The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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After breakfast, we once again sat down next to my bike, took off the legshields, and got to work. This time, I was determined to clean everywhere. I removed the carburetor and completely disassembled it. The needle and slide were both spotlessly clean, as was the carb bowl. The pilot jet was again partially plugged, and the main jet tube had some sore of white deposit on the ouside of it. This same deposit was found on the A/F screw. I blew out all the passages of the carb as best I could, before reassembling and reinstalling the carb. I've been inside plenty of carbs before, but I have never seen anything like this fine, white, powdery substance. I don't know if it's some sort of artifact resulting from the wide variety of fuels we've been mixing? While I was working on the carb, Re removed the visible fuel lines and rinsed them out. As I finished putting stuff together, Re walked around the corner to a local bike shop and returned with a fresh bottle of oil. In the meantime, I also removed the air box and air filter. I cleaned the air filter with some gasoline and then re-oiled it with the new oil that Re bought. Since we were cleaning one air filter, it seemed like a good idea to clean the other one. A few minutes later, we were installing a freshly cleaned and oiled air filter in Re's bike. After washing up, I thumbed the started button on my bike, and just like yesterday, and the day before, it fired right up and settled into a nice, even idle. I adjusted the idle speed down a little bit and then took it out for a test ride. After about four miles on the streets of Phnom Penh, it was still running great. Yay!
While we were working on the bikes, Re and I were also talking about our future plans and the rest of this trip. We continued to talk in the shower and then on our way down to lunch at the Java Cafe. It is seeming more and more likely that we will be eliminating Australia from our itinerary, and Indonesia looks vulnerable too. For lunch, we had paninis (I have never had a panini before, but it sounded good).
Mine was filled with pastrami and emmenthal cheese, while Re had the roasted veggies with emmenthal as well. The verandah at the Java Cafe is a good place to take it easy, so we decided once again, to skip the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, and instead, spent more time talking at the Java.
Later, we walked along the Mekong and then along the Tonle River. We sat on a wall overlooking the water and pondered whether we could just buy a little boat to carry us and our little Symbas to the sea. Actually, most of our conversation today has revolved around the best way for us to live overseas for a few years while making some money. Late in the afternoon, we went back to our room for a fruit snack and some more research. Since it was to be our last night in Phnom Penh, we couldn't leave without one more round of fried calzones at Nike's. After dinner, we picked up some chocolate eclairs and more shoju for a nightcap.
4 miles for me. I am cautiously optimistic that my fuel problem is solved.
One consequence of yesterday's conversation is that we will be accelerating our trip a little bit. With that in mind, we've crossed off a couple of destinations in Cambodia. Instead, we decided to head the 200 or so miles to Siem Reap. Seam Reap is best known as being the home of Angkor Wat, a huge temple complex which we visited during our last trip. But this time, we won't visit Angkor Wat, we will instead see some of the more outlying temples on a day trip from Siem Reap.
After another breakfast of fruit, coffee, and baguettes, we showered and loaded up the bikes. With fingers crossed that my fueling problem was solved, we pulled out of the hotel at 9:00 am. Leaving Phnom Penh was hectic and slow. It took us about an hour and a half to cover the first 26 miles, but fortunately, the traffic soon got much lighter. The little bit of rain we've had over the last couple of days seemed to go a long way toward greening up the countryside since it didn't seem as brown today. The roads continued to be busy and occasionally potholed, until we reached the junction with Highway 7. Once we turned west to stay on Highway 6, the road surface got better, but the road did get noticeably narrower. There was some crazy overtaking by oncoming traffic, but in general, it was a good ride.
As we got closer to Siem Reap, the scenery changed.
It became much greener and we rode next to lakes and bright green rice paddy.
The day did get very hot, and we stopped several times for water breaks. We didn't seem to mind the heat as much today, since we knew what awaited us once we made it to our hotel. We arrived at the Angkor Friendship Inn at 3:30 pm. We stayed here for five nights during our last visit, so we knew about their pool. When we arrived, Sophia, the manager, recognized us from our last visit. We dumped our stuff in the room, put on our bathing suits, and jumped in the pool. We spent an hour or so splashing in the water before getting a shower.
Later, we went out for dinner at a little restaurant in the old market, where we had many lunches the last time we were here. As we were finishing our food, another couple sat down at the table next to us and said, “Aren't you the people riding the little bikes in India?” Excuse me, are we now internationally famous? No. we actually met this couple and her parents in Hampi at Christmastime. The four of the would come to our guesthouse to have breakfast in the restaurant upstairs, and we spoke at length with “the mom” about traveling in Africa. It is a small world.
Apparently, Fabian and Tanja recently left her parents in India and came to Bangkok with their bicycles. They are going to do some riding in southeast Asia while Tanja's parents continue their now more than five-year round the world bicycle trip. We had a pleasant evening chatting with them about our respective trips before we said goodnight and went back to the room.
215 miles in 6.5 hours. My bike is running great, and Re's new chain seems to have solved her problems.
Since our guesthouse includes breakfast in the room rate, we walked downstairs and had eggs, bacon(!), toast, and coffee. After finishing a second cup of coffee, we returned to the room, put on our gear, and headed out on the bikes. Our destination for today was Koh Ker, which is a temple complex approximately 80 miles northeast of Siem Reap. This used to be one of the most inaccessible temple ruins in Cambodia, but the guidebook said that the area had recently been de-mined, and a new toll road had been opened. The difficulty with the trip today, is that the new road doesn't show up on our several year old map and is also not found in my GPS. Instead, we have some vague directions to ride east of town on Highway 6 and then turn north at Dam Dek. I understood that Dam Dek was approximately ten miles east of Siem Reap, so when, at the ten mile mark, we spied a likely looking road, we turned north. Signs on the road said that it would eventually lead to Anlong Veng, but they didn't mention Koh Ker. After 20 miles or so, Re beeped her horn and signaled to pull over. She was concerned that we were not on the right road, and she was correct. The toll road was supposed to start in Beng Melea, and a quick look at my GPS showed that Beng Melea was in fact, about 15 miles due east of our location. It also showed that the road we were on was Highway 67, and that about seven miles south, we could take Highway 66 to Beng Melea.
We made a U-turn, headed back south, and shortly found ourselves on “Highway” 66. The road started out promisingly enough, it was two lanes wide and was hard-packed dirt and gravel. The hard-pack did not last long. We soon found ourselves on a road that continued to narrow, and the road surface was now largely two to three-inch deep sand.
We slithered and snaked our way down the road and then came to an area of deep mud in the middle of a field. We continued on, and a short while later, we came to a very rudimentary bridge that crossed a narrow stream.
The bridge surface was only inches above the water, and it was made out of scrap lumber and half-rounds of trees.
Since Re's lighter, I sent her across first. At least we wouldn't have far to fall. Prior to this bridge, there had been tire tracks left by four-wheeled vehicles, but after this bridge, there were only motorcycle tracks in the dirt.
The highway also narrowed to a single lane and wound its way through people's fields, past their houses, and occasionally, through the trees. We weren't making very good time as we bumped and bounced our way over the sometimes hard ground and slid our way through the sand washes.
In the trees, we came upon another bridge that was a little scarier than the last one. It was made entirely of half-rounds of trees, but the ravine that it spanned was eight to nine-feet deep. This time, I elected to go first, and when I pulled out onto the center board, I was dismayed when the board flexed downward under my weight. But, I hate to backtrack, so over it I went. Of course, it held. I am sure that dozens of motorbikes cross it every day.
Maybe a mile farther, we came across a small pond where the road should be. Not sure that we wanted to tackle this on our little bikes, we backtracked to see if there was an alternate route. No luck, there were streams on either side of the road, so we either had to go through, or we had to backtrack all the way back to Highway 67. I may have mentioned my aversion to backtracking.
We scouted the water and could see that there were some motorbike tire tracks in the mud, but we could not tell how deep the muddy water was in the center. The right shoreline looked like our best opportunity, but it was choked with trees, brush, and some prickly vines. I walked out part way and removed some of the dead branches that hung into the water while the mud sucked my boots in. The water didn't appear deeper than ten inches or so near the shore, so we decided to go for it.
After giving Re a quick pep talk about water crossings, I jumped on my mighty Symba and crawled toward the water. For the first 15 or 20 feet, I was able to stay reasonably close to the shoreline but then had to steer into deeper water to avoid some tree limbs sticking out from the shore. I didn't stop to measure the water depth, but I did hear the eerie sound of my exhaust system being completely submerged. I leaned back in toward the shore and promptly got hung up on a tree limb. The limb was about 1.5 inches across and had either been broken or cut off. It was stiff enough to stop my forward momentum, and as a result, my front wheel sank farther into the mud. I stayed on the gas the entire time, as I reached over with my left hand to move the branch. Re said the rooster tail was impressive, but that she had stopped taking pictures in anticipation of having to help me unstick my bike. Once I was free of the branch, I was able to drive the remaining ten feet up onto drier land. Before Re made her attempt, I fought my way back to the offending limb on foot and pulled it out of the way. That seemed to help, as Re made it through without bogging down or having to detour into the deeper water.
Once she was on drier land, we assessed the next obstacle. Between us and the road was a muddy area approximately ten feet wide, with a small stream running through it. My attempt was unsuccessful and my rear wheel got stuck in the stream channel. I tried to power my way out, but instead, sank the rear wheel up to the swingarm in the mud.
I got off to assess the situation and had to laugh when I saw my bike standing on its own and the stream running through my rear wheel. Re lent a hand, and we were able to pick up the back end enough to shove it onto firmer ground. The ground was too muddy for me to risk getting back onto the bike, so instead, I started it up and walked it to terra firma. When it was time for Re to try, I walked behind her bike and was able to help lift the rear wheel through the stream and muddiest areas.
After another relatively dry and sandy section, we came to another shallow water crossing, and Re decided to show me how it is done. We continued down the single-track road and came to another muddy area with a number of streams running through.
We picked the driest and shallowest areas we could, and made it through with no problems.
Then, we came to another scary, narrow bridge, but this one was actually made out of cut lumber (so it has to be better, right?)
After this last bridge, the road got even narrower, and then we came to an area of rice paddy. Just when we thought the road couldn't get any less road-like, the tire tracks we were following veered up a ramp and onto the narrow, earthen dikes that separate the paddy. The ramp up was about two feet wide, ten feet long, and rose a distance of at least four feet. I hit it first in second gear and did not make it to the top. I could feel the bike lugging and opted to roll backwards down the ramp. I kicked it into first and told Re to do the same. The ramp was tricky because from the path, you had to turn left onto the ramp, ride up the ramp, then make a slight right onto the dike. Once up on the dike, I found myself on a narrow strip of dirt approximately two feet wide and at least three feet above the surface of the surrounding fields. I stopped to watch Re not make it up the ramp. As she neared the top of the ramp, I saw her bike slow drastically. Oh no, someone forgot the first rule of motorcycling: when in doubt, gas it. I could see the panicked look in her eyes when she reached out with her feet and found air. Not wanting to see the inevitable outcome of Re's latest encounter with physics, I instead, found a place to put my kickstand down, shimmied off the bike, and turned to see Re standing next to her Symba.
Fortunately, she was fine, and the bike was too. After taking the, “look what I did” photo, we got the bike upright and walked it up the ramp.
We continued through the rice fields for another mile or so before rejoining the single track that eventually led us to the paved road near Beng Melea. A check of the odometer and the watch revealed that it had taken us about two hours to cover the last 20 miles. It was a fun ride, but we were now both very tired and soaked to the skin.
We turned north, and after about five miles of lovely pavement, we reached the tollgate that led to Koh Ker and Beng Melea. Since it was another 50 miles to Koh Ker, and it was already after noon, and since Beng Melea was only two miles away, we decided to visit it instead. We paid for the admission tickets, rode through the tollbooth, and a couple minutes later, parked our bikes at the entrance.
Beng Melea is another Angkor-era temple complex built in the 1100s with the same layout as Angkor Wat.
The temple here is massive, and while some of it remains intact, much of it is just a jumble of gigantic, carved stones.
We walked around, climbed over, and took many pictures over the next two hours. By the middle of the afternoon, we were both thoroughly hot and tired, so we trudged back to the bikes, put on our still damp gear, and headed south. This time, we took the sealed road all the way back to the pool. After soaking in the water for a while, we queued up photos to load to Smugmug and then walked out to dinner at the market. Re had amok with chicken, and I had the “Cambodian taco,” which is really more like banh xeo. The restaurant was having a special on draft Cambodia , so Re and I enjoyed a few before calling it a night. Between the exercise and the libations, we should sleep well tonight.
105 miles in about 6 hours. By my count, this completes day 225 of the trip. So far, our daily expenses have totaled 12,908 USD for an average of 57 USD per day.
After yesterday's exertions, it was a slow morning. Both of us awoke with sore hips from too much paddling in the sand. We eventually wandered down to breakfast and then back up to the room, where I worked on some writing, while Re washed our muddy, smelly boots. While she was at it, she also washed our helmet liners since they were nasty too.
We decided to take a break for lunch and headed downstairs, where we found Allen and Maureen, an Australian couple doing missionary work at a local orphanage and school. We had met them briefly on the day we arrived, and they were most interested in our trip. After chatting with them for a few minutes, we ended up heading out to a lunch place they knew. While we ate, we talked a little about our trip, and they told us of some of their adventures too. Currently, they are volunteering at a local orphanage, where they are putting in an extensive garden and some orchards to help them become more self-sufficient. Before Cambodia, they spent a couple of years in Papua New Guinea, and they had some interesting experiences there as well.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes, and we returned to the hotel to sit by the pool and so some writing and relaxing. Once we'd had enough sun, we went back to the room to spend some more time planning and researching our post-trip plans. Later, we went out for dinner at one of the fancier places that specialize in western food, where we both had some excellent pasta and garlic bread.
Our goal for today is Battambang, which is Cambodia's second largest city and is located about 40 miles south of Siem Reap. Unfortunately, the Tonle Sap lake is also between Siem Reap and Battambang, so the ride will actually be more like 100 miles. To try and avoid the worst of the heat, we got up early, had breakfast, and got ready to go. Since it had been 350 miles or so since we put on Re's new chain, I decided to check the tension and give it a lube. Her chain was slightly loose, so I gave it a quick adjustment. I haven't check the tire pressures in a couple of days, and was surprised to find that Re's front tire was down to about 19 psi. Normally, we run 30 in the front, so 99 pumps later, she was good to go. The other tires were all down 2 to 3 psi, but other than that, the bikes were ready to go.
When we pulled out of the parking lot at 9:00 am, it was already hot. The ride itself was easy, but not too scenic.
We did see some water buffaloes up to their necks in the mud, but that was about it. We rode west, and then south, coming within about 25 miles of the Thai border. For some reason, I felt a strong pull to go back to Thailand, but there were a few things we wanted to see in Battambang before we left. It's funny to me that on our last trip, I didn't care for Thailand that much, and yet, this time, I keep being drawn back to it.
Shortly after we turned south, Re slowed and pulled off the side of the road. I pulled over to wait, and when she caught up, she said her bike had made “that funny noise” again. She has reported a kind of whistling or whirring noise a couple of times during this trip, and the first time it occurred was our very first day in Oregon. We swapped bikes so I could listen for the problem, and I did hear it this time. It seems to only occur when we ride faster than 45 mph and is a loud whirring that seems to be coming from the front wheel area. The sound does not change when the front brake is applied and only goes away when the bike speed drops below about 5 mph. This is the third time it's happened in Cambodia, and the only other time was in Oregon. My first guess is that it's wheel bearing related, but I don't hear any other groaning or whirring under normal riding conditions. Our front tires are getting close to needing replaced, so I will inspect the bearings when we have the front wheel off. We are carrying one complete set of front and rear wheel bearings, so at least we have the parts if that is the problem. Other than the noise, both bikes are running very well. The new chain seems to have solved the problems with Re's bike, and my bike seems to be getting even better fuel economy.
About 30 miles from Battambang, we stopped for a lunch of bamboo tubes full of sticky rice, black beans, and coconut. We arrived in Battambang at around 1:00 pm and found a very swanky room at the Royal Hotel. While I took a break and enjoyed the A/C, Re walked out to find some fruit at the market for us to snack on. After planning tomorrow's activities, we took a walk along the riverfront and found some dinner.
115 miles in about 4 hours. Between Re's loss of air and bearing noise, I think we'll be changing front tires soon.
We are really only in Battambang for one thing: the bamboo train. The bamboo train is also known as the nori (apparently, a French word for lorry) and is a homemade train car that runs along the old single track rail line left over from the French occupation. We have read that you can put small motorbikes on the train and take them along on the scenic ride also. This morning, Re went to the market and came back with fried dough, fruit, and iced coffee.
After showering and getting on our gear, we hopped on the bikes and rode to the “train station.” The station is located down a dirt road outside of the city and consists of one old building and a collection of bamboo trains.
The trains themselves are nothing more than a 6' x 10' bamboo platform that sits on two, old railroad trucks and is powered by a small agricultural motor that drives one of the trucks with a v-belt. The v-belt is manually tensioned by the train operator to provide drive. The fares are set by the tourist policemen and appear to be non-negotiable.
We paid our 12 USD for a private train ride and then two guys picked up our bikes by the footpegs and slotted them onto the train.
A quick picture later, and we started rolling down the tracks. Or, more accurately, wobbling down the tracks.
The track has been unused and unmaintained for many, many years, and the rails are no longer straight or level. The ride took us along the tracks towards Phnom Penh and through the agricultural countryside. I couldn't reach my GPS, but I would estimate that our top speed was less than 10 mph, which was plenty fast when you consider that we were sitting on an open-sided bamboo platform barely a foot off the tracks. The most interesting part of the trip was when we met two different oncoming trains. The rules of the tracks are that the less heavily laden train must get off the tracks to allow the other to pass. Since we had motorbikes, we won both times.
The trains slowly come to a halt, the passengers disembark, the v-belt is unhooked, and the whole platform of the train is lifted off by the convenient carrying handles.
Then the trucks are removed, the winning train passes, and then the losing train is reassembled and continues on its way. This trip was actually even more fun than I expected it to be, and Re and I immediately started plotting as to how to get one of our own. How many miles of old, unused tracks are there in the US? Could you use a Symba as the motive power for one of these things? Hmm. After about an hour, we came to the end of the line, where our bikes were unloaded, and we reluctantly bid farewell to our bamboo train. If you ever find yourself in Battambang, this is one ride worth taking.
Since we were now well and truly out in the middle of the countryside (if you don't have motorbikes, you simply ride the train back into town), we followed the dirt road through the fields and farms back to Battambang. The other sight we wanted to see was Phnom Sampeau, which is a mountain with a temple complex about ten miles south of Battambang. We followed the GPS directions and soon found ourselves at the base of the hill. When we were flagged down by the parking attendants, my GPS said we were still more than a mile froom the top of the hill. The parking attendants insisted that we were not allowed to ride up the hill and that we had to park our bikes. I gestured at all the other motorbikes and cars that drove by, but apparently, farang can't ride up the hill, because of course, there are handy motorbike taxis for you to take. Grr. Instead, we locked our gear and helmets to the bikes and walked up the hill under the noon sun. As my dad would say, only mad dogs and Englishmen... . We slowly trudged up the hill and eventually made it to the top. We stopped to see a wat partway up the hill that had some cool caves attached before reaching the Was Phnom Sampeau at the top of the hill.
Here we were treated to panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and some pretty temples to boot.
We also climbed down the steps to the hidden valley at the top of the mountain. I don't know how many steps it was down into the valley, but it seemed like twice as many on the way back up. Between the heat, humidity, and all the walking, we were both well and truly knackered. We decided to take a break and eat a watermelon before we walked back down to the bikes. For our return journey, we took the steps down the mountain, of which there were supposed to be more than 1,000. Once we made it back to the bikes, we were hot and tired. We rode back into town to cool off at the hotel and work on Thailand plans.
Re and I have been trying to figure out where our trip goes after Thailand, and we have definitively decided to cross Australia off the list. When talking with Allen and Maureen at lunch a couple of days ago, they confirmed what my research has shown: that Australia would be a very expensive end to the trip. They told us that hotels are a minimum of 100 AUD per night. Camping I n an organized campground would be a minimum of 20 to 25 AUD per night, and petrol is currently 1.70 AUD per liter. Ouch. These costs, coupled with the long distances we'd have to cover and the general pain in the assness of getting motorbikes into Australia, led us to the conclusion that we will not be going “down under.” The problem with this decision is that it significantly complicates the Indonesia portion of the trip. We can cross by boat from Malaysia to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia and ride down the island chain to West or East Timor, but then what?! Originally, the bikes would cross to Australia from East Timor by boat, but if we aren't going to Australia... East Timor is a long way from anywhere else with a major international airport. The only possibility I can find that doesn't involve riding back up the Indonesian islands to at least Bali is putting the bikes on the Perkins ship that runs from Dili, East Timor to Singapore. The ship ride and our flights to Singapore would be a significant amount of money, and then there's the problem of temporarily importing the bikes to Singapore. Singapore is notoriously expensive for everything, and that includes temporarily importing foreign registered motorcycles. It would apparently cost us hundreds of dollars for the privilege of immediately riding our bikes the less that twelve miles from the harbor in Singapore to the Malaysian border, or we would have to figure out how to get the bikes from the port to the airport without importing them. Consequently, Indonesia's position in our itinerary is looking less and less certain. If we strike Indonesia from the list, it now, strangely, doesn't leave us with much trip left. To make matters worse, we are both feeling a little homesick and a little like we want to get on to whatever our next adventure is. It's a confusing time to be us. One possibility that this does open up, is the chance to see the Formula 1 race in Malaysia next weekend. We attended the race two years ago. It was a fun time, and Malaysia has the cheapest F1 ticket available. There are two problems with this possibility. The first, is that the racetrack is more than a thousand miles away. The second, is that we currently have two month Thai visas in our passports that cost us 40 bucks a pop. We certainly don't want to waste our visas on a four day ride to Malaysia, when we could get a free 15-day visa-less entry, just by showing up at the Thai border. We don't know right now if we could just take the 15 days and save our visas and return to Thailand after we are finished touring Malaysia. We'll find out tomorrow! Since we were both thoroughly confused but feeling like we'd come to a bit of a conclusion, it was dinnertime. We walked out for another dinner of Khmer food, which was good, but not great.
We had a repeat of yesterday's breakfast in the room this morning and then hit the road by 8:30 am. It was a relatively boring ride back to the border at Poipet. It was again, hot, and the roads were kind of busy, but we made it to the border by 11:15. In contrast to entering Cambodia, exiting it was no problem. Poipet has long been a notorious rip-off zone on the Cambodia side, but no one asked us for a single bribe, and everything was taken care of very quickly. The Thai side was another kettle of fish. While there were no bribes solicited, we did wait in line for almost two hours to get through Immigration in the hot sun. The best news of the day was that Re was able to explain to the Immigration officer that we wanted to save our two-month visas, and instead get stamped into Thailand for 15 days. The officer reconfirmed what Re was trying to do and said that would be fine. She stamped us both in for 15 days, so F1, here we come! Customs, on the other hand, was a breeze. The TM-2 and TM-4 documents that I didn't have when we crossed into Laos turned out to be no problem when reentering Thailand. A friendly Customs agent filled out the paperwork for me, and the only fee on either side of the border was 40 Baht (1.33 USD) for photocopies of our Carnet documents that were attached to our new TM-2 paperwork. After the documents were completed, we only had to wait about 20 minutes before all our paperwork was complete and we were free to go. The bad news about this process, was that it was now 2:30 pm, and it took us 3 hours and 15 minutes to get through the border.
Our original destination for the day, and still our destination, was Ayuthaya. Ayuthaya is a picturesque city about 50 miles north of Bangkok and was one of the original capitals of Thailand. There are lots of old temples in the city, and the city is notable in that it is surrounded by a natural moat. But none of that really matters, since we're going to Ayuthaya so Re can see the elephants. We still had 160 miles to go, so we blasted out of the border as fast as 7hp can. Since we were racing the sun, it really wasn't a very enjoyable ride. The eastern part of central Thailand is flat, boring, and mostly agricultural. It was however, much greener than Cambodia, and the roads were excellent. We did run into a rogue thunderstorm and rode through the rain for about 1.5 miles. On the other side of the rain, the sky was much more overcast and made for a cooler, more pleasant ride. The sun was finally setting around 6:30 pm, and we still had 31 miles and a fuel stop to go. We normally refuel every 100 miles, but since the carb work in Phnom Penh, we've extended it to 110 miles between fill-ups. Tonight, the 110 miles occurred two miles short of Ayuthaya. So we stopped to refill under the street lights and then rode the short distance to the backpacker ghetto. Tonight, our guesthouse found us, since we could not find the one we were looking for. While we were stopped, consulting the GPS, a lady asked if we were looking for a room, and it turned out we were parked in front of the Toto Guesthouse. They had a good room for a decent price and gated parking. Sold. We unloaded our gear and then walked out to find dinner. The place we found appeared to be mostly a drinking establishment, but their menu sounded good, and their prices were right. A little trepidatiously, we ordered Penang curry and Massaman curry, but were more than pleasantly surprised when our very delicious dinners arrived.
265 miles in 11.5 hours. Over 3 hours at the border, but it only cost us 1.33 USD, and we saved our 2-month visas for later!
Ahh, it's good to be back in Thailand, where you can just walk two blocks to the 7Eleven for yogurt, coffee, and cereal. But the tradeoff for the convenience is that even though it takes less time to buy, it's not as good as freshly fried donuts, half a watermelon and real, strong coffee. But we were in a hurry this morning, so it was worthwhile. After a shower, we loaded everything on the bikes and rolled out before 8:00 am.
We made the ten minute ride to the Elephant Kraal, and suddenly, elephants! The elephant kraal is a restored version of the wooden stockade that was used for the roundup of wild elephants and as the former training site for the war elephants. Now it serves as the home to rescued elephants who are used to give rides to the temples in town. The best part about the kraal is that it is free to visit, they only charge 50 baht if you want to take pictures.
Of course, we bought the camera permit, and while I was doing so, a baby elephant found Re to play with. Most of the elephants are penned or chained, but for some reason, this little guy was out running around. The young ones and their mothers are kept in a separate area, and you can buy a basket of cucumbers for 50 baht (1.66 USD) to feed to them.
After a few minutes of being pushed around the yard by the baby elephant, Re bought a basket of cucumbers and fed the young ones and their moms. At one point, I was a little horrified to see half of Re's arm inside a juvenile elephant's mouth. She was laughing, but the 8-year old mahout (elephant trainer) was looking a little concerned.
After Re exhausted her first basket, we got a second one and made the rounds again. The baby elephant was hilarious, because he didn't want any cucumbers, but did attempt to nudge and push us away from the others as we tried to feed them.
He also tried to squish us against one of the fences a couple of times. No malice, he was just having fun, and so were we.
We walked around and looked at some of the adult elephants as well, some of whom were being washed.
We also stopped to admire the oldest elephant we've ever seen. Re could have stayed all day, but after nearly an hour, I had to get us back on the road, since our ride today looked to be about 330 miles.
At 9:00 am, we waved goodbye to our new friends and headed south. I was a little concerned by the GPS directions today, because they appeared to take us to the ring road around Bangkok that we couldn't get on last time (due to being on two wheels). The ride today was warm, but not brutally hot since there were clouds blocking some of the sun. after a couple of hours, we got to the entrance of the ring road, and as we feared, no motorbikes were allowed. Crap. I flicked on the “avoid highways” option in my GPS, and our 330 mile ride suddenly became 380 miles. Double crap. The next several hours of riding were no fun. We were off the highway and on the surface streets riding through Bangkok. I had hoped we'd skirt the edge of Bangkok, but no such luck. We rode directly into the center of Bangkok and eventually found ourselves staring at the bridge near Hualumphong train station that we'd climbed over and past the barbed wire to avoid backtracking when we were searching for a camera many weeks ago. Triple crap. At least that means we were near the river, and the bulk of Bangkok would soon be behind us.
Once we crossed the river, we came to the entrance ramp for Highway 35. Yay! Open road! Then we saw the “no motorcycles” sign. Quadruple crap. It was about noon, and we still had a lot of miles to go. We spent the next 30 miles fighting our way through traffic on the access road that parallels the 35. Sometime after 1:00 pm, I spied a McDonald's a few miles before Samut Song Khram, and we pulled in for lunch. I checked our mileage and determined that it had taken us over four hours to cover the last 90 miles. I didn't figure that we could safely make it to Chumphon, so we went inside and had a Big Mac extra value meal, super-sized. As we sat and enjoyed the A/C, I looked at the map and figured we could make it to Prachuap Khiri Khan before 6:00 pm, and maybe that should be our new goal. Re said, “**** no. They have khao mok khai in Chumphon.” She did make an excellent point. They do have excellent khao mok khai (KMK) in Chumphon. KMK is a Thai-Muslim version of chicken biryani and is one of our favorite meals in southern Thailand.
The rest of the afternoon was the worst kind of riding for our little bikes. We were finally able to get on the 35, and then took it to the 4, where we turned south. This was all highway riding, and our bikes are underpowered for making time on this kind of road. The scenery was basically scrubby, deciduous trees, some palms, and fields. Not ugly, but not pretty either. In the middle of the afternoon, Re's bike made the bearing noise again, and once again, we were riding north of 45 mph. We swapped bikes for about 50 miles, but I kept our speeds around 43 mph, and we had no further problems. I need to investigate this, just not today. When the sun went down around 7:00 pm, we still had about 80 miles to go. I like many things about our Symbas, but our headlights are not one of them. I've been spoiled by the headlights on several of my previous bikes, including my Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport, VFR750, and especially, my V-Strom. The weak Symba headlights are made even worse by the fact that our jerrycans cut off the bottoms of the beams.
Regardless, we made it to Chumphon by just after 9:00pm, and through sheer dumb luck, found the Suriwong Hotel, where we have stayed a couple of times. The KMK restaurant is just up the block, so while Re went inside to register, I walked up to see if they were still open. To my dismay, they were cleaning up. Seeing me standing in the doorway, a woman came over and asked what I needed. I asked what time they close and gestured to the clock. She said 9:00 pm. I must have looked sad, because she asked what I wanted. I replied, khao mok khai, and she gestured to the back of the restaurant where they were bagging up food and said they had it, and I could get it for takeaway. I happily ordered two to go and returned to the hotel with dinner in hand. Re had us booked into a room, so while I parked the bikes and unloaded the gear, Re walked to get some Changs, since nothing goes better with a Muslim meal than a nice, cold . When she returned, I had everything in the room and we collapsed on the bed to eat. Our butts are killing us. It hurts to sit on the bed. The other news of the day is that we broke the 20,000 mile mark of the trip, but didn't want to stop to take a picture in the dark.
379 miles in over 12 hours. Our previous high mileage day of the trip was 375 miles from Sterling, CO to Belleville, KS. Wow.
Since the last two days have involved marathon rides and late arrivals, we've both been too tired to do much besides eat dinner and go to bed. So when the alarm went off this morning, we decided to strike while the iron was hot, you might say. After we showered, Re went to get breakfast at the nearest 7Eleven, while I worked on the bikes. Once again, Re's front tire was low, down approximately 10 lbs, so I aired it up and moved on to the chains. Yesterday, my chain was making a little bit of noise, and sure enough, it needed to be adjusted. Re's new chain now has over 1200 miles on it, and it did not need an adjustment today, so I just lubed it and called it good.
We finally rolled out at 9:30 am to start our ride to Hat Yai. Since today's ride was going to be another 300-plus miles, and our butts were still sore from the last two days, we decided to stop every 30 to 50 miles to walk around and stretch. Again, the ride was hot, the roads were pretty good, but the traffic was a bit more hectic. The road here is a four-lane, divided highway, and with the scenery of scrubby trees, we could have been on I95 anywhere between Virginia and Georgia for a good stretch of the day. Except for the truck that drove by with a rather large elephant in the bed.
We did stop to take an official 20,000 mile photo about 300 miles too late. The further south we went, the scenery did begin to change and look more like southern Thailand. Things turned a darker shade of green, and we rode through lots of oil palm and pineapple plantations. We also saw tons of watermelons for sale and one area where the banana stands went on for miles.
Mountains also started to appear in the distance. Since my bike seems to have gotten much better mileage over the last few days, I decided to do a full to empty run. The tank is nominally rated at 1.04 gallons, and I covered 122.5 miles on one tank. That works out to be nearly 118 miles per gallon, and Re was still going when I ran out. The conditions were good, though. The road was straight and flat, elevation was only about 110 ft above sea level, and there was no wind to speak of. We skipped lunch today, except for a soda and some peanuts, since neither of us felt very hungry.
About 30 minutes north of Hat Yai, the sun finally set, so we covered the final 15 miles in the dark. We stayed in Hat Yai on a couple of occasions on our last trip and knew where to go for a room. We pulled up on the sidewalk outside the Park Hotel and were even given a room we stayed in before. Both Re and I are very sore and very tired after our third long day of boring highway. We showered and then walked to the market, where we had dinner at our usual (and still there!) khao mok khai stand. The dish here can be had a little differently. Usually, the chicken is cooked in the rice, but here, you can get the rice with fried chicken. We also picked up some freshly fried dough sticks from the vendor next door to round out our meal, and dip in the soup that accompanies the KMK. On the way back to the room, we stopped for a Chang, before collapsing in bed.
335 miles in about 10 hours. Both bikes are running well, and the fuel mileage is amazing.
The 30 hours in the saddle and 980 miles that we have ridden over the last three days really caught up with us this morning. Neither of us wanted to get out of bed since we were really sore and tired. After hitting the snooze button a fair few times, we finally crawled out of bed and into the shower. This morning, we were both thankful for a hot, hot shower. While I started loading up the bikes, Re walked out to the 7Eleven and returned with breakfast. There wasn't a lot of conversation while we ate, since neither of us was looking forward to plopping our sore butts back in the saddles. But the ride must go on, so we reluctantly bid farewell to our comfy room and made our way back down to the bikes. After gingerly settling into our seats, we rolled onto the street at around 9:15 am. We dutifully followed the GPS directions south through the city. Lane-splitting is the rule in Thailand (as everywhere else in southeast Asia) and so at each stoplight, we joined the migration to the front of the line.
At one such light, Re lined up behind me in the crowd, and I heard her talking with another excited rider. Before the light turned green, she yelled to pull over once we got through the intersection for a photo op. After we pulled over, I met Pong, of HatYaiFaster.com.
Pong is also a fellow ADVRider who also rides an 1100GS, which makes him only the second ADV-er we've met in southeast Asia. He wanted to know about our trip and our bikes, so we chatted for a little while, took some photos of each other, and Pong even made a short video of us. It was very nice to meet him, but we soon had to go. We said our goodbyes and continued our ride south to the border.
The ride to the Malaysian border was busy and basically, just one long urban area. The morning was getting hot, but around 10:45, we found ourselves at the Thai border. All our paperwork was stamped, and we were on our way in 15 minutes.
Once we crossed into Malaysia, we followed the signs that had a picture of a motorcycle on them and went through the “ride-through” immigration booth. No visa is required for Americans, so we were given our 90-day stamps without even having to get off the bikes. After Immigration, we began to look for Customs, but the only thing ahead of us was open road. Whoops. About a half-mile down the road, there was a checkpoint where I asked the guards about Customs. They gestured back to the border complex we'd just come through, and indicated it was in building A. We made a u-turn and headed back to the complex, where it soon became apparent that the Customs building was on the far side of Immigration. Hmmm. We parked our bikes and spent the next ten minutes explaining to various border officials that we weren't crossing back into Thailand, had already been stamped into Malaysia, didn't need to go through Immigration, we just needed to find Customs. This was all complicated by the fact that we only speak about five words of Bahasa Malaysia, and none of them really applied in this situation. We finally found the building (which wasn't building A) and an agent who spoke excellent English and could point us to the office that would process our Carnets. We stepped into the blissfully air-conditioned office, and in less than ten minutes, were walking back to our bikes. The error was ours, in that we rode through the lane for ASEAN motorcycle riders. Even with this confusion, we still cleared the Malaysia side of the border in about 30 minutes. The whole process only took about 45 minutes and cost exactly 0 dollars. I love Malaysia (and Thailand, too).
One of the reasons I love Malaysia is their highway system. We were now on a limited access, modern, four-lane, divided highway, complete with wide, paved shoulders, excellent signage, and even rest areas (with fuel). Many of the highways are toll roads, but once again, since we were on motorbikes, they are free for us. We covered the 80 miles to Butterworth in about two hours, since it was easy to maintain a 40 mph average. The scenery here was still relatively flat, but everywhere was the dark green of oil palms and mixed jungle. I know that oil palm plantations are an environmental disaster, but they sure are pretty. We were heading for Butterworth because that's where you get the ferry to the island of Penang. As we pulled into Butterworth, our fuel gauges showed that we had less than 25 miles of range left, so I pulled into the nearest Petronas station. Unlike everywhere else we've been in southeast Asia, no smiling pump jockey appeared when I pulled up. Apparently, Malaysia is self-serve. No problem, I haven't lived in Oregon so long that I've forgotten how these things work. (For those of you in more enlightened states, Oregon, like New Jersey, believes that mere mortals are incapable of operating gas pumps, and consequently, only highly trained technicians can dispense fuel in these two states. Seriously.) But my confusion was over the fuel grades and wide difference in their price. The “95” was 1.9 ringgit per liter, while the “97” was 2.8 ringgit per liter. Hmmm. One reason for my confusion is that I recall from our time in Malaysia two years ago, that the government was going to remove the fuel subsidy for foreigners, and consequently, foreigners would pay a higher price. I waited for a minute or two in hopes that another bike rider would pull in and I could follow his example, but no such luck. Apparently, the manager inside the store saw me standing around outside and motioned me in. He spoke very good English, recommended the “95,” and took my 14 ringgits. I returned to the pump, filled our jerrycan with “95,” and we then continued toward the ferry. Another reason I love Malaysia is that this is the cheapest fuel on our trip so far. We just got 7.4 liters of petrol for 4.50 USD! In virtually every other country we've been to, 4 liters of fuel would cost around 6 USD.
We followed the crazy, circular ramp over the water and around to the ferry, where we paid our two ringgits and joined the queue of other bikers waiting to get on the boat. The ferries here are huge, two level affairs, with passengers on the upper deck and cars, trucks, and motorbikes on the lower. After all the four-wheeled vehicles boarded, we joined with the 75 to 100 other motorbike riders and rode onto the ferry.
The ferry ride only took about ten minutes, but it was a fun time, since each of our bikes drew a small crowd, and everyone wanted to know about our trip. The other cool part of the ride was that Re found herself parked next to another SYM underbone. Malaysia gets a variety of SYM models, but not the Symba. This makes Malaysia the only country we've visited that has SYM badged bikes. India had a few SYM models, but they were sold under the domestic Mahindra brand.
Actually, there were some older SYM motorcycles in Cambodia that were used as moto remorques, but they were all old and shitty. Riding down the highway from the border to Butterworth, we saw several billboards advertising a variety of SYM underbones, scooters, and motorcycles.
After we disembarked from the ferry, we found ourselves on the streets we walked so many times on our previous trips to George Town. This was nice, because we knew exactly where we were going. We made our way up Lebuh Chulia to Love Lane, then left on Lebuh Muntri, to the Star Lodge. It was a bit like coming home, since we spent over six weeks here in the past. Robert, at reception, remembered us, and we were soon unloading our gear into our room. Since it was now nearly 4:00 pm, we decided to walk over to Komplex Komtar for a treat for our sore butts. In the mall they have what we refer to as the “executive chairs.” These are the massage chairs you see in various malls around the US and were all we could think about for the last couple hours of the ride. We walked the half mile through familiar streets and into the mall. We soon found a bank of executive chairs, sat down, and fed them a one ringgit (.33 cents) note for a three-minute massage. When our three minutes was up, we did it again. Feeling suitable pummeled and refreshed, we walked around a bit, checked out what was playing at the movie theater, and then made our way back onto the streets and up Lebuh Cintra for dinner at our favorite dim sum restaurant.
One of the very best things about George Town is the food. The island of Penang is on the Straits of Malacca and has been an important trading port for hundreds of years. It was a major port and stop off on the journeys between Asia and Europe and the Middle East. Consequently, there is a large Chinese population here, and also, a large Indian population that mostly arrived during the British colonial period. While this creates a fascinating multi-ethnic society, the real winner is dinner. The variety of food here is unmatched by any other place we've been. Everywhere you look, there are small restaurants and hawker stalls selling delicious food for cheap. Really cheap. We grabbed a table at the dim sum place. A pot of tea arrived, and then the same three ladies as two years ago wheeled up their stainless steel carts full of goodies.
We chose two of the rice, chicken, sausage, and egg wrapped in tea leaves, one of the taro cakes, a curried potato “egg roll?” a couple of different prawn-filled dishes, and a vegetable filled omelet roll. We stuffed ourselves silly on the delicious food, and the total bill came to 7.66 USD. I love Malaysia. For comparison purposes, each one of these seven dishes would be between 3 and 5 USD in Portland.
After dinner, we went back to the room, where Re scrubbed our Darien pants on the floor of the bathroom, while I caught up on the internets. Our Dariens are absolutely filthy after our time in Laos and Cambodia, and the difference that a good washing made was dramatic.
One reason I don't love Malaysia is the incredibly high tax on alcohol. Malaysia is a Muslim country, and so high sin taxes are the rule. For example, a 650 ml Chang in Thailand is 1.33 USD or so, whereas, in Malaysia, the same is at least 4 USD. But after our long rides over the last several days, we both wanted a , so we walked out to our favorite corner bar for a cold one. We jokingly refer to it as the Corner Bar, because it's on a street corner. There are more traditional bars aimed at the large number of tourists who visit here, but they are more expensive than the little local bars. The corner bar's clientele is almost exclusively Indian and Chinese, and rarely sees any farang. It's down a bit of a back alley, and there are a few coolers and a small bar behind a rollup door. You choose your s from the cooler, pay at the bar, and then go sit in the plastic chairs next to the folding tables out in the road. It does attract an interesting crowd with s that are the cheapest around.
130 miles in about 5 hours including 45 minutes at the border.
We slept in late this morning, and Re let me stay in bed while she walked out to Yasmeen (another excellent Indian restaurant nearby) and returned with roti telur (egg roti), some curry, and coffee. Roti from Yasmeen is our usual breakfast in George Town, and it was as good as I remember. After breakfast, we cracked open the books, maps, and laptop to work on plans for the next several days. We made the stupidly long ride to Malaysia specifically to see the Formula 1 race this coming weekend outside of Kuala Lumpur. The race itself is actually at the track near the Kuala Lumpur airport, which is 30 plus miles from the city, so we wanted to find a hotel closer to the track than that. After looking over all our resources, we had a few ideas, but decided to go to lunch instead.
Another one of our favorite Indian restaurants (especially for lunch) in George Town, is Sri Ananda Bahwan, which is a short walk from the guesthouse. At lunch they serve delicious and inexpensive banana leaf thalis, and that's what we had today.
They put a section of banana leaf on the table, a big scoop of rice in the middle, then three scoops of different vegetarian dishes, add a couple of crispy papadams, a dal, and a sambhar, mix it all together with your right hand, and throw in the general direction of your mouth. They do provide silverware for the timid, but if you're gonna eat banana leaf, you really have to do it with your hand. With our banana leaf we had limau ice to drink, which is a sweet and salty drink made with calamansi limes. For dessert, we each had a piece of our favorite Bombay sweet, soan papdi. The total bill came to a hair over 5 USD, and it was delicious.
Since the afternoon had gotten very warm, and there were a few sprinkles of rain, we decided to head back to the room to work on some ride reports. Later in the afternoon, we walked out to the movie theater at Prangin Mall to see “John Carter.” Another great thing about Malaysia, is that since English is widely spoken, they get many first run English language movies, and the theaters here are everything they are in the US- cold A/C, stadium seating, THX surround sound, but at a third of the price. Our tickets to see “John Carter” were 2.66 USD each. I know this movie has been pretty much, universally panned, but we both enjoyed it. After the movie, we hit the grocery store for a pineapple and some cat food. There are many street kitties in George Town, and we like to stop and give them a snack occasionally.
By the time we made it back to Lebuh Chulia, all the evening hawker stalls were open for business, so we stopped for some wonton mee at our favorite. The setup of the hawker stalls here is kind of funny, in that they line the roadside, but down a small alley, a drink vendor sets up tables and chairs each night. You order your food from the hawker stall, and then your drinks from the drink vendor, and sit at his tables, where your food is delivered. For drinks, we each had a glass of tangerine juice with sour plum (50 cents each) and soon our wonton mee was delivered.
Wonton mee is a noodle dish that is served with sliced pork, pork-filled soft wontons, and fried wontons, deep-fried fatback, water spinach, and pickled peppers in a dark soy sauce. We each ordered the large bowl (1.33 USD) and it was delicious. Walking back toward the room, we picked up some apom (crispy coconut crepes) and a big bottle of diet Coke. Back at the room, Re decided that since our pants were now so clean, that she needed to give our jackets the same treatment.
It was much easier to get out of bed this morning after our nice, relaxing day yesterday. Re again, walked out to Yasmeen for breakfast, but she was gone for longer than usual. When she returned, she had roti pisang (banana roti) and coffee, not from Yasmeen, which was closed today, but from Jaya. After breakfast, we continued our search for hotels near the track and decided to stay in the city of Nilai. Nilai appeared to be less than ten miles by road from the track, and it is a good-sized city, apparently owing to having large universities there. There wasn't much information about Nilai online. Neither Travelfish, Travelwiki, TripAdvisor, Hostelworld, nor Hostelbookers had much information on accommodations. Agoda, a mainly Asian hotel booking website, listed a few hotels in Nilai in our price range. None of the reviews were great, but we settled on the Nilai Budget hotel, due to its low cost, good location, free wifi in the rooms, and attractive pictures on the website. We normally don't book multiple nights in an unknown hotel, but we decided to go ahead and reserve and pay for four nights, not knowing if other racegoers would also flock to Nilai. Then until lunch, we worked on ride reports and did a little reading.
At lunchtime, we walked down the alley through the block to the Sky Hotel and their delicious pork and rice. We have eaten here plenty of times before, so while I grabbed a table and ordered lime with sour plum juice to drink, Re ordered two servings of the mixed barbeque and roast pork and rice.
It is served with some boiled water spinach and a bowl of broth. As usual, it was excellent. The pork was juicy, but crispy on the outside, and the broth tasted of well-cooked bones (no bouillon cubes used here). After lunch, we walked around a bit and picked up a few things at the pharmacy before heading back to the room to do some more writing and relaxing.
Later that evening, we had dinner at Restoran Kapitan, a fantastic Indian restaurant, where we have eaten many times. Clearly, we have eaten there many times, as our usual waiter from two years ago recognized us as soon as we sat down. He doesn't speak a tremendous amount of English, but he was either trying to say that I had lost weight, or that I was huge. I'm not sure which, but it was nice to be back in a place where people know your face.
We ordered the excellent tandoori chicken and butter naan, with limau ice to drink. Fortunately, on our last trip, we had perfected the technique of eating a chicken quarter using only our right hands. It's trickier than you think, since you have to hold down the chicken with your pinky finger while you tear at it with your thumb and index finger. Sure, you could use the fork and spoon they provide, but you'd know, they'd know, you're a punk. In all seriousness, the food is great, everyone is very friendly, and they wouldn't judge you. For dessert, we ordered iced coffee and a roti tisu. The tisu roti is a very thin piece of dough that is cooked on a hot griddle, and before it sets, it is pulled or rolled into a tent-like shape and then drizzled with sweetened, condensed milk. It's a dramatic looking dessert, and apparently, a pain in the ass to make, since every time we ordered it, our waiter would get a little smile, and a few minutes later, you can hear him chiding and laughing at the roti cook.
It had been cloudy earlier in the day, so the sunset this evening was dramatic. There is a one hour time change between Malaysia and pretty much every other country in the region, so the doesn't set until about 7:30 pm local time.
Leaving from the restaurant, the sky was gorgeous and we walked through Little India and took a few photos of the night. Later, we returned to the corner bar for a nightcap.
Nilai looked to be about 275 miles or so, so we wanted to get on the road fairly early. While Re walked to Yasmeen, which was thankfully, open, I got the bikes ready to ride. Re's front tire was down to about 15 psi, so we're going to have to change this tube soon. It may also be a good time to put on the new front tires that we bought in Namibia. This morning, we had roti canai (plain roti), curry, and coffee. Roti make a good, hot, cheap breakfast, since there is a variety of flavors you can get, and each morning, roti, curry, and coffee is usually about 6.5 ringgit (2.15 USD).
We started riding at 9:15 am, but instead of taking the ferry back to the mainland, we rode south to the bridge. The bridge that connects Penang with the mainland is about four miles in length, and it was a beautiful ride this morning. Once we hit the mainland, we turned south on the E1 and droned down the shoulder of the highway. Again, the road was excellent, since this is the same road we took from the border. While it's modern and fast, it is a little boring. Since it is a limited access highway, there aren't many cities visible from the road, but every 20 miles or so, there is a rest area that has bathrooms, petrol, and food and drinks.
Once we neared Ipoh, low mountains began to appear, and the ride got a lot more scenic. We had basically been cruising at no more than 200 ft above sea level since southern Laos, and the last time we saw any mountains was really in northern Laos.
The ride here was very pretty, with rocky outcrops covered with dark green jungle and huge oil palm plantations.
As our fuel lights began to tick down, I started looking for fuel at the rest areas. With about 40 miles of fuel left, the rest area we came upon did not have a petrol station. Good thing there will be another rest area soon. And there was, the sign had a symbol for fuel pumps, so with about 20 miles of fuel left, we pulled in, only to find the petrol station had been torn down and dug up. It was just a construction site. Bummer. Back on the highway, we started looking for an exit. The first exit we tried had a ghost town of large apartment buildings. The next exit had just miles of oil palms. We had to ride about a km down the road before we could turn back to the highway. Just after making a u-turn, we saw a very sad sight on the should of the road. I got a glimpse of a small, spotted cat that had been hit but seemed remarkably intact. I spun around to see what it was, and it was a beautiful small wildcat, approximately twice the size of a house cat. It was dead but was truly a beautiful animal. When we looked it up later, we think it might have been a leopard cat. Regardless, it was a shame. Now we were down to less than 10 miles of fuel remaining, so we got off at the next exit, knowing that we could not get back on without finding fuel. At least as this exit there were signs of life, and we found ourselves riding through an area of humongous apartment buildings, then a warehouse area, then finally, a petrol station. We were now just outside the greater KL area, so instead of backtracking to the E1, I followed the recommended route on the GPS into the edge of KL.
Kuala Lumpur is a massive, modern city of over 1.5 million people, and consequently, we spent the next couple of hours fighting our way through downtown KL and out the other side. We never had to veer onto surface streets, but the elevated highways twist and turn and split off at random intervals. The best thing about this part of the ride was the tiny motorcycle only roads that followed the major highways at ground level, often ducking through small tunnels underneath the actual highway itself. Some of the tunnels were only two meters high, so I had the urge to duck every time I entered one. The drawback to these little roads is that of course, they're not listed in the GPS, so we had to do some seat of the pants navigation. But, we made it.
We finally reached Nilai at around 6:30 pm, and miraculously, found the Nilai Budget Hotel, where we had booked in for four nights, sight unseen. Oh dear. The hotel was in a strip of auto repair businesses and was located above a muffler shop. Yay. While I watched the bikes, Re went in to see what was going on. She returned a few minutes later with kind of a frozen smile on her face. I asked how it was, and she said, “Well, it's not as bad as Shea's Motor Lodge” (Shea's Motor Lodge, in the mountains of North Carolina, is the “worst hotel” we have ever stayed in. It's a funny story, ask me about it sometime.). We decided that we would try it for one night and see how it would be. The people were very friendly, but the room was not very good. Unfortunately, I deleted all the photos from the camera, but it was bad. The highlights include: no sink in the bathroom, the room was the width of the bed, the walls were plywood painted pink, but the deal breaker was no wifi. I was planning to go to the track tomorrow for Friday practice, while Re was going to work on blog posts in the room. We were not going to be without wifi for four days, not when we were paying more through Agoda than the rate card on the wall. Grrr. Re went out and spoke with management about this and the fact that the photos on Agoda are not of this hotel. They explained that it was a mixup and that they are actually part of a three hotel group in Nilai, and the photos and description are actually of one of the other hotels. Re did an excellent job of explaining our plight and pleading our case. A couple of phone calls later, and our reservation was transferred to the supposedly much nicer and free wifi-ier, New Wave Hotel. Since this hotel was not in my GPS, we navigated from the simplified map on the back of their business card, and after a few wrong turns, we found the New Wave Hotel.
This was actually a much nicer hotel. They agreed to honor the rate from the Nilai Budget, and so we checked in. The room was clean and new, the A/C was cold, there was a sink in the bathroom, and the wifi was reasonably fast. Yay. By now, it was nearly 8:00 pm, and we hadn't had lunch or dinner yet, so we hopped back on our bikes and rode up to the McDonald's I had spotted when we were trying to find the hotel. McD's in Malaysia is truly a bargain. During the dinner special hours, a Big Mac extra value meal is 3 USD, and the double cheeseburger meal is 2.33 USD. That's a cheap stomachache by anyone's standards. We had some ice cream sundaes for dessert and then rode back to the room.
285 miles in about 9 hours. We lost time today looking for fuel and riding through downtown KL. The bikes are running good, but Re's front tube has lost air again.
We got up early this morning since I wanted to get to the track before 10:00 am, but breakfast comes first. When we were riding last night, Re had spotted an Indian restaurant a couple blocks down the road. We walked down to Al Nazim, where we tried to order some roti telur. It seemed that they weren't making roti at that time, so instead, we had idli (a spongy, steamed Indian bread) with a couple of curries and coconut chutney. Filling. I then, left for the track, while Re stayed in the room to write.
The ride to the track turned out to be only about eight miles down some rural roads and through a couple of small towns. I found the designated motorcycle parking that was actually right next to the main entrance to the grandstand and parked my bike. From there, I went to the ticket counter to buy our tickets for tomorrow and Sunday. The great thing about the Formula 1 race at Sepang is that no ticket is required for Friday. This means that you can sit virtually anywhere at the track today. The grandstand tickets are beyond our budget, but two years ago when we attended this race, the tickets for covered hillstand C2 were only 20 USD. This year, the price has risen to 40 USD per ticket, but that's probably still cheaper than the parking pass for the upcoming Formula 1 race in the USA. After buying our tickets, I walked up into the main grandstand area and encountered security. They were strictly enforcing the no outside food and drink, including the 1.5 liter bottle of water I had in my bag. Remembering how expensive water was to purchase two years ago, I sat in the shade and drank the entire 1.5 liters in about ten minutes. Then me and the funny feeling in my tummy made it through security successfully.
It was a great day at the track and fun to see all the new uglified cars this year.
I have always been a huge Kimi Raikkonen fan, and I am really excited to see him back on the track, and doubly excited to see him in the classic Lotus black and gold. I stayed until the end of the second F1 practice and then decided to call it a day. I made the short ride back to the hotel and returned about 5:00 pm. My 1.5 liters of water had long since evaporated, so I was thirsty and hungry when I got back. While I cooled off for a few minutes, Re walked down to a store nearby and returned with an ice cold diet Pepsi.
Our original dinner plan was to eat at a local chicken/duck and rice restaurant, but I had a new plan. While I was at the track and sitting in pit lane, a woman sat down in front of me and opened the lid on her Pizza Hut box. All I could smell was cheese, glorious cheese. On the tiny business card map, there was a Pizza Hut symbol, so we walked out to find it. Pizza Hut in Malaysia is not a good value. It's nearly as expensive as it is in the USA, but sometimes, you just need cheese. We ordered a large pepperoni pan pizza and some sodas and garlic bread. The bill came to 13 bucks, but it tasted really good. On the walk back to the room, Re mentioned that the little store where she got the soda also had s. We stopped there to pick up a couple to go. In response to the very high taxes, there are some peculiar s here. There are many 500 ml canned s from Europe in the 9 to 10% range, with some up to 14%. The amount of tax doesn't seem to vary based on alcohol content, so you can essentially get two or three s in one. Burp.
Our plan for today involves spending the majority of it at the track. The no water through the gate was a problem for which I had a solution. As you may have figured out by now, I am entirely too cheap to want to pay 5 ringgits (1.66 USD) for a 500 ml bottle of water every time either of us wants to take a sip. While at the track yesterday, I remembered our MSR Dromedary water bags, which we have not been using since we were in Nepal. They are covered with a matte black fabric that I thought might blend in well with the bottom of our daypacks. So last night Re got out one of our “water babies” and the water filtration system and put about 3 liters in the bag. This morning we jammed it in the bottom of her daypack, leaving the black fabric side visible. We then put a number of small things on top of it and pronounced it good. Re also stashed a bag of peanuts under the water baby with her trademark, “**** The Police” sneer. Since we were packed up and ready to go, we walked down to Al Nazim to have roti canai for breakfast. The people here are very friendly and some of the curries are quite excellent. Breakfast finished, we grabbed our daypacks from the room and set off for the track.
Today we could not sit in the posh seats, so instead, we made our way to hillstand C2. We were able to park right next to the gate, and after locking our helmets to the bikes, we made our way towards security. Sure enough, the water baby worked like a charm. We found a spot under the freestanding roof, unrolled one of our tarps, and sat down for the day's events. Throughout the day, we watched the Formula 1 third practice, a GP2 race, a couple of Malaysian Super Series races (including one class that had multiple Ferraris and Lamborghinis competing) before the main event of the day: F1 qualifying. Qualifying went largely as expected, with Kimi slotting neatly into fifth. Unfortunately, the team discovered a problem with his gearbox overnight and had to fit a new one. This is in contravention of the rules that require the gearboxes to last for five races, so as a consequence, he was handed a five grid position penalty. Bummer. I still have high hopes for tomorrow, as Kimi has never been shy about passing.
We spent our time between the on-track action talking about what we are doing after Thailand. The frustrating thing for us is that our feelings change like the weather. One week, we're sure we have a plan of action, and the next week, that plan just doesn't sound right. This is getting to be a problem, since in just a few weeks, we'll be heading back to Thailand, and it would be nice to know what we're doing after that. Our two basic options are to either return to the US and some semblance of our previous lives until we are financially able to get off the merry go round permanently, or muddle our way through, living and working overseas, trading financial security for the possibility of adventure. It's a tough call. At its root, it's a "known vs. the unknown" question, but it's unfortunately complicated by familial concerns (such as, our parents ain't getting any younger).
After the short ride back from the track, we went to dinner at the chicken/duck restaurant nearby. Since this was a Muslim restaurant, their wonton mee contained no pork, but was available with (unsurprisingly) either duck or chicken. I opted for the double-size duck, while Re went for the double-size chicken. The food was very good, but the broth lacked complexity, and the noodles were kind of a clump. The duck and chicken, on the other hand, were both delicious. Since we were feeling restless after sitting around all day, we decided to walk the 2 km to the Tesco supermarket. We wanted to pick up some fruit and I had seen an ATM on the way to pick up some more cash. After the long hike up there, we found that the Tesco had a food court in it, and in the food court was a Big Apple Donuts. The donuts at Big Apple are really good, with fresh cappuccino cream fillings and all sorts of other delicious flavors.
After we ate our donuts, Re went into the Tesco to look for fruit and batteries for the GPS, and I waited outside and watched the crowd go by. Parenting styles around the world are certainly different, and I will say that virtually everywhere we've been, children are cherished. But they're also punished in ways that would raise eyebrows in the US. While I was waiting for Re, I saw two women pushing a shopping cart out of the store, and in and amongst the bags in the cart, were two small boys, maybe about three years old. As the cart went past one of those little rides you see outside grocery stores or Kmarts in the US, the one young boy pointed at it, and I honestly didn't hear him make a sound. What he got in exchange for pointing was a crisp smack across the mouth. Mom then looked up and made eye contact with me and must have seen my dropped jaw, because she immediately grabbed the kid out of the cart, put him on the ride, and put some money in the slot. He looked a little confused, but eventually, enjoyed the ride. I guess that was my good deed for the day?! After that little spectacle, we walked back to the room to find that the internet no work. Sigh.
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