Sunday 28th Dec. '03 Set off for my Mae Sot visa run at 8 am and I joined most everyone else that was leaving Bangkok for the holiday period. Route 32 and then Route 1 up to Tak was uneventful and it was while riding along the R105 towards Mae Sot that the scenery started to unfold before me. I found myself cursing the hazy climatic conditions that prevented me from seeing the very distant mountains. The view was nice in it’s own way, it had a kind of English autumnal look with various shades of brown, green and copper. Along the R105 I caught sight of a sign on the brow of a hill that read 'Magic Hill 500m'. Once over the brow I was expecting to see more signs that would explain what was so magical about this particular hill. All I saw was a truck that had gone off the road and was lying on it's side. I didn't see anything 'magical' about that. I've seen that trick done hundreds of times. I continued a little further but didn't see anything other than another 'Magic Hill' sign on the opposite side of the road. I rode back and measured 500m on the tripo. I stopped opposite the truck and saw nothing else but two dirt tracks on the left. I figured it was one of these 'stop the vehicle, put it in neutral and watch it roll uphill' illusions. So, I put the bike into neutral and sure enough it did actually roll. Backwards down the hill! I continued on towards Mae Sot without any magical enlightenment and also without food in my stomach as I hadn't eaten anything since 7am and I was feeling somewhat peckish. I had myself a plate of Khao Man Kai in town before searching for a hotel. I had previously envisioned Mae Sot as a very rustic town with perhaps a distinct atmosphere about it, but found it no different than any other town. Perhaps after spending more time here I may have a different opinion. At 4pm I found the D.K. Hotel within 5 minutes of searching and it seemed more like a swanky over-priced guest house than a hotel. I was too tired to look for lodgings elsewhere so I retrieved my luggage from the saddlebag, set the bike alarm and proceeded up the stairs to the first floor reception desk. I only got half way up the stairs when I heard the Chirp!…Chirp!…Chirp! of the alarm going off. I turned round and looked down to see the old semi-toothless security guard with a big grin on his face. I let it pass. After a light nap I went for a ride around the town at 6pm, firstly to get some beer for a quiet night watching TV, secondly to check out the back-streets and little communities. I noticed a few bike shops with dirt bikes parked out in the front and I wondered if they were for rent, as I had contemplated renting one to go to Umphang the next day. I thought better of it. I didn't particularly want to ride on an unfamiliar bike on an unfamiliar road, especially a road named……. 'Death Highway'. Monday 29th. Dec. Checked out at the darkly hour of 6am and headed for the Friendship Bridge to cross into Burma. It was damned cold riding the short distance from town to the bridge and I wondered how the bare-footed, bare-headed, scantily robed monks felt doing their daily alms routine in the freezing cold. The immigration office was open but I decided to go back into town for something to eat and get some hot coffee in me first. In spite of wearing a t-shirt, denim shirt, leather vest and a thick leather jacket, I was shivering as though I had a fever. At some point somewhere I remembered that I looked to the heavens and promised that I would never ever again complain about the weather being 'too damn hot' or ‘too damn wet’. It was light when I returned to the bridge at around 7am and I parked the bike to one side of the bridge and in front of a bike shop. Standing at the immigration departure window, all that I could see was my own reflection in the tinted glass. A very small sliding window opened and a hand popped out gesturing for my passport. I gave my passport to the hand and the small window was quickly closed. After about a minute of staring at my reflection the hand appeared again with my passport. I took it and the hand retreated once again into the office. I was reminded of ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family movie and series. Walking over the bridge I was able to warm up a bit as the sun was starting to clear some of the morning mist. During the day I wasn't able to see very far because of the haze, but now, I couldn't see very far because of the mist. Still, despite the weather conditions it was a refreshing change to the norm. Inside the Burmese Immigration office it was lovely and warm and I sat watching a Burmese TV channel while my passport details were copied into a book and onto a slip of paper. I was watching a dance troupe performing at a temple when someone changed a channel showing American wrestling. I looked at the young lad sat next to me with a remote control in his hand. I asked him if he liked this kind of program. "No, it's not real" he said. "It's same acting". I refused his offer to show me around the town and I was handed my receipt for my passport and was told that they would keep it here until I returned. Myawaddy is a nice contrast to Thai towns. Here, there's no signs in Thai and almost everything is in Burmese. A few signs were in Burmese and English, mainly street signs and the occasional warning of death for drug trafficking. The main street through the town had restaurants and shops selling clothes, bags, plumbing materials etc. There was no One-to-call or D-Tac stickers to be found plastered on anything as there wasn't a shop to be seen selling mobiles or even televisions for that matter. A few satellite dishes could be seen but I couldn’t recall seeing any unsightly TV aerials. The short main street also seemed to be the 'business area', with a couple of banks and townhouse offices here and there, but if one was to look down any of the numerous side streets while strolling along the main street they would see a different picture. Namely poverty in the form of ramshackle houses and squalor. I was headed for the only attraction that I knew of in Myawaddy, a temple. It was only a few minutes walk from the bridge and instead of entering the temple grounds I instead decided to walk along the streets surrounding it. I was mindful of the fact that everyone uses the right-hand side the road which puzzled me with the country being at one time under British colonial rule. Not that it made much difference anyway because there was a distinct lack of cars and pick ups or, I should say that there simply wasn’t any at all. I only saw one truck that was collecting garbage. The favoured mode of transport was small motorbikes and pedicabs and walking on the road was easier than walking along the highly raised side-walks. The temple was of the chedi type and that is about the extent of my knowledge of temples so I can’t go into further details. I only used the temple as kind of focus point. Somewhere to head for and to make me look as though I knew where I was going. Friendship Bridge to Umphang. The R1090 or ‘Death Highway’ is one of the nicest roads I’ve ridden along. The first 50kms from Mae Sot was nothing special, but when I got to the police station at the 50km marker and started ascending the mountains, the scenery quickly changed and this was when I had to be on my toes. I was forewarned about loose gravel on bends, crazy truck drivers and road construction crews, so I rode a little more sedately. The bends weren’t as tight as I was expecting and the views were still marred by the hazy sunshine but the ride was very pleasant and relaxing. At some points I felt as though I was riding on the spiny ridges of the mountains. Off to the left would be a steep drop and then almost immediately on the right, another steep drop into a forested valley. I kept looking at the roadside markers and the km countdown to Umphang seemed to be lowering very slowly. I was glad when I got to the Burmese refugee camp in the lowlands as the road straightened out and I was able to get up some speed. This was the best part of the road. The long sweeping curves enabled me to cruise effortlessly and take in more of the scenery, for a short while anyway. There was only about 40kms left to cover to reach Umphang and these were through more mountainous terrain. It was along this last stretch that I came across the fine gray gravel or sand, on or near, some downhill bends. Luckily, a pick-up truck ahead was traveling at my speed so I was warned of the danger areas whenever it kicked up dust. Umphang. I rode around the town for awhile and passed a few resorts, tour operators, an internet cafe and finally, stopped at a shop on the side road for Thi Lo Su waterfalls for a Pepsi. A glance at my watch told me that it had taken me four and a half hours to get here. I contemplated going to the falls but with the amount of 4WD’s that I’d seen coming here I assumed it would be crowded. I’ll certainly come back here for sure, but not during a holiday period. I’d like to see waterfalls without bathers in the pools or hikers climbing up the levels along with the shouting and screaming that Thais are so fond of. I finished my drink and stubbed out my ciggie. I headed back for Mae Sot. No point hanging around here. I was able to ride a lot quicker now that I knew where the loose gravel was, but still had to be wary of oncoming traffic cutting corners. I arrived back at the refugee camp and was astonished to see the straw huts lined up on the hillside. I couldn’t work out how I had missed seeing them only hours before. Perhaps they had blended in too much into the scenery or maybe I was distracted with the winding road, I really don’t know. I parked the bike and took a few pictures and when I was about to start off again a little snotty nosed kid came scrambling up a little foot track wai-ing and then holding out his hand. His nose dribbled with snot and he tried to sniff it back up a few times into his nose but he kept failing. I had a pocket full of loose change and as my hand was trying to scoop up all the coins, a taller kid, bossy looking, had arrived and he too was holding out his hand. By the time I had the money out of my pocket there were five of them all wai-ing and then holding out a hand. I searched out a 10 baht coin for Snotty Nose but Bossy snatched it out of my hand. I dug out another 10 baht coin and Bossy tried to take that too, but I was expecting it. Snotty Nose was given the coin and I gave a couple of 5 baht coins to each of the others. I was left with seven 1 baht coins and decided to give them all to Snotty Nose. What he done next kind of surprised me and touched me. He shared the coins with his friends giving them 1 baht each. I wondered if this was a code amongst beggars in general or just amongst these kids i.e. if only one receives something, then it’s share and share alike? It was nothing to me money-wise but I could imagine it could be a vast sum to these kids. I wanted to take a picture of Snotty Nose so that I could have a photo with a story behind it. As soon as I reached for the camera pouch on my belt, Snotty Nose gave an order and they all huddled together on cue, some folding their arms. They had clearly done this before. I rode off towards the mountains with Mae Sot planned as my day’s final destination. The oncoming mountainous stretch was easy, as I knew there was no tricky bends, nasty potholes or loose gravel. The only hazard I faced was when I saw a large truck parked on a bend. I was just about to take the bend when I saw a stream of diesel flowing across the road from a split fuel tank. I had just enough time to brake and straighten the bike up before coasting through the fuel. Lucky for me the truck was parked there. Had it not been there, I might have ridden through it banked over mistaking the diesel for water. I rode the next kilometer very slow making sure the fuel was wiped off the tyres and onto the road. I was happy to see the police station again at the 50km marker and was able to pick up some speed. Arrived back at D.K. Hotel at 4 pm. From Umphang it had only taken me 3 hours. I showered and was out again to get something to eat. Then I went back out to the Friendship Bridge just for the hell of it. I was parked underneath the bridge in a parking area having a smoke when I closely examined a huge marble sign saying “The Westest of Thailand at Moei River”. The Westest? There’re other points in Thailand more westerly so I’m not sure what the sign was trying to say exactly. After doing some people watching, I went back into town looking for the 7-11 that I had bought my beer from the night before. I searched and searched but could not find it anywhere. I found two other 7-11s in town but not the one from last night. I went back to the D.K. Hotel and tried to retrace my previous night’s journey but to no avail. I wanted this one particular 7-11 because there was three lovely young girls working there and when the cashier gave a thumbs up sign saying “Chawp Chopper!” the other two girls did and said the same thing in unison. They asked me a few questions as to where I was from and why I was in Mae Sot etc. and now that I felt the need for some company I couldn’t find them. I should’ve seized the opportunity when I had it. Huh! So much for a ‘Magic Hill’. What about a ‘Disappearing Convenience Store’? Tuesday 30th Dec. I woke up at 6am and took my time doing my morning chores and deciding where to head for next. The restaurant opposite the hotel opened about 6:30am and I ordered a much needed American breakfast. Thai food doesn’t fill me for long and I wanted something slow burning as I planned to ride to Mae Sariang then Hot, Doi Tao, Li, Thoen and finally staying the night in Tak. I didn’t know when my next meal would’ve been, as once I start riding I never seem to work up an appetite The R105 started off pretty ordinary at first and I was often riding through patches of fog in the lowlands. I crested a hill somewhere near Mae Ramat I think, and suddenly there before me, almost smacking me in the face, was some spectacular mountain scenery. I had to raise my head slightly to see the top of the mountain as the road dipped down and curved slowly around its base. The scenery is probably nothing for frequent travelers to the north and I imagine that they would stifle a yawn when reading this, having seen much grander scenery but for me, on only my second visit to the north, it was AWESOME!!. It wasn’t long after, that I rounded another long sweeping curve and through the foggy air and weak sunshine, I caught the sight of what I thought was a small Karen village on my left. There was a low rattan-stripped fence that I thought initially to be a demarcation of someone’s property, as one would do with, say a garden. But as the fence continued on and on, running parallel with the road, more and more village huts appeared on the hillside through the eerie mist until it seemed that they were too numerous to count. Hut after hut after hut, they rose up blanketing the hillside. I realised that I was looking at another refugee camp. The air had a smoky smell to it and I wondered how much of the mist was fog and how much of it was smoke. It was surreal. I wanted to take a photo of this camp so badly but my conscience wouldn’t let me because of the rattan fence. A simple interwoven rattan fence. The fence was the difference between confinement and freedom. It depended on which side of the fence you were on. I didn’t want to view the villagers as nothing more than exhibits in a zoo. I rode on without stopping. A few kms after Tha Song Yang there was a turn off for Usu Cave. The road was paved and I contemplated paying a visit on the hopes that I would pass through a few villages on the way. But then, how many more places would I be stopping at further on up ahead? I hadn’t planned on exploring anywhere and so hadn’t worked out any itinerary as such. I was just taking this four-day trip as an opportunity to just take in the scenery and enjoy the roads. I was using two of those days just getting to and from the north, so it didn’t leave me much time for exploring. No problem, as no doubt I’ll be back very soon. At Ban Tha Song Yang the road suddenly narrowed and I started climbing up through a forest. The change was so abrupt that I thought that I’d missed a turning. I kept going on anyway. I later found out that it was still the R105. The road was bumpy in some places, other places it was dirt, rocks and dust puddles. One stretch looked like it was recently paved and the road markings looked like they would be wet to the touch. From Ban Tha Song Yang to Sop Moei I noticed red numbers sprayed onto the asphalt and red tags nailed into the center of the road as though it’s planned to be re-surfaced. I certainly hope so. Arrived at Mae Sariang and headed out towards Hot along the R108. The road was nice enough and at some parts the side of the road had collapsed. When I reached the junction for Omkoi I had to stop. I contemplated changing my plans there and then. The sign said 50kms. I had to have a smoke to decide whether to go for it or not. I decided to ride on towards Hot. I got 2 or 3kms further along the road and had to stop yet again. I was tempted, very tempted indeed to see if I could go through Omkoi and continue on down to Ban Mae Tun Noi and find a road to either the 105 or the 1175. I figured that if there was such a road, then it would be easier to try and find it starting from Ban Mae Tun Noi. Now would be an ideal time to do so too, as I didn’t relish the idea of searching for it during the rainy season. But, I was still undecided and had to flip a coin. Heads to Hot. Tails to Omkoi. This way I couldn’t be blamed for any wrong choice of decision later on. I could only have a coin to blame. When I got to Hot I refueled and I recalled stopping here over a year ago. But my recollection of the road ahead to Doi Tao was a complete blank. I carried on through Hot and was taking in the scenery when the road seemed to come to an end in a small village. I asked some women where the road to Doi Tao was. I was told it was 20kms back the way I had come. I took my map out and realised I’d missed the left hand turn immediately after leaving Hot. I’d traveled down the R1012 instead of the R1103. Still, I thought, how many outsiders have been here before me? From Doi Tao to Li on the R106 wasn’t awe inspiring and it was only riding through the Mae Wa NP that was anywhere near to being exhilarating. Bend after bend after bend. Second gear. Third gear. Second gear. Third gear. I was glad to get to Thoen as the sun was starting to get very low and I was starting to get hungry. I didn’t want to waste any daylight riding time by eating so I carried on through to Tak and arrived just as the sun disappeared. I parked in front of the first hotel that I came to, The Vieng Tak Hotel. Checked in. Paid the exorbitant holiday price. Threw my bag onto the bed. Swilled my face. Then headed for the restaurant for a much needed meal. Wednesday 31st Dec. Set off back home along the R1 at about 8am. Well, I thought it was the R1. But it seemed unusually quite…..too quiet. No trucks. Very few cars. Nice scenery. Something didn’t seem right and it was only when I checked the roadside marker that I realised it was actually the R104. How did I miss staying on the R1? Who knows? This road was much better anyway and it was going to take me to Wang Chao and, back onto the R1. Saw a sign saying Ground Lizard Village along the way and decided to check it out. I didn’t see any other signs other than the one on the main road and so had to ask several people. Some had seen the sign but didn’t know where the village was. After a bit of a run around I found out from several sources where it was but it meant riding along a road under construction. The dust kicked up by the traffic put me off and so I’ve marked this destination down for a future visit. I got back onto the main road and managed to stay on the R1 to Chainat and from there, onto the R340 which is a good solid road with very little traffic. A few traffic lights here and there but still much better than the R32. Arrived back home in Don Muang close to 2pm. Exhausted.