Spent last night looking at a BBC guide to riding a motorbike (which is the brake, the clutch, the gears, how to start, how to stop and so one). Knew I'd have to blag that I could ride proficiently otherwise I'd have no option but to hire a 125cc rev and rip bike, which would be ok for the roads but my main reason for getting a bike was to do some dirt riding. As it turns out Mr Mechanic couldn't care less whether I could ride or not, they didn't even chek to see if I had a license. I took a bike for a test ride, repeating to myself 'clutch, gear, accelerate', and once I was up and running I'd try and remember how to change gear and most importantly how to stop, but for now priority number one was to ride out of the shop without looking like a complete chump. The shop fronted straight out onto Moon Muang Road which is probably the busiest road in downtown Chiang Mai. So, here goes ... after stalling the bike on my first attempt at setting off, I gave it some revs and pulled into the traffic, objective one complete! I practised stopping a couple of times when out of site of the shop and then headed back to the shop, signed a couple of forms and surrendered my passport for 4 days then performed a practise lap of old Chiang Mai which is basically a square walled and moated city. I'd circumnavigated three of the four walls dodging in and out of motorbikes, tuk tuks, cars, vans and trucks (speed is your friend I quickly learned) then I was pulled over by the Thai police in a sting operation. Fearing for the worst (I was sure I had been stitched up) I pulled over at the improvised blockade and pretended I knew how to stop and park the thing. After not falling off on my dismount it turns out they just wanted to see if had some kind of license, whih I do, a UK car license, but not a bike license. They then waved me on my way and told me where the nearest gas station was, so that was a bit of a result - phew!
With my new found freedom and a full tank I roared up the mountain side and past the Doi Suthep temple on the hill at Doi Suthep, stalling embarrassingly only once at a major intersection, whoops. The temperature dropped dramatically as I searched for a way down the mountain off road. I found a couple of Hmong hill tribe villages which the Chiang Mai tourists get taken to in pickup trucks like lambs to the slaughter and get charged 1000 bhat each for the privilege of seeing refugees trying to sell them 'silver' jewelery and D&G sunglasses. My motorbike cost me less than 1000bhat a day to hire (which is a bargain as the mountain biking + share guide cost 2100 bhat). I quietly observed some boys at a local school play football together on the school field which is actually just a patch of hardened mud, none of them ever pass the ball which by all accounts is the Thai way (not very into team work when it comes to sports)!
A word to the wise: forget doing a 'tribal village' tour, hire a motorbike. Even the rev and rip Honda Dream/Waves (which anyone without any experience can ride) will get you up into the surrounding villages with complete freedom for a mere 200bhat a day.
The Samoeng Loop
The day was still relatively young so I cracked on to the famous 100km Samoeng Loop which takes you down into the beautiful Samoeng valley via a twisty-windy road. Ate at the local market where there was hardly a farang in sight and then did some offroading before heading up a mountain pass that overlooks the Samoeng valley and affords some great views. After this I hit the main road (a B-road in England) that drops down into Mae Rim. Ahem.
One other thing of note, as I was cruising along the road a few k's east of Mae Rim I had to have a double take as there were elephants roaming about in the adjacent jungle. I slammed on the brakes and did a u-turn and grabbed a couple of photo's of the elephants which I had at first thought were roaming around free but were actually chained to large trees as part of the Mae Song(?) Elephant Park. A place where elephants go for their R&R no doubt.