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

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Point of No Return

From Tuesday, 19th November 2013

Bangkok City

We booked accommodation at the Imm Fusion Hotel on the recommendation of Clive & Christine Thomas, who stayed there during their ride from Brisbane to Bristol. The BTS Skytrain is just across the street - making much of the city accessible within 20 minutes - and because it's one of the better value establishments in Bangkok. D├ęcor is faux-Moroccan and reasonably tasteful.

The buffet breakfast spread is above average - and there's also a large Tesco-Lotus store just across the road (under the BTS Skytrain station), where you can buy almost anything you might need or want.

The hotel's indoor swimming pool is in keeping with the overall funky Marrakech look, but the water temperature's pretty darn cold .. [erm] so Ellen reliably informs me!

Meeting-up again with Brett and Tracey - from Darwin, Northern Territory (Aus) - was special.



This was the fifth - and certainly won't be the last - occasion we have hooked-up with Brett and Tracey since we all first met-up, by pure chance, at the Pardoo Roadhouse (Western Australia) on Friday April-9th 2010.

[picture on the left taken during the evening of April-9th, 2010]

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Thursday-21st

We chose a great way to see Bangkok's Chao Phraya River and the original canals of the city.

A canal tour, starting at Taksin Bridge on the eastern bank of the river, we firstly went straight to Wat Arun on the western bank.

Long-tail canoe-type hull wooden boats on Chao Phraya, usually with colourful decorations dangling from their bows ..

.. powered by monster outboard engines mounted on an inboard turret-like pole (the 'long tail'), which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring. The propeller is mounted directly on the drive-shaft with no additional gearing or transmission. I'm not sure of the horsepower these bad boys generate, but whatever the number is it can make a heavily-laden 10-metre boat 'plane' with a mere twist of the throttle.

Sam, our guide and fixer around Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. Top bloke.

The outstanding Wat Arun, which is one of Thailand's most picturesque temples ..

.. and is beautifully decorated with colourful broken Chinese porcelain pieces.

You can venture all the way to the top if you feel energetic enough .. which we didn't. Halfway was enough for us. Brett and Tracey made it to all the way to the summit though .. and good on'em for that, especially in Tracey's condition - of which I say more towards the end of this blog post.

Ongoing repairs to one of the four smaller satellite Prangs.

We then meandered through the backwaters of Thonburi, taking in its floating villages. Where the city's traditional (and poorer) river way of life goes on ..

.. directly under the shadows of twenty-first century Bangkok.

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We then moved-on to take a stroll around the Grand Palace.

If there is one must-see sight then it's probably the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace.

With its immaculately dressed, and well-disciplined guards. Sort of reminded me a bit of Buckingham Palace.

Built in 1782 - and for 150 years has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government.

Within its walls are also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the national mint .. plus one of two of its cat population.

 I say more about a cat's anatomy below.

The Grand Palace complex IS the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.

Definitely worth a visit. Take plenty of water though .. cuz it get's damn hot inside the boundary walls.

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Thursday, 21st

The Transalp needed sprucing-up before its delivery to the shipping agent's packing warehouse the following day (Fri-22nd).

150 Baht - around GB£3.00 [US$5.00] - in the tropical midday heat, bought three young guys at a car wash depot for around 40 minutes. They did a superb job; even chamois-leathered it all dry for me, then waxed the fairings (which I really didn't want doing) and finished-up by polishing the tyre walls!

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Time to introduce a fine young lady, Ratchaneewan Jongwattana or 'Beth' for short. I'm still trying to work out just how her full name conveniently converts to the shorter western version [?] .. 'tis all a mystery.

Beth works for P.T. Air Cargo Co. Ltd., our shipping agents based on the outskirts of Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). She's good at her job; English speaking too, which is more than a bit fortunate.

I approached three shipping firms altogether; two came back with written quotations. Beth at P.T. Air Cargo provided the quicker, more detailed response. Both prices were broadly similar, but Beth easily won the day and clinched the deal.

Fact is I would have paid an extra 100 dollars in any case just to do business with the lovely Beth. [sigh] If only I was 20 years younger .. no, better make that 30 years younger!

What remnants of petrol, 'benzine' or indeed 'gas' (if you're particularly yankyfied) was syphoned-off; the battery leads disconnected from the +/- terminals and taped-up. Then out comes this young lad - a motorcycle enthusiast himself as it happens - with his three steel boxes full of mechanic's tools, including an array of powered appliances.

Watching him intently move about my black beauty, in a blur, and with a smirk; poking his air-powered wrench onto nuts and bolts to dismantle all parts necessary to reduce the soon-to-be cargo's boxed-up volumetric size, was as baffling to me as seeing a cat clean its own arse: you question how it can all possibly happen so quickly and effectively? .. but eventually you just accept it.

An hour and a half later and we're nearly done .. but not quite.

Then I started to wonder .. ??

Just how the hell I'm going to put it all back together again? Probably in a dusty and dimly-lit shed on the outskirts of Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu, on the other side of the Himalayas, with nothing more than Honda's standard-issue kit of Chinese-made tools, which all fits neatly into a small plastic pouch about the size of a banana.
All told there were eight young blokes expertly working for me in P.T. Air Cargo's packing warehouse. At this point it's only natural to start thinking, "Bloody hell, how much is all this lot going to cost?!"

In goes our helmets and other bulky items of kit that won't need to be carted around in our holdall bags on our way to Nepal

.. and there's more ..

The lads bubble wrap everything - including the bike as a whole.

Finishing it all off with a generous wrapping of heavy duty cling film - before the crate's sides and top are made and fitted.

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Well, if you're curious, I've had the warehouse bill: 5,500 Baht, which is about GB£106 [US$171].

Good value, eh? .. well I think so, despite the pink T-shirts!

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That evening (Fri-22nd)

The go-go bar is an institution of Bangkok's "naughty night-life". So we went to one, which I have to say generally felt grim and edgy. I won't go into detail about the stage acts; suffice it to say that they are extremely 'acrobatic' - and at best it is quite fascinating to see what young girls can do with a coke bottle and a couple of dozen ping-pong balls.

Taking photos and video footage is strictly forbidden in these seedy establishments. This one (on the right) nearly got me into very serious trouble indeed. Got away with it though .. but only just [PHEW!]






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In case anyone’s who reads this is curious as to why I shipped the bike by air over the Himalayan ranges. Well, the reason is that there are no direct routes to the sub-continent region from Thailand. Therefore one has to travel through and around the mountains to get there. Looking at the map, at first view there appears to be two alternatives:
  1. Travel through Myanmar (‘Burma’ in old money) to either Bangladesh or northeast India, or
  2. Go from Thailand into Laos, then China and around into Tibet, before crossing into Nepal or possibly northern India.
Fact is, option 1. above is still out of the question. Myanmar is certainly starting to ‘open up’ since its recent emergence from military rule, but as far as independent travellers are concerned the country is still a closed shop. The time will come, one day, when it should be possible to cross Myanmar from Southeast Asia into southern Asia (and vice versa), but that day is still some way off – I'm talking years here. Even if travel restrictions to foreigners were lifted tomorrow, I understand that the road conditions in the west of the country are atrocious. Moreover, riding through the unpredictable Burmese conflict states of Kachin, Rakhine and Shan could add further problems.

In short, travelling through Myanmar /Burma is essentially a non-starter, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Laos--China--Tibet--Nepal alternative route

I looked seriously at this option back in May this year (2013). A small group of Italian bikers were trying to piece together a deal with the Chinese authorities via a local tour operator and invited me along for the ride. Believe me, I would friggin' love to ride through China and Tibet.

However, new Chinese regulations were introduced about that time forcing all groups of foreign travellers in Tibet to be accompanied by local guides and vehicles. This is in addition to the very strict rules already in place regarding accompanying guides through the China section just to get to the Tibetan border. Click-on this link for details of the suggested itinerary.

The quotes put forward by the tour operator quoted the following costs per person:

      a)  Laos border to the Yunnan, China/Tibet border - US$3,015 /person
      b)  From Yanjing, Tibet to the Zhangmu (Tibet)/Nepal border - US$2,820 /person

A total of nearly 6,000 US Dollars per person.

NOT INCLUDED [quote]:
  • your meals
  • fees to parks, monasteries and old towns, etc
  • fuel and toll fees for motorcycles
  • any delays caused by weather, accident
  • personal expenses
  • tips to guides and drivers.
Therefore, I would be looking at a grand total of probably in excess of 7,500 dollars - and I just cannot justify that sort of outlay .. for the 21 days (maybe longer) it would take to complete that section of the journey to Nepal.

Hence the other, third option: air-freighting  from Bangkok to Kathmandu, Nepal. Way to Go – well, it is for my travel budget anyway!

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Saturday, 23rd

With the bike gone, the four of us - 'er indoors and me + B&T - rented a big'ish sedan car and drove down the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand ..

.. to a remote fishing village called Huay Yang (approx 25 km south of Prachuap Khiri Khan) .. and then proceeded to do absolutely bugger'all for 3½ days (+ 4 nights), apart from eating grub on a beachside veranda  'al fresco' style, and drinking too many Chang beers (minimum 6.4% ABV :-) .. in other words, we had bloody Heaven on Earth!

The weather was mainly fair, always above 25°C - and more often than not in excess of 30°C. But there was the odd overnight storm to contend with, which left some dramatic daytime skies:


A typical afternoon sky

From the same viewpoint at dusk

another dusk-time shot ..

.. looking in the opposite direction: iridescent clouds, which painted an angelic mural in the cumulus above us. I understand such 'rainbow clouds' are a rare phenomenon.

on our morning of departure, back to Bangkok.

Wednesday, 27th

Up at 5:15 am - and away from Jack Beach Resort by 6:20 am for the 350 km [217 mi] drive to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, to arrive there by around midday in order that B&T can check-in for their mid-afternoon flight home to Darwin (via Singapore).

Tracey, by the way, has reached a point of no return, insofar as she is well and truly 'in the pudding club' good and proper! 6½ months gone with 2½ remaining. Brett Junior (.. 'tis going to be a healthy bouncy boy) will be born into the aussie world around mid-February next year. And I cannot wait to see my new godson. Yes, Brett and Tracey have actually asked me to be their new son's godfather .. YAY!

And I can't help but believe that the prospect of being raised by two such sound mature parents like Brett & Tracey - AND with me watching over his upbringing from far above - literally - young Master Lantzke (his surname) will have quite a decent head start in life.

Thursday, 28th

On our own again for the last full day in Bangkok. In fact, this was to be our last day in SE Asia.

Another major Bangkok attraction, that really does need 'doing' is Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha).

Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 15 metres tall, 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf.

It's soooo bloody huge that you feel it must have been squeezed into the building. Incidentally, everyone is obliged to take their shoes off to enter. I wish I had changed my socks that day.

The Buddha's feet are 5 metres long ..

.. and the soles are exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl.

It really is worth taking a look round the rest of the temple. Long lines of golden statues from different parts of Thailand all sitting in the lotus position.

There are hundreds of them.

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Evening

We returned to the American-themed Bourbon Street Restaurant & Oyster Bar to join-in with the celebrations.

You see, November-28th is America's Thanksgiving Day.

Roast turkey and cranberry sauce came four weeks early for us that evening in Bourbon Street. Yummy!

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Chiang Mai to Bangkok

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CONCLUSION:

What have we experienced and learned from the eight* southeast Asian countries we have passed through, on-and-off, during these last 2¼ years? Well, between them they have it all: a tropical warm (or hot!) climate all year around, rich cultures, gorgeous beaches, wonderful food and last but not least, low prices.

While the region's history and modern-day politics are somewhat complex, most of it is quite safe to travel around. Occasionally we stumbled across true paradise, which made us glow inside .. and sometimes were lost for words; shocked by seeing, first-hand, the smoking gun of human cruelty and genocide.

To summarize it all, I wouldn't have missed the last 20,000 motorcycle kilometres .. for any other place in the whole wide world.

*
- The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor)
- The Republic of Indonesia
- The Federation of Malaysia
- The Republic of Singapore
- The Kingdom of Thailand
- The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos)
- The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- The Kingdom of Cambodia.

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Friday, 29th

10:30 am. Our Thai Airways flight departs from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Bangkok) on time, whisking us north-westwards for three hours - 2,227 km [1,384 mi] - to Southern Asia, the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu in particular.

On the way we pass south of Mount Everest. Now there's a landmark I never thought I would see 'in real life'.

Kathmandu - NEPAL - Another Point of No Return

Mid-afternoon on Friday-29th .. downtown in the district of Thamel, Kathmandu, and the temperature is a very pleasant (for a northern European) 21-22°C. Just like springtime in England - and I have no complaints about that.

The halfway point of this long ride home from New Zealand is now behind us, at Bangkok - actually, a little just north of Bangkok to be precise.

Arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal, means that we have now passed the point of no return. Put simply, if the trip goes TU at any time from now on, it will be more practical to ship everything home to the UK. The bike, therefore, will now almost certainly never return to its country of registration, New Zealand.

Direct Route Stats:

Auckland to Kathmandu - 11,758 km [7,306 mi]
Kathmandu to Home - 7,712 km [4,792 mi]
Total: 19,470 km [12,098 mi]

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My black beauty's crate should turn-up on Monday (Dec-2nd) when it'll be time to test my nuts 'n' bolts spannerisation techniques; hopefully re-assemble the beast sometime before Christmas, after which I should be a proper-qualified professor in Spannerology.

Then it'll be time to do battle with the Nepalese roads and tracks.

Yunno, I just can't wait to get going again.

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