What comes to your mind when you think of Thailand? Serene beaches of Phuket? Temples in Bangkok? Did you know that Thailand makes an excellent biking destination? I didn’t, until I got an opportunity to explore most of Northern Thailand on motorcycles, thanks to an invitation by Thailand Tourism Authority.
Thus, during first week of December, myself and few other invitees enjoyed a one week road trip across Northern Thailand, covering over 2000 kms in high performance bikes. Below is an account of what we went through and experienced.
Day 1: Chiang Mai-Doi Inthanon-Chiang Mai
On Day 1, we arrived at Chiang Mai and met our host and rest of the team members. Our host for the trip was Mr Sethappan Buddhani, director of tourism, Mumbai and our organizer was Mr Sumon, who runs a magazine called Ride Thailand and organizes biking trips for a living. Other invitees involved fellow bloggers and media staff.
Once at the hotel, we were introduced to our bikes-there were six of them- 3 Kawasaki Versys and 3 Honda CB 500X. The 650 and 500 cc bikes were ideal for us- much superior to regular commuter bikes we ride everyday but not as expensive and complicated as BMWs and Harleys. We spent few minutes getting familiarized with the bikes and then headed for lunch.
Post lunch was a 120km ride uphill, to the highest point in Thailand, called Doi Inthanon. The first half of the journey was almost clear highway, with occasional cities. We cruised through the distance and began our uphill ride. As we rode up, temperature started to dip and it began getting cold, despite our jackets and gloves and helmet. While we had few professional riders, few like me were enthusiasts; we started to learn how to negotiate curves without losing momentum. The mean machines are quiet powerful and command to be treated with respect. They have all the advanced technology to ensure safe and smooth ride- ABS, traction control, lots of security measures, but all these are of no use if rider is careless or doesn’t know what to do when.
As we reached top of the Doi Inthanon, temperature was 8 degree centigrade. With a quick break and hot coffee, we rode back for a memorable dinner at Kum Khantoke restaurant, Chiang Mai. Unlike other typical restaurants, dining at Khum Khantoke is an experience by itself, with unique seating arrangement (on the ground), lots of cultural shows and great combination of Thai food.
Day 2- Chiang Mai- Mae Hong Son
Day 2 involved a 250km ride from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, via Pai. We stopped at the historical bridge in Pai province- though not as popular as the bridge across river Kwai in Kanchanaburi, the memorial Bridge in Pai has its own significance. It was constructed using local labor under Japanese command, destroyed twice-once post war, once during flood and then re-constructed. Thai people are very good at preserving their historical places.
Post lunch, we had lots of corners to cover. 1864 curves to be precise. After negotiating each curve, the confidence in me and my bike grew. Riding a bike gives us such a different experience compared to going in a car. We feel the air, we feel the soil, we feel the people around us and we feel we’re part of nature. This can’t be enjoyed when we seat in the backseat of a taxi and in all probability, doze off while the driver takes us to the destination.
As we rode, we came across many bikers, who would wave at us as they crossed us. Thailand is indeed a dream destination for bikers- even if you don’t own one, you can rent bikes of every kind here, from economy ones to all the way up- Harley Davidson and BMWs. For few hundred dollars a day, a bike that would have cost lifetime of savings can be yours. You can ride it and cherish every moment, without the fear of hefty maintenance or EMI expenses. Your Indian driving license is enough to ride one in Thailand.
The other thing we noticed was the biking ecosystem. Car drivers are very accommodative of bikers- they would slow down or give way. Hotels have dedicated parking space for bikes and security to keep an eye on them all night. Restaurant owners treat bikers well and biking in Thailand is fairly affordable, so it attracts people from all parts of the world.
Our day 2 ended at Mae Hong Son, a town located at very top of Thailand map. Tomorrow, we will be heading to Mae Sot, a town located at Burma border.
Day 3: Mae Hong Son to Mae Sot
What was supposed to be a 400km ride turned out to be a late night biking expedition covering 530kms, as we rode 60+kms in wrong direction. All was well till noon, when we stopped for lunch at Mae Sariang. Post lunch, we should have taken Route 105, instead we continued on Route 108. A few display said this road heads to Chiang Mai and that didn’t ring a bell to any of us. Only later, our pilot Sumon pulled over, cross checked his map, consulted our support team (who had take right turn) and decided that we need to go back. Without a whim we rode back all the way to the city where we had lunch. We should have added another 200 curves to our count by then, because of this extra ride.
It was evening by now and we still had another 230kms to cover. We fuelled up and began riding, this time in the right direction.
Soon it became darker and suddenly, we found ourselves on dirt track. This feels like India- we told ourselves. Our speed dropped to single digit and we negotiated the bad road slowly, maintaining gap between bikes to let the dust settle. We were very close to Burma border, with our road running parallel to it. There were hardly any vehicles other than hours and there were no lights or shops or anything else. Pitch dark, deep forest and 100 more kms to go.
As we were riding since morning, our body started demanding some rest. But as we were riding in a team, it wasn’t a good idea to hold up the team, hence everyone kept moving ahead. One of our fellow rider, a professional biker, Joshua sensed this and arranged for a stop over discussing with our pilot, Sumon. This was a much needed break and we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Whatever little water and refreshment we had got exhausted. A truck driver drove in from opposite direction and briefed Sumon on the road conditions ahead.
We rode on, under the vigil of our pilot, who detected any possible trouble-including cattle, loose sand or bad part of the road and advised us to avoid it. Under his careful lead and thanks to the company of good riders, we eventually made it to our destination-Mae sot to call it a day. This day, Day 3 remained as most memorable day of the tour.
Standby for part 2, that covers Day 4 to Day 7