Mae Hong Son

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Mar 10, 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Saturday, February 2, 2008

Greetings from Mae Hong Son, where I've been relaxing for the past few days.  It's a neat little town of about 8,000 residents in Northern Thailand, only a thirty-minute flight from Chiang Mai and just south of Myanmar's border.  The population here is predominately Shan with several Karen and Lisu tribal villages located nearby.  There's a small tourist industry in town, but from what I hear, the city's primary economic engine is fueled by supplying rice and other goods to the drug lords across the border.

While it was supposed to be cooler up here, the weather has stayed in the upper 80s, and it rained nearly nonstop the first few days I was here.  That was peachy with me, since I was laid up with a head cold and sinus infection, and I'd rather be sick on rainy days and not waste the good weather.  So, I spent most of my time reading, sleeping off my cold, and walking around town during the breaks between the rain.  I took a nice hike up to Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, which is a Shan-built wat about 1,500 kilometers up in the mountains just west of town, and made an offering of flowers, candles, and incense to Buddha.

Today, the sun finally came out and I woke up feeling mostly better, thanks to the antibiotics I brought from home.  Most of the trekking companies weren't running trips today, so I decided to rent a motorbike and ride up to Mae Aw, which is a town about 55 kilometers north of here.  The trip is supposed to be gorgeous, with huge waterfalls and stunning scenery along the way, and although I had never ridden a motorbike before, I figured it couldn't be that difficult.

Less than an hour later, as I was applying antiseptic to my bloodied elbows and knees, I found myself wondering what had gone so horribly wrong.  I mean, motorbikes are ubiquitous around here - teenagers ride them with impunity, infants sit on the handlebars without helmets, and even grandmothers have no problems handling these babies.  So what the hell is my deal?

I would have accepted my inglorious fate with more grace if the accident had at least been a spectacular one.  But the truth is that my spill occurred less than fifteen feet away from where I rented the bike.  Technically, I hadn't even rented the bike yet - I was just taking a test spin.  The girl at the rental shop, who was maybe fourteen years old, gave me a quick lesson.  Kickstand, ignition, accelerator, brakes, and turn signals.  Seemed pretty easy.  She encouraged me to hop on and give it a whirl.  I turned on the ignition and brought up the kickstand- no problem there.  As I hit the gas, I turned to her to ask, "This is the accelerator, right?", but before I could finish my sentence, I tore out of the shop like a bat out of hell.  Apparently, the gas trigger is pretty touch-sensitive, and before I knew it, I hit the curb on the other side of the street and skidded out, bringing the bike down with me onto the pavement.

I jumped to my feet immediately, hoping of course no one had noticed, but it was too late.  My physical injuries were minimal- scraped knees and elbows - but the damage to my pride was beyond repair.  If I entertained any delusion that I was even remotely cool, if just for a minute, that fleeting fantasy was long gone.  The girl inspected the damage to the bike and kindly calculated it at 780 baht- about five times more than what it would have cost me to rent the damn thing for a day.  I gladly forked over the cash and shuffled off to the local pharmacy to pick up a bottle of disinfectant and gauze bandages, laughing out loud at myself along the way.

So no motorbike tour today - maybe another time.  Instead, I'm easing my embarrassment by treating myself to a nice lunch, sitting by Jong Kham Lake, and reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Much more my speed, I think.  Tomorrow, I head out to Pai - where I'll escape my local infamy and enjoy the beautiful vistas from the comfort of an air-conditioned minibus - for a couple of days.  I may hook up with a trekking company there or try once again to conquer the two wheels of death.  We'll see how my ego has recovered by then.

For the record, I'm blaming the whole fiasco on the decongestants, Mucolax, and antibiotics I'm taking for my sinus infection.  The pharmaceuticals clearly impaired my sense of balance and ability to operate machinery.

Hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
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kristen77 on

Poor Steve
I am sorry but that was pretty hysterical!! I am impressed you even attempted the motorbike - HELL no! Look at the bad boy in you coming you...Again, great stories!! And I am so impressed you had antibiotics - so prepared! In case you haven't heard yet, Giants beat Pats in Superbowl with less than a minute to spare....18-0 it is. Enjoy your travels!

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