I Blame the Map


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ANOTHER IMPROMPTU TRIP

It’s all the fault of these damn maps. They make it seem so easy. I bought the latest update of the Mae Hong Son loop motorcycle map they’ve been selling in Chiang Mai for quite a few years. It’s invaluable. These mountains are rugged and they seem to go on forever. It’s a wonder there are any roads through them at all! Without a good map, a nearly senile motorcyclist would be a goner.

My plan was a simple day trip and we’d spend the night in Mae Chaem. Figured it would be an easy two hour ride. I forgot that maps don’t show elevation. The wiggly red line that was our intended road was only a few inches long on this detailed map of the area due west of Chiang Mai. How long could a few inches take?

Three hours later, after climbing Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, and back down again, we arrived in rustic hamlet of Mae Chaem. My brakes had given out three times on the way down the mountain. I thought it was a lack of brake fluid, but the guy in the shop said no, it was my brake pads. He asked if I wanted original Honda pads or cheap Chinese imitations. The difference in cost was $5 vs $12. I played the big shot and went VIP.

Amazing that you can find a guy who will not only sell you such an important item so cheaply, but install them for you. When you’re in middle of nowhere, any service at all seems an act of Mercy.

We spent the night there, in a resort with a swimming pool. Our own bungalow. Only one other guest in the whole place. It’s low season here, but not for long. In a couple of months, the hoards will arrive. The Chinese are always here, but they don’t venture far away from the beaten path.

From there, it would have been a simple matter to retrace our steps. We had only brought one change of clothes, I had only brought one days worth of pills that I take for my many afflictions.

A rational man would have headed back up Doi Inthanon the way he came. But I had always wanted to take the road to Khum Yuan. I’d seen it on maps and tried to find it twice before, each time getting hopelessly lost and after three hours or so and finding myself arriving back to Samoeng, the wrong way entirely! But that was when I was coming at Khun Yuam from due east, whereas now I was arriving up the main road from the south. Should be a no-brainer.

It was, but an exhausting one. Three hours later we arrived in Khum Yuan. This was on a road built by the Japanese army back during WWII, when they occupied Thailand. A regiment had been abandoned here with instructions to build a road to the Burma border. This they did, hacking away at some of the most impenetrable vegetation, and building bridges across river and stream. Then they died of starvation. Survivors said the road was lined for miles with bodies. Within a few months, skeletons. Those who didn’t starve to death were picked off by Karen tribesmen who came over from Burma. They had been fighting on the side of the British.

The Japanese soldier ghosts urged us to keep moving, so we drove two hours south to Mae Sariang. By now my first job was to find Sinemet, my Parkinson’s medicine. The first two pharmacies didn’t have it, but they recommended we visit the government hospital. They fixed me up, though only after I registered as a patient and met with a doctor. The cost for the was three dollars. I bought two months worth of the drug for eighteen dollars. That’s pricey for Thailand, but here it’s a specialty drugs, as most people don’t live long enough to get Parkinson’s.

Our room in this town was six dollars. Again, not a tourist in sight. My co-dependent self wanted to rush down the street checking into every hotel that lined the river. Some were really nice places. We got the cheapest room on the block, because I let her choose and that’s the way she is. If I suggest we splurge because it’s her birthday she says “save money for the future.”

The next morning we headed home. A four and a half-hour ride, broken up by three stops. I can’t handle driving more than ninety minutes on winding mountain roads. The amazing scenery taunts me to slow down and take more pictures, but my camera battery ran out that morning (a blessing, probably) and that kept me going.

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