"Don't tell anybody. They will ruin it."
I had been roaming around the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand for several weeks when I met Don Duval. Another American leaf in the wind, living on a sailboat with his Honda XR600 strapped to the bow as he moves around the globe, we had collided in Chiang Mai. Duval likes to do the "tough guy stuff," riding single tracks and animal trails with only a fanny pack and your wits to get you through a couple hundred miles of insect and snake infested jungle. During our collision dinner Duval suggested that together we might try a path we had both looked at on our maps. It was not far, less than 400 kilometers, but the dotted lines disappeared on our maps in several places and neither of us were sure the road/trail/path would continue onward.
I had wanted to try the route, but speaking no Thai and on a questionable Yamaha 250 TTR with no tool kit, I had been hesitant to go alone. Duval spoke Thai, had a full set of tools and a lady friend who was going to be happier staying in Chiang Mai at a hotel and shopping than she would be bouncing through the jungle on the back of his XR. I said, "Yes, let's do it." For the next four days Duval and I were two wheel soul mates.
Don Duval testing his personal riding envelope.
The north of Thailand has thousands of kilometers of gravel and dirt tracks through the jungle, some leading right up to the Burma and Laos borders. It is over these tracks that some of the illegal drugs flow south, but mostly they are used by the local hill tribe natives to get from their villages to the lower towns and markets. In the dry season many of the tracks can easily be traversed by a two-wheel drive pickup truck. When wet, they are impassable. Don and I enjoyed both the wet and dry.
Wet Thai jungle mud is more slippery than K-Y Jelly on glass and an error in judgement found my motorcycle high-centered in a two-foot deep rut.
Averaging 5-10 miles per hour, we crossed streams, slid down red mud mountainsides and dabbed our way up hills with 180-degree turn after 180-degree turn. After eight hours on the first day we were less than 100 kilometers from where we started, tired, hungry and the sun was nearly gone. Duval said he knew a place where we could stay, a "secret place." It was a private lodge, maintained by the government for dignitaries, surrounded by golf course lawns, a lake and blooming flowers. A half dozen bungalows with hot water showers, clean pressed white sheets on soft beds and a friendly manager made for the end of a perfect day of motorcycling in what seemed to be Paradise. For $10.00 we were bedded like kings for the night, with a few dollars thrown on top for a meal and a couple of beers. The next morning, as we left, I asked if the place was even on any map. Duval smiled, said "No," then suggested I not tell anybody where it is, so I won't.
I am saying, "OK, I won't whisper where this is to the clouds, flowers, nor into the wind."
The next three days were more of the same. Even after a morning rain made mud slicker than tire Slime, Duval and I found ourselves still laughing at each other like schoolboys playing in a summer rain. The best part of the adventure is knowing that there is another 2,000-3,000 kilometers of the same kind of riding waiting for me when I return.
German lady motorcycle adventurer Kerstin Hassman and I traded road stories and shared some perfect roads near the Golden Triangle.
No secret in Northern Thailand is the "Rubber Triangle," home of the Cabbages and Condoms Inn and Restaurant.
Finding the best motorcycling road in Thailand was one of my goals. From maps, traveler's gossip at Joe's Bike Team/Goodwill Motorcycle Rental (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Chiang Mai, road tips and fellow adventurers, I had a fix on what most considered to be the best motorcycling roads. After riding them I thought, "OK, not bad, but not great." Then I got into a debate with an expert, "Mr. Golden Triangle Rider", David Unkovich (www.GT-Rider.com). He has written a book, A Motorcycle Guide To The Golden Triangle, and in it described the Doi Phukha loop, as "the most spectacular asphalt road in N. Thailand!" He was even so bold as to write "The scenery and views are stunning, the roads deserted, narrow, steep and very winding. You can't claim to have ridden N. Thailand until you've done the Doi Phukha loop."
I had not ridden this road (#1256), but felt I could challenge his proclamation with other roads that I had ridden in Thailand. Armed with my maps and a month's worth of chasing perfect roads, I was prepared to debate Mr. Golden Triangle Rider. I verbally drew the line in the imaginary sand and said, "You're wrong." He smiled, humoring me, and said, "I wasn't when I wrote what I did. Now the best road is # 1148, between Chiang Kham and Tha Wang Pha. Go out and ride them, then come back and talk to me." I did both.
Part of what makes a perfect motorcycling road in Thailand is one which snakes along a mountain ridge with evenly cambered high speed curves and fresh macadam, here found on an empty section of #1148 on New Year's Day, 2002.
What contributes to the definition of a great motorcycling road takes into consideration a number of factors, some of which are variable. If you are riding an Ultra Classic Harley-Davidson or BMW K1200LT with a passenger on the back and luggage, then you are not going to like wallowing through turn after turn, some more than 180 degrees, scraping foot boards or dragging chrome tail pipes on some twisty Alpine-like road to Heaven. That road is better suited for the Ducati 998 or some similar sport bike. On the other hand, to the chopper or dresser rider, dead-slow Main Street in Daytona Beach, Florida during Bike Week may be their best road. Another variable is rider skill level or experience. A third factor is riding style; the cruiser verses the squid.
Unkovich is the expert. He wrote the book, so I bowed to his knowledge and expertise. As a motorcycle tour guide, long time resident of Northern Thailand and experienced motorcyclist he has the advantage of wisdom. But then again, I have been chasing perfect motorcycling roads around the world on everything from an Indian Chief to an Ecomobile. For me, the best motorcycling road in North Thailand is #1081 between Bo Kluai and Huai Kon.
Why that 100 kilometers running along the border to Laos of pot holed, up and down, one/two lane, twisty, dirt/macadam, with half a dozen villages, each with dogs sleeping in the road and chickens darting across? Because it was New Years Eve when I rode it on a dual-purpose motorcycle with no luggage, and I saw only two other moving vehicles in the hour and one half it took me to complete, trying to beat sundown back to the town of Nan. My secret for this road was having a personal riding envelope that I pushed to the limit, knowing that after I was done, the road had been mine to test and I had conquered it.
Unkovich and I agreed on another great riding road as the night wore on, that being #1149 from Mai Sai to Doi Tung, then onto # 1130 into Mae Salong. The secret to this road is to do it when there is no traffic, in the early morning.
Thailand motorcycling is not all in the Golden Triangle. The promise of riding on the white beaches of the Andaman Sea pulled me towards the south of Thailand, the Island of Phuket and the nightlife of Patong. My Indian Rally tee shirt from Daytona Bike Week now proudly hangs in Nicky's Handlebar, a Harley-Davidson bar in Patong (www.nickyhandlebar.com), and in exchange I have a Handlebar tee shirt. It was there I met Kia, a local guy who wears American Indian clothing, turquoise, moccasins and headband, looking more like an Indian than Tonto. I gave him an arrowhead I had carried around the world for good luck and made a friend for life. It was also in Patong that I interviewed a prostitute who spoke excellent English (having been married to an American for half a dozen years). She shared with me her personal insight into the clandestine and intimate life of a working lady in Thailand, something with her permission that I will use in a future book or magazine article.
As the night and our sophistry got longer, so did the list of super roads. The Mae Hong Son Loop, the run up to Doi Inthanon, or Route # 1192 and #1263 across to Khun Yuam near the Burmese border. The clank of two Heineken beer bottles signed our agreement for the road out of Chiang Mai up to Wat Doi Suthep and back down, using a Honda 110 Dream.
Wobbling out the door at the end of our debate and debauchery, I remembered another favorite road I felt I had to add to our list. Fogged, I could not recall the road number, just that it started in Parg Hat, twisted up the side of a 1200 meter high mountain to a split at the mountain top where I could look down into Laos. The road then turned right and ran 100 kilometers south along the Thai/Laos border on the top of a mountain range, finally ending in Chiang Kham. Unkovich could sense my stress in trying to remember the route number. As we were about to say "Good Bye," I was still trying to cough up and babble out the route number, when he said, "You mean the one where the guy who runs out of the shop on the corner and tries to get you to stop and buy something?" I screamed, "Yeah, yeah, that's the one!" Buddha-like, All Knowing Unkovich smiled and said, "Yes, that's a great one."
Not all the adventure in Thailand is atop motorcycles on empty, perfect roads. Here I am sharing an elephant ride with Japanese motorcyclist and journalist Akiko Kishimoto.
The promise of white beach riding came true just off of Route 4 south of Takhupa, about 100 kilometers north of Phuket. The Rainbow Water Falls and a freshly paved twisty road back to Phang-Nga stuck another great riding road on my Thailand list, but that was the one time I got lost, so it will remain a secret.
One of Thailand's secret places, this empty beach on the Andaman Sea provided a haunting end to my hunt for perfect riding in "Amazing Thailand."
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited