A Tale of Highs and Low(sides): My 3 Week Motorcycle Adventure in Northern Thailand

Mae Aw

Mae Aw

Ok, so this isn’t overland in a van, but it is overland travel I just ditched two of the wheels, but for some reason I still get traffic on this website so may as well keep spreading the travel bug. I turned off the notifications since it’s not the van, but if you’re lucky enough to have found this page get ready for more of my awesomeness, and check out my 3 week motorcycle adventure in northern Thailand.

Thailand

Yup, it’s been a long time since my last “vacation”, so booked a flight to Thailand with no plans other than renting a motorcycle and taking off on what many would argue to be some of the best ridding in the world. Was still trying to figure out if I should see Bangkok 1st or head straight to Chiang Mai when the Universe decided for me, as I broke a toe walking out of the bathroom the day before leaving. Ok, walking sucks anyway, Chiang Mai it is.

After hours and hours of flying I found myself in the future, IMG_2250 - Copywhere is that sports almanac anyway?  Since it was about 1:30am local time by the time I cleared customs I tried unsuccessfully to sleep a few hours in the airport and then booked a ticket to Chiang Mai that would leave at 8am in the morning. Arriving in Chiang Mai I got in a taxi at the airport which had pre-determined prices so at least you know you are not getting too ripped off.  I think it was 5 USD, though with the “red cars” which are the red pickup truck/taxis I only paid 1.50 USD going back to the airport, and it was empty/just me, so technically you are getting ripped off.  From the airport, I went straight to the motorcycle shops which line the city wall, I was ready to ride. Traded some cash and my passport (gulp) for a Honda CRF 250 (gag) from the 2nd shop as the 1st didn’t have any available for two weeks.  Prices are set, demand is high so you probably can’t negotiate too much, two weeks was 650 bhat a day I think, which was 18USD a day for the 250.  Saw lots of scooters for rent everywhere, and the bigger bikes are gaining popularity at certain shops as well, so you don’t need to do anything ahead of time.  That said I talked to a girl who was stuck with a 125 cause she couldn’t find a 250 so the demand is probably high, probably tough to find from so many idiots crashing them. Anyway, I was never even asked if I knew how to ride let alone have a license, though the fact that I brought my own gear was probably a dead give away. I did get an international driving permit before hand which I recommend having on hand just in case though I have zero faith they will ever be useful when need, but I was never asked for anything the whole trip. Occasionally I was turned back at borders, though even then I was out there, and am still not sure if it was the Myanmar border, or entrance to the opium fields, but documentation was never an issue/questioned.

This soup was breeakfast, he thought he misunderstood when I ordered 1 second

This soup was breakfast, he thought he misunderstood when I ordered a second.

Chiang Mai is Thailands second largest city, and is therefore a bit chaotic. Not bad but I wouldn’t want to jump into riding with little experience here, though as you often read on these sites many do just that judging from the bandaged travelers everywhere.  Naturally everyone assumes I fall into that catalog limping around with the toe taped up. Wrong bitches my moto skills are too good, it’s the walking that gets me.  I’m so under prepared for this trip, the places I saved on google maps were unavailable on my iPhone since I didn’t know my password so I have no list of sites I want to see. On top of that I was in a rush so didn’t get any maps in Chiang Mai even though I know the GT-Rider maps are great. I Also read you may now need to register your phone for a SIM card, all crap I dont want to deal with….so no internet either, nothing. Just started heading for the mountains looking for the famous Mai Hong Son loop.  Who knows how to get there, or what I’m missing, I just want out of this city as I can see the mountains calling me. Naturally I started wrong and found myself on Rt 1004 but with no destination didn’t care. Found a few dead ends, a wat (Buddhist temple) or two, and then back to Chiang Mai looking for the 107 and eventually the 1095 to Pai, a town any northern Thai backpacker knows well….sigh.

The road to Pai, which sounds delicious, will be nice in a few months but is under construction now, a lot of wet clay and loose dirt. Its a great place to explore, organize treks, etc. just not what I want in the next three weeks since I can get away, and the clock’s ticking.  I stopped for the night outside Pai as I got a late start with my “detours”, probably better I didn’t stay there as the town is full of burnt out farangs (foreigners) anyway.  The next morning I continued on towards Mai Hong Son, a town within a province of the same name, part of a 600 km journey with approximately 1,864 curves, all back to back with switchback after switchback through the most mountainous province in all of Thailand. Yeah that is not a typo, nor an exaggeration, 1,864.  I spent the 1st half if the day in pouring rain, not exactly my preference on this technical mountain road, but the views are amazing, and the road is in great shape after the clay roads in Pai. A few hours later and things turned around, I had beautiful blue skies, so I decided to go even faster to air dry myself, which worked as well as I had deduced. As soon as I dried off the skies turned black and it was back to being cold and miserable, with some added lightening this time. Hmm, I will keep going, I think it’s safe to ride in lightning but have no idea, but its a long way back, I am not really sure where I am, or how far back MHS is.  My plan was to take the side road I had read about to Mai aw which had no sign, 16 km outside MHS. What the lonely planet article didn’t say was 16 km NORTH of MHS, so I missed that one. Idiots, if you describe a loop going north to south and say 16km AFTER MHS everyone is going to assume the southern end, fix your damn site.  I know I set the bar high here on 2guys1truck but come on.

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I have at least 5 shots identical and yet hours apart, usually there was no shoulder to safely stop on

So, they were not lying about that road, switch backs and sharp curve one after another for hours.  It was fun, but personally too technical in the rain as the turns are sharp, and between driving on the left side plus the oncoming cars driving in my left lane as well meant I couldn’t take lines I normally would, as if I am an expert rider or something.  Its also very tough to take pictures with no shoulders and thick forest/jungle, but it was still an awesome ride. Plus if I stop all those slow bitches I passed will catch back up to me, and we cant have that, so pic taking was at a minimum.  After hours of this I’m cold and wet unsure where I will sleep. I’m not seeing hotels or hostels where I am, but there’s a lot going on with the riding plus I can’t read Thai, so push on, it was a decent sized town/village, I probably could have stopped in hindsight, but up the mountain I go. Rain starts up again so I slow a bit, but this road has started to open up slightly with rolling curves rather than the hairpins I tackled all day. Much more enjoyable, but I still need to be cautious as I have off road tires rather than street tires so am sacrificing performance.  I’ve been at it for hours, plus still adjusting after all the flying so mental fatigue is setting in, so you know, don’t be bitch, just take it easy.

And the straight away

The straight away-See that shiny stream going across the bend, I didn’t

I go by a truck of local tribesmen working construction and give them a nod as I pass by. 3 switchbacks later (ok the fun wasn’t completely over) and I come up to one of the straightest sections all day.  Suddenly all I hear is scalping metal, in a flash I low side and am sliding behind my bike as it and I cross the road into the oncoming lane, I told you bitches my moto skills were too good to… um never mind.  I slide to a stop at the side of the street but unfortunately the bike doesn’t. I didn’t see where it went as I was busy in a controlled slide across the wet asphalt, as if I just stole second.  I was lucky it was so slick I never rolled, I bet I looked like I had everything under control but I didn’t. The only downside was I landed on the toe as I went down. Everything happened in slow motion, as I slide along I even thought to myself great that’s the broken toe, so I wasn’t flying but still, too fast.

You drive on the left, so im slidding into the oncoming lane

You drive on the left, so im slidding into the oncoming lane towards the cement pole

Turns out the bike went careening into a ditch missing a concrete post by only inches which would have led to some serious carnage. At least it, and myself, didn’t go into any cars, or off the side of a mountain, and I think it went in with the tires parallel to the ditch which helped, but I was busy looking for cars as I slid so am not entirely sure. I heard the tribesmen up the road yelling to each other, and 30 seconds later are pulling up just as I stand the bike up and give it a test start, engine cranks to life, good job Honda, it’s no Yamaha but I’m impressed. They don’t speak a word of English, but I kill the engine and they help me lift it out so I can check the damage. One guy picks up a rectangular mirror from the ditch, I gesture that mine are round and we all laugh, looks like I’m not the only idiot who fell victim to this straightaway.

And the ditch, bikes facing wrng direction as I circled back for pics

And the ditch, bikes facing wrong direction as I circled back for pics

Somehow I escape with only a slight bruise to my hip if that, pink not even purple, all the gear all the time!  The bike fared worse, with a bent shifter, bent signals up front, lost the low beam, the horn chirped when I let off the gas, the computer broke loose but functioned, and I lost both mirrors, but I did add some manly scars to the paneling while I was at it so I am sure pops will be proud. I was able to attach the mirror that didn’t shatter later that night, nothing like flying blind after a wreck in the meantime. Luckily the rain stops 20 minutes later and I have amazing weather for the rest of the vacation, I continued on, cause well, what else are you gonna do in the middle of nowhere?  Dammit, only mother f’ing day 2.

Outside Pai

Outside Pai

Having now broken the bike in to my liking, I spent the next two weeks running all over northern Thailand, 2,700 miles of random sightseeing. I got lost all the time, but I figure I couldn’t get lost since I had no destinations. I basically followed the Myanmar/Laos borders and explored areas that had squiggly lines on the phone map app.  Once I started using that it helped, but A map would have solved my problems, as the roads are well numbered, 90% are in great shape, and the scenery is beautiful. The food is amazing and cheap, the plates/bowls you see cost 1 USD or less, at home I would pay 10USD for the equivalent. Rooms were usually less than 10USD, and there are gas stations every few hours at least, with the CRF I never had a problem if I filled it anytime I hit the medium tank mark.  The people are nice, but the English is usually basic once you get out there, so it was tougher to immerse than previous trips I have taken, though that may have to do with a combo of being a solo bike rider on a 3 week vacation, so your racing that clock and can go fairly undetected…though my gear was a dead giveaway that I was a foreigner as most do not have much if anything for protection.

This is mostly where I went, I don't know of easy software and gave up

This is mostly where I went, I don’t know of easy software and gave up

You can buy just about anything you need up there, there are 7/11s in any decent sized town, as well as a mall or two here or there. You will see wats every couple kilometers, like ruins in Latin America you will get wat-ted out, as they all look start to look the same, and I have no idea if I am looking at one that is 500 years old or 500 days. Chiang Mae is fairly touristy, but enough to see and a great start for many destinations in the north. Going straight to the north worked out great, and having the bike was the only way to see the country. I don’t think I would have liked Thailand had I just took a vacation there. I didn’t love it, but again just rushed it and only saw a small portion of it. I picture the South and Bangkok much more what I dislike, the north was great because no one cared you were there, no one tried to sell me crap, and prices were always the same no matter who I asked.  This map shows roughly where I went, though I hit up additional areas that were not captured.

I did a bunch of touristy things, stayed in some hostels here, guest houses there. If your traveling is limited outside Chiang Mai Doi Suthep, and to a lesser extend Doi Inthanon, are very touristy and can be skipped if you have wheels, but the roads around them make it worth it so I squeezed them in, but you get better views without the tourists elsewhere.  I hit the MHS as mentioned, and crossed back to Chiang Mai to reset.  I then headed to the bottom on northern Thailand to visit some smaller and less visited ruins at Sukhothai, would have been worth it but I missed the good roads and ended up on the main highway, which was only kind of fun due to the fairly consistent chaos I would have to endure, but boring straight roads, decent and peaceful ruins, but saw it and left in an hour.  Then followed the Myanmar border back north to hit Mae Aw, the ride is decent as described.  Stopped to buy some tea and rest, another nice peaceful place less visited though slightly touristy.  Then continued further north in Chiang Rai, also a decent city for a night or two, but a bit touristy. Good ridding around both Myanmar and Laos borders here.  I ended up in Chiang Rai a night too long so the next day rather than head out towards the Nan province as the ridding is supposed to be great there, but my hangover said otherwise.  Since I was supposed to return the bike the next day I decided to go back towards Chiang Mai and stop at Phayao lake instead since it was close.  Well itt was hectic, not the peaceful lake I was looking for, so I just went all the way back the Chiang Mai, 2 weeks traveling around Thailand.

 

Yes that did say 3 week motorcycle adventure… but I originally reserved it for 2 knowing I could keep it longer if needed, and having ridden so much I decided to return the bike and see what the damage would be. I showed up and no one was around, great it was a zoo when I picked it up now no one is busy which means no one is distracted.  Luckily, the guy checking the bike could care less and just poked and prods and clearly doesn’t see anything, sweeeet, looking good.  Then out of nowhere a mechanic runs over, bang bang bang, hits every spot that had damage I did.  He knew what was old and what was mine….son of a bitch, well you got me, I am impressed.  We discuss prices a bit and I throw out that I am posting the trip on the GT-Rider website so they know to be fair, which I IMG_2655think helped.  I still overpaid, but I tried a few shops before hand for some of the misc parts while in other cities and couldn’t get anything as simple as a brake lever from several honda dealerships without ordering the part.  I finally spoke with an english guy working or owning a shop who hooked me up and said they didnt stock parts, he had just what I needed and charged me under 10 for the brake lever, shifter bent back, and the handlebars straightened with a good  2×4 bashing, for 10USD try that in America.  So all in all pop motorcycle only changes me 200 USD not too bad considering they had my passport so things could have been worse, but I was at fault and it would have cost me more in the US. I kept the computer and scratched panel as souvenirs, to make sure they replace everything.

Thailand is fairly modern, and I like a challenge so I was probably getting bored or the ADD kicked in, so rather than get the bike for another week I decided to hop the border and booked a last minute trip to Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious site, some more ruins.

Cambodia

This thing used to have multiple gears, but what it needs is a new seat.

Just needs a 250cc motor

This was one that has been on the list, and will only be getting more full of farangs as each day passes. Everything I read says take a tuk-tuk, DO NOT ride a bike, but I like to do things the hard way.  No Van or Motorcycle here, you already know I borrowed a bike from the hostel.  While it is HOT here, it was not a terrible ride in November, though would not recommend at worse times of the year, or if your a wuss. This side trip was just fly in, see some sights, return to Bangkok to head back to the US, typical tourists stuff, yeah, I am one of those sometimes.

 

 

 

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Great trip overall, now I need a vacation!

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Highs and Low(sides): My 3 Week Motorcycle Adventure in Northern Thailand

  1. It sounds like an incredible trip!!! As a mother….. would not like the motorcycle story!!! I admire your free spirit and sense of adventure to travel as you do! Alison is terribly jealous – she has given me a few grey hairs on some of her treks and would totally love your excursions! Safe travels – good for you!! Aunt Judy

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