Sunday, 22 September 2019

Sometimes When You Least Expect It In a Place, It Will Supprise You – Chiang Dao

The day started with breakfast. I had no idea that the hostel came with free breakfast and it was a bonus on a rainy morning. Stephan and me only had a few things to see in Chiang Dao and he would leave at the end of the day for Chaing Mai while I stay another night hence the final split of the initial group in Mae Sariang. Has it been more than a week? wow ...  

Free Breakfast ... the little things but when coupled with a chain of little things a place can be so much more than just a passing town. Laundry was next and with rainy weather in the morning I had no idea if laundry was even possible to do. Laundry was 50 baht (dirt cheap) and I did not even have to do it myself. Just left it at the counter and collected it by the end of the day, full service laundry. The little things. 

Chiang Dao Hostel 

First stop was the hot springs. It was funny because I was contemplating going in or just seeing it since all the online guides said it was 100 baht and even google maps says it's a private hot springs but when we got there just by the river, it was free. Simple but free and I decided to jump in even when I was unprepared or even if Stephan says he had no time and had to move, I would stay and jump in the hot springs. HOT SPRINGS ....... ^^

Chiang Dao River Hot Springs 
Stephen decided to join in the hot springs and it was best just sitting inside those cement ring pools with piped in hot springs water by the cold flowing river. It was the perfect morning, cold and with the rain starting to give way to the sun, a hot spring in a private tub outside in the open by the cold river, nothing like relaxing after a long long ride through Mae Hong Son loop. 

Ahhh .... Bliss - Chiang Dao Hots Springs By the River 
By the time hot springs was done it was already lunch time. Towards Chiang Dao Cave which at first I thought it was just one of those many cave in Thailand. It was a very large and complex cave maze which took nearly 2 hours just to explore the basic parts.

Chiang Dao Cave was very touristy but surprisingly local tourist and we almost did not see any foreign tourist around. The entrance was 40 baht which was clearly indicated for maintaining the lights in the caves. One way to know that the place was not tailored for foreign tourist is the price are the same regardless of Thai nationality or Foreign Nationality. 

Chiang Dao Cave Temple 

Entrance to Chiang Dao Cave 
40 baht and we went in and by the first enclave we were greeting by local guides. The guides barely speaks English but they had all the important signs and instructions translated into English. Chiang Dao cave is categorized into three segments, one which requires a guide and a gas lamp for light and the other which is fully lighted up with bulbs which can be self explored with the many many local tourist that feels like a conveyor belt and lastly the deep exploration of caves which requires a guide and a permit as well. 

Chiang Dao Cave 

Chiang Dao Cave 

Chiang Dao Cave 
The lamp cost 200 baht and could be shared as a group regardless of size. So Stephan and me split the cost to 100 baht each. The guide worked on a tip basis but they have the sign to suggest a recommended tipping amount for the guide. 200 baht for the tour tip was the recommended amount regardless of how large the group was.

The darker parts of Chaing Dao cave runs 700+ meters through large and very narrow passage which we had to navigate and crawl to get from one cavern to another. Halfway in and looking backwards I realized that there were so many branches leading to other caves segments that without a guide we would probably be lost and in trouble. Then again the large amount of local tourism means that not 10 feet away was another group with a guide and the same with a group behind us. 

Chiang Dao Caves 

Chiang Dao Caves 

Chiang Dao Caves 
Warning signs of DANGEROUS and no exploration without guides were placed where the caves tunnels forked and seamed to dive endlessly into the abyss yet mysteriously calls to a few visitors which seams to have a glint in their eyes to want to explore further. Nevertheless it was the end of  the permitted part of Chiang Dao Cave. 

Last stop was viewpoint but what we did not know was the viewpoint was located in a wildlife sanctuary which required payment for entry. 230 baht per person and we decided to skip it. It was fun travelling with company for a while after a long time travelling alone. 

Traveled on: Dec 2018

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Pai, the Backpacker’s Heaven

So continuing from the last post,I was dead set on staying in Pai for two nights and as much as I wanted to keep moving, riding every day and not seeing things was eating my soul inside and Pai was one of those places where there was so much to do. 

Two night in Pai. The day was spend going around the town, visiting places like the Pai Land split, Pai Canyon, Eleplant Camp, memorial bridge, temples, sunset, night market, massage and just enjoying Pai. I can understand the allure of Pai to the Falangs. They stay here for a month singing praise of Pai and it's because Pai is the perfect blend made for a backpacker’s long stays. 

Its a relaxing town, cheap with all the needs of a westerners and yet blended in with local’s touch that makes Pai so attractive. I would say to all the travel haters out there that spit nonsense of a town ruin by foreigners trying to prevent more tourism from going to Pai by mindf*cking them into boycotting visiting Pai, they will never win for Pai does not need any promotion initially, and if a word of mouth can make this small little northern village a falang heaven then it is definitely here to stay as a hot tourist spot.

I could easily stay here for a week or a month ... but maybe not in a hostel where young hyper western backpackers roam the area drinking and partying nearly everyday. A small cottage in a family guesthouse would be the best for a long stay in Pai in my view. 

Pai is Falling in Love ^^
Two nights were really short but alas I had not much time left before the visa run out and Bluey needed to get out of Thailand into Laos. By now I have come to understand Thailand a little bit better, there are the main tourism spots where hoards of travelers and tourist go through and spots like Pai where the more dedicated travelers pass by, yet still a fair number of them and then there is these places close to the hot-spots that is almost untouched, preserved in pristine local experience by the lack of tour operators or public transportation.

This is when having one own wheels makes the journey and exploration so much enriching.

Anyway, the few things to do in Pai 

( and by this I mean IN Pai and not the surrounding vicinity which would be too much to count )

1. Land Split
(Entrance Fee – FREE, just drop any courtesy amount into the Tips box for the free drinks and snacks provided) 

The Landsplit - Pai

The Landsplit - Pai 

Welcome to the Land Split. 
(Narrative below taken from the Guidepost at the entrance to the land split)

The land spilt is a geological feature caused by seismic activity, an earthquake in 2008. The severe separations in the ground can be seen on the hillside 100m from here. Meanwhile, here at the Landsplit we serve our visitors a country variety of fruits and drinks that are grown and produce right here on our land. Our papaya, sweet potato, banana, tamarind and rosell a hibiscus are raised the traditional way which is free from any chemical fertilizer or pesticide. We kindly encourage you to take time exploring the mystery of our land then enjoy the taste of our country treats and hospitality. 

Tip Base Tourism - The Land Split - Pai

2. Pai Canyon (Entrance- FREE)

Its hard to capture the captivating beauty of Pai Canyon as there was no way to include a good photo. The walk on the ridge of the little Pay Canyon is quite a sight although albeit small in size. 

Pai Canyon ... Free Attraction hence no safety rails ... Safety is your own responsibility  
3. Elephant Camp

There is a lot of mixed feeling on elephant camp when I talk to other tourist. Some might say animal cruelty since the elephant is tied to a barn and ride an elephant to the river is sold as a tourist attraction but when talking to the local, owning an elephant is like owning a farm animal to them no different than a cow or a sheep. 

Elephant Riding - Pai 
Apparently only the young strong elephant is used for tourist riding since they have the back strenght and the older ones are used for farming, clearing logs, pulling things that are too heavy for a normal person. There is a long history in Thailand of elephants being cultivated by civilization and when observing the Mahout attending to their elephant it was like a bond between a warhorse and a soldier. 

Elephant Camp - Pai 
4. Pai Memorial Bridge

The old memorial bridge is actually a new bridge at the same site. During WWII the Japanese constructed the bridge for their supply chain line but was later destroyed by flood. The village people of Pai grew accustom to having a bridge after WWII hence when the bridge was destroyed by flood it was replaced by an Iron bridge. 

Pai Memorial Bridge 
5. Chedi Phra That Mae Yen Temple

The white Buddha temple on a little hill mount at the edge of Pai is a beautiful place where locals and tourist alike visit especially during sunset to see the natural light-show as the sun goes down behind the mountains. 

Chedi Phra That Mae Yen Temple - Pai (Or as the tourist call it, the white Buddha)  

Sunset behind the mountain overlooking Pai 
6. Tourist Night Market 

This very large and long night market is the best place to get food. Walk walk walk .... buy some food and snack eat along the way.

Night Market - Pai 

Night Market - Pai 

Night Market - Pai 

Night Market - Pai 
Traveled on : Dec 2018
#Pai #painightmarket #iampai #paicanyon #pailandsplit #paimemorialbridge

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Riding the Famous Mae Hong Song 1864 corners Loop – Thailand

The famous north of Thailand Mae Hon Song loop which has a total of 1864 corners of varying degree, climbing up to the highest mountain in Thailand also known as the Rooftop of Thailand - Doi Inthanon and then curving in unbelievable terrain from lush rain-forest to steep nerve wrecking continuous U-bends downhill passing by many nature reserves, small towns and colorful minority tribes only found in these secluded northern parts of Thailand sounded like a fairy tale ride that I could not ignore and had to experience it myself despite how popular it was as a tourist loop.

The usual recommended route would be to start from Chaing Mai city, which is understandable since most travelers would need a starting point to rent a bike. Bluey’s modified loop was just slightly over 600km.

(Usual Recommended Route – Can be done either direction)
Chiang Mai - > Doi Inthanon -> Mae Sariang -> Mae Hong Song -> Pai -> Chiang Mai

(Blueys actual route skipping Chiang Mai alltogether)
Chom Thong -> Doi Inthanon -> Mae Sariang -> Mae Hong Son -> Pai -> Chiang Dao

Doi Inthanon as per the previous two post (Riding & Camping at Doi Inthanon) and (Riding Log – Route 1192 Mae Hong Song Loop – Thailand) was one hell of a journey itself and I thought that the rest of the loop would be more relax, more straightforward countryside sightseeing where I could slow down and enjoy the more secluded part of Thailand. I was definitely wrong.

Mae Sariang

By chance, I would arrive Mae Sariang on Christmas eve checking into the cheapest hostel 200 bath a night with good comfy beds. The idea was to escape Christmas to a small town where it was cheaper and one has lesser probability being dragged out by dorm-mates to go out drinking. All the other like minded travelers decided to stop at the hostel too.

Mae Sariang
Christmas Eve and there was only me and Simon which was from England doing a bicycle tour of Thailand and eventually will explore Malaysia too. Towards the evening Jeremy from France joined in and he was on a motorbike rented in Chaing Mai and doing a motor trip going south headed to Mae Sot after Mae Sariang.

Still end up drinking on Christmas Eve .... Notice Bluey at the background ? 

The second night, the hostel helped us organized a steamboat feast to celebrate Christmas and two more bikers rocked up in the evening (Wada from Japan and Stephen from Finland) joining us straight for the Christmas party. Good company with lots of discussion from politics to religion, culture view points and anything under the sun and the gibberish went on all the way late into the night.

Christmas Dinner at Mae Sariang 
It was one of those moments, that somehow fitted perfectly.

In between those two nights, we explored little town Mae Sariang, with bikes it was really quick to spin around town and also the outskirt countryside surrounding it. Like I imagine it to be, this little town was a gem lost in time. We did got a little tip from the hostel staff and explored one Buddhist temple / cave / unfinished temple that was so intricate it was like no other temple I had ever seen in Thailand.

A Cave Temple at Mae Sariang 

A very Intricate Traditional Thai Temple but still in Construction - Mae Sariang 

Riding Around Mae Sariang Town

Mae Sariang outskirts 
Towards Mae Hong Son

It was time to parts ways in Mae Sariang but me Wada & Stephan was headed for the same direction towards Mae Hong Son. The ride was an easy 165 km but very winding and slightly hilly up and down going around mountains after mountains. It was a good ride and we stop at Kaeo Komon Cave Forest Park. Wada was in rush of time to get to Pai and decided to split at the cave continuing on without us while me and Stephen visited the cave. Nothing spectacular but it was worth a visit.

Stephen, Me & Wada at Mae Hong Son

Kaeo Komon Cave Forest Park
Countryside from Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son 

Hot Sping Pit Stop 

Hot Sping Pit Stop 

The highlight of the day was visiting the long neck village near to Mae Hong Son. The Long Neck Village where the women wear brass rings around their necks since young and gradually add rings over the years to allow their neck to be long was interesting to see. Most of the girls are actually normal but wear the ornament for the tourist to see and only maybe 2 or 3 elderly lady really had long necks which was beautiful to see.

Visiting Long Neck Village Karen - Mae Hong Son 

The whole area seam to be focus on tourism, it was not like a zoo display but instead more of shops selling scarfs, clothes, trinkets, oilmen and anything they think the tourist would but at their village. The shopkeepers were all long neck tribe women and the curious tourist would walk around shopping while sneaking glance at these girls and their long necks covered with brass ornaments.

Entrance to the long neck village was 250 baht to support the community

Long Neck Village - Mae Hong Son

Long Neck Village - Mae Hong Son 

Exiting the village I notice two motorbikes parked next to Bluey. Malaysian plate. It was two crazy riders from KL that was doing a two week stunt riding 1 week up all the way to the Golden Triangle and 1 week back home. An average of 400km a day. Don't think they will see much and I guess they are just in it for the ride.

Toward Pai

The ride from Mae Hong Son to Pai started late in the morning after first visiting hilltop temple viewpoint getting a bird eye view of Mae Hong Son city including the airport. I decided I wanted to ride the small town going round and round then finally hitting the main road onward to Pai.

Mae Hong Son City 

The northern route or the Mae Hong Son Loop is a truly bikers heaven or road trip heaven where one gets to experience hairpin curve after curve and with beautiful scenery and lots of stops along the way. It was never a dull moment riding this route

Stephen became my travel partner, the last sole surviving one after the gang gathered for Christmas at Mae Saraing. He would continue with me all the way to Chaing Dao 5 days together travelling and riding together. He had a 300 cc Honda bike which always left me in the dust going up hill. Downhill however I was the crazy one catching up to him and overtaking and leaving him some smoke but once even a tiniest hill climb begins, Bluey begins his lazy climb.

Just To Bikers Tacking the Mae Hong Son Loop 

First stop was the bamboo bridge in a small village en-route towards Myanmar. Su Tong Pae bridge which has a beautiful Buddhist temple at the end. Riding on we ended up at the National Park Thampla Fish Cave. Interesting thing to see for the large fishes were all trying to squeeze into the small little cave enclosure.

Su Tong Pae Bridge 

Su Tong Pae Temple 
Su Tong Pae Bridge 

Thampla Fish Cave 

A Cave Pack full of Fish - Thampla Fish Cave 

The loop was more about the ride and not so much about sightseeing things along the way yet I cant help feel a little regret on not being able to see every little things along the rural northern Thailand. That said, I also know that if I were to try and see every little attraction, i would be broke as well since Thailand has double pricing for locals and foreigners and with each waterfall or each cave or hot springs along the way entrance fee would chalk up 300 baht for each attraction.

Pang Ma Pha Viewpoint

Pang Ma Pha Viewpoint 
Regret of not being able to do everything properly, but at the same time I know it was the right choice to skip all the waterfall and hot springs if the only idea was to see and not to swim in it.

Towards Chiang Dao

I was dead set on staying in Pai for two nights. As much as I wanted to keep moving, riding every day and not seeing things eats my soul inside and Pai was one of the places where there was so much to do. I’ll have to write a separate post for Pai itself I guess.

The ride downhill from Pai to Chaing Dao was very mundane other than the ride itself which was beautiful and challenging. Slopes were ok but the curves were quite sharp and up and down the mountain hill when the clouds today seams like it could rain at any moment just makes the whole riding journey cold even at 2pm.

I somehow missed the first pre-determined scenic pit stop with Stephen and also missed the second one and had to wait for him at the Witch Cafe. The Witch Cafe was interesting and as a marketing strategy. I would say they had done a very good job by the number of people stopping for coffee. The house of the witch was a picture stop moment for all travelers to Pai or from Pai

Bluey At the Witchhouse - Pai 

Coffee We / Witch's House 

Coffee We / Witch House 

We took a detour on the way to Chaing Dao seeing all the elephant camps which was in the valley surrounded by mountains. Eco tourism for all the elephant camps but we just ride this small road seeing the countryside and occasionally elephant roaming beside.

Detour - Follow the Signboards that has pictures of Elephants 

Free Roaming Elephant Sanctuary 

By nightfall we had reached Chiang Dao and marked the end for Mae Hong Son loop on my part. Steven would continue on to Chaing Mai the next day while I headed further north of Thailand. The loop took a total of 9 days for me and even so I felt it was too rushed. It was slow enough to appreciate the still moments in time but so fast it felt like a riding adventure where everyday is a new challenge.

Traveled on : Dec 2018
#maehongsonloop #maehongson1864 #blurtravels