From Dan Chang I make my way to Chiang Mai and check into one of the 4 Youth Hostels. My bike needs a bit of attention again and there is a HorizonsUnlimited mini-meeting to attend. Most of the people there are local residents, but there is Gregory Frazier (4 times round the world) and a couple of young Aussies on the same bikes as me. Unfortunately, I soon loose sight of all of them. At the YH I meet Francis from Belgium. He rents a bike and we ride to Pai together. Unfortunately, his bike has little power and he is quite big, so uphill it's very slow going, but that does allow me to appreciate the nice scenery. Once arrived we share a bamboo hut in a little resort and we do a little loop around the district. The town is full of tourists.
29/1 Francis and I split. He wants to get going, as the time on his rental bike is ticking away, but I rather take my time. From Pai there is practically only one road: the Loop . Just before Soppong I spot a sign to Cave Lodge, the place the Aussie bikers were staying in and raving about. I decide to check it out. It's quite a distance up a small road, leading to Tham Lot caves. The lodge belongs to an Aussie and we are soon chatting about this and that and I have lunch here. It is a very nice setting in the forest. He recommends a route through the forest and a nice ride it is. There is a view tower with a rickety ladder, but the view is worth the climb. I pass through a couple of hill tribe villages and soon I arrive in Mae Hong Son. In the evening I meet Andrea, the Italian again. He is horrified when he learns about my misadventures trying to follow the route he advised. He invites me for a trip into the hills the next day.
30/1 Andrea rents a bike and we are off. The scenery is great and the roads very steep in places. So steep in fact, that Andrea's 100cc bike barely climbs the steepest sections in 1st gear. My bike can't go that slow, so I'm forced to pass him. We stop at some hot springs, but the pool is being refilled, so it's closed. There is a pretty waterfall with lots of big fish in the pool at the bottom. Finally we arrive in Pang Ung, where we visit a friend of his. Benjamin is a Jesuit lay preacher and refugee from Burma. He runs a school, funded and staffed by volunteers, where children can learn English and other languages after the govt. school has finished for the day. They can't learn languages there... He asks me to stay for a couple of days to teach and I'm keen. However, as we leave my starter motor refuses to work, so I decide I need to get back to town to fix this first. We continue to the next and last village before the Burma border. This area is called the "Thai Switzerland". We are at 1200m altitude and there are pine trees around a pretty little reservoir with lodges and camp sites. We continue a short way until the concrete road turns to dirt. Andrea is not keen to continue, saying there is nothing beyond that. I think he's also a little afraid, as this track seems to lead straight across the border into Burma, not surprising after all the stories Benjamin told us.
Back in town and several push starts later I remove the starter and get it cleaned out by a mechanic next door. There is water inside, which has turned the coal dust from the brushes into a hard sticky gunk. Not surprising that it didn't work any more. The 1h repair costs 60c.
The main temple in Mae Hong Son, reflecting in the pond. There is a lively night market in front of it.
31/1 It starts to rain in the morning and during breakfast it turns into a downpour. Dry season, my foot!
This scene near the top of Doi Inthanon reminds me a lot of NZ
My diary is empty for a few days, as I am down with a high fever. I visit the hospital for a blood test, but they can't find anything. It's gone a few days later and I make my way back to Chiang Mai.
8/2 On my way out of town I stop in a shop to collect my new boots. They are finished, but far too wide in the calf and the zip is hurting my leg. They will do more work on them, should be ready in 2 days, but I will just have to come back some time later to collect them. While I sit there inspecting the boots and trying to communicate with the staff two tall guys walk in and shortly start yelling abuse at everybody in English, including me. Sounds like whatever they wanted to collect wasn't ready and they are so unhappy, they even threaten to kill, all the while using foul language. Eventually they leave, but not without having threatened me, too. I suspect they belong to some Chinese Mafia. Backroads through Doi Inthanon NP, stopping near the top of Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain. Then along some 4WD tracks to Mae La Noi, where I stay in a very simple bamboo hut.
9/2 After Mae Sarieng I decide on a whim to continue along the road to Mae Sam Laep, on the Salween River, which forms the border with Burma here. Nice scenery, but not a lot to see here. After several unsuccessful attempts to cross the Mae Yuam River to rejoin the highway South I have to backtrack a little. The road here is justly famous for the great scenery, it's up and down, round and about through the forest, not many villages here. When I take off after a brief stop on top of a pass I don't see a bamboo stick on the ground beside my front wheel and the bike falls heavily with the edge of the pannier onto my right foot, trapping it very painfully. Petrol spills out of the tank. I stay like this in agony for several minutes, until I manage to get my other leg over the bike onto the same side, then I can just lift the bike off my foot. A truck passes the scene without stopping. The next car is a songthaew, I call out and a bunch of Canadian doctors and nurses pile out to help me. Luckily only minor damage to the skin of my foot, the pain soon subsides and I can continue. The bike, however, doesn't really want to run any more. In Mae Salid I check into a very nice wooden bungalow, a recommendation by Andrea. Later a couple of French bikers turn up, Lulu and Fred. We spend the evening swapping stories.