I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Into Laos: Jewel of the Mekong

Monday, 25th & Tuesday, 26th March

A couple of days off the road, just R&R-ing, apart from an afternoon's local 17.5 km [11 mi] excursion north of the city centre ..


 to Mae-Rim, and Tiger Kingdom

The tigers are not as aggressive as you might think. At Tiger Kingdom NONE of the tigers are drugged or tranquilised (allegedly) - and frankly, by the animals' generally behaviour, I believe them.

"Hugs, Not Drugs at Chiang Mai's Tiger Kingdom" - that's their motto ...

Yeah .. well fuck that for a lark!

I was more than happy just to take the pictures (from a distance, I might add!)

'It's the Eye of the Tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he's watching us all
With the Eye of the Tiger.'


Survivor - Eye Of The Tiger - Released: May 1982

Amongst juvenile and new born baby tigers, they even have a male lion at the centre.

Well worth the visit, I have to say.
 
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Tuesday morning, and we say goodbye to our new friends, Clive & Chris, who are off to the border to renew their temporary Thai visas, before boxing their bike up in a crate down in Bangkok, then shipping the beast over the Himalayas by air freight to Kathmandu, Nepal. We'll hopefully be following in their tracks before the end of the year.

See you again soon in Cornwall C&C .. :o)

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Temples you say? I'll show you temples mate .. bloody thousands of 'em.

This one (below), which was situated literally right opposite our hotel in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chiang Man - built from 1306 onward - it's the oldest and the first royal temple in Chiang Mai; older even than the city.

There are, altogether, 15 elephant figures at the base of the temple.

 A statue of Buddha inside .. goes without saying. This guy gets .. everywhere


.. IF you can get passed this chap, guarding the entrance.

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Wednesday, 27th

We were away from Chiang Mai City shorlty after breakfast, and then headed up towards the border town of Mae Sai in the northernmost district (amphoe) of Chiang Rai Province; a distance of over 320 km [200+ mi], which up until then was our longest day in the saddle.

On the way along Route 1 or the Phahonyothin Road (Asian Highway Network 'AH2'), we stumbled across another outstanding Buddhist Temple, the name of which I just cannot find, despite since spending an hour of two 'googling' this information on the Internet.

A quite spectacular and ..

.. it occurred to me that it was almost like making a brief visit to DisneyLand - without paying the admission fee, of course!

It would not have been out of place if the Fairy Tinker-Bell had swished-in waiving her wand, singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" .. followed by Mickey's Soundsational Parade, with all our not-so-favourite Disney Characters prancing around colorful floats.

BAH! .. Humbug!

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Another 50 km or so up the road brought us to perhaps the most sensational of them all  – Wat Rong Khun - 'The White Temple' of Northern Thailand.

Almost too darn .. DAZZLING for words.

Wat Rong Khun is unique from other temples in that it has been constructed entirely in a radiant white colour with sparkling reflections from mirrored glass mosaics embedded in the white plaster. The temple is the idea of Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat, one of Thailand’s most renowned artists, who wanted to build a temple all in white to signify the purity of Lord Buddha.

There's Ellen on the right busy snapping away .. but who's the gal on the left?

.. 'tis CHRISTINE. YAY!

Another pure coincidental meeting with Chris & Clive, to whom we said 'farewell' just the previous day. They had just successfully extended there Thai visas by a further 15 days with a 'visa run' up into Myanmar, just over the border from the township of Mae Sai, which was where we were heading that afternoon. They were returning down, as we were going up. Exceptional that we should all meet-up again at that same spot, at the very same time. No complaints though.

As you walk through various entrances and gateways there are symbolic mobile carvings hanging from trees, perhaps signifying a kind of passage from evil to enlightenment.

Pitfuls of grasping hands in assorted array, outstretched and seem to be pleading.

These pieces of art must symbolize hell and how people in hell will suffer from their bad karma.

We continued with our self-guided tour. A megaphonic voice from our rear barking, in a bored-to-death tone, orders of, 'Be so kind as to KEEP MOVING ALONG, PLEASINGS .. if you don't mind. Thanking you so much'

Before the main chapel and at the end of the bridge there are several sculptures of meditating Buddha and other highly significant religious figures circled by spirits of the world.

The outer-decoration of the temple hall is all white colour representing purity and wisdom of Lord Buddha.

On the left of the temple’s compound is a golden toilet which Chalermchai seems to to convey some hidden message to visitors. Further research suggests that the message is 'there is beauty in all things' rather than the fact that it is just a toilet. Hmmmm?

Ah Yes! as a Brit, I think I 'get it'. For the rest of the world, the toilet is a mundane and purely functional item. But for us, it is the basis of an entire culture.

[Just think of your favourite British joke .. and you will soon get my drift.]

And right on cue a couple of Buddhist monks showed-up in their saffron-coloured robes and posed for my camera.

Incidentally, the robes themselves are meant to symbolize simplicity and detachment of materialism.

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FACTS:

Wat Rong Khun's construction began in 1996 and is still a work in progress, and will be for years to come. Chalermchai Kositpipat wishes Wat Rong Khun to become a learning and meditation centre for people to practice dharma and gain benefit from the teachings of Lord Buddha.

It is planned to comprise nine buildings including the ubosot (chapel), pagoda, hermitage, crematorium, monastery hall, preaching hall, museum, pavilion, and rest room facilities that will be built on an area of about 3 acres.

Completion is expected to occur in 60 - 90 years after Chalermchai's (the artist and designer's) death.

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Before saying farewell to Clive & Chris - for the second and final time, for sure - we just couldn't resist four portions of totally scrummy Lemon Meringue Pie, ate under the cooling artificial breeze of the corner Patisserie's wall-mounted fan - the first decent plateful of dessert we had seen, let alone tasted, anywhere around SE Asia.

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Thursday, 28th

Away from our hotel in Mae Sai by 10:00am. In less than an hour we reached The Golden Triangle ..

[Panorama - click to enlarge] .. where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet on the Mekong River, which has long been known for its shady history of opium smuggling and lawlessness. The region is now a magnet for tourists, lured by its notoriety, scenic resorts and new casinos.
And this guy again, of course, who still gets everywhere around these parts.

On one side of the street - the river bank side - is where most of the large hotels and casinos are located.



On the other side are the local stalls selling tacky souvenirs and the usual very typical screen-printed T-shirts displaying:   'I ♥ The Golden Triangle' .. yunno the sort of thing I mean.

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We were on our way again within 20 minutes and then hugged the south bank of the Mekong River as far as possible ..

.. the north bank is Laos of course. Some pictures of wild fauna taken along the way (and elsewhere on this trip):


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Around about an hour later and we had reached the township of Chiang Khong. Immigration Control, Customs Control, and the ferry ticket office ..



.. and we were soon actually crossing the mighty Mekong River to Laos. I could hardly believe it.







And guess who, by pure chance and coincidence, were making the very same crossing on the very same day at the very same time? .. yep, t'was our newest and bestest merrycan friends, Jeff and Si.

Here there are standing on the raised front disembarkation ramp halfway across the Mekong.











From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Tigers, Temples and TTFN Thailand

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Summary: Thailand has a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and laid-back lifestyle. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity I reckon you might need or desire.

Above it all presides King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), who has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world's longest-reigning monarch - longer even than the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - and who is a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions here in Thailand.

Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a foreign power.

You have surely got to give the Thai nation a lot of credit for all of this.

If everything goes to plan we'll be back again before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, thank you Thailand.

'Love Yu Long Time Too'

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Friday, 29th

Time to change the courtesy flag sticker from Thai to Laotian.

The four of us, breakfasting with the busy Mekong as a back-drop - no more than 100 metres away from our table.

Followed by a sensational 182 km [113 mi] north-easterly mountainous scenic journey along Route 3 from Houay Xai to Luang Namtha. Probably the best three hours we've had in the saddle so far; just an endless succession of very fast sweeping bends. The Transalp roared up and around, over and down, as if it had a mind all of its own. We were just white-knuckled passengers, clinging-on for the ride. YAY!

We were In Love with Laos .. already. 

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Saturday, 30th

As we were so close to the Chinese border at this stage - no more than around 60 km [37 mi], we couldn't resist the temptation to ride up there and take a look.

Our first site of Boten, at the Laos-China border crossing.

What a sh!thole. A ghost town. Nothing more than a dusty ol' truck stop. A failed attempt to create an economic zone and casino empire on the Chinese-Lao border.

This image of a rusting abandoned Chinese motor just about sums it all up.

In May 2011 a BBC foreign correspondent produced an interesting article on this enterprising 'initiative', which I read last year. This was my motivation to ride up to Boten. Click on this link for more details. 

I was still glad though that we took the time and trouble to go and see ..

China, or at least a Chinese wooded forest, just over the border. At this point we were no more than 100 metres away from that great up-and-coming empire of 1.4 Billion people.

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Sunday, 31st

After spending the previous night in Oudomxay, on Sunday we endured the roughest ride of the trip so far. 80 km [50 mi] over a broken mountainous road, but through some stunningly beautiful scenery, despite the smoky haze. That near 'off-road' experience was hard going and took us nearly 3½ hours to complete, almost entirely in 1st and 2nd gears. Another 100 km [63 mi] over mostly decent road surface brought us to the 'jewel' city of Luang Prabang, which is where we are right now.

Laos has already provided some memorable moments. Join me and share some of the sights we have seen during our hitherto brief time in this fascinating and under-rated country, through my eyes - just click on the forward play arrow below:




From Ellen's journal: click on this link → The Burning Forests of Laos

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