From the wow of gold, to the zen of stone – a week in northwest Thailand

P’tite version Française à la fin 🙂 …

Following our sojourn in Chiang Mai, we have taken our first steps on our journey alone. First was a short hop of 26 miles (41 km) to Lamphun principally to test the fully loaded tandem, but also to visit Wat Phra That Hariphunchai. This is a collection of temples around a famous golden stupa, renowned to be one of  the most elaborate and beautiful in northwest Thailand.

We saw enormous drums, the largest suspended gong in the world, and were excited to pose next to our respective Buddhas (dependent upon which day of the week you are born). The gold and opulence of the site is a feast for the senses: hundreds of golden Buddhas are everywhere, believers ring bells and leave gifts and burn incense.

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The next day we spent in Lampang, and to travel to our next destination we were facing a 230 km ride and could not find any obvious options for accommodation en route. We decided to test the Thailand rail system and loaded our bike into a freight wagon, and sat back to enjoy the scenery roll by. We arrived in Phitsanulok and rode 60 km (38 miles) to reach the ancient and first capital of the Thai nation – Sukothai.

Old Sukothai the archeological site (UNESCO World Heritage site) is nothing like anything we had seen so far. The site consists of ruins, without active temples, surrounded by moats and small lakes. Compared to other temple sites, the lack of ostentatious gold and the omnipresence of nature gives the place an amazing serenity. The site is huge, and visitors are encouraged to hire bikes and cycle around – we of course had our own!

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A recent addition to the tandem – a Thailand flag given to us by the host at one of the hostels – allowed us to parade proudly around the site. We intend to add a flag for each country that we visit on our trip!

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Next we will head east across the central plains to reach Laos before the end of the month and the impending expiration of our visas.

Version Française :
Après Chiang Mai nous avons commencé par une courte étape de 41km direction Lamphun. Principalement pour le majestieux temple Wat Phra That Haripunchai, supposé être le plus remarquable de la région. Nous y avons vu des tambours géants, le plus gros gong suspendu du monde et aussi posé à coté de nos Boudah respectifs (en fonction du jour de naissance dans la semaine correspond un boudah). L’opulence du site est un festival pour les sens : des douzaines de Boudah en or partout, des croyants qui allument de l’encens, sonnent des cloches et déposent des offrandes fleuries.
Le jour suivant nous arrivions à Lampang et nous trouvions face à une étendue de 235km vers notre prochaine destination sans solution évidente pour une étape. Nous avons alors décidé de tester les services ferroviaires thailandais et chargé le tandem dans un wagon marchandise, nous sommes assis en 2nd classe et avons profité du paysage. Arrivés à Phitsanulok nous avons complété les 60km qui nous séparaient de la première capitale de la nation Thaï : Sukothai.
L’ancienne Sukothai est un site archéologique enregistré au patrimoine de l’Unesco et ne ressemble à rien de ce que nous avions vu jusqu’à présent! Le site est constitué de ruines de temples entourrées de douves et étangs. L’abscence d’or et d’ornementations ostentatoires, l’omniprésence de la nature donnent au lieu une incroyable sérénité.
De par son étendue, les visiteurs sont encouragés à se déplacer en vélo. Nous avons paradé fièrement avec notre tandem, nouvellement amélioré d’un drapeau Thailandais, cadeau du patron de notre hostel. Nous avons décidé d’y ajouter les drapeaux de chaque pays visité ! 🙂

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Update from Chiang Mai 8-11 Nov 2014

Version française en bas de page!!

We have completed the Tour of Hope 2014 tourofhope.asia, riding 850 km from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai – visiting amazing temples, and presenting the donated bikes and new library building to the schoolchildren. It was a very rich experience and we are working on a new video of that – coming soon! And now our solo adventure begins!

We spent 3 days in Chiang Mai: repairing both the bodies and the green monster bike, in preparation for the next stage as we cycle across Thailand to Laos.

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We found Chiang Mai absolutely incredible, surprisingly welcoming, and one of us(!) could have been happy spending the entire 6 months there. We stayed at SDT Home (Something Different Tours) and found it simple and lovely, and a bargain at only 300 Baht/per night ($10) http://somethingdifferenttours.com/rooms.html. Here are our short highlights:

Markets
Chiang Mai seems to be the city of a thousand markets. The famous ones are huge: the night bazaar, the Saturday Market at Wua Lai, the Sunday Market starting at Tha Pae Gate and spreading throughout the old city. Markets feature food stalls, local crafts and artisans as well as standard tourist fayre. Whenever you turn your head, you find another new and fascinating market to explore.

Temples and celebrations
We were lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai at the time of the Loi Krathong festival – festival of the lanterns. Here people cast there bad luck onto a floating flower coral with a candle and pass it on to the Ping river to cast it away. Also they write their wishes and good luck onto a lantern, light it, and send it high into the night sky. Other people spice it up with huge parties and firecrackers abound wherever you walk! A magical sight to experience and to be a part of.

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There are literally hundreds of well-preserved temples – our favourite was Wat Bupparam, with naga (snake/dragons), buddhas, frescoes and jade.

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Location
Chiang Mai is close to the mountains and is famous for easy access to the hill tribes, elephant trekking, zip lines and extreme sports experiences. There is an abundancy of agencies providing day trips to tourists. The last stage of the Tour of Hope took us through the mountains where we met the children of the hill tribes, and got up close and personal with elephants, water buffalo, oxen and nature.

Nightlife
There are plenty of western-style bars with sports and entertainments, typical of Bangkok – we shall say no more. We had a great night out with fellow riders from the Tour of Hope.

However, because of some of these qualities, Chiang Mai is flooded by tourists and westerners, and is not the authentic experience that we are looking for – so with the bike fully loaded we are off to the next stage.

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Petit résumé en français : 
Nous avons terminé l’incroyable expérience du Tour of Hope 2014 : 850 km de Udon Thani à Chiang Mai, cloturés par l’inauguration de la bibliothèque et la donation de vélos aux écoliers. Semaine riche en images et émotions, vidéo en cours de préparation !
Maintenant notre aventure en solo commence !!
Nous avons passé 3 jours à Chiang Mai pour nous reposer et réparer le vélo avant de repartir. Une ville étonnante dont nous retenons :
Les Marchés : les plus gros sont le “Night Bazaar”, le marché du samedi à Wua Lai et le marché du dimanche qui s’étend intra-muros à partir de la porte Tha Pae. On y trouve aussi bien des merveilles de l’artisanat locales que les babioles pour touristes. Aussi l’occasion de picorer quelques spécialités gastronomiques. Une foultitude d’autres marchés fleurisent à travers la ville.
Temples et célébrations :
Nous avons eu la chance de participer au festival de Loi Krathong (festival des lanternes). Les mauvaises choses (malchances et mésactions) sont confiées à la rivière Ping à bord de courones de fleurs tandis que les bonnes choses (voeux et prières) sont emportées vers le ciel par des lanternes mongolfières. Magique !
Il y a à Chiang Mai des centaines de temples très bien conservés, celui qui a retenu notre attention de par son originalité est le Wat Bupparam.
Situation : Chiang Mai est au pied des montagnes, au  point de départ pour des excursions à la découvertes des tribus des colines, des éléphants et de la nature, proposées par les agences de voyage. Nous avons fait ces découvertes lors de la dernière étape du Tour of Hope.
Cependant, pour ces multiples qualités, Chiang Mai est envahie par les touristes, alors, avec un vélo bien chargé nous partons vers de nouvelles aventures ! 🙂

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Second training weekend, Sept 2014

Second training weekend, this time Maine! (and New Hampshire)

Thunder! Lightning! Rain! Hail! Eggs! Huge ice cream!!

After the issues with getting our behemoth bike on the Amtrak train for our first training weekend, for our second training weekend we planned something simpler, “guaranteed” train space, and less ambitious distances.

We again rode early doors to Boston’s North Station. This time we were riding the Commuter Rail to Newburyport, a short one hour skip north. We got on the train with no problems, chatted with the guard, other cyclists and arrived in Newburyport without issue. We took the short bike path towards the port, on advice of a local cyclist and, also on his advice, stopped in the rather excellent Plum Island Coffee shop (http://plumislandcoffee.com/) cafe for a cup of tea (obvious Englishman abroad! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d27gTrPPAyk). Heading onwards we found beautiful roads and wonderful beaches in bright sunshine. Seemingly hundreds of classic cars we saw on all the roads – GTOs, Mustangs, Beetles, Caddilacs, Pontiacs – everyone was out for a cruise that weekend.

We are waterproof
We stopped by Hampton beach for lunch and notice a couple of large clouds heading our way. The rain started and we asked ourselves the question “Ride or Hide?” – Frog, naturaly unphased by the rain, suggested to ride as the skies north looked clear. Of course the rain increased and suddenly the storm clouds came – lightning crashed, thunder rolled, and even hail slammed down on us (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olfzUaueKl4 – see the lightning at 1:25 in the video). We certainly enjoyed riding in hung warm rain, and the excitement of being in the storm was fantastic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvvdazaIKLI). Our bags are fully waterproof (see our kit selections here https://badgerandfrog.com/kit-for-our-adventure/) Ortlieb panniers – the finest and most trusted in the land so we were interested to carry on to see how waterproof they were, and how the bike would handle in the wet.

Making friends
Rolling through Portsmouth we bumped into another touring tandem. Riding a tandem (The Smile Generator https://badgerandfrog.com/2014/09/15/first-training-weekend/) you are instantly friends of all other tandem riders – only another tandem can understand exactly what it takes to ride on a tandem, the feeling, the joy, the sacrifices and lack of comfort. Reminds me of the quote
“If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together”
Jeff and Louise are riding their red tandem around the world, enjoying their retirement – they are currently en route from Canada to Washington, and they did half a year in Europe last year – wonderful people. Their bike is rather special too – a custom made, one of a kind, SnS coupled tandem, with 20 inch wheels, and of course it’s red! Follow their fascinating blog here http://redtandem.blogspot.com/ DCIM100GOPRO
And for my considerations of tandem design and which tandem to go for have a browse of my thoughts here https://badgerandfrog.com/tandem-design/.

Our kit is waterproof
We followed the coast road through New Hampshire and into Maine. The scenery was wonderful, the classic cars followed us up the road through Ogunquit and to Wells.

photo 1 (1)  photo 1 (2)photo 2 (1)http://www.riversidecampground-wells.com/ We set up efficiently, and strolled over the road to find some lobster for Frog and some non-lobster for Badger. The rain started to come down as we ate and by the time we got back to the tent it was raining hard. The tent we have is a 2 man. It is small which means it is easy to transport, but it is quite small. This time we kept the valuables inside the tent, and the non-valuables in the waterproof Ortlieb bags under the awnings. In the morning, the tent had survived the rain, and we made a cup of tea on our camp stove (again, the Englishman abroad cliche!). We packed up quickly, and marvelled at how much stuff we were able to cram onto our bikes.

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Egg is good fuel
We had spotted a place for breakfast the day before and hot footed it there – “Egg and I” in Ogunquit http://eggandibreakfast.com/. We ate huge special breakfasts with cups of tea and then hit the road again. photo 2

The trains back were infrequent, once every 3 hours, and we wanted to take an earlier train to brace ourselves for the reality of getting back to a working week. So we really booted it – the roads were good, weather was fine – warm, but not too warm – and we made what for us was excellent time on a fully loaded tandem – averaging over 15 mph for 50 miles. On the way we stopped for an ice cream and Badger was shocked to find that he, for the first time in his life, could not finish his ice cream – a spectacular “death by chocolate”. And it was only a “large” – thanks ‘Murica!!

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We are a little more comfortable
Since our first weekend we had made several changes to the bike set up:

1: Badger’s saddle at a better angle, lower height, closer to handlebars
2: Badger’s handlebars at a higher angle, with clip on triathlon bars
3: Frog’s saddle at a better angle, higher, further away from handlebars
4: Frog’s handlebars higher and further forward.
4: Chamois creme 🙂 http://www.competitivecyclist.com/assos-chamois-cream
This made the handling of the additional weight easier, and whilst we were not without discomfort, we were much happier at the contact points.

In summary, we found that we rode well together, the changes we had made to the bike gave us much more comfort, and really enjoyed the beautiful scenery though that area. We are glad it went well as this is the last overnight trip we have planned prior to the big one! Wish us luck!!

Days ridden: 2
Miles covered: 120

Strava links
http://www.strava.com/activities/191423771
http://www.strava.com/activities/191424152

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First training weekend – early September 2014

“A beginning is a very delicate time”
Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

In preparation for our forthcoming adventure we planned two weekends away cycle camping, trying the tandem with the (almost) full load to see what worked, what didn’t, and what the heck we were letting ourselves in for.

First training weekend – NOT Maine as planned…

Our first weekend was planned for the 3 day Labor Day Weekend. The plan was to catch the train to Portland, Maine, spend 3 days exploring the coast, camping along the way, and catch the train back. However, best laid plans…

We arrived early doors at Boston’s North Station. Frog had done all the planning – route selected, campsites booked and paid for, train tickets booked with bike allocation. We, like every other Boston resident, grabbed a Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and readied ourselves for the train. Alongside us were a variety of people, weekend workers, excited people ready for the long weekend, other people with bikes – the buzz and hum of a long weekend permeated the station. Of course we stood out – a couple of weirdos with a long bike, covered in brightly coloured bags, dressed in dorky lycra – we were happy with that and very excited for our first real weekend.

Lesson #1 : setbacks happen
As the platform was announced we joined the throngs of people going to the train, us looking for the assigned bike carriage. And then the blow was struck – despite Amtrak advertising this train with a bike carriage – and us booking tickets with bikes assigned, the train arrived without it and thus no space for any bikes. We tried to squeeze onto the train, but the train guard would not let us board, nor the other people with “normal” bikes. We tried to book on the next train, which would be 3 hours later – leaving us with too little time to reach our pre-booked and pre-paid campsites, that day, and the next. The information desk told us that the bike carriage was full, so we could not travel on that train either. After some drama, and some tears, we discovered that Amtrak had lied to us and that the bike carriages were broken and not available at all that weekend, despite them selling us tickets for that purpose.
After some exploding emotions, we started to replan. With the help of Yelp.com we identified a campsite within a half day ride south, towards Cape Cod – the roads would be ugly, getting south out of Boston on a bike is never pretty, and the disappointment of plans ruined and wasted by Amtrak lasted with us a long time.
We got on the road as soon as we could and set about peddling south. The roads are large, but bike lanes are well marked and we passed through South Boston, past a carnival and out onto better roads pretty efficiently. We saw one car crash – I thought that was pretty good considering!

Cycling on a tandem is different
The sun was shining and we started to make good time. Riding a tandem is always a pleasure – riding a “normal” bike is one of the greatest pleasures of my life, but when you ride a tandem it spreads joy wherever you go – people smile and laugh and wave and take videos and photos. People want to talk to you, cars beep at you in a friendly manner (wow!!) and the journey becomes pleasant. I call it “The Smile Generator” 🙂
This was the first time we rode the bike fully loaded, and we were finding that this was a different sensation from the simple riding we had done around Boston and on the Boston Bike Party. A tandem is a different beast to a normal bike – it can fishtail at any time, and any excessive movement by ever the captain or the stoker generates some disconcerting wiggling in the bike frame, which can amplify into losing control and crashing. And that movement can be scratching a tender part, watching a bird go by – anything! When you add on the full camping load this then becomes amplified. Tandem design is discussed here (https://badgerandfrog.com/tandem-design/) and our kit selections are discussed here (https://badgerandfrog.com/kit-for-our-adventure/) but at a very high level we were riding an 18 kg bike with 150 kg of bodies, plus pannier racks pannier bags, and tent, stove, clothes, medical supplies, water, computer, solar charger, cameras, phones, chargers, tent, sleeping bags, food etc coming in somewhere at a grand total of somewhere around 220 kg (circa 480 lb) of moving mass. Holding onto the bike and controlling that mass across the contact points of the feet, hands and bottoms was proving a new and interesting experience. I had sore hands, numbness in my arms and feet, and a sore bum.

On the road we bumped into several other riders, some of them also on touring and camping weekends. In particular we bumped into Bryan and Leslie and had some very interesting chats with them – Bryan builds his own bespoke bikes, check out his work at http://www.royalhcycles. com.

Portsmouth campsite

Portsmouth campsite

We found the campsite we had selected, Ellis Haven campground (http://www.ellishaven.com) on the outskirts of Plymouth – famous for the Plymouth Rock – alleged site of the landing of the first settlers, with a replica of the Mayflower ship that transported them alongside. The town is lovely, and the campsite was incredible. I think we were the only tent, otherwise it was all super large campers with big families cooking with a huge amount of organisation and infrastructure – cookers, marquees, chairs, bikes, dogs – and of course plenty of beer. The campsite has lakes and entertainment for kids, and we were lucky enough to have live bands for the two nights we were there – not quite the wild camping experience we were preparing for, but a nice start into our first trial of the adventure.

Lesson #2 : don’t trust googlemaps
We spent the days exploring the area and rode the channel that splits Cape Cod from the mainland – learning how to handle the bike in strong winds. We tried to design the most pleasant/efficient route using googlemaps, only to find ourselves in the middle of Cranberry fields ! We decided to keep going, as manhandling the bike through sand pits where you cannot possibly pedal was good practice for what might beset us in future… but from then on we’ve only been trusting our compass and barely using the GPS (exclusively for finding the best routes for exiting cities and locating bridges).

We shut down camp on the third day, worked out how to get everything back in the bags and bundled back to Boston as fast as we could.

In summary, we found that nothing really worked out, we got a bit wet, we got lost, Amtrak let us down, but we were able to pull together, and find solutions together. This is a huge positive and has made us very content as we start to stare down the big adventure which starts very shortly indeed.

Days ridden: 3
Miles covered: 173

Strava links
http://www.strava.com/activities/188555822
http://www.strava.com/activities/188557089
http://www.strava.com/activities/188557553

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Badger and Frog – humble beginnings

Badger and Frog are setting out to the world on a pea green bicycle – we need help – wish us luck!!

 

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