Getting to the start of the Mae Hong Son Loop from Mae Sot

Day 58: Tha Song Yang to Ban Tha Song Yang

We left the comforts of our log cabin quite late today, setting out at 1100. I had some issues with my brakes; they didn’t feel as responsive as they used to. Adam sorted them out so they felt a lot better – much needed for the downhills to come. We are very glad that we have disc breaks! Due to our route becoming much more rural from here, Adam also popped back to the small town we had come from (only 1.5km back down the road) and stocked up on some snacks, breakfast and much-needed suncream as we had run out, from 7/11. 

Again, the roads were absolutely stunning today: incredibly beautiful rolling green hills covered in lush forest and that impenetrable jungle continued. Every so often, the dense vegetation and hills would give way to a vibrant green paddy field or a sparkling, magical river flowing from the mountains and through a valley. I really couldn’t dream up a place as exquisite.

Another magnificent view from Northern Thailand.

We followed the river for much of the day, knowing that the land across the other side of it belonged to Burma. Pretty cool. We noticed one or two small, wooden, motor-powered boats making their way down the river. The land across the water in Burma (or Myanmar) was even denser and impassable than on the Thai side. Huge mountains covered in jungle added to the magnitude.

There were hills to climb today but nothing too steep. More rolling ‘baby half pipes’ we’ve read them referred to on another ‘crazyguyonabike’ account. I surprised myself by enjoying the uphills, gently zigzagging if necessary and then enjoying what I like to call, ‘free miles’ as we freewheel down plentiful downhills to complement the up. 

The road we followed on the Thailand side. Across the river on the left (west) is Burma/Myanmar.

As previously mentioned, today’s route was very rural, until we reached the village of Mae Salid 30km in. This was the only place for food on our route today, so we stopped and enjoyed a huge bowl of noodle soup, we have now learnt is called ‘Kuay Teaw’, at a nice cafe on the right-hand side. 

Continuing on, the afternoon gifted us with much of the same breathtaking views. At 50km, we came across a waterfall on our right-hand side. As we knew we were finding somewhere to camp this evening, we decided to take the opportunity to have a shower! It was a great way to feel more refreshed and blast away the day’s sweat and grime. (Adam went under the power shower in his boxers; I went in fully dressed but managed to change my shorts with a dry pair underneath my towel, and my t-shirt just dried pretty quickly as I continued to wear it.) We also made sure all our water bottles were filled up, filtering the water with our handy water filter. Nothing beats cold, fresh waterfall water! 

Enjoying a wash at a waterfall on the side of the road.

As we were packing up and getting ready to cycle off, a local man, of similar age to us, pulled up across the road after beeping and waving at us. He spoke a little English, and asked us the usual questions, “Where you go?” etc. Amazingly, the kind man we learnt was called Chee, offered us somewhere to sleep. We graciously accepted and followed him to his house as he drove slowly in front of us. 

In the next village, Chee lived in a ‘normal’ house (‘normal’ as in it was made of concrete and not of bamboo or wood, like many of the other houses in this area) behind the local hospital. He had a small patch of grass outside the front of his house which was a perfect, flat space to pitch our tent. As we began setting up, he offered to drive us to the top of a local mountain to watch the sunset. We were a bit dubious at first, mostly about leaving all our worldly possessions. Chee video called his brother who lives in America (waking him up due to the time difference!) His brother almost acted as a translator and ‘character reference’! He definitely put our minds at ease, so with the tent set up, we threw our bags inside, popped the bikes in his house (which he locked) and just took one pannier with our passports, laptops and other expensive items in to bring with us. Along with ‘his love’ (he called her – his girlfriend) we jumped into his Toyota Hilux and set off up the mountain. 

Our camping spot in front of Chee’s house.

As we drove out of the village, Chee stopped off at the shop to pick up some beers. Adam attempted to buy them as a thank you, but Chee refused. Grateful again for his generosity, we enjoyed a nice cold beer for the 30-minute journey up to the top of the mountain. A few minutes into the journey, we picked up Chee’s friend from outside the police station. He took the driver’s seat and Chee came into the back with us. He reached over and handed his friend a beer to drink whilst driving… At this point, I pulled my seat-belt on! 

The road leading to the mountain is the road we cycle tomorrow morning – so we got a little sneak preview of what’s to come. Nervously laughing at the sheer volume and steepness of the hills to come, I tried to enjoy the views and my beer, putting the fact that I have to cycle these hills tomorrow to the back of my mind and enjoying this moment! Luckily, the road is silky smooth tarmac and the views epic. 

We eventually took a right turn to start the summit to Mon Khuy; Chee and his friends kept gleefully shouting, “Mont Khuy!” They were very happy, energetic people. We wouldn’t be taking this road tomorrow and good job! The path immediately deteriorated to a rocky, bumpy dirt path. The steepness here was absolutely mental: even the 4×4 Hilux struggled in places. I bumped my head on the side of the car several times as we were being thrown about all over the place! The driver was very competent and had clearly done this route many times. I didn’t feel unsafe at all, on the contrary, I enjoyed our little adventure!

Reaching the summit, we piled out of the car and were blown away by the sheer beauty surrounding us 360 degrees. I can’t put into words how beautiful the vista was. We were just so glad that we trusted Chee and his friends and took them up on this fantastic opportunity to witness this and share this special moment. 

We arrived at the top just as the sun was setting over Myanmar.

Just before the sunset and we were plunged into darkness, we set back off down the hill. Once we got back to the village, Chee very kindly took us to the house of a relative of his for dinner. We were deeply thankful for his kindness and hospitality, but it certainly was a different dining experience than we are used to! We were each given a bowl of rice, and in the middle of the table we sat around (on the floor) there were several bowls of different delicacies to help ourselves to. There was: fried eggs, fried green vegetables, dried boney fish, a spicy fish soup, slices of spicy pig hearts, some leaves – similar to samphire, and a big bowl of crunchy bugs. Watching how the other people around the table were eating, I tried a small sample of each dish, avoiding the bugs. Chee, who was sat next to me, urged me to try one… I couldn’t refuse! I took a bug on the smaller side and popped it in my mouth. It actually didn’t taste too bad… it was just the mental knowledge that I was eating a bug that made me feel squirmish!

It came to light that Chee and his family were of the Karen tribe. They actually speak a completely different language, so we attempted to learn a few words in their tongue. After we thanked them (attempting to do so in their language) Chee drove us back to our camping spot outside his house behind the hospital. Just before we retired to our tent for a much-needed sleep after the day’s excitement, Chee encouraged Adam to catch and eat live bugs with him! There was a huge, fluorescent light in the car park, which attracted lots of bugs. Chee caught them on the ground, popping them into his mouth and devouring them live! This was one step too far for Adam! He politely refused, Chee giggling at this.

Tomorrow the big, big hills begin. The plan tomorrow is to cycle 50km but with 800+m of climb. We have set out alarms for 0600 for a 0700 start to get the big hills done before it gets too hot. We had highs of 37 degrees today. Wish us luck!

Day 59: Ban Tha Song Yang to Ban Mae Ngao

Today was the most difficult day of the trip so far, and physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Actually, also mentally the hardest thing I’ve ever done! I did no training before this trip, my training was cycling through the flat roads of Malaysia and Southern Thailand. I have got a lot fitter, but this was another level entirely!

The alarm sounded at 0600. The sky outside was still dark. The cockerels joined in a chorus of their morning call. It took us until 0730 to put away our tent, pack our panniers, load them onto the bicycles and cook up some porridge for the first time on this trip. Chee kindly gave us his gas bottle to use when he saw me preparing our travel stove, which saved us a little bit of fuel. Adding bananas and a good dollop of Nutella, it was the perfect way to fuel our bodies for the big day ahead. The gentleman living next door to Chee was the local doctor. He came over and introduced himself yesterday, and this morning came over bringing with him a kettle of boiling water and two mugs for coffee. The generosity in Thailand stretches far and wide. Thanking Chee profusely for his kindness, we headed out to tackle the day.

The uphill climb, which would last pretty much for the entirety of today’s cycle, began immediately after leaving the village. We were glad to have risen early and set off at a much earlier time than normal for us, as the crisp morning air was refreshing and invigorating. Mist shrouded the top of the neighbouring hills and mountains; we were both in high spirits and enjoyed soaking in the mystical atmosphere of the morning views. 

After 1km of warm-up hills, the ‘Big Momma Hill’ as I like to call her, began. As soon as I began the ascent, that little voice in my head had already started whispering to me, “This is too hard!” and “I need to stop pedalling and push for a bit…” as well as “I don’t think I can do this!” 

The early morning start meant cool temperatures for a change.

I just followed Adam’s advice and encouragement: to zigzag aggressively. Sharp turns left and right up the road. It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you keep going. We stopped when we needed to, sometimes just stopping to stand in a shady spot to let my heart rate go down and get my breath back. Sometimes we propped the bikes up with our handy stick stands and just lay down in the shade within the hard shoulder, feet facing the downhill. It’s when you lie down on the road that you realise just how steep the gradient is – my water bottle couldn’t even stand up. Luckily, the road is smooth tarmac and the traffic extremely light so we were able to zigzag right across the road. 

The steepness is hard to describe but hopefully, this gives you a slight insight.

At one point a Hilux type vehicle pulled up in front of Adam and offered us a lift in the back of their vehicle. He of course politely refused. I was about 20m or so behind Adam and called out, “Nooooo! Come back!” We laughed. I didn’t really want a lift, but the temptation for me was high. Had Adam not been there, I may have taken it. My willpower is not the strongest, but Adam is very strong-willed. This is our challenge and we are looking forward to the sense of achievement and pride we will have in ourselves and each other for accomplishing cycling this route.

The steepest part of the climb today was from 8km – 15km, where the gradient reached a high of 39.2%. The views were magnificent and epic, although I wish I had enjoyed them more, as I was often just too absorbed in the mental and physical endurance. When we stopped, however, or had a small downhill, we both engaged with the views, sounds, smells and pure awesomeness of the nature around us. So remote and quiet. Bountiful, beautiful butterflies fluttered by us, often right in front of our faces and even landing on our panniers and once on my shoulder. Huge buffaloes grazing on the side of the road looked at us inquisitively as we slowly pedalled past. The vast majority of today was uphill, with the odd, pitiful downhill teasing us. We cycled for 5 hours today, but with an elapsed time of 9.5 hours, with all our short and long stops.

Tackling the mountain with some aggressive zigzags.

Halfway up one particularly steep hill as we were just taking a rest in the shade of a hill, a man pulled up on a huge, BMW touring motorbike. He spoke good English and we enjoyed speaking with him a little while. Michael is Malaysian, and was cycling from his home in the centre of Malaysia, through Thailand and beyond. We laughed when we realised it had taken him 1 day to drive about 5 days worth of our cycling. I observed his colossal bike with a little bit of envy: how much easier would this route be on that enormous beast! Watching him as he drove away, I thought how much more effortless his experience seems to be. He was very gracious though, and almost seemed to envy how much closer to nature we are by cycling, how much more involved we become with the views and the road itself – feeling every single climb and bend! 

Michael (the Malaysian Biker) and Adam

After the first few hours, we came across a small wooden stall selling watermelon. We bought one and asked (via the power of sign language) a local man to cut it up for us with his large knife. Pulling out our handy stools, we sat in the shade of a tree and devoured the whole watermelon between us: an amazingly refreshing treat was just what we needed. 

Fresh melon could possibly be the greatest and most refreshing treat on a hot hill climb.

A little while later, we stopped for our ‘lunch’ in the shade of a bus stop. There are no proper villages for cafes or shops on this section of road, so our lunch consisted of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. We had done about 25km at this point, which considering the climb, was not bad. We were joined for lunch by a local, cute, stray dog. We were in the middle of nowhere, so who knows where this little guy came from! Although there were no villages or towns, there are people living in this remote region. We spotted the odd, sporadic wooden house that accommodated local hill tribe families. They seemed to survey us with frowns and a little scepticism, possibly unused to seeing farangs struggling past, cycling past their homes on heavy touring bikes. We were certainly not greeted with the usual friendly smiles and waves that we often were in other areas of Thailand. Our calls of, “Sawadee ka!” were left unanswered. 

Cycling past the mountain we went to the top of on the previous day. We were now in unknown territory.

We naively thought it would be more downhill after lunch… how wrong we were! We still had many, many more climbs to come, although not quite as steep as that first climb (although still as steep as 12% gradient in places). Rounding a corner, we would face yet another climb. And another. And another. It was never ending! I moaned at times and grumbled, but Adam was so great at keeping positive, keeping motivated and chivvying me on. His positive mental attitude was unfaltering. 

Sometimes the steepness of the hills was too much.

We FINALLY got to a point where the downhills were more frequent than the uphills (hallelujah!). And the downhills were not quite as pitiful and pathetic as before: they were pretty epic. The disc brakes came into action as the downhills became steeper, windier but more thrilling. We still had the odd, pesky, big hill thrown in to halt our flow though. 

Shade at the end of the day along with a downhill is always appreciated.

Arriving into the first village for miles, we were rewarded with a few cafes and shops. We sat down in one cafe, but after being ignored and feeling a little unwelcome, we left and decided to stick to plan A, which was to cook our own meal tonight (which would reduce my weight a little bit as well!). 

We camped at the entrance to Mae Ngao National Park which is in this village, after the second police checkpoint. Just past the entrance to the National Park, on the left-hand side is a Visitor’s Centre. The next left after this building there is a flat space to camp for free. With lovely views of the river, it was the perfect place to camp. Best of all, there were showers available so we were able to clean off the day’s sweat and dirt and wash our clothes. Underneath a shelter, there was a huge picnic table, where we were able to spread out, cook our food and eat dinner together. 

A drone selfie at our campsite for the night.

As Adam went for his shower, I attempted to light our MSR WhisperLite stove by myself for the first time. (We had practised at Adam B’s house back in Mae Sot, but Adam had lit it whilst I watched. And this morning we were given a gas cylinder to use by Chee). I wanted to have the pasta cooking away for when Adam got back, to feel useful and a worthwhile member of our team by cooking the much-needed food after such a long, hard day. However, I could not, for the life of me, get the blooming thing to light. And to top it all off, I was getting eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes as dusk was settling in. These blighters actually hurt when they bit my legs – even though my full-length trousers. I lost my cool. With the sheer exhaustion and feeling like I was a failure, I broke down into tears. (Such is the emotional wreck that I am!) Adam returned to find me sobbing, thinking I had chopped my hand off or burnt myself horrifically. When I explained why I was in such a state, he did such a great job of calming me down. He gave me his shirt to wear as another layer of protection from the mozzies and advised me to wrap my towel around my legs. He coolly took me through lighting the stove, and I realised the little, silly mistake that had caused such a drama. What would I do without him?! Before we knew it, the pasta was bubbling away and we enjoyed a huge portion of pasta and pesto with tuna. (The salt pot had also exploded in my cooking pannier, which added to my stress levels a little I think!)

Escaping the mozzies we took refuge in our tent. Tomorrow we cycle a shorter day to Mae Sariang, with thankfully, much less climb. Today has seriously taken its toll on me. So much so, I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. From Mae Sariang we have two options: head north to continue the Mae Hong Song loop or head east to Chiang Mai. Both routes have more hideous climbs, as hard if not harder than today’s, which I don’t look forward to at all! I feel like I’m unequipped and not good enough to do this. (Even though I just have done this Adam reminds me..!) Let’s see.

Day 60: Ban Mae Ngao to Mae Sariang

We decided to set the alarm for slightly earlier today: 0530, but we didn’t set off until about 0800. It took us a couple of hours to wake up, pack everything away, make porridge (without any dramas today!) and wash yesterday’s cycling clothes so they could dry hanging on our panniers. Just as we were about to leave, Adam asked me if I was OK, and for some reason, I just burst into tears – again! I think it was the stress of the knowledge that I had 7 or 8 more of these really tough days ahead, and as I had found it so difficult, my confidence in myself was really low. Again, Adam did an amazing job of encouraging me and trying to make me realise how I can do this. But setting off, my head wasn’t in the best place. Cycling along, I considered my options, including even considering getting a bus to Chiang Mai and letting Adam tackle the hills as he is much fitter and much more able than me. 

The view from our campsite before we set off early in the morning.

Today’s route was definitely not as hilly as yesterday, but it was by no means flat. In the first 5km, we climbed up to 425m elevation, with the elevation reaching 12.2%. Due to setting off early, we were feeling mostly energised and motivated to make the most of the steady climbs, zigzagging slowly up the hills, taking in the relentless epic views in the cool morning air. We were then blessed with some steep and ever so beautiful downhills. As Adam had a couple of scary ‘near- death’ moments yesterday where he had taken the downhills too fast, he followed me, imitating my much more measured downhill speed. It’s also more sensible to stay within sight on the downhills, just in case either of us has an accident. 

The landscapes here are an absolute dream.

12km in, we were back to the ‘baby half pipes’ and as we’d come over the mountain, we were back to cycling through small villages and towns. It was a pleasant ride, with those continuous pretty views of paddy fields and locals going about their every day: children going to school and cafes and shops open for business as usual. But my mind was still in my predicament about our route going forward and the challenges we have ahead. 

The final stretch of road on the 105 towards Mae Sariang became a bit of a dirt road. Not too bad when its dry but I bet this would be a nightmare in the rainy season.

The museum at Mae Sariang.

We reached Mae Sariang early due to our punctual start. We had booked a guest house for 500 baht, slightly more than usual but we have had 6 nights of free accommodation over the past week, so we knew we could afford a slightly more expensive place. Our accommodation was also the cheapest in Mae Sariang; we assume as we go along this route popular with tourists, and due to the time of year, accommodation costs may rise compared to other areas in Thailand. We stayed at ‘Maeloegyi Guest House’ in our own little building, which consisted of a bedroom, hallway area which housed the bikes, bathroom and mini kitchen. We enjoyed a very comfortable afternoon in the blissful air con. Adam caused great hilarity when he had stripped off his sweaty cycling clothes and was walking across the hallway area to the shower naked, when the owner came back with his passport. The door was open so the owner walked straight in, catching Adam in his entirety! Adam covered himself with the pannier he was holding, as the owner put his hand over his eyes! I took Adam’s passport for him as he scuttled off into the bedroom before we fell about laughing hysterically.  

As we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in our accommodation, we had a long talk about how I was feeling and our options for the next leg of our route. Using a combination of the Maps.Me app and Google Maps, we plotted out two different ‘Course of Actions’  (COA – Adam’s military terminology):

COA 1 – Northern route via Mae Hong Son – Pai – Chiang Mai

COA 2 – Head east towards Chiang Mai directly

COA1 was to head north to places such as Mae Hong Son and Pai before reaching Chiang Mai. COA2 was to head east – a more direct route to Chiang Mai which would take less days and was less elevation, but still had a couple of days of extremely difficult hills. We compared the distances, elevation and how many days each COA would take, as well as how difficult the different days would be. I was leaning towards COA2, as overall it was less distance and less elevation. Adam was still keen to do COA1, as this route has the most stunning views and as we’re so close (comparatively to the rest of Thailand), it would be a shame not to visit these amazing places rich in cultural interest. 

We talked long and hard before we had an almost light bulb moment. When trying to understand what exactly was causing my anxiety, I nailed it down to the fact that we had many extremely difficult days ahead in a short space of time. If we were able to take the COA1 route more slowly, with a lot more rest days to allow my legs and hands (my hands were feeling almost numb from holding them in the same position up and down the steep hills) to recover – as well as let my mind recover – it would be much more manageable and enjoyable. It’s amazing what a rest can do to galvanise the mind and body. As we haven’t extended our Thai visa yet, we know we can easily do that in Chiang Mai for another 30 days. So we came to the decision that we will cycle the Mae Hong Son Loop (COA1), but take it really slowly with lots of rest days. Then when we reach Chiang Mai, we won’t have time to enjoy the city and make it out of Thailand in time before our visa expires, so we will extend it at Immigration, so we can enjoy a week or more of rest in the city, before leisurely taking our time to leave Thailand and travel to Laos. 

After talking this all through and making our final decision, I feel so much better! My anxiety and lack of confidence have dissipated; non of the day’s cycling ahead will be harder than yesterday’s mega-hard day – although there will be days that are as hard. But I’ve done it once, I can do it again! So we’ve also decided to take a rest day tomorrow, to fully recover and enjoy the town of Mae Sariang, before setting off to enjoy the Mae Hong Son loop slowly over the next week or more. 

We have also splashed out on an expensive hotel for tomorrow night – but that is actually costing us nothing due to vouchers we have received from referring a friend (me) on Booking.Com. (If you would like a free £15 cashback when booking a hotel, you can use this referral link to book a hotel. I will receive £15 and so will you. Everyone is a winner 👌: https://www.booking.com/s/43_8/hugill95)

So we look forward to a most luxurious afternoon and evening staying at the Riverhouse Hotel tomorrow. I’m very happy with our discussions and plans and feel confident about the next few weeks. Although this trip is to challenge ourselves and experience times of adversity in order to grow, it’s also about enjoying ourselves, and who doesn’t enjoy a free nights accommodation in a swanky hotel!  

Our first beers in weeks.

8 comments

Wow Lucia and Adam I just love your adventure and am so immensely jealous of your experiences, the last few days sound really tough but wow what an achievement. We spent last week in Jordan and it was like backpacking but with the kids, can’t wait until they are a little older an able to go on a cycle tour. Keep going Lucia am super proud of you and Adam for the support you give to her. Take care love Ange (gib estate) x

Hi Ange! Thanks for your lovely message – there aren’t many really tough days in Thailand as most of the country is a dream to cycle in, just these epic hills in the north are devils! 😂 But totally worth the hard work for the views and the stunning remoteness. Jordan sounds amazing I would love to go one day! You should check out ‘Six Spinning Legs’ on facebook – a family who cycle tour with their son. Inspirational! Hopefully that will be us in the future! Thank you for your support – it really means a lot. Hope Cyprus continues to treat you well. Take care loads of love, Lucia x

Michael Lees

Guys, Wow that sunset amazing, that would be my screensaver on my computer if I had it. Lucia just apologising in advance, but I did LOL when your were having problems with the gas stove, mosquitoes, etc sorry, after a horrendous day, I could imagine your frustration. A big shout out to both of you for conquering those hills once again, Happy adventuring take care, love the vlogs, blogs, waiting with anticipating breath for the next instalment.

Hi Mike! Yes I have just changed my screensaver to that sunset – it was amazing! I also look back and laugh at my mozzie-hell-gas-stove-drama too! It’s always funny after it has happened – I should have just put some mosquito repellent on! I don’t always think straight when exhausted! Thank you again for your encouragement. The next instalment of the blog will be ready in the next day or two. 😊

Fab, fab,FAB!! 😊❤️😍
(Had a giggle at the naked in the corridor incident !)

Thank you! Haha – it was rather amusing!! 🤣

Up to date now with your blog. It’s brilliant and I’m so proud of you both.

Thank you very much! Glad you’re enjoying the updates – we’ll keep ’em coming. xx

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