16/11 The highway 107 North is boring and slow at first, but that changes once we get into the hills. We soon leave it and head to the Burma border. Near Kiew Pawok we check out the border crossing. I think we provide all the entertainment the soldiers guarding this crossing ever get. At the first checkpoint the young soldier runs to phone his boss to ask whether we may proceed. We may. At the actual crossing the three gates are firmly shut and grass is growing where people and vehicles should be crossing. Su has a long chat with one of the lads who tells us that it has been closed for 6 years due to fighting between Thailand and Burma. We can see a couple of tall wooden watchtowers with people in them. The buildings on the Thai side look like they are only closed for the day. It is obvious that the Thais would like to open this crossing tomorrow. Soon we leave the few soldiers to their boring duty.
From here a very steep rollercoaster road continues until we reach Doi Ang Khang. Su kept telling me about the flowers people come here to see. It turns out that this is like a flower show where you have to pay an entrance fee, but it's too early to see it, so we leave this touristy place and continue along the border, passing through a few villages of former Kuomintang. The road deteriorates a lot, there are lots of potholes and maintenance consists of filling them with piles of earth.
At Nor Lae there is yet another checkpoint and the soldier sends us up a hill into an army camp. This is a tourist attraction for the Thais who come here to see a couple of Burmese army camps. After this compulsory stop we are allowed to continue towards Fang, but a soldier warns us of the road ahead. He is not kidding: it passes right under one of the Burmese camps, then descends very steeply and it's just here that the seal has completely dissolved. Breaking is almost impossible here. Fear gets the better of Su and in the steepest bend she almost ends up in the greenery. Only a few km further there is yet another checkpoint (yes, there are lots of them) and this is the first time ever at a checkpoint that I have to prove that I exist (i.e. show passport). I was planning on another little adventure here, checking out a road that is marked as "restricted" and "slipped away" on my map, but we have lost too much time now and need a place to sleep. This we find in Fang: a resort with some amazing huts that look like right out of Africa. Once inside I notice a network cable. Yes, they have internet, so they say. Only it doesn't work. "Oh, sorry, we haven't connected the internet yet." The restaurant next door is notable for its wobbly bamboo floors and it's so dark I have to switch on my torch so Su can read the menu.
17/11 We continue along single-lane roads along the Burma border. At one army checkpoint I have to position my bike, so they can take a picture of it with a camera connected to a laptop. Immediately after that the road passes by another Burmese army camp. The contrast is stark: thatched bamboo huts and bamboo fences and bare earth everywhere. On some hills I think I can tell where the unmarked border runs: thick forest in Thailand, forest cleared on the Burmese side. We check into a nice resort in Mae Sai, right by the river. In the evening we watch the Burmese return from their work in Thailand by wading through the river. It's fast-flowing, but only about hip-deep.
18/11 It's a chores day. Su needs a minor problem seen to at the hospital, then we walk across the border to Tachilek, as I need a new entry stamp in my passport. As soon as we leave immigration we are assailed by many people pushing tours around town, cigarettes and viagra. Do I look that old??? The town itself is a bit of a dump, which doesn't come as a surprise. The market sells pretty much the same stuff as the one in Mae Sai (or Mae Sot, for that matter). Mostly cheap Chinese junk. Then there are sights for rifles (but no weapons for sale...) and various animals and their parts. Some look like they belong to endangered species. Back in Thailand I have one last formality to complete: extend the import permit for my bike. It quickly becomes clear that the customs people have never done this before and they don't have a clue as to what to do. They ask for a carnet (Thailand doens't use or recognise the carnet de passages en douanes...) and the boss says I have to export my bike to Burma, then bring it back. Eventually, however, a solution is found: they issue a new permit. Extension or new permit, I don't care.
19/11 Before leaving Mae Sai I stop to take some photos of the 'haunted guest house'. This rambling complex takes up an entire hillside, but it's abandoned and overgrown. There is still a big sign singing its praises, though. It's an easy ride past the tourist trap that is the so-called Golden Triangle. We barely stop here. We continue SE, sometimes along the border, which later is not the Mekong, but a high range of hills. There are some good views. We check out the border crossing at Ban Huak, but it's strictly for local residents only. Just when we need it we find a nice resort near a waterfall.
20/11 We continue more or less along the border. There are some more local border crossings, but the one at Huay Khon should be opened up soon for international travellers, says a local immigration officer. We are now in a pretty remote and sparsely populated area and have a bit of a problem finding a place to stay. We end up in a simple and expensive hut by some kind of army museum.
21/11 It was a cold and disturbed night, but at least it's a fine day and it soon warms up. We continue along a very scenic rollercoaster road to Ban Klua, where we visit the salt wells. The salt water is only a couple of metres below the ground and the locals haul it up by the bucket, then boil the water away over an open fire. We then head to Nan.
Fog at the top of the Doi Phukha road.