I bought my own ticket out for the day after Lucinda flies, scheduled for a week after my friend arrives.
So first we do the awesome easy thing and get a longtail to tour the canals for an afternoon. Up the river
And into the canals
Same as before, Ballardian
Big-ass lizard thing, maybe 4 feet long
Granny out for a paddle
Feeding the catfish
Into a lock where we waited for 20 minutes
Our suddenly pensive driver. A few minutes earlier he was being manic
Did some shopping. My friend needed a new cell phone which she got at the collosal MBK for about $20. A perfect Apple iPhone clone.
The classic Honda Grom
On that theme, motards and scooters at night. Fantastic. When I’m back I’ll do a Bangkok night ride with the big dogs
Madness at Wat Phra Kaew, home of the Emerald Buddha
Some mural details
All kinds of beautiful people
Market shopping in the rain
Inspecting small Buddhas
A Buddha store
My friend’s feet. I’ll miss her crazy ways. We had some great adventures in Laos and Thailand. Safe travels M
And off, back to Vancouver
Picking up Lucinda the following day at YVR, after a quick visit to ICBC for a new decal. Fantastic packing job by Transpologistics. We picked Speedy Air Cargo to receive, couldn’t have been slicker. So a strong recommendation for them too. Customs at the airport didn’t even want to see the bike, just signed us through in under a minute
Knowing it was going to be a long day of traffic in Bangkok, we didn’t stop for photos.
The gruelling two hour battle through Bangkok. It’s hard to describe, different to other bad city traffic we’ve been in. It’s more claustrophobic in some areas than any other city so far, which is harder on a big bike, enduro or not.
The GPS track below is a history file, the GPS was of no use other than being a useful compass. In such super-dense gridlock of small tuk tuks, scooters, small cars, rolling vendors, you have to make decisions at every corner to try and make progress, the GPS recommendation is no good at all. Sidewalks, alleys, anything in that goes in the right direction. It’s on the borderline between fun and frustrating. But I want to do it more again, so maybe fun has the edge. One beer first next time.
The two hour track. The red road is ‘no motos’. The green exiting previously at dawn.
OK, now we’re in Bangkok, tons to do, plus our friend is arriving in 5 days from Phnom Penh.
The problem ahead is finding a firm to ship the bike before she arrives. A recent decision to go home, so we’ve no advance research. It’s a pain in the ass when there’s no rider history, like exiting Bangkok by air. So we need to find a trustworthy forwarder and check them out. Plus Canada isn’t an easy destination with a wooden crate where the materials have to be certified fumigated and a ton of other details as usual. Anyway, we get it done, and arrange a receiver at the far end who can deal with a bike. Cost including airfare was about double the big-distance flight from Buenos Aires to Aukland, which had the advantage of being direct (and un-cased, lol) on an ancient and sketchy LAN Airlines jet. The boat to East timor was cheap as she shared a container with 2 other bikes and cases of booze and cleaning supplies. Panama City to Bogota by air was a breeze and cheap. No case, no hassles. Aukland to Perth was all about quarantine which despite going relatively going smoothly was a mountain of paperwork and licensing I’d rather forget. In theory this time it should be smooth.
Here are the warehousemen. They’ll case her now, ready with disconnected battery, mirrors off, etc. all done at this point. As it happens it was about 100F and 90 humidity when this shot was taken. My sweat drenched suit plus helmet gloves and boots are in a $3 duffle under the bike to ship with her. Always a bad idea but the alternate is a big hassle
Time to pay up. Cash only, as usual.
This is JJ, the manager. She takes care of everything perfectly and she’s very funny. So a strong recommendation for her and Transpologistics, Bangkok. Use them. Negotiate your own price
This is tiny JJ on the bike. I cropped myself out of it and didn’t take the lousy shot
Then I left her.
I get this shot from JJ later. On her way to the airport. Sad seeing her enclosed like this
Hand-pump gas sation. Diesel and about 86 octane gas
Water buffalo cooling off
Kids cooling off. A vivid blue shrine behind
The Laos exit border. Fast
Then it hits the fan.
Like a hard technical riding section, pics are the last thing we think about at the time. But anyway, we clear Laos and move 100 yards further to the Cambodian entry. Oddly, the guy in the Immigration building, no more than a small wooden booth, waves us on to Customs. His english is ok, his meaning clear: Customs first.
There’s no-one there and we wait. After 30 minutes a young guy shows up on a heavily modified, tricked-out Grom. He’s also in a wooden booth/building. He smiles, asks for my papers. Looking at them, he asks for my Carnet. But Cambodia isn’t a Carnet country. I say “Cambodia isn’t a Carnet country”. He smiles and waves a small stack of Carnet stubs at me (he’s extracted them from others). I’m really, really surprised. I have fucked up I think. For the first since not knowing the 90 day exit before renewal rule in Guatemala. My Carnet’s expired and I don’t need one until after it’s renewed.
He doesn’t give me any hint that he’s looking for a bribe. The worst mistake you can make with an honest official is get a bribe offer wrong. Jail. Cambodian jail, lol! (I know two riders who’ve spent nights in jail, hilarious)
Then I remember a horror story about how a Cambodian border official had screwed some rider over, trapped him between borders, and had confiscated his bike, permanently. So I got on Lucinda and got out of there fast.
I get back to the hotel at dark and find out I’ve been screwed. No Carnet required. I’ve hit the worst border in the most corrupt country in SE Asia and got played. This would not normally be a problem and normally I’d laugh, but this time we have a problem. My visa has now expired.
So having to exit Laos before it gets any worse, the next morning I head for the Thai border, which conveniently is only 90K away. I’ve emailed my friend that our travel plans are delayed. She crossed without problems.
Slightly nervous about my day-late Laos exit, we get across with only minor problems, like Customs wanting to us to buy insurance first, which for a moto couldn’t be found without a long cab ride into the next town, leaving the bike unattended. We promised him we would do it the next day and he kindly and unusually accepted.
The ride from Champasak to Ubon Ratchithani
While we mull over things, we tour a couple of temples
This is modern and interesting. Wat Phra That Nong Bua
Sending money up a string. I sent up 20 baht
In Ubon I have a very serious chat with myself. I have to go back to Vancouver at some point soon for my Pakistan visa and to possibly assist with my new Carnet. But this ride has taken far longer than expected and will take much longer to complete. I’ve missed Christmas at home for the 3rd time due to visa realities, despite 4 return trips, and I miss my (adult) daughters. So I ponder something I’ve been thinking about. Going home for a strategic break in the big picture.
Or do I cut back across a reputable border into Cambodia, just south of where I am? How does my friend figure into this?
I never post pictures of where I stay, mainly because it would add to the content when the objective is to streamline it. But here’s a pic of Brent, ex-Peace Corps who with his wife built the Outside Inn in Ubon Ratchathani. Stay here, the food is brilliant and the huge pints cold. We had plenty of good discussions and more than a few beers as I came to my big decision
OK, so now we’re headed for Bangkok, just a couple of days away.
Ubon to Nakhon Ratchasima
Having made a decision I start the quick ride directly to Bangkok. It’s not a great road. Big traffic through an unattractive part of the country.
We stop here for a break
A vast lake of lilies not in bloom
Kids ride around the park while I take photos
Later, a huge and sudden thundershower, over in one minute. Here I’m hiding under a tree
And through the outskirts of Nakhon Ratchasima. Don’t come here, unless you’re headed to Ubon
We’ve done this route before, to China and back, but we found a variation each time
The blast out of Chiang Mai. Sorry to leave it in one way, we made a good friend there
To Chiang Khong. Border towns worldwide are often shitholes (specially in Latin America where they’re just coke bottlenecks) but this is a nice town
Lotus on the main drag, with of course
guppies! and a few platties, slow stupid fish that spoil the effect
There’s a great walkway along the Mekong
Massive staghorns in the trees
That’s Laos on the far bank. It must have been interesting how this proximity worked during the Vietnam war
The Thai freight barges look like this. The owners home is built square and true on the stern. The Captain steers looking out over his front porch. Nice
We stayed an extra day to go to Loi Krathing, a festival honoring the river. It’s the end of rice harvest, they want to thank her for her abundant water, plus apologize for polluting her. It’s also a time (like Semana Santa in Guatemala, where they queue up to apologize for the people they’ve murdered that year) to ask for forgiveness and promise a fresh start.
The view from the bank above. The main event isn’t until midnight, but I have an early start for the border, so this is early
One of the things is to send lanterns into the sky. It’s a little tricky getting the air hot enough and takes maybe 5 minutes of careful positioning
Up they go. They go up high enough that you loose sight of them
It’s a family thing too
Lots of food and pretty girls
Eating at the water’s edge
This is interesting. You order beer in towers, maybe 8 pints each, with a tap at the bottom
Then early to bed. Shame, those towers have a magnetic force.
One last thing. Another of the big festivals in Thailand is the Cow Festival. Here are the finalists for Miss Cow Festival, 2015
Note: I’m typing this outside at 6:45pm and the mosquitos are out, carrying all sorts of bad things, like malaria. The local repellent is fragrant and effective. Canadians will be interested to know that so far (with about half the world covered) our mosquitos, as we like to brag about, are indeed super-giants. For example here in Laos they’re about 25% of the size and itchyness. You can’t even hear them coming they’re so small.
Did a few Thai things while we waited for our new starter motor. Andrew brilliantly arranged this through his local dealer in Singapore, which saved me having to ship one from Vancouver or Melbourne. There wasn’t one in Bangkok, which wasn’t entirely unsurprising.
So. We go off for a ‘must see’ and take a tuk-tuk downtown for a 9:00 pm fight start. Tuk-tuks are almost infinite in variety and performance, varying from wrecks that die for good at a light, and you get out with a laugh and wave down a new one, to (occasionally) tricked-out dragsters, like this one. A good start, we don’t want to be late
We arrive at small fenced-off compound and buy VIP seats at the gate. 600 baht, 22.25 CDN, ringside, expensive. Falangs (gringos) and well-dressed Thai’s, on white plastic lawn chairs, cracked and mushy, beers in hand. Perfect
Muay Thai is Thai boxing. There are two places in town to see this and we’re at the ring the locals and repeaters go to, not the ‘show’ type fight.
There are 5 rounds, 3 minutes each.
After they enter the ring they appear to do 2 things. First, with Thai music in the background, they do a combination of a prayer and a dance. Then they visit each corner with a further prayer
The first round is very tentative. It’s very beautiful: they’re solid on the back foot and mostly tapping in time with the music with their forward foot, ready to strike. They hold eye contact, looking both serene and wound-tight, like a rattler. It’s more of a musical dance, at first, than I anticipated, very different from Western fighting
Super-fast kicks start the action. Most are fended off with the arms, some land, only a few miss
After a few fights it’s clear the fight starts, and hopefully for one fighter is finished, in the 4th round. The 2 minute break at this point is particularly intense. Everyone is quiet
And it turns into a brawl. There’s no breaks in the fighting, they attack each other relentlessly. It’s this way in every fight, total war starting when they come out for the 4th. The guy in red shorts comes in with a left foot
Then after a skirmish drives his knee into blue’s ribs hard
It’s brutal and three of four of these in rapid succession usually ends in this. Down, medics in, the fight’s way over
Not many pics for the next few days return to Thailand. Plus we’re going to wrap up this China tour blog quickly: it was not our most successful month due to being on a very badly managed ride plus some external factors which didn’t help. But I don’t feel like sitting here complaining about them. I have a friend who’s going to write-up the ride report and I’ll link to it when done.
Lincang to Lancang
We took a detour to the Mekong
Actually it was the best thing that could have happened because we ended up with the best Mekong valley view we’ve had yet. Through the hills here
We rode down to the bridge and enjoyed this. The scale is deceptive. it’s possibly a mile or so of river here
Later we had to wait for a landslide to be cleared. We’ve had a few of these recently
Other side through first unfortunately
At some point today Andrew and I had a scary experience with a car overtaking us. It nearly took Andrew out. China is by far the scariest place to ride a bike yet. There’s little respect for others on the road, an understanding of space or speed. Or a sense that cars, bikes and trucks have to be cooperative. It’s dangerous, we’ve all had near misses almost daily, Greg was hit and we’ve witnessed bad things. Everyday we woke up and thought, holy shit, here we go again. Not good.
Like Costa Rica, I’ll remember the green
Cows, the first time I’ve seen this type we think
Last village of the day
Lancang to Mengla
Today we are absolutely beat. We start tired, and end tireder. So just 3 pics
Mengla to Chiang Khong
We’ve been looking forward to seeing Laos again, even it’s just for a couple of hours passing through.
I stop here and immediately the kids start gathering to check the bike out. Watch this little kid in green. First he’s making some hand signs at me I don’t understand
Then, making sure he has my attention
He does this. What a little bastard! lol
The girls area bit better behaved. This all reminds me of the kids in Indonesia who brilliantly set up the fake roadblock and long muddy detour
Chiang Khong to Chiang Mai
As per the first day.
So that covers some of it. I don’t have the enthusiasm to write at any length about it right now, more water has to flow under the bridge. Then I’ll write a post about impressions of China.
First private blog. Good timing because this first China post has stuff in it that we’d normally hesitate to write about.
A 23 day tour, 3023 miles / 4869 km’s.
As mentioned before, the only practical way to ride a bike here is with a China-approved operator. It’s still not an encouraged activity on a motorcycle and still in ‘test’ mode by the Chinese. I went into this assuming the management would be something like the 12 day tour I did with Helge Pedersen 3 years ago, but that wasn’t going to be the case unfortunately. Since arranging this, I’ve a favorable visa that makes entering solo easier.
China was a vivid experience and I realized afterwards how important it is on a world tour. It’s so different from anything that’s come before.
However, when the ride ended, we didn’t think we’d go back soon.
Lots of stories.
Chiang Mai to Luang Namtha
There’ll be pictures of riders as we go. There’s R (guide, Chiang Mai, F800GS) Andrew (engineer, Singapore, GSA1200) Jamil (logistics, Bangkok GSA1200) Stephan and Bpui (photographer and wife, Thailand, CRF650) Greg and Bee (ex-Aussie motorcycle cop and girlfriend, Vstrom) and me.
We meet at 7:00 and off we go. A big day ahead, 475K through Laos to close to the China border
No pictures until the Laos border, which is here, very nice
There are tons of people and it immediately looks like we’ve started on the wrong day, a national holiday. We watch the queue go nowhere and think, uh oh. But the smart and resourceful Thai assistant to the guide (handing us off here) comes to the rescue and arranges a ‘payment’ and we’re through in about 90 minutes
Thai border building on the left of the river below, Laos to the right. It’s the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong. A newish bridge. The two countries fought on opposing sides in the Vietnam War, Thailand with the U.S.
Mekong pictures later
Google Earth of this famous crossing. Our group of bikes was escorted across by a car
Into Laos, riding fast
Lush, hot as hell
A quick lunch stop. I should have taken a picture of this baked egg thing, delicious
North, towards the rain
Yes, that’s all of Laos for now. Much more when I come back from my own Laos ride through
Luang Namtha to Jinghong
Through the Laos exit quickly. Building #1
You had to push your bike out of Laos, lol! We never found out positively why, but probably so you can’t make a run for it. Why you’d want to make a run for China from Laos is an interesting question though. Here’s Andrew
To the China border
Which was the most impressive border building I’ve seen in 3 years. This is just the gate
Inside it’s state-of-the-art
There are movies showing elite Chinese troops in action. Pretty interesting intro
And fairly quickly through, due to the huge amount of paperwork and official ‘permissions’ already processed before the ride. Obviously everyone is looking at us like we’re aliens. Foreign riders are a rare occurrence.
We stop for lunch in Mengla. Jamil on the left, Stephan and Bpui on the right. Check out the size of Stephan’s tank bag. It’s like a suitcase!
To vehicle inspection. That’s me, watching Andrew ahead
You push your bike up to rollers, a Chinese inspector jumps on and runs the bike on rollers for a minute or less. He freaks out trying to get on Lucinda and we’re through fast
Here’s the screen telling him what the bike is doing. That’s my plate number in the back, U00238. All documented. Super-documented: on every highway we ride, flashes go off photographing and recording the movements of travellers
Then, after an hour we get a laminated Chinese driver’s licence and a temporary vehicle registration. Plus an instruction and rules book which none of us read. Great souvenirs
About 30 minutes down the road we get pulled into a military inspection point ad have to produce our new documents and answer questions. They’re all business, no Mr Nice Guy. Cool
Our first night in China. Anecdotes and things later
Jinghong to Yuanjiang
Tunnels. We’d heard about this. Chinese tunnels on our way to the Yunnan are going to be a trial. They can be long, more than two miles, unventilated, unlit, littered with anything and worse, the drivers often don’t stay to their side. Cars and trucks have a cockpit of air to make the distance, bikes don’t, for instance
It rains on and off for the next 3 days, sometime heavily. Which brings us to the next thing: the road surface. I’ve only once seen a road as slick. It’s the same problem as the pass to Bariloche from Chile, melted bitumen, polished smooth as glass, reflective and stupid slick. Plus I’m on the death tires, Heidenaus. Needless to say we’re cautious, despite having to make big headway for a few days.
Followers of this ride know we don’t complain. The minute we start to take difficulties too seriously, that’s the time commitment weakens. Rule #something. So if we do complain you know something’s significant enough to warn others about. So, the paved roads can be very bad. Dirt would be much easier.
However, the landscape is beautiful. But our sights are a ways ahead
Jamil, parking lot. Just like this shot for some reason
Frequent villages and fields, mostly rice. Details to follow
The Red River, near Yuanjiang
Much of this China ride is about the 2 epic rivers, Yangtze and Mekong, both of which we’ll cross and follow. They come close together in northern Yunnan. Below, the river starting near Ho Chi Minh City is the Mekong. The river starting on the right near Nanjing is the Yangtze
Into Yuanjiang. We’ve got to pass through a few cities on our way, this is one of them. Not big, 1M people
Another topic, photos are sequential so this has come up now. Squat loos, common worldwide, the standard here. This is a pretty clean one in a good restaurant, which is why I’m showing it. You wouldn’t want to see a normal one. You can tell it’s fancy because it has a water reservoir to flush it. Most have a barrel of water and a saucepan. But we wouldn’t bother with this topic at all if it wasn’t for the little green logo you can see on top of the reservoir
The flush button is the Apple logo, nicely executed
The town had some wonderful streets. More later
Yuanjiang to Jianshui
(the above route, in the pouring rain, is much longer than the day was supposed to be. Excuse another negative, but we’ll get them out of the way now. The guide, R, has messed up the route. He is having trouble with his GPS. Not only is his unit regularly falling off the homemade mount, which is unbelievable, but he’s ballsed up the routing, which is worse. The previous night he gets lost in the city trying to find the hotel. We don’t know the hotel either, don’t have GPS coordinates for it, but find as a POI and Lucinda guides the group to it directly. Other than us, 2 bikes are OK with this screw up, 2 are not (the more experienced travellers). So the group begins to slowly split apart from today. There are no excuses, an American ex-pat, we’ve seen his Mapsource route at his house in Chiang Mai, he’s familiar with the equipment, he’s just messed it up through laziness imo. He refused to give us the GPS track in advance, the opposite of Helge’s rides. It’s a big concern, this early. We won’t spend much time talking about it, but might as well fill in some background)
Next day we’re in for a treat, Jianshui. The town
We travel about 5K out-of-town on our first rest day to Shuanglong Bridge, also known as the Double Dragon Bridge. In the pond beside it is a man in a suit fishing with a traditional net
The seventeen-arch bridge, Ming dynasty
Another. There are three reasons for the upturned comers: 1, the construction is traditionally timber and this eliminates visual (over time) sag. 2, More light. 3, moves rainwater to runoffs
Another. Very nice dimensions to the corridor
On our way back, out comes the net
Here we have interesting characins on their sides and a cool striped cichlid below
Lovely, about 4 inches long
We went to a small village
A temple under restoration
(more on this in a later post)
Why do you think this figure has multiple arms? Because in a further (Buddhist) reincarnated life, physical time moves very quickly. We see the arm movement as they would appear to us in our current time
Wrapping is something the Asians know about. They wrap fabric, a great thing
Then a walk along a canal to a semi-modern railway station, just for a walk
Fisherman in the pond opposite
Disused despite the pomp
Inside, on the wall, this photograph/painting, with the bridge we saw in the background. Trashy or important? Don’t know yet
Need someone to take a guess at what this says, which would help