Showing posts with label Driving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Driving. Show all posts

Pha Dai on the Mekong River...

Having posted pictures of Pha Dai sometime before, I was reluctant to do so again.  I believe there is even a marker on my map.  It was a long time ago, however, and we had such a nice time there yesterday that I just could not resist.  It started off very overcast, plus it was late afternoon so I wasn’t confident that I would capture any decent images.  A zoom would have made things much easier but you make do with what you have.  In the end the weather was more cooperative than I had expected.

The 75 kilometer drive to Pha Dai is a little easier these days as most of the road has been repaired but it is still quite narrow as one continues on past Wiang Kaen, heading to the Eastern most point in Northern Thailand.  Arriving at Pha Dai there is a lovely little park and restaurant overlooking the Mekong River and Laos.  It is a bit of a long walk down to the waters edge this time of year.  The not so mighty Mekong was in a picturesque and docile mood with bold rock formations jutting from the gently swirling surface of the water, while the combination of boulders and fine powdery sandbanks made walking a struggle at times. 

With just a little effort you can make it down to the main channel and enjoy watching the fishermen in their tiny boats tending nets and navigating between the rocks.  While I was photographing nature my wife and her sister were photographing each other, jumping in the air, writing in the sand and generally have a good time doing whatever made them happy.  No doubt those shots will end up on my wife's Facebook page.

Being a bit off the beaten track one is unlikely to come across any western tourists at Pha Dai.  Those who take the river to Luang Prabang pass by Pha Dai without so much as a glance one might suspect.  There have always been a few Thai families whenever we have visited, though.  For us it is just one of many lovely places we have found on our explorations of this beautiful place we live.

I wasn't going to post this but it was just so cute and so Thai.

Mekong River and Rai Saeng Arun ...

The heat has been oppressive lately and yesterday was no exception.  Still my wife thought it might be nice to take a drive along the Mekong River.  From our house we headed Northeast along the mountains toward Chiang Khong, then we stuck to the river all the way to a small resort called Rai Saeng Arun, a drive of 78 km.

It is not the best time of year for sightseeing but still it was a pleasant drive with my wife at the wheel.  The resort was deserted and their gardens were not at their peak but I took a few photos anyway.  They grow their own strawberries so we had fresh strawberry smoothies before we left.

People look to be developing small scenic rest stops along the river and we stopped at one to use their facilities and take some pictures on our way to  Rai Saeng Arun.  There was even a quaint riverside beach far below the vantage point.  That is Laos on the other side of the river.

Anyway, this is a day for pictures, not for writing.

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.

Road Trip to Nan in Northern Thailand ...

Pick a road, any road, and you are on your way to adventure, if you are visiting Nan, a remote town in the north of Thailand.  We drove through Nan on our way home last year and I liked the roads enough I wanted to return and collect a few more this year.  So that is what we did.

The wife had been feeling guilty, I guess, and suggested we take a little trip.  Overlapping funerals and village activities had kept her busy since I got back.  That left me alone at home taking care of Cookie and the house much of the time.  Best not to leave the house empty when the entire village is off at a funeral.  You may come home to an empty house.

It looked like there might be a couple of days with nothing pressing, providing a small window of opportunity to take a short trip together.  Soon the harvest will start and there will be no one to watch the house and take care of Cookie.  Actually we returned from our trip to find the harvesters in full swing and several fields done.  Maps were perused and plans made, just to be informed the night before we left there had been another death in the village, the sixth in two months.  This gentleman's wife had passed only a couple of weeks before and I guess he decided there wasn’t much left to live for.  In the end we decided to go anyway.  One of those now or never scenarios.

From our home in Phaya Mengrai the difference in mileage to Chiang Mai or to Nan is not enough to bother mentioning.  It does take a bit longer to get to Nan, because of the roads, but then again the roads are a major draw to the area.  Some say they are the best motorcycle roads in Thailand.

With my wife’s driving continuing to improve but needing practice, we agreed that she should start off the drive to Nan, to get more experience on the open roads.  In the end she drove all the way there, 220 km.  Perhaps I could have gotten us there in a more timely manner but time was not an issue on the day.

Arriving in time for lunch, we found a place right across the street from Hot Bread, a place some bikers swear to as the best breakfast stop.  We ate at a Thai place opposite, which unfortunately wasn’t great.  Then again it could have been that we ordered the wrong dishes.  From there we walked around a nearby temple, bought a painting, gathered information and maps from the tourist information booth and took some pictures.
A hot breakfast spot.

A late lunch.


Buying a painting.



We settled on the Dhevaraj for our hotel and after a shower and a nap we walked through the street vendors down to the river for some dinner.  This weekend Nan is having its annual boat races so there were dozens of boats practicing on the river.  We arrived a little late for any good photos as the sun had already set but we snapped away regardless.  Again the food was not great but the atmosphere was electric with the teams in pitched battles and their rhythmic chanting serenading our meal as they sought to synchronize their strokes and increase their cadence.
Returning to the start point.

Practice for Nan Boat Race.

On our arrival at the hotel parking lot, I had noticed a group of five Kawasaki motorcycles that I took for rentals.  Later on the river and again at breakfast I noticed a mixed group of farang couples, individuals and a Thai girl.  The numbers didn’t add up but I was sure they were connected to those bikes.  It ended up being a motorcycle tour with one couple riding two up on a Versys, the others on ER-6n’s and a support vehicle driven by the farang guide’s girlfriend or wife.  They left before us but we crossed paths several more times during the day.
Motorbike tour group.
Bo Kluea.

Making salt.

To increase our flexibility we checked out of our hotel before leaving, even though we were planning a two night trip.  After filling up the tank we crossed over the bridge and headed north on the 1169 and 1081 toward Bo Kluea.  Alternately one can take the 1168 to Mae Charim and follow on to the 1225, 1257 and the 1081.  Leaving town the roads are narrow with houses built right up to the road, leaving barely enough room to park a bike and no room at all for a car or truck.  Before long things open up and you are driving twisty, tree lined, sun dappled roads headed for the mountains where the roads really open up.
Nan roads, a biker's dream.

Nan curves.

On a particularly mountainous section between Bo Kluea and Pua there were warning signs that the road was washed out but it didn’t say impassable, so we continued.  You know those floods they are experiencing down in Bangkok and the central plains, well the water had to come from somewhere.  On our drive we saw plenty of evidence that a good portion of that water had fallen in these mountains during the exceptionally wet rainy season that we experienced up north.
That sinking feeling. 

Road damage.

Coming down out of the mountains we saw signs advertising a restaurant several kilometers ahead so kept an eye open hoping to stop for a late lunch.  Pretty much in the middle of nowhere but it was by far the best meal we had on our short trip.  Weighing the options of returning to Nan and spending another night doing the same things we did the night before or returning home to sleep in our own bed and being with Cookie, home won out.  I wouldn’t want to drive the 1148 at night but we made it through that beautiful drive with a lovely afternoon light, making it home just as it got dark.  It made for a long day of driving but we were both glad to get home, feeling that two days had been enough of a break.

After this familiarization trip, I am feeling more confident about my plans for a solo ride on the Ninja after it gets a little cooler.  For more photos from this trip go to Nan Trip Nov. 2011 on my Google+ page.
Route Map on Google

View Nan Trip in a larger map