Coloradons to CNX May 18-26

May 8, 2008
My wife and I will be coming to the north for a few days of enduro riding. We visited the southern beaches back in 2000 and are excited to return to Thailand.

Plan to rent a pair of Bajas and hire a Thai guide (referred by Walter Fenske) to show us the routes and sites (although I did buy David's maps and book!). Any idea what will be a reasonable salary--in addition to covering all his expenses? In casual Thai style he said he was available and we could have a good trip and to call him when we arrive and we can meet over a beer to work out the details.

We're staying at the Jonadda. We'll try to stop by the Kafe in the evening on the 18th and 19th and introduce ourselves. Possibly review with you the route Mr. Tommy lays out for us--4-5 hours of riding a day, 75% offroad, head north and spend half a day boating the Meekong or rafting a smaller river--that's our target). Once we leave CNX, we're done with western bars, food and sights!

The riding terrain we are used to looks like this


or this


We're looking forward to a change in scenery!

Doug Render
Colorado, USA
Oct 12, 2005
Greetings Doug,

I post as Team FTB on adv rider and sent you a reply there.

When riding off road over here there are dirt roads that trucks utilize to connect villages and walking paths the locals use to reach fields and hunt and gather in the woods. Be mindful of both trucks and villagers on your trip. A truck grill is a nasty meeting point.

Make sure you spell out with your guide what type of riding you like to get you to your style of trails. otherwide you might just find yourself plodding along a dirt road when you'd like singletrack.

Enjoy your time here.

Oct 12, 2005

Glad you had a bang-up time here. Might want to copy and paste the report on this sight for other future Thai off road travellers to benefit from.
May 8, 2008
Two Take Thailand

Enduro northern Thailand, Adventure-Scoot Phu Quoc, Vietnam.

Keywords: Chiang Mai, Singha, trail, wat, pho, beach, Beer Chang, snapper, pad thai, bungalow, guesthouse, Honda Baja, step-thru scooter, beer, pork, chicken, noodles, mud, rain, McGyver, Buddha, island, snorkel, monkey, TSA, farm, coffee, motorcycle, action packer, Jonadda, Cassia Cottage, sun burn, ridgeback, Thapae Gate, land of smiles, Tiger, Saigon, curry, Golden Triangle, David Unkovich, mannypack, Joe's Bike Team, Siam Enduro, Wolfman, Fanta, BeemerBoy, rainforest, Pai, Charlie and Lek's, organic, bamboo, singletrack, pepper.


We've not had a real vacation in 8 years—not since I completed graduate school and we took our belated honeymoon along Thailand's southern beaches. But now, Karen has completed her executive MBA, concluding with a "field trip" to Shanghai. I have no interest in China, but Thailand is just a short excursion away: round two. How better to see the northern country than by enduro?

Checking a pair of Tupperwear Action Packers ensures your helmets, boots, Camelbacks and additional riding gear make it around the world and arrive intact. They are durable, and do not exceed airline "oversize luggage" dimensions, so they fly with no additional charges.


Checking a pair of Tupperwear Action Packers ensures inspection by TSA in Denver, LAX, and the Thai equivalents in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.


If you have a choice, I recommend Thai Airlines. They are a step above. Three 3-course meals on the 16 hour trip, plus complimentary in-flight feature films. And beer.


They may confiscate the tiny, foldable scissors in your first-aid kit, but they provide stainless utensils with each meal.


I arrive in Chiang Mai about 8 hours before Karen, and check into our guesthouse. We stay at the Jonadda. which is just inside the "old city", near the Thapae Gate, in an area popular with western visitors. It's owned and operated by Panadda and her Aussie husband, John, who is himself an avid rider. Clean, quiet, and a friendly staff that put the "smiles" in "land of smiles"

I spend the day walking the perimeter of the city's moat. It was built in 1296 to repel the Burmese.

First stop, a locals' market. Fried chicken leg! The Colonel never made it like this.


And meat on a stick (drool). What do we get on sticks here in the US? Corndogs? Popsicles? Nothing as good as this.


For dessert, it's roti/rotee. A banana and egg crepe, with sweetened and condensed milk, and sugar.


Wash it down with a Beer Chang.


Thai hazardous cargo. All cooking seems to be done from propane tanks. Heating—not required.

Day two.

Karen's arrived and it's time to explore Chiang Mai for a day before we leave on the bikes.

But first, curry for breakfast. Don't give me that "western breakfast" bullshit. I'd vacation in Des Moines if I wanted scrambled eggs and toast. Jonadda has the best coffee in town, and excellent food.


Back to the locals' market. Street sausage! I wanted to make a "moose cock, 25 baht" joke here, but my mom might be reading.


We rent a 100cc step-thru scooter from Mr. Beer, and explore Chiang Mai. Someone should have warned me that these things have GP gear patterns—presumably to leverage their high performance capabilities. I spend the first 10 minutes stuck in 4th gear.


Awesome wats (temples)



Back to the locals market for lunch. What makes you think this food is hot? I've got something in my eye, damnit. Otherwise I'm just fine.

It's the Budda's birthday. Show the appropriate respect.


The Budda was born on the first full moon in May. 35 years later, on the same full moon, he became the Budda. 40 years later, on the same full moon, he died. We celebrate him on this day.

If you really want to honor him, release some caged sparrows (good luck), a few turtles (long life), some small fish (the cycle of life) and some eels/river snakes (protection). This wat is along the Mae Ping River, and that's precisely what the faithful have come to do this afternoon.


In the evening, we catch up with the Golden Triangle Rider himself, David Unkovich, at one of his local haunts.


David, a 22 year resident of Chiang Mai, is _the_ authority on motorcycling northern Thailand. He's written books and published what all agree are the region's definitive maps. I'm carrying them in my mannypack in this photo. [David Olson, check the GoFisch shirt!]

Day 3

Time to saddle up.

I've rented bikes from Joe's Bike Team, just a few blocks from the Jonadda. I've selected Joe's because his enduros have good tread left on the tires, he keeps them all covered and protected from the weather, and they have intelligent upgrades like aluminum bars and solid handguards. He has a well-equipped shop in the back, so it's clear he looks after the bikes personally.


This is the part where I should mention our guide, Tommy.

I exchanged emails with Walter Fenske, who runs Siam Enduro, an enduro tour group, out of Chiang Mai. I identify with what he's written on his home page: "Most tourists don’t see the real Thailand. They stay in tourist hotels, they visit tourist markets, they eat tourist food…If you want everything just like home, stay home!. This is Southeast Asia, and things are different. If you don't enjoy new experiences in a quite different environment, then you're much better off spending your holidays in your home country." Ride on, my brother!

This sounds like our kind of guy. But our situation is a little irregular: we've arrived during "low" season, and I don't want all the accoutrements of a fully "packaged" and "supported" tour. I really just want a guide who knows where he's going.

Walter's not in the country. He recommends I contact one of his Thai rider/guides directly, Tommy.

Tommy's a regular TAT guide and moto tours with Siam Enduro are just one of the things he does. It's low season, so he's available. We exchange an email and in typical easy-going Thai style, he agrees that we can have a fun trip together and that when I arrive in-country we can meet over a beer to plan a route and all the other particulars. Friends who have likewise travelled Thailand re-assure me that this represents a firm commitment in Thailand.

This it Tommy, and engaging him turns out to be the trip's best decision. I'll admit here that a guide was my wife's idea, and it worked out brilliantly, though had we had a guide with less personality, it would not added as much to the trip as Tommy did.


He's more than just an intelligent rider with particular knowledge of the north—he's easy going, enthusiastic and has an outstanding sense of humor. He's way more than just a guide, and having him with us for 5 days really infused the trip with character. Walter, if you read this, Tommy's worth a lot more than whatever you pay him—probably a lot more than what I paid him, too!

Tommy's riding a Honda TLR250R, by the way. It's a perfect fit for his stature. This is the best resource I could find on the bike One of those odd gems that never makes its way across the Pacific to the states. I'd pick one up in a heartbeat if it were available: aluminum frame, trials motor and tranny, ultralight etc.


Karen and I are on Baja 250s—Honda XR250Ls, I believe, with electric start. They are not unlike farm implements in their "excitement" factor, but, like farm implements, they start, turn, stop and re-start predictably as requested and give us no problem whatsoever.


Oh yeah, what's your bag? Wolfman, you say? We are both carrying Wolfman tail packs that I picked up this past winter at Moto Gear outlet I actually bought them from Eric himself, told him that we'd rely on these in Thailand.

Made in Colorado. Sewn by Laotians, oddly enough. Worked great.

We leave all non-riding essential back at Jonadda, and only carry what we need. In truth, it could have been streamlined. We didn't need the enduro jackets we packed, for instance. It did rain on us, and we got wet, but we didn't get particularly cold. And then we dried out. No jacket required. Long sleeved shirt. Packed it, never wore it.

Tommy is travelling even lighter—but he doesn't have any tools or spare parts, as we'll see later.

The first day is arguably the most intense: we're on strange bikes, trying to follow Tommy out of a crowded city (that drives on the left hand side) into remote country. Traffic flows are not _quite_ like what we have in the US, but Karen manages to stay focused on Tommy's rear wheel, and out of danger, and into the outback.

Nearing our lunch stop, we pass an elephant.


They were historically worked in the "timber" industry, but have since largely become tourist attractions. However, their unreal size makes them impressive sights wherever you encounter them.

We're on pavement until lunch, where we stop for what proves to be a typically low-key, high-flavor meal along the roadside.

noodle soup with meat and meatballs.


We're soon on a dirt road that's not on my map. It's not been travelled recently by anything larger than a scooter, as evidenced by deadfall blocking anything other than a two-wheeler. It's not raining, though it has recently, and it starts to get slippery.


BeemerBoy, American Robert living in Chiang Mai, refers to this as the "Thailand's red-death clay", or something equally menacing. It's indeed really slippery.

We make it through and emerge on the other side to a view of the rainforest thru which we've been travelling


We return to the road and head into Doi Inthanon National Park, passing near Thailand's highest point, (2565 meters, 8400 feet). It pours rain on us. But it's not chilling, and we ride thru, drying off on the other side.

We arrive in the un-touristed town of Mae Chaem. Karen and I get an A-frame bungalow for the night, Tommy stays in the guesthouse.


By now Tommy has pegged us as adventurous eaters, and we give him the go-ahead to order dinner for us. It's awesome.


Despite our fatigue, we're kept awake throughout the night by the intensity of noise generated by various frogs, reptiles and insects. From inside our A-frame, it's deafening!

Day 4

Thai breakfast includes rice soup.


Mae Chaem is blanketed by clouds in every direction, but as soon as we crest the first ridgeline, the day is bright and clear. We're on pavement passing thru forest and expansive agricultural areas.


There is a lot of "slash and burn" agriculture/grazing land going on, but who am I to judge. My country laid siege to an entire continent.


We get back on dirt.


And soon we're riding into another rain storm (did I mention that the reason it's "low season" is that it's "wet season"?). It's pouring beyond these trees.


Tracks in the road literally turn into rivulets of runoff.


The rain lightens up, but it's still slick. Tommy does a little nip and tuck. And suddenly we have a problem.

This is Tommy's first time leading a tour individually. I've previously assured him that I'm travelling with all kinds of tools and spare equipment (the same stuff I ride with in Colorado on any given Sunday) and that we'll need no looking after. So it's not Asian resourcefulness that saves the day, but Yankee preparation and ingenuity.


I should probably add a needle nose pliers to my kit, as I have to open a C-snap-ring with a ballpoint pen and screw-driver blade.


We're ready to roll again, and it's at this point that Tommy informs me that I'm like that TV mechanic—the one who can fix _anything_. "McGyver???" "Yes, you McGyver!!" We never tire of this joke for the next three days.

Doug: Hey, Tommy?
Tommy: Yes?
Doug: You owe me a beer now.
Tommy: Yes!!

We've covered many kilometers already today, and soon we are at our lunch stop.


And it's time to fill up the small tank on Tommy's bike.


We "slab it" (beautiful two lane pavement, winding along a river bed) into the northern town of Pai, which David Unkovich has described on his map as "chill out town". If you're European or Aussie on extended break, and trying to stretch your pounds/dollars as far as possible in northern Thailand, this is your hang out.

"the other beef" along the roadside.


Day 5

Karen should _not_ have drank that water at the market two days ago, and she's feeling it. So Tommy and I head out on our own for half a day.

We're heading north on pavement towards Soppong. The pace is a little quicker and it's clear to me that Tommy is enjoying the day.


More mountainous terrain.


Not far from the Burmese border, we come to a military check point.

Tommy: [to Doug] Do what I do, say what I say.
Tommy: [to the army guys] The guns and drugs are back at this farang's guesthouse.


Many northern tourists come to the north for a "trek", which includes a tour of an "authentic hill tribe village". Let me tell you, in three days, I've already passed thru more "authentic" hill tribe villages than you would ever reach by foot. And only the very old and recent mothers are home—because everyone else is out working the land all day!


Many of the hilltribe people still wear very traditional clothing—which is quite striking. I saw a number of them, but didn't feel right singling them out for a photograph. But I did catch this woman selling vegetables at an evening market in Pai.


Tommy has a friend in Pai who has an organic farm, as well as an organic restaurant.

We had two outstanding meals at "Charlie and Lek's"


Do you have any idea how difficult it is to grow such beautiful lettuce?


Lek, Tommy and Charlie


Lek invites Karen into the back to see the kitchen.


And Charlie takes us on a tour of his farm.


Day 6

For breakfast, it's curry, again, plus meat on a stick, both purchased from street side vendors. According to Tommy, most Thais eat breakfast and lunch from markets or street vendors, then purchase a few fresh dinner ingredients from evening markets and prepare their own dinners at home.


We're on the fourth day of riding, which is probably the best, because we follow a two track deep into the forest,


cross a bridge over a small stream, and it suddenly turns into genuine single track.




Tommy's only come this way once before, and we take a few wrong turns.


You may have noticed that all the hill tribe villages have electricity, and that, shockingly, some of the homes have not only satellite dishes but solar panels, as well. These here, not so much. The single track dead ends at their home (see below, Phu Quoc singletrack).

Tommy gets us back on track, and soon we are entering a small village.


The map does not indicate it, but there is a bridge across the river. Albeit a rather basic one.


It's lunchtime. The Mae Taeng river is roaring just below us.


We spend the night in Mae Taeng, which honestly does not have much to offer, other than an interesting market and this bright dog, who is determined not to be left behind.


The final day heads north for a short offroad loop (the loop we wanted to do was "impassable" due to recent rains, according to Tommy's sources in Mae Taeng).


We pass near Thailand's third highest point, Doi Chang Dao, 2175 meters (7135 feet).


"Tommy, show me where we've come and where we are."


Lunch time.


Noodles "plus".


Karen has observed that this noodle dish is ruddier in color than others we've had, with a slightly different character. She asks, thru Tommy, about the dish's ingredients and preparation. And the Iron Chef secret-challenge ingredient is…

…chicken blood!

Would you like to venture a guess which part of my arm was sunburned on this adventure?

The adventure winds down. We head back into Chiang Mai.


We're sad to say goodbye to Tommy.


Starting in Chiang Mai in the lower right of this map and making its way in a clockwise direction, this was our route.


Mar 5, 2006
Great report -thanx 4 reposting here.
A guide, if time is short, & you want the fullest of experiences is no bad thing.
My son & I did something similar in Laos last year, through those great guys @

A great alternative for guided tours in Chiang Mai & for the northern region is

Keep coming back.