Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Chiang Mai Marathon 2014. Northern Thailand Monster Motorcycle Loop.


has been a tumultuous year. The most significant event, personally, was losing my life savings. $250,000 gone. Rich to poor in a breath. An early retirement dream that took two decades to build took only moments to unravel proving that entropy is alive and well in our lives.

Became a confirmed bachelor in May by dumping a fit 24yo girlfriend after 7 months. Life has been more peaceful since then.

Established some entrepreneurial sidelines (tutoring maths and academic editing) which have performed reasonably.

Achieved a personal goal in the Chiang Mai Marathon (only just) in addition to making steady progress in the Thai language.

Enjoyed thousands of kilometers on a motorbike and booked an impulsive trip to the Nepalese Himalayas in March 2015.

New Faces

I recently met Austrian Heinz and Australian Gary - the first time I've simultaneously been with citizens of those easily confused countries.

Not far from here is a Hmong tribal village where they practice Christianity as this recently dug grave demonstrates. Christianity is common among the hilltribes of the North.

Near the village is this rarely visited cave. I normally like wet dark holes - just not this kind.

The Salween River

The Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween and the Ayerwaddy are four major Asian rivers that form deep in the Himalayas. In China's Yunnan Province they're funneled together and run roughly parallel to each other in a southerly direction for 300km separated by 6000m Himalayan peaks.

I've boated down the Ayerwaddy from Mandalay to Bagan, the Yangtze from Chongqing to Wuhan and the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. I've trekked the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge where the infant Yangtze crashes through the canyon far below. However, I'd never even seen the Salween.

This was rectified as I rode to Mae Sam Lep village and Thailand's most western point. The Thai/Burmese border follows the Salween for 120km, however it's a very remote area - think Rambo4 - and quite a challenge to get to.

The village contained Karen, TaiYai, Indian-looking Burmese Muslims (possibly Ronghiya?) and only one Thai person - the Army lad at the pier. Somehow I always seem to attract the local inebriated lunatic.

Stilt houses on the riverbank. Picturesque.

After 50km of offroad torture I opted for a 1hr Thai massage in Mae Sariang. It was good for the old shoulders but lacking the ubiquitous Loi Kroh happy ending.

The next day I headed to Mae La Noi. Simply stunning.

Then I rode up to Huai Hom, a small Karen village specialising in coffee and betel nuts. Not a bad spot.

They were preparing for a coffee tasting festival on a nearby mountain top. It was disappointing to be a day early for this. They'd even converted bamboo hen covers into coffee cups.

Imagine when they've just planted the rice? Those tree roots reminded me of Ta Phrom at Angkor Wat.

I was responsible for the death of this snake. I ran right over it and went back to take a photo. I felt bad so I stopped at this huge Buddha overlooking JomThong. There were dozens of beehives hanging from his nose, ears and face.


Slipped a few times on the old alcohol including a three day bender the week before the marathon. Somewhat shortsighted. I knew I'd hit rock bottom when I got to bed at 5am and scoffed these squashed insects I'd found in my back pocket.

Finally visited CM's newest mall since a student failed to show up nearby on NeeMaanHaeMin Rd (my favourite street name).

Malls? Meh.


I've finally started to appreciate coffee. I still have instant Nescafe in the room but when out on the bike I'll have a cappuccino, latte or mocha. I think it's an age thing. This is my favourite little hangout about 40km west of CM.

They grow and process the coffee in the fields around Samoeng. Highly recommended.

Chiang Mai Marathon 2014

Earlier in the year I set myself the audacious goal of running a sub-2hr half marathon. I thought this an acceptable challenge for a 41yo man who has smoked for 25 years. In 2013 I couldn't even run 1km!

Happily I just managed it. Coming 132nd out of 754 in a time of 1hr59m32s. There were many nationalities and about 3000 runners including the full marathon and 10km. The median time was 2h21m and I was delighted to finish in the top 18%. This table shows chip times.

I won a bet with Paddy by a mere 28secs enjoying a full English breakfast as a result.

The first 10km were quite easy taking only 52 mins. However, the final 4km were like wading through treacle and I was lucky to make it in the end. This highlights how I seldom ran more than 10km in training.

It was surreal pounding the dark streets of CM at 0500. I'm contemplating running again next year as it's quite a buzz on the day. The foot massage was well deserved.

Northern Thailand Monster Loop

After a Christmas Eve soapy I woke up and decided to spend Christmas Day riding to Mae Hong Son. This one day ride morphed into a five day motorbike marathon taking in some of the best roads and scenery Thailand has to offer.

I just got back last night and I'm still buzzing. Awesome man!

If I ever lead a motorbike tour I would take them on this route but over 10 days. I would also include Doi Inthanon, Mae Selong and Doi AngKang.

Here's the actual route:

107 Mae Taeng, 1095 Mae Hong Son, 108 Hot, 1103 Doi Tao, 106 Li/Thoen, 1124 Wang Chin, 1023 Long/Phrae, 101 WiangSa/Nan, 1169 Santisuk, 1081 Bo Kluea, 1256 Pua, 1097 Song Kwae, 1148 Chiang Kham, 1155 Wiang Kaen, 1020 Chiang Kong, 1290 Mae Sai, 1149 Mae Chan, 1 Chiang Rai, 118 Mae Suai, 109 Fang, 107 CM.

I rode 1780km spending 4350bt in the process (1700bt fuel, 1350bt rooms, 1300bt food/coffee). That's about £90. Not bad for a 5 day trip of a lifetime.

Here's 1780km in Thailand compared to the UK. Thailand's bigger than people think.

Most of the time was spent in a meditative state with adrenalin coursing through the veins as the twisties were tackled.

Speed, skill and danger! What more can a man want?

I woke up to this on Boxing Day. Mae Hong Son's lake shrouded in mist. It was only 13degC and provided an unusual scene for the tropics.

17km later I was enjoying a coffee here. Spectacular.

In Khun Yuam I met some Big Bike Boys from Bangkok. We couldn't decide if this was art or porn.

I never pack much but this was ridiculous. I wore the same clothes for five smelly days. Each night I'd go for a run. In MHS I ran around the town because the school was having a sports day at the track. In Mae Sariang I ran up and down the disused airport runway. In Nan I was too tired but in Chiang Kong I ran along the banks of the mighty Mekong.

It's nice to stretch the legs after a day in the saddle.

A random shot of beautiful Nan Province.

After Nan I hit the Mekong in Chiang Rai Province.

The final day on the 1149 near Mae Sai.

Truly, one of the best things I've ever done.


Just paid 10,000bt (£200) for another 100hrs of Thai lessons for when I get back from Nepal in April. It must be working because I didn't speak any English during the last five days. However, I wish people would stop assuming there's a wife teaching me. 

สวัสดีปีใหม่ครับ = Happy New Year


  1. Hey Stephen glad you enjoyed riding around the great roads of North Thailand......it's the reason I chucked in my job and moved over here.
    Now if could only stop falling off........

  2. Hi Stephen.

    Just stumbled across your blog - a result of reading about your misfortune I have to add. I was genuinely sorry to hear about this and am pleased it doesn't appear to have knocked you back as much as it would your average Joe.

    I have a question for you... I am trying to think of a way in which to phrase this that doesn't sound accusatory. It isn't meant to be that way - I am geniunely curious. You obviously have a deep fondness for Thailand, much like myself, which extends way beyond that of the casual tourist, retiree, pervert etc. You will be more aware than most of the social problems here and the amazingly positive attitude of the Thai people in the face of difficult circumstances. Indeed your response to your recent loss suggests similar qualities in yourself. Then there's your trips to the temples. I went to a talk about Buddhism at a temple here just last month. One of the key things they taught us was that it is about escape from suffering, and not causing suffering to others. (I hope I've got that right, I nodded off in parts).

    There aren't many people with your level of understanding about Thailand of whom I can ask this question... I am wondering how you reconcile all of this with visits to soapy massage places etc.? After all, presumably you must be aware the girls in there don't want you pounding away on top of them, and are there through what they see as necessity (maybe they have better options but we are probably not best placed to judge). Maybe you are genuinely handsome and charming and they might have been attracted to you in passing at Airport Plaza, but I am pretty sure this doesn't mean they are pleased about being picked out of a line up and told to screw on demand. Who knows, you may even have enjoyed the hospitality of some of their families in the villages you have visited.

    So how do you do it? Or do you just not think about it? I'm worried this is sounding confrontation after all. I ask because I speak Thai, love Thai culture, love the north and have many Thai friends who I care deeply about. I went to such an establishment and although it was fun at the time, I feel I have left a little bit of my humanity in there. That girl at the time was nothing but a sexy body and I took advantage of her misfortune. I think you have done the same. Just like that guy in Phuket just saw you as a bank balance.

    I will think twice before I do something like that again.



    PS. Thanks for the motorbike route ideas

  3. Nice post Stephen, would love to do that bike ride. Geography looks great.
    I notice the comment above and I know we've exchanged comments on the girls on my blog. My 2 cents: again, prostitution has been part of the Thai scene for centuries, way before the white man showed up. No one is forcing these girls, they in fact look to hook up with a Westerner whether it be for one night or for a long term relationship. Up here in Nong Khai see a lot of Western men remarried to Thai women and honestly I find it insulting when I see some people call them 'sexpats'. Its demeaning to both the expat and the girl. I've seen men who have invested everything in these girls (and who have much more to lose). That's not to say that there are no sex tourists...but I think the problem is the way we look at it through Western eyes.
    No disrespect to Simon who was very polite in how he phrased his question - I'm being more general in just the general viewpoint of Westerners, many of whom are very accusatory in their attitudes. How many women back home will only chose a man because of his job/car/saving account? There are so many shades of black and white when it comes to the 'prostitution' question...

  4. Exactly Frank. The women I encounter do very well out of it. Far better than me in fact. I believe our Western Judeo-Christian culture affects Westerners' views. After 9 years in Asia I no longer think about it. It is what it is. I sometimes wish I could get paid for doing what nature intended for me to do. No training or expensive universities required.

    Pussy is a commodity - always has been always will be. That's how it can be sold in the first place. Feminists don't like prostitution because it keeps the price of pussy real (low) whereas the traditional means of exclusive vaginal access (marriage) has a vastly inflated but socially acceptable price.

    As long as workers and clients are not forced into it and all parties are safe I don't have any issues at all.

    Just thinking out loud here.


Please be nice.