Sunday, 17 August 2014

Riding on the edge

Following Thailand's mountainous border with Myanmar over the last few days has been a real pleasure and has left me with many lasting memories. Who said adventure had to be tough?

This region seems different to the southern part of Thailand and I would highly recommend riding here. The twisting roads are quiet and the people are extremely friendly. People leave you to it and charge you a fair price without the bartering. I hadn't seen any tourists along this route until today when I reached Mae Hong Son and met a Spanish couple on a hired twist and go trying to navigate a muddy section. I stopped to help of course, right after I pointed and laughed! The standard off road procedure in these circumstances.

Riding out of Bangkok is a lengthy process and a laborious task which took me around two hours. However, the drivers were courteous, making way for me to filter, and surprisingly, followed the rules of the road. Since Turkey I have come to expect chaos and lack of discipline and so this came as a welcome change. Something I had really not expected of Bangkok.

Once out of the city I decided to get the long straight boring road to Tak out of the way in one day so I
could rest up and then crack on with the interesting stuff. It's about 420km straight up the AH1and it has no interesting features.

You could follow this road all the way to Chiang Mai. You could also exfoliate your face daily with a cheese grater, but I wouldn't recommend either.

I was rewarded the next day with a gentle winding road that lead me through lush green countryside, over to the border and Mae Sot, a small but culturally diverse town, being home to Thai, Burmese, Chinese and hill tribes from both sides of the border. As I had covered just 90kms I had plenty of time to check in to my rather interesting wooden hotel (First Hotel) dump my gear and check out the area. Being an animal lover, I knew that I had to find the gibbon sanctuary nearby that I had read about. A place where hard done by apes are GIBBON another chance!!! (see what I did there?)

On arrival I thought I was out of luck as the gates were closed and the big sign on the gate confirmed it. However, as I sat there for a minute willing the gates to open, a young man came over and let me in. He turned out to be an Italian volunteer and he was more than happy to show me around. Result on two counts!

 Highland Farm and Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Set up by an American couple back in 1991 after a hunter walked up their driveway with a baby gibbon soon after moving to the area to retire, the sanctuary is constantly on the increase and in desperate need of volunteers and funding. They now house 63 Gibbons, 19 Macaques, 2 jackals and a bear, all of whom have taken refuge here for one reason or another.

George, for example is a 20 year old Gibbon and has lived at the sanctuary for 10 years. He had been
severely abused and kept in a cage that would not allow him to move. His left arm had to be amputated and his right arm is useless, hanging limp from his body. George was adorable and allowed me to feed him sticky rice before presenting me with his back for a good old scratch.  I fell in love and if I could have stayed to help out for a month or so I would have. Instead, all I could offer was my days accommodation budget and hopefully some light (if not short) entertainment for the inmates.

The road to Mae Sariang did not disappoint. Following the border, along the river and through the jungle was a delight. "The Best Of The Police" on my playlist and a cool breeze ensured I was on top form as Rhonda and I played with the corners for 240kms screaming "ROXANNE"  and "Every little thing she does is magic" at the trees as we rode on.

Hotels are cheap here and for my budget, I am getting some lovely places with hot showers, wifi and great views. The Good View Hotel was no exception. Situated on the banks of the Yuam River, it really does live up to its name.

Another stunning 165KM ride today and I have arrived at Mae Hong Son. Once again, I dumped my gear at the hotel and headed out on to some lovely trails to Nai Soi, home of the Karenni Long Neck Tribe, refugees from Burma.

Actually these tribal women don't have unusually long necks. Their traditional brass rings, over time, smash their shoulders and rib cages just making it look like they have long necks. The rings are added one by one over years and eventually their neck muscles become so weak, they need them for support. The women have to sleep on their sides, using a wooden plank to keep their necks straight.

What I find most interesting and ethically questionable is that the Thai government now pay these women to continue with this tradition as it brings in tourism. Money that is hard to turn down of course but a decision that a child will have to live with forever. However, on speaking with one lady there who spoke English, I discovered that many of the village had moved on anyway and I didn't see many of the younger generation wearing the rings. Personally I am glad. Tradition is not always worth saving. Especially if it is merely to create a human zoo.

Hmmmm! This one requires some thought...


  1. Hi Steph bit surprised taht there are no comments - so just to let you know we are still out here reading with interest about your exploits, even if they have calmed down bit. U Kev

    1. Hey U. Kve. Good to hear! I'm sure things won't stay calm for long though knowing me!!! : 0 )

    2. Keep up the good work! It's a lot of fun to follow your progress and inspiring that you're making it look easy.

    3. I told you there's loads of us silent ones out here watching jealously and willing you on!

  2. I've been following your blog since day one Steph but have felt too humble to post a reply as you bravely continue on this awesome endeavour while I bimble through my retirement in the comfort of home here in Liverpool
    Not only is your writing interesting but it's so well written and filled with humour, please keep it up
    Ride and keep safe, you have my total respect

  3. Blog on girl! Thanks for letting us share the adventure. Cheese grater.....oh my :-):-):-). Vic

  4. Great post Steph! I have a friend who us moving there from the states with his Thai wife and he keeps telling me what an amazing country it is. Thanks for sharing a little of your time there with us! The rings might cramp your riding style a bit so I'd pass on them as a lifestyle coice :-) Ride strong!

  5. You reckon those rings will keep my neck warm instead of a Buff?
    Great reading as always Steph, and a very interesting post - nobody fell off, injured themselves (apart from poor George) and you got to indulge in your passion for gibbons. Brilliant!
    Ride safe...x

  6. I am sure glad we don't have to endure neck rings. Pretty amazing journey you're having.