Writing and Riding: Nam Kok Boat Rides and Thaton, Thailand

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We’re on a mutha-flipping boat!

“We have fresh bread!”

A spunky, grandmotherly woman called from the doorway of a charming restaurant within stumbling distance of our guesthouse in Chiang Rai, Thailand. We’d all had a little too much fun at the night bazaar the night before, thanks in large part to a still mysterious rice wine that smelled like farts and tasted like Mezcal. The offer of fresh bread, coffee and not walking any more hooked us immediately.

After the 125 kilometer ride the day before we craved a reprieve from our bikes. Luckily, we had one scheduled in Chiang Rai. We vowed to forget our bikes entirely, walk, get massages, eat, hang by the pool and chill the %&#* out — oh and have a bit too much fun at the night bazaar.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything of Chiang Rai’s other attractions, like the White Temple or the Black House… although, we were certainly seeing black and white spots through our hangovers as we packed up our bikes the next morning. Happily, we had a multi-hour longboat ride down the Nam Kok (Kok River) to help our livers recover. We rented out not one but two longboats for four girls, one (lucky) guy, five bikes and all our panniers, etc. We joked we are basically a family of 25…

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Load ’em up and move ’em out!

Despite our group hangover, the boat ride — at least for me — quickly became one of my favorite days of the trip thus far. Kate, Anne and I took over one neatly painted red, white and blue longboat (with Kate’s Strangler and my Penny bungied upright in front). Lisa and Tyler and the other three bikes shoved off first. Although it was impossible to talk over the swarm-of-pissed-hornets hum of the engine, we exchanged excited grins as the boat zipped quickly along the brown river. Our journey from Chiang Rai to the riverside town of Thaton was upstream, so it took about five hours (opposed to around four with the flow). And it went a little something like this:

A riverside Buddha — white as the snow that’s fallen at home in Dillon and larger than my desire to not think about winter at all — gazed upon us as we shoved off from Chiang Rai. Our captain, Ty, with his immaculate leather man purse, expertly navigated around boulders and through rapids. On the endless muddy brown ribbon, we passed jungle scenery with trees whose vines could’ve pleased Tarzan, and whose sinuous roots reached into the water like talon.

The day also came with two requested stops:

1. Elephant land.

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Let’s just talk about the elephant in the room…

Our boat captains, poor fellas, tried to contain our wonder to ten minutes. Half an hour or more later, we were still enamored with feeding the elephants treats purchased from a nearby stand. We marveled at how entire bananas, peels and all, disappeared into their saggy mouths, propelled their by their agile trunks.

2. The hot suh-pings (putting “s” and “p” together is hard for Thais, with very endearing results).

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At the lunch spot: Nap time isn’t just for kids in this part of the world.

The hot suh-pings also turned into a lunch/Thai tea break because let’s face it, all we do is eat. And drink. Unfortunately it was too hot and sticky out to enjoy them to their fullest. In fact, the suh-pings were largely empty, aside from folks boiling eggs under detailed signs to help falangs arrive at the perfectly cooked yoke:

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Don’t need to egg us on!

After the hot suh-pings, there were no stops until Thaton — or so we thought. Suddenly we pulled up to a sandbar and another longboat full of confused white people. After a lot of gesturing, bikes and bags were swapped and our ex-captain Ty flipped a b*tch and headed back to Chiang Mai. Our new captain, Toy, resumed our journey upstream. Awhile later, we came upon Lisa and Tyler accomplishing the same feat.

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Switchin’ it up.

A few more from the boat-o shoot:

In Thaton, although I felt certain a perfect day (Including NOT getting up during the torturous hours before 7 a.m.) couldn’t get any perfect-er it did. Anne, Tyler and I drug ourselves up a very steep road to a series of ornate statues, an ornate stupa and one of the best views yet. On the way, we were showered with thumbs up and Thai encouragements as we sweated enough to re-fill the Nam Kok if ever there were a drought.

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At the top, as the sun went down and turned everything gloriously pastel, we found two gargantuan dragon statues, one gold and holding a bag of money:

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Hey man, sharing is caring!

And the other held what I thought looked like a bar of soap but I am told it’s probably a gold brick…

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No golds barred?

Well, no sense in dragon it on… after awhile, we wandered over to (and inside of, where chants played among a spiral staircase made of silver dragon scales) the ornate stupa. Then for awhile we stood watching the sun go down. The sky over the tall mountains beyond town morphed to a darker pink before the pink slipped away.

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Thailand, you are pretty dang cool.

Afterwards, the usual awesome quest for dinner (after applying bug spray more liberally than half a can of condensed milk in Thai tea) and buying some small, sweet, translucent-fleshed longan. Because all we do is eat, we devoured a whole bag on the way to dinner (two or three blocks) and got another on the way back for the sizeable ride the next day (another 107 km or 65 mile day to Chang Doa, which literally means “elephant mountain”).

Truth be told, I’m a few days behind on our epic Asia journey, as we have traded Thailand for another dip in Laos. We boarded a plane in Chiang Mai two days ago and are posted up by the Mother (aka the Mekong River) in Luang Prabang for a couple days before taking to the road again… but more on all that next time πŸ™‚ La kone!

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