Friday, March 17, 2017

Motorcycling Tak Province and the Wonderful 105

It's been a while since I posted anything and after a lot of talking to myself finally built up enough motivation to make a beginning, to scratch something out about my winter meanderings in Thailand. After only a few more weeks it'll be another I'm Outta Here™ moment I'll be back in Homer for the summer. I've been very busy adding geographic data to Alaska on Open Street Map and it seems the more I do the more I notice how much there is to do. My mapping addiction has also been helping me avoid thinking too much about the disaster unfolding in the United States where an actual fascist was elected to the presidency. I'm not going to wade into that swamp here. It's enough to mention it in passing and to hope that draining it involves lancing the abscess on the American democracy that is Donald J. Trump.

We've had fine, really excellent, weather since late November and that always gets the motorcycling juices flowing. When I say excellent I'm talking about 65-degree mornings and, afternoon temps in the 80s with cloudless blue skies. That means wearing jackets and gloves at the start of a day's ride and gradually stashing those layers until it's lunch time. Of course, Nut, along with most other Thais, never sheds her outer jacket. She hates getting any sun on her skin and wears long sleeves even on 90 plus degree afternoons. This behavior is inexplicable to my mind because the heat genuinely bothers her. I reckon it's just a Thai thing.

The 1090 on my GPS
Anyway, Nut's daughter Dui's boyfriend Na is a school teacher and they were going to be visiting his family over the New Year holiday so Nut and I decided to meet them at his family home near Mae Sot, in Tak Province, and caravan with them (they drove a car) to the remote little town of Umphang. Aside from hoping to enjoy a pleasant motorcycle ride, the object was to see Thailand's highest waterfall, Namtok Thi Lo Su. The ride to Umphang passes through a lovely and very sparsely populated region that is both mountainous and heavily wooded. The only road to Umphang is, however, a twisty little SOB, full of hills and hairpin turns. Signs in nearby towns proudly advertise that the 1090 has 1226 curves. I found motorcycling 2-up on it nerve-wracking and while I'd love to visit Umphang again that drive isn't something I'm eager to experience again, at least not right away.

We were lucky to find a guesthouse with a vacancy on New Year's weekend and Nut made a reservation sight unseen. It turned out to be a very pleasant accommodation — a series of little bungalows in a beautiful setting on the river. The Umphang Riverside Guesthouse is just outside of town on the Umphang River (N16.01180, E98.85836)

Sunrise at the Umphang Riverside
To get to Thi Lo Su we had to hire a driver and vehicle because ordinary cars and motorcycles are prohibited from entering the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary where the falls is located. It's just as well because the commute in and out on a miserable dirt road was torturously bumpy, so riddled with ruts and potholes that even the late model Isuzu 4x4 we were riding in couldn't tame them. Despite my rigid hold on the grab-bar my head bounced off the door frame repeatedly, and I had it good. I was riding shotgun while Nut, Chicha, Dui and Na were stuffed into the back seat. It took 2 hours to drive 20 km (12.5 miles) and when it was over it was a relief to get out of the truck and walk again. We paid 1200 baht ($35 USD) for the ride.

We had to drive to Mae Sot after returning from the falls and by the time we finished getting banged up on that blasted dirt road again it was getting on towards 3 pm. I worried about getting stuck driving the 1090 after dark but we made good time and managed to pull into our hotel parking lot just after dinner. We got an early start the next day and took the scenic route back to Mae Sariang, one of my favorite towns, riding the newly repaired route 105. Nut and I rode the 105 a couple of seasons ago and it was a royal mess. Mile after mile of construction and many miles of badly broken pavement after that. But the reconstruction is almost complete and the road was awesome! It turned into one of those classic Thailand motorcycle rides — perfect weather, a nice curvy road with smooth pavement, no traffic and scenery that is as good as any Thailand has to offer. The 105 runs between Mae Sariang on the north and Mae Sot in the south through the lovely Moei River valley. Thailand is on the east side, Myanmar is just across the river which doubles as the international boundary. We liked it so much we returned to Mae Sariang a month later with Homer buddy DC, our friend Daniel, and some new friends, American expats from Chiang Rai, Bruce and Lois. The photos below are from that tour.

Lois, Daniel, Dave, Bruce, Nut, DC
Route 105 - Rit River Bridge (N17.9304, E97.9573)

Thailand 105

Moei River on the 105 (N17.5106, E97.9923)

The refugee camp at Mae La on the 105 (N17.1155, E98.39966)

I'll add a couple of photos from a trip I made to Udon Thani a couple of months ago just to close out the Thailand report for this season. I make the journey to Udon every year to visit with a contingent of Homer friends who hang out there. I discovered several new ideal-for-motorcycling roads, the 1237, the 1083, and the 1026, on the return trip.

View from the 2331 (N16.8926, E101.0994)

View from the 1083 (N18.3694, E100.8316)

I'll be back in Eugene in three weeks and back in Homer on May 17th. I'll also visit my daughter, Carin, in North Carolina. Sister Sandy, brother Dale and nephew Jason will drive down from Buffalo to join us for a family reunion. Also during that visit, Carin and I will join thousands of other people protesting the regressive and vile policies of the SCROTUS, aka Florida Man, in Washingon, DC.