After a couple of days in Chiang Rai, we headed off for some exploring. Our first stop was Trat, a small town that we’ve briefly flown into and then got a van out of years ago when we went to Koh Chang, but had never spent any time in until now.
We were pleasantly surprised by the loveliness of the town, we had sort of expected it to be just a place to rest before heading to Cambodia, but we ended up really enjoying ourselves.
Dre found a beautiful river walkway and we spent hours wandering along it, watching monkeys play in the vegetation across the river, discovering a 3m+ long snake skin stretched out to dry, and chatting with various locals. We admired a lot of the houses along the river, mostly just simple shacks but with such an amazing location and river breeze.
We also spent far more time than we had anticipated exploring the abundant alleyways, seemingly endless cute little lanes almost all lined with plants made for a really pleasant time exploring.
Overall Trat was a really cool little place to spend some time, and we’re fully recharged and ready for our Cambodian adventure!
We arrived back in Chiang Rai to have a couple of days time out to celebrate 15 years together and also get some fire bricks for the base of the pizza oven.
It ended up being a really nice way to spend our 15th anniversary since we met. We stayed in a nice place and spent our days swimming and walking as well as using the gym to further strengthen Karen’s leg.
We also discovered a new weird fruit – with hard yellow flesh near the skin and bright red seeds inside.
We had several good meals at our favourite Japanese restaurants and just generally chilled before heading back, yet again, to Luang Namtha. This month has been so much travelling between Thailand and Laos, it’s been really good though to make so much progress towards Project Laos part 2 and also combine that with relaxing in Thailand.
We headed over to Chiang Mai again to source some things we can’t get in Chiang Rai. We spent most of a week here eating at restaurants that have different food from Luang Namtha and our usual Japanese places in Chiang Rai. One of our favourites was African food from an awesome place called Sahara.
We didn’t do much sightseeing this time, just going around seeing shops and finding materials for Project Laos part 2.
After spending the past 2 months dealing with burn recovery, we thought it was time to have a holiday with all the trimmings.
Our criteria was good food, awesome views, nature immersion, and a gym and pool for Karen to exercise her leg.
We managed to achieve all of the above, and spent a week and a half away with a few days nearer to Chiang Rai to take advantage of all the different restaurants, and then moved into the mountains an hour north of Chiang Rai in Mae Chan, for several more days.
Our views were stunning and we had the best Salmon dish since Canada which we were pretty excited about.
Time during this holiday was only spent doing a few things: watching the view, going to the gym, swimming in the pool, eating amazing food, reading and plenty of doing nothing at all in between. It worked out perfectly.
And the best news of all, is that Karen managed to increase her distance on the treadmill each day, and was even able to let go of the handles by the end of our time there. She has now managed 3 days without crutches! Her leg is getting stronger by the day and so the next goal is to walk properly and normally just like before. For now lifting the heel and muscle and tendon pain is still a challenge that Karen plans to overcome in the coming weeks.
Our next stop is back to Luang Namtha to (literally) watch the rice grow.
We have spent the past 2 weeks in Chiang Rai, recovering from second degree burns and associated tendon, muscle and movement problems resulting from a motorbike collision we were involved in about a month ago.
After Karen had not been able to stand up, walk, or leave the house for 10 days we decided it was time to go and get some proper medical attention which is not available in Laos.
We rented a nice apartment in Chiang Rai near the hospital and pretty much just spent the entire 2 weeks resting and recuperating.
It was only in the lasts 2 days there that we were able to actually go out and do something other than visit the hospital or eat, so we spent the time at the river and at the park, and the final day we even used the execise equipment at the park (Karen was able to use 3 pieces of equipment with no resistance).
Now we’re back in Laos and Karen still seems to have a fairly long road ahead to walk again. We are both confident that her positive attitude will help the healing process along and we are looking forward to being able to go out and do stuff again! You can read about our journey so far with our burns here.
After a lazy morning in Soppong we once again strapped our stuff to the bikes and headed to Pai. We had toyed with the idea of skipping Pai altogether, since last time we weren’t overly impressed with the place, but in the end we decided that the food there was pretty good so we’d give it a try.
The ride there was excellent, with lots of corners, clear skies, and beautiful scenery. It was the clearest day we’d had since Chiang Mai. When we arrived we decided that staying out of town was definitely the best thing to do… then proceed to get a little bit lost and checked into a really nice place that turned out to be only 2 minutes walk to town. Once we realised this error we considered moving, since we were all tired and didn’t want to be kept up all night with Pai’s party scene. In the end we stayed and it all turned out well. We were on the riverbank in some nice gardens so it was a good place to relax. We checked out our favourite food places and found that the town had changed a lot, and is now even more overrun with tourists that 2 years ago. Since we were in northern Thailand’s party town, we went bar hopping for a while before heading to one of our favourite dinner places from last time.
Once we found out that the town was going to be packed the following night for a big concert, we thought that was our signal to leave so we once again packed up the bikes and headed back to Chiang Mai. Sadly we once again felt that Pai wasn’t our kind of place, and although we could understand some of the attraction for the hordes of tourists coming here, it was just not really for us. We loved a lot of the little food places, and the accommodation standard is great. We guess we’re just too spoiled in Luang Namtha with the beautiful mountains and nature that Pai with all it’s tourists and small amount of surrounding nature isn’t enough!
The first couple of hours of the ride back to Chiang Mai was also really beautiful, with nice views and lots of hairpin corners. As we approached Chiang Mai the traffic thickened, and our journey was soon over.
Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop with Tim has been so much fun and has had lots of unexpected highlights. We were all wondering if we should go ahead in the beginning with all the fires and smoke, it was so worth it though and we’re already thinking about when we can do it again to see all of the amazing views that we could only see through smoke haze this time. There are several places we’d love to spend more time in, and some awesome roads to take us there. Definitely looking forward to next time!
We spent the morning wandering around Mae Hong Son’s temples. There were a lot of Burmese temples and buddha images as well as Thai, and also a small museum in one of the temples which was really cool. We decided that the next mission would be riding up the hill to see the hilltop temple, even though the smoke haze was so thick we knew there wouldn’t be a view.
Hitting the road to Soppong was next; we had met up with another biker the night before and he told us that the smoke haze between Mae Hong Son and Soppong was the worst he’s seen on the Loop, however it seemed that we got lucky when we did it because although it was smoky, it wasn’t bad.
The road was nice, and even with the smoke there were some nice views. When we arrived in Soppong we chose an awesome place to stay, Soppong River Inn, and met Joy the owner who had lived in NZ for a while and then returned to Thailand and single-handedly designed all the lovely and different rooms. We swam in the river for a while to cool down and spent some time hanging out on our balcony.
Soppong was a beautiful place that we could imagine spending a week or so in, just swimming in the river and enjoying the surroundings. Although there isn’t much there, Joy and her guesthouse really made our stay. Perhaps we will be back!
It would be hard to imagine a better day on the road than what we had today! The morning started off lazily, like all our other mornings so far. We decided to leave the National Park via Mae Cham, and as soon as we left the park we were driving on amazingly scenic, vegetation dense, windy road. Within only about half an hour we saw a sign for a waterfall that we decided to stop and see. It was such a spectacular setting; even the carpark looked like nature’s paradise. We walked the 100m or so into the waterfall and it was so lovely that we ended up spending the best part of an hour there. We climbed out onto a large flat rock in the middle of the falls, and watched birds, literally hundreds of butterflies, and of course the waterfall.
After lazing in the sun there, we thought it best to hit the road again. The narrow windy road continued for probably another hour or so before we stopped in Mae Cham for lunch.
We then continued along less scenic roads towards Khun Yuam; as this journey progressed it got more and more smoky as we got closer to the forest fires in Khum Yuam.
Although we were all a little apprehensive about driving through all the smoke, even that, unexpectedly, was very enjoyable! Of course our view was very diminished, which was the only undesirable part, as the trees burning were all sandalwood or a minty/euycalyptus type trees (like the ones in Laos we use to start fires and smell great) and so it was the best possible smoke experience because it smelt so good.
We tried to stay in Khum Yuam but because of all the forest fires the only hotel was full with film crew for news channels so we headed on to Mae Hong Son.
This, as it turned out, was the best decision to end the day on a high! The road was the best road we’ve been on, with huge sweeping corners the entire way and excellent quality roads. We got to go fast for the first time today, and the endless corners were just so much fun. (The roads prior to this were just too narrow and small to go fast).
On arrival in Mae Hong Son we rode around the lake and found some cute little bungalows to stay in and then wandered around the town on foot for a welcome break from sitting on motorbike seats all day. We had dinner and then returned via the lake with beautiful views of the stupa reflecting in the lake. A good day all round!
We left Chiang Mai and decided that instead of going via the 4 lane highway to get to Doi Inthanon we’d take some smaller roads. The first hour or so we were all surprised by how built up these roads were, but after that we started to get into open spaces and some lovely scenery. Even in the first hour, there were beautiful tall trees lining the road for most of the way.
Eventually we stopped for lunch at a place that turned out to be so nice that we all agreed that if the accommodation inside the National Park wasn’t great, we’d come back and stay there.
There was a lake and huge trees and hundreds of birds all around with houses to rent by the night, and it was just a few minutes before the turn off to the Park.
After entry to the park we drove up and up and decided to stop and see a really cool waterfall. We walked up for half an hour or so and got to a beautiful big waterfall. We clambered over the rocks to stand in the spray of the water. After considering drinking some, because it looked so clear and nice, reality kicked in and we all decided it probably wasn’t the best idea in the world. Surprisingly, there were many kinds of plants that grow in New Zealand here, with the cold and wet climate around the waterfall (at this point we were about 1500m above sea level so it was quite temperate). There were fushias, ponga-like trees, ferns similar to what you see in NZ, and many flowers that definitely grow in NZ like hydrangeas and agapanthus.
Next stop was the two stupas overlooking extensive mountains, the view was stunningly beautiful and the stupas themselves were dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand and only built about 10 years ago so they were very pristine with extensive and colourful gardens. We saw lots of birds there too and behind the stupas was just forest and in front was forest covered mountains stretching off into the distance.
Then the summit was our mission, so we drove through all the huge old trees, and finally about 45km after entering the park we made it. We walked up another 100m or so and stood on the bit that was supposedly the top but there was a government “Neuron Monitor” on the top part! At the top it was about 2500m above sea level and really, really cold.
After freezing up there for a while we drove back down (wearing many more clothes) to find a place to stay the night. We ended up finding a small Karen ethnic minority village that offered bungalows overlooking either the river, mountains or rice fields. So we spent the night in the National Park and woke to the sounds of birds and insects. Dre and Tim took the bikes to the market and bought us a feast of fruit for breakfast.
Today after sitting around for a while admiring the view and chatting, we returned to our respective huts to pack our stuff and leave for another day on the bikes, but we all decided at the last minute to stay here another day. It’s so peaceful and beautiful and there’s still loads of the park to explore so we decided chill out here for the day.
We didn’t do much, other than discover that the Honda CB’s have a beer opener built in (perhaps not quite what it was built for… but perfect!), saw some cool birds while lazing on the riverbank and our balconies, and found an amazing caterpillar-type thing in the dark that was glowing. We found it because the glow was so bright that when walking across the lawn from Tim’s hut to ours we stopped to see what the lights were. We found that it could turn it’s glow on and off at will, and watched it for quite a while. Definitely a good choice to stay here another day!
We met Tim at Chiang Mai airport and proceed to spend the next couple of days catching up and choosing our motorbikes for our journey on the Mae Hong Son Loop in northern Thailand. Dre and Tim spent the best part of the day perusing the many bike hire shops in Chiang Mai until finally settling on a couple of different Honda 500’s. Our original plan was to get Kawasaki Versys bikes, but these Hondas are brand new and so the boys decided this was a better bet.
Tim has chosen a Honda CB 500x, (with only 700kms on the clock!) and Dre a Honda CBR 500, (3000kms already) and the plan is to swap bikes a couple of times to see who like which bike best.
We also met up with Nat, one of the stray guides we know from Luang Namtha, for an awesome meal, and then David (who makes the fantastic GT Rider maps) whom we’ve met several times as he lives in Chiang Mai and often rides his motorbikes to Luang Namtha and beyond. It was cool to meet up with these people outside of our normal turf, and David’s Mae Hong Son Loop stories have got us excited to begin our adventure tomorrow. Our first stop will either be Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon National Park, or Pai, depending on how the mood in the morning takes us.