Trip Report - Mae Sarieng - Mae Som Laep

Bad Ed

Oct 22, 2006
A couple of days ago, I decided it was time to get out of Chaing Mai. The rain was making me depressed and I was tired of putting up with uppity Chiang Mai city types. It was clearly time to head for the countryside, rain or not.

I had a new motorcycle to test and had been thinking about getting out of town and explore the Burmese border area around Mae Sarieng/Mae Sod. After all, it was within relatively easy reach of Chiang Mai. If it was too rainy, I could always get back home.

I had been going to leave the day before but chickened out because it looked like a cloudy, rainy day. The weather site: predicted 20% chance of rain for that and the next day. I theorized that if the rains just held off until the afternoon, I could make Mae Sarieng at the very least and possibly even Mae Sot in a day.

The morning I left the weather was clear in Chiang Mai and I departed about 08:00 and made good time getting down to Hot and the rain did hold as I made it over the mountains to Mae Sarieng. I made it before 11:30 and stopped to eat. I was going to try to capitalize on the weather window and; typically me; plow right through those mountains to Mae Sot. Then I realized, "I don't know anything about Mae Sarieng". I found a guesthouse and unpacked and went out, I thought, to buy toiletries. However, I got sidetracked on a ride through town and before I knew it, I was on the road to Mae Som Laep, the river port on the Salween River on the Burmese border. The weather was clear and I thought that if I waited for later in the afternoon, it would close. I headed for it and got there 45 minutes later.

I was very impressed as I rode through some of what appears to be virgin Teak forest - I saw many trees that would measure in excess of two feet thick and wider. I topped the pass and rode the road down a tributary of the Salween drainage system and into a Karen village with Burmese style pagodas and stilted houses with teak leaf thatched roofs. On the way down into the boat harbor I took in a hill tribe lady carrying a load wrapped in a scarf that supported the weight of the load on her back with her forehead. She walked barefoot and strong and puffed a bent stem pipe. I had no idea the area was so colorful.

The forest along the border appears to be very intact with very little evidence of logging. As I said, there are huge teak trees.

Driving into the forested mountains is like entering a presence. That lady with the bent stem pipe believes that the whole forest is infested with spirits that inaudibly raise as much ruckus as the birds; scolding us for not respecting them; worst of all the oblivious foreigners.

The river harbor at Mae Sam Laep is quite a sight. There are river boats docked with care and many Burmese in evidence. Some are Buddhist or Christians and wear the red lips and show cud of betel on the side of their faces. Muslim Burmese appear to run the shops. The Thai presence was somewhat minimal.

The Salween river cuts through quite a gorge along the forest and there are interesting rock formations along the river's edge. Indeed, this is rainy season and the current of the river looked fierce. There probably are Pii; river spirits that account for that strong current.

They say that the Japanese occupied this area Thailand during WWII but when I looks at the ruggedness of this border area had to wonder what they could have controlled. I guess their big impact is further south in Kachanaburi where they built the death railway.

Can the lady with the bent stem pipe be right? Can there really be spirits and Pii that inhabit every aspect of the world about us in these forests; the logs, the living trees, the rocks, the rivers and even the highways? You bet!!

Anyway, I will depart tomorrow on normal monsoon travel rules; that rain will only happen in the late afternoon (yes, I do have my rain suit). I should be able to take it easy covering the forest over to Mae Sot. Then what?

I used this trip to test out a new Suzuki DRZ-400. The custom seat I brought back from the USA (Corbin) is really a nice and much better on the posterior than the original killer designed by Suzuki. The bike is light and gusts of wind seem blow it about like a leaf and I’m wary of high speed travel however, on Hwy 1 it could manage at relatively high speeds (>130kmsh). The fuel mileage consumption is a problem and to make matters worse, I've added a racing carburetor to it; which accounts for getting only about 100 km per 7 liters (@ 100 Kms and hour). However, the feel, handling and comfort of the bike is almost perfect for riding rough border roads. The 400cc of power is handy and the nimbleness of a small bike is appreciated. The gearing seems very good.

As I footnote, I did wind up going much further than Mae Sot on this trip. I just returned 3 weeks later from this trip. After Mae Sarieng I visited Mae Sot to Kachanaburi, to Hua Hin, Chumphon, Rayong, Phuket, Khanom, Surat Thani and back to Chiang Mai. Light monsoon rules apply: it is still possible to get out on a bike and ride but take rain gear.