The Golden Triangle

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February 23rd 2012
Published: February 27th 2012
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In Chiang Mai I met Jazza, Maartin, and Rob. The three of them along with their friend Princess were planning to rent motorbikes and ride through the northern loop. The route takes you through the Golden Triangle known for its cultivation of opium and marijuana. Speak to any traveler that has gone through the North of Thailand and you soon find out just how gorgeous the route is meant to be. Regrettably I met the four of them just two hours after booking my bus ticket to Pai, the first stop on the loop. Still, they invited me to meet up with them in Pai and continue on with them, so that was just what I did.

Through its twists and turns the bus driver pushed on faster and faster whipping us around. I looked up from my book and saw everyone with their heads in their hands trying to take their minds off the road. I was fine, but just about everyone else was ready to hurl. Maybe it was my adventures in Burma that prepared me for it, or maybe it was that I had a light breakfast.

My understanding of Pai was that it was a relaxing hippy town in the north with amazing views and some amazing music. That was exactly what it was. Oh yea, that, and of course more great food. I spent my first day with a couple from Australia riding motorbikes around the area, checking out the waterfalls and hot springs. We rode through villages, farms, twisting and turning through the hills. Riding up to the waterfalls families sat on the sides of the road shouting “Smoke opium? Smoke marijuana?” As I said, the area is known for its opium and marijuana fields and these people are here trying to sell it to you.

Riding around on a motorbike is a liberating feeling. Flying through the hills with the freedom to go wherever you'd like, do whatever you want to do. Sure, the scooters here aren't like the big bikes back in the states, but you can still go a solid 60mph on the straightaways. A scooter for the day runs you about $5.

Over the past month and a half I have met some truly amazing people and it was in the mountains of Pai I met Gauthier from France. In a ten month span he had traveled by bicycle from Paris to Thailand. He pedaled through Iran, through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, China and Laos to just name a few. He was an incredible guy with some incredible stories. I look forward to when he comes to NYC and I can give him a proper bike tour of my home.

Four days relaxing around Pai was just what I needed. Motorbike rides, waterfalls, partying till 4am around bonfires, dancing to some great music and drinking with great friends. So many great people, and so many amazing memories, but it was time to move on.

Back on our motorbikes we continued on with the loop. Our first stop was just outside of the town of Soppong where we stayed at a place called The Cave Lodge. To anyone traveling through the area, stopping here is a necessity. With the feel of being in a jungle house, The Cave Lodge is situated along the river and in the trees. The area is known for its many caves to explore. While you could seek many of them on your own, we opted for an organized tour where we would trek out to three different types of caves.

We were a large group, but that just made it even more fun. The water-cave was my favorite. Crawling on our stomachs we inched our way through rushing water from one end of the cave to the next. There was zero light and the ceiling was no higher than a two feet off the ground. My heart pounded but I pushed on as I led the group onwards towards the underground waterfall. “This would never be allowed in America.” I thought to myself. Rather, this cave probably would have been closed off entirely. But alas, this is Asia. You can do anything you want here. From one cave to the next through stalagmites and stalactites we ventured on. Massive formations that have been growing for hundreds of thousands of year. Soppong was epic. I highly recommend it to anyone reading this.

Leaving Soppong we pushed on towards Mae Hong Son, a small city set in the hills. Riding on, the views continued to get better and better. Everything was new, everything was great. Turn after turn, I wanted to go faster and faster down each hill and around each curve. A smile crept up on my face. Maybe I was pushing the limit on my bike, maybe not. Either way, it's Asia, you can do whatever you want! (Sorry mom – don't worry too much). We had picked up Michelle and Tanya in Soppong. The two of them from The Netherlands came for the ride as we continued on to Mae Hong Son. There were five of us now, we had left Rob back in Soppong. Just outside the city on a hilltop we caught an incredible sunset at one of the temples. It was another incredible day.

From Mae Hong Son we took a day trip north by bike north on some local roads to the Thailand / Myanmar border. Stopping along the way at one of the kings palaces, a Chinese village, and a hill tribe, we climbed some massive hills and sped down some steep descents.

Leaving Mae Hong Son our next stop was the mountain town of Mae Chaem where we would spend the night before climbing to the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 2,565 meters above sea level. As we climbed to the top of Doi Inthanon the temperature dropped and we were forced to put on another layer of clothing. Once again, it was cold in South East Asia. The view was breathtaking, and we smiled as we realized just how much of an epic adventure this ride had been. Hopping back on our bikes it was time to make the final push. Onwards through the National Park we went stopping along the way to enjoy some more waterfalls and some much needed food. We finally hit the highway and headed back to Chiang Mai for some much needed rest.

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27th February 2012

What an adventure and beautiful scenery.
27th February 2012

I love Northern Thailand...
In my senior year of high school I surveyed the top of Doi Inthanon. See [blog=608085]. After college I returned to build the road to the top of the mountain and the radar station. See [blog=608085]. I took my kids to Thailand to see where I had grown up. See [blog=608085]. You can check out the blogs in either direction to get the context for my life there. Thanks for the memories. Glad you had a great time!
6th March 2012

6 Days in Northern Thailand, What to do?
Hey, just finished reading your last two blog entries. I am teaching in Nakhon Sawan Thailand, and have been to Chiang Mai for New Years, but spent only two days there. We have four friends coming to visit from the states, and we plan to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran, then Pai and possibly Mae Hong Son before leaving for Laos and Vietnam. Do you have any recommendations for us? I read what you said about the caves and they sound very cool. What about in Pai, any places to go, roads to travel?
6th March 2012

Northern Thailand
Hey Dan, Thanks for reading. If you're able to, I would highly recommend going from Chiang Mai to Soppong by motorbike. You can stop at Pai for a day or two, and then up to Soppong for a few. Its a gorgeous ride, and having the bikes for the flexibility in stopping wherever you'd like is key. I would recommend spending more time in Soppong and Pai. You don't need that much time in Mae Hong Son. Other than that, you can't make a single bad decision while you're in that area. Everything you do is great. Enjoy it man. Cheers, Nate
8th March 2012

What an incredible adventure and you tell it so well, I can see/feel it all! This will impact you, and all around you, a lifetime. Keep on keeping on!!!!

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