The Thai HOO KOO E KOO - Mountainbiking in Thailand
Kim spent several months in 2002 working in the Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand on the film BEYOND BORDERS.
Having snatched time to buy a GARY FISHER Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike in BANGKOK,
he was ready for some adventures in the hills of Northern Thailand, sick of hanging around with Angelina Jolie . . . .
. . . Went and picked up the bike this morning and sent it off to CHIANG MAI, precariously balanced on top of a huge pile of luggage on the back of Lek's pick-up. He is an ex Bangkok taxi-driver with only two speeds: 150 kph and stopped.
I worked late on Friday night in my hotel room getting bike set up for the weekend.
First I had to lower the stem, removing several very heavy spacers in the process.
Next the steerer tube was shortened using a Chinese hacksaw bought from a roadside stall.
I belted star-fangled nut down with a large rock from the garden.
Swept aluminium fillings under the bed with bathmat.
Replaced pedals and saddle with my old favorites (never leave home without them).
Operation a complete success! Had another Beer Chang!
Next morning, about half an hour after sunrise, roosters are crowing, dogs barking and elephants are trumpeting! It is about 18ºC - mid winter in these parts. Time for a test ride.
I head off east from hotel (the Royal Ping Garden & Resort at BAN THAP DUA, 50 km north of Chiang Mai up route 107). •Sidebar fact: about 50% of the worlds' heroin comes down this road! Rolling along dusty hard-packed red dirt road, crunching over dried teak leaves, the size of dinner plates. The lane is bordered with banks of crimson bouganvillia. The sun is an orange ball, straight ahead, shining on the low-lying mist - mainly smoke from cooking fires.
I head inland, gradually climbing into a broad open valley, passing small Hmong villages - sometimes chased by dogs, sometimes the dogs run away.
I pass clumps of oxen, moo-ing. People are beginning to work the fields, corn or garlic.
I splash across small irrigation runnels every 400 m or so. Soon the road turns into a lumpy (made by elephants) track and peters out in a field of Lychee trees. I turn and whiz back downhill towards the River Ping. Turning upstream for home I keep my teeth clenched to avoid swallowing mosquitoes, and swerve around the odd dumbo dropping.
Later Neil (Neil Kirkland - Construction Supervisor) and I get a lift to the summit of DOI INTHANON (about 60 km south west of Chiang Mai). The Doi is the highest mountain in Thailand (2,565 MASL).
By lunchtime it’s about 31 ºC as we turn off the main road at SAN PA TONG and begin climbing - by van. There is a sealed road all the way to the summit radar station, courtesy the Royal Thai Air Force.
At first the dry looking vegetation generally feels like the Royal National Park in Sydney (complete with Eucalypts), and then we pass conifers and white rock and it's suddenly spookily like Mont Ventoux - except steeper and hotter.
Finally after 2,000 m the vegetation looks quite like NZ rain forest (the Milford Road).
The temperature cools off, but not too much, still short sleeves weather.
At the top photography is forbidden due to military secrets, and anyway the horizon on all sides is just brown smog!
We throw a leg over and DESCEND. For 41 km - can you believe it!
And the road is all smooth, wide, well-cambered concrete, hairpin after hairpin.
At a couple of places we turn off onto side roads, and climb up valleys on narrow winding hard-packed red dirt roads. We pass old hill-tribeswomen carrying loads by their foreheads.
The cultivated valley floors are all irrigated (small waterfalls all around) and have rows of plastic green houses. A 'crop substitution area', flowers - for - opium.
Finally we rejoin our car at the military checkpoint at the park entrance - red hot rims.
The road has dropped 2,100 metres, from summit to the flat, beating any climb in Europe.
What a pity we didn’t have time to ride up - not!
Another Sunday - time for some real climbing.
I set off with Neil at 9 am, heading up the River Ping Gorge on the main road (route 107).
We soon cross the Ping at the Mae Ping Elephant Camp on a very derelict teak bridge.
Headed north up the left bank of Ping, and were soon climbing up a steep dirt road - lotsa dumbo droppings!
Neil has the “helmet-cam” on for a trial run, but discovers he has only 5 minutes of film left.
The “helmet-cam” consists of an old Giro helmet, a Sony miniDV camera, and LOTS of Thai gaffer tape! It works but turns out to be pretty hard on the neck muscles!
We wind up and down, and eventually arrive at the camping ground by the main road.
Crossing the River Ping to main road on a very sketchy bamboo suspension bridge.
Finally, we reach breakfast at Homemade Style Bakery (scene of last weeks crashing/bleeding incident - another story).
After feeding we leave BAN MAE THALAI and head west, up a very narrow concrete road. Winding gradually up beside a lush stream, and road keeps forking and dividing.
We make two quite big diversions up the wrong way, and return to the main trail.
Even with map, compass and GPS you could go horribly wrong here, and I am ever mindfill of Burma being just next door.
The trail no longer sealed of course. About 11 am we start climbing steeply (very) up a narrow rutted track. Neil high-sides off the trail at one point, unfortunately “helmet-cam” is not running, but I shoot a snatch of him climbing back up the steep bank.
After a long time - it’s very hot and humid in the jungle, we unexpectedly emerge onto a brand new concrete road - not on map. Up we go, up and up, steep, winding, hot. Nice rain forest by now. Did I mention it was hot - and steep.
At 1 pm!!! the road flattened out a bit and we reached a junction. That’s 2 hours in 1st and 2nd gear!!!!!
Talk about sweat. By now we had both run out of water of course.
From here the road was not so steep, but still climbing up, into the clouds past tea plantations.
Eventually I gave up figuring where we were, and just climbed on.
Then it got really steep again for a bit. Finally we arrived at a shrine/school/lookout place with a few people, but no one spoke English, and no English signs.
Think it was BAN PANG WIANG DONG. A Mussoe (Lahu) hill tribe village was visible down the mountain below us. Very smokey, no real outlook.
At this point we decided to be conservative and return the way we had come - as no water was available, and we were getting hungry and very, very thirsty.
So down we swept, sticking all the way to the sweep, windy, narrow concrete road - eventually popping out at the main Border Police Road Block on the Nam Mae Ping Gorge road at BAN KHEBOEN - just 8 km from the Royal Ping Resort.
The climb was from 360 m to about 1,200 m, try that in 33+ ºC temperatures, in second gear most of the time. Whew.
We plodded back down gorge to Homemade Style Bakery for water, coke, banana smoothie, more water and a toasted cheese & ham sandwich - delicious!
Feeling a tad more lively we scuttled back to the Ping and shade.
By now hottest it’s been (two months later when we were filming the temperature reached 43 ºC in this area) - and I lose Neil with a couple of clicks to go. Neil and I finish the ride with a swim and 3 or 40 Beer Changs.
“Helmet-cam” rushes screening to be in the Art Department at 6:30 pm, dress casual.