Day37 Phayao to Nam Pat, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 8:16am
Departure Location Phayao, Thailand
Arrival Time 5:56pm
Arrival Location Nam Pat, Thailand
Distance Travelled 325km

Day37

We left our accommodation at 8:16am, and headed to the street on the lakefront to find breakfast. A school procession was in progress, and we watched it for a little while.

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Durian is a favourite fruit in South East Asia, but most people of western origin cannot stand it. However, in chip form, it is quite nice. For breakfast, we just bought some snacks from a 7Eleven store, and sat by the edge of the lake.

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By 9:25am, we were finally on the road. Little did we know the surprises this day would bring.

This part is truly the rural heartland of Thailand.

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There were sections of the road that were quite straight, and others were very windy. Notice the road in the distance in the next photo. The following three photos are of the same scenery, just zoomed in closer each time.

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More hills …

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Transferring produce.

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In this part of the country, all the street signs were in Thai script only. Not a problem, I learnt how to read the script. Even though I couldn’t understand it, I was able to read the names of the towns.

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The name of this national park would be much more sinister, if it didn’t have that ‘h’ in it. “Khun” means “respectful” (amongst other things) in Thai.

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And more stunning scenery.

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And other interesting sights.

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And then we slowly made our way to Sirkit Dam. The map we had, showed a road going across one of the narrow sections of the dam, which is why we took this road. An alternate route would have been a significant detour.

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Good to see that DTAC (one of the telecommunications companies) has great coverage here!!

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As we got closer to the dam, we started to look for the road across …

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… but this is where the road ended.

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We took a good look around, but nothing but water in the direction we wanted to go.

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As we were contemplating our options, we noticed the following contraption.

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And after making some enquires, were told of a house where we could ask for someone to take us across. And sure enough, we were told to go back down to the water, and that someone would meet us soon. After waiting about 15 minutes, a lady turned up with a small boat and offered to tow us across.

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You can see where the road ended.

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The ladies’ dog came along for the ride – but wasn’t too impressed with Rebecca and me. He sat at the furthest point on the barge.

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You can see the road markers half way up the hill as we approach the ramp at the other side.

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And soon the tar seal turned into dirt road, which is very rare in Thailand – Thailand has the highest percentage of sealed roads in South East Asia.

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When we arrived in Nam Pat around 5pm, but had trouble finding reasonable accommodation. Nam Pat is not a place tourists frequent, so it took us almost an hour to find a place to stay where we would be comfortable. Fortunately it wasn’t quite so difficult finding food, but even those choices were very limited – we only ate at one place for the time we were in Nam Pat.

Day36 Wiang Pa Pao to Phayao, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 8:06am
Departure Location Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand
Arrival Time 4:10pm
Arrival Location Phayao, Thailand
Distance Travelled 146km

Day36

We left our accommodation just after 8:00am, and headed to the ADRA office for one last debrief. Along the way, we came across a group of travellers all on BMW motorbikes. The leader of the group was confused at first, because when he saw us, he thought we were one of his travellers, and was wondering how we were able to get past him and then come the other way. They had started their trip in Phuket, and this was their last stop before returning. Shame, I say, because they were so close to the Golden Triangle.

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When we arrived at the ADRA office, we noticed how deep culture goes. Although ADRA is a Christian organisation, someone had put a Buddhist shrine in a hidden location behind the gate.

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En route, we came across some stunning scenery, including this waterfall.

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We arrived in Phayao just after 4:00pm, and found a place to stay for the night. It was an Army motel and very clean. We didn’t understand why civilians were welcome to stay here, and we didn’t ask. It was comfortable, clean and economical. Notice the Army marking on the top of the TV.

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Then we rode around looking for a nice place to eat. The sun was starting to set as we made our way past the lake.

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The lake there makes this a stunning location to enjoy the mild evenings.

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After the sun set, we found a place to eat …

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… and watched the security team drive past in a unique vehicle.

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Day34 Chiang Mai to Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 3:08pm
Departure Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Arrival Time 4:51pm
Arrival Location Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand
Distance Travelled 95km

Day34

Overnight I researched the Asus Eee PC, and decided that it was excellent value. So I took off to the shopping mall first thing in the morning – unfortunately the malls don’t open early in Thailand.  I left the hotel at 9:42 am, thinking that they mall would be open by 10:00, but it didn’t open till about quarter past.  And when I got to the computer shop, there was no-one there.  After waiting another 15 minutes, they finally opened and I purchased the laptop. As it comes with Linux standard, I waited while they installed Windows XP (pirated copy) and copied the drivers and installations files to a removable drive for me. Just to be clear, I have several Windows XP licenses packed in my container in storage, but I couldn’t get access to it. So I e-mailed a friend in the US to purchase another license for me, but I needed the media – as that isn’t so easy to e-mail.

These elephants are in front of the shopping mall.

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Now where did I park my motorbike?  Ah, yes – I see, over there – the one with the tall screen!

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Unfortunately it took forever to copy the files to the external HDD.  So it wasn’t till after 3pm that we finally left Chiang Mai. The ride out of Chiang is very pretty.  I wish that we hadn’t been in such a rush and could have taken photos. However, as soon as the sun moved lower on the horizon, it became very cold.

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Along the way to Wiang Pa Pao, we came across a new building that looks like it will be a spa.  It had what looked like outdoor hot pools and shower and changing facilities.  But they don’t make this like they used to.

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The architecture looks stunning, but it is just a plastic veneer.  See the view from the inside.  The plastic tiles are transparent.

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It does look very nice though – and once it is finished, I am sure few will realise the deception.

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More details of the cladding on the outside.

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We arrived at just before sunset, at 4:51pm to be precise – by this time it was already freezing cold.  We stayed at a place called “Cottages and Condoms”.  The cottages where we were staying were very nice, but the temperatures were way too low for our liking. We froze as we had dinner.

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Day33 Chiang Mai, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Distance Travelled 42.7km

Day33

This day we decided to stay in Chiang Mai, catch up with some friends, and generally take it easy.  We started the day by going for a long walk around the city.  As can be seen from the following photos, the cleanup for Loi Kratong took a lot of effort.

We saw this interesting mosque in downtown Chiang Mai, the sign in multiple scripts, including Chinese.

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Steamed goat in Chinese Herbs!  Must be good … put I’ll pass for breakfast.

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Getting some sleep.

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No Alcohol, right?  Ok, nice idea – but not really enforced.  Having said that, we didn’t see any trouble anywhere in Thailand due to alcohol.

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Some of the many police motorbikes.

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More cleanup.

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Lunch with our friends – wow, it was great food in one of the largest malls in Chiang Mai.

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While we were shopping, I happened to notice a new Asus Eee PC for sale.  These laptops had been rumoured, but I hadn’t actually heard that they had been released. I was very tempted to buy it right there and then, but I am not the kind of person to do that.  So I took note of the details, and dreamt about how this laptop would really help me.  Our previous travel laptop was more than four years old now, and it struggled running the Windows Live Write software, which I was using to publish the web blogs.

Some of the ancient ruins right in the center of the city.

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We changed hotels for the last night, as we wanted to reduce our accommodation costs.  This was the view from our cheap room.

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Day32 Chiang Mai (with trip to Adventist Academy and Orphanage), Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, SDA Church, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 9:13am
Departure Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Arrival Time 3:46pm
Arrival Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Distance Travelled 136km

Day32

We relatively late, wanting to have a relaxing Sunday.  Cleanup operations from Kroi Latong were in full swing.  The amount of rubbish left floating in the waterways was incredible.

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As we neared the Chiang Mai Adventist Academy, we saw this family busy washing in the river.  It is common to see people washing by the river like this.

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The following photos were taken at the academy.  The first shows the classrooms, and the second shows the chapel.  It is a very beautiful campus.

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When we arrived, we found the students busy celebrating.  It was the new year for one of the hill tribes, and they were out in all their traditional costumes.  The second photo shows the young men and the ladies lined up to play a game where they throw a ball back and forwards.  This goes on for hours, while they chat and laugh.

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One of the staff houses and a water tank donated by ADRA Germany.

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As we left, we realised that we got a flat tyre.  You can see nail in the tyre.  You can also see how unevenly the tyre has worn.  This is due the huge amount of cornering we did over the previous two weeks.  The tyre has firmer rubber in the middle, with the sides being softer to provide greater traction during cornering.

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With the tools out, the repairs take less than one minute!  I have this down to a fine art now.

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Then we visited the International Children’s Care orphanage.  The facilities are simple, but the children are very well looked after.

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We were there for about two hours talking to the manager, who then cooked us a meal for lunch.  Unfortunately I had left the keys in the ignition of the bike, so when it was time to leave, the battery was flat.  You can see a skid mark on the road where I tried to roll start it, but it didn’t work as the bike is fuel injected – if there in no power, the injection mechanism doesn’t work.  So we had to wait for the ICC manager’s husband to come with a battery charger, and wait about half an hour to get the battery charged.

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We had a romantic dinner that night in the courtyard of an Italian restaurant.  It was a full moon, and very beautiful.  On our walk back to the hotel, we saw more processions for Loi Kratong.  The second photo shows the door open on one of the floats, exposing the car that is underneath the float.

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The big white spot in the sky is the moon rising, the smaller dots are candles making their way as part of the celebrations.

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Day31 Chiang Mai, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, SDA Church, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Distance Travelled 7.8km of local travel

Day31

This day we went to church in the morning and stayed for lunch.  There are a lot of young people who attend this church, as Chiang Mai is a university city, and the church has some accommodation for people who come here to study.  Notice all the shoes in front of the church.

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In the evening we walked through town and looked at the Loi Kratong celebrations.  As with the previous night, there was a long procession through town.  In some of the photos you can also see the full moon.  It was a really spectacular sight.

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What is interesting about the next picture is the candle balloon dropping back down on this busy road (on a bridge actually).  The four lane bridge was still open to traffic, but the cars had a hard time making their way through all the people.

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Notice all the balloons in the sky.

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Day30 Mae Sai to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 8:51am
Departure Location Mae Sai, Thailand
Arrival Time 3:13pm
Arrival Location Chiang Mai, Thailand
Distance Travelled 315km plus 50km of local travel in Chiang Mai

Day30

On our trip from Mae Sai to Chiang Mai it was very scenic – we were driving through very flat terrain for the first part of the trip, but the the backdrop was often mountainous on the border with Myanmar or Laos.  We took the back country road, as the main highways are busy and not as interesting.  This picture shows a scene we saw often – farmers threshing their grain.

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Then we came past a house that had burned down just before we got there.  There were lots of police cars, and the remains were still smoking.

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The scenery was very interesting everywhere we went.

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Once we got into Chiang Mai, preparations were well under way for Loi Kratong – the light festival.

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The first picture is of a mobile ATM and Currency Exchange, the second is where we had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant.

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After dinner with walked around town observing the Loi Kratong celebrations.  Here is a sample of the many photos I took.

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As you can tell in this photo, Loi Kratong falls on a full moon.  This bridge is a one way street, but that doesn’t concern the motorbikes.

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The streaks in the sky are the balloons with candles inside that are released by thousands of people.  The sky was constantly lit up by these hot air balloons.

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There was also a large procession by different groups.

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These people were waiting for the procession to start.

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Day29 Mai Sai, Thailand (and Myanmar)

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Myanmar, Thailand, Travel 1 Comment
Distance Travelled 39km, including 27km in Myanmar

Day29

The hotel was only 200m from the immigration building, where we arrived at 8:53am.  It was very interesting to see all the different goods going across the border.

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After we had cleared Thai immigration and customs, a Thai immigration official came up to me and requested to have more forms filled out.  Having seen this scam before , I let him fill them out, and when he asked me to sign them, I asked "Why? I have crossed Thai border many, many times before with the motorbike, and never had to do this."  He said that this was a special case because I was going to Myanmar.  So I asked him how leaving the country was different based on the location I was heading.  Myanmar has nothing to do with Thailand from a departure perspective.  When he realised that I wasn’t phased, he turned around and said "No money payment."  So I signed the form and was on my way.  He realised that this wasn’t going to work – and a customs official who had been very friendly earlier was watching the whole thing and smiled at me when I left.

This is our arrival at the Myanmar checkpoint.  Notice that we are now on the other side of the road?  Myanmar drives on the same side as Laos, Cambodia and China.

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The way the visa at the border works in Myanmar, is that you leave your passport at the border, but they give you a 14 day pass. The following photos show the  pass.  Of course, if you have a prearranged visa (which takes several weeks to process at the moment, then you can keep your passport with you.  The cost of the "border visa" was 500 baht each (about US$15).

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Then we were told that we couldn’t take the motorbike and that we had to leave it at the border.  I thought that this was going to be the case, and we were prepared.  However, as we were contemplating where to park the bike, a different official came up to us and said that as long as we buy the compulsory insurance, we could take the bike.  The cost of the insurance was 20 baht (US$0.60).  So I thought that at that price I had little to lose – it was worth the investment, though I still wasn’t convinced that I would get the bike across the border.  After all, I hadn’t got to the customs section yet.  Of course the insurance isn’t worth the paper it is written on – but I was having a great time trying to get my motorbike into yet another country.

Once we got to customs, we were told that we had to pay another 25 baht (these costs are not really adding up – I am up to spending just over US$1 at this stage).  I have no idea what this last payment was for, but I received two different documents (picture on the left).

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After the formalities were completed, there were several customs officers showing a great interest in the bike.  So I put it on the center stand and allowed them to sit on it.  Wow – that really got their interest.  There was lots of laughing and carrying on.

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We were finally done and headed down one of the main roads of Tachilek.  It was the season where the different monasteries collect money.  Many of them had a procession, but none was as long as this one – there must have been about 20+ vehicles.

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We were told that we should stay within 3kms of town – but I had read before that in reality you just can’t ride past the first checkpoint in each direction.  So we headed out of town to see the countryside.  We hit the first checkpoint about 12kms east of the city.  We didn’t ride north, but headed back into town and west.  Here is a selection of things we saw.  Of particular interest was the fact that there were nice cars – not many, but hey were around.  The blue one is a SangYong from Korea.  The cars were a mixture of left and right had drive – I guess they take whatever they can get.  The bus has Radisson Hotlel on it – which surprised me, as that is a large US hotel management company, and I thought that there were significant sanctions in place to prohibit this.  Interestingly, there are no hotels listed in Myanmar on the http://www.radisson.com/ web site.  And this bus is clearly registered and operated in Myanmar – the script gives it away.  The sign disallowing more than one passenger seemed to be well enforced – in fact, traffic in general followed the road rules – not like some other countries in the region.  The woman was interesting, as she was carrying two babies – one in the front and one in the pouch on the back.  There was also a Muslim mosque.

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We rode east and hit the security checkpoint within about 3kms.  There was an immigration official in uniform (wearing the gray cardigan) telling us that we couldn’t travel any further.  However, he was very friendly, and we walked around taking photos.

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Here are some more miscellaneous photos – the second one is from inside a home.  Notice also the church and Christian cemetery.  An  interesting point is that in both Thailand and Myanmar there is little differentiation in the work that is done by a given gender.  Here you can see a photo of four women who have been working on the roads – probably sweeping, but often also doing other physical labour.

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We then took a wrong turn and ended up in a Buddhist monastery.  They immediately came out and asked us to come in and join them.  They had the head abbot visiting from Yangoon, and said that he would like to extend his hospitality to us.  This monastery was very basic – there was no expensive shrine, just basic buildings.  They were about to have lunch, as the tables were set when we entered the building.

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After the monks had eaten, we were invited to eat also.  They were intrigued that we were vegetarian, but the food was great.  It was a mixture of plain rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, and lots of chili – very tasty.  There were other "non-monks", who all ate at the same time as we did.  The person sitting at the table with us was an English teacher who is there to teach the monks and novices (boys).  The person sitting in the middle is the abbot, and to his left (right in the photo) is the deputy.  Those sitting at the abbot’s table got some fruit and sweets for desert, which they shared with their guests.  In fact, they even brought out Sprite for us!

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Later we went for another ride through town, and found that you could buy almost anything in Tachilek.  The first picture shows a satellite dish, of which we saw quite a few, and the second shows an army supply store that appeared to have everything from weapons to bullet proof vests.

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There were no issues leaving Myanmar, and we had our passports back in record time.  However, when we went to re-enter Thailand, I decided that the paperwork for my motorbike needed to be done correctly – it was incorrectly prepared when I arrived in Narathiwat.  I was listed as coming from New Caledonia, the bike was supposedly registered in Malaysia and there were several other irregularities that I wanted to correct.  However, that meant that the customs official (who were very helpful and friendly) wanted to ensure that it really was done right this time.  So they wanted to see the engine and chassis numbers on the bike.  Here they are looking for the numbers – which took 10 to 15 minutes.

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While we were waiting for the formalities to be completed, Rebecca took several border photos – here is just a sample – two microwave ovens being taken into Myanmar.

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We had a great time in Myanmar, and won’t forget it in a hurry – it just wasn’t long enough.

Day28 Mae Sai, Thailand (and Golden Triangle)

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Distance Travelled 79km – Local travel only

Day28

We stayed at a hotel that is right on the border with Myanmar – the first two photos are looking into Myanmar.  It was quite misty in the morning before the sun did its job and evaporated the mist away.

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This is a typical Thai scene – the police officers are often seen in the various local shops.

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We left the hotel at 10:45am, and tried to find a laundry to get our clothes washed.  We then headed to the Golden Triangle.  The Golden Triangle gained its reputation during the 50’s and 60’s, when the opium "wars" took place in this region.  Various groups from Thailand, Myanmar (Burma at the time) and Laos fought over control – and the armies from each of the countries were also involved, despite Thailand officially outlawing opium in 1959.

Today there is an opium museum and a large Buddhist shrine in this area.  Tourists come by the thousands – though we were lucky to be here during the off season.

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This  is what the Golden Triangle is all about.  In fact, there are actually three triangles in this region:

  • Thailand, Myanmar, Laos
  • Laos, Vietnam, China
  • Laos, Myanmar, China

However, the latter two are not readily accessible to tourists.

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We then had lunch at this place by the side of the road.  From there we had a good view of the three countries – In the foreground of the second picture you have Thailand, in the middle is Myanmar, and on the far side is Laos.  You can see that there are boats going to Myanmar.  One can do a tour from the Thai side, and they take you on a short trip in Myanmar (less than 2kms) and then you return.  However, this is not an official border crossing, so you don’t actually get any passport stamps.  Rebecca is starting to really enjoy her spicy food – here she is in tears over the great chillis.

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On our return from the Golden Triangle, we stopped at the Thai customs building to see if we could take our motorbike into Myanmar the next day.  I had re-read my motorbike importation papers, and noticed that the motorbike also only had approval to stay for 30 days.  The customs people were very helpful and said that I could take the motorbike out of Thailand, but that I may not be able to take it into Myanmar.  However, as long as I took it into an area between the borders, they would allow it to re-enter Thailand for another 30 days.

It was interesting to see that there was a lot of activity at the customs building.  It seems that huge teams of people were sorting through clothing that was being shipped across the border.  I guess they were looking for other goods that may be hidden within (in the big tarpaulin bags in the background).

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I spent some time working on my blogs, and Rebecca had a sleep.  Later that evening we picked up our clean clothes (which were washed by a Burmese woman who couldn’t read Thai.  She did a great job with our laundry, and it only cost a couple of dollars.

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After dinner we fueled up the bike – in Thailand all service stations are still operated by staff, so you don’t have to pump the fuel yourself.  However, it is a hard job when you are short and you have to fill up a big bike.

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But it does have it’s rewards.

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Day27 Chiang Dao to Mae Sai, Thailand

Motorbike/Motorcycle, Thailand, Travel No Comments
Departure Time 8:36am
Departure Location Chiang Dao, Thailand
Arrival Time 2:27pm
Arrival Location Mae Sai, Thailand
Distance Travelled 214km

Day27

Early in the morning I walked down to the local 7-Eleven store to buy breakfast.  As is the custom in Thailand, the police were out and about directing the traffic.  Chiang Dao is only a very small town, but the main intersection is controlled by police early in the morning.  This is also the time of the day that the monks do their rounds for alms.  The traffic is busy near the markets (third photo).  Once we were ready to leave, we carried our luggage to the bike (this hotel didn’t have bellboys on duty).  We do have a lot of weight – but have packing down to a fine art.  Notice the benches of the ute are built over the tailgate – this is how the school busses are for most of rural Thailand.  Anyone who doesn’t fit on the bench stands on the tailgate.

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Again, the scenery was breathtaking.

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Why rent a truck when you have a ute?  How much furniture can you move on one vehicle?  The second and third photos show women getting into the back of a ute with babies in their arms.  It wasn’t a problem for them at all.

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We entered the small town of Tha Ton at 10:10am.  This town is located on the edge a mountain range which also forms the border with Myanmar.  On the other side are huge plains.  It is one of the most beautiful places we travelled through in Thailand.  There are even hot springs in the surrounding villages and very few ‘farangs’ (foreigners).  It is a great spot to spend a few days.  The second picture shows the last border camp before Myanmar.  We have a habit of running into these as we explore Thailand.

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This is a new temple of some sort that is being built on the surrounding hills.  It is already stunning -and it isn’t even finished.

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The view from the surrounding mountains over Tha Ton and beyond.

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We then proceeded to another peak where we found another monastery.  This one had a very nice path leading through a small forest down the hillside.  We walked part way and sat down at a point where we had a great view over Myanmar.  We spent about an hour there just enjoying the breeze and wonderful view.

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As we travelled on, we saw this man walking by the side of the road.

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We then came across this hill tribe village – notice the black teeth?  Simply beautiful (to them).  We were told that there was another long neck village just a short walk away, but we had already seen plenty, so we kept going.

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The scenery continued to be stunning.

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This is where we had lunch.  We came across a couple of Germans who were touring on some large rented bikes.  Notice the birds nests they had hanging from the rafters?  The second photo shows how Thai people have many photos of the royal family in their homes.  The photos on the back wall are all of the king and his family (click on the photo to enlarge).

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After checking into the hotel, we went for a long walk to find a nice place to eat.  There were several restaurants operating on the street where you sit on a mat on the footpath beside the road.  Life is very communal in Thailand – there is a really nice family spirit.  This particular restaurant has a "cook your own" menu.  They provide a pot of hot coals and the ingredients, and you cook it yourself.

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We took these photos in town on our walk back from dinner.

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