I knew the first half of today’s ride was not going to be fun. There is only a single route from Lampang to Chiang Mai. Route 11 is the closest thing in northern Thailand to a freeway.
While not being limited access, Route 11 nonetheless consists of 4-6 lanes of high speed traffic. It connects Chiang Mai to all points to the south, including Bangkok, so the traffic is heavy. Between Lampang and Chiang Mai it crosses the southern extent of the Khun Tan Mountains – topping out at about 650 m elevation. I had no choice but to go this route unless I was willing to ride far out of my way and spend one or more nights away from home. I new that this last day on this route would be a grind; I was counting on the call of home to get me through. It worked.
Route 11 headed east-northeast out of Lampang and I took advantage of the very early 6 am start, relatively light traffic, and a fairly flat track to arrive at the base of the mountains in less than 2 hours. The ride up to the pass was not difficult because of the grade, which was gentle by Thai standards, but because of a narrow shoulder, and heavy traffic, including diesel-smoke belching 18 wheelers going just a tad faster than me. The noise, could air and danger made this the most unpleasant segment of my tour.
When I arrived at the pass, I was astounded at the vast number of spirit houses jammed into the narrow space between the jungly hillside and highway. As the video above shows, their must be over 1000 spirit houses – each presumable representing a fatality along this highway. Thais, unfortunately are rather fatalistic about accidents (and life in general), and the carnage continues without any concrete measuring being taken to stop it.
From the mountain pass, it was a fast coast down into Lamphun, where I exited the four-lane highway and cycled northward through the Chiang Mai basin on lesser travelled local roads. Initially my route paralleled the railroad coming from the south, but after stopping for a bowl of duck noodles, I veered onto the old tree-lined Lamphun-Chiang Mai road.
I was now in familiar territory. From central Chiang Mai, I followed the familiar river road northward to my home. As I approached home, I felt myself slowing down. When I finally reach my street, I stopped pedaling entirely, and slowly coasted up the lane. I wanted to savor this moment for as long as possible.
After (left) and before.
For me, traveling, especially to new or exotic places, makes time slow down. Long ago, during week 6 of a 14 week backpacking trip through Africa, I remember feeling like I had been traveling my whole life, and yet we seemingly had an infinite time left to be filled with new sights, smells and experiences. This cycling tour gave me a similar feeling. I felt, as I cruised up my lane, that I had been sitting on my bicycle forever. Yet now, as I sit at my computer typing these words, it seems like the time went by so fast its like I never left. Except for the priceless memories which will always remind me of the true duration. This dilation of time for me is one of the greatest reasons for traveling – it is a simple way to extend your life. It seems the more you can experience, the longer you will live.
I will have more to say about my adventure in the coming days, for now, I need a good nights sleep, and time to digest the experience. I will be back on this blog soon. Thanks for reading.