Well, that was a bizarre day. Right now I’m sitting at an outdoor table in a tiny restaurant in the tiny town of Pai, which is somewhere way up in the mountains between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. The locals are wearing silly woolen hats that look a bit like they have giant strawberries on their heads. I’d wear one too if I had one. It’s about 14 degrees and dropping rapidly, but outdoor restaurants seem to be the only choice. I guess they’re used to the cold. I’m not. Although the friendly waitress is wearing short shorts and a thin shirt. I dread to think what parts of her anatomy are getting frozen.
Why am I here? Good question. The short answer is that it’s 230kms between those two cities and the only gas station, which is right here in Pai, closed at 8pm. And now it’s 9:30pm. If I known that I would have filled up in Chiang Mai, but I figured a top-up in Pai would get me right through tomorrow and down to Mae Sot. So I’m stuck until 6am. I’ve found a nice room in a friendly hotel for THB500, less than GBP10 or US$15. They asked me if I wanted air conditioned or fan. Are they kidding? A heater and electric blanket would be more appropriate. I must look tired because the receptionist said I could have a room on the second floor rather than the top floor “because of my age”! Hmphh.
Meanwhile, here in the restaurant the waitress has just brought me a menu that’s all in Thai, but then magically produced a translation on her iPad! Technology eh. Gotta love it.
But let’s wind the story back to the beginning.
This morning I manned a Passage Control at a Tiger Park. The competitors had time to go in and pose with the tigers, which no doubt had been heavily drugged. I’m talking about the tigers, but it could apply to some of the competitors too. Funny bunch. I declined the invitation to visit the tigers. I think wild animals should be in the wild. But the young lady who was assigned as the liaison person between the tiger park and the rally organizers, in this case me, I could pet any time 🙂
Personally I think this was the wrong place for a Passage Control. There was heavy traffic in and out of the place, which got nicely messed up with the rally cars. The eight policemen didn’t do much more than watch. But as I mentioned in an earlier article, I like things to work like clockwork and Thailand is not a clockwork kind of country. No matter. There were no major glitches.
I wrote yesterday that I planned to visit a royal palace museum in the area, but the rally was running late, so I decided to make an early start for Mae Hong Son. I figured the views would be good and I’d have lots of time to take photos. But after only about 20kms I was waved to a stop by some of the rally organizer people. There’d been an accident. Nothing serious. A competitor had been overtaking two cars in a village when the front car decided to make a right turn and got t-boned into a ditch. The driver’s wife had hit her head and had been taken to hospital to be checked out. They stopped me because the driver of the damaged car was Malaysian and they were struggling communicate. But it turned out he was Malaysian Chinese and didn’t speak Bahasa Malaysia. Eventually another member of the organizing team arrived and they communicated in Mandarin.
The driver of the rally car wanted to settle things quickly and offered an insane amount of money to the driver of the t-boned car, just so he could get back into the rally. But it took a good couple of hours to persuade the guy this was a good deal. By this point the Police were involved, plus a dozen or so villagers who all had an opinion, and things became messy. A police report was made. The Malaysian guy just needed to sign it to get his money. With pen in hand he paused, and then refused.
So, to keep the story short, it was off to the Police Station for more reports with translations between Thai, Mandarin and English, to wait for the insurance guy for yet more reports, drawings of the accident, re-enactments of the accident using mobile phones as the cars, and eventually a decision to fine the competitor THB1000. Then it was more forms, some typed, some written, photos, inspections of chassis and engine numbers, a lengthy debate about how many cylinders the Mercedes rally car had – with the police eventually being persuaded it really did have six, not five, signatures on umpteen forms, ceremonial payment of the fine, an interruption while the police station’s flag had to be lowered at 6pm on the dot, and then a great shaking of hands and slapping of backs. This all took six hours.
Which meant we set off for Mae Hong Son at sunset not early afternoon.
Now there has to be a break in the story because I’ve finished my meal, and I have to get back to the hotel before my ears drop off. The meal was good. Some kind of sun-dried beef that was really crunchy and tasty, some bizarre leaves that looked like bay leaves but also crunchy, and rice that went cold thirty seconds after they brought it. The Chang Beer was as good as always, and actually not too cold. I doubt they need a fridge up here.
I’ve found an online article that says…
Pai stands at an altitude of around 480 meters. Not that high, yes. However, it is surrounded by the highest mountains in Thailand. It gets cold in the high season (December to February). Temperatures drop to below 10 degrees C at night. (Edit: A reader reports that in January 2014, temperatures dropped to 2 degrees C very early in the morning.)
So it’s not just me. Now I’ve re-opened the bottle of Scotch I bought in Chiang Mai and am thawing out just a little.
Anyhoo, getting here was a challenge. The road is known as “The Road of 1000 Bends” but actually there’s more than 1800! In the daylight iT would have been spectacular. In the dark it was a major challenge. They’re not just “bends.” They’re a long series of hairpins that lead up and over several mountain ranges. I went into rally-mode, hitting the gas pedal on anything that could vaguely be called a straight. I almost got caught out once when a hairpin right became progressively tighter and the windshield became full of Armco barrier, but with maximum lock Bert and I survived. After a few tight bends I developed a rhythm, moving my body left to see around the A pillar for the right hairpins, and sitting up very straight to see the apex of the left hairpins. There was almost no traffic, so even though a challenge, it was fun. I was disappointed by the enforced layover, but at least I’ll see the rest in daylight tomorrow.
I’ve communicated with the organizers who understand why I can’t reach Mae Hong Son, and have reassigned tomorrow’s task, whatever it was. There’s no point in me going back to Chiang Mai. In any case I have a rally clock, boards and time sheets to hand in, plus, Mae Sot is in my route home. So, at my leisure, I’ll tootle down to Mae Sot tomorrow, sightseeing along the way. But it feels strange that for me the rally is now over.
However; the adventure is not finished. After tomorrow I have about 1600 kms to cover to reach home. It won’t be done in one day. I have reservation at a nice beach resort some 900 kms south. If it’s as nice as it sounds I may stay two nights, or more.
For now, it’s time to finish the scotch, dive into bed, and wish I had one of those wooly strawberry hats.