Trip undertaken on 31st May 2020
Sleeping alone out in my office man cave meant being able to listen to music quietly through the night and I sometimes approached consciousness and felt deep involvement in the sounds in the room. I have no idea of those sounds or songs once awake again and I also had to turn off the stereo when I long noise piece came up on the shuffle as the sun was rising outside.
The sofa in my room is plenty comfortable for a one hour nap but not so great for a whole night and as the brightening day chased away the night I threw down a couple of glasses of water and headed out on the motorbike with the intention of heading into the mountains to see if I could get to the stupa that is visible from the fourth floor of our school.
I had a rough idea of where to go and figured it wouldn’t take too long and could get back home before the day got too hot. It was a little cloudy and the big rain the day before had cooled everything down by a couple of degrees too.
But first, to Utopia to throw down a couple of coffees to get fully charged. They perfectly hit the spot and I hit the road in earnest.
I had a rough idea of the direction to head towards, which involved going over a road I travelled down with Amy a few weeks previously. I took the highway down to the other university in the area, this being the first time I have actually gone that far on this road. It’s usually a little hectic on this road with lots of crazy aunties just pulling out from side-roads and houses on their dilapidated old motorcycles, so I was glad to get down there and off towards the university as soon as possible.
Around to the side is a huge pond of water lilies with flowers yet open looking like massive cabbages on stalks.
A little further and a fishing lake with views towards the mountains at the back of my house.
Onwards towards the hot spring and then across to the Big Buddha, which isn’t a Buddha at all, but the Chinese goddess, Kwanyin.
Big Buddha is easier to say and absolutely everyone knows where you mean. This monument is a good landmark as you head into the mountains too.
To get there you have to pass a landfill which is tucked between a couple of hills and only announces itself as you turn a corner and the stench hits the back of your throat. Here the road crumbles down to a dirt track but having been here fairly recently I remembered the way through. The old wooden houses here are dirty and rotten and mangy old dogs stare at you if they can even be bothered to lift their heads from their slumber.
Then it’s onto the bypass – another scary proposition but at least there are not many side roads here for motorcycles to sudden pull out from, it’s just the speeding trucks to be aware of. Fortunately this newish road is still not used that much and it’s an enjoyable ride along. At the bridge I can see the stupa in the distance that is my planned destination (the little white dot on the mid-left in the picture above). The hill in the foreground grabs my attention though as there is a house up there as well as another Buddhist monument. How the hell do you get up there – the view must be amazing. One day in the future I will find out.
The opposite view takes in the river, which flows towards the city. It looks fairly sedate but from my one experience of falling in I can confirm it flows quite fast! The ground is dry yet the jungle manages to maintain well enough. We’re approaching the rainy season and there was a big rain a few days prior but not enough to waterlog anything yet.
Here’s the side on view of the same hill, it looks like the monks accommodation is in the white building but there’s no obvious temple here. Apparently there are caves in here somewhere too. Investigate later.
The red trees are flowering everywhere though the photos don’t really show up how bright they are. I love these rigid lines of plants growing, they counter the randomness of everything else here in Thailand.
I don’t know what the plants are. Anyone know?
Further on, I’m struck by this modern looking building on the hill – what a great place to live. A couple of hundred metres down the road and there is a sign indicating that there is a coffee shop up there, so what the hell, let’s go have another coffee and see what the view is like. The toilet is a tiny cute shack but I couldn’t find a light so had to guess with the small amount of light penetrating the gaps and cracks in the wooden frame. I think I got some in the bowl.
And the view was indeed fabulous. Yet another Instagram cafe here in Chiang Rai. Everyone seems to have one. The owners house, back and above the cafe looked magnificent, with two big dogs lazily guarding the gate. And the coffee was great, along with the refreshing tea that comes with it.
Just around the corner I noticed a big dragon staircase being built and a road up the hill next to it, so I nosily went to have a look. The top opened out into this area with this beautiful tree which I wanted to take home and use for shade in our garden. Behind the tree is a small stupa and I’m wondering now if this was the one I could see before. I thought it was a bit further along than here but I actually didn’t end up going to where I had planned to see what was there. Again, plenty of time to go back and investigate again.
I’m a sucker for these red flowering trees.
And in the distance here, again, not accurately significant in this picture, a huge pink flowering tree that I hoped to see more of so I could get a picture close up.
I was due to turn away from the river so stopped a few times to take more pictures. Here, two locals were walking along the banks, possibly looking for fishing spots. They saw me and shouted ‘Hello’ as I replied ‘Sawatdee khap’ in return. People are generally happy and friendly everywhere I go. They are curious about what you are doing and give them something to gossip about when the community gathers in the evenings.
This picture was taken at a covered area with a few plastic chairs scattered around – probably the community gathering spot. Like everything, it’s dirty and dusty and looks unused and anywhere can a meeting place anyway. Who knows what happens here at night?
This monument presumably brings luck and abundance to the surrounding land. I haven’t seem any other places similar to this.
I started deviating from the plan I had in my mind (actually I forgot to turn off at the right point) and ended up in this strange village with just a few buildings and didn’t look like many people were around. Maybe it’s just one big extended family living here. Their mango tree is doing better than ours.
And so I started heading up…
…and the views got more spectacular.
Finally a waterfall. However, the road ahead was begging me to keep going, so I did. I don’t know how to measure inclines but this picture doesn’t really show just how steep it was. And beyond here an Akha village where everyone was gathering for the Sunday church service. Beautiful hymnal singing came out of the building, in what sounded like the local language, making it all the more intriguing to me. There were many locals standing around, staring at the dumb lost foreigner and I felt like I was invading their space somewhat, so chose to head on. That was a mistake, as the hill got ever steeper and thinner until the road ran out at a house at the very top. As I tried to manoveur around on the slope, with out rolling backwards and over the edge, the owner came out to see what the noise was and told me, in English, I had to go back and turn at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t realise yet but I’d totally missed the turn off I should have taken and ended up here.
I went back down the hill and tried to ride up to the waterfall. I only got about 15 metres before the path was blocked and not knowing just how far the waterfall was (I have walked to other waterfalls for several hours without ever finding them!) I just took this quick snap and turned back. Friends tell me later that it isn’t much further along, so, again, one for another time.
I head back down hill looking for this turn off I should have taken. Google Maps shows it as a major throughway so I’m looking for some solid concrete road. The local kids are bemused to see me riding up and down looking for it.
And it turns out this is the main road – actually the only road – through the mountains going south. Here it is a little wider, the actually entry from the road I was on is little more than an overgrown foot track. And once again I’m heading up but this time through some slippery, sloppy muddy parts.
First part navigated and things dry out a bit. But I’m still going up and I’m starting to hear and smell the engine working hard over this tough irregular road. It’s a struggle and at some points I ponder turning back. But the thought that there might be something special just around the corner spurs me on.
I’m also spurred on my the fact that there are relatively fresh bike tracks along here which means that it is still getting used often enough that I can be rescued if the need be! In fact I start to worry about hitting a rock and falling off and breaking bones. But not enough to stop me. Around here I could also start to hear the buzzing of chainsaws so I figured these bikes tracks may have been made today. It was only a few minutes later I realised it was the buzz and rattle of cicadas (or whatever other bugs make noise in here).
Up and up and just a small gap in the bamboo jungle. Now I have to hope that Google Maps is keeping me on track.
This one is still one the way up. About another 15 minutes later I reached a peak and took some video (which I can’t upload here). It’s a panaroma around both sides of the ridge and it is absolutely silent except the buzzing of insects. No industry, no people, no machines. Just nature. If you can zoom in to this picture you’ll find Kwanyin as a tiny white dot in the distance.
And so, to the other side. Now, getting down was a scarier prospect than going up. Just over the edge here turned into thick mud and brakes became less functional. I could hear the roar of engines in the distance and presently four teenagers rounded the corner on their trail bikes and we smiled and nodded at each other and I’m sure they had a good laugh at the silly foreigner trying to navigate these roads with his little step through motorbike. Whatever, I made it down safely.
Going down hill didn’t last for long as I finally arrived at this village which was only 4 kms away from the main road but had taken me about an hour to get here. At each village the road returns to concrete until you get to the other side. At each concrete road I had thought I had arrived back on regular routes, only to discover more mud just around the corner, or, once again, up the hill. It was also threatening to rain up here but only managed a spit.
If you’re going to live in a wooden shack, make sure it’s the best spot in the village. Up some more again.
Zooming in on this shows the ridges of the mountains repeating off into the distance. It was around here I started to feel a natural ecstasy. A oneness, a wholeness. Goddamn, I want to hold on to that feeling.
I joked with myself that I was getting sick of seeing beautiful things over and over again. It just didn’t stop. When I showed Amy these pictures later she was very blazé about them. ‘It’s my country, it’s what I’ve seen all my life.’ I was intoxicated, however.
Here, the local soccer pitch looks like it could use some loving. Just to the right is a Chinese gravesite, looking over the valley which runs long and wide. ‘Bury Me High’ indeed.
Yet, it seems I can still go further up. A couple of spots of farmers burning crops thankfully weren’t enough to smog up everywhere.
Scenes like these make we want to travel more. This one reminds me of places in Sichuan province in China and I also love the mountains in Switzerland.
I guess I’m a mountain person but I think I equally enjoy the beach. 22 years in Sydney probably took care of my beach pleasures though there are times here in Chiang Rai when I wish it was possible to just go rush into the cold waters of the ocean again.
Finally I made it to the other side, about 4 hours after leaving on what I thought would perhaps only take 2 hours in total. I still had to get back yet. This view is to the south of Chiang Rai – all the others had been looking north or west.
I didn’t take any more pictures as I was going down again as I was hanging on for dear life, most of the way, followed by trucks and other motorbikes and sometimes negotiating tractors and other farming vehicles.
And finally a rest stop, with 4g connection and I tell Amy I’m fine and not to worry. I call my friend to meet for lunch in about an hour at a cafe back near the river. I basically completed a large circle on my journey and would finally end up back on the bypass.
But, I still had an hour before needing to be at the cafe and going directly there by road would only take about 20 minutes. So I rode around Singha Park, enjoying it’s manicured grounds, and ended up coming out the other side back near the mountains again. Another hill tribe village and a check of Google and there looked like roads to make it through, so let’s go and see.
Quickly, the farm land was taken over by rows and rows of pineapple and these dirt roads petered out into walking tracks. Still, Google showed that there was a way through so after crossing a couple of streams I finally found a way out.
Here the vista opened up to these papaya trees and a happy dog was lounging in the shade of the rubber trees on the right.
All around this hill sat various Buddha images which I lost count of as I rode on past. After meeting my friends for lunch I headed home as directly as possible as my skin was already turning crab coloured from sunburn. I made it back at 4pm. Once this sunburn was healed I hope I can go out again. I might also have to wait for the rainy season to finish too. There’s been a couple of big rains since this adventure which may have made much of this journey impossible now.
I am so happy and grateful that I can remember that 24 hours can change everything. One day you can feel so bad but the next day things become good.