To celebrate 2015, I headed north with two of my Bangkok besties to ride ill-equipped motorbikes around the beautiful Mae Hong Son loop…here’s a little recap.
Ja and I arrived via bus at about 5am. Only McDonalds was open, so we camped out until we could find a proper coffee shop to await Michael. We stayed one night in town, picking up and tuning our bikes, studying maps, and eating Mexican food at Miguel’s (duh).
After a lovely breakfast at another cafe (Chiang Mai is like the cute cafe capital of Thailand), we headed up Thailand’s tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon. We camped partway up the mountain, ringing in the new year with a few Thai families who sang, launched lanterns, and set off the most polite fireworks. Oh, and it was freezing. Quite a refreshing hiatus from both my usual forced NYE celebrations and the oppressive heat of Bangkok.
I fell off the road right here…a songtaew cut me off and I had nowhere to go but down. Luckily it was pretty padded with thick vines, but the bike’s weight and the slope of the hill made it almost impossible for me to get it back on the road. The songtaew culprit kept driving, but luckily another vehicle that Ja and Michael flagged down stopped to help.
My motorcycle gang.
Flat tire #1. I was leading us back down the mountain when my bike started to wobble crazily. We wandered down to another (yep, you guessed it) cute coffee shop in a lush green valley while some kind Thai men tried to fix my bike or find a mechanic who could. Michael and Ja even left me there at one point, driving back the way we came to see if they could get a mechanic to come to us. It didn’t work out, so we had to start the slow crawl partway up the mountain to the nearest mechanic. Only a few minutes into awkwardly steering my bike up the road, a pickup pulled up in front of me. A man got out and told me in Thai that he was a mechanic and could help me. We loaded my bike into his truck and I hopped up front with him. This ended up being the same mechanic Ja and Michael had tried to find earlier. He fixed me up and we continued on our way towards the Mae Hong Son province. This was probably my very favorite leg of our ride – it’s too bad I couldn’t stop for photos more. But every turn was more beautiful than the last, so we never would have gotten anywhere.
We actually didn’t get to our destination.
It was already dark by the time I felt the shake. I remember being so angry…I didn’t want to ruin the trip for the others. Thankfully, we had just passed a small group of guesthouses. They had one guesthouse left (with three beds) AND the mechanic was directly across the street. At first, it seemed like our trip was already riddled with bad luck, and I was starting to feel nervous about the rest of our journey. BUT. Had the first flat not happened when and where it did, we never would have found this idyllic little valley and coffee shop next to a river. The second flat happened in the middle of a tiny town, surrounded by open spaces with no services for miles on either side. Getting stuck somewhere out there would have been pretty terrible.
My tire fixed, we continued on to Mae Hong Son. We made good time, so we took some detours west, into a Karen village and to the Myanmar border. Our drive was full of water crossings, elephants, and some steep off-roading.
Making friends at the night market in Mae Hong Son.
Day five was primarily driving east to Pai. We spent our lunch hour in Pang Ung, paddling out onto the reservoir on a bamboo raft and eating Thai food in the midst of a huge pine forest. We made it to Pai as the sun was setting.
We paid for a bungalow at this place, but ended up setting up our tent out front of it. The moment we opened the door, a herd of cockroaches skittered across the two mattresses on the floor of the bungalow. Noooooo thanks.
We woke before the sun and made it to Pai Canyon before the mist disappeared and before a giant busload of the loudest Chinese tourists arrived. A brief, beautiful moment of peace before we headed down our last leg – all 762 curves of it. We rested at one of our favorite little cafes on the outskirts of Chiang Mai while Michael attempted to nap away the onset of supposed food poisoning before he flew back to Bangkok. By the time we got to our hotel for the night, I had started to feel sick as well. I tried to tell myself it was my imagination, but I soon found out that it certainly was not. I did not leave our little room for the entire night (poor Ja, stuck with me). Sleeping away my time in Chiang Mai…if I had had more energy, I would have been really angry.
I made it through the night. I knew I had to move around, so I hobbled around Chiang Mai feeling like I had the worst hangover, barely able to gulp down some fresh fruit and veggie juice. Some friends of mine were in town, so we met them at their hotel and essentially just napped next to the pool before taking them to Miguel’s. Luckily we got to fly home…I’m not sure I could have handled a bus ride home. This was not what I had in mind for my last two days in Chiang Mai, but it couldn’t be helped. Food poisoning is no joke. And again, sticking with the theme of the trip…things would have been a lot worse for us if it had happened during the ride.
This trip was one of the best things I’ve done in Thailand yet. My only regret is not stopping more often. I can still see the sun rays filtering through the trees, the dust we kicked up making the morning air look like glitter. Black and white striped road barriers contrasting against towering, deep green jungle. Every turn was something else I wanted to capture, but it was rarely safe. Guess I need to get a GoPro (and a wide angle lens) and go again, huh? Any takers? 😉