Mae Sa Valley Fail


Jan 11, 2009
Hey everyone,

I am currently in Northern Thailand before I head to Cambodia. I am keeping a blog if anyone is interested at I was following the GT rider map for the Mae Sa Valley, and this is what happened.

I wake up around 8am, and go get some breakfast, then start to get everything ready to be worn or packed. I also include my 3 litres of water in my CamelBak and 3 extra litres in bottles.

Today I head off road in to Mae Sa Valley following some of the dirt trails shown on the GT Rider map. I load all my gear on, not just what I need for the day, as this is a practice run for the rest of Thailand and Cambodia.

First off I head onto the 'super highway', I do about 80kph, most cars do about 70kph, with some doing anywhere from 80 to 120.

I take the turn off to Mai Sa Valley following my GPS instead of the signs, they both get me to where I want to be, but this route goes through some small towns and isn't the big highway.

Before the dirt is some amazing tarmac, great condition with heaps of really nice bends up the mountain. In fact, the best riding road I'd ever been on. Just wish I had a Triumph Street Triple or Daytona 675 with me! I take it pretty easy, as I don't know how well the KLX250 corners on tarmac, since it's designed for dirt with offroad tyres. I'm used to being able to lean until the peg hits the ground (although I pretty much always chicken out before leaning that far).

I take a right turn off the main road, and after a short time the road turns into pavement, basically the same a pavement you walk on, except just wide enough for a car. I'm no longer riding on roads that are marked on my GPS (The Garmain Thailand map) but they are on the GT-Rider map. After a quick turn up a random path to check out what was there... nothing. I come to a split in the road, and head left as it looks like the best condition.

The road turns to dirt, just as I was expecting. Still a normal road, just dirt now. After riding a while, I stop to check the GT rider map vs my GPS and find I've taken a wrong turn. I stop to think about how I am going to figure out what road is what, then realise if I map my always face north, and zoom out. The track should look almost the same as the GT-rider road. So I change the setting on my GPS, take a couple photos and head back to the split in the road.

I had along the road the right road, and it turns to dirt, excellent. I start getting more used to riding on the dirt, as I've only done it a few times on a 100cc bike of my mates. I don't have too many issues, the occasional small stretch of sand which makes the bike slide a bit and breaking hard, but other than that it's pretty straight forward.
There is burnt forest/ground everywhere, and the occasional smoking branch or burning bush. I assume it must be deliberate.

I follow the road, knowing I am going to be taking a right turn to a road that GT Rider maps states is '4wd only, wet season impassable, rough track.
I find a turn off and take it, now it's getting better, no longer a road, at least in my opinion, now a real off-road track. It's the dry season, but i don't know how a 4wd can drive along this route. Seems to small, but then the Thai's (and most South East Asians) can ride and drive anything anywhere.



The GPS is tracking perfectly, and lines up with the GT rider map until I come to a T-Section, where the rough track leads to a dirt road, but from what I can tell I shouldn't have reached the dirt road yet, still some more bends to go. So I take my chances and decide to go right.

I try to get onto my bike... problem the angle it's at I can't get my leg over!
The KLX250 is only just low enough for me to swing my legs over, but with the pack on the back I can't swing my leg over. Instead I have to do a sort of acrobatic move where I grab my own foot and lift it over. But that only works on flat ground.
So I push the bike down the slope and into the dirt road, and try again. No luck. So now I start pushing it up hill, until I reach something more flat where the bike stays in place and I can get my leg over. And off I go.

I ride along the road, and then find a right turn off. It looks like a single track (e.g. not big enough for cars [2 wheels, 2 tracks]), it goes up steep and is covered in leaves like it hasn't been used for a while. What the heck I decide, I already don't know if I am going the right way, so I turn right onto the track and go up. It's not very long but I take it pretty slow, this is the first time I've rode on anything like this, and make it up with any real issue.

When I get to the top, there is a 4 way intersection, including my single track. There is a dirt road the goes along is good condition, and one that goes straight up the hill full of ruts from 4dwd tyres. For whatever reason, that's the one I decide to take, straight up the hill and through lots of ruts, not a good combination for an inexperienced dirt biker.

I go up the path, with a couple small wobble from hitting a rut at the wrong angle, and one big wobble but I keep control. I reach the top and it's a farm of some sort, a gate, and to the right another single track.

Deciding that riding down the ruts would be hard, and that I've already gone this far I'd head up the single track and see if it leads to the top of the mountain to take some photos, and hopefully over the other side toward the town I am trying to get to.

I start up the single track and immediately find myself in trouble. It's step, and there a bushs and vines catching on the bike. I keep stalling the bike trying to make my way up slowly, and there is no way to turn the bike around. I just have to keep going up. I hit something that makes the bike go the wrong direction, I manage to correct but not before hitting a big bush and stalling the bike. It takes me a few attempts to get out of the bush, the back wheel spinning, and the bike stalling. I make it out and keep going up, looking for somewhere to turn around. As I near the top where I can turn around, the bike stalls again...
I try to start it and it doesn't start. I try again... and again... and again... nothing. I guess that the battery has gone weak from all the restarting and doesn't have enough power to kick the bike over.

Great... well I guess I have to push start it. So I put the side stand down and lean to my left with my foot out... my foot doesn't hit the ground there's a small ditch there. Just enough that the bike leans over and start to fall. I try to stop it but no luck. The bike and I go down, the bike falling on my leg... great! A bike that won't start, on it sides, in the middle of no where. I get my leg out, take my backpack, helmet and gloves off and try to lift the bike...

I try and lift, it goes up a bit, slides, and the wheel gets caught. I try again, and I can't get it up anywhere near enough. Try again and again. I can't lift it. I think about taking all my gear off the back, but I am not even getting close, and the gear only weighs about 18kg, the rest of the bike with fuel is about 130kg, and I am not getting anywhere near high enough to stand it up.



(Doesn't look so hard in the photos! Guess that's what I was thinking when I went up! Turns out looks can be deceiving)

I got up the top of the hill, where I was aiming to turn around. And rest for a bit, while I think about what I am going to do. After drinking some water, and resting. I decide to try lift it once more. No luck again. So I set out down the hill with my backpack, and stupidly still wearing my knee guards and body armour. By the time I think about how dumb it is waking in all the gear, I am too far down to walk back and take it off. So I walk down to the intersection that I originally took to get into this mess and wait. I don't have my watch with me.Dumb again. And wait for a while, I hear some bikes go past somewhere in the distance and decide to wait where I am. After a while longer I decide I'll walk down to where I took the first single track, as I had seen one other person ride past before, and thought it might be more of a main road.

I walk down the single track, find a tree to sit under and wait. I have my ipod, but decide not to use it so I can hear any bikes coming near. I did have my camera, so I took a photo, then realised I could tell the time using my camera.

Eventually 3 dirt bikers come down the road in full gear, I put my hand up, which in return they give me a wave. So I frantically try to signal them to stop before the ride past!

They stop, and the guy in front asked what's happening. I explain that I dropped my bike up the mountain, and I can't lift it up. They offer to help and I jump on the back of the leaders bike and point him in the right direct.

We go up the first single track I felt so proud doing, and he flys up it, with a pillion no less. Then I point him up the ruts, and he flys up that too. No going slow, no dodging he just accelerates up without ever needing to slow down.

We get to the farm gate, and I tell him to leave his bike here as you can't turn the bikes around up there. I walk him up to my bike, while the others are just coming up to the gate, and show him where it lays. He goes and grabs the handle bars and I'm just about to grab the rear of the bike and help him left when... wham...he lifts the bike up no problems. Damn, that is embarrassing. I know I am not strong, nor as big as this guy, but he made that look so easy, in fact it probably was so easy for him. Then one of his friends arrives, and together they turn the bike around by spinning it in place then try to start it. It doesn't start, so the leader rides the bike down the single track without power.

Once we get to the farm gates, he tries to start the bike again, and again no luck. So he rides it down the hill and 'push' starts it. Then brings it back up. He tells me he doesn't think it's the battery. Maybe it's the value clearances. My guess, it was probably flooded or something from me restarting and revving it over and over.
I asked them where they are from, two are local to Chiang Mai and one is from Bangkok.
Then they introduce themselves, the 'leader' is Mark Rossi who owns Trans Moto Sport (, that explains why he was such a good rider. Unfortunately I don't recall the names of the other two.(But thanks to all of you!)

I offer to buy them a drink back in Chiang Mai, but they're not interested, probably don't want to be seen with someone dumb enough to get them self into this mess! After a few jokes at my and GT-Riders expense (GT Rider sent me up here to get new tracks for his GPS map, told me everyone goes up here, no problems). It's time to head down, I try to turn my bike around, but it keeps getting the wheels stuck in the ruts. And I am too exhausted/tired/weak to get them out, embarrassment number 2. They help me turn the bike around, and then offer to stay behind me to make sure I get down.

I take it very slowly down the rutted road, having both my feet dragging along the ground to keep me secure. I get a bit more confident, and remember you should use your rear brake, not front brake on dirt, I bring my feet up to the pegs so I can use the rear brake.

Not long after changing my riding style I hit a rut at the wrong angle, hit the rear brake and the bike comes crashing down on the right side with me underneath (the opposite side to where I dropped it, now both sides will have some damage). Embarrasment #3.

I pull my leg out, and Mark pull the bike up. Turns out going down hill, you SHOULD use the front brake, and use low gears to get the engine to brake as well. Mark tells me to leave the bike off, and the bike in gear so I can use the engine/clutch if I need to stop. I go round the corner, and down a short length is the end of the road, I had almost made it. I get down and stop.
The guys tell me which way to go to get back to a road that'll be on my GPS, and I tell them to head off as I need to put all my gear back on properly (my armour was on the outside, instead of inside of my clothes. As I had taken it off while waiting then hastily put it back on when we got the bike). I say thanks again, and they head off back down to where they had found me.

I sat down completely exhausted and decided I would head back to Chiang Mai along main roads. Not sure what would have happened had Mark and his friends not come along, I am sure I would have found some help eventually, but I am sure it would have been a lot harder to A) Get to the bike B) Get it started C) Bring it down, without them. In fact, I am almost certain had it been a local on a scooter it would have been a lot messier and I would have dropped/crashed the bike more than once.

I follow the directions Mark gave me, and sure enough it leads me back to pavement, then tarmac. Shortly after the road becomes tarmac it appears on my GPS. I key in Chiang Mai and follow the directions on the GPS, stopping a few times to take some photos.



I eventually reach Mae Sa elephant camp, and stop to take some photos from the road.
I refuse to pay to go to an elephant camp where they 'train' the elephants to do tricks and keep ,them chained up on tiny chains so they can't move. (Although I'd love to see an elephant face to face!)



Eventually I make it back to Chiang Mai and my 'Nice Apartments', competely exhaust, running low on a water (Next time I got out dirt, I'll take 10 litres), covered in sweat and feeling sore all over. I check myself out, and the only injury I have is a nice bruise on my ankle.

I have a shower then head out for dinner, find a copy of Adventure Cambodia (now I have 3 Cambodian guides books [Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and Adventure Cambodia]... hmmm) which I had looked for the day before without any luck.

I get back to my room, and crash for the night. Completely exhausted.

Stay on the 'main' offroads, incase something happens.
The bike can be lifted by one person, using the handle bars as leverage.
Front brakes on dirt down hill, rear break on flat/uphill.

Damage to bike:
Few light scratches, nothing serious

Damage to me:
Aching body
Couple bruises
Hurt (twisted?) ankle
Massive ego damage!

See all photos:


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Wow! Quite an adventure for day 1. Lets hope you can survive day 2 & complete the rest of your trip satisfactorily.

Glad your having a good time.

Thanks for the fast contribution - you'll be a big star if you can keep this up.


Jan 11, 2009
I have a nice route for the GT map from today, rode from Pai to Sappong via Muang Noi. I tried to follow the road on the GT Map, but got lost. (GT Map has turn off for Sappong after Muang Noi, but I think it could have been before?)

Anyway, I decide to just keep on riding and managed to make it to Sappong via different route. Looking at the GPS tracks now, I think if you look at the GT Map, and see the road headig straight north after Muang Noi. On the GT rider map it just ends. I think thats the road I got all the way to Sappong.
So david if you want some new GPS data...:)

Took me about 8 hours on the dirt (Minus photos, rests, etc). Reached Sappong, and decided to keep going to Mae Hong Son. Think I'll take a rest day and checkout Baan Thai.

I'll do a write up soon.

Flying into another continent to pursue a adventure or a dream of riding a off-road motorcycle through Asia I think is pretty cool.
If you already had all the off-road skills it wouldn't be such achievement to accomplish your plan. Cheers to you for having a go and making the adventure, nothing but admiration here.
Let's what and see if I finish in one peice or not before deciding if it was a good idea! Thanks again for the help. If I have a spare day in Chiang Mai, I'll drop in.

Oh, and Mark. I dropped the bike... again (Just trying to turn it round and my foot slipped on some bambo). But this time I managed to get it back up. Was much easier with the bag off the bike and grabbing the handle bars.