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  #151  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/23 To Chitwan or Not to Chitwan?

We thought the mornings were chilly in Pokhara, but apparently, we were wrong. In Kathmandu, the mornings are chilly. When the alarm went off, I couldn't help but notice my breath condensing as I reached for the snooze button. We did get up and quickly threw on our clothes to keep warm while we got ready to shower. This guesthouse has both a solar heated shower and a gas heated shower but neither of them were very warm, certainly not warm enough on a 40 degree morning. We decided to wait on the shower and instead went next door to the Elbrus GH for breakfast. We told our host about the hot water issue and he gave us two options – we could either change to a third property or wait one more day for our reserved room at the Elbrus. We decided to go see the other property but it was a good 5 minute walk away from the central part of Thamel. The room was nice but another guest told us that the showers weren't all that warm there, either, so we decided to tough it out one more night and move tomorrow. The solar shower finally warmed up enough around 11:00 am to allow us to make a flying run through the not so cold water. While we waited for our shower, we decided to head for warmer pastures (Thailand) rather than staying in Nepal. We would have loved to have gone to Royal Chitwan Park, but we simply don't have warm enough gear for this time of year. There is plenty of cold weather gear available for sale here in Kathmandu, but it didn't make financial sense to invest in warmer clothes for a three to four day trip.

So the plan now is to get to Thailand ASAP. From my preliminary research on HUBB, I knew that the cargo company that everyone uses is Eagle-something. I pulled up the shipping reports on HUBB and saw that Eagle Eyes Cargo was in the same building as Helena's Restaurant, which was conveniently on my map. Before arriving in Nepal, I had also received an email from Suraj at Eagle-something Cargo, so that was who I was looking for. We found the office of Eagle Eyes Cargo and met Jeewan. I told him we were there to find out about shipping motorbikes to Bangkok, and he showed us photos of some bikes he'd recently shipped. He also gave us a quote of 770 USD for everything. He confirmed that we could pack the bikes on Thursday and ship them on Friday. The only thing that was a little concerning was that when I mentioned the email he sent me, he seemed very noncommittal. Re and I discussed it briefly and decided that we would ship with him and left a 125 USD deposit. We arranged to meet Thursday morning at 10:00 am so he could prepare the necessary paperwork before we went to the airport to crate the bikes. As we got ready to leave, he gave us a receipt and his business card. I noticed that his name was not Suraj. Hmmm. I reread the email on my phone as we left and realized that I received the email from Eagle Cargo, not Eagle Eyes Cargo.

Confused, we started walking back to the room when I spied a sign on the same street that said Eagle Cargo and motorcycle shipping. Curious. We stopped in at Eagle Cargo and found that Suraj and Jeewan are somehow related and apparently, Suraj used to work for Eagle Eyes. Suraj proceeded to tell us how much better his service is and generally tried to convince us to change shipping companies. When we asked his rate, the price he quoted us was 50 cents less than our other quote. When we told him this, he then cut his rate to 750 USD. We said we would think about it but did tell him where we were staying. We then went back to the guesthouse and fired up HUBB to figure out what was going on. Eagle Eyes Cargo has been shipping bikes since 1999, whereas, Eagle Cargo has only been doing it for about two years. People seem equally happy with both, so we decided to stick with the shipping we'd already booked. Recognizing Suraj (and his wife, Sara) from the description that the DRZ-mounted couple from Pokhara had given us also gave me pause. They had told us how Suraj had booked their plane tickets to Bangkok as well but had overcharged them by 50 bucks each.

Now we needed to get our plane tickets and found that Nepal Airlines had the best rate. Unfortunately, they do not sell tickets online, so we walked approximately a mile to their office. We got our tickets for Friday and they cost about 205 USD each. The good news was they took credit cards so we didn't need to dip into our cash reserves. On the way back to the guesthouse, we hit the ATM for a whole bunch of Nepali rupees, since unlike Tanzania, the shipper actually wanted to be paid in his own currency. Once we got back to the guesthouse, Re spent some time researching transportation and accommodation options in Bangkok while I finished reading the book I had been working on for the past few days.

After the sun went down, it got cold fast. A knock on our door brought a handwritten note from Suraj and an offer to cut our shipping rate to 720 USD. The note also said he'd sent us an email with a different offer and to let him know. Re than checked my email and found that his other offer was to ship our bikes for 595 USD if we would pack on Wednesday, when he had four other bikes going, or 720 USD if we packed on Thursday. Somehow, the 595 offer seemed too low, since as near as I could figure from the rates we were given earlier by both companies, that the charge for Thai Airways would be something around 575 USD? Puzzled, we decided to put the decision off until tomorrow, so instead we had a light dinner and later went out for a couple of s.
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  #152  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/24 Not Touring Kathmandu

Our plan for today was to see some of the sights in Kathmandu. We woke to another cold morning and made our way across the street to the Elbrus House for breakfast on their sunny terrace. While waiting for breakfast, I checked my email and realized that I had received a rather cryptic message from Eagle Eyes Exports. The message said that I had left my “Griffin” at his office and to either call or come by and pick it up. My Griffin? Re and I puzzled over this for a few minutes and I then realized that I had shown Jeewan pictures of our previous crates on my iPhone. That was the only thing I could have left in his office, and once we got back to the room, I could not find my phone. After 9:00 am we walked to his office, and sure enough, the only writing on my iPhone is the tiny, embossed Griffin logo on the protective case. Mystery solved. We reconfirmed with Jeewan that we would see him at 10:30 on Thursday and went back to the guesthouse to pack, because today there was a room open at the Elbrus House for us.

After carrying our bags down three flights of stairs from our current room, then up five flights of steps to our new room, we found that our new room was actually less deluxe, but it promised a hot shower. While I was reading in my favorite chair, there was a knock at our door. Since I was “indisposed,” Re answered it and found Suraj and Sara from Eagle Export. I couldn't hear what was said through the closed bathroom door, but a few minutes later, Re told me that they really want our business and offered us a rate of 550 USD. Now thoroughly confused, we walked back to Eagle Eyes and spoke to Jeewan about the rate. Jeewan pulled out his binder of old air waybills and showed us the actual rates charged by Thai Air Cargo. For a shipment under 500 kgs, the rate was 105 NR per kg, plus 12 NR per kg fuel surcharge, 200 NR for air waybill preparation, 8000 NR for dangerous goods fees. Our crate is 320 kgs, which meant that the charges from Thai Air Cargo alone would be nearly 570 USD at the current exchange rate. That means Suraj would not only lose 20 bucks, but he would also be eating the cost of building the crate and paying the warehousing and other bribes needed at the airport? Jeewan still refused to say anything bad about Suraj (his cousin and former employee) and offered to return our deposit if we decided to ship with Suraj instead. Maybe I am extra cautious since our experience in Dar Es Salaam, but I just did not trust Suraj. He seems way too slick. We decided to stick with Jeewan and the higher rate because he had been extremely straightforward with us and did not badmouth his competition, while the same could not be said about his competition.

After all this to-ing and fro-ing, it was nearly 2:00 pm, so our touring plans were canceled. Instead we had some lunch and returned to the guesthouse to research the Customs process in Bangkok and transportation to and from the airports. Wanting as hot a shower as possible, we waited until after 4:00 pm to give the solar water heater maximum amount of sunshine. Our shower was steamy, steamy hot and was well worth the wait. Since we were now both so clean, we decided to get a little dirty before dinner. Later that evening, we went out for a splurge dinner, where Re had a steak with Bernaise sauce, and I had a big, genuine, beef hamburger for the first time since I can't remember. While the food was pricey, it did include an after dinner Irish coffee, which was a nice way to finish the evening.
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  #153  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/25 Durbar Square

Since today was our only chance to get out and see any sights, we picked Durbar Square, the nearest tourist site, as our destination. We found one of the added benefits of our new room when we woke up. This building seems to hold heat much better than any other we've stayed in in Nepal, and consequently, the air wasn't quite so brisk when we got out from under the covers. The other thing we immediately noticed, was how eerily quiet it was this morning. There were no horns or engines to be heard. After we got dressed, we headed out to the terrace for breakfast and our host told us of the reason for the silence. After the fuel shortage around the New Year, the government allowed the oil company to raise the price on all their products. People were understandably upset about this, so today there was a general strike. This meant that virtually every business was closed and there were no vehicles, other than police, on the roads. The lack of traffic made for an easy walk to Durbar Square, where along the way, we saw or heard the occasional crowd of angry protesters, marching and chanting in the streets. The few businesses that dared to open up, would slam down their roll-up doors whenever they heard a crowd approaching. It was actually kind of fun to see.



The Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square is a UN World Heritage site, located in central Kathmandu. It is a collection of temples and shrines, both Hindu and Buddhist, spread over several blocks. Once we got to the ticket office we were somewhat shocked to see that the admission price had gone up substantially. As I mentioned before, we are using the 2006 version of the Lonely Planet in PDF format, and then, the admission price was 2.50 USD. At the ticket office we found that the ticket price had skyrocketed to over 9 USD per person, but decided that since this was the only cultural thing we had time to see in the Kathmandu valley, we would pay the price.



Over the next several hours, we wandered through the temples and museums and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the “Living Goddess.” The Kumari is one of a succession of young girls or women who are considered to be the living incarnation of the goddess, Taleju. The current Kumari appeared to be between 8 and 10 years old, and she honestly looked a little bored. Middle of the afternoon, we headed back to our guesthouse. Since all the restaurants were still closed, the only food we were able to find was a couple of delicious, cream-filled donuts, which we ate as we walked.

Back at the guesthouse, we continued to search for information about the Customs situation at the Bangkok Airport. Suraj had said that Customs was closed on the weekends, but it appeared from the airport website, that Customs would be open on Saturdays and Sundays. Since we and our bikes are flying to Bangkok on Friday, we reserved a hotel near the airport for Friday and Saturday nights with the plan of picking up the bikes on Saturday morning. We enjoyed yesterday's late afternoon hot shower and apres shower activities so much that we repeated it today. We were relieved to see that after the sun went down, some of the restaurants reopened. We made a dinner of falafel wraps and fries and celebrated Re's first day without coughing in over two weeks.
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  #154  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/26 Bike Stuffing

It felt a little like Christmas when we got up this morning because we were both excited and ready to go. Last night, Re put together most of the stuff that was on our list to take to the airport. We weren't scheduled to meet Jeewan until 10:30, so we had some breakfast and waited for the morning to pass. Around 10:15 we fired up the bikes and rode to Eagle Eyes Export. When we arrived, Jeewan introduced us to his brother, who was to lead us to the airport on his motorbike and handle the paperwork there, as well. Jeewan said we needed to hurry, as today, the students were striking, and traffic would be shut down after 11:00 am. We followed the brother through the heavy traffic for the five or so miles to the airport. At just about every intersection there were truckloads of police in riot gear who looked ready for anything. Once at the airport, the brother simply waved at all the officials, and we were allowed to pass all the security checkpoints. After he parked his bike, he waved us into the warehouse, where the craters were already nearly finished with our crate. We also spied four other crate bases that appeared to be sized for single motorbikes. Suraj's crew of four bikes was supposed to ship yesterday, but maybe they didn't due to the general strike.

Re and I got to work on the now familiar task of disassembling the bikes for shipping. A couple of minutes later, the brother came over and asked how much petrol we had in the bikes. We replied that it was less than a liter, but that we would drain it. He smiled and said we didn't need to, but if anybody asked, we should say we did. All of a sudden, we heard four big bikes in the parking lot, and into the warehouse pulled Brian and Tanja on their DRZ400s, and Stefano and Annamarie, an Italian couple who are also traveling the world. We said our hellos and got back to work. While I started removing the front wheels and fenders, Re disconnected the batteries and got to work on the handlebars.



Forty-five minutes later or so, we were lifting the bikes onto the crate base. The craters assisted us in getting the bikes centered and then one of them built little blocks to hold the forks. We then waited a few minutes for the Customs officials to appear and make a halfhearted attempt to match some of the numbers on the bikes to our Carnets. Once they were satisfied, Re and I started loading in the extra bits, while the craters put the sides on the crate.



Just before the top went on, we put our riding gear and helmets inside and then the crate was sealed. While I was chatting with Stefano and Annamarie, I apparently missed the crew of seven, rather small, Nepali gentlemen, lifting all 292 kg of our crate up onto the approximately 2 ft high scale table. I turned around in time to see them lift the crate off the table and set it on the floor. Again, we would be paying by volume, not weight, so our rate would be based on the 320 kg. Apparently, people are still cheaper than tools in Nepal, as the seven men then proceeded to push our crate across the floor and inside the secure Customs area. No forklifts or pallet jacks needed. Now we had to wait for our Carnets to be stamped, but apparently, the Customs official had disappeared.



For the next hour, we stood around and chatted with the other bikers and marveled at how easy our crating process was compared with theirs. Our crate was actually a little bigger than we specified, but we were assured by the brother that we would not have to pay for the excess size. The other four crates, however, were all too narrow for the handlebars, and very nearly too small for the riders' luggage. We watched as all the handlebars had to be removed and turned sideways, and the headlight cowls also had to be removed from the DRZs. No one expected to have to do this, and it seemed especially silly since they were all going to have to pay based on the heavier actual weight rather than the volume, and slightly bigger crates would have flown for the same price.



We were also glad to have our own ratchet straps, as the other bikes were tied down with twine?! Soon enough, our Carnets were stamped, and we bid our fellow travelers farewell, for today at least, since we'll be on the same plane tomorrow. The brother told us that after being closed from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, the roads would probably close again after 3:00 pm due to the strike. Shortly after 1:00 pm we grabbed a cab for the 30 minute ride back into the city.

Once back in Thamel, we went right to Eagle Eyes Export to pay Jeewan and pick up our air waybill. Jeewan greeted us and asked how everything went. We assured him that everything went well and we were, once again, glad to have chosen his company. After paying Jeewan and concluding our business, we had a cup of tea and he told us a little bit about his relationship with Suraj. Suraj is Jeewan's cousin and worked for Jeewan for ten years. Suraj then left the business to open a very similarly named business on the same street a few years ago. Needless to say, Jeewan isn't really thrilled with the situation, and they apparently no longer speak to each other. After meeting Suraj and speaking with him on a couple of occasions and then seeing how different our experience was from that of Suraj's customers, we were very satisfied with Eagle Eyes Export (even if it did cost a few more dollars). On the way back to the guesthouse, we grabbed coffee and a donut and got to work repacking our bags for tomorrow. Later we had a most excellent dinner of focaccia and pasta at La Dolce Vita before heading back to the room for an early night.

5 miles in about 30 minutes. Traffic jams and riot police all the way.
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  #155  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/27 This Land is Your Land, This Land is Thailand

Having done virtually all the packing last night, all we really had to do this morning was get up, shower, have some breakfast, and jump in a taxi to the airport. Nepal had other ideas. It got downright cold overnight, and we were up too early for the sun to have done much to heat up our bath water. Since we had just showered yesterday afternoon, we decided to skip the freezing water and instead, bundled ourselves up for what we hoped would be the last time this trip and went out to breakfast. Our host at the Elbrus House had said we should leave for the airport at 8:00 am. This seemed awfully early to me for an 11:20 am flight, but I thought maybe Khem knew something we didn't. We made it to the airport by about 8:20 and after having our bags opened and inspected by security, we got in line at the ticket counter. The baggage handler assured us we'd only have to wait 5 minutes for the counter to open; he lied. After about 30 minutes, a couple of gentlemen appeared and started turning on the computers at the desks. Over the next half hour, more staff appeared, and finally around 9:30 we were able to check in. Since we were the first people in line, it was a quick and painless process. We got two seats in front of the wing on the Everest side of the plane. This was one bit of advice we did pay attention to on this trip, since if the weather is clear, passengers on the left side of the aircraft have a view of the Himalayas for the first thirty minutes of the flight.

Then we waited some more. We spent our last Nepali rupees on coffees, some sort of weird pound cake, and some licorice candies. After a while, Brian and Tanja of the DRZ400s appeared, and we chatted about our trips and shipping experiences. Brian and Tanja seemed none too pleased with Suraj and Eagle Exports, since they felt that he tried to cheat them. Through some tough negotiations on their part, Brian and Tanja were able to get their final bill for their freight and personal flights reduced by 300 USD. It seems that Suraj has some air waybills which in addition to listing the actual amount due to Thai Airways, also list 20,000 Nepali rupees (250 USD) as a handling charge. A careful reading of the air waybill apparently reveals that the 20,000 rupees is actually refunded to Suraj. On top of this handling charge included on the air waybill, he also attempts to add another 8,000 rupees (or more) as his fee. Brian and Tanja caught on to this, and told him there was no way they were paying him twice. They also cornered him on his exorbitant price for their air tickets. A bit later, Stefano and Annamaria, the Italian couple riding KLE500s also arrived. It was interesting to hear how different everyone's trips had been so far, and it was nice to talk to some fellow travelers for a while. We also found out that, while our bikes were flying today, Suraj's customers' bikes weren't flying until Sunday. The rationale being that Customs is closed on the weekend (uh oh) and that storage charges would accrue if the bikes arrive on Friday and aren't picked up until Monday. Huh.



We finally boarded around 11:30 am and found the plane to be plain and a little bit old. After takeoff, we rose above the clouds, and the captain identified several of the peaks we cruised past. The food service was good, and the flight was otherwise, unremarkable. We touched down in Bangkok on time and soon taxied to our gate. Stepping onto the jetbridge, we could feel the heat and humidity we'd been missing for the past month or so. There was a bit of a wait at Immigration, but we made it through without problems. After collecting our bags, we tried to slide through the “nothing to declare” lane but got nabbed and had to have our bags inspected. Apparently we were clean and were free to go. Once on the concourse, I found an ATM and was reminded of one of my least favorite things about Thailand: every ATM transaction is whacked with a 150 Baht (5 USD) fee. Grrrr. Confident that we would be able to pick up our bikes tomorrow, we said farewell to the DRZs and KLEs before we left the airport. Brian and Tanja are heading south almost immediately, but we might meet up with Stefano and Annamaria somewhere down the road.

Walking out of the airport to our shuttle van was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. The temperature was around 90 degrees and the humidity was high, but it felt great after being too cold for too long. The other notable difference here was the quantity and quality of cars. After nearly three months of Mahindras and Tatas, it was nice to see some German, Japanese, and American sheet metal. (I will never get tired of tatas ). I got even more excited on the short ride from the airport to our hotel. Everywhere I looked, there were cool underbones, street vendors selling food I wanted to eat, and women in shorts. It's the little things! Our hotel is very nice, more like a business hotel than a backpacker flop, and most importantly, it is clean – really clean. The bathroom is clean, the walls are clean, the floors are clean, the sheets and pillows smell freshly laundered, and no 1/8” of dust on the top of anything. We finally took our long awaited shower before heading out to dinner.

The other big advantage to our hotel is that there is an extensive night market next door. Everywhere we looked there was delicious food and fruit. Unlike anywhere we've been for the past few months, the question wasn't, “Can I find something I would like to eat,” but instead, the problem was trying to make up my mind which of the fifty yummy looking things did I want to try today.



We settled on some pork and noodle soup made with egg noodles, sliced barbequed pork, and pork-filled wontons. I love pork, and so does Re. We slurped down this yummy goodness and at the end of the meal we paid the nice lady 60 Baht (under 2 USD) for both of our soups. The night market is also next to a 7Eleven, where we picked up three 640 ml Chang Classics and two Cornetto ice cream cones, for the princely sum of 5 USD. I love Thailand. Back at the room, we ate our ice cream, drank our s, and collapsed into bed, where we fell asleep on a real, innerspring mattress!


Nepal: We were in Nepal for 15 days and covered 270 miles, which equals only 18 miles per day. Being sick and injured sure cut into our riding time. We used 6.33 gallons of petrol, which equals 85 mpg. We spent 611 USD (not including our airline tickets, freight, or paragliding) which equals 41 USD per day.
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  #156  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/28 Is Customs Open Today?

The short answer is No. After sleeping a little late this morning, we woke with plans to go to the airport and get our bikes. Re went to the unfortunately named, “Big C” store nearby to pick up breakfast supplies. She returned with a box of cornflakes, a four-pack of yogurt, and hot coffees. We ate breakfast and were planning on taking the 8:30 am shuttle to the airport, but Re suddenly did not feel well. While I did some reading, she napped until 9:00 am. When she woke, she felt much better, so we hopped on the 9:30 shuttle, and after dropping off the passengers at the airport, we were dropped at the International Cargo “Free Zone.” Some helpful employees directed us to where we could get our visitors' passes. Unfortunately, here we met an agent who informed us that we would not be getting our bikes until Monday morning. Part of Customs was indeed open on the weekend, but not the division we needed. Bummer.

As we walked out the front gate of the Free Zone, we realized that we were now over four miles away from our hotel, and we had no little, baby blue motorbikes to get back there on. What to do, what to do? We discussed taking a taxi back, but decided that I was too cheap, eh er... the walk would give us a chance to “acclimate” to the hotter weather. As usual, Re was up for anything, so we started walking. I did have the GPS with me, so it showed the route back to the hotel. Of course, it wanted us to take the roads, since that's what it's configured for, but Re and I thought that we could go overland and save some time and distance. We hopped a small fence and took off across an open field. A few hundred yards later, we came to a stop. In our path was an approximately 25 ft wide khlong (that's what they call a canal in Thailand) and we could go no further without swimming. Instead, we turned around and followed the road back to the hotel. We made it back to the hotel before lunchtime, and after cooling off in the AC for a few minutes, we walked back out to the market, where we bought some pork and rice sausages, chips, and cold club sodas.

Back at the room, Re took advantage of the 20 Baht washing machines in the hotel and laundered our fleece pullovers, long undies, and warm socks. For the rest of the afternoon, we worked on ride reports and blog posts, and plotted a rough itinerary for our first few weeks in Thailand. After the sun set, we returned to the night market for a different bowl of delicious soup. On the way back to the room, we picked up some cookies and before plopping ourselves on the bed and enjoying some English language TV. We were very disappointed to not get the bikes today, since we'd planned to leave for Kanchanaburi tomorrow. Instead, we'll have to find something to do on a Sunday in the outskirts of Bangkok.
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  #157  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/29 Quest For a New Camera

After Re went out to fetch the makings for another yogurt and cornflakes breakfast, she rebooked our room online and extended our stay for another two days. While she was online, she saw that my dad was logged in to Skype, so I called my parents and spent nearly an hour and a half catching up with them. Since Kanchanaburi is too far to walk, our new plan for the day was to try to find a camera to replace the one that broke when Re landed on it in India, or at least to try to get the screen repaired. Since we were so far out of the city (our hotel is about 22 miles east of Khao San Road) we needed to find a cheap and easy way to get to one of the malls. I saw online that the MBK Mall in the Siam Square area was supposed to have lots of electronics on the 4th floor. We looked at the maps and saw that there was a commuter rail station a couple miles from our hotel with a stop in common with they Skytrain line which would take us to the mall. We strapped on our sandals and made for the train station. The GPS said it was 2.2 miles to the station, and it was a long, hot walk.



We made it to the station around noon, only to discover that the next train wouldn't leave until 1:15 pm. Sigh.



We decided to take the opportunity to get lunch from one of the vendors in the train station. After a yummy lunch, we paid our 6 Baht each for our train tickets and waited patiently for the train. It arrived on time and we boarded for the 45 minute journey into town. The first few stops were clearly marked, but a couple of times, the train seemed to simply stop along the tracks, and people just hopped off. The 45 minutes came and went, and we still didn't see anything that looked like our stop. Finally, the train arrived at Hualumphong Station. Crap! We missed our stop.

On the map it didn't appear to be that long a walk, so we decided to hoof it. Once we got outside the station, the GPS said it was actually another 2 plus mile walk to the mall. Other than being hot, the walk was fairly uneventful, except when we had to climb over a railing next to one of the khlongs and shimmy past the barbed wire in order to climb onto the bridge that led to the mall. Just before we reached the mall, Re spotted a Tesco Lotus Hypermart, and we know what is in a Tesco Lotus Hypermart- a Dairy Queen. Since we were hot and sweaty, we decided that ice cream was the antidote. They have some really good Blizzard flavors here in Thailand, so I got the mocha almond fudge, and Re had the coffee Oreo. Yum. We made it to the mall, found the fourth floor, and immediately got lost in a maze of mobile phone stores. We did eventually find some camera shops, but could not find either of the camera models we were looking for. We did find a similar model, but it had a bunch of features we don't need and seemed kind of expensive. We didn't leave empty-handed, since Re was able to have a new screen protector installed on her iPod Touch.

By now, it was after 5:00 pm, and we started heading toward the Skytrain station. As we exited the mall, I spotted the familiar golden arches. This is Thailand, so they do have hamburgers. No paneer sandwiches, no spicy chicken nonsense, they have 100% real beef (or as close as McDonald's ever gets). We both ordered super-size Big Mac meals and waited patiently for them to be made. The Big Mac was exactly as it would be in the US, but the fries were better. Thailand has no qualms with trans fats health nonsense, so the fries taste like McDonald's fries did ten years ago, and the super-size is as big as it was in the States ten years ago. It's not a little cup of fries, we got buckets o' fries.

Full of grease, we slid to the train and took it to the stop we missed earlier in the day. We climbed down out of the Skytrain station to the road level and sat by the tracks while waiting for the train to arrive. Fortunately, tonight we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before boarding the train. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at our stop and then had to walk the 2.2 miles back to the hotel. The sun had gone down, so the walk was a little cooler, but it was still pretty warm. Once we reached the market outside the hotel, we bought some fruit, soda water, and drinking water to enjoy in the AC. After eating our watermelon, Re saw that her parents were on Skype and chatted with them for an hour. Before we went to bed, we repacked our daypacks for our hopefully successful trip to cargo in the morning.

7 miles or so, all on foot.
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  #158  
Old 2 Feb 2012
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1/30 Will We Get Our Bikes Today?

Since Customs was supposed to open at 9:00 am, we had breakfast in the room before hopping on the 8:30 shuttle to the airport. Once at the International Cargo Free Zone, we procured our visitors' passes and made for the Thai Cargo warehouse. After a bit of walking, we found the office with the paperwork and got our papers. As we walked out the front doors, we ran into Brian and Tanja, who were on their way inside to pick up their paperwork. We said our hellos, compared a few notes, and then trekked back to the Customs building. Once we made it into the Customs building, the first stop was at the Registration department, where they looked at our air waybill and entered my name and particulars into the system. We then went downstairs to the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) office. Thailand is not a Carnet country, so instead we need TIPs. Here is where things got difficult. Apparently, the issue is that we have two bikes, but only one air waybill (AWB). They can't give us two TIPs if we only have one waybill. Therefore, we had to walk all they way back to the Thai Cargo office and have them split the shipment into two AWBs. That sounds simple enough, what could go wrong?

We again ran into Brian and Tanja and gave them the good news, and they soon found out that they needed to do the same thing, as did Stefano and Annamaria when they arrived. After getting the AWBs split, we then walked back to the TIP office. We now had to get photocopies made of several pieces of our paperwork and our passports. After getting twenty copies made, we returned to the TIP office, and they finally accepted our paperwork at about 11:00 am. A few minutes later, the other four riders appeared and added their paperwork to the pile. Re stepped out for coffee and donuts (from the Dunkin' Donuts! in the next building) and we sat around talking and eating while we waited. Around 11:50 am, I was summoned into the office, where they told me that our paperwork was ready, but that everyone else would have to wait until after 1:00, when people return from lunch. Re and I had to visit one more Customs office to have a manifest prepared, so we hurried to that office to try and get it done before lunch. Two very nice and helpful women typed some things in some computers and wrote some stuff in big ledgers and then handed us off to another office (I don't know what they do). It turns out that since our bikes arrived in Bangkok more than 48 hours prior to right now, that there is a 1,000 Baht (32 USD) fee to have the AWB split. Lovely. We were given a bill and ran upstairs to pay it. The nice woman who was helping us said she would complete the rest of the paperwork so that when we returned we would be free to go. By now, it was after 12:00, but people were willing to work into their lunch hours to help us out. After getting our receipt, we hurried back to the Manifest (?) office, where we received more bad news. The woman couldn't complete our paperwork because Re was “not in the system.” When we went to the Registration office earlier, we only had one AWB and it was in my name. So we needed to return to the Registration office and have Re entered into the system. Unfortunately, they were closed for lunch, so we now had to wait until after 1:00 before we could do anything else.

While I went back downstairs and rejoined our fellow riders in the TIP office waiting area, Re went out and scored us some chicken and rice lunches that included a cube of congealed blood each. Having eaten congealed blood a few times before, I know it's not my favorite food, but I will eat it. It was funny to see the different reactions from our fellow travelers as Re and I each ate ours. Finally, 1:00 arrived, and we were back trying to get all of the signatures. Our paperwork was eventually completed, and we returned to Thai Cargo after stopping at the Customs Inspectors office. It was now time to pay our storage charges. Since our bikes were dangerous goods and had been in Bangkok for over 24 hours, we had to pay storage and handling charges. If we could have picked them up on Saturday, the charge would have been about 42 USD, but since it was now Monday, the Thai Cargo webside said our charges would instead be about 74 USD. But no. Once we made it to the window to pay, I was informed that it would be 103 USD. Huh? None of the cashiers spoke enough English to explain the situation, so I waited patiently for a supervisor to arrive. Since we now had two AWBs, we had to pay two sets of charges, essentially paying double for everything except for the weight-based handling fee. When I objected, the supervisor smiled and said that he knew it didn't make sense, but it was the rule. How can you argue with that logic? Tired of ****ing with the paperwork, I paid and received final clearance to pick up our crate.

When we reached the warehouse area, we found that the DRZs and KLEs had leapfrogged us somewhere along the way. Brian and Stefano both also said that they had to pay twice for storage since their AWBs were also split. Grrr. I will say, I never felt that we were being ripped off or unfairly charged because we did receive receipts for everything we paid, just that this is a series of stupid policies. While we waited for our crate to appear from the bowels of the warehouse, we helped the other riders open their crates. Everyone was relieved to see that the twine held, and their bikes and gear all arrived in good shape. After twenty minutes or so, our crate finally appeared at about 3:00. Re and I got to work on the now familiar task of putting our babies back together, and by 5:00, we were ready to ride down the ramp and out into the evening air. The DRZs and KLEs were also nearly completed when we left, so we bid Brian, Tanja, Stefano, and Annamaria farewell before riding away. After one more stop to turn in some of our paperwork to an office, we rode out of the Free Zone and onto the streets of Bangkok.

My big concern now was how little petrol I had in my tank. Re has been getting better fuel mileage than I have, so I figured she had at least ten miles worth in her tank, but I knew I had less. I spotted a petrol station on one of our rides to the airport and knew it was only a mile and a half down the road. The bikes seemed to be enjoying their new found freedom as much as we were as we accelerated up to 45 mph and rode towards the petrol station. I did make it, and I got seven liters of 91 unleaded in my jerrycan. Without stopping to transfer any to the bike's tank, we made for the hotel. About a mile from the hotel, my bike stopped accelerating, and then it just stopped. I coasted to the side of the road, and much to the amusement of the locals, Re helped me put a couple liters in my tank. We fired them back up and zoomed back home. With the bikes parked safely at the hotel, we grabbed a quick shower and headed back to the market for dinner.


6 miles in 20 minutes! With 2 fuel stops! All of our airport fees totaled 140 USD.
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Old 12 Feb 2012
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3mountainsadventure
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  #160  
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Amazing RR guys! Keep it coming! You're an inspiration!
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  #161  
Old 18 Feb 2012
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underbones

a grand read enjoying it
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  #162  
Old 18 Feb 2012
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This is incredible. What an example you are.
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  #163  
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1/31 Stay Another Day/Bike Maintenance

Our plan was to head to Kanchanaburi today, but while reassembling the bikes yesterday at the airport, I recalled all the maintenance I had been putting off. I decided that today was the day to get the work done. We were way overdue for an oil change, since we'd covered nearly 4,000 miles since our last one in Ooty. I also wanted to check/adjust the valves since we hadn't done that since Malawi (over 6,000 miles ago). Re had also mentioned that her chain was making noise on the ride to Kathmandu. So all this needed to be done today.

After we got up and had breakfast, the first task was to actually wash India off the bikes, particularly the engines, to give me a clean work surface. I had spied a hose out front that the hotel staff used each morning to wash their shuttle vans. While Re asked if we could use it to wash our bikes, I walked to the Tesco and bought what I assume was a toilet brush with which to remove the caked on dirt. The mud that had solidified on the bottom of the bikes so thickly covered the cylinder heads that you couldn't actually see the bolts that secure the valve adjustment ports. When I returned, Re told me we could use the hose, so I wheeled the bikes around while Re got a rag and the soap we bought in Zimbabwe. Re got busy washing the bikes while I reviewed the valve adjustment procedures in the shop manual. Re finished washing duties around 11:00 am, so we left them in the sun to dry. Since we had a little time before lunch, Re made use of the washing machines in the hotel and washed our Dariens. With clean gear and bikes, we should be free of the India poop-mud.

Then we went out in search of some lunch. A few blocks down the street, we found a soup vendor who was doing a booming business with the locals. We weren't really sure what kind of meat was in the soup, but we ordered two bowls of it anyway. When it arrived, it had the familiar look of some soups we've eaten before, with some pale meatballs that have the texture I imagine a Superball would have, some sliced, pressed meat, some minced meat, and a stuffed wonton. All the meat tasted vaguely fishy, and I still don't know what it was, but it was good and at 75 cents a bowl, it was budget-friendly to boot.

After lunch, we got out the tarp and the tools and got to work. We started with an oil change for my bike. With Re's assistance, we soon had the oil changed, the filter screen cleaned, and everything bolted back together. Because of the Symbas' nearly horizontal motor configuration, it's less messy to adjust the valves while the engine is drained of oil. Before refilling the bike with 800ccs of the semi-synthetic motorcycle oil I purchased at the gas station, I checked the valves. Both the intake and the exhaust on my bike were an RCH tight, but still within spec. Since I was already in there, I reset them. With all the covers back on, we filled the bike up with oil and reinstalled the leg shields. Then we started work on Re's bike, where the first order of business was to investigate the source of the chain noise. Re's chain case was mangled pretty severely when the bolt backed out of the rear hub outside of Windhoek, Namibia, and it occasionally needs a little “adjustment” with the hammer to keep it from rubbing. I assumed this was the case again, but when I removed the chain case, I saw that her sprocket was wobbling again. The ****ing bolts that I had Loc-tited in place in Windhoek had come loose again. We removed the rear wheel, and two of the four nuts that hold the sprocket to the hub fell out onto the ground. Son of a bitch. We removed the hub, the staked washers, and the other two remaining bolts (which were also loose), pounded the washers flat, and then reassembled everything using lots more blue Loc-tite. We then reinstalled the hub, the rear wheel, and adjusted the chain, before reinstalling the chain case and assorted other ancillaries. With Re's rear end now sorted out, we got to work on the oil change and valve adjustment. No drama here. Re's intake valve was also an RCH tight, but her exhaust valve was spot on. After buttoning everything back up and refilling her bike with oil, we pronounced the bikes good and cleaned up our work area. By now it was nearly 5:00 pm, and we were filthy, soaked with sweat, and starving.

We had our showers, and after a bit, headed back to the market to find some dinner. Having had soup of some variety for one meal each day since we arrived, we decided to branch out a little this evening. In addition to having food stands with seating areas, many vendors in the market sell food for takeaway. We decided to go that route this evening, so while I ran back to the room and grabbed our bowls and forks, Re bought us some rice and some of the most delicious pork I have ever eaten. Pork: it's the meat of kings. Re and I arranged to meet at the picnic tables in front of our hotel, but Re hadn't returned yet, so I ran over to the 7Eleven for some soda waters. I met her at the picnic tables, and she produced what was perhaps the most beautiful sight in the world. In addition to the sliced, grilled pork, she had two pork "lollipops." Imagine, if you will, a 1/4” thick piece of pork approximately 2.5” x 4” threaded on a wooden skewer. It was marinated in a sweet sauce, so once it was grilled, the sauce caramelized to make a slightly crunchy and sweet coating. The price for such deliciousness? About 30 cents each. Yum! After eating our lollipops, we dug into even more delicious grilled pork and rice and a really good salad. Apparently, we weren't the only ones salivating over the smell of the pork, as we were soon joined by a rather pregnant cat circling our feet. My mom taught me it was good to share with the less fortunate, so we happily dropped some bits of meat on the ground for our new best friend. After dinner, we waddled back up to the room and spent the rest of the evening repacking our bags, because tomorrow, we ride to Kanchanaburi.
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Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/1 Ride to Kanchanaburi

Our goal today was to ride to Kanchanaburi, which should only be about 110 miles. We got kind of a late start today since we stayed up late last night watching “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (we saw this movie on DVD before we left, and I remembered it as a fun movie, but didn't remember much of the plot. I enjoyed it again, up until the very end. How could he choose Ramona (the town bicycle) over Knives (the uber-hot Asian chick)?!?). We got up a little late, had breakfast, and did some last-minute research on guesthouses in Kanchanaburi. While reinstalling the Pelican top case on Re's twice-repaired rack, we saw that it had cracked AGAIN. Sigh. I guess we will be looking for a welder again. Re is hard on the equipment.

We finally checked out and hit the road around 10:00 am, and it was good to be riding. The GPS had mapped our route through Bangkok, but I was a little concerned since the route included the ring road around the city. There are a few highways in Thailand where motorbikes are not allowed, and sure enough, the ring road is one of them. As we sat facing the “No Motorbikes” sign, I got the feeling that it was going to be a very long morning. Fortunately, my GPS has an “avoid highways” option, and I flicked that on. We were quickly rerouted, but the route appeared to be at least ten miles longer. We dutifully followed our new directions, and the ride went better than expected. The roads we were sent down were not 25 mph stoplight to stoplight roads, but actually contained some long stretches where we could get the bikes up to 40 mph.

Once we made it past the western edge of Bangkok, we decided to stop for some lunch and found a roadside stand where we ordered chicken fried rice and some drinks. Judging from the reactions of the vendors, I don't think they get many farang stopping out this way. The revelation of the morning was just how polite and civilized the drivers of Thailand are. People use their mirrors, look over their shoulders, use turn signals, and generally seem to avoid trying to murder each other. It's going to take a while to get over the bad flinch I developed in India, but I like it here in Thailand.

Now that we were outside of the city, the roads opened up and we were able to cruise at 45 mph for long stretches between towns. We joined our fellow Thai motorbike riders on the shoulder of the road whenever there was overtaking traffic. We made it to Kanchanaburi by about 3:00 pm, and while I sat with the bikes, Re looked at five possible guesthouses. We settled on Sam's House, where we had a nice, AC room with good parking. After unpacking the bikes, we both took it easy for a little while, and then Re went to check the menus at a few of the nearby restaurants. Later, we went out for an excellent dinner at Mangosteen. I had the Tom Kha Gai with rice, while Re had her favorite meal (which she discovered the last time we were in Kanchanaburi), Tom Yam Soup with french fries to dunk in it. On the way back to the room, we swung by the 7Eleven for, what else? Ice cream and . Back in the room, we worked on ride reports for a while before calling it a night.
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2/2 Erawan Falls

Our plan for the day was to ride the forty miles northwest to Erawan Falls. We visited the falls when we were here a couple of years ago and know they are a nice place for a hike and a swim. But mostly, Re wants to go for the fish. After an excellent night of sleep, we woke to a beautifully sunny morning. Breakfast was more of the same – yogurt, cereal, and coffee from the 7Eleven. After breakfast we showered and packed up our bathing suits, sunscreen, and water, and headed out to the bikes. As we pulled into Kanchanaburi yesterday afternoon, I heard an occasional clank from Re's rear sprocket, so I wanted to check that this morning before we left. I removed the four 10mm bolts and pulled of the chain guard to check the rear sprocket. Everything still seemed snug, so I inspected the inside of the chain case. Sure enough, there was a shiny spot where the chain lube has been rubbed off, so it appears that the master link is slightly rubbing the case. I massaged the area out a bit and put it back together.

With that sorted out, we headed for the falls. The road was beautiful and smooth, and we found ourselves clipping along at 45 mph. Just for shits and giggles, we wicked it all the way up to 50 (!) mph for a short stretch. As we rode west, we started getting into the edge of the mountains and had beautiful views all around us. Some stretches of the road were twisty fun, while others were lined with colorful bougainvillea and dark purple morning glories. We did stop for fuel once we neared the falls and found that it was about ten percent more than in town. We arrived at the turnoff for the falls shortly after 11:00 am and remembered from our last trip that there was an excellent food court at the turnoff. We chose more crispy pork, this time, accompanied by sticky rice and washed it down with a couple of fruit shakes and then made for the falls. The admission to the falls seems to have gone way up, since I don't remember it costing 200 Baht (6.75 USD) the last time we were here. We also had to pay an additional 20 Baht for each bike. We parked our bikes, locked up our riding gear and helmets, and started hiking for the falls.



Erawan Falls has seven levels, and the seventh level is at the top of a 2 km, moderately strenuous climb. Paths in parks in southeast Asia are nothing like their US counterparts. Some areas of a path have you scrambling up and over boulders and using tree roots as steps. This was not so much a path as a suggested route. But the scenery was breathtaking, and the climb was good exercise. We went directly to the top and eventually settled into the surprisingly cool water.



The seventh level is a the foot of a steep cliff face, and the years of limestone deposits have formed a smooth shell over the rocks. The best part of the pools at Erawan Falls is watching other people's reactions when they get in and first discover the fish. The pools are filled with small sucker fish that range from one to about four inches in length that just love dead skin. Within seconds of getting into the water, you feel the first kiss, usually on one of your feet. If you sit still long enough (like Re does) you will have twenty to thirty of these little fish nibbling away on your feet, calves, and occasionally, fingers. The sensation takes some getting used to, and I find it rather ticklish, but Re loves it. Months of walking and riding have left her feet far from silky smooth, so the fish seem to find her especially yummy. Other people's reactions range from embarrassed giggling to involuntary yelps, and every once in a while somebody loses their footing and falls into the water. In the interest of full disclosure, the pictures here aren't from this trip. We did not bring our camera since the broken screen makes it difficult to use, so we're recycling pictures from our visit here a couple of years ago.



But it's the same pools, the same sexy wife, and she brought the same bikini for this trip as well. After at least an hour at the seventh level, we hiked back down to the fourth level, which is our second favorite pool. It is a little more shady and has less people, so it's a nice place to relax.



The humorous highlight of this afternoon occurred when one of the “cheeky monkeys” grabbed a couple's backpack and raced up a tree. The monkey was unable to open the bag and must have eventually gotten tired of people yelling at it, so it dropped the bag and went in search of something better. After soaking in the fourth level for a while, we saw that it was 3:30 pm, and since the park closes at 4:00, we started climbing down. As we descended, I heard the distinctive sound of thunder in the distance. Uh oh.

We made it to the parking lot at around 4:00, and the thunder had become more frequent. We put on our Dariens and helmets and rode out under darkening skies. After a few miles, sprinkles began to appear on our face shields, and it rained on and off for most of the trip back to Kanchanaburi. The rain stopped shortly before we pulled into town, and other than our gloves, we stayed dry. After another shower, we went out to our old standby, the Jolly Frog, for dinner. I had the always excellent chicken cordon bleu (2.50 USD) and Re had more tom yam and fries. Originally we were going to cruise down to the Dairy Queen after dinner but decided we'd had enough riding for one day. Instead, we returned to the 7Eleven for...what else?

90 miles in nearly 3 hours. Re's feet feel extra smooth on my calves!
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