The Mae Hong Son Loop

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January 12th 2012
Published: January 21st 2012
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On the road to Mae Sairang
12th Jan ’12 Mae Hong Son Loop

Well we got up this morning and for the first time it’s raining!! Apparently its’ come from China and just in time for our bike trip! So a bit of re-thinking was needed as even from Chiang Mai you couldn’t see the hills. So we went for a good full English breakfast (especially as we didn’t know when we would get food next), studied the map and decided to do an even bigger loop by going to Mae Sairang first as it avoided going high up into the mountains. This decided we left our rucksacks at the Yindee Guest House and I donned my Olive from On the Buses crash helmet, climbed aboard and we were off.

On the bike it was wet and miserable, the traffic around Chiang Mai was really heavy but once we left the city area it improved. We went along the main road passing through small towns and villages, up high on a hillside was an enormous reclining golden Buddha but which we zipped past.

We got out into the countryside and into the more hilly areas and followed a road winding up a hillside with lots of scary bends. Made worse by the trucks that had gone over the edge and were just abandoned down ravines! We reached the top and stopped by a little roadside stall for a drink and purely by chance there was a block of loos there as well! I could hardly get off the bike, my back and arms were killing me, but at least it had stopped raining!

When we reached Mae Sairang we tried the North West Guest House which Howard had read about but it was full, so we ended up at the River House Guest House which cost more but was absolutely beautiful. It was only 2 years old but built of teak in the traditional style, with a big verandah overlooking the river and the rooms had balconies with a deck chair on again looking over the river, well worth the money.

Afterwards we went down the road to find some food and then had a look around the town, which is small but nice with 2 Wats. Dinner that night was at the hotel and just a tuna salad for me.

13th Jan ’12 Mae Sairang

As we had planned
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Mae Hong Son
to stay for 2 nights here and our hotel was full tonight we tried back at the North West and they had a room for us but not the en suite one as someone else had booked it. So shared bathroom it is, the room was really cheap and we didn’t look at it first as the occupants hadn’t yet left, so just left our rucksacks with the lady running the place (who was lovely) and set off on the bike to visit the village of Mae Sae Lab. This tribal village was supposed to be about 1 hour away and on the river where you could get a boat to Burma if you wished.

So we set off into the countryside, passing lovely little farming villages with houses all made of wood, past Wats and a very unusual shaped temple on a hillside which may have been Burmese in style I suspect. Once again the road got windier and windier and the condition got worse as we went on. Landslides narrowed the road down to a single track in many places and there were potholes everywhere. We stopped so I could stretch (and have a fag to calm
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landslide on way to the village
my nerves!) and suddenly vans were passing us going back up the road with motorbikes and scooters on the back. An English guy on the back of one of them shouted to us ‘it only gets worse’, there was also lots of red warning signs all in Thai. Eventually the road got so bad that we decided we couldn’t risk going any further and so we had to turn back – this was a real shame as we were only about 8 kms away, but secretly I was really relieved!

Back at the guest house we went up to our room – it’s a small room with a mattress on the floor and the bathroom is shared with 5 other rooms, but it does have a fan and downstairs is a lovely kind of lounge area with mats for lounging on. Turns out the ensuite room we were supposed to have was taken by another couple of English bikers.

It took ages to get to sleep, it was so hot even with the fan on and noisy from the road outside and the bar up the way, so now we know why it was so cheap and why
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Mae Hong Son Wat
you should check out the room first before saying yes!

14th Jan ’12 Mae Sairang to Mae Hong Son

Had a chat with Sharon and Phil the bikers from the Midlands and we are all heading to Mae Hong Son today. It started off damp today and the road was quite wet in places with lots of dodgy leaves ready to ambush a bike. At today’s drink stop we met a German Australian biker who had left his wife at a spa in Hua Hin while he enjoyed himself riding the Loop, we had a good chat, took a picture of the Wat and said our goodbyes.

The road then became a never ending series of twists and turns through beautiful woods, past rice paddies and green scenery. We arrived in Mae Hong Son and found our hotel – the Panorama relatively easily along the main road. It has a strange front lobby with gigantic dark wooden furniture and no lights! Presumably they are just trying to save money. Our room at least has beds that are off the floor and air con, the view from the ‘balcony’ is the electrical boxes and wiring from the telegraph
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Karen Hill Tribe Village
poles, I have yet to spot the Wat you are supposed to be able to see!

I was absolutely knackered from lack of sleep and the ride but we still went out for a walk down to the lake and there met Sharon and Phil again, so we had lunch with them.

Mae Hong Son really is a lovely little town, the lake area is really picturesque with a walk round it, a beautiful Wat on one side and a couple of restaurants down another. It is set in a valley surrounded by high hills. We went back for a bit of sleep and that night went down to the lake again for dinner (steak and it was gorgeous) and the night market, which was small but nice and I bought a few bits. Howard bought himself a black Mae Hong Son 1864 (refers to the number of curves) T shirt. We tried to arrange a trip for tomorrow but there were not enough people for it to run, in fact it is really strange just how few tourists there are, we had expected the place to be heaving.

We then went to the Crossroads bar, which we had seen near our hotel earlier. It looked like a real old wild west salon and we reckoned it would probably be the bikers hang out, but sadly no. Still it was an amazing place full of old oddities ranging from flat irons, Burmese army walking sticks to little knick knacks all covering walls, stairs and any other conceivable space and all looking authentically old with a good layer of dust and grime! Once again we met Sharon and Phil who were just on their way out but we had a quick chat and it was good to have some company.

15th Jan ’12 Mae Hong Son

Got woken up early by the phone ringing, which we ignored but the next thing we knew there was banging on the door and there was a young girl outside telling us we had to move the bike as the Police don’t allow it to be parked on the road today – now why they couldn’t tell us this yesterday when we arrived I don’t know, especially as when Howard went down to move it they showed him the car park!

Today we were off to visit the one
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Stream crossing
Long Neck Karen village that you could get too independently, which was just as well as the trip wasn’t running. Huay Sua Tao appears to be the least popular one and the closest on the map to us, which suits me on both counts as I have read about the villages being more like human zoos and im not sure how I feel about that. The map warns about the concrete weir stream crossings as they are meant to be very slippery, it appeared there was only 2 of them but in reality there was 6.

It was a lovely ride past small country farms and we saw a sign warning of elephants, we still didn’t believe our eyes when we went round a corner and there were 2 of them in the road! There was a small elephant camp further down the road with a couple of very dusty looking elephants there. We carried on and went through all the stream crossings without a problem and on up into the village.

We parked up and paid our 250 Baht entrance fee each and went into what was essentially a market which led over a small wooden bridge
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Mae Hong Son
into another market row with lots of Long Neck ladies manning the stalls. They had coils around their necks (which do the stretching and depressing of the collarbones), some had large stretched ear lobs (plugs Looci) and some with silver bands around their calves. A few young girls were also there with their coils on. The villagers are all Burmese refugees.

It was a very strange atmosphere as they all expected to be photographed but it just didn’t feel right. The only photo I took of one of the ladies was when I bought a scarf from her. We got out of the market bit and had a look along one of the lanes, saw some lads playing volleyball and spotted a small wooden and tin catholic church on top of a small hill. That was about it, felt odd and I was glad to be away from there in a way, I only hope at least some of the entrance money actually goes to the villagers.

Back in Mae Hong Son we rode up the hill overlooking the town to see the temple Phrathat Doi Kong Mon. This was a Burmese Buddhist temple and shrine with views over the whole valley. There was a children’s birthday party taking place, complete with the blow up your balloon until it pops in your face game. One of the monks was organising it all and 3 young novice monks were watching and laughing – I wonder if they wished they were joining in?

Later in the afternoon we decided to ride to Pha Bong about 10 miles back down the main road to see if we could find the waterfall. We hadn’t spotted any signs to it on the way into Mae Hong Son and nearly gave up this time, but finally found a tiny side road with a small blue waterfall looking type picture on it. 3 little children stood waving to us and we followed the tiny little road up into the woods, passing small houses and a couple of shrines, over dried up streams and on until the road became a mud track and then a deeply rutted one at which point we spotted the waterfall.

This is the dry season so not a lot of water was coming down but I should imagine it would be quite impressive in the rainy season – how you would get up the road then though I have no idea. The plastic hosepipes running along the rocks at the side of the top of the waterfall were a bit off putting though, but we climbed down to the base of it and thought no-one else could probably find the place the signs were so well hidden but as we climbed up again we saw 4 other tourists!

In the evening we walked down to the lake area and visited the Wat, this time we went in as it wasn’t yet closed. We looked at the famous wooden dolls from Mandalay which show some of the lurid aspects of the wheel of life. Part of the temple was forbidden to women – no idea why. We then strolled round the lake looking at the fish and watched the end of a Tai Chi class that was taking place near one of the pavilions.

16th Jan ’12 Mae Hong Son to Pai

Early breakfast at the Crossroads (so early they weren’t actually open but let us in any way!) and then back on the road again. Then the journey from hell began!!! Another bike pulled alongside and made some sign we didn’t understand and that was it the chase was on! Sometimes we were in front and sometimes behind. Round the never ending bends with the bike so low my knees were nearly scraping the ground. We whizzed past gorges and high cliffs, over and around high mountains – at least I think we did! When we got to the top of one of the mountain we stopped and the other bike pulled in next to us with a grinning Aussie lad and a Thai girl clinging to his back. Well to say I was not impressed was an understatement, a few choice words were spoken and I threatened to get the bus from this point to Pai! When I asked Howard what he thought he was doing he said ‘it’s easier to stay behind another bike to see how they take the bends’, ok…..but ‘why was the other bike staying nearly up right and we were nearly on the ground?’ and Howard just flashed me a devilish grin! Sod!!

A couple of fags and a coke later and we were all chatting with some Thai boys who had rode up on their scooters, then 2
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Pai Night Market
old ladies in full ‘tribal’ dress appeared and started playing music and asking for money and with many threats to Howard we continued (thankfully at a slower speed).

We reached Soppong where we stopped for petrol and the detour we were going to make to visit the Tham Lot Cave. Again it was a tiny windy country lane and we had a drink stop in the middle of nowhere and got charged a fortune – relatively speaking. When we reached the Cave area we paid our 550 baht – this was for both of us, a guide with a lantern and a bamboo raft – not bad at all. Lots of little girls were calling out to us, trying to sell us fish food for the cave and it was so hard to choose who to buy from, in the end Howard just walked up to one little girl who had been totally quiet during this and bought from her. It was about a 10 minute walk through the woods to reach the river and the mouth of the cave where lots of bamboo rafts were waiting. The guide sat down and prepared her lantern and then we got onto the raft and floated into the cave. There were big fish everywhere in the river and swimming along the side of the raft.

We stopped and got off and climbed up rickety old wooden stairs high up into the cavern, it was vast and very eerie doing it all by lantern light. There were amazing stalagmites, stalactites and weird rock formations everywhere and we were led through various passageway and it soon got very hot and hard to breathe. Once we were down and back on the raft we carried on through the eerie cave with more fish and squeaking bats and in the distance you could spot an odd lantern or two in the blackness.

We came to the other opening of the cave and stopped just before it too climb up yet more rickety steps covered in bat droppings up into the roof of the cave. Here we were shown wooden coffins that had been there for centuries, if you looked carefully you could just about make out the remains of carvings on the ends of the ones that hadn’t rotted away.

Coming back out of the cave the poor raft guys have to jump in the river and drag the rafts out against the current, they are incredibly strong!

We ate lunch at one of the stalls and then carried on to Pai, with a quick stop at one of the mountain top viewpoints. Here they had cycle rickshaws which were called Taxi to Pai – presumably as it was all downhill from that point on. In fact we virtually made it all the down without having to use the engine!

We found Pai fine but finding the guest house was another matter, we knew it was a couple of miles out of town but the roads aren’t exactly signed and we managed to get lost. However after a bit of back tracking we spotted the right road and soon found the Pura Vida. It was just a collection of about 10 small wooden bungalows on stilts set in a lovely garden with a pond – very idyllic and right in the countryside.

We went back into Pai for tea and looked around the night market (yes every town has one!), we ate a couple of kebab skewers but soon gave up on that as dogs started following you if you had food. We found a nice little stall set up by the road which had a couple of tables and I had sweet pork with rice – it was gorgeous and I have not been able to find it anywhere since! Then we drove back in the dark – the first half of the way there were a few street lights and the final half we carefully made our way back in the pitch black with only the bike headlight to see by.

It was freezing cold at night!

17th Jan ’12 Pai

Today we are off to find the Mor Paeng Waterfall armed with our trusty map we set off again through little wooden villages, tiny temples, avoiding dogs sleeping in the middle of the road (and moving for no one) and chickens crossing the road and up high into the hills above Pai.

As we rode along we saw a roadside stall cum restaurant and as the lady was waving to us we decided to stop and get some breakfast. We literally had just got off the bike when she came over and said ‘you want smoke opium?’!!! Errrmmm no thanks, just a cup of tea and a banana pancake please! It was totally surreal; we sat eating our breakfast laughing our heads off, discussing Sherlock Holmes and chasing the dragon.

We waved goodbye after reassuring the lady again we really didn’t want opium and carried on to the waterfall which was absolutely gorgeous – plenty of water in this one. We climbed up onto the rocks and just sat staring out at the view of mountains in the distance, while we were surrounded by trees, palm trees and flowers – idyllic.

Onto the Chinese village where refugees fleeing the communists now live. It seemed rather odd at first as it appeared to be a model village with lots of restaurants and a semi castle. However it turns out this is the cultural centre and as we carried on up the road trying to find the shared jeeps to the lookout we found the real village – a kind of shanty town on the hillside. There was no sign of the jeeps to the lookout so we just drove up the road ourselves. Well the road got steeper and steeper and the surface worse and worse until it just turned into a rubble track and once again we found ourselves having to give up and turn back.

We stopped in Pai for lunch and went to the Witching Well, where all the drinks were advertised as spells and potions!

Back again at night for our trot round the night market and dinner before the dark ride back to the guest house.

18th Jan ’12 Pai to Chiang Mai

Said goodbye to the lovely Pura Vida and it was the long ride back to Chiang Mai (with death threats to Howard about speeding). The road went up and down mountains in a continuous series of curves and hairpin bends! This was extremely hard on the bum and thighs!! We had a recovery stop for a drink and then on again. Once more the scenery was fantastic.

Back in Chiang Mai we decided to go up to see the Doi Sutep Temple on the hill over the town before the bike had to be back at the shop. The traffic was manic and I didn’t realise just how far away it was to get to and once again it was hair pins up the ruddy hill. We had to stop at the scenic overlook point as I was in such agony.

The temple was amazing and the views were great, we had a bowl of chicken noodle soup at a small stall and then headed back into the city and the lovely Yindee guest house. At this point I could barely move. A hot shower and a rest and we were off out again, walking to the night market area for tea. We had agreed if it took more than 15 minutes to get there we would get a tuk tuk back so Howard tried setting off at a cracking pace! It still took nearly 25 minutes so he reluctantly agreed we would tuk tuk back, this time instead of trying to get to our guesthouse we decided to just get off at the main city gate in the old wall, which worked!


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