Bike riding was on the schedule for day seven of my REI Adventures tour in Thailand. After riding bikes for more than 20 miles the day prior, my butt was sore. I put my padded bike shorts on again, which thankfully helped a lot.
After cycling up a large hill, we arrived at a Buddha statue. Tri told us about what the hands on the Buddha stand for: Stop Anger, Stop Sin, and Stop Suffering.
The next destination was visiting a small isolated village where they host the Shambhala festival. The music festival has a reputation for heavy drug use and attracts people from all over the world. Tri told us that the Thai government looks the other way, and the locals say it’s “hippies walking around like zombies.”
We walked over to the hot tubs, which were wooden barrels filled with hot water from a nearby spring. Tri said we could put our feet inside if we liked. There were a few hippies inside the tiny barrels, but their dirty dreadlocks and dirty skin made it unappealing, so we all just walked away.
There was a small food cart selling ice cream and Tien bought a durian ice cream popsicle. He let people try it and after seeing a few people immediately spit it out in disgust, I decided not to try it. I smelled it and that alone was enough to make me dislike it. Durian is an extremely potent fruit. They make all sorts of things with durian flavor. However, it evokes such disgust that later I would see signs that said, “No Durian in hotel room.”
We continued riding our bikes on the rough dirt roads. Occasionally the road was paved. Well, paved is a generous word. The number of potholes rivaled anything I’ve seen before. They were often deep and wide, making it an intense experience. The bike had suspension, so when the road was bumpy, I stood up to lessen the impact on my butt. I was having a blast! I felt like I was in an action-packed movie and felt really comfortable on the bike.
We arrived at Wat Tham Chiang Dao caves. We entered the cave after climbing up several flights of stairs. It was beautiful but sweltering and humid. I was sweating within minutes. We stood in a huge room where two separate paths started. As the local guide gave us instructions for following them, I watched as sweat pooled on my arm in the humidity. It was so fascinating to watch pools just appear. I was so sweaty that if someone tried to grab me, I would slip away no problem.
There were hundreds of bats hovering above us. The local guides took us past a sign that warned of an intense route, which must be guided by the locals. Caves can be dangerous. You’re probably familiar with the group of kids and their coach that were trapped in a cave in 2018. That was in Thailand, but it was not this set of caves (although it wasn’t very far away). I felt safe knowing we had experienced guides.
As we continued through the cave, we saw a giant spider on the side of a rock. It was bigger than my hand! He was just hanging out, so we casually walked by. Then the narrow section began. We had to duck down and climb through several sections.
The caves were dark, so we wore our headlamps. Unfortunately, my battery was about dead. Thankfully, the local guides helped by shining lights for us when we needed it. It was a fun experience. Other caves I’ve been in have been cold. Interestingly, this one was so hot and humid that it felt like being in a sauna.
We got back on our bikes and continued. The group was cycling fast, so Tri added some sights for us to see. We stopped at a temple in the mountains, which had 500 steps to climb to arrive at the top. Along the way, there were encouraging signs:
- We should be rooted in mindfulness with every step we take in life.
- There’s a chance to get refreshed, once you are tired. But there’s no chance to relive your life once you are dead.
The temple is not as well known to tourists and we almost had the place to ourselves. Monks actively use it, so we were instructed to be quiet. The view at the top was incredible! Climbing 500 steps was worth it. The architecture of the temple was well constructed. The gold against the lush green trees created a peaceful environment.
We hiked back down and continued with our cycling back in rice fields. This is one of my favorite memories from the trip. The fields and surrounding mountains were unlike anything I’ve seen before.
We made a brief stop at a rice prepping facility. Tri told us about the process of harvesting and separating the rice, but I couldn’t hear him over the wooden machines’ cranking. As we headed out for our final section of biking, Tri warned us about a sand patch. It would appear suddenly, and he cautioned us not to slam on the breaks so our back wheel wouldn’t slide.
Sure enough, we arrived at the sand, and I instinctively hit my breaks. It was just a slight slow down, but I felt my back tire skid like he warned us about. I took it easy through the rest of that section.
We arrived at our next destination: an ecolodge. The space was beautifully cared for with thoughtful touches. We walked through the grounds and Tri pointed to two cabins where two of the married couples were assigned. For the rest of the rooms, Tri showed us a building with the remaining bedrooms. By the time I took my shoes off and climbed up the outdoor stairs, the two rooms with restrooms were already taken.
Not surprised, Nicole and I took a room that was available. Seven of us shared the two restrooms down the hall. Neil and I were quick to get to the showers before others created a list again. He tried one shower, but it was broken. He jumped in the other shower and said, “Christy’s after me.” Sure enough, once people found out that one of the showers in the bedrooms only had cold water, they tried to make another list. This time, I wasn’t moving from outside that shower door.
For dinner that evening, a huge spread of American food was served buffet-style. After a week of mostly Thai food, I was happy to have some familiar foods. I love Thai food, but I’m not used to eating rice two to three times a day. We gathered around the long picnic table under a pavilion.
Before leaving the dinner table, Tri talked about the plan for the following day, which would be our last full day of the tour. The itinerary said we had the option of going on a bike ride or taking a cooking class. Tri offered the option of taking a short bike ride and then doing a shortened cooking class after a few people asked if they could do both. He asked for hands to be raised, and it quickly turned into an uncomfortable situation.
Some people suggested they do a short bike ride and a short cooking class. Others wanted a long ride and no cooking. And a few of us wanted only the cooking class. Tri said if we did the full-length cooking class, we would have the morning to walk down to a village nearby. That sounded nice to me and I didn’t want to short-change the cooking class.
Tri had commented, “Maybe we don’t do any cycling tomorrow?” while giving an awkward smile. It was the second glimpse I saw from him that he felt the group was pushing too hard.
During the hikes, the group stopped for quick breaks and to make sure everyone was together. There were a few people whose body language made it clear they were not happy with stopping. I noticed this during the biking portion too. The tour was rated as a “moderate plus,” which is a level three-four on a scale of one to five. Most tours are listed as a single number, and a five is so strenuous, you need a doctor’s note to confirm you’re capable of completing the tour (think base camp on Everest). I was in the middle of the pack during the Norway trip that I took two years prior. It is also rated as a three-four.
During both hiking and biking, there were about five people who were much more fit than your average person – working out several hours a day. They never verbally said anything about the pace to me, but it was pretty clear that they wanted it to be more strenuous. Several times, Tri said, “We’re on a holiday, not a huri-day.”
A day earlier, Tri told a few of us that one time he had a group of very highly trained athletes who wanted to do trail running – trail running on rugged mountains sometimes covering eleven miles a day. In that group, two of the five people ended up riding in the support vehicle because they couldn’t run the mountains. Tri looked exhausted as he told the story.
One of the problems with traveling with 15 people is figuring out the right pace. On my Norway trip, we ended up with two people in our group who could not participate in many hikes because they were not physically capable. With this trip, we had some people who probably should have been on a level five trip. I think REI Adventures does a great job explaining the rating, the activities involved, and what you need to do to be physically ready for the trip. It can be a challenge when people are either not fit enough or are too fit for what is intended for the tour.
My roommate Nicole was extremely fit, but she never made me feel like I was slow. To get extra workouts in, she went running one day on her own when we had a bit of free time. I think that was a good solution for her to get the exercise she’s used to while still respecting the itinerary set up for the group.
In the end, it was decided that a small group would go out for a long bike ride with one of the guides, Sak. Another group would go for a short bike ride and then the full cooking class. The rest of us would walk to a small village and then participate in the full cooking class. You can’t please everyone all the time, but I think this was a good compromise.
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