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Northern Thailand

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February ’06

I apologize for the inferior quality photographs. The team orson photographer had the camera set on the indoor light setting. How the guy manages to keep his job is beyond me 🙂

We landed in the northern summer retreat of Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Tai and founded in 1296 AD. Escaping the airport throngs we made our way through the back alleys of town to the street that we had heard was home to many bike rental shops.

There were all types of bikes to rent, from scooters to a BMW GS even though there is supposed to be a 250cc limit on bikes in Thailand. I settled on a Yamaha 225 Enduro since I imagined the roads would be in less than pristine shape. For my first day, I would do a short loop from Chiang Mai west to Samoeng then loop back east to my hotel in Mae Rim.

The mountains around Chiang Mai are old and rounded and reminded me a lot of the Smokey Mountains. I made a short off road excursion to visit a Hmong village. The Hmong are mostly farmers. The men wear traditional skirts though, they looked like they were pretty serious so I wasn’t gonna call them a sissy or nuthin.

Route to the Hmong village.

The road continued to climb, giving me some mountain vistas.

Heading back east towards Mae Rim, I came upon an elephant/tourist safari place.

The mahoot had taken his charge down to the river for his daily bath. I don’t speak Thai so, I don’t know what was being said but, i could make some assumptions. The elephant walked into the knee deep water then turned to face the mahoot who began commanding him to lay down in the water. The elephant seemed in no mood to oblige. Being as it’s February, I imagined the water to be a wee bit nippy.

Lie down….lie down…lie down…lie down….lie down. This went on for what seemed like 5 minutes. Lie down….lie down….lie DOWN! The elephant let out a whistle/squeel through his trunk which I translated to mean,”dude, the water is COLD!”

The mahoot continued his monotonous command….lie down…lie down…finally, he raised his hooked stick thing and waded into the water towards the behemoth. The elephant let out an all mighty roar that stood the hairs up on the back of my neck. This I translated to mean,”you do NOT want to mess with me, dude!” I think the mahoot had the same understanding as I did as he quickly retreated to the riverbank.

He continued to try to get the beast to lie down for a few more minutes. After a bit, he seemed to say,”to heck with it!” and started walking away. The pachyderm duly followed him, probably snickering to himself with some satisfaction that he had won this latest battle of wills.

Me thinks the mahoot / big fella relationship is a tenuous one at best 😀

On the second day, I would make the journey to the northern town of Pai, just a few kilometers from the Burmese border. The infamous Golden Triangle. The road to Pai was an important trading route in the old days but the road today is still torturous with some 2000 curves in about 130 miles. The little Yamaha had its work cut out for it. It would be heaven if the pavement was in good condition but, that wasn’t the case. Still, the light weight of the lil Yammie proved to be a blessing as wrestling a liter bike through this madness would have left me a mindless puddle of goo.

West of Mae Ting just before the curves started, I came upon this flower draped hut. The smell of verdant flora was almost overpowering in places.

Then the fun started. The lil Yam was chugging a bit on the uphills but on the downhills, it was like a mountain bike on steroids. I’ll put it this way, I didn’t get passed all day. By Buddha, just give me a KTM Duke and I’ll convert. Heck, I may even come back in my next life as a Buddhist!

Just after lunch, I reached Pai. Pai is the starting point for hikers and rafters heading into the Golden Triangle never to be heard from again. Ok, I made the last bit up. It has a bit of a hippie colony atmosphere to it. Here, villagers cultivate their rice paddies.

After a nice lunch at a riverside restaurant, I made my way back to Mae Rim. Unfortunately, as there are few roads in this area, I had to backtrack the 2000 curves once again. I wasn’t complaining though as the little Yammie proved to be an adept curve straffer!

I woke up on the third day feeling out of sorts. It seems as though I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. A mild case of food poisoning. I lay in bed trying to convince myself to hit the road, that I would feel better, but the body wouldn’t move. Finally around mid-afternoon, I managed to drag myself to the hotel hot tub to try to boil away the bad blood cells. Later I lounged around the pool like a perfeshunul tourist, even sipping mango smoothies to stay in character.

By the next morning, I was feeling well enough to have a breakfast of chicken congee and salted duck eggs. This being the final day, I would tackle the fearsome Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 8,208′ above sea level.

Actually, the road wasn’t so fearsome as the road to Pai. Being as it was a National Park, its road was rather well paved. A walk in the park then. There were Buddhist temples every where you looked. They were quite elaborate and ornate. Here is a big one right outside the Doi Inthanon National Park.

Here is a view inside the park. You can see this portion of road was rather good. The mountains kinda resemble the Smokeys, huh.

After some huffing and puffing, the mighty Yammie achieved the summit!

Reluctantly, I made my way downhill and back to Chiang Mai to return the bike. I found traffic conditions to be quite reasonable compared to Saudi Arabia and India. The Thai people are a pleasure to be around. They go through their daily rituals with a smile on their faces, always seeing the bright side of things.

The natural beauty was stunning as well. I could see myself chucking it all in and becoming one of those Birkenstock wearin’, tie-dyed draped expats who give up everything to live in a paradise.