Highway 108 – The Dark Knight rises

We’re going on a road trip around north-western Thailand. There’ll be new posts every few days!

Day one

We hired an automatic scooter named ‘The Dark Knight’ from a Hawaiian named Glenn who had lived in Chiang Mai for fourteen years and owned a small dog with a penchant for chicken feet.

“This is what happens when you rent bikes to the Chinese,” he muttered, and pointed at two with smashed fronts. “They told me that that part just ‘fell off’,” he continued, showing me a large missing chunk. “But it’s obvious from the damage – the whole bike rolled a couple of times.”

I signed a release form and paid 1000 baht (40 NZD) for two full weeks of rental. Caroline and I shredded the fat from our backpacks and managed to fit everything necessary for a two-week trip (including tent!) into one bag. We hit highway 108 late at 4pm – destination Hot.

Songkran was officially over the day before, but that didn’t stop merry revelers from hurling buckets of water at us as we drove by. I feared for our new phone, because the old one had drowned in a drybag malfunction during the huge Chiang Mai Songkran celebrations. However,  all was well and we sped on – mostly down a boring stretch of the 108. The little town of Chom Thong was still celebrating Songkran in an epic fashion; several huge stages on wheels containing live bands were being pulled with ropes down the street by hundreds of people. Party-goers were throwing water everywhere, and absolutely everyone was wearing purple (the colour of the Crown Princess). We wove our way through the party getting thoroughly splashed along the way. Unfortunately, we left our waterproof camera case back in Chiang Mai and didn’t dare to risk photographing the spectacle. Pity.

We reached the town of Hot and found a room at what was apparently the only lodging in the area: the PP Resort. ‘Resort’ was an overly grand title for our sparse, two single-bed room, but there was a fan and a cold shower so we were happy. And of course the price was right at 250 baht (10 NZD) per night. Hell, they even had WiFi.

We hit the town at 8.30pm, realised that nearly everything was closed, ate pad thai by the side of the road, shared a table with a French guy and his Thai girlfriend, and finished the evening with a cool drink of MANSOME (“a specially formulated drink of valuable nutrients and delicious fruit juices designed to help men revitalize their skin and quench their thirst”).

PP Resort

PP Resort

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Day two

Rising at 7am, we backtracked 15 kilometres to Chom Thong and visited Wat Mok Khan Lan, a rather odd place. We were first drawn to it after seeing the huge (huge!) reclining buddha lazing on a hill at the south end of town. Visiting the wat revealed a bizarre garden of lanky dinosaurs, chicken-headed people, and a zombie kangaroo. The largest statues were golden, and included a Ganesha and several gigantic Buddhas.

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The weird things hanging off Buddhas face are huge honeycombs

The weird things hanging off Buddha’s face are huge honeycombs

Yes I hit it, and yes it was awesome.

Yes I hit it, and yes it was awesome.

Monklings playing with leaves (we think)

Monklings playing with leaves (it appeared)

Upon returning to Hot (Hot Police Station! Hot Municipal Court!) we had another perfect Thai breakfast. Khao soi is a type of yellow curry containing crispy noodles, boiled noodles, meat (in this case, a chicken drumstick), and lime. You are given a bowl of red onion and pickled cabbage to add to your taste. Amazing.

After breakfast we temporarily left Highway 108 and took a detour down Highway 1103, destination: Doi Tao Lake. On the way we spied a golden dome high on a hill which turned out to be a half-finished wat with a stunning view. Looking out over the plains, a sudden thought struck me.

“Shouldn’t there be a huge lake somewhere?” I asked.

“Maybe it’s further around,” replied Caroline.

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We arrived at the site of the lake about half an hour later and couldn’t help but notice that there was no lake. A vast car park lay empty and dusty, lines of hawker stalls were completely desolate, and buffalo grazed nearby. We spoke to a woman a little further down the road who was selling iced green tea.

“Where is the lake?”

“Oh, it dried up about two years ago”

After doing a little bit of research, Caroline discovered that the lake had been dry since 2009. We rode The Dark Knight down through the gravel roads towards what used to be a floating village, but what was now a practically abandoned normal village. It was hard to imagine that seven years ago the road we were on would have had water lapping at the edges. Now it was a green desert.

A picture I found online taken in 2007 (click on it to go the the original website)

A picture I found online taken in 2007 (click on it to go to the original website)

The same picture today (2015)

The same picture today (2015)

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This wooden path would have once floated. Note the pontoons under the houses and the tyre where boats would have moored.

This wooden path would have once floated. Note the pontoons under the houses and the tyre where boats would have moored.

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The darker green was al lake. Note the tallest hill in the distance. That is where the gold dome and beautiful view was from a few photos ago.

The darker green was all underwater. Note the tallest hill in the distance. That is where the gold dome and beautiful view was from a few photos ago.

The only tourists left

The only tourists left

On the way back to Hot we were pulled over at a police checkpoint and both of us had to deal with our own cop. I had the serious cop.

“License,” he said curtly. So I gave it to him.

“Where did you get this bike?” So I told him.

“New Zealand, eh?” So I agreed. Then he rummaged through my bag, sternly.

Meanwhile Caroline was laughing away with the friendly cop who was more than willing to be in a photo and told me where to stand while I took it.  With no trouble to be had, and no apparent bribe to pay, we were on our way.

Good cop

Good cop

Continue the Dark Knight’s adventures HERE!

~~~

Just an ordinary train

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