Have you checked the picture gallery recently? I’ve been trying to catch up with the pictures lately and I’ve uploaded 3 new albums: Thailand 1, Cambodia and Laos. Thailand 2 is nearly ready but not quite. Now there are pictures up to December 1st, 2012, back when I was entering Thailand for the second time. Check them out! There’s a lot of beautiful sunsets, strange people, crazy travellers and of course, the temples of Angkor!
Well, I have a good excuse. Since March 26th, I’m on a break. After a gruelling 14-hour day, I arrived to my parents’ apartment in Buenos Aires and I’ve been resting ever since, gathering energies for the next part of my voyage: riding all the way to North America (voluntary vagueness here, don’t know if I’ll end in Southern Mexico or in Eastern Canada).
Meanwhile, a quick flashback. While I was in Thailand, I stopped for a few days at that awesome biker’s place called the Rider’s Corner in Chiang Mai, managed by Phil Gibbins (KTMphil, moderator at rideasia.net) and his wife Som, they offer cozy rooms, great Thai and Western food and a great place to meet other riders. One afternoon, I came back and Phil introduced me to motorcycle legend Dr. Greg W. Frazier, a man who has circled the globe on a motorcycle four times by himself and a fifth one carrying a blind woman on his bike.
He told me he was profiling motorcycle travellers for an article and he interviewed me and took some pictures the next day. Here’s the article: Dr. Frazier: Profiles of Adventure Travelers. Most of what he says about me is slightly inaccurate but having seen his handwriting while he was taking notes, I can’t blame him. Plus, it’s an interesting read. Enjoy! I’ll resume normal posting when I’m on the road again.
In Thailand, never criticise the king or the royal family. The Lonely Planet says so and every traveller you meet agrees that it’s a bad idea to get into that subject. The Thai truly love him and it would be ill-advised to say bad things about him.
When you are in Thailand, there are pictures of him and members of his family almost everywhere you look, from the more formal ones with his royal attire to more informal ones doing day-to-day things or activities related to the place that you are visiting. They even have comic books about his life and works!
Notice the smiley faces in the crowd behind him :).
But it goes deeper than that, in times of struggle, the Thai turn to their beloved Rama IX for counsel. It is a well-known fact that if there is a coup, the government will only be overthrown if the coup has the king’s blessing. Otherwise, it will fail.
That is all and well but what if I have more mundane problems and I want to know what would the king do? Let’s say I want to buy a camera and I’m undecided about which brand or model is the best. I may think « Gee! What camera would King Bhumibol recommend? ».
It just happened. I didn’t ask to go into the jungle, yet here I am.
I recently purchased an Android application for my phone, an annoying little piece of GPS software that keeps telling me to turn around, go back to a random point on the road behind me and then to come back where I am to be on my way. Sometimes it also tells me to take a longer road but I usually disregard that sort of nonsense and follow my map and road sign.
But, on the morning (more like noon) of a sunny day some 10 days ago (was it on the 5th?), I left that great place that is the Rider’s Corner determined to do my own version of the Mae Hong Son loop. I knew it’s a famous road with 1864 curves and figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep some of the curves for later and stray a little bit on a smaller road, maybe do a bit of dirt so instead of heading directly to Pai, I turned left at Mae Rim and pointed the bike towards Samoeng.
Arrived at a random intersection, I must have been in a pretty stupid mood because instead of looking at the little arrow on the GPS that tells me which way to turn, I tried to figure it out by turning the map in my head (it never works) and of course turned the wrong way, turned around and then took a wrong road again. The only difference with my usual random riding style (a fancy name for getting lost a lot) is that this time the GPS recalculated instantly and I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice the recalculation happening and I didn’t notice it had chosen a « trail » type of road, the kind that appear in dashed lines on the map. In the beginning it seemed like an OK small Thai road but pretty soon it turned to a dirt road and I still felt it was alright because I was planning to do some dirt that day anyway. The dirt road turned to a two-rut track up until a small sort of village. Not really a village, just two houses where the people gave me strange looks. I understand them, how would you look at a stranger that comes by your house where the road ends in a monstrously huge bike (compared to their scooters it is humungous)? Would you tell him not to go there? In what language? Yes, I thought so.
After that, it all went downhill. Hum, not really downhill but it got worse and worse and worse. The two-rut track turned to a one-rut track. I guess I missed that first clue. The one rut grew fainter and fainter as I go deeper into the forest and the obstacles became more frequent. Here a tree stump that knocked my pannier and half of the newly acquired rideasia.net sticker, here a fallen tree I should go around and here and there a little mud puddle that had me scared that if my bike should slip, fall and tumble down the hill, I would never be able to bring it back on my own. It reassured me only a little that there was a fresh wheel track in the mud. It meant that once in a blue moon, someone actually used that trail and I could get help if needed. That was just unfounded hope., in all the time I spent on the road, no one came.
It looked a bit like on the following video, only worse.
I don’t know at what moment I realized that it had become too narrow to turn around but I do remember thinking a couple of times about turning around and remembering how the other times I had turned around, it had set me on a bad mood for no less than three days so I didn’t. I should have. This time I should have turned around. I dropped the bike a first time on the right side and thanks to the slope I had no trouble picking it up. To be sure, I did smash my right foot under the pannier. But I kept going.
And then I dropped the bike in that muddy track from the first video. If you go back, I’ll tell you where. In the video, you will see a tree leaning onto the road. That’s where I’d come from. I had the choice of a very steep rocky little path and a very muddy tough not so steep rut with a tree. I chose the tree and never got to the tree. I dropped the bike before, smashed the front fairings against the rock wall and trapped my pants under the pannier. The slope, the position of bike and the space I had for leverage were all wrong and for a moment there I was scared I would have to go into Bear Grylls mode for the night and sleep in the jungle while I recovered my forces to try and pick up the bike. I didn’t have nearly enough water but surely I had seen enough episodes of the series to know where to find some. Or I could just walk to the stream that my GPS showed 2km from the place.
Finally, I gathered my wits, managed to pull the bike by the front wheel into a bit of a better position and shouted S.H.A.Z.A.M. while raising my fist to the sky. I didn’t get a shiny white cape or a red costume but Hercules at least must have heard my prayer because the next thing I knew, the bike was in the upright position. So upright that if it had been the back of my seat before landing, no air hostess would have complained. Without my helmet or jacket or the luggage I had removed in order to be able to pick it up, I moved it come 200 meters ahead, checked the road, decided that I was too committed to turn around and came back for my things and did that little video.
After that it became much easier and very soon I was back on a sort of civilized road. A dirt track but a road after all. Someone came while I was admiring the stream where I had come out of the woods and asked me a couple of questions and tried to indicate me which way to go. He also asked me if I was travelling alone, or so I understood. He spoke only broken English and the question was « You travel no my-friend? » and some hand motion completed the meaning. I said yes, no my-friend was travelling with me and wend down to the stream to wash the sweat from my face..
I thought that would be the end of my troubles but it would have been too easy. The road was quite good with some dirt patches and some muddy patches but nothing I couldn’t handle… by day. The last 10 or 15 km I rode in the dark. And it’s always darker under the canopy of course.
Finally, I reached the main road to Pai but I was still 62km away and in no shape to continue. The first hotel of sorts I found asked for 87 euros for a night. I decided that I still had some strength left and went on to find a 20 euros room. Not my preferred price in Thailand but I really was exhausted.
Results of my little adventure:
My right foot hurt for more than a week and still hurts a bit when I ride. My socks smell of Tiger Balm.
The front of the bike looks a bit more like a road bike than the straight face out-of-the-factory a Tenere should have
The high-beam flick switch is blocked in the off-position
I tried to smash the front back into shape in Koh Samui and now I have no low-beam
Was I in a bad mood for 3 days after it? NO WAY!!! I can’t say I enjoyed every minute but now when I look back it’s all fond memories. I came out of the woods in one piece and that’s enough to make a good day.
One last little video. If you listen carefully, you can hear me talk and be happy to see people and civilization again.
You know, in all the movies about Indochina, at nap time when it’s hottest there is always a room with a ceiling fan.
The fan is always moving at an impossibly slow speed that can never cool any room in that heat. There’s usually also a bed in the room and possibly a couple making love.
Those scenes are all fake, I tell you. All of them. I’ve been in South East Asia around 2 months so far and I’ve spent one full month it what used to be called Indochina and maybe it is hot and maybe there are small rooms in wooden shacks with blinds and a view to the street and maybe also couples do make love when it’s hottest outside but never in all this time did I see such a contraption. Never. Ever. They all look like this:
I looked in my rear view mirror and his bike was almost on the ground. I ran back to help only to find blood flowing from his leg. Not making ourselves understood by the restaurant personnel, I ran to a table and snatched a bottle of mineral water to clean the wound.
Two days before we were taking train number 13 from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station to Chiang Mai. That train is an experience in itself. Not unlike Chinese trains, in this train the cabins were not cabins but just a space where 4 beds are together. However there are curtains around each bed, which is very much welcome since they have a really strong air con and it’s freezing. I didn’t want to have to put on my winter pyjamas to sleep on the train, mainly because I don’t have winter pyjamas with me! The train ride to Chiang Mai is a worthy experience by itself with the restaurant coach being a great highlight (other highlights include the amazing landscapes you see in the morning). Cultural shock at the max. I was used to the the French TGV bar coach and didn’t expect anything similar but what I found made me laugh so hard that I ran back to my father’s berth and said to him: « Dad, we HAVE TO go eat there ». Here’s a sample.
The more I poured water on the wound, the more everything became bloodier and bloodier. Now I was really worried and we had to find a pharmacy to dress that wound before it got infected or anything. I jumped on the bike and almost left without paying for the water.
So after a nice Thai dinner and a good sleep, the train made its entry into Chiang Mai 2 hours late. We took a songthaew, which is just a fancy name for a truck with seats at the back, to Tony’s Big Bikes and collected the 2 Honda Phantoms that we were renting for the week, strapped our luggage to the back seat and we were off to the house Pimsai and her family were lending us (Thank you Pimsai!). With the great instructions her and her dad had given me, it wasn’t very hard to find. Aside from riding past the entrance a couple of times of course.
We couldn’t find the hospital they had indicated so we aimed for a pharmacy and tried to ask for antiseptic (should understand, right?) but as soon as they saw his leg, they refused to help us and the only other word we could get out of the person behind the counter was « hospital ».
After we dropped our things in the house and took a shower, we decided to go for a short ride and aimed for Mae Rim to be on our way to Chiang Dao. We rode for a bit but it was clearly past lunch time so after tentatively stopping at a market where it looked like everything was deep fried, we opted for a small eatery right after where we could get some nice noodle soup. There must be a lot of farang (that seems to be what we are called around here) in this area because they had menus in English even though they couldn’t speak it much. We ate, we drank and we jumped back on the bikes. I started and when he was turning around his bike, it stalled. The bike stopped sharply and the steering was turned. The next thing in order is that the bike is on the ground but he made a rookie mistake: he tried to prevent it from falling. Never do that, you’ll get hurt is the consensus among bikers: the sharp foot peg dug deeply into his leg.
Pharmacy after pharmacy turned us down and their English was always so weak that they couldn’t properly explain where the hospital was. Finally, we ended up in a pharmacy that was close enough to a hospital and the English level of the attendant permitted her to explain it and us to understand it. He got 7 stitches and a little paper in Thai explaining what he should do every day (clean the wound at any other hospital).
During the whole search for the hospital my mind wandered along many different lines, imagining what we could do of our stay in Chiang Mai if he couldn’t/wouldn’t ride anymore. None of that happened and we had an excellent week riding around Chiang Mai taking in the beautiful scenery: the mountains, the jungle, the little roads, the roadside temples, the roadside restaurants and even the elephant camp of Mae Sa where I got to ride an elephant. Yay!
PS: I will post the first GoPro videos I made during this week as soon as I get a decent connection. Just a little teaser: since I didn’t have my helmet with me and I didn’t want to waste the sticky mounts that the GoPro comes with, I improvised a wrist mount for the camera using my all-purpose neck roll and a strap. 😀
The first time something was stolen from my bike? Kashgar, China. Some fcuker decided he needed my AirHawk more than I needed it and took it from the bike while it was parked at the hotel.
The first time a cop clearly asked for a bribe (and got it)? Bangkok, Thailand. This bastard was standing under the bridge in Phloen Chit, where Rama I becomes Sukhumvit. He took my International Driver’s Licence and wouldn’t give it back until I gave him 300 baht (7.5 euro). That was yesterday. Today, somewhere else, another cop tried it. I put first gear and went away.