Monday, February 13, 2012

Mae Sot

Jackfruit tree

The following morning we began the next leg of our adventure, to follow the Chiang Mai loop. The loop is a series of roads that wind through northwestern Thailand. Most people start at Chiang Mai, ride west to Pai, Mae Hong Son, south to Mae Sariang, and back to Chiang Mai. It is an absolutely gorgeous section of the country, and the roads twist around the mountains and follow the Moei River and the Burmese border. It's easy to rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai to ride the loop, and many people do. When we were in Thailand a couple years ago, we rented a bike for five days and did part of the loop, but with Mae Sot as our ultimate destination before returning to Chiang Mai. Mae Sot is a smallish city in western Thailand right on the border with Burma/Myanmar. It has a variety of cultures, between the Burmese refugees and the western NGO workers there to help. Many people go there just to make the run across to Burma in order to cross right back into Thailand and get an additional two week visa, which is why we went the last time we were in Thailand. On that trip, we thought it seemed like an interesting town, so we decided to return and poke around a bit.

We woke to a beautifully clear and sunny day, and after having some coffee, we hit the road for the short ride. It was a relatively boring ride today, which is actually a good thing for a change. The first half of the ride took us to Tak. Between Sukhothai and Tak, the road was really good, mainly four-lane, with monotonous scenery. The roads were lined with small, deciduous trees that were mostly leafless. It reminded me of riding through downeast North Carolina. Once we passed through Tak, the road surface became a little bumpy and variable, but the road got much more entertaining. The road twisted and turned past mountains and through forests. The elevation in Tak was approximately 20 feet above sea level, but we eventually crossed the mountain range at over 3,000 feet before descending into Mae Sot. Our bikes did have some trouble chugging up the hills, and several times we found ourselves in second gear, struggling to maintain 20 mph on some of the steeper grades. As we rode up into the mountains, it got noticeably cooler (into the 70s), and the sky was so clear! Whenever you get away from cities, the smoggy haze disappears. But in so much of India and Nepal, there are people making charcoal, firing bricks, running smoky diesel engines, and burning whatever to keep warm or heat a pot of water, that the sky was thick virtually everywhere. When I looked up in these mountains, there wasn't a cloud to be seen and the sky was the prettiest blue of the best autumn day you can imagine.

Once we descended into Mae Sot, however, the temperature climbed dramatically, and the bright sun made it feel even warmer inside our Dariens. We had a difficult time finding our preferred guesthouse, and while we rode around the blocks and even got off to walk to find it, I just kept getting warmer. With the help of some telephone company employees, we eventually found the Green Guesthouse, hidden down a small road, behind the police station. I stayed with the bikes while Re went to look at the rooms and stupidly, did not remove my jacket. By the time Re returned and gave the thumbs up on the room, I was not feeling very well at all. While Re unpacked the bikes, I stayed in the room and laid under the AC, trying to cool off. After 30 minutes or so, I felt much better, and since it was 1:00 pm, we decided to find some lunch. One of the recommended places nearby was a Canadian-owned restaurant that is known for its Mexican food. We each ordered crunchy tacos with ground beef and a side order of refried beans. They were surprisingly good!

After lunch, we strolled through the various day markets selling produce, flowers, meat, fish paste (it looks like nasty mud and smells like ass) and your choice of dried chilies, clothes, and gems (lots of jade). We bought a watermelon and some dried bananas (I should have bargained on the bananas. Colin said the seller was taken back when I said okay to his price right off the bat) and wandered back to the guesthouse to read fiction on the covered patio for a while. When we got back to the guesthouse, we met a very friendly but squeaky cat who spent the next couple of hours in one of our laps. We eventually had to put her down to go get some noodles at the night market for dinner, but when we returned, she was waiting for us. We brought back a pair of beers and some seaweed-flavored potato chips and offered her some chips, which she ate with gusto. At bedtime, we booted her out of the room so we could go to sleep. Several times during the night, though, I woke to hear her squeaking just outside the door. She must have really enjoyed the potato chips!

PS- I would pay any amount of money for those bananas. They were another one of the best things I have ever eaten.

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