Defeat was, to a degree, in the mind, but mainly it was in the legs. I could only assume that the promise of cheap labour had enticed the local authorities to use a delegation from the local lunatic asylum to design the roads here. The result of this care in the community initiative now stood forbiddingly before me, a sheer cliff face with a road tacked to the side of it. I gave it a go, after all, in a hundred thousand kilometres of cycling around the globe I had yet to experience a sealed road that I could not ride up, but in my heart I knew as I began that I was about to be dealt the coupe-de-grace by this most wicked of undulation adversaries.
Several days later en-route to a small town by the name of Mae Salong I found myself faced with similar geographical opponents. Now wise to their ways I was prepared and managed, with more than just a little grunting cursing dribbling and general uncool behaviour, to drag myself to the summit of this treacherous stretch of bicycle rock climbing and arrived jubilant at the high ridge top town with a history as fascinating as its culture.
Well over half a century ago, a little to the north in China, a bitter and bloody civil war drew to a conclusion. Having received a convincing and decisive drubbing from the communist Red Army the defeated Kuomintang needed to give some serious consideration to their future happiness. To say that the commies had been unhappy with the Kuomintang’s warlords and landowners lording over the peasants prior to the civil war would be something of an understatement. This unhappiness was only surpassed come war’s end as those who survived emerged shell-shocked; haunted by sickening memories of friends and allies fallen in battle, starved and frozen to death, drowned in the squelching mire of endless tracts of peat bogs, flayed alive by stroppy Tibetan warriors, and worse. The Communists, the surviving Kuomintang troops decided, were unlikely to be sympathetic and compassionate toward them. Time to make haste and flee. Although the bulk of the KMT fled en-mass to Taiwan where they took power and laid claim to sovereignty over the People’s Republic of China, a claim they still maintain, some found it far less hazardous and altogether more convenient to nip across the border to Burma. Now, I am not a historian and what I am giving here is at best a potted history, but at some stage I understand the Kuomintang in Burma managed to niggle the government to a point where the prudent move was to once again runaway, this time to Thailand. One assumes that having had to flee two countries in quick succession they felt ill at ease with themselves and felt a strong foreboding they would be picked on again. This, I imagine, combined with the desire for cool evenings and night-time temperatures convivial to agreeable slumber, led them to a remote and ill accessible ridge top that that is now the site of modern day Mae Salong, the aforementioned town of fascinating culture.
Although in Thailand, Mae Salong is to all intent and purpose a small Chinese town. The language is a dialect from Yunnan Province. The food is from Yunnan and quite delicious; tea is grown, the people look and behave Chinese. As I rode into town I happened upon an old wooden guesthouse that overwhelmed me with nostalgia, it was typical of so many rural lodges in Yunnan Province that have served me as a temporary home that I could not resist taking a room for the night. At £2 the price was also authentic and the creaking and rocking of the wooden building as fellow travellers plodded up and down the stairs bought an authenticity only surpassed by a man’s fitful clearing of his retched throat the following morning.
Should you find yourself in the region of Thailand’s Chiang Rai I wholeheartedly recomend a trip to Mae Salong; maybe wise to take the bus though.
I will leave you with a few street shots from Mae Salong.