Mae Hong Son Area (and first motorbike crash)

Maehongson, Thailand's northern border city, hiding itself in between the towering mountains with densely forested slopes, stretching to the Burmese border. Maehongson is known for its charm of scenery and culture. The people of Maehongson consists of the Shans who live in the city and the hilltribe people who live in remote villages on mountain tops where elements of lifestyle have changed little in hundreds of years.

-- Mae Hong Son Travel

Similar to Pai, Mae Hong Son is pretty small and besides a few temples, there is not much to see in the city. In fact, we have seen most of the sights while walking around looking for a guesthouse. The one we settled on was just a few steps away from the lake with a beautiful temple on the other side. Every evening, this area is home to the night market vendors so we had plenty of local fares to choose from for dinner.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Night Market Vendors starting to set up on the bank of Chong Kham lake

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Old and new stupas at Wat Chong Klang

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Wat Chong Kham at night

It seemed like the majority of sights worth visiting were located to the north of the town. Unlike Pai, everything was quite the distance away so we could not loop around and see everything in one day. We chose to head north, make a stop at the Fish Cave and then go northwest through the Shan Hills to see a couple of waterfalls, a damn, King's palace, and a village on the border with Burma Myanmar.

Fish Cave

Located about 17 kilometers north of Mae Hong Son, the entrance to the cave was right off the 1095 road. Niclas and I rented the scooters again and I enjoyed the ride to the cave - a combination of nice straight segments to get the speed up and some quite sharp turns in-between to keep me on my toes.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Pulling off the road some where north of the city

Right away it gave the impression of a tourist trap with a large paved parking lot surrounded with venddors' stalls. It is not free to get in and once again foreigners had to pay extra (100 baht/$3 vs 20 baht/$0.65). We were intrigued enough by the promises of seeing a giant carp inside the fish cave that we went ahaed an paid to get in (what we should have done is loop around and come in through the 'exit' gate located at the end of the vendor stands).

From the entrance, there was footpath that ran along the river, crossing it in a few places. There was definitely a lot of fish there, mostly carps, some a couple of feet long (but none nearly as big as the carps my dad has been fishing at the city pond in Ohio). We could tell the area was quite popular with tourists as all the fish would come as soon as they saw our shadows on the bridge.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Shaky and shady bamboo bridge near the fish cave

The cave itself was a very ordinary one with a few Buddah statues and a hole full of fish. Pretty disappointing for the price we paid. Actually, the coolest part of the park for me was a shaky inverted U-shaped bamboo bridge across the stream.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Fish pond near the Fish cave is, well, full of fish

Pa Sau Waterfall

Exiting the Fish Cave, we briefly headed south before turning west and riding through some rice fields and a small village to pick up the road to the falls. It got quite steep and my scooter was redlining at 25 km/hr (15 mph) but we did make it up there. A brief hike down and we were treated to a marvelous view of the falls. Luckily, we made it there at the right time and had the whole thing to ourself to climb around and take pictures.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Beautiful Pa Sau waterfall

After we were done with that, it was a reflections time for Niclas and nap time for me. Some time later, apprehensively, we decided that it was time to move on. By then, there were a couple of dozen people crawling around so we hurried back up to beat them to the other sights.

King's Palace

After the waterfalls, the road really started to get steep, and in some places I could not get more than 10 km/hr (6 mph) out of my scooter. Luckily, the signs for King's Palace promised it to be only a couple kilometers away. As we got closer, the signs changed from distance to King's Palace to distance to King's Project. We figured that the palace will be located somewhere inside and rode past the guard just to find a nicely laid out farming community (king's farming projects in this area are essentially getting farmers to grow exotic crops such as strawberries in place of opium). After riding for a bit, we still have not seen the palace so we decided to turn around as our fuel was dropping to about half the tank and we were still trying to get to the border with Myanmar. [I have no idea why I didn't take pictures there, it was a beautiful area]

The Crash

As I was coming out of one of the steeper turns, my bike got pretty unstable at the low speed and it got worse as the speed increased (since I had the throttle open all the way) while the steepness of the turn decreased. I started veering off to the right side and since the speed was still pretty slow, I was afraid of overcompensating by leaning to the left. The next thing I knew, I was heading for the ditch (luckily on the mountain side of the road rather than the drop-off side). As my bike rode into the ditch, I got thrown off of it and landed just a bit farther.

My first thought was 'good thing I am wearing a helmet' as my head hit pretty hard. I laid there for a few seconds coming to the grips of what happened and figuring out which areas of my body hurt. The head was fine. The arms were fine. I had a bit of dull pain on the right side of my rib cage. The legs seemed to be fine with just a few scrapes - good thing I decided to put jeans on at the last minute! I felt up my ribs and they seemed fine and I figured they were probably just bruised up from landing onto that side. I slowly rolled over and still did not feel any sharp pain so the next step was to get up. As I did so, it seemed that my initial assessments were correct - I was fine.

A pickup truck came down the road and stopped. The guy helped me get the bike out of the ditch and move it to the other side. After assuring him that I was ok and I had a friend coming, he left. Another guy riding a bike uphill stopped and was trying to help me. He did not speak a word of English but he quickly checked the bike for me and I understood that it looked ok. While waiting for Niclas to come back, I pulled out my medical kit and found some alcohol wipes with bandaids to put on my scratches.

Niclas came back, and even though we were only about 10-15 kilometers away (at least according to our estimations) from Myanmar, we decided to head back. Luckily, the bike did run just fine - the low speed of the collision was definitely a good thing for both of us. To get back, we ended up taking a different route to stay away from the main highway and slow down (my face shield was crushed and my sunglasses were gone so I did not have any face protection). It gave me a chance to relax and enjoy the ride while checking out the surroundings - probably the best portion of the ride.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand - Licking up my wounds at the guesthouse

Bike damage added up to $75, which was also not too bad. It turned out that other people staying at our hostel did not have much better luck that day either. Two girls rode on a similar motorbike together and were not able to go up past the waterfall as it was just too steep for the bike with two people on it. Another couple went to a different waterfall and instead of the 30 kilometer ride it turned into a 200 kilometer round trip. Oh well, things could have been worse.

Two years later, I still have the scar on my right ankle to remind me of this day:

Mae Hong Son - Motorbike crash scar remains

TraveldimaAsia, Thailand