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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 social ride club I said ok. Their Thai ride was going to a few places that sounded interesting but mostly I thought it would be good to try riding with others again after so many miles solo.
I flew from Tokyo to Bangkok a few days prior to get best priced airfare and enjoyed the great food and big city nightlife. I flew with Scoot which along with Jetstar I rate as two of the worst airlines. Cheap and nasty. To Chiang Mai I flew Thai Lion which by comparison was great (but never fly Lion in Indonesia).
Taxi to downtown with interesting sticker.
Some great food and many beers were enjoyed before flying to Chiang Mai. (including couple meals in Bangkok’s fabulous little India area)
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.
I found out when home the GoPro still images were all rubbish. It was ok when new on my Australia tour but an update of firmware since then 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.
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.
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.
Sorry no photos because in the group so you tend to not stop – this is down side to group rides.
Really great to be able to work all of a motorcycle engine, so much more satisfying than a super powerful bike you can rev out in maybe 1st gear momentary before already doing 160. But maybe that is just me.
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 group insisted I visit the local hospital. There I was seen promptly and the doctor said there was nothing in it now so the eye wash had worked 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 enough when using rental bikes, I also need to pack at least a basic compact/folding multi-tool and some zip ties and wire and duck tape.
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.
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. Cost this ride was bike rental 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-$120 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 as I departed to the Philippines where they serve instant coffee. Thanks for visiting.
Overview of the journey.
Update – I have since ridden Thailand two more times 2019 and 2020
A special note regarding ‘Black Dog Adventure Club’ I did this ride with.
This was a Facebook bike group doing rides in the Philippines then SE Asia.
The admin to me always seemed dodgy. Using the alias Hagler Kobayashi. Talking about a real estate portfolio that would have made him one of the richest men in Perth then roughing it to save $10.
After a group ride in Indonesia a member told me he ripped them off on the hotels. I then noticed he was doing a bait and switch scam on the next group ride in India so I left the group under a hail of insults.
Watch out for that alias in bike groups and another guy Ofer Winter, a liar ripping people off on Ducati rentals in Chiang Mai.
Awesome. Thank you so much for putting the post together. It looks like a great time.
Not only did you group ride in 2017 but look at the selfies you included.
We haven't done any group riding in a few years. Always hard to stop when you want and that accordion/slinky effect in the corners is annoying at best.
Also loved the pink elephant you won/displayed. Nice touch.
Thanks Brandy. I was very happy on the CB500X and everyone who had one also agreed they were an excellent bike. If you end up buying one this year I am sure you will enjoy it. I am seriously considering one myself (or the NC750X as the 500 is not sold in Japan).
Another excellent trip report Warren, looks like you got you mug in some more pictures which is hard to do when you ride solo. There's for and against on both side riding with and without others. If your blogging and stopping for pics all the time it can be distracting for the others.
Looks like it was a great trip by the looks. Cheers and thanks for sharing.
Thanks Steve hope you tour of NZ is also going well.
Hey Warren..Just wanted to thank you for writing about the trip for others to get out and experience Thailand. Even though I was one of the van dwellers it was an adventure and great bonding with a bunch of super guys..Cheers Kirby!
Your welcome Kirby, hope you are doing well, I will come visit Cebu December hope we can catch up again then.
Thanks for sharing this really interesting ride report and your photos are a sesnsational as ever Warren!
Thanks for kind words, it was such a nice place to ride.
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I have driven around these roads and ridden on a scooter in years past and reading this is giving me itchy feet again.
The coffee culture in Thailand is interesting as I noticed the same thing riding in the north. I was talking to a friend of mine about it who has lived in Thailand since the 90s and he told me it is a relatively recent thing that is not indigenous to Thailand but was imported by expatriates from the West initially before being adopted by the Thais themselves. It really makes a difference though when road-tripping. I also found the almost complete lack coffee places or cheap roadside eats in the Philippines (and Myanmar and to an extent Laos and Vietnam) frustrating after how easy things are in Thailand. Japan looks great for that too. I would love to ride around there but like a lot of places bike rental seems extortionate relative to renting a car.
Hi Tim, yes I think Thailand is one of the best destinations for riding; easy, friendly, safe, affordable, good food and amazing roads.