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THE boat ride across the Mekong River

Leaving the Mekong River behind us

A magnificent ride into the mountains with GT (Golden Triangle) riders

One of the many interesting temples within the old city walls.

'Royal Floral Ratchapruek'.

The Maesa Elephant camp

A really impressive stairway leads you up to Doi Suthep Temple.

Spectacular scenic roads through the mountains inthe NE.

We followed dirt roads into the hill tribe villages.

Ate a grass hopper, the locals insisted!!

We sampled local food at the Sunday market stalls.

A former student Kan and me in his Graphic Design Studio.

Playing with the amazing creatures at the Pai Elephant camp.

Caves near Tham Lod

Locals were friendly and keen to show us their hand woven cloth.

This 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.

Each of the three excursions we have taken off the main road has been very different.

Motor bike blessing

Market activities in Mae Hong Son

A raft ride at sunset

A look at life in the villages ...

and the characters we met along the way.

Crowded refugee camps along the border with Myanmar.

Burmese freely cross the shallow river between Myanmar and Thailand.

Local communities and farmland along the border river.

Myanmar image At the temple, Myanmar

myanmar image

The tricycle, the preferred mode of transport in Myanmar.

 

Colourful markets in Myanmar, same friendly faces but the produce is very different in quality from their neighbour.

Walking across 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.

 

Infamous bridge over the river Kwai

Floating houses off the shore of the lake.

 

Damnoen Saduak famous floating markets.

Thai Royal dancers

The seaside restuarant at Khao Lak on Nang Thong beach.

Many buildings are deserted and are yet to be rebuilt after the Tsunami.

 

Limestone peaks tower over the road through to Krabi.

Cultural differences in the busy Krabi tourist region

Ferry crossing to Kho Lanta

Sharing breakfast with the locals on the Chinese New year.

HOMEWARD BOUND

Thailand & Myanmar again

12/1/07
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.

13/1/07
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.

14 - 18/01/07
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 live here.
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.

Our 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.

We were 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.

The Maesa 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.

Doi Suthep 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.

One of 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.

Chiang 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 prices.

19/1/07
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.

20/1/07
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.

More village life

21/1/07
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.

23/1/07
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.
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24/1/07
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.

25/1/07
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.

The trek 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.

26/1/07
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.

27/1/07
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.

28/1/07
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 better!

29/1/07
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.

Seems 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 necks!
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.

30/1/07
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.

31/1/07
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.

Getting 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.

1/2/07
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.

2/2/07
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 China!
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.

3/2/07
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.

Myanmar

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

4/2/07
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 are enticing.

5/2/07
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.

A 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.

6/2/07
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 us.

7/2/07
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.

8/2/07
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.

All there 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

 

9/2/07

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!!!

10/2/07
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 King's Son.

11/2/07
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.

12/2/07
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.

13/2/07
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.

14/15 2/07
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.

16/2/07
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.

We really 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.

17/2/07
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.

18/2/07
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.

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