HTML From Blog Template Moto-Hike: Run From The Sun: Three countries, two u-turns and another typhoon!

Monday, December 05, 2005


Three countries, two u-turns and another typhoon!

After weeks of trying, or some trying weeks, you choose as you see fit, we've finally got out of Thailand!

Its been a game of two halves for the last month or so. First half we made bumper progress everyday travelling through southern Vietnam and Cambodia, and then in the second we kind of stalled in Thailand. I suppose you might say we got on the defensive trying to protect a tenuous lead and then let it slip away. Let me expand......

If you've looked at our last weblog entry you'll have seen what a fantastically fun time we had with the kids at SOS in Dalat. Anyway the whole thing was totally ace, kids had a blast, we had more of one and we've been exchanging emails etc since, so i think everyones happy..........

(PHOTO:Stilt house next to a school in Southern Vietnam)

We shot off Cambodia bound after a couple of days in Dalat. It was a relatively sedate couple of days riding to the border after we made the wise decision to avoid Saigon. Cities are a great place to visit by the usual tourist means, but attempt it on a motorbike and suddenly it becomes a right pain in the behind. I think our threshold for "forget about it, toooooo much hassle" is a population of five million. We'd seen far too many cities already so we aptly dodged Saigon favouring a couple of days in Phnom Penh where we had 'connections'.

It made a really nice change to enter a country where we just rolled over the border and got on our bikes. The Cambodian customs are preddy chilled (ie they'd rather sit around chatting{and drinking beer} than check any goods coming in) and we had to practically plead on hands and knees for them to stamp the carnets for our bikes. When we left the country we couldn't get them stamped out as the boss had gone to Phnom Penh for a party and took the stamp with him! They let us out anyway, they really couldn't give a toss.


First thing we saw on crossing the border was a brand new humvee full of beautiful girls. Ace!
We later found out this belongs to the kings nephew. Apparently he got a little upset with a man he crashed into a while back. The guy started shouting at him, so nephew hops out with a couple of sub-machine guns and opens fire killing the guy and everybody in the car........
we were very careful not to scratch the humveeee
(NB: i wouldn't be writing this if i were'nt a couple of thousand miles away from said guy, but i feel safe with the Indian Ocean between us)

I'm giving a bad impression of Cambodia, but it really is nice place. Contrary to what we'd been told, we saw no guns and had no hassle from the cops. In fact its a tremendously beautiful(if a little flat for my taste) country full of really nice chilled people without limbs. Oh, i was going to mention that later but it slipped out.

In China a lot of people wear glasses
In America theres a lot of fat people
In India people are rather partial to a curry
In Cambodia theres lots of people who've stood on land mines

The Khmer Rouge really were a right bunch of numpties, evil psychopaths for sure, but numpties and paranoid to go with it.
Anybody who thinks mining your whole country and not recording the locations(in case of capture by 'the enemy') is really a bit thick, me thinks.
So now they're still de-mining the country at enormous cost 25 years after the Vientamese took over Phnom Penh.
Its pretty good now, but we still saw quite a few white sticks out in the countryside marking un-exploded mines.
It put a bit of a downer on the country for me, little kids all twisted and broken got a bit hard to stomach after a while, but moving on........

(PHOTO:Rory and Ady at Darra's bike shop in Phnom Penh, genius mechanic who sorted our multiple niggles)

Phnom Penh's bloody gourgeous and home to a bunch of ex-pat dirt bikers who showed us the sites, got our bikes fixed and showed us a good time for a couple of days. We arrived on the king's birthday so the whole place was chocka with everyone one out dancing in the streets and the party spirits were in full flow. Luckily we'd pre-booked a room at the California 2 cafe/hotel, hangout for said bikers and the place to find out road conditions and routes in Cambodia.

The roads are pretty variable, in the last few years they sorted them out in a big way, but theres still loads of iffy dirt roads which are major routes. Good fun, but slower going and not nice to the bikes. When there are more potholes per square metre than flat bits you take a bit of a battering, i tell thee.

We shot up the excellent highway to Siem Reap for a visit to the ancient capital of the Khmer kingdom at Angkor. The massive site covering 20 odd square kilometres contains dozens of mad old temples, Angkor Wat being the most famous.
I learnt during this trip that i'm not really a buildings person, i like natural stuff, mountains and rivers etc., so although they were really incredible and wonderful creations of man blah blah, the temples didn't really get me excited.

Apart from one

I can't remember what it was called but it was way deep in the jungle. The jungle vegetation had made light work of the massive stone structures ripping them apart and wrapping themselves round the walls like a python crushing its prey to death. I liked it!
Definately the most bonkers trees i will ever see. I truly believe Geiger came out here before he designed the Alien's layer, the roots were insane. The trees were literally growing off the walls and these were seriously monstrous 200 foot+ mega trees. Anyway i liked the trees, i've stuck some pics in the galleries to the left of the weblog.

(PHOTO:A dog takes shelter from the oppressive heat next to a floating village on Ton Le Sap lake near Siem Reap)

We went out on a couple of Jim's 'temple hunts' in the area around Siem Reap, but without our luggage as he'd warned us these were BAD roads.
While riding along behind the usual 'family on a scooter' you get round these parts, the scooter suddenly came to an abrupt halt.
'Dad' sprinted into the field at the side of the road and started grabbing frantically at the earth. He'd grabbed a snake by the tail and in two blows to the ground, WHACK, WHACK, he'd smashed its skull to bits! He casually wrapped the 6 foot plus creature around his fore-arm and hopped back on his scooter, smiling with delight at the thought of a snake butty for tea, mmmmmmmm.

We had heard bad stories about the road west to the Thai border. Most trashed in Asia was the general consensus. As usual in Asia, this is no accident and somebodies making a truck load of cash. The deal goes that Thai airways bung some Cambodian government guys a lump of cash to not repair the road, therefore ensuring tens of thousands of rich westerners pay the extortionate ticket price to fly Bangkok-Siem Reap rather than loose all there fillings on the bus.
(NB2:This cannot be 100% confirmed as the accurate truth, but it makes for a good yarn and, again, i've got the Indian Ocean to protect me!)
I tell you what, its a bitch of a road. Hard broken tarmac for about 150kms to Sisophon. Really hard on the bikes, with constant potholes. They were kind of consisently about a foot/18inches across, so i took to standing up and blasting over them lettin the suspension move beneath. Rory decided to stay sat down more taking all the bashing in his back, the next day he realised this might not have been the best technique.............

(PHOTO:Rory talks philosophy with the monks and contemplates a 'career move')

We went half way along and then headed north towards a different border crossing we'd been told about near a load of mad temples. The guy who owned The Hotel California in Phnom Penh, Jim or 'temple raider' as we dubbed him, is seriously into temples, or hunting them at least. He locked us in his office one day to blind us with thousands of pictures of temples and GPS points for them all. After a couple of hours of this he released us into the freedom of the bar, where we quickly forgot everything he'd told us.

Anyhow, the road to the north wasn't really much better and had the added joy of rain to turn it all into a muddy mess. It was better than the main road, but the surface and the weather gradually deteriorated into crap and worse. Soon we realised our worst fears, the hammering from the potholes had been too much and Rory's rear rack had lost one of its steel mounts and the front rack had snapped at one side. Unperturbed we stuck it all together with gaffer tape and made haste for our overnight stop getting there just before dark.

The Khmers can be pretty 'horizontal' at times, but Rory found the speedy gonzales of the cambodian welding community. By the time i'd got out of bed he'd returned with a fully repaired bike and we were on the road for the Thai border by 10.

Crossing the border was crossing into a different world.

Thailand is a rich country, Cambodia is painfully poor.....

Another big shock was that they drive on the left in Thailand, but i narrowly avoided the head on collision with a land cruiser...........

Cambodia side had rough as hell dirt roads and a couple of portacabins for customs formalities(surrounded by a massive casino, gamblings illegal in Thailand so they all come Kampuchea for a flutter), whereas the Thai side has billiard table smooth tarmac, nicely laid out buildings, road signs that actually mean something and big american cars.
Thailand has fat people, we haven't seen them for quite a while.
Thai roads have more cars on them than motorbikes, weird and scary for a bit.
Thailand has its own police force specifically for tourists

Whichever way you look at it we were in a very different place.

We stayed in Surin for a night before heading into Bangkok.
That was a shock as well, driving in cities is always a nightmare, but Bangkok has some special problems all of its own............

Just when you think its all going well and you've got your route nailed things all go to pot.
"Hey we just roll down that motorway and do a left and we're their dude, doddle!"

Motorbikes aren't allowed on motorways in Thailand. AAAAARRRRRRSSSSSSSEEEEE!!!!!

So we roll up to the toll booth and they say "No!",


Copper comes over and instructs us to turn around. This was all very friendly and everything, he directed all the traffic away etc.
But then he points for us to drive back up the 3 lanes of oncoming traffic and find an exit onto the side road. He wasn't winding us up either, so we did. Very odd and somewhat scary. A bit up the road we find a barrier we can sort of prise open and sneak through. We look back down the road at the copper and he waves to say we should go. Odd...........

To cut a long (and dull) story short we eventually got to the only place we knew about in Bangkok. That evil hive of scum and villainy known as Khao Sanh road........
I think the drunk tourists got a bit of a shock when we roll right down the middle looking for some digs(NB3:digs not drugs). A nice Burmese guy stopped us at the end of the road offering us an extremely cheap, nearby safe-haven for us and the bikes, result!

Our plans for Bangkok were simple. Get a couple of things fixed, arrange the shipping from Malaysia, try sort the remaining visas out, visit Rory's old school pal and pick up the tyres and stuff the ballet had left in a theatre for us.
In any 'normal' city this should be 2 or 3 days easy work. Unfortunately Bangkok is no normal city.
The traffics a nightmare
The public transport is crap
Its so big none of the cabbies know where anything is
There are multiples of every street
The addresses are always wrong
Nothing sticks to normal opening hours
AND we were in the party centre of a city that likes to party.

Don't get me wrong, we really did try, but after 3 days we'd spent a fortune on cabs and phone calls and all we'd managed to do was get a camera fixed and meet Rory's mate. And drunk a lot.

Progress was painfully slow plus expensive so we cut our losses and got the heck out of Dodge quick smart.

Heading south down the coast we planned to stop on the island of Ko Phangan for a couple of days, take in the scenery and the Full Moon Party and then get to Malaysia to ship the bikes via Krabi and Phucket on the west coast. The sunset that greated us on our first night on the island was undoubtedly the most spectacular of my life.
As the sun dipped lower in the sky the light was absorbed by the whispy clouds in the sky throwing of a kaleidoscope of swirling colour, like an artist frantically mixing up oil colours on his pallet. The whole transition took over an hour a demanded dozens of photos.

While on the island we got some interesting info leading to a literal u-turn in our plans.........

Due to Malaysia being a bit overbearing as fair as import/export rules go it would take a full 3 weeks to get the bikes to Madras. Obviously after the mayhem with shipping the bikes before we still didn't believe this.

The local muslim seperatist loonies in the south had decided it was a good time to start blowing stuff up right where we wanted to cross into Malaysia.

Sod that, so back to Bangkok we went to arrange the tried and tested route of airfreighting to India. More money but way less hassle.

Our second stint in Bangkok started much as the first one had..........
"We'll just get a bite to eat and watch that ace guitaring-singery dude who does the 'welcome to the hotel khao sanh road' song"
It was all going well until two familiar faces walked in. On the first night we'd hung out with two south african dudes and had a right old giggle, well they turned up again and sat in the same seats. So as before we joined them and continued where we'd left off........

Anyhow, moving on. We took the bikes to the shipping agent to get them measured up for crating and our swanky crates were delivered and packed the next day.

Rory's old pal, Troy, from his school days near York had moved into the family hotel business and offered free hospitality to us in Thailand. With a few days to wait for the bikes to go India we shot up to Kanchanaburi for a couple of relaxing days with some friends from Bangkok.

If you've ever seen 'the bridge over the river kwae' you'll have seen Kanchanaburi, and yes, they do milk it to death. Its actually quite a rubbish bridge, rebuilt after the infamous bombing by the British POWs. I suppose its rubbishness explains why it fell down so easily. The town was in a massive build-up to the 60 year anniversary which was the following week and a huge fair had sprung up around the bridge, meaning you couldn't really see the bloody thing!

Anyway, we didn't do a lot. Rory slept, hung out by the pool and claimed to be 'catching up on the diary', and i hired a mini 250cc chopper and went up to the Erawan National Park. Theres a crazy 7 level waterfall there which has multiple pools of crystal clear water, great for swimming in. They're also full of crazy fish who like to nibble on you as you swim about, bloody big n all, some over a foot long. Nice swim but i can do without getting tongued by an amorous fish!

On return to Bangkok we bought the last two tickets for the plane to Madras and headed off to Rory's pal Pak's house near the airport for a few hours kip prior to a 7am flight.

As usual i deemed it our last chance for real food prior to our guts demise in India, so we had a mega-bucket at KFC at 6am.

Our bikes would be travelling with us on the plane, so our excitement built when we saw them sat on a trolley next to our plane.

"Rory, that guys pulling them towards the plane, they're going on.........
Rory, that ***** done a u-turn and they're going back towards the warehouse, expletive, expletive, blah, blah, blah..............."

It turned out the boxes were 3 inches too high to go through the loading bay so they had to wait for a bigger plane the next day.

Obviously this went tits n all as we were greeted with an imminent cyclone upon arrival in Madras meaning that flight got cancelled. On top of this the loony cabby who picked us up also managed to crash into the back of a bus while enjoying a marlboro light pilfered from Rory. Just like Vietnam, a crash, a tropical cyclone and some missing bikes.

But have no fear, it will be all right on the night! We're used to this kind of nonsense now anyway and, lets face it, it was never going to be easy. We've learnt many important lessons, the biggest one being that when you're destiny is removed from your direct control, be that by government, weather or air/shipping lines, its going to take some deep breaths, more time than you can think possible and often a load of cash before you regain control. Thats Life......

AS usual our delay may have been somewhat fortuitous as we met another motorcycle traveller heading in the opposite direction to us.
Dankmar is a chap from Munich who is a little 'wiser' than us. I'm not sure exactly how much 'wiser', but considering his last trip to India by motorcycle was 42 years ago, i reckon he's pretty 'wise'.

Dankmar has ridden down from Germany via Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, AFGHANISTAN, Pakistan and Nepal. Yeah, you did notice that bit, he's one of the first people(maybe the first) to cross Afghanistan by bike since the war. In his words(sans accent),

"the people were incredibly hospitable and friendly, but as soon as you put them in control of a vehicle they becoming maniacal psychopaths intent on running you off the road at every moment!"

Glad we're not going!

We're presently trying to convince him to go west on his loop around southern India and accompany us to the west coast. Its always nice to travel with others and i'm sure we'll pick up many valuable tips on the way.

We caught the last day of the India-Sri Lanka test match this afternoon. We would have been fools to miss it as the stadium is about 400m away from our hostel and the tickets were $3!

Time to go and shout at Air Sri Lanka again. Next posting should find us near to, or in Pakistan making plans for a 'different' Christmas and more SOS visits.

Hope you have a good one. But if you want to make it better.......




Someones going to get a great unexpected pressie in January, it may as well be you!!!


PS. the indians all wobble their heads a lot when they talk to you, ive found myself doing it as well, which is all well and good but i keep getting motion sickness.........


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