Sunday, February 14, 2016

Thailand - Camping, Visa Blues and Elephant Poo!

Once we had entered Thailand, the plan had been to stay just two nights in Mae Sot, get a service done on the bikes and then continue north towards Chiang Mai. We had found a beautiful road along the border with Myanmar, which even had a National Park campground along the way (hurray!) All seemed good, but our bodies had other ideas... They were knackered from 7 weeks of India, which had been hard on all of us. Delhi Belly had affected us all, and more than once too, while every day in India had been a combination of diesel soot, dust and being on full alert all the time to avoid becoming a statistic. Without any rest, followed a tour through Myanmar, which was great but also full-on. Once we crossed the border into Thailand our bodies cried enough! The signals were clear enough, we had to rest! As our blog was behind, due to poor internet (if any) in both India and Myanmar, we worked on that and only left the hotel room for breakfast, lunch and dinner... 

I can just about hear you think: 'Now what kind of an intro is that then? Isn't this a travel blog? A tale of a journey around the world on motorcycles...? Locking yourself up in a hotelroom for 3 days is not what travelling is about, is it?' Well, there are people out there who think we have been on the bikes every day of the last 3 years, doing 500 km days. In which case we would have done over half a million kms by now... and hadn't seen half of what we have seen, assuming we wouldn't be in a box 3 feet under, that is. The reality is different. Travelling is tiring. Many years ago a much more experienced traveller than I am, told me he took a rest every 6-8 weeks. Continuing for longer periods meant he would miss too much as his head was full of experiences and his body getting tired. Tiredness also results in a weakened immune system, as we all experienced, and our bodies were just knackered. Mae Sot is not a bad place to be when you need a re-charge. It has this strange mix of traditional Asian and modern Western. Which for us, amongst other things, meant we could go to a supermarket once more and get some of the products we used to buy before we headed east. Simple things like proper cheese for instance... We were also blessed with a wifi connection like we hadn't had seen since leaving Russia, so we could catch up with friends, update the blog and could even make a couple of Skype calls.

We liked the, for us, new country! Always a good sign for me is small capacity, no nonsense motorbikes being used. Thailand has plenty of them. Mostly Honda but also quite a few Chinese brands. The Hondas are used as family transport, to pull trailers, sidecars and the usual impossible loads. The Thai, like many others, prove us wrong that you need a car... or a big bike for that matter! I mean when 125cc can be used to transport a family of 5, transport more than a hundred kilos of goods, pull trailers and even overloaded sidecars... then how can we possibly argue that we need a big bike for just one or two persons?

Heading for the mountains! As soon as we left town the riding was great. Beautiful sweeping roads through a green and lovely mountain landscape. As we were following the border with Myanmar, we had hoped we would see a similar landscape to what we had seen there, and we weren't disappointed. It's beautiful and we all enjoyed it. Old Thailand showed itself too. Houses made from wood, palm leaves etc. Small scale farming. Beautiful to see. 
Just as we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, a loud bang and cloud of dust signalled problems. Vince's rear tyre had blown out. He tried plugging the hole with three of those sticky, glue covered bungee cords. I had never used them, I've always had tube type tyres, and wondered if this would work. You can't see what is going on inside the tyre after all. In the end it just kept leaking, then we found a second split and decided the tyre had to come off. The inside revealed why it wouldn't seal: the cords had been damaged too and the tear was opening further and further. It was just as well it wouldn't seal as upon removal the tire revealed it had started to delaminate in three places too... The replacement he had with him didn't want to seat properly with the little compressor we had, but a young bloke on a, wait for it, Honda 125cc step thru(!) offered a ride to someone with a bigger pump. The little bike struggled up the hill with Vince bouncing on the back desperately hanging on him and his BMW wheel!

Aha, I hear you think, 'see you need a bigger bike!' but you're wrong. First of all it did make it up the hill, secondly it was so steep it had 4WDs struggle, third: the little Honda was completely worn out. Anyway, after about an hour we were wondering if we would start pitching the tents in the field next to the road, while Karen was seriously considering to start the stove and cook the steak she had in the pannier... only to find it was in the pannier which was supporting the wheel-less BMW... One and a half hours later Vince comes back... in a car... with the little bike following him and the tyre properly seated. More importantly he also had cold drinks with him! Good man! We still had 30 km to do to the campground we had found on the map, over potholed dirt roads... followed by more potholed dirt roads... in the dark... I need more light on my bike...!

The campground we were heading for was in a National park. Or at least we hoped it would be there. We didn't know if we needed to book, what the charges would be or if it even existed. It turned out all good. Great place to camp, seemingly free and Karen finally had her steak with mashed potatoes. Pitching the tents for the first time again in weeks felt strange, yet they went up as quick as ever. We enjoyed a simple meal while Karen pulled out all the stops and cooked up a storm. Just before the small shop we had passed on the way up closed its doors, we managed to get a couple of cold drinks, and laughed about the day just passed. It can be fun to have a flat tyre :-) A stray dog came looking for leftovers and had her lucky day: steak on the menu. No wonder she decided to stay the night, who knows what tomorrow would bring! The jungle around us emitted strange noises which mixed with the calming sound the stream below us. Bugs dropped from the trees on the tent while our eyelids became heavier and heavier...

The day after we continued on towards Chiang Mai, had no more flat tyres and thus arrived early in the afternoon. We should have stayed an extra day at the campground, like we had planned, but were somewhat limited in time due to Thailand's strange visa waiver policy. Arrive by plane and you get 30 days, arrive at a land border and it becomes 15... The new tyres were waiting for us in Chiang Mai, we had a couple of rides planned in the Thai part of the Golden Triangle and thus continued on. Tyre fitting and bike servicing went all good, see the next post, but once again fatigue hit us. Well... me this time and it hit me in the form of all sorts of vague but painful stomach related problems. We looked at our options and decided to try for an extension of the waiver, which wasn't an option but getting a 30 day visa on top of our 15 day waiver was...! So we went for that, but then found out the bikes have to be out of the country two weeks earlier... Don't you love all these dumb rules and regulations :-)

The Beemer with, once again, a flat tyre... bloody TKC80s :-)
We also did the short Samoeng loop from Chiang Mai, which is great. That's also where we ran into Elephant Poo... shortly followed by the real deal! Being up close to them along the road was very special. These things are huge! Seeing them in the zoo is one thing but being passed at barely a metre away while sitting on my bike was quite another. During the day Chiang Mai is sort of asleep, during the night it wakes up as the temperatures are much lower then. Night markets, relaxed shopping times and a good atmosphere!.

One final word for the tuk tuks of Chiang Mai, which are a special breed. Water-cooled 2-strokes running on LPG! Some of them are quite fast, as we found out when we asked one to bring us 'home' one night. The driver knew all the backroads, including driving over a narrow pedestrian bridge! The ring-ding-a-ding sound is music to our ears, both on acceleration and on the over-run. We love them! Makes me want to take my venerable MZ around the world...