I took the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, boarding the cabin around 8:30 pm. For me this worked perfectly. I got to travel and a place to stay in one ticket. It was also only about 700 baht, which was pretty cheap. For a bit, I felt like I was in a Wes Anderson film as the lady boy train attendant decided to use my train cell as the location to charge her phone and put their hot water boiler. We were kind of fighting for plug space during the trip. I arrived in the morning and enjoyed looking at the small villages and jungles on the way to town. We were delayed by an hour and half some how. I hear Thai trains are notoriously late, so don’t do it if you have a deadline to make.
I jumped off the train and with all my gear hiked my way about 45 minutes to where my friend Sophie, whom I met in Koh Lanta, was staying. We connected and immediately headed to the scooter shop where the Dutch guy hooked us up because she was dutch too. We jumped on our bikes and headed out to start the long version of the Mae Hong Son Loop. It was fun following a map only with no books or really much internet.
It was a week long trip where we took our time through the mountains and jungle. We veered off the path often, and trekked into a few places off the map. Some places had sketchy vibes though, so it is not fully advised. You also have to be careful in certain remote villages near Myanmar as there are bandits and such. The roads are also often piss poor and you are off roading it. To begin the trip, we passed through the Don Ithanon national park of Thailand. It was stunning and full of beautiful waterfalls. I think it was my favorite national park I visited along the route. We also rode up to the highest peak in Thailand and were thoroughly disappointed with the shitty view… but I had some amazing BBQ chicken for 60 baht, so there’s that?
There are also a few temples you can see with many beautiful gardens. I honestly didn’t feel too much spiritual vibes as it felt more like a tourist attraction than anything else. It was kind of like a holy disney land vibe… I’ve definitely been to more moving temples here. Aesthetically though, they looked good.
The south part of the journey was interesting. It is not well developed so there isn’t much to do outside of countryside and nature attractions here and there. In Mae Chaem we stopped and found almost the entire tiny city was booked. As it grew dark we thank god found one house available but way overpaid because there were 4 beds in it. Of course there was no functioning hot water and it was freezing in the mountains. You could also see through the walls because they were just kind of wood planks with a thatch roof. This is typical Thai construction… very minimal. SO we spent most nights freezing. I also think only half the time there was hot water and there was nowhere to do laundry publicly really. The south was definitely a distinct and unique experience that helped me further appreciate the little things the post industrialized world takes for granted.
An interesting pass time for us in Mae Chaem was a rare carnival. I finally saw my first Muay Thai fight. The night was chilly and the masses of people were thick. The crowd around the ring was mostly drunk dudes there though and it felt a bit sleazy. I’m also sure a dude was masturbating next to my friend and she didn’t realize it… The things people get off on, you know??? At least she didn’t put two and two together at the time…
The entire route was pretty remote until we reached Mae Hong Son. Then we saw our first tourist we hadn’t seen in about 4 days. While in the remote areas, we saw a terrific temple hidden in a peak and a small village town where I got to see the local indigenous women craft the clothes that are sold in all of the markets. All these bits are off the main road and it will require some guts, passion and desire to adventure. I mean, who wants to be told where everything is, right?
In Mae Hong Son we took a day trip to see the Karen tribe. They are an ethnic minority from Burma that was tortured after the independence into Myanmar. The children in the villages near the border are now grown and stuck between refugee and Thai national status, being neither. They make their money selling their goods to tourists. I was super supportive and connected with Wer Way, a woman in the village. Her sister was in the refugee camp for awhile and made it to Dallas, Texas where she now lives with her new family. I told her my biological father was from Laos and in a refugee camp too. He also ended up in Dallas, Texas… where I was born! We connected I think, which was cool. She also spoke English, which was fantastic. We hadn’t run into someone that spoke English in like 4 days. I bought some leg bracelets and the village ladies giggled at me. I was told in 20 years, I was the first tourist into it. Ha! Of course it was me. I didn’t give a fuck and rocked them (and still do).
After Mae Hong Son, we moved on. My favorite stay was in a remote city around the outskirts of any real big city. I personally adore the local cultures and want to be immersed in them. As a tourist I don’t feel entitled to anything, and am only grateful to be able to accepted into another culture… unlike other people *ahem* you know who you are… and I don’t like you. Anyway, there are a ton of caves on the northern side of the loop and of course, more waterfalls and spots to jump. I pulled off onto the side of the road at some point to take a picture and noticed a monk doing laundry. He was tattooed head to toe. He even had fresh black ink over some mega faded ones. If only I could have heard some of his stories…
My favorite cave we went to has now been abandoned. We still went up there and it was populated with several ancient coffins. The wood has been dated to be at least 3000 years old. It was an easy hike up, although precarious over weird bridges and some railings held together with… rope tied to the end of a rock… yeah.
After all I had seen with about a week of traveling by motorbike, I was pretty bored with Pai when we arrived. Tired, and looking to rest I just drove the rest of the way back to Chiang Mai solo. I saw a tourist take a curve too fast and slide. Luckily he was covered, unlike tons of other tourists. I personally kept covered with my denim jacket and pants and helmet. Saftey first… especially when you are racing down mountain curves, off roading on mountain sides, going 100 km/hr on the highway and then splitting all the lanes in traffic, including the gap between opposing traffic.
I arrived before dark exhausted and covered in dust. This entire day all I have done is enjoy the pool here in Chiang Mai. It’s almost like a culture shock though. I have never been so excited for a clean restroom with decent water pressure and hot water. I flipped out when he told me there was a pool AND most importantly a washer AND dryer I could use. I also felt weird around so many white people after being out in the sticks for awhile. Overall, I feel blessed more than ever. I started working on my art series and chilled by the pool all fucking day. It’s important to rest… before I’m onward to the next adventure.