I decided 2017 should be a year I try different things. So instead of my usual solo travel I joined up with a bunch of like minded blokes to ride around Thailand.
I am a confident solo traveler but when I was invited to join an online ride club I said ok and the Thai ride they were planning sounded pretty good so I signed on for that too.
The route was off to places I had not considered and that interested me but I mostly just thought it would be good to try riding with others again after riding so many miles by myself.
I flew from Tokyo to Bangkok a few days prior to get best priced airfare and just enjoyed the great food in little India town in Bangkok before two weeks non stop Thai food. I flew with Scoot which along with Jetstar I rate as two of the worst airlines to fly with. Cheap and nasty. To Chiang Mai I flew Thai Lion which by comparison was great service despite the fare being just $40 AUS.
Taxi to downtown with interesting sticker.
Some great food and many beers were enjoyed before flying to Chiang Mai. (including couple meals at my favourite Indian)
You can really see the pollution leaving Bangkok. The big cities have their own micro climates now from a blanket of smog.
I rented a Thai made Honda CB500X from Pops rental in Chiang Mai which is like NC750X with sleeved down engine.
This newer model has LED headlight, more supportive seat and improved suspension.
Pops has a wide range of motorcycles, much more than what they list on their web site. Their fleet is maybe a hundred bikes easy dwarfing the competition.
First day was a local ride. Doi Inthanon is highest mountain in Thailand and is an easy easy day ride from Chiang Mai at about 200km round trip.
Next morning we were off on our way north. It took me a bit to adjust to riding in a group. I was in the middle of a number of bikes and did not like the surge affect of riders slowing for corners then speeding on the straights. I ride a more steady pace.
Our route today was on roads I have ridden before but I was enjoying to chat to others and after lunch found being at the rear worked best for me as I could pull over to take a photo or have a drink without others stopping to ask am I ok and ride my own pace.
Above our lunch stop which surprised the locals but then they were pleased to make a big sale I think. Below some of the road side sights in every town.
Members above from Scotland, USA, Austria, Canada and Australia with ages from 20’s to 70. Todays route.
Day three we are riding south east on familiar roads until lunch and then some new to me roads later in the day. A couple of the guys based in the Philippines were very hesitant to eat the food from the road side eateries, and having had food poisoning in Philippines a couple of times I understood completely but I have never been sick from food in Thailand.
These Honda Groms are everywhere. The small wheels don’t suit going too far but must admit I wanted to ride one.
Motorcycle friendly road cone… Seems legit. Day three route below.
Day four was my turn to be ride leader. I started with a morning brief. I basically had two things to say which was no need to ride in formation, leave that to the Blue Angels and second thing was the guys from North America were sitting in the passing lane and pissing off the locals heaps. I was concerned someone was going to get nudged off the road as Thai drivers are always in a mad hurry and drive at very high speed everywhere.
I brought a GoPro Hero 5 Session with me. I’m not at all into video but thought it’s a group ride so probably will not stop much for photos (correct) so will try some video and stills on bike just for fun.
I found out when home the GoPro still images were all rubbish. It was great new but an update of firmware killed the high res photo mode.
Lunch I took control somewhat by accident today and ordered a bunch of stuff to share as is the Asian way rather then everyone trying to order separately. It turned out to be the best tasting meal of the trip in just an ordinary looking roadside eatery.
After lunch my fake Chinese Givi top box detached itself. Someone came to my rescue with a bungee strap to hold it in place. Everyone’s fake Givi cases fell off in similar fashion over the course of the tour.
Rural petrol station
As ride captain I took the group to visit a temple complex off the beaten track in the afternoon. So beautiful and no tourists besides us here at all.
Did you know Thailand is the home of the chicken. I mean like every chicken in every country on earth can trace it’s ancestry back to the original chicken species in Thailand. No kidding.
This afternoon had some more fantastic roads but also some heavy traffic. I had a couple of sightseeing spots to show the group around a lake with traditional boats.
The plan was to ride the other side of the lake but everyone was hot and tired so I handed over the lead to another rider to take fastest route into town.
Riding into Loei the lead was using Google maps navigation and while people say it is good I could see my Garmin was suggesting another route so I peeled off to see what might happen and got to the hotel well ahead of the surprised group who endlessly preached using Google navigation to me.
Day five we turned south and the ride leader took us off looking for some caves. At a break Philipp from Austria and myself got separated from the group. No problems as being Mr. solo rider I had my GPS with every days route just in case I decided I wanted to ride on my own.
The two of us set off towards the the lunch spot but arrived to find the chef was not there. The area was kind of remote and we tried the next eatery but could not communicate. Philipp was very concerned about eating from the road side food places and wanted to look for a phone having lost his a day before so we just rode towards todays hotel.
I quite enjoyed this day of riding with Philipp. Riding with just one other person of similar pace was more enjoyable rhythm than a big group.
We stopped for gas and most places have a 7/11 and coffee shop incorporated as well some place to rest and clean toilets. Very easy country to ride.
Some video from first five days. (note I only published the videos in this report at request of the other guys on ride and cannot be bothered to do much with it)
Off the bikes the fun continued as the day’s leader also got to pick the place to eat. Previously we had been eating out in restaurants but tonight we got to do what I prefer which is eat in the markets. Not only is it far cheaper you get excellent food and why eat inside when it is warm and pleasant out. Sitting around drinking beer in a regional Thai town under the stars on a warm night was perfect to me. Back in Japan it was freezing cold and snowing. This days route.
Day six I had some of the most amazing riding on roads that totally surprised me. The night before last I met a British chap in a bar who was a rider and indeed someone who had ridden most of Thailand where he has been living the last 13 years. I asked him his top 3 roads and two of which I had ridden before. In reverse order the famous 1148 the lies between Chiang Rai and Nan, the incredible 1081 that runs north of Nan and his number one was where I was heading today. Route 12 that runs across from Khon Kaen to Phitsanulok.
Starting mild it goes through first the Tat Mok national park where the road sweeps and swoops along for 50km of non stop beautiful curves.
It was bliss. Then there is a break before the next stage but first we had lunch and went to a temple for a photo shoot.
No drones and no parking either but a hundred baht slipped to the guard and we got a couple of good group photos
Then we started the next section which runs through Thung Salaang Luang National park. This is the bit that I was told about last night but until I got there I could not imagine. It is a 4 lane perfectly surveyed and sealed highway that is twisty like Burringbah range in northwern NSW for 50km!. It is a dream. I have no still photos thanks to the GoFail but I do have a little video to give an idea, not the best quality however in lieu of any photos I will post it anyway.
Really great to be able to use all of a motorcycle engine, so much more satisfying than a super powerful bike. But maybe that is just me. It’s not a sign of age as even 20 years ago I enjoyed riding my Honda VFR400R perhaps more than any other bike.
As always the wide angle grossly exaggerates the movement and speed in these videos. The bike is not weaving that is the camera moving as all hand held shot. Never saw any real elephants but it was a great day of riding.
Day seven I woke up early and went for a walk around town and got some drinks to pack in the top case. I suppose you already know Thailand is the home of the original Red Bull drink that was licenced by a clever and now very rich guy from Austria. Bottle of the original costs just 10 baht in a 7/11 or about 0.40 cents Aus compared to a can in Australia costing about $4.00.
Morning rush hour at the station with the official access to platform 2 being across the track made me smile. Back in Australia angry for no reason people would be waving their arms and yelling danger Will Robinson danger. So liberating to be away from the nanny state.
We continued west over to the border with Myanmar. The morning was mostly highway. Everyone was feeling restless and tired on the easy but boring roads so a morning coffee break was enjoyed by all. Being a connoisseur of canned coffee in Japan I had to try the local variant in Thailand. Pretty good and appears to be made by Japanese company.
Men’s toilets are el natural.
We had another great lunch at a road side eatery. I love Thai food and spicy food so every meal was something special for me to enjoy. Leaving here west the corners were non stop all afternoon. Not technically part of the MHS loop but the 1175 joins the 105 north to the loop and by my reckoning easy doubles the number of corners in total. I had never ridden these roads before and was very impressed.
Tonight we were staying right on the border to Myanmar. There was a night market and 75% of the people attending had come across the river from Myanmar, their appearance was notably different as well the Burmese language stood out from the Thai I had been hearing the last two weeks. Black dog member Andreas from Austria joined me enjoying the old school shooting arcade.
We pooled our winnings to get a fluffy toy and gave it to a small Burmese boy who had been looking on. Great end to another great day.
Morning of day eight I had a problem. I went to bed fine but woke up with something in my eye. I went to the pharmacy and got an eye bath kit and washed it frequently but when the group was ready I was not and said I would catch up later.
The main organizer of the ride however was having nothing of it and told me to get on the back of his bike and took me to the local hospital. There I was seen promptly and got weighed and my blood pressure and temperature taken before being sent on to doctor who examined my eye and said there was nothing in it now so perhaps I had managed to remove the object already with the eye wash but still sent me on to have the eye irrigated/flushed by two nurses and then I was given some special eye drops to relieve the irritation. Total cost 200 baht (about $8.00 Aus)
I left the hospital with a patch over my eye and instructions issued not to operate a motor vehicle. I promptly removed that patch on the way back to the hotel and attached my new travel companion from the market last night to the CB500X for good luck before setting off. It is a silicon rubber pink elephant that has a LED inside that flashes when it bounces up and down on the elastic cord.
We stopped out of town, standing in Thailand looking across the river to Myanmar. No walls here.
The road south from the 108 is really spectacular climbing high then dropping steeply into a valley then repeat over and over. I was just taking it easy. My eyesight was ok I just was in a mood to go slow and sat at the back for the most part. Then Philipps bike threw it’s chain on a very steep section of road. He managed to get it down to somewhere flat then we waited for the others to realize we were stopped as no phone signal.
Fortunately not only was one of the guys a mechanic he also carries a decent tool kit and Joel had the bike fixed in no time. If it had been me alone then I would have been stranded and this gave me some thing to consider how I manage this sort of risk better on future solo rides. For one thing – I am too relaxed and not checking the bike each day and that is stupid when using rental bikes.
And then it was corner after corner up to where the 108 comes in from the east to be on the Mai Hong Son loop proper. Only another 1864 corners to go from there!
Not sure what happened next, brain fade in the heat perhaps but I got carried away and my pace crept up from easy going to quite spirited. I found myself chasing down and passing all the other riders then continuing at excessive speed for a few hundred more corners before I took a break at the town of Khum Yuam for fresh mango sticky rice.
It was really hot now, the days heat seemed to peak about 3.00pm after a cool morning and mild temps till 11.00am. I took 30 minutes off to rest and rehydrate then I set off again to regroup but this time at a more sensible pace.
Viewpoint just south of MHS town.
Tonight dinner was by the lake in the touristy but lovely town.
Next morning we all went to get out certificates of having ridden the Mai Hong Son loop. I never knew this sort of thing existed but by the look of the 100’s of biker club stickers at the chamber of commerce I was as the only person not to know
It was actually positively cold this morning hence the coat under the mesh jacket. The girls in the back of the pickup agreed.
Today was another 1000 corners from MHS to the bottom of the range as we made our way to Pai. I slipped away just before lunch to see what the view might be like at the famous Doi Kiew viewpoint. On a clear morning you can see the mountains stretch for miles but today it was very hazy with a lot of smoke in the air compared to previous days. (Northern Thailand on the Myanmar border gets extreme levels of smoke pollution every year from February March until the rains arrive in April)
Lunch was at the exact same place I stopped last time I rode the MHS loop! Great meal for about $2.
From Pai on you encounter lots of young people on scooters who have ridden there from Chiang Mai. I rode with one guy a little way who had the scooter flat out. That section of road down on the flat is actually more fun for me than much of the mountain pass as I like sweeping corner roads best of all. I put my new friend up front for the final ride back into Chiang Mai.
Some more crappy video of the last couple days
No dramas back at Pops rental shop, just a quick glance at the bikes and we all were finished until next time. Very good to deal with as they were previously. I have rented from Tony’s big bikes and Mr. Mechanic but prefer Pops who have a much newer, better maintained fleet and so many bikes that even peak season you can walk in and get something on the spot no reservation.
And alas it was over. This ride opened my eyes to other places here I had not thought previously to visit. I prefer solo riding but enjoyed the off bike social aspects of a group ride.
If you join a professional organized tour then you can pay up to $7000 for a ride in Thailand but it is not an expensive place. The bike rental was 1200 Baht a day, hotels 600-800 baht a day, fuel average of 300 baht a day, meals 50-200 baht each depending on simple or grand. $100 day will cover everything.
Navigation is easy most guys were just using smart phone and google maps. Tourist sim card with 4G data unlimited two weeks 299 baht. It’s safe, food is great, beer is cheap, no policing of speed so can ride relaxed not having to check speedo every 5 seconds. I really cannot recommend it highly enough.
Read more about riding Thailand in my previous ride reports 2015, 2014, 2013. Lots of road photos in those reports to give a better idea of the quality of the riding but honestly you cannot imagine how good it is until you go.
BTW, Thailand has a great coffee culture. This is typical of what you receive when you order a coffee. I savored every mouthful and aroma as I departed to the Philippines where they serve instant coffee. Thanks for visiting.
More photos can be found on Instagram.
Overview of the journey.
A special note regarding ‘Black Dog Adventure Club’ which I am no longer associated with.
It was a social ride group not for profit. The admin was booking all the hotels and got so many points on Agoda his rooms often were free, no probs but then he got greedy.
He decided why not ask for payment of rooms in advance and then book much cheaper hotels than what was stated for the ride and pocket all the left over money. The old bait and switch scam.
I picked up on this and left the club under a hail of insults and threats from the admin. Bit of a shame as the members were nice guys.
Another heads up is a liar by name of Ofer who is selling Ducati tours out of Chang Mai – avoid this guy he is scammer as well.