Golden Triangle Ride 2006 - part 2

Oct 20, 2006
Golden Triangle Ride 2006 – counterclockwise around Chiang Mai (Part 2)

Summary first part:
In the first part I described BarryBBQ's and my way through the Province of Nan and our way up north along the Laos border and the Mae Kong, passed Doi Tung and Ban Thoed Thai, where we spent Shan New Year.

Nov 20, 2006, Shan New Year's Eve
The blinds on the cabins together with the beers from the night before had done their work and I slept until after 9 am. By this time Barry had already been up and busy, checking on the previous day's problems (puncture!). To his surprise he found a nail in his rear tire as well. Lucky for him, his nail was only about an inch long, bent and had not penetrated his tubeless tire (mine, yesterday, was about 1 ½ in long and had perforated my rear tube three times…). Anyway.


Pic 1: Flowers in the Guest house

Late that morning we took to the road, knowing that the first stop would be in just half an hour or so, up on the hill in the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) village of Mae Salong. After a short stop at the entry to the village which is all perched on top and on the steep flanks of Doi Mae Salong, we made our way to the top of the village. Finally I could go and fill up my purse by changing my precious Swiss Francs at the local bank. What a pleasure to see the faces of everyone in the bank lighten up (teller boys and customers alike) when I used my non-existent Chinese to bid them a hearty 'Ni Haw' as greeting. I guess it was the last they expected: a gwei lo (long nose), greeting them in Chinese. The vista of my Swiss Francs was another unexpected fact and it took the smiling teller operators a combined 20 minutes to change my currency into THB. With a Taiwanese accented 'Xie Xie Ni' I left the bank, ready for mischief. BarryBBQ had in the meantime already found the shop where he had made the manager search for semi-precious stone artifacts, similar to the ones I had purchased the year before. Our arrival had set off activities inside the small shop!


Pic 2: Mae Salong Shop

Together BarryBBQ and I profoundly checked the proffered wares and slowly made our selections. A few min¬utes after we had entered the shop a middle-aged Chinese had joined us. From his looks and de¬meanor he left the notion of being the owner of the shop. His impressive diamond studded Rolex and solitaire diamond ring and the stories hinted at (with tales of customers in Taipei and Hong Kong) made me suspect the guy as one of these mysterious Jade dealers that buy 'rough' Jade and have it carved at their expense.

Mr. Big Cheese showed us some pieces he had had carved (in China? Admittedly, the best Jade carvers were just around the corner in Guangzhou province and Kun Ming in Yunnan, some 150 miles or so as the crow flies away from Mae Salong), notably a one foot high brown bear, on his hind legs in a flowing river, baring his teeth, carved from a piece of almost black Jade, with only nose, teeth, eyes and the stones sub¬merged in the river being polished and so giving a very realistic picture/statue.

Again, this little shop in far away Mae Salong had the best Jade wares on offer for many miles around, maybe in the same league as some very specialized shops in Hong Kong, Taipei and Bangkok. Not only was the Jade quality impressive, but the wares in this shop showed the best handicraft I had seen in a long time. And, even after we left, or actually, maybe because of the time I've had to reflect on the time spent in the shop and the talks we had with the 'owner', I cannot get rid of the idea that this guy is one of 'The Jade Traders'. Maybe I'll follow this up; I'd love to go purchasing rough Jade at one of the auctions in Yangon or Bangkok.

Back to the Road!
We had spent too long in Mae Salong, me being the one that could not leave: Tea (from the local tea growing area and its factory), another little souvenir and another run to the bank (I told you the shop HAD the best Jade around…). Finally we were off, down the 1234 to link up with the 1089 and on towards today's goal: Pai, on the Mae Hong Son Loop.


Pic 3: on the 1089

Again: the road, the scenery, the ride being just fantastic, we cruised at a leisurely speed along the wide open valley, admiring hill tribe villages half hidden in light forests atop hills lining the perfect road. Contrary to the last days in the hills, it was warm down in the valley, even more so as it approached food time. We passed Fang on the 107 to stop at a roadside hut to gas up and eat our humble lunch.
Later, BarryBBQ had to stop on our run down the 107 to pass the lunch again through his head. As anticipated the 107 was the most dangerous and boring stretch of road to be mastered today. A long part of it is under construction, so the ride was alternating between narrow bends on partly bad surfaces and long open parts on soft highway beds being readied for the surfacing. In Mae Taeng we took our turn onto the 1095 and the last part of today's ride began.


Pic 4: on the 1095

BarryBBQ was all excited to be back on his favorite home stretch and I was looking forward to it. After one biostop to rehydrate we set off, each at his pace: Barry with his GS was soon out of sight and I took my own good old time to conquer the MHS Loop. And conquer it was. The umpteen hundreds of turns are mostly in a lamentable state of surfacing; desert 'washboard' tracks are at least regular. Nothing similar can be said about the 1095. The only regularity about the road to Pai is that you cannot anticipate anything. Many times I had to shift down into first around a turn, before accelerating again for 20 meters to brake down almost to a stop to force the African Twin around the bends: hard work, hard on my wrists, hard on my 'derriere' (as Justin would call it) and hard on the AT's tires.
Here a little aside on the African Twin I was riding.


Pic 5: The AT

BarryBBQ's friend Robert had generously loaned me his second African Twin for the duration of our trip. When we went to pick up the bike, Robert's live-in girlfriend had pointed one out of the bikes to us and I had taken possession of it. Already on the first part of the trip several times I had the rear tire (a Michelin) go its own sweet way in bends. This taken together with the 21 inch Pizza Cutter wheel in front made the AT not too confidence-inspiring for riding fast around tight turns or on slick surfaces.
Another weak point are the brake lines: Robert had perfect Nissin stoppers on the front wheel, but stock brake lines. During long and steep descents with lots of turns (e.g. Phu Kha on Rd 1256, or down Doi Tung on the 1149, down from Phu Chi Fa etc.) the front brakes started going swishy on me, not yet downright fading, but swishy. A sure remedy for this malady would be braided brake lines.
Else: just little things, just to optimize or in the worst case, annoying but not a show stopper: e.g. me being a foot shorter than either BarryBBQ or bike-owner Robert normally is not a problem, but when I sat on the AT behind the windshield, its deflected air struck the rim of my helmet just above the sunglasses I wore and made a hell of a noise and pushed the glasses against my face => distorted my view. But this was only above 80 kmh, so rarely it ever happened.

A funny side to this story: when BarryBBQ spoke to Robert (after R. had returned to Chiang Mai) Robert had claimed I had ridden off on the wrong bike: mine was the 'City Show Bike', not fit for overland travel (that's why the Michelin and the stock brake lines…), his other AT was supposed to be my ride (equipped with real rubbers!). Alas, I loved the ride on the African Twin, much better than Mr. Mechanic's CB 750 of last year. If ever you read this: Thanks Mr. Robert, much appreciated!

Back to the 1095:
After the puncture the day before I took it double easy. BarryBBQ had ridden off into the sun and I felt colder and colder. The road was rising steeply; a few Minibuses came down the hill, in convoys of three or four and took the road as theirs. The setting sun made it difficult to ride: changing light and shadows thrown by the vegetation on both sides of the road, shadows almost black cast by the mountains behind turns and my increasing tiredness diminished the pleasure of riding a tiny little bit. BarryBBQ later admitted that he never ridden the 1095 counterclockwise late in the afternoon. So for him also it was a first riding into the setting sun.


Pic 6: the light on the 1095

Shortly before sun set we made it into Pai through the back door, past Tom's Elephant Camp down to the Brook View guest house, a recommendation (but please, do not tell Joe Cummings!) Later we went out, for massage (bone breaking two hours) and tried to eat at one of lonely planets suggestion. When we arrived we were alone in the big restaurant, we tried to order Thai food and were told (between SMS and mobile calls) no Thai food tonite! Somehow we got our food, ate and went back to the hotel to pick up the bikes. BarryBBQ had just heard from a mate about the 'Cocktail Rider Bar' in Pai, with Pattaya girls!

Worth a visit we thought and went to search for the ominous bar. Down one drag, past mostly closed shops (they fold up the walkways at 7 pm in Pai, to save them from (ab)use) and mostly open Pseudo-Reggae-type bars we did not find the Rider Cocktail. Shortly later we stopped outside the place, parked the bikes and were surrounded by a flurry of activity. Disappointed we chose to sit at the bar and ordered a drink. The 'Riders' turned out to be a Pattaya Rasta Man (who spoke English with a trained Rasta Accent) and three girls, Coyote Ugly, not like in the movie, but Coyote Ugly!

Leaving our half finished drinks on the bar, we mounted our steeds again to cruise up to the next failure to find evening entertainment of our liking in Pai. This time it was one of these 'Rasta Places' on Pai's main drag. The prevalence of fat white girls in dreadlocks and hand-dyed dhotis serving us Heinekens and trying to be very local, others showing off their wide chassis barely clad in tiny g-strings led to an abrupt evacuation of this place by both of us. Nota Bene: here also the drinks were left undrunk!

No, Pai was not for us anymore, the aging hippies deserve to be left alone and pooled in one place. It's easier this way to avoid them. Same-same goes for the lonely planet recommendations: I love them; you know what to leave to others.

A last beer on the deck of our cabin down at the guest house and we went to bed.

Pic 7: Evening at the Guest House

Nov 21, 2006.
Next morning, Mr. Barry had already had his morning coffee, being all perky and ready to take off. I had one task to do before I could take off as well and packed my stuff on the bikes. Soon after, we left the guest house, Barry to the 7-11 (remember?), and I to take pictures of Internet shops in Pai. An ex-coworker of Barry and I, Nicole, had passed through Pai a couple of years ago and had complained to me about the lack of Internet shops in Pai. So here for you, Nicole: Pai's Internet


Pic 8: where there are cables


Pic 9: Pai Internet shop 1


Pic 10: Pai Internet shop 9

Believe me; Pai is not off the world, just behind some several hundred turns on a bad road. There are dozens of Internet shops in Pai these days, but whether they work, I do not know. We were off to put gas into our rides and then on the road again. Bowing my head to the cool morning I had dressed in what Barry called my 'Cold Weather Gear'; in honor of the elevation we found ourselves on, I had buttoned up my collar.


Pic 11: Cold Weather Gear


Pic 12: all buttoned up

Soon, we made it to the Northern most point of the 1095, offering rest, restrooms, a bar (with, unexpectedly, copies on sale of the (purportedly out-of-sale) GT-Rider's Mae Hong Son Loop, 2nd Edition 2002 (Whoopee!)) and lots of Hill Tribe personnel on duty. And a lovely view over the hill country and across the borders into Shan State in Myanmar. How beautiful!

Betel-nut stained teeth on a couple of elderly ladies of the Hill Tribes drove us away to the other side of the road to where the sales booths for the souvenirs were. Some heavy bargaining later I packed another round of useless gimmicks to show at home and hand out as gifts from exotic places into the AT.


Pic 13: That many turns it takes from Chiang Mai till here


Pic 14: The MHS Tourist Map


Pic 15: Shadows playing with the hills in N-MHS

Suddenly the tourist mini buses had all left the peak and we were all alone. After writing our comment in the National Park Ranger's guest book we took back to the road. What leisure! The road was generous, mostly wide and open, lots of road works, but with BarryBBQ riding point it was a pleasure cruising along. How often have I thought of mounting a helmet camera and one on the handlebars, both with voice control: "video, now until I say stop"; 'Still: pix to the left, and two pix right ahead!" and so on. The best views are from the bike, when you ride and find a split second to look around you. But you never have the time nor the opportunity to stop right there and then to take that picture. Unfortunately!

But then maybe it is not so unfortunately. It is still etched in my mind, the whole video (or as I sometimes call it, my experience 'cannelloni': the sum total of all my senses' impressions: view, smell, touch, heat, pain, cold, pleasure etc.) of the trip. And it's difficult to share one's own experiences with people that do not have a similar experience-cannelloni (some never graduate from having an experience-spaghetti). Along this ride we passed the rice Research Institute where modern harvesting machines had found work. Other impressions along this road were a beautiful and recently built traditional Teak house, other farms and villages where we passed, the orchards and fields. Short: another day in paradise.

The Buddha Cove
Barry stopped next to the road, but not where I had expected. We parked the bike and had a look around us. Barry told me that on his previous runs on the MHS Loop, he had always passed through here in the afternoons. This cove, now hidden in the shadows of the jungle giants growing on the hill behind it, was only illuminated by the sun in the late afternoons; and, the whole cove being full of small and medium-sized Buddha statues, they all glittered golden in the dark forest. We both had our cameras out and set off to take in the atmosphere in this small monk's retreat.


Pic 16: the Buddha Cove


Pic 17: Buddha in the Cove

Spending about an hour here, we got hungry and thirsty and decided to go on to Mae Hong Son for Lunch. Soon we approached the outskirts of the city, passed a wooden cart drawn by oxen (the first I had seen on this trip), overtook a pair of suede high heels on a scooter (associated with a black mini-skirt and a steady but gentle tugging of this mini-skirt to keep it in place), which seemed to hunt us wherever we went in MHS. As Barry looked for the Tourism Office (which we had passed early after entering the city limits) the scooter with its fragile freight was passing us in one direction, then an¬other. When waiting at a traffic light (the only one in town), she was there waiting just ahead of us. And when we finally settled down for lunch (at the Fern), she drove by again. Remember what I said about voice controlled cameras before?

Lunch was punctuated by the arrival/departure of tourists in their minibuses at the Fern. What some of these Minibuses disgorged in front of us reminded me partly of caricatures of caricatures of Ralph Steadman, partly of Federico Fellini, with a lot of cruelty mixed in, cruel for us to watch. All my complaints about large white people, their behavior and dress could be repeated again here. Allow me just one, please?

Tourist: when you are either/or overage, overweight and (over-)white, please do not bear this proudly, but show esthetics and discretion and hide your ugliness behind long sleeves, long trouser legs and enough fabric so it does not insult neutral bystanders. Thank You! Krawp Khun Krap!

We left the Fern, found the Mae Hong Son Tourist Office and I obtained, barefoot as usual, the seal of completed performance: the 'Mae Hong Son Loop 1864 Turns from Chiang Mai' sticker.

The Road south was sweet, little traffic on it and the weather balmy after the early mornings frigid.
Very soon we saw a sign announcing the Bua Tong Flower Festival. During one of our next biostops (emptying, filling, smoking) Mr. Barry and I argued about the length of this festival: he thought it was over on the 15 of November, I pleaded for the 15 of December. As it turned out, we were both wrong.


Pic 18: The Bua Tong Festival Announcement

From November 1st to December 5th was the blooming season of the Sunflowers, or the Bua Tong, the Golden Lotus Flower. First, along the road, we could see the wild sunflowers, then, just across a little pass, the valley and mountain of Mae U Khor lay before us. Words are not enough to describe this view, I try anyway. Sunflowers everywhere, close and far, small and unopened to fully opened and past their prime, sunflowers, sunflowers. The play of light, the shadows of clouds and the wind made the Doi Mae U Khor an ever changing spectacle of fields of yellow flowers. Wild sunflowers, actually wild Mexican sunflowers. How in the world did they arrive and flourish here?

Let me just show some of the hundred or so pictures we both took from the viewing platform in the Bua Tong Fields on Doi Mae U Khor.


Pic 19: Sunflowers


Pic 20: More sunflowers

They were a highlight of this trip. Anyway, I started to like the area around Khun Yuam as much as I liked Nan. Not too late we started the bikes again and headed back towards Khun Yuam where Barry's GPS led us to a guest house. But toilets Thai style and some doubts about the price led us to look elsewhere. And we could not have done better! The place we found after long looking around the empty fields outside Khun Yuam was just too idyllic.


Pic 21: Khun Yuam Resort: The view from our balcony

A church standing nearby made us wonder. We found out later that the priest had left and the care taker of this little corner of Eden on Earth had converted the priest's quarters into a guest house.


Pic 22: Khun Yuam Church

With the biggest bed, especially for our gentle giant Barry.

Pic 23: Barry's log bed

The old man led a simple life, never been married nor having any kids; he did grow everything he needed himself: papaya, chili, jack fruit, edible blossoms of every kind, rice down in the valley, herbs in his garden and passion fruit outside the kitchen. This report would look like a botanical journal if I would continue to enumerate all edible species I discovered in the garden and around the house.


Pic 24: Khun Yuam View into the Valley


Pic 26: some of the plants around the house 1


Pic 27: some of the plants around the house 2


Pic 28: some of the plants around the house 3


Pic 29: some of the plants around the house 4


Pic 30: some of the plants around the house 5

Upon our return to the hostel after dining out in Khun Yuam (excellent suggestion by Barry's GPS: excellent food and very good service) we were brought Chiang beers and freshly roasted homegrown peanuts by our host. Drinking the beer on our balcony, we watched until midnight the clear sky. Only some light scattered in the humidity above down-town Khun Yuam to the North East marred the perfect night sky. But even with this blemish the amount of stars visible above us was breathtaking. Sitting and smoking in the dark, drinking another beer, we ended a fine day as we were accustomed to by now: going to bed slightly tipsy.

And: not a sound, no screaming scooters roaring past at night, no trucks backfiring behind the guest house. Absolutely quiet! Except that it was so humid at night that the water dripped down from the roof into the collectors leading it to the cistern. And Barry, but this shall not be mentioned. This humidity sat in the valley in the morning and offered quite amazing views of sun and haze inter-mingling above the rice paddies. Ahh, what an Indochina cliché.

Nov 22, 2006
Barry must have been up already some time, his breakfast sprite and cigarette were already consumed when I got through the morning routines. Our host had already prepared coffee and fried rice, fresh oranges (delicious!) and other fruit and treats. What a delightful old geezer, the Britishers would say. He kept a tight little house there, spotlessly clean, with his little kitchenette cum bar under the balcony, the kitten and birds around, the neighbors dropping in, him expecting his Australian girlfriend to visit in December. The guy led an enviable life.


Pic 31: Khun Yuam Resort

Barry had originally planned to take his girlfriend from BKK to Pai for the King's Birthday weekend in early December. But after our experience in Pai and comparing it with the Bua Tong Festival and Khun Yuam Resort he decided to change his plans for the first December weekend and come in this direction. This place screamed my name when we left again after hanging around longer than accustomed. This was something I could imagine having to live in myself. Farm out the land to the farmers and get payment in produce, run a smallish guest house, but keep it top of its class. Grow what you need. Get a bike or three; get a small 4-wheel drive… Ahh, dreams. Oh Lord, let me win the Jackpot at the lottery.

Brief: I could have stayed on a couple more days, researching the tracks and roads in the vicinity. I guess this has to wait for another visit.Off we went finally. And made it just down to the 108 where a large group of traffic cops distributed their attention onto hapless un-be-helmeted Thais on scooters. I sneaked off across the road to picture the Burma style wat and stupa while Barry had his picture taken with the policemen and his BMW.

Back to town and on onto the 1263. What a nice little road! Where there were no road works, it was mainly a pleasure to ride, some little potholes negligible, the surface nice and grippy.


Pic 32: Pothole on 1263

We stopped after about an hour, on a mountain pass that was clearly marked as 900 m above sea level. But it felt colder! Barry confirmed my suspicions and declared, empowered by his GPS, this pass to be 1030 m above sea level. From here we had a first glimpse of today's intermediate goal: Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest peak.


Pic 33: Doi Inthanon from behind (from the West)

The road continued, empty, wide open and easy to cruise. What a mindless pleasure it was to let my reptile brain take over from the frontal lobes to do the driving and let other parts of me start studying the landscape and geology, the vegetation and agriculture around me. Sometimes I was tempted to stop and take pictures, but when I slowed down it was just too much to make a u-turn, head back, make another u-turn, find a spot to park the bike, get off, take off helmet or not, break out camera, find the right viewing angel, hope the light is right… Sometimes it is too much bother.

From Mae Chaem BarryBBQ's GPS led us onto a small road up Doi Inthanon, maybe it was the 1192, maybe it was an old track been surfaced and running almost parallel to the 1192. Again a jewel: twisty, tricky light as it is in the forest, with nice surface and little traffic. Suddenly we reached the 1009, just above the second pay station to the park. Although it was lunch time now, the elevation took its toll and it was COLD. We drove up to the peak, had a round of picture sessions, Barry on the parking area, me on the peak. Biostops and pictures and down again. Man, it was European style cold: 14 C is not enough for me, 25 C is the lower threshold! Not 14 C!

Barry overtook me (while on another biostop due to the cold!) without noticing me and then went looking for me. I biostopped again later and drove down the nice road from Doi Inthanon looking for Barry. I knew he was hungry so it was easy to reduce the search area. Finally I ran into him waiting at the main toll station for the Park.


Pic 34: The Toll Station for Doi Inthanon

Racism? Yeah, I guess you can call it like that. But we do it as well back home and other places (Hawaii, Austria), so who cares, especially not us, as we had by-passed both toll booths on the Doi.

After a last meal (luckily neither 'Last Supper' nor 'Last Meal' as in 'Dead Man Walking') in a roadside hut, there followed a last fast dash on the ever fuller and madder 108 back to Chiang Mai, then finding a hotel for me tonight, return the bike, get a shower then massage, food. Maybe not exactly in this order, but all these points had to be dealt with within a reasonable time span. We managed to accomplish all this by 11 pm (that's when we started eating) and even had made plans for the next day's ride in the dirt with Big&Tall.

All in all: WOW!
What a ride! What a beautiful place to ride in! What great company I had and how much fun we had on the road. Words are not enough, nor are some pictures. It's always difficult to transfer personal experiences, certainly so when writing. Maybe you can feel something; maybe you've been there and know what I wrote about. No more explanations! If not, maybe it grips you and you would like to get on the road. Do it. Enjoy,

Key words: Northern Thailand – Golden Triangle – Big Bike Riding – Nan – Phu Chi Fa – Doi Tung - Mae Salong – Mae Hong Son Loop – Khun Yuam – Bua Tong – Doi Pui-Suthep

Lonely Planet Thailand, Ed 2005; Thai Government websites, Thai tourism Authority websites, Shan Herald website, Google Earth, New York Times Archive, National Geographic Magazine Print and Web editions; Cecilia Lam Shiu Ling, Jade, Lead-on Publishing Co., Hong Kong, 2005;
Maps used:
B&B: Northern Thailand, laminated edition; Nelles Maps: Thailand, ed. 2004; www.GT– Mae Hong Son the Loop and Mae Sa Valley The Samoeng Loop; 's World Mapping Project Thailand, 3rd ed. 2006

Picture Credits: BarryBBQ, Danny
Written by Danny


Mar 5, 2006
Danny & Barry
Thanks for great reports & pix [no 17 rpt2 esp v good].
I would agree that Pai is something of a disappointment nowadays, beyond its natural beauty.
But your trip sounded such fun and has shown me that there are some new gems to be explored when I can get up there in the new year.
Thanks again for the time & effort you took in writing this up.
PS did you rplace the tube & Tyre in MHS, or, return it to RH in squidgy form?
Oct 20, 2006

Originally posted by Rhodie

Danny & Barry
Thanks for great reports & pix [no 17 rpt2 esp v good].
I would agree that Pai is something of a disappointment nowadays, beyond its natural beauty.
But your trip sounded such fun and has shown me that there are some new gems to be explored when I can get up there in the new year.
Thanks again for the time & effort you took in writing this up.
PS did you rplace the tube & Tyre in MHS, or, return it to RH in squidgy form?

Hi Rhodie
No, we did not replace the t&t in HMS, but returned it, still with its 38 PSI as checked in Ban Thoed Thai. We thought it best to let Mr. R. deal with this, so it would be done to his satisfaction.

And: oh, there are still corners that look whitish on the radar up there. Still plenty of roads to explore. Enjoy when you can