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Saturday 10 May 2003
Chiang Rai, Thailand

Excellent day!

Had an excellent day today... saw a lot and had plenty of thrills (and spills)...

The day started out as it has for past 3 days: myself and Kirsty taking the bike out and exploring a new area around Chiang Rai (I bring Kirsty along to lessen the cost of petrol etc! ... kidding)

Today we headed off to Mae Salong which is an area high up in the mountains north-west of Chiang Rai, taking route 1089. Along the way we stopped off at a smaller waterfall but it was nothing amazing. Half an hour later we passed by a hot spring which wasnt quite what I was expecting: They had a gueyser gushing away but it wasnt quite as "natural" as I had hoped. We reckon it was man-made... The hot springs were located in a nearby hotel so were not outside and freely available as Id thought.. ah well the bike-ride there was fantastic...

Direct to Mae Salong, the road became very steep and we soon realised that Mae Salong was not a hill-tribe location, but a MOUNTAIN-tribe location... we easily spent half an hour on a steep incline varying between 2nd gear and the very jumpy 1st gear...

At one point we came across a turn-off for a hill-tribe village. This was fantastic. The road there became rough and precarious, rather like Sapa, as we veered near 100 ft drops on the thin 1.5 metre wide road. Eventually we arrived at the first hill-tribe village house (which incidentally had a giant TV satellite dish - a fairly common site in the area we were soon to discover) in the village of the Lusi people. This tribe wear very bright colourful clothes and they bear a strong resemblence to the Hmong people, but less aggressive.

We parked at the first house, and no sooner had we parked than the proprieters all came running out bearing tribal-garments and woven wrist-straps aplenty! After much persuasion I finally decided to buy a hill-tribe hat from them which I thought looked really funky! Good material too... cost only 2 dollars so what the hell!

We explored the village which had nice views of the mountain-side (and a few too many aggressive mutts... I accidentally whacked one of them in the ear with a big stone that threw from 100m away. Twas funny!) but soon got bored so decided to head off and resume our uphill ride to Mae Salong.

Finally after another hour of precarious ups and downs (I really think the bike was on its last legs... thankfully I wont be needing it anymore so Im not bothered ) we finally arrived at Mae Salong. This town turned out to be a fantastic oasis of hill-tribes, tea-shops and guesthouses (thankfully only saw about 3 tourists though!) with amazing views rather like Sapa in Vietnam. Id highly recommend spending a few days up here. We stopped at one guesthouse with a beautiful view of China (only 4km away!) and I sipped on an Ice Ovaltine (try it, its a delicious combo!)

Kirsty read in Lonely Planet that the reason the place has so many tea-houses (and abundant fields of tea surrounding the town) is because the government encouraged the hill-tribes to move from Opium-growing to Tea-harvesting. Another interesting thing about the town is that the majority of people there speak only Chinese/Cantonese since most of the hill-tribes come from China (some amazing tribal costumes were on display in the streets).

As we drove through the town I spotted an elderly villager on horse-back in full tribal gear (his horse was also dressed from head to toe) so I had to stop for a photo. He got off the horse and let me climb aboard for a photo which Im sure will look really cool. Paid the guy 9 baht for the priviledge!

After lunch we headed up to a temple that overlooks the entire town called the "Princess Pagoda". After negotiating a very pot-holed, extremely steep (1st gear for most of the time) craggy road we finally came across the pagoda: an amazing-looking newly-built construction covered with gold statues with an outstanding view of China. This temple was definately not on the tourist trail (since the road was officially closed, we just decided to "bend" the rules a little since there were no police around) so we got a very priviledged look-in at this amazing building!

On the way back from the temple we had a *cough* "little" mishap and the bike sort of turned on its side after slipping on a little craggy section of steep road. Dont worry, thankfully I wasnt going fast (about 2km/h) so we had very minor cuts... well I didnt but Kirsty did... amatuers eh? . The bike, though, took the brunt of the fall: smashed a wing mirror and smushed the metal-basket on the front (plus Ive discovered a few little nicks around the place). As you can guess I was a little annoyed with myself!

As luck would have it, we found a garage in Mae Salong that was able to replace the mirror, hammer the basket into its original dimensions and even covered scratches with some red-spray paint. All for the heavenly price of 2.50 dollars!!! WAHAY! Phew!

Needless to say the drive back to Chiang Rai afterwards, was a LOT more careful! Once bitten, twice shy!

Im not sure what the plan is for tommorrow, but Im taking a break from the bike for a while because Id like to try using my two feet instead. Im getting pretty lazy since Ive had the bike so itll be to my advantage to walk around now and then.

Ill probably head to Chiang Rai market tonight, sporting my nifty tribal head-dress... The CR market is fantastic btw it has to be said! You can literally buy any souvenir you can think of here.

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