After the first day, the trip was going well, so we decided to shake things up a bit. We heard from Pawel, a hardcore Slowak backpacker we had met in Laos, that there are many interesting hill tribe villages north of Pai. Our excellent map showed us a road we could take to our next destination. It was marked as “4WD dry season only.” We knew that the Japanese scooters can take unpaved roads quite well, so we headed off.
At first the road was pleasant. We left the paved road, not anticipating to see it for the rest of the day. Our destination was a village named Ae Ko (pronounced something like Ey Koe) which was about 70 kilometers away. The road climbed steeply, was often rutted, always dusty, and never boring. Ever larger vistas opened up to our sides as we traversed from mountain to mountain along the ridge roads. The rolling hill scenery was very pleasing to the eye and the driving was fun. Sometimes, we had to concentrate as the steep road had a loose surface, or once in a while a concrete strip about two feet wide. In general, it was a pleasant ride and the only thing that bothered anyone was the dust kicked up by the leading bike.
We drove through some unexceptional villages and stopped by a larger one for lunch. Inevitably, the only meal the “restaurant” served was the Thai staple of noodles in pork broth. As always, is was good. We saw some young kids walking along the road. They hid their faces when I took photos. A few minutes later, the kids were running back the way they came with worried looks on their faces. A man on a motorcycle was chasing them. He explained to us that they were playing hooky and that they needed to be back in school. His English was descent as he was a teacher at that school.
We continued on and the road got worse. It was very steep and often the surface was loose sand. As we negotiated the loose curves the rear wheel of the bike danced left and right. However, after we got to a place where trucks were blocking the way, the road got better. They were grading the road and preparing it for eventual paving, and after they noticed the three white faces gazing upon the blocked road expectently, they moved their truck and let us pass. Now it was smooth riding and we could evne go 50 km/h along some of the stretches.
We arrived at another village which was not marked on our map. The sun was well past its high point and we still had a lot of road to cover. For a long time we did not know whether we were even on the right road to Ae Ko. Even though our map was detailed, some of the distances we road where not as they were marked on the map, so we had doubt on our minds. Luckily, the lady at the shop alleviated our fears when she pointed to a narrow road out of town after repeated inquiries of “Ey Koe? Ey Koe? Ey Koe?”.
The road has turned bad. It was now steeper than before. We were driving through evergreen forest and dry needles covered the ground. The road was also eroded. It was safest to stay on the two mounds built up from packed dirt of truck wheels. However, these were often only a foot across and often had rocks and various cracks. Once the bike slid off into the needle filled ditch wheels spun. The going was rough and we proceeded very slowly.
Our map showed a single road, but as we road there were various forks. We always chose what we thought to be the major road. We met some boys walking along and they pointed in one direction when asked “Ey Koe?”. This led us to a dead end. We backtracked and went another way. The thought did cross our mind that we were not on the correct road.
The road got worse. The ruts were now often over a foot deep. It was rocky and loose. At one point we had an eroded canyon in the road over two meters deep. If our scooter fell in there it would be very hard to get it out.
The road was so steep that with the brakes fully depressed, the bike would occasionally slide sideways, and upon hitting a pit, lean. Luckily we were going slow, so that when the bike fell to the side nothing happened neither to man nor machine. However, at one point I was worried when I saw Weronika’s mother tumbling to the side with her feet up in the air. She’s a tough lady and came away unscathed. The journ3y was starting to work on our nerves. Some oil leaked from Weronika’s brand new bike, and we had no idea whether it was serious or not. At one point, with the bike laying on the side, Weronika declared that she is not going any further. After she relaxed a bit we did mange to push on.
The road eventually did get a bit better, but the sun was now low in the sky and we had increasing doubts that perhaps we are not on the right road. Luckily, we met some people who washed away our fears and said that the village of Ae Ko is only a kilometer away.
We pulled into a central part of the village and mimed that we were looking for food and sleep. A man emerged from the crowd and spoke very good English. He offered us a stay at his home.
His name is Chatchai Kabu. He is a Burmese refugee who came across to Thailand in the eighties. He has lived with Catholic missionaries and learned English and Thai there. He told us many interesting stories about Burma, Thailand, and the culture and customs of the Lahu people to whose tribe he belongs. He is a sustenance farmer with ambitions of planting coffee and said he would love if more tourists came and stayed with him. You can just show up in Ae Ko and ask for Chatchai Kabu, or send him a text message at 082-381-2994. However, he does not have phone reception in the village and only occasionally goes to the hill where his phone gets service.