The Mae Hong Son Loop Part 2: The Sounds of Thailand

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Jimmy and I rented two motorbikes and embarked on a 7 night motorbike journey along the Mae Hong Son Loop, a 600km loop connecting Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand. The roads wind through farming villages and traverse mountainous, rollercoaster terrain with spellbinding curves and lush forest and valley scenery. (The Mae Hong Son Loop Part 1: Roosters & Rum in Doi Inthanon)

 

Doi Inthanon to Mae Sariang

180km

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you know the Raincoat Rule: If you bring your raincoat just in case, it probably won’t rain.

If you don’t bring your raincoat, the forecast will most definitely turn to torrential downpour, just to say I told you so.

Jimmy and I both have plenty of experience working and recreating in the backcountry; we know the Rule.

So why didn’t we bring our raincoats to Thailand?

 

We asked ourselves this furiously as we drove, via motorbike, through our first bout of rain during the beginning of our second leg of the Mae Hong Son Loop—but it didn’t last long. Once we’d descended out of the storm, we were back in the scorching sun, on our way to the town of Mae Sariang. We were dry soon enough, well and happy.

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On the road

 

The sounds of Mae Sariang are the sounds of a broom, early in the morning; its bristles scrape the pavement beneath the shop awnings that line the streets; its bamboo handle is gripped by elderly hands. No speck of dirt will shame the shop owner today. We wander Mae Sariang’s center when the sun is still young; the bristles scape. scrape. scrape. They are the morning’s quiet rhythmic meditation.

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Breakfast at the Mae Sariang morning market: Peanuts, coconut, sesame and sticky rice, served in banana leaf folded into a dish.

A couple hours later, we felt as though we’d crossed a physical line into a new land: a land much colder than the one we’d just been in. We knew immediately that rain was quickly approaching, and this time, we decided to wait it out. We ended up pulling over in the village of Kio Lom, taking shelter beneath the small roof of a bus stop. We shared the roof and its flimsy benches with a young Thai woman and two elderly woman dressed in the colorful garb of one of the hilltribes, though I couldn’t say which one.

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Different types of rice as the Mae Sariang morning market

 

The sounds of Mae Sariang are the sounds of the garage-like doors sliding upwards, revealing family-owned shops, opening for business. You hear them intermittently: the scrape scrape scrape of the bristles: and then, the temporary roar of the door; and then, again, nothing but the birds and the monks, as the shop owners prepare for a day of lounging in the heat, waiting to make profits.

 

We waited for an hour at the little bus stop, watching as truck after truck filled impossibly to the brim with cabbage that miraculously stayed in place arrived near our waiting spot: we appeared to be at some sort of food distribution center. The sons of the farmers chased each other through the dirt and clamored up the sides of the trucks to occupy themselves with simple entertainment. I watched, and wondered where the daughters were. A mother hen and her chicks chirped happily nearby. Eventually, the colorfully-dressed women leapt up to catch one of the yellow trucks passing by. I wondered how long they’d been waiting.

 

The sounds of Mae Sariang are the young boys, clad in orange, laughing quietly with each other during their morning chores. They are novices—monks in training—and they are just normal boys. Laughing. Sweeping. Water gently splashes as they collect from a fountain with individual bowls. The ancient Wat Jong Soong looms behind us, the sound of tempered silence, eternally glorious.

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Wat Jong Soong

 

The rain lets up. We’ve snacked on Lays BBQ chips and are ready to go.

 

Not 20 minutes after we’d recommenced, the rain returns in full force. I am simultaneously driving and drowning; I can barely see; I am choking on water, and I am freezing. Both Jimmy and I pull out our sunglasses to protect our eyes, wishing we had goggles instead, maybe even masks and snorkels. Maybe even wetsuits and a scuba breathing apparatus.

 

Or, maybe just a raincoat.

 

What felt like an eternity of cold and wet and dangerous and slow wasn’t actually; years later that afternoon, we shivered our way into a coffee shop, drank a mocha, pet some cats, and kept going, because that’s all there was left to do.

 

When we got to Mae Sariang, we find that ants really like our hotel room, but we don’t mind, because so do we: a hot shower never felt so good!

 

The sounds of Mae Sariang are the locals bustling about a tiny night market; meat sticks sizzle like music to the carnivore’s ears; a knife cuts through the purple, alien-esque skin of our dragon fruit; deliciousness. The sounds are of the blenders, concocting fresh fruit shakes; the sounds are the clicking of the calculator, showing me how much my salad-in-a-bag costs: less than $1, a full meal.  

 

Before leaving Mae Sariang the next morning to begin the third leg of our journey, we scour the shops for raincoats; we settl for giant bright orange ponchos.

 

It doesn’t rain for the rest of the trip.

 

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Jimmy and me!
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