Mae Hong Son Loop…..Better Known As “Hold On To Your Lunch!”

Hold on to your Lunch?  You may be thinking….what a weird title….but here is the story.  At the end of our last post, I told you that we had rented a motorcycle and were planning a 4 day loop in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai.  The loop can be driven in as short as 2 days, but they are brutally long days and missing many great sites.  It was highly recommended to plan to do the loop in 4 days, and so we did.  We headed over to the bike shop where we had reserved a Suzuki V-Strom 650cc.  We loaded up the saddlebags with our essential belongings for the next 4 days and stored the remainder of our luggage with the shop.  For today’s ride, our plan was to head to the rural town of Pai.  This would be a 4 hour ride (with some scenic stops built in) up an extremely curvy road.  In case you think I am exaggerating, here is how some sources explain the road to Pai:  “It is no secret that the 3-4 hour drive to Pai is a daunting one.”  It is a steep and winding road that will make you feel every single one of it’s 762 vomit inducing turns.  This was truly no joke.  I can honestly say I have never been on a road that was nearly non-stop serpentine/hairpin turns.  I have also never seen so many cars, pulled over at various points along the way, with someone out vomiting.  I found this to be even more of a hair-raising experience, after I was strongly warned by Dan (repeatedly), that as the back passenger on a motorcycle it was imperative that I lean into every turn.  By not leaning into the turns with him and the bike, I would put us at risk for crashing.  Uhhhh, say what????

Getting equipped with panniers for the 4 day trip. Can’t wait to get back in the saddle. It’s been a long time!
Biker kitty wants to join us….
Robyn trying the bike on for size….
Away we go….jungle here we come!

Out into the city bustle, we headed.  For me, this was probably the most stressful part of the drive (well, maybe).  We are having to really concentrate on which way to watch for traffic since we are driving on the opposite side of the road.  In addition to that, scooters come roaring up on all sides of you and wiggle their way in and out of traffic.  Oh, and let’s not forget me holding on to the iPhone to give Dan directions from Google maps while trying to hold on for dear life.  We finally made it out of the city and into less traffic.  No sooner had I begun to relax when the hairpin turns began.  The number of serpentine signs we passed along the road was almost comical.  I was gripped onto Dan’s shirt so tight, my knuckles were white and eventually began to cramp.  My head bobbed from side to side in order to see around him and prepare for each “lean” I had to be sure and complete.  In hindsight, it was quite comical.  However, at the time, I was scared out of my mind (needless to say, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been on the back of a bike).  As we corkscrewed our way up the mountain, we made our first stop at a waterfall.  This required climbing some steps and heading uphill (go figure…it was a waterfall).  I was struggling with this quite a bit since I had managed to blow out my knee with our crazy jungle trek.  The waterfall was a beautiful sight, and we got a real kick out of the sign posted before you enter to swim.  Check it out in the pictures….translations to English always turn out so funny! 

Mork Fa waterfall
Does anyone go swimming after reading this?

Anyway, after the waterfall, we jumped back on the bike and continued on our journey.  Our next stop was to a geyser.  Once again, we trekked into the jungle through some amazing scenery….me, hobbling my way along.  The geysers were all relatively small compared to others we have seen, but they erupted continuously which was kinda cool to see.  Afterwards, it was back on the bike.  You may be wondering at this point….how did you guys fair on those vomit inducing turns?  I am happy to say that neither of us ever felt sick or got sick!  Go team Muzich!

Over 700 twists and turns!
Sometimes with gravel
Not exactly Yellowstone….
We really enjoyed trekking through the norther Thailand jungle!
Not in arizona anymore that’s for sure.

We finally arrived in Pai as they were beginning to set up the night market.  This seems to be a big thing in Thailand.  The streets are filled with various food carts, crafts, trinkets, etc.  People wander the streets noshing on street food and checking out the sights.  These night markets are quite lively events and very crowded.  We checked into our hotel which was about a 10 minute walk from the center of the action.  After our long day on the bike (our bodies actually ached after those 4 hours), we laid down for a rest before heading into town.  Since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we were both quite hungry and stopped into a local restaurant for some dinner.  We quickly learned that was a big mistake (not because of the food or the restaurant….we had not yet been to a night market and didn’t know any better).  After dinner, we headed to the market only to be overwhelmed by the delicious sights and smells….all hot and fresh.  Who knew??!!  We were novices and totally messed this up.  Obviously we were too full to enjoy any of the many food delights that surrounded us, so we just wandered around admiring everything….feeling a little blue that we were unable to enjoy the delicacies of street food.  This little town was bustling with backpackers and had so much going on.  In hindsight, we have decided to come back to Pai and spend several days next year.  One day was just not enough 🙁

Pai night market
Bamboo bridge over the river in Pai
Pai street food
No idea what it says but it’s a heart so it must be good…
Well wishes hung from a tree a the top of the hill
Decorating our own christmas ornament for next year!
Rough and steep drive down from the view point

The next morning, we gathered our things and headed to the bike.  Today would be a 3 1/2 hour jaunt to the town of Mae Hong Son.  This would mark the 1/2 way point of the loop.  From here, we would be making our way back to Chiang Mai.  Wouldn’t you know, this leg of the trip was non-stop serpentine as well.  By now, I was becoming more comfortable on the bike (for the most part).  I was still clinging to Dan for dear life, but leaning into the curves a lot more naturally.  On our way to our next hotel, we stopped at a fish cave (Tham La fish cave).  This took us along a path through some amazing nature and ponds.  As we progressed past the various ponds, the fish became larger and larger.  In the last pond, there were these very large fish.  They looked a little bit like cat fish in that they had whiskers, but they also had this beautiful, shimmery blue tail and midsection.  We were sold a big head of lettuce to feed the fish.  Lettuce?  Really?  They LOVED it!  They came in swarms, racing into one another, to grab pieces of lettuce.  We walked up to the “cave” to find a small monument to Buddha and a small inlet with more fish.  I put the term cave in quotes because it wasn’t really something that I would classify as a cave 🙂  We wandered the loop back through the lush landscape and climbed back on the bike.  I was still hurting pretty bad, so we skipped further waterfalls and caves (more to see and do next year).  We stopped at a couple of overlooks and headed to our next hotel.  Once again, the night market was being set up.  Needless to say, we would not be making the same mistake twice.  This time, dinner would be street food!  We checked into the hotel and decided to rest before heading out.  I decided to try my first massage here in Thailand.  It was amazing and just what the doctor ordered.  I felt remarkably better (including my knee!)  I had explained to her that my knee was injured, and I needed her to be careful around it.  Next thing I know, she was using some mentholated rub on it which really helped.  When all was said and done,  I had a fabulous 1 hour massage for a whopping $15 including tip!  OH hell yeah!  This might be my new daily routine!

Traditional thai child at a rest stop
Numerous checkpoints but we were never stopped

Feeling like new, we headed to the night market.  If we thought the one in Pai was amazing, this was the Pai market on steroids!  In addition to the tons of food carts with every Thai food imaginable, there were fruit and veggie stands, clothing, arts, goods, souvenirs, and several stages with live music.  The largest stage seemed to be having some sort of Thai rock contest.  It featured various artists playing really loud music and several tables of judges.  It was awesome and echoed throughout the whole market.  Further down the road was a smaller stage.  Here, they seemed to be playing more traditional music (like folk music).  The performers were in a variety of time period (and possibly regional) costumes playing old-style instruments.  This was my first viewing of a couple of lady boys as well (lady boys are young men who are dressed and made up like women and perform as women).  Many of them are incredibly beautiful.  We watched some of the shows and tried our luck with the food carts.  We tried to be very careful with the items we chose in order to avoid getting sick.  We came across a number of stalls selling a variety of fried bugs.  We DID NOT eat any of those.  I am willing to try a lot of stuff, and do some crazy things, but eating bugs will never happen!  I draw the line there.  Our UK friend from our hill tribe stay had showed us a video of her trying a skewer of different bugs.  It looked like she struggled to get them down, but she said it really wasn’t that bad.  Ack…no thanks.  We finished up our exploration of the night market and headed back to our hotel.  It was so much fun!

Night market fun
Traditional folk band singing
Maggots, cockroaches, crickets oh my

It was now time for our 3rd leg of the journey….the town of Mae Sarieng.  About a half hour outside of our 2nd hotel, we headed to the Kayan long neck village.  This was a refugee tribe from Burma where the women where brass rings around their neck (many, many brass rings).  Once we parked the bike, we had to cross a river in a long tail boat in order to enter the village.  As we walked the hill that was flanked by their bamboo huts, we encountered many of the villagers.  The women were busy weaving on stick looms and selling a variety of clothing, scarves, hand carved items, and various other souvenirs.  We stopped an talked with one young woman who explained to us that the rings are put around the girls’ necks at 5 years old.  As they get older, more rings are wound around their neck.  She had a 1/2 stack of ring with fabric to tie it around my neck (theirs do not tie on….the metal is literally wound around their neck over and over again).  I was shocked at how heavy the half band of rings was.  I could not imagine wearing a full band of rings all the time….and I do mean ALL THE TIME!  She said her rings would be changed out after 5 years.  This was done by unwinding the metal from her neck before winding a new set of coils.  It was amazing.  The other remarkable thing was that this woman spoke impeccable English and was very easy to understand.  We have encountered many people who spoke really good English, but we often struggled with the thickness of their accent.  The Kayan were very friendly, kind, and open to sharing about their culture.  We made our way back to the road for our 3 1/2 hour ride to our next stop.  Along the way, we stopped at a few more viewpoints to check out the mountains and valleys.  Oh, bet you couldn’t guess that this leg was almost entirely serpentine curves as well!  At this point, I am rockin’ this motorcycle thing….I am actually resting my hands on the saddle bags instead of squeezing the life out of Dan!

Rough jungle road
Longtail boat ride across a jungle river to the Kayan settlement
Robyn trying the Kayan brass neck rings on for size.
Half the rings of the Kayan woman next to her!
Kayan children wear the brass rings from a young age.

By the time we got to our 3rd hotel, every inch of our bodies hurt.  We were now it the small town of Mae Sarieng.  We had only made the one stop, so we got in fairly early and did not see much happening.   When we asked at the front desk, we were told that there would be a night market about a 3 minute walk from our hotel.  Yeah!  This time I talked Dan into getting a massage with me.  We asked the front desk of this guest house if we could get a massage for 2.  She told us it would not be a problem and that they would come to our room since our room was air conditioned.  Not long after, 2 women showed up at our room for our massage.  Okay, this was a little weird.  They had us both lay down on our bed where they commenced our massage.  It was a little awkward (nevermind Dan wanted to chat through the whole thing….I’m going to need to train him in the peaceful silence of massage).  Once again, we had an hour long massage for less than $15 each!  It was very relaxing, but definitely not the quality of the one I had the day before.  Dan, on the other hand, really enjoyed it….I had now sold him on the beauty of massage.  Afterwards we headed to the night market for dinner.  This market was much smaller and more subdued.  It was still fun, but we found ourselves much more selective in our street food.  We were very careful to stay away from meat that had been sitting out.  It was a small market, so after a couple of snacks, we headed to a restaurant for dinner.  We stopped at a hotel restaurant along the river.  We both ended up ordering SUPER spicy dishes.  Unfortunately, Dan opted for a soup (I think solely based on it’s name!) which we think made him sick.  What was the soup, you ask?  Tom Fu** soup (I kid you not!)  It is the only thing that we did not both eat, and he ended up sick the next day 🙁

Yep….not our choice for our foray into Thai street food. But they did have something for everyone!
Thai spiced sausage straight off the street side charcoal BBQ.
There is a lot of value to be had here. 300 baht is not a lot more than 9 dollars!!!

Well, we have reached the final leg of our journey which is a 4 hour ride back to Chiang Mai.  Dan is not feeling well, and both of us are hurting after 4 days on the bike.  We decide to forego any additional sightseeing stops as this will make our day over 6 hours long.  Neither of us is up for that.  As you can imagine, the beginning of our journey home is full of hairpin turns that eventually disappear and turn into fast paced “highways” with lots of big towns and traffic.  In the end, I would say 85% of this loop was serpentine/hairpin turns.  Most of the road was really good, but there were some really sketchy areas where the pavement was really rough and rutted.  After 4 days, we were totally in sync with the bike.  We even mastered communication through sign language when I was giving him directions through the various cities and into Chiang Mai.  We made it back safe and sound and had an absolute blast.  We are now thinking that next winter, we want to overland via motorcycle!  It was truly a great way to see the countryside.  Once we were settled back in Chiang Mai, we headed into town for another massage.  This one was very much like the first one I had, and Dan was in heaven.  While he enjoyed the first one, this one was done by truly skilled professionals, and he immediately saw the difference.  They did such a great job, we are going back for a 90 minute massage tomorrow!  I think I could get hooked on this….unfortunately, you can’t get $15 massages in America (and therefore NOT in the retirement budget)…..*insert super sad face here!

Sadly, this brings to a close our time in Thailand.  It was a great adventure, and we hope to return next year now that we know a little bit more about what we are doing.  Our next stop is Cambodia.  We hope you will stick with us as we continue our explorations of Southeast Asia.

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Harriet J Hickman
Harriet J Hickman
5 years ago

You really know how to have fun in a foreign country. I admire your willingness to try to new and exciting food and travel the road less traveled. God Speed you on your way. Love Harriet

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