This section from Mae Salong to Mae Sai is the thirty-ninth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Again, fireworks are cracking before dawn gets a chance to. I lunge my heavy head outside the door and watch the sun rise. No chance of a morning market on Chinese New Year’s day: pretty much everything is closed, with the exception of 7-eleven. With the first morning light, singing children start terrorising the streets, banging on doors and asking for hard cash. When they spot me on my balcony, they stare a bit, murmur to each other, and then hesitantly sing something I don’t understand – probably asking for money. I hide behind my white skin and smile like an idiot.

Sunrise over Mae Salong
Sunrise over Mae Salong

The English couple have taken the room next door and they’re also up and packing. After sitting with the hotel owners, eating 粑粑 (rice cakes) with 乳腐 (gooey tofu with spice) and 香肠 (Chinese sausage), we all get an improvised second breakfast from 7-eleven. I’d love to have had the Yunnan noodles I’d read about on Wikitravel, but either the shop no longer exists, or it has changed its name. At any rate, there’s no chance it will be open today.

Kids banging on doors, asking for Hongbao
Kids banging on doors, asking for Hongbao

The couple goes ahead and I follow suit a few minutes later. First, I plummet about 500 m, which I have to partially make up for by climbing to 750 soon after. Over the course of 10 kilometres, I’m dropped to merely 400 m and when a new climb starts, I see a pink dot in the distance. In a probably hilarious snail race, I manage to catch up with the British couple at 4.5 km/h and decide to ride on together. We pass several Akha hill tribe villages. They’re a minority in Thailand and Myanmar whose women look like walking hardware stores and their men… well, their men drink.

There she is
There she is

There are again insane grades and we have to get several stops in order not to feint. No trace of a hangover left. As we clear 1000 m again, we get some beautiful views in too. It’s just a bummer that there seems to be a permanent haze in northern Thailand, so our visibility is limited.

When the time has come to decide whether we’ll chicken out and ride down to highway 1 or we don’t and go up another barbaric 500 m, we end up choosing the latter. There’s almost no traffic on the road so we feel that’ll be easier on the mind than getting to a country’s main highway.

View from the first hill
View from the first hill

After a few kilometres of such peaceful riding, we suddenly spot hundreds of tourist vans, most of them filled with Chinese but also others. The attraction? Gardens. We stop for lunch (though we eat our own sandwiches on the steps rather than paying for the inflated restaurant price) and then quickly make ourselves scarce.

After this point, the gradient gets a lot easier but it’s still a battle to 1480 m at the Burmese border. I’m surprised the English couple is so fast and climbs so well, but even for them it’s getting a bit much. The top comes none too soon. As the road surface changes into gritty asphalt, we start rocketing down the now narrow road, on which the divider line seems to have been painted by a problem drinker. Coming down on this -20% gradient is scary.

Mark and Becky, finally spotted after well over an hour of riding
Mark and Becky, finally spotted after well over an hour of riding

The left side of the road is decorated with mean-looking razor wire. Going over the handlebars wouldn’t just be horribly painful, but also illegal as the razor wire marks where Burma begins. We pass police checkpoint after police checkpoint but everyone waves us through, lazily. The sound from my brakes, however, doesn’t please me either. I’m afraid I may have worn through my pads and I wonder how and where I’m going to get the parts?

With the exception of a few 100-200 m climbs, most of the road goes down, though and before long we find ourselves in Mae Sai. Not having had proper lunch or breakfast, we stop to eat a nice plate of Pad Thai and the English couple checks into a hotel for 500 baht. After today’s steep hills, I need a room with prices that are not, so I go on on my own and find little bear hotel, which has single rooms from 280. Unfortunately, there are booked full so I get a 380 baht one.

Mark fighting his way up
Mark fighting his way up

The town itself doesn’t seem to have much to offer. The night market has good stuff, though, like 烧饵块 (a glutinous rice pancake, in this case mixed with sesame seed and also in this case served with brown sugar rather than spicy sauce. I also stop at a steak stand and get a steak with fries and salad for 69 baht. Not too bad!

Me and Burma
Me and Burma
Through a gap in the mountains, you can see beyond: nothing but plains plains plains.
Through a gap in the mountains, you can see beyond: nothing but plains plains plains.
Rice babas with spicy paste on top. Very yummy.
Rice babas with spicy paste on top. Very yummy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *