Monday, February 13, 2012

Riding to Mae Sariang

Burmese refugee camp along the border

We woke in the morning to hear Squeaky Dave (all the cats we meet on this trip are called Dave, regardless of gender. Last time, they were all Missy- Mini Missy, Master Missy, Bitchy Missy, Finny Missy (the fish), and so on) requesting more potato chips. She had to settle for a good rub between the ears though, since we had no more. While Colin loaded the bikes, I walked up to the 7Eleven to pick up some coffee and cereal for breakfast before we headed back out on the road.
Bamboo house with roof of thatched teak leaves in refugee camp
When we turned out onto the road around 9:00 am, it was in the low 60s, so we stopped to zip our vents before continuing northward. We were immediately into the hills, but initially the roads were very good. There were some steep climbs, and a few times, we found ourselves in first gear chugging up the hills at 10 mph. On other sections, we were able to maintain 45 mph as we swooped through hundreds of corners. The scenery today was beautiful too. In sections we rode along the Moei River and could see across it into Burma. One interesting thing we saw along the way was the refugee camps for the Burmese people who have fled the fighting in their home country. The buildings themselves were fascinating to see: the walls appeared to be (unrolled) bamboo, and the roofs are thatched with teak leaves. Other times, we rode up higher into the mountains, through flowering trees, teak forests, and random banana trees. Part way through the trip we came upon some very large, orange, temporary road signs, but we had no idea what they said since they were covered in squiggles and dots. We soon discovered that they must have said something about landslides and damaged roads, because that's what we found. Thailand suffered from massive rains and flooding last year, and this area clearly experienced a lot of rain. On this stretch of road, we passed through areas where the hillsides had obviously collapsed and covered the road in feet of dirt and mud that has since been removed. Here the pavement was chewed up but still rideable. In other areas, the road surface was completely stripped away, and we found ourselves riding on dirt and gravel. Then suddenly, we rounded the corner and came upon a brand new section of pavement. For some unknown reason, here in the middle of the mountains, was perhaps, 10 miles of a beautifully smooth asphalt roller coaster. The road twisted and turned and rose and fell around the mountain side. This was the funnest piece of road I have ridden since I can't remember when. Too soon, it ended, and we found ourselves riding again on rough pavement for most of the remainder of the day.

Refueling at a hand-crank pump
We arrived in the town of Mae Sariang in the middle of the afternoon and made our way to the market for a late lunch. At the front of the market was a woman selling fried chicken and sticky rice. The fried chicken in this part of the world is unlike any we've had anywhere else. I don't know what they put it the batter, if it's wheat or rice flour, but I think they must use coconut milk as the liquid. The coating is crispy, airy, and addictive like crack. I'd sell plasma in order to buy a chicken leg. Sticky rice is the preferred rice variety in northern Thailand and in Laos. It is a glutinous rice, often served in a woven bamboo basket, that as its name implies, holds together. To eat it, you take a wad of it from the basket, squish it into a ball, and use it to sop up the sauce of the vegetables or meat it accompanies. After a picnic lunch on the steps of the 7Eleven (it was the only place to sit), we rode around the corner, onto a quiet side street, to the Northwest Guesthouse. It's an interesting building made of teak, as many here are, with rooms upstairs and an open air restaurant downstairs. On our last trip through the region, we stayed here and enjoyed it, so we decided to check in again. The rooms are comfortable, the owners friendly, and the dinners are good and inexpensive. We spent the rest of the afternoon being lazy, wandered the streets a bit in the evening, had a great dinner, and went to bed.

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