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.

Riding Thailand

Finally broke free of chiang mai a few days back. Mike has recovered sufficiently to be able to ride for an hour or two at a time, and so we made our way northwest about 100 kilometers to a small mountain town called Pai. It’s a small village spread along the edge of a river, with a lot of guest houses and bungalows on the water’s edge. There’s a very vibrant downtown area with lots of sidewalk cafes and diminutive bars. Some of them have bands in the evenings, and a few even have fires, so there was plenty to keep us amused. The day we arrived was the last day of the Pai Reggae festival, which took place at a resort about 5 km south of town. Because of this, I had to search for about two hours before I could find a lodging house that wasn’t full. In the end, all we could get was a dilapidated bamboo hut with a couple of mosquito nets and some flea-bag mattresses on the floor. And glad we were to get it, too.

That evening we headed out to the festival grounds, arriving there a little before the music started. The lineup was all Thai bands that played reggae or some derivative of it, certainly none that we had ever heard of before. Some of it was pretty good, but the Thais just don’t have the cadence and inflection that the Jamaicans have, so they couldn’t really pull it off all that well. Think of an american hippie trying to make it sound like he’s a rasta, then try to imagine a Thai hippie trying to sound like the american hippie. Doesn’t quite work out, if you see what I mean.
So mostly we just tolerated the music and walked around people watching. Here too, they built many fires inside the show ground, so we wandered from fire to fire, drinking buckets of rum, and marvelling at how strange the world can be sometimes.

In Thailand they have this communal drinking tradition wherein they take a small bucket, like an ice bucket or a child’s beach pail, fill it with ice and about a half a bottle of liquor, then top it off with some mixer. Anywhere from three to ten straws are then inserted, so everyone in the group can drink from the same cocktail. It’s a bit strange, but at least you don’t have to keep standing in line for another beer. Mike, who is a seafaring man, has a certain fondness for rum, so we worked our way through two buckets of it, as well as numerous beers, before creeping back to the lodging house at about 4:30 am. The next day was a total wash, and it was all we could do to go into town for dinner.

The day after that, though, we’d recovered enough to fire up our trusty motorcycles and ride about 15 km into a nearby national park, in search of a hotspring. It was easy to find, and was actually a nicely flowing stream that was heated by geothermal springs to about 100 degrees fahrenheit. We had a nice soak, and then were joined by a handful of Thai teenagers, cheerful, smiling kids that had come from a nearby village. Mike was sitting in the stream, squirting water with his hands, which the Thai kids had never seen before. He showed them how to do it, which they picked up quickly. It was all downhill after that, and pretty soon it devolved into a giant battle among the Thais. We decided it was a good time to make an exit.

This morning we left Pai, and have now made our way over to Mae Hong Son, near the border with Myanmar. It was an incredibly beautiful ride over, through forests and mountains, with never a single straight stretch of road. I’ll send more about this place later.