Monday, 17 March 2014

Learning Thai and Motorbiking in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I was born and raised in the English county of Northumberland. With an area of 5,013 km2 it's England's sixth largest and with a population of only 316,000 it's the most sparsely populated. Situated in the extreme north of England it's one of the most beautiful.

Today I live in the extreme north of Thailand. Chaing Mai province is Thailand's second largest with an area of 20,107km2. It's the same size as Wales but with only half of the population. Most of the 1.6M people live in Chiang Mai City leaving vast areas of the rugged province virtually empty.

Chaing Mai province is the same size as Wales - who'd have thought?

What am I getting at here? Well, with roads comparable to Wales or Northumberland, Chiang Mai is a motorcyclist's dream. Complementing this is the stunning scenery and great weather.
Bike trips

Since returning from Cambodia I've been on some great adventures. These maps show the four main loops I've done. The first one was 350km to Pai and back via Kalayaniwattana (with 40km offroad). The second was a 260km Lampang loop. The third was the 180km Mae Wang valley and back via Doi Inthanon. The fourth was 420km up to Fang and back via Doi AngKang and the MaeNgat Dam.


I rode 150km up the 1095 to Pai where Armin, his Mother and I went for a walk past this circus school. If you like watching dread-locked, bare-foot hippies juggling on unicycles then this is the place for you. It's located in a spectacular setting.
I was going to stay the night but decided to head home at 1600. I also decided to take the unknown 1265/1349 roads through Kalayaniwattana (Chiang Mai's newest district). Silly mistake as 40km of it is a dirt track that took almost two hours to battle through. Two bolts came off the fairing and I almost lost the whole front of the bike!


However, the grind was worth it as I found myself in a very remote part of the world for sunset. The rest of the way home was in darkness on small windy roads. I didn't get back until 2130.


You can find information about trips other people have done online. However, these ones haven't been documented anywhere that I can see. This 260km loop along the 118/1252/1157/11 was a very enjoyable day out.

Mae Wang

This discovery might be my favourite. At 180km it's a perfect alternative to the 90km Sameong loop. The 108/1013/1284/1009/108 loop takes you to some nice spots. At Mae Win you can charter a bamboo raft. 

I stopped at a small shop in a remote Karen tribal village to quench my thirst. I was surprised to meet Rob, 18, from London. He volunteers through the Jesuit Volunteer Community (JVC) and teaches English to remote hill tribe children. This little lass was struggling when I asked her name but it was great to see a fellow Englishman helping out in these parts. This village isn't even on my detailed road map (near the junction of the 1013/1284).

As I was skirting the eastern flanks of Doi Inthanon - Thailand's highest peak (2565m) I couldn't help but notice fires everywhere. I understand burning stubble in fields that produce food but out here there were fires in regular woodland - everywhere. The smoke produces smog which drastically reduces visibility and air quality. The locals tell me it's a big problem here in March/April. Why do they do it? I have no idea.


My girlfriend, Oil, had to do an Isuzu trade fair in Fang District near the Burmese border. I went up to meet her so that we could have a day out on her day off. I found the Isuzu party but the noise from the industrial speakers was deafening (as is the Asian way - be it microphones or music - it must be able to be heard from anywhere within a 1km radius).

I quickly left and waited for her at a more serene spot in a nearby monastery. This place houses Thailand's largest teak Buddha. These two lads have eschewed regular school in favour of being educated by monks at this temple. We had a long chat whereby I found myself becoming increasingly impressed by their sense of well-being. Despite being teenagers, their contemplative dispositions were refreshing in these days of shallow excess. I wish everybody could find contentment in life.

The next day we headed up Doi AngKang. We were last here at New Year when it was packed. This time it was desolate.

Just about to ascend the mountain. The sign says you have to use first or second gear all the way up.

The view from the top and the road we came up. Back in late December this view was completely obscured by cloud. It was worth coming back for.

Near Doi AngKang we stopped for a coffee where Oil started getting baby rabies. 

We then visited Mae Ngat Dam. All in all a canny day out.

I feel like I've covered many of the routes around Chiang Mai over the last five months. However, there's always more to discover.

Learning Thai

I've started going to school again. This time as a student instead of as a teacher. I have 2hrs on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Teacher Jeab has put me in an intermediate class with four other students: Chinese, French, Taiwanese and Japanese - what a mix.

I've never had Thai lessons before and I'm really enjoying them. The only drawback is that I can't write. I can speak and read Thai as well as the rest but I have to write answers in English.


I retired nine months ago at the age of 39. However, to alleviate boredom and keep my hand in, I've started tutoring maths. I only do a couple of hours on a Saturday but I'm really enjoying it and looking to do a little bit more. I've done a website, emailed some international schools and even produced some flyers. I'm expecting Alan Sugar to poach me as his marketing guru soon.
Around Chaing Mai

It's the strawberry season and there's nothing better than riding out to my friend's restaurant for a shake with an umbrella in it.

Just outside Chiang Mai is Mae Kuang Dam. Even nicer than Mae Ngat Dam.

I love to drink cappuccinos at another friend's coffee shop near Doi Saket Hot Springs.

I practice Thai with Nat and her son. I don't know why but I love to listen to that coffee machine.

Nearby is Doi Saket temple on the top of a hill. Climbing these steps is a sweaty endeavour in the heat.

It's worth it though as there's a Thomas the Tank Engine monster at the top.

There's also a little cave. I love everything about Thai Buddhist temples. The elaborate decor, the contemplative quiet, the soft ringing of bells and the monks chanting in Pali. With so much time on my hands I've found myself hanging out in them more and more. Beautiful places to think about life in tranquility.


Sometimes you just have to have it. I've always had a terrible taste in clothes. My friend Austrian Armin has gone - I don't think we'll meet again until the end of the year. We had some great times in Cambodia and CM.


My life is about defying social norms. Thinking outside the box. Avoiding debt and consumerism. Embracing minimalism, frugality, financial independence, early retirement and rich experiences.

With this in mind I moved in with Oil. We've been together 5 months and we decided it was better to rent one room than two. The rent is 2,222bt/month (£45/month).

This is everything I own. It all fits on a vegetable rack. It took one bike trip to move.

Oil cooking suki. The room has a TV, fridge, small balcony, hot water shower and WIFI. However, the best thing is the peace.

We live out in the sticks in Saraphi District. This was the sun setting over the rice paddies last night. In town I could here motorbikes screaming past all night. Out here it's frogs, birds, geckos and crickets. Love it.


It was tough saying goodbye to Nit and Jom who looked after me for four months in BupaMontra. Jom is what they call KonThaiYai which means she doesn't belong anywhere. She is not Thai or Burmese - she is stateless. She grew up in Thailand speaking both Thai and Burmese but her parents have no paperwork from either country. I had to leave the traditional teak room and swimming pool behind.


It's been scorching recently. What a contrast to December and January which were freezing. Here it's 32C but I've seen it climb to 35C. Locals complain about this but I love it. It's probably the main reason I live here.

Near our room is a small outdoor hardware market that sells everything. We've bought badminton rackets, kettles, pillows and watch-maker's screwdrivers. It meant I could fix my laptop!

The mystery

I moved to Thailand (Trang) five years ago in March 2009. I can't believe I've been here 5 years. Anyway, I've had a motorbike the whole time and I've ridden to every province in this amazing country. However, one thing that has always perplexed me is this picture.

You often see it on the mudflaps of trucks. I've asked many people but nobody has ever been able to provide a satisfactory answer. I thought it was Jesus or a BeeGee but I was wrong.

It's actually a picture of Al Pacino from the 1973 movie Serpico. He played the part of an undercover agent fighting corrupt cops within the NYPD. For this reason Thai truck drivers have adopted him as a symbol to protect them from corrupt police officers. Well I never.

It makes sense though as Thais are extremely superstitious.


When you're not exhausted from working 24/7 to buy shit you don't need, you have the time and energy to get fit. I run 5km every other night in the park. I did it in 26 mins last night which is hard to believe after 24yrs of smoking/drinking.

I also started doing pull-ups on a bar on the balcony. When I started I could do one. Now I can do 3 sets of 10 easily. My weight has settled around 74kg which is far healthier than the underweight 66kg my alcohol-nicotine-addicted self used to be.

I've also tried to limit sugar and fat intake focusing more on fresh vegetables for every meal. Put all that together and you end up feeling good. Cost of all this? Nowt. You don't need expensive gyms people.


I was extolling the virtues of BTC in November when I bought £10 worth. Well, it crashed and my £10 is now worth £4. Glad I didn't buy £1000.


Something else I've noticed here is that Toms (male half of a lesbian relationship) always seem to have very attractive girlfriends. Why is that? Additionally, Ladyboys (men that want to be women) always seem to speak decent English - even in the middle of nowhere. Why is that?


On Valentine's night we went to Oishi - a Japanese eat-all-you-can buffet. For 1040bt you can stuff your face with as much raw fish and wasabi as you can handle. Totally minging.


prasopgan - experience
ni sin - debt
yodngern - balance
yoklert - -cancel
raya - distance
soong chan - steep
tam hai - lost

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