THE boat ride
across the Mekong River
Leaving the Mekong
River behind us
ride into the mountains with GT (Golden Triangle) riders
One of the many
interesting temples within the old city walls.
The Maesa Elephant
A really impressive
stairway leads you up to Doi Suthep Temple.
roads through the mountains inthe NE.
We followed dirt
roads into the hill tribe villages.
Ate a grass hopper,
the locals insisted!!
sampled local food at the Sunday market stalls.
former student Kan and me in his Graphic Design Studio.
with the amazing creatures at the Pai Elephant camp.
near Tham Lod
were friendly and keen to show us their hand woven cloth.
would definitely rate amongst our all time top 10 motorcycle rides.
The Long Neck
Karen hill tribe
We were free to
wander amongst this unique Hill tribe Village.
of the three excursions we have taken off the main road has been very
activities in Mae Hong Son
A raft ride at
A look at life
in the villages ...
and the characters
we met along the way.
refugee camps along the border with Myanmar.
cross the shallow river between Myanmar and Thailand.
and farmland along the border river.
At the temple, Myanmar
tricycle, the preferred mode of transport in Myanmar.
in Myanmar, same friendly faces but the produce is very different in quality
from their neighbour.
the Friendship bridge back to Thailand.
Plenty of high
quality fruit and vegetables in the markets here in Thailand.
An ancient city
of ruins still used today as a spiritual centre.
over the river Kwai
off the shore of the lake.
famous floating markets.
Thai Royal dancers
The seaside restuarant
at Khao Lak on Nang Thong beach.
are deserted and are yet to be rebuilt after the Tsunami.
tower over the road through to Krabi.
in the busy Krabi tourist region
to Kho Lanta
with the locals on the Chinese New year.
& Myanmar again
Big day today. We need to be in Chiang Mai as early as possible to prepare
for a presentation to the Horizons Unlimited travellers on our trip to
South America and it's apparently a 5 hour ride from Houei Xay. We were
first at the Immigration border checkout this morning, and all went smoothly,
then had to ride 1 km up the river to the ferry crossing and the Customs
post. Customs didn't know what to do with the Carnet so Haydn explained
and tore out the centre sheet for them and declined an invitation to pay
100 Baht, then down the ramp to catch the ferry. But... despite our rushing
to get here early, the ferry doesn't leave until 10.00am. It really is
frustrating that border officials don't seem to know what is going on
and can't give travellers accurate information. Oh well, nothing for it
but to wait and enjoy the activities going on.
Well we waited and waited and at 11.30 am. decided we could wait no more.
There is no guarantee that the ferry will come over and if we want to
make Chiang Mai then we'll have to throw caution to the wind, discard
everything we know about risk management and put Jack into or rather onto
one of these small canoe type boats and get him and us over to Thailand.
Arranging that was easy and with about 6 locals, Jack was hoisted into
this tiny boat. Haydn was concerned about unloading and who would be available
at the other side to unload Jack so we struck a deal with the locals and
offered them a free boat ride to Thailand and back.
If you've ever been in a canoe then you know how they tend to roll from
side to side, especially when there are waves from other boats and especially
when there are about 9 people and a large motorcycle aboard. Haydn sat
on Jack, supposedly to steady things but in hindsight the extra weight
up high probably made things worse. The crossing only took about 20 minutes
but it was the longest 20 minutes of my life as I expected all of us to
capsize into the mighty Mekong at any instant.
I felt the bump as the small boat grounded on the Thai side of the Mekong
and opened my eyes to find all was well. Haydn was still aboard Jack,
although looking somewhat anxious. Phew, we had indeed made it but just
to make us feel worse, as we arrived the ferry was leaving! Oh well, you
can't look back. With a few grunts and groans our 'crew' unloaded Jack,
we paid them for their trouble and made our way to Thai Immigration and
Customs for simple and easy processing.
We re-entered Thailand at Chiang Khong and after relaxing on the boat
for 2 days we were now keen to get going again. The riding in this part
of Thailand is spectacular and even though we had a deadline to be in
Chiang Mai late this afternoon, we felt we just couldn't rush and savoured
the moments. At Chiang Rai, we took highway 1, then 118 on good roads
winding their way up and down and around and about through the mountains
to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a fairly big city with a population of about 1.6 million
but is well laid out and we soon found the check in point for the Horizons
Rally. We had specified to the organisers that we needed a data projector
to show our South American slides but one was not available at tonight's
venue and after an attempt to burn a DVD failed, we decided to give it
a miss. After all, it's been a big day and it has reminded us that when
you are travelling it is not a good idea to set a deadline into your plan
as you are more likely to put your self at risk.
Breakfast was scheduled at the Art Cafe from 7.30AM and we were there,
keen to meet other travellers. They all must have decided that a late
start was in order though and arrived at about 9.30. A quick photo with
the group then a magnificent ride into the mountains with GT (Golden Triangle)
riders had everyone in good spirits. The main presentations of the rally
took place that afternoon and evening at a flash hotel where a huge buffet
was put on. Good presentations and a chance to chew the fat with other
motorcyclists is what these events are all about.
While here in Chiang Mai we stayed at a comfortable guest house (400 Baht)
within the old city walls. Very laid back and relaxed with many restaurants
and bars just next door. Chiang Mai is a hub for tourist activities and
many tourists must decide to stay on as apparently about 20 000 ex pats
An interesting feature is the moat and remnants of an old wall built to
defend the city against Burmese invaders. There is a ring road around
the moat and all points lead to and from this ring road. Overall a very
well laid out city and we soon felt at home.
The next 5 days were spent making the most of Chiang Mai and surrounds
and there are many interesting temples and markets in and around the old
city. Wandering down narrow lanes it is easy to soak in the unique Thai
culture with cooking, meditation and massage classes at every turn.
at the cooking school, tomorrow it's a massage, it's all hard work but
I'm sure we'll feel brand new when we leave Chiang Mai.
also fortunate during our time here to be able to visit the 'Royal Floral
Ratchapruek'. This is the biggest floral and garden exhibition this part
of the world has ever seen and was an opportunity to see some of the most
exotic plants and flowers from around the world. Even Haydn was interested
and there were exhibits from not only many countries but also companies
as diverse as Toyota for instance, showcasing their developments into
bio-diesel. All in all a good day out doing something a little different.
Elephant camp, about an hour north of Chiang Mai should be on every visitors
list as you can get 'up close and personal' with the many (70) elephants
and feed them bananas and sugar cane. We watched them play in the small
stream before putting on a memorable performance of football, painting
(believe it or not) and much more to entertain the many visitors. I was
a bit skeptical about it all being too commercial but the elephants seem
to be well cared for and enjoy the challenge of the games. A young 8 month
old elephant in the nursery became very attached to Haydn, literally,
climbing the fence of the enclosure with all fours and wrapping its trunk
around Haydn. For such a young guy he has incredible strength but I was
laughing too much to realise that Haydn was actually in a dangerous situation.
Temple is another must see. Located high in the hills surrounding Chiang
Mai, a really impressive stairway leads you up to this equally impressive
golden chedi (bell shaped tower) and temple. We've seen many temples on
our travels and this rates amongst the best. A sacred place where the
smoke from the burning insence shroud the faces of the people who line
up to honour Buddha.
my former international students lives in Chiang Mai and we've kept in
contact over the years. He now runs a successful Graphic Design studio
and we were able to catch up. Kan took us to a couple of excellent Thai
restaurants and in return I showed him and his staff a few Photoshop tips.
Mai is also famous for it's Night Bazaar, where some of the streets are
closed to traffic and vendors display their wares, but Haydn is getting
a little 'marketed out' so I didn't spend as much time here as I would
have liked but it seems almost everything is available for reasonable
David Unkovich from the GT Riders knows Northern Thailand better than
most. He produces several detailed road maps and suggestions for great
rides. Over breakfast one morning he suggested a ride up to Nan heading
east via Chiangmuan. We've been based in Chiang Mai for a while now and
both feel that it's time to hit the road. We take some minor roads through
Chaing Muan into the north western highlands and onto Nan. There we booked
into an old hotel in the city centre with a wonderful large balcony over
looking the activity in the streets below. There's a special laid back
feeling in the place, a lot to soak in from our lookout but we're also
looking forward to heading into the surrounding hills.
Ride NE of Nan to Laklai, visiting a number of small villages in hills
off the road and then it was on to Klua to take the Doi Phukha road (1256)
across to Pua. Reputedly the best ride in Northern Thailand and we were
not disappointed, like riding on the crest of a wave we rode along the
top of a mountain ridge with great views into the valleys on both sides.
Riding back from Nan the views were spoilt a bit by a dense smoky haze.
Nevertheless we were able to ride off the beaten track again and into
more hill tribe villages to take in the sights of village life before
returning to Chaing Mai via Phrae and Lampang.
We made it back in time to take in the special once a week Sunday Markets
in Chaing Mai. These are enjoyed by the locals as much as the tourists
and we met up with Kan and his girlfriend who showed us the best market
stalls to eat from... mmm good (no great) food.
Chill out day, I got a hair cut and spent more time in Kan's Graphic Design
Studio while Haydn got a rear tyre fitted to the bike in preparation for
the next leg that will take us north west on the Mae Hong Son loop and
close to the Myanmar border, before turning south and continuing back
to Malaysia and then Singapore and our flight back to Australia. We've
also just realised that our 30 day entry visa will expire on the 11th
Feb so we will have to do a 'visa run' into Myanmar from Mae Sot..
Checked our email at breakfast and a good friend has asked us to send
her some Thai Silk. A local suggested one of the local markets as a good
source with good prices so off we went. We found plain silk in a range
of colours and I quickly picked out several pieces, but felt we should
also find some of the quality hand woven silk Chaing Mai is renowned for.
For this we had to go to the silk factory in San Kamphaeng on route 1006
and while there we saw the looms in action again and they explained how
to identify real silk from artificial silk. Apparently if you burn an
edge, the real silk will burn slowly and char a bit like paper while the
fake silk will burn quickly, smoke, smell and melted along the edge. I
had to do the test with the 'market' silk and sure enough it was not the
real thing so back we went to demand a refund.
All this took a bit of time and it was now about 2.30pm before we left
town. The ride north to Pai was good and along the way we met a Swiss
rider whom we had met at the Horizons meeting. He was on his way to visit
a friend in Pai, whom we had also met at the meeting. Turns out that our
mutual friend Ben, has two cottages at his place and we were made very
welcome. Haydn had a few beers in Ben's outside Jacuzzi (making the most
of the hot springs in this area) and chatted with the boys till late.
A late start after a huge breakfast then a cruise to downtown Pai to take
in the sights of this small town. Lunch at a Thai vegetarian restaurant
then Ben suggested we have a 'Northern Thai' massage. $5.00 each and well
worth it. We don't want to get back home and say we hadn't made the most
of the Thai Massages.
on the elephant through the surrounding hills and into the river was memorable.
The elephants have been trained to throw and play with the humans in the
water, Haydn came off second best in this game but had the time of his
life. We were given an opportunity to ride the elephants into the forest
where they are free to feed each night. All felt very special as we swayed
on top of this huge beast in the evening light, walking over the hills
but holding on through the undulating floor of the forest proved to be
a frightening experience and then there was the walk back in the dark.
Left Pai after lunch for a short hop on fantastic winding roads to Ban,
a small village and area famous not only for the huge Tham Lod caves with
stalactites and stalagmites, but also for an unusual phenomenon. At sunset,
thousands of small birds swarm around the cave entrance and enter just
as it becomes dark.
We arrived in time to get a guide and take a raft through these unique
caves and, lantern in hand, she showed us through the 1 km. cave. The
sun was just setting as we exited the cave on the other side and sure
enough, there were thousands of small birds swarming about and as the
sun set they made their way into the cave. Unbelievable but true and one
of those special moments we were fortunate to witness.
We took a ride up into the hills to visit the Karen Hill tribe people.
The local ladies were weaving and sewing their wonderful handicrafts,
I couldn't resist buying a scarf and bag as this is a major source of
income for these people. We took our time wandering through this neat
tidy village, locals were friendly and invited us into their homes keen
to show us their work.
On to Mae Hong Son today and along the way we took a right hand turn that
took us off the beaten track on the 1226 and had a dream ride up into
the mountains following a surfaced, then dirt road along a mountain ridge
towards and along side the Myanmar border. We visited several villages
in the hills. Smoke haze again spoilt the views but it was still well
worth the effort. This would definitely rate amongst our all time top
10 motorcycle rides.
A fellow motorcyclist in Chaing Mai had recommended a particularly beautiful
spot to stay here and after a few enquires we found the 'Maenem Cottages'
right on the river 8kms outside Mae Hong Son and made ourselves at home
in the comfortable wooden cabins on the river edge. This is a magnificent
place to stay and at 400B a night a bargain too. That evening we watched
the 'long boats' taking tourists for a ride down the river and when it
got dark we lit a bonfire and watched the flames as we ate a whole Spicy
Thai fish sitting on our cottage balcony. Does life on the road get any
The Long Neck Karen hill tribe originated from Burma and still live in
this area close to the Burma (Myanmar) border.
We visited the most remote hill tribe in the hope that it is not too geared
to take the tourist dollar. The government have actually relocated some
of these people to new villages closer to Chang Mia and pay them to be
a tourist attraction. A 15km ride from our bungalow, then a 2km walk and
the payment of a 250B fee to enter the village. At first we had to walk
past all their stalls selling textiles and brass jewellery while they
weave behind the scenes but then we were free to wander amongst this unique
tribe, watch the people as they go about their daily tasks, visit the
school and take photos as we pleased... We were invited to sit with an
elderly lady who spoke english and she encouraged us to ask questions
and was willing to chat about her family and tribal life.
the practice of putting brass rings around the necks of young girls (from
about 4 or 5 years) was done to not only give the women the attractive
appearance of having a long neck!!! (actually the shoulders are pushed
down giving the illusion of extending the neck), but to maintain the purity
of the race. After all if a Long Neck women moved or was taken to another
area she would stand out like... well... We also found the Big Eared Tribe
here. They all now rely on the tourist dollar, get rice from the entrance
fee money and most of the women spend their time weaving and making items
to sell to the tourists. It seems the practice of putting rings around
the necks of young girls is voluntary now and from what we saw, only about
a quarter of the young girls at the school were wearing them. We believe
this has to be a good thing as it is certainly an un-natural and challenging
practice that these young girls must endure and it is probably best that
tourists like ourselves do not pay such a keen interest in their long
After our visit to the Long Necks we decided on a ride back up to the
Myanmar border to Rak Thai, riding past one of the Kings many projects.
This one focused on agricultural techniques to make the most of the land
and also had a small zoo. Schools have camps here so the youngsters can
learn and study alternative farming and cropping methods. At the end of
the road near the border post is the Chinese village of Rak Thai or Mae
Aw where we were able to enjoy some local wine and tea tasting. Another
great ride up into the mountains.
Today we thought we should visit Mae Hong Son, an interesting tourist
centre surrounded by mountains, and we decided to start at the market
and temples on the shores of the Jong Kham Lake. They were interesting
enough but what was more interesting was to witness a monk blessing a
young women's new motor bike. Apparently this is common practice for Thai
people. Another chill out day really and we did our washing, check the
'mail etc etc.
This morning we thought we'd take the final road up toward the Myanmar
border. Each of the three excursions we have taken off the main road has
been very different and
today we rode through a scenic fertile valley and several roadside villages
before beginning the steep climb to the Thai immigration post at the border.
We were surprised how good the road was, sealed all the way, and at the
border there were several taxies. There must be a fair few people going
across the border to make all this worthwhile. Naturally we couldn't cross
here, as we knew, but it was fun anyway and we enjoyed the ride.
back to our cabin by mid afternoon we decided that perhaps we too should
take one of these raft rides down the river at sunset. The owner of the
cabins knew an operator and negotiated a good deal and agreed to pick
us up downstream as the raft ride is a one way only trip. Well we were
glad we made the decision and enjoyed a memorable ride down the river
past small villages making the most of the photo opportunities presented
by the setting sun.
We had another bonfire tonight and I decided to bake some potatoes in
the coals. We ordered Thai vegetables and a chicken curry from the restaurant
across the road and enjoyed a tasty meal sitting on our balcony again
watching the flames.
Well after 4 nights it's time to leave our 'home away from home'. We're
both feeling refreshed and ready for the southward leg of our tour, but
before we leave we must upload the Laos section of the web site. This
always takes longer than we expect and it is past midday before we finally
hit the road.
Unfortunately the smoke haze is bad again and although the road winds
through the hills we can't really appreciate, what must be spectacular
views. Haydn enjoyed the winding road as we made our way south on the
way to Mae Sarieng. I was looking at the map and I was now feeling a bit
bike sick on the winding roads. We'd been going for about an hour and
thought a short stop was in order and pulled up outside a roadside restaurant
to have a Pepsi to settle the stomach. They were cooking in the kitchen
and naturally I was soon drawn to see the goings on and take a few pics
and the lady cook asked if we wanted to try the Pad Thai. Well we'd had
a big breakfast but the smells were too tempting and before we knew it
we were tucking into a wonderful meal. Not content with just serving the
Pad Thai, our host served a huge plate of stir fried vegetables and garlic.
We weren't hungry but finished it off nevertheless. Our host went on to
show us pictures of her receiving an award for tasty cooking and also
her two children receiving their college degrees. It's these sorts of
moments that make traveling worthwhile. We could have just had the Pepsi
and gone on our way, but by staying a little longer we gained an insight
into this women's life.
For us Mae Sarieng had little to offer so after a walk around the town
and a very average dinner in a place over looking the river we were back
in our room for an early night.
Still heading south to Mae Sot on a twisting winding up and down road
that limited our average speed to about 45kph. (According to the on board
computer) The scenery must have been spectacular but we couldn't see much
because of the smog which was getting worse by the day and by now was
really thick. To our right we could just make out the mountains that form
the border with Myanmar. We thought it was bush fires that were to blame
but apparently the smog is also the result of a low pressure area over
northern Thailand that is sucking in the pollution from China. Not sure
if this is true but if so perhaps we should re-evaluate our plans to visit
As we neared Mae Sot the road leveled out and about 15km from the city
we saw our first refugee camps. There must have been thousands of small
huts crammed together on the slopes, inside a fenced area, housing refugees
from Myanmar. A bit of a political hot potatoe as are the many NGO's (non
government organisations) that operate here.
Mae Sot is not really on the tourist map so we struggled to find a guest
house for the night but as luck would have it, we ended up in a really
nice place, Banmaie Maesot, Burmese style with polished teak floors and
walls. Probably the nicest room we have had on our entire trip for just
400B (about $A14.00) and our friendly hostess made us breakfast.
Around 5.00pm we went for a bit of a ride around town and found the local
market. Had a great time with the camera capturing the ethnic diversity
here, but did encounter a bit of hostility from one or two locals who
thought we were working for the NGO's.
We had planned to ride along the Border with Myanmar through good mountains
roads on the advice from the GT riders but we knew the smoke would spoil
the views so instead we got off the new highway as soon as possible in
search for small roads through local communities and farmland along the
border river and we were back in Mae Sot in enough time to get across
the boarder into Myanmar for our visa run that afternoon.
Again the transition with Thailand is dramatic and the people and facilities
in Myanmar are very impoverished. We did hire a guide, actually I think
he hired himself. While waiting at the Thai immigration office he started
talking to us in good English and followed us across the Friendship bridge
and then just started suggesting things to see and do. We twigged on to
what was happening and negotiated a rate for the afternoon. Our guide
organised a ride for us on a tricycle and we moved along with the locals
covering quite a bit of ground from the temples to several markets as
he answered all our questions. Good value especially when we got the tip
to stop taking pictures when we passed the government buildings as visitors
had recently had their camera confiscated!
The activities on the river bank looking down from the border bridge.
Back into Thailand
A short ride again through really bad smog to Sukhothai. Good road but
we were unable to enjoy the mountain views because of the gray haze. We
did stop at a large roadside market along the way though and bought some
huge fresh strawberry's and mandarins. All the Thai fruit and vegetables
are of a high quality and unlike the market in Myanmar the cooked foods
Sukhothai became Thailand's first capital and religious centre in 1257
after the emerging Buddhist Thai Nation claimed lands from the vast Khmer
Empire. We paid for the privilege of staying within the Historical park
at the Orchard resort close to the city walls and I managed to get Haydn
up at sunrise to make the most of this very special ancient city. Although
some sites have the same Khmer style Prangs we'd seen in Ankor Wat here
too giant Buddha's, some still in an almost perfect state, overlook chedis
and temple ruins in classic Thai style. I found that the mood of this
place affected me whether it was the reflections and play of light in
several moats that added to the atmosphere or the fact that this ancient
city is still used today as a spiritual centre. It was easy to feel the
beauty and the spirit of the place from the moment you entered these ancient
temples and faced the enormous stone Buddhas. Looking back at you, glowing
in the early morning light, you immediately understand all that the Buddha
represents, compassion, tolerance and inner peace.
monk came in to light candles to honour Buddha. They do this not in worship
but in reverence to the Buddhist principles, remembering Buddha's teachings.
When he turned and saw me he beckoned me to come over to him. He sat and
spoke to me in his language and I spoke back in mine, he blessed me and
I felt blessed.
A late start, just had to check out the morning light on the water in
the ancient centre, but can we still make it to Kanchanaburi in a day?
After riding through Kamphaeng and Nakhon Sawan we steered away from Bangkok
to keep out of the busy highway traffic. We took the 'green' option and
still shrouded by the haze we followed smaller roads past people slashing
cane in vast sugar cane fields, loaded trucks and sugar refineries pumping
out gray plumes of smoke adding to the air pollution that still plagued
Kanchanaburi has had a tragic past as a site of a WWII Pow camp. The Thailand–Burma
Railway centre and Allied War Cemetery is a must see alongside the infamous
bridge over the river Kwai where we had lunch on a floating restaurant.
We left Kanchanaburi on the 323 to Sangkhlabsuri and the 3 Pagoda Pass.
On the way we stopped to walk to and through Hell Fire Pass, the name
describes the nightly fires of labouring POWs as they cut a pass through
the mountain. Much of the railway line is still intact and an audio tape
is available to guide you through the pass and help you understand the
tragedy of it all.
is at the 3 Pagoda pass is row of shops adjacent to the border crossing
and little else. We turned back and headed for Sangkhlabsuri to find accommodation
on the shores of the Lake.
Hellfire pass, a 4km walk
We visited the Mon
tribe village and large temple on the other side of the lake where some
of the people live in floating houses off the shore of the lake. We followed
a small road that took us through more small villages and again up to
the Myanmar border.
Floating Mon village
on the lake near Sangkhlabsuri in the valley NW of Kanchanaburi.
On the way back to
Kanchanaburi we stopped at one of the many waterfalls in this area for
a break and some relief from the heat. This is supposed to be winter but
the temperature readout on the bike shows 34 degrees C. You wouldn't want
to be here in summer!!!
We didn't have far to get to the Damnoen Saduak famous floating markets
and stopped on the way at a impressive craft center where artists work
on huge intricate wooden carvings.
What a great atmosphere at the Night market at Amphawa near Rama 11 park.
For us, though, this was just a big pig out with so much food on offer
from the canal boats, from seafood to curries. We were also lucky enough
to mingle with the Royal dancers dressed up to give a performance to the
The chap we had met on our previous visit organised a boat ride through
the small canals to visit the Damnoen Saduak early morning markets again
and we found ourselves part of the daily activities on the canals. Before
leaving we rode through, or should I say got lost in, huge Palm groves,
fields of chilli bushes and rows of grape vines to reach the Thakha -
ancient floating markets. We then followed highway 4 to Cham, a low key
seaside town compared with Hui Hun where local people holiday not the
farangs (tourists). This usually means cheaper prices and we found a comfortable
beach side hotel for 400 Baht. We checked in, got into our costumes and
chilled out for a couple of hours in deck chairs right on the beach watching
an endless stream of Thai school kids laughing and giggling as they are
pulled along on banana boats by jet-skis. What a relief to be breathing
clean fresh air again.
A feature of Cham is the seafood markets that line the esplanade and come
6.00pm we were feeling peckish and also felt we hadn't made the most of
the Thai seafood. 100 Baht got us 500 grams of huge live prawns and the
poor things were thrown onto a BBQ and roasted alive. Sad but delicious.
Another 30 Baht got us 1 KG of fresh mussels and these were boiled on
the spot for us. For less than A$4.00 we got a meal of some of the best
and freshest seafood available. Actually we pigged out a bit 'cos we went
back and got another half kilo of prawns.
Up early to try and beat the increasing heat and onto Hui Hun for breakfast,
khao tam (Thai porridge) of rice, pork, garlic and ginger. We'd stopped
in Hui Hun some months ago on the way north and didn't really like this
bustling seaside resort town. There seems to be too much excess here.
Huge expensive resorts and thousands of tourists - many westeners - and
the local Thai people seem to be fairly fed up with them.
By 10.00am it's already 30 degrees C but the air is clear, the sky is
blue and we're glad to be leaving the smog behind. Traffic on highway
4 is light and the riding easy but I thought we should turn off this major
road and take the minor roads leading to Bang Saphan Yai then follow the
coast to a beautiful white sandy bay where we had a break for lunch. The
main activity for the locals seems to be drying sqid on racks but neither
Haydn or I could bring ourselves to try one.
After lunch we had an excellent ride past rubber plantations, coconut
plantations and even masses of palm trees that are harvested for their
oil which is used to produce bio-diesel. Give me a map and I'll find the
best, most scenic route. It may not be the shortest, but it will offer
the best riding roads - even if I do say it myself.
Spent the night in Champan and ate at the huge night market held in the
streets a few blocks from out hotel. 40B gets you a good healthy Thai
noodle meal - bargain.
Busy Hui Hun may not have held fond memories for us when we were traveling
north, but the little seaside restuarant at Khao Lak on Nang Thong beach
still rates highly for us and we wanted to relive our earlier experience.
We still reckon we had our best Thai meal here and now we had a choice.
Continue down the east coast as originally planned or 'update' the plan
and cross over some scenic mountains and follow a small river to the west
coast and enjoy another meal at Chong Fah restuarant. Tough choice but
we're suckers for good food so it was over to the west coast we went.
The Dec.2004 Tsunami completely devestated this area and it is still being
rebuilt. Virtually all the buildings are new and there is still a lot
of construction going on. Fortunately for us there are not too many tourists
and we managed to get a comfortable room a bit away from the coastline
for 500B. The local businesses are doing it tough, they are desparate
for the tourist money here as Khao Lak has not yet been put on the overseas
travel agents list. Most of the infrastructure has been rebuilt and is
in place now and there are several large resorts that have been rebuilt
and next year they are expecting about 150 000 visitors so we realise
how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy this magnificent area without
the throngs of tourists. It is important to recognise good fortune when
it comes your way and not to miss out on an opportunity when you travel
so we decide to stay on for several days.
Valentines day and a day or two to chill out, relax and catch our breath
for the last leg 'home'. The beach is supurb and water warm and clean
and we spent our time swimming early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
The sunsets over the western ocean are magnificent and to make the day
special we booked our favourite table, at our favourite restuarant, overlooking
the sunset dropping into the ocean. This really is a magical place and
we hope it retains its charm when the masses invade next year.
Time to leave Khao Lak and make our way south towards Singapore, we have
a plane to catch. When we were heading north we didn't spend enough time
in Krabi. Since then several people we've spoken to have told us how beautiful
Krabi is so we set our sights and enjoyed a great ride through rolling
hills and towering limestone peaks towards Nopparatthra beach. We expected
accommodation to be difficult to find and more expensive than we are accustomed
to but nevertheless it was still a bit of a shock ending up in a very
run down place and paying 1000 B for the priveledge. Also, the beach is
not a patch on Khao Lak but it does have those magnificent limestone islands
that reach up out from the ocean that make this region unique.
enjoyed the sea scape of Noparatthra beach but sadly for us it is spoiled
by the thousands of tourists. There are many more 'ferang' faces than
'Thai' faces and the town now seems to exist purely for the tourists.
Another spot popular with foreign tourists is the island, Kho Lanta, a
little further south from Krabi. It has a very good reputation for magnificent
beaches so we felt compelled to see it for ourselves. Again we knew accommodation
would be a challenge so we pre-booked from Krabi. The 'bungalow' we got
was again a bit of a dissapointment for the 1000B especially as it was
a 'fan only' room but we did get to enjoy the wonderful Phra Ae beach
on Lanta Yai.
To get to the island of Kho Lanta we had to take two short ferries. Not
a problem at all but unfortunatly the waiting around in the hot sun in
riding gear was causing us to seriously overheat and we decided that for
the remainder of the trip as we head south we need to be on the road early.
The heat from the sun here is really intense and will only get worse in
the coming months. Even harder for us and the locals to understand is
how the farangs lay in the sun on the beach in the hottest time of the
day. They must be crazy.
We were up and on the road by 6.30 am to beat the heat and had a pleasent
ride under overcast skies to Trang. We knew the significance of todays
date, the start of the Chinese New Year and a special one to boot. Apparently
it's the year of the Golden Pig and there are great hopes for babies born
this year. Anyway, Trang was dressed in red and preparing for major celebrations
that night and we stopped for some dim sims for breakfast just to take
in the atmosphere. Continuing south on the 4 to Hatyah I re-read the guide
book and they made mention that Hatyah was a major centre for Chinese
New Year celebrations. Staying there would muck up the plan a bit but
it was possible, however after lenghty debate we decided to stick to the
original plan A and continue on to beyond the Malaysian border.
We must have been feeling reluctant to leave Thailand or perhaps we just
were not in the mood for a border crossing because as we approached the
border Haydn hatched a new plan, plan C. We know Malaysia is going to
be more expensive than Thailand and the border town of Sadao is only about
50kms short of our proposed stop anyway. We reasoned that if we could
find a reasonable hotel we'd stay. Well we did find a place and we did
stay and through the night the discos thumped and the firecrackers cracked
celebrating the Chinese new year - all good fun.
Sadao is one of those border towns that cater to travellers and there
are many 'friendly' girls more than willing to make a lonely traveller
feel welcome. The population seems to be evenly split between Muslims
and, well Buddhists and we wonder what the conservative Muslim women must
think about the open displays of 'friendliness.'
We were also able to get bike insurance here for both Malaysia and more
importantly Singapore. We plan to enter Singapore on a Sunday and getting
insurance then would be an issue. Also we know that the insurance offered
by the AAA Singapore costs about $100.00 Here we got 3 months cover for
$30.00 and won't have any bother entering Singapore.
Next page will take you back into Malaysia.