Razor Wire and Strawberry Fields (by S. Bedford)

Looking down on the Chiang Mai to Doi Ang Khang and Fang route. The Chiang Mai/Doi Ang Khang/Fang route is hailed by motorcycle enthusiasts across the globe (or at least across the net) as one of the most pleasurable rides in Southeast Asia. Steep and narrow! proclaimed a rider in one forum. It’s like you’re on a roller coaster! declared another. Of course, to a non-biker such as myself, these closer resembled ominous warnings than shining accolades. But my travel companion/motorcycle driver Pat assured me that they were positive reviews.

“Leave the slopes and curves to me,” he said with a grin. “You just worry about hanging on. Thailand may boast world-class plastic surgeons, but I’d still rather return with all of our skin accounted for.”

I paled, and he added, “That was a joke.”

We rented a Honda CBR-250 for 800 baht per day, consulted the crude map that Pat had sketched from a website, and set course for the Daen Lao mountain range. Glaring Shell stations and tinseled Buddhist temples flanked the highway out of Chiang Mai, eventually conceding to fertile rice paddies where farmers toiled in conical hats. We followed a dappled, unassuming road through sleepy hamlets where the terra cotta dust collected in the corrugated tin roofs—until we were suddenly halted by coiled razor wire and a striped red gate that clearly indicated serious business. It was the Burmese border.

Pat pulled a U-turn and headed north. Our unassuming road began to writhe beneath our tires, twisting side-to-side and lurching up-and-down as we clambered towards the mountain Doi Ang Khang. White blossoms adorned the tree branches like new snow while grey boulders clustered atop the grassy knolls. Between the trees, we caught glimpses of the lush valleys where modest huts nestled. I peered closer—wait, were those satellite dishes?

“They have satellite, but do they have indoor plumbing?” wondered Pat.

Our ascent grew increasingly onerous; the motorcycle lurched as it dropped into second gear and I clung to my friend like a barnacle. At last, we crested the 1 928-meter summit. Plaited hills basked before us while sexagenarian birdwatchers idled beside us… sexagenarian birdwatchers, and Thai cavalry. The lookout co-resided with a small army base, complete with heli-pads, razor wire, and a sign declaring it to be a HIGHLY RESTRICTED AREA. Beneath a troop carrier, a dog reposed.

It was a strange scene, but there was no time to revel in it. The light was fading and we yearned to reach our destination by nightfall. So we mounted our revving steed and began the bone-jarringly steep descent. The road wove back and forth like a tangled strand of cooked spaghetti, and I would’ve been nauseated was I not so distracted by what was certainly impending doom.

“A road like this would never be deemed vehicle-safe in Canada,” observed Pat.

Finally, we sunk low into the valley and the ground flattened out. Local farms specialized in growing strawberries and the village itself seemed washed in a saccharine pink glow. Even the sky appeared stained with strawberry juice as the sun vanished beyond the rugged hills. Pat and I continued to Fang, a town that counterbalanced its pad-thai street stalls with a Tesco shopping center. We celebrated the day’s success with a bottle of Singha beer in a bar that played equal parts Thai rock and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Day two commenced with even more serpentine twists around the foothills of the Daen Lao Mountain Range, and I embedded my fingernails in Pat’s kidneys. However, we returned to Chiang Mai with our body parts in roughly the same arrangement as when we’d left, leaving the plastic surgeons to tinker with other specimens for the time being.

Distance covered: 350 km | Riding time: seven hours

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S. Bedford (Sue) is a travel writer from Toronto. She is a Vagabond Travel columnist and the host of our web series. Twitter: @SBedford86

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