Friday, 18 April 2014

Chiang Mai Football Club, Half Marathons, Freedom and Self-actualisation.

What's the most important thing in life?

A subjective question. There's no right or wrong answer and every person has their own view. Possible responses might include: family, friends, wealth, home, job, health, religion or sports. I'd never considered this question before but after some introspection I reached the conclusion that FREEDOM is my answer. Not the Mel-Gibson-in-Braveheart kind but the bird kind. The freedom to spread your wings and just go. The freedom to set and pursue goals. Geographical freedom. Financial freedom.

Perhaps that's why marriage, mortgages and careers have always terrified me? They're massive freedom-inhibitors. It might also explain why riding motorbikes is so appealing - the sense of freedom and adventure one experiences cruising through the mountains is incredible.

Coincidentally, my favourite Thai word is isara which means freedom!


While studying for a PGCE (teaching qualification) in 2010 I came across Mr Maslow, a psychologist who dreamed up a Hierarchy of Human Needs. To cut a long story short, at the peak of the pyramid is a concept known as self-actualisation. What's that?

"What a man can be, he must be." This forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualisation. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. Mmmmmmm. Is this why we do what we do? To self-actualise?

I started to think of goals I've set in adult life and the motivation behind them:

BSc(Hons). Why? To prove that academic attainment isn't an exclusive right of plum-accented Royal Navy Officers. The Proles (or Untermensch as my Dad says) further down the socio-economic food chain are just as capable given the opportunity. Since leaving the RN I've noticed that a posh accent is no indicator of ability - in fact there may even be an inverse relationship.

Cheviot Challenge 2005. 40km orienteering race in the hilly wilderness. 4th place. Why? A challenge.

Climbing hundreds of Britain's highest mountains. Why? Adventure and views.

Travel from Newcastle to Japan via Iceland without flying. Why? Not sure. Self-actualisation?

Learn languages. Why? To swim through the sea of humanity where I live.

Motorbike challenges. Bangkok to Singapore to China and through all of Thailand's 77 provinces. Why? Because I could.

To retire before 40. Why? Freedom.

Half Marathon at age 40. Why? Health.

To be honest I'm unsure of the reasons why I pursued some of those goals - let alone the point of them. Was I self-actuaslising? No idea. However, Maslow's pyscho-babble may be unecessary. In 1924 George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest?

"Because it's there."

Perhaps that's the only reason we need?

Me? I thrive on adventure and non-work challenges. There's certainly plenty of scope for this in Thailand where everyday feels like an exotic adventure. I was never going to be the bloke paying off sofas and HDTVs on finance in some bland British town.

Retirement and minimalism

I retired ten months ago - the time has flown! Life really is short. At the age of 40 if I had to list (in no particular order) the most influential life-decisions I've made:

1. Joining the Royal Navy from school and (paradoxically) leaving ten years later.
2. Getting a degree.
3. Never marrying.
4. Eschewing debt.
5. Leaving the UK.
6. Living minimalistically.
7. Retiring early.
8. Travelling (60ish countries).
9. Learning languages.
10. Continued life-long learning.

At first it was strange adjusting to being free. A bit like Neo when he woke up after taking the red pill. Remember, society doesn't really want us free. It wants us firmly plugged into the matrix. Society wants unquestioning debt-drones mindlessly paying tax and needlessly pursuing capitalism's seductive wares. Social institutions like marriage reinforce this. As I rode away from my last job in Bangkok I wondered if I was experiencing the same emotions that freed slaves did at the end of the American Civil War? A curious duality of excitement and fear.

How did I ever have the time for all those spirit-crushing full-time jobs? They were merely a means to an end. With the exception of teaching. I do enjoy teaching maths......just not full-time in schools. One-on-one private tutoring is the way to go. Less money but who cares if you don't need much?

So what do you do?

I go on motorbike trips, watch afternoon movies at the cinema, swim, sunbathe, slowly read the news each morning, not use an alarm, run 10km most nights, study foreign languages at school, tutor a few hours a week, write stuff, learn online, read books and spend time with wor lass. Just yesterday I fitted a new number plate and neon light to pimp the bike up a bit. Sometimes I do.....nothing at all. All in all a canny crack. It would be hard to go back to the plantation. Freedom tastes too sweet.

Enough of that shite. What have you been up to?

Buatong waterfall is a nice 80km ride North of CM. You can abseil down it or simply enjoy a beer in the luscious surrounds. Afterwards we headed to Mae Kuang Reservoir where we hoped to catch a boat across to the Doi Saket side. We contented ourselves with a swim since no boats came despite our flag waving antics.

On the way to home we came face-to-face with the reason for CM's atrocious smog in March and April. Wild bush fires everywhere. I was happy to do my part in helping to extinguish them. These areas have a post-apocalyptic feel about them.

A nice sunset over a bed of rice seedlings. There's money to be made if you're good at catching rats. For every rat's tail you produce, the local government will give you 5bt! I was going to check this out but you're only required to submit a tail and not the whole rat so I never bothered.

On another little bike trip I stumbled upon Huai Hong Khrai Agricultural College. These blank direction markers were useful.

Entrance is free and there's all kinds of treats inside such as owls, peacocks, boars, deer, monkeys, fish farms, frog farms and even a caviar-producing-sturgeon from the Caspian Sea!

My favourite place was the frog farm. I last went to one in Trang. Thais like to eat frogs - possibly even more so than the French. There's no feeling like peering into a frog enclosure and having 200 slimy jet-black frog-eyes staring back at you. A sudden move causes waves of slippery croaking and jerking. An eerie experience.

Mae Kuang Reservoir where I got chatting to this monk. Huay Tueng Tao about 15km NW of CM. CM's version of Pattaya with little lake-beaches and places to chill.

Football. I've been to two CMFC games now. The first one was at the 700 year Stadium shown here. CMFC beat table-toppers Saraburi FC 4-2. I wrote a report for the CMFC supporters' website here.

The second game was a 1st Round FA Cup tie between CMFC and Dochin FC at the Tesaban Stadium in town. CM were 7-0 up after 25 minutes. The game finished 11-1 as CMFC took their foot off the gas. Dochin were a very amateur outfit!

Chiang Mai Land Swimming Pool.

I often chill here and it always amuses me how folk rarely stray into the sunny zone.

This place is perfect for the hot months of March and April where temperatures regularly soar to 40deg.

During some random exploratory riding I came across this terrifying wasp at a Bee farm. I then hid in between some grazing zebras just outside Chiang Mai's Night Safari.

I love the entrance. You can see real pink flamingos at CM's regular zoo.

Near where I live is an ancient city abandoned over 700 years ago. Wiang Kum Kam consists of dozens of reclaimed temples. Visitors can take a horse carriage around the sites.

Something worth pointing out is that the north of Thailand has its own unique script. The second line of text on the black sign looks like Burmese but is in fact Northern Thai. However, only scholars can read it so I guess it's a bit like Latin in that sense although it's still displayed on temples and some other traditional signs.

I finally managed to run a 21.1km Half Marathon. It took 2h10m and destroyed my feet but I felt very proud at the end. Other best times:

2.4km   10m51s
5km      24m30s
10km    52m10s
21.1km 2h10m

One huge regret is that I smoked from the age of 16 to 40. 24 years of inhaling cancerous fumes is retarded on any level. I can feel my lungs struggle as I's not good. Had I never been a dumbass these times might be faster.

I love going to watch elephants and talking to the Mahouts from the Karen tribe. Look at those tusks man! I love the Karen clothing - reminds me of a Mexican poncho.

These lads do well out of tourists wanting to sit on an elephant for a bit. The bloke in the picture has a SUV that he drives 20km along mud trails back to his village in Mae Jem district. Canny. His mate has this 400cc Honda. We both have blue CMFC stickers on our bikes hehe.

CMFC's nickname is The Tigers. Surely The Elephants would be more appropriate?

I was in central CM to meet Fabian for a bike trip. I was surprised to see that people had lined the pathways of the moat with flowers for young monks to walk along. I love this kind of stuff. Honestly, CM is mint.

Young Fabian, 22, from Germany had never ridden a clutch bike before. I let him use mine after some brief instruction. Before long he was fluent in the language of speed and we set out on a 200km ride around the wild mountains of CM province.

It was a spectacular day out and I made my best video yet with music and everything:

This is my local bar. It only opens after dark but it's a great place to chill. Millions of foreign tourists visit CM, however, I've yet to see one in here.

Songkran (Thai new year) came and went again. I managed to escape most of the water chaos by hiding. We went out for one quick recce where we got drenched, saw someone being carted away in an ambulance and managed to get back home in one piece despite having buckets of icy water thrown over us while riding the bike.

I prefer the calmer traditions of Songkran. Perhaps it's my age. We went to the local temple where we had to stick a banner in some sand. We then placed a range of foodstuff into baskets for the monks.

There are many strange rituals around the concept of making merit. I've now seen Oil buy live fish at the market and release them back into the river. She's moved bucket loads of sand from one place to another in a temple. We once went to 9 temples in a row. A few days ago she came back with a massive yellow stick. I didn't ask.

Turns out it's to support the branch of a tree at Songkran.

On the way to Muang On Cave the bike passed 30,000km. Oil was perplexed as to why I was taking a photo of the fact. Can't say I blame her. She doesn't appreciate my fascination with all things numerical.

This means I've put 26,000km on it in 15 months. The brake pads and tyres are due a change but I'm going to wait until after my trip to Nan province next week. Supposedly, Nan has some of the best riding in Northern Thailand - I'll let you know.

At the cave there's a hefty set of stairs that have to be climbed first. This door marks the entrance. 

There's a huge cavernous subterranean world once you thread through the narrow entrance.

This rock resembles a lion. I have no f*cking idea how though.

Keep living the dream.


singdor - lion
hin - rock
tam - cave
jontung - until
prasobgan - experience
keunyoogap - depends on

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