All posts by Ridin' Rick

. . . Polar Vortex approaching . . . head south!!!

After a three day bike ride to celebrate her birthday and riding RAGBRAI this summer, emJay was jazzed about her new bike and taking more trips, like I have in the past. With her retirement in November  from The Nature Conservancy, after a 38 year career, that dream became a reality!!!

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Hitching a ride on RAGBRAI on the way across Iowa???

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I spent much of last winter riding in Thailand  and had such a great time we decided to head back there this year. The mild temps have afforded us training ride weather through November and December . . . in fact the  photo above was take on a training ride on Christmas day . . . 50 degrees . . . unlike the –50 degree wind chill the folks in the Midwest experience last January when the first of several ‘Polar Vortexes’ descended across Wisconsin. Not going to be a problem for us this year. . .

. . . as we start pedaling in the mountain region of northern Thailand . . .

. . . and end on the beaches of the Andaman Sea!!!

Day 1, MSN–Bangkok

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And we are off!! With a server at home, plus two laptops and two cellphones and a tablet on this trip, we should be covered for all our technological needs!

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It was verrry early at the bus stop. Our driver is behind MJ loading our bike cases into the bus. They are surprisingly easy to move.

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An otherwise tedious bus ride was brightened by this early morning disco laser show and accompanying music. We were waiting for John Travolta to make a surprise entrance!!!!

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After a two and half hour bus ride, we were at O’Hare. Soon we would be on this big rig. Watching for our bikes to be loaded.

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Korean Air is a classy airline, including “refreshing towels” as a nice touch!

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Rick dove right in with an Asian inspired lunch.

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. . . including a tube of spicy hot sauce, enough  to last the whole trip!

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A short 14 hours later, we found ourselves in the beautiful  Incheon airport just outside of Seoul, South Korea.

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A young lady representing the 5G company took this photo of us by their corporate mascot.  Here Kitty Kitty Kitty! I think we will be having nightmares now.

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MJ enjoys the holiday decorations, complete with snow, birch trees and tepees. Think they might be catering to western tourists, eh?

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A white tail deer seems to dwarf the reindeer (caribou) in size. Now is that right?!

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Past the giant cat and holiday decorations, we headed up to the Incheon Airport Transfer Lounge to relax as we waited for our final flight to Bangkok.

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It offered many amenities, including this quiet nap zone with individual settees with charging stations and muted lighting.

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For the livelier western travelers,  please feel right at home with a Blue Moon pale ale!

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After 30 plus hours of travel, MJ wheels her bike box and luggage up to our room at the Novetel Hotel in Bangkok.

Finally, sleep in a real bed with pillows! Ahhh.

Day 2, Bangkok

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After celebrating the arrival of the New Year somewhere over China during our flight, we awoke to New Year’s Day at the Novotel Hotel.

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After getting to our room around 1:30 a.m., we fell fast asleep. In the morning, Rick followed his usual routine, getting up at 5:30 a.m. Off he went to the expansive buffet breakfast. He texted MJ this photo to help wake her up…but then he had to go to the room to roust her. She made it to the breakfast before it closed at 10:30 thank goodness!

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Flashback to our arrival at the airport, where the Novotel staff provided shuttle service to the hotel. This  hotel is extremely convenient: close to the airport so you can walk through an underground tunnel  or shuttle back and forth; five restaurants to choose from; pool ; spa; fitness center; shopping; what more could you want?!

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Our day today was composed of exploring the hotel; napping; and eating. Here is the pool, with the swim-up bar tiki hut.

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We weren’t suited up for a swim, but it is always time to enjoy a refreshing brew! Singha, a Thai beer, on tap!

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We ordered appetizers, wonton-wrapped shrimp, all neatly tied up with a seaweed strip!

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Rick insisted that we dine at the sports bar, aptly named “Touchdown.” We sat outdoors, and enjoyed beers that were much larger than we had anticipated! 

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All day in the hotel we had noticed ads for Touchdown’s blackened salmon burger. And we wondered, why is the bun so dark? Is it burned? Not to worry; it was dark due to squid ink used in the bread dough! And it was tasty, served along with curly fries. Yum! We were back in bed by 9:00 p.m, exhausted.

Day 3, Bangkok

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After a leisurely morning of breakfast and packing up, we took a cab from the Novotel Hotel by the airport, into the city. We had a friendly and helpful cab driver who spoke good English, answered our many questions, and got us to our downtown hotel in 25 minutes!

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We are staying at the Somerset Thonglor Hotel, the tall one in the middle of this photo. On the lower right of the building you can see the outdoor pool and its surrounding oasis! The Thonglor neighborhood is described as “hipster” so we fit right in. It is also called “Japanese Town” due to the many Japanese businesses in the area.

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MJ rolls right into our “studio deluxe” room.

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Spacious,  with even a tiny balcony looking down on the pool.

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And fully equipped kitchen with dishes, pots and pans, refrigerator, sink, and washing machine!

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We will be using it soon. It is an Electrolux washer-dryer all in one!

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And the bathroom features a Toto….

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And its got a sprayer operation just like a carwash…except that you have to get out of the car.

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Detailed instructions for the eco-washer!

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Down on the 9th floor is the lovely infinity pool.

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So we stopped for afternoon snacks of edamame, fried fish platter, and beer!

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We walked down the avenue prior to dinner. Here we see evidence that a global brand is trying to be culturally sensitive as Ronald McDonald emulates the polite Thai bow.

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We found our dinner at an interesting development called “The Commons.” The idea was to build a community; upper floors have outdoor areas. We were in the cool, yes, hipster eating area featuring many different small vendors.

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We bought a few beers at The Beer Cap…

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…and MJ seemed quite happy with her barbeque from Meat and Bones! Yummy, pork, cornbread and slaw.

Day 4, Bangkok

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This is the breakfast layout at the Somerset Hotel. Rick continues his early rising by 6:00, and heads to the breakfast room.

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Nice assortment of breads, pancakes, and even crustless egg salad sandwiches!

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Today Rick enjoyed an omelet, potatoes and toast chased by a yummy Japanese breakfast of spinach ball, tofu, spiced green beans, squash, and grilled mackerel! Rick texts MJ photos of his food to help get her out of bed and down to breakfast!

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While we were in the lobby preparing for our day’s outing, a family also staying at the hotel said to us: Where in the US are you from? Turns out they were from Minnesota! Then Minnie at the front desk shared that she spent last summer at the Wisconsin Dells! She was a lifeguard at the Wilderness Water Park there. Small world!

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We took a cab for a 30 minute ride to the old part of Bangkok to tour the Grand Palace. Covering about 60 acres, the site includes Thailand’s most holy temple and a lavish palace that was once home for the  king. In the past it was like the White House, with many government buildings. Today its use is mostly ceremonial.

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This is Dusit Throne Hall with very lush grounds and fun topiary trees!

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Six pairs of demon giants like this one guard the entrance gates to the temple. Wouldn’t want to meet him in the alley!

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In the galleries (or loggia) around the temple are 178 mural panels depicting scenes from the Ramakien epic. This is the Thai version of a story from India about the triumph of good over evil.

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Warrior monkeys were part of the story, including this giant one that served as a living bridge for the troops to cross!

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Guardian giants—they are BIG!

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This is a scale model of the famous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. Rick toured it while there last year. The King of Cambodia gave the sandstone carving as a gift to the King of Thailand.

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A guilded figure – but don’t touch! Is it a bird? Is it a man?

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Scary figures hold up the tower.

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Example of intricate tile work. Can you tell that this place was kind of overwhelming?!

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More scary figures holding up an important tower!

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Serenity now! Behind this gilded figure you see some of the eight prangs that tower above the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha grounds. Each prang represents a tenet of Buddhism.

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In the foreground is a small wooden pavilion, so exquisite that a replica was exhibited at the 1958 World’s Fair! In the background is the Grand Palace and former king’s residence.

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MORE scary characters holding up golden towers!

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Aaaah! Now we are really going to have bad dreams.

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It’s funny, when we saw this last year over here  in Thailand and the trend continues . . . women getting all ‘dolled up’ like for a photo shoot and then taking photos of each other posing at temples and other historic sites.  Seems almost sacrilegious!!! ( I don’t think the guy to the left with his jogging suit on was involved in such an event.)

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The Grand Palace was originally built in the 1850s using European-style architecture. But that was not deemed appropriate, so Thai details were added.

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The Guard at the Grand Palace. Lots of the grounds were closed, and carefully guarded by these fellows. All armed with bayonets!

For a dinner treat, we returned to a restaurant that Rick and Tommy H enjoyed last year. We had appetizer, vino, entrees and dessert for a very reasonable price.  All delicious.  Need reservations!

Dessert was coconut ice cream on sticky rice with fresh mango, and Thai tea panna cotta with sweet cream…for sweet dreams!

Day 6, Bangkok

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This morning things were very still—even a bird joined us for breakfast at the infinity pool!

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Today’s treat was Japanese breakfast custard with mushrooms—yummy.

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…followed by a nice dessert of tofu and egg salad sandwich!

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After a leisurely morning it was time to take a cab back to the Novotel Hotel near the airport. And this sign on the cab window is the widely recognized international sign for _________????  The traffic was not bad, as many of the 18 million residents of Bangkok have not yet returned from their holiday vacation.

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Back at the Novotel we had lunch. MJ loved her refreshing salad with chicken, barley, greens, avocado and orange slices,

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Getting ready to leave our room, after reassembling our bikes,  to meet the gang for our opening day meeting.

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A shiny hallway looks like water! MJ walks across the reflecting pool.

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Tour organizer Tom and biking guide Woody share important background information with the group.

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Then we break bread together at the Novotel restaurant. These two tables make up our group.

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We had attentive waitstaff who kept our wineglasses full!

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Dinner was a big smorgasbord, with sushi, fresh oysters, entrees . . .

. . .  including a delicious red curry with salmon.

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. . .  and best of all, delicious desserts. Had to have three; there were so many choices!

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The ever-full glasses of vino totaled nine bottles! Eight white and one red. Have to cut back after this!

Day 7, Bangkok

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Today started with an 8:00 a.m. meeting right after breakfast. Bring your bike and LET’S RIDE!!

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Inside one of the Spice Roads vehicles, we feel like we are in the era of disco, Johnny Travolta and Stayin’ Alive! Exciting mirrored ceiling!

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We drive through the airport grounds and out to the Happy Healthy Living bike track. This is a test run for our bicycles. We are well supported by Spice Roads with three vehicles and five staff.

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It is not even 9:00 a.m.,but already it is hot and we seek the shade as we get our gear together.

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Leslie and Greg assemble their bikes, while Monica takes hers for a little test spin.

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Our bike cases will be stored at the Spice Roads Bangkok office until the very end of our stay in Thailand.

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MJ studies the ubiquitous release form.

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This bike track was developed 12 years ago when bicycling surged in popularity in Thailand. Bangkok is not a bike friendly city with its busy roads and heavy traffic. A group of celebrities and business leaders created a vision for a 15 mile track around the airport. It was exceedingly popular overnight. This past weekend, over 15,000 cyclists used the track!

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Daniel, a principal in the company and CEO, explains the history and improvements of the track and related facilities over time. Today the major corporate sponsor is the Siam Bank.

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Hurrah—we can bike and bird! The birding enthusiasts found each other: Monica, Woody and MJ. We are discussing the bird list Monica has developed in just the last two days!!!

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After the ride, we enjoy smoothies at one of the many shops affiliated with the bike track.

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Spice Roads staffer Bow provided us with four natural history books to use during our tour. Woody brought his two favorite bird books. So we are well equipped! The most interesting sighting today was the Asian Open Bill, a large stork-like bird that helps rice farmers by eating the invasive Golden Apple Snail.

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Back at the hotel, we notice a conference is being set up. Is this Thai-style, with guests of honor seated cross-legged on the dais?

We had a BIG lunch and two beers so were not ready for much of a dinner. We decided to walk over to the airport, through the under- ground tunnel, in search of some ice cream.

Along the quiet tunnel area there were Boxtels. I had heard of them but had never seen one at an airport.

Mini little rooms you rent by the hour staring at $40 for 4 hours . . . there were about 20 of them in this little ‘community’.

. . . cheap sleeping, single or double beds available!!!

. . .  want something smaller, here was the Avagard system where you crawled into the mini pod through the sliding door. One down and one up, accessed by the little ladder! Wonder how long it will be before we have these in MSN!!!

Day 8, Bangkok to Chiang Mai

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We had an easy, wide open morning. MJ joined a tiny yoga session in the Thai Garden.

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At 1:00pm we made the very short walk from the Novotel Hotel to the airport via th3 secret tunnel.  The sleeping pods were being prepared for their next guests.

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Bangkok’s international airport is modern and nice.

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Our flight to Chiang Mai took just over an hour. We all read this billboard about respecting the image of Buddha.

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After a quick 10 minute van ride, we arrived at our hotel. You learn to never judge a book by its cover, or a hotel . . .

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. . . because inside the door is  lovely hotel laid out around well-maintained grounds,

 

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Just a short walk from our room is the pool.

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Next to the pool is this stylish bar.

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And just down the way from the bar is this lounging area.

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Open-air meeting room!

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MJ settles into our well-appointed room.

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. . . complete with a bigggggg soaking tub, and a stand alone shower.

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Every room has a balcony that looks over the grounds. Here is the view from our balcony.

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At 6:00 p.m. we headed out for happy hour. Woodie led us through the narrow and circuitous streets of our neighborhood. He is the mama duck and we are his ducklings!

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Colorful lanterns along the way as twilight approached.

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We walked right past the German Beer Garden . . .

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. . . and to the upper floor bar that had a distinctly Rastafarian theme. Here we enjoy our refreshments as we listen to reggae music. We also held our map meeting, discussing the next day’s ride, and learning of Chiang Mai’s cultural history from Woodie.

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We walked a bit further to Dash Restaurant where we enjoyed Chiang Mai specialties like Cow Soy (sounds like) which is a yellow curry dish, Tamarind Chicken, garlic green beans, eggplant and tofu and Mango Sticky Rice. Lovely setting and great food!

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As we walked back to the hotel, and it was now dark, the lanterns looked even more stunning!

Day 9, Chiang Mai

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We start our day in the hotel courtyard where Spice Roads staff have our bikes ready to go. Tom gives us an overview of the day.

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We are proudly wearing our new jerseys from a great Polish meat market in Minneapolis. Rick’s family has gone to Kramarczuk’s for years at the holidays to buy “two sticks of Polish!” They have a great restaurant too so don’t miss it if you visit the Twin Cities!

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Spice Roads staff have fresh cold water available, as they will all day on the ride. They keep our bottles topped off!

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As we leave the hotel, Woodie gives a quick lesson in how to communicate with hand signals. This is important for car drivers to know what we are doing, as well as for communicating with each other–because we can’t hear much above the din of the traffic.

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We head out through the morning traffic of Chiang Mai. Stay to the left!

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We pedal past the old city walls.

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We see all kinds of things — including this mom and baby, papoose-style!

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Recreational opportunities abound.

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This happy pup joined us and joyfully ran alongside us for over a mile.

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See happy dog run, up on the sidewalk then back into the street here!

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Statue at entrance to small temple.

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We frequently see sites honoring the King and Queen.

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Bamboo scaffolding looks lightweight but must be strong as it is used frequently.

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Chicken man?

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Our route sometimes had a dedicated lane like this;

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was sometimes just along a highway like this;

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and sometimes we enjoyed a lane through a quiet area like this!

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Good deal in the men’s room!

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We stopped to rest and take a little break by a government office building. First we enjoyed the shade of this awning…

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… then workers showed up to move it away!

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Enjoy the awning procession here!

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We rode up and down (but mostly up) into the hills outside of Chiang Mai. Some trees on the hillsides were autumn-colored, gold and orange.

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In the distance we could see a temple on a summit.

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Here is what we hate to see — a steep incline!

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Yikes! We are at the dot on the left. Lots of climbing ahead!

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The temple is getting closer as we climb up and up.

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Our end point today was this garden. We enjoyed snacks and beverages and explored the grounds. Butterflies and a few birds!

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Part of our group enjoys the ducks swimming about.

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Coffee and smoothies in a nice cool porch!

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Leaf imprints in the trails through the gardens.

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Buildings were scattered  around the property.

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Charming lodging with a paddle wheel too!

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Lots of color…makes MJ think about gardening this spring!

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This pup seemed intent on the ducks and ducklings. For a snack?!

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This would be a nice place to hang out!

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Check it out here!

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On our way back to the city, we cycled past a safari-themed park. What is with the giant turtle?!

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Wonder if this exhibit of plastic flamingos was inspired by the University of Wisconsin-Bascom Hill flamingos?

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As we waited for a light to change, this British woman chatted with us. Very friendly! She lives here and loves it except for the pollution. Before the light changed, a German chap joined us on his motor bike and joined the conversation.

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Another friendly Ronald.

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Rick makes a note of the location of the hospital. Just in case.

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We ride back into the city in the early afternoon.

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And we all make it safely back to our hotel. A great first ride!

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Right across the street is a bike shop, unloading new steeds!

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Here are our steeds, all tied up for the night.

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Rick and MJ duck into the 7-Eleven, also just across the street, for lunch snacks. Here is a crab sandwich stamped with a crab design!

 

Six of us decided to head down to the night market for some MORE shopping and dinner. The hotel provides a free tuk-tuk ride to the market and we walked back afterwards. Only a 15 minute walk but quite the show along the way, including bars that specialized in ‘dwarfes’!!!

. . . lots of street vendors . . .

. . . and a HUGE covered area. Not as big as the market in Bangkok, but being at night this market was much more comfortable.

. . . rows and rows of elephants.

After all that shopping one works up and appetite so on to the food pavilion . . .

We all had interesting meals including the ‘hot pot’ that Leslie and Gregory shared. Getting the alcohol stove to turn off was quite the chore!!!

emJay and our chef shared a few words about the excellent feed.  (very few actually. He didn’t speak English and she didn’t speak Thai!!)

emJay had a pedicure before we left MSN and if her nails had still not been in such pristine condition, she might have gone for the little ‘piranha’ treatment where you stick your feet in a large aquarium and hundreds of little fish come by and eat all the dead skin off your feet. FUN!!!

On the walk back, TommyH and I almost went for this custom made suit. Only about $95USD but we could get them to bargain and just couldn’t pay full price.  Evidently this is one of their most popular versions!!!

Back at our little nest, TommyH was still high on night time market shopping and would probably have a hard time falling to sleep, thinking about the opportunity lost not buying the cannabis print suit. There is always tomorrow night . . .the market is held every night!

Day 10, Chiang Mai

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Today our ride took us 23 miles around Chiang Mai. Here Woodie tells us about our first stop, the monument to three kings.

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These three kings were northern leaders in the 13th Century AD. They worked together and selected Chiang Mai as the location of the northern capital.

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We visited nearby temple grounds.

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Another rendering of the three kings.

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Happy baby Buddhas!

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Large Buddha in temple with pigeon on head!

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Red lipped Buddhas are typical of the north of Thailand, and indicate good health!

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Worshipper meditating. He wasn’t on our ride but I think he was in our age group!

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You could meet 1:1 with a monk; signs said “take a seat!” This monk had a matching yellow kitty at his side.

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Flower of the sala tree which was the species of tree Buddha was born under.

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Beautiful decorations typical to honor the Buddha.

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More lovely tree flowers on the temple grounds.

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Riding on through town we passed our first fellow Thai bike rider!

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Our route took us around the city on a variety of roads.

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We passed a farm with mules used by the government to haul equipment into remote mountain areas on narrow trails.

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We headed northwest of the city into a recreation area.

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Thais seem to like larger-than-life figures.

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Giant gorillas.

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Our friend Barb was nearly snatched up by King Kong!!

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Barb and MJ head over to inspect the guest houses among the rice paddies. Setting in a wet area, equipped with mosquito netting,no services. Hmm. None of our group made a reservation!

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A touring group of high schoolers were happy to goof around with MJ for a photo op!

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We stopped for snack break not far from the giant gorillas. Yummy mango, papaya, sticky rice, and candy bars named Beng Beng. And fresh coconuts!

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MJ happily slurps coconut milk.

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The proprietor of Safari Land wanted a group shot so we obliged her.

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On our way out we passed Seven Headed Cobra Man.

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The man-made lake at the recreation area was surrounded by little huts you could use to sell food or to relax.

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We also had a nice stretch on a bike trail….

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… past this company that makes grand pianos!

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After our ride, showers and lunch on our own, we reconvened to visit the important Doi Suthep Temple. 300 steps to the top, count ‘em!

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up up up

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Just in case anyone needs it, there is a defibrillator at the top!

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This temple was built to house some of Buddha’s ashes. It dates to the 14th Century AD. The story goes that in 1930, King Na’s elephant selected the location for the Stupa, a special structure, by marching to the spot, trumpeting and turning in a circle three times.

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Bright bougainvillea.

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The special stupa (also called chedi).

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To go in the temple, all shoes must come off.

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There are Buddha statues everywhere! One can donate Buddhas and other items to the temples.

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Emerald Buddha with fancy plants.

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Emerald-headed Buddhas.

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Reclining Buddha.

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Buddhists paying respect to Reclining Buddha. Incense, candles, flowers.

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Each box held donations for different components of the temple.

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Woodie demonstrates the Buddha pose….

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Put your leg just so…

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Voila!

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Woodie said Mom is a mythical creature, not the English version of Mom!!

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The Fortune Buddha: at the base of Buddha’s cushion were two holes, which contain slips of paper with fortunes on them!

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We had climbed over 5,000 feet from Chiang Mai to reach Doi Suthep. On a very curvy road, in Spice Road vans, not on our bikes!

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To leave the temple grounds, we rode down the hill on the funicular. Here are the anxious throngs waiting, barely, to get in for the ride to the top.

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Iowa gal finds grilled corn, very happy! There were souvenirs and food vendors at the base of the temple hill.

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Puppy with eyebrows wishes us adieu as we leave the Doi Suthep grounds.