Soppong to Pai, offroad route

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by vtrman2, Dec 20, 2006.

  1. This is a cleaned up version of my first posting....

    Soppong to Pai, off-road – Part 1

    I'm about to try and describe a ride I did on the 4th December 06. On a number of occasions I'd been told it was possible to do a "back route", all off road, between Cave Lodge and Pai. To go by road from Soppong (AKA Pang Mapha) to Pai by road is only a touch over 40km. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice ride, but when someone tells you there's an off road alternative route of about 100km instead, it's got to be worth a look one day hasn't it?

    On a number of trips I've wanted to try this, but for various reasons it's never happened. Rider fatigue, bikes playing up, too much of a mixed ability group, or simply the sheer unknown has always prevented me from doing it. After all, the route doesn't appear to be marked on the maps I've seen, it's right up against the dodgy Burmese border, and no-one I know has ridden it before, so it's all a bit of a guessing game.

    Anyway, on this occasion I was blessed with a group of very competent trail riders, all of whom wanted to give this a try.

    It was John Spies who runs Cave Lodge (at Ban Tham Lod) who first told me about the route. So, I collared him a week or so back and said, "tell me more about this off-road route John, and please draw me a basic map". He'd done the route in his 4x4 pick-up before, and reckoned it took about 4 hours. Steve, also of Cave Lodge, estimated it might be covered in about 2.5 hours on a dirt bike.

    People have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to choosing somewhere to stay. Personally, I like Cave Lodge, and it's as good a place to start this ride as anywhere. So check in here the day before your planned ride, and enjoy the great cooking and steam room. Better still, stay here 2 nights, and do the fantastic ride up to Eyla as a warm-up the day before the route to Pai. (Caution though, the trail to Eyla has some steep slippery sections which can scare novices!)

    John will happily pass on his knowledge to you, as guests at Cave Lodge, and will probably describe it better than I can do here.

    He drew this map for me on the eve of departure...


    We planned to leave at the crack of dawn (i.e. around 10:00am in Vtrman language) in order to allow plenty of time to cover the distance, especially if we were to get lost or have any mechanical problems.

    The map is pretty good, and worked well for us, but at this resolution, it might not be clear enough, so I'll need to describe it.

    We started from Cave Lodge (clearly marked on David's MHS loop map), but you could begin from the 1095 / 1226 junction instead.

    The route crosses the space between Ae Ko (which John writes as Eko on his map) to Muang Noi on the current version of the MHS loop map. The new map might have this route marked on – I don’t know.

    The ride to Eko is a good little jaunt in its own right, and is marked on David's MHS loop map, as well as the very detailed photo-copied sheets you can get from John at Cave Lodge. However, the lines drawn on maps, although accurate, don't always seem to match the reality that confronts you when you're out on the trail. There always seems to be extra junctions & turn-offs to throw you off the scent, so I'll try and describe the start of the ride like this. From Cave Lodge, retrace your steps to the "square" - the junction in Ban Tham, with a phone box (?). Turn right - away from Soppong. Descend the paved hill (only about 1/2 kilometre), then immediately after crossing the first bridge, turn left (you’re on red dirt now). There’s a T junction after a few hundred metres, go left again. Climb up a loose dusty trail (1-2 km??) and at another T junction head right (?). Hope this is correct - none of these junctions are sign-posted at all. You'll head along a fairly level ridge, which takes you to a junction of 3 options, which has a Forestry checkpoint just before it - sometimes manned, sometimes not. This section is covered in the inset, of the map above, BT meaning Ban Tham I presume, but the T junctions I described are not shown.

    I don't know where the immediate left goes to (just Forestry I think), but the next left would eventually take you past Mae Lana up towards Huai Hea , and eventually to the impassable checkpoint with Burma, beyond Mai Lun. (a separate day ride) Bear right instead, which will take you to Ban Huoy Huang (Huai Hang) and on to Eko (Ae Ko, depending on how you want to spell these places).

    The trip starts from Ae Ko!!! We stopped here, partly for a drink but also to ask directions, because the way onward wasn't immediately obvious. A local guy seemed to be doing something slightly unsavoury with a buffalo. He was lifting its tail, and putting his hands in a place I wouldn't have thought entirely appropriate. (I wondered whether what I’d seen was actually real – no-one else seemed to spot this). I know the Thais don't shake hands with each other, but I avoided this guy, just in case he decided to offer me a Western style welcome. We retreated to a safe 400m away and bought some cans of Sprite etc. A lady gesticulated the exit route we needed. Photo here (no the lady - not the buffalo fondler) Dtoon is holding the hand drawn map.

  2. hi vtr..i think u are nearlly there with your photos..iam fairly new at this too..lets have a go....... 31540077_full.
  3. ok its a bit tricky..but like everthing.easy when u know how..i c u are using photobucket..same as me..left click on the ..img..when it highlighted blue....copy it..and paste it in your post.....u wont see the pic..just a link to it and have a look...chooke dee
  4. Easier still, just add [img) before your link, and [/img) after your link. Use all square brackets [ ]. (I can't do that in the example or it will show as a broken image link).

    See Link removed

    So your photo link will look like this [img)[/img),( but with all square brackets).

    <> Photo now appears in above post.

    Anxious to see the rest of the report.....
  5. vtrman,

    Glad to see you report coming through. I beleive our group met you on the trail as you were making your way up to Kun Yuam and we were plodding along towards Mae Chaem. Its always nice to see other routes being discovered.

    Thank you for sharing.
  6. I'll try and post Part 2 in here, then I'll back and edit Part 1. Thanks for making the map more obvious Silverhawk.

    Soppong to Pai – Part 2

    At Eko, you need to cross the Nam Lang (Lang River). It’s shown, flowing south on our makeshift map. Initially we rode over the rickety footbridge to cross the river. However, the onward path was small, and climbed uphill more like a footpath. This route seemed to be going through people’s property, and just didn’t seem right. I thought it highly unlikely that John would have driven his pick-up through her, so we turned back, re-tracing our steps across the foot bridge. We followed the Nam Lang just a few hundred metres up stream, and spotted what looked like a more major trail leading away from the opposite bank. What happened next would have made an excellent photo opportunity, but no-one stopped to do this.
    The depth of water was a slight concern, and there was quite a flow [:0] Without giving it too much thought, Mark (I think) blasted across in what looked like the least hazardous place, and made a successful, if not entirely trouble-free crossing [:p] Without hesitating and allowing nerves to get the better of us, everyone else followed in his tracks. Again, every rider got across safely, no-one fell off, or got stuck, but just about everyone had a moment or two.

    The water was above the boot top level, and the XRs’ engine notes changed to burbling as exhaust gasses exited below the water level. (was it really this deep? – I doubt it; but why else does the engine noise change when you cross deep water? Maybe it’s just the motor disappearing beneath the water and making it sound different).

    Everyone got wet feet & legs, and about half of us, including me, “had a dab” to prevent the front wheel drifting away.

    We all emerged, smiling, steaming and grateful on the far bank. It was over all too quickly, without a single photo being taken. Shame, as I think it was probably the best river crossing of our trip.

    The onward trail was obvious now, and straightforward. There was the turning on the right, which I presume is the way to Saen Khun Lue, marked on both the MHS map and the hand drawing.

    Shortly after this however, we came to a fork in the road, which we weren’t expecting. Photo below. This was the only error or omission on the plan. I’ve drawn in this junction on the map now – annotated “WHITE FORESTRY SIGN (in Thai)”.


    The left fork seemed the more likely, but in order to avoid time wasting errors, we sent one rider off to explore the right fork, and Dtoon went off to investigate the left fork. This is where the two-way radios can be so useful, working up to as much as 5km apart in perfect conditions. Dtoon was able to confirm that the left fork was correct, as he’d already reached the expected checkpoint now, and radioed us to join him. We radioed Andy, telling him to come back and join us. Andy tells us the right fork does continue on, but in hindsight, of course, it’s the left route you need. This was the only glitch, and it was trivial.

    We passed a couple of Army border posts, where we stopped briefly to chat. They didn’t seem to mind us taking a few snaps, although clearly these were quite strategically important positions, with sand-bagged, gun turrets looking out over Burma. Photo of yours truly, below, at one of the Army bases.


    Navigation really wasn’t a problem along here. Just follow your nose along the well-defined trail [:eek:)]

    There a couple of minor stream crossings, but nothing of any significance. The riding is not particularly difficult (just the usual slopes, and water-cut ruts here and there), but, it does go on, and on, and on. We didn’t hang around, didn’t stop for breaks or photo stops, but just rode and rode along pleasant trails, and a nice ridge section.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t recall seeing a single other vehicle (bike or car) for the entire ride. The only human beings we saw, were those poor Army bods, condemned to their basic camps at the look-out posts.

    Eventually we dropped down a section which John marked as “bad” to the dam. It was a steep, loose descent, but I don’t remember anything too terrifying, and no-one fell off.

    We were quite relieved to see the dam. Glad it was over, after a sustained off-road trial. Actually, we were wrong. We turned right at the dam, and we followed a much easier and quite level trail now (with a concrete culvert to our right hand side). However, although easy riding, it still went on and on, and on. (much like this report)

    You know the point when your arse really starts to hurt? Stand up, sit down, sit side saddle, sit on your thigh instead? One tries the lot, but nothing works to relieve the pain.

    We passed the hydro station to our left, and eventually felt we were approaching civilisation again. We stopped in a small village, to buy snacks & drinks from a shop on the left hand side. I’m guessing this was now Muang Noi. We’d made it! [^] We were all fairly knackered by now. Apart from the stop in Eko (perhaps 30mins), this is the first decent rest we’d had. Sonja checked her mileometer, and we’d covered 85 kilometres to this point (from Cave Lodge). Apart from perhaps ½ kilometre at the very start, this had been 100% off-road riding.

    We completed the remaining paved road to Pai, to confirm that this journey is pretty much bang on 100 kilometres from Cave Lodge, to Pai, via this back route.

    No one fell off, or at least they covered their tracks well [;)] We kept riding, with very few photo stops or breaks. And it took us FIVE hours. A damned good ride.

    I’m not a GPS man. Never used one. But Stuart, (our driver for this trip), slipped his gps unit into my aqua pack, and it has recorded a trace of our route. Maybe some clever person can now interpret this, to give exact details of distance & elevation etc. If we can adjust the scale to fit, it might be possible to overlay it onto the MHS loop map [?]

    It’s a good ride. Not too difficult, and navigation is quite straightforward.

    However it’s quite remote, so here, more than anywhere, it’s essential to take tools, inner tubes, water and a first aid kit with you. And ride leaving a bit in reserve.
  7. VTRman,

    Fantastic post, very informative. I've got this on my checklist for when I'm over next. Hopefully Silverhawk, Barrby BBQ or Davidfl will contact you and sort out how to get the GPS file.
  8. Ah ha! I always did wonder where the info was about how to upload pix to a post. Davidfl always obliged but now I'm going to give it a go and share some stuff about what I do with my GPS tracks. Maybe you'll find it interesting.

    When riding I carry a small treking GPS; a Garmin e-trex Venture that can store a few hours worth of touring. It's not really suitable for navigation on the road but useful, when I first arrive, for marking hotels and the like before going off on forays into strange new towns. If the picture stuff is working for me, it's the green thing in the photo of my bike luggage.


    In the evening when I'm sorted after spending all day on the road I upload the GPS track onto a small laptop that I carry with me. It's a bit nerdy, I know, to go on holiday with a computer but it's got all my music and it makes it easier to manage GPS, digital photos and long emails.

    Instead of using the Garmin Mapsource program that came with the GPS I upload the data to a freeware program called "Kashmir 3D".

    This is a marvellous map making program that also allows you to choose viewpoints and render them as a scenic image. You can add labels, water bodies and choose things like sun position and clouds. The ground data I use is radar terrain data from one of the Space Shuttle missions and is available free from the FTP server at ... mondulkiri

    Each zip folder is tile of height data to a resolution of about 90m (strictly, 3 arcseconds) arranged in latitude and longtitude order. Before travelling to Chiang Mai on holiday, I downloaded all of the tiles for Thailand - North 00 (equator) to North 21 and East 097 to East 106. This gets a bit of Burma, a bit of Laos, and the peninsula all the way down to Singapore - more than enough for me but from the posts I read not for some of you guys. Anyway this amounts to 187 files of about 500Mb of data.

    Pulling in the GPS track from my Garmin overlays it onto the terrain data and then it can be rendered. After that it's just a case of experimenting with the endless options until you get a picture you like. I like it because the data is all real - not just the track overlaid onto a vague Garmin map with the track ploughing through water because it’s incorrectly placed.. In the data you can spot the path followed by rivers and reservoirs and then fill them in with blue.

    Again, if I've got this photo thing figured, here are a couple of GPS pix. The first one is driving around the Chiang Mai square in both directions (opposite sides of the canal) early one morning before heading out of town and up to Doi Suthep. The other was a long hack from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai via Mae Sarieng and Hot. You can see Doi Inthanon sticking up in the distance.




    Okay, a bit of a long post and maybe a little bit off topic. Apologies if it comes across as a bit of a lecture - things are quiet at work and I'm a teacher.
  9. Not at all! Really appreciate the information and the links. Now I have something new to learn and play with.
  10. Great trip and report. Have some maps (about 20 years old or so but 1:50,000 so quite detailed) of that area and could follow the trail on the map for quite some time. However, my maps do not show any trails near the border so I am not a bit lost there. The map does show a few trails/roads more to the west where I asuume your trip continues down to Pai. In case you can make the GPS track available I can put it on the map and post it here super-imposed on my maps of that area as well as put it in the David's GPSmap.

    In case anyone is interested in the maps contact me of-forum

  11. Thanks very much for that info Monoplex, it does make some sense to me, even though I've never properly used a GPS. Anyway, I'll see if Stuart can do something with the info, as it was his unit. If I can get any nice pictures, like yours, I can post them on here.

    Yeah - I was once a teacher as well [:(] (inner city school) French & Geography.
  12. Thanks, Monoplex, excellent links, a lot of us are interested in mapping and reusing the tracks etc. My previous experience is only with Fugawi a Canadian programme and not so easy to use when making your own maps.Gives me something to play with when not riding, but still can't get around to carrying a PC with me.
  13. Copied part of David GT's Garmin GPS map for the north of Thailand and added some of the tracks shown on the map (marked Check).


    The area close to the border does not show any tracks (nothing shown on the 20 yr old map). The area on the eastern part near the border shows quite a few unpaved roads leading to Pai and Wiang Haeng on the paper map (4628 II - Doi Phak Kut).
  14. vtr - sounds like a great ride cant wait to do this one with you some time next year. Thoon looks like he needs a haircut.......

    monoplex - thats a great way to use the GPS - you get a real feel for where you have been, looks like a bit of a learning curve and im frightend to get into this as i expect it could eat up loads time, i have only used a GPS plotter on my boat and its just magic finding your way around .... and home again

    ahhhhh had a look at that software and its a bit complicated looking, think i would rather spend my time reading reports of interesting bike trips.
  15. Auke,

    Sent you an email. Thanks for the map generation.
  16. VTRman,

    Any chance of getting a copy of your GPS track for the loop? Pretty please. We can get someone to walk you through how to do this or if you want to delegate that stuff to Stuart no problem, I'll talk to anybody.

    Thanks again for the great trip report.
  17. Anyone planning on riding this trip best to avoid 3 days either side of the 15th January as Royalty will be visiting Ban Eko meaning the route will be out of bounds till the Princess has left the area.
  18. Got an email from VTRMAN and he says he'll coordinate getting a GPS trace for us to peruse.

    Hats off to him for that.

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