The first time I did the Mae Hong Son Loop was last November solo on a Honda A1, all was good, except for a tricky stage offroad cutting through to Hui Pong. I was on reserve and freewheeling down a very dodgy track before switching back on for the uphills. It was worth it for the scenery though. Anyhow, that was 7 months and a lot of Singha ago, and as I seem to be facing a premature onset of Alzheimer's, I will have to tell the tale of my second trip which was only in April (but hazy already). This time I was joined by a girlfriend, Cheryl, who decided after teaching in East London for 15 years there may be better things in life. I'd told her she should come to Thailand for a holiday and so we met up in Bangkok for a few days before getting the train up to Chiang Mai. In CM we stayed at the Top North guesthouse and had a fine time looking around in the mornings followed by lazy afternoons poolside. The early evening beer got earlier and earlier, sometimes lunchtime and once before. We then spent time looking for a bike to take the two of us to Mae Hong Son and settled on a Honda Steed 400cc, a bit of a cumbersome-looking chopper-style bike, but it was that or a Honda Super 400cc which was not going to be too comfortable for a reclining, chilled-out ex-teacher from London. So we paid our money and set off - 400baht a day for 4 days which I did not think was bad but you locals may think I was done. Anyhow, I was happy. First morning was great weather (what am I saying, every day was great weather) and we headed up the track to Mai Malai. After getting horribly cut up and trailed by another 4x4 who found it funny to drive 1 metre behind my back wheel, I lost my sense of humour and had a bit of a go at someone. I have to say though this was a)uncool and b)not typical and also pretty rare in my brief experience to have someone tail you like that. After the Mai Malai turnoff we headed for the hills and the bike got its first real test. It was hard gunning it too much as it was a new riding position for me (felt like watching TV) and I didn't want to worry the little lady (BTW a chopper automatically gives you the right to make sexist statements). Still, we were both beaming all the way to Pai, it's great to see someone experience the wonderful countryside in N Thailand for their first time, gives me a buzz too. In Pai we stayed at the one down by the river (all maps and books are back in the UK and I'm in Australia so some of this will be sketchy. Also, I have a premature case of Alzheimer's - or did I tell you that?)*. We had a good night in Pai, ate too much and funnily enough drank a good bit too. The evening sunset down by the river was glorious, fantastically strong horizontal light and great for taking pics. I snapped away. The next morning we met this strange, deluded Aussie bloke on an Africa Twin who claimed to be the author of the best-selling Mae Hong Son Loop book and guide. We gave him a few Baht and were on our way, especially as he insisted he was going to publish a follow up book called 'My Dream is Your Dream: Two-Up on the MHS Loop on a 125cc'. Madness. From Pai more fun and thrills en route to Khun Yuam where we stayed at the Baan Farang g/house. We were the only guests and felt like intruders. I have to say that is not how it was last time I stayed there, on that occasion there were several other intruders and me. Actually they're OK, in fact I'm sure they're lovely, but they're hard work for a foreigner like me, and one of a tiny number of places in Thailand where I haven't felt very welcome. This is most unlike the bar round the corner, I think it's used by a few bikers, where we had a grand time sipping and scoffing with local guys. Top times. The next day was the one I was really looking forward to. Last time on the MHS Loop I had gone the other direction and ended up going down the road from Don Inthanon westwards and remembered thinking I'dl love to have another crack at this going up. Unfortunately I was dumb enough to carry on when a light drizzle came on, and on one bend too many caught some oil from a cabbage-laden-oil-spilling truck and we went over. Luckily there was nothing coming the other way, to be run over by a truck full of cheap veg would have been simply too much, and we were OK escaping with just a few scrapes, cuts and bruises. This meant no more massage for a day or two as we were too sore, but Cheryl, game girl that she is, hopped back on and away we went. We passed the turning to Inthanon and did not feel like riding much more that day so went out of the National Park and down to where the road forks, about 15 kms from the main drag to CM (I know, patchy and vague innit?)and stayed at what I can only describe as a Swiss chalet resort deep in the heart of twitchers country (twitchers being ornothologists). I was looking for a lovely older woman (aren't we all? David) who was running this g/house last year and rode a little yellow 3-wheeler around the property and wore a leather cowboy hat - honest. But no, she'd gone, but we stayed anyway, and ate fabulous fish and pork at the roadsie barbeque places on the main drag. More beer, we felt like we had earned it having had my first crash on road - I'm quite new to this lark and have only fallen off on sand before. The final day was a cruise back into the park and up to see the chedi and onto the peak at Doi Inthanon. The army post there is just the place to do your Christmas shopping, and after a coffee with condensed milk (tastes v good) you can browse the T-shirts and other goodies that make Chatuchek look like the 7-11. From there, we rolled back down and on into Chiang Mai. Cheryl's verdict? She is now back in the UK (having been south and done the obligatory dive course) and is about to do a motorbike course. Her camera did not perform in Thailand so she plans to come back with a new one and bike license so she doesn't have to sit behind this northern jesse ever again. Actually she quite likes it. We travelled on into Laos together which was great and now makes me want to go back and ride a bike there. If anyone knows anywhere reasonable to rent in Vientane, let me know. The shops I found wanted about US$15 a day for a Baja, but they were in good nick. And my verdict? I can't think of a better way of spending some quality free-time and will be back again soon. *Before anyone from the Alzheimer's Foundation has a go at me for being disrespectful to people suffering from this complaint, I would like to say I already know it is a serious and tragic condition.