Border Visa Run – The Long Way Round
(September 2017) For an expat in Thailand, most have only one of two options: report to immigration every 90 days, or do a border crossing (get stamped out of Thailand, enter into the neighbouring country, then get stamped back into Thailand). Given that I prefer to have any excuse to take my bike out for a trip, I pretty much always choose the border option.
Mae Sai is the closest border from Chiang Mai, and one where they are used to foreigners crossing, so it is usually a quick process. However, given that I have ridden many times to Mae Sai, I try to find new ways to shake up the ride a bit, to try turn it into an adventure.
This time around I decided I would ride up the R107 (a quieter route than the main 118 & R1), heading straight to Mae Sai. Then, after I am stamped back into Thailand, I planned to head west to Doi Tung and then onto Mae Salong (where I would stop for the night). Given that I had seen some recent photos of a landslide at Doi Tung (a mess of mud), I figured that it might be exciting to face a challenge.
At around 7am I set off for Mae Sai, and the ride that morning was quiet and easy. So much so, that I began to feel sleepy. The combination of a quiet ride, plus early morning sun, created a sense of relaxation and sleepiness. Not such a good idea when riding! When I arrived in Thaton (a pretty town approximately 220km from Chiang Mai), I figured it would be a good idea to stop for a coffee. In all honesty, I could have easily taken a nap someplace. After coffee I rode towards Mae Sai, stopping briefly at the fantastic statues next to Malika/Jasmine Hot Springs for a photo op and look-see (I need to visit it properly some day).
Had a funny moment at the statues, when I decided to avoid a large muddy area and ride on the (overgrown) grass verge instead. Didn’t realise there would be a large dip there, because I couldn’t see through the dense grass cover (silly me). Slipped into a rut area and my bike began to tip over. Thankfully I was able to catch my foot on a stable piece of ground and bounce myself back upright again. Phew! Stupid me for thinking the overgrown grass would be the better option!
After that I rode non-stop to Mae Sai, passing the usual Army checkpoints on the way (and getting a smile from the soldiers, haha).
At Mae Sai I parked up my bike in a secure parking place and headed over the border, bought some duty free chocolate (which may in fact be fake chocolate :/ ), and got myself back over and on to Thai soil. I headed back to the bike, stopping off for a quick lunch at a restaurant close to the parking spot.
Whilst eating, I debated about heading to Doi Tung. I had been warned that with the recent land slide it was quite a mess. Curiosity got the better of me though, and I decided to head there anyway. So got on my bike, fueled up, and headed to Doi Tung.
I went searching for the landslide…but in the end turned out to be an anti-climax. I did a full loop of the area, but nothing left to see. I was all geared up for a challenge, but had already been cleared. There was evidence of a landslide, but was tidied up. So, figured I would head to Doi Mae Salong (where I would spend the night).
As I headed to Mae Salong I hit a spot of rain on the steep incline roads. At one point I was stuck behind a Songtaew (a taxi van), with a bunch of school kids inside. I gave a wave and made some silly faces and got them giggling. Fun to break up riding with this kind of silly stuff.
The rain got heavier, but eased up as I was arriving into the town. I rode into the main hub, feeling a little sad at the dramatic construction work going on (could possibly be a disaster area from a landslide too, but unsure if was part of the construction process or not). Mae Salong is changing. The quirky ramshackle buildings of the Yunnanese town are being torn down and fancy resorts and coffee shops are being erected instead.
I pulled into a guesthouse at the main hub area (so that I would be within walking distance of everything), and got myself a room.
I wish I had checked the room more thoroughly though, as turned out there was some odd looking mold or something on all of the furniture. I had been too weary to check properly and just wanted a shower and rest. So paid for the room (500 baht) and only noticed after I had already gotten ready to take my shower. Figured that I would just forget about it as I didn’t fancy getting gearing up again to go find another place.
(-Vintage Resort Hotel & Cafe)
After I was showered and cleaned up I checked my purse and realized that I had less in there than I realized. At Mae Sai I had also purchased moto “skinz” underwear, so that, along with the 500 baht border fee, plus the chocolate, fuel and accommodation, meant I only had a couple of hundred baht on me. It was enough to get me food for the evening and some fuel in the morning, but it was a little tight. So, I figured I would find out if there is an ATM and get out some extra cash to be on the safe side.
Haha, and so, as is very “Thai style”, I was told there was an ATM not too far away, which turned out to be rather quite far away after all. It was fine though. I needed the exercise after sitting on a bike all day.
Got my money, got some food and drink, and had an early night.
The next morning I headed out around 8am. Initially I had no plans to visit Wat Santikhiri and the Chedi, (the hilltop temple of Mae Salong), as it held some old memories for me that might bring down my mood a bit. (I had visited this temple about 7 years ago, on my first explore of Thailand. I was riding my little Fino 115cc scooter and I was with someone who I cared deeply for. I don’t like to be too personal regarding this kind of thing, but the memory is sad because I had so much hopes with this person, which did not turn out well. So, I was not in the mood to see the old ghosts of my once naïve self). However, as I passed the entrance of the temple road, I saw the most amazing cloud cover over the valley area. I realized that this sight would be stunning from the temple viewpoint, and so my desire to see the view over-took my unwillingness to deal with old memories.
The temple road was wonderful. Twisty and quiet and with the sun emerging to the east in front of me. There are really no words to express how beautiful it was. As I rode there were a few ghost memories from the time before. Remembering how happy I was and how much laughter there was. Brought a lump to my throat intermittently, but thankfully the views were so beautiful I was able to banish them.
On the ride up there were a few sections of green moss, making the route a little slippery, but nothing too significant.
My first stop off point was the pagoda, which offered some spectacular views of the valley.
I then headed up to the temple where I was met with true tranquility and stunning views over the town of Mae Salong.
There was also this strange looking spider. (Sadly my current phone is being a major problem, so the video quality isn’t as good as I would have wished). I have no idea what kind of spider it is.
I headed back down the mountain, passing by some rural local people, dressed as though time had stood still. As I headed out of Mae Salong I saw old people with wicker baskets attached to their backs, bent low with the strain of the items within. I saw young kids on scooters, helmet free, riding as though they were being chased by a lion. A real contrast between the ages.
As I rode down into the valley below, I found myself riding right into the cloud cover that I had viewed from above earlier. Felt amazing and odd to be riding into what I had previously been watching. Somehow felt surreal.
On the R1089 I spotted an interesting stop-off, a vineyard which also had a coffee shop. I did a u-turn to stop in for a coffee and to look around. Turned out to be a really lovely spot! Hom Pin Din Vineyard. Great coffee, interesting view, and a gift shop and winery. No idea what the wine tastes like though!
After my coffee stop I figured that i would ride to Doi Ang Khang, and then do the Wiang Haeng loop. I did this loop around a year previously, when the roads were not completed.
At the time it was a stressful ride for me, because I was very nervous on gravel. I had heard the whole area was pretty much completed and a beautiful ride. So, decided to have a look for myself.
However, it turned out that for some reason I missed the first Doi Ang khang turn-off and ended up at Chiang Dao. I weighed up if i should ride to Doi Ang khang first or head to Wiang Haeng. Given that Wiang Haeng would take longer I decided to do Wiang Haeng, then I could ride to Doi Ang khang after the loop, if i still had time.
So off to Wiang Haeng I went, which is when things got interesting.
(Wiang Haeng Loop map link)
Initially the loop was smooth going. The route was indeed much improved. Some old sections with small bowling ball sized pot holes, but whole sections which were tarmacked (instead of the gravelly pot holed broken up roads).
Then.. just as I hit the only section that had not been tarmacked, a thunderstorm loomed.
I wish I had caught the sound of the thunder, because it was right on top of me, and loud enough to make me jump.
I decided to keep riding, and things began to take a turn for the worse..haha.
After this point I couldn’t film anymore. I had stupidly left my GoPro behind and the thunderstorm became so intense that my phone would have got damaged if i had attempted to film. The road literally became a river of red mud, hiding the pot holes that lay before me. I continued riding through the storm as thunder and lightening and wind was all around me. Was really quite dramatic. A little scary and also quite exciting. I continued on for approximately 8km until i rode out of the storm and into some warm sunlight. By this point I was soaked through.
I actually enjoyed this thunderstorm. Mainly because my mindset has changed. Only a year or so ago I would ride these kinds of roads fearfully. Thoughts of my accident several years back still on my mind. However, this time I was excited by the challenge and it felt good.
The only problem was that my boots were now soaking and that wasn’t much fun (user error, rather than the boots. I need to work out a better way to wear them..).
By the time I was nearing the end of the loop it was after 4pm. I decided it would make no sense to head to Doi Ang Khang this time around. It would be getting late and plus I had very wet feet sloshing inside of my boots. I headed to Chiang Dao instead, to stop in at the Chiang Dao Nest 2. I had a quick bite to eat and a cool drink, then headed back to Chiang Mai.
Random video. As I pulled out of Chiang Dao, i spotted a little girl taking her baby pig for a walk. Had to pull over and say hello ^^^
(Full route taken: Google Map link)
Was a good adventure! Till the next time! 😀