Golden Triangle Ride 2006 – counterclockwise around Chiang Mai - part 1 Nov. 16, 06. After spending a day in Chiang Mai, finalizing the deals BarryBBQ had prepared for the motorcycle, a Honda African Twin in perfect state, from Robert, a fellow GT-Rider, we finally took off, just the two of us, as the other tour candidates came up with feeble or not so feeble excuses to let us go on the road alone. We started off heading south east on the Highway 11 towards Lampang and Mae Long, where we left the 11 and took side roads until we came onto the 101. Through a nice landscape, on passable roads we drove into Nan where we stopped at the Dhevaraj hotel. The pool was more than welcome after the day's ride, even as the water turned out to be very cold. Late Isaan dinner and beers around the corner were delicious. Pic 1: Pristine Bikes before the trip One small episode brightened the evening: We entered a small pharmacy. The frail little pharmacist went into overdrive when she saw us enter, as she mistook me for some Bollywood star. She had her daughter appear on the scene and sing a short poem to us. Barry could finally get the excited woman to calm down and sell us my food additive tablets. Pic 2: on the 1225 Pic 3: Paradise – The Cabin Nov 17, 06. We set out quite early, the city of Nan still being covered in a cool but light morning mist. Barry's GPS led us around some 'nice' tracks around the rice paddies outside Nan, before we struck gold with route 1168. Gently weaving its way across the hills from Nan towards Mae Charim it leads through a heavily sculpted landscape, nary a hill that had not been deforested and sown with corn. But pretty. The sun played along and had burned the mist away already a couple of minutes out on the 1168. We turned towards Mae Charim and the route towards Phu Fa, but then made a U-turn and took 1225 towards Santisuk. Somewhere along this route we saw a sign leading to a waterfall, stopped and found Paradise on Route 1225. Very prettily situated on a forested hill, a small house (Pic 3) offered home for two National Park employees that were quite surprised to see us turning up on our big bikes. The 1225 led in gentle curves through a beautiful landscape towards Santisuk where we entered the border hills on 1081. Early on we saw a freshly asphalted road leading away from the 1081 and decided to follow it. Very soon the wide road led up in steep curves, past local villagers tending to the road's maintenance by cutting the vegetation back on the sides of the track, and then lost its tarmac. Still a sizable, finely graded dirt road, worth to follow. Down some steep hills, over a fragile looking log bridge we entered a hill tribe village. Very poor, but clean, dogs and chicken running around, some old women sitting out-side their hovels, a satellite dish and a telephone cabin proved that even in this remote valley, beyond the seven mountains, modern technology had entered the villagers lives. Barry's GPS was outside its map range, showing us in the no-man's-land between Laos and Thailand. Back to the 1081 we went. After we had passed some current road works we reached the freshly covered 1081: a rider's dream: clean wide asphalt, in sweeping curves eating up the hills (literally!) and mountain-sides, great visibility so it’s a swift ride as well. Much too early this psychedelic ride came to a close, taken to the top by a local 100cc rider, who had overtaken us during one of our many stops, riding downhill with his arms wide apart, ready to take off for flight… Pic 4: The 1081 newly paved: a dream ride Following him downhill, Barry led us to a dinner address in down town Bo Klua. Ours was a road side restaurant, run by two woman in the kitchen and the big mouth but funny owner/manager? Pic 5: Our host in Bo Klua To return to Nan we chose the route 1256 leading past Doi Phu Kha National Park to the vicinity of Pua. Again, some fantastic mountain and forest scenery, most of the time reminding me of a landscaped park. We should never forget that wherever we go here on hard top roads, that people have lived here for thousands of years, had kingdoms come and go, and are maybe the oldest agricultural society in the world. So I guess very few of these forests are still primary. Pic 6: from the 1256 The history of the Northern Thai Kingdoms is quite confusing. A good summary gives Joel John Barlow in CHIANG RAI GUIDE. http://www.chiangraiprovince.com/guide/eng/40.htm Or at GoAsia there is some short information as well. http://goasia.about.com/od/thailand/a/lanna.htm The return to Nan was punctuated by a rest stop just outside Pua, before heading back on the 1169 towards Santisuk and Nan. All in all a very charming day, with one or other of these cliché like spots, mountain views and valley floors that are so beautiful it puts tears in my eyes. The roads were great, some road work still going on means that in a short time, maybe already next year, riding will ever get smoother, but also more accessible to 'vacation riders' on their rented 125s. Let's enjoy it while it lasts. Back at the hotel we took advantage of the massage facilities and had our two hour bending-back-to-form sessions, Barry with an experienced older lady while my attendant showed more personal interest and enthusiasm than skills in treating me. Pic 7: This sweet young thing was visiting the ladies at the massage parlor and was more than happy to have HER picture taken with us. Nevertheless we ended at the Wirachon, a Thai disco on the Nan River, drinking Whiskey (not local!), eating fried fish with garlic and grasshoppers. But, alas, although I have been asked several times (let the exact number rest within a gentleman's discretion) my room number, no charming visitress came over me that night. Nan stays a white spot on the map. But, there is hope. Pic 8. The fried grasshoppers, quite delicious Hope there was also for my laundry. The Dhevaraj did an excellent job and I could start the next day smelling fresh and clean. According to Barry we would run the 'very best road of Northern Thailand, may be even of all of Indochina, the 1148. Nov 18, 06 Today's the Day! Finally we reach what Barry had announced in one of his e-mails as the master plan: (from Barry's e-mail, sent Mon 06-10-09) …there will be plenty of choices of where to ride. Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phu Chi Fa, the best road in Thailand is the 1148 from Tha Wang Pha – Chiang Kham…. Ahh, yes, I can see it in my mind now. I propose leaving Chiang Mai and heading to Nan and then basically ride counter clockwise… GT Ride Overview So we had already begun, so we would continue today. Barry had a pretty ambitious program set out, with overnight planned at Chiang Khong. Up the high-way to the split with the 1148, then 'the Best Road in Thailand' to Chiang Kham, later Phu Chi Fa and then secondary roads to our next guesthouse. We filled up outside Nan, and off we went, up the 1080. Early on I regretted riding in the 'nude' as it was nippy to say the least. The same problem as the day before when we had set out an hour later: morning mist hung in there and made it a cool ride. But soon the sun burned the last of the mist away and we cruised up with a leisurely 120 kmh past fields and orchards, on a road not heavily traveled by trucks, contrary to expectations. And there it was: Pic 9: The 1148: The best road in Thailand Pic 10: The Real Beginning: from here on the road surface is 'race track quality' (see Everett's report in Horizons Unlimited) http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/tstories/everett/ To be honest: it is maybe the best road I ever traveled with a motorbike, wherever I rode. The land-scape, the vegetation, the agriculture: it is a big landscaped park, made for the recreation of 'bikers'. There must have been a secret admirer of Dr. Rossi sitting at the design table when he/she laid out a road so fine that he would come one day to ride it. While I rode it, lagging behind Barry's more powerful BMW as well lacking his riding experience on the 1148 I guaranteed myself a return, very soon, to do nothing for a week but ride the roads of Nan and the 1148, in both directions: morning East to West, have a short break and in the evening ride back, with the sun always to your back. Enjoy some of the side roads we found and neglected, maybe come back with a list of markets and festivals. But definitely, come back soon. Too soon the best was over, we came closer again to a big conurbation (Chiang Kham) where we stopped for noodles and mu (pork). Avoiding the flagged out road leading to the 1293 we took a smaller road leading up to the National Park area of Phu Chi Fa. And then it started rising, first only slightly, but suddenly the sides of the mountains became steeper, clouds had gathered above us, pushed there by the midday heat and absorbing the sun. While this was very pleasurable to Barry in his Darth Vader set-up, for me it was just a bit too close to the 'cold line' in my internal thermometer. Nevertheless, little traffic for Saturday and very nice roads added to the day's unique riding experience. On top of Phu Chi Fa, or actually to be more honest, on top of the road, about 700 to 1000 m from the top of the mountain itself, is a car park with Hill Tribe handicraft stalls. A nice view, a chance to air our backsides, a photo opportunity, some souvenirs, a cold drink or two. It was worth it. Especially as the road was the goal, not any target by itself. And it would be even better, later in the afternoon. We selected to descend from Phu Chi Fa by a route connecting the 1293 to the lesser traveled 1155 down in the valley parallel to the border and the biggest volcanic outcrop in Northern Thailand, the Chiang Khong formations (more about this at the Thai Dept of mineral resources). What a genial ride! Open roads, wide views of hills and rivers, rice paddies and orchards of all kind of fruit: coco nuts, banana, papaya, tamarind, sometimes a village, stretched along the winding road, a mixture of the pretty and traditional with the 'third world modern' (read corrugated sheets on foamed concrete foundations), with a beautiful light by the afternoon sun. And suddenly, around a bend in the road, the brown, sluggish waters of the Mae Kong. Pic 11: The brown and sluggish waters Pic 12: where the 1155 meets the Mae Nam Kong The last 33 km to Chiang Khong were against the sun, in late afternoon, but nevertheless it was the cool cruising end to a magnificent day of Riding the Golden Triangle. In Chiang Khong the riverside Guest house of Tam Mi La gave us shelter in cold and humid, moldy smelling cabins, finely situated on the banks of the Mae Kong, with a broad view to the Laotian town of Huai Xai at sunset (and at night the Lao Karaoke singers were heard as well). After stumbling up and down the main drag of CK in a futile search (for me in search of a branch of Barry's Bank, Barry following me thinking I was looking for a traditional Thai massage parlor…), we finally agreed that no branch of Barry's Bank was to be found, alternatively we decided to have our tired bones and over-used muscles treated. Hunger drove us to reduce our pain treatment to one hour, fine for Barry who had landed the old hag for his foot massage which did little to interrupt her suffering of the national disease: using the mobile phone! For my person I had a 'wash & wear' pretty girl with her hair in two braids who was lovely to look at while she kept biting her tongue and keeping her eyes closed to better concentrate on the flowery smell of my rotten fleshy carrier: healthy mind in sick body, or similar. Dinner that night was at the guest house cum Farang style restaurant across the road from the Tam Mi La (the Lomtawan). Cold beers, good food at reasonable prices were quite satisfying after a day of hard riding, Barry still tired from the long evening with the whiskey the day before. We went to sleep early. Pic 13: The 'Farang Style' restaurant Nov 19, 06 Due to some kind of shutters and the very cold night along the great river I slept long into the day. Unfortunately I could not get the water heater working so all I did was take a quick cold shower, with-out washing my hair. The light outside was marvelous, the sun pressed through the mist and already had some of the hill top buildings over in Laos shining golden in the morning. Pic 14: Morning mist over the Mae Kong Pic 15: Laos mornings Today again, Barry had ambitious plans, involving several mandatory stops: the ancient wat at Chiang Saen, or to be more precise, the souvenir stalls next to the parking lot there. Then Mae Sai, for cheap jade and a money change or bank run, respectively. My budget had taken a hit with the Thai disco evening in Nan and I had to prepare for things to come. Barry, on the other side had a smallish problem of getting first to a branch of his bank, then getting access to his account, then not trusting the beneficiary he found when trying to transfer his funds, then finding out it was correct and redoing it, this time final. Barry had proposed that we park in front of the 7-11, so he could get a drink while supervising the bikes. I parked a couple of places down the street, where a car had just liberated a place in front of lowered sun canopies. I got off, saw that the 7-11 was just twenty paces up the walkway and disappeared to do my things. The tourist buses had just arrived so the only chance I had was to be at the end of the bazaar before them. Only two attempts to sell me cigarettes and one for Viagra up on my way past Thailand's Northern Most Northern Point was a benign beginning. Once ahead of the big white and flabby tourist hordes (reminding me of how Hunter S Thompson's side kick Ralph Steadman would have seen them (check HST Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for a comparison)) or these here: Pic 16: Dr. Gonzo by R. Steadman Pic 17: Old Blue Eye by R. Steadman Soon enough I had purchased some of what I wanted, being disappointed again and even worse than last year about the quality of the offered pieces and their price. What had been a reasonable price of THB 10 for a jade ring had now risen to THB 50, with bad material and worse handicraft. Oh, and yes, the banks and change tellers in Mae Sai are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Just good to know! Returning to my good friend I found him half dried up, cracks appearing along his long back where his skin seemingly had burst like a log of wood in the sun. He tramped off to the 7-11 (why are Americans drawn to Strip Malls and their home stores?) and I had a small talk with a guy wanting to ride a bike but thought he was too short, and disposed my cigarettes with the shop owner watching us all the time. Barry returned semi-rehydrated and we set off to the bank. Finally he could settle Nan's hotel bill that had fallen through the cracks when we set off early in Nan, only a day ago. Finalizing our business in Mae Sai, we wound our way through soi 5 in direction Doi Tung. (Soi 5 looked more driveable than soi 7 as suggested by the lonely planet). Soon after the wat, the Thai army had a border control post, closed. Barry explained to the border guard our business and we were through, onto the feeder road to the 1149. Soon after we stopped to look for an opportunity to take pictures when Barry announced that his GPS was showing us in Burma. Pic 18: GPS proof for visit to Burma Pic 19: the Road as is We motored on, the road being sometimes covered in fallen leaves, but it being the third or even forth week of no rain, a cruise to enjoy. OK, some curves demanded heavy gear box maneuvers, but very much fun. Onward to the 1149. More border posts and, unexpectedly, a Burmese Camp, probably military, from the looks of it. This place was perched on top of a steep hill, the Thai road wound around it and the Thai electrical lines bypassed the camp above it. But proudly flying the Burmese flag. As Barry correctly remarked: it's a long way up the hill for all provisions! Pic 20: The Burmese Camp on 1149 road Pic 21: Forbidden Border Crossing. Only open for non Farang (Foreigner), non Thai (Burmese? Shan?) Following this road we wound our way around the top of Doi Tung to reach the other roads leading up from different stops on the mountain: the Doi Tung Royal Villa, the flower Gardens and much more. But we preferred to stop next to the Wat Phrathat Doi Tung and have our customary bowl of noodles with pork. As we were quite nicely within our virtual timetable for the day's ride, we set off, going downhill on the 1149 (there seems to be a awful lot of roads marked as 1149: the one we took from Mae Sai; the one up from the 101 via the Akha village of Ban Phame, the one around the peak from which the villages and villa can be reached two ways and last the one we took now down) to the junction with the 1130 to head out to Ban Thoed Thai. In theory at least. This road was rougher than what we've seen before this day. And dirtier. Half the Doi had fallen on the road and the maintenance had only added to the problem with clay in the corners of this nice little untrafficked road. Towards the end of the mountain the African Twins back end started to feel soft, like punctured! Pic 22: nice Puncture Pic 23: at a nice spot As Barry had driven off, enjoying the superior power of the BMW, I waited by the road side and pondered the circumstances. Soon Mr. Gadget had returned and broken out the little pump. Limping along nicely we stopped at a village, where one girl spoke Thai and the others not. Although we could see tubes and tires hanging about they were glad to see us back on the road. 8 km on we were told to find a repair shop. Gently gliding on my low pressure cushion we finally found the shop, just off the 1130. At first another customer sitting there declined for the teenagers working the shop to be interested in helping us. Once he had disappeared, the boys started getting quite excited and broke out the heavy equipment: spanners of 27 mm, heavy tire irons and a repair kit. Pic 24: Mr. Gadget Man Pic 25: Puncture: the Work Pic 26: Puncture: the Result and its hero An hour and five minutes after we had rolled inside the shade and thanks to the work offered to us by these teenagers, we were on the road again. Next morning we checked on the tire pressure which had been adjusted by heavily banging against the mounted tire: 38 PSI vs. 35 suggested. Excellent job, boys! I hope Barry will mount some pictures of their operation on a board and present it to them next time he passes. Nevertheless, operation Puncture had put a dent in our travel plans and we had to put on some haste to reach our overnight destination during daylight. Cruising up the 1130 in direction Mae Salong, we took a right on one of the hilltops on the road and headed off towards Ban Thoed Thai, former Shan warlord and international Opium and Heroin dealer Khun Sa's stronghold. As we later learned, our entry into this remote corner of Thailand, the heart of its Shan population, was observed and commented by everyone. Barry had called ahead to reserve some rooms, in nice clean cabins down on the river, and to his special pleasure, the cabins had blinds on all windows that closed snugly to allow for a long deep sleep. Following Barry's proposal for dinner, we grabbed the big BMW and cruised up to the 'Barbeque' place. Once installed there with a couple of cold beers, drunken Thai style, with ice cubes filling the glass and beer added at will, Barry noted the absence of pork on the buffet. A first, he commented. We ate our fill of fish and fowl guts and innards, deliciously grilled on the table BBQ, while in its deep rim the soup was acting its part to the noodles and vegetables that had been sacrificed on the altar of cuisine art. Pic 27: A delicious dinner, and a beer! Pic 28: Why was there no pork? Pic 29: No, she was not the reason Pic 30: Not her either, but we're much closer Pic 31: Shan New Year Pic 32: That's why there was no pork at the BBQ What we did not know, there was a fair in town, for the Shan New Year, so we went to look. As we approached by the shortest way after leaving the hotel, namely through the vast parking lot for Scooters and 100cc Honda rice cookers, I had as so many other times before to admit my respect for these extraordinary people. It was a first for me to see five (5!) teenage girls ride on one scooter over rough terrain, at night with a lot of other people stumbling around, looking for other people driving around looking for people looking around for stumbling people at night, while Barry and I already had drunk a couple of beers, for dinner and afterwards, so it was difficult to follow... And when we entered the fair ground, we were the instant attraction. The Pink Gentle Giant and lithe swarthy me (or, as Barry deemed to describe it: 'Steven Segal-look-alike in black Ninja drag') drew giggles and quick looks from the girls and mustering looks from the men. For the boys it was difficult: they could not do any of their strutting, as we had not given them any reason, nor could they neglect us, here, at The Fair. But we got away, partly also due to the dueling duet of the two stages: one on side of the double football field sized Green Commons was a stage with Chinese Opera being enacted by a troupe of elderly oversized and overweight actors/actresses, their voices (or more accurately HER VOICE) being amplified electronically in a frequency band that was pitched to disprove the claims by western scientist that it was impossible to kill by sound! The other side was not less calamitous: here the locals in a variety of groupings gave in to their love for Karaoke: ad hoc assembled dance troupes to repeat the dance steps of the stars in Thai TV. And their love for loud and falsely singing along to Thai Pop songs. So we had to find a middle ground, as well as some beer and were found by two Krung Thep, soi Asok trained entertainers. Pic 33: Bleached and a little language trained Pic 34: A lot of language training in Krung Thep Still, with the exception of the 'Two Missionary Boys' that we had briefly seen passing, no Farang were around. The beer was not cheap, but not expensive either, and it was nicely served. To summarize: it was a lot of fun. But I decided to leave early as the next day, beginning of part II of my tale, was promising to be another bone cracker. From Ban Thoed Thai via Mae Salong to Pai on the Mae Hong Son Loop' 1095. Most of it nice riding, some hair raising highway rides, fighting for space with Thai truck drivers. Early bed time was a good idea. We drank the last beer before we went to bed and closed all blinds around the cabin. Good Night and see you in the next part.