Another great week.
Having tasted the flavors of Thai cuisine during our two days in Chiang Mai, we decided to explore the North via the loop of Mae Hong Song, a legendary route traversing forests, mountains and villages of ethnic minorities living in northwestern part of Thailand near the Burmese border.
Want to see the bikers? The real thing? It’s here, the road has 1824 twists and turns!!
Okay, to be honest we have a lack of time. Indeed, we have only four days before taking our train back to Bangkok on 11. Our flight to Malaysia is scheduled for 13, and we still have some loose ends in
We have left Anne-Marie’s big backpack at the guesthouse in Bangkok with our dirty laundry which we will collect on our return. In Chiang Mai, Thomas has also left his backpack behind him in the guesthouse. We leave for our trip on a motorcycle with two small bags, merely a minimum of clothes, some medications, a toiletry bag, a laptop to store photos and two cameras. The SLR for landscape photos, etc.. and the Lumix for pictures moving on the bike.
Regarding the bike, Thomas contacted Jeff at Tony’s Big Bikes in the heart of Chiang Mai. After doing some reading, he decided on a Honda Phantom 200. Six-speed clutch, 4 stroke engine, disc brakes and dual exhaust outlets. It is a model very suitable for the roads in Thailand. After passing a small test drive at Tony’s, signing the contracts / insurance and leaving Thomas’s passport as guarantee we take possession of the beast. The chrome shines everywhere and the engine roars ..
Step one, getting slowly around the city to get used to driving and changing gears. First the brakes. The front brake is, as usual, located right next to the throttle, the rear brake is a pedal at the right foot. The clutch is located on the left handle. For speed, the shifter is at the left foot and you upshift by pulling up, and pushing down to shift down. All this while playing with the clutch. A little unsettling at first, especially when the beast is 150kg. But you soon get used to and after half an hour, I ventured on the boulevards of Chiang Mai.
Thomas returned to Anne-Marie at the guesthouse, and we found a technique to fasten our two bags on the bike. Thomas’s will be attached to the back with a lock and two rubber bands. As for the other, we will be take it in turns, Thomas will be wearing it on his chest, Anne-Marie on her back.
We were finally ready to tackle the Mae Hong Son loop. Along the way we bought a map, so as not to lose our direction … Which is obviously what happened after leaving Chiang Mai. Instead of heading north, we drove to the west. After 30min drive, we ask our way at a premises. Unable to make ourselves understood, even by pointing with our finger to city names on the map, we finally give city names at random, trying our best Thai accent for pronunciation. This will pay off through the town of Mae Rim (“pronounced Ma-hey-lim.” Big sigh of relief, we finally turn back and rejoin Route 108 northbound.
After thirty kilometers of motorway, we turn on to the 1095… On the road again! This is where the adventure really begins and the road bends 1824 times. The sun is warm (it’s about 32 degrees outside), the sky is completely blue and a warm wind caresses our faces through our helmets. No need to go fast here as the landscape of interest. Our average speed will be around 65km/h.
First stop after fifty kilometers: Pankling Coffee, a small wooden hut located along the road. Nice tables, homemade biscuits, iced coffee for Thomas and pure Arabica for Anne-Marie. We meet Nico who has arrived from China, far from his native New York. This is his tenth day in Thailand and he has already succumbed to the land of smiles. We share half an hour in his company but it is already time to leave. Indeed, the clock shows 2:30 p.m. ET and we plan to reach the village of Pai before sunset.
We plunge deep into the countryside where farmers are at work. Soon the road begins to climb and turns become more numerous. Without traffic, it’s quiet. The area is known for its natural hot water springs but due to time constraints, we do not take the trouble to stop there. The advantage of the bike from the bus, is the ability to stop when you want to pause. Admittedly our backs and buttocks are really sore from the bike ride.
We now move through the mountains. The temperature begin to drop down slowly.The wind is getting colder and we have still not arrived in Pai, where we have yet to find accommodation.
Finally we reach the valley and Pai is no longer that a few kilometers. The sunset over the mountains is superb. We reach the city center at around 17:30. Our choice for accommodation is Ing Doi Guesthouse, situated outside the city. A small wooden bungalow awaits us at the foot of the mountains. 200bahts (5EUR) per night. A steal. This will allow us to have a little more money for our evening meal and the purchase of postcards.
We stow our bags and hit the road towards the night market that takes place every evening in the center of Pai. A little touristy but fun to spend an hour or two. We stop to eat a great pad thai for 30bahts (75cents) on the street.It’s a simple place: a mix of locals and tourists sit on small stools and eat on plastic plates.
Anne-Marie took the opportunity to buy a hat. Indeed, once night falls, temperatures drop 15 to 20 degrees. A few postcards and a gelato later, we return to our cabin for the night. It was terribly cold, despite the three blankets, pair of socks and two layers of clothing.
Upon awakening, it is only 8 degrees outside. We try to take a hot shower at our shared bathroom, which ultimately is out of hot water. We just brush our teeth and wash quickly at the sink, put on deodorant and we go in search of the farm Bueng Pai. A haven of peace where only sound is nature. The reason we are here? The breakfast is apparently the best organic muesli in the world. We tasted it and indeed, it is exceptional. Fresh yogurt for Anne-Marie and cold milk for Thomas. By far our best breakfast since we left!
The road up to the farm was far from easy. After having passed through many fields of crops and villages, we had to go across a bamboo bridge over a river. With each meter we traveled the bridge creaked a little more. Finally after half an hour, the muesli was well deserved.
Back on the road around 11am, Soppong was our next stop. Along the way, we paused at the top of a mountain overlooking the whole valley. It was wonderful, Thomas took the opportunity to take some pictures of the Phantom.
The road to Soppong is in two parts. Firstly up the hill and then all downhill. We must constantly play with the gears and brakes (50% front 50% rear). It’s quiet tiring and we’re happy to arrive in Soppong around 15h. Our choice was Cave Lodge, a guesthouse stuck on the hillside beside a small river near the mountain villages. The place is entirely built of wood with the greatest respect for nature. Phew, they still had a room. For 300bahts, we end up with more or less the same as the Pai bungalow. The bathroom is shared.
Thomas is tired of the road, he went to a one-hour nap. Two hours later, he finally wakes up. We leave for the caves of Tham Lod, which are among the finest and largest in the country and are in the middle of magnificent vegetation (rain forest with altitude .. yes, really). This is one of the places in the world that has the most caves, some of which also still retain cave paintings and prehistoric coffins.
Unfortunately as it is late and the night will soon fall, we refuse to enter the caves alone. In addition, our flashlight remained in our big bag in Chiang Mai. We just take some pictures from the entrance. We had heard that at sunset, more than half a million birds enter into the third cave. A small pathway leads through the forest to the cave exit. Upon arrival, the frenzy has already started. A dozen people were already waiting there. Most are from Cave Lodge, like us. The show is great. Thomas ventured a few meters inside the cave in order to take some pictures. He was greeted by a shower of tiny bird droppings. Awesome …
We all return together to the guesthouse as night falls. A white trail line is there to guide us up out of the forest.
We spend the rest of the evening around the fire, chatting with everyone: Chilean, French, Australian, Dutch, a Belgian couple with their 3 year old daughter, two Swedish and some Greek. All are impressed with our tour and the choice of destinations, most are here for two to three weeks or a little more and are very envious. That evening we continue to discuss the Mae Hong Son loop, the full route will take a further 600km to reach Chiang Mai. After consultation with other bikers, we decide to head back to Pai, with the aim of reaching Chiang Mai that night. This will save us a day’s rental at 650 Baht and we will spend a little time to update the blog.
We start out at 9am. It is very cold but luckily there are hot water. The guesthouse makes its own bread. We order four wheat buns, and spread with Nutella. Yep, we bought a small jar in Bangkok for 2 euros. A bit expensive, but so good. En route we stop for a coffee. Thomas parks the motorcycle next to a Thai tourist bus. All are impressed with the bike and want to be photographed with him, or sitting on the seat. It was good fun, they thanked him repeatedly. It must be said that over 80% of tourists opt for a 125cc scooter.
On the way back, we find the same landscape, this long and winding road through the mountains is magical. As we have a whole day to get to Chiang Mai, we take the time to stop, pause, take pictures and chat with the locals and other travelers.
We finally reach Chiang Mai at 1700. Time to refile the bike in the garage, and we only have one in mind: a traditional Thai massage to cure all our aches accumulated along the way. The staff at our new guesthouse, Junior House, advise Lila. Lila employs ex prisoners of Chiang Mai female jail to help them re-enter society. We were welcomed with a cup of tea, and afterwards we go straight to the salon for a foot bath, before putting on pajamas. For 180 baht, it made our back and bums crack in all directions. The masseuses used their elbows, knees, feet and hands to relieve all the muscles of the body. All for 180 baht each. We both left a tip of 20bahts, making a total spend of 200 baht per person, or 5 euros. A pure delight. It was 20h and it seemed like the start of a new day for us, for we were so re-energised.
Tomorrow we join Wouter and Daphne, the Dutch couple whom we met in Kod Kood, to spend some of the afternoon with them on the roof of our guesthouse. The beers are cheap, there is a stunning view over the city and there is even a jacuzzi.
We leave for Bangkok on Saturday with the night train. Monday, we head for Borneo for three weeks of adventure, trekking and diving …