Nan and Narrow Roads – Evrim and Elif Yigit Bike Tour
Even if Nan region where we came with Elif after Laos doesn’t house the highest mountains of Thailand, it hosts the toughest roads. Here the road number 1080 which is found in a valley between two mountains from south to north that passes through Ciang Klang, Nan is at 50km west of Laos border and partially flat so developed towns belong to Nan region can be found on this line, 50km inside Laos. Our aim is to go down south from the road number 1081 which goes almost adjacent as long as possible. Because since this road follows the border near the mountains, it’s a calm road which’s generally not prefered by cars for transportation. It’s possible for you to proceed on this road for weeks without encountering any strangers or an hotel.
Because we went to Thailand without a visa, we were only allowed to stay here for 2 weeks. We had to arrive Cambodia in those two weeks. Nan region would slow us down with its mountainous nature so we spent a week there. After Nan, in order to reach Cambodis, we had to ride for 80-100km per day on our remaining second week. The reason why we didn’t acquire visa for Thailand while we were in Laos was that we wanted to end our journey. Our plan was to spend a couple of days after reaching to Cambodia, go back to Thailand and after hanging around in Thailand for 2 more weeks, to go back to Istanbul.
Before passing to Thailand’s Nan region, we stayed in a place near the Laos border for a night. Our aim was to pass to Nan early in the morning and ride as much as possible beginning from the morning. Because our focus for the next two weeks would not to wander around but to reach the other border, to Cambodia. Since we rode from the road number 1080 which’s 50km into the border on the first day, we proceeded easily and reached the first town Ciang Klang without a struggle. Since we were hungry, had been far away from delicious foods in Laos and preparations for the evening market had begun, we got stuck here. After eating watermelons which had a size 4 times bigger than an apple and appeased our thirst, we barged into the market. I haven’t informed you about the evening menu of the markets here. Just because of this, it’s hard for you to understand why we miss Thailand’s evening markets while we’re in Laos or other countries. Here at the evening markets our menu goes like this; in the first place we begin with light foods and eat our sushi from the sushi counter for 1TL for four, then my favorite grilled octopus arms which’s 30cm for each arm and grilled calamaries will be snarfed down. It’s possible to eat chicken or pork on a skewer which are cooked in small pieces on coal as you proceed in the market looking around for what they have more. After these, the rice soup with shrimp, pork or chicken which’s called freid rice (kou pat) or kou tom is a must-have for me. Of course there’s papaya salad which can be unbearably hot and I especially enjoy it when it’s like that. Because it’ll be so hot that it’ll take 15 minutes to finish up with the salad. You almost blow as you eat it. Which’s a strategy of mine to eat slower while I’m starving. The soups which’re cooked with several mushroom kinds, speciality meat soups, vegetable dishes, foods with curry and courgette, fish dishes (I definitely eat every day), dishes cooked with curry and coconut milk at this market are just for filling my stomach. After these, it comes to the actual menu. It’ll be time for our deserts that we’ll get with our iced or hot coffees which we’ll only eat for pleasure and which’s the only thing we hate to share with Elif during our tour. Deserts cooked with fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes peculiar to the climate here, sweet beans, sweet beet, banana and coconut are on the list that’ll be missed the most of Thailand. And of course it’s possible to find must-have fruit kinds in the market for the ones that care for their fitness. Furthermore, the salesmen here are quite nice people. Because of this just shopping on its own becomes a pleasure. If you want to pay, it’s not that easy. First you have to answer the question; “Did you like it?”. I don’t suppose that they care whether I liked the food I ate or not at even a restaurant in our country however here the most important thing for them is that I enjoy the food they prepared. Because of this, I usually hear the question “did you like it”. In fact sometimes this question is asked by the people passing by.
Like this, as we got stuck in the town, in fact at the market, we decided to stay here and set up a camp. We tried to find an appropriate temple or a decent land. As we couldn’t, we asked a couple of people but they all directed us to places near the main road. At last we saw a cyclist entering a facility in a green garden, followed him in and tried to ask for a spot for camping. They described us a place near the police and as they noticed that we were insisting on not to understand, one of them took us to the police station by his bike. We had passed by the police station as we’d been entering the town. There was a large garden in front of it and there was a big turf field, a volleyball court, a couple of fringes to sit under and a sunflower field included in the garden of the police station which composed a nice background near these. Even if it was definitely going to be a comfortable camping area, we had to find an alternative camping spot against a negative answer from the police. We’d stayed in a similarly nice police station in a small village near Mae Sot before. We hadn’t had any difficulties there. Here, since we were in a big town police could give us a negative answer and could say that there isn’t any camping zones here and we have to stay in an hotel. None of these happened. One of the policemen asked if he could help with anything as he saw us from the window on the 1st floor. Lucky us, since he could speak English, we told him that we’d been looking for a camping spot and if we could camp there. The answer was almost automatic and he instantly showed the grass field and told that it’d be appropriate to camp there and that there were shower at the back. The policemen whom we asked for permission to camp ashamedly showed us a place like a hotel clerk and it was the first moment we discovered the police stations to camp in Thailand.
We immediately set up our camp, left our stuff there and went down town. The second advantage to stay at a police station for us was not to worry much about security and theft. Generally, as I’m camping I don’t want to leave my stuff and I worry about my tent. This time since we were staying at a police station, I was very comfortable. As we were wandering around the town, we met a couple of people sitting at a drinking table and we immediately began talking. Since our new friend had an interest on motorcycles and knew about the roads well, he recommended us to go to the Doi Phuka hill near there. Because we didn’t have a detailed map with us yet, we didn’t know the exact location of the hill. However if it was as nice as he told, this hill would make our next day tough and fun.
Next day as we began climbing up the Doi Phuka hill, we realized that the ascents in Laos had been nothing compared to here, as they had been like a flat road and as we reached to the top at the end of the day we found ourselves trembling of tiredness. Indeed we had had to wait for more than an hour to find the energy to set up our tents when we reached to the top of this hill which was somehow hidden in the map and didn’t show any clue about its toughness.
The place we settled in up on the peak was a camping zone. Because of this, there was hot water, foods and beverages at the facility. Besides it’s possible for you to stay in many of the camping zones in Thailand even if you don’t have a tent because there are preset tents. As I recall, there was 4-5 empty tents over there. In the evening young Thai girls and boys full of 4 cars came here with their barbecues, foods and drinks and had a nice entertainment.
Next day we got quite close to the Laos border with an unforgettable descent and proceeded to south following the border. Weather was ideal for cycling and camping and except the back-breaking climbs we didn’t get tired of riding. After the descent that I called unforgettable, we realized that it’d be a long day with a climb that trembled my legs which was like a wall. As I was climbing my second or third turn sticking on the handlebar trying to prevent the front of the bike to be off the ground, feeling that I’d find myself on the ground in a careless moment, dried up with thirst, just thinking like “I hope there’s water near somewhere”, I never forget the beverage truck passing near me. As the climb finished, we were finished, too and with a caution coming up from the sky, we forget our exhausted legs and thirst in a moment. Just at the top of the hill, a couple hundred of meters before beginning the descent, Elif’s back outer tire had rended on a sudden. If one of us had began the descent, there would be a long distance between us and the other one would be aware of the troubles of the one behind pretty late. Second is if the outer tire had rended during the descent, most probably it’d cause a crash.
That day had begun with an unforgettable descent for me that crowned with a maximum of 75km/h speed and Elif’s tire which rended suddenly had waited patiently. After that our rested bodies proceeded with 20-25km/h on the flat road and the tire didn’t even find that moment appropriate to rend. It happened at where that steep climb ended, where it almost got flat, where our speed decreased down as we were still. Great luck!
Even if we were lucky about where Elif’s tire rended, we had another problem. The outer tire couldn’t be fixed with a simple patch set. In fact the outer tire couldn’t be fixed, only a temporary solution could be found. So we had to find a temporary solution, that should be such a solution that it had to go down the hill with a loaded bike, endure for 40km, wait for us at night and would hold on for another 30km to Nan, to the sole big town of here. Where we were was one of the untouched areas of Thailand, the Nan region, where there’s only one small village on the two day road that goes near Laos, hidden behind the mountains, where the last vehicle I’ve seen was the beverage vehicle that passed by with bottle sounds an hour ago, one of the forgotten roads. In order to fix the outer tire, we immediately teared down one of the inner tubes and wrapped it inside as a patch. We fixed the hole on the inner tube and installed the rended outer back tire to the front. As we were done with the fixing, we began the descent with Elif at low speed, but the descent was very steep and we had to make good use of our time to reach the nearest settlement. The outer tire which was installed at the front where it would be subjected to less pressure to puncture again could cause serious injuries during the descent. Despite all these misfortunes we reached to the first settlement on our way without having any problems with the outer tire before the end of the day.
As we reached to our first lodging place we had a short break for the internet and decided to extend our journey. For this, we sent a mail to change the date of our flight which would take off 10 days later. There wasn’t any other option here to lodge besides the police and they had taken up the best place of the town in such a way that they seemed that they didn’t intend to let anyone else stay there. If the answer of the police would be positive, we would camp at the best place of the town. This time we asked the police if there was an appropriate place in the town to camp. They immediately showed us a spot and after the restroom and shower. Staying in an hotel was slower for us. Here, especially if you’re tired, it got us so used to laziness them showing us a place immediately, not asking any questions, not demanding our passports as they do at the hotels that it seems like I’ll have to remember where my passport is on our next hotel stay.
We had coffee and talked with the police chief of here and his teacher wife at night. Our police hosts had done their duty since they assured our safety. His wife, as the conversation came up to Thai language, reminded us that she was a teached and began her duty. We immediately noted down the phrases in Thai we would use the next morning like where is the market, where is the bike store and how much. After that we discussed the pronounciation subject which makes it impossible for us to speak the language here on the word rice which’s “kau”. At that point we learnt that the word had meanings like rice, knee, mountain, her, nine, white, exit, news, food and all were written different. I guess it’s impossible for us to try to say these words which sounds the same and has small tone differences.
We bought some missing equipments for our bikes and Elif’s new tires and rode fast away from the town with our stronger pedalling legs after the climbs. After 2-3 days, before beginning the last stage in Nan region’s untouched places, we checked the modification of our tickets, realized that the necessary arrangements weren’t done and with the phone of the owner of the cafe we were in, we accomplished the necessary changes. It had been our last chance to sit in that cafe and call with the phone to make the arrangements. Because on the following days, we realized that there weren’t many places that had a phone connection on the road. At the police booth we stayed on the next day, there was a board that they made a shelf of the cut-out plastic bottles for the phones. Because here if you hold the phone in your hand, the phone wouldn’t work. You just had to put your phone on these plastic bottle shelves and had to speak to the phone standing in front of you like in the black and white movies. The only thing that was considered as a luxury wasn’t being able to use a phone, there wasn’t even one diner to eat in, the village at the intersection of two roads consisted only of a couple of houses and it was very rare that someone passed by. As we heard that two other cyclists had stayed here two weeks before us, we understood that this intersection which was at a critical distance for cyclists was a stopover for all bikers passing by.
Because of the impossibilities here the policemen had to obtain their food by themselves. That day with the pride of hosting us they cooked special foods for us. Since we were close to the Laos border, the dinner was formed with Laos’ practice of eating all kinds of animals which had a hedgehog on the menu.
Next day we had to wait for a while because of the raindrop in the morning. Lucky us, the road ahead of us wasn’t that struggling and riding for 60km would get us to the village we would lodge in. This village was a border settlement consisted of 40-50 houses where so few people lived and ironically called Ban Kok. As we arrived here we encountered a celebration preparation. There would be some kind of an entertainment in the village at night. We went to the temple for camping this time. I guess this would be the first time we would stay at a temple. Lodging at temples was quite an interesting experience but if you choose a temple to settle in, you have to respect the life there. Because of this, our approach to the temple life which we didn’t know much about was a little timid that time. The most important one of the couple of things we knew was I guess that priests didn’t eat anything after 12. Which means you can put yourself and them in a difficult situation if you eat those delicious Thai foods in front of the starving priests towards the evening.
After settling in the temple, we went to the village square in the evening. At the area set up near the road, people had begun to have fun, eat, drink and dance with music. A woman who noticed us as we were passing by there who knew English a little sat us at a table and offered us some things. Since we were full and didn’t want to drink, they brought us some coke and water. The night continued with dancers on the stage and constantly changing singers. As everyone started dancing, the lady who showed us a table came by us and told us that she would get on the stage. I took advantage of her being on the stage and took her pictures and of course the sexy dancers’ a little closer. As everything came to an end, we found out that this ceremony was in fact a celebration of the death of the person who’s picture was hung at the back of the stage. Here 100 days after someone died this kind of a ceremony was being held and this way the dead one would be remembered. Death idea which means tears for us to be approached like this here had amazed me.
In the morning we left the temple and went on our road. That road came up to be really tough indeed. The road wasn’t that comfortable, eating was only possible in the villages which had 20-30km of distance in between. If we had passed the village without eating, we had to ride hungry until the next village. Since usually people in Thailand didn’t cook at their homes and buy everything from outside, it was easy to find food. However we had to be careful eating in this region. It was cloudy during the ride and at the hottest times of the day, it rained occasionally. Because of this we didn’t have much difficulty finding water during the ride.
Other than the ones written here, we stayed in a couple of more small villages and left Nan region’s roads following Laos behind. The roads I passed and the places I stayed during this one week became precious memories for me. We really struggled on those roads and sometimes after that much struggle, we couldn’t fin much comfort in where we arrived. Sometimes we had to stay with 3-4 cops at an intersection of two roads and sometimes we had to stay in a temple which we learnt to be 400 years old and maybe the reason why the town was built there. However I really enjoyed to see these places where a few people other than us could see. Because these were not like the places where millions of eyes were wandering around, watching, seeing. It wasn’t Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Not tens of thousands of words were written on it, not photographed by millions of cameras every day and not seen by eyes that were trying to rush to their jobs, went out for shopping, stuck in traffic, waiting for a bus, sitting and drinking something, waiting for the red light, travel an hour to see their lovers, rushing to the hospital, drive behind the wheel all day, work with their computers for hours, stressed, unhappy, old, sick and don’t want to see and live any more.
This place was only viewed by a couple of eyes and whispered its secrets to a couple of ears. The life here was slow. Cars don’t pass by every day here. Numb eyes looking from inside a car passing by fast couldn’t reach here. It wasn’t on a highway. Just because it had a memory; Because eyes passing from here imprinted every house, every village, every temple to their memory. Here you cannot find many things, you’re away from everything you can find in cities. You cannot reach what you want. However it opens the doors to another world to you. Here people open up their houses and thereby themselves, here you can enter in where the people live, eat with them, sleep there. This is the same with every culture no matter which. Muslim, Buddhist or Christian… People living in such small settlements had never approached to the strangers with fearful eyes. The doors of the houses there is always open to their guests. This is very valuable for someone like me who likes to travel on their bikes. Because then you can begin sharing some things with people. You can participate into people’s lives for some time. The coffee you drink won’t be a coffee that had been prepared for thousands of times to others for money. Maybe the sincerity it was prepared with wouldn’t change its taste but maybe until you drink your coffee, they’ll tell you about things that you’ve never heard of. Here you’re without your clothes, the walls that protect you, windows, stores, show glasses. You cannot wait for the rain to stop in an air conditioned cafe, drinking your coffee and staring the rain from inside like nothing’s happening. Here you’re exposed to the rain. You’re away from windows, walls, air conditioned cars which protects you from the world, so the city life like clothes made specially for going up to space. You’re in the world. Far away from the highway, far away from the cities, in a quiet and beautiful world.