Skirting the North


Jan 4, 2004
BKK - Mae Sot - MHS - Tha Ton - Chiang Khong - Phitsanulok - BKK

Bangkok to Mae Sot
March 27th

Set off for my visa run at 4:30am. I didn’t plan to leave so early but I had woken up at 3:30am and couldn’t get to sleep again. Heading up through Rangsit factory workers were grouped together at the mouthes of sois waiting for their company buses to turn up. I kind of pitied them having to do the same quotidian routine day after day, week after week, month after month. Seeing them gave me more of a sense of freedom knowing that I’d be travelling around the north sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with an objective in mind, but basically just being able to go where I want on the merest of whims.
Before arriving at Ayutthaya on the R32 my speedo on my Transalp ceased to be. No big deal really as I know that I can get 350 km from a full tank. Less if I cruise at high speed. But it later dawned on me that if I found the road from Tha Song Yang to Omkoi, I would definitely need a speedo, or trippo to tell me how far I’d gone from one village and how far it was to the next. If I were to encounter a problem along the way then I would need to know whether to proceed onwards or to turn back. But anyway, I later found out that there would be another reason not to ride TSY to Omkoi road should I find it.

I split off from the R1 shortly after Nakhon Sawan and hit the R1072 for LatYao. It was a nice enough road, flat and smooth. Next the R3472 then the R3504 towards Mae Wong NP. I kept seeing sign after sign for the NP and wondered just how far away it was. The signs were reluctant to state the distance to the park and the ride there seemed very long and arduous. The distant mountain scenery around here was hazy and the foliage dry and drab. I could often feel my eyes stinging from the smoke residue in the air as I rode along the straight and undulating roads.
I passed the turn off for Mae Wong and headed onto the R1117 looking for Ban Pong Nam Ron. A little side road pointed me towards this village which was situated on the edge of Khlong Wang Chao NP, and in this park was supposedly a dirt road that led to Umphang. Passing through Ban Pong Nam Ron I was greeted with a colourful wooden sign saying ‘Khlong Wang Chao NP’ and a short walking distance beyond it was a shallow stream that was spanned by a rickety wooden bridge that was being repaired. To the right of the bridge was a ford crossing. It seemed easy enough to ride down the near enbankment and up the far side but I wondered if I would shortly come across a toll gate for the park and be asked for 200 baht admission. I had no intention of riding to Umphang at this particular time should the road be easy to locate. I was more on a fact finding mission than anything else. I decided not to bother with this park’s entrance as I think Shinji may have been this way previously anyway. Instead I decided to head for the another route to the Umphang road just slightly further north via a village named Ban Lo Kho.

From the R1117 a smaller road connected it with the R1116. At first the R1116 was nicely asphalted but after a few kms suddenly turned to dirt. Mostly it was hard packed but occasionally there would be puddles of fine dust. Coming out onto the R1109 I was able to pick up some speed and get some cool wind whistling up my sleeves and in my face. Riding slowly along the dirt road meant that the sun was able to beat down on me severely and suck me dry. Damn, it was hot.

The R1109 was smooth black asphalt and had nice long curves, the kind of road that you wished would go on forever. Sadly it comes to a halt at another entrance to Khlong Wang Chao NP and beyond the entrance somewhere, was Ban Lo Kho. The park official asked me where I was going and I showed him my photocopied map with Ban Lo Kho highlighted in yellow along with the Umphang road. I asked him if it was possible to ride along this road but was told that it’s only for walking. He told me that to enter the park it would be 200 baht for me and 30 baht for the bike. I didn’t even bother trying to get in for the Thai price as I was hot and tired and just wanted to get to Mae Sot as quickly as possible. Without even saying a word I turned and mounted the bike. I headed back along the way I had come and took the R1110 to Ban Padang on the R1. Soon as I got onto the R105 I had to stop. The stinging in my eyes became unbearable. I also needed a huge intake of water. I wondered how non-smoking riders would cope with the smoky air as I’ve been a smoker since I was sixteen and partly used to having smoke getting in my eyes.

Arrived in Mae Sot about 1:30pm and checked in at the DK Hotel. I set the mobile alarm for 4pm but slept through it to about 5pm. A quick shower and shave and I was out heading to the bridge over the Moei river for people watching. First thing that I noticed was that the huge marble sign with the engraved words “The Westest of Thailand at Moei River” was missing. It must have been removed either because of bad grammatical usage or, that it’s not the most westerly point of Thailand. Perhaps it was both reasons.
I headed back into town for my first meal of the day and to buy a few cans of Chang for a quiet night watching TV.

Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son
March 28th

Left DK for the bridge at about 7am and slowly walked across it, Burmese people crossing over to the Thai side greeted me with smiles or ‘hellos’. Down over the left-hand side of the bridge on a sandy islet, were a group of men and women playing cards in plain view. I wondered how much was being won or lost.
Over at the Burmese immigration I was asked if I was going into town or doing a quick turn-around. I figured that I might as well go for a walkabout around Myawaddy and see if there was anything new to see, particularly as it was a Sunday.
Three months ago there wasn’t a car to be seen, but now, there was tour vans, 4WDs, saloon cars parked here and there.
As I walked along the main street I felt as though many eyes were on me. As before, I didn’t see any other foreigners and I felt a little unnerved. I thought about seeing how far I could walk along this small town’s main street before being told that I could go no further, but the street continued on for perhaps another 500m when I came to the side street for the temple. It was already getting hot and I turned down the side street for the temple. The street was lined with a row of three meter square wooden huts that were not only dwellings, but some were also people’s working places too. A barber sat on the front step to his house/shop and I briefly wondered how he could live and work in such a small environment.

Back at the DK Hotel I loaded up the Transalp and checked the speedo cable. I disconnected it from the clock and saw that the inner cable still turned as I wheeled the bike forward. I had read somewhere that the front wheel’s drive gear for the speedo is only made of plastic and so quickly wears out. I figured that must be the problem. Great!
After a quick American breakfast I shot out to the R105 heading for Tha Song Yang.
I passed the Burmese refugee camp that 3 months ago looked like something dreamt up by Tolkein for one of his Middle-Earth locations. Now, the camp was lit up by the bright sunshine and could be seen much more clearly. It no longer looked eerie and mythical.

A bit further along the road at the 65km marker there was a side road. Shinji had sent me a map with a road to Omkoi starting from this point. At the entrance to the road there was a jumble of signs giving names of villages and their distances. I couldn’t remember the distances that were on the map, the map was on a floppy disk and the disk was in my bag. My printer at home was screwed so I had saved the map and hoped to have it printed out somewhere in Mae Sot but, this simple task was somehow forgotten.
No problem, I figured I’d at least ride to the first village and just enquire if the road continued towards Omkoi. I only got 50 meters along the road and decided to stop. The road was layered in fine dust hiding small rocks and ruts. I muttered to myself that nobody was paying me to do this and wondered if this could actually be the easiest part of the road. Further ahead the terrain looked like the road would obviously climb up and down the nearby mountains. I worked up a sweat just trying to turn the bike around in the sweltering heat and got back onto the R105 and good solid tarmac.

A few kms further along, a little road led to Mae Usu cave. It’s in a nice quaint little spot and a small stream flows through the mouth of the cave at the base of a hill. No touts, no stalls selling souvenirs and nobody collecting admission fees. I peered into the cave and it looked like that I would have to walk through the stream to gain further access to the interior. As I was putting on my helmet to leave, a guy arrived on a bicycle and asked if I wanted to go inside the cave. He was a guide and must have seen me as I passed through his village getting here. I felt sorry for his wasted journey and pointed to my watch saying that I didn’t have enough time to stay.

Just opposite the Mae Moei NP turn-off there’s a few stalls selling handicrafts and stuff but 50m further along there’s a nice quiet coffee shop. It was here that I got talking to a local guest-house owner who knew a little bit about the Omkoi road.
Enquiring about the road to Omkoi I showed him my map and he said that there is in fact such a road but it’s not finished yet. It was started a few years ago and the funding had stopped. I asked if there was another road and he proceeded to tell me about a road that goes into Mae Moei NP. It went up a mountain to a place where you can see the sunrise. I asked if that road continued to Omkoi but he said no. Great! What the hell is he telling me that for? I got worked up thinking that he was about to part with some secret knowledge that only a few locals perhaps knew of about this elusive road. He also added that it would be a couple more years before the road was finished.

At the Ban Tha Song Yang police check point, a young student waved me to stop. He asked me for a donation to buy books for his school’s library. I dug out my loose change and placed it into a silver bowl. I started to continue on my journey and after about 500m I turned back to the check point. The student spoke reasonable English and so I asked about any roads that may lead to Omkoi. He didn’t know of any and he asked his teacher and a policeman who were sitting in a shaded building. The policeman knew nothing about a road and said that I would have to go to Omkoi via Mae Sariang. It was worth a try.

The R105 started climbing into the hills and I wondered how much of it had been re-surfaced. It turned out that apart from a 200m stretch, it’s now a better road to ride along than three months ago. The stretch around the Mae Ngao NP/Sop Moei has now been paved and was awaiting road markings. The 200m stretch stops just at the top of a hill and can take a rider by surprise if they were to be coming from Mae Sariang way. Most of the big stones have since rolled down and off to the side of the road but there’s still a few big ones embedded in the road along with a few dust puddles.

At Ban Pha Pha there’s a nice little looping road, the R1194, that runs parallel with the R105 and also takes you into Mae Sariang. Alongside of the R1194 there’s yet another road that runs alongside of this one too, and quite often the two roads will merge together only to immediately split off and then join up again perhaps 500m down the road. I stopped in town at 1:40pm for a bit of a rest from riding and a meal break.

The final leg of the journey to Mae Hong Son was filled with anticipation. I was expecting a few nasty switchbacks or sudden 90 degree turns but the road flowed nicely and smoothly. Before arriving at Khun Yuam, a little side-loop road beckoned me away from the R108 and to take the R1337 to Mae Khi (Thai for Mother Shits??). I was enjoying this little side road but according to the sun I seemed to be heading southwards. No problem. I’m sure the road will soon start swinging around and start heading in a northerly direction, or so I thought. I checked my map and figured that I must have passed the southern turn-off and had actually taken the northern one. Also, Mae Khi is shown much further south and not on the R1337 at all. Never mind. I’ll just ride the road and when it comes back out onto the R108 then I’ll just continue back towards Khun Yuam again.
It was a nice little road that dipped and rose, curved this way and that way, crossed over a little river on a newly constructed bridge. I squeezed passed some recent landslide rubble and I was flying along smoothly as the road started climbing upwards when it suddenly became dirt. A pick-up had become stuck in the dust and gravel and was being pushed by four guys. I passed the truck feeling smug, but my smugness soon deserted me as I too got bogged down in the dusty dirt. The rear wheel just spun around and couldn’t get a grip. I rocked the bike backwards and forwards to get it out of the divot it had made. I eventually managed to get the bike to roll back a few meters down the hill to try another track. I only got a few feet further up the hill and the bike got stuck yet again. The pick-up passed me kicking up dust and that too got stuck again about 10m up ahead. I waited for the dust to settle and looked closely at the road. I thought I would try and ride in the tracks made by a small bike but there wasn’t any to be seen. It felt as though the road had a base of gravel with a 6 to 9 inch topping of talcum powder. I don’t know if it was my inexperience at dirt riding or whether the Dunlop Trailmax tyres weren’t up to the task, possibly it could’ve been both, but I decided to slowly slide backwards down off this stretch of dirt and back onto the paved part of the road. I returned back the way that I had come and onto the R108 once again.
Arrived in Mae Hong Son at 5:45pm and asked the price for a room at the Mountain View Inn (?) and was quoted 900baht. I asked if they had anything cheaper and was then given the price of 700baht. Amazing how one simple question can save 200baht.

Mae Hong Son to Tha Ton
March 29th

Leaving MHS at about 8am the air was cool and I hoped that it would stay that way. The sun wasn’t yet on high beam and with the mixture of mist and smoky haze it looked like the day was just breaking. The initial mild curves and bends on this route to Pai helped to ease me into tackling the tougher and tighter ones that lay ahead. I wasn’t going to dawdle along this road, as I wanted to finish the day around Mae Ai or Mae Sai if possible.
A few forested parts had been recently cleared. They were charred to a crisp and yet already fresh new plants were already starting to grow. A few places here and there were well ablaze, sending plumes of smoke drifting skywards.
For scenery buffs, this doesn’t appear to be the best time of the year for splendid views. The distant vistas are foggy and hazy while close around you everything looks dry and brittle to the touch. One good thing though, the roads were quiet and almost devoid of Thai tourists as presumably they were staying at home preparing for their New Year migration back to their provinces.
And so it was with glee that I was able to put the Transalp through its paces. The bike handled remarkably well and it was only on the steep downhill bends that care had to be taken with any front braking. Too much front brake too quickly, and the front end would dive due to the long suspension travel. It seemed to perform better on the twisties than open road. On long straight cruising stretches I kept looking for that extra gear that I’ll very occasionally do on the Harley, but on the Trannie I was looking for it so much at times that it became annoying.

I stopped at a sala for a stretch of the legs and to rub my eyes. The stinging had returned. Next to the sala there was a sun-bleached sign near the top of a dirt track with distances to villages. The downhill track looked hard-packed and hadn’t been pounded into dust by frequent use. I wasn’t really surprised as I think it was something like 12kms(?) to the nearest village. Besides, I would think it would be easier for the villagers to get onto either the R1285 or the R1226.

Pai. I’m not really sure what to make of this town. For me, it was a welcome oasis to obtain a cup of tea or, farang food if I so wished. But there were too many wannabe hippies drifting around for my liking. I initially passed through the town but when my eyes started hurting again I turned around and looked for a cup of tea.
I was hoping that there would be an easy shortcut from Pai to Wiang Haeng. It wasn’t so much to save on the mileage, but rather more on saving time. But info received about the actual tough shortcut made me realize that I probably wouldn’t save any time whatsoever.

Continuing on along the R1095 I had to take a break somewhere to do a bit of walking. I’d spent too much time riding and my knees were going stiff, so when I saw a sign for Pong Duat Geyser I figured why not. I’ve already seen waterfalls, streams, rivers and hot springs so this will be a first for me.
I had no idea just how high the geyser would be spurting from the ground and I was a little disappointed when I saw that it’s maximum height was only about 2 feet at the best of times. A faint smell of sulphur was in the air and it wasn’t me, honest. It was the geyser next to me.
Construction work was being carried out to make a viewing platform, along with a 500m hand-railed footpath leading from the carpark to the geysers. From the park one could also trek 5kms to a Karen village but that was 5kms further than I wanted to walk.

From Mae Taeng it was up to Chiang Dao along the R107 with its long sweeping curves. The R1178 pointed me to Wiang Haeng and shortly after taking it I had to question myself if I really wanted to go there. I was tired and it was hot, very hot. But it was only 2pm. I decided to head for Fang and search out a guesthouse or hotel. I stopped and turned the bike around and during the maneuver changed my mind and headed for Doi Ang Khang. No doubt there’d be some kind of accommodation around there. The ride there was through some wonderful scenery and it was rather a nice change having to avoid hitting wandering horses instead of buffaloes. Also, I hadn’t noticed any power drain from the engine by the time I arrived at the restaurant area adjacent to the agricultural station. After a couple of sponsors I asked about the border road that skirts around Mae Fang NP. I could either go through the agro-station for a fee of 30baht or take a side road 1km back the way that I’d come.
At the toll-booth I asked about the road to Tha Ton and the young guy gave me a map. A rather blurry photocopy that was hard to read and he didn’t charge me either for admission. I followed a narrow paved road through the agro-complex and passed various kinds of orchards and gardens: peaches, roses, bonsai, plum, apricot, blueberry, pear, kiwi, strawberry etc. The road turned to dirt and became narrower and I had to ask for directions. I ended up leaving the agro-station and taking the other option further up the hill.

I think it was at Ban Nor Lae (?) checkpoint that I felt as though I was in free-fall. The road just seemed to suddenly take a nose dive down the side of the mountain and I feared that the tyres wouldn’t have enough traction keeping the bike on the road. Skidding off the road on one of the steep downward bends would have been fatal. I really want to come back here when everywhere is green again and do this road again. When it’s dry of course and going down, not up. It was Awesome!
At the checkpoint at the base of the mountain I asked the guard if the road went to Tha Ton. I knew it was the road alright, but I wanted to hear from him that it was ok to proceed and that there weren’t any landslides or anything.
I was riding along taking in the scenery of the plantations and orchards on the hillsides when I came to yet another checkpoint with a raised bar. I could’ve proceeded without waiting for the guard to come out of his box, but again, I wanted to make sure the road was ride-able. Sadly, it wasn’t. I had to backtrack only 10 minutes or so, to a turn-off near a small reservoir and dam. I passed through Ban Muang Chum and came out just north of Fang on the R107. It seemed strange that just a short while previous I was almost falling off the side of mountain, and yet here I was riding towards Mae Ai without a mountain in sight. At least, I couldn’t see any through the haze.
I made it to Tha Ton by 5pm and stopped at the first place that I saw. The ThaTon Chalet. I was trying to avoid staying in places that cost 500baht or more, but I give in far too easily when I’m tired and hungry. As at the hotel in MHS, I drank the two complimentary bottles of water within minutes. Damn, it was hot!

Tha Ton to Chiang Khong
March 30th

It was about 7am when I left Tha Ton heading for Thoert Thai. I was cruising sedately along the R1089 when I came upon a roadside market after about 15 minutes of riding. I spotted several different kinds of hill tribe people doing their shopping including a long-neck, which surprised me as I somehow thought they were found solely in the Mae Hong Son area.

At a police checkpoint I headed along the R1234 and arrived in Mae Salong.
An appealing little town perched on the top of a hill. I had to stop here to do some people watching and pulled up outside a coffee shop. I ordered a coffee latte and sat on a narrow veranda at the back of the shop. The veranda overlooked a valley and the road leading into and out of the town. While I was taking in the view an old tribesman entered the shop and sat at a table behind me inside. I turned and I took his warm sincere smile as a greeting. I smiled back and offered him some biscuits that came with the coffee. He refused with a wave of his hand.
I was astonished when the middle-aged female shopkeeper that served me began speaking in harsh tones to him while pointing a few times at the open doorway. I couldn’t understand what was being said but it seemed clear that the betel-chewing old tribesman wasn’t welcome. I wanted to interject thinking that the shopkeeper thought perhaps that he was bothering me. But, maybe he had caused a problem in the shop sometime in the past, I don’t know. I learned a long time ago in Thailand not to get involved in things that don’t concern me. So it was with regret that I saw him walking out the door.

After I finished my drink I went to the ATM nearby and I was returning to my bike outside the coffee shop when I saw the old tribesman bridling his horse. I asked how old his horse was but I couldn’t make out his reply. I pointed to my camera and then to his horse and he nodded. I took a snap and he raised his turban and bowed his head while giving me a huge smile. When he raised his turban he revealed a pale and balding scalp which was in stark contrast to his dark brown and weather-beaten face. He must wear his headgear all the time during daylight hours.
He led his horse down the busy asphalt road while I donned my gear and checked my map. I headed off down the hill and into the rest of Mae Salong, slowly passing the old man and his horse. He was clashing a pair of small cymbals together in a steady rhythm and I wondered if he was begging or was just a nice old man that had been touched by the sun a little.
The rest of the town had me cursing that I hadn’t stayed here for the night instead of Tha Ton. I passed teahouses, coffee shops, guesthouses and even a tea factory along with tribal folk riding their horses or ponies through town. There was something different about the look of this town that I can’t explain. It was just different somehow. Not rustic, nor modern, not overrun with tourists. I very rarely like staying in one place anymore than a day but I would love to spend a few days here next time, using it as a starting base for rides out.

When I arrived at Ban Sam Yak (?) T-junction I turned left for Thoert Thai along a lovely sweeping road passing through tiny villages. Sorry, I can’t remember the number of this road but it took me through Thoert Thai and close to the border.
I stopped at a checkpoint and asked for directions and was told that I had already passed through the village of Thoert Thai. I asked if I could continue passed the lowered bar but was told that it went to Burma. I could see people on step-throughs riding around the barrier coming and going from possibly a nearby Thai village.
I headed back and entered Thoert Thai that I had earlier passed through, probably as I was daydreaming, and a small side road in the town caught my eye. There was a jumble of small location signs at the entrance and I was just about to look for someone to ask for directions to Ban Hua Mae Kham, a name that I had scribbled down from David’s GTR site, when I saw the name in Thai staring at me. So, I had the name, but I just couldn’t remember what was actually there. No big deal, for as they say “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts”.

I took the paved road and passed through a few small villages that seemed deathly quiet. It seemed as though mostly only children were out and about. Were people out working in the countryside or indoors escaping the scorching sun? I’d noticed this riding through many other villages.
The road very gradually became worse the further I traveled. First came the odd patches of dirt or broken asphalt, and then stretches of easy dirt. From easy dirt it became bit of a rough track. Then the rough track worsened slightly as the terrain became more hilly. The Transalp managed it all easily enough and I was glad that nothing too steep came my way. At a checkpoint I asked the guard for directions and distance for Mae Kham. It would be another 18kms. I had no idea as to how remote this village was, and so I asked if I could buy petrol from there. After a brief discussion with his partner the guard told me that it would be better to fill up at the village just off to the left down a dirt track. I had no clue as to how many kms I’d already done and I decided to play it safe with 5 bottles 95. A nice little vintage that travels well.
Somewhere along the rest of the way I stopped to take in the scenery. I could see the continuation of the dirt road down below me, snaking up the next hill. I spotted a solitary figure in the distance walking along the road below and hoped that he wouldn’t flag me down for a lift somewhere. The road was manageable so far, riding solo that is. I’m not sure that I would want to ride it with a pillion.

Ban Hua Mae Kham (Mae Kham for short) was deserted when I arrived here. I didn’t even know that I’d made it here until I rode through the village and the road ceased at a small clearing with a small row of toilets. I turned around and rode around the paved village looking for someone to talk to. I found myself in another clearing and a couple more toilets. Don’t people have toilets at home? Where was everybody anyway? After a few minutes I spotted three women in tribal dress sitting and talking, and I asked if this was Mae Kham. Affirmative. I rode around a few minutes more. Now I was looking for somewhere to have a drink. Nothing.
I rode a bit further down the main road to the lower part of the village and noticed a shop. After having to wake up an old lady for attendance I was able to quench my thirst with a can of Sprite, then quench it again with another can. I was thirsty and it was hot.
Drinking in the shade I glanced at the bike. Amazing! After all the dirt and dust that I’d been through the bike looked spotless. There was only dust on the tyres and rims. If I had managed to get here on the Harley (a big IF), it would’ve been covered with dust from top to bottom, front to back. With me included.

The return back to Thoert Thai was better, as I was able to ride a bit faster knowing that there was no awkward switchbacks or tricky bends. The increased speed meant cooler air. Shortly after leaving Mae Kham I noticed a building with a sign that said something like ‘Agro-Tourism Info Center’. Ahhh! Maybe that explains the outdoor toilets that I’d seen. Tourists.

Back to Baan Sam Yaek and then a narrow and twisty R1130 to join up with the R1 to Mae Sai. A quick lunch of Khao Man Khai and off to The Golden Triangle along the R1290 with not so spectacular scenery. The Golden Triangle area didn’t impress me much due to the souvenir stalls, tour vans, resorts, kids in tribal dress etc. I rode on without stopping. Thankfully, the scenery improved here and there and I caught glimpses of the Maekhong River and its exposed sandy riverbed.

The R1129 took me into Chiang Khong and I stopped for a drink at the first place I saw, ‘Friends Kitchen’. It was kind of a restaurant, bar, shop and newsagents all in one. And it was so narrow! A nice woman named Laa asked where I was going and I was stumped for an answer. It was 4pm and I was hot and tired and starting to get an abscess on my lower gum. I looked at my map. I said that I wanted to go to Phu Chi Fa but she suggested that I stay the night in Chiang Khong and go to Phu Chi Fa in the morning. Good idea.
Checked in at a small hotel with a Maekhong view and got a fanned room (350b) initially, but changed it later to an air-con (500b). After a meal I rode along the busy main street and followed the ‘Bug Ferry’ sign to the pier and strolled around for 15 minutes to stretch my legs. I went back to the Friends Kitchen for a few Changs and at about 8pm, the town became like a morgue. It was lifeless. 9pm I returned to my room nursing a throbbing abscess.

Chiang Khong to Phitsanulok
March 31st

I left Chiang Khong around 7am and after about 30 minutes had to stop. The fairing and screen was loose and it was making a rattling sound at high revs. I tightened a few screws that had come loose and that partly improved things, but it still rattled on bumpy roads.
Left the R1020 and then took the road to Phu Chi Fa, the R1155. A real kick-ass road made for cruising.
After following numerous signs for PCF I eventually came to a sign saying Phu Chi Doa. Surely one and the same place? I headed into the small side road and as it started climbing higher, the worse it became. At times I wondered if I was on the right road or not. Up and up I climbed, passing farmers walking to their fields in the valleys. I refrained from asking where the road led. I would ride it to wherever it went to regardless. On a sandy uphill stretch I passed a little girl walking barefoot towards me kicking up dust with every footstep and leaving tiny footprints in her wake. A few minutes later I came across a difficult stretch. Rocks, dust, gravel, bumps, ridges and ruts. The back wheel spun, swerved and kicked. I wasn’t all that eager to get to the top as I had a feeling that any view would have been marred by a smoky haze anyway.
I was also wary about the very fine dust getting through the air filter. Besides, a future trip that I have planned is to ride the outerlying roads from Chiang Khan in Loei to the area of Chaloern Phra Kiat, then, from Phu Sang to Phu Chi Fa.
I wrangled the bike around carefully so as not to back it over the side and into an abyss. I headed back to the main road. I passed the little girl who was still walking down the hill in the blazing heat. I pitied her. I would like to have stopped to offer her a lift to wherever she was going. But two things prevented me from doing so. I probably wouldn’t understand what she said and, people would get the wrong idea about my intentions. It’s a sad world I thought.

It wasn’t long before I came to another turn off for the viewpoint. This one meandered through a little village and then the paving soon turned to dirt. The road was layered with a few inches of dust, and on approaching one bend a truck came speeding towards me kicking up clouds of dust. Most of it blew across the far side of the road. I stopped on the bend and checked the view of the road up ahead. It was heading slightly downwards and I questioned how bad the road would be when it actually started up the mountain. Once again, I turned back to the main road.
Once again I came to yet another turn off. Two signs in Thai said ‘Ban Pong Pho 300m’ and the other ‘Phu Chi Fa 7.5km’. At least now I had some idea of how far I had to ride, but it somehow didn’t persuade me to go there. Dirt or no dirt, I decided to start heading for Nan.
After riding down a lovely curvy stretch, I saw yet another route for Phu Chi Fa. This one gave me the impression that it was the main route to the destination. A few days previous I figured that I would stay around here if I arrived late in the afternoon. So far I hadn’t seen any lodgings anywhere and presumed that they must be along this access route somewhere.
I continued on along the R1155 towards Thoeng. There’s about 15-20kms of re-surfacing being done right up to the R1021. It’s good enough to be able to ride at speed but a little dusty here and there.

I passed through Chiang Kham and at Song Kwae I was tempted to visit a Lao market at Ban Bannasophit on the R1279 but carried on instead to Nan along a good winding road. From there along the R101 to Phrae where I stopped to refuel and take a break. While filling up a nice looking girl who was with her friends asked if she could go with me. I patted the pillion and said ‘Nang Nii.’ If I had planned to stay in Phrae I would’ve turned on the charm. Instead, I turned on the engine and turned onto the R101 again, heading for Phitsanulok. Down to Den Chai the road was good solid concrete. From near Uttaradit the road became very straight and boring. I had the throttle stuck around 6500-7000 revs eager to get to the day’s final resting point.
The R11 took me into Phitsanulok at dusk and during the town’s rush hour. The air was very smoky as I rode around looking for a guesthouse or cheap hotel. I passed ‘The Topland Hotel’ but it looked expensive. Nearby, a sign in Thai pointed me to ‘Wiang Kheow’. I checked into the 400b (inc. AFB) hotel and immediately showered and left to find somewhere to eat.

Phitsanulok to Bangkok
April 1st

I had set the mobile’s alarm for 6am but awoke at 7:45. No problem as I’d planned just to head straight for Bangkok on the R11 at a leisurely pace. Leaving the hotel at 8:15am I’d altered my plans and decided to ride to the town of Sukhothai to check the place out.
Riding along the narrow R12 proved to be boring, at least this stretch of it anyway, and I quickly needed a change of plan. Arriving in Sukhothai town was just like arriving in any other town in Thailand in the sense that it looked just like all the others that I’ve visited. One would think that they were all developed at the same time using the same designers, planners and architects. Sure, some towns may have a river flowing through them or perhaps a railway line to set themselves apart from many others but the buildings, visually, look to be all from the same mould. There’s just too much of a sameness about them all for my liking.

So I headed instead to Kamphaeng Phet and didn’t bother to look around Sukhothai. But while riding along the R101 a sign caught my eye for the Sirikit Oilfields somewhere off on the R1065. I headed for them as I was curious to see if the oil extraction method was the same as the ‘nodding donkey’ type similar to those of the Texan oilfields. I took a smaller road off the R1065 and it wasn’t long before the roadside was lined with small diameter pipes. In small hamlets the pipes sometimes dipped under small footbridges or, metallic stairs were placed over them to allow residents easy access to their houses. After following the pipes for a few minutes the road became blocked with cattle and I decided to head back to a turning that I’d previous passed. This only led to what I presumed was a refinery as a fiery yellow flame could be seen burning off gas via a large upright…errrmm…tube-type thing.
I didn’t get to see just exactly how the oil was extracted from the ground as I got back onto the R1065 and then onto the R117.

I ended up almost back at Phitsanulok when I got onto the R117 and I decided there and then, just to head back to Bangkok, not to take any side roads, or follow signs with curious destinations, but just to head for home. Although, I was tempted when I saw a sign for a gold mine as I’ve often wondered where all the gold in Thailand actually comes from.

The R117 is a nice firm road but scenery-wise doesn’t score many points. It does offer a chance though to cruise at high speed and allow you to daydream or fantasize to your hearts content until that is, you reach the R1. Then it seems, you’re in the thick of it all. Buses, trucks, tuk tuks, step-throughs, songthaews, 4WD’s etc., all battling for a place in one of two lanes as it passes the outskirts of Nakhon Sawan.
Down at Uthai Thani I decided to split to the R32 instead of following the R1 further then onto the quieter R340. I just wanted to get back to my home at Don Muang as quickly as possible, and avoiding the rush hour.
With only 2kms more to ride before seeing the happy faces of my kids I got stopped by the police. After six days of riding through check points, riding passed police boxes and stations etc., I got stopped at the last possible point at which to get stopped at. I had to show them my licence and a red document before I could proceed.
Arrived home at 3pm.