Texas boys ride the Mae Hong Son loop

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by carson, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. carson

    carson Member

    Just the facts!

    The riders: Bill, John and Larry.

    Experience: Bill and John are both very accomplished bike riders and I the least experienced only entered the bike riding world a year ago after a 30 year absence. John is a past motocross competitor while Bill rode professionally for the Harley-Davidson company.

    Thailand Experience: My second trip to bike ride and one of several to Thailand. Bill and John are on their first trip to Thailand.

    The plan

    Arrive in Chiang Mai around the 4th of November and ride the MHS route per David’s map for the next 8 days.

    Started off with a visit to Mr. Mechanic and cut a deal for 3 Honda 400 Steeds for 8 days. Originally planned to rent the Phantom (same as solo trip I made last March); however, a local farang turned in a Steed from just completing the MHS and advised the Phantom might prove to be a little low on power for the road ahead so we took the advice and moved up to the 400.

    For the start and throughout the entire trip the weather was absolutely perfect with the worst being a slight overcast in the morning clearing to a crystal clear warm day. I don’t know how the weather could have been any better for motorcycle touring.

    We began with a run of the Samoung route so we could learn the bikes and allow Bill and John to get over the culture shock of their first time in Thailand (though a trip around Bangkok the day/night before had the learning curve set very steep). We wound up the Samoung run with an overnight stay at Kurts and Mon’s place in Chiang Dai. I stayed with them before and I cannot say enough about the warm friendly atmosphere and excellent food. Mon to me represents the true Thai as a person rarely without a smile and along with her husband Kurt always makes you feel at home; so much such it is hard to leave. In the evening the eating and drinking crowd around Mon’s table consisted of Thai, German, French, Canadian, English and with us Americans produced conversation to stimulate the most dossal personality (the alcohol may have had something to do with it I am told).

    We struck out in mid morning to begin our journey with the standard cool morning followed by a warm sunny day. The roads were everything I had come to expect lined with lush green jungle that seemed to be alive with color in all directions. Even traffic was light considering it was the start of the high season; quite a contrast to my March trip of dry terrain combined with the smoke filled sky from the slash and burning techniques of the local farmers. I found the roads to be in excellent condition and even the not so great areas were clearly marked to indicate construction or damaged parts in the roadway. Still not the quality of highways I would recommend high speed on; besides the fact you would miss all the scenery.

    Though our Honda Steeds were tired older bikes they were in good condition and with the lower gearing did quite well in the turns and steep hills. At times the top end was lacking but given the choice I would have taken the lower end power over the top speed any day.
    Riding the Mae Hong Son loop and trying to following any precise time schedule is doomed to fail from the start so we took a day by day or more of hour by hour planning. When we arrived in the town of Mae Hong Son with several days to spare we knew we were moving too fast so we decided to relax and maybe take in a half day trip in the area. What better one than take a ride out to the Pha Bong water fall; no problem right? The fun started with I realized after trekking up and down 108 we could not find the exact road, with daylight being burned we picked a side road and stuck out. We were on 3006 though it did not mean much at the time (Fern resort signs are the first clue). We passed through a park entrance gate where we received a map outlining a loop of sorts through the park with some interesting points along the way. So what the heck; a loop, sites to see and a map, what could possibly go wrong? So full of gas and some drinking water we headed out to do the loop along with our usual gear strapped on. The road sort of panned out to dirt road but not too bad.


    Then we knew all was well as the dirt turned back to a really good highway.


    But one has to remember this is Thailand and back home rules and thinking just don’t apply here. Not long until we were looking at this.


    Not too bad if only we were not on heavy road bikes, but they were geared low and the map shows a loop so let’s go on.

    Because of John’s past life as a motor cross rider he along with his Honda Steed were elected to take the lead by a two to one vote. Within no time we were bouncing off rocks and forging streams, what fun! The fun was sort of offset when Bill’s bike had enough and the bottom radiator hose blew due to the rocky road. So out with the tools and luck was on our side as the hose was long enough to be shortened and re-attach. We had enough drinking water to refill the radiator so off again we went; besides the map showed a loop and we would be back on the main highway soon. My Steed not to feel left out of the attention acquired a rock of its own and yet another hose this time on my bike blew. Again luck was with us and we shortened and re-attach it. Lucky we were close enough to a water fall to find water for the radiator.


    So the half day trip is now running well into the late afternoon and the road continues to go from anything from concrete pavement to pure rock and mud, but not to worry the map from the park shows a loop and we must be almost to the end. So finally some form of intelligent thinking starts to spread among the three of us, a check of fuel shows we are down to half or less and still have no idea where we are. And the day is now about gone with dark only a few short hours away. Enough is enough and loop or no loop it is time to turn around as the point of no return on fuel usage was close. Figuring we had traveled some 50 to 60 km into the jungle and now with limited fuel and no drinking water spending the night in the jungle without proper equipment was enough to turn anyone back. So back we went and I will admit seeing the lights from the main highway was a welcome sight not to mention a great relief as the bikes were just going to reserve settings on the fuel (did I mention it was pitch tar black and had been for some time).

    So another night in Mae Hong Son was spent and some new touring guidelines were established over supper such as, half day trips should not run into the night and any sign of a dirt road will be dealt with by swiftly turning around and going back.

    Looking at the bikes the next morning before breakfast we developed a lot more respect for the “Old Girls”


    After a late breakfast with conversations comprised of just how we got so far off into the jungle stories we decided to have a little repair work done on the bikes. Besides the apparent mud from the crossings we had some badly bent up rear brake foot controls which were proving tricky to operate. Luck was with us as Mae Hong Son has one of the most impressive repair shops I have ever found. Everything was open air with a very friendly and courteous staff.


    Unlike the U.S.A shops where you will read countless signs of No Admittance and No Customers in the shop and be stuck in some remote waiting room like a dad waiting on a newborn the Thais are very open and the staff seems genuine happy to have a job!


    The fellows were quite impressive, we watched them assemble a Honda Wave engine from a box of parts before our eyes and had it on the bike and running under a time of 2 hours!


    So after a rest for the riders and wash, wax and repair for the bikes the trek was on again and Khun Yuam was calling out to us from down the road. With David’s map lay out on the fuel tank bag it was down 108 again to more spectacular winding roads lined with even more green vegetation.

    Just before Khun Yuam we turned out onto 1263 and after Na Ngiu followed the signs to the Sunflowers and visitor’s center past Mae U-Khor. If there was a highlight to this trip this has got to be it, the sunflowers were absolutely breath taking. The road up to them was a winding sharp climb and combined with the fragrance of the sunflowers made the whole side trip worth every minute. If one could sum up the entire MHS loop it would have to have the word sunflower in it to be complete. Thanks David for marking it for all of us on your map. If you do this loop when the sunflowers are blooming and don’t stop to see them you have passed up a fantastic part of the journey!


    During a lunch break at a road side vendor we realized we had yet to see a cave, so a side trip was planned to the one outside Mae Loi Noi up to Kaew Komol and perhaps if daylight allowed all the way to Huai Manu and the Matre Rachan waterfall. It was during lunch Bill hinted he had a slight upset stomach but nothing to worry about. We moved on to the cave and during the tour Bill became increasing ill and we noticed he was starting to lose color (along with other stuff). Nothing short of a bad accident is probably more feared than one getting sick while so far away from home and in a country you have limited communication skills. We spent the better part of the day hanging around the tourist center (good restrooms) as Bill’s condition became steadily worse. Realizing the situation was not improving we feed him some over the counter aspirin and made a fast run to Mae Sarieng. For the first time we opened up the old girls and let them run for all they were worth and what safety would allow on the winding roads. For the duration of the trip to Mae Sarieng the heavy dose of aspirin along with Tylenol held things in check, at least long enough to reach the Mae Sarieng Resort. The Mae Sarieng Resort is one listed on David’s map.


    Located on the bank of the Mae Sarieng River it offers quite the view.



    Under most conditions this is a great place to stay but with no heat in the rooms and no hot water it is not the first choice to hold up if you are ill (remember this trip was during the cool season). So we elected to stay back in Mae Sarieng at a nice upscale motel in the downtown area. Downtown offered a lot more services within walking distance; and by now Bill had pushed the limits all they could go. He was quite ill and no longer in any condition to travel and in need of warm clean bed to hold up for a while. It was well into the night and with no one speaking English I finally attempted some of my Thai to find a pharmacy and obtain some stronger drugs. It took a while but the pharmacy was located and luck would have it the drug dosage rates were in English as well as Thai. I am sure the Pharmacist knew what was up when a farang knocks in the middle of the night naming the body parts that hurt in broken Thai. So I guessed I had either bought what we needed or a fuel additive for the bikes as she had both for sale on the same shelf! I have never seen a fuel additive in capsule form so I figure we had a better than 50-50 chance. So back to the motel with my hand full of pills to give Bill. The drugs worked as he started improving around mid day, so either the pills were right or he just needed a fuel additive!

    After a couple of nights of good sleep in a comfortable environment Bill was once again ready to ride. And to tell the truth after our Lewis and Clark expedition John and I needed the rest as well. There is so much to see and do you could spend a week even in a small town like Mae Sarieng and still not see and do it all.

    But all good things must come to an end and we found ourselves on the short side of time. Bill was not completely 100 percent so with the fear of a relapse John and I set the quickest route back to Chiang Mai by staying on 108. Though the original route was to cut up to Doi Inthanon National Park by way of Mae Chaem the smart move from the map was to take the path of least resistance and 108 appeared to have the straighter less twisted road. Besides the quicker we got to Chiang Mai the faster Bill could enjoy his beloved American Pizza; Bill never quite got into the chop stick noodles Thai style food thing.

    Once back in Chiang Mai and with a steady diet of his favorite American Pizza Bill was back up to full speed in no time. With a full day left on the bikes we easily used that touring around the town exploring local sites and of course searching for new places to eat Pizza.

    I have to admit I was quite attached to the old girl but when the rental time was up I said my thanks to my trusty Honda Steed and back to the tuk-tuk for transportation and off to the airport.


    If anything was taken from this trip it would have to be the deep respect for the Thais and their Honda Waves. Regardless of where we went or how fast or slow we got there we were always topped by a Thai on a Wave. Be it the steepest rockiest hill or the muddies of river crossing there was always the Thai on the Wave negotiating the terrain while displaying no more effort in doing so than one would show on a Sunday ride to Church and all that with one hand while the other waved a courteous hello simultaneously with the famous Thai smile.

    We know now why the famous footprint of Neil Armstrong on the moon was just that made by the boot; any wider view would have shown the Thais two up on a Honda Wave as they rode by!
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  3. Mexicali

    Mexicali New Member

    :shock: New to the site. Nice ride report. Spent alot of time in Thailand back in the 60's. Went back twice during the 70's. Im thinking of returning to live there (retire). Let me know the next time you guys go and I will try to make it the same time and I will hopefully do some riding with you. Im presently located in Presidio/OJ and do a lot of riding south of the border. Look me up when you might be heading this way and I will make point to meet you guys and show you the "Real Wild West" south of the border. Right now im just looking for a place to settle down. :shock:

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