One of the great things about retirement is that if you want to go on a trip….you just go on a trip! Anytime is a good time! A couple of days ago we decided to take our first overnight scooter trip. After looking around at possible destinations within a fairly easy drive from home, we set our sights on Chiangrai, a city of 200, 000 located about 200 km north of Chiangmai. It is the most nothern big city in Thailand and lies in the flat alluvial plain of the Mae Kok River, a tributary of the Mekong. It seemed to be a very direct route and close enough for a quick, two-day getaway. As always, we planned the trip about one hour before we left, including booking our room! The nice thing here is that all you ever need to throw in the backpack is an extra t-shirt and underwear for each day away. It’s always sunny and it’s always hot! So after our five minutes of packing, we were on our way out the door!
“Chiangrai was founded by King Mangrai in 1262 and became the capital of the Mangrai dynasty. Subsequently, it was conquered by Burma and remained under Burmese rule for several hundred years. It was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became a Chiang Mai vassal. Siam (Thailand) annexed Chiang Mai in 1899, and Chiang Rai was proclaimed a province of Thailand in 1933.” Wikipedia
To get to Chiangrai, you just head out of Chiangmai on Route 118 and go north. It is a great twisty route, combined with many steep, mountainous uphills and downhills that are interspersed with a few sections of straight road as you travel through the plateau and plains sections. Northern Thailand is quite mountainous and contains some of the best motorcycle roads anywhere!
For the most part, the highway is pretty good. There were the normal bumps and dips here and there, which our small-wheeled 150cc scooter did not handle that well at highway speeds. This is where a larger motorcycle such as we owned in Canada is much better for this kind of trip. However, despite a few jolts here and there, the ride was fine. Nancy, who was sitting on the back seat and felt every sharp bump, demanded that I travel a little slower the next time to prevent her vertebrae from imploding on themselves. Apparently there were lots of screams from the back seat which I never heard, thanks to my well-fitting helmet! That didn’t stop me from hearing or feeling the aftershocks the first time we stopped!
Before we set out again on another overnight trip we will outfit the scooter with tougher rear shocks and a trunk. The one fault you hear about the Honda PCX150 is its weak rear shocks, which are obviously more noticeable when riding two-up. Other than that, it had no problems with the road and was plenty powerful enough to manage climbing the steep hills without slowing down to a crawl. Any faster than 90-100 km/h and you start getting a little blown around. It just doesn’t have the weight of a larger bike.
Other than the tropical trees and palms that interspersed the mostly deciduous forests, the route could have been any one of many in North Eastern North America. Rolling hills, mountains, meadows, small towns and rural properties dotted both sides of the highway as we rode along. There were many roadside vendors in places selling fresh fruit and veggies as well as handcrafted items. Coffee shops were visible along most of the route since there is much coffee grown in Northern Thailand. You can see on the map I have included that the road passes between two national parks which is one of the reason why the scenery was so nice along the way. There were enough small towns that we never had to worry about finding a place to grab some water and snacks, or a service station for filling the tank.
The whole trip took us about three or four hours, with all the breaks and attractions along the way. By bus, you can cut that time in half! The temperature hovered in the high 30s for most of the trip in both directions (90s Fahrenheit) so we began to regret not wearing longs sleeves for sun protections. By the time we arrived in Chiangrai, we were more than ready to jump into the pool at our destination, Le Meredien Resort.. We don’t usually stay in this type of places (as in incredibly posh) but since it was a one night trip, we decided to splurge for a soft bed, TV, pool and river view! I have to admit it was one of the nicest resorts we have stayed in with wonderful staff, beautiful grounds, and great food at both the evening and breakfast buffets.
The road trip was the main part of the adventure so we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing in Chiangrai. We basically enjoyed our time at the resort and pool and headed back to Chiangmai the next day. We’ll probably make it back to this town at some point to check out more of the local attractions. Before we left, we did find our way to Black House, the large estate of Thawan Duchanee, a world renowned Thai artist. This huge eccentric work in progress is located about 10 km north of Chiangrai.
Duchanee’s estate is a complex of 40 small galleries inside buildings of diverse architectural styles, spread out amongst the peaceful gardens. They display his collection of artwork – sculptures, wood carvings, and furniture created by him, and collected from around the world. In addition, there is a large gallery where his other works are displayed. Your senses are bombarded with stuff in every direction the minute you set foot on the property. Stating that it is eclectic and eccentric is an understatement, but it is definitely interesting and worthwhile to visit. It has an organic feel with wooden structures housing many animal skulls, bones and skins, and assorted vessels. It is hard to imagine that one man is responsible for this huge undertaking over a period of many years. You can read more about this incredible showcase in my next blog posting!
Later in the afternoon, we headed back to Chiangmai as the temperatures soared to the very high 30s (90s Fahrenheit). But this time we stopped at the first pharmacy on the way out of town and purchased a large container of sunscreen. From the beginning of the trip until we arrived home later that night we continually slathered the stuff on to every exposed expanse of skin. When we arrived back in Chiangmai a few hours later, there was not a bright red spot of skin to be seen. But we have decided to do the local thing and cover up on our next trip! Many people here don’t wear helmets but they do wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially for any long-distance rides. They may crash, and probably be seriously injured in the process, but they won’t burn!