In Search Of The Salween And Moei Rivers' Confluence

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Tarquin Ferrets, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    #1 Tarquin Ferrets, Mar 13, 2019
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
    In Search of The Salween and Moei Confluence - A Trail Ride with CRF250L

    Late January 2018.

    Well this one had been in my bucket list for quite sometime already. I've always been fascinated about rivers and especially the confluences where I can just sit back and watch a tributary flow into the major artery. And as an ancient Chinese general apparently said - 'If you sit by a river and watch it flow long enough you can eventually see all your enemies flow by and disappear into the distance'.

    Map of the Salween river south of Ban Mae Sam Laep

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    Since I was in Mae Sariang I figured now is the time to do it and try to locate the confluence of Salween and Moei rivers. I had seen the Salween and Moei previously yes, but never the actual confluence as it is hidden in relatively remote corner of Sob Moei district. I had studied Google Earth previously in order to try and locate some trails and get a better idea how to get there. But it wasn't much use in the end. However, after some consultation over few beers in Ching Ching Cafe I decided to put my money where my mouth was.the following morning.

    Street art in Mae Sariang promoting tourism in the area

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    I had brought an extra fuel canister with me as I had no idea of the eventual distance to the confluence and what waited for me there. Will I find it straight away or meander around looking for it. It was better to have the extra fuel and not need it than need it and not have it. It would also be my first real trail ride as I had no real previous trail riding experience.

    So first order of business in the morning was to fill my extra fuel canister at a nearby petrol station and have some quick 7-Eleven stuff for breakfast. After that it was across the bridge over Yuam river and highway 1194 first south and then west towards Ban Mae Sam Laep by the river Salween, or Thanlwin as they called it on the Burmese side. Highway 1194 was in great shape I thought and thoroughly enjoyed my ride over the hills to Ban Mae Sam Laep. Upon reaching the entrance to Mae Sam Laep I headed south along the Salween and the road quickly turned into a dirt road. This dirt road was still in pretty good shape and no issue whatsoever for the CRF250L.

    Salween (Thanlwin) just south of Ban Mae Sam Laep

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    After some 20 km of the dirt road the road forked and a narrow arse trail led into the bush while the main dirt road continued straight. Luckily I found someone by a nearby house who confirmed that I indeed needed to take the trail into the bush in order to get on a right track towards the confluence. This trail was mixture of dirt and broken concrete in some sections. It winded through the hills and through some villages of which some some had few people whereas others seemed empty and only occupied by dogs, pigs, chicken and the odd goat. I recall stopping at one time for a drink and think to myself this trail isn't much more than a goat trail - only to hear couple bells and realise a little herd of small goats was actually climbing the hillside above my head.

    On the way to the confluence

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    I stopped for instructions couple times upon meeting people just to confirm I took the correct trail towards the confluence. Some of the villagers I met did not speak any Thai hence I assumed they were Kayin (Karen). Some 15-20 km of this trail was relatively easy. But the last 5 km or so became more a bit more challenging as the trail became steeped as it descended towards the river.

    Passing little mountain creeks along the way

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    And then I saw it in the distance. There it was, the confluence of Salween and Moei rivers against a scenic mountain range in Burma. Getting closer but not there yet. This section of the trail is more difficult as it's steeper and also the trail itself is a mixture of ruts, sand and rocks with at least one modest hippo pond to maneuver. Finally after some controlled descent with some slipping and sliding here and there I reached a concrete road running along the Moei river towards the confluence. And the it was, one item off the bucket list.

    Salween and Moei confluence in the distance, Still ways to go.....

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    Start descent towards the river

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    Getting closer

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    And there it is Salween and Moei river confluence. The point where Salween disappears back into Burma.

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    The village here at the Salween and Moei rivers' confluence is called Ban Sob Moei - not to be confused with Sob Moei district which is just off the highway 105 south of Mae Sariang. A cool fact about the Moei river which many do not know, or not realise, is that it runs in a northerly direction away from the sea. It starts in Tak province and instead of running south towards the sea it actually runs north and into Salween. It is the only major river in Thailand that I know does that. It also forms the border between Thailand and Burma as many of you know.

    Well deserved drink break at the confluence

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    A lone traveler arrives to the confluence

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    The Salween and Moei confluence is a very attractive and peaceful spot. However, it is not always so peaceful on the other side.as Kayin (Karen) State is an active conflict zone despite the many ceasefire agreements they have in place between the Burmese Military (Tatmadaw) and various Karen insurgent organizations. The active players in the state are the Tatmadaw aligned Border Guard Force (BGF), Karen National Union (KNU and their armed wing Karen National Liberation Army KNLA) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA which broke off KNU in 1994) which itself had a splinter group who renamed themselves Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA-5). As far as I know large parts of the northern Karen State is under KNU/KNLA control.

    Moei river arrives to the confluence with Salween

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    The confluence

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    There is also a hydroelectric dam project planned downstream Salween some 30 odd kilometres from the confluence. The Hatgyi Dam which funded by Thailand's EGAT, China's Sino Hydro Corporation and Myanmar's Ministry of Electric Power and International Group of Entrepreneurs. A likely conflict zone between Burmese Military and KNU. The dam area is also ethnically diverse, ecologically rich and located within a wildlife sanctuary.

    Google Earth view of the confluence area

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    The confluence

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    After taking in the beauty of the river confluence it was time to head. I was very pleased with myself that I had made it here and negotiated the rough rocky and sandy downhill section without falling over. But then it dawned on to me - shit, I need to make it back up there through the loose mixture of sand, rocks and ruts. Couple times I had to stop and let the bike slide back down brake on for several metres in order to gain traction again and get going. But I made it okay.

    Time to head back up and over the hills

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    Views along the trail back towards Ban Mae Sam Laep

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    Finally over the hills and back by the Salween south of Mae Sam Laep

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    At Ban Mae Mae Sam Laep

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    North side of Ban Mae Sam Laep

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    Back at Ban Mae Sam Laep I decided to check the road north or the village leading to Tha Ta Fang on the banks of Salween. But I was running out of time and realised some of the cracks and ruts on the road were wide and deep as grand canyon so better leave it till next time. Plus it was getting a tad late in the afternoon and I was indeed tired.

    So back to Mae Sariang and more beers and some nosh at the Ching Ching cafe as I was very pleased with what I had just done.

    Some more tourism promoting street art at Mae Sariang

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  2. GTR-Admin

    GTR-Admin Administrator
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    Well done, it is a great trip out there, great report and fantastic photos. I've done it many times in the Hilux 4WD over the years, but never on a bike. My ex-wife is from Sob Moei village at the confluence. Coming up out of Sob Moei in the Hilux can be a real challenge if there is a hint of dampness on the clay, even in low-range 4WD with diff locks assisting.

    Some of the very worst of the steep sections out towards the last villages before the descent to the confluence have been concreted. Previously, there were massive ruts, loose stones on clay, and the thickest bull dust I've ever driven in!!! Powering up hill through the dust, if you encountered a spot that forced changing down a gear, the dust cloud could overtake you! Visibility would reduce to zero in a heartbeat for a few seconds, until you could power through the dust again...

    As soon as the monsoon rains start, it becomes pretty much impossible to drive out there.

    When you are battling up or down those hills, it is humbling to see how adeptly the locals traverse the hills - two-up on a Honda Wave, and loaded with gear! They are tough people out there!
     
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  3. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    Thoroughly enjoyed my experience and the fact I had no real trail riding experience added to the excitement. It was an adventure as I had to find the right tracks playing by instinct and getting a confirmation whenever I did meet local villagers.

    The concrete sections at beginning going over the hills were already in pretty bad shape with round bar sticking out in places. But most of it was dirt with the descent towards the river most challenging as it was indeed dusty with loose sand, rocks and ruts. For some reason I was more competent going downhill than coming up.

    And yes, on my way back to the main dirt road I tried to tail a local chap on a Wave but could not keep up with him My bike was indeed covered in dust and I had it washed the following day including the chain in order to properly lube it again.

    Great spot that confluence so happy I did it.
     
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  4. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    Wow. Fabulous report and photos.
    That area of North Thailand is fantastic & full or trails to explore.

    Yes you're right about the Moei flowing North, there aren't many.
    The Ing river that drains the Phayao lake flows north into the Mekong, the Mae Nam Fang river is another flowing into the Kok, plus the Nam Mae Lao north into the Kok, and the Kok goes east & finally North into the Mekong. Amazing isn't though. most of the rivers head south or into the Mekong & that's it (I think)?
     
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  5. Jimenator

    Jimenator Ol'Timer

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    It's pretty safe on the Myanmar side there now. There is a border crossing a little north in Khun Yuam district, that will eventually be upgraded to international status, allowing entry into Myanmar.
     
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  6. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    Well noted. If there is a border crossing slightly north of Khun Yuam that will lead to Kayah (Karenni) state and assume eventually connect to state capital Loikaw which is mostly peaceful. However, if you cross from Mae Sariang district and Ban Sob Moei to Burma you cross into Karen State. And large parts of northern Karen State are still very much under KNU influence. They don't have any beef with us but with the Hatgyi dam in planning stages it could easily come to blows over territory etc.

    Few years ago i attempted to roll out telco installations on several tower sites in northern Karen state but was told to stop and wait for results as KNU negotiated profit sharing deal with the operator. Any attempt to install prior the agreement they would blow up the whole site was a clear message from them. Other parts of Karen state our engineers were actually escorted to site on couple occasions by some unspecified armed group. They couldn't tell me which group except it wasn't the regular Burmese military as they got kinda handed over to another military sporting completely different uniforms. Mobile phones were checked for pictures and even confiscated on one occasion.

    Anyway, if there will be an international crossing basically connecting MHS to Loikaw that will be great. The more the merrier :)
     
  7. ianyonok

    ianyonok Ol'Timer

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    Great report, Thank you. Sounds like a nice ride out there. I'll put that confluence on my bucket list. Just had a look on Earth it looks a lovely ride. A reason to ride somewhere...

    My nearest confluence is the significant juncture of the Ruak river flowing into the Kong river, at the Golden Triangle, Sop Ruak.
    But a more interesting (and I would have thought equally significant) confluence is where the Sai river from Mae Sai flows into the Ruak river coming out of Burma. Significant, because it is the northernmost point of Thailand, approximately 2 klms further north than the bridge crossing Mae Sai.
    But strangely, there is no marker or sign at the confluence.

    Has Anyone Been To North Thailand?
     
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  8. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    Whilst talking about river confluences - this is one of my favourites and it's right here in Loei. The confluence of Mekong and Heuang rivers. This is the spot where Mekong arrives from Laos and forms the Thai - Laos border again around most of Isan. Both sides of Mekong here are Laos. To the west Heuang river is the Thai - Laos border and to the east it's the Mekong again.

    There is a viewpoint right next to the village of Ban Tha Di Mi which is 22 kilometres west of Chiang Khan along highway 2195. So when you reach Ban Tha Di Mi turn into the village and stay on that road and it will eventually lead you uphill to the viewpoint. You will be greeted by a large standing Buddha statue upon your arrival.

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    And the many colours of Heuang river depending on the season. Thailand on the left, Laos on the right.

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  9. ianyonok

    ianyonok Ol'Timer

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    Ooooh.. nice Guzzi.

    Yes, I made it there in March 2014. Not a great time for scenic views..
    2014-03-04 13.12.08.
     
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  10. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

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    Great reports! Fantastic pictures. What do You think of the Moto Guzzi?
     
  11. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    I like the Guzzi. I wanted one for long time as I'm a lover of classic and retro styled naked bikes. Never really thought I could have one in Thailand so when I realized a dealer had opened in Bangkok I just had to have one. And the V7 was the most practical for me with good riding position and 21 litre tank.

    My Guzzi is the 2016 model V7 II Stone purchased Aug 2017. It is a steam locomotive after a precision engineered Japanese bike but all part of the charm and character And it has got ABS and traction control. The engine braking with the shaft drive can be brutal and unsettling especially in sharp corners. Also the gearbox and I believe dry single disk clutch can feel weird. It shifts best unhurried. So not for everyone. When you fire it up it kicks to the right like a boxer (with a push-up bra) which I get a kick out of.

    I use it mainly for trips to Isan, lower north and Bangkok & Kanchanaburi. If I head up to upper north I will take my CRF as it's much better bike for that since it allows me to venture on rougher roads and dirt trails.

    received_708868286141850. IMG_20181115_112837. IMG_20181115_113926. IMG_20181115_113946.
     
  12. Jimenator

    Jimenator Ol'Timer

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    Well there are no roads on the Myanmar side of Mae Sam Laeb anyway (Mae Sariang and Sob Moei are quite far from the border, it's Mae Sam Laeb which is actually on the border). Locals there told me no one dares to go to the other side due to landmines in the jungle, which could have been laid there years or even decades ago.

    Hpapun in northern Shan State is still reportedly a bit of a problem area, but things are getting better. I've been on the Hpa-an to Hpapun road as far as Hlaingbwe, which is perfectly safe but I understand that somewhere south of Hpapun things may get a bit dicey.

    Anyway, east of the Hpa-an to Hpapun road there are basically only mountains and jungle all the way to the Salween river on the Thai border. On the Thai side, it's pretty much the same thing, except for the section of road along the border between Ban Tha Song Yang continuing south towards Tha Song Yang and Mae Sot.

    A Thai friend drove his car across the Khun yuam crossing as far as Loikaw a few years ago. He didn't need permits or anything as he knows a Karen militia guy.
     
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  13. Tarquin Ferrets

    Tarquin Ferrets Active Member

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    #13 Tarquin Ferrets, Apr 13, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
    Yes some northern parts of Karen state are still a bit problematic as I found out through work as well.

    Ban Mae Sam Laep is indeed on the border as is Ban Sob Moei. There's two. Sob Moei district just south of Mae Sariang but also the village at the confluence by the border is called Ban Sob Moei. I was just referring to the districts as a whole when mentioned Mae Sariang and Sob Moei bordering Burma.

    I've been to Loikaw but did it from the Burma side. Would be great though to ride there from Thai side as well. But not really keen on organised tours which seems to be still the requirement to enter Burma with your own bike.
     

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