My plane touches down at Chiang Mai airport. At last I am back in Thailand after an 8 year absence. The previous time I was here I took part in a motorcycle tour that was both fun and exhilarating. I have returned this time with 5 mates for a 6 day motorcycle tour of the north western mountain area of Chiang Mai known as the Mae Hong Son Loop. I look at my mates standing in the arrival area of Chiang Mai airport and wonder if they will get the same buzz from this tour as I did peviously.
Our tour leader Miles and his wife Bpuk meet us at the airport and we load our suitcases and gear into the back of his Chev pickup truck, climb aboard and head through the traffic for our hotel accommodation. We check in then wander around the old city of Chiang Mai taking in the sights and smells then exchange some aussie dollars for Thai baht.
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Next day begins with our tour leader Miles conducting a light hearted briefing session on motorcycle riding and etiquette in Thailand, and then it is off to pick up our tour bikes. On this occasion we were lucky enough to be upgraded to Kawasaki Versys, 650cc twins and BMW 800GS. So after a quick walk around the bikes, we saddle up and are off for a half day ride west of the city into the mountains known as the Chiang Mai Rim, for Miles to assess our riding competency. The pace was up immediately as we rode up into the mountains and it wasn’t long before we were into plenty of corners which included some tight left handers with 1st gear steep climbs. A couple of rear brake lockups on a few right hand corners due to our disrespect for the slippery smooth bitumen mountain roads quickly brought the group back sharply back into focus and we rode on but with self-preservation uppermost in mind. Our first stop was for much needed hydration and spectacular mountain views. Everyone was sweating freely either through excitement, the high humidity or a combination of both
We continued on into the mountains getting more confident in the road conditions and the capabilities of our motorbikes which translated meant the pace was willing. Next stop was an orchid farm and then across the road to the Mai Rim snake farm. Very entertaining show with cobras and other snakes although some of the group were not impressed by the lack of safe work practices (read: being approached by a man holding two angry cobras about 2 meters away was a bit daunting to say the least).
We rode on weaving our way through the mountains then turned towards Chiang Mai proper and entered a four lane highway. Even though it was a Sunday, the traffic was considerable and only increased as we neared Chiang Mai city. The pace stepped up considerably to a point where I wasn’t game to look at the speedo and it turned into a keep up or get left behind situation. We dodged and weaved through the traffic and soon we were back at our hotel to cool down and have a few beers to supress the adrenaline still charging through us.
Overtaking at speed on the bigger motorbikes was easy but you had to take your opportunity when it was presented.
Day 2 – This was an early start to avoid morning peak hour in Chiang Mai. Full of confidence from surviving the previous day’s ride we set off north following the main road alongside the ancient moat that surrounds the old city. Again the pace was brisk and everyone clicked into survival mode playing bluff with trucks and large buses trying to keep up with our tour leader Miles. Staying as a group necessitated flaunting the speed limits and red traffic lights and using the engine power of the Kawasaki Versys and BMW 800s to carve through the numerous scooters, cars and buses. We eventually turned off the main highway to begin the Mai Hong Son loop. And what a road. We climb into the mountains and the fun begins. Corner after corner (about 800 in fact) with a break every hour or so to take in a waterfall or coffee shack. We arrive at our overnight accommodation at Pai. Settle in then head off for a bareback elephant ride which includes a trek into a river. Then it’s back to Pai for dinner and a stroll through the many stalls selling food or clothing.
Day3 – Back out on the Mai Hong Son loop and straight into the cornering and climb into the mountains. What a ride. Local traffic is minimal except in the townships and villages. Overtaking at speed on the bigger motorbikes was easy but you had to take your opportunity when it was presented. A lunchtime stop at the LOD Caves provided a break from the concentration and adrenalin overload build up. Back on the motorbikes after lunch for another exciting session on this glorious road. Late in the afternoon we arrive at our overnight eco accommodation. Not just your average accommodation as an old photo at reception indicates Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie once stayed here. At night we are driven into the town of Mae Hong Son for dinner. After dinner we purchase the obligatory t shirts to commemorate the 1,864 curves we had conquered over the previous two days.
Day 4 – On the loop again. This time from Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang. This road continued to live up to its reputation for being one of the best motorcycling roads in the world. The road still demanded respect as we peaked over the mountains and began our descent towards the Thai-Myanmar border reaching our accommodation for the night.
Day 5 – To Chom Thong. Still plenty of curves to satisfy everyone. The road surface was good, the traffic not bad and a few tight corners that quickly gave way to frequent brilliant sweepers. Stops were made for lunch with the locals and to visit a crystal cave. On the way to our accommodation in Chom Thong we experienced a two lane highway heavy with trucks and cars. The only way to keep up with our tour leader Miles was to twist that throttle and work our way through the traffic. At one point we overtook an ambulance with its emergency lights operating. We arrive at our accommodation exhausted and thirsty. Suitably hydrated we jump in to the pickup truck and are driven to a massive temple complex in the main city followed by a drive up into the mountains to see a huge reclining budda statue and various other statues overlooking Chom Thong.
Day 6 – This was the last day on the motorbikes and our thoughts turned to self-preservation again (we’ve come this far don’t stuff it up now). We head out to ride up the highest mountain in Thailand – Doi Inthanon at 2500metres. The road didn’t disappoint again. After a brief stop to pay an entry fee into the national park we are off riding those abundant tight corners and sweepers. First stop is a majestic waterfall followed by a 30+kilometre run to the top of the mountain where we pause for photos and coffee. Heading back down the mountain we stop at two huge temples with their own escalators dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand. About halfway down the mountain we make a left turn for a short cut to Chiang Mai. The road was very narrow and provided plenty of tight corners and steep climbs and eventually changed into a concrete roadway which provided a few thrills for the unwary rider. In due course we reached the main road to Chiang Mai and settled into the usual manic ride through the traffic back to the tour leader’s house where we exchanged our bikes for the back of the pickup truck and headed for our accommodation.
The riding was over but what a ride we had.
Lester Martin #22403