When Sarah, my wife, announced that the children were old enough for us to do a family cycling trip I was delighted. She had been beavering away at the laptop for days and finally raised her head to say she had found the perfect trip. A SpiceRoads family trip in Chiang Mai for five days. “Great, how far are we riding?” I asked. “95km” was her reply. “Fantastic, that will fit right in with my Etape training. 95km a day with some hilly terrain. Isn’t that a bit far for the kids though” I added as an afterthought, “never mind, they can always sit in the bus”. “No, 95km in total over 4 days of riding with a day riding some Elephants” she replied.
Some quick mental arithmetic determined that this was a daily distance that, to paraphrase Linda Evangelista, “was not worth waking up for”, and so I was resigned to it being a family holiday rather than a hardcore training week.
Oh the sacrifices we make!
We’d been on a SpiceRoads one day temple tour round Bangkok a few months earlier and the bikes were good then, but a couple of people said the bikes could be a bit touch and go so Sarah decided to bring her Mountain bike, which she hadn’t ridden for at least 18 months. Step 1 get it serviced. Step 2 get a box. Step 3 pack it (First problem, mountain bikes are chunkier than road bikes, so I had to pack the wheels separately) Ok, we’re ready to go!
Once in Chiang Mai, we had a day bumming around the town but the night before the cycling was due to start I thought I’d better reassemble the bike. Ah! Looks like the bike has taken a knock on the plane and the derailleur hanger has done its job of saving the rear derailleur beautifully by shearing right off. Looks like Sarah is using the tour bike after all and a few panicky emails make sure that they do, in fact, have a bike for her to use. No problem we think, we can put the clip in pedals on the tour bike and Sarah can still wear her mountain bike shoes. That seems like a plan right up until we find that the Singapore climate has done its evil work and the straps break off the shoe as soon as she tries to tighten them! Ho Hum, running shoes just like any normal tourist them!
As luck would have it, the bikes are all new this year and in fantastic condition.
We were the only people on the tour, so it’s just us, our own personal guide, Noom (although he said he didn’t mind if we wanted to call him Moon) and our driver Thai, now how am I going to remember his name?
I think I break one of The Rules by putting road pedals on a mountain bike, and away we go.
Day 1 was a 26k bimble through some great countryside followed by a 5km canoe across the reservoir for lunch. All pretty flat apart from a really unexpected kick to get up to the top of the dam. Danielle attacked, Luka followed, I was not to be beaten by either. So half way up, a hand on Luka’s back as he looks about ready to fall off, and we slowly pull Danielle back passing her just before the top. Luka is stoked, Danielle is furious. I just don’t understand where these children get their competitive streak from 😉
We hit the canoes thinking it won’t be long until lunch. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG IT TAKES TO CANOE 5K ON FLAT WATER! We keep thinking that it is just around the corner. Our spirits raise as we see some lakeside houses, only to be dashed as the guide paddles on past. On and on we go, Danielle thinks it will never end, Luka has a sense of humor failure and just as we think we will die on this lake, the guide pulls into what must have been absolutely the last restaurant on the lake. The effort, the desperation, the pain are all quickly forgotten as we tuck in to some lovely rustic Thai food and the kids embark on trying to out dare each other into jumping off the highest platform. Not sure these would pass Australian or New Zealand Health and Safety! The night is spent in a small resort on the river Ping. Nothing special but clean and pretty much what you’d expect in rural Thailand.
Day 2 was the day we decided to be team ANZA 2011/12, resplendent in our gold and black kit (Still the best design of club kit in my opinion). It started strangely with a ride in an ox cart. Fast these animals are not, and it can only be said that suspension and rubber tyres were a good invention, but it took us dutifully to a local village where they had some locally produced craft products for us to buy. No really, they were locally produced, and absolutely did not come from the same Chinese factory as all other tourist craft products. Anyway, Luka acquired the best souvenir a small boy could ask for, a catapult and proceeded to fire small stones anywhere and everywhere.
Once the tourist activities were over the serious matter of riding 30km downhill commenced, and a very enjoyable day was spent putting in next to no effort whatsoever as we travelled through the northern Thailand countryside. Only one small piece of drama ensued when we had finished at 29.8km. Danielle was therefore instructed to take the Garmin and run 100m up the road to ensure we bagged 30km for the day (but that’s a secret so don’t tell anybody)
That night we were eco-tourists. We spent the night in an adobe lodge where we helped make some more adobe bricks, built some models out of the mud/clay and then helped cook our own dinner. We even had to introduce the children to that strange thing called washing up your own plates and cutlery. If you’re a 5 Star hotel junkie, you might not like it, but it was clean simple and just fine to crash for a night.
Day 3 and another eco-tourist start to the day as we went to ride a water buffalo and learn all about how they plant and harvest rice. Suffice to say that all is well in the rural world of Northern Thailand. Husband talks to tourists while wife does back breaking work of planting and harvesting rice.
Bring on the cycling and the children are starting to feel a little tired and hungry. A little way into the ride and they are demanding a lunch stop so Noom obliges with a perfectly timed stop at a roadside grill. BBQ chicken, lamb, prawns and oddly enough eggs are hungrily eaten and declared delicious and the original local redbull is tried and declared disgusting! We ride on to our pickup point (I should point out at this time that the length of each day can be extended or shortened, so if you think your kids want more or less, that can all be fitted into the plan.) That night was spent in an idyllic bamboo lodge where they served dinner outside your room and thai massages were part of the package. I’m sure the picture doesn’t do it justice, but the surroundings really were beautiful.
Day 4 is a rest day, well of sorts. No bike riding today, today we ride something
altogether larger and more unpredictable. Today is elephant mahout day. We met our elephants, making friends by using a bunch of bananas and then proceed to be shown how to ride by sitting on the neck locking our knees behind their ears. The kids and Sarah look fine, but I was feeling distinctly unstable as they gave me the largest elephant and it looked like a very long way to fall.
So off into the hills we go about an hour until lunch and I’m finding inner thigh muscles that I didn’t know existed
(oh boy this is going to hurt tomorrow I think). After lunch, we proceed to give one of the elephants a mud bath, or was the elephant giving us a mud bath, I can’t be sure really, but she certainly seemed to enjoy lying there while we shoveled mud unto her.
Once done, it was a long ride down to the river where we gave the elephants and ourselves a much needed bath before heading back to the ranch for showers, cold drinks and souvenirs of photos in frames made out of elephant poo!
Day 5 and I’m right, riding an elephant uses muscles that nothing else does! Today really is a tourist cycling day. We start at an umbrella factory where we get to paint our own umbrellas and have the real artists paint designs on anything you own. A great opportunity for a truly unique iPhone or camera case. Then we’re off on the final stage of the journey. Luka is complaining that either his bike needs oil or he does and we put it down to him being tired at the end of the week especially after his sandbagging on day 3 where he hung back all day before charging ahead with 2km to go! Much later after he has ridden most of the day with my hand on his back, we identify that in fact the front brake has been rubbing all day, I knew I should have checked that in the morning, oh well, a good workout for me.
We had a quick stop at a tin/silver factory to check out those lovely designs that you haggle over at Thai markets and to buy a few things at a fraction of the price that you could even haggle the market dealers down to. This brings us on to lunch. After 4 days Noom has realised that we’re not interested in finding anything even remotely western and we want to try the real local food and so we stop at a little roadside eatery where we get the most exquisite Northern Thai curry I’ve ever tasted it’s called Khoa Soi and is much more subtle than the usual red or green curries. And so to the end, a total of 121km ridden and we finish at a local hot springs where we can shower, bathe in the hot spring fed swimming pool, and then cook some eggs in the boiling spring water as it bubbles out of the outlet. It is a great way to finish the day, before Noom and Thai drop us off at our hotel back in Chiang Mai.
Fantastic job SpiceRoads, a thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended family trip.