UPDATED December 13, 2023

BY Henry Gold

IN Golden Buddha Ride

no comments

UPDATED December 13, 2023

BY Henry Gold

IN Golden Buddha Ride

no comments

Seeking An Authentic Travel Experience On The Golden Buddha Ride


Am I having an authentic travel experience? Is this what the Adventure Travel Trade Association, of which our company is a member, and many, many travel articles claim that many travellers are now seeking? Is this what should be on a TDA rest day itinerary?

I am lying on a cot, one of six spread across the floor from wall to wall with only inches between us. My face is buried in the mattress and a man is kneading my sore thighs, with grunts to my right, gasps to my left, and laughter and bantering from all six attendees each delivering a Thai massage. My brief survey as I entered the room showed I am the only non-Thai person in the room, at least as far as I could tell.

I thought to myself, just what the hell are ‘traveller's authentic experiences’?

It all started very innocently. When I complained to our bike mechanic Max, that my chain is now skipping regularly, he guffawed at me, “Sure Henry, you need a new chain, bracket, cassette, etc.” Who knew? And so, on our first rest day in Thailand in Chiang Rai, once known as part of the notorious Golden Triangle (AKA the Mecca of the opium trade), I headed to a bike shop. As I pedalled towards my destination I must admit that I was secretly hoping that from some dark corner (even though it was a sunny and warm day), someone would quietly approach me and whisper, “Hey, you want to try some 1st class opium.

White Temple, Chiang Rai

To my, and everyone else’s surprise, not far from our hotel there was a very well stocked bike shop, with a wonderful English speaking lady owner, and so there I was, getting my bike parts and bantering with the owner and the mechanics. Knowing that the work would take some time, I asked the owner where I could get the best Thai massage in the city. After all, I was in Thailand, the land of famous Thai massages. The owner had a short chat with the mechanics and an hour later I found myself in a temple area on the edge of the city where it appeared no opium was being sought. I saw a sign for massages, I entered, asked for a massage, was given a loose shirt and a pair of shorts, whisked into the middle of another room and commanded to lie face down.

I lay there, anticipating that any minute now, with the kneading, digging, twisting and other extreme expertise these unassuming men and women possessed, I would be producing similar sounds to the ones that came from all directions, only interrupted by ringing phones, messages tones and brief discussions – of which I understood not a word. Through all this, I thought to myself, just what the hell are ‘traveller’s authentic experiences’? Is there such a thing or is this just another invention from an academic or marketer?

Is cycling through villages in Southeast Asia, as we do, an authentic travel experience? Is pushing your bike uphill on inclines that can reach over 20% an authentic travel experience? Is crashing into a roadside metal barrier because you didn’t anticipate that you were going way too fast and couldn’t make the turn and later being checked for broken bones in a hospital you never even knew existed, is that an authentic travel experience? Is having a meal in a local corner restaurant that tastes much better than the internationally known chef in Chiang Mai, who puts delightful flower on every course and creates a fusion of Vietnamese and Thai food costing many times what you paid in the corner restaurant, an ‘authentic travel experience’?

Of course, trying to resolve this important question while you are having an ‘authentic’ Thai massage is a Herculean task. It is better dealt with when you have a good internet connection as I am having just now in a coffee shop in the second largest Thai city, Chiang Mai. And boy, they sure have plenty of coffee shops with good internet connections here. They also have plenty of amazing Buddhist temples not to mention Golden Buddhas, but that is a topic for another blog. If you want to discover what ‘authentic travel experiences’ are further, just Google the subject. I did and quickly realized that, like ‘environmental greenwashing’, there is a lot of potential here, but the subject requires more intellectual capabilities than I possess and, thus, I will leave the topic for others to pontificate on.

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

What I will tell you was that as the minutes of my anticipated massage ticked by, one by one, and I was awaiting the pain and thus the grunts to begin, I realized that something here was very wrong. Why wasn’t I feeling the pain? I know I have a high threshold of pain, after all I have cycled just about all of the continents, but I have felt plenty of aches in other massages even on this trip in Vietnam and Laos, each country having their own ‘authentic’ massage.

The mystery was solved a little later when I went back to the shop to pick my bike. When the owner asked how my massage was, I enthusiastically went on to describe the experience, including the lack of pain. She laughed and said, “Oh, they go easy on foreigners, they don’t like the pain.” So much for my ‘authentic travel experience’.



Golden Buddha Ride

Join us on our cycling quest for the fabled Golden Buddha. Our journey begins in the bustling modern city of Saigon and continues up the country's...


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