When Elena asked me what I want to do for my 50th birthday I was faced with simple choices and really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Part of me wanted to stay at home and have a party with friends which I seem to do every year.
But this is my 50th it doesn’t come around often in fact took 50 years to get here. So what can I do to make it memorable? What would leave a lasting impression? What do I really like to do? Anyone who knows me knows I have some pretty simple passions one of them is stand-up paddle board and the other is travel and my third is motorcycles. Not necessarily in that order I gave up my motorcycle a couple of years ago when we bought a property in Vanuatu. But I voice had this underlying desire to purchase another one so I started thinking where can I go and ride on a motorbike and really enjoy myself.
A couple of years ago we visited Chiang Mai in Thailand’s norther provinces. It was here that I discovered the Mae Hong Son Loop, and a 600km journey with 1864 curves and altitude of over 1800 m above sea level. It’s a awesome ride and not for the faint hearted.
Far be it for me to repeat the same journey I wanted to find something in northern Thailand that was a little bit different. So with a lot of research and planning we decided that we would ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and then on east to a remote town called Nan. The journey will take us six days and travelling over 1000 km through some of the remotest corners of northern Thailand what could possibly go wrong? Navigation in this part of the world is difficult if you don’t understand Thai. You need to have your wits about you when finding national highway road markers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Landing in Chiang Mai when you was only 4 km to town so what better way to introduce yourself to Thailand than to decide that you’re going to walk those 4km. After all it’s still early in the morning even though it’s summer and the temperature is rising as fast as the humidity and sweat now pouring down my back. After 2 1/2 km we get up and grab a small red bus to town.
Chiang Mai is almost 2 cities in one. And although sometimes a little more expensive we prefer to stay inside the walled old city we stayed here before and it’s full of markets massage places restaurants cafes and all those small intricate places that make Thailand special. Staying at the wealth hotel was definitely an enjoyable experience it’s a relatively new hotel that is fully air-conditioned and has a great little breakfast area downstairs sadly we would only be staying with this fabulous hotel for just one night.
Our quest for today was to return to the motorcycle accessory shop we found on our last journey to purchase helmets for our motorcycle trip tomorrow. Even though we have crash helmets in Australia it is very difficult to carry a crash helmet on board an aircraft. Most airlines require that the helmet goes in the cargo hold, and given the way they treat luggage I would not want them damaging my crash helmet.
After outlaying the exorbitant funds of $25 per helmet we are now set to go and check how motorcycle and make sure that we were all equipped for the days travel tomorrow. We booked with Mr Mechanic on our last trip. As they have some of the best and larger bikes available in Thailand.
Booking the Kawasaki Versys gave a 650cc of power and what is the largest bike they have. We took the option of the hard side cases for extra luggage storage, this proved to be invaluable along the journey.
Setting off on day one I arrive to collect motorcycle only to realise that I have left my passport back at the hotel and Mr mechanic needs to hold my passport before releasing the bike to me. So with a quick loan of a scooter I race back across town grab my passport and race back.
Holding a passport for some people may feel a little strange but it is standard practice when hiring a motorcycle in Thailand especially in Thailand’s north. Recently there have been incidences where false documents have been provided and motorcycles have disappeared across the border to neighbouring Laos or Burma.
Knowing that my passport was going to be kept in a safe place allayed any fears I had. I just had to make sure that I had copies of my passport because I would need these in securing my lodging at the hotels that we have booked ahead on our journey.
Now the fun begin me as the rider and Elena as the navigator. The easiest way to get your bearings in Chiang Mai is to do a couple of laps around the moated old city. I need to write that I was looking for was off one of the corners that make up the square and of the old city. So when we turned on and navigation and put it on the wrong road we travelled the highway route instead of the more picturesque mountain road to Chiang Rai. Still it made for a great ride and we got to see a lot of villages and towns along the way.
Our first pitstop along the journey was that a small mountain tea village it was settled by the Chinese army when they left the clutches of Chairman Mao and the Communist Chinese regime. Mae Salong is quite a climb on the bike off the main highway. Keeping the throttle open helps you climb, but you have to remember it also gives you massive acceleration and there are a lot of tight corners.
Finding our abode for the evening, Phumektawan Resort is run by local Chinese and it’s all about the view. Waking here to catch sunset in the morning you will see the sunrise over three countries at once as you look out over the Golden Triangle. From here you can see Laos, Burma and Thailand all at once.
Breakfast here as interesting as it is all local Chinese produce. Don’t expect you continental breakfast or cereals and pots of yoghurt here. Breakfast will consist of rice soup with mushrooms and cabbage as a side dish. Sounds strange well actually it was really quite nice. As a result they also have a small shop selling various teas and dried candy fruits. Be sure to get some green tea plums they are gorgeous!
As fast as we arrived it was now time to set off down the hill back to the main highway, so all those tight and twisty bits coming up the mountain were now slow and hard on the break bits going down.
From Mae Salong to Chiang Rai is a short ride of only just over two hours. It’s a ride through a mountain valley and then out onto the plains and due south to Chiang Rai.
Because we left Mae Salong just after breakfast we arrived in Chiang Rai around 11am. As this was my birthday stop my loving wife booked us into one of the nicest places in Chiang Rai. Nak Nakara is just out of the heart of town but boasts a great pool, bar and even has New Zealand Natural Ice-cream! The staff here couldn’t do enough for us was complimentary drinks fridge fresh fruit and even when we left a couple of bags of dried bananas for a long journey to Nan.
Will be staying here for the next two nights and since we had arrived at 11am we decided would head to town for lunch and a quick look around to get out bearings.
Anyone who knows us knows we love kids and have a gorgeous Turkish Angora at home, so finding this really cool cafe that provides enormous servings of waffles whilst surrounded by some really interesting cats there was no way we could walk past the door. Cat na Cup is an ideal way to waste several hours while trying to negotiate your way through a triple stack of waffles with cookies and cream ice cream. Trust me I cut back apparently they do a four stacked waffles and ice cream I don’t know how anyone could manage this mammoth effort. However I gave it my best shot.
What better way to celebrate your 50th them to be in a country that you really love on a motorcycle with your best friend who happens to also be your wife and then to top of all of that you go to the white Temple in Chang Rai. If there is one thing that you do when coming here is to go to the white temple and the best time to go is early in the morning for several reasons
1. When on a motorbike with a riders jacket on you’re going to get hot. 2. It’s summer it’s already hot by 9am
3. You want to beat all the buses filled with tourists so that you can get good photos.
One way to mark the occasion was to buy a lucky leaf and hang it on one of the pagodas what did I write on my lucky leaf….”Here’s to another 50 years”… if I live to 100years I’ll be back here to celebrate it again.
Elena hadn’t finished with me yet apparently there was a huge park not far from here that she wanted to visit and go bicycle riding. Singha Park was built by the beer company of the same name and covers a vast expanse filled with tea bushes a petting zoo with giraffes and zebras and several other attractions that make this place a good day out for a leisurely cycle through the countryside. It seemed as if we were the only ones on the designated cycleway which was kind of good considering that my wife is still a novice on a pushbike.
If I was to come to Singha Park again I would probably bring my own packed lunch even though there are places to stop and have something to eat it would be so cool to picnic here in the countryside. This pace has sparked Elena’s desire to pedal across France, Spain and Germany…. Easy there girl that’s a lot of riding.
There was one more stop to make for a day out and that was to visit the Black House. Apparently it houses the opposite of the White Temple, which symbolises heaven. The Blackhouse symbolises the darker side of life. Each small black building contains animal bones crocodile skins and other dead material. At first we thought entry was three as Elena read on Wikipedia there was no cover charge. However this information is out of date or incorrect. At a cost of 80THB I would’ve been better to keep my money in my pocket. After viewing the first large black building and walking through I fail to grasp the concept of what the artist was trying to show and to me the rest of the buildings just followed on with the same theme of bones horns and animal skins. I had hoped for more but was disappointed and didn’t bother looking through all of the buildings before we just upped and left.
Returning back to our hotel we decided that we would sit poolside and enjoy cocktails for my birthday….. Some of us enjoy the cocktails more than others. Elena would argue that I can send more therefore I enjoyed more but just take a look at the video….. Apparently Pringles are a drink!
We needed something to soak up the alcohol so staggering down the street we stumbled into an incredibly awesome restaurant called Ribs & Co. If you make it to Chang Rai. And you really want the best pork ribs you’ve ever tasted this is the place.
Walking home through the streets in the dark reminded us of the safety and security we felt when walking through the streets of Cuba in the middle of the night with our good friends. There are lots of times we’ve been questioned “don’t you think it’s dangerous travelling some of these places around the world?” Personally I live in more fear through what the media tells me about Australia than when I travel and walk the streets here in Thailand. I feel totally safe in Asia, Cuba, Russia and most places I travel. If I lived my life according to the media I never leave home.
Leaving Chiang Rai was going to play havoc on our navigational skills as we had to negotiate several small and named roads to find the highway that would take us to Nan. Sure we could just take the highway but the trip that we had researched was going to take us three more picturesque back roads and then link is to the highway. With a couple of wrong turns and 20 km of riding wasted(or enjoyed) we soon found itself on the highway and winding through some of the most gorgeous countryside Thailand has to offer.
Nan is larger than what I thought, perched out here on the edge of Thailand’s borders it is only a short ride to Laos. As we pull in to the gate of our resort for the next two nights we are greeted by the owner in the driveway. Apparently we are the only ones here for the next two days and feel a bit like movie stars as we have the whole resort to ourselves.
Noble House Garden Resort is simply beautiful with it’s four family units and 10 small roundhouse units with traditional thatched roofs. I know what it feels like to be a movie star now and can only imagine what it would be like for them to enjoy such a privilege. In the evening whole place was that up just for us the pool lights, the fountains by the pool it was all just too much.
Breakfast was set for 8 AM and as we arrived all the food the company had been laid out for us once again still nobody here just us. We had any seat in the house. Since he was going to be no one here all day we decided we take the day off and just chill out on the grounds swimming catching up on our blog and basically enjoying ourselves. Tomorrow was going to be another big day as we would have to ride all the way back to Chiang Mai.
Our plan was to leave The resort by 8:30 AM this way we get a good head start on the heat is travelling with wet weather jackets in the humid conditions was proving more than a little testing my jacket stunk from the previous days riding but there was nothing I could do as this jacket was my lifeline between skin and pavement.
Breakfast this morning was a unique experience is the water buffalo had been grazing was one of the staff in the orchard. So here we are sitting having breakfast with the water buffalo looking straight at us, they are the most gorgeous creatures.
Heading fond farewell to the resort owners we headed off through town looking for the connecting highway to take us back home to Chaing Mai.
When you today’s ride was going to be long and it proved to be the longest run we had ridden in Thailand. With a stop for lunch that took an hour we didn’t arrive back into Chaing Mai until 4pm.
Elena once again surprise me with yet another quirky little place to stay. With its loft platform bed and tiny balcony this was going to be a base for the next couple of nights before returning to Australia.
We had tonight and one full day here before returning home., so what better way to unwind then to take a quick stroll through the night markets and then off for a massage.
The massage prove so good that we went back again the following night for a two hour session. Just remember if you do decide to take on a body scrub massage and your hostess says take off your clothes it means all of your clothes. I knew I was in safe hands with my wife looking on from the other table. Just remember when asked to take a shower just make note of where the towels are the last thing you want to do was walk back into the room and not only embarrass yourself but embarrass your hostess at the same time, all the while your wife is laughing at you.
There’s so much to do here in Chaing Mai and we took it upon ourselves to explore some of the small things that expect to do like go to the movies and something new for me go to the barbers. The movie theatres here are just as good is back home if not better not only that the movies are in English with Thai subtitles and at almost half the price. But guys if you really feel like being pampered go to one of the local barbers. I got a blade shave a beard trim and my whole head shaved for the total cost of $12 and I spent 50 minutes in the chair. I just found my regular thing if I was to stay here in Thailand.
Like good things they come to an end and was returning the bike I really didn’t want to part with it now it was time to head to the airport and I had one bottle of beer left to drink. Elena told me that our flight was departing at 9:30 in the morning so I thought that wasn’t too early to drink 600 mil bottle of Thai beer with an alcohol content of 5%. I thought it will be okay I’ll drink it while waiting for departure. However upon arriving at the airport I discovered that I couldn’t enter the airport as I had a sharp CanOpener and bottle opener and the guy at the entrance was scanning everybody who entered the building. There was only one thing to do walk back across the road looking squarely in the eye knock the top off that bottle and down it right there and then. Ditching the CanOpener in the garbage bin and tossing that anti-bottle I staggered back across the road very happy with myself I mean very very happy as it was only 7:30 AM and I have broken a new record of early morning drinking in Thailand.
We were now bound back to Kuala Lumpur for a five hour stop before returning home.
Goodbye Thailand once again it’s been an awesome journey and can’t wait to return and ride bikes here again.