"Thailand? What, aren't you afraid of the terrorists? Chiang Mai, the next Bali?" Actually, the likelihood that any of the who-knows-how-many folk now at war against American foreign policy will choose tourist-infested Thailand as their next statement (at this stage WW III is less a conflagration than a series of bush fires) is about that of an earthquake taking out a Pacific Rim metropolis. Uncertainty, certainly, seems to be about the only thing certain in this new millennium. Most life goes on as before. So do I.
For the first outing here on the bike, I've just completed a 700 km loop of hills - routes 108 and 1095 - specifically from/to Chiang Mai, overnighting via Hot, Mae Sariang, Khan Yuam, Mae Hong Son, Soppong, Pai and Mae Malai. I took a detour to Mae Aw, a settlement founded by Kuomingtang refugees from the Chinese civil war 50 years ago. It is touted in tourist literature as a more- Chinese-than-Thai village, with generations living in the past, with photos of Chiang Kai-shek and with Taiwan flags and anti-Communist slogans. What I saw, instead, was rural poverty and isolation (one nationalist flag, no Chaing memorabilia), a people living outside reality, outside their culture. Opium trade no longer provides for their wealth. It all seems rather sad.
The hills of Thailand make for as difficult cycling as I've ever encountered. It reminds me of Viet Nam - but without the population density and with forests still standing, not destroyed by war or converted to hillside agriculture. The roads here are excellent; there's usually a decent bikeable shoulder. The climbs/descents are long - continuous 35 kms of 15% slope. Not much flat in between. On the toughest uphill stretches, I eke out 4 km/hr, anything less and the bike would keel over; anything more, I would. I am here just at the end of the rainy season - the wet is lasting longer than usual this year and slash-and-burn is yet to start. It is still relatively cool, with mist and cloud cover offering some protection against the tropical sun.
Now off to ride more of Thailand and Laos.
May the new year bring you health and prosperity and if not a more certain world, at least a less violent one.
15 December 2002
Chiang Mai, Thailand