2007: All Over Northern Thailand in 2007
Life is short. Make
Give-Live-Ride Thailand Tour on Jan 8-19, 2007
(Article for Minnesota
Motorcycle Monthly in June 2007)
Half of why I live in Thailand is for the motorcycling. The other half
is for the succulent food. Another half is the weather that allows
year-round riding. Another half is the constant smiles and sweet people.
Another half is the stunning mountains. Another half is the relaxed pace
of life. Wait, that’s more
than a whole. Well, it’s a whole different world over here. Four years
ago I started a ten-country trip around the world, hit China and
Vietnam, but then Thailand got in the way. I started the nonprofit
organization Give and
Live, to help kids that really need it. I’m here
for the long haul and it will be on a bike.
In January 2007, thirteen frozen
riders from America came for the 11-day, 1300-mile, Give-Live-Ride
Thailand Charity Motorcycle Tour, to taste Thailand and raise money for
Children’s Garden orphanage near Chiangmai. They thawed out on the
24-hour journey as they lost one day to gain an experience of a
lifetime. Most arrived in time to wander through Chiangmai’s Sunday
Market, a thousand vendors on the streets selling clothing, art,
silverwork, teak carvings and stalls serving endless Thai dishes, corn
on the cob or hot kernels mixed with sugar, butter, salt, chocolate bits
and multi-colored soft globs of sweetness, "ancient" ice
cream, baby bee omelets, fried grasshoppers, worms and scorpions, plus
food made from every molecule of the pig.
Monday we sort out the bike rentals,
Honda Super 4’s—400 or 750cc—half-breed sport/naked bikes sold
mainly in Asia that are light and agile on the curves, and with two
riders, still have ample power for the mountains. You sit comfortably
upright with your feet on pegs right below your body. I lend my Super 4
to friends and choose to ride my 2006 Harley Sportster XL1200, purchased
in Bangkok for less than it would cost to get one here from America—legally—but
the $20,000 customs surcharge. I ride it where Harleys shouldn’t go,
but it’s limber with enough torque for the amazing roads that snake up
to Thailand’s highest peaks.
That evening over a Thai feast, an
orientation lesson (with photos so they’ll believe me) reminds riders
to chant "left, left, left" since that’s the right
side of the road here, and warns them of potholes the size of
Connecticut lurking in the afternoon shadows and the Tourist Vans from
Hell that like to take home bikes on their front fenders. And, oh yeah,
the inevitable vanishing roads. Thailand has a choice network of grand
paved roads throughout the country, but just when you’re lulled into
The Zone Of Expectation That It Will Be The Same Around The Next Curve,
the road will have mysteriously disappeared into the mud or been sucked
into space by aliens. In the boonies, roads are drying grounds for
whatever the natives have just hacked out of the field or jungle. You
can sail around the bend on your perfect
road to be confronted with 100 yards of rice drying in your lane, or by
large, steaming piles of elephant excrement, neither of which are
normally covered in a Motorcycle Safety Course.
Tuesday morning we’re ready to head
out, baggage in two support vehicles, with a cheerful mechanic, spare
parts and an extra Super 4. I dismount to remind riders to burn their
headlights, hear a scream and turn to see a truck has backed into my
Harley, which now leans precariously to the right,
barely held up by my 88-pound Thai mate standing on the left
side of the bike, who has transformed into Wonder Woman without the
costume. The Harley survives though I lose a year off my life. We ride
tight through the
insane traffic, where "lanes" are imaginary concepts unknown
to the millions of 125cc bikes carrying one to seven people or animals,
"tuk-tuks" (three-wheeled Thai Taxis of Death), cars, trucks,
buses and grandfather-powered push-carts. In a few miles the city gives
way to small villages, fields and jungle on exquisite roads around the
Doi Sutep mountain that borders the west side of Chiangmai—from chaos
to nirvana. After an hour of splendid riding where I can almost hear
the riders’ smiles underneath their helmets, through unending textbook
twisties and corkscrews, we stop at a restaurant as a sumptuous feast is
set on the table.
A thirty-mile ride brings us to
Children’s Garden orphanage to meet the kids and see the construction
of the new dorm financed by the tour that we’ll paint when we return.
At first the kids are self-conscious with tall foreign people who they
semi-understand help them through Give and Live’s Dollar-a-day
Sponsorship Program, but soon the shyness and language barriers melt
away, replaced by spontaneous games of thumb-wrestling, which I believe
I personally introduced to Thailand. It’s hard to leave, but it’s a
fifteen-mile, dark ride into crazy traffic in Chiangmai.
Wednesday we’re off on a 100-mile
ride through mountains, rice fields and waterfalls to the town of Phayao
on the shore of northern Thailand’s largest lake. I’m perplexed at
how I’ll manage a group whose members tell me, all
in one day, "Hey, what’s your hurry? I
want to take pictures."—"I wanna ride fast, man."—"I’m
hungry! I’ve got to go potty! I’m thirsty! Ron’s looking at
me!!!" (Next time I’m going to give them a map, directions and a
Buddha charm, then meet them for the farewell dinner.) A bountiful
banquet, awards and traditional Thai dancers fill out the evening at the
Moonlight Café overlooking the lake. Each night prizes are awarded in
several evolving categories, such as the Ralph Award for sick boys and
girls, the Ba-Ba Award (ba-ba in Thai means crazy), the PAY (Pissed At
You) Award which involves a cash penalty and the IB (I’m Back!) Award.
Minnesota Ritchie receives both the Ralph Award and the IB Award since
he missed the previous day because he was sick, then, in spite of some
40-years of biking experience, went down a half-mile after starting, but
finished the day healthy in high spirits.
Thursday is a long ride, though 150
miles would be a piece o’ cake in the USA. When you have small
villages, intense altitude gain, a few hundred twisties and grand
landscapes all day long, it takes as long as it takes. After lunch at
the top of the world on Phu Chee Fah Mountain, we roll into Chiang Khong
at dusk and settle into a modern hotel on the banks of the Mekong River,
each room with an outdoor balcony facing the river.
After a cool breakfast watching Laos
appear through the mist, a river ride along the Mekong takes us to The
Opium Museum in the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma
collide. Opium still comes out of this area, but through the King and
Queen’s Royal Projects, cabbages are replacing poppy plants. Lunch is
river side with Burma a few wet feet away, in Mae Sai, a busy border
town selling dried mushrooms, gems, electronic goods, Chinese whatever
and counterfeit DVDs of movies barely released in the USA, sometimes
filmed with smuggled video cameras in the backs of theaters, complete
with silhouettes of people getting up from their seats. The sun sets at
our hotel in Mae Salong after several taxing corkscrews on the way up to
this very Chinese, tea-growing, mountain village. The markets are
teeming with Akha hill tribe ladies selling their wares and kids
frolicking in their traditional kaleidoscope outfits. We stay for two
nights, giving the riders an opportunity to do laundry, sample tea, ride
to the magnificent Mae Fa Luang Gardens or sleep late, though I forced
many out of bed before dawn to check out the morning Akha market. You
experience this in Minnesota: crispy Akha geometric donuts, hot banana
something packed in something else, 400-year-old ladies selling roots,
leaves, herbs and grass cuttings, or a whole, skinned pig delivered
inside, draped over the back of a scooter.
Sunday doles out screaming twisties
that level off by another river, then thirty miles on the four-lane and
a bypass around Fang where you can ride as fast as your bike will take
you, before turning up towards Doi Ang Khang, Thailand’s second
highest mountain. You can’t find sharper curves unless you ride up a
skyscraper in Minneapolis. Ostrich is a lunch option at the top, but not
for the one vegan rider who doesn’t even eat fish sauce, which is
absolutely omnipresent in Thailand, including in the air you breathe.
You normally get some with an oil change. It’s a day of repairs. One
bike dies early on, replaced by the spare; on top of the pass, the 4WD
support vehicle gives up. Left for the rental company to sort out, we
pile everything into the other truck and make it to Malee’s Nature
Lovers Bungalows after dark, nestled in the shadows of Chiang Dao
Mountain, Thailand’s fourth highest.
The hardest part of the trip is leaving
each wonderful place, each day. You could spend a week at Malee’s with
caving, bird-watching, temple-hiking and vegetating, but we head to Pai,
a chill-out, Thai/international village teeming with Lisu hill tribes,
Muslim shopkeepers and modern hippies from around the globe. After an
elephant ride that deposits us back at our guest house, fire lanterns
fill the sky before a dip in the hot mineral spa and deep sleep.
Tuesday we ride to Mae Hong Song,
over a couple mountain ranges, to stay two days at Sang Tong Huts on
stilts on a hillside in a teak forest. At night, you think
you hear rain, but it’s just the dew dropping from the huge teak
leaves onto your thatched roof. Most of the riders want to live here
forever. The next morning, many riders take a long-tail boat to a
long-neck Karen hill tribe village. "Toto, we’re not in Kansas
anymore." That night, we feast on pizzas handmade by us and fired
in an earthen oven before consuming several hundred Singha beers.
Thursday is Final Exam Day—every
rider is on their own. "Here are your directions; meet me at the
guest house." Though the scenery is routinely stunning, today is
about the ride.
The road south is perfection, with sleek curves that feel like you’re
water-skiing on a mirror lake. At the turn, the road deteriorates and we
eke up one muddy hill under construction that almost takes Harley down.
I lose another year off my life. A speck of a town, Mae Chaem is tucked
under the green peaks of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain,
with chicken-feet casserole at the local market or sit-down dinner at
the only restaurant open after dark. We chose the latter—outdoor
dining with great local food and karaoke, but luckily the words are all
in Thai so only our driver and mechanic do the deed. Like all Thais that
seem to come out of the womb cooking, singing and riding a
motorcycle, they were awesome.
Sigh, the last day. The road over Doi Inthanon and back to
Chiangmai throws everything
at us, from four-lanes to parabolic curves to tight corkscrews that you
wonder if your bike is short enough to maneuver. We lunch at the Hmong
market in the national park on fresh fruit and vegetables before
cruising back to Chiangmai, a hot shower and a festive farewell banquet.
Some riders stay to help paint the new dorm at Children’s Garden; four
head home with plans of moving here.
This is an extraordinarily fun ride, but also one of service from the heart. Each rider raises about $2,500 for the kids and pays their own expenses—we just plan the tour, lodging and bike rentals. We’re revising this ride a bit for January 2008. Join us. Help us help the kids. Advice as you’re packing? Sell all your worldly goods or put them in storage before
you come so you don’t have to go back and do it. Life is short. Make
information? Reserving your place today?
Please contact us with your questions. We're seriously
and selfishly very excited about this, wishing the trip were tomorrow.
Or today. Email us and we'll send you an application. Your $500 deposit
reserves your slot. Just do it.
Scott Jones in USA and Thailand:
USA cell until 8/27/07: 612-384-8054
Thailand after 8/29/07:  87-188-8487
Todd Pellizzer in Minneapolis:
USA cell: 612-220-1184
dog on a stick?
How about pig on a stick?
roads out in the sticks:
Here today. Gone today.
This is an easy one.
Sometimes the curves are
straight up and straight back.
got the Ba-Ba Award which
required her to drink her Singha
beer from a baby bottle. She
didn't seem to mind. (Ba-ba in Thai
Happy Camper Award went to
Lynn who is definitely "perfcet."
A cup o' tea at the
top o' the world
on the way from Phu Chi Fah down
to the Mekong River
day the truck died. We left it
for the rental company to sort out,
near the top of Thailand's 2nd
highest mountain: Doi Ang Khang.
just can't do this everyday in
Minnesota. Actually you can't do
it ANY day in Minnesota.
at Children's Garden watch
Cara help paint the dorm built
with the tour proceeds.
Sang Tong Huts in Mae Hong
sweet sleep on a cliffside in a teak
forest. Most of the riders wanted
to live here forever.