After a couple of restful nights spent in movie-star luxury, we're back on the road today. The plan is to forge ahead south, parallel to the Myanmar border towards Mae Sariang. Although this could be considered the "back straightaway" of the Mae Hong Son loop, zooming in on the map of the road reveals that it's anything but straight! More twisties in store for us! Yay!
Packing up and saying goodbye to Angelina and Brad's place
In Thailand, we're able to afford more luxurious accommodations than pretty much anywhere else in our travels thus far. So when we take advantage of this and splash out on a fancy resort, we really want to milk every dollar's worth and not leave the premises. "Come back'ere Doggy! I'm not finished petting you!!!" We felt just a little twinge of guilt that we didn't venture outside the grounds to visit the actual city of Mae Hong Son. We just rode right by it the day before. Not even sure if there was anything to see there!
I think maybe we should stay in lower rent places. More incentive to get out and explore! 555!
Heading south out of Mae Hong Son
Stopping to admire the beautiful mountains in Mae Hong Son province
About three hours directly south of Mae Hong Son is the small town of Mae Sariang, which is where we'll be spending the next couple of days. On the loop, it's located on the diametric opposite corner of Pai. Not many tourists make it out this far so there's a more authentic feel to the town, however we have to use sign language a lot more because English is spoken less here.
I kind of like that. Neda... not too much. She speaks so many languages so well that when she finds herself somewhere where she can't communicate, it really throws her off.
Me, on the other hand, since leaving North America, I've had three years of experience not being able to understand anything being spoken around me, so I'm totally used to it by now!
For the first time, I have to give Neda lessons on how to communicate - albeit like a two-year old: Sign language. Single-syllable words. Talk SLOOOOOWWWWly. As I'm dispensing this helpful advice, she looks at me the same way I look at her when she says, "We should go for a hike"...
Our little guest room right on the Yuam River
If you are pre-booking a hotel in Mae Sariang, you have to remember the exact name when you roll into town. Because most of the hotels and guest houses are located beside the river and *ALL* of them are called "River" something: "River Inn", "River View Resort", "River House", etc. Even now, because of our non-existent Thai, I'm not even sure if we're in the right hotel... But it has a balcony so we're not leaving this place!
Watching the sunset from the balcony of the River-something hotel,
which may or may not be where we originally booked...
We wake up bright and early the next morning. Big plans for today. We're going to spend the day off-roading in the Salawin National Park, just outside of town. Neda did some research and she forwarded me some great-looking trails. There should be some amazing scenery in the park! And we've finally got the right bikes to do it with, so we're pretty stoked!
Passing by the early morning corn fields outside of Mae Sariang
Not sure you can see it because of the haze of The Burn, but there are actually mountains in the distance...
Before we left, we stocked up my topcase with lots of food! Neda is preparing breakfast by the side of the road just outside the entrance to the park
I think our route for the day is just over 100kms of dirt trails. Normally we're getting about 200-220 kms between fill-ups on the road on our CRFs, which is about half the range of our BMWs! Not sure what our dirt range will be, hopefully a full tank should get us back into town? If not, I'm sure there will be an interesting story to tell at the end of the day...
A Buddhist Temple, I think it's Wat Huai Pho. Not many people make it out here, so there are no pictures on the Internet for reference
Running with the bulls, Thai-style! I hope Neda's red jacket doesn't give them any ideas...
The road into the park is fairly well maintained until it hits the Thanlyin River, which denotes the border between Myanmar and Thailand. As soon as we hit the river, the asphalt beneath us devolves into a gravel road. We turn southwards, running parallel with the Myanmar border, passing many Karen villages situated on the cliff overlooking the river.
I'm so surprised how close we are to Myanmar and how there aren't any controls at all preventing us from crossing the very narrow river into a (another) military-controlled country.
Passing many Karen villages along the Thanlyin River
There are a few 50cc scooters that travel between the villages. They negotiate the rough roads effortlessly. As we pass them, they stare at us in bewilderment as if questioning: "What are you doing here?" Not in an unfriendly way, just more curious. Because we stop and take a lot of pictures, these scooters eventually catch up to us and as they pass us while we're snapping pics of (what they probably think is) nothing, they can't stop staring at us the whole time. Probably more at Neda...
I wave to one of the passing scooterists and he flashes me a toothy grin. Well, mostly toothy, he was missing a few teeth in front!
Hey, I guess we don't have to worry about gas!
We found an automated gas dispenser inside the park. Since our tanks were already pretty much full, we didn't bother to fill up here. I'm going to assume there are others as we venture further into the park...
Looking across the river. That's Myanmar... Just a short water crossing and we're in a different country... hmmm...
In one of the villages, a tiny chick has imprinted on Neda's bike and is following her around. So cute!!!
Curious kids probably wondering, "What are they taking pictures of?!?"
Gorgeous scenery here, despite the haze
My GPS only has the road to the river, so as we followed the Thanlyin southwards, we were now off the map.
Glancing once again at Myanmar. I can hear the wheels turning in Neda's head...
Passing more villagers
We're not going to cross into Myanmar. We're just too straight-laced for that kind of mischief, but we are feeling a bit adventurous. So when we find a path that leads off the gravel road, we decide to explore a bit. We're now totally off any marked roads on the GPS, so I have to keep my eye on our mileage and which direction we're headed in. If it looks like we're straying too far away from the main road and we're at half-tank, we should turn back, or risk running out of gas. Speaking of which, I haven't seen any of those automated gas dispensers in a while...
I think maybe on our next off-road run, we should carry extra jerry cans.
Our dirt road descends quite a fair bit into the valley
This is a proper full-on dirt road now, I wouldn't even drive a non 4x4 vehicle down this steep, narrow descent. I have to modulate the rear brake to regain grip as we slide down the slippery slope. All the while I'm thinking, "Is there another road at the bottom that brings us back up again? Or do we have to turn around and do this gnarly climb uphill?"
Over a km of sliding down and it's looking like the way is devolving into a foot path that someone hacked away the trees on either side with a machete. We're going to have to turn back. Ugh.
The hill climb wasn't that bad. Better than sliding down. So glad we have these dirtbikes!!!
We take another dirt path that climbs up onto the ridge of a mountain range - spectacular vistas on both sides as we clear the forest!!!
Posing at the top of the ridge. We have absolutely no idea where we are right now.
I zoom zoom zoom all the way out on the GPS. We are directly in the middle of the park heading generally eastwards towards the main road again. The gas situation is okay, not dire. As long as we keep heading east without any detours, we should make it back...
The dirt road where we came from
I kept the GPS zoomed all the way out as we traversed the path we were set upon. Further ahead, we came to a fork in the road. We made an educated guess as to which way was out, but a few kms later the little arrow on my GPS suddenly pointed southwards. We were headed deeper into the park!
Now this was an awesome dirt road, the scenery was great and we were having a lot of fun. But I was still worried about the gas situation, so we turned back to the fork and took the other way. We're close to half-tank and it's the middle of the afternoon. It's the hottest time of the day right now and the red dust has stuck to everything, bike, clothing, face... and as I found out on one stop: the lens of my Sena Prism helmet camera was blanketed with dirt...
Damn, how much footage did I lose?
I radioed Neda and informed her that if we hit half-tank and it doesn't look like we're headed to the main road, we should turn around and retrace our steps. Kilometer by kilometer, we slowly inched eastwards on the empty field of the GPS screen. And then finally, a line appeared at the top edge of the screen, we were close and headed in the right direction!
Made it back to Mae Sariang. Plenty of daylight and gas to spare. Just a bit dusty is all...
Rough map of our route for the day...
Maybe I worry too much, but I think if we're going to go exploring like this in the future, we should come better prepared. Extra gas at least...
But it was soooo much fun! I don't think we're in love with these CRFs, at least not yet. But today, they've grown on us a little bit!
And, I managed to salvage some video from my point and shoot, and also the helmet cam from when I remembered to periodically wipe the lens:
In the first few seconds of the video you can see how helpful the GPS was! 555!