Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Mae Hong Son loop - our journey of over a thousand hairpins.

Pedicure/manicure - essential driver preparation!

Endless shopping on closed roads.

Beautiful Sarieng River.

2 Carry Me plus 5 people's luggage in boot of very small sedan!

Most folks visiting Northern Thailand will make the obligatory stop in Chiang Mai and maybe its smaller cousin Chiang Rai, visit the Golden Triangle, but fail to explore its rich hilly surroundings. This region borders Burma towards the west and north, and Lao on the east. Scaling mountain peaks and descending into plains and valleys, the scenic roads here are a motorcyclist's dream with more than a thousand crazy corners. While we did the 1500km in a car and not on two wheels, it was nevertheless an experience like no other.

Our first day in Chiang Mai proved a jackpot as the famous Sunday Night Market was in session. Stalls after stalls selling all sorts of interesting wares lined the closed streets and Celia went straight into overdrive - shopping mode that is. I was happy with a $2.80 roadside head/shoulder massage in the cool 18c night air which was amazingly good. My pampering stop to my usual spa for a pedicure and a manicure ($9) got me ready for the adventure ahead.

After some delicious rice porridge breakfast and stockpiling on firecrackers , we picked up our brand new Toyota Vios rental car (via Carry Me micro-bikes) and headed straight to Mae Sarieng, 190km west. The drive to Hot, a quiet small town that does not quite live up to its name, was easy enough. Heading 30 mins out of Chiang Mai and you are into lush rice fields and beautiful country. But after that, we had our first taste of playing snake and ladder on the mountainous road. Chris and I wanted to see if we could cycle the loop and the very challenging conditions immediately sent shivers down my spine. What amazed me was Christope, our German companion travelling with his wife and lovely 3 yo daughter, actually cycled this route! I think I'm going to like this guy.

We settled at the Riverside Resort, a beautiful 4 star modern hotel. Our room had a breathtaking view of the Sarieng River and mountains. Mae Sarieng is not really on the tourist trail and its prices reflect that. My Aunt Ruth washed and blowed her hair for 40B (S$1.80) and we had a lovely 8 course dinner at a local Thai restaurant for 100B each with beer. What a breath of fresh air with inflation escalating everywhere!

Chris and I went for our usual early morning cycle to explore the quaint town and needed to really rug up as being the tail end of winter, it was still 15c and foggy. Refreshing. Our joie de vivre has only just began.

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