Arriving at Chiang Mai airport after an overnight flight via Kuala Lumpur I was feeling pretty good having grabbed some rare sleep on board and was ready to start the ride that morning.
When the luggage belt was switched off and my bag had not arrived my heart sunk. Spent the next couple hours with airline staff before catching a taxi downtown to bike rental shop with the hope my bag was in Kuala Lumpur and could be put on next flight.
I had communicated with Tony’s Big Bikes 3 times about this ride a number of weeks in advance and been assured a Kawasaki ER6N was reserved for me. Upon arrival I was informed no bike available. I asked what about those outside, ‘they were reserved yesterday’, but my reservation was weeks ago why would you give someone else preference? I was walking to main road feeling down, no bag, no bike and came across Pops rentals. Straight away I am offered a newer bike at better price. Forget Tony’s Big Bikes if coming to rent here guys.
Found my way back to airport where I was told my bag had not been found but they could fly it to me ‘in route’ the next day or day after when found. My helmet and jacket was all I had since I carried these on the plane and my phone was flat so no map but I decided to set off to Mai Hong Son using my faint memory of the road numbers I needed to take.
I found a mall on way out of town and purchased a change of t-shirt and underpants for a few dollars and a toothbrush and toothpaste, some deodorant and sun block and had a big lunch of eye watering super spicy Thai chicken at KFC and was ready for a big ride all afternoon. I hate riding without gloves so stopped at a couple of bike shops to try purchase a pair but in a country where most people don’t wear helmets the request for gloves received a puzzled stare.
They say it has 1864 corners by late afternoon I was actually wishing them to stop as fatigue started to set in and I was very glad to get off the bike. Superb viewpoint as you descend into the town of Mai Hong Son. I phoned the airport and the good news was my bag had been found so I arranged for it to be flown to MHS regional airport the next morning. There was one last twist however, checking my camera which I had carried on plane with me I noticed the screen was no longer working. I had it on the back of the bike in a camera case wrapped in my sweater I had been wearing when leaving Japan and somehow it got damaged. So I am back to iPhone photos despite carrying a real camera around for the next 5 weeks in SE Asia. Day one route
Another late start the next day waiting for my bag at MHS airport but I was so glad it to see it. The clothes I could replace but not my GPS. I am still using the old Garmin 760 since the new models seem to lack user defined routing and it was comforting to be reunited with my little travelling buddy and felt at ease with things stopping for a coffee. The road north of MHS climbs and descends a series of mountains but the view this day was obscured by smoke. I was disappointed since the burning is said to commence in earnest in March and the smoke haze is supposed to be low in late January however after the events of yesterday I decided that at least I was riding. About now I noticed the bike had no number plate. My heart sank as I thought it must have been stolen off the bike last night. I looked under seat but there was no registration paperwork so I had no plate and no paperwork for bike. Oh well I pushed on, it was another long day due to the late start but the riding was fantastic even if I felt a bit rushed. Day two route.
Day three I phone Pop rentals and I am not sure they understood the plate was missing but in end someone said no problem. I had already decided I was going to keep riding until stopped by police so this just confirmed my plan. This day I did a loop ride from Chaing Rai. The smoke was very heavy in parts and I was planning to scale a mountain to see a viewpoint at Pu Chi Fa which looks superb when clear but I could not see the mountain from just a few kilometres away that thick was the smoke so I skipped it as would be no point. I eventually found my way to the golden triangle river junction. Day three route.
Lunch with view of two countries. Playing with camera app. After a million scooter riding backpackers in Pai, it was nice to sit and watch a river tour boat being escorted by two heavy armed speed boats and know the region still had some parts off the beaten track.
I replaced my summer gloves at Chiang Rai. These cost $13. Next day I rode to Nan on the famous 1148 but first I took a detour to the mountains that border with Laos. If you look at my route (here) then don’t follow the road I take from the 1155 to the 1093 there is another road called the big dipper you can find on GT rider forums that I was aiming for but missed. Lots of haze in morning. Made it across to the 1093, phew. This road rides the mountains bordering Laos and brings you to a border market town before you descend back to the valley. Well off the tourist trail I really enjoyed it. I had lunch with locals at a waterfall, just 40baht for Pad Thai including can of soft drink, this is the Thailand I like. Some road photos of the 1148. I have ridden this road previously so tried to take different shots this time.
Next day I did a loop out of Nan. First rode East on the 1168 and found myself on beautiful hotmix riding through a forest of coloured leaves. Now if someone has told me you could see yellow and red autumn leaves in Thailand I would have laughed but here they are and the corners were dreamy. I even turned around and rode back to beginning and turned around again to enjoy a 3rd time and that’s very rare for me. I arrived on the eastbound 1081 and as I scaled the mountains my jaw dropped as this road is one of the most stunning I have ridden. This road is a riders dream. It runs along ridges twisting and undulating with no traffic. I got to Bo Kluea and decided to ride west via the 1256 and was again rewarded with another amazing riding road. I stopped for lunch on top of the mountain at a collection of roadside food stands. There was so much more than this but you know how hard it is to capture roads on photographs. Day 5 route.
I had planned to meander on a few back roads last day but it was election day and some protests were planned (none seen in the north) so I decided to trim the ride in case I was delayed or rerouted and just enjoyed a easy pace ride back still on good roads most of the way. I had rented the bike for 5 days but Pop’s only charged me an extra 1/2 day even though I did not get the bike back to them until 3pm. Day 6 shortened route. Before I go a review of the Honda CB500X is in order. Power wise it has enough but you need to work the motor hard and it could do with a touch more. Comfort wise the seat is ok but a touch firm and the suspension a bit harsh, but I realise this is a budget machine and as such it is pretty good. It did the job fine for the week and it handles well. The screen works, instrumentation is fine, fit and finish of plastics is very good. The range is excellent, I could do my whole days ride on one tank. Depending on price this could well be worth looking at.
*Photos reposted 2018 – but only so much can be done with iphone 4 image quality – see my other Thai rides for more about this fantastic and easy to visit destination.