By Mick McDonald and Sarah Taylor
We said our farewells to Adrian & Hera who were on their way to Helsinki ,from Hobart, we were on our way to Beijing and I caught myself thinking “what an amazing life”.
We hit the for what must surely be Thailand’s most legendary motorcycle road, the Mae Hong Son loop, even in a Hilux we were excited to get onto this road famous for its 1864 curves.
Leaving the busy life of Chiang Mai quickly behind we started ascending through a verdant landscape of green jungle that threatened to engulf the small road that we were on.
The road steadily rose higher & higher until we stood on the very top of Thailand at its highest point of Doi Inthanon at 2565mt. Descending from Doi Inthanon the road dramatically narrowed as it wound its way through the forest via a series of steep sharp switchbacks.
We spent the next 2 days negotiating an endless series of switchbacks that wound their way across mountains ranges through tiny villages affording spectacular views over a sea of ridgetops and valleys.
We had debated as to whether we should visit one of the famous Karen hill tribes, where we had read that masses of tourist that do visit some of these tribes, famous for the women whose necks were encased in a series of rings, is more like a human zoo than an interactive visit to an indigenous tribe, however from our understanding these tribes are mostly further north. We decided to visit a tribe and if it were too touristy or, we felt uncomfortable “gawking” we wouldn’t go in.
Turning off the Mae Hong Son Loop we immediately hit a narrow road that rose sharply through jungle before we came across a crudely written sign saying, “long necks, this way”, turning off we hit 500mt of dirt before ending at a river. Perplexed we were about to get back in the car when we heard a motor from a “longboat” fire up to come and get us, what followed was an hour in an absolutely fascinating village with women who had up to 22 golden rings on their necks, weighing up to 8 kilos.. Some spoke English and told us that we were the only visitors they had had in the village all day; we supported the local community buy buying souvenirs and drinks while wandering this village alone while the villages went about their daily life. It was an utterly fascinating experience and we hoped that everyone got something out of our visit. We didn’t simply turn up, charge around taking photos and left without spending a cent within 15 minutes
Taking a detour of the Mae Hong Son Loop we travelled some fantastic narrow concrete roads that balanced atop narrow ridgelines across lofty mountain tops, it was fantastic stuff. We had left the tourist hordes of “beautiful people”, no one over 25 it seemed, on the loop road. Descending another mountain, we were more than a little surprised to see a number of elephants wandering down the road including a baby elephant that took a liking to Sarah and ran up to her in the middle of the road. It also took the locals by surprise with one scooter rider focusing more on the elephants that the tree she ran into to!!
Back in Chiang Mai we wandered the old city where I took the opportunity to get a haircut, and yes I know I am virtually bald, at the very cool Sweeny Todds, the haircut turned into a head, shoulder & arm massage that might have been enjoyable if it weren’t for the fact that a guy was doing it!!
Back on the road we travelled south to a rarely visited part of the country around the highlands of Khao Kho, more Twisties were the order of the day and at 1500mt the night time temps were wonderful.
Khao Kho was also in a region of a forgotten war that raged between the Thais and Communists from 1962 to 1984 and we visited the “Weapons Museum”, that recognises this conflict.
After yet another day of Twisties we eventually arrived at Chiang Khan stunningly located on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, we could virtually throw a stone across the river and hit Laos.
We were treated to an utterly spectacular blazing red sunset over the Mekong while enjoying Tiger beers from our hotel balcony, while outside the street came to life with an infinite array of night market vendors selling their wares while buskers performed, monks wailed from inside the nearby monastery, local tourists bartered and we stood out like the proverbial being the only “gringos” in town.
Our last day in Thailand was also the end of week five on the road; Thailand had been a revelation as we explored the well-known parts of this incredible country but also some of the lesser known regions chasing the best riding roads.
We crossed the Australian funded, Friendship Bridge with dozens of Australian flags fluttering in the breeze, into Laos.
For more information about the 90-day Asian Overland Expedition please follow the link below to our Expedition web page.http://www.compassexpeditions.com/tours/asian-overland/