Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Two Wheels to the Triangle
We had now completed the Mae Hong Son Loop, back to Chiang Mai, and pointed our nose north now to head up to the Golden Triangle, then to follow the course of the mighty Mekong River along the Laos border and then down through the heartland of central Thailand, including Sukhothai, then back to Chiang Mai again. Motorcyclists' heaven!
Heading up the main road to Chiang Rai, the wide and winding but wonderful 118, we took the turnoff to Phrao. For 70 km we blasted along an amazingly wide and smooth road, where the lush primary canopy sometimes joined overhead completely. With no traffic about, there were plenty of opportunities to test that the accelerator was working Ok. You can never be too sure. Pleased to report that it responded up to 150km/h with admirable ease.
One of the great things of motorcycle touring in Thailand (and I'm not endorsing this, just making a factual observation) is that you don't ever see a speed radar outside of Bangkok. The police have to provide their own bikes, too, which means many have a small 125 or 250cc. But in any case, even if they are on the road or roadside, by the time they've seen your blur fly past, it's too late for them to do anything about it. As I said, I'm not endorsing this sort of behaviour. Jing jing!
Following the ridge road, we glided into a scenic lookout point from the ridge, at just less than 900m altitude, with a stunning view to the lake which is the signature of Phrao. Phrao itself is quite popular for its old temples, parks, and monuments, but the money shot is its lakeside promenade, from where you can wander about watching fishermen catching weeds and the occasional fish.
There are lots of lively places up this way, including Chiang Rai town itself, and Fang, but we'll come back for those another time. It was open throttle to Mae Sai, on the Burmese Border. The Golden Triangle.
The very name of The Golden Triangle reeks of mystery, adventure and exoticism, doesn't it?
Mae Sai, like any border town in the world, is just markets, markets, markets. DVDs, pharmacies, bags, shoes, t-shirts, jade-like trinkets, silver. Desperately cheap! We rode through the middle of one street market, emerging out the other end right on the river that defines the border. It's only about 5-10 metres across in parts, and children swam in its brown waters. If one wanted to do a 'border run' it would be most easy.
Getting motorbikes into Burma is a more complicated process, but the walk across the bridge (with visa on-arrival) into Tachilek is well worth it. More of the same really: markets, markets, markets. A chance to send a postcard from Burma and get a stamp in your passport. Thais seemed to top up on grog; I was content with a new pair of adidas running shoes for about $20.
Back on the Mae Sai side, we bedded down in a quaint little wooden cottage right on the river, where the flowing water soon sent us into the land of nod. It was clean, tidy, cozy, friendly, but, mainly -- for 500 baht per couple -- it was a steal.