Being on the road again is just fabulous. I had forgotten though how absolutely exhausting it can be; in a noisy old car in the heat, humidity, rain, traffic, cramped conditions and at times treacherous road conditions.
I do though so love driving along in an open car smelling cooking rice wafting from within the small thatched shelters; the damp smell of dark wet forests; pork fat rendering in blackened woks; rainforest blossom.
Our first day was hot, but seemed to brighten the colours of the buildings and glistened the gold of the temples, Wat’s and statues of Buddha. The school buildings and fences were often pained in purple and adorned with flags. Buildings in blocks are differentiated by paint. Giant colourful statues of animals stood on display along the roadside. I could understand the roosters, deer, rabbit, tiger, pig, cow…. because of their reference in Buddhism, but I just couldn’t get my head around the significance of a giant statue of a giraffe or Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.
We passed through so many check points along the road north close along the Myanmar border, and came to a section where every 100mts was a soldier with an automatic weapon. We passed an elaborate gate flanked with green army trucks topped with automatic weapons; and then all of a sudden the check point stops became more sparse. We deduced an official engagement must have been being held there, hence the security. Over the following days the checkpoints became more random.
Rising sharply from the flat delta expanse from where we left Bangkok, were the limestone hills that house thousands of caves. Sheer cliff faces of orange and grey revealed themselves through the forest and jungle covering the limestone hills.
Day two started wet, and the landslips and murky rivers flowing quickly through leaning vegetation evidenced the recent flooding in Northern Thailand.
It didn’t take long for us to find ourselves in the rural areas of Thailand. Spears of rice plants striped across the low-lying fields. Terraces enveloped the hill-sides.Banana leaves flanked the roads and corn or maize covered the hills where a speckling of trees were left to provide shade for the workers in the fields. Every piece of land that could be used, was utilised for food. It seemed to be a constant battle to keep the encroaching jungle from devouring the crops.
It was slow going from Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son with a surprising mountain climb to 1433 mts. It wasn’t an easy drive in the fog, often with portions of the road disappearing behind an orange sign which I suspect meant something along the lines of “Warning, road disappeared”
When the rain comes out, the plastic bag rain-coats come on, and umbrellas come up… even when one is riding a scooter or motor-bike.
Coin operated fuel bowsers seemed rather quirky with their colours, but were a vital commodity where the motor-scooter/bike was the most predominant form of transportation.
It was wet again for the start of day 3 and the green of the hillsides was luminous. The rivers were murky; the hills foggy; and the road was VERY slow going along the wet hair-pinned road north from Mae Hong Son to Chaing Rai.
I loved stopping and seeing what was available in the markets. I had such fun with a lovely lady at a market where the only common language was laughter.
I’ve bought fruit and vegetables and although so delicious, paid a ‘tourist tax’ on a bottle of beautiful rainforest honey. I passed up on purchasing a large bottle for 10 Baht from a lady from the ‘Hill-Tribes’ at the top of the mountain; to then decided I REALLY wanted a bottle of honey and COULD find space for it….but by that time we were closer to the tourist area of Chaing Mai and paid a hefty 10 times as much. no wonder she smiled so broadly as I left. LOL I am very aware of being a ‘farang’ or foreigner… and recognised that the asking price for most things for us is often double than what a local would purchase it for.
I realized even in the rain that the colours of the buildings and streets was still bright. The marketplaces were speckled with brightly coloured clothing, hats, trinkets, fruits and vegetables.
I spied something interesting happening off to the side of the road and we stopped and looked at a lychee sorting facility where the lychees are graded and then sent on to a factory to be dried.
Although the tourism industry from China here in Northern Thailand has somewhat been thwarted due to recent car permit restrictions, road construction still seems to be powering ahead and our progress to Chiang Rai was slow.
Max then had the best street food for dinner… a roti type flat bread with egg… you should have seen the delight on his face!
Day 1 – Bangkok to Mae Sot 522km
Starting Elevation 2mts
Finishing Elevation 210mts
Highest Elevation 869mts
Day 2 – Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son 401km
Starting Elevation 210mts
Finishing Elevation 240mts
Highest Elevation 862mts
Day 3 – Mae Hong Son to Chiang Rai 428kms
Starting Elevation 240mts
Finishing Elevation 390mts
Highest Elevation 1433mts