I hate to say this but the A-hut turned out to be quite nice. I actually had a very good night’s sleep … no revving motorcycles passing by, no dogs barking at the moon, and most of all, no hyperactive roosters cock-a-doodling away at 3am in the morning. It was sheer bliss, and it was just cold enough to be enjoyable. This place really is a little slice of heaven on earth.
Soppong awakes to yet another dry, dusty day ...
As usual, the first order of the day is to fill the stomach, and satisfy our caffeine cravings. After last night’s dinner, there was only one place that could satisfy us — the market. After loading up, we headed straight for it, and the nice auntie’s stall serving the most delicious of Thai noodle soups. I was looking forward to the curry noodles I had yesterday. She must have been pleasantly surprised to see the whole peloton making a beeline for her stall.
The Malaysians decend on the market
As usual, the modus operandi for ordering food is to point to some food, raise one finger and smile. I was curious so I opened the lid of the huge soup pot and peeked inside … it was a different concoction from yesterday, but no matter, it would be delicious anyway.
Today's breakfast ... there were bits of boiled blood, pork, coriander, tomato and some unrecoqnisable stuff swimming among the rice noodles. Throw in a couple of spoonfuls of the ubiquitous chilli powder in and you have a solid, cycle-tourer's meal.
'Gimme one' ... Mo points for his breakfast. The morning was still quite chilly so he cleverly seated himself in front of the charcoal brazier.
A longer ride, today’s installment promised to be more strenuous. To be on the safe side, we packed some food for lunch from some stalls nearby — heavy-duty sausages, fried meat and sticky rice. These were guaranteed to provide the slow-burn energy we needed for all the up-and-down riding that would come our way soon.
But before we hit the road …
Coffee time. We headed back to Little Eden's little roadside cafe and had our fill.
Meanwhile, Philip was busy wrecking Little Eden's signboard. As he was pumping up his tyres, his bike slipped and knocked against it, displacing a few choice letters.
By my reckoning, the climbs would begin about 6kms from the town. It was a pleasant start to the day’s ride — we had had good night’s sleep, our bellies were full, the sun was still low and the air cool and dry. We were practically dawdling along, taking in the scenery around us.
Now that would have been an interesting sight, coffins in a cave, courtesy of some ancient tribe. I'd forgottten about this place that was located just outside the town. Too late to check it out now.
At this point, we were riding through some pretty big mountains. This section in particular, was quite impressive, with numerous karst peaks soaring into the clouds.
At the peak of the climb ... Can you see Myanmar in the distance? By right, one should be able to peer at the fringes of this impoverished but nuclear-armed country. But not today, and not for a few months yet while the dry season rages on.
By now, the noodles were gone, and I was drawn in by this simple roadside fare.
Pure carbo ...I particularly liked the red sweet potato. When roasted, they make a deliciously wholesome snack ... and the caramelised sugar on the blackened skin of the tuber is wonderfully fragrant.
At about noon, and at the end of another longish downhill, the sticky rice and sausages were begging to be eaten. We stopped at this convenient junction of 1095 and the 1285 where a bus-stop offered us respite from the sun and tucked in to our packed lunch.
At the junction leading to Mae Hong Son and Ban Huai Phueng ... the peloton get its picture taken.
At this point, we'd ridden about 50km. From here on, it's mostly flat to rolling...until just about 3km from town where a nasty little climb reminds you of the lactic acid still idling in your tired quads. We were so looking forward to a massage tonight.
End of the tour! A grand welcome, by Thai standards.
After a quick celebratory drink at a shop just beyond the arch, we headed into the city to look for a GH. And Mae Hong Son is a surprisingly big city. The other surprise was that MHS’s elevation was only about 257 m! All this while I’d thought MHS was located high in the northern mountains. I guess this was a very low valley.
After hunting around a bit near the lake, I came across a sign for vacant rooms in the royally named Prince GH. Walking in, I was met by a ‘farang’, an Englishman who seemed to be the manager. There was also an old lady sitting at a table in the lobby who seemed to be the boss.
Besides just asking for rooms, I also had to ask a very important question ‘Do you have air-con room?’, for the sake of our Princess, of course. Luckily they had one, and it was vacant. The irony of it all never quite hit me until much later — Prince and Princess, a lovely match, if ever there was one. Anyway, I was distracted by the majestic view of the lake from the Prince’s balcony. Nice. And the room rate was very agreeable too — 300B for fan-rooms for us common folk, and 400B for the Princess’ air-conditioned royal suite.
It was nothing grand like the funky GHs we stayed in in Pai and Soppong, but it was decent enough.
View of the lake from the balcony of Prince GH
Good food was next on our list. We took a slow walk in the fading light of the day to a recommended (by a Malaysian we met in Pai) restaurant called Fern. It was a big restaurant, and it was still early enough that the place only had a few diners. We decided to sit outdoors and the first thing we ordered was a couple of bottles of Beer Chang.
We toasted to a successful trip. It had unfolded positively beyond my expectations. But honestly, I hadn’t known if it was going to work out to be fun for everyone. Well, thanks to providence, it did turned out to be fun, safe, and full of little surprises. But most of all, we had all gotten to know each other a little better…
Mo had overcome his distaste for spicy foods and was now a bona fide Tom Yum expert. And, I have to say, I enjoyed those little skirmishes with him when our wheels face off to see who could reach the next top of a climb first 🙂
And Roland, well, he’s always in front, pedalling at a ridiculously high cadence, one that none of us could even try to follow. As I pointed out earlier — everything also no sweat for the Robot.
Philip turned out to be the biggest surprise of all — with only a borrowed bike and just a few training rides under his belt, he actually completed the almost 300km ride! He may have been slow at times, but he never whined and he just simply looked towards conquering the next corner, and the next … one pedal stroke at a time. Even the serious puncture that he experienced only dented his confidence slightly.
Philip’s motorcycling friends who had been here before had not been quite so encouraging as I did (although I was being super optimistic at the time of my invitation to him, thinking that at worst, he could just stick out his thumb and hitch a ride if his legs gave out on him), even telling him ‘You die oredi… Mae Hong Son is just like riding the jeep track up Penang Hill, except that it goes all the way’. Well, you showed them, bro. Bravo!
And Shang … well, what else can I say about my good friend? For all his Princess traits, he’s a fun guy to have on any tour. Just make sure you find him an air-con room at the end of the day and all will be well.
As for Terence, well, he’s the strong silent type. Never says much, rides at a steady pace and dreams of taking Valentino Rossi’s place one day.
Fern restaurant served us possibly the best meal of the trip, next to the fish place in Pai, of course. A bit pricey but the food was very good. Highly recommended.
My favourite dish for this meal came later -- it was Fried Snakehead with Mango Salad. It was so good, we ordered seconds.
How to best to end a tour? With a massage, of course. These masseurs were very good, and literally massaged away the lactic acid, and rejuvenated tired muscles. Worth every bit of the 200B price.
After his massage, Roland announced that he would ride back to Chiang Mai the next day. But what’s more impressive was that he was going to arrive the day after that, on Friday, the same day we were supposed to arrive by motorised transport. Friday also meant it would only take him half the time we took to ride here!
Well, I guess that’s why Shang calls him Universal Soldier (a la Jean-Claude Van Damme). As for us mortals, tomorrow we’ll be spending a day exploring the city (on motorcycles, again) and its surrounds, including visiting some ladies with abnormally long necks. Mo has been waiting a long time for that.
Seen along the main road as we were walking by -- a signboard proclaiming the services of one of MHS's more honest tour guides. Of course, with a name like his, what did you expect?
It would turn out that we weren’t actually done with riding … for Shang, Mo and me anyway.
We were going to emulate Roland, if only up to Soppong. The story continues….
Distance today: 72
Distance to date:
Playback today’s ride at everytrail.com