We left Lamphun with an attitude; ‘we’ve made it already.’ I think you would call that complacency. The GPS was there to put that right. As we left Lamphun I had lost my ability to read it and I took us to the edge of the city, the wrong edge.
We found our way, eventually. Not returning to my nemesis, Route 11, the main road to Chiang Mai, but into the countryside, so similar to the landscape in which we had started our journey, for a final roll through rural Thailand.
Here we found peace, moody clouds, paddock after paddock of thirsty trees, surrounded by deep irrigation channels. Each tree bore clusters of green/brown fruit the approximate size of a ping pong ball. Later I learned that these were longan trees, bearing fruit called longan, translated as ‘dragon eye’ because of the resemblance it bears to an eyeball. At the time, I thought I had solved the problem of the strange green fruit I kept finding in my Thai curries, the solid fruit I always swallowed whole because, along with the lemongrass, I was not so sure I was supposed to ingest it. Turns out that the stuff in my curry was mini-egg plant or devil’s fig (why the semi-mythic, macabre names for fruit and vegetables?). It literally does not grow on trees, so it and the fruit on these trees could not be one and the same.
The thirsty longan trees
Further down the road we found a day market in full swing. Forced to slow down because stalls, shuffling people, careless, slow-moving mopeds and the occasional pick-up, lined the street, we decided to find breakfast. It was a good idea. We managed to find delicious Chinese-style rolls, cups of coconut juice on ice and fresh pineapple.
Unfortunately, we managed to obstruct the arterial flow of the market, me holding up two fully ladened bikes, preventing mopeds and pick-ups from making their way through the throng, people walking around me slowly, wearing expressions of expired patience and long term sufferance. We had come to enjoy the honesty of rural Thailand, but we were on the border of Chiang Mai city now. The pineapple stall was a sad reminder. Fruit would make a sumptuous addition to our exotic breakfast, we thought. The chopped pineapple was clearly marked with a ’10’ beside it. We indicated to the male stall-holder that we would like one bag, until an older lady barged to his side, ‘twwwenty bhat!’ She barked this, her contempt and determination emphasised in the long ‘w’. I pointed at the sign that said ’10’, but she repeated her price.
It could have been our mistake, but once more I felt we were being asked to pay ‘foreigner price’. We were ‘farang’; ignorant, looked at with mild scorn but also with an eye for opportunity, because from us come money. The woman joined the company of Squid Lady and Orange Juice Woman, both of whom asked more money from us than they would ask from a local. We should have refused the fruit – there were fruit stalls further on – but 20 bhat is not a lot of money and culturally (I think), I am rarely prepared to disagree, walk away, cause scene. We gave up the money (sincerely hoping the woman’s perceived victory gave her a warm feeling that came from inside, rather than down below), took the pineapple and left the market to enjoy our breakfast, albeit with a slightly bitter taste to mar it.
In the closing stages, the GPS made one final attempt to thwart us. Cycling in Chiang Mai city, joining the lines of traffic storming down three-laned carriageways, it told us to go east towards the airport. We did. Then it wanted us to turn right, into what seemed like the airport itself. So, ever faithful, we changed lane to make the turn. When I looked closer there was a security gate at the turn and a man in uniform. Abort! Abort! I waved Nick onwards, glaring at the iPhone in my hand and swerving with the other hand to avoid a car passing on my left.
Perhaps we could make the next right? No. Another security gate and another – very young – man in uniform. We needed a sticker, he said. We did not have a sticker, we said. It seems the GPS wanted us to go through the military section of the airport. Brilliant. We were forced to turn around and cycle towards the multi-carriageway roads that orbit Chiang Mai.
And finally, the rain came.
Compared to some of the angry rain or the military squadron rain I have experienced in Thailand, it was nothing, a gentle wash. We weathered it and after weaving our way through the sois (avenues) on the north west side of the city, we reached the end of of our travels; the inauspicious gates of the Spice Roads, Chiang Mai.
We swallowed lumps and swiped at eyes, claiming there was sweat in them. The bikes had been our constant companions, faithful – save my bike’s tyres; weak and prone to damage – and now two partnerships had come to an end. We both wondered at that point, ‘what will I do now?’
A worrying sight, made more so because I appear to have lost my left arm…