The Mae Hong Son Loop: Pai to Pang Mapha

We’d spent four nights in Pai, and while it grew on me despite its changes, it was time to move on. Alex was feeling better and the next 500 kilometres weren’t going to drive themselves. We bade farewell to our wonderful hosts and set off on the 1095 towards Sop Pong, a small town in the Pang Mapha district.

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We picked up some ponchos at the Walking Street in Pai and we were glad that we did – it gets cold on the bikes in the mornings in the mountains. 

As we drove we came across a sign pointing up a road towards some hot springs. We’d given the hot springs near Pai a miss because they were expensive and we didn’t have far to travel that day so we decided to  check them out. Happily they were cheap so we drove on in. A narrow road took us through a conservation area and up and down steep hills for a couple of kilometres to the hot springs.

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When we arrived there were a few other people around but it was pretty quiet. Having passed 7 minivans going the other direction on the road in, I think we probably lucked out on the timing of our visit! It was a rustic affair, but well maintained and we changed in the bamboo huts then eased ourselves into the clear waters of the warm pools.

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The kids loved it. The pools were shallow enough for them to stand in, and the water clear enough for Chloe to explore the submerged world. Rocks were collected, games were played, fun was had and grumpy looks were thrown our way when it was time to leave. We towelled off, got changed and after a bite to eat we were back on the road. We explored a bit further down the conservation area road until we reached a bridge over the river, leading to village at the end. Too shy to drive into the village itself, we turned around and headed back to the main road.

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We drove the 1095 as it climbed past picturesque scenery towards a pass with a viewpoint where we pulled over for a rest. The view was stunning and we watched clouds in the distance drop sheets of rain on the hills.

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I crossed the road to see the view in that direction and heard laughter up ahead. Passing some bushes the view opened up and that’s where I came across something that stopped me in my tracks. A four-person swing going up and around like a mini ferris wheel with four young Thai girls who shrieked and giggled as they swung back and forth. It was fun to watch them enjoying themselves; even a passing monk stopped to take a picture of the scene.

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The vistas are not the only thing that this viewpoint is known for. It’s also known to locals as a haunt for sandflies, as my legs were soon to evidence. I felt an itch and leaned down to swat my legs, which is when I noticed a small black fly or two chowing down, with several more spots of blood as evidence that they weren’t the only ones to use me for a meal. I’d never come across biting sandflies before. No big deal I thought. Boy, was I ever wrong. Sandflies are little bloodsuckers from Hell. As we dropped down into the valley and made our way to the Lisu Lodge Guest House where we planned to spend the night, the itching was pretty intense. The owners of the Lodge saw my legs and nodded knowingly, advising me to squeeze the blood out of the bites to get the fly’s saliva out. Probably good advice if the bites had just happened, but I think it was a bit late for that. We dropped our gear in our rooms – Alex and I in an en-suite stone hut and the kids in their own bamboo bungalow – just a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net with the eaves open to the sky. It was super cheap and they loved it – a mattress on the floor is always a hit.

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We didn’t have much time to settle in because the owners tipped us off that every evening at dusk half a million Swifts returned en mass to a nearby cave to roost for the night. It was late afternoon already so we had to get a move on if we wanted to get to the cave mouth before the birds were already tucked up in their nests for the night. We hopped back on our bikes and an hour later we were walking along a dirt path through jungle as the sun set.

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As dusk settled we looked up through the trees and could see birds swarming in the sky.  A few minutes later and we reached the cave mouth, a river flowing out of it as up above the sky was filled with birdsong and small winged bodies flitting to and fro.

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It was cool to experience, and if we’d waited longer we’d have seen bats leaving the cave as well. But we felt we’d had our Bat Cave experience already and didn’t fancy walking the kilometre back to the bikes along the jungle path in the dark, so as the birds continued to flock, we turned back and headed home. We made it back to the bikes as the sun set, the dying light of the day throwing a golden glow to light our way.

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