Travels around Thailand: Chapter 6 – Mai Hong Son and higher mountains

White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand I left Chiang Rai having thoroughly done the top right hand corner of this province. I had a brief stop at the "White Temple" but seemed to arrive at the same time as half of China in buses. It was far too packed for me and the "personal space" thing kicked in and I was off. It is a beautiful building and well worth a visit being just down the road from Chiang Rai but getting there when it's quiet? Lots of "keep walking" instructions!  The road down the side of the temple was leading in the right direction so after 15 minutes of sightseeing I was back on the donkey.

Hill tribe children My route would take me to some of the highest mountains in Thailand and soon the donkey was wheezing as we climbed our zigzagging way up into the hills. I found that a bit of extra choke stopped the engine pinking which for the un mechanical of you sounds like half a pound of two inch nails loose somewhere in the engine. The views got better and better as the bike got slower and slower so all in all a good combination. I reached the peak of one hard climb and decided to let the bike cool down and admire the views, they were good all round. I noticed some hill tribe people in their traditional costumes so took a few snaps when I was approached and told " you take picture give me money" ah I see commercialism has reached new heights! My route took me above Chiang Mai, through Pai, very touristy, and out beyond where the step through motorcycles everyone hires can get to and back on a tank full.

Mai Hong Son I arrived at Mai Hong Son , which is known for its long necked hill tribes, later than intended due to border checks as I skirted along the Burma border. It was considerably colder than Chiang Mai due to its altitude and low cloud that had dampened me but given the bike a new lease of life. I went to a reasonably priced hotel I had used before to find that the prices had nearly doubled since my last visit in the March before. No amount of bartering could get the price down and I was getting the " pay what we ask or buzz off" look. "How many people staying here?" I asked  " Only three" was the answer " I,m not surprised" I commented as I walked out. I can't understand the logic in overcharging and keeping a place empty but somewhere someone sees it as more profitable. I found a little resort up a quiet back road for £7 for the night and after a shower headed down to eat. I had seen a busy restaurant on my previous visit used by the locals so had decided to try this out. To my delight they had "Chiang Rai sausage" on the menu so I ordered a small amount as a starter. My first mouthful let me know the name didn't match the product as incredibly strong chilli set fire to my lips, mouth and any other soft tissue it made contact with. Luckily they had some sugar sachets on the table and one of these emptied straight into the fire and chewed took the heat away and some cola for the boundary cooling. I still marvel that after all my time and travels out here I can be caught out.

Bamboo bridge to hill tribe I had visited the local long necked tribes before and on my way to them had mixed feelings about standing staring at someone who didn't look normal and my natural curiosity. On my arrival I found the villages totally geared up to taking whatever money they could from the tourists by selling tat and charging for parking on a road. I never stopped the engine and left without going in but found by travelling up a very rough road an unspoilt and nearly inaccessible hill tribe village. I still found it uncomfortable to stare.

I awoke to find the cloud had dropped even lower and from a vantage point at the local temple could see just how small the airport was but not a lot else as the cloud was obscuring the surrounding area. My plan was to head south across the mountains taking in the fields of sunflowers at a place near Khun Yuam. This is a mountain side at 5000 feet plus altitude that only flowers for a few weeks of the year. En Route I gave in to the desire to "see where that road goes" and found another hill tribe village accessible via a very rickety bamboo bridge over a fast flowing river. Well worth the visit as I , being a rare falang, was stared at by everyone with the older people touching me for " lucky for life". I only stayed a short while as I had left all my worldly possessions on the donkey as I had visions of going into the river accompanied by most of the bridge, underestimated the strength of bamboo again.

Orchids around a resort Soon I was climbing again, rapidly, and could see my quest in the distance a strange yellow orange patch in amongst the tropical greenery, I could also see clouds gathering and they looked grey. The temperature quickly dropped and the engine rattle returned then the first shower that was heavy enough for me to don my 45 litre bin liner to keep dry. I arrived at the sunflowers in rain but there were breaks of sunshine to allow the flowers to glisten and an added bonus were the surrounding fields of Orchids. I was getting cold so headed onwards and downwards back to the sunshine. I was glad I took the trouble and soaking to get to the fields as to be surrounded by such an intense colour was something I'd not experienced before.

I continued onwards to Chom Thong on a seventy mile roller coaster of brake smoking drops and engine stalling climbs in first gear. I passed the road up to Doi Inthanon , at 2590 meters the highest mountain peak in Thailand, but the low cloud and the thought of another soaking kept me from it, anyway the view would be a bit restricted. For this reason I had passed up revisiting a village called MicroWave also up in the clouds and home to mobile phone masts.

Downwards now to Lampang for the night.

•  Read Chapter 1: The first visit
•  Read Chapter 2: Bangkok and beyond
•  Read Chapter 3: Kanchanaburi and getting around by train
•  Read Chapter 4: Travelling around Thailand
•  Read Chapter 5: The road from Nan to Chiang Rai
•  Read Chapter 7: Encounter with a monocled cobra

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Steve Francis

Thailand tour guide

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