Further Riding Among the Mountains of Thailand

Well, the ride from Pai to Mae Hong Son was absolutely thrilling. The only thing I can complain about was not being able to take my eyes off the road, even for an instant, to admire the scenery. They sell T shirts there that say “1864 Curves to Mae Hong Son”, and most of them are nasty, twisting, decreasing radius switchbacks that demand intense concentration just to keep from sliding out. Occasionally we’d pull over to look out over some incredible valley or river, but for the most part the countryside was all just a peripheral blurr. The ride lasted about 3 hours, with stops, and we arrived around mid-afternoon.

Mike is riding a Honda CB 400, an in-line 4 cylinder of 400 cc displacement. My ride is a Honda Bros, also a 400 cc engine, but in a liquid cooled V-twin arrangement. Mike’s bike red lines about 4000 rpm higher than mine, so he has greater power running flat out, but mine has better frame geometry and maybe a little more mid-range torque, so we’re well matched and take turns leading, and later on take turns taunting each other over who’s a better rider.

Mae Hong Son is a small provincial capitol, with maybe 7000 inhabitants. We didn’t stay long enough to learn much about it, but it’s situated among forested mountains, which bake in a dry heat at this time of year. The temperatures throughout the trip have been hot, almost oppressively so, but there is no rain so the humidity is low. We took lodging at a small guest house that looks out over a small man-made lake in the center of town, which is ringed by houses and shops, with one large, well-lit, golden Wat (temple) on the far shore. In the center of the lake is a ten foot high Illuminated photo of the King, which gives it the appearance of floating on water. In fact, there are photos of the King everywhere one looks in Thailand; on billboards, in homes, along the streets, everywhere. I think He must be the most un-smiling King in the whole world. To judge from the expression on his face, Kinghood must be a terrible burden, and a fate to be avoided at all costs. And this in a country where smiles abound on every face.

Leaving Mae Hong Son, we rode another 160 km through uninterrupted curves, teeth clenched and knuckles white, to a working class town called Mae Chaem. Not much tourism there, as the scenery isn’t as good as some of the other cities. We found dinner at a little place on the river bank, where they had built a row of little thatch-roof bamboo huts, just barely above the surface of the water. They were just large enough to contain the table, and had a lot in common with the bamboo rafts they make here, except they were help up by posts sunk into the bottom. I kind of wished I had a fishing pole. Later that evening I met some folks that were also staying at the lodging house; a Scottish man and his Dutch wife, who live in Bulgaria, and a Spanish Man and his Czech wife, who live in Barcelona. We compared notes on all the places we’d been, spun yarns and swapped stories of the travelling life. It made for a most interesting evening, and I woke up with yet another headache.

Carrying on the next day, we had a speedy ride back to Chiang Mai, where we will now divide forces; Mike heading up to the Myanmar border to renew his visa, while I journey south to the ancient city of Ayuthaya, just north of Bangkok. I’ll try to conjure up one more sending before I head back.