The “dudes don’t ask for directions” attitude cannot be applied to international travel. For those of us interested in places outside the cushy maps of a Lonely Planet guidebook, word of mouth is often the best and only way to discover the unknown. For me personally these interactions with locals are some of the most hilarious and interesting moments during an adventure. You never know what will come out of asking a simple question to a stranger. I’ve been invited to dinner, been offered rides and even taken out to drink beers just from a brief interaction. When you’re traveling never be too focused on the end destination and disregard the journey. From the insightful tongue of Robert M. Pirsing, “To live for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.”
Continuing on from my last entry… With the white temple in our rear view we set off toward Maesai, the most northern city in Thailand which serves as a major border crossing/trading hub with Myanmar (Burma). With a decent map from the guesthouse we decided to take a quick detour to what looked like a nearby mountain village called Doi Maesalong. After a few hours of pretty intense mountain driving, we began climbing elevation at a rapid pace. No picture could capture the surreal landscapes of sun-kissed farming villages, dotting the slopes of big green mountains as far as the eye could see. With a passenger on the back, maneuvering my bike up and down very narrow and steep switch backs was quite the challenge. Luckily I already had a few months of treacherous Thai traffic navigation under my belt so I was ready for it. As we passed many poverty stricken communities hanging on the sides of mountains we realized that none of these tiny villages had electricity, running water or even adequate shelter. If there has ever been a moment to capture a photograph so unique that National Geographic would be begging to hire me this was it, so we pulled over to snap some pictures. As we ventured into a village dangling on the side of a mountain two young Thai men passed by on an old motorbike and flashed us the warm, signature Thai smile. We couldn’t help but think how friendly they seemed even though they had so little. As I walked back to the motorbike that had been within plain sight the entire time, I found Jessy quite distraught. In our eagerness to take pictures she had left our map and an IPod in her helmet on the back of the bike, and both had already been stolen! Blown away by the speed and craftiness of the thieves we decided to test fate and enter the village to find the perpetrators. As we carefully navigated through the aluminum and wood shacks there was no one to be found. Taking the IPod seems to me a fairly normal act, but what perplexed and slightly worried me was why the smiling bandits took our map!?
With no idea where to go we continued on for a couple more hours slowly climbing and descending mountain after mountain. With the afternoon upon us I realized the motorbike was steadily running out of gas. The entire day of cruising the rural, jungle filled mountains had not shown us anything remotely close to a gas station so we began to worry what we were going to do. Not only that, but we had no clue where we were going. Here’s a rough idea of my thought process at the time “Where are we? This motorbikes rented and they have my passport can’t leave it… but can’t hitchhike with it…. is it safe to sleep in the jungle… would a farmer let me siphon some gas… oh man this is not good…” Consumed by a new sense of urgency the road turned into a very steep incline and the bike started making noises signaling that it was done for the day. Just cresting the hill the road flattened out and I coasted in neutral past some ferocious street dogs. In the distance a sign said guesthouse and my worries dissipated. An old Thai woman spoke a little English and told us we could purchase some gas just up the street. She treated us to some delicious cherries and Chinese tea allowing us to rest our soar behinds. Three old ladies (one being literally the oldest living person I’ve seen in my life) were sowing blankets, staring at the two strange white people who had frantically entered their village. We thanked the women and puttered the bike to a shop that sold gas out of an old barrel.
Still with no map, but a new air of confidence we continue on our journey. Cruising along trying to guess where to go we saw a large upscale resort nestled in the valley below us. We decided to cruise down and try to get directions. Strangely enough NO ONE spoke any English at this secret hidden hotel, but we were able to obtain a terrible map showing only the major highways in the area (we were on tiny mountain back roads). The map was virtually useless and as we cruised on for some time Jessy and I began to bicker about where we were going as daylight was nearing an end. Driving through the mountains of Thailand as the sun sets sounds like a beautiful experience, but I can assure you its quite the opposite. The most frustrating aspect of Thailand is at dusk when you are riding a motorbike. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a helmet with a glass face protector (not common on rentals) then you will be subject to what I like to call the “sunset mosquito blinding phenomenon.” These pesky little bugs never seem to come out during the day when I’m wearing sunglasses, but the MOMENT it becomes just dark enough to where I take them off, my eyes are bombarded with insects aiming to bury themselves in my corneas… The initial sting of contact is bad, but pulling over and attempting to dig these critters out of the corner of your eyes is utterly horrible! Doing my best to open my eyes as little as possible while driving the motorbike we eventually arrived in a village with a couple signs in English and knew we had reached our destination.