Monoplex on the MHS Loop

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by monoplex, Oct 18, 2005.

  1. monoplex

    monoplex Active Member

    Not long after returning from Chiang Mai in August 2005 I wrote this as one of two holiday reports but after posting the first report it got shelved and as work took hold the moment to post seemed to pass. The recent reports have rekindled my memories so unashamedly I jump on the bandwagon. Typically, my reports seem to reflect my awe of the experience rather than the detail of the journey – I hope this is ok.

    If one were to read all the posts on this forum I reckon that, given the number that cover the Mae Hong Son loop, there must be a groove in the road worn by all those who have journeyed this route. I’m no exception as twice now, on consecutive years, I have taken a Mr Mechanic CB750 round the twisties and been stunned by the spectacular grandeur of the mountains. They are different from those I have seen in Europe. Glaciers have not mauled them and at this time of year at least, the air is not clear, cold and crisp. Nor, of course, is there snow but their colours are truly beautiful. I have read that green is the wavelength to which our eye is the most sensitive and we discriminate more hues of green than any other colour. On that basis alone, there is much to see in North Thailand.

    Last year I left Chiang Mai intending a short hop, looping back before I passed Pai but it didn’t turn out that way. I drove something like 500Km, crossing the mountains twice in a single day. It had been a wild drive but it was a one-night stand, a yard of ale and so this time, I wanted to prolong the experience. I did nothing amazing on this trip, other than actually doing it, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of digging through my collection of pictures, getting the creases out my map and generally bringing to mind a very happy three days contributing to the groove.

    As usual, I didn’t give much thought to the overall planning and I found myself heading north on Route 107 out of Chiang Mai. As I passed roadside features, I remembered some of them from last year and it was weird yet gratifying that I could come so far again on holiday and still have fleeting points of reference; there was the rustic gas station where fuel was provided with a bell jar and a plastic hose, here I had bought some water and adjusted the bike luggage but where was the road surface? A large section was missing and so was my memory of where to turn off and head for Pai. I had overshot the Route 1095 junction because I was concentrating on remaining upright. It wasn’t until signs for the Chiang Dao area started to appear did I spot my error and for a brief moment I was tempted to continue on but I hadn’t bought David’s MHS map for no reason.

    By this time, the bike and I had already logged about 3000Km of touring and so I swept through the splendid landscape playing games with the driving. Sometimes, it would be keeping the speed constant irrespective of the road or likewise the revs. On other sections looking ahead, could I predict a braking marker and then the corner turn-in point? Yeah I know, it’s sad and probably I need a girlfriend but interestingly, the possible outcome is similar in that if I didn’t get it right I could be dumped (and with a nasty rash).

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    Since I was taking it easy, lunch was a leisurely affair but don’t ask me where although perhaps the regulars will recognise the location from the pictures. It was a good stop though and all I needed to complete the break was a newspaper and a siesta but hey-ho, I was on holiday and Pai beckoned. On arriving, I wasn’t quite sure of the best place to stay overnight and toured a number of possible candidates before deciding on the Baan Krating resort situated very close to the Pai airstrip. I think this is a relatively new hotel and is the bungalow type. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the berths themselves extremely nice inside. My bungalow was the furthest from the reception and at night it was nirvana listening to the insect clamour and falling rain softened into melody by my drowsiness. It must be bliss to live in a world without a constant background traffic roar, sirens in the distance, household appliance hums or aircraft. One of my colleagues, a composer, wanted me to take a digital audio recorder to capture soundscapes. He said that despite being visually centric creatures, sounds are extraordinarily evocative but at the time I didn’t really appreciate what he was talking about. I now wish I had.

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    From Pai, Mae Hong Son is only an indicated 103Km on the map. Even although this was my second time around the loop it’s a testing route. Huge fun for sure but you think it’s never going to end since it’s constant switchbacks, climbs and descents. At times the road you have just travelled or the next section yet to be reached would pop up into view in the strangest places. How did I get here or where is the path to there? You really have to drive your machine and for this tired but sturdy old CB750, energy conservation was the key. I used a lot of engine braking, keeping the revs high ready for when it came time to get moving uphill again. Marvellous stuff but there’s more to it than just the driving; when you have time to look, some of the views are fantastic.

    A striking feature of the whole journey was the constant deterioration of the weather. I’m used to lots of rain and to be deluged by it on holiday is no big deal since at least it was warm. But here the thick leaden clouds just sank progressively lower until at times I felt that raising my arm would leave my hand obscured. The very poor weather was the precursor to the flooding that wreaked havoc upon the region shortly after I left for home and I was very sad to compare my photos with those on the forum.

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    MHS was reached in the middle of a massive cloudburst and I turned up at the Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son looking very much like a drowned rat. I don’t know why but this amuses me, leaving puddles on the reception counter and paying with damp notes. To be fair, hotel staff everywhere have never treated me with less than courtesy and friendly concern. I get quizzed about where I’m from and often there is a small tour outside to inspect the bike. Here the duty manager asked me so many questions about the machine I offered to take him for a spin but he declined, saying if anything happened to him his four wives would clean up on the insurance (he was Muslim). They’ve insured him? They must know something he doesn’t. All of this (and being on my own) seems to establish me as an eccentric Farang but, whatever else they may think about me, the staff go out of their way to converse and look after me. I can live with that.

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    The next day the weather was so poor that I decided to stop over for an extra night and just relax. So, here I was in Mae Hong Son taking a day off from my touring holiday. It was a Sunday and what does one do in the UK? We go for a drive. I’m not good at studying guidebooks and choosing attractions to visit believing serendipity is the essence of adventure. I got onto the main route out of MHS and turned off at every promising junction to see where it would lead. The best one was a long meandering, undulating paved road to Mae Aw, very close to the Burmese border. I also ‘discovered’ an old suspension bridge and on the outskirts of MHS, an overgrown, long disused airstrip. Despite the presence of tall trees, as I trundled past its aspect looked familiar so I stopped and foraged around, eventually finding a faded (H) helicopter pad.

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    Early the next morning I checked out and headed once again for the hills. After the excitement of the hairpins from the north leading to MHS, Route108 south took on a stately demeanour. Rather than challenging the mountains, it wound its way alongside following their run. Driving was uncomplicated and in the morning light, with the rain yet to appear, took on a serene quality. Braving the elements, changing through the gearbox like a metronome on the twisties and playing games with the bike are all great fun but sometimes just covering the miles with the scenery scrolling past is what biking is all about – and here was the place to do it.

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    Khun Yuam came and went, as I wasn’t about to make the same mistake as last year and turn here to make a mountain crossing. The weather would not be so forgiving this time around although, to be fair, I wouldn’t appreciate the quality of my decision until much later. I stopped for lunch at Mae Sarieng and by this time I was looking forward to swinging east and once again getting on the roller coaster. Route 108 from Mae Sarieng to Hot on the other side of the mountains is a fantastic drive but not an E-Ticket ride in the same way as the journey from Pai to MHS. The geography seems to allow the road to follow a path of lower resistance and towards the end of this section it flanks a river. I was not disappointed as there was plenty of opportunity to take in the sights and still find myself entertained by the climbs and curves. Somewhere along its length were extended road works with the mud, the gradients and pouring rain all challenging my driving. There were no fun and games with the bike here. Occasionally, I would drag my left foot to give a margin of stability but really I was only fooling myself since all it meant is that I knew onto which side the bike might slip. I don’t know anything about off-roading and all-up this CB750 was a good 60Kg heavier than I’m used to. Still, I mustn’t make too much of this as I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

    After that, there is nothing much to report as Route 108 north to Chiang Mai is relatively dull stuff except I was on a motorbike in South East Asia on holiday. I just settled into the rhythm of driving, slotting into the traffic and behaving myself. My interest would turn to how other drivers would comport themselves and often I would skip ahead of the next vehicle if I found someone on my tail just a bit too close for comfort. Braking distances don’t seem to be a big deal in Thailand and a large bike generates a bit of interest; so much so, other drivers often close to get a better look.

    Not long after this trip I returned home to the UK and picked up the threads of my professional life; engineering. I have enjoyed expressing profound experiences with words and pictures instead of my usual arcane jargon.

    So finally, if I may say – thanks to all. I have enjoyed reading of your experiences. What huge fun, all of this
     
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  3. Tom Forde

    Tom Forde Ol'Timer

    G'day Mate,
    I sympathise with you, I wrote the riding report before you, how the hell do you go back to pommy land and the mundane engineering thing after a dose of Thailand and a ride around the MHS loop? I spent almost 12 months in SE Asia on a bike last year, got back to Aussy, got a good job in engineering...and lasted 8 weeks, I ended up in Shanghai, thats after renting a flat, buying a car etc, etc, I blew the lot! Asia is much better mate, and Thailand is only 2.5 hours away!
    Think about it, you have only one shot at it.

    It doesn't matter how slow you go, as long as you get there.
     

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