. For me the visit brought back nightmares of hellish roads and I couldn't wait to get back across the river.

Chaing Saen

We had some excellent Isaan food on the banks of the Mekong before finding a temple for a quick prayer.

It still amazes me after all this time how vibrant everything is here. Look at this temple. Incredible.

Five languages! Thai, English, Chinese, Burmese, Laos.
Off the beaten track

The final leg was into uncharted territory. We wound our way down the eastern part of Chiang Rai province passing through Phu Chi Fa Forest Park. What a revelation - a bit like Doi Ang Kang. This hard-to-get-to spot is well worth the effort. Amazing riding and superb views. We had a coffee before spotting this ancient turtle.

Keeping the dinosaur theme going we found Phu Sang Waterfall looking like something off Jurassic Park.

We stayed at Chiang Kham on New Year's Eve where we let off two lanterns at midnight and watched them float up into the night sky.

The next morning we were off to pray for a happy 2014.

And to check out the area between Payao and Chiang Mai.

I'm glad those aren't T-Rexes.


Just before we got home we rested our feet in a hot spring, had a coffee and reflected on a tiring but amazing four day trip.

At the moment I can't imagine a better place to be. CM has everything. Last night we watched Walter Mitty in a state-of-the-art cinema and today rode through mountain wilderness - class.
Nine temples

Yesterday Oil had to make more merit after an English Breakfast and a quick street massage.

We visited eight temples in Chiang Mai's old town before the ninth one on the banks of the River Ping. Here she let 1kg of live fish back into river and struck a massive gong with a pumpkin on a stick. After all this she must have more merit than a monk!


I bought some Bitcoin crypto-currency in December. I only purchased £10 worth using and stored it in a bitcoin wallet at I wanted to gauge the user friendliness of the system.

The beauty of Bitcoin is that governments can't interfere with it. No inflation as it can't be printed like paper money and given a confusing name like Quantitative Easing. Could this be the future? A very exciting development. The price has rocketed recently indicating a bubble but who knows where this will lead? At least garnish an understanding of Bitcoin as it may be a significant development in the Information Age! It could revolutionise money!

Back to paper money my December budget took some unusual hits. I had to pay (THB):

19,000 for a Thai language course in order to get an Ed-visa.
2,000 dentist
3,000 website
3,000 motorbike maintenance
2,000 visa extension

in addition to regular costs. That's 29K of a 30k/month budget. Obviously I'm in the red this month but in the six months since July (when I retired) I've spent 180K. That's 180,000THB (£3,600) on EVERYTHING in six months. During that time I've ridden a motorbike from Bangkok to Singapore to China through three countries over four months. I've lived in Chiang Mai for the other two months.

Things could change with a lass though as noises are being made about marriage and kids. I guess at 40 it could be time to finally settle down?

Happy 2014 folks.

Keep living the dream.


Gasien = retired
moom = corner
kong = curve

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