The Sop Kai Loop (off Mae Taeng)

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Rod Page, Apr 3, 2011.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    The "Sop Kai Loop" is an easy, enjoyable & rewarding one day hit out from Chiang Mai.

    Its always a pleasure to head north out along the 107. After the climb just past the Mae Ngat Dam turn-off, there's a heavily signposted road heading left out towards the Mae Taeng & Mae Temann elephant camps. This is a wonderfully scenic route along the Mae Tamann river dotted with quality accommodation choices:


    with interesting cafes:


    & with an abundance of activity options:





    There are even a number of transport options:



    Continuing on from Mae Tamann towards Sop Kai one quickly moves from the commercially to rural orientated countryside & its a feast for the eyes. You can turn left at the Muang Khut turn-off & roll on back to the 1095 at Huai Rai before heading home to Chiang Mai but a far more enjoyable option is to take the loop back to the 1095 via Sop Kai.

    Sop Kai is an Akha village set charmingly on the banks of the Mae Tamann:


    The access road, although not sealed, is well maintained as there is much rafting (though little traffic) along the rapids in this area, facilitated, no doubt, by the fact that the forest encircling the river remains in tack.

    Tourists out this way are few & far between but this doesn't deter a band of determined Akhas to seek you out should you stop to take photos:


    From Sop Kai to Sop Poeng its an easy run then back to Chiang Mai via the 3010.

    There really is a lot to do along this loop just out of Chiang Mai - options for all from the kids, to adventurers, to 'honeymooners'; from coffee freaks to gourmet seekers. Give it a go, you will not be disappointed.
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  3. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Well there's a first Colin - never did I think, especially as a new kid on the block, that I'd see a road you had not yet travelled. Cheers.
  4. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer


    Up early yesterday - it looked ok/weather forecast looked favourable so headed out on the Sop Kai route, one of my favourite 'close to home' rides right there on the outskirts of Chiang Mai.

    The run out through Mae Tamann & on past the the turn off over the bridge crossing the Mae Taeng River to Muang Khut afforded inviting rural scenery & brought back fond memories. From here the road to Sop Kai is dirt & I was keen to see in what condition I would find it after recent rains. I could see many of the temporary installments constructed river-side along this exciting canoeing course & kayaking area had been washed away - not a good sign as my plan was to ride the (GTR) "Motorcycle Only. Wet Season Impassable" track from Sop Kai, up through Muang Khong, on to Huai Ya Sai & onto Wiang Haeng.

    Stopped in enchanting Sop Kai for a coffee & to check with Akha locals on the track conditions ahead:


    How good is the adrenalin pump as you head off on such a 'road' in the wet season!

    The first half of the "Motorcycles Only" route was wide enough to allow 4x4's in the dry season, but it was already wet, severely rutted & muddy. The route climbs slowly so the wetter sections are manageable although finding buffalo stomping along your path & doing what comes naturally necessitates stopping to clear the route & determine a course to be followed:


    Crossing the range offers a great view & the descent has been made easy by concrete being set in appropriate places:


    The road now descends in an orderly fashion & following it to its logical end sees you arrive in Ban Pakowlam, a magical "lost" Karen village right down on the Mae Taeng at the very edge of Huai Nam Dang NP. The road ends abruptly at the river's edge, the substantial bridge smashed in previous floods leaving the village on the opposite bank:


    As fortune would have it a wonderful, long, quite springy, swing bridge exists to permit pedestrian & motor-bike access to the village. Below the bridge were several new bamboo canoes - the size of the river, its location next to the National Park & the total isolation of this area all the way down to Sop Kai make for a ride down river to wherever to be a most rewarding. I will certainly return after the rainy season to try it out:



    The logic in building such an imposing, now destroyed bridge, serving as it does maybe some 20 very authentic village homes, escaped me - the villages only road is a simple semi-circle joining the two bridges. This fact, however, concerned me as it was clear that I had lost my way to Muang Khong; worse no-one in the village could understand me..... a child ran down to the river & returned with a local who could help. Just short of 3kms back along the road on which I'd arrived I'd find the track that would take me to Muang Khong.

    I back-tracked to find a path akin to something that would lead to cattle yards. If you are heading this way it is marked by a massive red arrow carved into a large tree on-site. From here the going gets tough - this is very much a "Motorcycles Only" track in its width; very much a "Wet season Impassable" affair. Its narrow, very wet, correspondingly slippery, offers few rider options & ascends & descends with sufficient rapidity to make it quite treacherous.

    You pass a nicely set rice paddy which clearly provides the bulk of sustenance for one remaining Karen village along the way. Another swing bridge - this one was so springy when crossed that it would be a brave man who would leave his bike on it to be photographed. I caught a Karen couple crossing over - the only people I had seen for a considerable time:


    I'd been warned in Ban Pakowlam to look for a deviation in the road heading left & to not continue right as it led to the remaining Karen village. Once more a huge red arrow carved in the tree pointed the way to Muang Khong. I was tempted to make a quick visit to the village - surely in such an isolated position it would have much to offer - but turned left as both paths were in an absolutely terrible condition & the great unknown was starting to weigh on my mind:


    Now some 6-7 kms out of Muang Khong I hit road conditions as bad as I've ever experienced. The deeply rutted, utterly slippery, narrowest of paths was constantly being deviated by water run-off from recent storms, by a multitude of springs. Trees lay across or overhung much of the way. Worst of all the D-Tracker was reaching its limits - large stretches still holding water were 50cm deep, totally mud. I started to find that the tail of the bike was taking a track other than required, not just slipping but seemingly acting of its own volition, power at times would not transfer from accelerator to rear-wheel, the Pirellis were completely caked in mud whereby any grip on the surface had disappeared. Then add to this the fact that to get through these conditions you need to power on to get through the slippery edges, across the bogs, over the dips & humps.....

    I stopped & dismounted to find both tyres caked in mud to the extent that no tread patters was visible, mud covering all mechanisms associated with the wheels front & back, mud wedged between the front forks & tyre, the swing arm, chain mechanism...... I checked my map & could see a stream lay ahead so in the interim removed what I could by hand & with a stick. Any forward movement, however, saw the whole mechanism become quickly recaked in mud. I simply inched forward, clearing the affected areas each time before any reasonable climb or descent in the knowledge that if mud were to render control impossible then any enforced stop would simply see me slipping back or forward as the case may be without any control.

    How pleased was I to arrive at the stream traversed by a narrow local-style bridge fashioned from logs:


    The best bike access to the water was across the bridge; the steepness of the ascent ahead made it imperative that I start with a bike well-cleaned. I walked the bridge which seemed solid enough, no holes were apparent though mud covered any defect. I decided, rightly or wrongly, to cross with the engine running to give me power if necessary with my feet down ready for any eventuality:


    Half way across the bridge the ground gave way under my left foot giving me insufficient footing to effectively hold the bike up-right whilst wedging my leg between the bridge surface & the pine support beam (see the photo two before). I supported the bike's weight with my inner thigh whilst trying to pull the bike back upright whilst gripping the other side of the bridge & removed my helmet placing it under the bike in an endeavour to protect my leg but burning my arm in the process. I was forced to succumb, laying the bike down which effectively locked my leg between the bike & the support beam, the bikes tyres wedged in on the support beam on the other side.

    With no mobile signal & any movement of the bike just exacerbating the pain on the leg, I decided to simply remain still trusting someone may pass, remain still at least whilst I could still feel my toes. It also seemed the wise thing to do as were I to fall to the left I was in big trouble as my leg would surely break & I'd be left hanging upside down; if the bike were to fall the 4m or so on the other side into the water would it be on me or me on it.....

    In conditions such as these I'm normally pissed off but still sure of an escape. Strangely on this occassion, though confident, I thought: "Pagey, you've gone too far on this occassion". Waiting during that first hour was long; I sweated profusely & my pulse beat solidly throughout.

    After a little over an hour with my leg feeling as though it was swelling/needing relief I decided I had to find such relief. Taking the handlebars I was able to work the front wheel over the side of the bridge enabling me to free my foot without the bike tumbling from the bridge - but bending the handlebars & clutch lever in the process. Free I headed down to the stream & put my foot deep into the cold water where after some 25 minutes 3 Karen on 2 bikes arrived & helped extricate me from the situation.

    Clearly, riding alone I do not have photos to incriminate myself but I feel this post demands that I confirm the stupidity of riding alone along such tracks such in such conditions. That said one cant help but marvel at the efficiency of the hill-tribes on their Dreams & Waves in these conditions.

    The ride onwards was in better conditions with the odd tricky bridge (though I find it easier to cross bridges where the wood is laid cross-wise rather than length-wise) & one quite scenic spot where the road had washed away requiring a crossing over a rocky river bed:



    Lunch in Muang Khong was sweet! Exhausted I saw wisdom in taking the road home via Na Lao Mai & Chiang Dao rather than continuing up to Wiang Haeng - that will have to wait until after the rainy season!

    Some shots of the Doi Chang Dao range on the ride home - magical, even in the mist:




    Its good to be home!
  5. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    Well Rod you had some fun on that day. Glad you didn't call me as arranged but I think if you had, I would have chickened out. We'll try it in the dry season perhaps.
  6. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    3 cheers for bringing this to my attention Rod.
  7. Johpa

    Johpa Ol'Timer

    I can't belive that for 30 years I have ignored one of the closest rides to my home and to my surprise one of the more delightful rides I have had in years, the loop from Sop Peung off the 1095 to Sop Kaay on the 4024 and then out along the Mae Tang river. The 4024 is paved all the way to Sop Kaay and covers both orchards, forests, and roadside streams.


    The road from Sop Kaay down the river is flat and smoothly graded and in the process of being paved. But the highlight of that section are the small Thai style restaurants built over the river itself.


    Good food along with some Sang Som and the free entertainment of watching the tourists in the large rubber rafts bumping along the rocks. I am not sure how said tourists took the two old Farang farts feeling good after a few glases of Sang Som taking the piss out of them from the sidelines.

    This is a great day loop to take your wife, gik, or best friend out on a ride for a lunch. And a reminder not to ignore the roads closer to home.
  8. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

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