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As soon as you arrive in Chiang Mai, before you even start your tour, you are lodged in the most atmospheric 5-star hotel in Chiang Mai’s old city, The Rim, a boutique hotel in the truest sense of the word. The Rim makes a great base to explore the charming city of Chiang Mai, one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations. And when we finish the tour and return to Chiang Mai, you once again are returned to the comforts of The Rim.
ITINERARY FOR THE 10-DAY GOLDEN TRIANGLE TOUR
Our FIRST DAY’s ride to NAN is the easiest one on the tour. This will allow you to familiarize yourself, relatively stress free, with your bike and road conditions, as well as get a handle on the style of driving practiced by the average Thai citizen.
After driving up and down a couple of gentle mountain passes on a mostly wide and forgiving road, we stop for lunch on the shore of the largest lake in northern Thailand. Their local specialty is a delicious, barbequed fish plucked right out of the lake waters.
After that, we have another relaxed ride along the outskirts of a national park and across gentle, rolling farmland before starting our first hair-raising riding segment through the western mountains of Nan Province. From this point on, all the riding is basically high-octane right on up through the end of the tour.
Our first night’s lodging is in the provincial capital of NAN and home to Wat Phumin, one of the most important temples in the north.
The interior walls of Wat Phumin are covered with colorful but crumbling murals from the late 1800’s that depict Thai secular life from that period as well as the arrival of the first foreigners. The art style known as Lanna has its roots right in this temple, and for the rest of the tour, you will see how deeply embedded this style is in the Golden Triangle region today.
Out of all the towns in Golden Triangle, Nan is probably my favorite. Different too, because around 100 years ago it was a separate kingdom with its own culture, art, clothing, and language. Nan is considered the seat of the Lanna culture, and Thais themselves, from all over the country enjoy visiting Nan to experience its uniqueness.
Nan has fine shopping for hand-crafted silverware, and for hand-loomed textiles, furnishings and clothing.
Our hotel tonight is one of 2 excellent hotels . The first is a small boutique hotel, the Pukha Nanfa with only 9 rooms, lovingly refurbished and the personal project of the owner of one of the Thailand’s largest banks. No expense was spared to bring this historic residence back to its shinning splendour.
The second we Use is the Nantrungjai Hotel which is a very modern, well appointed luxury hotel
After our first day in the saddle there is a swimming pool at the end of it. Today will also be your first opportunity to experience one of several excellent Thai massage techniques. There is nothing that feels better or is more therapeutic after a long ride than Thai traditional massage. Plus the cost of massage in Thailand is a fraction of what it costs in the West.
As it happens on every night on this tour, you will sleep soundly and in luxury after such a full and enriching day on a motorcycle.
Length of ride: 295 kilometers / 175 miles. Riding time: approximately 5 hours.
( Note: Riding time is the more important statistic. Time in the saddle has a direct impact on you — not distance. Sometimes the average speed is quite low over an entire day: other times quite fast . You should be aware that the slower the rate, the more technical and difficult the riding is.)
DAY #2 is the longest ride on this tour, 350 kms. / 210 miles. Be prepared to spend at least seven hours in the saddle, all of it with a wide smile plastered across your face. Many of our past participant’s rate DAY #2 as the best day of riding they have ever experienced on a bike in their lives!
The variety of today’s road can be broken up into five distinct segments as we progress throughout the day:
- Fantastic with fantastic views (Oops. No more. They finally fixed it after so many years. Lets see how long it lasts.)
- What many people consider to be the absolute best sport bike road in a country filled to overflowing with them.
- An unbelievably twisty and convoluted road with stunning views of course, that takes us to our night’s destination, way up high on the Poo Chee Fah ridgeline.
(If a picture is worth a thousand words, then high-definition video has to be worth a million. So please do not take our word about today’s riding and click on the links above to watch the 5 videos of the roads just described. Only then will you comprehend the magnificence of today’s riding.)
After arriving at our simple bungalow resort high up on a mountain ridge, and after all the ‘wows’ have subsided about the views, it is time to crack open a few bottles of ice-cold beer and watch a spectacular sunset descend over our world.
Tonight we dine early because nature has a special treat in store for us in the early morning hours: our old friend the sun, arising again but through a vast ocean of clouds. What makes this scene so special is that we watch it unfold from the peak of a 1,700 meter / 6,600’ cliff with a straight drop into Laos.
Length of ride: 350 kms. / 210 miles. Driving time: 7+ hours.
DAY #3 is fairly easy, except in the morning when we depart Poo Chee Fah on another spectacular road and then ride up one of the 2 steepest roads in Thailand (the jury’s still out which one is steeper). Whatever, if you do not hold onto your handlebars tight enough, you will be in danger of sliding off the back end of your motorcycle.
By late morning we greet the Mekong River for the first time and roughly follow its course upstream. Along our route is a magnificent Wat carved from teak and gilded in gold and presided over by a monk who stays there to answer all questions from foreigners about Buddhism.
Monk Gaer is super friendly and looks forward to it when our bikes pull up in front of his temple—he might even have been a biker in a previous incarnation.
We dine in Chiang Saen, a nine-hundred year-old town considered to be the cradle of Thai civilization. Founded as a fortified city, this present-day antiquity is surrounded by defensive walls and moats and is presently undergoing an extensive archeological restoration. We will putt-putt around the antiquities and visit some of the more substantial ruins.
For the next several hours our route takes us through rolling farmland, roughly following the course of the Mekong until it veers northwards. This point is the exact apex of the Golden Triangle, and we stop here for the obligatory group photo.
Our next sightseeing stop is another temple, but this one is home to a population of monkeys tame enough to eat peanuts right out of your hand. We spend this evening and the following one in MAI SAI, the northernmost point in Thailand.
Length of ride: 220 kms. / 130 miles. Driving time: approximately 4.5 hours.
Day #4 – REST DAY #1: MAI SAI is the border town connecting Thailand to Burma. The Burmese side is called Ta Khee Lake, and it is a place unlike any other in your experience. We take a walking tour through Ta Khee Lake on our rest day. The main attraction is shopping. Just about everything is available, from rubies to elephant bones. You can buy fine Burmese traditional crafts like lacquerware, carvings, puppets, and tapestries at prices not to believed if you can drive a hard bargain.
Pirated goods abound for items such as sunglasses, watches, sneakers, perfumes,designer bags, clothing, DVDs and CDs, to mention a few. We take a mid-shopping break for a snack in a local tea house rubbing elbows with the locals. A nearby barber gives an excellent, straight-razor Burma shave. Also in town is a casino if you are feeling lucky and a golf course if you are feeling energetic.
Mai Sai is not that far from southern China and a lot of Yunnanese have migrated into northern Thailand. There is one superb Yunan restaurant in Mae Sai that we eat in not once but on both our nights here. Their sublime poached fish could be the culinary highlight of the entire tour. I’ve never seen or tasted anything else remotely like it.
We start climbing up into a karst mountain range immediately upon leaving Mae Sai and ride in it for most of the day. Looking at this terrain, it is hard to believe that anyone could even think about building a road through it.
Our first stop is a mountaintop temple with another one of those ‘I can’t believe how steep this is’ roads. Wat Doi Tung has hundreds of bells, and it is said that if you ring them all it guarantees you a place in heaven. An offer like that doesn’t come along every day so you might as well ring them all.
Our second stop is at the headquarters of a former drug warlord who had his own private army. It is located in a remote corner of Thailand, and many participants rate this stop as one of the highlights of their tour. (You can watch a video about Khun Sa taken some years ago.)
Khun Sa was a drug baron during the 60s and 70s and was considered by some to be a Robin Hood type character in the region and for decades, Khun Sa was hunted by various agencies and government forces and the CIA once attempted his assassination. .
After Khun Sa, we start driving through back country on perhaps the most technical roads on the tour, but ones that are also a hell of a lot of fun. We enter tea country in the afternoon and stop off at a tea estate for a tea tasting.
After that we ride up to a mountain-top shrine on another ridiculously steep road. The view from the top is breathtaking and is the very same scene depicted on many official travel posters promoting Thailand.
More great riding all the way down into the valley where we stay in another exquisite lodge, the Mae Kok River Village Resort, along the banks of the Thaton River.
Depending on time we will also jump on a long tailed boat and head up to one of the most unique border crossing anywhere.
Length of ride: 160 kms. / 100 miles. Driving time: approximately 4 hours.
Only in Thailand are army camps turned into tourist stops, and on the morning of DAY #6 we visit one. To reach it we have to drive up what is considered to be Thailand’s steepest road. I am not sure if it is steeper than the road we rode up on day #3, but who cares?—both are great! (Click to watch video of a ride up Thailand’s steepest road.).
After that we drive across another convoluted karst mountain range with spectacular views the entire ride. This mountain road is very tight, twisty, and technical, but beautiful beyond compare. We try to keep stops to a minimum today so we can arrive as early as possible at one of the most beautiful resorts in Thailand or anywhere else, the SIB-SAN RESORT AND SPA.
Just down the river valley road from the resort are many optional activities that will compete for your leisure time. An elephant ride through the countryside is included in this tour package, but there many other activities available, such as: whitewater rafting, a zip line through the jungle canopy, ATV vehicles, nature walks, bamboo rafting, and oxcart rides. There is also great, dirt road riding directly behind the resort and this can keep you busy most of the day. Tough choices, because even with a two-night stay here, there is still not enough time to fit everything in.
Length of ride: 220 kms. / 130 miles. Driving time: approximately 4 hours.
DAY 7: .is the start of what put Thailand on the world motorcycle touring map to begin with; The Mae Hong Son Loop.
To put the Mae Hong Son Loop in perspective, when knowledgeable bikers talk about the best motorcycle roads in the world, the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps is always mentioned. They describe how awesome the sixty-linked hairpin turns are over its thirty-kilometer length. Well, the Mae Hong Son Loop has at least sixty hairpin turns per hour! Completing the entire Loop takes two days! And there’s no traffic! And there is no traffic police!
To sum it up, there are over 3,900 curves along the 500 kilometers of Loop we will be traversing. Some participants complain they actually became dizzy getting whipped around so many non-stop turns. And to put this entire tour in even sharper perspective, I do not even rate the Mae Hong Son Loop as the best road on the tour! The Mae Hong Son Loop is definitely one of the greatest motorcycle roads in the world. Towering forest, corkscrewing mountain roads, waterfalls, lakes, and hilltribe villages will not fail to impress even the most widely-traveled rider. This is one hell of an exciting drive through some of Thailand’s most breathtaking scenery.
To see what you are actually in for, you can watch high-definition videos of an entire ride around the Mae Hong Son Loop.
We stop for the night in the provincial capital of MAE HONG SON Our lodgings are at another award-winning lodging, the FERN RESORT. Their restaurant has won numerous awards from numerous culinary organizations – wait till you taste the chicken wrapped in pandan leaves! Another feast awaits
Length of ride: 270 kms. / 130 miles. Driving time: approximately 5 hours
DAY #8 This is our second rest day but do not think that we will let you have a whole day off when there are some great roads to ride.
We explore a little known traditional border crossing with a unique suspension bridge, and then visit a genuine Karen long neck hill tribe village.
Back at the Fern Resort and the afternoon is your to lounge around the pool, go for a nature walk through the Jungle with one of the resorts dogs for a guide or just generally rest up.
In the early evening we travel back into Mae Hong Son to visit a rather pretty spot and watch the sun set over Myanmar.
On DAY #9, we ride down to MAE SARIANG, which anchors the southwest corner of the Mae Hong Son Loop. This section of the Loop is not as mountainous as the previous sections, but it is loaded with numerous series of chicane-style turns perfectly designed for motorcycles. This is a great ride on spectacular roads and if you don’t have fun riding this section you aren’t trying to have fun
This region of Thailand has a heavy presence of people from the Shan State of Burma, and you will notice the distinctive styles of their Buddhist temples. The predominant hilltribe group in these parts are the Karen, also from Burma, and they traditionally work as the mahouts—the elephant drivers on the caravan routes.
If we arrive in Mae Sariang early enough we can continue on, down to the wild Salween River that forms the border between Thailand and Burma. This road is reasonable with some well formed unsealed sections, but such a spectacular drive through primary forest is worth the effort.
The best massage of the trip is available in Mae Sariang, and there is an outstanding restaurant in town as well.
Length of ride: 170 kms. / 100 miles. Driving time: approximately 2 ¾ hours.
Optional side trip: 100 kms. / 60 miles. Side trip duration: approximately 3.5 hours.
DAY #10, our last day sadly arrives. But the great riding continues as we finish up the Mae Hong Son Loop and climb up the back side of the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon.
We proceed up to the summit and visit the King And Queens monuments built by the Thai Airforce
On the way down into the Chiang Mai valley, we stop off at a spectacular waterfall where we eat lunch in the swirling mists stirred up by the cascade.
We’re only about ninety-minutes from home at this point, so we tone down the riding a notch and ease into town by mid-afternoon, and a most memorable motorcycle tour finally comes to an end.
Length of Day-10 ride: 250 kms. / 100 miles. Driving time: approximately 4.5 hours.
Total tour length: approximately 2,500 kilometres over eight days of riding.
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