Thursday, November 21, 2013

23. Chiang Mai #2

Riders Corner

When in Chiang Mai as a motorcycle adventurer one has to go to meet Phil at his bar and restaurant "Riders Corner". Phil, a Brit who lives in this city with his Thai wife, is a true adventurer himself. Before opening the bar in Chiang Mai he and his wife used to sail the high seas for ten years. He is an invaluable source of information for all motorcycle travelers who come to this part of the world, his bar a hangout of the most interesting individuals one can imagine.

Among them, Ockry, an older gentleman from the Netherlands who resides in this North Thailand town for God know how long. Ockry is a GPS software and mapping wizard. We got to talk and I explained my dilemma that there are no commercially available GPS maps for Cambodia and Laos which I could use in my GARMIN. Do not despair, he told me, and showed me on his laptop he always seems to carry with him, how a Cambodia map would look on my device. Great! He promised to make a map for me and put the data on a mini SD card, FOR FREE!

Yesterday I picked it up, he didn't want to have any compensation for it, but Phil, the owner of the bar, told me to reimburse him at least for the cost of the mini SD (160 Baht, $3.50), and buy him a large bottle of beer! That;s what I did.

The true surprise of the evening was to meet Peter, an engineering graduate from the University of Illinois, who used to work for FRASCA in Urbana, later for another U.S. company doing business in Thailand, and who is in Chiang Mai, off and on, since 10 years. He is a very nice guy, and we had a great time. We were both really wowed by the fact that we met "on a different planet", and he couldn't stop himself to tell stories of his time in Champaign-Urbana. He was also quiet impressed that he would meet faculty from his own Alma mater. "Do you think I would get an "A" if I would have met you here, and I would still be a student?", he asked. Difficult question.

He used to race when in Illinois, and selects for his ride here a very hot F1 street bike, which is in essence a Grand Prix racer. This is also the first time I saw a motorcycle on this trip with a U.S. license plate. Peter's is from North Dakota, for simple reasons: North Dakota doesn't collect income tax, and issues a drivers license and license plate after only staying in a in-state hotel for one single night! Cool!

One of Phil's bikes: A Harley, California license plates!

The sticker is a little bit expired, though.

Phil, the ownre of Riders Corner, Peter (right)

Peter with his F1 race bike (180 hp)

Phil owns a whole collection of bikes, from Austrian KTM's (990 Dakar registered in South Africa, and this KTM below), a Harley, registered in California, a BMW F800 GS Adventure, and some others. It is said that he also keeps a bike in Kunming, China, a short one-and-half hour flight from here, in case you have a Visa!

His bikes, and some of his customer's motorcycles are parked right in the middle of the bar. On my first visit to the place I saw a German registered BMW Adventure from Berlin standing there; however this rider left on his journey before I had a chance to meet him.

What they told me is that many Germans come through Chiang Mai stopping by Phil's bar, not just riding in from a location in Thailand or South-East Asia but, let's say, from Brasil! These Germans are real travel bugs, I know!

Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai

There are many Chinese here, a variety of Chinese airlines offer direct flights from China to Chiang Mai (China Eastern, China Southern, Hong Kong Airlines, China Airways). Chinese can be seen touring the sites everywhere. Chinese also are known to have their own cultural specificity, such as being very loud (they are always experienced as a group), cutting in front of waiting lines, spitting on sidewalks, and being "in-polite" in general. This is a summary of characteristics which do not sit well with Thais; the local government here complained to the Chinese state tourism authority about the misbehavior of the travelers. The result is now a leaflet (also online) which is handed to each Chinese traveler coming here, and which spells out clearly the things one has to avoid when in Thailand.

The leaflet addresses also another concern: Many Chinese tourists lost their lives over the years in Chiang Mai, riding -and crashing- a rented scooter. The many police road blocks you see in the city when riding around, are meant to address safety issues among "foreign tourists", which means in plain Thai: "Chinese tourists". I was never stopped on any of the road blocks.

One of Phil's KTM.

Peter's credit card, from the UI Credit Union on Research Park, Champaign.

With Peter and his girlfriend, who is Lisu-Burmese, we went to have dinner at a fabulous restaurant in town, "River Market", owned by a couple who moved here nine years ago. He is from the U.S., born in Taylorville, Illinois, a restaurateur who owned restaurants in Chicago and Hawaii, she is from Chiang Rai, a city to the North of here.

During the day I went to Doi Suthep, on a spectacular, serpentine road of course; it is the the tallest mountain in this area, with a magnificent view down to the city. The ancient Wat located on the mountain is so far the richest in terms of decorations I have seen. I went to join a crowd of locals who waited to get blessed by the head monk. He recited a long Buddha verse, blessed us with sprinkling holy water on our heads and took the Buddha amulet I wear around my neck for protection, dipped it in Holy water, blessed it, and wished me happiness! At the end, he ties a thin string of thread around everybody's wrist, a sign for everyone to see that you met a monk and received the blessings. It was a touching experience.

I inscribed my name on a huge yellow cotton cloth which will wrapped around the Buddha statue.

Waiting to receive the monk's blessings.

I like to apologize: I cannot resist to end with two pictures of five young folks washing, air-pressure drying, and detailing the motorcycle.

And the best adventure motorcycle video I have seen:

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