Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deschutes National Forest--Mountain Biking Playground.




Overview

There are nearly 300 miles of single track in the Deschutes National Forest, west of Bend, Oregon. The area is easily accessible by highway 46 which runs straight through the middle of the forest on its way to 9,000 foot Mt. Bachelor and 10,000 foot South Sister. It is a mountain biking playground that will leave you feeling like a rock star, even if you aren't. The majority of the trails are pumice soil, interspersed by short rocky sections and log obstacles. A few trails have human-made jumps, banks, pump tracks, table tops, etc. for those who like to play.

The natural geological formation funnels all the trails back down to Bend, which sits below straddling the Deschutes River. Whether you ride up from Bend and loop back or shuttle to a point higher up in the mountains to avoid the climb, the trails will funnel you back down to Bend as you descend. It's a bit like a ski resort where all runs lead back to the lodge. In this case, the lodge is likely to be one of the many brew pubs in Bend.

The trails with the heaviest use are Whoops and the Phil's Trail system which run right down the center of the trail web. If you head south of center, there is an entire trail system on the other side of highway 46 that is less heavily ridden. On the northern slopes, is a more remote trail named Mrazek which leads down into the Shevlin Forest on the edge of Bend.

If you need to rent bikes, Sunnyside Sports is a great. They have a good selection of full-suspension bikes from Yeti, Ibis and Trek as well as hard-tails for the old-school riders.

Our Trip

We had high expectations for this trip. My sister-in-law had brought us mountain biking in Bend two years earlier and we'd been aching to get back here ever since. We were able to convince a couple friends to join us, so we set a date, rented a cozy cottage in Bend and booked our bikes.

The trails were as exhalarating as we remembered. One of our friends who hadn't done a lot of mountain biking commented after our third day on the trails, " I never knew I could ride a bike like that." He was hooked on zipping through the forest and over the obstacles.

Mountain air, beautiful forests, stunning vistas, clear blue skies, exhilaration followed by exhaustion, cool starry nights: a true summer dream. One we hope to relive again.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sailing Pattaya--Royal Varuna Yacht Club






Tell your friends that you are off to Pattaya for the weekend and you run the risk of getting replies like "why?" or "sorry to hear that."

The view from Varuna
They don't know that nearby, beyond walking street, the beer bars and the peddlers with their cheap souvenirs, are hidden gems where visitors can find experiences that can challenge the mind and refresh the senses.

Sailing at Royal Varuna Yacht Club at the foot of Pratumnak Hill is one of those hidden gems. Sitting in the club house or on the private beach looking out over the sea toward Ko Larn, Ko Rin and Satthahip, gives the sense of being hundreds of miles from the hustle and bustle of any city or tourist town.

Beach catamarans are the most common boat found on the grassy hill at Varuna, but there are many dinghies as well including RS visions, Lasers and 29ers. There are club organized sailing events nearly every week and national and international sailing competitions. For sailors who want to kick back and relax, the islands nearby and Jomtien and Bang Saree beaches are great cruising destinations.

Ko Rin Campout
My favorite club event is the annual Ko Rin camping trip organized by the club. The club management secures permission from the Thai Navy who own the island for us to camp on the beach. A fishing boat carries supplies of food and drink while members sail out to the Island, about 20 kilometers off shore. Depending on the wind direction, the trip can be up to 40 kilometeres in total. Eating barbecue on the beach looking back at the lights on the distant shore, sleeping in the open under the stars and waking in the middle of the night to see the squid boats bobbing up and down with their huge lights like alien spacecraft is always a memorable experience.

Check out the Royal Varuna Yacht Club website for information about membership, events, accommodation and sailboat rental.

http://varuna.org/

If you are a member of a sailing club, and you are visiting Thailand, you can purchase a temporary membership for as short a time period as a single day.






Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cycling the Bolaven Plateau--Laos



Overview

We arrived nearly on time to the Ubonrathchathani train station after a night on the train and met up with the pickup truck that we had pre-booked to take us to the Laos border. A passport size photo and cash was all we needed to get our visa on demand, and by noon we were on our bikes heading for Pakse. After about 10 kilometers of a gentle downhill slope, the road leveled off, and we found ourselves traveling past the familiar checkerboard pattern of dry-season rice fields. The minor annoyance of being splashed with water as we headed toward the Mekong River was balanced out by our need to cool off in the 40 degree temperatures.

Our Itinerary

Day One: From Chong Mek to Pakse (50 kms.)

Laos Fo Noodles
Entering Pakse from the west, we passed under a mountain temple and over the Mekong River. The city itself was somewhat less impressive than the approach. Normally, Pakse would be the perfect place to begin a journey up the plateau. In our case, however, we happened to arrive in the middle of the Laos new year. Many of the restaurants and businesses were either not open or not fully stocked. Besides noodles, it was hard to find much else to eat until we came across some small hot pot restaurants perched on a bluff over the Mekong River.

Day Two: From Pakse to Paksong (50 kms., 1100 m. ascent)

As soon as we turned east on highway 16E, the ascent began. It was not steep, but it was relentless. On most rides, climbs are rewarded with downhills. This climb only went up. As we pedaled past the villages creatively named after the mile marker where they had grown up, the climate slowly improved. At somewhere around 500 meters up the plateau, coffee plants took over as the dominate cash crop. We continued up the plateau along with hundreds of new year revelers on motor bikes and in the backs of pickup trucks slashing us and throwing small plastic bags filled with water as they made their pilgrimage to one of the many falls in the area. Each village we passed was a similar scene of men and women drinking beer Laos, smoking cigarettes and dancing to music blaring from a central location.

Salawen Guest House
We arrived at Paksong just as the daily afternoon thunderstorm blew through. In its wake, Paksong took on the look of the classic muddy frontier town. Scattered around town were several small guest houses and restaurants. There was also a large market in the center of town, closed for the holiday. We found the Salawen Guest House tucked into a small road on the north side of town. It was immaculate and very comfortable, run by a friendly gentleman who had spent a fair amount of time overseas. Across the street was one of the few open restaurants in town where we were again limited to noodles or simple fried rice since the market was closed and the restaurant couldn't stock up on supplies. The owners had moved down from Luang Prabang, lured by the chance to get in on the travel and tourism trade that is beginning to find the area.

Day Three: From Paksong to Sekong (99 kms., 1100 m. descent) 

Road to the East
No need for coffee on a day like this. The ride was downhill all the way to highway 11, parts of it pure adrenaline. The first several kilometers out of Paksong were paved, followed by about 65 kilometers of mostly packed dirt. The real fun started around 30 kilometers into the ride when the descent got steeper as it ran down into the bottom of the river valley cut into the eastern side of the plateau. I sometimes felt more like I was mountain biking than road cycling as we flew down over the packed dirt at up to 50 kms. per hour.

The government is in the process of paving the road out to highway 11. The entire stretch has been cut and graded. It's a long road and looks like it could take 1 to 2 years to complete. According to locals, it is going to be part of a highway into Vietnam, the modern version of the Ho Chi Min Trail.
Sekatam Falls

About half way down into the valley, we spotted a water fall sign along the road and veered off to take a look. The reward was a view across the valley of the Sekatam Falls, beautiful even at the end of the dry season.

Eventually, the descent ended, and we had a smallish climb up and over a ridge and out toward the highway. Highway 11 between Atapeu and Sekong turned out to be a well-paved road with little traffic. Unlike the bone dry rice fields on the Pakse side, we found ourselves riding through lush rice fields with the plateau ridge towering over the valley on our left side as we made our way to Sekong.

Guide books don't have much good to say about Sekong, but as with many experiences, it's all in the timing. We found a clean, quiet courtyard style guest house with aircon on the approach into Sekong. While the others showered and washed some laundry, I ventured off to find snacks and beer Laos. I didn't need to wander far. 30 meters and I found myself sitting in a small shop with several people offering to share their beer with me. In towns like Sekong, it is easy to get by speaking Thai. Laotians generally understand Thai quite well from watching Thai soap operas and listening to Thai pop music, and after a few days in Laos, any Thai speaker can work out enough Laotian to understand everyday conversations. The connection with the shop keeper turned into an invitation to join a new years party when we bumped into her and her husband after having dinner at a nearby hotel. Apparently it was neighborhood party. We were given dance instructions on how to dance in the traditional Loas manner, and handed free beers till we thought it best to head back to the guest house.

Day Four: From Sekong to the Sinouk Coffee Resort (60 kms., 600 m. ascent} 

Sinouk Coffee Resort
On the fourth day, we had to pay the price for our exciting descent the day before--a very hot,  steady ascent back up to the plateau. Turned out to be the hottest day of the trip, and the new year revelers had stopped splashing us with water, so we had no way to cool down. The beer consumed the night before didn't help, and food was hard to find along this stretch. We weren't able to find lunch until we arrived in Tha Teng, less than 10 kms. from the end of the day's ride.

The road forks at Tha Teng. To the right, would have taken us to Beng and on to Tat Lo Falls, to the right, back to Paksong and, more importantly, up to the Sinouk Coffee Resort. Tat Lo Falls would have to wait for another trip.

Sinouk Coffee Resort was the perfect oasis at this stage in the trip. Sitting on the veranda of the bungalow watching the late afternoon thunderstorm come in over the plateau while sipping freshly brewed iced coffee was nothing short of Bolaven heaven. The Resort also had a well-stocked kitchen and feasted on fried chicken and other western treats.

Day Five: From Sinouk Coffee Resort to Tad Fan Resort (50 kms., 500 m. ascent)

Tad Fan Falls
Unlike the day before, we finished the final 30 kms. climb to the top of the plateau quickly, drawn on by several promises, the promise of internet in Paksong, the promise of a 20 kilometer downhill ride to Tad Fan, the promise of more delicious food at the Tad Fan Resort, and the promise of our first rest day. Only one promise turned out to be empty. Our second stop at a certain coffee shop in Paksong well-known for having the only wi-fi in the area was again not open, so we left out dreams of emails and facebook updates behind, grabbed a bit of lunch and took off down hill to the Tad Fan Resort. The resort has a restaurant perched on edge of a deep ravine with a clear view of the Tad Fan Falls on the other side. Good food, hammocks and a constant breeze made it the perfect place to relax, read and chill out.

Day Six: Exploring the Tad Fan Area 

We took our off-day to heart and did very little for most of the day. When originally planning the trip, we thought we might go on a trek into the jungle. Didn't happen. Reading, eating, sleeping on the hammocks and watching the stream of tourists come look at the falls was entertaining enough. Around mid-afternoon, we felt ready to jump on our bikes and explore some of the nearby falls. We made it to three different falls before sunset, include Tad E Tu.

Day Seven: From Tad Fan back to Chong Mek (99 kms., 1100 m. descent)

The trip was nearly over. We knew that by 5 p.m. we would be back over the border in Thailand. We procrastinated, took our time at breakfast and packing up. We jumped on our bikes at 10:00, flew back downhill to Pakse, and by 11:30 a.m. we were sitting in the air-conditioned Bolaven Cafe drinking iced coffees and eating cheese cake. The easy part was done. Getting back on the bikes in the heat of the day and riding back up to the border took a little will power. On the way, we met a Thai couple who had riden to Pakse the day before. They joined us for the final push to the border, suprised when we lingered at a shop 10 kms. from the border and drank beer Laos. One last toast to a pleasant journey in a beautiful place.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weekend Spins: Ratchaburi- Kanchanaburi Triangle



The Spin:


A hot season ride through Ratchaburi and southern Kanchanaburi is a lesson in contrasts. The deep flowing Mae Khlong River is the source of life for a number of towns and cities that cling to it's banks. River culture is rich with commerce and religion. Ornately decorated temples sit on the hills overlooking the river.  Gaudy weekend holiday homes of Bangkok celebrities and business folk dot the shore. Just a kilometer or two from the river, however, life is starkly different. Trees are few and far between, and farmers living in simple homes eke out an existence growing corn, tapioca and sugar cane in dusty fields.


Ratchaburi is big enough for a three-day triangle tour. We left the truck in a hotel parking lot in Ratchaburi Town and headed north along the Mae Khlong River and west to Kanchanaburi Town, a 120 km. ride. The second day, we headed west along the Kwai Noi River. then headed south to Chom Bung through rolling hills and vast areas of farmland, an 80 km. ride. The final day was a 50 km. ride northwest back to the Mae Khlong River and back to Ratchaburi Town.

The Scoop:

It sounds cliche, but the highlights of this tour were the discoveries we happened across and the kind people we met along the way.  



On our approach to Kanchanaburi, Wat Tam Suea appeared on the horizon, hovering over the rice fields like a mirage. At first we could hardly believe our eyes as we approached along a canal that looked like it was flowing straight out of the base of the temple. We were hot and tired, but couldn't resist making the short detour. When we reached the parking lot, we realized that to see the temple up close we would need to climb 159 steps. Hoping for a place to drop our bags, we stopped in at the Pilog Coffee Shop to get out of the shade and enjoy a tall iced coffee. The woman who ran the shop gave us some of the history of the temple and offered to watch our bags for us. When we returned after our climb, she even filled out water bottles with ice. It was one of many pleasant encounters with the kind, generous folks along the way.


The first night, we stayed 13 kilometers south of Kanchanaburi Town, along the Kwai Noi River. After 120 kms. of riding, we were famished. Unfortunately, the resort we had chosen was not serving food in their restaurant, so as the sun was setting we walked a couple kilometers down the street to a small family run restaurant. The owners made us some delicious food from what they had left in the kitchen, but they were running out of ingredients. We really wanted to go into town for a real meal. Unfortunately, Kanchanburi Town doesn't have a local bus service or public songthaews like most cities, so the owner offered to drive us into town and then pick us up whenever we were ready. On the way, he told us about how he had moved his restaurant out of town so he didn't have to commute and about his belief that his customers were his friends. I couldn't help but think that he was a  perfect example of His Majesty's sufficiency economy principle. He also told us about his plan to celebrate his daughter's 5 birthday the next day. Of course, they would start at the temple and make merit. But after that she wanted to go to KFC for friend chicken and then go to the Erawan Falls and swim. He didn't really ask us for any money, but in the end, we wanted to contribute to his daughter's birthday celebration, like any friend would.





Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekend Spins: Pratumnak Hill, Pattaya



The Spin:


Happen to be in Pattaya for the weekend and need a place to work out? Pratumnak Hill between Jomtien Beach and Pattaya South is a tiny oasis perfect for walking, biking or running. There is plenty of parking on the hill, and the people watching and ocean views are second-to-none in Pattaya. The hill is circled and criss-crossed by a number of roads, stairs and paved walking paths. If you work out on the hill in the hour before sunset, you'll have plenty of company.


The Scoop:


After a day of sailing at Royal Varuna Yacht Club, it is always tempting to plop down by the beach with a beverage and some food and watch the sun set. Pratumnak Hill is a convenient place for my wife and I to get a quick and easy workout in an hour or so. 20 kms on the bike or 10 on foot and we feel less guilty about ordering that wood-fired pizza and German beer for dinner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Weekend Spins: Tha Jin Adventure





The Spin:


Nakon Pathom seems like a cycler's dream compared to the hectic streets of Bangkok. As soon as you cross highway 9 (the western ring road), you find yourself on quiet country roads and dirt trails criss-crossed by canals and dotted with fruit orchards, orchid farms and vegetable plots. By the time you reach the Tha Jin River, you'll feel like you're hundreds of miles from the hustle, bustle and commercialism of Bangkok.

If you journey west to Nakon Pathom, you might want to bring a set of binoculars. Storks, herons and other birdlife abound in the rice fields and along the waterways. You'll definitely want to bring a camera to capture the waterway lifestyle and the beautiful temples that stand tall over the flat horizon and guard over the banks of the Tha Jin River. You'll certainly need your wallet to shop at the floating markets and the local weekend bazaars.

Hidden Holiday House, on the banks of the Tha Jin river, is the perfect destination for a weekend ride from Bangkok. Depending on your route and starting point, you can ride anywhere from 50 to 90 kilometers. If you stay at Hidden Holiday House, Chris and Areeya are the friendly and gracious hosts. Chris is an avid biker who specializes in finding out-of-the-way trails. He is able and willing to lead tours of the Nakon Pathom area and can arrange a number adventures for you and your travelling partners.

The Scoop:


Our ride to the Tha Jin River started out almost like throwing a dart at a map. We needed a weekend ride to prep for an upcoming cycling tour, so I opened google map looked for an area with no major highways and typed "resorts in Nakon Pathom." Needless-to-say, there weren't many options. Holiday house looked promising, and we were lucky to get rooms on short notice. What we had planned as a training ride ended as an unexpected weekend adventure thanks to Chris and Areeya.


When we arrived at Hidden Holiday House, the only thing on our minds was a shower and some ice cold beer by the river. Chris and Areeya set us up with what we needed and then set out to get us some food from a local restaurant. Chris returned with some food and the news that the old gentleman who used to run the river ferry before the completion of the bridge was available to take us up-river to see the roosting storks and visit a temple market. 

I never pass up a chance to get out on the water, so in the late afternoon Mr. Ferryman motored us up stream to see the hundreds and hundreds of roosting storks nearby. We see storks wading in the rice fields of Nonthaburi and Pathumthani nearly every time we ride from home, but seeing hundreds  of them roosting on the trees and bamboo along the river was quite a site.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pattaya's Answer to your Coffee Jones-Mokador Breakfast


















Cappuccinos, Lattes hot and cold, Macchiatos or just plain 

black coffee. Drink till you drown your caffeine jones at Mokador.

For around 200 baht, you can choose from a number of breakfasts, from a traditional egg, bacon and ham breakfast to  my favorite, salmon, gouda and eggs. The best thing about breakfast at Mokador is the limitless coffee that comes as part of your meal. You can drink as many specialty coffees as your nervous system can handle. 

The second best thing about Mokador is that it is a comfortable place to relax and read the paper or use the free wi-fi. Order a breakfast and your favorite coffee beverage, and the next thing you know it's nearly noon.

The location is convenient to reach on Thappraya Road between South Pattaya and Jomtien. It's on the east side of the road, near Mike's Mexican restaurant.

MOKADOR   

Monday, March 5, 2012

Weekend Spins: Pakkret Ayutthaya Rural Route



The Spin:


Looking for a weekend escape from The Big Mango but can't bear the thought of a hectic drive to get out of the city? A weekend cycling trip to Ayutthaya starting from the edge of town could be just what you need. There are beautiful cycling routes through the rice farms and mango plantations to the west of the Chaopraya River. 


Pakkret pier, where Chaengwattana Road crosses over the Chaopraya River, is a convenient starting point. There are a variety of ways to get your bikes to the Pakkret pier. You can take the express ferry up river, take the train from downtown and pedal west to the pier or have a car or truck haul your bikes there for you.



Only a few minutes riding north of Pakkret, and you'll feel like you've left the city far behind.  Rural farm houses replace urban shop houses. Traffic becomes light and interspersed with tractors. You'll even have the chance to see a bit of wildlife including monitor lizards and birds like storks, egrets, herons, and kingfishers.


With the many rural roads north and south, it is easy to create a loop to Ayutthaya and back. The route we took heads north-north-west to Chedi Hoi then straight north to Sena. From Sena, we headed east to the Old City of Ayutthaya. On the return, we went south and crossed the bridge at Bang Sai, went a few kilometers west past the Bangsai Golf Course and headed south through the farms down a variety of small canal-side roads and dirt farm roads back to Pakkret. 


There is no need to pack excessive amounts of liquids and snacks. There are numerous mom-pop shops scattered around the area, so you can easily reload you camelback and get food along the way. Noodles or grilled chicken are your best bets for lunch.


The Scoop:


My wife Laura, my friend Don and I were looking for a training ride to get ready for a tour of southern Laos. We needed something we could start from home in Pakkret, but was interesting enough to make it fun. This was the ride we decided on and it was well worth the time spent. A little adventure on the edge of the big city.


We met up at my place on a hot Saturday morning, loaded my new paniers with just enough clothes, spare tubes, etc. for a two-day ride and were off by 8:30. March is the hottest month in Thailand. We knew that temperatures would probably reach at least 35 degress C, so we planned on stopping frequently to get out of the sun and rehydrate. 


Our planned half-way point was Chedi Hoi temple, where we had often eaten som tam, grilled chicken and sticky rice at a family run shop. In our minds, we could smell the chicken sizzling on the grill and the lime and fish sauce being pounded in the krok. But the shop wasn't there. In fact, the entire market area in the back of the temple grounds was deserted. The abandoned buildings still showed the broad dark scar of the flood waters that had risen to 2 meters. People all over the Pathumthani/Ayutthaya area are still repairing homes and rebuilding their lives. Some, like our grilled chicken vending family, have packed up and moved on.



We've always enjoyed visiting Chedi Hoi where we could feed the huge turtles chunks of cucumber on the ends of long wooden skewers and visit the make-shift museum with an odd assortment of items from dinosaur and whale bones to old typewriters and Chinese pottery. According to the a monk at the temple, the turtles had been washed away but had returned because they knew it was safe. Hopefully, they are predictors of the future and know that next October they will be safe from the kinds of floods they saw this year.


If you follow our trail during the hot season, be sure to look for fresh mangos on the right side of the road when you cross over the Bang Sai bridge. They are sweet and delicious.









Have you been on this ride? 


What have you seen? 


What adventures have you encountered?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Five Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling in Thailand

Any first time visitor to Thailand is confronted by the ubiquitous sight of plastic waste. It is in the sea. It is in the rivers. It is on the beaches. It is along the roads. It is along the train lines. Look just around anywhere, and it is there.

Post Loy Kratong Trash on Rama IV Bridge, Pakkret
Approximately 20 million tourists visited the Land of Smiles in 2011. That's 1 tourist to every 3.5 Thai people in the country. Obviously, travelers have a huge impact on the amount of plastic waste in the country, and unfortunately much of the plastic ends up in the environment.

If you want to be a part of the solution to Thailand's plastic waste problem, here are a few suggestions:

1) Use reusable drinking bottles - Tap water in much of Thailand is drinkable when it leaves the water treatment plant. What it may encounter on the way to the tap, however, is sometimes suspect. You can treat your water with iodine or chlorine, or boil it and refill your own bottles. You can even refill you bottles at coin operated machines at gas stations and small shops.


2) Mix your own electolyte drinks - Thailand is very hot. If you're participating in strenuous activities, you will need electrolytes. Don't buy bottled pre-packaged electrolyte drinks. Instead, stop in at any drug store and buy electrolyte powder. A small package costs several baht. You can mix it with water in your reusable bottle.


3) Don't do take-out at food stalls - Eat your food at the food stall. One single bowl of noodles with soup will mean a minimum of 5 plastic bags. Other dishes will include a styrofoam box. Eating your food at the stall can reduce a huge amount of plastic waste.

4) Skip the bags and straws - It is polite for the cashier at convenience stores to load even the smallest purchase into a plastic bag and give you a straw for every drink. Just tell them you don't need it. In most cases, they think it is a nice gesture.

5) Take your own bag shopping - The simplest of all solutions is to take your own bag shopping. It takes a little forethought but can have a huge impact on the number of plastic bags you might end up by the end of a trip.

If you can take some of these steps, maybe the views along the beaches and roads will not look like the image above.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For a Taste of By-Gone Thailand: Travel by Rail

Security checks, waiting in lines, pre-made meals and baggage limits: need a break from modern air travel? Get on the train. If you choose to travel Thailand long-distance by train, you can avoid them all. Three train lines can take you north to Chiangmai, northeast to Udon, south to Surathani or destinations in between in old- fashioned 1st or 2nd class comfort.

Train travel in Thailand is a throw back to earlier times. Whether you arrive by subway or taxi, you will feel as though you have stepped back in time the moment you walk into Hualamphong station. Built in 1916, it remains much as it always has been. The waiting area is a non-airconditioned hall rimmed by small shops, and restaurants. If you arrive early, you can relax with a cup of coffee on the upper balcony or stop in the food court for a cheap plate of Bai Kra Praw Kai (basil chicken).

 You can buy tickets on the of departure, or up to 60 days in advance. To guarantee a seat or sleeper, you should purchase your tickets in advance. The windows on the right hands side of the station are advanced sales (lettering in red). Tickets on the day of departure are on the left side (lettering in green). Fares and timetables can be found on the State Railway of Thailand website:

http://www.railway.co.th/home/Default.asp?lenguage=Eng

Once on the train, you'll have ample leg room, plenty of time to read, and a wonderful opportunity to mingle with Thai and foreign travelers. The food on the train is inexpensive and delicious. A typical meal comes with a main dish and rice, a side dish of curry, a soup and fresh fruit. You can eat it at your seat or walk down to the dining car.

Take the overnight train and you'll save the cost of a room night in a hotel and arrive in the morning ready to begin whatever adventure you've planned for yourself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Peddling Chiang Dao

Stunning views, hill tribe villages, caves, quiet retreats and nice single track trail: Chiang Dao offers so much to the adventurous off road biker. Traveling north on highway 107 from Chiangmai, you will see Chiang Dao Mountain towering over the surrounding hills and guarding over the valley. Under the mountain are a large limestone cave you can tour. If you want to take some time out of the saddle, you can arrange a two-day trip with a guide and porters at the shops near the cave entrance.
Just a short pedal away from the cave, you can find a variety of country roads, dirt roads and single track trails to provide you with an exciting and sometimes breathtaking off-road biking adventure. You can ride out from whatever resort or guest house you select as your base and find numerous trails connecting the hilltribe villages. If you don't feel comfortable heading off on your own, you can contact Nothern Trails http://www.northerntrails.com/, who can provide you with guides and even have a mountain bike practice course and bike camp with comfortable accommodation in the area.

Unfortunately, the area is changing quickly. The hilltribes are burning the forest down to make farmland to grow crops like field corn. If you visit from February through March, you are certain to see the forest destruction first hand.






Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sleek is our Mantra



Scattered unassumingly around the gritty, burlesque capital city of Thailand's travel scene, Pattaya, are a number of highly rated gourmet dining experiences. Mantra at the Amari Orchid, Pattaya one of the most highly recommended, rated #1 by http://www.pattaya.bangkok.com/best-restaurants.htm and #3 by Tripadvisor.com. You can find it in North Pattaya at the top of the beach road. Greeting you at the entrance is a large red placard announcing that,"Mantra is sleek & stylish, which is how we like our patrons to dress." You'll immediately notice that the clientele differs from that of other restaurants in Pattaya. Missing are the Russians on cheap package tours, the hordes of Chinese bargain shoppers, or the  western punters on the prowl for cheap beer and entertainment. Mantra appears to be a magnet for expat managers coming in from the industrial estates in Chonburi and Rayong. The menu was extensive. The best plan of attack is to order a bottle of wine or a cocktail and settle in for 20 minutes of leisurely research. With selections of Japanese, Chinese (primarily Cantonese) and Indian food, as well as western fare, including steaks, seafood and Italian, there is plenty to satisfy any craving. The food is indeed sleek and savory. Enjoying Mantra means visiting with the proper expectations. The layout is patterned after a Thai food court, with 3 stations set off to one side of the cavernous dining room. The decor suggests an upscale Hong Kong restaurant and is as clamorous as a dim sum Sunday brunch. Mantra is not the place for a quiet, romantic dinner because of the constant din. If you take your honey for a cozy dinner, bring a couple tin cans and a length of string so you can talk across the broad wooden table. Mantra would be a fantastic spot for a business diner, birthday party or other group occasion in which you can add your voices to the building symphony of the evening.