Thursday, 7 October 2010
Chiang Mai -- A Lovely Day for a 52,000km Ride
They are a Swiss couple (technically Swiss French for those who are playing at home) and have been riding around the world on bicycles since 2004. I'll say that again slowly: they have been riding around the world on bicycles since 2004.
To date they have done 52,000 kilometres. From Europe down through the Middle East, across Russia, Siberia, Japan, China, Cambodia, Laos and now Thailand. Oh, they missed a bit of southwestern China so they're going to pop back up there, just a quick 3000 km loop or so.
I got the obvious questions out of the way first, ie Gee, doesn't your arse get sore??? Their leather saddles are custom-fitted, and it seems sore arses are the least of your problems after Day 3.
For a start they are carrying 140kg of luggage between them, on hand-made bikes worth thousands of dollars. They don't look very special ... just like most rattlers in a place like China. But even little things like the light dynamo cost them US$500 a piece. But more painful than that were incidents such as when they were hotfooting it away from a tense situation involving a drug lord's camp in Cambodia, dodging land mines, and Kristina broke not just one arm, but two arms, in the space of three days.
They eventually buried their bikes in the jungle, crossed the border illegally to Laos, and made their way to Thailand to receive treatment in Bumrungrad Hospital. Jing jing!
And so the stories go. I met them through a friend who was upcountry watching a hill-tribe ceremony and passed them huffing and puffing their way up the hills of Doi Mae Salong in northern Thailand. Within a few days, they found themselves running a restaurant there for the French/Thai owners who had to rush off to Bangkok for a week.
'I have never really cooked before, but, why not?' says the cheeky pony-tailed Frenchman, who used to be a trainer for PriceWaterhouse Coopers (if they could only see him now, looking so tanned and relaxed and carefree). 'Ze first thing I do is wipe off all the Thai food on the menu, and write in: Fried eggs and French fries,' he laughs.
Eric and Christine have cycled the Himalayas and Nepal but found this terrain tougher. Chiang Mai don't forget has 5 of Thailand's 8 highest peaks. 'The roads are better in Thailand,' she says in a gentle French accent which belies her strong character. 'But ... they go straight up and over the hill every time, never sideways or across. So it's the steepest. We never had to get off and push in the Himalayas,' she laughs.
She conceded that the roads here also have enough space usually for a cyclist on the side 'but those in cars want you to know they are the king of the road.'
Being a mad motorcyclist, mad in the keen sense that is, I know what she means, although she rated Thailand's drivers 'just OK.'
Interestingly, Eric and Christine estimate they'll be on the road around the world for the next 8 years. 'We are now nomads,' says Eric, quietly, over a bottle of non-alcoholic Song Sato rice wine beer, brewed in the north from glutinous rice. 'First two years we were racing to get everywhere, but now we feel happy and free wherever we are.'
Which brings us to the supposed origin of the word Thailand: land of the free.
Footnote: want to bicycle Thailand? Try www.bikethailand.com or www.crouchingtigertours.com