Friday, 24 April 2009

Two Wheels good

Day One

Waking up after only six hours sleep and with a hangover delayed the start of this little adventure. By 10am I was ready to hop onboard my trusty steed and hit the road. It was only 106km to the target destination but it took me over 4 hours to get there.

The reason are:

a) The road was tight, twisty and steep
b) Exactly how many times do I have to mention that despite having a big fat arse it doesn’t mean I want to sit on it for long periods of time!

The road to Mae Hong Son was a thing of beauty to those on two wheels. Each bend in the road led to a curve which in turn led to a tight hairpin. Double apexes followed switchbacks and the road was quiet and well maintained. The landscape that I passed was fabulous, steep ridges of tree covered rock formed tight narrow valleys into which I would not dare to go into alone. Small hamlets came and went the size of which was dependant on the success of the rice harvest and the number of fields they could make from the rugged landscape.

I arrived in Mae Hong Son in the afternoon and after a quick tour of the town found a hostel near the centre. The centre of town was a large tank full of overfed and pampered fish. On the southern side a small complex of Wats, all shiny in gold and mirrors. On the northern edge was a small park with people doing Tai Chi as the sunset.

I wasn’t feeling that hungry so I just had sweet sausage salad. 87 minutes later I saw it again as my stomach ejected its contents into the toilet bowl. I spent the rest of the evening lying sweaty on the bed or feeling weak in the bathroom.

Day Two

I woke early and spent a while making sure that all was right with the world of me. By 07:15 I was on the road and heading south.

It was 400kms to the next place of call, the town of Mae Sot. IT WAS FUN!!!!

The road map of Thailand that I am using is the one in the guide book. As such, it lacks a lot of detail. For a 200km stretch there were no towns marked on the map, as my fuel tank held enough petrol for only 100-150km depending on how hard I was canning it, I guessed that there would be.
After leaving the town of Mae Sariang it was a 150km ride to the next town, I had a full tank of gas but would it be enough?

To say that this road is underused would be stating the obvious. After one hour of tight turns and steep gradients I saw 4 cars and 2 bikes. As the kilometre markers reduced the numbers so did the fuel in my tank. With 20k to go the needle had hit the end of the red and stopped moving…mmm. After holding my breath for 20kms I came across the petrol station, surfing on the fumes. The petrol station consisted of 3 drums of fuel, a hand pump and no sign! I almost missed which if I had you’d be reading about how a grown man sat down on the side of the road and cried.

Now, with a full tank and a road that had more straights than curves I opened up the throttle and let the mighty 115cc engine roar!!!!
The town of Mae Sot is 3kms from the Thai-Burma friendship bridge which straddles the border. Like a lot of border towns it has a used and somewhat sleazy air to it, me likes! I’m staying in the Ban Thai guess house and it’s great. My room has a cool view, wood panelled walls, free wifi and a very large but soft towel. Let me tell you about the towel, it’s not for drying yourself after a shower it’s for sleeping on…think about it! The room also has a floor standing fan, which is the kind you want. Placed at the end of the bed and set on the low setting equals a cool and relaxing nights sleep

Day Three
It was raining when I woke up and continued for 4 more hours. As my tyres are not kind to inspire grip in the wet I lounged the day away.

Day Four
It was a 175km ride to Sukhothai and the road climbed up into the mountains. Slowly I overtook Lorries belching out black smoke as the heart of the truck struggled to beat fast enough. Screaming down the other side singing the uphill song, fingers twitching over the brake handles ready to respond in an instant when the corner did indeed become tighter than I had guessed. Then I was out in the open and on a plain. Neglected paddy fields interspaced with trees carried on out of sight either side of the flat straight road.

In case, like me, you were wondering how fast the bike went in a straight line the answer is 105km or 120km if you are drafting behind a truck. I have no idea what the speed limit is here but there are no speed cameras!
By the early afternoon I was in Sukhothai and at the 4th attempt I found a place to stay. It’s called TR guest house and is just across the river from the night market, behind the bank. As the night market is close by I’ll be snacking later but not on cockroaches or deep fried crunchy baby terrapins. If however there are lizards on a stick then count me in!

Day Five
The only reason to come to the town of Sukhothai is to visit the city of Sukhothai. Unlike the town the city is interesting. It was the first capital the Thai’s had before being superseded by Ayutthaya further south a few hundred years later.
The old capital is square with three defensive walls and two moats surrounding it. The only remains still standing are the numerous temples. All the other buildings from palaces to houses were built from wood and have left no trace. The central area is undeveloped by modern man and is peaceful and serene, with ruined temples set against a backdrop of lakes and trees.

Come the late morning I was back on the road for the 70k or so ride north to the ruined city of Si Satchanalai. This place was almost deserted of tourists; the large open area it covers is best traversed on two wheels. The small roads meander through the trees and grassland connecting the various temples on the way.
I was climbing up some temple steps when a sudden malevolent movement made me instinctively react. The snake was about three foot long, thin, mean and green and I have no idea what kind of snake it was! I respected its space and it went on its way, which was luckily away from me.
I came back to “new” Sukhothai by a different route (which I’ll admit wasn’t by design) and so I will never know what the tourist attraction of “Rocky Ground” actually was…damn it!

Day Six
I left Sukhothai at 8am and got to the town of Nan at around 2pm, my tailbone was aching towards the end.
The ride itself was split into thirds, with the middle third a very boring but fast dual carriageway. The road form Sukhothai to Pheare was cool, flat with gentle curves. I was taking it easy cruising along at 60kph still smiling at the fact that I had remembered last night it had been two years without having to go to work. The last 120kms were really nice after I had taken shelter from a passing shower. In the mountains I was trying to dodge the flocks of mating butterflies that swarmed out of the trees and into the paths of trucks, cars and my head…sorry!

The town of Nan is…well imagine Slough, scaled down. Add a river and several temples and make it all just a little bit cleaner and you’d be about there. Due to the fact that there are 30 days in April and not 31 (Doh!) I am only staying here the night, which is about all I would want to do anyway.

Day Seven
After an early to bed restful night’s sleep I was up at 4am…sod that! Waking up later at around 7am I was on the road by eight.
To get to Chiang Rai I needed to be on route 1148. I could neither see a sign for the destination or the road, so instead I went on a road that looked like it was heading in the right direction. An hours easy cruising later the road bisected route 1148 (I’m lucky like that) and so I turned left and rode my scooter “chopper style” enjoying the views as I went. The road slithered its way into the mountains like a lazy snake with slow and easy rhythmic curves. At a couple of points it was reduced to a single track, the cause were landslides. The sun was out, the clouds were making interesting shapes in the sky and my tan lines were getting more defined…damn I have a hard life!
By the middle of the afternoon I was in Chiang Rai and I got a cheap room just of “bar street“.

Day Eight
It was an easy but boring ride to Chiang Mai and the end of this road trip but only because I took the wrong road….

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