On our third day in Chiang Rai we hired some twist-and-go scooters and headed for the hills.
We’d asked our friendly guesthouse where would be a good place to drive and they’d recommended heading for Doi Maesalong. Doi is the Thai word for Mountain, and our host told us it was a nice road, with scenic views of the Northern hills which dominate the border regions between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
It’s a really liberating feeling riding out to somewhere new with no specific destination in mind. As soon as we got off the main Highway, the road became more rural and certainly more windy!
We saw some signs for Choui Fong Tea Plantation and decided we’d check it out. The small road which wound through the forest was very quiet and peaceful and it soon opened up into rolling hills covered in neat lines of tea plants. We followed the little winding road to the Plantation HQ and had a little wonder among the bushes. It was very quiet and very beautiful.
It’s completely free to stroll through the hills but of course you can’t visit a tea plantation without tasting some of the produce. There were a variety of options on offer but as it had started to warm up by then, we all opted for a refreshing Cha Manow, or Lemon Tea. Cha Manow is usually served over ice and is absolutely delicious. Almost any cafe or restaurant in Thailand will serve it but many cheaper places use packets of powder rather than fresh tea. That was absolutely not the case at the Plantation, where they also added a liberal helping of honey to their Cha Manow, which was absolutely delicious! We relaxed, rested our backsides from the saddle, and chatted over our treats before hopping back on and heading off.
Further from the highway things started to become more sparse, rural and striking. The villages were fewer and further between, gas stations disappeared and the road began to climb. Soon we were riding along a fully-fledged mountain road, with long, steep climbs, exciting dips and sharp bends.
At this point Ruth and Tom, carrying a little less weight, went out in front as Matt and Lauren had to will (and sometimes propel) their struggling bike up the steepest roads. We passed several more tea plantations as well as deep valleys and stunning cliff drops. With the variation in speed the final 25km took a little longer but we eventually came to Mae Salong village. We’d read that the village has a distinctly Chinese feel and it absolutely did, complete with signage and red lamps swinging gently in the hill breeze.
We found a noodle shop and ordered three “as it comes” and one with no meat for Ruth. We were presented with a big bowl of warm and tasty soup, which went down a treat. At 30 baht a bowl, you can’t say fairer than that.
With our tanks refilled we went in search of something to re-fill our bikes. We followed the mountain road down the other side of Doi Maesalong, stopping off at some opportune viewpoints and to enquire whether road-side sellers had the correct kind of gas for our bikes. Unfortunately none of them did so we headed back towards the Highway, where we knew we’d have more luck.
We put enough gas in the tank to get home (and to get us into town for dinner that evening which was a luxury!) and rocketed back down Highway 1 to Chiang Rai. We did consider trying to stop off at some Waterfalls on the way home but we’d already had a great day and by now our backs (and backsides) were beginning to feel the hours we’d spent in the mountains so we called it a day.
If you’re in Chiang Rai this is a fun, simple and at times breathtaking day out. The bikes were 250 baht each to rent for 24 hours, so we had use of them in the evening and in the morning to nip around town getting dinner & breakfast. Pretty much any guesthouse will be able to arrange it for you to rent from a company in Chiang Rai which will bring the bikes whenever you want them (as long as that's after 8am!). It is a really exciting and adventurous feeling to be out riding, and can make even a simple bowl of noodles, or a lovely glass of Lemon Tea feel that bit extra special.