I returned to Thailand in February to ride some of the northern mountain roads and it turned into a bit of an adventure.
Arriving at Chiang Mai airport after an overnight flight via Kuala Lumpur I was feeling pretty good having grabbed some decent sleep on board the plane and was ready to start the ride that morning so when the luggage belt was switched off and my bag had not arrived my heart sunk. I never ‘check in’ my luggage as I always travel light but last minute I decided to swap bags and bring my own helmet and so first time I checked my bag in it had been lost.
Spent the next couple hours with airline staff before catching a taxi downtown to bike rental shop with the hope my bag was in Kuala Lumpur and could be put on next flight. I had communicated with Tony’s Big Bikes 3 times about this ride a number of weeks in advance and been assured a Kawasaki ER6N was reserved for me. Upon arrival I was informed no ER6N available so I asked what about the other bikes – no they are all taken by other customers. So I was now with no bag and no bike.
I was a bit stunned and sat outside shop in disbelief before deciding to walk back to another small rental shop I had seen in taxi on way. Pop’s rentals actually has two shops as I later discovered and I had passed their smaller shop where I was offered a new Honda CB500X so grabbed that and found my way back to airport where I was told my bag had not been found but they could fly it to me ‘in route’ the next day or day after when found.
My helmet and jacket was all I had since I carried these on the plane and my phone was flat so no map but I decided to set off to Mai Hong Son using my memory of the road numbers I needed to take. By now it was 11.00am and I knew it was going to be a long day but just decided to give it a go and found a mall on way out of town and purchased a change of t-shirt and underpants for a few dollars and a toothbrush and toothpaste, some deodorant and sun block and had a big lunch of eye watering super spicy chicken at KFC and was ready to do a big ride all afternoon.
I hate riding without gloves so stopped at a couple of bike shops to try purchase a pair but in a country where most people don’t wear helmets the request for gloves received a puzzled stare. I stopped twice to ask if I was on road to MHS but since I don’t speak Thai it was never clear if I was understood or not. The 108 road to MHS is famous for riding and rightly so. They say it has 1864 corners and that must be just from the south into MHS with just as many or more to the north. By late afternoon I was actually wishing them to stop as fatigue started to set in and I was very glad to get off the bike.
Part of the 108. Corners are endless.
Superb viewpoint as you descend into the town of Mai Hong Son.
I phoned the airport and the good news was my bag had been found so I arranged for it to be flown to MHS regional airport the next morning. There was one last twist however, checking my camera which I had carried on plane with me I noticed the screen was no longer working. I had it on the back of the bike in a camera case wrapped in my sweater I had been wearing when leaving cold Japan and in a brown carry bag you can see in the photo above and somehow it got damaged. So I am back to iPhone photos despite carrying a real camera around for the next 5 weeks in SE Asia. Day one route
Another late start the next day waiting for my bag at MHS airport but I was so glad it to see it. The clothes I could replace but my GPS with SE Asia road maps with custom routes was irreplaceable. I am still using the old Garmin 760 since the new models seem to lack multipoint user defined routing and it was comforting to be reunited with this device which is sort of my little travelling buddy and so I felt at ease with things while stopping for a coffee at one of the many shops along the MHS loop.
The road north of MHS climbs and descends a series of mountains but the view this day was obscured by heavy smoke. I was disappointed since the burning is said to commence in earnest in March and the smoke haze is supposed to be low in late January however after the events of yesterday I decided that at least I was riding. The road is chopped up rather bad in a few places, especially the descent into the Pai district so allow extra time as it is slow going and rather rough in parts. Later the smoke cleared a bit and my mate says visibility is affected by the wind direction so I managed to get a few photos but still hazy.
About now I noticed the bike had no number plate. Again my heart sank as I thought it must have been stolen off the bike last night or perhaps at the mall the first day. I looked under seat but there was no registration paperwork so I had no plate and no paperwork for bike. Pop’s had never looked at my licence or anything I just had a half a A4 sheet of paper which alluded to this bike being a rental. Oh well I pushed on, it was another long day due to the late start and as per the first day did not stop to take many photos as I could see myself arriving after dark if I did not get a move on but the riding was fantastic even if I felt a bit rushed. Day two route.
Day three I phone Pop rentals and I am not sure they understood the plate was missing as phone was handed to couple of people but in end someone said no problem so I got to thinking it was probably too new and still awaiting a number plate. I had already decided I was going to keep riding until stopped by police so this just confirmed my plan. This day I did a loop ride from Chaing Rai. The smoke was very heavy in parts and I was planning to scale a mountain to see a viewpoint at Pu Chi Fa which looks superb when clear but I could not see the mountain from just a few kilometres away that thick was the smoke so I skipped it as would be no point. I ran into a lot of road widening works this day and ended up covered with dust but eventually found my way to the golden triangle river junction. Day three route.
Lunch with view of two countries. Playing with Line camera app. After a million scooter riding backpackers in Pai, crowds of Chinese in Chiang Rai and the many Russians in Chiang Mai it was nice to sit and watch a river tour boat being escorted by two heavy armed speed boats and know the region still had some parts off the well beaten track.
Men’s toilets at petrol stations are alfresco.
Scooters and scooter shops are everywhere.
I replaced my summer gloves at Chiang Rai. These cost $13.
Next day I rode to Nan on the famous 1148 but first I took a detour to the mountains that border with Laos. If you look at my route (here) then whatever you do don’t follow the road I take from the 1155 to the 1093. This small section of road is extremely steep and has a couple of sections that are in terrible condition where the road has been eroded to series of gravel washouts which were challenging due to very steep downhill or uphill. The 1093 is terrific but find another way there.
Lots of haze in morning.
Made it across to the 1093, phew. This road rides the mountains bordering Laos and brings you to a border market town before you descend back to the valley. Well off the tourist trail I really enjoyed it.
I had lunch with locals at a waterfall, just 40baht for Pad Thai including can of soft drink, this is the Thailand I like. Now some road photos of the 1148. You can click any photo for a larger view.
I was not expecting much from the roads on my loop ride out of Nan on day 5. The last time here I did a loop to the south with very interesting villages but average roads, boy was I in for a surprise.
I first rode East on the 1168 and found myself on beautiful hotmix riding through a forest of coloured leaves. Now if someone has told me you could see yellow and red autumn leaves in Thailand I would have laughed but here they are and the corners were dreamy. I even turned around and rode back to beginning and turned around again to enjoy a 3rd time and that’s very rare for me.
A bit of mixed surface riding north before I arrived on the eastbound 1081 and as I scaled the mountains my jaw dropped as this road is one of the most stunning I have ridden.
Click above and below and follow the road with your eyes into the distance.
The above is just a small fraction of what I experienced, it goes on and on like that and had no traffic. Amazing. I got to Bo Kluea and decided to ride west via the 1256 and was again rewarded with another amazing riding road. I stopped for lunch on top of the mountain at a collection of roadside food stands and a couple of group rides arrived from the west so I presume these roads must be favourites for Thai riders.
There was so much more than this but you know how hard it is to capture roads on photographs. Day 5 route.
I had planned to meander on a few back roads last day but it was election day and some protests were planned (none seen in the north) so I decided to trim the ride in case I was delayed or rerouted and just enjoyed a easy pace ride back still on good roads most of the way. I had only rented the bike for 5 days but Pop’s only charged me an extra 1/2 day even tho I did not get the bike back to them until 3pm. Your mileage my vary but very pleased with Pop rental and very disappointed with Tony’s so know where I will be going in future. Day 6 shortened route.
I end this ride report with a photo of same temple I started my last Thai ride report with. Such a great place to ride a motorcycle. Looking forward to going again.
Before I go a review of the Honda CB500X is in order. Power wise it has enough but you need to work the motor hard and it could do with a touch more. If you put 98RON in the tank it seems to make a difference. Comfort wise the seat is ok but a touch firm and the suspension a bit harsh. For an adventure bike the suspension seems to lack travel but I realise this is a budget machine and as such it is really pretty good. It did the job fine for the week and it handles quite good. The screen works well, instrumentation is fine, fit and finish of plastics is very good. The range is huge, I could do my whole days ride on one tank easy with plenty fuel left. Depending on price this could well be worth looking at. I’d love to ride one with an aftermarket pipe and with the suspension fiddled with. Until then for me it is not quite as good as the Thai produced ER6N.