A record of cycling the Mae Hong Son Loop: part one
Monday 14th December
At 7.40 this morning we said goodbye to the house that had been lent to us in Mae Rim, and hit the road, aiming for the 1095 which would take us up into the mountains and on our way to Pai.
The road went from flat, to undulating, to rolling, to “Yep, this is it!” What should have been a nice warmup hill was made a lot harder by roadworks. The builders were in the middle of redoing the tarmac and had stripped the surface away. We rode up compacted wet mud, our tyres slipping on the steepest parts. Eric did a heroic job of keeping the bike upright.
Wet mud road.
After about 3KM we reached a brief plateau, and the tarmac made an extremely welcome reappearance. Now feeling much more cheerful, we hit the next incline and on we went.
By 11.30 we had reached our target destination for the day, a place called Everest Resort, which I had read about on somebody elses’ blog. We knew it was up a steep hill, but we hadn’t bargained on just how vertical it was going to be. We were off the bike, our shoulders to the handlebars, cursing the world. For 500 metres we trudged, only to find – most painfully – that the place was shut.
Tired and dismayed, we walked the bike back down the hill, and I reached the main road with a slight case of jelly-legs. After a break chatting to some Swiss motorcyclists and a generous roadside snack I felt better.
Our backup hotel was another 14KM on, but we had decided to just ask around to see if we could find somewhere closer. We got back on the bike, turned the corner, asked a lady at a coffee bar and… found a resort right there (called the Nipawan). Excellent.
Then I did the best haggling I have ever done. The room was 1000 baht (£20) but I made a worried face and asked for 500. The lady just said “OK” right away. I was so surprised that I repeated myself to make sure they had heard. 50% off without even blinking!
We were taken to a little cabin up in the hills. It’s quite lovely here. I almost felt a bit guilty for not paying 1000 baht, but Eric somewhat made up for it by having two dinners this evening at the resort restaurant. Well done Eric.
After a luxurious 9 and a half hours of sleep we were on the road by 7.45. The temperature this morning was a cool 10 degrees, rising to about 28 as the day went on. We have been quite amused to see lots of Thai people wrapped up in coats, gloves, scarfs and hats when it’s something like 20 degrees (this is winter for Thailand), but I suppose that when people from places like Iceland visit the UK they snigger at us wrapping up too!
We had two climbs today, which eventually took us up to about 1400 metres. For the most part it wasn’t too steep. The road quality was generally good with the odd very bad bit. The worst thing (aside from the 4 hour ascent) was the dust thrown up by passing cars.
We gained enough height to start seeing the views today.
The viewpoint as we stopped for an elevensies ice cream.
A few weeks back Eric (having an “I am a MAN!!!” moment) declared that he would never swerve for an animal. Today he carefully dodged caterpillars as we cycled up the hillside.
At 12.30 we finally started descending, and once again realised the joy of traveling on wheels.
After a roadside lunch we trundled up and down the last few hills to Pai, a reputed hippy hangout which some people love and some people disdain as being overrun by tourists.
Passing through the market on our way to our hotel.
After going out to Pai Walking Street to find some dinner, I think I am in the “I love Pai” camp. We wandered past the eclectic rows of indie-style souvenir shops, where folksy singers were performing every hundred metres. The street was busy, but the atmosphere was very calm and friendly. There were a lot of westerners around, but I guess I can’t complain as I am after all one of them!
Wednesday 16th December
Today we took a day off to rest and see a bit of Pai.
You can go and see various tourist spots by hiring a scooter or taking a taxi a few kilometres out of town… but Pai is also a very good place to wander round and eat things, so that’s what we did.
Pai has lots of hippy-like people… though I guess as somebody who is touring south east Asia on a tandem bicycle, spent the summer practicing a ukulele and didn’t use shampoo for 6 months, I need to take a good long look in the mirror before I start using the “h” word on others.
Feeling a bit looser, we took a very short walk by the river (we had just eaten, mustn’t overdo it).