This Is Umphang!

Discussion in 'Western Thailand - Road & Trip Reports' started by Goran Phuket, Feb 26, 2017.

  1. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Hello fellow GT Riders

    Just completed probably my most exciting Thailand adventure ride ever.
    I was inspired by fantastic Rod Page report right here at GTR and this trip was in making for past few months.

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    Me and pals Kim, Tim and Phli explored number of extraordinary places but the highlight was visit to ethnic Karen hill-tribe village of Loy Tong Ku which is located in one of the most remote parts of the country, barely 2km from Burmese border.

    People living in this village are quite unique and differ from other Karen tribes: they tie their long hair into top knot and worship a Hermit as the main subject of respect. The most important tradition is to offer a torch of fire as a gesture of paying homage to the revered Hermit master around December every year. They also worship an image of the Lord Buddha crafted out of a sacred 400 years old ivory tusks. This piece of ivory features carved in images of Lord Buddha in the attitude of meditation from the base to the end of the tusk.

    The village is remote and hard to reach, it requires special permission from the 347th Border Patrol Police. And then comes almost 20km's of hell thru steep sandy trail featuring some hair raising switchbacks, river crossings and narrow passages hanging over deep ravines.

    The trip was full of incidents, but that was expected as a part of memorable adventure. Here just a few appetizer pics, long report coming soon.

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    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Oh yeah. I've been waiting for this one.
    Pleased that Rod Page's report inspired you.
    Rod was a major contributor & inspiration for many people on GTR - even me at times, his reports prompting me to go back & explore places I had long forgotten.
    Here's Rod's original report
    DEATH HIGHWAY to Umphang

    but I know you have a lot more to add, so bring it on.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
  4. FaraGit

    FaraGit Ol'Timer

    Sounds like a great ride!
     
  5. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Going to be a great report.. I know how much planning and effort you put in to this trip...

    Bring it on....
     
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  6. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    February 7th, Mae Sot: meeting point.
    Ride participants arrived from different parts of the country, namely Phuket, Bangkok, Udon Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima and Pattaya.

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    Tim from Norway, Kim from Malaysia rediding in Thailand, me, Les, Phli the cameraman and Tony the freelance photographer from Photographer Pattaya, Thailand – Tony Hanscomb Photography .
    4 riders while Phli and Tony traveled in SUV.

    February 8th, about 9am and quick visit to Moei River Market and westernmost point of Thailand
    GPS: 16.691470, 98.517465

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    And on our way

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    Just about 25km's south of Mae Sot, along the route 1090 commences so called "Waterfall Alley": many waterfalls but most impressive are Tararak, Pa Wai and Pha Charoen.

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    Interesting, Tararak is visible from the highway itself but I never noticed during my previous rides in these parts. It is not that big waterfall but we found it quite interesting: there is no river on top of the hill, water streams right out of the rock. Chedi Kho right on top of the hill, while water ends up in beautiful lake full of fish. Foreign tourists hardly know about this spot, it is quite popular among the locals who like to hang around and picnic next to the lake.

    GPS: 16.56930, 98.69441

    This photo was taken using 300mm lens, from the main highway

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    about 300 meters later thru the alley and we parked as close as possible to the waterfall

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    At the lake

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    Tim, our Norwegian friend is having a good time

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    Time to deploy the drone. Places like these, pics do no justice.....video is a must

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    Examining the drone footage, Kim is quite good in handling this piece of equipment

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    And here is the final edited video version: footage combined from 4 different cameras:

     
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  7. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    As I said there are 3 major waterfalls within radius of 30km. Pa Wai is a 100 levels waterfall in a limestone fall flowing down from Wai forest. It is located near Tak - Kamphaeng Phet border, 20 km north of "Death Highway" 1090. Pa Wai (Rattan Forest) Waterfall was named according to its surroundings in which rattan is exuberant.

    GPS: 16.57503, 98.83409

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    Arrival

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    Couldn't resist, just walked into the water to get that perfect photo

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    Boys love the sight, perfect for some nice video shots

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    And here is the video

     
  8. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Our final stop for the day is Pha Charoen National Park and waterfall. This spectacular 97-tiered waterfall with 50m drop is located just off the Route 1090. Water flaws all year round, cool weather conditions. The lowest temperature recorded this year was 6°C. Perfect spot to set up the camp.

    GPS: 16.50195, 98.75200

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    My first neighbors, locals having a picnic. No others campers or visitors around, we had entire place to ourselves.

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    First time using newly purchased BMW tent, takes 2 minutes to set it up

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    This is how it works



    Breakfast by the falls, not to mention ton of beer and food we consumed previous night.

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    This friendly dog was with us all the time.

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  9. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Umphang "Death Highway 1090" - 1219 corners.
    210 kilometers stretching from Mae Sot all the way south into the mountains of Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary - the biggest sanctuary of a kind in South-East Asia.

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    Route is famed for it's 1219 curves between Phop Phra Police Station checkpoint and Umphang town.
    1219 corners within only 114 kilometers beats Mae Hong Son Loop any day.

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    Road meanders through virgin rain forests, farmland, Burmese refuge camps, wildlife sanctuaries and breathtaking vistas and viewpoints.

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    This camp is a home to more than 20,000 mostly Karen refugees who fled from decades-long armed conflict between Burmese government forces and the militant wing of the Karen National Union (KNU). The Umpiam Mai camp’s countless basic huts can be seen clearly from Highway 1090.


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    So where did the "Death Highway" title come from?

    Despite average annual death toll of fifty poor souls, this road used to be much tougher proposition in it's earlier days, during and immediately after the construction. Back in late 70's and early 80's, the construction of this road through a territory held by communist insurgents claimed many lives. That is when first time gained title "Death Highway". Drug smugglers, Thai Communist insurgents and Hmong rebels all vied for influence as Thai government forces and the Lisu mercenaries who they employed tried to tame the region. Armed soldiers weren’t enough to keep many construction workers from being attacked and killed. And then in 1995 bus crash took lives of 25 teachers from Bangkok setting a grim record. Ever since then it has been recognized as one of the most accident prone roads in Thailand. Countless sharp curves and steep slopes can be treacherous to inexperienced drivers, as the mist and clouds at the higher elevations are often thick, so consequently many of the bends become wet and slippery. Due to the high number of fatal traffic accidents since then, the name "Death Highway" stuck forever. Hence, these days they print t-shirts such as these.

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    This was my 4th ride up the R1090. My last visit here was back in April 2015 and certain sections of the road between Phop Phra and Umphang town were in awful condition....potholes, broken tarmac, gravel, lack of warning signs, you name it. However, during this trip we have seen much improvement: lots of road repair has been done, brand new tarmac. Construction still going on, I believe it will be completed by the time rain season sets in.

    Views are amazing but hardly any parking spots so we had to improvise on this corner

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  10. FaraGit

    FaraGit Ol'Timer

    bloody good stuff! I'm a little jealous I have to say. Since buying the Africa Twin I have't got out much. Can I ask. Myself and a buddy on his Triumph T120 are looking for a trip somewhere. Is this doable for the most part on his bike? I like the rough stuff but sometimes I have to stick to tarmac just to get a ride.
     
  11. Hua Hin

    Hua Hin Ol'Timer

    Thanks for posting this Goran. 1090 has been on my list for sometime but I haven't got to it yet. I'll set aside time later this year after reading this.
     
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  12. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Faragit, so far in the report all is doable on any type of bike. Trouble starts later on, ride towards the Ban Loy Tong Ku village.
     
  13. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    HH, I never get tired of this road and natural attractions around it. I haven't even completed 50% of this report yet thinking when to go there again.
     
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  14. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    My pal Kim in front at F800, passing thruone of just a few straight sections like this.

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    Few more pics from the viewpoint

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    Umphang Wittayakhom School. Get your Death Highway "survival certificate" here. It is part of OSOP program - One School One Project and they will happily issue the document. It is free but we donated some money to school anyway. I got mine back in 2014 so didn't really need another one.

    There is another shop in Umphang town selling generic postcard style certificate. All you have to do is to write your own name on it....but you don't get any government seal or signature of official.

    16.031666, 98.858762

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    And this is 2017 version given to my fellow riders

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  15. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Umphang town is home to few thousand residents dwelling in modest wooden houses that lean over lanes lined with flowers and fruit trees. It’s a charming and comfortable place, with several guesthouses and homestays. Lately, artistic and environmentally minded Thais who sought an alternative to mainstream society have relocated to this area.
    Scenery hasn't changed much since my fist visit back in 2013, I guess that is one of the reasons I really love this town. Of course, there are few small changes such as availability of 7-11, few banks, new Police Station and Town Hall but everything else remains rustic and stuck in past times.

    Same goes for this PTT gas station, just take a look at this photo...beautiful, isn't it?

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    Karens settled the area long before colonial-era negotiating divided the area between Burma and Thailand. Nearly all of the place names come from a Karen dialect and most of the towns and villages are still predominantly Karen rather than Thai. The name Umphang derives from the Karen word um-pha, a bamboo container used in early days to protect the ID papers needed to pass through checkpoints.

    The first thing most motorists do when arriving to Umphang is to visit this iconic spot located right next to local souvenir shop and small cafe.

    GPS: 16.01903, 98.86208

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    Few pics from my previous visits with family and on another bike

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  16. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    There are quite a few interesting resorts, homestays and guesthouses. During my previous trips I always stayed at Thee Lor Su Riverside Resort. This time was no exception, we decided to spend first night here.

    GPS: 16.04673, 98.85223

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    The accommodation buildings are divided into two sections: air-conditioned ones next to the river (THB 1,500 TO THB 1,800) and fan equipped across the street (THB 600).

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    Few garden decoration items

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  17. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Since we are required to employ official guide to take us to remote Ban Loy Tong Ku village, we decided to move to his homestay and use his services for trip to Thee Lor Su waterfall. Yes, there are many guides around but Khun Comesing comes highly recommended. He is well connected with 347th Border Patrol Police, the sole authority responsible for issuing special permission to enter Umphang Wildlife Reserve with cars and motorcycles. He is very familiar with the entire Umphang District and all it's natural attractions, remote villages, trekking and rafting routes....he knows it all.

    So here we are, at Comesing Homestay. 7 rooms, 6 come with shared but very clean bathroom/toilet while cottage pictured here has it's own bathroom.
    Price? THB 300 per night only, breakfast not included. Strong wi-fi throughout, friendly atmosphere, very nice people. I strongly recommend this place!

    Comesing Homestay
    GPS: 16.01962, 98.86652

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    The owner himself, Khun Comesing. What a great yet humble guy he is!

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    Dinner time, Khun Comesing's wife is a great cook.

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    Breakfast before moving towards Thee Lor Su Waterfall

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  18. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Might as well take a look at the video first since I am having trouble linking photos from Photobucket.

     
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  19. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Awesome shot this one
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  20. brian_bkk

    brian_bkk Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Great report Goran..

    Well done..
     
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  21. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    Not finished Brian. I am on the road, will complete the report on 21st.
     
  22. Alamo

    Alamo Ol'Timer

    That's it.
    I'm riding my ceeber over to Umphang
    within a fortnight.
     
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  23. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    You won't be sorry, guaranteed.
     
  24. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    No bikes allowed for the last 27 km section from National Park gates to the waterfall. Road is very steep and in bad condition especially during the raining season when park gets closed for at least 2 months. Restriction is imposed for motorists own safety, I guess park rangers have more important things to do instead of saving stranded motorists now and then.

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    At the park HQ

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    Same old story here regarding dual pricing. I don't mind paying to see beauty of the nature but every time I do I feel like a damn donkey. 10 times higher for foreigners even for those of us who have residence permits and local driving licenses??? It is so discriminatory and insulting, not to mention park HQ staff shitty attitude.

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  25. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    After an hour or so at the back of pickup truck, we reached park office and camping site.

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    Now that looks like big camping party...

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    Here you can buy cold drinks and some snacks

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    2kms walk towards the main waterfall.

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    Kim was nice enough to ask if drone filming is allowed. Sensing power given to him, local ranger says no, answer accompanied with victorious grin on his face.
    Shouldn't have asked him at all. Paying exorbitant entry fee and not allowed to use drone even though ban is not mentioned on that signboard is just mean.
    I told him: just ignore these people - they are here because of you and not the other way around. The nicer you are to them, they take advantage of your kindness and display poor attitude.

    But, later we found a way around this problem.

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    Walk thru beautiful thick forest, some quite sizeable and old bamboo trees too

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    Half way thru

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  26. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer Staff Member

    First stream cascades appearing as we approaching main site

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    First sight of main waterfall top tier

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    Last edited: Mar 25, 2017

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