March 22, 2014 00:00 By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Nok Air's leading pedal pusher takes cyclists to the northern province to enjoy culture on two wheels
Nok Air’s chief executive Patee Sarasin became hooked on cycling a few years back so it comes as no surprise that the budget airline’s head honcho likes nothing more than to fly his fellow pedal pushes around Thailand to enjoy destinations the ecofriendly way.
Last year Patee, who’s also the president of the Life Cycling Club, launched his cycling campaign with the Nok Air Kindness-Sharing Rally at the Ancient City in Samut Prakan then followed up at the beginning of this year with “Pan Lui Trang” in Trang. Last week, he flew another group to Nan for the “Im Em Jai Pan Nai Nan” rally.
“Cycling is for everyone and it’s an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family,” says Suriyapa “Nou” Bunnag, vice president corporate communication of Nok Airlines’ and another keen cyclist.
“Nok Air is aiming to become the leader in outdoor activity. Everyone can fly and have fun with their families and we don’t impose a surcharge for bicycles on our flights. However, it is crucial that you pack your bike properly for the flight.”
The trip to Nan was split into both cycling and sightseeing, with stops in various communities offering participants a chance to learn about local arts and culture. For the bike trips, our group was hosted by the province’s two cycling clubs, Nga Chang Dam and Nakhon Nan, and we were also joined by Thomas Elshout, a travel blogger and cyclist from the Netherlands. He’s been busy pedalling through Thailand for his “1 Bike Two Stories” project, which aims to raise funds for the Skills and Development Centre for Blinds in Nonthaburi and the Aids hospice in Lop Buri.
“My goal to inspire as many people as possible to travel by bicycle by showing how easy it actually is and the fabulous experience you get by volunteering,” says Elshout, who rides a tandem and often takes a potential volunteer along as a second rider.
We meet up with members of Nan cycling club and Nan Governor Ukrit Puengsopa at the Khuang Muang open space adjacent to Wat Phumin before setting off through town, passing Nan Technical College and the remains of the Old Nan City Wall to Wat Phra Kerd, a temple built in 1827. We stop at the Ban Phra Kerd community museum, home to the art collected by former abbot Khru Ba Inpong Visaratho, which includes scriptures fashioned out of palm with Lanna-style religious characters called “Tua Muang” and admire the local folk wisdom applied to the making of Lanna-style flags.
Not far away is Hong Chao Fongkam, or the Noble House, a large, rambling teak house in Northern Thai style built more than a century ago. Chao Fongkham we learn, was a descendant of Chao Anantaworarithidej, the 62nd Lord of Nan.
We take a short cut through Nan Christian Sueksa School and stop at Ban Suan Tan, where we are introduced to the mysteries of making khao lam – glutinous rice roasted in bamboo joints – and khao tan (rice crackers), before moving to Wat Hua Vieng Tai, a temple constructed by the Burmese.
After lunch, the Bike Finder members along with Elshout break off into a small group and head out of town with the local cyclists. The 30-kilometre ride is enjoyable if tiring and includes a stop at Ban Had Pha Khon, an old village on the banks of Nan River that has initiated an aquatic resource conservation project.
Kittipol Gomol, 56, a member of Nga Chang Dam cycling club, tells me that this is one of six bike routes that his group of 40 cyclists regularly rides. Others include the 35km run from Pha Tub and Pha Sing districts to a bypass at Hat Pha Khon, a 30km ride along the Mae Charim Road to Wat Phra That Chae Hang and Pattana Pak Nue Bridge and the 35km journey from Bo Suak District to Viengsa and the Sri Pan Ton intersection. Weekenders can enjoy a 20km ride from the office of National Drug Control Policy to 15th cavalry regiment and a 30km sprint from Ban Huay Li and Ban Luang to the airport.
“In the past, we didn’t have many tourists in Nan. The numbers have increased significantly since cycling became popular and these days, I regularly take younger cyclists and help them maximise their energy through various techniques,” says Worachat “Nui” Pungsuwan, 31, who runs a bike and souvenir shop.
For his part, Elshout enjoys the challenge. “It’s very different from Holland. Back there, the bicycle is privileged above other traffic in many cases, which makes the experience more convenient and safe,” he says.
We end the day with a visit to the sacred pagoda of Wat Phra That Chae Hang and are up bright and early the next day to take in the scenery from Wat Phra That Khao Noi and the viewpoint of Phra Budha Maha Udom Mongkhon Nanthaburi Si Nan, a 9-metre Buddha image perched on Khao Noi.
Get on your bikes
_ Nok Air’s next cycling trip will be in May to Udon Thani. A major rally is planned in Bangkok’s Suan Luang Rama IX Park on December 13.
_ The airline is also launching a special bike travel guide called “Tail Wind”, which will provide comprehensive listings of accommodation, restaurants and bike shops in the provinces.
_ For more about Thomas Elshout’s project, visit 1Bike2Stories.com.