When we last updated you guys on the status of Quesnel Bikers — Good Neighbour Tour of SE Asia, we were enjoying the bustling city of Chiang Rai. This medium-sized city is in North East Thailand and was the place where we’d start heading south after our ride north from Chiang Mai. It’s been a really great tour so far, meeting Thai people, enjoying the tasty Thai food and living the dream cycling the back roads of this area.
We headed south to the little town of Thoeng and stayed in a lovely motel called the Teak Villa. All of the woodwork in the room was beautiful teak, and for a woodworker, it was wonderful to see. Teak is a major part of the local industry here, much like our spruce, pine and fir. Plantations of teak can be seen everywhere, and being the tropics, a log for processing can grow very quickly!
As we headed south, we stayed in the towns of Chiang Kham, Ba Na Prang, Ban Pong Sanuk, Song, Den Chai and Uttaradit. This region has many mountain ranges with agricultural valleys in between. As we made our way south, we inevitably found hills to climb on our bikes. Most were rideable; only a few required the body to get off and push. We have been reminded how important it is to approach these inclines with a good dose of body awareness if one pushes too hard with a loaded bicycle. We’re being careful.
In Uttaradit, we took a bus, bikes ‘n all, to the little town of Loei. This town would be the start of the next fascinating chapter in our SE Asia adventure. As we left Loei, we knew we were only 57 kilometres from the famous Mekong River, and we were anxious to see it. The lay of the land here was quite different than the mountainous areas we left behind. We were on rural land that rolled gently like a children’s roller coaster. We even found our first dedicated bicycle trail next to the secondary highway on our route. Along the way, we made sure to stop whenever there was something special to see. On this day, we found a group of ladies weaving fabulous fabrics and making exquisite clothing. Styles were traditional and beautiful in their simplicity. Colours, patterns … wonderful!
Chiang Khan was the first Mekong River city to host us. It was a magical moment rolling into the town and up to the banks of the river. We had learned about this body of water in school, and as teenagers, we remembered it being in the news surrounding the Vietnam War. Here it was in front of us. We stayed for a while just to soak up the vibe this river gives off. It’s slow moving and clearly a means of transport for both people and goods. Both netting and fish farming are active, and occasionally, we saw a single fisherman with a rod. One fact we came to accept is we’re looking across the river at another country Laos, and we will for some time as we follow the river south.
The days after our first meeting with the Mekong saw us enjoying the beautiful tropical scenery that follows this river south. With agriculture being a major contributor to the local economies, we would cycle through all types of crops. Banana plantations, papaya, strawberries, taro root, sweet potatoes, rice, mangoes and, one of the most important, rubber. Thailand is said to be the world’s largest producer of natural rubber. So, everything made of rubber we depend upon may have had its start here. From tires to gloves, windshield wipers to playground balls, latex paint to bungee cords … the list goes on. It was very peaceful cycling through the rubber plantations. Each tree scored on its side, with the white latex liquid collecting in a cup below. When the cups are full, the congealed rubber ‘pads’ are collected and sent for further processing. There are a number of approaches to the collection of latex, but this one involved hands-on care by Thai people … who are super friendly!
This is definitely one thing we have come to accept during our time in Thailand. In general, Thai folks love to smile, and if you smile at them, you will get a happy look in the eye, along with their grin back to you. We’ve had a number of unexpected friendly encounters. One day, we were on a back road next to the Mekong. As we passed through one small village, we noticed a bunch of motorbikes and scooters parked and lots of people milling around. When we rolled up in front of the people, it was obvious this was some kind of community gathering. Near the road, there were people stirring a green paste in a huge steaming pot. As we looked on, people motioned for us to try to stir. Really? We said, “YES!,” parked the bikes and walked over. We were shown the desired motion of the two long sticks was one side of the other stick and then the opposite. Get a rhythm going … come on! Heather did it first, and then it was my try. We had people around us shouting encouragement and cheering with thumbs up when we got it right!
Then some ladies came over and motioned for us to sit at the table with them. A couple of food dishes appeared in front of us. We thanked them for being so generous, and just like that, another dish appeared and then another and then another. We had fried chicken, sticky rice, rice noodles with a not-too-spicy red soupy glaze, Thai kimchi, fish curry wrapped in unknown leaves, and mushroom soup. We were so appreciative of all the friendship these people were showing us and for the delicious food — we let them know how thankful we were.
We made a new friend here, too. Noki befriended us and thankfully spoke English. We asked her about the event. She opened her heart to us and shared the real reason all these people were gathering. One of the best loved elders of the community had just passed away. He was 102 years old. Most recently, he was respected and loved in his position as a local teacher. The community had put together this celebration of life, and here we were, joining in. What an incredible feeling to be so welcomed and allowed to be part of such a celebration. I stood looking at his photo gallery and after a wonderful day of riding, thankful for being here, accepting all the friendship around us, I could feel tears welling up. We are so fortunate! We didn’t really want to go, but Heather gave Noki a big hug and we said goodbye to all our new Good Neighbours. I think our friend Murray Boal who, with Bob Campbell, wrote the song “Good Neighbours” would agree, this day certainly solidifies the idea that we are all Good Neighbours … around the world. We rolled out of the village and were in a bit of a daze as we rode towards the next town, Nong Khai.
Since that special encounter, we continued to follow the Mekong eastward and then south as it turns and heads towards Vietnam and Cambodia. By Christmas, we will have arrived in the Communist country of Laos. To get there, we will cross the “Friendship Bridge” by bus from the Thai city of Mukdahan, and we’ll continue the cycle adventure eastward towards Vietnam!
We’d like to thank the Quesnel Cariboo Observer for encouraging us share our stories with you. If you’d like to see more photos and read some daily stories, please visit our blog. Till next time!
— Chris and Heather Hartridge
Quesnel residents Chris and Heather Hartridge are spending five and a half months cycle touring around South Korea and Southeast Asia on their Good Neighbour Tour. The Quesnel Bikers, as they are known, will be sharing their journey with the community by sending periodic articles and photos to the Observer. They also have a blog at crazyguyonabike.com/doc/quesnelbikers2019.