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Eye of the Tiger
We had originally planned to stay two nights at the Khajuraho temples, but we figured being a day ahead was only a good thing so decided to move on the following morning, plus if needed it gave us an extra day at the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve. The ride to Bandhavgarh was supposed to be 300km but it ended up being 450km, this is a little down to maps not being correct and a little down to Cat “having a good idea” half way there so we ended up going a lot further than needed.
We’re starting to notice two types of roads: fantastic bit of beautiful road that puts a smile on your face as you waltz along at 100kph, or busy pot holed dusty roads with a fair amount of traffic and lots of lorries and buses! We saw today how bad these roads are from a danger point of view - we photographed 4 smashed up trucks which had all had either head on or rear end collisions. That’s 4 separate incidents on 120km stretch of road!!! This said I do feel a lot safer after having a few days to get used to it, and (bar the shadows cast from the trees over the road which hide pot holes in the afternoon and has therefore put a small dent in my front wheel) I’m a lot more comfortable than when I first started.
We arrived at the Bandhagarh tiger reserve and expected a fairly big place with lots of tourists, kind of like Chitwan in Nepal, but instead we were greeted with a small dusty town with a couple of shops and fruit sellers, no independent bars or restaurants, and about 10 hotels/resorts. Again the searching began and again we found a place for under £5 a night. We booked in and went straight away to see a “tour agent” to book our trip in the reserve for the morning. This is when we met an Israeli guy called Yaron, he is a professional photographer and had been out 8 times already and seen only glimpses of tigers twice. He was looking for other people to travel with him in the jeep to keep the costs down, and he was keen to go to the second area which was much cheaper. So after a chat we agreed to meet him and his driver at 6.00am the next morning.
It was an early and cold start but the driver turned up 5 minutes early which I actually like, we went straight off and sorted the permits and were soon in the park. Now, I like my nature, bird, deer and everything else and I soon came to realise why this was a “tiger hunt”, because they only ever wanted to stop very briefly to see anything else! But to be honest I cannot complain as after about an hour we got to see a huge male tiger! Not only did we see him in the bushes, but he walked onto the track in front of us. He wandered around the jeeps for a bit, then headed into the long grass. Our driver was very good – he drove around to try to cut the tiger’s path from the other side, and then we got another good 20 minutes show.
It’s something else to see one of these in the wild, and I feel very lucky to have been able to do it let alone see one on our first outing. They are big and powerful and they look every bit the big cat you imagine. When you go to the zoo you get a good idea of the animal but it’s just not the fit healthy strong beast you see in the wild! We were very pleased and so was Yaron who said we were very lucky and to be honest we are often very lucky like that. Pleased with our success, we decided we would move on the following day so again we got another day in the bag to stay somewhere else.
This time we headed to Kanha, another national park and tiger reserve but it was supposed to be one of the more beautiful ones. It was about a 350km day, again on some roads which I would have happily been riding my fireblade, and some which were dust, rocks and pot holes with trucks passing past us. It was a total mixed bag!! Cat rode in the morning and did the first 40km until the road started to get a bit more complicated and we hit a big town, but she did learn some cow-manoeuvring. (I actually really enjoy riding, but I’m happy to let James do most of it! From my little experiences, I have developed such a great respect for his skills, reading of the road, and control of the bike even when i’m moving around on the back!).
I hit a cow with my pannier at one point, there was a big group of cows and I was making my way through when one stepped backwards and got a bit of a clump on its leg. I didn’t stop as it was not that hard and the cow seemed fine. Some of the roads today were really nice, we are discovering that a lot of the “State Highways” are better maintained than the National Highways, which are very hit and miss, more miss really!!
We arrived in a Kanha and found two towns near the park gates, Khatiya and Mocha. We rode around for 1 and a half hours looking at hotels but we could not find anything for less than 1000 rupees a night (£12) which is not huge amount but it is for India especially when we are trying to get by on less than £40 a day between us including fuel and accommodation (and managing to, so far!). Anyway just as we picked a place another English guy came over and started chatting with me while Cat was sorting our room. I thought he was another guest but it turned out he lives here. His name was Steve, and he and his wife Elaine spend the winters here and summer in the UK.
We chatted for a bit and he asked where we had been etc and then he invited us to stay with him at his place down the road. I was keen and Cat came back just as he was about to go (he didn’t want the hotel to cotton on to him stealing customers!) and got a brief introduction. I told her his offer, but she was tired and dusty and just wanted to settle plus she had some laundry to do and didn’t want to feel like she was taking the piss. So I quickly unpacked the bike and then went to meet Steve and explain the situation. He was fine with it and said he understood and invited me back to his place for a cup of tea so I went.
Their place is beautiful, I also met Steve’s wife and we had a good chat for over an hour. He is a big fan of the tigers and that’s why they got a place out here, and by the time I left had planned to go back there tomorrow for a cuppa tea in the morning with Cat in tow. Once I got back to the hotel Cat was a little worried as I was out for over an hour and it was now dark, but she had got chatting to an English couple from Bristol and an American couple from Utah.
We and the English couple then decided to go for a bite to eat round the corner at a vegetarian restaurant (most of India is vegetarian, to my mates who just raised an eyebrow). It was a nice evening and we sat and chatted, they had been travelling in Africa for 7 months and were now in India for 3 months. Africa sounds very interesting and possibly the only place more backwards and crazy than here. We ordered some food and Cat’s “Indian food translation” list which she was given in Nepal from a fellow traveller proved to be very handy, and the food itself wasn’t bad especially when you think 4 of us ate for £6 total!!!
The next day we woke early, got some food inside us and chatted with the really friendly Americans before we headed off to meet Steve and Elaine. The plan was to pop round and have a cup of tea but we ended up having a fantastic day in their company. We chatted about work among other things and found out Steve used to run a successful company in England and that he had retired (kind of) about 10 years ago.
We met his security and helpers and in the early afternoon decided to go for a jungle walk along some of Steve’s favourite routes. It was really nice to be out in nature and taking in some of the amazing views. We did see lots of birds, some deer and the mighty kingfisher and India roller (please google this bird to understand just how beautiful it is, especially in flight). We had some river crossings thrown in and it was just a very pleasant day and great to hang out with other English people and have some relative normality.
After the jungle walk Elaine invited us to stay for dinner and cooked a great butter chicken. It was really good and again we chatted more and found about a lot about some of the electrical restrictions which they have to adhere to and how if the local government feel they use too much they can just walk in and take electrical items from their house, even though they pay their bills in full and on time!! We also found out about poachers and how it’s still a problem and that the park is now a lot harder to get into as well as a lot more expensive and it’s having a bit of a negative effect on tourism, which apparently, is what the authorities WANT! It was a very insightful day and finished with us taking a tour of a new resort close by that had a great restaurant where we had a .
The following day we had decided to do an afternoon safari. Steve had come up to our hotel as we were chatting with the two Americans Tom and Nancy, and everyone got introduced and got along so we all decided to share a driver and gypsy jeep, and thanks to Steve’s local knowledge he got us a very good deal indeed. So we all met about 2.30pm and went on our evening tiger search. We didn’t see a tiger this time but the park itself was very pretty and we did see some beautiful owls and deer, and we came close to seeing what the guides though was a leopard as the monkeys were sending out lots of warning calls, but it was thick grass and trees and we simply could not see what was moving around and making these monkeys so upset.
After the safari we went to Steve and Elaine’s again and had a cup to tea and some biscuits (it was heaven to have some original twix and Cadbury biscuits!). We all chatted for a couple of hours before me and Cat headed off early as we planned to be on the road the following day by 7am taking advantage of the cool weather. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the vegetarian restaurant next door, the food was really yummy and then we hit the sack.
The following day we woke early as planned but as we were not in a city with lots of traffic, there was not the urgency we expected, so we decided to eat breakfast at our hotel. As we packed the bike, we drew the usual crowd and I moved it round to the front of the hotel in view of our breakfast table. Tom and Nancy joined us and we exchanged details and will go see them if (or when) we do our American trip. We ate breakfast looking at maps and then the owner of the hotel gave us better directions – very detailed and he even wrote it in English and Hinid. It meant the first 7km would be muddy road, but would save us nearly 100km! We left waving goodbye to everyone who had gathered and bit the dust road!! There were 2 river crossings and the road was quite sandy but it was nice ride. We rode through small villages until we got to the state highway, then followed it all the way, easily, to Raipur.
Our hotel for the night was just a halfway point, as we were heading for the Chitrakote waterfalls, still another 300km away. We found a nice hotel, actually the nicest standard we’ve had so far with very friendly and English-speaking reception staff, so we gladly checked in and bedded down for the night, again with the aim of an early start.
Thinking back over our day’s riding, I was pleased with the journey, the better quality of tarmac, and I had a smile on my face, thinking that maybe I was finally getting into the rhythm of India.
Can you find a tyre to fit the Big 18 inch KTM wheel in India???
So our journey into India continues south – we are heading for Jagdalpur to see the 300m wide Chitrakote waterfalls which is called the Niagara of India. After an early morning start, we stopped about 10am to have a fizzy drink and take a rest, as usual we attracted a small crowd but not a brave one so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.
The roads were good fun, but a little dangerous in places due to switchbacks climbing up and down a hillside, and there was one period where we hit a few pot holes but nothing for more than 5km at a time. Then we crossed a railway bridge with about 90km to go and there was a small speed bump which I slowed for, but as I got on the throttle again the bike felt odd, and I mentioned to Cat that we must have some smooth but uneven tarmac underneath us but she didn’t really notice.
I came to a lorry and pulled out fairly far back to get a good view, nothing was coming so I beeped my horn for 30 seconds making sure he knew I was coming before pulling past. As I got on the power though I knew something big was wrong as the bike felt all over the place, but fully committed I got past the lorry before coming to a gentle rolling stop.
Bugger, I thought, puncture, and sure enough the rear tyre was just about flat. No problem I thought as I had a spare inner tube, so we got off the bike and took all the gear off. Having never removed a tyre at the roadside before I was a little worried but the worry soon got worse as I saw the 2.5 inch gash in the side of the tyre. Well either way the wheel and tyres needed to come off so we got to work,
I pretty much got it totally off, and got the inner tube out but could not quite get the last bit of tyre off and by this point we had attracted about 30 “helpers” - in the middle of the nowhere may I add!! Seeing I needed help, one guy offered to run me to a tyre man in the next village so I jumped on his moped and off we went. These tyre guys (bloke in tiny hut with worn tyres, a few tubes and some levers) are everywhere in India, as you don’t change a tyre until you need to, which is not until it gives out!! This old guy appeared and looked at me like I was an idiot but he was impressed I had done, in rough translation, “the hard bit.” He just pushed it back on the rim and then fully loosened the opposite side before pulling it off with one hand.......................... man I thought I was doing so well!!
He looked at the tyre and shook his head, no good he said, no good. I explained I had no choice and needed a temporary fix, and he looked at it a minute before lining it with wheel liner and giving it to me, saying go slow.............. go very very slow. We jumped on the moped after paying the guy 30 rupees and headed back to the KTM. There was Cat with a still growing audience with cars parked on both sides of the road next to bikes and tuk-tuks and lots of people.... you would have thought there was a medium sized car-boot going on, not just two idiots from London on a battered bike!!
I put the bike back together as a few more people turned up before re-loading and heading off. It’s an amazing thing in India, as there are so many good people here who will genuinely help you expecting nothing in return; this said there are double that number of shitters here as well who want to make a quick buck off you, and 10 times that and possibly the most annoying category who just want to stand there with phones and cameras filming and often totally invading your space. I feel especially sorry for Cat who often gets perved at to a level where in England you’d be sporting a black eye, whilst here I have to be more understanding/flattered but it’s very difficult for her!!
So we limped the bike those 90km to Jagdalpur. I took it easy and we checked often to see if the tyre got worse but it didn’t. Once in Jagdalpur we found the place we were looking for (Hotel Rainbow) pretty quickly as it was not a very big city: much to my annoyance as I knew we had no chance of finding a tyre. I was tired and irritated and I was annoyed as I knew this would happen and wanted to carry spare tyres with us, but decided against it after talking it through with Cat who was insistent we could easily get it sent out if needed (obviously not thinking about Indian customs!)
But now we are in India, we both know this is never going to happen! India is a lot more messed up than we expected (organisationally/logistically/common-sensibly) - no matter how much we had read or talked with other people who had been here, we had not been expecting it to be as mental as it is. I was pissed off as it’s at this point that I knew no matter how optimistic I wanted to be, that if I had trouble finding tyres in Turkey and Dubai then I had no chance in India. The good news was our hotel had a bar so we made a beeline to discuss our options and just take a break from it all.
In the morning after breakfast, we headed into the town to look for tyres, or any other way of sorting the problem. We discussed about 100 different options but found no tyres and went back to the hotel no better off than we left. What we did discover was that Jagdalpur was too small of a town to get us any help so we needed to head back to Raipur. So the next morning we headed down to the market area to get a truck sorted.
It’s amazing in a city where most things are so backward that it’s so easy to get a truck to take you and your load 300 miles. I looked for a newish not beaten to death truck to take the bike to Raipur, and in less than 5 minutes we had 2 guys and a truck at our hotel helping us load our things for the 3rd time on this journey. They were going to take us to Raipur which is a 600km (round, for them) journey for about £40. Bike loaded and ready to roll we hit the highway, Cat in the front with the driver, and me and the helper in the back with the bike, much to the amusement of most of the passers-by.
It was actually a pleasant way to spend the day (bumping around ignored). I sat watching the world go by listening to my ipod or reading when the road was not too bad. Some people would catch the truck up and ask me questions about what was wrong and around 3pm we stopped for a quick bike to eat at the same place we had stopped at on the way down.
We made it into Raipur in rush hour, the usual hustle between cars, 4x4’s, bikes, tuk-tuk’s, cows, goats, people and everything else was mental. We slowly made our way through with the typical interest from jaw dropped locals, and we were with 1km of the hotel we had stayed at before when the police told us we could not take a truck any further. Clearly other vehicles were going that way, and pissed off, I said we are going that way, he said you cannot, I said you don’t understand we are going down that road, we have been driving all day and where we need to be is just 1000 meters that way and if you don’t let me go that way with a truck we will park here, unload the tuck completely blocking the street and you will have to help me push the bike 1000 meters. Luckily he could tell I was just about serious enough to do it, so with a shake of his head he waved us though.
We pulled up outside our old hotel and the security guards helped us unload, while reception who speak perfect English asked what was wrong and said they were sad to hear of our problems but welcomed us back and as returning customers they gave us 20% off.
The following 2 days were spent throwing around the 100 or so ideas to fix this situation, as you do. We looked at second hand bikes, Enfields to start with but the running issues and high second hand cost made it not worthwhile. We were considering 2 pulsars, or something similar, if we had to wait for a tyre so we could continue travelling around. It would be so simple if India didn’t have that silly 2-month rule, then I could just fly into Kathmandu, pick up my spare set, and fly back – problem solved in a matter of days!
Anyway, we met a nice Indian one day whilst I was falling out with a tuk-tuk driver who had agreed to take us somewhere for a fee and then 600 meters up the road pulled over to demand 5 times more money, that old chestnut. He really had rattled my cage as I had enough stuff going on and for the first time in a while I had decided that if he had the cheek to get out of the tuk-tuk I was going to really fall out with him - he was a nasty piece of shit swearing at me when we got out as I refused to pay the extra money, then he followed yelling at us before pulling across us and knocking Cat with the side of the tuk-tuk. I was well and truly over it and this twat had got me on the wrong day, he was about to cop a hiding just so I could take some stress out on someone, even Cat wasn’t going to stop me, I think that shows what a ***** this guy was (that and the fact that clumping people is not something I take a great pleasure in doing!) Then another voice started yelling at this guy and having even more of a go at him than I was: he got off his moped and walked towards him and with that this guy seemed to panic and ride off, seeing that we were starting to get some support from locals. The local came over and introduced himself as Deepak.
Deepak was great, he asked us what we were doing and then he parked his moped and demanded to help us out even though we told him we would figure it out. Soon he was waving down tuk-tuks with us and coming along, and refusing to pay more than the local price (which is a 6th of the best bargained tourist price!), he even paid for the first 2 and wouldn’t take money off me. We told him about what had happened and what ideas we were throwing around and we told him we needed to find out how much stuff was so we could consider all our options. We had also had bad news that the tyres in Nepal COULD get couriered over but there was a very high chance they would get stuck in India customs or lost in the post. As the shipper in Nepal said “they will definitely make it, no problem, but you might be finished and in Australia by then.”
The market was open so we headed down to look at second hand bikes. Deepak was translating for us and helping get us an idea of what was a good deal and bad. We could purchase two 3-year-old 150cc Pulsars for about 70,000 rupees (£900) which was a good deal as we could sell them 2 months later for near enough even money as we were getting a 10,000 rupee discount per bike for taking 2. This was the first bit of good news, our India trip wasn’t totally over as we could leave the KTM somewhere, ride around on these for 2 months, come back and get the KTM put on a truck and then head out back to Nepal.
We left it there for now, to see what other options cropped up. Sunday we went for a bit of a walk, where we got followed so much we jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed for the biggest mall in Raipur, which was rubbish, so we grabbed a coffee and icecream and read our books but soon we had about 10 guys sat nearby staring at Cat and making her uncomfortable. So we left and hid away in our hotel, while I posted online looking for travellers who might be coming from Nepal to India who could bring my tyres. In the evening we treated ourselves as Cat found out there was a Dominos pizza so we ordered that but nicely our hotel insisted they send a waiter to go get it for us as they were quiet.
Monday rolls round and I’m getting replies from adverts I placed offering various ideas. Steve from Kanha rang just about everyone he knew to see if he could find tyres, he was confident to begin with but was having no luck. I also rang KTM in Pune who were useless (I don’t want this to effect KTM who have been generally good: it’s an India thing) and I also rang about 5 other people who promised to get back to me: 4 of them didn’t and the other said no luck.
We headed down stairs to take the wheel off, with the aim of taking it around the bike/tyre shops in Raipur. The security from our hotel came over and got the idea of what we were hoping to do, then the manager and a few business men also came and 1 guy spoke English. He said his brother was a tyres dealer, that my tyre could get a good temporary repair and they could get me a new tyre from Bombay. I left him making the calls, and then the hotel insisted I take a driver, helper and their 4x4 which they did for free just to help us out and we drove all around the city visiting mechanics.
We tried many places with no luck – the biggest tyre we could find in 18 inch was 120 and I needed 150! We came to a tiny shack, with very helpful nice guys there, and they said that the tyre should not be repaired at it was too badly damaged. But he insisted he had a customer who had 130x80 or 140x80 tyres and dug out an old worn one to show me. We had been to every big fancy looking tyre dealer and this guy who was covered in oil and dirt knew more than all of them!
With a small smile I shrugged my shoulders and said where??? He gave my driver (sounds more posh than it was) directions to a tyre guy nearby who he said would help us. We turned up to another smart but slightly smaller tyre shop where a smartly dressed big shouldered Indian (I think he was sikh as he wore a turban) and he smiled as I went over to the counter and explained what we wanted.
Straight away he said this will not be easy as of the 18inch rim. But he sent his assistant to dig around and they came out with a 120x80 (the same as we had been offered 10 minutes before by the guy we met in our hotel whose brother could get it from Bombay for 5000 rupees) – and when I asked how much he said 2900 rupees. I told him that’s 2100 cheaper than Bombay, but he laughed and said “no it’s not but I’m just fair and not after your money!” with a big smile.
Then he said let’s search and see if we can find better, as this is not the best for your bike but makes a good backup if we need and I will make sure we don’t sell it to anyone in the meantime. Then he rang about 10 people before saying ok, I may have a tyre, it’s bigger let’s go look, so we all jumped in the 4x4 and he gave directions to the guys from the hotel who were still helping me out. When we got there he told me to stay in the car, otherwise it would cost a lot more. He went into what looked like a grocery store that had a few tyres, some batteries, spray paints, and spare parts: I would never have found this place on my own! He waved me over and had found a 130x90. It was a much bigger tyre and he said we would be very lucky to find anything bigger and the price was 2400 rupees, the cheapest yet!!! I said I needed to see if this was the best we could do and the guy said I love travel and have a lot of respect for you as a traveller on a bike, so pay for this, we will still look for bigger and if something turns up we will swap them over.
The deal was done. But just before I paid I saw a big-looking tyre across the road, on one last hope I though I’d better check but the guy said no it’s a Chinese tyre, I said so? and he said “in India we say Chinese is not good quality,” and I said “that’s funny cause in England we say the same thing about Indian tyres!” Both big men got the joke and laughed out loud and said oh no now its 3000 rupees! Finally I had found two very easy going decent people who were helping me out AND got my jokes! Anyway the Chinese tyre was only 15 inch even though it was a 150x80, so I bought the first tyre and the drivers took it to be fitted while I had a coffee with the friendly sikh guy from the tyre shop. We sat and chatted and I found out where he had travelled and we compared notes.
Later in the evening after I fitted the wheel back onto the bike, myself and Cat went back with the rumbling KTM to both the fitter and the guy who helped me find the tyre. I let them both take pictures on the bike and it drew a big crowd to both workshops. So the good news is we are back on the road, but we are not going to Goa as it’s too far from other towns and from Nepal, so instead we are going to head north as there are lots of bigger cities around and we are close to the border of Nepal should we have any more tyres issues.
From the middle of India to Nepal
India is proving to be hard work. It has its plus sides but most of the time it feels like work: the constant invasion of personal space and sometimes disregard for the bike as people poke and pull stuff; the ogling at Cat and the constant camera phones on us; or the groups of people, mostly men who follow us around making us feel uncomfortable. Combine this with some of the most dangerous driving and roads I have ever ridden and it makes India a challenge, to say the least.
Myself and Cat spoke about putting it into words but it’s so so so difficult, it’s very hard to explain. We have thought about pulling out all together, but have to admit there are things worth seeing such as the tigers, and I’m sure the Taj Mahal will be worth it. And I know people at home will be saying oh boo hoo off traveling round India and it’s “hard work” - well until you been here you will never understand. Even we read so many blogs and met so many people who dropped us little warnings but it’s nearly impossible to get an idea of what they are talking about, it’s not something that is easily put into words, or to comprehend without experience it.
So the day after we got our tyre sorted, we rode slowly to Nagpur from Raipur. Cat got the small camera out to take some videos so we can give you a better idea of the driving in India. She got a couple of good examples of what we have to deal with on a regular basis, even if the more scary ones are the ones you don’t always see coming and therefore don’t get time to video.
We met up with Steve and Elaine in Nagpur as they are on their way to Goa. We were only planning on staying one night but decided to stay 2 as they offered to show us around the city the following day. We spent the whole day hanging out with them, we visited a shopping mall and had a coffee then we went and met one of their friends who runs a Pharmacy who kindly gave us some free cold and flu pills. In the evening we had Masala Dosa which is a sort of Indian wrap, which comes with spicy sauce. It was a nice evening as we sat around and chatted but we headed off fairly early as we planned to hit the road the next day early.
We have made it to Bhopal - I say made it as it was very very dangerous. Here’s what happened.
We are going along on a road that is big enough for 2 cars, IF they creep slowly past each other. The pace has been slow due to the large number of pot holes, and there is a small run off on either side which varies in quality, from dusty gravel to deep stones to deep sand, where the lorries have to pass each other and need the extra 2 feet either side. It’s been a hard day, lots of lorries on our side of the road and me having to move off out their way as their overtake is not complete before they reach me. This, as mad as you would be in England, does not phase me anymore as I get plenty of warning (unless it’s on a corner) but this I can handle.
Then a lorry is coming towards me at a fair pace quicker than most of the others we passed. In between the middle of us there are a number of pot holes but they are distributed pretty evenly, and I have a small pothole-less track on my side of the road. Seeing an easy way through for the lorry, I figured he was going to pull off into his run off as it seemed the best route, but as he was about to do this, he suddenly changed his mind, gave me a quick flash of his lights, and the lorry was hurtling towards us!
Cat screams and I just automatically ditch for the extra run off but it was via a big pot hole into loose sand. The front of the bike goes “vague”, for want of a better word, and the bike lurches over the various pot holes and dips. Cat shouts out in a bit of pain as she hit her bum on the pannier rack and the spare tyre hits her in the back. I’m in deep sand but have stayed on the power thinking back to the conversation I had with Martin on our Georgia ride. The lorry just misses the back of the bike and I manage to get back onto the road. I close off the throttle and let the bike slowly slow down. Cat asks if I’m ok but I’m so angry I want to ****ing cry, I want to go back and chase the lorry until I stop it and give him a piece of my mind, but I cannot because he just won’t realise what he did wrong, and that is more scary than anything,
I don’t talk for about 30 minutes, mulling over it all in my head. All the blogs I read, all the research we did and this is what it is like, what am I doing this for? I’m not getting paid to do it. I think to myself about what happens if we have a big accident - we lay in the road for more than likely over a hour, and if we collide with one of the lorries then it’s not going to be good. I have never been afraid of a bit of danger or a bit of calculated risk, but those risks are followed with rewards and the reward has to be worth the risk, but this is out of our control and so dangerous all the time.
At this point I start to tell Cat where my head is at, and she confesses she feels the same way and we both agree we have given India a lot of chances to impress us. We both agree we would feel a lot safer in a car or bus and we both agree we have had about as much of India as we can take. We have already covered 4000km and we have about another 2500km to cover before we reach the Nepal border. If you’re wanting to travel India, my advice is don’t do it on a bike. Today I think we must have been forced off the road 8 or 9 times and that’s without all the usual pot holes and cows and everything else.
We found an old restored Moghul palace in Bhopal and decided to stay there as a bit of a treat, and because the bike caused a bit of a stir we again got a very good discount! We decided to take a second day off and just relax, before making plans to leave the country via Agra for the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Bhopal is a pretty city and the place we are staying is very nice with amazing views. Bhopal, we found out, had a massive chemical/gas spill in the 80s which killed about 20,000 people and has meant for generations after children have been born with defects such as small or extra limbs. We also found out that this is the reason India are not participating in the 2012 Olympics, because Union Carbonide (the chemical company) are one of the sponsors.
We were thinking about going to Udaipur as our friend James tells us how amazing it is and how it’s one of his favourite places, but I think with the state of my rear tyre it’s not a good idea for us to do any more mileage then is necessary. Even though things are holding out at the moment I can already see cracks starting to appear in the rubber.
Today we are in Agra and again it was a very eventful ride. What really bought it home today though was coming across a motorcycle accident. Clearly they had collided with something and that “something” had driven off. We weren’t the first people there but that was because it happened in a small village, but to my horror the guy and bike where just lying in the road, this with about 50 people looking on. I stopped, got off the bike, and ordered cat to grab the medical kit. As I approached closer I could see he was in a very bad way as he had a massive head wound - clearly he hadn’t been wearing a helmet. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to do but trying to think back to the first aid course we took made sure he was breathing and hadn’t swallowed his tongue. Blood was everywhere and I was trying not to get any on me, so by pointing and basically yelling, as I had to, I got couple of the watchers to help.
We moved him onto his side and carefully wrapped his head to try stop some of the bleeding. He was already going into what seemed like hypertensive shock, and I could see his head had taken a big blow on the left side. We were trying to find out if they had called an ambulance and they said yes and we figured out the hospital was 10km away but they said the ambulance might be an hour. I knew this poor bugger was not going to last that long so I took all the rupees I had in my wallet and tried to get someone to take him to the hospital. I had about 2,000 rupees which is about £25 which is 2 weeks wages for most people and still people refused to help, until eventually I got a guy with a taxi-bus to agree. It was at this point I saw the rider’s passenger who had clearly got a broken leg but had been sitting out of the way leaning against a building. He was in a lot of pain so I gave him some pain killers explaining o take 2 and keep the packet and last 2 for later.
We loaded them both into the ambulance. Again, it’s just heart breaking as really it’s only an education thing, but I turned around and 4 guys were picking the guy with the head injury up by his arms and legs while his body and head dropped around. I quickly got them to support his body and head and carefully load them in. Just as we loaded them in the police turned up and refused to let me give the taxi any money and they got in the taxi and left. It really bought home how in the shit you are if it goes wrong in India, people do not even have the basic sense of what to do in these situations. I don’t hold out much hope for the guy with the head injury, the last guy I saw like that was a few years back and finished with the guy dying as he reach hospital and that was in London.
We climbed back on the bike and the crowd at this stage was around 100 people who stood around and followed us. As I put on my helmet I pointed and said “see you must wear a helmet!” at which point lots of them nodded and smiled. We rode off again, talking the situation over as you do, saying we wish we knew more about first aid and saying how much it highlights the danger you’re in if anything goes wrong in India. It was at this point Cat realised that health care in India is probably not free and they only treat you if you or your family have got the money to pay, so my thoughts are with this guy and I hope he made it through and found the money to get fixed up!! At least his passenger was coherent and could give family details to try to raise money. We also saw 7 smashed up lorries and one totalled car that looked like it had been squashed by a lorry. The roads seem to be getting worse, from a traffic point of view, the further north we headed.
Once we arrived in Agra we found a nice hotel and the manager was very excited to see us turn up on our motorcycle, then once he realised we had ridden the whole way he insisted we stay there and offered us the room for nearly half price, on the condition we had a cup of tea with him and showed him some photos. We of course agreed and were very pleased to see our room was stunning.
First thing in the morning we went to see the Taj Mahal. It is an absolutely stunning building and the surroundings and setting is excellent. We really enjoyed exploring and even though we got a few people come over and ask to take photos with us (“sorry, but shouldn’t you be taking photos of the Taj? We are not tourist attractions!”) we got about 99% less hassle than we are used to, so we felt we could explore for the most part relatively uninterrupted and in our own time.
After the Taj we went to the Red Fort which is also an excellent building and it’s HUGE, in fact 90% of it is still in use by the military. They had monkeys there which kept Cat entertained and we explored all the rooms and had a good look around. After this we had a 20min walk around the local market but started to pick up a small group of followers so decided to hit it on the head and head back. At this point I’ll point out that sightseeing in Agra is really easy – tuk-tuk drivers will offer to take you around to whatever sights you want to see, and include waiting time, normally around 250 rupees for half a day. Our driver was really nice and didn’t even try to take us to his “uncle’s” shop!
India really does have some amazing stuff to offer. I looking forward to getting out now but I look back and think about seeing tigers, Kanha NP, meeting Steve and Elaine, riding through some of the wildlife reserves and watching a big group of monkeys playing around us on the road, the Taj, the Red Fort, the old colourful temples, the food... there is so much to offer but at least from where travelling on a large motorcycle is concerned, it’s not worth the danger.
India was the place I was looking forward to going the most before we came away, so to have left 2 months earlier than planned feels like a shame, but we did 5,500 km in a 4 week period and saw a fair amount of “real India” so to speak, I think when I come back I will fly around and see the touristy stuff or maybe try to hire a jeep or car to drive around in to give yourself that little bit of protection and privacy. “Touring” India on a large motorcycle is not a very wise idea if you ask me.
Agra was our last tourist stop before we bee-lined for Nepal, but it took us 2 more overnight stops, and it wasn’t without its dramas, mostly in the tyre department. The inner tube blew out on the way out of Agra, annoying but I had a spare and there was a tyre guy about 100 meters back so I took the wheel off and went and swapped them over, but then I knew we would have to take it easy...... mega easy as the spare inner tubes were only 120x90, the size of a skinny Indian front wheel!
Anyway I swapped it over and we carried on, the ride itself was pretty straight forward, and far more pleasant than I expected, this was because of FOG believe it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken rush hour in London any day over being on India’s roads as I was expecting total chaos in the fog, but more Indian drivers were going slow and using their lights than I expected so for this reason it was a pretty easy day. We stopped over night in Lucknow.
The second day was much the same, with two tyre changes in the morning, and towards the end of the second day about 30km out of Gorakhpur it blew again even though we were running on cold roads and keeping speeds under 70kph and stopping every 100km. So I had to find tubes, which I did in the middle of nowhere, and I bought 2 more spares as well. We had hoped to get to the border that night, but because of the delays, we decided to just stop in Gorakhpur and that night we slept in the first hotel we had stayed at in India.
The following day we woke up excited to be getting out, a shame I know. I have had a couple of emails and messages from people saying they were sick of reading other blogs that slag countries off and that they were glad ours was different, and reading back over this entry I think it’s not going to be much good news for you, but I’m not here to write a great story, just to tell the truth, and the truth is I will never ride a big motorcycle in India ever again.
It was lucky we stayed in Gorakhpur the night before because we only made it 50km before we suffered our first blown tube of the day. By now I was keeping speeds down to 60kph but it was making little difference due to the weight of the bike 2-up with luggage. The small tyre was holding up ok but cracks that should worry me were starting to become clear, but with 450 km to go and only 30 to the border we quickly put the spare tube on and entertained our last large Indian crowed before heading off. Soon we reached the border and you will be glad to see that we took pictures for you this time so you can see just how easy it could be to miss the border posts. Getting out of India was pretty straight forward and getting in to Nepal was also easy, even though they seemed unsure about my carnet and whether the bike could come in twice, but in the end gave up and just let me back in.
Once in Nepal things started to change. It’s like a “diet” India really and it makes it so much more fun to travel in. We headed back the way we came and as night approached us another inner tube went bang. Lucky not taking any chances I had stopped in a dirt bike shop just after the border that sold me some chain lube and asked the guy if he had any inner tubes and he bought me 2 so I was up to 3 spare tubes (or down to 2 now).
I changed the wheel this time with only the odd Nepalese biker stopping to ask if I needed help and was ok. It was actually a very pleasant experience not to have to keep retrieving tools and bits back off people who have let their curiosity get the better of them. We got back on the road and I noticed the new tube I was putting in was an extra thick one so I knew if I kept my speed down it should get me to Kathmandu.
After about a hour it was dark and we still had 160km to do on very twisty roads. I estimated we would get there about 8.45pm and Cat texted her dad and asked him to keep an eye on the spot tracker to make sure we were ok. The driving in the dark was difficult but in a way not as dangerous as it can be at times in the day as 99% of the lorries have front lights and so you can see them coming, even around corners. I had the big HD light on so we had a good view of the road ahead.
I was feeling sick - the cold I appeared to be coming down with was getting worse but I had it in my head to just crack on. Then about 40km out of Kathmandu, on a bend climbing up a hill, the tube blew again! There was not a safe place for me to move to and so Cat had to walk back around the bend a little to try her best to warn the crazy lorries we were there, so they would slow down.
Then I left the front lights on so they could see me from the other way, but I was on my own faffing around in the dark, getting the wheel and tyre off, something I had never done before 2 weeks earlier and now I was doing on my own in the pitch black. I was forced to quickly jump out the road (trying not to fall down the cliff, too) a couple of times as lorries came steaming round the corner.
It took me about 45 minutes but soon we packed back up and hit the road again and found ourselves in Kathmandu. Feeling the worst was over, we both had a sigh of relief and went for a steak dinner and a couple of drinks to celebrate, but it turned out the bad luck hadn’t quite finished yet!!!
(As some of you may have seen on Facebook, our Christmas wishes were sent from hospital!)
Happy New Year Friends, Family and Followers, thanks for your great support in 2011, there are so many people who have helped make this year great and given us support and helped make this possible. We hope you all have a good 2012, its nights like tonight where we miss our London mates so much and it makes this so hard, but we will be having a few s somewhere talking about you telling jokes and talking about seeing you when we get back!!
All our Love
James and Cat xxx
Bye Bye Nepal
So we are back in Kathmandu and we decided to stay in the hostel Big Tom stayed in as it was a bit cheaper than our place, problem was there was no power (Kathmandu has 10 hour day blackouts at the moment) so if you had no generator you had no power, and it was FREEZING cold especially at night. So the following morning we moved back to good old Elbrus House who then gave us a discount for staying there for the third time.
I was not feeling too productive, the last couple of days my mood was all over the place and the stress of the last few days was really catching me up. I could not concentrate and small things would play on my mind until I felt like killing someone, then I suddenly felt a bit better before an hour later getting very very ill. It hit me hard, I was shivering, sweating, having crazy dreams and feeling sick. I wasn’t hungry and I was having night terrors which would carry on when I woke up, but the hardest thing was going to pee: it took ages, there was no power in my pee so to speak.
Cat rang the hospital in the middle of the night but they said it would be ok to wait until morning. When I first woke I was feeling a bit better, this lasted about an hour before I started to get worse so Cat took me to the hospital worried I might be getting Malaria. We arrived at the Ciwec hospital in Nepal, one of the best hospitals in Southern Asia. They took me in really quick as they were quiet. They drew blood and made me pee in the cup, my pee was a bit of an off colour and they told Cat they were worried I had Malaria, Dengue fever, or any other of the really bad bugs you can catch in this part of the world.
I was feeling pretty down and we were sure we wouldn’t get to Dubai to see my family for Xmas. That night I needed to stay in hospital and I got the news that I had some sort of urine/kidney infection as my white blood cell count was up. They gave me some antibiotics and tried to get my vitals down (heart rate was 135, temp was 39.4 etc) to normal which took until about 10am the next day. The good news was the next day I felt a lot better, and in the morning the doctor gave me another big shot of antibiotics and he told me it if took it easy I could go to Dubai, provided I came back in a few days and gave another urine sample so they could see if it was killing the bug well enough. So it was a mad rush around (taking it easy of course doctor) to get the last couple of small Xmas gifts and then head to the airport to jump on a plane.
We spent a few days with my family, it was of course especially nice to see little baby Martin and my grandparents. Grandad was very taken back with Dubai, being the country boy that he is, but he liked it. Going to the markets and seeing them trade is what he really loved. It made me realise where my love for that kind of stuff comes from and it was nice to spend a few days in their company. Little baby Martin has grown so much, even in the 2 months since we last saw him and it was nice to be there for his first Xmas!!
So we came back to Nepal after spending a few days in Dubai. We have decided the bike should be shipped out on the 2nd of Jan and we are flying out on the 4th. I’m really excited, I mean I love Nepal but I have felt a little stuck here now unable to move on due to waiting for flights and stuff. One thing that has made us feel stuck is the current (and ongoing) fuel situation, basically there is hardly any, and it means we cannot go anywhere on the KTM as it needs fuel.
We didn’t realise this when we first got back until we went and hired 2 Royal Enfields. We planned to do a 2 day lightly packed trip in Northern Nepal to see the mountains for the last time. Cat loved the bike, she was taken back with how much she enjoyed riding and I think the size of the Enfield really suited her. We hired the bike from Himalayan Enfielders who are supposed to be one of the best and the biggest companies in Kathmandu, but I’m less than impressed. They failed to mention there was a massive fuel shortage and so we picked the bikes up in the evening with the plan on returning them New Years day in the evening. Our NYE was going to be in some small village somewhere and we thought it was a nice way to spend NYE.
We woke up on NYE at 6am, packed our bags and off we set. We rode around for about 2.5 hours searching for fuel but no one had any so in the end we had to turn back! We took the bikes straight back but they weren’t open. We hung out until about 10am when someone turned up but their boss was not coming in that day so he told us to come back the following day to get our money back, agreeing that it’s not our fault there is no fuel around and we should be entitled to our full refund. So we left the bikes and headed back to the hotel, we hung out in town and had a coffee before heading back to get some sleep, thinking maybe we would go out for a few drinks in the evening and watch the football.
In the evening we got up and went to Tom and Jerry’s pub to watch the football and have a few drinks. The TV there was playing up so we headed to Paddy Foley’s where they have big flat screens and we watched the rest of the Man U game there and much to our joy they got beat. Happily we headed back to Tom and Jerry’s to watch the Arsenal game. Tom and Jerry had a lot of Westerners in and so Cat got talking to people and soon we were part of a mixed group of lads.
A couple of the lads were on holiday, 2 of them were based here in the army training Gorkhas and the other lad was an American backpacker. We ended up spending our evening with this group of lads, it was fun, we both got a bit drunk and ended up in some random club. The thing was, every place we went too had tickets on the door but we never paid, we just moaned and had a grumble and then they let us in. At one club Cat convinced one doorman to give her a stamp, we rubbed wrists, and then convinced the first doorman we had already been in! Midnight came and I got a kiss off my wife and not long after that we decided we had had enough and so headed home, leaving the American guy to fend for himself.
The following day was spent in bed recovering and watching Only Fools and Horses on the laptop. We then got KFC as it was around the corner and makes great hangover food. I read some blogs and sent an email to another bike traveller who had just gone through Indonesia to get some info about ferries etc. I also found some great blogs on Thailand and a website called www.gt-rider.com (or something close) and he has lots of info on that area.
I’m keen to do an off-road trail, I read about one called the Smugglers trail in Cambodia. As you can guess it was used by smugglers back in the day and it’s deemed pretty much impassable but I have read about bikes doing it. I saw one guy did it on a 950 so I’m sure I would get through it, but it’s 2 days riding and so I would need to spend one night sleeping in the open in the hammock. I think Cat will sit this one out unless she decides to get a 250 dirt bike of some sort in which case she will find it a lot easier than me!!
Yesterday was a good day, we had to pack the bike for Bangkok. Getting proper excited now, trying to put my back pain to the back on my mind, hoping the warm muggy weather and the lots of swimming I plan to do will help. We turned up to meet Jeewan from Eagle Eyes cargo at 10.30am as there was going to be another biker there and he wanted us to guide him to the cargo section of the Airport. We turned up and straight away recognised the guy’s face, it was Miano (www.australiatwin.com) who I met about 3 months ago in the visa office for Iran in Istanbul.
We were pleased to see each other, even if a little confused as he had made it into Iran a good week before us and therefore I guessed he was long gone. Straight away we started to swap stories and I could tell he had a very different experience from us that also was not without its mini disasters and I think his blog will be worth a read. He’s doing it on a smaller budget and one of the biggest reasons is he is using the couch-surfing website and so accommodation has never been a financial issue. A great way to travel if you’re on your own but probably more difficult if you’re a couple.
Well after a 20 minute “how you been, where you been”, chin wag and the obvious jokes and comparisons and head shaking about India, we headed to the airport. At the airport I was a little disappointed: this was Miano’s first flying experience with the bike so he had a new crate waiting for him, but our crate had been in storage and so was being bought by a truck, but didn’t arrive until 4 hours after we had been at the airport! They also supplied us with 1 bubble wrap only, no tape and no shrink wrap and this was for 2 bikes and all our stuff!!
The first few hours was spent helping Miano, and we showed him how we packed our bike the last time, trying to make the bike as small as possible or you will get nailed lots of extra money, as the freight is done on volume weight or actual weight whichever is greater. But to our disappointment it took a bit of an argument for them to cut his box back a bit, and it was a full 20cm or more too long which would work out to be a fair amount of money extra.
To be honest we were very disappointed with Eagle Eyes cargo, especially after our experience in Dubai, and makes me realise how good the shipping and packing really was from there. Then once Miano’s bike was just about done my crate turned up and the guys who were supposed to help build it all disappeared. In the end I was there bending out nails and trying to get it ready with 1 guy helping me. I was annoyed as it was one thing to be 4 hours late but it was going to take another 4 for me to get the bike taken apart and created up on my own with only Miano to help as Cat had left to collect the refund from the Enfield Rental company.
In the end and again after I had a bit of a grumble, other helpers turned up and eventually they even gave us some more foam wrap and we got the bike crated and ready for them both to go. Thinking the worst was over I sat back and took a sip of water whilst sharing a joke with Miano who agreed he was also disappointed in Eagle Eyes especially when you read their 5 star reviews on Horizons Unlimited: we both expected a far more professional service.
But then to our amazement they called us over to help lift the crated bikes onto the weigh machine. Yes that’s right, 300+ kilos of expensive motorcycles and our stuff and these idiots wanted to lift it and carry it by hand! In fact both bikes where 350+ kilos and Nepalese guys are not the biggest guys in the world. In the end we convinced then not to be lazy and go get the forklift, they had a moan but we insisted and so they went and got it. It sort of sums up their entire attitude really: very cut-corner-ish without thinking about the consequences of dropping the bikes, cracking the crates or worse - damaging the goods. You would think once the fork lift turned up it would all be ok, but even that was a rushed job and we both thought that the fork lift was going to drop the bikes at one stage.
After it was all sorted we headed back to the office to tie up the loose ends and pay, Jeewan himself is very professional and so I feel bad saying that I was not impressed with the overall day, but I feel I must tell the truth. I WOULD use him again as I feel it’s the lesser evil, but make sure you go over exactly what you want and are there yourself for the packing, and make sure your crate is a snug fit as all that extra space is very very expensive!!!!!
In the evening we took Miano to Cafe Solu, a small hidden Nepalese place that Big Tom showed us a month or so before, we all ate great food and had a couple of s and the total bill came in at less than £8.00.
Now we have some last minute things to grab, and then its bye bye Nepal, one of the best places I have ever been in my entire life. If you come to this part of the world, do see as much of this great country as you can. Kathmandu is ok for a pit-stop and shopping,, but the rest is just fantastic. I feel lucky to have been here, eaten such good food and met such amazing people and at some stage in my life I will definitely be coming back to this great place!!
Thailand - Bangkok
We arrived in Bangkok on Wed and as soon as we got off the plane the heat hit us, it was 6pm and dark but it was still 30 degrees outside. We had been very delayed in Kathmandu due to thick fog and we were about 3 hours behind. It was funny in the airport and a fitting send off: no one knew how long flights were delayed for and really it was down to guess work that we made it onto the flight. I was glad to be moving, I like Nepal but would not go there in the winter again, 12 hour power cuts means it’s really cold inside and out, and after 5pm everything is very dark!!
Once we arrived in Bangkok the change was noticeable and pleasant: modern buildings, signs telling you where to go; and a good level of organisation. We cleared passport control very quickly and soon found ourselves waiting to clear baggage. We had somehow lost Miano, not sure how, but we texted and agreed to meet at the baggage area. We were chatting with the really nice English bloke called John, or Lucky John as I have decided to name him, and he gave us lots of info on good bars and places to stay before Miano turned up and our baggage was clear and we went our separate ways. We jumped in a taxi outside the airport and headed to our hotel nearby. It was really nice for the £11 a night it was costing us and as we didn’t know how long it would take to clear the bike so we decided pretty quickly to stay a second night in case it was late by the time we got the bikes out.
Early the following day, we headed for the cargo part of the airport and mentally prepared ourselves for a long day. We visited a few offices and started to figure out where we needed to go. We then picked up a helper who ran around with us for about an hour or more before handing us over to the Carnet people (who don’t need a carnet) and issued us with the own temporary import paper.
The rest was pretty straight forward, and much to our surprise the smiling Thai man who had helped us for about 2 hours by this stage shook our hands and left. It wasn’t so much of a surprise he left, but he didn’t ask or want any money, he was just very very helpful. We couldn’t believe how helpful Thai customs were to be honest. People would leave their posts and walk across the airport to show us to the next room and help us get the work done. One lady even led us to the next department with her lunch in her hand, and her colleagues called out to her and I assume she said something like “I’m just helping these farangs and I’ll be back in a minute.” It was very easy even if it was time consuming and but by about midday we were moving the crates around to unpack the bikes.
The putting back together of the bikes went to plan and was for the most part pretty easy. Miano’s crate had no floor as such and so his mirrors and sat nav holder were missing, but luckily Cat thought to ask if they found it, after about 30 minutes a guy turned up asking if this was the missing package, and to Miano’s joy it was his mirrors! We then finished off the bikes and had one last customs inspection to clear before we got our gate passes to leave.
Hot and tired, I was keen to get moving but the customs guy came out and we noticed a small mistake after the Z on my chassis number there was an A which was not supposed to be there on the paperwork. He then insisted I go back to get it changed even though it was a clear mistake on their behalf and all my other paperwork matched up. Rather pissed off, I stomped off across the airport to the other side to get it sorted. I walked back into the office and the head of customs looked confused as to why I had come back. I explained the situation and he just crossed out the A and gave me his card asking me who it was that sent me back and why didn’t they just call him?! I smiled and said it wasn’t a problem, but really I was thinking well that’s the same ****ing thing I was thinking!!
The letter A crossed off, we were given our clearance papers, FINALLY I thought. We pulled away and Miano waves his arms around as there appeared to be a problem with his bike. After I rode it round the cargo area I could see a disc was catching on the calliper on the front right side. We tried to see why but couldn’t figure it out in the 32 degree sun in our bike gear, so we took the calliper off pending further investigation back at our hotel, and Miano had to ride back with no front brakes.
Once back at the hotel, Cat got the s in and Miano and I started to try figure out why this disc was catching. The first thing I noticed was the disc was bent, but this was old news and something Miano already knew; it was only just catching so something was only 2-3 mm out. After some looking around it turned out the spindle needed to be clamped in just past the flush point and then the bike ran and fitted together perfectly. This little puzzle solved I headed upstairs to shower before heading into town for a drink and some food with Cat. Miano headed off on his bike to meet his couch-surfing friend to stay at his place and we agreed we would meet in Bangkok at some point.
Bangkok is great, it’s a bloody great place, some things are certainly not cheap here and for the first few days we have overspent on our budget, but this is also because we are socialising again and meeting people which has often ended in us going out for a few s, which is a great thing as we like to party from time to time and Bangkok is a great place to do that.
Bars aside, the city is still great. We have now been staying here for 3 nights. Our hotel is pretty average and really a little overpriced for what it is, but we needed parking. Thursday night we met some English guys and I had my first pint of Guinness in about 7 months - a real treat - and much to my pleasure they were even showing the Dakar Rally on the TV.
Friday we rode the bike into town and settled in our new hotel. We went for a walk around the markets, got a great foot massage and met a really cool aussie chick called Bliss who we ended up hanging out with for the rest of the day. We also went and met Sue and Ronnie (Cat’s dad’s cousins) who were over here for a wedding, and had a couple of bottles of wine and some nibbles and we sat chatting in the bar of their hotel. After they left for the aiport, we headed to Cheap Charlie’s, one of the bars Lucky John told us about.
It was really cool, it’s basically a shack with a few tables outside and it’s dirt cheap with s costing 60 baht (£1.20). Lucky John was there with friends and we all had a catch up: they were heading out to see Goldie play in a club down the road but I had shorts on and I started to feel a little tired and ill so we decided to call it a night by around 11pm.
Saturday we went for a long walk to the temples and round all the markets along the river. I have never seen so much food cooked at the side of the road, and some of it looks and smells amazing and tastes great, whilst some looks pretty bad, but most of it is clean and edible and safe!! We saw everything at the markets including much to our disgust real tiger skins being sold in cut down patches!! The walk was pretty tiring and all we bought was new t-shirts for me and contact lenses for Cat so we decided it was time for another foot massage before we hit the town..... well it WAS Saturday night after all!!
Saturday night was excellent, we headed back to Khao San road and went to Muligans Irish pub for what was going to be one drink before moving on. At the table next to us there was a bloke in an Arsenal shirt and the football was on so naturally we got chatting. Soon we were sharing a table and all getting to know each other. They were very interesting, had been away from home 14 months and spent a good amount of time in Perth and had also been to India recently in search of tigers with only a little luck and a couple of small sightings, Needless to say they were not impressed with our videos!!
We went upstairs to play some pool and get a feed, and met another guy up there who was on his own from Grimsby (I know no one is perfect) but he was a great bloke and soon our merry band had grown to 5. We hung out, played pool, generally pratted about and in the end went on a mission to find a ping pong show, but everyone tried to rip us off so in the end we just went to a titty bar and had a drink. It was a good night and in the end we got home about 5am and so Sunday was spent just chilling out and recovering.
Monday was Temples day, it was great, still felt a bit hung over though I guess that’s called getting old. We headed for breakfast after a lay-in and headed for the temples around 11am. On today’s list was Wat Phra Kaew with the emerald buddha and Wat Po with the big reclining buddha. The buildings are simply breath taking places, the details blow you away – all the gold leaf and sparkly colours and mosaic tiles that glint in the sun - and it’s like something from a movie, I truly feel a million miles from home. I think this is one of my favourite places - the buildings are so beautiful and there was so many great pictures to take it was almost hard to choose.
We walked around for over an hour with each corner we turned offering something new for me to smile about and shake my head at the overall beauty and mystery that seemed to keep coming at you. We even went and looked at the Armoury and the Grand Palace which was also very impressive; it kind of makes the houses of parliament and Buckingham Palace look like a council flat. All the colours and gold and attention to detail just everywhere you looked there was something to be impressed by. We walked from there to the reclining buddha, again more amazing temples and lots of other buddhas as well as the huge 40-foot reclining buddha. I stapled 20 baht to the money tree for luck for the rest of our journey and we left. We had spent 4 hours walking around and decided to walk the 3km back to Khao San road to have a coffee and get an hour long leg/foot massage!!
We got some bad new regarding the bike: the water hoses were swelling around the joins, so leaking a little bit, not a lot at all really but the hoses have gone pretty soft and they advised me to replace them as we are in no rush to move on and after this stage I don’t plan to service the bike for 10,000 km. The only problem with this was they had none in stock. We had to order them on the internet so I decided to get Samco hoses from RacebikeBitz who were very very very helpful on the net and it was nice to get some great customer service. I got them to Fedex them over so should have them tomorrow (Friday) and as the Tax and VAT came off they cost me less that £100 inc delivery!
The guys at KTM here are pretty good, they have stripped the bike completely and are putting her back together and cleaning everything. I met another guy who had a service off them and he said he got his bike back in better condition than when he left from Austria!! We also took our panniers in to see if they can come up with a way of fixing them to the bike (they are currently held on by ratchet straps because both locks have broken!) maybe even so they cannot come off. If not, when we get to England new panniers will be in order.
We have also broken our tank bag, and we asked how much for a new one but its £180 which is too much and my bungy cord works fine!! But they might be able to fix that cheap as well so fingers crossed. So all in all this has turned into a bit of a midway pit-stop: my wheels have a had the India-induced dents knocked out of them and I’m just waiting for the hoses, the sad thing is we have missed the Chiang Mai biker meeting but getting the bike fixed up properly at this stage is more important.
Great news, less than 48 hours after I ordered the hoses from Samco (www.racebikebitz.co.uk) they have arrived! Good customer service like that is rare these days so very pleased. Now just got to fit them and we should have the bike back tomorrow. Still not going to go to Chiang Mai though as it’s too much of a rush to get 800km in a day especially after the bike has just had a big service.
So today we went to have a good look at the gold Buddha in Wat Traimit. It’s 5.5 tonnes, 3 meteres high and SOLID gold – it’s pretty big but due to crazy traffic it took an hour to get there so we decided to walk back after. I really like walking around in Bangkok, there is so much to look at. There is so much going on I love it. I really think we have far too strict rules in England, we miss out on so much culture just because the odd person might get sick or some half wit might trip over a box. I remember years ago when my Dad worked the markets, I had gone to lunch and the heath inspector bloke had come round and told my dad the eggs which he stored under the table on wood boards had to be at least 12 inches off the floor or something similar - you have to ask yourself what ****ing idiot thinks that is a good idea and how come 12 inches was the measurement! Also the eggs were on wooden boards and packed in egg trays so really well protected, what a ****ing waste of time, my poor dad had to go and get the wooden pallets changed just because of some ***** sitting behind a desk deciding that this was a good idea.
Stuff like that annoys me, it’s like the new “you cannot modify your bike” rule being bought in by the EU - there is a petition going so make sure you sign it. Some of the modifications are for safety! I have also read they’re making it the law from next year that you have to wear a fluorescent yellow jacket on a motorcycle in France - they do realise that we could be naked, covered in fluorescent pink and orange stripes with a ****ing mardi gras following us to the sound of prodigy with disco lights, and the driver who “didn’t see you” still ****ing wouldn’t!!!
Anyway my point being we all know the risks and it should be up to us to choose to take certain risks without someone making the decision we need to be wrapped up in cotton wool or dressed like a lolly pop lady!
On Friday afternoon I got the bike back, the great news is the guy had done an excellent job and I was pleased. The bike looked very clean so I hope the mechanical job was as well performed. They were super helpful it had a big service and then they gave me 15% off everything meaning the total bill came in under £350!! BARGAIN!
We had planned to go see Alex Edwards who was riding Cambo Enduro, and meet up with him in Cambodia, so we were going to take it easy and head out west to the Bridge over the River Kwai but we ended up deciding to make it to Chiang Mai for the biker meeting. It was an early start, it was going to be a long day but as it was motorway it was very boring but there was not a lot of traffic, so we managed to cruise along at 130kph and arrived at the Rider’s Corner at around 3.30pm. It took us about 7.5 hours to do the 760km! At least we made the meeting!
Chiang Mai - Part 1
So we did the big 750km to Chiang Mai from Bangkok in a day. Well just under actually: we arrived at Rider’s Corner on the Saturday at 3.30pm after leaving Bangkok at 7am so it was a good steady day with pretty quiet but boring roads. Much to our surprise Rider’s Corner had a room and so we decided to make things easy for us and stay there. We soon settled into our room and got changed and went down to the bar.
It was a Saturday and there were a few people around so we got a and started chatting to Kurt, an early retired American and chatted about our trip and soon found out Kurt and been and done Mongolia on his own for 2/3 months. We swapped stories and also chatted with other people including the English guy who owns and runs Chiang Mai insurance (www.chiangmaiinsurance.com) - it’s a good place if you’re coming over here and renting or even riding your own bike to get your insurance sorted.
We also met Dave who has ridden in various parts of the world and found out he was organising a ride in Cambodia on mopeds and the like for a children’s charity in Cambodia (www.rideforcambodia.com). There was also a couple who saw our bike outside and wandered in called Marcia and John. They didn’t know the meeting was on that night but they had ridden round the world in 2005/6 so they joined us as we lots of stories to swap! There was a good group of people and as the night went on more and more people turned up. We also got to meet Geoff who did the Poor Circulation ride (http://www.poorcirculation.blogspot.com) - he was also a really nice guy and did a funny presentation about his ride and why he decided not to go home to England. I can honestly see why, as the Thai people are so friendly!
There were several other speakers and lots of other bikers around, we bumped into Josef again and we also met couple doing the reverse of our trip, well, heading back to London anyway. The night finished at 2am after a few too many s and lots of laughs, we had a good group of people at our table and it made for a really good night.
In the morning I had a bit of a hangover, not too bad but we waited until about 2pm before getting on the bike and heading up the very twisty road to the Doi Suthep Temple. It is a lovely place, with a great view of Chiang Mai city off the top of the mountain. Temples in general are so much cooler than churches and I think if I ever get the urge to start worshiping a fantasy character then being a Buddhist will be my choice. All jokes aside it’s really lovely to just chill out and relax and just gather your thoughts. It’s very special to watch people saying their prayers and doing their thing.
After, we headed to the Tiger Kingdom to see tigers. We didn’t know what to expect and Cat did lots of research to make sure it was officially run and not some dodgy mistreat the animals place, but we read good reports including stuff from UK vets. When we arrived it was fairly busy but much to our surprise there was not a very long wait. You can choose your packages of what to see based on size, so we decided to see the Smallest, Small and Biggest tigers. It was excellent and ended up being quiet inside the grounds with the tigers.
We had to leave all personal belonging outside and wash our hands before going in, then the guide introduced us to the animals and stood back. We had gone in the late afternoon as we were told this was the best time as the animals were more naturally active, rather than being woken up for photos when they are trying to sleep. The little ones were so cute and a couple of them very playful. They are about the size of grown cats, some a little bigger. We had 20 minutes with each set of animals and we were the only ones in there so you really had time with them which was great.
Then we went and saw the next size up and they were as big as big dogs! They were also a little playful even though they could not be quite as boisterous, as they would inflict damage in a big way, but they loved belly rubs! Then it was off to see the Big animals and my gosh were they big, HUGE would be a better word, so much bigger than expected. And bloody scary!! I was taking pictures of Cat sitting behind a big male and he must have seen his reflection in the camera lens and growled at me before striding towards me! The guard was there straight away and moved the animal and me away from each other and 5 minutes later he settled down, but still they left him alone for a while and took us to a different animal.
The tigers were so good and we felt so lucky to be able to get so close and handle them. They don’t use drugs or anything silly – they are natural, well-fed animals who are just trained and handled very well. Monday we rode out on the KTM and did the Hoi Son loop out of Chiang Mai. It was fantastic fun and the roads were great and we even hit a couple of dirt tracks up to the water fall - a really nice way to spend a day. They also had a really cool automatic petrol pump by the road next to nothing, you just put the notes in and then it gives you that much fuel, very modern I thought!
When we got back that evening, Dave from Ride for Cambodia, Josef and another German guy were having a drink so we joined them and decided to go for Mexican food around the corner. The food was good, well I didn’t seem to get a good deal, but everyone else did and it was good company. A guy who had ridden round the world on a BMW with sidecar turned up and Cat was overjoyed and had fun having a look around it. Cat went home early, and me and the guys stayed out for a few more drinks until it was just me and Dave heading back to Rider’s Corner, stopping at several pop-up street bars on the way. It was a good night and lots of fun!
Tuesday we had a nice chilled out day, I think we have both fallen little in love with Chiang Mai and we wandered around looking at the different shops and things to do in the back alleys. I finally booked my fishing trip which I have wanted to do and so I’m all excited about that, hoping to break my personal best of 34.5lbs. Then we had coffee and made plans for the rest of our trip, Cat wants to rent a bike for a couple of days, I’m a little nervous as she has not ridden for a few months but she’s a good little rider and so I’m sure she will be fine.
In the evening we went to watch the Muai Thai Boxing. There is lots of go-go bars and girly bars next to the ring area but we hung out in one of them and had a couple of s and played pool, but over an hour after it was supposed to start nothing happened and as I’m going fishing tomorrow we decided to call it a night. On the walk back, Cat came across a guy outside a bar with a little tiny puppy: turned out he had just bought it (at the night market of all places – for 800baht - £17) and so we had a drink there. The owner was a really cool Canadian guy who bought the bar as retirement fun, now that’s my type of retirement! In fact everyone in there was great and so we ended up having a couple more drinks before heading home.
So I went fishing today and it was efffin amazing! I was worried I would be stuck with a couple of old guys but I was put with 2 Canadian lads who started drinking at 10.30am and so we all got along great. Adam and Justin were really cool. My first fish of the day was 20kg beating my own rod record so I was pleased and joked I was done for the day. Soon we had all caught big fish and it was turning out to be a great day! Our guide told us we might have got a few less fish in the morning than the half day group but we were going for size and it was clear our catches were taking longer to net than theirs.
Fish number 3 pulled out my line and the reel went whizzing. I hooked into the fish and straight away said this feels big, the guys joked around and called me a wuss for the first 30 minutes and then everyone started to take it seriously, I was starting to attract a bit of a crowd as the fish would get closer then zip out again without touching the surface. I knew it was big as when I tried to turn its head it was nearly impossible and the fight kept on going. 4... 5... 6 times the fish came to the bank and people gathered to see it before it just turned its head and disappeared again with me able to do very little to stop it other than stand there laughing!
I was tired and sweating buckets in the 32 degree heat. Then again it came in and this time broke the surface as I turned its head, it looked like a good fish and the guide started to get excited. We were at the 65 min point by this stage. After 10 minutes of it mucking around fairly close in, it was in the net, just, and took two of us to lift it out the water. It was a bloody huge 35kg or 77lbs, easily my biggest ever fish and even matched the all time lake record - not bad for a first visit!!
It was an epic day - I had 3 fish over 20kg and the other lads all had similar catches getting 8 or more fish each. By the end of the day we had sunk a few s and had a lot of fun, the guide was so happy and enjoyed himself as well and even took us for BBQ at the end before taking us back to the hotels. That evening we met with the lads to go for a few s, and it was a fun night which carried on from a fun day. We went to the Canadian/puppy bar and then on to the Reggae bar where someone tried to grab my wallet but I managed to make sure that didn’t happen (see, growing up in London is good for some things!).
The following day we had pretty big hangovers and just relaxed all day. Other than going to rent a bike for Cat we just chilled out and soaked up some sun and some coffee, and we planned to do the Mae Hong Son loop for a couple of days, leaving tomorrow.
Broken Bones - A Spanner in the works
Well here I sit in hospital. It’s not me this time but poor Cat. She crashed the hire bike yesterday and has broken her collarbone. It’s silly really, she’s a good little rider and has been riding bikes now herself for nearly 3 years without incident, but the road yesterday was very very twisty, not only that, but the gradient changed so much and it was on a corner that just dropped away from you midcorner, she tried to scrub off a little speed by using the rear brake (on a bike that should have had ABS) and the rear wheel skidded, she stood the bike up and well went across the road trying to turn in, before the bike slid out from under her as she hit dry leaves. She went into the barrier and spun around, lucky she was doing 25mph or less. I saw the whole thing happen as I was keeping an eye on her in my mirrors.
My heart was in my mouth and I stopped and jumped off the KTM no more than about 8 meters away and I had been 4 meters in front of her so it gives you an idea of the low speed. I just dropped the bike and ran over to her, she was in pain but ok and asked me to carefully remove her helmet. I could hear other traffic coming so I quickly moved to warm them and they stopped to help move the bike and help me with Cat. The good news is there was no bleeding but her shoulder really hurt. I was glad she was talking and there was no sign of any life threatening injury. This said I wanted to get her to a hospital asap.
We rang for an ambulance and after 10 minutes got Cat up onto her feet out of the road and into the shade. Her foot hurt and shoulder, shoulder most, I had a quick look to see if I could see a collarbone break but no sign of bone under the skin but it looked swollen. I rang the Rental company who were not happy and said I had to sort getting the bike back to them, so I asked the Thai guys who had stopped for help, and sure enough they sorted it for 3,000 Baht - about £60 - which was probably pay day for them but I just wanted t o get it sorted, and we WERE 150km from Chiang Mai, up a mountain. The ambulance came and Cat got in. It took only about 15-20 min to get here but they spoke no English. They took Cat to the nearest hospital in Mae Chaem. She was ok and told me to wait for the guy with the truck to come back. I waited about 45 minutes and he came back on a scooter saying the truck was following, I waited 5 minutes with him but then left him after taking a few photos of the bike and his face and I took the key with me hoping they would not nick it!!
I then headed down the mountain, I was told it was 20km to the hospital. The roads got harder and harder, I was really trying to take it easy but in places the bend and gradient made them very challenging and it left me thinking Cat didn’t really stand a chance and it made me feel like I should have put my foot down and said she could not hire a bike, but then half the reason I love Cat so much is the fact the she’s a go getter and isn’t afraid to have a go. She later told me about the horrible twisty-turning experienced from the back of the ambulance. She lay sideways and used her feet to prop herself against the sides to stop from falling off the stretcher, but very nearly did several times, even with the nurse holding her! Anyway I made it to the bottom and found a small village and asked a few people where the hospital was. I soon found Cat and she was already out telling me she had a FRACTURED collarbone and they had given her a figure-8 sling to wear. We were talking about her getting a taxi back to Chiang Mai but she decided she would be ok on the bike if I took it really easy, which of course I did.
We rolled back into Rider’s Corner and Phil was surprised to see us and knew something had gone wrong. He was very sympathetic and told Cat all the best riders have broken their collarbones, trying to cheers her up. I still had visions of her spinning round running though my head and I was just glad she was ok. We found a place to stay next to Rider’s Corner as they had no rooms for the night, and tomorrow we can move our stuff back.
So another turn in the adventure, as now I’m sitting in the hospital while Cat is having an operation on her collarbone. She was reasonably comfy with it and slept ok, if it was a bit difficult to move around. I went this morning and settled the rental company up thinking it could be the end of the trip, but left and right front fairings, exhaust cover, bent front forks, dent in wheel and lots broken clip-ons etc came in at an amazing £100, don’t get me wrong £100 is still a lot of money and 3 days budget BUT I was expecting it to cost 2k and at the very least mean us not going to Laos and Cambodia and maybe cutting the trip short at Singapore. Pleased with the outcome and after having a friendly chat with the owner using my James Rix school of talk your legs off technique, I headed back to tell Cat the good news.
She had decided she wanted to get a second opinion about her shoulder as she felt the hospital was only a small village hospital, and as they spoke no English she wanted to make sure everything was normal and really find out how long it would take to recover. After talking with the insurance company she decided she was definitely going as they said she was entitled to a second opinion if she was not happy with the first one, and the hospitals in Chiang Mai are international standard.
To be honest, I nearly talked her out of it as she was not in a lot of pain, but then thinking about how much I now suffer with my back all because I didn’t go to hospital after my accident I decided she best go, as peace of mind is the beast healer. She insisted she would go alone so I could watch over our stuff in the bar area of the hostel as our room was not ready, plus she knows I find waiting rooms incredibly boring and am not very good at entertaining myself. A couple of hours went by and they decided to re-do her x-ray as it was rubbish quality, then came the news it was actually a big, clearly-defined break and she would need surgery. Only 1.5 hours later and she was carted off to get it sorted.
I cannot believe it, but this happens, which is why you need to wear good protection on motorcycles. The good news is in a month she will be good as new, but probably shouldn’t be on the back of the bike until then, so I figure our plans may change slightly over the next few days, watch this space!
Wow bad luck. Heres my healing suggestion.....
Air Asia is really cheap. Hop on a plane and head to the beach! I find the east coast is cheaper than the west, and have spent lots of time on Koh Phangan. (You gotta fly to Samui though). But dont head to Haad Rin, unless you want to party your face off. Head to the north part of the island (i like Haad Yao). Lots of hammock swingin', beach loungin, massages, and general laziness. Although you are in Thailand, so its pretty easy to find a chill beach almost anywhere...
Then get back on the saddle!!!
Good luck to the both of you!
Sorry to hear about the off, get well soon..
I fell of on that road, no idea why just went around a corner and the next minute I was on my arse??
It's haunted I think..
What’s Next?? Decision time!
Big change of plans indeed, well kind of. We threw around lots of ideas and initially the plan was to spend 4 weeks “relaxing” maybe in Chiang Mai, Bali or Vietnam, before hitting the road again. I was in the process of planning the rest of the route and it was at this point we noticed some problems - a fair amount of the route was on very small unpaved roads, even in 4 weeks time Cat's shoulder is not going to be up to being bounced all over the place or be able to save her from a small drop/crash on dirt roads.
So it was this that threw the questions - do I only stick to the main routes in Laos or does Cat take a small break and come back to meet me in Cambodia and we then go back and see anything worth looking at in Laos. I think Cat also wanted a bit of a break from it after her accident, she is as strong mentally as anyone I have ever met but she should make sure she recovers properly or otherwise she may have limited movement in the future.
So for about a week in Chiang Mai we hung out and went drinking: we had met Mikey and Leigh in the hospital and met up with them after getting out for a few s a few nights in a row. We went to watch Thai boxing one night and on one of the days I went for a ride with the guys from Rider's Corner and www.rideasia.net It was really fun to be out with them, they know the area well and most of the ride was on “unpaved” roads and gravel, it would be totally impassable in the winter and big ruts were all over the roads in places.
After a nice break together in Chiang Mai it was time for us to part company for a month. It's not something I look forward to, Cat is my best friend and we get along so well. Being apart is odd for us and as we worked together as well it's not something we have done often. So I left on the Saturday and she flew out at 6am Sunday morning. I left a day earlier as I wanted to try get a bit of a tour of Northern Thailand in before I go to Laos as my visa expries on the 2nd of Feb. My plan was heading out to hit the Mae Hong Son loop again. I got lots of options to meet people - Phil the owner of Riders Corner is in Mae Sariang and Eddie might meet me to ride around Thailand for a few days before I head into Laos. Also the Canadian guys I went fishing with are in Pai so I might meet them for a also.
The Mae Hong Son loop is one of the best road riding routes I have ever done, it's fantastic, it's a little dangerous as there is generally not great visibility round the corners due to the thick bush and forest. But the road is great. The first day I pushed on after Mae Sairang and made it to Mae Hong Son village, and after a looking at a few hostels I found a place which was a bit more than I wanted to pay but included breakfast so was not a bad deal over all. I had a walk around the night market and bought a couple of bits before getting some food and then sat in a bar, huddled round a 7inch TV watching Liverpool BEAT Man U. I was pleased Man U lost and the Thai people were as surprised as me.
I also met 2 guys from Singapore on BMWs who were on a 17 day trip and were also going into Laos. I should also give a mention to the Thai guys I met on route who I have continued to bump into for the last 2 days, at one point me and the guy on the GSXR had a little play, needless to say he was bloody surprised at what the KTM could do!!!
The next day I woke at 7am, had a quick breakfast and packed and left. With only a few kms to Pai, I was in no rush but I had also heard it was hard to find accommodation in Pai due to a reggae festival being on and I wanted to give myself plenty of time. I went to the Long Neck hill-tribe village, but I've got to say I was a little disappointed, it was very sales-y with everyone trying to get me to buy stuff and only about 25% of the woman had the Long Neck getup on, I was expecting a lot more. It was however a very nice ride out towards the Burmese border with the morning mist rolling over the hills in front of me.
Then I got a text from Eddie saying he was going to meet me in Pai and ride with me in Northern Thailand for 2 or 3 days but he could not find a bike to take into Laos. So I hit the road again and climbed up and down the mountains until I reached Pai. Pai is pretty, its like Pokhara in Nepal, it took me about 5 mins to find somewhere to stay after a good 10 mins chat with an American guy who was gobsmacked I had rode over from England. By the end of the conversation he was convinced he was going to ride round the world, gotta love their enthusiasm!!
I plan to meet Adam the Canadian for a and Eddie should be here around 5pm so I have lots to do. Tonight I may or may not venture to the festival, it sounds very messy and it's not really what I'm looking for especially if I'm going to be on the road early tomorrow. A couple of s and some good food is in order I think, but I got to watch the weight, the last month and a half has seen me put on a few pounds that I now plan to lose in the next month or so!!
So I met up with Adam and I also bumped into an Austrian guy I had seen on the mountain a couple of times on a moped so he joined us for a . Then Eddie turned up and he had a look at my coolant to see why it was going down all the time before we settled in for another and then a guy called Beanie joined us. The other Adam also met us and we were well on our way for a good night out. Pai has a nice vibe. We had a few s and some food and hit a couple of bars before they decided around midnight to go to the Reggae festival and I decided it was time for me to call it a night as we were planning on doing some riding the next day.
The following day I had a bit of a hangover but I got up early for breakfast. I packed the bike and I was missing Cat as she is the master of all things packing, whereas I tend to go by the "sling it in a bag and squash it down so it fits" theory. Eddie met me at the breakfast bar and we had a good chat and planned a route before hitting the road at about 10.30am. We had decided to go from Pai to Chiang Dao then up to Chinag Rai but via Ban Lisu Lao De on the offroad trail that is on the fantastic map we bought from www.rideasia.net.
The road down from Pai was excellent just like the rest of the Mae Hong Son loop: it is a very challenging ride and I can see why so many tourists crash mopeds on it. About 50km along we turned off into the national park towards the Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Reserve, and the road got lots more pretty with us cutting through and over the mountains, about 15k along the sat nav was telling me to turn right and up to a view point so we headed in and stopped to take a couple of snaps before getting told we could not park there buy a friendly but over keen policeman.
Then we headed down what looked like someone's drive before seeing a small turning onto a track. Another policeman asked "where you go" and we showed him on the map and he said oh very bad road I think you cannot go there on motorcycle. This half excited and scared me but onwards we cracked. Eddie is on a Kawasaki D-tracker 250cc, super moto style with road tyres but he's a bloody good rider so we decided to crack on. We made our way down the mountain off road, with a mix of single track, concrete and packed down mud with some loose rocks, at times the mud was deeper or there were some big cracks in the road due to lots of rainfall but as we moved down into the valley and up the next mountain the roads slowly got worse and worse.
It was a lot of fun but very very tiring especially after spending a month being very social and I was getting a hell of a workout on the KTM with full luggage on the back! Eddie was astonished at how well the ktm handled the dirt and how well it gripped and just kept going. Soon our 4x4 track was down to a walking track that looked like there were no cars using it. The views in the valley were beautiful and we kept passing the odd village with tree-leaf roofs made of sticks and mud. The roads were mostly compact mud but had huge ruts all the way along so you had to pick your route very carefully and when you came to a hill it was often very dried out but loose gravel and so the rear would slip and slide as you got on the power to climb.
We did 3 or 4 river crossings before I came to one that was pretty shallow but long: as I started to move in the big KTM sank and before you know it, it was sunk to the guard on the bottom. Bugger I thought, Eddie said don’t worry the d-tracker is light I will get across and help you out and 2 minutes later was also sunk next to me! So we both had to get off the bikes and lift them out a bit before walking them out whilst running them and this led us to the next problem - a very very steep hill that was very very brittle with lots of stones and loose mud. It was so brittle and steep when you stood on it you slid. I plucked up the courage to go first and managed to negociate my way past some huge ruts and clicked the bike into second. The hill was steep and went to the right and was far deeper to my right and sloped in a big way with a huge rut before the wall, clearly where the water comes rushing down after it has rained.
I was making good progress but the rear started to slip down the slope, bugger, more power, but I found myself slipping round so I brought myself to a stop about 70% of the way up. I came to a stop, but it was so steep even in gear with the brakes on, the bike started to slide. Not wanting to back into the huge rut, I tried to turn the bike but the front slid so quickly and the next thing you know I was front first into the big rut, the bike was near enough parked on it's G-unit undertray. Eddie came up laughing as it looked like I had crashed into it, until he stopped next to me and found himself sliding backwards! He managed to scramble a bit further up and then stop and he came back and we lifted the KTM out. He went back and rode off and I managed to get going, but as I tried to ride out the steeper side I dropped the bike again, Eddie came back and helped again and the next time I got away, only to have to go back myself to help Eddie as he was stuck as well!!
Relieved to be past the hard bit, with a smile on our faces we continued. The route looked hardly used and we were ducking past trees and bushes on a single track. Our next challenge came in the form of a deep but very wide river that had a fallen tree as a bridge. Eddie went first ensuring me it was strong enough to hold the weight of the bike and me, so carefully I crawled over it. Along we continued, dealing with the road changing from mud to sand to stones and then we had to ride up the bank and over due to a fallen tree and soon we came to another “wacky” bridge: this was man made but I was not sure it would hold the weight of the bike, slowly I got over it much to the suprise of the local guys on Honda Heros!!
Then we emerged onto some broken tarmac again and into a small village where we stopped and had a fantastic fish soup with noodles and drinks for a crazy 40 baht total (less than £1). We then headed down between the mountains on a beautiful road and enjoyed some great views towards Chiang Dao. Once we hit Chiang Dao we headed on along the 107 and onto the 109 towards Chaing Rai. My bike was drinking a lot of coolant and it was starting to worry me and Eddie, lucky for me Eddie is a bike mechanic and garage owner so he was keen to help me fix it!! We found a place in Chiang Rai pretty quickly even though it was late and we were both tired. We had quick showers and decided to go for some food and a couple of s with the plan of going on another ride the following day.
I had to top up the bike with coolant again in the morning and that day the bike drank it like it like a fish. The ride itelf was another great day, but much different to the previous day. We rode from Chiang Rai out to Chiang Saen along to Chiang Khong, right along the Mekong river through all the villages. We stopped in Chiang Khong for some lunch - thai chicken and rice - and then about 40 mins after lunch we stopped again at a stunning little coffee and tea hut that was growing the tea and coffee right behind us. It was so nice we sat and chatted and tried the local tea for over an hour and a half before realising we better move on if we wanted to get back before night fall.
We rode back down the 1020 and onto the 1152 where we came across a huge reclining buddha and massive green buddha and some beautiful temples where I got a some great pictures with the KTM in front of them before joining the 1173 back into Chiang Rai. It was a very pretty and great day, the only problem was my bike was drinking coolant like the world was running out!!!!!!!!
That evening we went out for a few games of pool and for a few drinks. Eddie agreed the bike needed to come apart so we could find out what was wrong and with the suspicion of a head gasket it wasn't looking good. The following day starting early we took the bike apart, pretty early on we found a lot of coolant stains on the engine, but when we got the air box off there was some mayonaise on the front throttle body, which is not disaster but it can be bad news with a coolant-hungry bike.
Digging deeper we then found the the small samco hose had been fitted slightly wrong and the clip was very very loose and this was leaking a lot of coolant so we found a new clip and cleaned the bike down before putting it back together with the tanks on so we could run it for 5 mins. We ran it, then as we checked again it looked like coolant was leaking straight out of the gasket, not good from the point of view that my visa ran out the next day, Eddie also noticed a little condensation on the front throttle valve.
I then went to email Cat to ask about helping me sort a visa run with exactly what I would need to do, Eddie was sorting the bike (sorry to give you a bit of a busman's holiday mate) and then I came back. Eddie said was was looking at it and he thought the coolant could have run out of some of the engine lines from where we fiddled with the hose and couldn't clean it properly, so he had cleaned it all down and we were going to put it together and run it to see if it would leak. We got it running again and good sign - no leaking. The radiator was nearly empty earlier in the day and we topped everything up and got it together so I could take it on a 40 km test run. I had rented a bike so I could do the border run to Burma to extend my visa, but when I came back from the 40k the coolant level had dropped but only a little on both the coolant bottle and the radiator, so I returned the rental bike. There was no blue smoke coming out the exhaust and the bike was running well, so the next day we planned to ride it to the border and back to see how she ran.
I woke early worrying about the bike but thinking how lucky I had been to have met Eddie, he's a top bloke and was up and packing to ride with me to the border, prepared to wait for me to get my visa and stay with my bike if for some reason it did not make it all the way. The good news is she did make it! It drank some coolant but only from the top mark to the bottom and Eddie explained it was probably some air still in the system. I topped it up after I got my visa and we came back to Chiang Rai stopping at another beautiful little cafe to have a fantastic lunch of prawns with noodles. The bike drank a little more coolant but we hit the road again and road back to Chiang Rai. We found a guesthouse called the Golden Triangle and parked the bike up. I unpacked and sat and drank a coffee and the coolant level has not gone down so it's looking like it could have just been the leaking hose all along. But I'm going to do a 200 km day tomorrow just to double check before I head into Laos!!
I noticed you added a little extra tab mounted on top of your screen. Is it a valuable investment? Has it made your life easier?
Yeah it's good on the motorways but i have taken it off as it blocks a good view of the road on bad roads, the problem is it does not clean very well and scrathches up, so it goes from being see through to being all scratched. A shame really as its about £50 and in my opinion not really worth it, it should be clean proof at least.
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