Chang Mai was a loooong way from Bangkok by bus.
If you ever get on a bus in Thailand, forget about aiming for the back seat. That is where the toilet is, and it smells.
I was unaware of this.
I was very glad to arrive in Chang Mai and be greeted by a horde of Hotel touts. Here I was most taken with the smiles of the gang from "French Fry's".
French Fry isn't really a typical Thai name, but then French Fry is defiantly not typical. I would recommend her beautiful guest house to anyone travelling to Chang Mai, but be prepared to get motivated (French Fry is a fruit loop!).
The central business district of the town is pretty thriving. There are many People trying to sell treks around the surrounding hills, cheap clothing and tasty Thai food. Chang Mai also has the rather dubious accolade of being the Prostitution center of SE Asia. The government figures claim that 66% of prostitutes are HIV positive, so I if I were you.... I wouldn't bother!
I choose to take one of French Fry's excursions because she sells them so well. The trekking is hard work and a lot of sweat, but it would be criminal to go to Chang Mai and not trek.
After an early start and a two hour drive, myself and 8 other guys from the guest house started a full days walk. Having crossed over three "hills" (they felt more like mountains!) we arrived at this village, where we stopped for the first night.
It turns out that one of the major features of these treks is the Opium which is touted by the local villagers. As far as they are concerned it is big business. As far as I am concerned if I want to feel like that again I will hit myself on the back of the head with a brick, it will be cheaper.
Having said that the locals are very friendly and did offer myself and another chap a little of their raw pig intestine to eat. Very generous, I thought, until they burst out laughing!
The trek went on for another few days and then we returned to the guest house.
I couldn't help feeling that there must be more to Northern Thailand than this. It was pretty commercial, although great fun. So after having got over the trek, I headed off looking for a little more adventure.
I rented a motorbike (an AX 250) and was packing for the road when I met Massa...
This dude was Japanese. He had a sorted attitude, or at least I think he did (he spoke little English and I speak NO Japanese). He was interested in coming along and so the two of us headed off for Mae Hong Son on a pair of pretty well maintained AX's.
I had heard that the "Mae Hong Son loop" was the most densely cornered road in SE Asia with 1,964 corners in under 200 kilometers. This sounded perfect for a motorbike and really appealed.
Massa and I had to communicate through mostly hand signals and facial expressions. The road we were driving made this a lot easier as mostly everything we 'talked' about was "Wow, what a wicked set of corners eh?"
We navigated with a book by an American called David Unkovick. This was invaluable, as all the Thai road signs may as well have been in Hieroglyphics as far as I was concerned. We reached Pai and eventually Mae Hong Son with no difficulty. The ride had been superb and the bikes were performing well.
Finding ourselves in Mae Hong Son with a couple of hours to spare, we took a ride. That is when we found this rope bridge. The bridge was about 30 meters high, 1.5 meters wide and about 150 meters long. We asked each other with our eyebrows, what could be better than to ride over it.
Well perhaps a comfy cushion and a Thai whiskey might have been more comfortable, but no way would it have been as exciting. The bridge rattled and shook as we drove over one at a time. My nerves were all on full alert as I realized there was NO way to stop the bike on the bridge, when you are going you have to keep going..... then you have a look around come back again, because you are on the wrong side of the river :)
The day after we left Mae Hong Son Massa's gear change broke and to be honest we were pretty much up the creek without a paddle. We ended up knocking his bike into third gear and we had to ride the next 30 kilometers into town with a combination of Massa slipping the clutch or revving the guts out of the engine in the run up to some seriously steep hills.
We got the gear change welded back onto the bike in the next major town and decided to stop for the night. The next day came and we set off in high spirits, that lasted until lunch time...
Approaching a small town there was a sign which we had come to recognize as meaning noodles, you have to get your priorities straight in this life!
We stopped and ate some fat noodles, (Thai food really is fantastic), and we were ready for the road again. We checked our packs and drove off.
2 minutes into the drive we were approaching the outskirts of the town on a long straight stretch of road which split into a fork. We took the left fork which led past a large concrete building and seemed like the main route. Just then a car came streaming out of a junction about 50 yards ahead of us. The driver had obviously not noticed us and when he did he panicked, braked and now covered both lanes of our road with his brand new Toyota.
Well that was great. Both Massa and myself stepped on the back brakes, my back wheel lost traction on the road surface and locked. I had no idea were Massa was except he was behind me. I tried to squeeze a little harder on the front brake, but could not shave off enough speed before I hit the drivers door and with the bike I slid underneath the car.
I had been told that when you encounter a difficult situation in Thailand you must stay calm and polite to win respect. So as I dragged out the bike I said "Sawadee Cap" (hello sir) and when I righted the bike I turned around to Wai (a small bow with hands together). Then I noticed I was looking at a special police officer's uniform. The driver who was covered in ribbons looked at me as if I was something he would avoid stepping in and then spent about 30 seconds checking the dent in his door. Without looking at me again he got back in the car and drove off.
I was staggered.
Massa and I checked the bike, it seemed OK. So off we went.
After about 50 K's we stopped for a drink and met this pair. The chap on the left spoke English, I explained what had happened. He told me he was surprised that I had not been arrested. So now I cheered up no end and we hit the road again.
Nothing else in the journey was quite as eventful and two days later we arrived back in Chang Mai to return the bikes.
I don't remember the name of the Thai who owned the bike shop, but he was a real gentleman. He did not hit the roof when he saw his imported and scratched machine. He simply shrugged and advised me in pretty good English to return the next day when he had stripped the bike and assessed the damage.
I did as he asked and the next day walked back to the workshop. My contact laid down the welding torch he had been using on a half motorbike / half car contraption, and he walked towards me smiling and shaking his head. I made a Wai then followed him to the bike I had returned the previous day. This now sat in pieces over the workshop floor.
Then my Thai friend showed me something which made my mouth go dry. One of the front forks on the bike had cracked when I hit the car. Luckily it had cracked far down and the crack would have been housed within the fork mount which held it to the front wheel. However, if I had hit a pot hole at speed or indeed attempted any hard riding, the crack could have come out of the sleeve, and may not have gone back in! I would have been driving a motorbike which had two wheels with very different ideas about which direction to go in. Given the mountain roads we had just come off, I thought it was probably best I did not know at the time.
So I thought it time for a different type of break, and headed off to Ko Pangang.