Mountain Biking around Chiang Mai
Jumped into the back of a pickup truck with a bike and we headed up mount Doi Duthep that looks down on Chiang Mai like a watchful guardian. Visakha Bucha Day is one of the most venerated days Buddhist festivals of the year. It's the day when Buddha is supposed to have been born, married and died on. So here in Chiang Mai the locals (that seems to include anyone dressed in a pyjamas and children) make a pilgrimage up the Doi Suthep mountain to the 'temple on the hill' that has sacred connotations because an elephant once climbed up it with a monk on it's back and died near the top. Anyhow, the locals head up there (it's a 15 kilometre uphill trudge on the road to 1250m altitude) the night before so that they can see sunrise as early as possible on this special day which is a public holiday in Thailand. We drove up the hill to the start of the bike ride and it was littered with people walking back down the hill after spending the night on the hill. It was also just plain littered as pilgrims discarded a myriad of plastic bottles, snack wrappers and so on. Bins are very underrated here in Thailand, however I am glad to report that there were gangs of school children following behind in the morning bagging up the strewn debris. The sealed road quickly turned into a dirt track as we almost summited Doi Suthep National Park at 1650m. We donned our protective gear and I had my brakes swapped around to the correct (English) way of doing things. We cruised to a coffee shop that vended coffee grown on the mountainside so I had to have a cup of that. I'm not a coffee connoisseur so don't ask me to comment on it's worthiness but it was dark brown and tasted like coffee to me. Eyes wide open we then hammered down some pretty technical singletrack following our guide. I should mention that this is low season and there were only two of us on the ride, perfect. We quickly found our natural order with me tailing the guide all the way and the other, competent Irish lad bringing up The Rear. There was a small amount of uphillery which was not advertised in the brochure, these sections were short sharp pushes to join up otherwise disparate sections of singletrack. There were some significant drop offs, and one medium sized jump with a messy landing site but generally the riding was not massively challenging if you are an 'expert' rider. This was the hardest advertised ride and I'd say it just about had enough grin factor and plenty of possibilities for some big 'offs' into trees. The tracks were slippery with the general terrain being tracks which doubled as water run-off gulleys so they were rutted and rootey and the more I think about it it was quite challenging. Maybe if I'd have stacked it (which the Irish lad did several times) I'd have to rated it more technically. It was adequate if done as fast a possible. The bikes weighed about 3 tonnes each and my front suspension and brake were not fully functioning but that added to the excitement. After a couple of hours (could have done it in much less if we didn't have the uphill sections and coffee stop), we were 1200m lower in Chiang Mai. The heavens turned black and as we devoured our late lunch it started belting it down. We had the option of going back up the mountain and doing another ride (for another 1000 bhat of course). Now I'm a glutton for punishment but doing those tracks in the wet would just be a complete lottery, suicide.
After the rain abated my Shandy-Senses started tingling, what could this mean, is someone in danger? Is there a nearby microbrewery that I wasn't aware of? Or could it be that Test Match Cricket was just about to start on Star Sports 6? After a lightening piece of research and map reading I realised that I was a mere 50m from Tuskers Bar which claimed to have every sporting channel on earth. I rocked on over, not good, the TV wasn't even on and there were no customers at the bar. Two sentences of Thai-glish later and I was licking back to the opening salvo in the three test series between England and New Zealand. Feeling rather pleased with myself I patted myself on the back and settled in for 6 hours, only punctuated by a swim in my guesthouse pool during the lunch break. It was a joy to listen to Bumble explaining to Sir Ian Botham that sunglasses are a fashion item and the reason why Straussy just dropped a catch. Finshed a fine day off at the THC rooftop bar (a Rasta themed bar overlooking downtown Chiang Mai) with Benjamin from Colorado, a very eco aware and responsible fella after my own heart.