Beyond The Banana Pancake Trail

Thailand 2 | Bamboo Byway | Day 220

Our first night to camp in Thailand, but wait, what’s that?… a quaint collection of bamboo Bungalows appeared… for cheap! We packed sticky rice and day old egg rolls for lunch, but then, like a mirage, an immaculate garden cafe with espresso and sandwiches was within reach. A new pattern of travel had developed and we didn’t hate it. But we noticed we no longer had reason to interact with people beyond transactions. The convenience made it hard to crack Thailand’s surface. Our new goal was to find a taste of the “real” Thailand.


Hot, Hot, Hot. The blazing sun zapped the life out of us through our pores by mid afternoon. The steep rural roads had us in a constant dehydration battle. After the Himalayas, who would have thought we’d be getting our asses kicked again by mountains barely reaching 3,000 feet? Our route on the Bamboo Byway had us cruising between Chiang Dao and Chiang Rai through Doi Luang National Park on some pretty kick ass roads with some great views. Riding along rivers became a favorite, because it would also mean some tree cover buying us a few more hours of shade.

Hot, Hot, Hot. The blazing sun zapped the life out of us through our pores by mid afternoon.



Black and white draped fabric clings to the bottom of a life-sized photograph of a handsome man in glasses inside a gilded frame. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s beloved king for the past 70 years, passed away in October 2016. The heartbreak is apparent as huge memorials are seen everywhere: outside of towns, next to businesses and in front of schools. Many wear a black ribbon pinned to their shirt signifying the year of mourning the entire country is in. King Bhumibol was well loved and believed, “A good person can make another person good; it means that goodness will elicit goodness in a society; Other persons will also be good.” He used the financial and political support of the government to develop diverse agricultural techniques and environmental projects to help Thailand become more efficient. He defused many political crisis between the people and its’ government to avoid violence. And he was a musician, photographer, and lover of the arts.



“A good person can make another person good; it means that goodness will elicit goodness in a society; Other persons will also be good.”  -King Bhumibol Adulyadej
 

 

A homestay was marked on Google Maps, but glancing around this tiny spec of a town, it wasn’t looking likely. We began asking around and the local shop owner was more than willing to help; she was on her phone making numerous as soon as she figured out what we needed. The Thai have been amazingly helpful. When asking for directions people, without hesitation, divert their own plans to personally escort us to where  we needed to go. We’re in luck, the shop owner says there is someone in town willing to house us for the night. Sure we could camp, but a real Thailand homestay sounded a lot more interesting.  

 


A tiny woman that barely reached my chest in brightly colored pants, who spoke no english, excitedly motioned for us to follow her. “I think this is our lady!” Mali led us to a beautiful wooden house on stilts in the center of town. She fixed us matts on the floor in the living room and we welcomed the cold shower from a hose. She began preparing dinner and I motioned I wanted to help; she was completely overjoyed as I pitifully chopped up two small onions in the same amount of time she finished chopping everything else. Suddenly, she was on her feet motioning me to follow, I hopped on the back of her scooter and we were off. Turns out Mali is the local hairstylist and was in the middle of a little old lady’s perm she needed to finish up. I was her silent partner for the day, like a giant shadow, following her around on errands and sheepishly smiling as she introduced me to half the town. 



Darkness hit and we were settling into bed, as our infant 8pm bedtime was coming up. Mali came into the room and kept motioning to me by making hula dancing movements? She clearly had other plans for this evening, “I think she wants to go dancing?” I joked. Again she motioned for me to follow, forbidding Eric from following, “…Guess it’s a girl thing? Sorry. Wish me luck!”  Back on the scooter with the full moon shinning brightly over us. We pulled into a house and a group of older women rose to greet us, grabbing at my arms with warm eyes and closed-lipped smiles in welcome. Then the music started, and the women got into formation. Slow synchronized hand movements coordinated with body tilts and side steps as the women preformed a traditional Thai dance. I was blown away. The music ended and the women gathered around hugging me and laughing about how much taller I was than them. I was so touched to be so graciously welcomed and accepted into this lady crew. 

"Slow synchronized hand movements coordinated with body tilts and side steps as the women preformed a traditional Thai dance. I was blown away."



Riding back to the house I felt bad Eric had missed out on all the fun. Turned out, Khon, the man of the house, and Eric were busy hitting the snake-skin infused whiskey while watching Maui Thai. Khon grabbed his 1970’s Thai-English useless phrase book to test out, but we didn’t get much past “Oh My God!” Khon’s only and perfectly timed English phrase. Mali made a sweet coconut milk and corn dessert with ginger tea while we spent the rest of the evening butchering each other’s language. A perfect night. This odd little family immediately embraced, cared for, and integrated us seamlessly into their lives. I fell asleep, way past my bedtime, with a smile on my lips, “We found it…” 



Our time in Thailand was coming to an end and I began to realize I had grown very attached to this place. As the lone occupants in a random highway-side hotel, we had made friends with the owner and her assistant. We arranged to have dinner in a few days in Chiang Kong, the border town between Thailand and Laos, and also their hometown. It was excellent to have a local to order all the best dishes with and we ate like pigs. With full bellies, we went to the small night market to eat some more! Our friends lead us to where the music was where women in jazzy rodeo outfits twirled in synchronized dancer-cising movements- aerobic dancing! We jumped in the circle, while many people filmed us and had a great last night in Thailand dancing the night away. A perfect ending to our Thailand chapter: amongst friendly faces, good food, and in a charming homestay, of course. 


"we didn’t get much past 'Oh My God!' Khon’s only and perfectly timed English phrase."


Early that morning, leaning on the railing, I gazed across the mighty Mekong River in to Laos. Country number six lied in wait. Thailand had started to feel a bit like home and we were once again headed in to a very poor country on an extensively rural route. We enjoyed the last of the luxuries, right up until the last moment; about to cross the border, we pulled over into the Tesco Lotus (think Walmart) to load up on packable nutritious food- perhaps the most important luxury for bikepacking. The road didn’t immediately deteriorate into pavement clumps and dirt at the change in borders, like when we crossed into Myanmar, but looking back into Thailand, I knew I was going to miss that place. Laos will be our new home as we make our own route to Luang Prabang.


 

  

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