August 05, 2004 GMT
NORTH THAILAND AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE


23/7/04
Leaving KAMPHAENG PHET, a historically listed town on the World Heritage List, noted for its fine example of an unrestored walled city and temple. I crossed the river Ping and again joined Highway No1 to CHIANG MAI, around 360k north.

I pass through TAK, then on to THOEN, I was planning to take Highway 106 to CHIANG MAI, but missed the turn, it didn’t matter as LAMPANG was on the main highway and after that about 30k’s of fast long bends through the mountains, it’s times like this you wish you had a big sports bike, I still managed 120 k/h through the sweepers, fully loaded and passing most trucks and cars.

Finally arrived in CHIANG MAI around lunchtime and booked into the North End Hotel, recommended by David Unkovich, better known for his mapping and bike adventures in Northern Thailand and Laos. I checked in and gave David a ring and arranged to meet him and have a beer. Check out his web site gt-rider.com a great source of info for this part of the world.

24/7/04
I arranged to meet David for breakfast and go over some of his excellent maps he has produced of the area over the years, riding his bike for thousands of k’s using his trusty GPS. He also introduced me to an expat German called Joe, who owns a motorcycle repair shop here, Doris, my bike will be in his workshop for new brakes and tyres in preparation for my next major trip through LAOS and CAMBODIA. David has also written a book about rides in Northern Thailand and is well worth a look if you are thinking of touring in this area. The next few days will be spent checking out this ancient moated city.
I have decided to stay for a month in CHIANG MAI, as there is so much to see in Northern Thailand, all within 2 or 3 easy riding days away (about 350k to 800k round trips).
David mentioned that he may go to the Burma border to update his visa and invited me along for the ride together with his American mate, you beauty a chance to get out on the road again with a bit of company for a change. Unfortunately it absolutely pissed down for 2 days, so we had to wait for the weather to break.

29/7/04
Meet the boys for breakfast at a favorite café, called “The Kaff” and plan to leave around 10.00 am, people up here don’t get out of bed too early, heading towards CHIANG RAI and The Golden Triangle.
David Unkovich (Dave 1) is on his 750cc Honda Africa Twin and David Early (Dave 2) is on his 850cc TDM Yamaha and I’m on poor DORIS at 650cc, a little out gunned in the horsepower stakes.
Dave 2 (shit there’s a lot of Davids up here) really flies, he’s been riding these roads for years and really knows his way around.
Leaving Chiang Mai at a good rate of knots, (would you believe 120k/h through the suburbs!) try that in OZ, and a steady 140k/h on the open road. DORIS was just coping, then into the mountains and the twisties, DORIS was more at home here and wasn’t far behind at our first coffee stop. The scenery (what I saw of it) was absolutely breathtaking, and Dave 1 was taking the opportunity to plot some back roads on his GPS ultimately we ended up at the Golden Triangle for lunch and took a great boat ride over the mighty MEKONG River (now in flood) to DON SAO in LAOS to flog off some of his maps to the local stall holders. If you get up this way, buy some local whiskey with an assortment of venomous snakes and scorpions inside the bottles, all dead of course.
We stayed the night at Chiang Rai at a good hotel for 500b after another high speed dash through the mountains, I even managed to tee bone an unfortunate chicken.

After a good hot shower and a change of clothes, it was off to a good Thai restaurant, the 3 of us are partial to a good Irish Whiskey over diner, and it was at a local bottle shop, that we bumped into 2 Brits, (Suzy and Simon) who had just come through Burma on their bikes, not easy in today’s political climate. Keen to hear their story, we asked them to join us for diner and Irish Whiskey of course.

Next day was another 10.00 am start, after a good breakfast, god we love our bacon and eggs, it was off to the Burmese border, and some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen in my life, riding through the clouds on unbelievable switch back deserted country roads and into MAE SA LONG, a Chinese village at about 1300m above sea level, from there it was back down to FANG (pronounced FUNG) and yet more incredible roads and scenery. We finally stop at THA TON by the river for lunch.

Dave 2 seemed to have a sign on his bike, saying “HIT ME!” as he not only disappeared into the biggest pot hole on the trip, trucks, bikes and the occasional animal, including a dog and a cow were all near misses, I got off relatively lightly with the chook, decapitated by my spokes.
We stayed in FANG for our final night for the princely sum of 300b, as we are 3 old bikers, not quite geriatric mind you, our bodies were starting to feel the worse for wear, we decided to shout ourselves a traditional 2hr Thai massage, definitely the highlight of the night in sleepy FANG, and a laugh a minute, listening and watching 3 mature aged western men go through absolute torcher at the hands of 3 very small Thai women.

Next day it was off to the head waters of the Ping river, the road runs towards the Burmese border and the rural area of the Hill Tribes and the Chinese village of Nong Ouk, apparently the remnants of the fleeing army, chased out of China by good old Mao back in 1949. We topped up with fuel from the local petrol station (a 44 gallon drum with a hand pump and a plastic hose) and an audience of a dozen smiling kids and a few rather dodgy looking adults, still a bit of illegal goings on in these hills.

Dave 2 said in passing, how fortunate we had been with the weather, you guessed it, next corner it totally pissed down and it was a very wet afternoon ride back to CHIANG MAI, with a stop off CHIANG DAO for hot coffee.

All in all some of the best riding and scenery I have experienced in over 30 years of motorcycle riding, and Dave 1 reckons there is even better to come, YAHOO!
Total distance traveled, 862k in 3 days and 2 nights.
VERDICT: Fuckin Awesome!

Posted by Tom Forde at 04:42 AM GMT
August 12, 2004 GMT
THE MAE HON SON LOOP - 6-8-04

After our ride to the Golden Triangle the previous week, DORIS (my F650 DAKAR) was booked into Joe’s for new tyres and an oil change and a general going over.
I was concerned about the front tyre being scrubbed out from the long straight roads in OZ, and the effect it had on DORIS’S handling in the twisty mountain roads, surprise! The bottom head stock bearing was cactus and had to be replaced. I was reduced to walking for 3 days while DORIS was taken care of.
Total cost of Labour and parts, (2 days work) 3600b. Bloody cheep compared with OZ.

David had arranged an around trip to MAE HONG SON over 3 days and 2 nights, and asked me along.
Just 2 of us this time, David on his long term loan F650 BMW, and DORIS and I, nice morning for a ride, overcast, but no sign of rain, we have breakfast as usual at the KAFE in CHIANG MAI and off along 107 at the usual rate of knots, then into the twisties along 1095 for around 80k of non stop mountain corners.

I just let David blast ahead, I stayed within myself as the road surface was some of the worst I have encountered so far in Thailand, totally stuffed from the rain and heavy trucks, plus the ever present buffalo shit splatted all over the road and the odd herd of cattle just lounging over one lane, not to mention the odd dog or two sleeping halfway across your lane. Thinking its road kill, it wakes up and you hope it disappears to the left side of the road.

Our first port of call is PAE, a nice little village which has become a bit of a hippy and backpackers hangout. I am obviously getting older because I look at this particular type of tourist with a healthy amount of skepticism; after all we invented this whole bloody life style in the sixties!
Saying that, the place has a good feeling to it and as night approached we book into a group of comfortable huts by the river, with your own bathroom for 300b a night.
That night over a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey (yes, you can buy it, even in the far north) we decided to have at the towns night life, we ended up at a blues bar called “BE BOPS”, what a great night! Even though we were the oldest there, we totaled the bottle of whiskey and proceeded to ride home (don’t try this at home folks).
Well we got stopped by the local police at a road block, just asked for our licenses and ushered us through…..mm!

A very late start in the morning, I missed the free breakfast by ½ hr. and drunk a huge amount of coffee waiting for David, who was busy catching up with his business contacts.
Then off to MAE HONG SONG, the 111k of winding mountain roads are some of the most spectacular motorcycling roads in Thailand, they even surpass the Golden Triangle ride the week before. This section of road deserves a few days to explore, as it is dotted with many natural wonders.
Into MAE HONG SONG around 3pm and just as we were approaching town our luck run out with the weather, down it come in bucket fulls, not even enough time to stop and put on our wet weather gear. We just rode through it and arrived at our abode for the next few nights looking like drowned rats.

That afternoon more dramas, a Thai Airline plane had to emergency land with no nose wheel, closing the Airport for 3days, luckily no one was hurt, but there was a lot of ferangs with even whiter faces than usual.
Next morning, David is finishing off his business, so I took the opportunity to visit a longneck village in the mountains. Now beware, Thailand has a lot of things living in the jungle that can kill you, especially a herd of little Suzuki 4wd (make that 4) hurtling toward me on the wrong side of the road. Driven by foreigners thinking that their behavior is a cool thing to do in the jungle, ****in idiots everywhere!

What is great about the mountains on the bike is every corner is another experience, you may encounter the odd elephant and as you idle up to this great king of beasts and pat him on the trunk and say “hello”, look into his eyes and wonder what he is thinking, maybe “piss off and leave me alone or I will throw you and your noisy motorbike into the bush,” or “what a nice bloke, where’s the banana?”. I prefer the latter.

The creek crossings are flooded this time of year and are up to 1m deep in places, making crossing a bit slippy on road tyres, so take care. Just idle up in a straight line in 1st or 2nd gear, staying upright and stay off the brakes and accelerator, good fun!

The Kayan longneck tribe are refugees from Burma, who settled in Thailand about 12 years ago. They can’t work here so the villages are set up as little tourist spots, a little tacky but I suppose they have to survive, good to see good old capitalism has even reached the refugee camps. They charge you 250b to enter their village and have endless stalls of trinkets for sale, for the admission fee you can take as many photos as you like.

Next day it was an 8.30am start (early for Thailand) along road 108 to KHUN YUAM for morning tea and a chance to visit the Japanese War Memorial. Set up by the descendants of the retreating army of WWII, apparently a few settled in the area and married into the local inhabitants, it’s highly patronized by the Japanese tourists during the dry season.

Back on the bikes and off along road 1263 and through the mountains once more. David and I changed bikes, WOW! The little GS650 is just made for the mountain twisties, compared with DORIS, it stuck to the corners like glue, and you could just dive in late into the corners and accelerate out, great fun. The DAKAR with its skinny 21” front wheel and taller suspension felt a bit twitchy on the front.
However DORIS has a few mod’s done to her breathing and fuel injection and is a lot smoother and responsive on the throttle. Now how can we persuade Mr. BMW to modify there GS’s in production form?

By this time I have run out of superlatives to describe the roads and scenery of this area of Thailand. Riding through the misty mountains at around 1700m, we stopped so many times to take photos, that we run our of batteries in 2 digital cameras.

All I can say is get up here and do it, we even dodged the rain, it must have been the 3 whacks of a stick on the big bells at the Wok overlooking MAE HONG SONG that give us luck.

VERDICT: Better than sex (well almost)

Posted by Tom Forde at 05:46 AM GMT
 



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