Pai, Mae Hong Son, Khun Yuam, Doi Inthanon ...

Where others plan every last detail of a trip, we often set off with little more than an idea of where we might like to go and change things up along the way.  Such was the case this last weekend, a busy holiday weekend at that.  My wife drove most of the way to Pai before I took over for the rest of the trip but having only taken a cursory look at the map before leaving we missed a turn near Chiang Dao and ended up adding time and kilometers to an already long drive on some very twisty mountain roads.

As one might expect there was no room at the inn and we ended up spending the night in a tent with Cookie.  Bringing Cookie along was very last minute.  We had arranged for someone to stay with her but we changed our minds the night before.  Settling into the tent after a long drive and a nice dinner, we chanced to looked up and saw the moon being eaten by the frog, as villagers here refer to an eclipse.  In Pai they called it something else so I guess it depends on where you are.
Adventure Pai.

Scenic Pai coffee shop.

Looking pretty in Pai.

As it turned out it was my wife’s first eclipse and her first night in a tent.  There was that tent-cabin in Big Sur a few years back but that doesn’t really count.  With other campers talking until almost 3am, the three of us had a fitful night’s sleep at best.  There was talk of spending another night in Pai but we opted for a road-trip and headed for Mae Hong Son after breakfast and sightseeing in Pai.  We made it as far as Khun Yuem before calling it a day.  By chance we stumbled upon a lovely remote hillside hotel at the end of a dirt road, where we had a much more comfortable night than the one before.
Photo Op at Doi Kiew Lom.

Nice Roads

Accommodation at Khun Yuem
Did you take the picture yet?
After the fog started to lift.

The owner promised us a sea of clouds in the morning but we were completely fogged in with no view at all until late morning.  One would normally follow the 108 to Mae Sariang from Khun Yuem but we noticed the 1263 cut hours off our drive to Doi Inthanon, which is where my wife wanted to go, and though why not.  While the roads to Pai and Mae Hong Son are notorious for their twists and turns, the backroad to Doi Inthanon was a real adventure.  Extremely remote, very steep and narrow, heavily potholed in areas and yet it was strangely exhilarating to drive.

We stumbled upon a group of Singaporeans taking the same route on a couple of BMWs and a KTM.  We visited at a crossroads and again on the top of Doi Inthanon.  On another section of road we came across a group of young farang volunteers who look after a herd of elephants for a UK based group called GVI.  They had spent the morning with the elephants and were walking back up the very steep road to where they lived.  I love these chance encounters one has on road-trips.
A Singaporean Photo Op.

All the way from Singapore.

All the way from Singapore.
My dream bike parked at Inthanon.

GVI volunteers returning after checking on the elephants.

GVI volunteers in the middle of nowhere.

Good old boys enjoying the warmth of friendship.

Mountain Villagers gathered for I no not what.
Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon
Looking pretty at Doi Inthanon.

Cookie was a hit wherever we stopped as people posed for pictures with her.  Her presence was a mixed blessing, however.  She was a little nervous the first day until she got used to the roads.  The best time for her was probably being up in the mountains with the windows open and the cold air filling her nose with exotic scents and keeping her cool.  In remote areas people were not bothered by her but as you got to a city like Chiang Mai, dogs were not often welcome.  If not for friends in Chiang Mai, themselves owners of a Golden Retriever, we would have been hard pressed to find someplace to spend the night.  Again Chiang Mai was an afterthought and we had not made any provisions for staying there.

Some people complain about the road to Pai but we loved it and the other mountain roads we drove.  The more remote the better as far as I am concerned.  This trip turned out be a road-trip and a survey of sorts.  We now have ideas for where we might like to go and spend some more time at a later date.  Next time we will probably leave Cookie at home where she will be more comfortable and less stressed.

In the end this was a trip of many firsts.  First long road-trip with Cookie.  First time to Pai, Mae Hong Son, Doi Inthanon and all the roads and points in between.  First night in a tent.  First lunar eclipse.  Longest stint behind the wheel for my wife.  I must say it was not our first time to feel relieved to finally be home.  That is a constant no matter where we go.