Travel Through Thailand on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter Forwood

Thailand on a Harley (4/3/05 - 29/3/05)
Distance 1578 km (414080 km to 415658 km)

This is part of the eleventh section of my around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from the Laos or read our previous visit to Thailand  

4/3/05 Another border crossing where people come to renew their Thai visa by crossing into another country for an hour or a few days. Chiang Kong is now full of guest houses and tourist facilities. I almost feel Thailand is not happy with the enormous influx of tourists, their money welcomed but their changing the culture and lifestyle not overly appreciated by ordinary Thai's, a slightly colder reception here than in Laos.River border, Thailand and Myanmar  

5/3/05 It rained overnight and I was pleased to be out of the Laos rain forests. The last two attempts at entering China with the motorcycle. Boats run regularly from Chiang Saen, almost at the Golden Triangle, where Thai, Laos and Myanmar borders merge, and travel upriver to China, about 36 hours. Three hours of discussions between customs, port authority and a Chinese boat captain we ultimately concluded that the Chinese authorities preclude motorcycles moving to China. Language the big difficulty in getting a clear understanding. It was fine for me to travel but not the motorcycle. Onto Mae Sai and the border with Myanmar where there is a road to China. Myanmar authorities advise this Chinese border is closed to foreigners. The Thai / Myanmar border is currently open to foot traffic and even the motorcycle, however it must be trucked between towns, can then be ridden in town, then trucked to the next town. It and I still have to remain in the north east corner, not permitted to travel to the greater Myanmar. A fourteen day tourist pass is now issued on arrival at the border, travellers must return as their passport is kept locally and a temporary travel document issued. Resigned to the fact I will have to return to Bangkok and ship to Japan I relaxed in Mae Sai tonight.Our guide and lady from the Ann tribe in Myanmar

6/3/05 Mae Sai is a great example of what trade, legal or illegal, can do for a town. A narrow river, just a stones throw wide, separates it from Myanmar.  The bridge across the river carries the legal or bribed trade and the illegal trade is carried through waist deep water just upriver and in full view of my guest house. The Thai side throngs with hundreds of shops and stalls selling products from Myanmar and China. When tensions between the two countries occasionally rises over rebel fighting in the area the border is sometimes closed. Usually not for long these days as everyone from the locals up the line to senior officials suffer financially. There is something to be said for high ranking officials having business interests in a country, at least one that doesn't produce and market weapons. They are often placed in a dilemma where war, uncertainty and perhaps sanctions will adversely affect their business interests.

7/3/05 The Shan people of Myanmar treat their province almost as an autonomous region. Some people pay the $US 5.00 one day visa just to renew their Thai visa by visiting another country.Ann lady with her children weaving We opted to get the $US 10.00 fourteen day permit to visit the surrounding region of Myanmar. With three passport photos, a passport photocopy, an hour for form filling and travel permit issue, and leaving my passport at the border I could travel. Well almost, to get a vehicle out of town the driver had to register with immigration that I was leaving town, get 8 copies of travel documents and we were away. The 4X4 had six passengers, plus two children, the two mothers were sick almost at the first bend in the road and continued for the three hours of the journey. Five full road block, border style check points, of immigration, customs, forestry and health officials manning each one. Three toll gates for the sealed 160 km, at each one two passengers had to walk past the weigh bridge to reduce the weight and toll charges. On entering Kentung all vehicles have to be washed, by law, at the last checkpost. The road crosses a mountain after following an ever decreasing river before heading down into town. Most of the logable timbers are gone, again much slash and burn agriculture. Kentung is historically old, and currently poor. Land travel from here to other parts of Myanmar is prohibited due to ethnic conflicts and the current political climate. It is still a drug producing area and tourist movements outside of towns is restricted.Waist bands of the Poloung people

8/3/05 A visit to the local markets revealed a thriving lower end economy, new foods, and different sweets that we bought for our picnic lunch. The buffalo market was in full swing on arrival, most having been sold, others still being bargained over, rice stalks on hand to test the animals chewing ability and sound teeth. The local area is surrounded by different ethnic groups living in small villages. Guides take tourists to about 20 villages, each with their own different cultures. We visited four villages, the most interesting being the Ann people of Poun Lea. They dress in all black, hand spun, natural died clothing. They blacken their teeth and use a rice concoction for shampoo. Being almost self sufficient there are few outside goods in the village although tourists have started to slightly alter their way of life, mostly by buying handicrafts or weavings. An excellent guide, young and enthusiastic, knowledgeable with good English. A visit to the rice wine making village, rounding off the day in the local hot springs, a fitting end to the trekking.

9/3/05 The return journey to Tachilek, by one of the many Japanese imported Toyota Corolla wagons, despite being right hand drive in a left hand drive country. The same paperwork, another 8 copies of temporary passport. Crossed the border back to Thailand, ten minutes this time, unable to keep our travel documents I took a photo for interest. This area of Myanmar not that different from many other places in Asia.Myanmar Wat in Kentung All levels of wealth from grass huts to concrete ceramic tiled houses. The novice monks are younger, only ten when they enter the wat, more normal in this region is fourteen, and they beg in the streets, not just collecting alms at dawn. They ask tourists for money, also not seen elsewhere and can be quite persistent. Still there were no other people begging that we saw.

10/3/05 Taking the Thailand road near the Myanmar border towards Bangkok, through hill tribe areas, some people still dressing traditionally, but this area well developed. Lovely road twisting through mountains to Mae Toeng and a local hotel.

11/3/05 Another 100 km brought me to Pai, the backpacker capital of this region of Thailand. Many doing the loop out from Chiang Mai. The hills, tribes, hot springs, elephant trek and rafting bringing them to this area. Every second westerner has gone local here. That look the earthy traveller adopts.The dreadlocks or long beard, lip and nose pierced, tattoos, Indian style light flowing cotton clothes with reef sandals, bracelets and  shoulder bags abound.

12/3/05 Many tourists rent the small motorcycles, 80-125 cc for as little as $US 2.00 a day. Some do day trips others the larger loop to Chiang Mai. Most wear no protective gear, no helmet or gloves, shorts and sandals only. A popular conversation is motorcycle accidents, gravel rash and broken bones, torn ligaments.Restaurant and raft at a riverside bungalow in Pai Most have never ridden a bike before choosing Thailand to start, riding on the opposite side of the road, girlfriend on the back seat. A great combination for a disaster on holidays. I people watched riverside at a Bedouin style bamboo restaurant, content to eavesdrop on the latest meditation, fasting, yoga technique being discussed.

13/3/05 Another winding road to Mae Hong Son, through mountains covered in teak trees, their large leaves littering the ground, collected and used for hut roofing. Lod cave, south of Pai, is really three caves with a stream flowing through. With a guide and lantern, and a bamboo raft it is possible to walk and float through the caves enormous caverns. Bats and swiftlets by day and night respectively use it as a sleeping place. Past cultures also left their dead here in wooden coffins, some still visible although considerably deteriorated, in the shape of boats. Mae Hong Son is a place to visit the "Long Neck Tribes". The women wear metal bands around their neck, increasing the appearance of a longer neck, heavy, the metal bands are seen by some as an undesirable cultural tradition, but others, paying the $US 7.00 entry fee to the village, see it as helping to continue a culture and assist the village financially. The first two daughters of each family now wear the metal bands, the remaining daughters don't. The bands are removable, the myth of their necks being unable to support the head seemingly unfounded. I opted not to visit the village after talking to others who had the experience.Rafts waiting to take tourists through the cave

14/3/05 When the brain moves on it is hard to take time to look around. I am now thinking ahead to shipping to Japan. Almost nine years ago I rode this region of Thailand, and whilst it is now more developed and more touristed it is still as interesting, particularly the mountain roads. Left at 7 am, still quite cool, four hours, a bit of sight seeing and into Mae Sariang. The owner of the riverside hostel remembered me from the last visit.

15/3/05 A 6 am start, the teak trees giving way to rain forest and after more mountain roads, I followed the river, border with Myanmar, enormous refugee camp sprawling up the hillside, bamboo and teak leafed huts. Mae Sot was the plan for the night, a big sprawling town, friendship bridge to Myanmar, but hardly used. An hour over morning tea and I saw no vehicles crossing, just locals and a couple of foreigners walking. Again internal politics cutting trade. Decided to move on, another 250 km, 500 for the day to Nakhan Sawan, back onto the flatland, developed, fast traffic, wetland rice and industry. An industrial town without tourists, without many hotels, ended up in a love hotel, off the road, private parking and good value.Refugee camp along the Thailand and Myanmar borders

16/3/05 Early again, the last 250 km to Bangkok, dodging and collecting a couple of thunderstorms in traffic. Got lost and somehow ended up at the Esso building where Nippon Express is located. The company used by other travellers to ship motorcycles from Japan to Bangkok. A meeting, all very Asian polite, nothing decided or price given, email quote tomorrow.

17/3/05 Business again today, www.stantous.com had arranged my double entry business invitation for a visa to Russia, $US 125.00. At the embassy this morning I must have been a day or so early as they haven't received the telex yet. K-Line has roll on roll off boats to Japan, unfortunately their office advised that they don't accept motorcycles, but did recommend Royaltainer Corporation Ltd, Mr Somchai (Sammy) Suravanichsiri, good English speaking, ph 66 2 294-7575, 33/16 Nonsee Rd, Chongnonsee, Yannawa Bangkok. Email, somchai@royaltainer.com  They quoted me 4500 baht, plus 7% tax, or about $US 125.00 a cubic metre, including everything, even the cost of a basic crate. Hopefully the bike will be on Sunday's ship, in three days, taking 10-14 days to Yokohama, Tokyo's port. My Nikon Coolpix 5700 camera, just 18 months old, the light receptor failed, $US 220.00 to fix and five days, completed the jobs for the day. Sometimes planning and organizing seems to take too much of its share of my trip.Bike broken down waiting to be crated for shipping to Japan

18/3/05 After seven years of incredibly efficient and reliably supplying me with tyres for free, Dunlop Germany advised that due to restructuring of the company that the German office no longer has a promotions budget. Whilst disappointed that there will no longer be tyres available when I need them, anywhere in the world, the tyres have been so reliable for wear and traction that wherever available I would always choose them first. My birthday, spent from 8.30 am till 6.30 pm getting the bike on a boat to Japan. Royaltainer cleared customs, as I removed the front wheel, mudguard and windscreen from the front and rack and passenger backrest from the rear, reducing the size of the bike, including the crate to 2.5 cubic metres. Most of the day was spent waiting for the man to arrive to crate the bike, finally taking just two hours, built inside the port area, next to the shipping containers.

19/3/05 Four hours on the internet, a great source of information but time consuming. Planning of Japanese trip taking most of the rest of the day. Birthday dinner, delayed to today, a day late.

20/3/05 Again on the internet. Not just answering emails but more research. It gives enormous flexibility for permanent travellers, banking, people contact, logistics, news, etc, and keeps me in air-conditioning in Bangkok heat.

21/3/05 2500 nights living on the road. Living out of and off the motorcycle. All necessary goods carried by the motorcycle. Russian Embassy again, again no visa invitation could be found.

22/3/05 For the third day, sitting on the curb side outside the Russian Embassy. They start arriving at 8 am, the visa agents. I arrived at 8.30 but the embassy doesn't open till 9 am. Today I am second, but I know it will still be 10 am before it's my turn at the single counter, the agent ahead of me has 35 applications to submit. We have become friends, he comes every day. By 9 am there is a line up of about 10, the embassy closes at 12 noon, if you aren't in by then bad luck.Low bridges a hazard to the ticket collectors on canal boats Only two people at a time leave the gutter seat for the air-conditioning of the office. I am one and sit back and read the Lonely Planet book on Japan. It's 10.10 before it's my turn, then minutes of tension as she searches for my invitation, ureka, she has it. I pay the $US 85.00 for the double entry business visa plus the penalty $US 40.00 as now I need it in a few days before flying to Japan. Still happy as to apply in Tokyo would logistically be more difficult. More dental work in the afternoon, almost a joy at these prices.

23/3/05 Japanese customs requires verification of the Carnet by the JAF (automobile association). Contacted by email to Mr Akinori Yamauchi at kokusai@jaf.or.jp a few days ago, required copies of the front and inside page of the carnet, photographed digitally and emailed, paperwork should be ready to collect from their office in Tokyo on my arrival. My ticket into Japan is one way, needing an onward ticket to satisfy immigration we contacted Mr Yoshida Kozo of United Orient Shipping and Agency Co Ltd, Ph 81 3 5541 7511 k-yoshida@uniorient.co.jp the shipping line to take myself and the bike on to Vladivostok Russia. Hiroyuki Nagahara, a fellow round the world motorcyclist in Japan, arranged the ticket for me and emailed a copy in case I need it for immigration.  The boat will be in refit from 22 April to its first sailing on the 13th May, a week later than my preferred, but no choice. Again digitally photographed passport and Russian visa and emailed to the agency. The cost differential in Asia still manages to sometimes amaze me. For just $US 2.00 the main zipper in my tank bag was removed and replaced, including the cost of the zipper. A one sewing machine business, operating on the sidewalk, done in a  few hours. Similar services are available in each suburb along with food vendors and repair shops of all sorts making most small jobs easy.Faster than road transport and cheaper  

24/3/05 The visa run gain, Mongolian, a one month visa valid for three months, $US 33.00, available tomorrow. Finalized the paperwork and paid for the bike shipping. Bangkok, despite its heavy traffic is still a relatively cheap place to get logistics done. Taxi's, anywhere in the city for 3 dollars, usually less than half that for short trips.

25/3/05 The other varied transports are boats. Zooming down the narrow canals where storm water drains add to the strong stagnant mix, churned up by propellors and wash. The spray is kept off the passengers by plastic tarps but often passing boats or wall splashes spray particles across the boat. The ticket sellers wear plastic helmets, the many low bridges keeping them alert, bobbing as they walk along the outside rail of the boat. The concrete retaining walls of the canals under constant repair, slowing boats to single lanes around repair barges. Old wooden houses, their narrow concrete gardens filled with clay pots and tropical flowers mix with upmarket higher rise new units. I took the boat along the Klong San Sap (canal), from the embassy to the dentist.

26/3/05 The other more major waterway along the Mae Nam Chao Phraya (river), has cleaner water, more boats and varied riverside buildings of Wat's, Palaces, govt buildings, industry etc.  After allowing a Tuk Tuk (three wheeler open taxi) to take me to a jewellery shop and tailor where he received petrol coupons for his troubles and I received a virtual free trip to my destination, I took the river boat the 13 stops to Kao San Rd.

27/3/05 Sampling the last cheap luxury before heading to Japan. I spent the day at an upmarket residential gym and swimming pool. Spa and steam bath totally relaxing.

28/3/05 Last minute jobs and packing.

29/3/05 A China Airlines plane to Japan via Taipei, early this morning.

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