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Riding in Paradise - South East Asia on Motorbikes
South East Asia on Motorbikes
5 Countries, 5 Months, 15.000km - a ride report
by Theresa and Max
Hello Motorbiking community, we are Max and Theresa, a young german couple (23 & 20). We have spent the past six months travelling Southeast Asia on motorbikes. It has been the trip of a lifetime, so many incredible things we´ve seen and done.
Finding the perfect little tropical island in Malaysia, riding the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand, fighting the rainseasonstorms and discovering ancient tombs in Laos, getting chased by cops in Cambodia, climbing an active vulcano and finding the perfect wave in Indonesia...
And it wouldn´t have been possible without the help of the online motorbiking community. Therefore, we want to give something back, and write this ride report.
It would be way to much to put it in one post, so we´re going to make 5 posts out of it:
I (Max) have been on a round the world trip in 2008/2009, and ever since dreamt of going on the road again. The last trip ended in Bali, where I back then tought myself how to ride a motorbike. I loved the landscape, the culture, the climate, the incredible nice people... and I knew I wanted to come back. Another country I was fascinated about is Nepal, and ever since I started studying in 2009, I had the idea of riding on a motorbike from Bali to Nepal. Research on the forums showed this to be impossible, and soon a new plan developed: To ride from Malaysia to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and then explore the islands of Indonesia, all on a motorbike.
Intitally I wanted to do this on my own, but when my girlfriend Theresa decided to quit her education as a cook in Januar 2012 and planned to begin studying in fall 2012, the opportunity to do this together posed itself. When I asked her, she wanted some time to think about it - and then said yes, two months before the date I intended to leave.
There were so many things left to do, we had to find out where to buy the bikes, which border we could cross with the bikes and which not, what documents we needed (lots), what vaccinations were required (none), and which insurance company would rip us the least of.
Theresa had never been riding a motorbike before and started her driving lessons right away, she got her official driving license five days prior to our departure day.
One of the biggest questions was where to get a bike from.
We never really looked into shipping a bike from Germany, just shipping it one way would have required a big part of our budget. Therefore, the big question for us was to rent or buy - and where exactly to do it.
Renting would have had the big advantage of getting the bike right away, and not worrying about how and where to sell the bike in the end. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible to take a rented bike across international borders. As we didn´t want to get a new bike in each country we were going to visit, the only option left was to go and buy a motorbike.
They recommended Malaysia, and so we went ahead and booked flight tickets to Kuala Lumpur. (They switched their blog post into an buyable e-paper, so I won´t go into detail and spoil the information)
Still, the question remained where exactly to buy the bike, and first of all, what specific bike to get.
I was hoping we could buy a honda tiger, the exact same bike I had had three years ago when I visited Bali.
Unfortuately, it turned out to be only sold in indonesia.
Malaysia is a pretty developed country, and we soon realized we had a wide range of bikes to choose from.
Our total bike budget was about 5000€. We never considered riding 2-up, which left us with two options - to buy used bikes in the 250-500cc range, or to buy new bikes in the 150-250cc range.
Coming from germany, a country where motorbikes usually are 500 - 1xxx cc, it was natural to look into the bigger, used bikes. They would provide more power, their bigger tires would be good on dirt roads in laos, and of course a bigger bike also meant more safety - in most parts of SEA small yields to big. But it also meant added fuel and maintenance costs, and buying a used bike of course also increased the likelikhood of breaking down somewhere, With no spare parts available for the big bike. Most of all, it also meant sticking out of the other motorbikers: In most parts of South East Asia, a big bike is considered a toy for the riches, whereas a smaller bike blends in among the local bikers anywhere and usually makes for a warm welcome.
We also assumed a smaller bike would get us less attention from corrupt cops in Cambodia, an assumption that proved to be completely wrong.
We ended up looking at three bikes: a Honda CBR 150 with 24hp, a Yamaha FZ 150i with 18hp, and a Kawasaki KLX with 11 hp.
The horsepower sounds incredible low for European standards, but the thing to always keep in mind is that traffic in Southeast asia differs fundamentally from Europe; most "motorbikes" are tiny scooters that do 40-80 km/h, most cars are rusty and old, and don´t even get me started on the big old trucks that crawl up the mountain roads, loaded five meters high, going 10km/h - and proudly sporting a "100 Horse Powers" plate in the front.
The average speed on a main road is about 70km/h, on vulcaneous Indonesia it sometimes went below 40km/h.
The Honda was too munch of a sportbike in regard of frame and suspension, and the Kawasaki lacked the speed we were going to need driving long distances, so we ended up settling for the FZ: It had, compared to the other bikes, the biggest frame, a really good suspension, and the 18hp ment it could go 130km/h, which (apart from malaysia) meant we usually were the fastest on the road.
Our beloved bikes, can you guess why we blinded the headlights?
As Malaysia is part of the ASEAN, buying the bike there enabled us to take it across most international boarders without a carnet de passage, only Indonesia was off limits, but more of this later.
Being german, we also were pretty concerned about safety, especially after I had read up that the chance to die on a motorbike in Malaysia or Thailand is almost nine times as high as back home in Germany.
We were looking into proper motorbiking gear, but a leather vest would just have been to hot in the sometimes 40+ degrees of SE Asia. Patrick and Sherry did it in a full leather suit, to this day I can´t believe how they didn´t die from heatstroke So I (Max) settled for a Alpinestars motocross vest, some summer gloves and an Uvex motocross helmet we got for a bargain price. Theresa got the same helmet and gloves, but instead chose a proper (summer)biking jacket. Initially we had no leg protection, we were riding the first 2000km in shorts and hiking boots. The boots stayed, we got some additional leg protection at the end of the Malaysia trip though.
Somewhere deep in Laos
On top of that, We got eight vaccinations to cover for almost any disease that could strike us.
To end this section, we would like to say thanks to all the people that made this possible, especially:
Antusiang, Zul, and the MBC crew ( Malaysian Bikers Community 2012 - Index ): for helping us at the start and end of our mainlandtrip, and for the incredible warm welcome.
The guys at HUBB and Ride Asia( http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/ ) ( Ride Asia Motorcycle Forum ): HUBB for initial research and motivation, Ride Asia for all the information regarding border crossings in SE Asia.
Patrick and Sherry: They did a similar trip a few months before us on scooters, although we never met them, their "where to buy a motorbike in SE Asia" post was extremely helpful
Special thanks to:
Mohdi Ibrahim: for all the information and help - and for being a great friend.
We left Germany on a rainy, cold day on a plane to Malaysia. Our first destination was Kuala Lumpur where we were going to buy the bikes.
The big city surprised us, it felt foreign and yet strangely familiar.
It is a city of wide contrast, with an inner city full of high rises, flashy cars, wide streets and a monorail that is actually fast and clean. Walk one street further thou, and just around the corner from the glitzy shopping world you´ll find people living in run down buildings, trying to make an income from street selling.
Our first lunch in KL
Nobody likes to walk, guess why?
Many things surprised us: We knew it would be hot, but THAT hot? Coming from winter-cold Germany, 37 degrees in the shade was a tough thing to get used to. We were also surprised how green the city is - trees, ferns, orchids, ... green everywhere, growing out of every backyard and hole in the pavement.
Most of all, we were surprised how nice and friendly the people were to us. Starting in KL, for the whole time of being in Malaysia, I can´t recall anyone being rude to us, we were always greeted with a smile, people were warm and open minded. The happiness was contagious, after some time it just became natural to greet everybody with a smile. I actually ended up getting kind of upset every time I saw a Westerner with his daily grumpy face among all the smiling Asians.
Another interesting thing about Malaysia is the different origin of the people. There are native Malayans, Chinese and Indians. And they all seem to have some little resentments against each other: The Malayans talk about the greedy Chinese, the Chinese tell of the lazy Malayans, and nobody seems to like the Indians too much. But it´s all told with a smile and a winking eye, they seem to get along pretty fine.
With Malaysia being an Islamic country, we were also curious how much this would affect us, how "different" it would be.
Again, we were surprised: Of all the three different peoples living in the country, only the Malayans are Islamic, and they turned out to be the most open minded and friendly people. People seemed to be proud of their diversity, while some expressed concerns regarding the rising radicalization of Islam. Anyway, we really enjoyed how peaceful people were living no matter their religion.
Buying the Bikes
We planned to spend as little time in Kuala Lumpur as possible. We wanted to get the bikes and then leave for the country. Again we could profit from Patrick and Sherry's trip some months earlier, they had written about the dealer where they had bought their scooters. Still in Germany, I mailed the dealer got into contact with Calvin, their sales rep.
Back then he seemed to be a nice guy, and when we met him in person, he was eager and helpful to help us choose the bike.I took the bike we wanted, the Yamaha FZi, for a spin, and liked how fast the small engine could bring the bike up to speed.
We decided to go ahead and buy two FZs, Theresa was going for a blue one, I ordered a black one.
We sat down with Calvin to sign the deal.
When I asked him to give me a good price, he first was surprised to see an Westerner trying to bargain, then agreed to give us 10% discount. He even offered to put his address on the registration form, and was helpful in every way.
Oddly, he started telling us about Patrick and Sherry, boasting how they "accepted the first price I told them, and afterwards even wanted to take a photo with me". I had a weird feeling, why would he talk bad about the only other Western customers he had had? But it wasn't until three months later that I got really angry at him (see part IV)
He told us he would have the bikes ready in a day, and together we went to an ATM to take out the money we needed - only to realize our German bank had set an unchangeable daily limit on our cards! Of all the things we had planned back in Germany, this was the one thing we had completely forgotten about.
We called the bank in Germany to take care of the problem, but the best solution that customer support offered us was to "come to the nearest branch here in Germany, there is no limit if you take money out at a counter"
We wagered our options for a few hours, then decided the best solution was to take out the daily limit each day and wait until we would have enough money. Unfortunately, this meant storing all the money in our hotel room, and waiting four extra days until we had all the money we needed.
On a plus side, this left us more time to explore the city. The highlight was the botanic garden: It had beautiful flowers, cheesy fake statues and one definite highlight: a plastic replica of Stonehenge. And yes, people were taking wedding photos there.
With only one day to go before we could pick up the motorbikes, I suddenly got cold feet. How would we find our way out of the seven million people city? How would Theresa handle biking? Her first time without a driving school teacher, on a bike she had never ridden before, driving on the "wrong side of the road"?
I was worried, and decided to ask on the "Malaysian bikers community" forum if someone would be able to guide us out of the city.
I didn't have high hopes, the people had been nice to us before, but answering online questions and actually skipping work to meet us and help us is something quite different.
But then something amazing happened: I had posted in the evening, just hours before we were going to pick up the bikes and left a telephone number to contact me. And within one hour, three different people contacted me, offering their help!
The next morning we went to pick up the bikes, and boy, we were excited. People in KL are used to foreigners and usually pay little attention to strangers, but the second we left the hostel, carrying our backpacks, motocross helmets and all the gear we had, we could feel people staring at us from all directions. It was a friendly stare thou, a stare that would follow us for the next five months throughout Southeast Asia, often leading to interesting conversations and sometimes opening doors for us.
We took the monorail to the shop, paid the last installment for the bikes, and with perfect timing Antusiang and his friend (the guys from the MBC forum) arrived to pick us up. They were going to lead us out of the city, towards the old mountain road.
Paying for the bikes- each note is worth about 10 US Dollars
We put on our gear and started the bikes for the first time.
it was a magical moment - a little crowd had assembled, pedestrians, shoppers, even the mechanics of the bike shops had stopped working and watched as we got on the bikes and followed Antusiang and his mate out onto the road. Years of dreaming, months of preparation had finally come to an end, our trip was live.
The first day riding was amazing. Antusiang and his friend dropped us at the start of the old mountain road out of the city. It was just perfect: The sun was shining, we had a blue sky, the road was old and narrow but in still decent shape, almost no traffic, and lots of bends in the middle of the rain forest.
We didn't really have a destination, we knew we wanted to get to the east coast, but it didn't matter when we would get there, we had five months before us...
We stopped for the night at a little homestay in the country. We shared the house with the friendly Muslim owner and his family. We had a private room, but it was a wooden house with lots of openings and clearings, it felt like we all shared one room. We also made our first contact with the "mandi", the Asian version of a shower: You take a bucket, dip it into a lager basin of water, and then empty the bucket over you. After some time we got used to it, but at least in this case we really preferred the European version...
When I asked the owner about his job, he told me "fishing" and showed me the fishponds behind his house. So next morning I asked him about the catch of last night, and laughing he said "none". I didn't understand, so he explained the probably most relaxed job in the world to me:
He kept fish in two ponds. Every night people from all around would show up and pay an entry fee. But they didn't go fishing to eat it or sell the fish! Everyone had five hours to catch the biggest fish he could get. In the end he would bring the fish to the owner of the pond, who put the fish on a scale. The fishers got money according to the weight of their biggest fish: If it was heavy enough, it was worth more than their entry fee, and they went home with profit. If it was worth less, the owner of the pond would be making profit. Afterwards the fish got thrown back into the pond, to be caught again some day, some fish had more than ten hook marks.
It was all just game...
The fish Ponds
a guest house
The next day we visited a nearby elephant sanctuary.
We then left for the east cost, it was already 3:30pm, but we still had hopes of driving the remaining 250 km to the coast. Unfortunately, suddenly the traffic became really dense and slow, and some raindrops started falling. We pulled over and put on our raincoats, and within seconds it started pouring down like no tomorrow. A fully grown rainstorm developed, the tin roof of our shelter got slowly town apart.
the roof of the nieghbour building started to break and fly away
We waited some time, then got back on the bikes as the rain had weakened.
Unfortunately it didn't take long until it got even worse. we pulled over again and were invited by a family to have dinner with them. We tried to pay them for it, but they refused... so incredibly nice people!
By now it was already 6:30 and we had no hopes left of getting to the east coast, so we asked for the nearest homestay and went there. A third time the rain got even worse, we pulled over, but it just wouldn't stop, so we started again, this time in full night, raining so hard I had to open my helmet just to see the road. The raincoat kept me dry though - that is until a minibus overtook me at like 110 km/h, splashing up water from a puddle on the street so hard it hit me everywhere. I swallowed a good amount, it ran down the inside of my helmet into my clothes... good times!
Fortunately, we made it to the hotel not long after, COMPLETELY wet though.
I had a lot of respect for Theresa, this being her second day on a motorbike, she made it trough all of it with ease, not even complaining once.
We found the "homestay", which actually was a little roadside hotel. The owner looked at us bewildered - we were the first Westerners to ever show up. But again people were so friendly to us, we got the best little hut they had.
It was rather run down, but it was dry, and that was all we needed...
The next day we left again for the east coast, and this time we actually got there. We went to "Cherating beach", which may be a busy little backpacker town in the dry season, but the rain season had just started, and most accommodations were almost empty. The town had a relaxed, happy feeling to it.
We found us a nice little hut close to the beach.
The view from the front porch
We made contact with our first big lizard:
I couldn't stop watching them, Theresa was more interested in the thousands of geckos in and outside our hut.
It was here we met Mohdi for the first time. He had seen us post online, and sent me a message asking if we could meet him. We sure did, and he showed up on his brand new yellow Kawasaki.
He invited us to have a traditional lunch with him, we were taught how to eat with our hands. Unfortunately I am left handed, and for some reason the Asians don't ever eat with their left hand, so the whole little restaurant was giggling when they saw me do it...
Mohdi had traveled a fair bit of Asia himself and was able to give us lots of helpful information, we held contact to him during the whole trip. In the end we really could call him a friend, without his help some things would have been fundamentally different. (see part V)
(his bike is the yellow one)
It was great to relax by the sea, make new friends, meet locals, unwind from all the stress back home in Germany.
time for another mango shake
taking the shortcut
But after a few days we wanted to get going again. We wanted to go to an island. Initially we had the "Perhentian islands" im mind, but fellow travelers advised us against it. So we consulted our "Lonely Planet" and headed for a tiny little island called "Pulau Kapas", in hindsight one of the best decisions we did.
on the way to Pulau Kapas
Pulau Kapas was heaven:
A tiny little island in the ocean, 500 meters across, so small there was not a single road, the thick jungle went right up to the beach, our cottage was ten meters from the beach. No noise except birds and the ocean, amazing food, perfect weather, we couldn't have had it any better...
(well maybe except for the snake that awoke us one night, but the next day the owner assured us that they were "only a little bit poisonous")
After a few days on the island we wanted to get on the road again, and decided to drive to the "Cameron Highlands", the tea growing capital of Malaysia.
The drive itself was quite interesting, be it cows on the road, thundering rainstorms, or broken roads, it never got boring. We were getting used to our bikes, and bit by bit felt more confident on the road.
Our daily dose of rainstorms
suddenly the road was gone
"Be aware - Wild Elephants"
first thousand kilometers, no crash yet
In Cameron Highlands we were surprised - it might have been a tea growing village, but it felt a lot more like one big tourist trap. Wealthy people from KL would drive here for a weekend getaway. Interestingly, it was still easy to get away from the crowds: all the Asians would go to one of the tea plantations, walk into the fields for ten meters, have a relative take a photo with their cellphone camera, and then rush back to the entry to drink an incredibly overpriced tea and have a muffin. We decided to go for a hike in the plantations, and within seconds we had left the crowds behind. The plantations were beautiful, lots of rolling green hills. History has it that the English founder of the town went for a hike in the plantations, got lost and never came home. This couldn't happen to us, from every hill we could look back to the entry and see the flashes of the Asians taking photos in full daylight.
We also met a lot fellow motorbikers here, a Frenchman who had driven on his BMW GS all the way from France, and a couple of Asian bikers from Penang. They all had some sort of motocross leg protection, something we were completely lacking. We talked to them, and immediately one of them offered us to show us around once we got to Penang and to take us to the shop where we could buy them. We agreed and left for Penang a few days later.
Some more rainstorms (and a huge bridge) later we got there. We found us a little hostel in Georgetown, and the next day the old biker came to pick us up. He had changed his big bike for a small scooter, and not only showed us where to buy the leg protection, but also took us all across the city so we could get our bikes serviced for the first time and demanded nothing in exchange, he didn't event let us buy him his lunch. Again, it was amazing to see how nice people were to us...
pedestrian protection: over 9000!
By now we had spent a few weeks in Malaysia. It had been a great time - it wasn't as munch of an adventure as the trip later would develop into, but it was the perfect place to relax and unwind - and meet some incredibly friendly people.
But now we had seen enough, and decided it was time to discover a new country - Thailand!
Our first 24 hours in Thailand were heaven and hell.
It was our first land crossing with the motorbikes and we were quite excited to see if everything would go as planned.
we had picked the route 15 which led us to a remote checkpoint, far away from the big Malay-Thai highway.
The immigration officers were surprised to see foreigners crossing the border on their own bikes. They demanded lots of papers, but we were prepared and everything went just fine.
We hadn´t exchanged any money prior to crossing the border, and I didn´t want to get ripped of by some shady creatures on the roadside, so I tested my luck and asked the immigration officer if he could exchange some money for us. Theresa abd ne both had heard about the corruption in Thailand, and when the Immigration officer seemed a bit too eager to do the exchange, Theresa got a really bad feeling.
I somehow had the feeling I could trust him, but I grew nervous aswell. Still, didn´t want to be impolite and cancel the exchange, so I gave him the equivalent of 100 US $, and he handed some money back to us. I was mentally preparing myself for having lost some money, but at least we had some Thai money now, and went on into the new country.
Thailand was incredible green, the sun was shining, people were nice, prices even lower... we had a good feeling about it.
After following the boarder road for a while, we realized it was getting dark soon, so we picked Satun to spend the first night at.
Satun had a few surprises for us: First of all, we realized the downside of being off the tourist trail. Not a single roadsign was written in English, and virtually noone was able to speek even the most basic english. We ended up finding our way with hand sings, circling the city endlessly, hoping to find a place to sleep. It had been dark for quite some time when we finally found an old hotel. It looked shabby from the outside, but Malaysia had thaught us that often you will find a nice place inside some dirty outer walls. How wrong we were! It was dirty. And I don´t mean dirty as in "look there is a spot on the wall", I mean dirty as in "look Theresa, I´m pretty sure this sh*tcovered something is supposed to be our toilet" and "hey Max, have you ever showered with dirt-brown water?"
At least we could park our Bikes in the Hotel lobby...
The next day we were woken up at 4am by the mosque next door. While comforting our arching backs and counting all the mosquito bites, we vowed, from now on, to look for small homestays instead of big hotels, and to make sure we got to our destination early enough to still be able to have a look around town.
Next came a big surprise: We went to a Bank to exchange some more money, and realized the immigration officer had "rounded up a little" on the exchange rate - but in our favour! Insted of ripping us of, he had actually given us a little extra... what a nice person.
Now our "real" trip into Thailand was almost ready to start, but we had one last "little" thing to do: We had to get Thai third party insurance for the motorbikes. And what usually you´d expect to take about 10 minutes, became a nightmare we would still be talking about weeks later.
We spent six hours walking the streets in the blazing sun, visited about 20 different shops and institutions, including the police, the immigration office, the customs, the insurance headquarter... with zero results. Everywhere, people were happy to see us and invited us in. Again and again we explained our simple concern: to get third party insurance for our motorbikes.
And again and again, after I had finished my whole spill about the bikes, the papers and the insurance, the clerk would look me in the face, happily chant "rent motorbike?" and smile.
In the end, we found a pretty easy solution. It only took a South African school teacher, who knew a local school headmaster, who knew a teacher who had a friend at the boarder, who knew someone who was selling insurance at the border, who knew someone in town who could bring us to someone who could sell the insurance to us... See? That easy!
On the second day, the monsoon hit. We were used to rainstorms by now, but Thailand took it to a whole new level. Rain in Malaysia had been strong, but it seldom lastet more then half a hour. In Thailand, it was fierce. It rained so hard, sometimes we couldn´t see for more than 50 meters, and strong side winds made sure the water found any possible hole in our gear to creep in.
In the evening, we got to Trang in Southern Thailand. Still completely off the tourist trail, we again struggled to find anyone capable of speaking English. We also discovered some of the wonders of Thailand, e.g. elephants waiting at a red light, or religious processions shutting down traffic on the main street.
Searching for a place to stay at, we ended up in a surprisingly clean and new place. Men with big cars and sunglasses came and went, to this day we are not sure if the little hotel provided some 'special services', but we were treated nicely and, paying less than 3 dollars each, had one of the best price performance rations of our trip.
We had dinner at the local nightmarket, mingling among the locals. It was pure chaos, dozens of little food stalls were scattered about the compound, each of them trying to get the attention of customers. The rain had soaked the soil, mud was everywhere. So much frying, cooking, burning, smoke, spices, every step we took, we could smell or hear something new. Then there were people butchering live chickens, shopowners doing all sorts of supply trips, shy school children abound, ... The whole place was buzzing with life.
Walkling trough the aisles, we always could feel people watching us. But we never felt any hostility: we were the only whites among hundreds of thais, we couldn´t understand any of their language and neither could they understand us, but somehow if felt saver and more "at home" than walking in a unknown city at night back in Germany.
People we looked at smiled, and using our hand and feet, we managed to have a tasty Thai dinner among the chaos around us.
The next day was acutally sunny, and we made our way up to Krabi, a little town on the west coast of Thailand. We took the coast road, the riding was beautiful: long stretches of good road inbetween rainforest, sometimes opening to small little beaches with zero tourists.
Almost no traffic on the road, blue skyes... it was beautiful. We also got used to the Thai roads: Dogs, Cats, Pigs, Monkeys, Buffalows, every corner held new surprises. Additionally, the Thai seem to have discovered a more efficient way of using a road, they know about a secret third lane noone else knows about. Apparently it´s right in the middle of the road!
Being Krabi meant getting back on the tourist trail, people could speak English, we had our first Western meal in days, and found a nice little hostel that charged each of us only 50 Bath a night! Krabi had a nice vibe about it, a reggae bar had just opened, the owner had actually managed to get hold of an original VW-Bus, and played Bob Marley every night. When asked why he always had the same record running, he told us, "thats the only music I own". The bar attracted some initial customers, and upon hearing his story, most returned with their MP3 players and hard drives, not before long the owner had thousands of songs in his inventory.
We had read about beautiful Ko Phi Phi, and although I had a wierd feeling about it, we bought tickets for the ferry and left our bikes behind.
Expecting a small paradise island, Ko Phi Phi turned out to be the biggest disappointment of our trip!
Everything was focussed on commerce. Thais were hustling you on every occasion, we were offered a trip to "The Beach" ten times a day. The small island was cramped with hotels, tiny pathways were packed with drunken Western tourists. At high tide, the water was filled with garbage.
Everything screamed for attention, at night, the beach clubs were blasting the US TOP 50 all over the island. The whole vibe felt negative. If you ignored a hustler, they sometimes became agressive and cursed you. Local beachboys were agressively targeting blonde girls, giving away free alcohol in hope to increase their bragging count of how many they had been to bed with.
People told us how nice the island had been, but apparently, after the tsunami hit and wreaked havoc, the reconstruction of the island just went over the top.
On the positive side, there was a telephone tower at the top of the island. I climbed it, and we managed to capture one of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip.
Back in Krabi, we heard about another beach destination nearby, and this time, we found just what we were looking for.
Railay/Tonsai beach was a small penisula, seperated from the mainland by tall mountains, only accessable by boat.
It's home to one of the most exclusive beach resorts of the planet, but there's also just the right amount of small shacks and middle class hotels. As it was low season, we managed to strike a bargain and get a nice little hut. This time, the vibe felt right: much less drunken tourists, much less hectic and an incredible beach setting.
We also saw a snake that had overestimated its powers, seems like the lizard managed to at least take revenge:
Exploring the area, we found a small sign "Lagoon", pointing upwards into the rainforest. We decided to follow it, the path gently climbed up a rocky hill, until suddenly there was an almost vertical climb. At this point most tourists who had, curious as we were, simply followed the sign, decided to turn back. We were keen to keep on going, and found a skinny rope hanging down among the vines. We scrambled up and were rewarded with a postcard view over Railay:
Next was the lagoon, this time we had to climb down the inside of the hill, hanging off ropes and vines and rocks on the steep bits. We caught a glimpse of the bright green lagoon and were determined to get down there, it involved some unofficial vertical rockclimbing down a couple of drops! Theresa had injured her ancle on one of the climbs, so she decided to wait until I got back. I left my camera with her in order to get my hands free and concentrate on the climb. Two aussies made it down with me, some other tourists weren't keen to do the climbing.
The lagoon was magical, it was something straight out of a movie... Bright green, surrounded by cliffs, echoing every word.
As I had left my camera with Theresa, here is a picture taken of the web:
The climb up was difficult, we all had slimy wet feet covered in red clay, the Aussies lost their thongs with every step they took. I was wearing my nike free shoes, they helped me on the climb, but it took weeks to get them clean again.
Once we got back to where we had started, we were sweatier and dirtier than ever before ... luckily, the beach was just arround the corner!
We spend two days relaxing there, reading books in the hammock I brought, and discovering the various caves accessible from the beach.
Again we caught a beautiful sunset on camera:
Back in Krabi, we had to decide where to go next, and chose to head for Chiang Mai.
It would be a long drive, about 2000 km, and most of it was completely off the Western tourist trail. Most Backpackers coming to vist Thailand will travel by bus. These buses are new, clean, big, comfty... and they bring you safely from one tourist destination to another. You wouldn´t imagine how many people claim to have seen the "real" Thailand, without ever leaving a tourist trap! Everytime we realized something was overpriced, or people were only after our money, we knew we had found a tourist destination. With out motorbikes, it usually took less than 10 minutes to be back in the real Thailand.
We left Krabi for the East coast, roadsigns made sure we never could get lost:
Once we finally found our way, we discovered a nice little guesthouse at the beach, about 100km north of Surat Thani.
Having witnessed the Thai driving style on some minor higway, we decided from now on to stay away from any highway as much as possible and enjoy the small back roads.
This of course meant going slowly, sometimes getting lost, and stopping every half an hour to ask for directions - but it also meant seeing lots of rural Thailand, driving along the beach for hundreds of kilometers, watching farmers and coconut harvesters do their daily work, and of course- meeting lots of local people.
He invited us to lunch with him and the head of the temple
definately not intended for western tourists.
If we somehow managed to overcome the language barrier, some realy interesting conversations ensued. When we had gotten past the narrow part of Thailand, we went to the left, towards Ratchaburi, then Kanchanaburi. Along the way, we found dozens of signs poiting at waterfalls, apparently the Thai are obsessed with it. We tried one of them, and found nothing a tiny little fountain, with lots of kids playing in the river.
We also found some Thai recreation areas not mentioned in international travel literature. We drove past "Honeymoon Farm", "Love Homestay" and "Swiss Paradise", the latter advertising with a supersized swiss flag, and big headlines: "Original Swiss bullfighting!" and "Original swiss Fish and chips!" I was smiling for hours.
Then I fell! I was taking a 90 degree bend in a small town, leaning in, trying to power out of the corner, and suddenly my backwheel lost traction. The bike slid over the the asphalt, with me somehow still holding onto it. When we came to a stop, I got up and inspected the damage done, fortunately, nothing serious had happened. The bike had lost its main stand and the shift lever was bended. I didn´t have any scratch on me! The motocross vest and the leg bracers had taken all of the impact. They were scrachted, but still intact. We got the shift lever fixed up at a small motorbike shop just 20 meters away from the point of accident, and on we went. The next day we went to an official Yamaha dealer in order to get the main stand fixed. The people there were really nice and helpful, but told me they didn´t have the main stand for the bike - because it wasn´t sold anywhere in Thailand (which also applied to Laos and Cambodia)! Turns out the salesman in Malaysia had lied to us...
They managed to repair it with some basic welding. It didn´t look to fancy, but it did the trick, and they even refused the money we wanted to give them, instead they asked us to take pictures with them.
Right after I fell, it was probaply Theresa who had gotten the bigger shock, she had been driving behind me and had to watch me fall, unable to intervine. I was rather happy nothing serious had happened.
It wasn´t until days later that I realized I had lost the trust in my bike, every corner I took, I had the memory of falling in my head. This took the joy out of driving, I realized I had to do something about it.
I started to inspect the tyres, and realized they were not meant for hard cornering: The profile part would let the tire only stand sideways to a certain percentage, if the biker leaned in further, the profile would end and the tire only had partial grip left on the street. We decided to get new tires as soon as we would get into the next big city, which in this case was Chiang Mai.
But we weren´t there yet, two more things were about to happen. The evening on the day I had fallen, we stopped at a little homestay, somewhere deep in the country. We parked our bikes outside our little hut, gravel had been arranged to form a car parking spot. We went to sleep, faintly realizing the monsoon rain had started once again. Suddenly we head a loud bang, and immediately we knew what had happened: the gravel had given way, our bikes had fallen over. We had parked them close together so we could use our chainlock, this turned out to be a bad decision: My bike had fallen, tipped Theresas over, and smashed its handle into her bikes fuel tank.
Fortunately, the fuel tank was only dented, but with two things gone wrong in one day, after 5000km without anything happening, our motivation had taken a hit.
Additionally, we started to get sick: I only had minor stomach pains, but Theresa had caught it really bad. What first started as a minor annoyance turned into a major sickness: Stomach pain turned into servere cramps, making it almost impossible to stay on the bike for Theresa.
When we finally got to Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was to see a doctor in the hospital. It turned out we both had contracted some sort of food poisoning, we were given heavy antibiotics.
Chiang Mai was good for us in any possible way. It´s a laidback town in the Northwest of Thailand, with lots of temples, nice places to eat and drink, and a positive atmosphere. After weeks in the rain, we spend a few days in a nice litte (and dry!) hotel, discovering the city, visiting temples and drinking the possibly best mango shakes in the world.
Thai Shopping Malls...
This brought out the child in me
We also managed to find some michelin tyres, it prooved to be a tremendous upgrade to our old stock tires.
I did some exploring and a little offroading on my own while Theresa was recovering, and slowly I regained my trust in my motorbike!
Part III.2: Thailand
(I had to split it into two posts, or it would have been to many images, see below for part one)
After a few days of relaxing and recovering, I was eager to get going again. People had recommended the Mae-Hong-Son loop to us as one of Thailands best motorbiking roads, so that´s where we were heading next. It´s also known as the Road of 1000 corners.
When we left Chiang Mai, the setting changed almost immediately. No more flat riverbeds, no more long straights - mountains, here we come! The road was winding up steep hills, with lots of tight bends, following crests, with drops on both sides.
We also noticed a change in the nature around us, the tropical scenery gave way to a more "mediterranean" flora.
Our first destination was Pai. We passed some little villages along the way, then stopped somewhere at a roadside restaurant to eat. Immediately after taking our helmets of, we realiced we had made a bad decision. Minibusses were pulling in, spitting out loads of backpackers. We took a quick look at the prices, and got back on the bikes. As we pulled out, we noticed the bus drivers covertly getting their commission for bringing the backpackers to this restaurant... Just 500 meters down the road we found the next restaurant, this time with Thai prices and a smiling host.
Approaching Pai, we passed the usual waterfall sign, but this time it was promoting one of the best waterfalls in the whole country. (at least the sign said so). We followed a nice little trail, and at the end - found some hot springs! It was three pm, the sun was blazing down... somehow we didn´t feel like hot springs.
When we got to Pai, we took a little detour and found a tourist hotel with a special accommodation just 5 minutes outside the village: They had a tree house! Among a nice garden and some standard cottages, stood a really big old tree, with three little huts nestled amog its crown.
You had to climb the tree to to get to up there, the huts themselves were tiny, there were spiders everywhere...
but we just loved the idea of sleeping in a tree. It was also surprisingly cheap. We settled in, and drove down the road into Pai.
It immediately reminded me of a place in Australia called Nimbin - countless old hippies spending their day doing yoga, drinking organic tea and ratteling about the modern times.
Among them the young backpacker crowd, some of them looking for the deeper meaning in life, some looking for the next cheap party. But it was all in a good spirit, the percentage of Western people openly showing a happy mood is probaply worth an entry into the Guinnes book! Maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe the good and cheap food, maybe it´s due to the fact that Thailands strict drug laws are beeing little enforced in Pai...
After a nice dinner we went back to our tree house, climbed the stairs, went to bed - and were waken right away by the staff- "Quick, Quick, you have to come! Quick!" Nothing seemed wrong, so we calmed them down a bit and asked what had happened. Apparently, they told us, a big storm was coming! The huts in the tree were nowhere near waterproof, and the little boards didn´t seem to trustworty. So we packed all our stuff and made our way down the tree, and in perfect timing, the second we got to the bottom, the storm hit! And what a storm it was, the tree started shaking, leaves flying everywhere, rain falling almost horizontal. I had to get up there to fetch one last thing, the tree was moving so much, it felt like an amusement park!
They moved us into one of the cottages, and we watched the storm in awe...
The next morning, the blue sky was back. The huts in the tree still seemed intact, but branches were scattered all over the floor. We decided to spend the next night in Pai. Once again, we decided to try and find a waterfall our guidebook had recommended to us. We set of into the jungle, following a little river upstream. The rain season had made some of the riverbed crumble, adding an extra thrill to the hike.
better not fall...
Expecting the descibed five minute walk, I hadn´t bothered to drop my biking vest somewhere. We kept on going and going, but for some reason - there was no waterfall! We had intended to take a quick shower in the waterfall and then get back for dinner, but after half an hour, there was still no waterfall in sight, and it started getting dark. I was sweating like crazy, we had no water left, mosquitoes were attacking us from all sides, but I decided not to give up yet. I left the backpack and my gear with Theresa and started to run along the river. But even after minutes of running, there was just no waterfall, just more jungle, heat and mosquitos. Reluctant I headed back. Theresa had picked up a third hiker searching for the waterfall, and together we walked back into town, in desperate need of a shower and something to drink. We were speculating, that whoever had written the guidebook, had been smoking a little bit to much...
For the third time, our search for a waterfall had been fruitless, and it wouldn´t change until we got to Laos!
Our next stop was Mae Hong Son, driving there meant more amazing bends, spectacular views, animals on the road...
Somewhere on the road, we had seen a sign for a cave, and spontaneously decided to follow it. It was a good decision!
After following a tiny rural road for a few minutes and passing a small village, we got to a huge, empty carpark. They seemed to be prepared for mass tourism, but thanks to the rain season, we appeared to be the only visitors for the whole day.
The cave was actually some kind of tunnel, there was a river going in and out of it. We took the mandatory guide, and boarded a raft going into the cave. The young woman didn´t really speak any english, she just had memorized two sentences: "watch your head" and "watch your step", but it turned out that's all she really needed: the magic of the cave needed no words to explain.
Once we had left the raft, somewhere deep insided the mountain, she used her flickering petroleum lamp to light the way and show us special features.
At times, the cave was 30 meters high, then it got so narrow we had to walk sideways. Near the end of it, we got to an ancient burial site, age-old burial coffins were preserved by the dry climate.
Exciting the cave, we came across a huge bat colony, thousands of them were flying in and out of the cave, filling the air with their sounds and smell.
On the way back we came across a broken concrete bridge, but the locals had simply used their traditional way to repair it.
When we got to Mae Hong Son, we escaped the rain by seconds. The instant we closed our hotel room door behind us, it started pouring down, and it wouldn´t stop for the next three days. When the rain finally stopped, we hadn´t seen much of the surrounding area, except for the beautiful temple overlooking the village.
our bikes officially rated comfortable!
There´s an option to visit the Karen villages, where girls have their necks stretched by brass rings, but we did some research into it, and it seems the villages are nothing but tourist displays, built by rich entrepreneurs from Bangkok. We were told the women sit in front of their huts all days, selling small wooden crafts, while the majority of the profit goes to the "owner" of the village. So we skipped this sight and went back to Chiang Mai, again more bends, more mountains, more fun ... and more rain, when we got back to the big city, we were drenched as usual.
Again, we had to decide where to head next. After all the stress in Germany, it had been great to unwind at the beaches of Malaysia and Thailand, and riding the Mae Hong Son loop had taught us how to handle our bikes on winding roads. But now we felt recharged, and it was time for the real adventure to start - we decided to head towards one of the poorest, most corrupt, and, as we would find out, most amazing countries on earth: Laos!
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