Doi Tung and Mae Sai

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

We needed to get to Mae Sai to cross the border briefly into Burma.  The highway from Chiang Rai isn't bad and has a well-paved shoulder for motorbike traffic.  But it's still noisy and polluted and ugly, so we just rode as far as Mae Chan and then turned off to go up to Doi Tung.  The area is a popular tourist spot for Thais for several reasons.  One, the King has a mountain retreat up there that people can tour.  It's like a really nice log cabin and had awesome gardens.  They also grow coffee in the region, so there are scenic coffee shops surrounded by mountains.  The other main reason people head up here is that there is a temple on one of the mountain peaks that (need I even say "supposedly") has a bone of the Buddha in it.  One of my clients actually told me she flew to Chiang Rai one morning, drove to this temple to pray and meditate for the day, then flew back to Bangkok.  So it's obviously a revered site.  We were more about the cool mountain air and stunning views. 

Unfortunately, we picked a bad time of year for the latter.  It's winter, so things aren't nearly as green as they are during and immediately following the rainy season.  Plus, everyone was burning their fields after the harvest, so there was a thick haze throughout the day in every direction.  But the air was still cool and it was nice to be out of the city.  We made some stops in Akha villages and along the road to have a look around, so the ride took a couple of hours or so.  Then we toured the King's retreat and had lunch and coffee ice cream. 

What's cool about Thais traveling so much is that even tourist traps can't be that expensive, because they're not solely for foreign tourists.  So tickets to the retreat were a couple of bucks, as were our lunches.  We then, against the advice of the woman at the tourist information center, took a back way down into Mae Sai.  The road is paved, but smaller than 1 lane, and it hugs the Thai-Burmese border.  Armed Thai soldiers were posted at several checks along the road, but they were all smiles and quite helpful.  One of guards was actually so nice that while his buddies were checking our passports, he offered to take our picture in front of a sign that designates that we're standing on the edge of Burma. 

The road is only 20 km, but its all turns and we never went faster than 15 miles per hour or so.  We actually had the engine off for much of the ride and just coasted out of the mountains.

We made it to Mae Sai in mid-afternoon, parked our bike near the border, and crossed over to Burma.  They stamped us, took our 500 baht visa fee, and let us immediately return to Thailand.  Last time we did a border run in Mae Sot, we spent several hours in Burma, but that particular border town seemed shady and reminded me unsettlingly of some seedier locales in Latin America.  But we didn't have time to wander around Burma this time anyway.  We wanted to get back to Chiang Rai by sunset, so we set off.  I really like riding motorbikes, but the highway isn't my favorite spot.  But we got some cool views even from there, and we made it back safely. 
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