Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mae Hong Son Circuit

I love January in Northern Thailand.  The weather is just about perfect, and feels a bit like Southern California - dry, cool in the shade and warm in the sun.  The holiday crowds have mostly gone, and there is a nice, laid-back atmosphere. 



My wife Laura, and I set off to ride our road bikes on the Mae Hong Son Circuit, which starts out of Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, and loops to the north.  It can be done clockwise or anticlockwise, but if you are going by bicycle, I would suggest doing it anticlockwise.  That saves the option of going over Doi Inthanon, Thailand's biggest peak, for last.

Getting a flight into Chiang Mai is easy, but getting the bike boxes to the hotel may be a bit of a challenge if you are new to Thailand.  The easiest way is to arrange transport with your hotel and let them know you have bike boxes.  We just flagged down a 'Song Thiew' at the airport.  Technically, they are not supposed to pick up passengers, but security guards can be understanding when they see you've got oversized bags that won't fit in the standard transport options from the airport.
Baan Rai Laana Resort, Mae Taeng, at the end of Day1. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

We like to stay in 'Old Chiang Mai', within the moat of the old city.  There are numerous hotels there.  We like using the 'Old Canal Road' as an option to stay off the highway getting out and coming back into Chiang Mai.  We try to stay off the main roads, using backroads as much as possible.  I planned the route on 'RidewithGPS' and transfered the route onto my iPhone, using Gaia GPS to navigate enroute.
Breakfast in Pai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

Our anticlockwise route took us from Chiang Mai to Mae Taeng, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, and Mae Sariang.  From Mae Sariang, we wanted to proceed to Mae Chaem, and over Doi Inthanon to get back to Chiang Mai, but we took an easier option to ride via Hot back to Chiang Mai.  You can find the planning for this trip on RidewithGPS.
Morning mist over Chong Kham Lake, Mae Hong Son. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

It's good to do a little research before the ride so you can plan out where to take your rest days and what you might like to do.  I like Pai and Mae Sariang as good places to break the journey.

We used regular road bikes with Revelate Designs bags.  I find this setup ideal for light and fast tours.  Now that Laura and I no longer have plans to do long distance touring, we have sold our Surly LHTs and panniers setup.  The only change we would advise is to use a cassette with larger cogs.  We used a compact crankset (50-34) with an 11-28 cassette and had to push up a few steep bits.  The next time we take our road bikes out on tour, we'll fit them out with 11-32 cassettes.

You'll be stopping in places where they don't see many foreign tourists, so its good to learn a few words and numbers in Thai:
Hello - Sawadee Krup (Ka, feminine)
Room - Hong
Water - Nam
Toilet - Hong Nam
Not spicy - My Pet
Ice Coffee - Cafe Yen
One - Neng
Two - Song
Three - Sam
The Old City Gates of Chiang Mai. Image taken wtih iPhone 4s

The Mae Hong Son Circuit is a good one for more experienced and fit riders.  We suffered our fair share of mechanicals, food poisoning, lack of fitness. We'll probably go back and do it again;)  Distances are about 100km with about 2000m of climbing each day.  The roads get busy near Chiang Mai and Pai, and there isn't much of a shoulder to ride on.   For an easier road tour ride in Thailand, check out my blog post on riding bike touring Phuket.



Monday, January 13, 2014

The North Face Singapore Speaker Series 22 Jan 2014

If you're in Singapore next Wednesday night, 22nd January 2014 at 7:30pm with an hour or so to spare, and want to hear my wife, Laura and I, talk for a bit, please sign up at tnfmarketing@outdoor-venture.com and get a free gift from The North Face as well!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rock-Climbing Northern Thailand

Entrance to Windy Cave
Crazy Horse Buttress is the 'other' Sport Climbing area in Thailand.  It's near Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, located about 700km north of Bangkok.  It's less well known than Krabi to the South, but no less in quality.  In fact, if you are a moderate or beginner climber, this may be the better destination.  There are about 90 routes from grade 5 to 6c (the French system of grading is used here), and only one at 8a.  The remaining 25 or so routes are in the 7s.

Making our way in to the crag.  Groomed trails, nice huts to rest. leveled and clean belay areas.... All thanks to the CMRCA and it's volunteers!
The main driving force behind climbing at Crazy Horse is the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures on Ratpakinai Rd in Old Chiang Mai.  The climbing guide book, transport to and from the crag, bolting, climbing club and other services are set up by them.  It's your first stop if you are new to climbing here.
A class doing a Tyrolean Traverse across Windy Cave.  Brave kids.  It's a long way down!
The best time to go is during the cool and dry season from October til February.  It starts to warm up in March, but remains dry til about May, and is still ok for climbing.  A 60m rope will get you up and down most of the climbs, but a 70m rope is best and you will be able to link up one or two climbs with a short second pitch.   All routes are sport, and a rack of about 14 - 16 medium to long quickdraws should suffice.  Bring mosquito repellant.
68-year-old 'Doc' Kung making his way up the 6a Chimney at Tamarind Village
Best climbs to start off with?  I recommend making your way up to 'The Rooftop'.  There are three climbs there: a 5b, 5c and a 6a.  It's a great introduction to the area and the view from up there is great!
Kai Li starting up a 6b on Buddha Buttress
If you are staying in Chiang Mai and you don't have your own transport to the crag, you'll need to book a seat on the CMRCA shuttles.  CMRCA uses three songthaews, which are pick-ups with a cab for passengers.  A songthaew can take up to 10 passengers, so if you are concerned about getting a seat, book a place the evening before.  It costs 250 Bhat and comes with lunch.  Pick up is in front of the CMRCA at 0830 and leaves the crag at 1630 in the afternoon.  Transport takes about 45 minutes each way.
The strange and the wonderful... I have no idea what this is, but there are a lot of mosquitoes and bees in the area
 Where to stay?  There are a couple of guesthouses close to the crag, but options are somewhat limited.  Most people stay in Chiang Mai and shuttle up to the crag.  There are lots of places to stay in old Chiang Mai, depending on your budget.  Most will be walking distance to the CMRCA and lots of places to eat.
Kai and Doc having dinner at the night market in Old Chiang Mai

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Dog Named SanDeE

SanDeE with my wife, Laura, during happier times
Cancer sucks.  It doesn't matter if it happens to a human or a dog.  It not only sneaks up and robs one of life, it does it in a way that causes much pain and suffering.  And so it was with SanDeE...
Taking a break out on the trail
SanDeE was named for the color of her coat, but spelled after Sarah Jessica Parker's character in the 1991 movie, L.A. Story (Big S, little a, little n, big D...).  When she was a young pup, she would fall down a lot.  She fell off a ledge at the back of our house (which gave us a huge scare because probably a 10' (3m) drop) only climb back up shakily.  She also fell into our fish pond, and that's when we learned that Golden Retrievers are natural swimmers.  We suspected hip dysplasia,, and a visit to the vet confirmed this.  A couple of expensive surgeries failed to fix the problem, and on our regular runs, she would lag behind, eventually dropping out of sight, but always appearing a few minutes later, soldiering on and wearing her silly, happy grin.

We had bought SanDeE from a pet store who had obtained SanDeE from a local breeder.  When we informed them about SanDeE's hip dysplasia, they offered to 'replace' the puppy.  But with SanDeE's fate uncertain, giving her up was not an option.
Out for our evening walkie with the doggies
The years passed.  She loved to swim, and swam almost everyday.  In the fish pond, when we had a pond.  Then in a pool when we moved and had a pool.  She never really could walk for long, and eventually we settled on a routine.  When she'd had enough, she'd just stay put and munch on some flowers, and we would come around to pick her up on the way back.
It's SWIMMING TIME!!!
Other than the hip dysplasia, SanDeE had the temperament and character of a perfect Golden Retriever.  She was brave, gentle, loved children and other dogs, and would comfort anyone in distress.

When we brought SanDeE in to see the vet, we had thought she had some sort of indigestion.  But no, it was cancer and the cancer was too advanced to treat and the vet advised us to put SanDeE to sleep.  It was a decision we were not prepared to make, and so we brought SanDeE home with a few days worth of painkillers.  When those ran out, we brought SanDeE back in and the vet was happily surprised to see her looking so well.  This time, we brought back two weeks worth of painkillers.
Santa and her reindeer.  Hehe... Doggies will do anything for their masters!
SanDeE lived for two more weeks beyond the initial diagnosis.  The painkillers helped, and in those two weeks, she had only four bad days.  Two of those bad days were right at the end.  She couldn't eat, not even her painkillers, couldn't move, and the last night she coughed up a lot of blood.  We spent her last day doing he favorite thing in the whole world: Car rides!  Each time we drove somewhere, we would open up the back of the SUV for her to experience something new.  New sights, new sounds, new smells.  She was interested, but we could see that she was in pain.

And when it was time to end her suffering, we kept SanDeE in her happiest of places, the back of our SUV while the vet did her work.  I locked gaze with SanDeE until she closed her eyes for the last time.
SanDeE, world's sweetest doggie, born 18 January 2003, went to doggie heaven 21 October 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tour de Timor 2013: The Magic is Still There!

Team Air Timor (Myself, Laura Liong, Anche Cabral, and Alvin Lim) celebrating our 1st Place Mixed Team victory after the 2013 Tour de Timor

The 2013 Tour de Timor is over!  How did it go?  Well, the 2013 Tour de Timor was marred by controversy even before the race started, as the original organizers were effectively kicked out and shut out of the event by the new race organizers, the Tourism Office of Timor Leste.  Given the uncertainty of the quality that the new organizers could bring to the event, many international racers did not come this year.  To top that off, local racers who had signed up for the race staged a protest at the start line, and refused to start.  That left only a small field of about 60 competitors in total who started the race.

Well, the fledgling organizers got a lot of things right, like the logistics.  The food was plentiful, toilets and showers were adequate, and our luggage was moved efficiently.  The organizers also engaged Russ Baker to do the timing.  Russ has been doing the timing for the Tour de Timor since it's inception, and the accuracy of his timing maintained the integrity of race standards.

There were a number of things that could be improved.  Communication is a big one.  Race safety is another.  In previous Tour de Timors, roads were closed.  In this year's event, some roads were closed, and some were open, only this wasn't communicated to us.  This was probably my most dangerous race by far, and I had a couple of really close calls, one of which was while squeezing pass a truck at high speed on a bend, and being surprised by a motorcycle, and then a donkey behind that! 

While water was plentiful during the ride, it was somewhat random, sometimes just handed to us from a moving SUV.  Position of Aid Stations could not be relied upon, and were often not marked. 

I get the feeling the organizers learn fast, as mistakes made during the first couple of days were quickly corrected, and improvements made in the following days.

Sure, we were lucky to get a good result this year, but what really makes the Tour de Timor special is the landscape and the people.  For me, that's what makes the Tour de Timor such a magical experience!