Abort Mission! The first time I’ve bailed on an adventure…..
29th October 2016.
Seeing as I had a pending border crossing for my visa, I decided to turn the trip into a mini adventure by taking an impromptu ride to the N.E.regions of northern Thailand. I haven’t explored the N.East zones much, so figured now was as good a time as any.
My plan was to take slightly less direct routes than the main highway then make my way along the Thai/Laos border regions until i reach the Thai/Burma border crossing.
My first target was the “The Big Dipper”; the highest gradient road in Thailand. I wanted to capture the road on my gopro and get a photo of the 18% gradient sign. I would then ride onto Phu Chi Fa to catch the glorious mountain view and spend the night there. In the morning I would head along the border regions to the towns of Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen, taking in the famous Golden Triangle viewpoint.
Well that was the plan at least, but didn’t turn out to be the reality….
Starting out a little later than planned with a riding partner, I headed to Phayao.
The first omen of gloom was just a short distance along when heavy rains came down…
Pretty much normal to expect rain during rainy season (!), so wasn’t overly fazed, but this rainy spell hammered down particularly hard. Had to seek shelter on a couple of occasions and at one point the rain didn’t ease up for close to an hour. I was beginning to think the ride needed to be cancelled at this early stage.
… thankfully it cleared up enough to carry on, with the sun emerging just a short time later. (In fact so much so, that the heat and humidity came close to unbearable later on..)
Upon arriving at Phayao it was great to see the lake nice and high again. Just a few weeks prior I had visited and was sad to see the lake very low, particularly as I had specifically went there to admire the Naga serpent statue, which always looks so dramatic. I ended up shocked to see the entire base exposed, leaving the Naga’s looking stranded. This time around they were back to their full glory.
The image below shows how the Naga looked only a few months back. Shocking really! The lake was very dry and seeing as this is one of the largest fresh water lakes in Thailand (12,831 rai (20.5 km²)), the drought was causing some seriously damaging effects on the fish stocks.
Image source: South China Morning Post
Stopped in at one of the lakeside restaurants for a simple lunch and then headed off onto the 1021 to Chiang Kham. Pretty soon the regrets about the choice of road started creeping in…
1. My bike. Honestly I still love my little 250cc Kawasaki dtracker. I do. However, I love it when it hits tight twisty roads and variable terrains. It is lightweight and flickable and a lot of fun on these kinds of roads. It is not much fun when on long hot straight roads chock full of traffic..which is what the 1021 turned out to be.
2. The road. Even if I was on a bike more geared towards these kinds of long, mainly straight, slightly curving roads, I would still dislike this kind of road. A bike more geared for this kind of road riding would have helped (in terms of covering distance and comfort), but it would still be really very boring (for me). I have a huge dislike for long open stretches of road. My joy is in the unpredictable twists.
3. The weather. Given that it is rainy season I expect rain and I don’t mind the rain at all, nor mind riding in it when not hazardous. However on this particular trip the short heavy tropical rain brought an aftermath of baking hot sun and high humidity. The combination of high heat and humidity in open exposed roads made it a baking ride. I baked so much my head was spinning.
So, riding in these combined conditions, even though I was wearing a Camelbak bladder and keeping hydrated, began to take it’s toll. I wanted to make tracks so ignored all the signs of impending heat-stroke, despite my better judgement.
Upon reaching Thoeng we topped up fuel again and took a pit stop at the garage coffee shop to evaluate where we are at in terms of time and energy. My riding partner was feeling unwell and had all the signs of heat exhaustion. Although I made the call to rest up at Thoeng I was persuaded to keep riding to Phu Chi Fa, as it was only 50km further. We had already ridden over 300km and it was beginning to cool down, so didnt seem too far a push distance-wise. Going against my own thoughts on it, I agreed, and we set off to find the 4018 “Big Dipper” road, which was just within reach.
Yet we somehow missed it.
..and we found ourselves halfway to Chiang Rai wondering where our heads were at (heat stroke!).
Finally making a better judgement call we headed back to Thoeng to rest for the night instead of attempting anything further.
Exhausted and weary we chose the first place we found..and was a really really bad decision.
This is how the rooms looked:
Ok..not really. I’m not THAT tired that I would stay in a room that looked as bad as that (got that image from www.uglyhousephotos.com), but it felt like it. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of the place and regret that, so you just have to take my word for it that it was bad.
When I first walked in I thought “what a sh**hole!”, but I just needed a place to rest my head, so didn’t care. I figured at least it’s clean even if not glamorous.
I unpacked my gear and got changed..and went to the sink and.. that’s when I noticed black hairs in it and what looked like the remains of dried vomit.
Seeing that made me retch and gave me paranoid thoughts about the bed sheets. I went over to inspect them and found a long black hair.
I pretty much suspected the place had not been cleaned from the last (dirty?) guests. Exhausted I decided to leave it be. Instead I avoided the sink (and stopped looking around to see things like gum stuck to the wall) and took the bathroom shower head to wash down the bathroom area (taking out as many mosquitoes that i could in the process. The bathroom was Motel Mosquito).
That night I slept on a shawl over the bed. Edit: That night I HARDLY slept whilst laying on a shawl placed over the bed.
When I woke the next morning I felt like I had been hit by a truck. A combination of a lack of sleep, heat stroke and hunger.
I was still ready to keep going though, knowing that just around the corner there would be the fruits of labour in the form of great sights, but when I checked on my riding partner it was a definite no-go. Sick as a dog!
Checked out of the House of Horrors (after telling the lady her place was terrible and very dirty – sadly cannot name this place due to Thailand’s libel laws, but a scathing review is going on Trip Advisor) and headed back to the garage to top up fuel and gather thoughts at the garage coffee shop.
I still needed to do a visa border crossing, so the plan was now to head to Chiang Rai then separate but keep tabs. So said my goodbyes and headed north to the Thai/Burmese border town of Tachileik.
Done and dusted with immigration I got back on the bike, gunning for Chiang Mai (…well as fast as a 250cc bike can gun).
Feeling a bit deflated I decided to at least visit SOMETHING on my way back, so I took a quick right turn towards Wat Rong Khun (aka The White Temple. Not an actual temple, but more of an art exhibit).
The only time I have visited this temple was 10 years ago, when I first arrived in Thailand. At the time it seemed a bit glaring to me and not the kind of thing that really interests me. Sounds bad to say that when it is such an icon and seeing that Khun Chalermchai Kositpipat (the designer/artist) poured his heart and soul into it over the years, but that is how i felt. Not expecting much I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty I found it after all these years. Somehow seemed to have more character than i remember. Maybe because more work has gone into it or because it seems more dirty (bringing out the details more). I am not sure why.
I think I will stop to see it again next time I am up Chiang Rai way and pay a proper visit.
Following that short stop off it was pretty much a straight ride back to Chiang Mai, with a couple of fuel top ups to keep me fully topped up. I didn’t bother to stop anywhere else on the route home and nothing of any interest happened, (except spotting a nice big BMW touring bike with big panniers. Didn’t catch the license plate but looked like someone was on an epic adventure. Edit: Just found him on my gopro footage and seems to be a Bangkok Plate, but have removed the plate number for privacy).
All I wanted to do by this stage is get home and get home fast..and I did.
…and it is one of those few trips where I can say I am really really glad to be home again.
Btw..I worked out an excellent way to try prevent overheating/heatstroke, but will write up something specific for that with a video too. So..more on that later..
Well nothing disastrous happened, so I wont complain about it. It was a good learning curve and a reminder to keep cool. Taking away an experience and noting how to do things better. Will plan better for next time around and work out a more enjoyable route. Deflated but not defeated 🙂
Have you been to any of these places?
Hope you don’t follow in my footsteps on this one..haha!