OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS
The air is fresh from unseasonal rain as we set out to conquer the northern Lanna territory. A short ride out of Chiang Mai and we are surrounded by rice fields, bamboo farms and typical village life. Today’s destination: Mae Sarieng. The views from Mae Sarieng to Khun Yuam proved to be spectacular while cruising the deep bends overlooking the foothills. Coffee breaks and a quick game of footy with local tribe children help to stretch the legs before we cruise through the lush Thai countryside. The presence of the infamous hilltribes; the Lahu, Lisu, Akha, Hmong and Karen tribes, is evident throughout northern Thailand.
WHEN THE FOG ROLLS IN...
As we start to gain altitude, trees are in bloom with pink, rubbery flowers and the air is thick with the smell of pine. The roads become enveloped in fog as we wind our way deeper into the mountains. Unseasonal, wet weather challenged our riders with a few muddy, off-road stretches, but nothing that a lunch of tandoori-roasted chicken next to a waterfall couldn’t cure! Continuing further into the sparsely populated, hilltribe valleys, we paused for a chat with local Karen hilltribe members and received a quick lesson on traditional fabric looming. Back on our whips, we cut lines through the fog, heading through the dense forest toward the cave of Tham Nam Lod. Bamboo boats carried us under soaring caverns of stalagmites and stalactites. The roads we take to Pai are charming, bumpy country roads, dotted with Wats (Thai temples). The Pai area is well-known for its numerous attractions including waterfalls, hot springs and elephant rides. After being massaged into bliss, riders took in the excitement on the infamous night market, walking street of Pai, where they sampled cuisines from all regions of northern Thailand. We settled to take in a nice sleep for tomorrow as we would head higher into the mist.
OUR ASCENT INTO THE CLOUDS
The frenzie of New Year brings all the tribes of the north together around Doi Ang Khang. Coiling carefully up the mountain, our single-cylinders slither past tent communities, up above the clouds. Dinner was celebrated at a Chinese restaurant boasting local specialties of Black Cock soup and five-spiced, braised pork belly that fell apart at the touch of the fork. We passed the new year around the bonfire, sharing stories, exchanging cultural songs and sipping wine. The region surrounding Doi Ang Khang changes quickly from steep declines that roll into naturally preserved landscapes. The views are truly epic as you ride the ridge between Myanmar and Thailand. Drop-off views in both directions energized the soul as the bikes barreled toward Tha Ton. We stopped to sample several teas and dried fruits unique to northern Thailand. Rolling through remote, unspoiled nature, the tour follows the Mekong river toward the town of Chiang Saen, the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand borders. We took a boat up and down the Mekong, taking in the immense history of this massive river. Flower crowns and a pizza party mark the birthday of one of our troops and between the relentless bouts of wine and laughter, we are reminded of the unique comradery of riding culture.
FROM GOLDEN TRIANGLE TO GOLDEN LANTERNS
We wake up energized and after a hearty breakfast, we visit the architecturally impressive Hall of Opium, in Chiang Saen. The Hall of Opium was created by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Mother to help reduce demand for drugs through education., in the Golden Triangle area. After a fascinating visit, we embarked to quell the Nan district. While enjoying an exhilarating curvy ride through the Doi Phu Kha National Park, we enjoy side-road displays of sunflower fields and off-road stretches that offer us last glimpses of the Mekong. The roadside of northern Thailand always offers the most scenic hideaways serving piping hot coffee. Today, we conquer the mountain of Phu Chi Fah, infamous for offering visitors a glimpse of its “Sea of Mist”, the view of the fog-surrounded hills. As we make our way to Chang Kham, we made a pit-stop in a Hmong village to see how they utilize bamboo in their everyday lives; baskets, chairs, backpacks, plates, and chicken-carrying case. We relished in the simplicity of village life and their resourcefulness. Tucked deep inside Chan Kham, the night passes too quickly over an intimate dinner of salted fish, rosemary potatoes, an copious amounts of red wine. Before we said goodnight, we exchanged well-wishes as we set off Chinese lanterns into the sky.
RETURN OF THE ROYALS
The loop took us to Lampang, zig-zagging through rustic, country trails dotted with the occasional impressive, traditional Thai house. The locals of this area are warm and inviting, serving up hot plates of unique liver curry and later, we visited Wat Phra That, known for its superb wood carvings. Here, we took in golden hour and looked on as tourists and locals joined in the raising of the daily temple offerings. The next day, the consensus was to visit an elephant conservation center, where we had the chance to visit a 2 year-old baby and 72 year-old female. Gently weaving through the last curves of the foothills, en route back to Chiang Mai, we took in one last family meal at an incredible roadside, organic restaurant. One never tires at the smiles the sound of the engine brings. Children run alongside us as we rumble past. Overall, the trip was action-packed with a pleasant mix of riding terrains, a good ratio of riding and cultural interaction. Definitely a treat for the five senses!
Sonia Sharma / Vintage Rides
Photo credits: Sonia Sharma