By Jerry Cook
I don’t think anyone in the group really was ready to leave Myanmar. We were enjoying this country immensely. After 11 days, with the last few having been some of the best riding of the trip so far, it was time to cross the Mai Sai border and enter the infamous Golden Triangle region of Northern Thailand. This is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the Ruak and Mekong rivers. The Golden Triangle has been one of the largest opium-producing areas of the world, since the 1950s.
We said goodbye to our Myanmar local guide Tun Tun and driver, Thanh Thanh. These guys did a fantastic job of showing us through their country, where permits and authorizations are essential, and our every movement recorded with the local police. There was a lot of behind the scenes organising done and these guys and the local agency did a first-class job to make our visit smooth and memorable. I look forward to returning and I am sure others in the group will be back also, it was that great.
Crossing the border, there was a noticeable change in the road conditions. We were now on a nice smooth asphalt surface with no potholes or random traffic hazards. My favourite hazards in Myanmar was the loose gravel and sand on the mountain roads and the unpredictability of the drivers. Thailand has some fantastic roads and we will experience them over the next few days as we ride the Mae Hong Son loop out of Chiang Mai.
It was about an hour from the border to our hotel in the Golden Triangle and we had a delicious lunch overlooking the Mekong River (and enjoyed some real coffee) before some of us walked to the Opium museum in town. The museum was fascinating and we learnt about Opium production and its history. If you are wondering, there were no free samples.
The spread of Covid-19 had intensified and for some of the riders in the group plans were in place to return home from Chiang Mai. With the border to Laos closed our itinerary options were limited. Heavy travel restrictions were in place with countries around the South East Asia and the world closing their borders, so it was inevitable that our trip was coming to an end.
Hardeo, Lolita, Ian and Eric left us in Chiang Mai and their bikes were transported to a warehouse just outside of Bangkok where we had them shipped back to Australia from.
The Mae Hong Son loop has to be one of Thailand’s best motorcycle road rides. We enjoyed this three day circuit on incredible motorcycle roads with an impressive 1864 bends and endless series of switchbacks across mountains ranges, we rode to the country’s highest point of Doi Inthanon at 2,565mt where we enjoyed clear skies and cool conditions and we visited the remote Karen hill tribes with its unique longneck women who wear up to 22 brass rings around their necks. We were well off the tourist trail and with a low number of tourists anyway, it seemed we were some of the only few travelling and staying in the hotels and dining in whatever restaurants had remained open. It was surreal.
Back in Chiang Mai it was strange to wander the old town to see businesses closed and little traffic on the street. Peter who has been travelling in the support vehicle with Bayne since breaking his collar bone two weeks ago in Myanmar decided it was time for him to head home and he reserved a flight to Brisbane. Our group size has almost halved, but we will ride on!
The itinerary had us to continue to Khao Kho. It was a long but enjoyable ride to the impressive Blue Sky Hotel, a quaint, garden resort. The accommodation on the expedition has been top notch, and this was no exception. Khao Kho was part of our original itinerary which had us heading towards Laos. Now, rather than continuing east, we will head south via the Khao Yai National Park to Pattaya Beach (only 1.5 hrs from Bangkok). Whilst we are trying to enjoy what was left of the expedition, there is a feeling of anxiety. The priority for riders has been to reserve a flight out of Thailand and get home quickly and directly as possible. With more international flights being cancelled daily and some airports such as Singapore closing for transit passengers, it has been a scramble and a difficult task to book a flight.
Bayne and I were the last on the ground in Thailand, being sure the 11 bikes and support van were loaded into shipping containers to head to Melbourne.
When we commenced this expedition in Singapore just under 6 weeks ago, entering China was a long shot but we were still hopeful. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the world would be in lockdown from a pandemic and I would be returning home for two weeks of self-isolation with our business on the rocks.
I would like to thank all of our expedition participants, well done to you for undertaking this epic journey and persevering in good spirits under stressful circumstances. I would also like to thank all of our local guides, especially our Thai guide, Bombae, our shippers and the Compass office staff for their support and assistance in wrapping up the logistics for the tour as efficiently as possible.
We are determined to get through Covid-19, survive the tough economic times ahead and with the support of our loyal customers we will be back, riding to these wonderful destinations and exploring more of the world on two wheels with you. Stay safe everyone and let’s take care of each other through these hard times ahead.
For ore information regarding the Asian Overland Expedition please visit our web page at: http://www.compassexpeditions.com/tours/asian-overland/
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