Over a couple of beers at the Kafe last week, SilverHawk proposed a trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son taking in as much dirt as possible. It was decided to take a 2 night/3 day trip to explore as many trails as possible between CM, MHS and beyond……. SilverHawk informed us that the route originated as the “Elephant Trail”. Named so because a long time ago, MHS was a breeding centre for elephants who would subsequently be walked to Chiang Mai to be sold at market – hence the title for this post. Date: 29/11 – 1/12 Riders/Bikes: SilverHawk (Dave Early) – Suzuki 250 Djebel, Big & Tall (Justin) – XR250, Pikey (Jeff) – XR400 Weather: 30 deg C and beautiful sunshine all the way. Day 1: 29/11 – Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son We decided on an early start as we were told that we had some 170km between Samoeng & MHS to cover, a mix of tarmac and offroad but we were unsure of the ratio and opinions differed as to whether we could do it in one day or that we would have to divert to Pai for an overnight. To get a decent start, we met at 8am at Ian Bungy’s X-Centre (rte 1096/Mae Sa valley) for a hearty breakfast and with the aid of DavidFL’s excellent “Mae Hong Son – The Loop” map, plotted a course which SilverHawk fed into his GPS. Mention must go to the work that “Fearless Leader” puts into all his maps (MHS, Laos & Samoeng Loop) as the detail and accuracy is unsurpassed, with the majority of roads being GPS’d. Definitely worth the 200 baht (or less) price - don't leave home without one! So, stomachs full, we had a gentle tarmac meander to Sameong (rte 1096) where we topped up with gas and reset the tripmeters for the start of the journey at approx 10am. After a few km out of Samoeng, we hit relatively gentle dirt and climbed over mountain ranges with beautiful scenery. It was a fairly easy dirt section and pretty long – some 70km until we reached the village of Wat Chan where we stopped for lunch at around 12:30. When you get to the T-Junction in Wat Chan, take a right and go a couple of hundred metres towards the temple. On the left is the restaurant pictured above. Basic & tasty grub! Here you have a choice of a 65km road trip to Pai or a dirt trip to MHS – we chose the dirt. So we backtracked a few hundred metres to the main T-junction and went straight into the dirt (past the army post). The trail started off gently but soon became steep in places. Again, as with most trails/roads in this part of Thailand, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. SilverHawk has posted elsewhere about a recent trip to Khun Yuam and the sunflowers, but rounding a bend in the trail, we found ourselves amongst them. I thought that they were cultivated for sale at markets, but they just grow wild. The trail steadily got steeper and more cut up and difficult, with a lot of ascents/descents of hills strewn with loose rock and rain grooves where you (or me at least) had to depend on engine braking and ginger use of the back break to get down sagely. Uphills were no probs as it was relatively easy to just gas it and hang on where gravity is your friend, but on one particularly steep, long and nasty downhill, I managed to stall the engine with the back brake on and, out of control with no engine braking, dumped it. Starting it on the gradient wasn’t an option as the XR400 has a pretty high seat and there was nowhere for me to put it on the sidestand to mount up so I walked it a few hundred metres to flatter ground, got my breath back and we cracked on. By this time, we were 2 hours north west of Wat Chan and 5 hours into our journey (from Samoeng). Whilst on one of the nasty rocky bits, we came across a couple of French guys on rented XR250s going the opposite direction. They told us that they had taken 6 hours to arrive at that point after leaving MHS at 9am and were aiming for CM and had a friend “a few minutes” behind them. This was 3:15 in the afternoon and we were reckoning on 2 hours to MHS, after already travelling for 5 hours to get to thst point from Samoeng, so no way they were going to make CM and it was doubtful (based upon their progress, or lack of) that they would reach Wat Chan in daylight. Wonder where they spent the night……..? 20 mins down the trail, the 3rd French guy appeared, legs flailing, wearing a bright yellow piss-pot helmet and a neck-scarf. We slowed to talk but with a death-grip on the bars, he wobbled passed yelling “zorry, eye cannot stop!!!” Hope he made it. The Wat Chan to MHS leg was a right old mix of heavy going steep rocky stuff and pine forested trails where you could open it up a bit. Max speed was only about 60km (for me) and subject to SilverHawk’s GPS confirmation, I think we averaged about 40km/h from Samoeng, arriving in MHS at 5pm and tallying up 180km in 7 hours of which I think, 100km was dirt. We stayed in the “Palm Guesthouse” at 500THB/night and was clean and basic and ate at the Lakeside restaurant which had good grub at reasonable prices. Day 2: 30/11 MHS to Mae Chaem Set off from MHS after brekkie (can’t remember the name but excellent toast) and did about 20km south on rte 108 before hanging a left towards the village of Pang Ung where again we picked up a dirt trail. This was a loop taking in some villages and apexing at Mae Ruam where we headed south east to Mae Sa (pronounced “Mae Cha” by the locals). This day the terrain mostly consisted of sun-baked mud with big ruts formed by the passage of 4x4 vehicles – some of which were almost ½ metre deep. Justin bumping through the baked ruts We had pretty good conditions for the trip – dusty where the sun had hit but some slick stuff under the jungle canopy. If you were to try the trip in the wet season, it would definitely be a completely different proposition with very slick downhills/uphills and loads of deep, deep mud and would certainly take a lot longer and a lot more energy! There was a great stretch of forest trail between Huai Pa and Mae Sa with a few little stream crossings where we cracked on a bit, sliding around corners in bulldust and generally having a laugh. After Mae Sa we encountred what can only be described as radically changing road surfaces – we broke out of dirt, onto crappy tarmac, onto excellent tarmac (all the time climbing and dropping over mountain ranges with Doi Inthanon in the background), then, weyhey, round a bend and the surface changes again – cut up/dissolved tarmac, to dirt, to crap and then to tarmac – all within the space of a few km! Finally into Mae Chaem with 200km under our belts about of which 80 were dirt and into a small but comfortable resort complex called “Pongsarn” (I think) – 300THB/night and pretty good. Day 3: 1/12 – Mae Chaem to Chaing Mai After a pretty shite brekki at Pongsarn, we left about 10am and headed south for 20km on rte 1088 and banged a left on an unnumbered road to Mong Luang. This was tarmac for a bit then dissolved into gravel where they were making plans to pave the road. At one point we saw a typical Thai f*ck up where a caterpiiller had sunk above its tracks into the stream that it was supposed to be digging out to make the road! The guys seemed happy enough chipping away at the mud whilst a Thai version of “Love Potion number 9” blared from their radio! Onwards and upwards, up and down the ranges with some traverses, reasonably easy going with loose shale and some damper stuff under the trees with some steep narrow rutted climbs thrown in for good measure. Reading this post back, it sounds pretty hardcore, and without blowing it up, it certainly wasn’t easy in many places but we were humbled on one section by a couple of young hilltribe boys two-up on a Honda Wave and their mate on a Sonic bumbling along, albeit slower than us, but negotiating the trail with as much, if not more confidence than us. These guys are just born to it and it’s just part of their lifestyle to commute between villages along trails in all weathers that we class as “challenging”. We stopped and talked to the young lads who armed with a catapult, had been out to shoot birds and they said they were going back to their village. After them letting us past, we rocked up to a village called Pa Kluai high in the hills and stopped for lunch. 5 minutes later the guys on the Wave & Sonic turned up and greeted us like friends. We were relatively in the middle of nowhere, where life is simple at best, and we were made to feel very welcome – not unique and a wonderful thing about rural Thailand (in my limited experience). Restaurant/store at Pa Kluai We were pointed to the village restaurant/store where we ate minced pork and noodles and bathed in the cool mountain breeze. SilverHawk was to remark later, after we decended and headed back to CM, just how much purer the air is up there than it is down in CM due to the topology of the landscape and the pollution caused by the vehicles. I stand to be corrected, but by my reckoning, we encountred less than 20 vehicles (bikes/cars) during the 3 days we spent offroad. The final offroad leg of the journey consisted mainly of dirt downhill towards the town on Chomthong on rte 108 which was a mix of pure dirt forest trails and a lot of 2 track concrete. By that I mean it’s like a cart track but where the wheels go is about 15 inches wide concrete. You need to concentrate to keep straight and true on this and sometimes it narrows and breaks up and othertimes just disintegrates into dirt again. After we hit the valley floor, we stopped for petrol and a drink south of Chomthong and got back to CM for about 3:30. Total distance was approx 160km with about 60 offroad. SUMMARY Brilliant trip, great company from Silverhawk & Big&Tall – couldn’t have wished for more considerate riding partners or better dinner buddies. I’m not an expert rider on or offroad but the terrain was variable and in places pretty tough. Justin (Big&Tall) has a considerable number of Enduros under his belt and he classed some of the steeper rock strewn sections as “pretty technical”. I’d say, it’s not for the absolute novice but can be done by anyone with a reasonable amout of offroad experience IN THE DRY SEASON. Lots of dust in the dry sections which meant a staggered riding pattern so that you could let the dust settle and see what was ahead (normally rocks, ruts and big drop-offs to one side or the other!). Each day was pretty much a full days riding with a 10am start into the dirt and a 5pm exit with approx 45mins lunch break and 3 or 4 10 minute stops along the way. Me, I thoroughly enjoyed it, felt out of my depth at times but would certainly do it again. Sorry if this post is a bit long winded but I was elected to provide the detail so I’ll leave it up to Dave (SilverHawk) and Justin (Big&Tall) to regale you with stories of daring-do, more pics, and no doubt, some p*ss taking comments aimed in my direction!  Cheers, Pikey.