This is an Amazing Thailand travel blog (as a gateway to the greater Mekong region) with insider reviews of hotels in Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai and beyond. Tips on how to travel Thailand, and where to travel in the Thai kingdom. So use JING JING to plan your travel to Thailand -- ie flight to Bangkok -- find the best time to travel for festivals, Muay Thai, a local Thai Thai restaurant, and lots of fun stuff the Thais are famous for from Patong to Patpong to Phitsanuloke.
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Northern Thailand - Nirvana on two wheels
Your humble scribe with friends at the Golden Triangle.
When it comes to motorcycling, the northern Thailand's Lanna region really is
heaven – or nirvana – on two wheels. Surprisingly excellent roads (the
drivers, well, that’s a separate issue), stunning mountain and valley vistas,
cheap petrol with smiling pump-attendants, plentiful accommodation in the
300-1000 baht a night range, tasty food on every corner, and we haven’t even
got to the best bit yet …
In what other country can you have a hard day in the saddle
and then stop in just about any small town and get a great massage for your
weary bum that’ll cost you around 150-200 baht per hour? That's $5 or $6 to you.
It doesn’t matter what two wheels you get around on frankly.
100cc Honda Ladyboys or 1800cc Harleys are all the same to me (although I choose
to ride a BMW F650GS) … just a way of getting out there and seeing what too few
other visitors to the region are seeing. Away from the well-worn tour bus
circuit. Most rental shops (see box) cater well in the 200-650cc range, bikes
that are big enough to deal with the vertiginous challenges of some of the
mountainous terrain and give you a comfortable enough ride along the way.
On the road to Doi Ankhang.
Before you head off, two words: GT Rider (www.gt-rider.com). This website is
an amazing resource where keen riders (many of them passionate motorcycling
residents of the north) write up ride reports, recommend hotels and eateries to
stay or avoid, and generally clue you in to what’s hot and what’s not in Lanna.
GT Rider was set up by Aussie David Unkovich who lives in Chiang Mai and has
covered possibly one million kilometers on these roads over the last 30 years.
He also publishes the best maps outlining classic trips such as the Mae Sa
Valley / Samoeng loop, the Mae Hong Son loop, the Golden Triangle, and so on.
(GT Rider maps are available from many bookstores in Lanna and on GPS too.)
You can string these together to make your own customized
itinerary. And, of course, there’s all the bits in between that make it really
interesting … it may be a quaint hill-tribe village a few kilometers off the
track, it might be a great coffee spot lookout (like 7km south of Mae Hong Son,
where the guy has the kettle boiling on the log fire!). Well, you get the idea.
Rice padi in the Kok River valley.
As for my personal favourites, there’s the 1148 which links Chiang
Kham to Nan, an endless windy road, perfectly cambered with gorgeous valleys
(keep your eye on the road, though). Chiang Mai to Pai’s 482 curves. Highway 12
from Phitsanulok west to Lom Sak with picture-postcard valley views, flower
gardens and coffee shops aplenty. All the arrow-straight highways between
Uttaradit and Sukhothai where you can really put your machine through its paces
Which brings us to speed limits. I did see a police car.
Once. Somewhere near Lamphun. Entering a town, signs read: ‘City Limit – Reduce
Speed.’ It doesn’t say down to what.Mostly it’s up to the rider to ride according to the conditions
within his or her own ability. Sometimes a brilliant road will suddenly become
a 10m stretch of gravel, with no warning sign (at least not in English). And then, there’s other things you will
routinely encounter on roads along the way: Stray dogs. Chickens. Water
But the biggest hazard is other motorists and, on a serious
note, the fatality rates in Thailand are extremely high; unlicensed drivers and
riders, drunk driving, buses overtaking cars which are overtaking trucks who are
passing a scooter on a blind rise round a sharp mountain corner on a
Which is probably why many opt for off-road riding as a
One of the most endearing things – and this says a lot about
amazing northern Thailand and its people – is the amount of times I’ve had my
bike fixed for free. Several times I’ve pulled into a bike shop en route
up-country to have, say, my chain tightened. They put it up on the blocks, a
couple of guys spend 10 or 15 minutes tightening it, then wave you on your way;
no charge. ‘No, no, I just help you,’ they say. I insist on tipping them 20 or
40 baht. Another time I had a new brake light put into my BMW. Parts and labour
30 baht. (This is NOT at the official dealership by the way!).
So what are you waiting for? Mount up and enjoy Lanna.