I finally rode a motorbike by myself!
Okay, it was an automatic scooter, but anything is an achievement for me, especially alone and in a foreign country. I decided that if we wanted to go ahead with our plan of motorbiking through Vietnam (a plan now very twisted and different to how we imagined) then I needed some practice first, so I could avoid killing myself on the first day.
So we went off to find someone to rent us some bikes, and 500 Baht and a held passport later, we had two little scooters with a helmet each. The guy had to explain to me how to actually start the scooter and rev the engine, and at this point he looked worried and asked if I actually knew how to ride at all. I nodded and shakily scooted twenty metres down the road. I don’t know who was more scared at this point – me or him.
We planned on riding the Samoeng Loop. Golden Triangle Rider has some really good info on it, and even a map you can buy and have mailed if you a, plan ahead and have time, and b, have a post box. The one for the Samoeng Loop is out of print and they have a new edition coming soon, but we also managed fine without a proper map. We ended up with two random maps, one from the motorbike rental guy of Chiang Mai, and one from a woman selling strawberries of half the loop.
The Samoeng Loop from GT Rider’s website.
The basic gist of the Samoeng Loop is Chiang Mai > Samoeng > around the Mae Sa Valley > Chiang Mai. Beginners are recommended to do this in reverse, so we took that advice and set off along the highway for the town of Mae Sa. It was pretty basic once we were out of Chiang Mai, you just follow all the signs and try not to get run over. Before you leave Mae Sa you should stop for fuel if you don’t have a full tank, because when you’re halfway up a hill in the middle of the rainforest, having low fuel makes you a bit panicky.
After you turn off for Samoeng, the hills start and it all gets really pretty. Dotted through the rainforest are a bunch of different tourist activities, like the tiger temple, elephant camps, zip lines, etc etc. There are also about a zillion people selling strawberries by the bag. We didn’t buy any but apparently they’re really tasty.
Dark, green, and wet – the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.
We first stopped at the Mae Sa Waterfall, which is pretty and apparently has TEN levels. We only made it to level four, where it was still green and very peaceful. Admission is 100 Baht each, and 20 Baht for motorbikes.
After we stopped for lunch (grilled chicken, yum!) we headed off to the Pata Caves. The turn off is ridiculously confusing – the sign points further up the hill, but it’s down the side road that heads downhill. So we detoured (u-turns on bikes are a big thing for me) and got on the right track. To get there we drove along a really steep road covered in red dust, and went further up the mountain. Also at the Pata Caves was the Buddha Handprint, but when we went to look at it, we couldn’t really figure out what it was meant to be.. It looked nothing like a hand! Sorry worshippers, we just didn’t get it.
Seriously, what IS this thing?
So we trekked up the hill to go to the Pata Caves. It’s an uphill trek, and when the path forked, we went right. Obviously the wrong way because after another ten minutes of trekking we still couldn’t see a cave! Tim looked like he was going to die, so we decided to pike it and go back downhill, when Tim fell on his butt. His fake cried echoed through the hills and probably traumatised the wildlife.
Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!
On the way back to the main road, Tim’s bike turned off completely on the downhill slope, which was fun! Not. Once back on the highway, we kept riding further up and around the mountain. It gets pretty cold the higher you go, and sun disappears altogether, so I would wear long pants and bring a windcheater/windbreaker/North Face jacket so you don’t freeze. The cold is worth it though, because eventually you reach Samoeng, and get an amazing view of the landscape from the lookout. It was a bit foggy when we were there, but I can just imagine how amazing it is when it’s clear.
On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!
Then we headed downhill, and got confused at the turnoff. Left goes to Chiang Mai, right goes to Samoeng. Because we were confused and didn’t realise that going to Samoeng means going out of your way and backtracking to get home again, we followed the directions of a fellow motorbiker and began the ride back to Chiang Mai. We soon realised why they tell beginners to do the route backwards – going home was a lot of very steep and very sharp uphill turns, when I thought I would topple over quite a few times. Once we were past near-death, we were lucky enough to have some elephants pass us by on the other side of the road! It was a really awesome moment, and it made us glad we hadn’t paid to go and see elephants when we could see them for free.
Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.
We finally got on the highway back to Chiang Mai, and after some more confusion and an unneeded u-turn, we found ourselves back at the city. Navigating around the Old Town is a bit of nightmare – so many one way streets! But the ride itself was pleasant, beautiful and really easy for some totally inexperienced riders. All in all, it was an awesome day out and only cost us about $35 in total! Well worth it if you’re brave enough to give it a try. And if you’re not and you have a more experienced friend, go out on the back of their bike instead. I guarantee you’ll still have an amazing time.
There were plenty of things up in the mountains to do that we passed by, there’s the Royal Botanic Gardens and I even saw a sign for Monkey School (??) so by no means did we do everything. I’m a bit bummed we missed heading to Samoeng, but there’s always next time!