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Thailand: Road of 2,000 Turns

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Jeff Buchanan, Alexander Seger, Michael Gobel

After 36 trips across the Atlantic for rides in Europe and Africa, it was time for something different. Having never been across the Pacific, I settled on Thailand for a new adventure. I would be taking part in Edelweiss Bike Tours’ “Thailand Extreme” tour, an eight-day trip covering 1,465 miles in northern Thailand’s stunning mountain ranges. Somewhere in my mind I was conjuring the tour as being a careful navigation of deep ruts and washed-out, broken pavement of narrow third world backroads. What I wasn’t expecting was that, for a motorcyclist, northern Thailand possesses a seemingly endless string of beautifully paved, winding roads that snake over and through dense jungles and tranquil countryside, across stunning vistas, and past small villages. Chalk one up for derailing preconceived notions.

Arriving in the Land of Smiles

Landing in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s largest city, I settled in a few days ahead of the start of the tour to acclimate to the time difference and begin to immerse myself in the culture. The rumored chaos of the city, with its three-wheeled tuk-tuks, taxis, buses, and whizzing scooters (often with three people aboard), proved less overwhelming for someone from Los Angeles, where traffic has surpassed insanity—good training for riding in foreign lands. And yes, there is the somewhat surreal, salacious nightlife that Thailand’s larger cities are famous for—if one is interested—although it doesn’t carry the stigma or danger of similar areas in America.

On the eve of departure from Chiang Mai, we had our official welcome meeting; it was an opportunity to meet fellow riders and our tour guide and to get briefed on the first day’s ride/route. We’d taken possession of our motorcycles earlier in the day. I would be aboard a Suzuki V-Strom 650, which would prove to be a near perfect mount for all that was to follow.

The first morning of the tour was a somewhat challenging calamity of trying to get nine riders—all busy familiarizing themselves with new bikes amidst the morning Chiang Mai commute—to the outskirts while learning to keep left. First note to self (and readers): Thailand drives on the left side of the road, or as Americans like to say, the “wrong side.” (Ask the Thais and they’ll say it’s the other way around.) The great advantage to adjusting to riding on the left is that a motorcycle’s controls are the same, you just have to acclimate to staying left—as opposed to adapting to a right-side-drive car, shifting with the left hand, etc. (Hence, another advantage of participating in a tour when in a foreign place, especially where they drive on the left, is simply that you can follow your group leader). In relatively short order the congestion of the frenetic city fell away, disappearing in our rearview mirrors as our group ascended into the mountains, unaware just how fortunate we happy motorcyclists were to be.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2020 back issue.