Cycling Through Chiang Mai Countryside

On one bright morning in Chiang Mai, we rushed down from our room upon a prompt from our lovely hostess, Annabelle. Our bicycle guide had arrived. We wouldn’t have time to sneak in breakfast. And setting off at 5.5 months pregnant for a 40k+ cycle with little more than a granola bar could have been a recipe for disaster.* But all was righted, we had a perfect day.

Walking out the front gate of our countryside haven tucked amongst the canals and rice paddies of rural Chiang Mai, we expected the day to start just as our others had…a short drive. Little did we realise that we would be ‘driving’ with pedal power from the start.

Our guide, a beautiful and kind Thai who goes by the western name Bud, met us outside the front gates with bicycles perfectly fitted to our height and weight in tow. While most ‘bicycle tours’ that his firm leads include 15-30 guests (as two other groups were sized on the day), Bud was ours and ours alone for the day. And what a gift that proved. We set out from our B&B, went at our own pace, had a mid-morning snack, paused for a long lunch and to appreciate scenic vistas, and were able to talk with him endlessly about the Thai culture and his 14 years spent as a Monk. G and I feel lucky every day, but this day with bud was especially charmed. We had the unlimited care and attention of our very own Thai local…

I hate lounging holidays…I really do. Given the winter weather in London, I prefer adventures and doing things outdoors when we’re away and able to score some sunshine. So, this was one of many such Babymoon ‘activities’ and ‘adventures’ to keep us suitably entertained. As such, we lost no time. We snaked our way through the rural lanes and dirt paths, avoiding cars and highways wherever possible. There were loads of lovely moments during our day on the cycles, but here I’ll focus on a simple few…

The River
There’s at least one river that runs through Chiang Mai. After a while cycling, we happened upon a few fishermen standing in the shallows, catching their dinner. The River was once the center of Chiang Mai’s commerce. While a 1 hour flight connected us to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, apparently most Thai people can’t afford to travel by Air and, instead, depend on buses. The ~18 hour bus journey to Bangkok may seem long. But, Bud said that not so long ago it would take WEEKS to reach Bangkok via the slow-moving river. Progress…

Once upon a time, Thailand struck peace with its neighbors by providing them with unlimited supplies of Teak. And the local supplies seem not to have dwindled based on the woodworking shops and furniture markets that abound around Chiang Mai. There’s GORGEOUS and inexpensive furniture available…enough that one could outfit their entire home in a single afternoon, no matter your style or taste. Sadly, though, shipping costs wouldn’t prove kind. Alas, we limited ourselves to purchasing a set of three connected photo frames for Baby’s Room…for the equivalent of £4!!!!!! If only a gorgeous dining set would’ve fit into our luggage…

Rice and Smiles
As is true through much of the East, rice is good as gold. Without it, people’s diets would be insubstantial. And, at times during our cycle, we saw seemingly endless paddies. Given the wonderful weather, farmers in Chiang Mai are able to reap 3 crops of rice per year. And, lucky for us, during our ride, workers were planting a new crop in the fields. Standing at the roadside appreciating the process, we were struck by how joyful the workers seemed. There was much laughter and carrying on amongst them…smiles all around. From our experience, it would seem that Thailand is called the land of smiles for good reason…it’s not just a baseless marketing campaign, afterall.

Most Thai men serve as monks for 2-3 years in their youth. As monks, they go from door to door asking for alms (sp) and are obliged to eat whatever they’re given by their parishioners. This teaches monks to depend on others and to devalue material goods. In their eyes, they’re given sustenance through grace and must be kind, flexible and dependent. I’m probably misrepresenting things a bit here as my commentary is based on my impressions, but I will say that we found the Thai people to be some of the kindest, most helpful people we’ve encountered during our travels. Some part of this must be down to the fact that such a large portion of the population have experienced the humbling experience of life as a monk. By comparison, can you imagine an American teen eating only green beans and spam because that’s what they’ve been given? I know I wouldn’t have…but perhaps I would have become a better person had I been forced to endure such dependency (notice, I didn’t say hardship:)). More lightly, the temples are stunning. Every Single One.

Cremation is king. But unlike the sterile western cremations, an overwhelming majority of Thai cremations are held open air in front of mourning friends and relatives (see photo at left). Before lighting the kindling, a coin is put between the teeth. And the skin is washed with the water from a freshly cracked coconut…believed to be the purest water. Floral garlands and decorations are placed atop the coffin and then the match is lit. A few family members sit with the body for the following hours and days as the smouldering coals cool and, finally, approach to gather up any large bones. The rest of the remains are left and the pit is never cleaned before the next service as locals believe that by cleaning the pit prematurely, you’re tempting the Gods to take another life. Most neighborhoods have their very own cremation site, making it easy for the community to attend the service and support their own.

Upon arriving back to our B&B, Bud informed us that we had cycled over 67 kilometers during our leisurely 8 hour jaunt, but I think it’s safe to say our learnings far outweighed the physical strain.

For those who don’t know…G and I aren’t morning people. And I become grumpy when hungry (not just while pregnant)…so grumpy that G regularly carries ‘Kimberly snacks’ to fend off my feisty when the lull between meals stretches too long.

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