2 Riders, 3 Hours, 164km 1219 curves - The Death Highw

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Pikey, Apr 1, 2008.

  1. OK, third attempt as the admins told me that you can't copy/paste the subject title from MS Word which is what screwed my 2 previous attempts to post this report. It's OK for the bulk of the post, just not the title.

    Actually, this post is a follow on to Marcus’ post where he hooked up with Rhodie a few weeks back in Tak before exploring Mae Sot and Umphang.

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t3762.html

    After reading the post and looking at the accompanying pics, it seemed like a great idea to follow in their footsteps and at the same time, renew my 90 day visa stamp at Mae Sot, something also done many times by MBT and reported here:

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t2928.html

    Last but not least, I’d better pay tribute to the recently departed Captain_Slash (no, he’s not dead, just buggered off back to the UK for the “summer”) and acknowledge a couple of his fine posts here:

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t3547.html

    https://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorc ... t3568.html

    Day 1. CNX – Mae Sot

    So, onto the trip. A fellow partner in crime was duly recruited in the shape of Jonadda (John) and as he runs a guesthouse in central CNX, plans were made to meet there for a swift brekkie and an early (for GT-Riders) 9:00 departure as the plan was to hammer through to Mae Sot for the first night. So, just before 9:30 we mounted up and headed out of town, myself on the recently repaired Bonnie and John on his trusty GSXR1100. The trip started with the boring slog down the 108 to Hot, dodging trucks & buses and then after a smoko stop for John (there were to be many of these ;)) carry on to Mae Sarieng for a lunch stop. It was my first time down this way and just outside of Hot, the 108 is transformed into a flowing ribbon of tarmac following a river before climbing up through pine forests for the run into Mae Sarieng. I just about made it into MS on the petrol I’d filled in CNX with the Bonnie running on reserve for the last 30km and me coasting on the downhills whilst John enjoyed the road and disappeared into the distance.

    After a lunch consisting of som-tam and BBQ’d meat, we hit the 105 south heading for Mae Sot. This is a great road and no traffic to speak of. After about 30 mins riding, we stopped near Ban Mae Ramoeng for a smoko stop. John wasn’t the only thing producing smoke as this pic shows UmphangBikeTrip001Small.

    It’s scenes like this which are largely responsible for the crap air quality in and around CNX at this time of the year. Whilst sitting there in the quiet, small popping noises could be heard in the distance. Myself and John pondered the source and thought that being up against the Burmese border, it could possibly be the sound of small arms fire. The next day, whilst walking across the border bridge with a Burmese guy to do my visa stamp, I learnt that 10 KNU fighters had been killed in a skirmish with government troops in the area we stopped in. It’s a sobering thought to think that whilst we are messing about on expensive motorbikes, a few kilometers away, others are literally fighting for their lives.

    As mentioned by Andy (MBT) the road runs parallel to the Moei river for a while and even in the dry season, the water looked inviting. As the river forms the border between Thailand & Burma, there are numerous police and army checkpoints along the way but not once were we signaled to stop. We hit Mae Sot at approx 5pm and after having a bit of a sniff around (not much going on), we settled for the “First Hotel” which was again mentioned by MBT. Seems like the place doubles up as a woodcarving factory as there were ornate pieces everywhere and out the back, a craftsman was at work

    The night was uneventful, although we did have a good spot of grub and a bottle of wine at Krue Canadian for a pretty reasonable price. Shame that the owner was not feeling very sociable that night. Kilometers covered today – 440

    Day 2. Mae Sot – Umphang

    The day started with me doing my visa hop over the Thailand/Myanmar friendship bridge. What a doddle – stamp out on the Thai side, walk over the bridge (bloody hot!), pay 500B to Myanmar Immigration to get their stamp, turn around and walk back. Total time of 15 minutes. The only minor moan I would have is that on the Thai side, there is no shade when queueing up to stamp out. Luckily there was only one other in front of me and he got processed quickly. I’d imagine it could get pretty uncomfortable if there were delays though.

    Back to the hotel and John had to make a quick repair to his rear rack then we gassed up and left town just before midday and turned south on to the 1090, otherwise known as the “Death Highway”. When riding this I did not know about this fact but it was pointed out to me by Rhodie who’d traveled the same route a few weeks earlier with Marcus. A bit of googling revealed the history of the road and the blood spilled in it’s construction and it can be read about here: http://www.geocities.com/satelthai/proj ... index.html

    An obligatory scenic shot

    We stopped about halfway down the road for a smoko and drink stop at a purpose built “service area” which I think was next to the village of Rom Glao 4. Just a few KM after that we passed through an army checkpoint and were greeted with the sight of a huge refugee camp on the left side of the road, fenced in barbed wire and with another checkpoint in the distance. This was Um Biem refugee camp and is home to approximately 10,000 displaced Karen/Burmese hilltribe people.

    Full of innocence


    We didn’t seem to encounter any hostility either from the patrolling soldiers or from the “residents” of the camp. The kids we saw seemed to be well cared for and there was a strong NGO presence in the form of I.O.M trucks (International Organisation for Migration)

    Pushing on to Umphang, the road twists through spectacular scenery, climbing and following ridgelines and plunging down into heavily jungled valleys


    We arrived in Umphang tired but exhilarated at the same time. The “Death Highway” is billed as being 164km long and consisting of 1219 curves which equates to approx 75% of the curves on the MHS loop but in less than 30% of the distance – yep, it is certainly twisty!

    After cruising around the town (village?) and a call to Rhodie, we had a beer at a little karaoke restaurant on the hill over the river and then checked in to the Garden Huts right on the river at 300THB for the night.

    The place is run by a lovely lady named Miss Boonyaporn and was originally built by her parents. She’s had enough and is looking to sell. 30 huts/rooms on 4 rai of riverside land. A cool 15 million THB if anyone is interested…..

    The Garden Hut website: http://www.boonyapornresort.com

    Another uneventful evening in Umphang, consisting of a decent feed in a raised restaurant on the river opposite Garden Huts followed by a gutful of beer at the karaoke restaurant up the hill a bit.

    Kilometers covered today – 170

    Day 3. Umphang – Tak

    Another leisurely start and back up the 1090 to Mae Sot with a stop at Rom Glao 4 for a scoff and water. The road in the “reverse” direction is noticeably different and again, a great ride although there seems to be more cut up tarmac going back. On day 2 we pretty much rode together but on day 3, John, being the ex-racer that he is, seemed to get into the road a bit more than me and cracked on at a higher pace and then was having a smoko by the time I rolled into view. All throughout this trip, it was like riding into a huge oven as the temperature was nudging 40 degrees and Tak was reportedly the hottest province in Thailand at the time. Phew!


    Once again, we arrive in Mae Sot, head for a 7/11 for a drink and some batteries for John’s MP3 and then gassed up and on to Tak. The road to Tak was the fastest road of the entire trip, being mostly 4 lane highway with just a painted divider. A lot of the road, particularly the Umphang leg, was taken in 2nd & 3rd gear between 40 – 80kmh on the Bonnie whereas this stretch was mostly top gear up to about 130 – 140 in places. The road is generally good nick but there are a few big bumps that you can’t see before you’re on top of them.

    Tak is a funny place – very clean and well laid out but doesn’t seem to have much choice for accommodation or nightlife so we ended up splurging 800THB for a night of luxury in the Viang Tak Riverside hotel. The hotel has an entertainment complex consisting of a snooker room, karaoke, Ancient (biddy) massage and a live music/eating area. There were a couple of acts playing guitar and singing (2 sisters and a bloke) and after a few beers, John got up and joined them, and to this old p*sshead, it sounded pretty good!

    Kilometers covered today – 250

    Day 4. Tak – CNX

    Not much to report here apart from rough patchy road surface (which matched my rough patchy hungover head) on Highway 1 between Tak and Thoen. Arrived back in CNX about 2pm via the Superhighway.

    Total trip kilometers – approx 1200.

    In summary, I really enjoyed this trip and probably my favourite leg was the 108 between Hot and Mae Sarieng. I’d like to thank John for being a both a good “Road Buddy” and a decent guy to have a bit of grub and a few beers with. I’d also like to say thanks to all those posters on the board who inspired me to do this run.


  2. Thanks Pikey,
    Amusing & informative report with great pic.
    Tho none of Jonnada or the Gixser??
    The Garden Huts would be my choice next time round.
    The place curmudgeonly Canadian Dave recommended is not one I'd ever return to.
    You got some great roads in this trip Hot/MS/MS/Umpg/MS/Tak which makes the tedious trundle either side worth it.
    Cheers Mate!
  3. Yay Jeff, good report & trip. Glad you had a great time. That must be your longest trip on the Bonnie so far & I bet you really enjoyed it to the max. With the swooping road on R108 from Hot –Mae Sarieng, the twisties between Mae Sarieng & Tha Song Yang, the Umphang Death Highway, & the big fast uphill downhill sweepers Tak – Mae Sot, it all adds up to one hell of a ride from Chiang Mai. You report makes me want to get out & do it again too, as it has been a few years since I was in Umphang.
    I still wonder though about the right direction. The same counter-clockwise way you went or clockwise the other way. Apart from a couple of trips via Sukhothai- Tak, I’ve always done Mae Sot from Mae Sarieng, but often think it would be best to do the Cnx – Tak sector first & return via Mae Sot – Mae Sarieng. However saying that I have less than fond memories of once riding into Mae Sot late afternoon from Tak & that means 90+ kms west straight into the sun. And in the hot season it was hell. But what are your thoughts on the best direction to take – would you go the same way again or not? Anything else you'd do different?
  4. Thanks Rhodie - at least people can see the report this time ;)

    Here's a pic of the hard riding, hard playing old scrote!

    Agree about the roads - CNX to Hot and Tak to CNX are the necessary evils of accessing this otherwise fantastic riding area, although Suzuki Luke mentioned taking the 106 from Thoen as an alternative to H1/H11


  5. Good report and link, Jeff. I always just took it for granted that the moniker "Death Highway" came from the assumed accident toll on such a road. Your link cleared that up and also supplies answers to the possibility of finding a way through the mountains from Umphang south. Not likely.
  6. Hmmm, the problem with doing Tak - Mae Sot is exactly what you said, riding west in the afternoon sun. Tak is not far enough for a first day target and it's a boring run down (unless you went down the 106 via Ban Hong and Li to Thoen). Maybe Marcus can chip in as he did the Tak - Mae Sot leg a few weeks ago?

    Silverhawk, yes, the story behind the road is interesting and played out over a suprising number of years and I reckon the book "The Three Pagodas" would be a good read.


  7. Well Pikey
    You pretty much summed it up to a tee, i think for me though their were times when i wished i was on the CBR 150 instead of that big heavy slug of a gixer and even times when a kidney belt would have been good too, all in all a good trip, good company and another part of the North ticked off the list, cant wait to get you over to Nan though.

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