Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Four Day Motorcycle Tour of Northern Thailand

What started out as an overnight trip enjoyably evolved into four days in Northern Thailand.  My new Honda motorbike, freshly serviced, was ready for anything the road had to offer and so was I.

My traveling companions were my friends Dave and Nut who live in my apartment building.  Dave is from Alaska and has taken up mapping as a hobby and the reason for this trip was to map and identify roads that are not on any map and/or mismarked.  The Thai people are little concerned with road numbers or maps and it has fallen to us obsessive Americans (and others) to name and correct and add roads to the mapping system.  After all it is to our benefit if we want to travel about and to know where we are going and how to get there.  It is my assumption that Thai's don't care about this because they don't travel for exploration.  Their world is limited to their own neighborhoods and getting the business done of getting fruits and vegetables to the nearest market.  Who cares what the names of the roads are, right?

Dave uses his handheld GPS mounted on his motorcycle to trace his progress through a particular route.  As he rides, he takes pictures of road signs, highway markers, gas stations, and other useful roadside features for the traveler.  He then overlays his route on an "open source" map and makes necessary changes and additions such as "paved", "divided road", etc.  For more on open source mapping see: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/open-source/mapping-learns-an-open-source-lesson/509

Nut is Dave's Thai partner (always called "girlfriend" in Thailand) and is a funny, upbeat, no-nonsense Thai woman.  She is a valuable member of the mapping team able to translate signage, directions, and interact with the Thai people along the way to ask questions and get information about how to get places.  Nut is especially good at ordering Thai food and we always had a variety of really good Thai dishes delivered to our dining tables along the way at very cheap prices.

Our daily progress was always broken by rest stops, coffee shops, snack stops.  This is a coffee shop in the foothills going North from Chiang Mai over a mountain pass.

These mountain roads are exactly what motorcycles were made for!  It is so much fun banking into curves and accelerating out of them in the cool elevated forests.  Too bad I am new to motorcycling, but retirement opens new doors!

We passed many different and beautiful things like this waterfall.

Of particular interest to me was the abundance of agriculture in every open space.  I suppose this catches my eye because I come from the Central Valley in California where agriculture is king. 

Let's see how many commercially grown things I can remember:  Probably the most ubiquitous are the teak trees.  They grow wild and are farmed in groves and even interplanted with other crops.  There are many teak wood houses around always built up on pilings which are beautiful to see.  Bamboo is another common sight here.  It is always the "clumping" kind and large in diameter.  It looks as if it sometimes grows wild, but I saw a plantation of clumps all lined up in rows, so I assume it is a commodity of value.  It is used for scaffolding, branch propping, fences, ladders, and a wide variety of baskets, furniture, and even woven to make mats and used as house siding in poor areas of the forest villages.  The clumps are so dense that it must be difficult to harvest.  Of course rice paddies are everywhere and have several seasons because I see newly planted paddies, mature fields, and cut rice stocks.  Mango plantations are everywhere as well.   Papaya trees were not as plentiful on our trip, but they are seen anywhere people live.  It appears they grow in hard dry ground and almost every house will have at least one tree in the yard. Since green papayas are the main ingredient in the popular salad Som Tom, (which combines the flavors of sweet, salty, sour, and hot) they must be commercially grown elsewhere. Pineapples grow well here.  Many are a smaller variety than we see in the states (from Hawaii), but just as sweet and juicy.  We saw a huge tea plantation which I always assumed only grew at elevation, but this one was only in the foothills.  Bananas and coconuts grow in abundance and make the place look very tropical.  We passed several rubber tree plantations which look like it takes several years of growth before they can be tapped.  Of course there were some things I could not identify, but as I become more integrated into the culture I'll find out more.


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