Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Mae Hong Son -- The long and winding road ...

The road from Pai to Mae Hong Son is a red squiggle on the GT Rider Map (the best maps of northern Thailand by the way, created by avid Aussie motorcyclist, David Unkovich). But, depending on your stomach for adventure, it is either a wet dream or an unending nightmare. For me, I love the winding curves, hairpins, switchbacks and can do these all day, every day. Gaining hundreds of metres in altitude in a flash. For my companion, she often has to stop to recalibrate her sense of balance (or otherwise fill the helmet with the contents of her stomach).

For me, this road a wet dream. Winding, climbing. Beautiful lush green primary jungle. Hill tribe villages. Caves. Hot springs.

Soon, we reach Sopong, where the Sopong River Inn (named creatively thus because it’s an inn on the side of the river at Sopong) is a welcome retreat with its almost Balinese design aesthetic, and the soothing sound of gushing water below.

Sopong is a sleepy place with not much doing. The main industry seems to be an Immigration Checkpoint (it’s only a few kilometers from the Burma border here, and there are tens of thousands in refugee camps in this area, plus ethnic minority hilltribes too).

A walk down the hill finds only one place recognizable as a restaurant/bar. It’s called The Border, and its owner is an amiable Pommie named Andy. ‘I’ve proved you can get around the Mae Hong Son loop just as fast on a small bike as a big bike,’ the keen motorcyclist says. ‘Sixteen hours, non-stop.’ Cripes! I do the math, that’s averaging around 75 kilometres an hour for the loop which we’re following. Jing Jing! That means he’d be sharpening his foot-pegs on all the hairpin bends for sure!

We enjoy tom yam soup, omelette and a small Singha beer for 150 baht. His customers are a mix of Thais enjoying a good solid drink. ‘Technically we’re open till 1 am, but as most of my customers are policemen, it’s till whenever I get rid of them,’ he says, adding a few colourful closing time stories of officers not being in a really fit state to drive or ride.

I dig into a few more Singhas.
It’s at this point I wish I’d brought the motorbike down into town with me. After all, the Singha had magically cured the numbness of my bum from the day's ride, and all the police were still inside the Border getting drunk anyway.

It was a long slow walk uphill to bed that night ...

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