Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Northern Thailand and the Mae Hong Son Loop

Northern Thailand is known to be part of the Golden Triangle.  This is a region in South East Asia consisting of the mountainous regions of Burma, Laos and Thailand.  The region got its name from the infamous opium trade previously, and most likely continuing in this area.  As terrible as the region's reputation may be, it is also one of the most beautiful areas full of mountains, rivers, and old villages with large amounts of history and many other tales and secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Northern Thailand has become one of the top motorcycle destinations in the region and many will argue in the entire world, with the Mae Hong Son Loop ranking very close, if not number one in the hearts and minds of most modern day motorcycle riders.  In fact, there are numerous websites dedicated to the exploration of this are by motorcycle. It is for these reasons and many more that I chose to make this 2000km journey to the motorcycle "Mecca" during this New Year Holiday.

Sometime around July or August, I stumbled upon the website  It has stories and trip reports from other people who have done trips in this region and inspired me to take plan the trip shown in the map above.  After reviewing the information from this website and various other sources I had my plan and was determined to make it a reality.  November 30, 2011 I made calls to four hotels and made reservations.  These would be my stopping points along my five day and four night adventure though the most beautiful and breathtaking mountains and back roads I have ridden so far in my entire life.  From that day there was no turning back, I was ready to go and nothing was going to stop me.

Day 1 - Bangkok to Chiang Mai 700km

The previous day was filled with prep work on the bike such as lube the chain, check the oil and brakes, fill the tank with gas, new tires and an overall inspection so I would be ready for anything before heading out on the journey.  When I woke up at 4:30am on Wednesday, December 28, I was eager and ready to hit the road.  Made final preparations and was on my way to Chiang Mai by 5:30am.  This would be a very long day with four stops for fuel and food along the way.

First stop for breakfast at 7:30am in Singburi.

Back on the road again headed North.

Crossing the bridge and stopped to take a quick photo.

Another bridge crossing picture.

Slowly making our way up North definitely takes a toll on the body.  Combined with the hot sun and the constant wind from riding drying out the last bit of moisture it was important we stopped to rehydrate regularly.  So with a few hundred kilometers left and the need for more fuel, I saw it as a fitting time to stop for lunch.  We were near Tak at this point and pulled off at a PTT station for some noodles and chicken with rice.

Roadside food court hit the spot for some grub.  Noodles, chicken, rice and some drinks to cool us down.

Quick stop for a map check and photo op.

Interesting road I noticed but with no time to explore we decided that next time we could venture that route.

Another shot of the long straight highway that became our best friend and our nemesis on this first day of our journey.

Interesting monument that was on the side of the road.  I have no idea about the significance but I thought it would be a good picture.

Large house with monument in front.

Finally!! We made it to Chiang Mai after the long haul journey that started at 5:30am and ended at the Niranda Hotel at 3:30pm.  It was now time to take a quick shower and grab some food before taking a nap in preparation for exploring the city.  At 8:00pm we got up from our nap and headed downtown for some dinner and a cruise around the city.

Photo taken as we were crossing the river in Chiang Mai going back to our room for the night.

Day 2 - Chiang Mai to Pai 130km

At 7:00am the alarm clock went off. We were tired and sore from the previous days trip to CM but eager to see some of the sights that CM province had to offer before heading to Pai in the province of Mae Hong Son.

Here is a shot of the small hotel where we stayed the night.  I would definitely recommend it.  Niranda Place, only 350THB a night.

Our first sight for the day was a temple located high on a mountain top just outside of CM known as Wat Doi Suthep.  It was amazing to think of building such a place considering that just walking to the top was enough to leave one out of breath.  I could not even imagine carrying materials for building there.

Coming out of CM on the 1095 Highway en route to Pai was a nice view and very picture worthy.

Beautiful road and scenery on the 1095.

Here we stopped at a view point which was also the set of a Thai movie called "รักจัง" or literally "A Lot of Love".

View of the valley overlooking the route back to CM.  Our two helmets are perched on the edge of the hill for their photo together.

The moment that I was waiting for and my reason for taking this trip in the first place.  Mae Hong Son and the beginning of the most breathtaking views and most amazing roads that I have encountered on any of my motorcycle trips thus far.  It was a long exhausting ride through the hills from this point on but every kilometer was worth it and I now have experiences that I will never forget in this lifetime.

Here is a quick stop on the road into Huai Nam Dang National Park.

Huai Nam Dang Headquarters.

View from the top of Huai Nam Dang National Park.

More views of Huai Nam Dang before setting off once again towards Pai.

As we got closer to Pai there was a river crossing where they offered bamboo rafting trips down the small river.

Final stop before the town of Pai where of course they were selling souvenirs and coffee to the weary traveler after three hours through the mountains.

This photo was taken while enjoying a few drinks sitting on the bank of the Pai River at a guesthouse known as the Pai River Corner.

On the morning of Day 3 we sat at a small coffee shop in downtown Pai before heading out on the 1095 to Mae Sariang via the town of Mae Hong Son.

Day 3 - Pai to Mae Sariang 250km

I was told by a riding buddy of mine that the from Pai to MHS and Mae Sariang was going to be the best roads and riding section of the trip.  Not only was it the best of the trip, it was quite possibly the best roads and scenery of my entire life.  The road coming out of Pai was great and it only got better as we road up the hills to the view point at the crest of a mountain. There were so many amazing views I was ecstatic to say the least. I remember thinking to myself as I was riding through the mountains that day, "This is the greatest day of my life!"  I just kept repeating it to myself over and over again never wanting it to end.

This picture was taken after coming to a screeching halt after coming down a small hill. Seeing the road ahead and the scenery around I knew i had to stop and take a picture.

This it the opposite direction from the photo above.

Here we are stopped at a mountain top view point which overlooked the many mountains of Mae Hong Son province.  You can see Highway 1095 winding through the hills.

Another shot from the same view point.

Looking down the mountain on the way to Mae Hong Son.

Stopping for gas in the small town of Huai Pha.  It was as if we had traveled back in time to the old west.

Another shot of the mountains just before reaching Mae Hong Song.

In Mae Hong Son we stopped at a small restaurant called Crossroads.  It was an old style diner similar to somewhere you might see in the American Southwest.  It was an ond barn style building that served burgers and western food as well as a full array of Thai food.  After lunch we decided to take a small detour to go see the Karen Village of long neck hill tribe people.  Let me tell you right now that it is a tourist trap if I have ever seen one.  It was 250THB or a little over $8 US and you could see the seams in most of the rings the younger girls were wearing indicating they most likely took them off at night.  There were a few older women there who had the real deal which looked extremely uncomfortable and the men just lazed around all day most likely reaping the benefits of there female counterparts.  We walked in and walked out within 10 minutes very disappointed.

Old lady selling trinkets at the Karen Village.

Another woman at the Karen Village who was selling fabrics and other small goods.  She was one of the few that looked like she was the real deal, having a neck much longer than normal and it was clear that her head was being supported by the rings unlike many of the others.

At last we arrived in Mae Sariang and stopped at a gas station to get directions to our hotel.  We met up with a group of guys on KLX 250's headed towards Mae Hong Son for the night.

At the guesthouse we had some dinner before heading to bed at 7pm.  The ride was quite tiring from constantly turning and changing speed to accommodate the terrain and roadways.  This was our view from restaurant.

Day 4 - Mae Sariang to Mae Sot 230km

Mae Sot is a small town on the Burmese border, it is known for being a trading hub for Burmese immigrants and refugees.  There is also a large NGO presence in the area for helping the Burmese refugees escape the military rule of the poverty stricken nation in which they live.  This is the final stretch of our journey before heading back to Bangkok.

Beautiful winding roads.

Awesome scenery.

More of the place I prefer to call Biker Heaven.

After a few hours on the road we decided to stop at a National Park.  The name has escaped my memory but it is where two rivers connect, one muddy and one clear, creating this cool looking effect.

Would have loved to go for a swim but no such luck as the route down was a jungle.

Interesting hut across the river.

Closer shot of the hut.

I would like to thank the Thai army guys who helped us out with a quick fix of the bags that were starting to tear.  Next time we'll have to pack lighter. 

During our ride there were acres and acres of farmland similar to this photo.  It was amazing to see just how much of Thailand is still undeveloped.  Amazing Thailand as they say.

This was a road that would have been so perfect had it not been for the terrible road surface.  It winded nicely around the hills with big swooping curves and light elevation changes.

Oops!!  Looks like the road had been washed away from the rains this last year.  Thankfully, the drivers were respectful when i was passing and offered a full 12" of space as they blew past me in there SUV.

More erosion.

Mudslide from the rainy season.

This was a Burmese refugee camp we passed as we almost reached Mae Sot.  it was interesting to see the people living inside and a bit disheartening to know that would be better conditions than what they escaped in their home country.


One last shot of the refugee camp before we arrived at Mae Sot.

Day 5 - Mae Sot to BKK - 500km

The final day, the long distances were starting to take their toll.  I was looking forward to getting home having thoroughly enjoyed the trip and having been able to take in all the scenery and sights that were offered.  We left Mae Sot late having been nursing our hangovers from the New Year Celebrations the night before.  Its always that damn fellow Jose.  He's a blast to hang out with but you can be sure you'll be hating him in the morning.

Finally on the road at 11:45am we filled up with fuel and started the daunting journey back to Bangkok.  We were taking it slow as both myself and my girlfriend were exhausted.  Another 6 hours later and we were home.

I must say that to date this was the best motorcycle trip that I have ever been done.  It was amazing in every aspect.  Sights, sounds, smells, food and everything else.  I initially thought my girlfriend would be leaving me shortly after sitting on the back of my bike through 5 days of long distance winding roads.  However, when we arrived home her first question was, "So, where are we going next?".

I leave you with one final shot from the last day and remember, ride safe and always keep it shiny side up.

1 comment:

  1. Northern Thailand must be one of the most rewarding regions for motorcycle riding worldwide. Thai Motorcycle Tours' Chiang Mai