The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/186151461 68km; total 4861km (doesn’t look too bad on paper huh? Ride it and weep, baby)
The chat: Ouch. This little detour north of Chiang Rai took us off the main road and up to the little mountain town of Mae Salong, inhabited mainly by the descendants of exiled Yunnanese soldiers who were bumped out of Myanmar in the 1950s and settled in the (then almost inaccessible) borderlands of China and Thailand.
Coffee at an impossibly cute Chiang Rai riverside cafe (Emma, slave to Tripadvisor that she is, does find some great spots) was followed by a pan flat 30km, which gave our legs little notice of what was to follow. Having turned off the highway, the road wound up into the hills, through villages surrounded by tea plantations, which reminded us of north Vietnam. Unlike Vietnam, though, the gradient crept up and up with the altitude, until we were grinding up grades which vertiginously pitched between 13 and 20%. Incredibly, even though we’d reduced tyre pressure to increase grip, our rear wheel was slipping on the slick wet tarmac – this despite two 10kg panniers sitting over the rear axle – definitely the steepest road we’ve ridden up in the tour so far. Our lungs, and Emma’s knees, were screaming for respite, but we didn’t walk an inch of it. Grrrrr.
After hauling ourselves up through the cloud, the road eventually flattened off (a relative term), and we emerged on a picturesque ridge which lead us to Mae Salong. A one street town, and very un-Thai, all the signs are in Chinese, as is the radio, TV, language and food. There are also more tea shops per capita than anywhere else in the world. But there is a 7-11 to remind any confused tourists they are still in Thailand…
Settled into the grotty but friendly Shin Sane guesthouse we wandered into town in the drizzle to buy an umbrella and try some Yunnanese delicacies. Sue Hai, halfway down the main strip couldn’t help with the former, but definitely could with the latter – wild pork in mushroom sauce was a winner, and one dish we don’t expect to be offered again until we take the plunge and visit China proper one day.
A Chinese remedy for TB?