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  #166  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/3 Ride to Sukhothai

On our backpacking trip two years ago, we ended up in Kanchanaburi kind of by accident. We had returned to Bangkok from Cambodia on Christmas day with the intent of taking the train south to Malaysia. But the Christmas/New Year week is as big a holiday time in Thailand as in the US, and the first train we could get was on January 3rd. Frustrated, we decided to go anywhere but Bangkok and caught the first westbound bus to Kanchanaburi. After a brief visit, we were going to work our way down the peninsula by bus. But Kanchanaburi is a pleasant and inexpensive place to stay, so every day we stayed for just “one more day.” Yesterday afternoon, we felt the same pull and discussed staying just one more day. Over the past month, our trip lost momentum. We stayed three nights in Gorakpur due to illness, four nights in Lumbini also due to illness and injury, five nights in Pokhara, six nights in Kathmandu, and then five nights in Bangkok. We stayed as long as we did in some of these places due to shipping the bikes and for other good reasons, but we need to return to traveling every couple of days or so.

Today I chose an ambitious ride to try to break the spell of lethargy. Sukhothai is a city in central Thailand approximately halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai which has a set of ruins that are supposed to be Thailand's answer to the temples at Angkor Wat. The ride from Kanchanaburi to Sukhothai would be nearly three hundred miles, which would also be an answer to all of our relatively short rides of late. Not knowing how long it would take us to cover the miles, we rose early, had breakfast, loaded up the bikes, and were on the road by 8:00 am. While the morning wasn't too hot, it was very humid next to the River Kwai. The first part of our ride retraced the route we took from Bangkok before turning north and loosely following the Chao Praya River. Once underway, the humidity didn't seem to bother us so much, but the day did warm up.



The ride was pretty. We passed through steeply jutting, low mountains, large areas of rice paddy, fields of sugar cane, and through a mix of rural agriculture and small cities. Maybe it was the breakfast, or maybe we're still getting used to the heat (again), but both of us felt sleepy while riding.



We ended up stopping twice during the morning to stretch and have a drink and a snack. Once again, traffic was polite and predictable. Thai drivers apparently have the ability to turn their heads to see their mirrors and oncoming traffic. The roads were also good until we reached Nakhon Sawan, where they became variable. So far, the worst pavement in Thailand is still better than 99.4% of the roads in India. After a peculiar lunch of pork-filled steamed buns from the 7Eleven(?) we continued on towards Sukhothai.

As the afternoon wore on, the sky began to darken ahead. Approximately twenty miles from Sukhothai, a very strong wind kicked up and blew us around our lane. Soon we could hear the sound of thunder and the gray clouds were occasionally lit by bolts of lightning. Yay. When the first light drops appeared on my visor, we pulled over to zip our vents and install our custom Hefty daypack covers. We were only about twelve miles from Sukhothai when the heavens opened and dumped very heavy rain. The road was soon covered with standing water, but at least the wind died down. Fortunately the rain dwindled to almost a stop by the time we pulled up in front of our guesthouse. We pulled our bikes under the awning and got off to assess our wetness. It's been many months since we rode in any significant rain and have clearly forgotten a few things. I failed to hike up my pants and consequently, my zipper was not covered, resulting in a wet groinal area. Somehow Re and I both missed making sure our pant legs covered the tops of our boots. We both ended up with standing water in our left boots. Doh!

Our guesthouse was very nice, and we opted for a room with AC to ensure that our gear and boots dried overnight. Once we got everything situated in the room, we pulled out the Lonely Planet to try to find a place for dinner. Nothing really struck our fancy or was too far away, so where else? The night market, of course. We strolled through the night market and looked at all the food vendors. There were a few places where farang were eating, and of course they had English menus, but the food was at least twice as expensive as it should have been. We continued on and eventually found a stand where many local people were eating. When the cook saw us peering at what she was making, she produced a menu that had some simple translations for the dishes. Of course, they were delicious, and of course, they were less than a dollar each. We added a couple of fruit shakes and later, bought a watermelon to eat in the room. Except for the brief downpour, this was a good day.


300 miles in around 8 hours. I thought I heard my clutch slip a bit today, and I thought I did yesterday as well. I hope it's just the semi-synthetic oil I put in.
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  #167  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/4 Touring Old Sukhothai

Our plan for the day was to tour Old Sukhothai, but the plan was in doubt when we woke to very overcast skies. All of the sights are outdoors, and rain would certainly be a bummer. We checked three different weather services on the internet, and they placed the chance of precipitation between 60 and 90%. For tomorrow, however, it ranged from 0 to 50%. Once again, the stayanotherday-itis reared its ugly head. We could just hang out today and go see the sights tomorrow. This actually brought up the very real question of, what exactly is our itinerary for the next few weeks? Our Thai visas expire on February 25th, so we need to be somewhere else by then. Our working plan, so far, has been to ride north through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai via the scenic route and then go to Laos somehow. That plan could take anywhere between five and a hundred and seventeen days, so we decided to narrow it down a little. The plan we settled on is to ride to Mae Sot, then Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, and then to Chiang Mai, where we will spend three to four nights. From there we ride to Chiang Rai for a couple of nights before looping through the Golden Triangle and into Chiang Khong. From there we will cross into Laos, and... that's as far as we got. We're pretty sure that we will ride the length of Laos and cross into Cambodia near Stung Treng.

By now the sky was looking clearer, so we decided to hop on the bikes and ride to Old Sukhothai. The ruins here cover five different zones, but the central zone is supposed to be the one to see. We paid our 100 Baht and got our tickets. Thailand is a civilized country – they actually let us ride our motorbikes into the historical park.



Sukhothai is considered the first independent Thai kingdom that emerged from the ruins of the Khmer Empire. But the newfound independence didn't stop them from largely copying the artistic style of the Khmer.



The historical park is filled with a collection of temples and Buddhas. We could see a definite Angkor influence in some of the temples, but only if we squinted and held our tongues just right.



Nevertheless, there were some beautiful and impressive temple ruins, some of which were surrounded by wide moats or sat on the edge of large, artificial lakes. We spent the next several hours touring the sights with a constant eye on the sky. The clouds, once again, turned very dark, and we expected to have to run for cover at any minute. Thankfully, the rain never materialized and we were able to continue our tour.



We stopped to get a photo of the bikes next to Wat Chang Lom. Here we met a group of tourists from Vermont and spent some time chatting with them about our travels. After snapping a couple of photos, we decided to head for lunch.

It was now mid-afternoon, and we were getting hungry. We saw some roadside stands and again practiced our “look, point, and hold up two fingers” method of ordering, and ended up with another delicious and inexpensive meal. On the way back to the hotel, we swung into the Big C to look for a camera. We didn't find anything that met our needs, so instead, Re bought a cute, short skirt. After seven months, she is tired of wearing the same three pairs of not sexy pants. We got back to the guesthouse around 4:00 pm and decided to work on a few ride reports and firm up our northern Thailand plans. Later, we returned to the night market and had a crunchy noodle dish and some skewers of chicken and sausage.


21 miles in an hour. I adjusted my clutch and it seems to be doing okay.
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  #168  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/5 Ride to Mae Sot



When we backpacked around southeast Asia two years ago, we rented a Honda CB400 in Chiang Mai and rode south along the Burma border to Mae Sot. There, we crossed into Burma for about an hour and returned to Thailand, thereby giving us a new fifteen day Thai visa. We enjoyed the ride so much that we decided to do it in reverse this time. Our goal for the day was to ride to Mae Sot and spend the afternoon seeing the town. We woke to a beautifully clear and sunny day, and after having some coffee, we hit the road for the short ride.

It was a relatively boring ride today, which is actually a good thing for a change. Another feature of the roads in Thailand that make them so enjoyable is the presence of excellent signage. Whereas a GPS was mandatory in India, you could navigate the highways of Thailand with the simplest of road maps. The first half of the ride took us to Tak. Between Sukhothai and Tak, the road was really good, mainly four-lane, with monotonous scenery. The roads were lined with small, deciduous trees that were mostly leafless. It reminded me of riding through downeast North Carolina. Once we passed through Tak, the road surface became a little bumpy and variable, but the road got much more entertaining. The road twisted and turned past mountains and through forests. The elevation in Tak was approximately 20 feet above sea level, but we eventually crossed the mountain range at over 3,000 feet before descending into Mae Sot. Our bikes did have some trouble ging up the hills, and several times we found ourselves in second gear, struggling to maintain 20 mph on some of the steeper grades. Apparently my clutch adjustment yesterday didn't help, since I very clearly heard it slipping on several occasions. If this continues, I will need to change the oil again, this time, with 100 percent dinosaur squeezins. Besides the roads and the scenery, the other nice thing about riding in the mountains was how cool it was. I would guess that the temperature was in the low 70s for most of the ride.

Once we descended into Mae Sot, however, the temperature climbed dramatically, and the bright sun made it feel even warmer inside our Dariens. We had a difficult time finding our preferred guesthouse, and while we rode around the blocks and even got off to walk to find it, I just kept getting warmer. With the help of some telephone company employees, we eventually found the Green Guesthouse, hidden down a small road, behind the police station. I stayed with the bikes while Re went to look at the rooms and stupidly, did not remove my jacket. By the time Re returned and gave the thumbs up on the room, I was not feeling very well at all. While Re unpacked the bikes, I stayed in the room and laid under the AC, trying to cool off. After 30 minutes or so, I felt much better, and since it was 1:00 pm, we decided to find some lunch. One of the recommended places nearby was a Canadian-owned restaurant that is known for its Mexican food. We each ordered crunchy tacos with ground beef and a side order of refried beans. Having been disappointed by Mexican food elsewhere on this trip, we were a bit skeptical of what we would be served. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our food was delicious and somewhat authentic. The rest of the afternoon we walked around the town and through the many different market areas. After picking up a watermelon, we went back to the room and spent the rest of the afternoon taking it easy and reading fiction. Later that evening, we walked out to find the night market, where we had a yummy dinner of noodles and pork. On the way back to the room, we picked up the variety 3-pack of seaweed flavored potato chips and some Changs. Earlier in the afternoon, we met the resident cat at the guesthouse, and when we returned, we invited her in our room for some chips. She ate every chip we gave her, but we eventually had to boot her out so we could go to bed. She must have enjoyed the chips, because several times during the night we heard her meowing outside the door.


113 miles in 3.5 hours. My clutch is making me a little nervous.
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  #169  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/6 Ride to Mae Sariang

When the alarm went off at 7:00 am, I hit the snooze, only to be awakened by the squeaky cat outside our door. She very insistently wanted us to get up (and presumably, give her more seaweed flavored chips). Unfortunately, we had no more potato chips, so she had to settle for a scratch. After a while, I kicked Re out of bed and we set to the all too familiar task of packing everything up again. Our guesthouse offered inexpensive breakfast food, but we were unable to find anyone to order it from. While I loaded the bikes, Re hoofed it to the 7Eleven and returned with coffee and cereal. We've been skipping a large breakfast for the past few days since it seems to make us sleepy mid-morning.

When we turned out onto the road around 9:00 am, it was in the low 60s, so we stopped to zip our vents before continuing northward. We were immediately into the hills, but initially the roads were very good. There were some steep climbs, and a few times, we found ourselves in first gear ging up the hills at 10 mph.



On other sections, we were able to maintain 45 mph as we swooped through hundreds of corners. The scenery today was beautiful too. In sections we rode along the Moei River and could see across it into Burma.



One interesting thing we saw along the way was the refugee camps for the Burmese people who have fled the fighting in their home country.



The buildings themselves were fascinating to see: the walls appeared to be "unrolled" bamboo, and the roofs are thatched with teak leaves.

Other times, we rode up higher into the mountains, through flowering trees, teak forests, and random banana trees. The bad news of the day is that my clutch was slipping significantly for the first half of the day, but then it mysteriously did not for the second half. Huh? Part way through the trip we came upon some very large, orange, temporary road signs, but we had no idea what they said since they were covered in squiggles and dots. We soon discovered that they must have said something about landslides and damaged roads, because that's what we found. Thailand suffered from massive rains and flooding last year, and this area clearly experienced a lot of rain. On this stretch of road, we passed through areas where the hillsides had obviously collapsed and covered the road in feet of dirt and mud that has since been removed. Here the pavement was chewed up but still rideable. In other areas, the road surface was completely stripped away, and we found ourselves riding on dirt and gravel. Then suddenly, we rounded the corner and came upon a brand new section of pavement. For some unknown reason, here in the middle of the mountains, was perhaps, 10 miles of a beautifully smooth asphalt roller coaster. The road twisted and turned and rose and fell around the mountain side. This was the funnest piece of road I have ridden since I can't remember when. I found myself wishing for one of my old TZs or VFR, or even one of the CBR250s they rent here. If it was this much fun on our overloaded Symbas, it would have been an absolute blast on something faster. Too soon, it ended, and we found ourselves riding again on rough pavement for most of the remainder of the day.

We arrived in Mae Sariang at around 3:00 pm and stopped at the day market for two unbelievably delicious and crispy chicken leg quarters and two orders of sticky rice. We walked to the 7Eleven and bought drinks, and not seeing another place for our picnic, sat on their front step and ate our lunch. The fried chicken in Thailand is like no other fried chicken I have eaten (and believe me, I have eaten a lot of fried chicken in my life). Re describes it as being like crack. It ain't healthy, but I don't care. After we licked our fingers clean, we rode to our guesthouse and checked in for a lazy afternoon. We stayed at this guesthouse last time we were in Mae Sariang and knew it had an excellent (and cheap) restaurant, so later in the evening, we had a great dinner there before walking out to pick up ice cream to eat with our Changs.

160 miles in 6 hours. Besides my slipping clutch, this was an awesome ride!
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  #170  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/7 Ride to Mae Hong Son

We enjoyed our lunch on the steps of the 7Eleven yesterday that we returned today for breakfast. After packing up the bikes, we had an alfresco breakfast of coffee and cereal, just like the finest homeless people do. At 9:00 am, we rode off into the cool and foggy morning. If I thought yesterday's ride was the best ride of the trip, I was wrong. Today's ride was even better.



The roads today were a beautiful, green roller coaster ride through the mountains. There were some bad stretches of pavement, but the vast majority of the ride was on smooth tarmac.



Between the cool air and the brown leaves on the trees, it reminded me of late fall rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway if the BRP had banana and teak trees. My clutch didn't slip at all today, even with the frequent trips down through the gears.

We did have some engine troubles, though. We refueled at the Shell Station just before we left Mae Sariang, and that's when our troubles began (although I didn't realize it soon enough). My bike seemed to be low on power and took a lot of cranking at wide open throttle in order to start. Re was having similar hard starting issues, and her bike would lurch when climbing hills at low revs. Totally puzzled by what was going on, we swapped bikes so I could attempt to diagnose the problem. Sure enough, as revs fell, the engine began to hit and miss, and the bike lurched. The revs had not dropped so far that the engine was actually lugging, but it was acting more like a fueling problem. I found that if I backed off the throttle and then rolled it open halfway, the engine would run normally. Low revs + WOT = no fuel? The best I could figure would either be a partially clogged main jet, or perhaps it had something to do with 17,000 miles on the original fuel filter? Either way, I wasn't fixing it here,so we continued on, just a little more slowly when climbing hills. When we reached the crossroads at Khun Yuam, we pulled over in a parking lot and I decided to swap Re's sparkplug for one of the used ones we were carrying. The plug I removed was sooty and black, showing that the bike had indeed been running rich? Lack of fuel flow should create a lean condition and a much lighter colored sparkplug. This stretch of road is fairly remote, and I did not see any bike shops in which to get a new fuel filter or sparkplug, so we fired up the bikes to continue northward. Both of our bikes were nearly impossible to start, however, and this is when I made the connection between both of our bikes running poorly. While we had different symptoms, the common denominator seemed to be the fuel we bought that morning. Since our last visit to Thailand they have started selling gasohol in both 91 and 95 octane varieties, but I have been sticking with the real, unadulterated bensin (as they call it here). I am 97% positive that the fuel I bought this morning came from a red pump and not a green one, but the fuel was now my chief suspect.

We rolled into Mae Hong Son around 2:00 pm, and after a GPS-induced detour, we eventually found a guesthouse and scored an ensuite fan room with mattress on the floor for the low, low price of 10 USD. A nearby restaurant is well known for its khao soy (my favorite northern Thai noodle dish), but when we walked there, we found it was closed... for today only. What?! Instead we went to a place across the street that had some delicious food, but no khao soy. I drowned my sorrow in a plate of pad see ew, and then we hopped on the bikes and rode to the Tham Pla National Forest. On the way out of town , we stopped to get 7.6 liters of, hopefully better, fuel in our jerrycan. We usually refuel around the 95 mile mark, but I decided to run deep into the tanks in an attempt to get rid of all the suspect fuel. At 107 miles, my bike coughed, so we dove for the side of the road and refilled our babies (107 miles from 1.04 gallons, not too shabby ). The effect of the new fuel was dramatic and immediately apparent. My bike fired up instantly, and once we were underway, Re gave me the thumbs up that her bike was running fine. I still decided to get some new sparkplugs and fuel filters at the first opportunity, but the new fuel seems to have solved our problems.



After refueling, we continued to Tham Pla, which translates as the Fish Cave. The guide says, “(t)his beautifully landscaped pond is attached to a small crevice, where thousands of fish struggle to swim up an underground stream. Mysteriously, very few ever come out. The Shan villagers who look after the fish never catch them, believing that the spirit of the mountain guards the fish from harm. As a result of their protected status, they grow to be quite large, with some more than 80cm long.”



Many people come here to picnic and feed the fish. The funny thing is that since the fish are holy, they are supposed to be vegetarians, so you can buy bags of salad to feed to them.



It's a nice place to spend an hour or two. After a relaxing afternoon off the bikes, we rode back into town and found our way to the night market for dinner.



On the way back to the room we picked up some cookies and Changs. Chang: the with the taste for generic Oreos!

162 awesome miles in 5 very enjoyable hours of riding. Glad the bike issue turned out to be fuel-related.
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  #171  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/8 Ride to Chiang Mai

After hitting the snooze button a half dozen times, I finally crawled out of bed around 7:00 am and peeked out the window. I could see that it was foggy in the mountains, so I hopped back in bed and we figured out a way to entertain ourselves while the fog cleared. Feeling thoroughly entertained, we got up and had breakfast at our guesthouse before packing up the bikes and riding out at 8:30 am.



Even though we delayed our start, it was still foggy and chilly for the first hour or so of the ride.



Today's ride was another asphalt roller coaster through the green, green mountains. I've run out of superlatives with which to describe the roads here, so you should just come ride them for yourself!



The roads today had some crazy switchbacks that either went dramatically uphill or downhill. We found ourselves in first gear many times on the steep inclines. The bikes are running fine on the new load of fuel, which is very good news. My clutch is also behaving itself, so maybe I won't need to change the oil so soon. The other cool thing on the ride today was all the farang (tourists) on rented motorbikes of all displacements. The Chiang Mai loop (as it's called) is quite famous, and for good reason. It is very easy to come to Chiang Mai and rent bikes between 125cc and 650cc and just go riding. The roads are well signed, and many towns along the way have good accommodations and excellent food. Oh, did I mention, literally, thousands of corners? If you come to ride it yourself, just make sure that you enjoy excellent riding, cheap bike rental, excellent food, cheap , and friendly people. But, be sure to bring your own helmet, gloves, and jacket.

We made it to Chiang Mai around 2:30 pm but found that all three of our preferred guesthouses were full. Re set out on foot and found us a very nice place, run by a German man and his Thai wife. It was a bit odd to be the only non-German speaking guests, but it was a nice place, and the price was right too. I recalled from our last visit to Chiang Mai that just outside the moat, there was a McDonald's. Since it will probably be a month or more before we're back in Big Mac country, we decided to head there for a late lunch. After lunch, we walked around town to get reacquainted with the area before heading back to the room to cool off a bit. At this time of year, the temperatures in Chiang Mai are rather comfortable, with lows near 60 overnight, but in the afternoons, the temperature spikes into the low 90s. Later that evening, we went to the night market for a light dinner of egg and cheese roti and some delicious fruit shakes and then called it a night.

160 miles in about 5 hours. Another awesome day of riding!
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  #172  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/9 The Quest for a New Camera Continues

We slept in late today and then walked out to the 7Eleven for coffee. We returned to the room and researched possible places to buy a new camera to replace our damaged one. We have continued to use it even with a broken screen, taking many pictures and discarding the ones that are out of focus or badly composed, but it's getting tedious, so it's time for a new camera. But before we go camera shopping, it's time to go get my very favorite northern Thai food.

We discovered the joy of khao soi the last time we were here. It is a curry dish with both soft and crispy egg noodles in a rich, coconut and soy based soup and either chicken or pork. It's served with wedges of lime, shallots, and pickled mustard greens. In my opinion, it is one of the ten best foods in the world, and after we returned to the US from our last trip, Re found a recipe for khao soi and made it many, many times. Re was looking online for different khao soi joints and found one that was described as the best in all of Chiang Mai on Travelfish.org by an aficionado. That was all the encouragement we needed, so we rode out in search of the place. It's a tiny outdoor restaurant that is only open between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm and has no signage in English.

We found the place easily enough and after ordering two big bowls with chicken, we sat and waited in anticipation.



Our food quickly arrived, and it was pretty damned good. I maybe biased, but I think I actually like Re's version better, but this bowl took a solid second place. We happily slurped down our soup, paid the lady 70 Baht (2.20 USD), and pledged to return tomorrow.

After our brunch, we rode to a camera store north of the moat and were shocked by the prices they were asking for their cameras. We have a short list of three models we're looking for, and this store had two of them, but at way too high of a price. The one Panasonic Lumix that we like would cost about 225 USD from Amazon.com, and we saw it in Bangkok for about 330 USD. Here, they wanted about 475 USD for it. It was a similar story with the Nikon on our list, the price was more than twice what it would cost in the US. A little disheartened, we rode to the mall by the airport. It contained a half dozen or so camera shops, but the the story here was the same: the rent, I mean, the camera, is too damn high. We sat around for a little while discussing our options, but the only thing we could agree on was a coffee Oreo Blizzard from the DQ in the mall. We decided to leave without buying a camera and struggle through with our current one, and maybe we'll replace it when we pass by Bangkok in a month or so.

We rode back to the guesthouse for a relaxing afternoon. Inevitably, the topic turned to food, and dinner tonight would be at Aroon Rai. We ate here on our previous visit and knew it was a great place for a particular Chiang Mai sausage. They also make a mean chicken and potato curry, and they were both as good as we remembered. It really was a beautiful night out, and we walked along the moat and enjoyed the weather and each other's company. Having not had our daily fruit shake yet, we walked back to the night market and ordered them there. On the way back to the room, we once again, picked up some ice cream and Changs. It's only when writing this that I realized how much crap we ate today.

10 miles in about an hour
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  #173  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/10 One More Day in Chiang Mai

Since the first thing we needed to do today was go have another bowl of khao soi for brunch, we had some time to kill before 10:00 am. We got out the guidebook and the maps and plotted out our route for the next few days. Tomorrow we will ride to Mae Salong, with a ride to Chiang Rai the following day. After a couple days in Chiang Rai, we will head for Chiang Khong, which is where we will cross the border into Laos. We also emailed Tom (rep550) to see about meeting up for a drink this evening.

About 9:30 am, we started walking north toward yumminess. Along the way, we stopped and looked in at several of the bike rental agencies. Kawasakis are the most common big bikes since they are made locally, they somehow skirt the big bike regulations. The biggest seem to be ER-6Ns and Versys (Verses?), but my favorite is the D-Tracker, a 250cc supermotard. We made it to “Grannie's Khao Soi” at about 10:15 am and repeated yesterday's order. I don't know why, but today's bowl was much spicier than yesterday's.



We walked back toward the guesthouse via a different route that took us past many of the Wats (Buddhist temples) in the middle of the old city.



We stopped in at a couple of them and admired the decoration and peacefulness.

As we continued our way south, Re spied a bike shop, so we stopped in. We had been carrying one of our old sparkplugs to use as a visual aid, and it did the trick. None of the employees spoke English, but they were able to match our plug and sell us two new ones. The other parts we needed to find were new fuel filters. Since the filters were still in the bikes, the problem was how to ask for them. Before we left on this trip, Re downloaded a cool translation app for her iPod Touch. A couple of days ago, I used it to translate “fuel filter” from English to Thai. While it gave a phonetic pronunciation, I found it was easier to just show them the word in Thai. It worked. The guy who helped us walked directly to the bin and pulled out two new genuine Honda filters. We paid the approximately 7 USD for all four pieces and left happy that we got what we needed so easily.

The day got quite hot, so we continued back to the guesthouse to escape from the heat. When we got back, we found we had received an email from Tom with a place and time to meet. Excellent! We spent the rest of the afternoon researching our upcoming border crossing into Laos on HUBB, GT Rider, and Ride Asia. While I did this, Re worked on some blog posts, and then we headed out for an early dinner at the night market. Around 6:00 pm, we walked up to John's Place, where we met Tom and his friends, Peter and Dave. We spent the next several hours enjoying some good conversation and many Changs. Around 11:00 pm, we staggered home to bed.
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  #174  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/11 Ride to Mae Salong

After last night's too many Changs, it was an ugly morning. I'm definitely getting too old for this shit, and Re is clearly, already too old (judging from the retching sounds in the bathroom). We really did have a good time last night, but we should know when to say when by now. Needless to say, neither of us was in any damned hurry to get on the road this morning. After some aspirin and water to help with our “dehydration” headaches, we eventually got the bikes loaded up. Around 10:00 am, we headed out for Mae Salong. We made it approximately half a mile before stopping for coffee and one of the best croissants we have ever had. Now, we were ready to go.

Our goal for today was Mae Salong, a small mountain town in the Golden Triangle, about 150 miles away. The first 30 miles of the ride north out of Chiang Mai was a continuous string of city and small towns, with no real open space. In the distance, we could see the mountains and were looking forward to getting back onto those roads. The next section of the ride twisted and swooped along the Ping River, but still no mountains. As it had on other days, the cool morning rapidly gave way to hot weather, and the heat was not helping with out dehydration headaches. After a while, we stopped for some seaweed flavored chips and soda waters at the 7Eleven (of course).



Back on the road, we could still see the mountains, but instead found ourselves riding through straight and level farmland. The GPS counted down the distance to Mae Salong, and it was only in the final 15 miles that we finally reached the mountains. I knew that Mae Salong was supposed to be over 4000 feet in elevation, but we had been riding along at around 1200 feet. That meant the final 15 miles were quite a climb. We frequently found ourselves in first gear, climbing the hills at 10 mph, but it was beautiful.



We literally rode along the spine of several ridges as we rode around the rim of a valley on the final leg into town.



The landscape here consists of steep hillsides, some of which have been terraced for agriculture. This region used to be a huge opium producing area, but the Thai government has managed to eradicate most of the opium growing and replace it with tea and coffee production.

Mae Salong is a small town, so we easily found a guesthouse and were soon dropping our bags in our own little bungalow. We were finally feeling hungry, so we had a late lunch at our guesthouse. Since neither of us slept well the previous night, we retired to our bungalow for some relaxation and a nap. Suitably refreshed, we worked on ride reports until dinner and then found a local restaurant down the road for another delicious meal. After dinner, we went back to the guesthouse, sans Changs. I think it will be a few days before either Re or I will partake again.

150 miles in 6 hours. The bikes were struggling a little on the hills. I will need to put in the new fuel filters and plugs soon.
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  #175  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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2/12 Ride to Chiang Rai

Our goal for today was to ride to Chiang Rai, but since it is only about 40 miles away, we decided to get up early and visit the morning market in Mae Salong. Mae Salong is an interesting town, because most of the people who live here are of Chinese descent, not Thai. The town is mostly populated by ex-soldiers and political exiles from the Kuomintang Nationalist Party, who were forced out of China after the 1949 revolution. Their first stop was Burma, but they were soon forced into Thailand, where they settled in the Mae Salong area. The Thai government liked having them there since they were anti-communist and knew how to fight. In addition to guarding Thailand's northern border, they made their living by guarding the local opium crops, but have now transitioned into legal crops. Chinese is the dominant language here, and most signs are in Chinese first, Thai second, and occasionally, in English.



Around 7:00 am, we walked out to the morning market, which was an interesting mix of townfolk and members of the local hilltribes with a few monks collecting alms thrown in for good measure.



The market is only open from 6:00 am to 8:00 am, but between those hours, there is a brisk trade in fruits, vegetables, meat, housewares, and breakfast. We browsed the selection and watched the people before selecting one delicious watermelon, two perfect mangoes, and some donuts right out of the wok. We carried our goodies back to the room and added two of the worst cups of coffee we have ever had to the meal. We hopped in the shower after we ate, then loaded up the bikes, and headed back down the mountain at around 10:00 am.

97 percent of the time, I love my GPS. But then, there's the other 3 percent. Today was one of the 3 percent days. Apparently, the road the GPS sent us down today was a mile shorter than going back to the highway on the road we came in on. Instead, the road we took was approximately one lane wide, and where it was paved, it wasn't paved very well.



At first, it undulated up and down through small villages before it started the steep descent back to the highway. This is where the fun began. Did I say fun? I meant terror. The terror started gently enough, with an extremely steep descent down a paved, but potholed and covered with loose gravel section. This gave way to an even steeper section of road where the pavement had essentially disintegrated, revealing the rutted and ravined dirt below. The road here was also extremely narrow, and there was no barrier at all between us and the edge of the cliff. We descended slowly, in first gear, almost continuously using the rear brake. I was glad that we had our Indian Dunlops with their knobby tread pattern on the bikes today instead of the more street-oriented Michelin Gazelles. We eventually made it to the bottom with no incidents, and the GPS showed that we had dropped over 3000 feet of elevation in less than five miles. When we finally reached the highway, Re was giddy to have made it down safely, and we were both happy to rejoin good pavement.

The next 30 miles were a much easier and beautiful ride through the mountains. We made it to Chiang Rai around noon, only to find that our preferred guesthouse was full. Our second choice did have a room, unfortunately on the third floor. We unpacked the bikes and schlepped all our crap up to the room, changed into our sandals, and headed back out for lunch. Leaving the room, we met Julien and Annie, a Canadian couple who are also on a long trip. Like us, they figure that they will never be able to retire before they die, so why not go traveling now? After chatting with them for close to an hour, we excused ourselves, since the best restaurant in Chiang Rai would be closing soon. This restaurant does not have an English language sign, so I don't know what it's called, but they serve what may be the bestest pork in the world. Re and I discovered it the last time we were in Chiang Rai and ate lunch there every day since it was so good. They are only open until 2:00 pm and often run out of certain dishes before closing time.



We hustled up there in time to get an amazing plate of roast pork, sausage, and rice. I'm not sure how to describe the roast pork here, it's a slab of pork that is roasted with the skin on until it's crispy and crunchy, but still tender and juicy inside. All I can say is that if you like bacon, bacon is for pussies. Get your ass to Chiang Rai, find Thanon Phahonyothin, and look for the restaurant on the west side of the road that has slabs of pork hanging up front, and all the waitresses wear red aprons. For 50 Baht (1.65 USD) you will get a huge plate of deliciousness.

Suitably stuffed with porky goodness, we decided to escape the heat by heading back to the guesthouse to work on some writing. I had also come up with a preliminary itinerary for Laos and wanted Re to review it and give her input. After the sun went down, we walked out to the night market for a lovely dinner of tempura chicken and vegetables and fruit shakes. After dinner we walked around the night market before heading back to the room for some more writing. On the way back to the room we stopped at the 7Eleven, where we eyed the Changs, but instead chose soda waters. Someday, just not today.

45 miles in about 2 hours. I think we used about a month's worth of brake lining in about ten miles.
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2/13 Hanging Out in Chiang Rai

After hitting the snooze button a few times, we finally rolled out of bed, into the shower, and downstairs for breakfast. Our hotel includes a basic breakfast with the room, so we had coffee, toast, and a banana before unrolling our tarp in the parking lot to get to work on the bikes. We pulled the leg shields on our bikes and replaced the sparkplugs and fuel filters with our newly acquired parts from Chiang Mai. Our plugs were sooty and the plug gap had widened beyond spec, so it was definitely time to replace them. The fuel filters were a different story. Once I removed the fuel filters, I saw that the stock SYM filters are unlike any other motorcycle fuel filter I have ever seen. The first difference I noticed was that the fuel line running from the filter to the carburetor was larger in diameter by a millimeter or so than the line that runs from the fuel tank to the filter. The inlet and outlet on the replacement filter were both the size of the line from the fuel tank to the filter. Consequently, I had to use both sets of pliers to tighten the wire clamp on the outlet side of the fuel filter. The most interesting feature of the SYM filter is that it has a one-way valve in it. Once the carburetor stops drawing fuel from the tank, a one-way valve closes and prevents the fuel from flowing back to the fuel tank. I have never seen this before and since the replacement fuel filters don't have this valve, I hope it's not a problem. Once the new parts were installed, we reinstalled the leg shields, picked up the tools, and headed back to the room to clean up. I decided to save the old filters in case the valve is important, so I opened the window and set them outside to dry before packing them in a Ziploc bag.

With the maintenance done, we headed out on foot for Wat Phra Kaew. On the way, we stopped at a coffee shop for a cappuccino and to talk about our plans for after this trip. After this, we made our way to the wat, where we toured the grounds and the museum.



Wat Phra Kaew is an old Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai that is famous for its Emerald Buddha. The story goes that in the mid-14th century, lightning struck a chedi at the wat and it broke open to reveal the Emerald Buddha, which now resides at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.



It is also a very beautiful teak Wat with peaceful grounds and a beautiful museum. We then sat on a bench in the shade and again tried to figure out what we're doing in the future. We have two basic plans, but neither of us is sure which way to go. Since it was now after 1:00, we hurried back for another round of pork, sausage, and rice (remember: red aprons).

Lamenting the fact that they aren't open for dinner, we once again headed back to the room to escape the afternoon heat. Re spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the long-neglected blog, while I read some fiction and double checked the information for tomorrow's border crossing. Later in the evening, we walked back to the night market for dinner again. Tonight we had a noodle dish with chicken and cashews and more fruit shakes. While we were eating our dinner, we heard a woman scream and turned in time to see one of the food stalls explode in flames. There was a man and a woman working inside one of the stalls, and we saw them engulfed by fire. I believe it was a gas leak from one of the cooking cylinders, but the flames actually rushed out the front of the stand and into the night air. The two people were able to make it out the front of the stand, but not before the man who was cooking was burned fairly badly. The woman ran away screaming and we never saw her again, but the man ran back into the stall after the flames subsided and beat out the rest of the fire with a cloth before shutting off the gas cylinder. The fire drew a big crowd of surrounding workers, who finally pulled the guy away from his stand, at which time he noticed the large areas of burned skin that hung from his forearms. A couple of people apparently assured him they would look after his stand while others rushed him away (hopefully for medical treatment). About five minutes later, someone finally showed up with a fire extinguisher, but the remaining flames had already been put out with bowls of water. The other workers all pitched in to pick up the mess, remove the gas cylinders, and close up the stand. I hope the burned man got some medical attention, because his arms looked really scary. On the way back to the room we stopped at the 7Eleven for cookies, and still no .
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  #177  
Old 20 Feb 2012
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Originally Posted by grox View Post
Amazing RR guys! Keep it coming! You're an inspiration!
Sorry I've been away for a while. The internet access in northern Laos isn't great! It might take a while but I'll get it all posted eventually. I'm glad everyone seems to be enjoying our trip!
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  #178  
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your topic

Do you have a map of the route you took are taking.
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  #179  
Old 26 Feb 2012
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Great read,thanks for sharing. I'm amazed how many miles your doing on those bikes,don't think I could do it. only on second page so plenty to catch up on yet. Hope all is well.
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  #180  
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Originally Posted by warrigal 1 View Post
Do you have a map of the route you took are taking.
Sorry, we haven't been keeping a route map.
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