On our first full day in Chiang Mai the weather is glorious, and typical of January here. In my head I mentally note the threat of heavy showers the following day, but don’t expect them to amount to much.
First thing, we head to Top Gear Bikes, just outside the Old City, to get stands fitted. Everyone here have stands and we kind of feel left out. They’re also incredibly useful. Although not especially cheap, the shop is well stocked and the service friendly, and the mechanic happily fits our stands for free. Feeling smug that our bikes will now rest upright as if by magic, we ride off to find lunch.
In the afternoon we set off on a local test ride. The plan is to visit Doi Suthep, a spectacular temple on a hill overlooking the city. We head out of town on the Huai Kaeo Road, stopping at another bike shop, the excellently named Velocity (in a city which boasts some cycle lanes, lots of cyclists and an annual car-free day), this time to get a wing mirror fitted. Again, everyone seems to have them here and it also seems like a good way to keep an eye on approaching traffic and Rach, rather than having to crane my neck every 5 minutes to check what’s there / check she’s still there. They only have a model that will fit my drop handlebars so Rach remains mirror-free for now.
About 3km into the climb we get distracted by a sign for some waterfalls. It’s hot, and it’s too tempting not too, so we investigate. The falls themselves are not especially spectacular and, at first sight, there’s no obvious place to swim. We eventually find a path which goes higher up and does eventually lead to a second waterfall and plunge pool. We’re rewarded with our own private swimming pool and refreshing shower. It’s totally lush, and has pretty cool views over the city too.
Back on the road, we continue to climb. The road is good, almost too good, with massive cambers on the snake-like bends – it’s more like Monte Carlo than a hill pass and bikes coming down are going so fast they’re overtaking cars!
Alas we haven’t quite gotten used to the hours of daylight yet, and dusk gets the better of us. We stop at a viewing point about 8km along, where the smog or haze (not sure which) obscures the sprawling city. The thought of careering down the hill in darkness isn’t one we’re comfortable with, so we turn back before reaching the temple.
Now I love a good bit of downhill as much as the next fool on a bike, but when you add in constant hairpin bends and darkness (it really does get dark quickly here!), it’s more of a challenge. Constant braking and the concentration required to stay on the road and on the bike mean it’s not as much fun as I’d hoped. Maybe this is why people go on about the power and superiority of disc brakes? By the bottom, hands are a little numb and we’re both feeling a bit apprehensive about what’s to come once we hit the mountains of Laos…
The next day is cloudy and oppressive – it needs to rain, and boy, does it rain. Once it starts, it doesn’t really stop for about 24 hours. We’re rained in, effectively, as we don’t want to start our adventure in a monsoon. January is supposed to be slap-bang in the middle of the dry season, so to have such heavy and prolonged rain is, we’re told, pretty unusual. It means an extra night at the super-friendly Junior Guesthouse, another evening of excellent food, and an entire day playing Shithead and Monopoly Deal… ah well, could be worse!
Saturday’s forecast is better, so we hope we can finally start bike-packing (yes, it’s an actual thing).