As it so happens
I Went Out in the Woods Today :
Didn’t mean to, well not in the afternoon that is, just one of those things that happens when something one expects or plans does not.
My plan was to cycle a somewhat circuitous route to take a swim at the 700 year Olympic pool. Circuitous was the plan to avoid horrid polluting New Year traffic snarls, so I planned push my bike over the “not for traffic” bridge and then ride up the hill to the physics gate of Chiang Mai University and beyond towards the north.
But on crossing the bridge, to my surprise, I could not help but notice that there was no traffic jam,. So instead of forging ahead I turned right along the canal road. Early this morning I had driven my work, oops we don’t “work” do we, so should I say my “recreation” truck, along the same stretch of road and came upon a fence which made my planned U-turn at the U-turn bridge there rather awkward. Cars were streaming toward me, but only one lane of them, so I squeezed past, proceeded on and did not stop to think about the reason for this odd alteration to the roadscape. Now in the afternoon on my freedom machine, my sixteen year old “Giant”, designed in the USA and made very well in the Peoples Republic of China, I was to discover the intent of the changes in traffic management. Not only was there no build up of cars on the Irrigation canal road, but the intersection Huai Keow had not one vehicle waiting there. The bridge on the main and practically only road leading to our sacred Doi Suthep, with its lascivious temple of gold and marble, was closed, and yet the traffic glided by? Think back a dozen years. Major works were underway on the Super Highway which almost rings Chiang Mai town, and let’s make sure it remains as “almost”. The traffic lights which had formerly controlled the intersections with the roads radiating out of town were no longer operating, and at the middle of the crossroads was great trench, which in time, many months time, would have a bridge across it. Meanwhile the traffic passed in an orderly way, no high speed crashes possible, in an out of the intersection by way of a rather elongated round-about, or as some in the USA say a traffic-circle. Come the last days of 2014 and it appears that the Chiang Ma Traffic Police have had their memories jogged, and with a few temporary fences and signs, abolished a perennial traffic jam in like manner. What a simple and inexpensive way to make a city more livable.
Having had the enjoyment of an easy passage across what is normally one of town’s least bicycle friendly junctions, I resisted the temptation to continue along with the cars and nipped into the lane running parallel to the main Irrigation Canal road fifty metres to the west. Earlier I had discovered this back way away from the cars, which takes one half way to the 700 year stadium. Here again cycling was blissful. Like on the main road, congestion, largely of waiting motor bikes had vanished, and for the whole two and a half kilometres of the route, quite unlike the degraded concreted sois I had come from in the Nimmanhaemin area, the road was without a bump having just been resurfaced with asphalt. I lie a little as the last few metres are concrete and there is one small bump to cross.
Beyond the winding soi was a different story. The monstrous exercise in landscape dis-figuration in the form of ChiangMai’s new convention and exhibition centre lay before me. Hugely expensive stainless steel fences and gigantic gates protect the car park asphalt from unwelcome intruders but four of th gates, all abutting the road to the south were open. A gliding ride, gliding as here the asphalt remains intact, in one gate , out the next a there was no through way, in the third gate a ride in search of a gate open to the north, but all locked, and so out again. Thankfully for the evening cool, and the fact that my 16 year old rust encrusted in its interior pedal axle had been replaced the day before, I emerged still feeling the elation of my roundabout discovery.
The final stretch of the journey takes one along the obscenely wide road built for the convention centre on the western side of the canal. This passes the two monumental signs naming the place, the newer of shiny black granite quite obscuring the original sign, which has a bas-relief ornament resembling those at the fabled Angkor Wat in Kampuchea. Beyond a decision has to be made on travel with the cars across the canal or along a rough track to the SEA games village, now a government officer “gated community” with the office of the Provincial Electricity Authority, the PEA, and the only place I know in Chiang Mai where all electric cables are underground. The contrast with the road outside could not be more stark. Electricity wires have been strategically situated above Teak trees on both sides of the canal, with the result they are regularly chopped and are among the ugliest anywhere in Thailand. To add insult to this injury the PEA have dumped large numbers of ugly concrete poles along the track.
Across and adjacent to the main road is another contrast, the gaudiest flower garden in the north, a pet project of Uncle Boonlert, president of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation.
At the entrance to the games village the track stops and one must either join the traffic, or as I discovered on my return journey go into the village, past the villas of the senior officers and the proletarian blocks of flats fro the hoypaloi and up and down an easy flight of steps to the 700 year precinct. I chose the main road but a short distance to the beckoning swimming pool.
However at the open gate to the sports centre an unwelcoming sign “No service from 20th December to 4th January”. Foiled again. So what to do next? Cycle in and inside and explore. I had been working on the idea of a low stress route from Huai Keow to Huai Teung Thao (that is the Google Earth spelling). The route would include the the smooth soi described above and a new shard path to the west of the convention centre and 700 year arenas. So I cycled west and through a gate and up hill through a settlement for irrigation department workers and thence to a hidden dam. Type in Navamin on a Google Earth search and there it is but not at all conspicuous until one zooms in as it is surrounded on three sides by the woods.
Across the dam wall and passing the “Do not pass” sign and the litter of polystyrene boxes and plastic from a recent mass picnic and into a grassy weedy wasteland waiting for the arsonists match, replete with more organised human truck borne litter and thence onto the rough tracks of the “Lanna Adventure” bush bashers. Eventually the road becomes so steep and rough that my bike takes a rest and I proceed on foot. As I slow down the weedy grass gives way to Kangaroo Grass. Am I hallucinating you wonder? Kangaroos in Asia? Well that’s what we know Themeda tiandra as in Australia, although if one came from say Kenya where it also grows Zebra Grass, as it is no giant unlike Elephant Grass might be the name. Along with the grass appear shrubs and climbing plants and an over storey of Yang Hieng, Dipterocarpus obtusifolius trees. A long way from being mature as this forest has been completely cut over, most likely for charcoal production in the past.
So thanks to things unexpected I went out in the woods today. And thanks to the excellent work of the Chiang Mai Traffic Police I feel vindicated in my advocacy of building round-abouts.
The traffic engineers of the Main Roads Department have yet to show they comprehend the notion of a round-about. Although their value has been recognised for decades in Britain and Australia and was clearly demonstrated during temporary arrangements over a decade ago, not one round-about feature has been included in any main road works in Chiang Mai.
Instead plans are to construct yet another a huge road tunnel with traffic lights on the Super Highway and a virtual dead end road leading from Nimmanhaemin via a traffic lights at Suthep road to the gates of the Wing 41 airbase.
To heed the lesson of the New Year is to demand that the Governor of Chiang Mai order the Main Road plans be scrapped and we go back to the drawing board to develop a sustainable traffic management plan.
If You Go Out in the Woods Today….