Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Road Trip. Show all posts

To Pai, Mae Chaem, Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai and Home …

As I said, we came down the mountain in near zero visibility and though it was a relief to be able to see again, my hopes for clear skies and perfect conditions for taking pictures never materialized.  Still I like driving on cloudy days.  The soft muted light which dulls photos is strangely seductive for me when driving long distances.

At the bottom of the mountain we rejoined the 107, following it all the way to Mae Taeng where we turned right onto the 1095 heading toward Pai.  People complain about the many tight turns and rough conditions on the road to Pai, and sure there are accidents every year, but I can’t help but think there would be more if the road were in better shape.  People drive too fast as it is, so a better road surface would only encourage greater speed.  

It is probably a good idea to take a coffee break along the way and there is no shortage of places to stop.  Baan Pa Pae was the place we chose to stop at and it was a lovely place perched on the side of the road.  Looking out near the tops of the trees one got the feeling of being suspended high in the canopy and the wet misty conditions only made it more romantic.

For me the drive is perhaps the greatest attraction on these trips and destinations provide a direction to travel and places to rest up before continuing down the road.  Arriving in Pai we set about searching for a place to stay.  Enquiring at several places, we found some were full and others just a bit overpriced.  My wife, with the aid of her iPhone, kept looking until she found a really nice place right on the river and close enough to the walking street that we had no more need to drive that night.

We enjoyed walking up and down the street, eating, shopping, people watching and topped it off with a massage.  There was even a parade with everyone being invited to a local temple for a traditional Pai celebration of the end of Buddhist Lent.

In the morning, after breakfast, we continued on through Mae Hong Son where the road turned into the 108, headed for Khun Yuam.  We had intended on staying at the same place we stayed last time we were in Khun Yuam but when we drove up, the place looked deserted and not as inviting as before.  We made a quick, yet reluctant, decision to keep driving.

We turned off the 108 onto the 1263, hoping to find a place to stay on the way to Mae Chaem.  This road was the worst of our trip with many potholes, so our progress was slow.  There were roadside signs for a place to stay so we stopped to check it out, finding an Australian biker already there, drying out after a wet cold day on the bike.  I talked with him while my wife inspected the room and found it not to her liking.

Even in the dimming light, there was nothing for it but to continue on to Mae Chaem where we assumed there would be a better selection of rooms.  It was quite dark by the time we made it to Mae Chaem, which made finding a place to stay that much more difficult.  Stopping at a market to eat, we asked one of the vendors for suggestions.  She directed us to what she assured us was the best place in town.

Turns out she was right, but to my wife’s great disappointment, the four lovely bungalows were all taken and we had to look elsewhere.  Just down the road we found a place, not nearly as nice, but it would have to do.  We needed to get some rest before tackling the next section of road.

In the dark the night before, the 1263 had turned into the 1088 and now we were to take on the 1192/1009.  This is twenty kilometers of torturously steep, narrow and twisty road with blind switchbacks and signs warning you to honk your horn before proceeding around these bends.  I have done this road before and know the risks, so I settled in behind a local truck and followed him up the road, allowing him to run interference for me.

You come out just inside the main entrance to Doi Inthanon Park, half way up the mountain, on a road labeled 1284 and turn left to continue up a very nice road to the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 2565 meters above sea level.  I suppose it would be nice to visit the mountain on a perfectly clear day, have great views and take amazing photos but every time I have been on the mountain it has been cold and misty.

So this visit felt very familiar, though a little more wet than usual.  Still by being patient I did get a few pictures when the mist parted momentarily.  My wife got a lot more shots with her iPhone because I was too worried about getting my camera wet.  After taking in the sites we headed down the mountain and turned left onto the 108 for Chiang Mai.

Typically we go to Chiang Mai to visit a good friend when she flies up from Bangkok to visit her parents.  She not only spoils us with a lovely place to stay but she drives us around to interesting places we would never find on our own.  Without her we are a bit lost so thought we would find a hotel close to the weekend walking street.  Somehow I thought it was held on Saturday but I was off by one day so our conveniently located Hotel M on the corner ended up not being quite so convenient.

The room was quite small but we had a very good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast downstairs at the Coffee Club, on the corner of Rajadamnoen Road.  We were eager to check out the new shopping mall Pramenada on the outskirts of Chiang Mai but in spite of a great meal at Duke’s, we left disappointed with the shopping experience.  Before heading home the next day we had to make a stop at the old Airport Plaza Shopping Mall to look for things my wife couldn’t find at the Pramenada.

The drive home from Chiang Mai on the 118 was uneventful but pleasant and we got home just before dark.  It had been a wonderful trip and a great break from our routines but it was really great to be back home, to see Cookie and sleep in our own bed.

Baan Pa Pae for coffee on the way to Pai.

The Pai River next to our hotel.

Hotel in Pai.

View from our balcony.

Inside our room.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The highest point on Doi Inthanon.

A shot of the gardens on Doi Inthanon.

Classic shot of one pavilion taken from the other.

Closeup of the other pavilion. 

The Coffee Club.

Our room in Chiang Mai.

Driving Mountain Roads in Northern Thailand …

Chiang Rai is a great staging point for exploring Northern Thailand.  The options for day trips are many and include places like Mae Salong, Doi Tung, Mae Sai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, Pha Tang, Phu Chi Fa, Phu Sang Waterfall, Phayao, and many other interesting destinations in and around Chiang Rai.

Occasionally one feels the need to travel further afield, as we did this last week.  Taking advantage of my wife being on holiday from her university studies, we decided it had been too long since we had been to Pai and beyond.  So we arranged for family to watch the house and dogs, packed up the Fortuner and off we went.  We covered a total of 1167 torturous but beautiful kilometers and went from 365 meters at home to 2565 meters above sea level on top of Doi Inthanon.

First we headed to town and then off in the direction of Chiang Mai.  At Mae Suai we turned right onto the 109 headed for Fang.  Our first stop was to visit friends in Fang on the 107.  Visit complete, we continued on the 107 to our first destination, Doi Angkhang high in the mountains.

It is quite a steep and twisty climb up the mountain but that is exactly what I was looking for on this trip.  We arrived in time to search around for a place to stay.  Things had changed a lot since the last time I had been up there so we needed to checkout the options.  The cottages located inside the park were full and we didn’t feel like staying in budget accommodation, so fortunately we found a room at the Angkhang Nature Resort.

There were a surprising number of people with the same idea we had of missing the winter crowds, but we were fortunate enough to get a very nice room for 1600 baht.  Most of the visitors were Thai families but the second day a number of French tourists checked into our hotel.  When the temperature dropped to 10 at night we were glad to find the switch for the thermal pad built into the bed, and were soon all toasty and comfortable for the rest of the night.  We liked the place so much we extended our stay one more day.

We got up early the first morning, to try our luck at catching the sunrise from a popular mountain top viewing point.  The sunrise was not great but it was still and interesting experience with all the people milling around and my wife bought some small gifts from the girls selling handicrafts.

After a wonderful breakfast back at the hotel, we walked the three kilometer loop through the park exploring every display and side trail.  They were busy getting things ready for the winter rush, planting strawberries and flowers.  Still it was very lush and green after all the rain we have had this year.  The fruit trees were eerie looking stick figures, far bigger than I remember from my last visit.

Later in the day we drove to Ban Nor-Lae to look from the Thai military camp over into the Burmese encampment on the opposite hilltop.  Later we went to Ban Khop Dong which turns out to be a very appropriate name for the village, with their little shacks perch on the cliff edge above the basket like valley and their terraced farms.

After our second night at Angkhang Nature Resort, we got up early and hit the road for Pai.  Overnight the remnants of a tropical storm had settled over Thailand and we found ourselves shrouded in cloud and mist as we headed down with nearly zero visibility, at least until we were better than halfway down the mountain.

As it turned out the sun didn’t come out for the rest of our trip but somehow I enjoyed the misty forests and cool weather.  Even with limited photographic opportunities, I still came home with a couple hundred shots.  I was merciless and soon pared that down by half when I returned home.

In part two I will cover Pai and beyond but for now I want to share some photos from Doi Angkhang.
Angkhang Nature Resort

Our accommodation.

Enjoying the view from the balcony.
The sunrise scene.

Our view during breakfast.

Planting the terraces for the peak winter season.

Budget accommodation back on the hillside.

In the peach grove.

Vegetables in front and peach trees across the road.

Time for a lunch break.

More flowers.

Looking across into Burma.

Weaving scarves for sale.

I think you can guess which one I would choose.

Buying avocados.

Handicrafts for sale.

Khop Dong Village

A Post Trip Review…

When one finally reaches that last leg of a journey, the heart is filled with joy and the anticipation of returning to the ease and comfort of home.  A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, at having safely completed the journey, washes over you.  It is a heady mix of feelings, with recent events and all the imagery and emotion they conjure still vividly present, while the comforts of home bring forth a sigh of contentment and well-being.

For a while one is busy with routines of post trip recovery and cleanup.  For me it is not long, it seems, before memories of the open road come flooding back with sometimes confusing results.  Of course I am glad to be home but the comfort of this place provides fertile ground for daydreams, reliving highlights and provoking a thirst for more.  I find myself longing for another adventure while I am yet to catch up from the last one.  Sounds greedy I suppose, always wanting more, when I already have so much.

I know I need to get back on the mountain bike but the recent climb in temperature and my post trip blues leave me lacking in motivation.  It was good I had time to write most of the blog report on the road, otherwise this post trip funk may have dulled my desire and that window of opportunity for writing could have past unheeded.  While I am aware a more proactive approach would quickly banish this emotional malaise, there is a part of me which enjoys wallowing in it, so I linger for a time examining my feelings and making little effort to curtail them.

On first glance one sees but a calm reflective surface, like a lake devoid of even the slightest breeze or disturbance.  Deep in the heart of that lake there is, however, a turbulent ebb and flow of emotion, mostly joyful but punctuated at times with melancholy, as I contemplate what the future holds for me and others.  I have chosen the path not of activist or provocateur but of observer and chronicler of what I see and feel.

Consciously stepping away from the negativity of those who warn of the pitfalls and foibles of life in Thailand, I try to write of other things.  I never know what will inspire the next post, and that is not always a comfortable place to be, but I guess it is part of what keeps it interesting for me.  So until inspiration next comes knocking upon my door, I hope you all have your own adventures be they big or small, and have enjoyed traveling with me on my recent road trip.

Map of Road Trip 2013

Here is a map of the trip for my map friends.  This was done after the fact so may not be our exact route.  I made a couple of wrong turns along the way that are probably not on the map.  I have a few places marked and I found it fun to zoom in and see how detailed the Google Map is in the area.

View Road Trip 2013 in a larger map

Road Trip Part 4, Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park …

To be honest, after my horrible choice of roads to begin the trip, I let my wife do most of the navigating and searching out of destinations and accommodation, while I held forth as the driver extraordinaire.  After wrapping up family obligations in Nong Wua So, she decided on a route to our next destination, a national park I had never heard of.  With the midday temperature rising and the scenery becoming less interesting by the mile, I began to wonder about this place we were headed to.

Suddenly we began to climb out of the heat, into the cool lush mountains.  The road was wonderful and only surpassed by the ever improving view as we climbed onward and upward.  Near the bottom of the mountain was the park entrance.  The sign clearly said foreigners were to pay 200 baht but I gave my driver’s license to my wife to obtain what is usually a 50% discount.  She returned having paid 110 baht, (30 for the car and 40 each for two adults).  Whether they didn’t see me or didn’t care, I don’t know but it did work in my favor.

By the time we reached the top I was in heaven.  It was beautiful, there was a chill in the air and there was renewed vigor in my step.  Stopping at the Visitor Center we enquired about activities and accommodation.  The official on duty was fun and charming, so we took his recommendation of a lovely villa on the edge of the housing area and he offered us a 30% discount off the published rate of 1000 baht.  It was a huge room, well worth the price, rustically appointed with a high lofted ceiling and four single beds pushed together to make two large beds.  The beds were rock hard but I still slept amazingly well.

Not wanting to waste the remaining daylight we set out to explore as much as we could before the sun set.  We stopped for a few pictures at what used to be a reeducation school after the communists were defeated in the area.  From there we drove up to one of the several mountain tops, Phu Hin Rong Kla, at around 1600 meters above sea level.  Phu Phangma, Phu Lomlo, and Phu Man Khao are a few of the other peaks in the area, reaching as high as 1800 meters.

It was approaching six o'clock when we pulled into Lan Hin Pum parking area and we wondered if the hike was doable before dark.  A returning family said it took them one hour to make the loop and at that pace we had our doubts about setting out on a rough, unfamiliar trail without flashlights and the distinct chance of ending our walk in the dark.  In the parking lot we were approached by a young Thai couple in their late twenties.  They were eager to make the hike, but were afraid to do it on their own, so asked if they could tag along with us.

We told them they could join us but that we wouldn’t be waiting around for them.  It would up to them to catch up with us on the trail.  I have to admit to having my doubts as to whether they would follow or not.  After all, they weren’t the most rugged outdoor looking people we have ever encountered.  We hoped to at least get to a view point before the sun set, in order to get some photographs so didn’t waist any time hitting the trail. 

Our timing was perfect in the end.  Our new friends caught up with us and everyone got some photos to mark the occasion.  After watching the sunset, no one wanted to turn back so we picked up the pace once again and finished the loop just as it was beginning to get really dark.  It took us maybe 40 minutes to complete the loop, even with all the time we spent watching and photographing the sunset.

We talked our new friends into staying in the park that night, instead of going back down the mountain as they had planned, and we all had dinner together at the local restaurant.  We ate and talked until the staff began turning off the lights, in a not so subtle gesture, signifying their desire to go home even though our conversation was in full flow.  It was getting late and cold so their timing was appreciated, with us feeling grateful in the end for a hot shower and a warm bed.

We went for breakfast on our own in the morning where I struck up a conversation with another couple who I had noticed camping only a hundred meters or so from our villa.  They had a Chonburi license on their truck so we discussed where they had been and I admired his Canon 60D camera.  Soon it was time to take one more short hike before heading home. 

Lan Hin Taek is not a long hike but it is not for the clumsy or accident prone.  The terrain is broken and the gaping crevasses are spanned in strategic places by the flimsiest of wooden bridges, with no railings.  Still it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the mountain before heading home.

While my only interest was in the beauty of the place, their is a great deal of military history to this park, as well.  Google, Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, for more information.  It was a communist stronghold from 1968 to 1972 and it wasn’t until after they were defeated that the park was founded in 1984, as the 48th national park in Thailand.

The drive home was around 500 km of pleasant and comfortable driving in our new Fortuner, which got us home just as it was getting dark.  As usual it really felt good to get home.  After a few days rest at home my wife is now down in Bangkok for a visit with a friend from Hawaii and some time with her Bangkok friends.  All to soon she will be back to her classwork so it is important to make as much of this break as possible.
Fall colors in the forest.
Visitor Center
Road up the mountain.
Road up to 1600 meters.

Excellent dirt road to the top.
View of the parking area from the top.

View from 1600 meters.

Reeducation school area with a few Maple leaves left for our enjoyment.
Beginning our sunset hike.

On the trail.

Lending a little support.

Enjoying the view.

Sunset at Lan Hin Pum.

Sunset photo op with new friends.
The trail to the lookout.

Parking by the front door.

View from the front door.

Our accommodation for the night.

Camping area.


Lan Hin Taek trail

Finding our way.

Amazing rocks and crevasses.

More unusual rock formations.

A view for Lan Hin Taek.
The memorial at the beginning of the trail.