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Samoeng Loop

Chiang Mai Day 01-03 – Crazy Horse Buttress
Chiang Mai Day 04-05 – Crazier Horse Buttress
Chiang Mai Day 06 – Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai Day 07 – Samoeng Loop
Chiang Mai Day 08 – Doi Inthanon
Chiang Mai Day 7

Samoeng Loop

The day began with incessant drizzle so we were forced to hunker down in the room and to wait it out. By the time the sun eventually came back out, too much time had passed for a trip to Doi Inthanon to be feasible, so we opted to ride around a 100km circuit, called the 'Samoeng Loop', instead in order to visit some of the attractions that the loop had to offer. I also figured that it was quite apt to loop around the mountain range that we had climbed just the day before.

The mood had yet to pick up as we made our way up the street as the sky was still fairly overcast. As we passed Bamboo 99 guesthouse, however, we saw that two old workhorse scooters were being rented out for THB99 each. We decided to go for it, so took some photos of the bike exterior just for documentation before relinquishing our passports and signing the required request forms. The tanks were full which enabled us to head straight out of town.

Directions

We decided to tackle the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. We began at the north gate and took the main road that lead northwards, through the boundaries of the old city, and towards the town of Mae Rim. This road is a main road and is fairly congested so you will have to be very careful. Approximately 10 minutes after passing Mae Rim, you will encounter a large junction with very obvious signposts indicating that it is the turnoff for the Samoeng Loop. From here, you just continue along the road as it loops around the mountains, stopping every now and then at attractions that are scattered along the way.

The Samoeng Loop

The traffic was very heavy and it remained that way for the entire journey northward. Moments before, we had encountered a roadblock that funneled us to the side of the road and we were approached by traffic police officers that pestered us for our international driving licenses. Unable to produce any, they began to threaten to bring us to the police station so that they could make a police report. But before they did that however, they gave us an 'alternative' and said that we could pay a THB500 'fine' instead and that they would let us carry on. Having surrendered my passport earlier to rent the scooter and knowing that the police could cause all sorts of trouble for foreigners, I decided to temporarily forego my principles and to just pay the officer.

I had been keeping an eye of the (free) offline GPS app, Maps.me, but the turnoff still seemed to appear much sooner than I had expected.The much calmer roads that made their way uphill were certainly more than welcome as I had been very eager to get out of the heavy traffic. We reached Mae Sa Waterfall after approximately 5 kilometres from the junction, and paid the THB100 park entrance fee and the THB10 motorbike fee. We decided to ride up past the first two parking areas since the third was much closer to the waterfall and ended up parking fairly close to one of the stalls. I also made sure to purchase some snacks (THB50) to keep the stall owner happy but mainly to increase the chance of her watching over the motorbikes.

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The steps that lead up to the higher tiers of the waterfall

The hike up and past the 10 tiers of the waterfall was basically for waterfall-watching, as the tiers were just viewpoints. The flow of the water was quite fast since it had rained earlier, but under better conditions, certain wider and shallower sections (at riffles for instance) would definitely be swimmable. The hike itself was very easy and was timed quite well as the dense canopy overhead protected us from the searing midday sun. The different 'personalities' of the levels of the waterfall almost seemed to be showcased as we continued on and passed by each tier of the waterfall.

'Namtok Mae Sa', top of tier 4 (Wang Sam Muen)

Common imperial Butterfly (Cheritra freja), with its long and very conspicuous tails on its hindwings


Abundant arachnids!

We realised rather quickly that this area was a haven for arachnids--they were ubiquitous! Spider webs were strewn about everywhere and the foliage on the sides of the trail were absolutely pockmarked with them. We had to remain attentive and vigilant in order to ensure that we did not walk into any of them. Most of these webs belonged to the very common Tessellated Orchard Spider (Leucauge tessellata), which is a small riparian orb weaver. Spiders of the Leucauge genus are fairly easy to identify as they have characteristic sensory hairs on the front of the fourth legs that are quite conspicuous.

Tessellated Orchard Spider

A Tessellated Orchard Spider (Leucauge tessellata) and its web

Occasionally we would come across large webs that were hung fairly low to the ground, that had overlapping strands of silk zig-zagging in the upper and lower the corners. These zig-zagging patterns are called 'stabilimenta', and are thought to both attract prey to the web, as well as strengthen the web when larger animals make contact with it. Most often than not, these webs would also have a large spider in the middle that has its legs aligned in the position of an 'X', pointing towards these four corners. The spider in question is called the St. Andrew's Cross Spider (Argiope versicolor), the X-shaped cross of St. Andrew giving it its name.

We were fortunate enough to catch one of these spiders hunting. A grasshopper had jumped right into the web and within seconds was snatched up by the spider. The spider quickly threw out swathes of silk to immobilise it and then held it with its third set of legs whilst rotating it rapidly, tightening the binding in the process. Everything happened fairly quickly and was over within seconds. As we approached, the spider began to bob up and down rapidly on its web. It does this when threatened as the vigorous shaking of the web and its stabilimenta is thought to confuse the attacker as the spider and its web then become a blur of white.

The image on the left shows a St. Andrew's Cross Spider (Argiope versicolor) and its web. Two of the web stabilimenta can be seen in the top right and the lower left of the image

The Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) on the other hand, does not weave a web in order to catch its prey, but instead waits in vegetation and ambushes unsuspecting prey. The speed and dexterity of this spider is so good that they are even able to snatch insects out of the air as they fly by. They do still spin silk however, but use it as an anchor or a dragline instead as they jump from leaf to leaf. These spiders also have two 'appendages' that look like shorter legs at the front that are called 'pediplaps', and their function is to detect scents in the air.

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) with defensive posturing

Suunto Movescount Stats

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The information from the Suunto Ambit for this part of the trip can be found on my Movescount Page

Next: Samoeng Loop (Part 2)

Samoeng Forest

We continued on after we had our fill of the waterfall, but decided to skip all the animal attractions that lay just after (snake farm, elephant camp, and monkey world) as the cruelty that non-domesticated animals face in these kinds of attractions is just not something that we endorse. We made our way along the windy road instead, constantly bracing ourselves each and every time a truck passed at high speed as the wind from them rocked our motorbikes. We also gave wide berths each time we encountered a bend in an attempt to avoid the precarious, loose gravel that tends to accumulate at the outsides of curves. Eventually, hunger pangs began to hit, so we stopped by a restaurant and decided to split the costs of two dishes between the four of us (THB90 per person). Since we had been on the road for a while, we decided to take our time and enjoy the plush seats, air-conditioning and wi-fi.

Well fed and eager to continue on, we continued along the windy road. The weather seemed quite capricious, throwing a little bit of everything at us--intermittent rain and drizzle, beams of sunlight piercing through the cloud-cover, and sudden and unpredictable mist. The change was so sudden that when the bright sunlight hit the road, dazzling beams would reflect back at us off the rain-soaked roads. Soon after, we encountered a sign that stated 'Samoeng Forest'. There was no forest though, just a viewpoint along the road that overlooked one. The forest-filled valley down below was made so much more dramatic by the heavy clouds that quickly rolled on by, clouds that would stay with us for the rest of the trip. Rays of sunlight would occasionally manage to find gaps in the clouds to periodically light up the saddles and valley, producing a shifting spectacle that showcased the power of the elements.

Overlooking Samoeng Forest


Mae Sap Cave

We were forced to continue on to make the most of the dwindling sunlight, but decided to make a quick detour towards the town of Samoeng to visit the Mae Sap Cave before heading back to Chiang Mai.

Directions

To get to Mae Sap Cave, you need to take a right at the sign-filled junction, where the 1096 road meets 1269. Turning left here will take you to the Hang Dong district and back to Chiang Mai. From that right turn, continue along the road towards the town of Samoeng until you reach another junction that lies right next to the Samoeng Hospital. Turn right here (also the way to the party-town of Pai) and continue along the 1349 road for a couple of minutes as it heads northwards and then north-west, before it bends sharply to the left. The turning to the Mae Sap Cave is on the left just one kilometre from that bend in the road.

Getting to Mae Sap Cave

We turned off the road and onto a dirt path that lead straight down to a wooden structure. The structure itself seemed to be unoccupied except for a dog and her two puppies. There didn't seem to be any box or anything for fees of any sort so we just parked our motorbikes at the side and began walking up to the cave. The cave was quite impressive, not in size but in its 'atmosphere' and authenticity. Too many caves nowadays are festooned with artificial lights, rendering them ostentatious and somewhat gaudy. This one however was still in its natural state except for the introduced plants and statues that decorated the entrance.

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The statues and 'garden' at the cave entrance

We had a quick look at the smaller cave that had Buddha statues inside its small cavern before walking up to the statue at the entrance of the main cave. There was a myriad of plants that lined the cave entrance behind the statue that were obviously planted there by somebody and plenty of light from a huge sinkhole just above that lit up the main cavern.

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As we continued to explore the cave system, we found another section of the cave that was linked up from behind. Bats (Order: Chiroptera) were ubiquitous here, so we quietened down and took extra care to not disturb them. The limestone pillars and the cave draperies and flowstones that extruded from the walls kept us fascinated. I am always in awe at the amazing shapes that the deposits of calcite form and some of the huge masses that are suspended from the ceilings almost seem to defy gravity.

There was a ladder that lead to an upper platform and an opening that lay just after that brought us back outside and behind the cave. There was not much daylight left by that point so we hopped back onto our motorbikes and made our way back to the junction that brought us back onto the Samoeng Loop. This time we turned right and began to head straight back to Chiang Mai. Darkness descended down upon us fairly quickly and with it came all the flying insects. As you can imagine, this wasn't a good thing considering that our helmets had no visors!

*Dinner that night cost THB90 and the total cost for petrol for the journey was THB100.

Expenditure

End of Day 7 Expenditure (THB)

Transportation : 99

Food : 230

Accommodation : 0

Entrance Fees : 110

Petrol : 100

Miscellaneous : 500

TOTAL (THB)

Total

: 329

: 1092

: 625

: 110

: 100

: 510

: 2766 

Next: Chiang Mai Day 08 – Doi Inthanon