Thursday, March 28, 2013

Motorcycle Day Trip to the Mountains

Believing if I could get up to some elevation I could escape the terrible smoke conditions here, at least for a little while.  My neighbor Dave invited me on a loop day trip that would take us north up into the near mountains and around the back side of Doi Suthep, our nearby mountain, and return to Chiang Mai from the south.
The smoke season arrives every year at this time and lasts until the first rain of the rainy season in about 6 more weeks.  Media reports mostly blame farmers for burning off rice stubble for the problem, but I recently discovered information that attributes only about 20% of the total smoke problem comes from agriculture and actually about 30% comes from Thai's  burning off undergrowth in the forests and in the mountains.

Evidence of forest burning is everywhere you go in the mountains and this sign says "no burning" right at a recent burn site!  Popular wisdom says that the reason for the forest destruction is that the ash encourages the growth of an expensive type of mushroom that the ethnic mountain tribes collect and sell. 

What we found is that at an elevation of 3500 feet, the smoke was almost as bad as down in the flatlands.

It seems such a shame that trying to propagate these mushrooms is endangering the health of the whole population.  Law prohibits burning, but either the authorities look the other way, or they cannot catch the fire starters.

The government has tried a new remedy by sending planes aloft spreading the chemical urea, then dropping dry ice crystals which is supposed to open a hole in the inversion layer so the smoke can escape up and away from being trapped at ground level.  This is similar to cloud seeding to make rain, but of course there are no clouds to seed.  Personally, I believe this effort is just a political ruse to make a show that the government is taking the issue seriously.

The trip was interesting in that we came across a couple stretches of actual cobblestone road and while trying to establish one road connecting to another route was some dirt biking through some very rough and dirt track.  You never know what you'll come across when traveling the back roads such as the very large excavation operation that was literally eating away a mountain which looked like some sort of mining operation.  Lots of water was being used and was draining down into holding ponds where it is pumped back up to a holding reservoir for reuse.
One thing Dave likes to see are the many reservoirs scattered around the mountain valleys and it's always a nice break in the ride to stop and take a rest at these places.  The conservation of water resources is very important because growing rice takes a lot and the dry season is long and, well, dry.  I keep forgetting to take a bathing suit to take full advantage of these refreshing oases.
Back closer to civilization we came across this small river that provided rafting adventures for lots of foreign young people.  There was a small open-air restaurant at the side of the road and rows of lounging platforms down a hundred feet or so on the river for tourists to enjoy the cool waters.  Baskets attached to guy wires would send down food orders to the relaxing guests.  Not a bad way to pass an afternoon.
We passed many elephant camps where shows and elephant riding is available.  Also passed a snake farm, alligator farm, butterfly farm, ATV off-road adventures, bungee jumping, and zip line adventures.  All these activities really capture the younger backpacker crowd that supports so much of Thailand's tourist industry.
As for the smoke, I'll continue to wear my surgical mask until I can see the golden gleam of the temple at the top of Doi Suthep mountain again.

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