Our second part of the trip was definitely more scenic as well as more relaxing; I really didn’t enjoy the endless turns of the first half that much, to be honest.
It started a little bit before we turned on the road 107 to Chiang Dao: the road got flatter, and we started to see more rice paddocks and villages, while at the same time to our left the mountains continued to line our way north. This was more or less the scenery for the next five days, except for when we took a detour to the mountains.
On the near-perfect road we arrived in Chiang Dao in no time. We visited the famous cave temple and then splashed in this perfect little pool that was on the grounds of the guesthouse we were staying at, surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. It was heavenly.
From Chiang Dao we took a side road towards Ang Khang (roads 1178, 1340 and 1249), getting very close to the Myanmar border. It was, again, hard going, up and down the hills, and although the scenery was pretty amazing, and it was interesting to ride through some Chinese villages, by the time we got to the last junction before Ang Khang and found out that there would be another massive hill to take, we decided to cut it short and drive on 1249 straight down to the main highway. It was also a little bit confusing, as I think we kind of got to the mountain but then the nature area would’ve been a bit further or something…
By this time I was also feeling a little bit nauseous. We had planned to make it to the Kuomintang hilltop village of Mae Salong for the night, but had to change our plan and stay in the riverside village of Tha Ton instead (the road turns from 107 to 1089 at some point). I found out that the way to embarrass my boyfriend is to lie flat in front of a local 7/11 while the locals gather around to see what is going on, and that any stomach bug can be fixed with a mystical Chinese medicine I was administrated by a shop keeper next door.
Tha Ton apparently has some nice temples and nice hillside accommodation, but my experience was limited to the inn at the river, where there was only one other traveller besides us, and to the temple on the other side of the river, from where prayers were broadcasted to the whole town all evening and early morning.
The next morning I was still feeling a bit “unsure” (in fact, I didn’t make a full recovery until we got home over a week later), but I decided I was well enough to hit the road again. We continued on the main road before turning off to the mountains again to have a quick stop in Mae Salong (not sure about the road number but it was clearly signed). Mae Salong was very quiet, maybe because we were there quite early (9am) and the tourist busses hadn’t arrived yet, but the scenery was particularly nice and we stopped off for coffee and toast at a cute little bakery-cafe. The place was owned by a young couple, who were originally from Bangkok and who had also spent three years in Melbourne. Needless to say the coffee was pretty decent!
We rode the mountain roads 1234 and 1130 to the highway 1, from where we took the 1016 to Chiang Saen. Chiang Saen itself is a quiet town on the Mekong river, and most people, like us, come here mainly to visit the Golden Triangle 10 kilometres north of the town. Actually, the Golden Triangle encompasses a wider area across Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, but this is the point where the three countries meet. It’s not exactly anything exciting, but we took some happy snaps and pondered over drugs.
The Golden Triangle is, or was, one of the world’s main opium-growing areas. Apparently not much opium is grown in Thailand anymore, and an increased number of checkpoints and patrolling around the border area have resulted in a decrease of the trafficking of opium from Myanmar. Nevertheless, according to the oh-so-reliable Wikipedia, Myanmar continues to be the world’s second biggest producer of opium – a whopping 25% of all the world’s opium is produced there – only nowadays the product is moving more through Southern China instead of Thailand.
From Chiang Saen we headed east to Chiang Khong (road 1129), another town on the banks of the Mekong. It was nice to ride near the river and except for some heavy road works there was little traffic and no bad hills. Towards Chiang Khong we got our first rain for the trip, but it cleared up again before sunset and we had a walk along the river looking over to the Laos on the other side. Not much was happening in this town either, it really was just one main street, apparently tourists had been fewer and fewer since a bridge from Thailand to Laos was built approximately ten kilometres south of the town, making the ferry terminal a quiet place.
The next day, to get to Phayao, we decided to take road 1155 over the mountains instead of the main road. It was hands down the best ride of the whole trip. It was a pity it took us only half-way to our end-destination, the rest of the journey was on a main road (1021). It wasn’t too bad either, just a little bit boring (especially after the mountain road). For those who are interested, there is another road that goes even further into the mountains/Laos border (1093?), which would probably be even more amazing, but probably also more hard work.
Phayao itself is, again, nothing special, but not bad either. We had dinner at a restaurant that was reminiscing the years the owners had spent in San Francisco, and had a look around the evening markets selling various goods and food items.
From Phayao it was then again back to Chiang Mai (roads 120 and 118). It wasn’t a bad drive, but the last day of touring, whether it be on a bike, scooter or car, is always different, your mind seems to be in a different place already.
All in all, I liked the second part of the trip better, but if you have time and interest, I would suggest doing both the Mae Hong Son loop (especially if you like curves) as well as this “North-Eastern” loop. I would also suggest that if you are planning to do two people on one bike, hire a bigger and more powerful bike, it would be much more enjoyable to travel on. (We found that in Northern Vietnam one scooter for us was ok, or maybe it was just a better scooter, I don’t know…) Other than that, it’s very straight forward really: Thai people are generally very helpful and easy to deal with, the roads are good, and there’s plenty to eat and drink. To be honest, it’s almost too easy!
A few more pics from Chiang Mai, the city of temples.