2012 and Beyond ...

Continuation of a journey

Mae Hong Son

March 9, 2012 - We rented a bike from Mr. Mechanic, which turned out to be a whole different affair from the Honda Africa Twin. This was a Kawasaki cross-breed of something, rather sporty and surprisingly a lot more comfortable for both Anna and I than the Africa Twin. Everything worked on it too.

The roads on this trip were a lot twistier and more challenging than on the first trip. An engine built for comfort at 4,000 rpm or more, six gears, and a hair-triggered setup on the throttle combined with heaps of power took some getting used to on day one. The picture below was typical of the daily asphalt serving for the first three days of the trip. Hairpins with steep drops and rises. Think three days at Deals Gap. Perspective flattens the picture below somewhat but the stretch of road on the right is about twenty vertical feet below where we stood. The mostly complete lack of road markings and the Thai habit of cutting corners made for some interesting challenges. And opportunities.

The end of day one saw us holed up in the middle of Pai in a very lovely secluded all-wood fabrication, steps away from the main stroll in Pai. At first blush, we really liked Pai and its surroundings.

We walked around Pai for part of the day and spent the evening in an open-air bar setup where the locals were playing questionable renditions of old Beatles songs, including the ever present "Imagine" from John Lennon, mercilessly massacred.

I think Anna remarked there wasn't anyone over eight years old who wasn't stoned to the point of oblivion. If you ever wanted to commune with the largest collection of wannabe hippies staring faux-confused at their iPhones while swaying to bad jazz, Pai is the place for you.

The next day we ended up in Mae Hong Son, the capital of the region, and picked the first decent hotel we saw. We plunked our bag down and returned to the bat cave we'd missed twenty or so kilometers earlier. We fed the fish, a good Buddhist practice, and now understood what "feeding frenzy" really meant.

Back in Mae Hong Son, we poked around a bit and rode to the top of the hill to look at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu.

The detail below adorns one of the doors of a nearby structure.

It turned out our hotel in Mae Hong Son was right around the corner from lake Nong Jong Kham and Wats Jong Kham and Jong Klang.

I'd wanted to let a lantern fly at night after spotting them a few days earlier. The idea is that you donate to the local Wat, get a lantern, make a wish and let it go. The ones we had were about six feet tall. You can follow it for about fifteen minutes as it ascends and extinguishes itself. Or sets off a forest fire somewhere. I'm not sure if wishing your share portfolio rises to ungodly heights is what the monks had in mind though.

The next stop was Mae Sariang, in some ways the unexpected highlight of the trip. The Good View lodge was our destination and a very comfortable and cozy place at that, with an all-wooden deck right by the river outside our room.

The town is small and friendly. Designated hippie-free and real. The markets were different and decidedly local, as were the uninspiring neon-lit restaurants where some of the best food of our trip was served. We decided to stay for a second night and do some local touring.

The town has a few Wats as well, all within walking distance.

At night, we could see the distant glare of the ever-present fires. From January till the start of the rainy season, rice field burning ensures a constant layer of smoke in northern Thailand, Laos and Burma. It's not the best time of year for clear blue skies, that much is certain. It does diminish the views and causes all sorts of air pollution.

On this trip we passed a number of fires, large and small, burning completely out of control, with sometimes fairly aggressive torrents of debris being sucked into the rising air and pummeling us with embers as we rode past them.

On our second day we tried to reach Mae Sam Laep on the Burmese border but had to turn around as the road was torn-up gravel and rock for the last ten kilometers or so. Not a road surface to tackle with a sport bike.

On the evening of day two in Mae Sariang, the fires had shifted and were closer to town, providing a nice backdrop to a quiet evening on the deck.

Below is the loop we rode.

More pictures are in the Mae Hong Son Loop slideshow.