Motorcycle Monos and Elephant Rodeo

We had heard other travelers talk about a fantastic motorcycle circuit of tourist towns in the mountains of north west Thailand. So, we hired a Honda Dream 125 in Chiang Mai and set out with a small amount of luggage to make the trip.

Riding the bike through the city was a little unnerving at first, but Marty got the hang of things quickly enough and soon we were out of the city and onto the open motorway. After an hour we turned off onto a road which passed through small towns and lifted up into the mountains. The road became steep in parts and was very windy which made for very interesting riding. The views were very often spectacular and we made several stops to appreciate our surroundings.

Our first stop was a delightful little tourist town called Pai. It had a lively market scene which exploded after dark to engulf the entire town. There were heaps of tasty street eateries where we enjoyed the delicious local curry noodle soup. There was also a canyon nearby which was very interesting to explore at sunset.

We took a morning to fulfil a dream and go for an elephant ride. Our elephant, Norm, was almost 40 years old and extremely large. We had to get onto him by grabbing onto his ear, climbing up onto his front knee and diving up onto to his back. At first, we felt like we were constantly about to fall off, and it was definitely a long way down to the ground! But soon we were more comfortable and enjoying the stroll down to the river (except for the steep downhill parts, which were very unnerving). Once we had walked in the river for a bit, we had a chance to play some games. The elephants were told by the trainers to try to buck us off into the river like a rodeo! Clinging on to the elephant's neck by your legs whilst it is ducking and wiggling in different directions is a fantastic experience and we all had a lot of laughs. It was really interesting to meet these beautiful creatures up close and we got a lot of respect for their incredible bulk and power. Each day, each elephant eats around 200 kilos of food!

Our next stop was the district capital, Mae Hong Son, which was a sleepy little town with a pretty lake and a wonderful night food market. Unfortunately, after dining there we found ourselves to both be overcome with food poisoning which was most unpleasant but passed quickly enough. This meant that we stayed an extra day to recover, and we ended up there for Christmas morning. There are practically no Christians there, so the day was just like any other.

One of the attractions of this area is the sight of the Karen people, generally known as the "long neck tribe". They migrated from nearby Burma, where there tends to be a great deal of persecution, and settled down into a lifestyle where they now live almost entirely as a tourist spectacle. They all live in traditional buildings but spend most of their efforts selling souvenirs. The metal rings they wear gradually push down the collarbones, giving an impression of a very long neck. Some women also wear large wooden rings inside their ear lobes, which have gradually expanded to be bigger than the rest of the ear.

On the way back to Chiang Mai we spent some time looking for a sunflower farm and after a wild goose chase up some ridiculously steep hills we realised we were just a little bit too late in the season. The plants were there but only a very few flowers remained.

The riding was magnificent around the windy roads and hills, but Marty's inexperience with motorbikes showed itself in a couple of places. Once, going up a very steep and sharp curve, we managed to come off the bike as it slid into a ditch. One other time, trying to start the bike on a cold morning, we did an impressive mono and came off the back of the bike!

After four long days of riding, we were glad to pull back into Chiang Mai and return the bike. As we had already explored Chiang Mai, we took a night bus straight back to Bangkok. The tour was great fun and we really enjoyed the freedom and convenience of having our own transport, after relying on public transport, taxis and walking for so long.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

Well written article.