Monday, 6 December 2010

Week 5 - Sukothai to Sawankalok via MaeSot. A massive 41kms cycled

Highlights: Twisty windy mountain roads and great scenery.
Low blows: Front mud guard fell off somewhere. Not rainy season so doesnt really matter.
Music of the week: Louie Louie – Toots and the Maytals

Mae Sot
Had pinapple again for breakfast and a superstrong cup of expresso. Packed stuff then went to bus station. Ate lunch, lots of cheeky sparrows clearing up leftovers when people have left. Took bus to Tak (no charge for bike) and then got a shiny brand new van to MaeSot with bike strapped to roof. Mad road, everyone going too fast through the twisty steep forested hills, Arrived Mae sot 3:30 and got my bearings when I saw the police cells for illegals. Checked into place I stayed when I came here 3 years ago. Lovely room 300baht. Wifi, hot shower, cable tv, garden outside. Only downer is they have several cats here so its a bit wiffy of cat poo when you walk down the driveway. Found a pot stall for dinner, 2 scoops and a hor mok. Aroy. You can tell you are near Myanmar border as lots of women with yellow sandalwood powder on their faces and exotic looking people wandering about. One  bloke eating in the food place I was in  had a colourful headscarf, lunghi and shirt – very non-Thai.

Next day had a wander around busy market in morning, big pinapple for breakfast and not so good coffee (they don’t seem to care for coffee around these parts – lots of ready mix and Nescafe  ‘its the best’). Was in search of the betel nut stuff but not many places doing it. Cycled up to border area, very quiet compared to Mae Sai, and very little movement over bridge. Further up stream came across what I assumed to be a sweatshop- big factory all sealed up but with the klack klack klack of what I presumed to be looms Inside. Went to quieter section of river and people being ferried across in canoes at one point and on rubber inner tubes at another – motorbike taxis waiting under tree so obviously a regular crossing. Lads selling cartons of fake Marlboros and sex potions, Viagra etc. Next to bridge a huge market full of tat and ‘gemstones’. Cycled back, hot sun. Read book in afternoon and decided to hire motorbike tomorrow to go to Umphang.

Burmese vendors in market

Alternative means of crossing the border

 Goods for sale at the border, 'best quality guaranteed'

Mae Sot to Umphang by motorbike
Hired motorbike in morning and set off by 11am. Soon discovered the front part of the seat had had its padding taken out making it very uncomfortable. Had to use a jumper for padding and cursed whoever owns the bike’s (probably a youth) ideas of sporty looks. Had a massive bug splat into my left eye- lucky to be wearing sunglasses. Road soon started going upwards. Lovely countryside and surprising what a little bit of altitude and change in climate can do for crop growing. I smelt out large fields of spring onions, planted in tight rows. Also sugar cane, cabbages, and other veggies. Lots of irrigation systems on the go. Worried about fuel as don’t know where the fill ups are, so kept putting gas in every time a station appeared. (Neednt have worried cos theres a station bang mid way at 80kms.)

Road starts climbing into hills, good fun on motorbike and glad Ive got a 4 stroke. Awesome scenery, pine trees, deciduous and lots of gullies, ridges and mountains. Very twisty windy road. Everyone had said that this road was dangerous, but its not the road but the drivers coming round on wrong side of bend that are the problem. Road eventually came down and along a valley. Stopped at gas station km80 and filled up. Bunch of monks all there having ice creams (bit naughty cos already 2pm). Chatted a bit with workers there and rested my bum. Bit of a settlement here and further up road is a big refugee camp up and along the hillside. Doesn’t look too crowded and housing looks decent too. Annoying to see a few churches in the settlement, why cant they just help people instead of having to convert them? Carried on, road getting bendy again and sign warning of curves ahead peppered with bullet holes, just to add confidence to the ride! Next section of road very windy and mountainous and rather cold in the shady sections so I put on my jumper. Lots of workers putting in new concrete poles in for the electricity cables.

Eventually made it over mtn range – great view over field below, and onto lower farmland. Surprised to see outcrops of limestone (bit like Krabi) amongst the fields. Lovely scenery and glad I decided to make the trip, although it would be awful stuck in the back of a songtheaw. At bottom of one section of hill the crash barrier completely buckled and ripped apart where a truck laden with building materials had gone through (just bags of cement and bits n pieces left, no truck), Eventually got to Umphang, small town with tourists being the local industry. Found a place to stay once the old lady that ran it had woken up, and got a wooden chalet near to river and in a lovely garden for 300baht.

Wandered about town and found a pot shop to eat at. Took a small bottle of sangsom back to room, drank half while reading book, then decided to go for a beer. Bought a take out from small shop that was just closing and got grabbed by some local women who’d been drinking Lao Lao so had fun with them for a while until a bloke who’d been sitting with us suddenly went weird, ordered his girlfriend to go indoors then grabbed her by the hair, punched her. She fell on floor screaming and he started to boot her. A big bloke from house next door appeared and calmed it all down. Decided time to leave em to it so wandered back up road.Pretty cool in the night, 2 blankets needed.

Mtn road

Mtn road, with bullet holes in sign

Almost at Umphang

Umphang and around
Had a potter about town, chatted with a girl who’d been in that refugee camp for 3 years and now worked in a shop in the town. Not really anything to do in the town, think they must get a lot of Thai tourists, although Ive seen a few farangs about. Went for a spin on motorbike. Lots of cows in road.  Ended up going down a dead end road which took me through an unmanned check point and then the road just ended with a sign saying this is where Thailand starts, beyond it was just a field with a track. Thought about going down it, but dunno what the Burmese army would do if they caught me having a nosey, probably ok, but you never know. In a village on road coming back from border looked pretty  lined with bamboo poles with long red silk flag things  with elephants on them. Back into Umphang and spent afternoon reading by the river. Went out for a beer. Chatted for a bit with ladies from yesterdays excitement and theyre all ok, bloke has buggered off somewhere.
Thailand ends 1 metre in front of motorbike

Around Umphang

View from Mtn road

View from Mtn road
Around Umphang

Back to Mae Sot
Enjoyed the scenery on the way back, although lots of empty trucks whizzing round corners so gotta pay attention. Stopped a lot along the way for the scenery. Found out that the gas attendant at km80 lives in the refugee camp so gave him the shorts Id been planning to donate there. Ate lunch at big roadstop area and briefly chatted with a group of microlite enthusiasts from ChiangMai, 10 microlites altogether in the back of their pickups. Stopped off at the lovely little Tararak waterfall on the way back, timing my arrival perfectly with the departure of about ten songtheaws full of Thais all whooping it up and heading to Umphang. Sugar cane being harvested and trucked out. Arrived back in town at 4:30. My hayfever is getting realy bad, itchy eyes, incessant sneezing, runny nose and itchy throat, must be a lot of pollen about and its harvest time so reakon lots in air too.

Tararak waterfall

Had a look around local temple with a Burmese type stupa (like a large golden chess pawn). Funny to see a dog sprayed with purple, I think it was iodine spray, looked like a purple tiger. Wandered down to police station and took sneaky pic of Karien whod crossed into Thailand illegally and were now in the cells. Read book in afternoon and didn’t do a great deal in evening either, used google earth to attempt plotting a route in Laos. Should be interesting to see if it works or not! Getting bored just hanging about but Im tied to the entry date on my Vietnam visa so must bide my time till 14thand then into Laos.

Burmese style stupa
Exceedingly rare purple tiger
Detainees who'd crossed the border with no papers
A new add on to my bike for when I get tired!
Gem and other shiny stone traders in MaeSot

Inside the temple

MaeSot to Sukothai, then cycle to Sawankalok 41kms
Took van to Tak, bit worried cos had to strap it to a big box upright on roof. Driver was an old boy taking his time so not too scary. Had an hours wait in Tak so ate lunch and loaded bike onto bus, had to remove front wheel and use ropes to secure it inside. Reassembled bike at other end and it wasn’t until Id set off that I noticed front mudguard missing. Went back and flagged down bus that was just leaving but nothing in its hold. It either fell off while it was on the roof of the van, or had done so in the bus and got chucked out when a bloke took his rice sacks off. It might have got damaged just before I got on van bike fell over onto floor. Either way, its gone, so hopefully its not gonna rain and I wont need it anyway! Was worried highway 101 was gonna be busy, but it was a flat straight road with not too much traffic on it. Farmers getting fileds ready for the next plant of something- sugar cane?. Big surprise when I got to Sawankolok, town centre blocked off and a huge parade going through it – it’s the kings birthday!- military marched through first, then a lot of people dressed in white holding photographs and pictures up, then traditionally dressed people, decided it would take ages to wait so I found a clear spot up the side and went slowly alongside the parade going the wrong way. Quite a few floats, marching bands, interspersed with people in pink king shirts waving flags – very impressive! Managed to find a soi which took me to a parallel road and aske for a hotel. Was directed to a posh hotel which I eventually found after having to negotiate the tail end of the parade waiting to get going. Cheapest room there was 1000 baht! So got them to tell me where cheaper places in town were, turns out a cheap one was just around the corner so I brought up the rear of the parade till I got to hotel and checked in. Only 220 baht a night! Really good place too, miles better than the crap hole I stayed in 10 years ago. Showered and then eventually found a place to eat. Had a nosey in centre of town, very busy with everyone wearing pink and not a lot to see so back to hotel. Glad Ive got the bike cos everything is very spaced out here and a bit of a maze. Has the feel of a really nice Thai town here.

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