North Thailand’s highlights on a motorbike
From Ban Rak to Pai to Mae Hong Son and onwards via Thailand’s Northern frontier. Designer bohemian hangouts and deserted towns don’t score high on my books these days at all.
With rave reviews Pai is a “must” for “first timers” wanting to chill out and do little else but “chill out” drink milkshakes and take in the odd hike. If you’ve never been to a mountain in Thailand then continue north to Mae Hong Son where some “highland trekking” is an option.
Ban Rak is a border town with another name of Mae Aw. Nice if you want to see a Chinese style village in Thailand on the Burma border and drink tea …
If you have little or no interest in the above or have seen it before (like me) then it’s all the more proof that the adventure of taking a motorcycle on Thailand’s northern winding roads makes up the difference.
Back down and around to the east it’s time to visit more “highlights” from North Thailand.
The adventure is the road on this one.
The Mai Sai border a past favourite for visa border runs
I couldn’t help but make the trip to Mai Sai and the popular (Burma) Myanmar border. I love borders. They are full of hustle and bustle with the thrill of leaving one country before entering into another.
Mai Sai is a little different in that it was also one of the most popular day border trips for those looking to stay in Thailand longer. A quick mini-van trip up north, get stamped out of Thailand, then walk into Burma and then head back into Thailand – you’d be back in time for dinner with the ink still wet in your passport for 30 more days.
That all changed recently as Thailand’s immigration cracked down on these border runs.
The most frequent types of border runners are those working illegally in Thailand. From English teachers to dodgy Korean restaurants everyone was/is at it. Now Thailand wants its jobs back and so visa runners are negated to $50 return flights or actually obtaining a working visa.
A wedding in North Thailand
Just south of the border and I see a parade of people in fancy dress. A protest? A coup? A funeral? Pulling over I see a bride who doesn’t look Thai and a Thai man in a smart suit. It’s a wedding.
Now if this was Bangkok or dare I say Chiang Mai I might have approached a little further than I did. I’m hot, sweaty and very dusty. Not exactly a prime wedding guest even if I’m a foreigner. So I play the card as well as I can and approach.
The wedding is in full swing. The bride and groom are all dressed up as are the bridesmaids but after that … well maybe I don’t feel to out-of-place.
I ask a local man, standing as I am, about the occasion.
“She’s from Burma, he’s from Thailand,” he says without hesitation.
I ask no more though I have a bevy of questions. Mainly to do with the legality of who can now live where. Today is not the day.
South to the Golden triangle
So now at border number three at Chiang Saen and it’s a trifecta. At this confluence Thailand borders Laos and Burma (Myanmar). It’s also a bit of a national and international tourist trap it seems.
Everyone from Monks with big cameras and smart phones to restless Thai school children to tour led foreigners are here.
Being on my own it’s a bit difficult to tell what’s actually here to see or what country is where. Luckily there’s a thing called the internet and a giant pointy triangular sign that tells me where all the countries are.
I’m guessing the sandy island in the middle is no-mans land. However, it doubles as a 150 baht boat ride destination where you can buy some overpriced trinkets from Burma, Laos or Thailand … or maybe China.
I gave it a skip, I recommend the same to anyone reading this unless you really want that whole “I’m sitting in the middle of three countries … maybe” experience.
I was told by an immigration official the actual triangle is the grassy land mass off to the left of the above photo …
Last stop on the northern route
Night seems to fall faster in Thailand. Within thirty minutes the sky goes from daylight to dusk and I’m still trying to find a place to stay in Chiang Rai that isn’t overpriced.
I’m two days early yet still arriving too late to see anything. That will teach me for spending wayyyyy too long at the Golden triangle.
Meanwhile I check into my guesthouse babbling about taking photos of my hog outside so no one better steal it and muttering something about no good food in Chiang Rai.
My eager hope that Chiang Rai could be a better destination than Chiang Mai is falling away like the daylight outside.
Chiang Rai has two claims to fame. It’s a business city (whoopee!) and it’s got a famous white temple that’s actually quite new (and just been smashed by an earthquake).
Still, I look forward to the white temple … and a glimmer of hope that Chiang Rai’s daylight will show me something that pushes it above the boogaloo town of Chiang Mai.
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White Temple madness en route back to the boogaloo town