It’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Chiang Mai, it’s almost the perfect place to vacation. There are fabulous ancient temples ready to explore, decent MEXICAN food and dozens of spas that charge US$3 for an hour-long painfully relaxing Thai massage.
But I am not on vacation, I am backpacking! I don’t need nice hotels, delicious burritos and relaxation! Instead of enjoying the soft life, I set out on a four-day adventure through the back roads of Northern Thailand. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a famous, tremendously steep and winding road that runs through national parks, hill tribe villages and into the heart of hippie-dom in Thailand. The 600 km stretch of highway is known as road of 1,000 turns and it sounded like just the thing for another scoot adventure!
And before the monsoon rains kicked in on day 2, I had a great time.
The first thing to get used to was driving on the “other” (ahem, the wrong) side of the road. I can barely cross the street with traffic whizzing by from the left, so learning to make a lane-crossing left hand turn was particularly nerve racking.
After nervously fighting my way out a surprisingly congested Chiang Mai, scooting through Doi Inthanon was dream. The national park is full of small Karen villages, stunning waterfalls and towering mountain cliffs. But the park map is bull shit.
After scooting for several hours, my first inkling that perhaps I was headed in the wrong direction struck when I noticed a severe change in both temperatue and altitude. The clouds has set in, it was freezing cold and I could see Burma in the distance. Instead of heading through Doi Inthanon park, I was heading straight up the Doi Inthanon peak.
Little known fact: Scooters don’t go uphill. They certainly can’t make a 2,500m climb. Second little known fact: it’s very hard to turn a scooter around on a steep hill.
I learned both of these little known facts as my scooter stalled 100 meters away from the top of Thailand’s tallest peak. As I attempted a dicey turn on a 90 degree incline sans gas, both the scooter and I fell to the ground, skidding down the hill. Luckily scooters don’t need much gas to go straight down hill and the park is peppered with hill tribe villages.
It’s an odd day when dropping in on the local Karen village to buy a glass bottle of petrol feels normal. Welcome to Asia.
I had a tankful of gas but I was nowhere near Mae Sariang, the next town.
The twisting roads were beginning to lose their appeal, they sky was ready to let loose and I started to get nervous about finding a place to stay. Although 70 kilometers doesn’t sound like a lot, it is, particularly on a scooter. And that’s how far I had to go.
Suddenly there it was! The Navasorn Resort!
The manicured hotel in the woods certainly looked fancy and I had exactly US$25 (a fortune in Thailand but certainly not enough for gas, a meal and fancy digs). I didn’t have much of a choice when I scooted up and boldly asked for their cheapest room. After 8 months in Asia I was ready to bargain but I didn’t have to try. Instead the woman in charge led me past their fancy guest bungalows and showed me into a filthy windowless back room complete with an outdoor insect-infested squat toilet. For my added enjoyment, there were free used porn mags. The room cost 10 bucks – well within my budget though pretty far outside my comfort zone.**
I slept in my clothes without touching the blanket and woke up at 8am the next morning ready to hit the road. I still had three more days of scooting ahead of me and the rain was about to begin.
** This is before I found out that porn mags in cheap hotels are par for the course.