In the second part of the motorbike road trip we went from Chiang Dao to Mae Hong Son. We had no plans, let the trip flow by itself, and the trip took us to some off the beaten path places: Huai Nam Dang National Park and Soppong, which has a huge cave with geological formations.
Before starting my round the world trip, a friend advised me “don’t plan too much, let the trip flow by itself”. That’s what I did, and that’s what I still do.
In our motorbike road trip we also let the trip flow, make detours, take us to unplanned places.
The day we left from Chiang Dao we told the guesthouse’s owner that we were going to Mae Hong Son. He recommended us to visit the Huai Nam Dang National Park and Pang Mapha (Soppong).
We had discovered a wonderful arts café in Chiang Dao thanks to him, so we trusted his advice.
This post is part of the series “Northern Thailand by Motorbike”
- Phrao and Chiang Dao: coming out of my comfort zone
- Huai Nam Dang, Pai and Soppong: let the trip flow by itself
- Mae Hong Son: challenging my limits
- Mae Sariang and Doi Inthanon: smile, give, receive
Ban Mae Ma Lai and its market
The directions were clear. “Drive in the direction to Chiang Mai and turn right at the market in Ban Mae Ma Lai”, he had told us.
Markets exist everywhere, but I specially like the Asian ones. The fruits, meat, spices and other items pile up and blend in a party of colors. The smells are intense: sweet, spicy, tasty, bad, good. The vendors sit down and wait to sell while the customers get their way through the narrow corridors. They are so lively.
In addition, there are street food stalls and stands with snacks.
We entered the market in Ban Mae Ma Lai, and in one stand I found banana leaf rolls. They looked exactly the same as the ones I discovered the previous year in Kampot (Cambodia): a banana covered with rice, rolled in a banana leaf, and cooked on the fire. I bought one expecting it to be the same… but it wasn’t exactly the same, even though there was a piece of banana inside. Same same but different. Oh.
Huai Nam Dang, a “surprising” National Park
After Ban Mae Ma Lai the road started going up the mountains, the landscape became greener, the curves more pronounced, the weather cooler.
The jungle was very dense. In the distance, layers and layers of mountains were posing in front of us. In spite of the shiny sun it was always a bit foggy on the horizon, so we could hardly see the farthest mountains.
After a while we arrived to Huai Nam Dang National Park.
We expected to find viewpoints and hiking trails.
But… not really.
We followed the road to the visitor center, which was located on a large terrace next to a cafeteria. There we learnt that there were hot springs, waterfalls, adventure activities and hiking trails in the national park, but not there.
The park is huge and most of it is not accessible. There are several entries on the outskirts of the park but they are several kilometers away from each other and they’re not connected. So, basically, to go from one entry to another you have to go around the park.
We were at the main entrance or headquarters. What to do there?
The most beautiful spot was right in front of the visitor center: a lower terrace decorated with rows of colorful flowers. It’s supposed to be a magical viewpoint to see the sunrise. In addition, there was a palace nearby with a small garden around.
It’s possible to visit other areas of the park with the same ticket on the same day, so we stopped at Tha Pai hot springs before arriving to Pai. There were several pools with natural hot water, and many locals bathing and relaxing. A nice discovery after several hours on the road!
Overall… was it worth to go? Well, it was nice and kind off the beaten path. If you don’t have a lot of time and money, though, I think you can skip it. Otherwise, I recommend doing some planning and checking which activity you’d like to do (hiking, rafting…) to go to the right location.
The two sides of Pai
It was getting dark by the time we arrived to Pai. We had read that cheap accommodation was located on the other side of the river, so we decided to go directly there.
On the way, we turned on the wrong street and we found a quiet street with wooden stilt houses. A school. A dog. Everything written in Thai. Silence.
We left this street and found the main street. Full of tourists, street food, restaurants, shops, tour agencies, things written in English, movement, noise. It looked like another city!
We left the motorbike and crossed the bamboo bridge. The other side was not a village but a group of bungalows owned by 4 or 5 guesthouses. It wasn’t authentic, but it was quite nice and for one night it was fine.
Anyway, we had already seen the authentic Pai: when we took the wrong street.
Pang Mapha, a.k.a. Soppong
Every day I thought, “ok, today we don’t have so many kilometers in front of us, we’ll spend less hours on the road”.
But at the end we always stopped more than planned, took detours, visited places we hadn’t known they existed. That’s the advantage of traveling by motorbike, the benefit of not planning in advance. And it’s always worth.
Our next stop was Pang Mapha, also known as Soppong.
Soppong was described as an off the beaten path village with beautiful surrounding scenery. And indeed, the journey offered us fantastic views. The village itself was not so special but we found a local restaurant to have lunch, where we ate a classical noodle soup, shared a table with locals and exchanged smiles with a kid and his mother.
Tham Lod cave
The main highlight of Soppong is the Tham Lod cave, one of the biggest caves in northern Thailand. We hadn’t planned it, but since it was early we decided to go.
I had already seen caves with geological formations in Europe, but visiting a cave on a bamboo raft was a new experience.
The cave was actually composed by three connected caves. Part of the visit was done on the bamboo raft and part was done on foot. The caves are large and high and the geological formations are impressive. There were fish in the river and bats on the ceiling which added on the experience.
Inside it was completely dark except for the oil lantern from the guide. Sometimes it was difficult to see the immensity of the cave but I guessed the lack of light was better for its preservation.
Mae Hong Son and its beautiful lake
After a few more kilometers of stunning scenery we reached Mae Hong Son. We found the lake even before we searched a guesthouse, and I instantly knew I’d like it there… but that’s a story for the next post.
Don’t plan too much, let the trip flow by itself
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