Dreams Road: Northern Thailand

On board with Emerson Gattafoni and Valeria Cagnoni in the land of smiles.

Emerson and Valeria, expert reporters who have recorded more than 15,000 hours of film across every continent, reveal some of the lesser known areas of Northern Thailand, a magical corner of the world, somewhere between tradition and innovation.

1500 kilometres of turns and counter-turns, mud and asphalt, mountain climbs and long downhill stretches to the rice fields for an itinerary far from the beaten track. Emerson Gattafoni and Valeria Cagnoni, the stars of ‘Dreams Road’, broadcast on Italian channel Rai Uno for more than 15 years already, have crossed the extraordinary countryside of Northern Thailand with their Multistrada Enduro bikes, taking in mountains and uplands that interweave history with a unique humanity that centres around culture, ancient traditions and warm hospitality.

The journey begins in the far North, in the village of Mae Klang, between mountainous landscapes and arduous roads, far from the Thailand of mass tourism and golden beaches. We are in the so-called “elephant’s head”, the animal symbolic of the Thai nation, where the land is dominated by forest upland and jungle-covered peaks. It is in these places, often characterised by cloud, widespread spirituality and the rituality of gestures and traditions, that the mountain people live, with their welcoming smiles and flower, rice and coffee plantations.  

Mud and sweat on routes through the uplands

 Once upon a time, the tribal people of these areas travelled by elephant, following the water courses. From 1965, a small road leads to the nearby villages, but the asphalt is not in perfect condition and so the route remains an adventure. The journey to Mae Hong Son, the city that borders Myanmar, is an arduous one that takes in winding roads, as well as stretches of mud and dirt. A tiring and difficult day, but one that gives a taste of true Thailand. Mae Hong Son is an authentic city, isolated for centuries, that preserves its ancient appeal, also thanks to an almost total absence of tourists. 

The road of 1864 turns

 From Mae Hong Son you can climb aboard and ride the legendary Highway 1095, one of the most beautiful roads in Thailand that weaves between forests, paddy fields and tribal villages. A ring of more than 600 km of turns that begins in Chiang Mai, wends its way towards Mae Hong Son, passes Pai and leads back to where it started. Highway 1095 is known as the road of 1864 turns, a road to beat all roads: a fantastic route, perfect asphalt, and so precise that it appears designed to ensure pleasure and fun. The route also offers diversions and rest stops, the village of Ban Jabo for example, immersed in the clouds and inhabited by a tribe that lives in bamboo stilt houses. 

Highway 1095 also leads to Pai, one of the trendiest areas in Thailand, where everything is informal and alternative. Pai is a destination for artists and backpackers, somewhere between innovation and tradition, brought to life day and night by street food, hippy-chic hotels, bookshops and bars with live music. A welcoming and fun city that deserves its Pai-radise nickname. 

From Pai it’s on the largest city in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai. The city of 300 temples, an irresistible blend of the exotic and the sophisticated, is the best existing example of Asian fusion. Chiang Mai, historically a site for commercial bartering, is also the city of a thousand colours. The markets are at the heart of city life and create a unique atmosphere, a vibrant explosion of flavours, sounds and scents. 

Towards the enchanted city on Highway 101

 Back on board, it’s more than a 90 km ride to Lampang, an ancient city that sees few tourists. Its province is known for being the cradle of chicken bowls, famous handmade ceramic bowls that stand out for their red and yellow chicken pattern, now real collector’s items across the world.  

Highway 101 leads away from the ceramics province, the spectacular road running as far as Thailand’s “rice bowl”, a sweep of paddy fields that extends as far as the eye can see. Mile after mile, the road weaves down towards the fertile plain and the many canals, where the climate is mild. The route is dotted with snack bars protected by the Thai police, that offer travellers fruit, water, coffee and updates as to the road conditions. This delightful and smooth road leads directly to Si Satchanali, one of the country’s real wonders. This ancient archaeological ground, now a UNESCO heritage site, was founded in 1250 and retains all of its age-old history: an enchanted village, frozen in time, where you can visit dozens of temples that are still in excellent condition. 

Four days immersed in the clouds, mountains, warm smiles and spirituality that have convinced us that, despite the effort of certain sections, Northern Thailand is well worth the visit. A magical land, it is inhabited by extraordinary people, able to express kindness in their every gesture.  

Adventure Tour

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