Chiang Mai Biking – Awesome kings, cute kids and new friends

A huge part of why we wanted to travel was to try to restore a little of our faith in humanity. At home we were so constantly bombarded with the bad things happening in the world that we never saw any good stuff. We promised ourselves that since we have left England we would change that and open our minds to new experiences.

Who knew that a simple bike tour would do just that?

We opted to book one of the easier half day tours with a company called Chiang Mai Biking. The tour we went for was The Colours Of Chiang Mai.

Getting to their office was a pain as the 2 songthaew drivers we flagged down had no idea where it was despite me showing them the leaflet which has a map on it. Eventually, the driver told me to get in the front and he threw a map at me. “You show”. Then he started moving. As the foreigner, it was now my responsibility to show this dude how to get to a place in a city where he lives!

Obviously, my pigeons instinct and superb direction skills got us there easily.

Upon rocking up at their office we were greeted by a Dutch dude named Fokke and Deo, our Thai guide for the day. We got kitted out with our bikes and off we went!

Our 20 minute near death experience

To get from the biking office to the countryside we had to cycle along some main roads and over a bridge which crosses the Ping river. Anybody who knows the traffic in Thailand will also know that this is no simple task. Cars and scooters are whizzing by leaving mere inches between you and them. Junctions mean nothing as people just drive where they want, when they want.

Somehow we managed to make our way over the bridge without becoming another statistic and make our first stop.

King Rama V – The 5th King

King 5th, Thailand

Loved by all. The King who changed Thailand

Deo (the guide) told us some facts about this King. Whether they’re true or not, who knows? But it made him sound like a complete boss and legend!

Apparently in the late 1800’s, this King studied in Europe and spent time in England. He learned about modernisation and upon his return to Thailand started reforms that would change the country forever.

He abolished slavery. He built a road infrastructure (and because of the British influence Thai’s drive on the left). He introduced the first cars. He built hospitals and provided medical care for all. He built a state education system so all children could learn. He built railways and provided nationwide electricity. He abolished corruption in the tax system. He liked a drink and a smoke.

Like a boss…

And people still visit today to offer red Fanta (in place of red wine) and leave cigars.

Former leper colony

Our trip took us into this beautiful village which really wouldn’t look out of place in a Center Parcs advert. The main center of this village has several large buildings which used to be the main hub for the leper colony. The village has about 300 bungalows about the size of a 1 bed flat where the sick guys used to live. 1 person, 1 bungalow. No overcrowding here!

Now the village is undergoing government funded re-development and will be used to treat, look after and re-home elderly people and the homeless. How amazing is that?! Rather than being left to rot this place is being re-purposed to help up to 300 people who may otherwise not been able to get any help.

That time Claire nearly adopted several children

School kids Chiang Mai

The children all seem to be cute!

Deo took us to a state run school with children ranging from ages 4-12. We visited a classroom with some of the younger kids and was overwhelmed with their excitement about seeing us.

Every kid wanted to high five us and I’m sure most came around for seconds! The boys were cheeky and the girls were adorable. You know what really hit home for us?

They wanted nothing.

Nobody asked for sweets or money. In fact they didn’t really know any English. They just wanted a high five and a cuddle. Claire fell in love with the tiniest little girl you’ve ever seen and I made a new best friend who kept calling me “white man”.

Glen and best friend in school

You cannot see it but I’m actually terrified here.

It’s odd. You think of schools in other countries (especially state run) to be a bit, well, pants really. This was not the case here. They had excellent sports facilities, a fully kitted out science lab and a modern computer suite. All classrooms had projectors with interactive whiteboards. It was amazing to see!

Claire high-fiving the children

High-fives for everybody!

Unfortunately our time came to leave and we were off to our next destination.

The dead go out with a bang

Our next stop took us to a crematorium. Man do these guys know how to honour their dead!

White coffin with gold artwork

Not a bad way to go. In style!

We got to see some coffins that were already made and visited a dude who makes them. It’s amazing work and he creates beautiful pieces. All to be cremated. Deo told us that families do not keep the ashes of their departed loved ones. They will either bury them in a grave similar to that of one in England or, get this, strap the ashes to a big arse firework and set it off.

Who doesn’t want to be strapped to a firework and fly up into the sky once they’re gone?

Ashes aren’t allowed to be kept, they must be released to the spirits, however seeing as teeth don’t melt they aren’t part of the rule and many families do indeed store deceased relatives gnashers!

Taking in the scenery

Countryside south of main city

Amazing views over southern Chiang Mai

The views were stunning. Once you get away from the hustle and bustle of busy city life you are presented with a quiet tranquillity that you can’t help but smile at. It’s so peaceful and quiet that you really could sit out there for hours.

Thailand rice field

A farmers mall rice field

Making cakes. Eating cakes. CAKES!

We rock up to this small factory and are told that this bakery is a family business. There are 3 people working here but they managed to churn out a huge amount of baked goods including sweet bread, doughnuts, loaves of bread, croissants and other sweet sticky goodness. It’s only 10am and look at it all!! They will be knocking these out until 5pm.

Bakery bagging up lots of cakes

SO. MANY. CAKES!!!

We’re told that we can take a neatly packaged treat to eat and my eyes light up. I love bakeries! My brain simply cannot choose what to pick! In the end we got a chocolate doughnut and some sweet bread. Yes, they were delicious!

Wat Changkam

Buddhist statue in temple.

Amazing colours in Buddhist temple.

Yep, another temple. But this one is equally and if not more stunning that others we have seen. It was quiet here as it’s in the country and doesn’t get many tourists. The lack of tourists doesn’t hold back it’s beauty though!

We’re not religious and so we don’t look at these places from a religious point of view however we’ve noticed it’s hard to not get lost in the ambience of the place.

Buddhist temple statue.

Golden statue and clear blue skies

It’s weird. You enter the temple grounds and immediately feel at peace. We found ourselves feeling calm, at peace and relaxed. Something our Thai massage most certainly did not achieve! Who knows, spend a little time here and maybe you really can find inner peace.

Tree with Buddhist robe protection

A special tree in the temple grounds protected by Buddhist monks

There are plenty of donation boxes around and a few stalls selling food and trinkets. Nobody ever bothers you or tries to get you to buy anything. You’re left alone. Most of the time people will simply smile, say hello and let you get on with your day.

Lunch time

By now we’re flagging a bit and Deo announces that we’ll be stopping for lunch. Woohoo! We arrive at this tiny little shop where 2 ladies simply have a few tables, 2 electric hobs and two large pots. That’s it. Somehow they managed to serve us some lovely Thai tea and a generous bowl of green curry with noodles and chicken. It was delicious!

Once we finished our lunch the ladies came round with a box that had these sticky rolled up things. We had no idea what they were but they looked like those rolled up caramel things. Turns out they were rolled up sticky mango slices. They tasted yummy and as I’m writing this there is currently a box of them sitting next to me. Even Claire likes them and she’s not a fan of fruit. Keep away love! They’re mine!

By this point it was approaching 13:00 and time for us to head back to HQ. After another near death experience merging onto a motorway to cross back over the Ping River, we made it back alive and in one piece where Fokke greeted us with cold cloths. Like those hot towels you get in Indian restaurants, but cold, obviously…

Observations and final thoughts

This half day tour was supposed to be a simple bike ride where we got to see some nice sights but it ended up being much more than that. It opened up our minds a little more and reinforced the fact that this whole travelling thing was the right move for us.

Other thoughts:

  • We don’t spend a lot of time around children. Claire is great with kids but I am pretty terrified of them. I don’t know how to act or what to say to them. The kids in the school reminded me that they’re not all sticky and needy. Sometimes they want nothing more than a smile and a high five
  • Our tour consisted of us two and another couple. He was Austrian and she was Polish. She didn’t speak English and he only really had a basic grasp of the language. Despite this we managed to learn a lot about each other over lunch and it made the day much nicer to share it with some lovely people
  • A “language barrier” shouldn’t be a barrier at all. You can still communicate without speaking the same language. At the start of the day the Polish lady (we didn’t get her name unfortunately) pulled out a spare coat from her bag and gave it to Claire. She wasn’t cold but the lady was wearing a coat and Claire was wearing a t-shirt so the lady wanted to help. We later found out they have a 21 year old daughter and concluded that whatever the nationality, mums will always be mums
  • Dogs are everywhere. Literally everywhere. They will quite happily saunter to the middle of the road, curl up and sleep right there giving zero fucks about the traffic around them. Brilliant!
  • For the most part, people don’t care where you come from or what language you speak. I lost count of the amount of people we passed who smiled and waved at us. Sawadeeka/khap (hello)

Hopefully our travels will continue to surprise us and further open our minds to new experiences and spending more time with others.

Overall we found this tour to be very fulfilling and good value for money. We would recommend you try them out as even though this was an easy tour we managed to see loads and gained a lot of knowledge about the area and it’s history.

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