Friday, 28 February 2014

Day 206 - Mae Salong to Mae Sai, The Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen

Another early start to take a photo of the sunrise but since I could see it from my bungalow, I could go back to sleep a bit longer afterwards.
Once I got up and had breakfast, I first went to the Phra Boromathat Chedi and climbed up the stairs to the top for some exercise and to enjoy the view. This would certainly make a good spot to see the sunrise from.

Since my plan was to go all the way to Chiang Rai via the long mountain roads and by stopping at the Golden Triangle, it meant I could not visit anything else in Mae Salong but did manage to see the market on my bike and take some photos. It looks like a very nice place and certainly worth spending more time there, a bit more touristy than Doi Angkhang but it is not bad.

The roads were again great, fantastic views over the tea plantations and across the mountains and valleys, through smaller and larger towns to a tiny road one could almost miss. And miss I did it at first but lucky I was not too far off when I discovered it so didn't lose too much time but gained some nice photos.
This road was full of potholes, partly unpaved and under construction, very narrow and quite steep in places but I hugely enjoyed it and when I finally made it to the main road, I almost wanted to turn back and go again.

Still, there was more road in front of me to cover but I decided to stop at the Mae Sai Arboretum for a quick break. The arboretum is certainly worth a visit and it made my quick break very enjoyable by also providing some nice views across the nearby mountains. On my way out, some of the local sellers invited me to try some of the wines and juices they made in the region (strawberry, grapes, lychee and apple) all were very nice and if I had a car instead of a motorbike, I might have filled up the trunk with a few bottles.

A few security checkpoints and a road side lunch break later, I got into Mae Sai and was just in front of the border to Myanmar, since my passport was at the bike rental place, I could not really cross over for a quick visit so instead visited the Wat Phra That Doi Wao temple. This provided me with at least some views across the border and into Myanmar.

Then came a slight miscalculation on my part as I forgot about the Golden Triangle not actually being on the road to Chiang Rai but requiring a 35km detour. This made Chiang Rai a bit too far to comfortably reach, especially after I stopped for a coffee break before realizing this.

Still, I could just head straight to Chiang Rai but miss out on the Golden Triangle or go to the Golden Triangle, take my time and rush it a bit to Chiang Rai or drive in the evening there.
The Golden Triangle was well worth the extra detour as it provides very nice views of the Mekong and into Laos and Myanmar although by the time I got there I could not visit any of the Opium museums.

The way to Chiang Rai lead through Chiang Saen and while driving through I realized it seemed like a nice city right by the Mekong with quite a few old temples and ruins. Determined to reach Chiang Rai before the evening however, I did not spend much time sightseeing.
I was already out of Chiang Saen when I decided it's best to turn around and stop there for the night.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Day 205 - From Doi Angkhang to Mae Salong

I woke up early to go and take some photos of the sunset from around the small villages near Doi Angkhang. There as a dedicated sunset spot on the map but after stopping there briefly, I felt it did  not provide nice enough views and was full of Thai tourists.

In order to try and get a better view I headed to Ban Nor Lae, this came as a recommendation and indeed it was well worth and a much better choice.

On my way back to Doi Angkhang to pick up my bag and a passenger for Fang, I did make a quick loop around the Royal Angkhang Research Station (kind of an arboretum). This is well worth seeing and probably spending a lot more time there.

The road to Fang was fantastic and offered some great views while going down a very steep road full of sharp corners, turning the engine off and just rolling down made it even more enjoyable.

Just before getting to the main road to Fang, we came upon a sign for 'The First Royal Factory at Fang The Museum' and decided to go and have a quick look. It turned out to be a very good idea, not only was the museum very nice but the guide there was very enthusiastic and also very happy to see foreigners and made our visit a real pleasure. I can fully recommend you go and visit this museum if you're in the area, it's a very interesting and nice place.

After parting ways in Fang, I continued on alone to Thaton to visit Wat Thaton and get lunch.
Wat Thaton is on a hill overlooking the city and has different levels, all with a different statue or stupa. The top has the main temple and great views of the surrounding landscape.

From Thaton it was another nice ride along the mountains and across rice fields till I arrived in Mae Salong. Mae Salong is a relatively small town in the mountains surrounded by tea plantations and full of Chinese restaurants and tea shops. In a way it feels almost like a town in China so it's quite an interesting visit.

Tomorrow, I'll set off along the long road over the mountains and close to the Myanmar border to get to Mae Sai and from there to Chian Rain via the Golden Triangle. It will be a long journey but should provide some great views and be fun to ride on the bike there.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Day 204 - The Road to Doi Angkhang

Despite me planning and trying to leave Chiang Mai early in the morning, by the time I was on my bike and heading out of town it was close to noon. While not ideal, the road was good and Doi Angkhang was not too far to comfortably make it there before sunset.

The first part of the road there was rather boring without much to see, it all got a lot more interesting once I turned off to visit the Chiang Dao cave.

The Chiang Dao mountain itself is quite nice as is the landscape around it, the main attraction however is the cave and temple inside it at the base of the mountain.
The cave and temple are free to visit, you get charged an 'electricity fee' however for the lights inside the cave.

Still, the cave itself is very nice and the temple built inside is very nice. If you head further inside the cave you can explore a few parts on your own if you have a flashlight (or mobile phone with a flashlight app in my case), despite the warnings not to or to do so at your own risk.

After visiting the cave it as time to head onward to Doi Angkhang, there were two different ways to choose from, a sorter and faster route via Fang and a slower, more winding and longer way via route 1178. You can guess which one I went for. :)

The road was great with lots of sharp corners, winding along the mountains next to the Myanmar border, passing by military checkpoints and through small towns. The Honda Wave I rented struggled with some of the climbs and I was not all that confident of the squeaky brakes but the views made it all worth it and the slow pace actually helped me enjoy and appreciate the scenery more.
If I would do a 'best roads in the world' series I would certainly put this one on the list. Online people seem to discourage self driving on these roads but unless you absolutely have to race through, it should pose no problem as there's very little traffic but it's a great journey.

I enjoyed the scenery too much and due to the slower pace on going uphill with the bike, I only just about managed to arrive in Doi Angkhang before sunset.
While I hoped to explore the town a bit, after I checked in and had dinner, everything was closed so I turned in for an early night.