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.