May 11, 2004 GMT
beginning the first leg

1st May 2004

Just a progress story on my trip to Asia.
One the first fateful Saturday of May 2004, Doris (that’s my bike’s nickname) left Brisbane on a Ulyssian epic that would take us up to 12 months to who knows what adventures and exotic places we would encounter.

Well first of these exotic places was Moree, for the Moree Muster, about 550k’s south west of Brisbane. Things were going along quite nicely at around 110k/hr on the Dakar, (I had installed an MP3 player in the tank bag, with ear phones). Then just out of GoondIwindi, FLAT tyre, Bugger! Shit! And every other bloody name I could think of!.

Ist flat in 10 years, up on the centre stand, off the the luggage, throw it all over the bloody place, looking for a tube and tools.

My old dirt bike memories come flooding back from 30 years ago, and the wheel was off in no time.

The predicament I was in, how do you break the bloody bead on a rear tyre!

As I sat on the side of the Newel Highway 55K’s out Moree and continuously holding my breath and closing my eyes every time a bloody big semi-trailer went past, I could hear the distant rumble of bikes in the distance.

Well the cavalry arrived in the surprising guise of Pat (The President of the Brisbane Branch of the Ulysses) his wife Barb on Pillion and good old Willy.

I’ll tell you what I have never been happier to see to Harley’s in my life.

We got to work breaking the bead using Pats side stand and the weight of the Harley, then out with the old tube, check the tyre and in with the new.

I just bought a new fangled pump, with CO2 cylinders, trouble is we used the only cylinder for a practice run and couldn’t blow up the tube. That’s when Barb found the instructions!

Well along came another good Samaritan in the form of a Honda Trike, towing a bloody big trailer. Another Ulyssian by the name of Andy, from Goondiwindi, he new a farmer down the road with an air compressor, so off we went me on the back holding on to the tyre like grim death.

No problems, the farmer wasn’t home, but his workshop was open so we were soon back and putting Doris back together again.

We spent the weekend in Moree having a look around, saying farewell to my Brisbane and Goondiwindi friends to road north, I turned Doris around with a south heading towards Newcastle, 500k’s away, were I plan to spend a week with friends and family, go to my mates 3rd wedding then watch mum jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane for her 76th birthday and Mothers Day.

Some of us have silly friends and Mad mothers.

I leave on 12th May 2004 Destination Darwin.

Posted by Tom Forde at 05:36 AM GMT
May 30, 2004 GMT
HERCULES, KOORIS AND THE OASIS HOTEL

12/5/04

TOTAL 690 k’s

I left Newcastle on a crisp Autumn morning, the southerly wind was building up the ocean and the sea breeze was blowing in storm clouds.

Saying farewell to my parents and kids, I headed off West along the New England Highway, basically the same way that I had come down the week before. Anyone visiting this area, known as the Hunter Valley, should take time out t visit the vineyards, some of the best in Australia.

Still going west, I wanted to get about 500 k’s inland along the New England Highway, and then join the Kamilaroi Highway into Cotton Country. Around Narrabri the difference in scenery is startling, from green undulating hills, to flat treeless landscapes, so flat you can see the circumference of the earth meeting the sky.

The highway is littered each side with cotton, dropped from the trucks passing through on there way to the cotton gins for processing. You also can’t miss the amount of road kill on this part of the highway, mostly big red kangaroos, and the occasional steer.

After 690 k’s the1st day, I arrived at a small town called Walgett, best known for its aboriginal (Koori) problem, with a population of around 2000, most on Government Benefits.
I stayed at the Oasis Hotel, the managers name is Bob, nice bloke from Sydney. The pub is guarded by the biggest dog I have ever seen, Hercules is a Great Dane, and he weighs 95kg’s! and is black as the night. His girlfriend Angel was very pregnant, and together with 2 smaller blue healer dogs, guarded the pub, which was protected by a 2.4m high steel fence all around with padlocked gates. Good security for Doris.

Obviously I was assured of good nights sleep, however I was woken around 5.00 am with the howls of the local dogs. Getting out of bed at around 7.00am, Bob informed me that Angel had given birth to 8 little Great Danes.

Well, I gave Hercules a pat on his big head, and was on my way to Lightning Ridge, about 50k’s north for breakfast.

13/5/04

What a place Lightning Ridge is, a total contrast to Walgett. An Oasis in the desert, full of tourists and a heap of things to see. After a good breakfast of bacon and eggs, it was off to Longreach.

Doris sits on 110 to 120k’s an hour with the new Michelin Anakee tyres I fitted in Newcastle, doing a much better job than the Bridgestone Trail masters I had used for the past 5000k’s. Fuel consumption was down about 30km from a tank of fuel, due to the touratech panniers fitted, I am only getting about 270k before the reserve light comes on, I get about 100k out of reserve, plus I carry a further 4 litres for the Australian leg of my trip.
I crossed the Queensland border at a little town called Hebel on a beautiful blue skyed day. Plenty of road kills from the night before.
Kamikaze kangaroos would make a formidable force in Iraq, Taking on Road Trains head on takes balls.

Spent the night in a small town called Roma, in an old pub called The School of Arts, it is a typical big pub built in small towns at the beginning of the 20th Century, and provides clean and secure accommodation for around $20 a night.

14/5/04

On the road first thing, heading for Longreach. The road is flat, straight and boring, with the inevitable road kills on the sides of road. Got into Longreach at around 5.00pm, another 700K’s for the day.

I intend to spend a few days here, so I booked into a motel, close to the QANTAS and the STOCKMANS HALL OF FAME. Well worth a visit.

15/5/04

On to Mount Isa, the road is again straight and the landscape flat, boring as far as a biker goes. Still plenty of road kill and the birds that feast on it are just as dangerous!
A lot of near misses as up to 6 large carrion fill their bellies. Another 700k to Mount Isa.

The only few highlights are the BLUE HEALER PUB in a tiny town called KYNUNA, and a pot of strong tea in WINTON, and a yarn with one of the colourful opal miners in the area. Sitting on 110k and trying not to fall asleep and risking running into a caravan sitting in 80k. Reached Mount Isa at around 4.30pm.

Oh ye, got pulled over by the Police in CLONCURRY and then in MOUNT ISA for an alcohol breathalyser test. 2 in 2 hrs!

17/5/04

Had a good nights sleep at a local caravan park, (cabins for $40/night), have a look at the local tourist centre, it has a full working underground mine, takes about 3 hours and costs $40. I met a guy on a Harley Trike called Tony, he’s from Melbourne, just gone through a divorce and doing the running away thing. No idea on bikes, bought the Harley for $35G, and off he goes, gets to ADELAIDE and the motor shits itself.
$4,500 later!

Off towards the Northern Territory, and across the Savannah Way, what a shit fight, single lane bitumen with huge road trains 150m long carrying cattle. Met an old bloke riding from CAIRNS to ALICE SPRINGS on a 175cc Yamaha Trail bike 2 stoke. It takes all kinds!

Finally I get to the intersection with the Stuart Highway, which travels north to Darwin, stayed overnight at a THREE WAYS TRUCK STOP, and met up with 2 guys on 1150 BMW Adventures, from the south coast of NSW. They have been travelling for 3 weeks and are heading home via COOKTOWN and CAIRNS.

19/5/04

Just a short ride to DALY WATERS (450k). I booked into the pub for a good rest, great atmosphere with live music every night.
This pub is so good I stayed another night, go have a look at the old air port, heaps of history.
Say hello to Knocker, an old biker, living in a bus behind the service station, has he got some stories! Bought the bus off a junky for $5,000 in DARWIN, she wanted $25,000, good deal!

25/5/04

On to Darwin (500k.)

I finally arrived in DARWIN around 1.00pm. After staying in KATHERINE GORGE for a couple of days, great place for a canoe paddle and bush walks, with spectacular scenery.

Doris was due for a 20,000k service and a new chain and sprocket set, before heading for ASIA. What dramas, the local BMW Dealer sells Korean cars an d hasn’t got a clue on bikers needs, but I need my service book stamped for warrantee! Anyway the don’t have any parts, and have to order them from Melbourne, with no guarantee of delivery times.

I bought a BMW for their reputation, so this wasn’t good enough, so I rang Customer support in Melbourne, explained my position and presto, things were put in place and the parts arrived Thursday night.

28/5/04

Unfortunately the ship I am putting Doris on to go to Singapore (THE ARAFURA SEA) is leaving a day early, so I had to hastily get Doris through customs and couldn’t get her serviced. A quick call to SINGAPORE BMW and everything is arranged for a service on arrival. DARWIN wake up!

PERKINS SHIPPING is the company looking after Doris, contact is Nandra Turton , ph 89822000 or nandra.turton@perkins.com.au.

A total cost of $176.00 and I will meet Doris in 9 days.

She has company, with 2 young German riders (Iris and Florin) who have been on the road for 18 months, travelling from Germany, through Africa and 6 months around OZ. on 1982 500cc Yamaha XT’s. I will meet up with them in Singapore, they are off to BALI, and I’m off to BORNEO to see the Orang tangs.

Fortune Favours the Opportunist, Just when I was thinking of what to do for the next 3 days, waiting for my plane out of Darwin, I get a call from a company I did work for 2 years ago. They tracked me down and offered me a couple of days work, It'll pay for my Darwin stop over.

However a small problem with my entry into Singapore has arrised, apparently Royal Brunei will not allow me on their plane unless I have a forward flight out of Singapore. Therefore I had to purchase an additional ticket to K.L. In Malaysia, once I am in Singapore I can return the ticket to Royal Brunei in Darwin for a refund, talk about red tape!

Posted by Tom Forde at 03:16 AM GMT
June 10, 2004 GMT
ON FROM DARWIN

DARWIN TO BRUNEI - 1/6/04

Well after 5099k's, 54 hrs & 16 mins. in the saddle and a max. speed of 140km/hr, with a moving average of 94km/hr. (Isn't technology wonderful!). I can finally put the GARMIN 60C GPS away until Singapore.

At Darwin airport I happen to start a conversation with a couple who are on the same flight with me to Brunei, he happens to be the brother of David Lang, who I had met previously at the first Australian meeting of H.U. at Ulmarra in NSW. David and his wife Cheryl were an insperation to a lot of people at the meeting. Check out there story on H.U.

Mal runs an Aboriginal Settlement in the Kimberley region of West Australia, called OOMBULGURRI, I asked them could I visit them sometime on my travels, they said no problems, just give them 2 weeks notice, so they can get permission from the local ondiginous owners!

BRUNEI THE DRY PLACE (No booze in Brunei) - 2/6/04

Well, If you got duty free your ok, the smallest and one of the cleanest Asian countries (outside of Singapore). There is not many tourists around, they seem to use the place as stopover to Europe or Borneo, were it much cheaper.

The locals don't pay taxes and don't seem to work too hard, the local Prince appears to own most of the buildings, he has so much money, he just builds mosques and hotels layered with gold for the hell of it.

Since I was in Brunei for a couple of days, I decided to do a couple of tourest things, so equipped with binoculars,water bottle, raincoat and hat, off we go by boat into the deep jungles of Brunei looking for the elusive Probosis monkey, after about half an hour motoring along the might Brunei river, we slop at a clearing to cat a glimse of the wolds largest monkey, with those big noses. Apparently the male is the only one with the snoz, and the longer it is the more girlfriends he has! The locals call these guys Fat Dutchmen, because of their fat bellies and big snouts, so much for colonial supremacy.

Anyway we finally got a look at a whole bunch of them swinging in the trees, they sleep in the branches overhanging the river, because they have a tendacy to fall out of bed and waters softer. Well, as we were observing our distant cousins we motored around a bend and bloody housed appeared, we hadn't left the city! The guides threw us a bullshit story about how reclusive the monkeys are, and here they are living new to a subdivision.

I wasn't impressed with Brunei, perhaps if I had more time in Borneo, it would have been different.

ON TO SINGAPORE - 4/6/04

Well, just an over crowded Asian city, over priced, over regulated and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Oh, its clean!
I got accommodation at the YMCA Metropolitan, which was clean and handy to the business area, at $70 a night, around middle of the road for Singapore. As I had 3 days before Doris arrived, I just walked around doing more touristy things, the Zoo is ok, so is the War memorial.

Finally monday 7/6/04 arrives, so its off to shipping agent to arrange to get Doris out of the container.
BE WARNED! Singapore is notorious for paperwork in volumes. They have inherited the worst of the British Empire. I t has been well documented in H.U. but you have to experience it to believe it.
9.00am sharp at shipping agent, fork out $10 for a taxi, then $45 for the shipping agent, off to the Port Authority by taxi, another $10, pay the Port Authority $2 for a pass, then go and find the bike.

Doris was released from her container, and we were reunited and on our way, only as far as the customs gate, were I was informed I need insurance from the AA. Another $10 taxi, and another $170 from my wallet, then back to the Wharf, yep another $10 taxi. get the Carnet stamped, and I am on my way to get Doris serviced at Performance BMW. These guys are very professional, and did a good job.
However I lost another day because of beaurocracy gone mad.

PREPARING TO LEAVE SINGAPORE FOR MALAYSIA - 9/6/04

I finally got away from the hotel at 9.00am, fist destination the Jahor border crossing,into Malaysia.
The roads in Singapore a quite confusing to a visitor, and of course I got lost, around in circles I went, until a friendly biker on a Honda Gold Wing helped me out and went out of way to show me the way to the border, he actually went there so I could follow him.
This is the second biker who went out of their way to help me, make sure you ask guys on big bikes, their usually older, not the young idiots that run around on 125cc 2 strokes, they have just no idea, suffer from NFI desease, NO F---G IDEA.

Getting out of Singapore was a lot easier than coming in, took about an hour total a both borders, remember what your mother taught you, always be pleasant to the Police and smile and shake their hands when leaving. On to Johor, and guess what, my luck had run out with the weather, because of a dirty big typhoon over the Phillipines, I got utterly pissed on and lashed with gale force winds, it wasn't cold so I persavered and rode the 180k to MALAKA, managed 120k/h on the expressway with a few cars passing at about 160k/h.
I booked into a backpackers lodge, reccommended by 2 bikers I met at the BMW shop in Singapore.
It's called KANCIL GUEST HOUSE (Mouse Deer in Malay). Give the owner Daud a ring on 06 281 4044 or check his web site out on www.machinta.com.sg/kancil/
He is a biker and has security around the back for your bike. Single room rm18.00, breakfast rm8.00. Bloody good value.
MALAKA is an historical town going back 400 years with the first Portugese Traders, it's worth a couple of days stop over, and the owner of the guest house can really spin a yarn about travel, keeping the young back packers intregued for hours, I'd better not say to much, I may corrupt their innocent minds!

Posted by Tom Forde at 07:48 PM GMT
June 20, 2004 GMT
NORTH THROUGH MALAYSIA

ON TO K.L. (WELL ALMOST) - 14/06/04

I had all the intensions of leaving for K.L. from Malacca on sunday, but unexpectantly the German Bikers I met in Darwin turned up on Saturday afternoon. So to catch up on our experiences since Darwin, I decided to stay another night.
Well, they reinforced the very same problem I had about Singapore, Being German, I thought they would take it in their renowned logical way, noway, they got as frustrated as me.

I left at 9.30am with overcast skys over Malacca, deciding to take the coast road for a more bike friendly run to K.L. I wasn't disappointed, a very relaxing 160k's along the coast through to Fort Denning. However the expressway approaching the City was bloody kaotic, with drivers of all types crowdinding your lane, they assume you are on a 125cc Two Stoke motorcycle, therefore that entitles them the right of way, although Doris is only 650cc she can do a far top speed, so at 130k/h the silly buggers still insist on passing, it is a 110k/h speed limit. Suprise, I sighted a big bike,a K1000 BMW , so I followed him for a while, thinking he may show me the way through K.L., bugger he took off a ring road after 20k.

I persevered in the heat at 120/h, you have'nt got much time to read road signs at this speed, especially in a foreign language. So I missed a turn and ended up on the northern expressway, 10k out of K.L. I stopped for fuel and directions, I had already done 200k from Malacca, I decided to keep going, destination the Cameron Highlands, about 160k north. I stayed on the northern expressway until TAPAH, were I turned off for the mountains, In retrospect I should of kept to the coastal and minor roads, more relaxing and easier on the bike and rider.

THE CAMERON HIGHLANDS ROAD

What a great stretch of winding mountainous road. Just what Doris and I needed after the monotonous expressway, now to get our own back on those bloody car drivers, 180 degree blind corners, resembling the Putty road in NSW and the mountain back roads behind Brisbane. Just keep an eye out for oncoming buses and trucks. Overtakind cars keeps the adrelinan pumping,especially with a heavy loaded bike, but the scenery is breathtaking.
There is a bit of road works before Tanah Rata, so take care.

The Cameron Highlands is equivalent to the Blue Mountains in Australia, cool and crisp air down to 14c in Summer. The bush walks as great with numerous waterfalls and the odd wildlife to see, much nicer than the humidity of the coast.

BACK TO THE COAST - DESTINATION PINANG ISLAND - 17/06/04

After such a boreing road on the last stretch of expressway out of K.L. I decided to take the old No.1 Highway and do a leisurely ride through some provencial towns towards Pinang.
Although I did just over 300k, it would have to be the most harrowing ride of my trip so far.
The amount of trucks on this road is just rediculous, they use this road to avoid paying the toll on the expressway, add the way the locals ride and you have a potential disaster ready to happen.

The No.1 Highway runs through IPOH, a city that may have once been a vibrant town with many colonial buildings, including the Railway Hotel, a grand palace of a building, now a mere shadow of its former glory.
IPOH is cloweded in cement dustthanks to the enviromental vandalism done to the hills, just out of town, the huge cement factory on the outskirts of town dominates the landscape, just like the old steelworks did in my old town of Newcastle. Now I know were all the heavy industry has gone!

Arriving in Butterworth around 2.30pm, after 4 hrs of riding, I was determined to take the ferry so I could shoot some photos and relax. DON'T BOTHER!

Their is one thing about riding in this part of Asia, it is the deminished size of your personal space. Everyone wants every spare inch. For $1.40M, you pay at an efficient toll gate, and on you go, cars first, bikes on as usual, last, little 2 stroke buggers everywere, Doris is twice as wide so I just squeezed her in between a few little Malay guys, and apologise for the bits of paint I have ripped off their bikes from my large Aluminium Panniers.
About a half hour trip and the nightmare begins all over again, a bloody grand prix for 125cc around Pinang, and I'm in the middle of it.

As I hadn't booked in anywhere, I thought of a romantic past, were a grand old hotel from Hemmingways day, would be built off the main road, close to town and on the beach.
Well I found it ! Hidden from view, but with a sign "PARAMOUNT HOTEL", pointing towards the sea, I follow a dirt road for about 100m, a glimse of the sea is all I neaded, turning leftand their it was, a grand vestabule, with a large verandah, just enough room for Doris. This must have been some hotel in its day.

In I walked, dressed in my riding gear, full black armour with my BMW DAKAR Jacket, I must of looked like a Panzer Commander.
A scared little Chinese lady was behind the counter, and before I could say a thing, she said, "you want room? $50.60M, you pay now! Air Con. extra".
"Can I have a look?" I asked.
"Why, they good rooms" she retorted.
I stayed there for 2 nights, the rooms were a bit of a shit box, but the ac worked, and I got a swim everyday.
I t also gave me time to look around Pinangs historical area, including Fort Cornwallis, named after the general who lost the war of independance to the yanks!

Its a shame that the Asians look at history differently than the europeans, they don't have a sense of preserving history or nature as is once was or is. They have to bloody glitz it up then forget to maintain it and take the rubbish away!.

I am off to the Thailand border tomorrow, I reckon I am just about Islamed out. Oh ye, Pinang is way overated, 2 out of 10.
1 whiskey : $5A
1 beer (pint) $6A

Posted by Tom Forde at 06:50 AM GMT
July 04, 2004 GMT
THE THAI - MALAYSIAN BORDER

After fueling up in PINANG, 95 octane, does't that make your engine purr! I t was off the island via the bridge, definitely not the ferry, I decided to make my way to the border by the expressway, no more bloody trucks on the artery roads. Alittle over 2 hours and 140k's of uneventful riding I approach the Malay border, full of apprehension at what problems I will encounter, I entered the customs and police check points, with a big smile of course!
Suprisingly I was through in just over half an hour, at no cost, then it was across no mans land to the Thai border, a pretty female officer was suitable impressed with my 90 day visa, (obtained in Brisbane) that she stamped everything, including my Carnet, and off I went into Thailand. Two borders in less than an hour, at no cost, bloody great, just smile, it works!

HATYAI was only 64k away, so I headed up the Thai Highway to my next destination, What a difference in roads. The Thai side is just a secondary road, much the same as the secondary Malaysian roads, winding through village after village with their accompanied smells and road hazzards.
Approaching HATYAI, it gives the typical impression of a hectic bussling Asian town,not as hectic as PINANG, but still with kaotic traffic, THAI style. Just add the ubiquous motorbikes,with Thai taxis, which are converted small utes, that litterly go anywhere, even on the wrong side of the road.
I t was bloody hot by 2.00pm, so I found a nice enough hotel "THE NEW WORLD", unfortunately it was behind me up a one way street, so a did a u turn and played chicken with the approaching multitude of bikes, cars, buses, dogs and everything else that seemed to move. Anyway I survived and DORIS even got underground parking with her personal 24hr guard. The rooms were the usual standard, for $20A AC Cable TV etc. good value compared with PINANG.

The nightlife in HATYAI is a little seady, it caters for the Malay, Chinese and Thai tourist with dingy Karaoke bars and "traditional Thai massage parlours" everywhere. Not as sophisticated as BANGKOK or PATTAYA. I will spend 2 nights here,catch up with my laundry, give DORIS a check over and leave monday morning early.

Posted by Tom Forde at 06:05 AM GMT
THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF THAILAND

I left HATYAI with the usual protein breakfast of fried eggs and bacon for $3A, including tea and toast of course. through the hectic traffic of the city and onto Highway 4. Ashort detour after 13k and I have morning tea at a beautiful system of waterfalls at TONE NGA CHANG, well worth the 15k trip in and out.
Sitting on 100k up the 2 lane highway, DORIS is just having a leisurely cruise, I've got my feet up on the forward pegs, mounted on the engine crashbars, and for the first time in Asia, I feel totally relaxed, I even hade my MP3 player on via my ear plugs, Heaven!
I decided to check out a little beach I heard of called PAK MENG, off the road from SILKAO, I came out of the jungle and there is the beautiful ANAMAN SEA, with high limestone outcrops, just like out of a James Bond movie. It's offseason, so I managed to get myself a little bungalow by the water for $20A a night, I'll move on in the morning, after a swim and may have a look at KHO LANTA, an island just north.
Up Highway 4 and turn off road 4206 to BAAN HUAHIN and take the ferry to KHO LANTA NOI. Well I have come close to kangaroos, buffalos, camels, emu's and even the odd wombat, but never 6 cows, tied together, wandering across the highway between two houses, while I am passing a truck at 120k/h, a bit different from OZ. Just clamp on the brakes, hope there is no oncoming traffic and miss the last cow by centremetres, riding in Thailand is unusual!
KHO LANTA is possibly what PHUKET or KHO SAMUI was like in the past, before there tourist maturity, I had the place virtually to myself, a few German tourists, but most shops and restaurants were shut, except for a bar which also served food.
Alot of development is taking place and it won't take long before it looses it's innocent's.
Stayed at the Sea View Resort, in a nice AC bungalow right on the water, for $20A night. After 3 days I needed a change of pace, so the next destination, PHUKET.
I have heard so much about this place that I was imagining a beautiful tropical island that words could not describe.
God I was disappointed! some lovely beaches, VERY touristy, especially PATONG beach, little brother to BANGKOK and PATAYA, especially the night life.
Same same as they say, stayed here for 7 days, I was only going to stay for 3, but its off season and the amount of promotions on for accommodation is unbelievable.
Ended up paying for 4 nights, including breakfast and got 3 for free! A good enough hotel, 2 minutes from the beach, with pool and secure parking for, you guessed it $20A a night.
I met a couple from Sydney, she was in Thailand for a boob job, she got the whole lot done, including a 10 day holiday for her and her husband for less than the cost in SYDNEY, makes you think, how expensive living in OZ is.

2/07/04. KHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK AND ON TO KHO SAMUI.

For the past 2 days I have endured nothing but tropical rain storms, so I decided to have an early night (no European Football) and head northeast to KHAO SOK. It rained most of the way, but the scenery was well worth the uncomfortable ride, it is absolutely breathtaking, I turned off Highway 4 and into a river valley so lush, it looked like Jurrasic Park! I got a liitle bungalow for the night, purched over a river with the water litterly running underneath me. The consistant sound of the water gave you the allusion of heavy rain on the roof, just great for a good nights sleep, even though it rained all day, this place is special and I fully recommend it, what a contrast to PHUKET.

Posted by Tom Forde at 06:54 AM GMT
July 24, 2004 GMT
COMPLETION OF STAGE 2 SINGAPORE TO KOH SAMUI

Singapore to Koh Samui, total distance 2240km, and if you want to travel non stop it will take you around 33 hrs. Well thats what my GPS says!

I caught the vehicle ferry from DON SAK on the main land, about 70k east of SURAT THANI, it cost 90b and takes about 1.5 hra to THONG YANG on the west coast of SAMUI.

I gave my old mate Ken a call on the mobile and he had arranged a good room 2 minutes from LAMAI BEACH, a brand new appartment building for 600b ($20A) a night, good value for LAMAI. I have always had a good feeling about SAMUI, even though it has got more touristy over the years, perhaps its the hospitality of Ken and his wife Moo or the beautiful sandy beach of LAMAI.

Ken is the manager of the "Weekender Resort" at LAMAI, and also happens to be the Honorary Australian Consol for the area, not bad for a guy in his 70's who came to Thailand to retire! So if your over this way, call in and say hello, he always loves a yap with a fellow Aussy ove a cold VB.

Well I have travelled over 7000k so far, and just when you think you have experienced most crazy things in life. Up comes along the Thailand Traffic Police. As everyone knows who has ridden a motorcycle in Thailand, a helmet is compulsary for the rider only, apparently no one else gets hurt in an accident, even riding 3 up with a baby! Well hardly anyone rides here with a helmet, especially tourists, and I am one of the guilty parties,against all the riding rules that I have abided by in OZ, here I am riding along CHAWANG BEACH in a pair of shorts and sandles, when a German guy rides past shouting out "were is your helmet", I thought "bloody cheeky bastard" and give him the finger, well just around the corner, outside the local police station, the cops have a road block, pulling over all bike riders with no helmet.

There was about 100 people of various nationalities lined up to be booked and fined 200b, including 2 other young Aussies, who found a shop nearby and bought a 6 pack of beer, and merrily downed a few inside the police station, the cops just shook their heads, took our money and let us ride away. Rumours are they use the money for a pissup, and they do it at least once a week.

Well I have been on Koh Samui for the past 2 weeks, and its time to move on, I 've caught up with my old mate Ken, and made a few new friends, got a good tan up, and even went to a Rotary Diner at a 5 star hotel, dressed in one of Ken's old suits, now rember he is 70 years old, 5'8" and a slightly different size than myself, I also had to wear my motorcycle boots, but no one noticed in the dark!

19/7/04
THE START OF STAGE 3 - KOH SAMUI TO CHIANG MAI AND BEYOND

I left around 10.30am, just after a huge rain storm, and caught the vehicular ferry for the mainland. After a high speed expressway ride of 583km I arrive at HUA HIN.
This part of the Thai Highway isn't bad, however the abundance of trucks and "Farmer Namtaan's" (that's Brown in Thai) doing 80k is a total contrast to the maniac car and ute drivers doing 140k on the outside lane. I even come across the Thai equivalent to Ozzy road kill, dead dogs every few k's.

Highways in Thailand usually have 2 lanes each way, with a 3m green section in the centre for drainage etc, there is also a small lane on the kerb side for motorcycles, what the locals do, is build a totally illegal makeshift bridge over the centre and surprise you by creeping out behind a small tree on their bikes and play chicken, by crossing the road. They also have a habit of going up the motorcycle lane the wrong way, This lane is also used by cars and the ocassional bulldozer, also going the wrong way!

I arrived in HUA HIN around 7.00pm in the dark, never again will I ride on Thai Highways after dark, they drive even more erratic when the sun goes down. Booked into a good hotel for a few nights, and had a look around the town.

HUA HIN is famous for the Royal Families summer holiday house, and its proximaty to BANGKOK, so it's very popular with the local Thai's. As a beach resort it's ok, tidy compared with some resort towns, the beach is one of those sandy strips that is very flat, so the tide goes out a long way, leaving a long hot walk to the water. it suits the Thai's, because most of them can't swim.

Leaving HUA HIN, I got stopped by the local Highway Patrol at a road block, he approached me with a very official book and pen, ready to book me for something, until I took my helmet off, seeing that I was a foreigner, checked out my Ozzy number plate, then asked me "how much is that" pointing to my GPS, I replied "GPS?" with a smile, and he says "ok", and waves me on.

21/4/04
KANCHANABURI and the RIVER KHAI, 220k's later, I feel totally stuffed because of the deisel fumes, I finally arrived at the river front around lunch time, my ears are immediately confronted with Thai Disco Music, keep in mind this is around 12.30pm lunchtime, looking out over the river 3 barges approached, all tied together, the Bass music is intense as about 200 Thais are boogying away, after about 20 minutes they get off the barges, jump on a few buses and just disappear.

The government has spent a lot of money on tourism for the area, new waterfront, restaurants etc, and as you get closer to the bridge, you can see the incredable difference to when I was here 4 years ago. There is also a new museum, Thai style, as you wander through the pretty impressive building, (at the time of writing, not quite finished)it just shows you what the Thais thought of W11. A total different outlook than the West, They initially didn't think the Japs where that bad,only passing through, they did'nt rape the women, they brought their own, payed the locals to work, and generally brought commerce and a much needed railway system to the area. I t was only after the acceleration of the project, later on in the war, that the atrocities began.
However they have a very Budhist view of the war, even when the yanks finally bombed the shit out of the bridge, and the Japs sent hundreds of prisoners to stand on the bridge, presumably to try and stop the bombers. It failed and many prisoners of war got blown to hell. note that there wasn't many yanks in the prison camp.

I ended up staying at at type of motel usually found in OZ, about $10A, this place had AC, TV, and a carport for DORIS, it also had a huge night club at the entrance, it was off season and didn't look like it was operating, that was until about 9.00pm, I was walking back from a Thai restaurant, and was invited in by a beautiful girl called Pawn, (rain in Thai), so in I go, the place is the size of a small bowling club, and looks like a wild west saloon bar inside, with a great big stage.

I ordered cheap Thai Whiskey and soda and settled in to see what would eventuate, remember, I was all alone at "the ranch", smoking cigars and drinking cheap whiskey, all of a sudden the disco comes alive and belts out a Thai version of Gary Moores "Got the blues for you", I was settling right in by now when the stage lights up and out comes about 10 Thai girls in 6" heels and 3" shorts, remember I am the only person in the place. They all take turns in singing Karaoke in Thai, and as more customers appear, sit down beside them and help them drink their beer. I am the only sucker on my own (thank christ) I have to get up early in the morning.

Just when I was about to leave an Elephant appears with its Mahut just outside my window, it had a headlight attached to its head and a flashing tail light swaying off its tail. I bought a few bananas off it's handler and fed the beast, things arn't going too well for the big buggers in Thailand, they are a beautiful animal, out moded by technology.

Next morning, off to Kamphaeng Phet and the ancient city. Another short run of around 250k and I arrive at a quaint little town, just off the highway, I wanted to stay here for a night so I could have a look at the UNESCO world heritage listed ruins of the ancient city.
I wasn't disappointed, unbelievable what the Ancestors of the Thais achieved over a 1000 years ago. Bloody smart cookies. Stayed in a good hotel for the night the TV was all in Thai, so I listened to some music and caught up with my reading.
Tomorrow CHIANG MAI.

Posted by Tom Forde at 08:41 AM GMT
August 05, 2004 GMT
NORTH THAILAND AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE


23/7/04
Leaving KAMPHAENG PHET, a historically listed town on the World Heritage List, noted for its fine example of an unrestored walled city and temple. I crossed the river Ping and again joined Highway No1 to CHIANG MAI, around 360k north.

I pass through TAK, then on to THOEN, I was planning to take Highway 106 to CHIANG MAI, but missed the turn, it didn’t matter as LAMPANG was on the main highway and after that about 30k’s of fast long bends through the mountains, it’s times like this you wish you had a big sports bike, I still managed 120 k/h through the sweepers, fully loaded and passing most trucks and cars.

Finally arrived in CHIANG MAI around lunchtime and booked into the North End Hotel, recommended by David Unkovich, better known for his mapping and bike adventures in Northern Thailand and Laos. I checked in and gave David a ring and arranged to meet him and have a beer. Check out his web site gt-rider.com a great source of info for this part of the world.

24/7/04
I arranged to meet David for breakfast and go over some of his excellent maps he has produced of the area over the years, riding his bike for thousands of k’s using his trusty GPS. He also introduced me to an expat German called Joe, who owns a motorcycle repair shop here, Doris, my bike will be in his workshop for new brakes and tyres in preparation for my next major trip through LAOS and CAMBODIA. David has also written a book about rides in Northern Thailand and is well worth a look if you are thinking of touring in this area. The next few days will be spent checking out this ancient moated city.
I have decided to stay for a month in CHIANG MAI, as there is so much to see in Northern Thailand, all within 2 or 3 easy riding days away (about 350k to 800k round trips).
David mentioned that he may go to the Burma border to update his visa and invited me along for the ride together with his American mate, you beauty a chance to get out on the road again with a bit of company for a change. Unfortunately it absolutely pissed down for 2 days, so we had to wait for the weather to break.

29/7/04
Meet the boys for breakfast at a favorite café, called “The Kaff” and plan to leave around 10.00 am, people up here don’t get out of bed too early, heading towards CHIANG RAI and The Golden Triangle.
David Unkovich (Dave 1) is on his 750cc Honda Africa Twin and David Early (Dave 2) is on his 850cc TDM Yamaha and I’m on poor DORIS at 650cc, a little out gunned in the horsepower stakes.
Dave 2 (shit there’s a lot of Davids up here) really flies, he’s been riding these roads for years and really knows his way around.
Leaving Chiang Mai at a good rate of knots, (would you believe 120k/h through the suburbs!) try that in OZ, and a steady 140k/h on the open road. DORIS was just coping, then into the mountains and the twisties, DORIS was more at home here and wasn’t far behind at our first coffee stop. The scenery (what I saw of it) was absolutely breathtaking, and Dave 1 was taking the opportunity to plot some back roads on his GPS ultimately we ended up at the Golden Triangle for lunch and took a great boat ride over the mighty MEKONG River (now in flood) to DON SAO in LAOS to flog off some of his maps to the local stall holders. If you get up this way, buy some local whiskey with an assortment of venomous snakes and scorpions inside the bottles, all dead of course.
We stayed the night at Chiang Rai at a good hotel for 500b after another high speed dash through the mountains, I even managed to tee bone an unfortunate chicken.

After a good hot shower and a change of clothes, it was off to a good Thai restaurant, the 3 of us are partial to a good Irish Whiskey over diner, and it was at a local bottle shop, that we bumped into 2 Brits, (Suzy and Simon) who had just come through Burma on their bikes, not easy in today’s political climate. Keen to hear their story, we asked them to join us for diner and Irish Whiskey of course.

Next day was another 10.00 am start, after a good breakfast, god we love our bacon and eggs, it was off to the Burmese border, and some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen in my life, riding through the clouds on unbelievable switch back deserted country roads and into MAE SA LONG, a Chinese village at about 1300m above sea level, from there it was back down to FANG (pronounced FUNG) and yet more incredible roads and scenery. We finally stop at THA TON by the river for lunch.

Dave 2 seemed to have a sign on his bike, saying “HIT ME!” as he not only disappeared into the biggest pot hole on the trip, trucks, bikes and the occasional animal, including a dog and a cow were all near misses, I got off relatively lightly with the chook, decapitated by my spokes.
We stayed in FANG for our final night for the princely sum of 300b, as we are 3 old bikers, not quite geriatric mind you, our bodies were starting to feel the worse for wear, we decided to shout ourselves a traditional 2hr Thai massage, definitely the highlight of the night in sleepy FANG, and a laugh a minute, listening and watching 3 mature aged western men go through absolute torcher at the hands of 3 very small Thai women.

Next day it was off to the head waters of the Ping river, the road runs towards the Burmese border and the rural area of the Hill Tribes and the Chinese village of Nong Ouk, apparently the remnants of the fleeing army, chased out of China by good old Mao back in 1949. We topped up with fuel from the local petrol station (a 44 gallon drum with a hand pump and a plastic hose) and an audience of a dozen smiling kids and a few rather dodgy looking adults, still a bit of illegal goings on in these hills.

Dave 2 said in passing, how fortunate we had been with the weather, you guessed it, next corner it totally pissed down and it was a very wet afternoon ride back to CHIANG MAI, with a stop off CHIANG DAO for hot coffee.

All in all some of the best riding and scenery I have experienced in over 30 years of motorcycle riding, and Dave 1 reckons there is even better to come, YAHOO!
Total distance traveled, 862k in 3 days and 2 nights.
VERDICT: Fuckin Awesome!

Posted by Tom Forde at 04:42 AM GMT
August 12, 2004 GMT
THE MAE HON SON LOOP - 6-8-04

After our ride to the Golden Triangle the previous week, DORIS (my F650 DAKAR) was booked into Joe’s for new tyres and an oil change and a general going over.
I was concerned about the front tyre being scrubbed out from the long straight roads in OZ, and the effect it had on DORIS’S handling in the twisty mountain roads, surprise! The bottom head stock bearing was cactus and had to be replaced. I was reduced to walking for 3 days while DORIS was taken care of.
Total cost of Labour and parts, (2 days work) 3600b. Bloody cheep compared with OZ.

David had arranged an around trip to MAE HONG SON over 3 days and 2 nights, and asked me along.
Just 2 of us this time, David on his long term loan F650 BMW, and DORIS and I, nice morning for a ride, overcast, but no sign of rain, we have breakfast as usual at the KAFE in CHIANG MAI and off along 107 at the usual rate of knots, then into the twisties along 1095 for around 80k of non stop mountain corners.

I just let David blast ahead, I stayed within myself as the road surface was some of the worst I have encountered so far in Thailand, totally stuffed from the rain and heavy trucks, plus the ever present buffalo shit splatted all over the road and the odd herd of cattle just lounging over one lane, not to mention the odd dog or two sleeping halfway across your lane. Thinking its road kill, it wakes up and you hope it disappears to the left side of the road.

Our first port of call is PAE, a nice little village which has become a bit of a hippy and backpackers hangout. I am obviously getting older because I look at this particular type of tourist with a healthy amount of skepticism; after all we invented this whole bloody life style in the sixties!
Saying that, the place has a good feeling to it and as night approached we book into a group of comfortable huts by the river, with your own bathroom for 300b a night.
That night over a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey (yes, you can buy it, even in the far north) we decided to have at the towns night life, we ended up at a blues bar called “BE BOPS”, what a great night! Even though we were the oldest there, we totaled the bottle of whiskey and proceeded to ride home (don’t try this at home folks).
Well we got stopped by the local police at a road block, just asked for our licenses and ushered us through…..mm!

A very late start in the morning, I missed the free breakfast by ½ hr. and drunk a huge amount of coffee waiting for David, who was busy catching up with his business contacts.
Then off to MAE HONG SONG, the 111k of winding mountain roads are some of the most spectacular motorcycling roads in Thailand, they even surpass the Golden Triangle ride the week before. This section of road deserves a few days to explore, as it is dotted with many natural wonders.
Into MAE HONG SONG around 3pm and just as we were approaching town our luck run out with the weather, down it come in bucket fulls, not even enough time to stop and put on our wet weather gear. We just rode through it and arrived at our abode for the next few nights looking like drowned rats.

That afternoon more dramas, a Thai Airline plane had to emergency land with no nose wheel, closing the Airport for 3days, luckily no one was hurt, but there was a lot of ferangs with even whiter faces than usual.
Next morning, David is finishing off his business, so I took the opportunity to visit a longneck village in the mountains. Now beware, Thailand has a lot of things living in the jungle that can kill you, especially a herd of little Suzuki 4wd (make that 4) hurtling toward me on the wrong side of the road. Driven by foreigners thinking that their behavior is a cool thing to do in the jungle, ****in idiots everywhere!

What is great about the mountains on the bike is every corner is another experience, you may encounter the odd elephant and as you idle up to this great king of beasts and pat him on the trunk and say “hello”, look into his eyes and wonder what he is thinking, maybe “piss off and leave me alone or I will throw you and your noisy motorbike into the bush,” or “what a nice bloke, where’s the banana?”. I prefer the latter.

The creek crossings are flooded this time of year and are up to 1m deep in places, making crossing a bit slippy on road tyres, so take care. Just idle up in a straight line in 1st or 2nd gear, staying upright and stay off the brakes and accelerator, good fun!

The Kayan longneck tribe are refugees from Burma, who settled in Thailand about 12 years ago. They can’t work here so the villages are set up as little tourist spots, a little tacky but I suppose they have to survive, good to see good old capitalism has even reached the refugee camps. They charge you 250b to enter their village and have endless stalls of trinkets for sale, for the admission fee you can take as many photos as you like.

Next day it was an 8.30am start (early for Thailand) along road 108 to KHUN YUAM for morning tea and a chance to visit the Japanese War Memorial. Set up by the descendants of the retreating army of WWII, apparently a few settled in the area and married into the local inhabitants, it’s highly patronized by the Japanese tourists during the dry season.

Back on the bikes and off along road 1263 and through the mountains once more. David and I changed bikes, WOW! The little GS650 is just made for the mountain twisties, compared with DORIS, it stuck to the corners like glue, and you could just dive in late into the corners and accelerate out, great fun. The DAKAR with its skinny 21” front wheel and taller suspension felt a bit twitchy on the front.
However DORIS has a few mod’s done to her breathing and fuel injection and is a lot smoother and responsive on the throttle. Now how can we persuade Mr. BMW to modify there GS’s in production form?

By this time I have run out of superlatives to describe the roads and scenery of this area of Thailand. Riding through the misty mountains at around 1700m, we stopped so many times to take photos, that we run our of batteries in 2 digital cameras.

All I can say is get up here and do it, we even dodged the rain, it must have been the 3 whacks of a stick on the big bells at the Wok overlooking MAE HONG SONG that give us luck.

VERDICT: Better than sex (well almost)

Posted by Tom Forde at 05:46 AM GMT
September 01, 2004 GMT
26-08-04 COMPLETION OF STAGE 3 THE LAOS BORDER


Since the last entry of my travels in North Thailand, things have moved at a very slow pace. I rode up to the LAOS border with Simon and Suzy, the English couple who I had mentioned earlier (the only people to travel across Burma by motorcycle since the military Junta took over), that was last week, so I have cooled my heels till now.
My lease is up on the apartment I have been in for a month, god that’s gone quick.
The trouble with Thailand, it’s just too easy and layback, before you know it, you are in a comfortable rut, so out I go.

I meet the intrepid duo of Dave1 and Dave2, who I have spoken of earlier, and this time they are accompanied by Robert (R1) and Joe(J2) as there is already a Joe who rides in Chiang Mai, both ride BMW GS1150’s and both are Yanks, so D1 and I are really out numbered.

Although Doris is overloaded and underpowered in comparison with my riding companions, we were to take the main highway to Chiang Khong on the LAOS border, for a visa run and see me off on the vehicular ferry to Huay Xai, in LAOS an easy ride of about 350k’s. Sounds simple, doesn’t it, read on!

RI, who stands at around 6’6” and makes the GS look like a step thru, has just got his bike back together after a major smash, and was looking forward to a shake down ride, and because his bike was off the road for 6 months, it had over stayed its visa. J2 was also doing the ride for his visa responsibilities. About 60k out of Chiang Mai, J2 disappears from our rear view mirrors, we soon get a call on R1’s mobile that he has a puncture.
Around we go and back track to find R1 and J2 in a Thai motorcycle shop, madly trying to fix the rear tyre on J2’s GS, apparently R1 had taken it for a ride during the week, got the puncture, and put a plug in it, obviously it hadn’t taken, so with a few dry Aussy remarks and jokes D1, D2 and I left the 2 intrepid Americans and arranged to meet them further up the Highway at a well known eatery, famous for its bakery and fabulous views.

Now R1 has lived in North Thailand for a very long time, so everyone assumed that he new were the pie shop was, nope, as D1 and D2 slowed down to make a right turn into this particular establishment, R1 goes roaring by at a great rate of knots, just enjoying the ride. J2 and I turned up and immediately we all made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the great coffee and cakes. A half hour went past, no sign of R1, in a typical Aussy way D1 sends him a text message, “help, flat tyre”, R1 by now had realized he his missing his riding mates and back tracks, even further than the Pie Shop. Meanwhile we have decided to continue on our way, but not on to Chiang Khong as planned, but a small deviation to the Golden Triangle, Mae Sai to be exact, so J2 could expedite his visa, (remember he lost time with the flat tyre) and D1 took the opportunity to buy cheap DVD copies in Burma.
Now by this time we all expected to hear or see R1, so D1 sends him another text message, something on the lines of “were the f***k are you”, the immediate reply was, “you f***kin Aussy’s always f***k things up etc etc etc”, bloody yanks, got no sense of humour.

Anyway, RI finally arrived at Mae Sae, after doing around an extra 200k’s, it was too late to get a visa check, so it was decided to ride to Chiang Khong before night fall.
This stretch of road become the road from hell, it began raining immediately we left Mae Sai, the back road to Chiang Khong is a not all that good in the dry, but add road works, mud, cattle shit and pot holes, it is just plain dangerous on a bike. Everyone complained about front wheel wash out, so our level of concentration was at our highest, D1 nearly had a head on with a van he thought was going in the same direction, in fact it was overtaking another car coming toward him, R1 was nearly totaled when he went wide on a slippy corner and had to run into the grass verge to miss an on coming bus, D2 went down the biggest pot hole of the day and narrowly missed two dogs coupled in a moment of ecstasy.
By the time we all arrived at our guest house for the night, R1 was really shitty, now as we all know some Yanks are great targets for Aussy jokes at a time like this, and tonight was no exception.

After cleaning up we all went down to a little Mexican restaurant, run by a hippy Thai, he runs the place on his own time table, if he thinks there is enough people he simply shuts the place, and then tells all his customers that there will be a long wait for food, because he is tired or something, great food though, and followed by J1’s 20 year old Canadian Whiskey the night was sure to hot up.
D1 knew of the local Disco, called Country Mamas or something, another typical bizarre Thai interpretation of a western Bar, it’s run by a Transvestite or Katoy, who used to work for D1 in a former life, he or she is quite a bit of work with a great personality and the biggest boob job I have seen for a while, some of the boys back home would pay a lot of money for a girl/boy like that!
Not to be out done on the class of whiskey we were drinking, D1, D2 and I put in 100b each and bought a bottle of cheap scotch, no one new the difference after the first glass. R1 finally mellowed out and it was off to bed for any early start.

The next day R1 and J1 decided to leave for Mae Sae to sort out their visas etc, so the remaining 3 of us made our way down to the ferry landing to find out what time they left for LAOS, one o’clock and 3 o’clock we were told, giving us plenty of time to clear immigration and customs, as my bike was the only one going to LAOS.

On arrival at the ferry landing, we were promptly told by the head ferry person, a big Thai woman, commanding a lot of respect, that there was no vehicular ferry at 3 o’clock, so I had only one choice, wait till tomorrow, or take an open boat, the size of an Aussy surf boat across the swollen Mekong River, with Doris, my bike on board, for 500b.
By now D1 and D2 were in fits of laughter as they watched me and 4 Thai men lift Doris sideways into this tiny boat, we were up to our knees in water, but we finally got Doris on board, lashed down and safely with a young Thai guy sitting on Doris for stability.
It was a surprisingly safe trip and Doris and I made it to LAOS in one peace.

After finally going through yet another customs post in the small town of Huay Xai, I made my way down to immigration to get my 15 day visa, D1 and D2 were already there, catching a small boat directly from Thailand, as we all filled out the necessary paperwork, the young LAO official, who spoke excellent English, chatted away to us, which at the time kept us amused until he asked us for the1500b visa fee, plus 50b for overtime, he gets that for working after 4.00pm, it was now 4 minutes past, the little bugger conned us into yapping with him until 4.00pm. Bloody commo’s!

We booked into yet again a clean guest house, recommended by D1, had a good feed at a restaurant overlooking the Mekong and Thailand, and settled in to see what the morning will bring.

Because we didn’t finalize our visa’s till after 4.00pm the previous day, D1 went back to Immigration to pick up our passports, meanwhile I took Doris down to were the ferry’s land to get here on the boat which we had previously negotiated to take her and I down river to PAK BENG, the price was a bit rich, but all the excuses from the skipper, basically held me to ransom if I want to leave today, as his was the only boat going big enough for Doris, the price was for the entire boat. A big surprise came when about 20 young LAO students turned up and joined me for the trip down to PAK BENG.

After leaving D1 and D2 yet again laughing their heads off, we sailed off south down the mighty Mekong for about 6 hours to PAK BENG. The landing area is no more than a mud flat at the end of a decrepit concrete road, leading to a tiny village, after all the students disembarked, it was Doris’s turn, first of all, I had to negotiate with the equivalent to an Aussy painter and docker, after an agreed sum, 6 little Lao guys manhandled Doris out of the boat and over the mud, leaving me to ride her, motocross style across the remaining rocks to what resembled a road. Just as I was putting all my gear back on, a group of concerned, not quite angry Lao guys fronted me, with one of them holding out his hand with a fingernail missing, he apparently tore it off while manhandling my bike. An agreed sum was negotiated, and of he went to the local doctor for treatment.

PAK BENG is one of those small towns you just want to get out of in a hurry, however as it was around 4.00pm and another 3 hour ride to Udom Xai, I decided to stay in yet another guest house recommended by D1, a bunch of friendly young blokes greeted me as I arrived, and after a cold shower, (no hot water here folks) and a feed and massage, it was off to bed. The people who own the guesthouse even let me put Doris in the foyer overnight. That night it fairly pissed down in buckets, not thinking of the consequences of so much rain, I woke up the next morning standing in 2 inches of water, now keep in mind, this is a brand new building, upon investigation, I find there is a 20 meter high excavation behind the building and it basically got washed down with the deluge the night before, a shade of things to come.

After loading up Doris and finishing breakfast of rice and eggs, I headed up a dirt road for about 13k’s through small farming villages, full of naked little kids, yelling and screaming at me as I went past. I finally hit the tarred road and thought to myself this should be an easy ride through to Ubom Xai, wrong! Total disaster struck, washout after washout for about 50k’s until the final icing on the cake (or so I thought) the bridge over the Muang River was washed out just after Muang Beng, about half way to Ubom Xai, I had no option to return to Pak Beng and stay another night. Disaster struck about 10k later in the form of a rear tyre puncture, just as I was negotiating a route between 2
straying buffalo; luckily I missed both of them and started to go through the old routine of unloading Doris and replacing tubes etc. Just as I was about to swear and generally wish I was somewhere else, a car pulled up with a friendly guy driving who spoke English, he directed me to the local mechanic, who promptly changed my tube, in his down stairs kitchen, with a mud floor and all the village kids as an audience.
I was back on the road within the hour, when yet again I was faced with another washout, the side of a hill had come down, completely blocking off my escape route back to Pak Beng! The mud across the road was about 2ft deep and full of large rocks and tree branches, each side of the avalanche the traffic was at a standstill, only one thing to do if I didn’t want to spend the night sleeping on the mud floor of a Muang village hut, give Doris all she had in first gear and hope to god she didn’t let me down and crash down the 30m embankment to the swirling river below. Blasting rocks and debris from her back wheel and with both feet furiously paddling, we bounced our way across, to the amazement of the villagers and myself included.

I finally returned to Pak Beng around 3.00pm and after booking back into the guest house, this time with a first floor room, I will wait till tomorrow and pray for no more rain.

30-08-04
The people around here go to bed late and get up early, after a power failure for around 3 hours and the whole village walking around with candles ( I have my trusty head mounted torch) it was off to bed. Awakened at 6.00am with loud LAO music and screaming kids, I had my cold shower, and ventured off for breakfast, the usual eggs and rice, this place is a stop over for “adventurous backpackers” who use the Lonely Planet as their holy grail, lucky they weren’t with me yesterday. They stay overnight and catch the next boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, most are in their early twenties and are off to see the world before they stuff their lives up with careers, marriage, kids and the inevitable divorce.

By 10.00am Doris is loaded and ready to go; the nice young chap at the Guest House made a phone call and assured me the river crossing was clear, so off I go. No surprises, YET! Everything was cruising along nicely when just out of UBIN XAI; Doris gets the wobbles, another bloody flat rear tyre. I was near a village called Ban Na Houang, were a nice young bloke called Sisavat, give me directions to the local fix it all person, Sisavat spent 3 years as a Buddhist Monk were he learnt English, just a nice guy. After about an hour of being the entertainment for the whole village, it was off again to UBIN XAI, the trouble with radial tyres is you have to make sure that they are sitting evenly on the rim, or they shake the hell out of your bike, at 80k an hour, Doris was self destructing. I finally got to UBIN XAI and booked into the Linda Guest House, I even got the local tyre shop to balance my back wheel. Doris is now parked in the tiled foyer of the guest house, waiting for the inevitable dramas to come on our way to LUANG PRABANG.

31-08-04
The main road to Luang Prabang proved how wrong you can be, just under 200k’s of undulating hills, plenty of small villages, with naked kids, ducks, pigs and every other type of farmyard animal you can think of, playing on the road. So needless to say my average speed was way down compared with Thailand, the only annoying thing was the way ever second vehicle coming towards me blinked their headlights, its illegal to have your headlights on during the day in LAOS, I guess I’ll have to paint my headlight guard black or something.
Made LP in about 4 hours, no dramas at all, except for the idiot trail bike rider who run up the back of me on the bridge approaching LP, he kamikazied my left pannier and fell off.
I then booked into a comfy guest house and have settled in for a few days R & R until the next part of the journey through LAOS.

Posted by Tom Forde at 05:42 AM GMT
September 14, 2004 GMT
1-09-O4 - STAGE 4 - THROUGH LAOS

LUANG PRABANG.
This heritage town is a must to see on any trip to LAOS, as a European it wreaks of history, especially the French architecture and the magnificent Wats, scattered around the town.
I emailed Simon and Susie, and soon caught up with them at a nice coffee lounge selling great croissants and Laos coffee. They had been there for 2 days and were ready to move on, were I needed a day for laundry etc, and just rest after the last few days of dramas, I’m not getting any younger you know!

We decided to stay an extra day, so off we went on a bike ride out to the Kuang-Si Waterfalls, we weren’t disappointed, because it was the wet season, the falls were filled to capacity, and not many tourists, even the 30 odd k ride in on a dirt road was a great change from the perilous rides through the villages we have done since arriving in Laos.

PHONSAVAN AND THE PLAIN OF JARS
It was an early start the next day, and after the usual bacon and eggs for breakfast, the 3 of us headed down highway 13 towards our next destination, the plain of jars, about 240k of good road, or so we thought!
The “highway” during the wet season is nothing more than a bitumen goat track, meandering though countless villages, we all rode at a very steady pace, only averaging around 60k/h, after about an hour and a half we come to the intersection of PHOU KHOUN, were we turned left.

So far we have avoided the rain that has dogged us on the previous 4 days, and as we were now well and truly into the mountains, the deserted, twisty roads began to mesmerize us, and lull us into a false sense of security, I was the first to succumb, looking down through a series of 90 degree turns, I could see for about 2k’s with one blind corner in front, as I cut the corner to straighten out the road, all I could see was the whites of a little LAO drivers eyes and the silver pickup truck on a head on collision, I immediately kicked away with my left foot and missed him by inches. Funny how I wasn’t even shaken, I just kept riding until the next piss stop, wonder how I’d felt if I would have hit him!
The mountains are breathtakingly beautiful on this road, we are up at around 1500m and the limestone escarpments have a mystic of their own, especially shrouded in mist.
We arrive at PHONSAVAN in the afternoon, with no other dramas, book into yet another cheap guest room and have an early night, ready for the ride out to the plane of jars and our continued journey.

During breakfast, I noticed a sign next to the restaurant, MAG, which stands for MINES ADVISORY GROUP, they are a humanitarian organization, consisting of ex military personnel who dedicate there time to ridding the world of land mines and unexploded ordinances (UXO’s), the manager there was an Aussy called Stewart, great bloke, and did he open our eyes to the American Secret War in LAOS during the late sixties and early seventies.
Basically they dropped over 3 million tons of bombs on a country the size of England, up to 30% failed to explode, and remain in the ground, the result is the poor buggers can’t farm their own land and the whole country remains impoverished because of it. This is not including the tons of defoliant the Americans dropped over the Ho Chi Min trail, (which runs through LAOS). One of the reasons the yanks won’t clean up their own shit, is, that it was a secret war which they won’t admit too, therefore no responsibility.
Oh ye, they are happy to supply their services to private enterprise in Laos, to clean up the land ….. for a fee.

THE PLAIN OF JARS
Or as we think an American General misinterpreted “The Jar of Planes” Jar in Vietnamese meaning “squadron” (a very loose Aussy interpretation) this would definitely answer the stupid question why the yanks decided to carpet bomb this world heritage site.
It is still worth a visit for all ancient history buffs, it would have been a great deal more pristine before the B52’s wreaked havoc.
On the road again, and as we sat at the little restaurant at the Plain of Jars, we noticed a big rain front looming towards us from the north, we decided to sit it out and see if it passed.
There again mother nature works in mysterious ways, the luck of the draw really, the day before we got totally clear, perfect riding weather, today, as we approached the same mountain roads as we navigated the day before, the heavens opened up.

Quote from a Lao Tourist Brochure.
“You should not attract the DEVIL, avoid for instance to leave behind any object or non secured bag in the front baggage holder of a two wheel-machine. An attempt at pocket picking (fortunately rare) could provoque you falling. And here as well be protected! Wear a helmet, even if the weather is hot.”

About road safety:
“Driving in Laos is risky, mainly in urban areas. Lao people are driving by inspiration and with the assistance of Bouddha…. The road code is existing, but not really respected by the Lao people. So be careful and especially with motorbikes. The insurance civil responsibility is a necessity in Laos.”

VANG VIENG
The road between PHOU KHOUN and VANG VIENG was the worst we encountered as far as the usual village obstacles occurred, you know, chickens, pigs cows, kids… Simon was negotiating a left hand corner, with Suzie and me following about 100 m behind. As usual he goes wide into a corner, has a look, then peals off tight under acceleration, he seen the first pickup but failed to see the next vehicle, which was on his side of the road, on a collision course, It was luck again that played its cards, he managed to squeeze between the two approaching cars, pannier boxes and all.
As soon as I arrived on the scene, (about 3 seconds) Simon had already turned and accelerated after the culprit, knowing that was a bloody stupid thing to do, I also gave chase. Remember this is the same road that two tourist bicycle riders were shot a while back, and has been known for the odd bus robbery by bandits brandishing AK47”s.
I turned a corner and found Simon giving this Lao driver all type of insults in perfect oxford English, like “if you drive like that, us tourists won’t come to your country and spend our money and you won’t be able to pay for your car!” Meanwhile as I arrive, turning in front of the pickup and becoming highly visible, the little Lao guy by know was feeling quite vulnerable, so he started to pray to Buddha, thank god he wasn’t carrying a gun. I motioned to Simon to get out of there, before any of his mates turned up. The Poms have a funny way of telling people off!

We proceeded towards Vang Vieng at a very subdued rate, keeping an eye on poor Simon.
It rained all day as we approached the town, nestled on a river in a beautiful picturesque valley, surrounded by walls of limestone outcrops, we booked into bungalows by the river, bought a bottle of Johnny Walker and got totally wasted!
We stayed there for 2 days, allowing our gear to dry out, and give us time to have a look around, a great little place to chill out.

VIENTIANE.
After 2 days in Vang Vieng, it was time to move on; the rain had pissed down all night, but fortunately had stopped by breakfast, so it was off along the mighty highway 13 to Vientiane.
It is only about a 160k ride, so we were taking it easy at around 50k/h through a village, when all of a sudden, a young toddler of about 3 run out in front of a girl, riding a moped, one handed and holding an umbrella with the other, just in front of us, she tried to avoid him, hit the brakes, and fell on top of the poor little bugger. Simon and I immediately stopped and run over to give assistance, getting the bike off the baby and making sure the girl was ok. She was in shock, but no signs of serious injury, the baby had a few scratches but seemed ok.
The trouble is, in these situations, especially in 3rd world countries, foreigners can be used as cash cows, better to get out of there ASAP! So Beware!
We arrived in Vientiane around 3.00pm totally exhausted, found a hotel to stay and relax a little before having a look around.

8-09-04 THREE DAYS LATER, AND I’M STILL HERE!

We all arrived safely in Vientiane, the rain had stopped and we found a little hotel called “The Dragon Guest House” in the centre of the town, Simon and Susie were anxious to get to an internet café to check if there friend was arriving from London, so I just cruised around looking at the great French architecture that has gone to wrack and ruin since the communist takeover.
It was the night of the Motorcycle GP, so I looked around for a pub that had it on Satellite TV, sure enough, I found a Pommy pub, disco and 2 large tellies, no sign of my English mates, so I settled in for the night. Great race and after bumping in to a couple of young poms I met on the road, we celebrated the DOCTORS win a few excellent BEER LAO’S.

Unfortunately I didn’t get out of bed early enough to catch up with Simon and Susie, as they left early for the Cambodian border.
I wanted to have a look around Vientiane, because of the history etc, so I decided to stay an extra day and catch up with the others later. Unfortunately it pissed down in buckets for a day and a half, just clearing enough for the National Lao Soccer team to play the Qatar National team in a World Cup qualifying match. Got a ticket for 10,000kip (roughly 1 US Dollar) and got a seat in the stands with the near capacity crowd of 3500.
The trouble with the people in this part of the world is they are rather short and petite; they play very skillful football, but in the end went down 5-1 to a much bigger and disciplined Qatar team, good to watch and filled in the night.
The next morning it was on the road to Savannakhet an old French border town about 460k south.
The road south out of Vientiane is 2 lanes each way, for the first 13k, then it turns into the typical Lao highway, 2 lanes of bitumen, meandering through endless villages, at this time of year the whole road is used for various uses, including cattle, pig, duck and chicken grazing, this is because the rivers have broken their banks, and all the grazing land is flooded.
Even though it didn’t stop raining for the whole trip, I was becoming quite complacent, sitting on 100k/h most of the way, and then about 50 k out from my destination, Doris gets the wobbles, another flat tyre!
Cursing the bloody roads in Laos, that’s 3 flats in 10 days, I proceeded to unload Doris and fix the puncture. I was near a bridge, traversing a reasonable sized river; each side was the mandatory army post that is dotted all around Laos. After about 10 minutes a young soldier walked the 100m to were Doris and I were, he didn’t speak English, but immediately seen the problem and gave me a hand to replace the tube, I was back on the road within half an hour, thanks to my little mate, I gave him a couple of dollars for a beer, made his day.

I arrived in Savannakhet at around 5.30pm totally soaked to the skin, found the first hotel and booked in for the night.
The next morning it was off to find immigration and customs and arrange the Carnet for Doris, and my departure documents. The difference in prosperity between Laos and Thailand is quite amazing; the Lao customs is housed in what would pass as a farm house in Aust. With a leaky roof and chickens running everywhere, I got my documents passed in record time, and then it was off to find the vehicular ferry.
Driving down the flooded road parallel to the Mekong River, I come across a line of trucks, finishing down a concrete ramp on the edge of the river, beside the ramp lay a barge with a kind of little tug attached.
This was the ferry to take us to Thailand. Thank God the Mekong is fresh water, because you have to traverse across 1 metre deep water for about 10m to get on the barge.
The cost is 200b and you are across the river in no time, No dramas at all, until you get to the other side and another barge is blocking the Thai side ramp because of a truck breakdown.

We waited for about half an hour while they tried to fix the truck, as we had a few pedestrian passengers, the skipper of the tug boat pushing our barge, decided to run her up the steep embankment along the shore to allow the blokes on foot to disembark. This created more dramas, as there was about a 3 foot drop into the water and about the same of fresh air between the barge and the land. You guessed it, everyone made it except one poor bugger who slipped and ended up in the river up to his chest in water, brief case and all. He got out ok. Just his pride a bit bruised.

We finally got into the ramp to disembark, with another 3ft of water to ride through to get onto Thailand soil. It was still raining and all I wanted to do was get something to eat and have a hot shower, but first it was immigration and customs. The buildings on this side of the river are air-conditioned and modern, a sharp contrast with poor old Laos. About half an hour later I was on my way. It is only a short ride into town and I find a good hotel with undercover parking for 350b a night.

Posted by Tom Forde at 02:25 PM GMT
October 07, 2004 GMT
10-09-04 STAGE 5 - BACK INTO THAILAND

ACROSS THE MEKONG TO MUKTAHAN AND THE ISAAN PEOPLE

This is a very rural area, with most people living in small villages and working in the primary industry. The big contrast to other Thai cities of similar size, there are very few foreigners and NO BLOODY SMART ARSE BACKPACKERS! A very traditional area, to say the least, with a reasonable amount of wealth distribution.
Oh ye, there is no Maca’s, KFC, Starbucks etc. I also forgot to mention, KFC tried an outlet in Vientiane, and went broke.

I once again have to tend to Doris and my equipment, as the constant rain and bad LAO roads have taken their toll. I am glad I am riding a duel purpose bike; a big roadie would not have survived it.
First of all the standard battery in the Dakar is up the shit, it is a standard type, which in the tropics, just looses water through evaporation, VERY RAPIDLY! At least every 2 weeks in these conditions.
Secondly, I carry a co2 cylinder type pump, waste of time in these parts, carry a cheap foot pump, found in the markets for a couple of $, and some puncture patches, with a good sturdy pair of tyre levers.

The area has got a surprising amount of attractions, with most catering for the Thai tourist, with little English spoken anywhere. Using the town as a base, I did a couple of touristy rides out to a few landmarks.

The Muktahan National Park, just out of town is a good one day visit, with its Jurassic Park type rock formations, allow a full day.

The other two worthwhile sites are the Wat Phra That Phanom, north of the Town, and rebuilt in the 80’s after it collapsed during a severe rainy season. The other one is a brand new, almost fort type construction, probably the most ambitious and expensive Temple I have seen in all of Thailand, it’s in the Pha Nam Yoi National Park, West of the town.
Both are an easy one day ride from Muktahan, they have spent about $60mUS on it and it’s only about half finished.
As this town is on the mighty Mekong River, the area is set in a large flat delta, skirted by mountain ranges on both sides, therefore the motorcycle riding is not as spectacular as its northern cousins, much of it resembles the Aussy outback, straight after the wet season.
However, it is positioned strategically as a gateway to LAO; the authorities are upgrading the roads for the anticipated opening of the 2nd bridge over the Mekong, due next year. Built as a joint effort by the Thai, Aussy and Lao governments.

SOUTH TO BANGKOK
20-09-04

The road south from Muktahan begins as a 4 lane highway, but soon deteriates into a potholed 2 lane goat track for about 30k’s. Because of this I took a longer route south, near the Cambodian border to visit PHNOM RUNG and PRASAT MUANG TAM, Khmer Historical sites that were built around the same era as ANKOR WAT, in CAMBODIA.
This deviation took me about 200k out of the direct route to BANGKOK, but was worth the extra riding. The country side is flat, and the roads are in good condition, with little traffic.
These sites are well worth the visit, although not on the scale of ANKOR WAT, they have been restored by the THAI government, and are a fantastic legacy of the former glory of the KHMER Civilization of over 1000 years ago. With most visitors being THAI, the backpacking hoards haven’t ventured this far east….YET!
This detour cost me most of a days traveling, so it was an afternoons high speed ride to KORAT, were I spent the night, before a 240k ride into BANGKOK.

The highway from KORAT to BANGKOK is a fast 4 to 6 lane highway, DORIS was sitting on a cruising speed of 120k, with a top speed of 140. I reached the outskirts of BANGKOK in less than 3 hours. Then the dramas begin, I had booked DORIS into BKK BMW the local BMW dealer for a 30,000k service and checkup, the trouble is, BANGKOK traffic is horrendous, and the GPS is useless, with little data on THAILAND available. So it was plan B, basically find a taxi, use my THAI mobile phone and get him to talk to BMW. It worked, and soon we were off through the crazy BANGKOK traffic, with me following the taxi, complete with hazard lights. The local police are vicious on pulling over motorbikes for all types of misdemeanors, just a revenue collection, really, every country has got them!
Well we were running through the traffic in convoy, when a little cop jumps out in front of us and tries to hail me down. No way that I was stopping! I wasn’t in the mood to argue the point, or pay a bribe, straight through to the BMW workshop. The taxi waited for me as I booked DORIS in, and it was soon off to Nana Plaza to book into a hotel that was recommended by the CHIANG MAI boys. It so happens that Robert, an American friend from CHIANG MAI was in town, so while DORIS was off the road; it was time for a bit of R & R.

HEADING NORTH AGAIN TO MUKTAHAN AND LAO.
01-10-04

I finally got out of the clutches of Bangkok, and hit the road early to navigate my way to Highway 1 then up Highway 2 to retrace my steps to eventually get to ROI ET, a provincial town 170k west of MUKTAHAN.
I had arranged to meet my old mate Ken Chung and his wife Moo, from KOI SAMUI, as it was Ken’s 71st birthday and he planned to celebrate it at his daughter in laws village.

Well it was a 30k drive into the farming area to a little village with one street light and a lot of eager villagers waiting for the felangs to arrive with all the free whiskey. They weren’t disappointed, Ken and I had stocked up on Johnny Walker Red, (6 litres to be exact) and it wasn’t long before we were laughing and joking with the locals, even though we couldn’t speak Thai, and they couldn’t speak English.

The next day, we decided to have a look around, ROI ET, has a great market, full of second hand cloths from the States, you can buy anything from a used tee shirt from Washington for $1 to a pair of Johnny Reb boots for $5. We spent two days there, the big Buddha is well worth a visit, it’s the tallest in the world, at around d 400ft.you can even walk up it to a viewing platform.

By the 5th of October it was time to move on, Ken and Moo wanted to go to Lao, so we arranged to meet in Muktahan, then catch the ferry over to Savannakhet for a days shopping for them and me to continue my ride through Lao.

Posted by Tom Forde at 12:43 PM GMT
October 17, 2004 GMT
07-10-04 STAGE 5 CONTINUED - BACK INTO LAO


After about a month of doing the tourist thing, in Bangkok and North East Thailand, it is time to resume the riding that I come to this part of the world.

I left Ken and his wife Moo in Muktahan and caught the vehicle ferry over to Savannakhet on Thursday morning. Everything for the past month had gone too smoothly, what’s happened to the great stuff ups and misadventures around every corner that had happened in the past?

As soon as I got on Doris, it all begins again; first of all, the Mekong River has dropped over 3m since l last crossed, leaving a dirty big mud bath at the approaching ramp to the ferry.
Large trucks were bogged on the river embankments and have to dragged out by dozers. Doris is going to have a great time riding in this slippery quagmire. Surprisingly we got aboard in one piece and it was once again across the Mekong and into Lao. I had previously arranged a 30 day visa in Bangkok, so the paperwork on both sides of the Mekong was efficient and without any drama.

It was time to catch up with my old riding mates from Chiang Mai, who were riding down through Lao, so after a few emails and phone calls we planned to all rendezvous in a small town about 100k north of here, called Thakhek, it will be good to catch up with the boys, after leaving Chiang Mai over 2 months previous.
Bloody hell, plans change quickly in this part of the world, the guys are now riding straight down to Savanaket, so I booked them all into the Mekong Hotel, were I am staying. I found out later that the Mekong Hotel was the local brothel and night club, up to a year ago, shit I can pick them!

The boys arrive around 6.30pm, totally knackered from their ride from VIENTIENE, although its less than 500k, the amount of concentration required going through villages is doubled from Thailand.
First of all, those baby goats are so cute, until the little f###s become road targets; at 100 to 120k these little buggers have less intelligence than ducks.
Near misses are prevalent, at least in this part of the world they prefer meat than poultry, so there was no kamikaze chickens running around.

Anyway, the next morning it was decided that D1 (remember him from Chiang Mai
) keeps on doing his business thing with the LAO Government, riding around Southern Lao, GPS mapping the areas, for future tourism.
The rest of us, comprising of D2 and R1 (also from Chiang Mai) both expat Yanks, and I, decide to do a bit of back road exploring.
D2 is riding an 850cc TDM Yammy, and R1 is on a fully optioned and loaded 1150cc BMW Adventurer, me of course is on old faithful DORIS.

We decided to explore the recently opened No 9 road out to the Vietnam border, a good 240k ride, then double back about 100k and take the No 23 road from PHIN down to SALAVAN.
The route would take us across to Dan Savan, near the famous battle with the Aussy’s and the North Vietnamese at Khe Sanh.

This was just a trial run to see if we could actually cross into Vietnam on big bikes over 250cc., and also have a look at the remains of the Vietnam War, we were all anticipating the remains of a battle at Ban Dong, that the commo’s claimed a great victory over the Americans, alas, nothing there other than bomb craters filled with water. Everything has been cut up and sold off for scrap metal.

So it was back along the highway to the turnoff to SALAVAN, our maps showing a good dirt road and a quote “river often impassible”, you have to be bloody joking!
After about 35k along a reasonable dirt road, meandering through rain forest resembling Queensland’s mountain areas, we ended up in a village with the road literary coming to a dead end.
After communicating with a couple of Lao blokes in shabby old uniforms, they pointed us to a track running through their village.
So off we go, down a bumpy goat track, until we were confronted with a river about 300m wide and full of rapids, as the 3 of us jumped off our bikes to get a better look, it was to all our amazement to look to our left and see a huge demolished concrete bridge sitting in pieces at the bottom of the river.

Now this was no ordinary bridge, it was a bloody big engineered concrete bugger, sitting about 30m above the river and spanning the full 300m or so. It lay there on its side like a huge dead dinosaur, it looked like it was bombed, but my American mates reckoned it was faulty French engineering, bullshit!
We were offered a ride across the river in nothing more than dugout canoes with little outboard motors, we were assured our bikes would make it, no thanks; it was decision time, so we decided to turn around and make our way back to SAVANNAKHET and strike out early the next morning.
We were rapidly running out of daylight, so the last 100 or so k’s were done in the dark.
I vowed never to ride at night in THAILAND, its just too dangerous, well, double that danger amount in LAO, Its just bloody crazy.
Illegal logging trucks ply this road at night with no lights, you are on top of them before you know it, confronted with a huge truck taking up most of the road with a capacity load of 2m diameter trees packed on it, bloody scary. Then you have all the farm carts, again with no lights, doing about 10k, full of family members, going home after a day in the fields.

We arrived back in our motel, vowing to never ride again at night.
The next morning, after breakfast at a little French restaurant on the Mekong, it was off down Highway 13 towards PAKXE. We decided to do a loop to SALAVAN, turning off the south bound highway about 80k before PAKXE, and head east.
The road began in a reasonable condition, and then soon deteriated into a bloody goat track again, washouts, bull dust and sharp exposed rocks challenged us for every kilometer.
Our bikes were handling the conditions surprisingly well, considering they were all fully loaded for extended touring, then it happened, R1 was always having a joke about how many punctures I got in LAO, well now it was his turn, riding over a dilapidated timber bridge, R1 was just in front of me, when his back tyre just started wobbling.
A quick check and a 6mm bolt, about 100mm long was protruding out of the tyre.

Keep in mind we are in the middle of the LAO jungle, so out with the tools and begin to fix the puncture. At an instant people began appearing out of the jungle, a couple of young wood choppers in old US Army fatigues were the first, then an old lady chewing beetle juice, before we new it half the nearby village were in attendance. Including a guy on a motorcycle selling ice creams!
I couldn’t miss this opportunity, so I got out my mp3 player and speakers, lit up a cigar and laid back and watched the comedy. R1 even persuaded one of the young blokes to pump up the tyre. It wasn’t long before we were back on the road, so after about 150k’s of dirt then bitumen road we eventually caught up with D1, who had booked us into a good hotel in PAKXE.

THE SOUTHERN REGION OF LAO. - Tuesday, 12th October..

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke early for breakfast, to find R1 had decided to press on towards CAMBODIA. For reasons only known to himself, he had told D1, but was a surprise to the rest of us, as only the night before we were planning to ride through CAMBODIA together. Oh well, some people can be very single minded.

The next day, D2 and I decided to follow D1, while he GPS’d many potential tourist spots around PAKSE. After 10 hrs of exploring everything from waterfalls to ancient Khmer ruins, we eventually got back to PAKSE, and settled in along the river at a little café for a well earned feed of fish and a few LAO beers.
The first one of us to think he had seen a ghost, was D1, R1 just rode up on his GS1150, like nothing had happened, and explained sheepishly that he run the customs road block on the CAMBODIAN border and continued down an ever deteriating dirt track, until it become almost impassible, with CAMBODIAN Customs Officers in hot pursuit. After talking his way out of this little oversight, he ventured even further south, after falling of 3 times and getting bogged in mud, R1 decided to surrender to the elements and retreat back to PAKSE.
Remember R1 is at least 6ft 6’’ and riding one of the world’s greatest adventure bikes!

The next day it was agreed to leave PAKSE and head for KHONG ISLAND, on the way D1 wanted to GPS a little island about 30k’s south.
Oh ye, R1 left early for the THAI border, and crossed into CAMBODIA at KAP CHOENG.

Can you image 2 dugout canoes tied together with timber floor boards, about 6ft by 8ft wide? That is what was offered to us to transport our motorcycles to this remote island in the middle of the Mekong.
At first I refused to put my bike in unnecessary danger, but after watching D1successfully ride up a 6”x2” plank from the rivers edge I decided, what the hell, I’m getting too soft, and I don’t want to let the Aussy side down do I!
It took us about half an hour to get to the Island, with my boat rapidly taking on water from numerous gaps in the planks along the 12ft long hull.

We landed on a brown sandy beach, with about 20ft of water to get through before we hit the sand, down came the little gang plank, and the native skipper beckoned me to just ride off. First I refused, hell, how deep is the water? Is the sand solid or muddy? After he jumped into the water and demonstrated to me that the bottom was indeed solid and the water was all of 2ft deep, I gunned DORIS, and off we went screaming up the beach into the jungle, I really surprised myself, so I just sat back again and watched the hilarious goings on with the other 2 on the beach.

We all made it to the edge of the sand were the jungle begins, and find a little track that wandered through a thatched roof village, with old women and little kids, greeting us with wide mouthed amazement. Some of these people have never seen foreigners, never mind big bikes!
After exploring the Island for about 2 hours, we come to the conclusion, that the place would need a little bit more infrastructure before its ready for any type of tourism, try basic accommodation and electricity.
We almost circumnavigated the Island, until we all got bogged in a rice paddy, after an exhaustive time of pushing each other free, we ended up on the other side of the Island, were we found another canoe type ferry to get us across to the mainland.
This time we were ready for it, and besides the distance was much shorter, just a formality really, until we got to the other side. We were confronted with a 30ft high muddy embankment that you could hardly walk up! The only way up was to give the bikes a handful of accelerator and hope that you got traction, and/or the little LAO guys behind you could push you up the hill. It worked, and soon we were off to find the fabled Island of Khong.

THE ISLAND OF KHONG - Thursday, 14th October.

We finally get to the Island turn off after one of the most boring roads I have ridden since OZ. Just k’s of straight, hot, flat bitumen, not even any road kill to break the monotony.
The ferry to Khong Island was a direct contrast to our previous crossing, a left over Soviet floating pontoon, powered by another left over, very used Chinese gun boat! The approaches to the ferry was a modern concrete affair, so it was on and off in no time.

Khong Island is rather civilized, with modern guest houses, and as its flat, push bikes are in abundance for hire. There doesn’t seem to be much to do here, but it does attract backpackers, so it has to be good for the local economy.
After booking into a very nice guest house, it was off for a walk to find a place that made a good coffee.
We came across two Honda 250cc Trail bikes with Cambodian Number Plates, and as we investigated further, it appears 3 young French kids rode up through Cambodia and into Lao, on the very road that stopped the mighty BMW GS Adventurer!
It just goes to show you, you don’t need all the whiz-bang technology and big adventure bikes that the spin doctors and advertising media keep on insisting we buy, to do these kind of trips.

The next day it was off the Island and back to the mainland, with the same boring road, north to PAKXE. Be wary of your fuel situation, at the moment, the closest fuel station is12k out of PAKXE, about 130k away, there is however, the small fuel stops in the villages, so be sure to at least top up your tank.

D2 and I had decided to leave D1 at the border crossing at CHONG MEK, as he still had unfinished business in LAO.
D2 and I continued over the border and planned to stay the night in SI SAKET, THAILAND, before I head over the border into CAMBODIA at the KAP CHOENG crossing, and D2 would continue towards CHIANG MAI, with a few side trips to look at KHMER ruins at Phong Rung, Muang Tam and Prasat Ta Muan.



Posted by Tom Forde at 02:09 PM GMT
November 04, 2004 GMT
16-10-04 STAGE 6 - THROUGH CAMBODIA

D2 and I left D1 at the THAI border crossing at CHANG MEK, we immediately seen the difference in riding on LAO and THAI roads. More traffic and crazy THAI car drivers!
We intended to get to a provincial town called SI SA KET. From there, D2 can visit the ruins that I mentioned previously, and I can get to the border crossing, into CAMBODIA at the border town of OSMACH.
An appropriately named town, as far as I was concerned, the highway into CAMBODIA was 4 lanes, for about 100m, then deteriated into a motocross track for the next 160k.

I have at this stage of my journey, began to question, “What the bloody hell, am I doing? D1 has a job to do in LAO, and get paid for it, D2 is on a pension from the States, and R1 is playing the stock market. Every one of them has an income in THAILAND. Except me, how do I sustain this life style, …. Easy, sell off the family silver, shit, I haven’t got any! So it’s back to OZ to make a bit of money to continue my travels through ASIA.

That’s in a couple of months; right now I am concerned about the next stage of my travels in CAMBODIA.
Well as far as I am concerned, the local governments can stick their budgets up their ;proverbial. Bums, if they are serious on tourism, get your bloody roads in order!

You have to be joking, when a road is marked as a highway, and ends up as a goat track, ye, right… I know this is a 3rd world country, but how much do they spend on the local bloody Buddhist Wat’s?

I come to grief twice on these lousy roads, the first, I had to totally strip DORIS and walk her over a creek, 2m above the rice paddies, then pay the resident local elder 100b as a donation.
The second was more serious, as I was navigating this road from hell, when I was confronted with a washed out bridge, over a rice canal, with about a 2m drop to the water, I gave DORIS a gut full of juice, the front wheel followed a 12’ Diameter log, but the back end lost traction, and ended up between 2 logs, with the immediate result of an instant brake.
I ended up under DORIS on my left side, about 2m above the water, I managed to physically push DORIS upright and kick her over, as she had stalled when I dropped her.
I was lucky to be wearing my riding gear, as all I sustained was 2 bruises to my hip and elbow. You don’t want to seriously injure yourself in CAMBODIA, if you do, make sure you have enough money to medivac yourself to BANGKOK for treatment.

Once you get on the bitumen highway, the remaining ride into SIEM REAP is dull and uninteresting, except for the hundreds of school kids, riding their bicycles, two abreast back to their village for lunch, at least it’s a reprieve from the previous road from hell.
The usual chaotic Asian traffic prevailed, with the added noise of constant honking of horns from every vehicle from motorbikes to trucks.
As I had, by this time, lost my sense of humour with CAMBODIAN traffic, I found the closest hotel near the centre of the town, for $15US a night, I was so exhausted and dehydrated, I sat under the cold shower in my room for over an hour, crawled into bed and slept for about 4 hours, waking up with aches and pains everywhere, I rang reception and got a great one hour massage for $5, great value.
I spent 2 days in SIEM REAP, most of the time riding around ANGKOR WAT, I fully recommend it, one of the wonders of the world.

18-10-04 PHNOM PENH

The road south to PHNOM PENH is a typical 2 lane bitumen road, traversing through numerous villages. Taking 4 hours to travel the 340 odd k’s , I arrived in the capital on a hot and dusty afternoon.
I had previously been in contact by email, with my riding mate from CHIANG MAI, Robert, the American, on his BMW GS1150, his brother Mark had flown over from California with his 950 KTM, and I had arranged to catch up with them, and ride together through the southern areas of CAMBODIA.
PHNOM PENH is a well laid out city of over 1.5 million people, it is getting back on its feet after the Horrific POL POT Regime.
You can’t help but feel pity for the many deformed and maimed beggars in the streets, and the many children just begging for food.

A visit to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum at TUOL SLENG, is a must. How human beings can do these things to each other is beyond logic. The scale of this Genocide was even worse than the Nazi’s in WW11, yet the West just sat back and did nothing. Ironically it was the VIETNAMESE that crossed the border and overthrew the KHMER ROUGE.

A couple of nights in PHNOM PENH are enough, to see the city, I hired a motorcycle taxi, with a young rider called KOKE, he is 29 and studying English, a great little bloke, and better than riding your own bike, for $6 it’s good value. Just sitting on the back of his old KOREAN built 100cc Suzuki, and snapping off photos was a very relaxing way to wile away the day.
I caught up with Robert and Mark that night and we decided to leave in the morning for SIHANOUKVILLE, about 260k’s south and on the coast.

21-10-04 SIHANOUKVILLE (OR LOONEY TOONE VILLE)

First of all I must comment on riding with rich Americans, I have previously mused about Robert’s single mindedness, other than that (no one is perfect, shit I should talk!) he is an excellent long distance rider.
His brother Mark, however, is a bit of a worry to ride with. He firmly believes that America is the greatest and everything he does is right.
This guy is a millionaire and roams the world at whim, and unintentualy insulting people in every country he visits!
Too much money, an imagination of extraordinary proportions about his own ego and talent, and the ability of the bike he rides.
Bloody hell, no wonder, when you read the adventure bike web sites, set up by these yanks, you think us bikers down under are fuckin wimps! They have the greatest imagination and ego in the western world.

Now that I have got that off my chest, Mark is not a bad drinking buddy, and it’s a bit of a laugh teaching him Aussy slang.

Our ride from PHNOM PENH, began innocently enough, until I realized that Mark did not possess any riding gear, the guy had turned up from California, in shorts, joggers and a short sleeve shirt, ok, at least he had a helmet and gloves! All on a KTM950 with knobblies!

About 100k out of P.P. the pace was pretty slow, because of the school kids and the occasional farm animal crossing the road. I decided to up the pace and took the lead, sitting on a comfortable 100k, expecting the big boys to follow, or even pass.

Thinking they would only be a couple of minutes behind, I stopped at the centre of a town, called KAMPOT, now this is a major intersection on the Cambodia’s road system.
(There is after all only about 3 bitumen roads in the entire country).
After waiting around for approximately an hour for my American riding mates, including a phone call to mum and dad in OZ, to break the monotony of waiting.
Oh ye, I was also offered some sexual favours and some illegal drugs.
I realized my riding mates may have come to some grief, so off I went, back up the road for about 30k. No sign of them, shit, what’s happened?

Retracing the road back to KAMPOT, I find a bypass route around the town square; the mongrels had to have taken this road. (I told you they have no idea)

I really got up Doris, thinking I could catch up with them, I was continuously hitting 140k an hour, not good on a fully loaded DAKAR.

After about 140k’s and a couple of hours, I ended up in LOONEY TOONE VILLE, now this little town on the CAMBODIAN coast, is straight out of a wild west movie, I pulled up outside an Aussy bar, called the G’DAY BAR, run by an Aussy guy called Mick, an ex PATTAYA bar owner, and of dubious background. It soon dawns on me that the whole expat. population are of the same ilk.

I can honestly say, that the type of people LOONEY TOONE VILLE attracts, are the most desperate I have met in Asia.

I finally found the hotel that the boys and I had previously agreed to book into, cleaned up and waited for there arrival. The boys arrived a couple of hours later, explaining there little detour, apologies accepted, it was off to find a bite to eat and a few beers.

The next day we wanted to investigate a crazy resort and casino that the French had built in the 20’s. way up in the mountains. It is now part of the BOKOR national park and about 80k’s east of the coast.
We decided to ride there, but on arrival at the parks entrance, it was immediately obvious that we were going to have a hard time on the badly eroded road, all that remained of the bitumen road was the rocky, loose road base, with sharp granite 4” rocks strewn across the track.
Now I am into taking calculated risks, but after discussing the situation with my fellow travelers, it was decided to hire 3, 250cc trail bikes from the Rangers, for $5 a bike.
It turned out to be the right decision, as the road actually deteriated so badly that we would have put the big bikes and ourselves at serious risk.
So much for the BIG ADVENTURE BIKE IMAGE!

On arrival at the top of the mountain, (it’s actually a high plain), you are visually confronted with the most eerie buildings that I have ever seen, anywhere in my travels.
Imagine a haunted house in the British moors, that’s the casino, and a deserted church in some Hollywood horror movie, with the wind moaning through the glassless windows, the whole place is down right spooky.
We finally descended to the ranger’s headquarters, a distance of about 60k return ride, gave back the little 250’s and began our ride back to LOONEY TOONE VILLE.

That night after a conversation with the gay Swedish hotel owner, Robert and his brother become interested in investing in the local real estate, so Henry (the gay hotel owner) arranged a meeting with the local wheeler and dealer.

The next morning at breakfast a real shady type CAMBODIAN, with the name of Mr. 10% turned up, in an old DATSUN coupe, wearing a hard hat, and accompanied by a well groomed young guy, who spoke little English.
Now I have been around a bit, these guys appeared to be ex military or even worse, part of the old POL POT Regime!

Mr. 10% immediately becomes immersed in high finance conversation with the two Americans. A shit load of money was bandied about, and after a couple of coffees it was off around LOONEY TOONE VILLE in the old DATSUN.
First stop was a run down hotel with about 30 odd rooms, and one guest great potential!
The two yanks were off on an imagination trip, with renovations already getting vividly described to Mr. 10%.
Thinking he had a couple of suckers, with a shit load of money, old 10% also showed the Yanks two more hotels and a block of land opposite the beach… for $220.000US! Remember this is a 3rd world country, even the Americans thought this was over the top!
Anyway, all parties agreed to meet at 10am the next morning, with Mr. 10% getting all the prices, from the owners, on the properties inspected.

True to form, my American friends had second thoughts (after getting Mr. 10% so hyped up) so we flew the coupe at 8.30am. Giving the gay hotel owner instructions to tell the CAMBODIANS they weren’t interested…..mm, you got to wonder, haven’t you.
So it was off to the border, about 240k away. The first 60k or so was of good bitumen. Then true to form the road gradually deteriated from a good gravel road, similar to the fast dirt in Aussy, into corrugations, potholes and then ultimately motocross track.
About 160k of dirt and 4 river crossings, 3 on very small ferries, we eventually arrived at the Thai border. We took over 6 hours to do the distance.

The border crossing went smoothly for me and Doris, (Carnet’s come in handy) as usual the 2 Yanks spent about an hour, talking the Thai customs into letting their bikes into the country.
It was then a low flying run to the ferry crossing to KHOH CHANG, to get the last ferry at 6.30pm.





16-10-04 STAGE 6 - THROUGH CAMBODIA

D2 and I left D1 at the THAI border crossing at CHANG MEK, we immediately seen the difference in riding on LAO and THAI roads. More traffic and crazy THAI car drivers!
We intended to get to a provincial town called SI SA KET. From there, D2 can visit the ruins that I mentioned previously, and I can get to the border crossing, into CAMBODIA at the border town of OSMACH.
An appropriately named town, as far as I was concerned, the highway into CAMBODIA was 4 lanes, for about 100m, then deteriated into a motocross track for the next 160k.

I have at this stage of my journey, began to question, “What the bloody hell, am I doing? D1 has a job to do in LAO, and get paid for it, D2 is on a pension from the States, and R1 is playing the stock market. Every one of them has an income in THAILAND. Except me, how do I sustain this life style, …. Easy, sell off the family silver, shit, I haven’t got any! So it’s back to OZ to make a bit of money to continue my travels through ASIA.

That’s in a couple of months; right now I am concerned about the next stage of my travels in CAMBODIA.
Well as far as I am concerned, the local governments can stick their budgets up their ;proverbial. Bums, if they are serious on tourism, get your bloody roads in order!

You have to be joking, when a road is marked as a highway, and ends up as a goat track, ye, right… I know this is a 3rd world country, but how much do they spend on the local bloody Buddhist Wat’s?

I come to grief twice on these lousy roads, the first, I had to totally strip DORIS and walk her over a creek, 2m above the rice paddies, then pay the resident local elder 100b as a donation.
The second was more serious, as I was navigating this road from hell, when I was confronted with a washed out bridge, over a rice canal, with about a 2m drop to the water, I gave DORIS a gut full of juice, the front wheel followed a 12’ Diameter log, but the back end lost traction, and ended up between 2 logs, with the immediate result of an instant brake.
I ended up under DORIS on my left side, about 2m above the water, I managed to physically push DORIS upright and kick her over, as she had stalled when I dropped her.
I was lucky to be wearing my riding gear, as all I sustained was 2 bruises to my hip and elbow. You don’t want to seriously injure yourself in CAMBODIA, if you do, make sure you have enough money to medivac yourself to BANGKOK for treatment.

Once you get on the bitumen highway, the remaining ride into SIEM REAP is dull and uninteresting, except for the hundreds of school kids, riding their bicycles, two abreast back to their village for lunch, at least it’s a reprieve from the previous road from hell.
The usual chaotic Asian traffic prevailed, with the added noise of constant honking of horns from every vehicle from motorbikes to trucks.
As I had, by this time, lost my sense of humour with CAMBODIAN traffic, I found the closest hotel near the centre of the town, for $15US a night, I was so exhausted and dehydrated, I sat under the cold shower in my room for over an hour, crawled into bed and slept for about 4 hours, waking up with aches and pains everywhere, I rang reception and got a great one hour massage for $5, great value.
I spent 2 days in SIEM REAP, most of the time riding around ANGKOR WAT, I fully recommend it, one of the wonders of the world.

18-10-04 PHNOM PENH

The road south to PHNOM PENH is a typical 2 lane bitumen road, traversing through numerous villages. Taking 4 hours to travel the 340 odd k’s , I arrived in the capital on a hot and dusty afternoon.
I had previously been in contact by email, with my riding mate from CHIANG MAI, Robert, the American, on his BMW GS1150, his brother Mark had flown over from California with his 950 KTM, and I had arranged to catch up with them, and ride together through the southern areas of CAMBODIA.
PHNOM PENH is a well laid out city of over 1.5 million people, it is getting back on its feet after the Horrific POL POT Regime.
You can’t help but feel pity for the many deformed and maimed beggars in the streets, and the many children just begging for food.

A visit to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum at TUOL SLENG, is a must. How human beings can do these things to each other is beyond logic. The scale of this Genocide was even worse than the Nazi’s in WW11, yet the West just sat back and did nothing. Ironically it was the VIETNAMESE that crossed the border and overthrew the KHMER ROUGE.

A couple of nights in PHNOM PENH are enough, to see the city, I hired a motorcycle taxi, with a young rider called KOKE, he is 29 and studying English, a great little bloke, and better than riding your own bike, for $6 it’s good value. Just sitting on the back of his old KOREAN built 100cc Suzuki, and snapping off photos was a very relaxing way to wile away the day.
I caught up with Robert and Mark that night and we decided to leave in the morning for SIHANOUKVILLE, about 260k’s south and on the coast.

21-10-04 SIHANOUKVILLE (OR LOONEY TOONE VILLE)

First of all I must comment on riding with rich Americans, I have previously mused about Robert’s single mindedness, other than that (no one is perfect, shit I should talk!) he is an excellent long distance rider.
His brother Mark, however, is a bit of a worry to ride with. He firmly believes that America is the greatest and everything he does is right.
This guy is a millionaire and roams the world at whim, and unintentualy insulting people in every country he visits!
Too much money, an imagination of extraordinary proportions about his own ego and talent, and the ability of the bike he rides.
Bloody hell, no wonder, when you read the adventure bike web sites, set up by these yanks, you think us bikers down under are fuckin wimps! They have the greatest imagination and ego in the western world.

Now that I have got that off my chest, Mark is not a bad drinking buddy, and it’s a bit of a laugh teaching him Aussy slang.

Our ride from PHNOM PENH, began innocently enough, until I realized that Mark did not possess any riding gear, the guy had turned up from California, in shorts, joggers and a short sleeve shirt, ok, at least he had a helmet and gloves! All on a KTM950 with knobblies!

About 100k out of P.P. the pace was pretty slow, because of the school kids and the occasional farm animal crossing the road. I decided to up the pace and took the lead, sitting on a comfortable 100k, expecting the big boys to follow, or even pass.

Thinking they would only be a couple of minutes behind, I stopped at the centre of a town, called KAMPOT, now this is a major intersection on the Cambodia’s road system.
(There is after all only about 3 bitumen roads in the entire country).
After waiting around for approximately an hour for my American riding mates, including a phone call to mum and dad in OZ, to break the monotony of waiting.
Oh ye, I was also offered some sexual favours and some illegal drugs.
I realized my riding mates may have come to some grief, so off I went, back up the road for about 30k. No sign of them, shit, what’s happened?

Retracing the road back to KAMPOT, I find a bypass route around the town square; the mongrels had to have taken this road. (I told you they have no idea)

I really got up Doris, thinking I could catch up with them, I was continuously hitting 140k an hour, not good on a fully loaded DAKAR.

After about 140k’s and a couple of hours, I ended up in LOONEY TOONE VILLE, now this little town on the CAMBODIAN coast, is straight out of a wild west movie, I pulled up outside an Aussy bar, called the G’DAY BAR, run by an Aussy guy called Mick, an ex PATTAYA bar owner, and of dubious background. It soon dawns on me that the whole expat. population are of the same ilk.

I can honestly say, that the type of people LOONEY TOONE VILLE attracts, are the most desperate I have met in Asia.

I finally found the hotel that the boys and I had previously agreed to book into, cleaned up and waited for there arrival. The boys arrived a couple of hours later, explaining there little detour, apologies accepted, it was off to find a bite to eat and a few beers.

The next day we wanted to investigate a crazy resort and casino that the French had built in the 20’s. way up in the mountains. It is now part of the BOKOR national park and about 80k’s east of the coast.
We decided to ride there, but on arrival at the parks entrance, it was immediately obvious that we were going to have a hard time on the badly eroded road, all that remained of the bitumen road was the rocky, loose road base, with sharp granite 4” rocks strewn across the track.
Now I am into taking calculated risks, but after discussing the situation with my fellow travelers, it was decided to hire 3, 250cc trail bikes from the Rangers, for $5 a bike.
It turned out to be the right decision, as the road actually deteriated so badly that we would have put the big bikes and ourselves at serious risk.
So much for the BIG ADVENTURE BIKE IMAGE!

On arrival at the top of the mountain, (it’s actually a high plain), you are visually confronted with the most eerie buildings that I have ever seen, anywhere in my travels.
Imagine a haunted house in the British moors, that’s the casino, and a deserted church in some Hollywood horror movie, with the wind moaning through the glassless windows, the whole place is down right spooky.
We finally descended to the ranger’s headquarters, a distance of about 60k return ride, gave back the little 250’s and began our ride back to LOONEY TOONE VILLE.

That night after a conversation with the gay Swedish hotel owner, Robert and his brother become interested in investing in the local real estate, so Henry (the gay hotel owner) arranged a meeting with the local wheeler and dealer.

The next morning at breakfast a real shady type CAMBODIAN, with the name of Mr. 10% turned up, in an old DATSUN coupe, wearing a hard hat, and accompanied by a well groomed young guy, who spoke little English.
Now I have been around a bit, these guys appeared to be ex military or even worse, part of the old POL POT Regime!

Mr. 10% immediately becomes immersed in high finance conversation with the two Americans. A shit load of money was bandied about, and after a couple of coffees it was off around LOONEY TOONE VILLE in the old DATSUN.
First stop was a run down hotel with about 30 odd rooms, and one guest great potential!
The two yanks were off on an imagination trip, with renovations already getting vividly described to Mr. 10%.
Thinking he had a couple of suckers, with a shit load of money, old 10% also showed the Yanks two more hotels and a block of land opposite the beach… for $220.000US! Remember this is a 3rd world country, even the Americans thought this was over the top!
Anyway, all parties agreed to meet at 10am the next morning, with Mr. 10% getting all the prices, from the owners, on the properties inspected.

True to form, my American friends had second thoughts (after getting Mr. 10% so hyped up) so we flew the coupe at 8.30am. Giving the gay hotel owner instructions to tell the CAMBODIANS they weren’t interested…..mm, you got to wonder, haven’t you.
So it was off to the border, about 240k away. The first 60k or so was of good bitumen. Then true to form the road gradually deteriated from a good gravel road, similar to the fast dirt in Aussy, into corrugations, potholes and then ultimately motocross track.
About 160k of dirt and 4 river crossings, 3 on very small ferries, we eventually arrived at the Thai border. We took over 6 hours to do the distance.

The border crossing went smoothly for me and Doris, (Carnet’s come in handy) as usual the 2 Yanks spent about an hour, talking the Thai customs into letting their bikes into the country.
It was then a low flying run to the ferry crossing to KHOH CHANG, to get the last ferry at 6.30pm.







Posted by Tom Forde at 04:51 AM GMT
December 21, 2004 GMT
22-12-04 THE BORING CHRISTMAS BREAK (OR SO I THOUGHT)

After getting total rejections from every VIETNAMESE Consulate, in Thailand, Lao and Cambodia, about traveling with my bike in VIETNAM, it was time to bite the bullet and retreat back into Thailand.
The countries of China, Burma and Vietnam, are really stifling motorcycle traveling in Asia.

We got to the lovely island of KHO CHANG, found some great little huts on the beach, and settled in for a few days of R and R. The first thing to do was to look after our bruised and battered old bodies, (after all we are all over 50). Our bikes were next, with a welcome clean at the local car wash, (a little Thai guy, with a bucket and sponge).

It was great to swim in the ocean again; the sun and salt combine to reinvigorate the old body.
The beach resort was run very efficiently by Kattoys, Thai lady boys, and was really set up for rich Thai families, not 3 old foreign bikers, with dubious morals.

The inevitable trouble began on the 2nd day, when Mark wanted a Thai message, from the local girls that frequent the beaches. He wasn’t happy about lying on the sand or grass, so off to his hut he went with the masseure.
There was an immediate reaction from the management, accusing Mark of laud behavior. The end result was a very pissed off Mark. And a very cold management.

So it was decided to head for Pattaya the next day, reluctantly I agreed, I really enjoyed chilling out on a relatively unspoilt island, unlike Pattaya.

The highway west to PATTAYA is the typical 4 lane THAI road; most cars are sitting on 110k, with the occasional fast mover.
A good speed for us was 120k/hr. so it was PATTAYA in a couple of hours.
An interesting fact about the bikes involved, at the fuel stop, DORIS took 13 litres, and the KTM and GS1150 took 18 litres. This is despite DORIS carrying a heavier load, and all 3 bikes arriving together.
It certainly vindicated my decision to ride a GS650 through Asia.

We finally got through the ever increasing traffic of PATTAYA, and booked into a good hotel in the centre of town for 650b, complete with pool.

That night, I went around to a well established bar, called TIM’S, the owner is a middle aged Thai lady, who has been in PATTAYA for over 25 years. I was introduced to Tim by a colleague from SHANGHAI, when I worked in CHINA, over 5 years previous.

After telling Tim about our bike travels, she informed us of a poker run by the local chapter of THE MAD DOG MOTORCYCLE CLUB, on the following Sunday.
TIM gave me a contact phone number of the MDMCC, his name was also TIM. The contact made, the three of us chilled out with a few beers at TIM’S BAR.

Sunday morning arrived, typically hot, sunny and humid, Mark and I arrived at SALLEY’S bar (the official Bar of the MDMCC) at around 10.30am for the 11.am start.(Robert decided to give the ride a miss, as his girlfriend was arriving from CHIANG MAI)

People in THAILAND don’t get out of bed real early, so the 11am kickoff passes, and a few HARLEY’S turn up, mostly from the JESTERS M.C. all Scandinavian guys, with good jobs on ships and oil rigs.
The bulk of the MDMCC arrived after 11am, with big hangovers from the night before, I was surprised to see colours from SINGAPORE and THE PHILIPPINES, the guy’s just fly up (it’s cheap) and rent a bike, anything from a VMAX to a HOG.
Hell , our two dirt bikes looked like the two ugly twins!

After all the hand shakes, hugs and back smacks etc. (I’ve seen it all in OZ, riding with my mates) a bewildered Mark, on an out of place 950cc KTM and me on DORIS, join in the run.
Forty odd riders begin to get in to some formation, in the usual staggered position that these type of rides are accustomed to.

The first drama of the day occurred, the little pommy guy on the scooter, who was commissioned to take a video and photos, got a flat tyre, and so a replacement bike was arranged.

Then a late starter arrived, and immediately, grunted his HARLEY, with his THAI girlfriend as pillion, and totally threw her off the back, dressed in shorts and a flimsy top, she hit the tar rather hard!

The rest of the poker run was running quite smoothly at a very unaccustomed slow pace (for us anyway), until we stopped for our 2nd card at the WHEREHOUSE BAR, about 30k out of PATTAYA.

For all you bikers that are old enough to remember a Clint Eastwood movie, called “ANY WHICH WAY, BUT LOOSE”. The totally bizarre happened.
Imagine 30 odd HARLEY’S lined up, with their back tyres to the gutter, the riders, having a beer in the local inn. When all of a sudden, a Toyota pickup truck, rams into the first bike, setting off a domino affect on all the bikes! Luckily Doris and the KTM where parked a little distance away and didn’t sustain any damage.

Over 30 odd pissed off bikers surrounded the pickup, to find it had no driver, with the steering lock on and the gears in neutral! The vehicle was parked across the road and had simply moved down the slight incline under gravity. The police were called and a perplexed Thai cop, scratched his head and wondered how to write this one up!
Soon a middle aged plump Thai woman turned up, admitted to owning the vehicle, and then went into some via tribe about karma and Buddha!

As they say, the party goes on, so leaving the damaged bikes behind, the rest of the poker run continued.
The 3rd stop was a bar in the north of PATTAYA, unfortunately, Mark is not confident in Asian traffic; he lost the entire 30 odd HARLEY’S, and DORIS, and went back to our hotel.
Another HARLEY broke an accelerator cable and had to be towed back to the bar.
(I have ridden over 20,000k, through ASIA, and haven’t had this much drama!)

It was back to SALLEY’S bar and a free BBQ, the blokes were great, and after a few beers, it was time to head back to the hotel. Any bikers traveling through PATTAYA should give TIM and his mates a call at SALLEY’S bar, they are good value.

Two days in PATTAYA for any sane person is enough, so I decided to head for BANGKOK and stay at a mates place for a few days before flying down to KHO SAMUI on personal business.

As I left PATTAYA on the main highway, I seen one of the most disturbing sights I have witnessed on my travels so far. The traffic in front of me had come to a sudden crawl, and as I passed a policeman controlling the traffic jam, my eyes suddenly focused on a young girls body, just lying there, on the hot bitumen, arms and legs contorted. All she was wearing was shorts and tee shirt, no helmet or safety gear.
There was no effort to help her, or cover the body, it appears she was dead.
Her motorbike was 100m down the road, and a car was in the grass drainage ditch, between the traffic lanes.


Riding the 140 odd k’s to BANGKOK is pretty boring and dirty with all the diesel fumes from the trucks. Being aware that no motorcycles are allowed on the expressways, I struck to the ground only roads, not the overhead ones. Little did I know that both are classified as no go areas for bikes!

Flying along at 120k’s an hour, the absence of motorcycles was noticeable, until two traffic cops on 750cc Hondas stopped me in traffic and motioned me to a nearby café.

One of the cops, who could speak English, was really pissed off, and yelled and grunted at me, about riding on the expressway. I just put up my hands and smiled. Now remember, these guys are armed, so when they asked me were I was going, I showed my friends address to them, they immediately asked me to phone him, and as he spoke Thai, a protracted conversation commenced.

After the cop hung up, he said “you pay, how much money you have?” I quickly got my wallet out and produced 200b. Both cops immediately broke out in a fit of laughter, and said, “ok, now you go to police station.” Now the last thing I want is a lengthy problem with the local cops, so I said, “how much?”
“1000b” was the immediate replay, “Piss off! ,“ was mine. I then decided to phone my Thai mate again, maybe he could strike a better deal. 500b was their final acceptance.
They explained to me as the offence was very serious, not only had I entered the expressway, I traveled the full length of it at over the speed limit!

Ok, I gave in and handed over the 500b. Immediately the serious tone vanished, out came 3 bottles of beer and three plates of Thai food.
An hour later I was on my way, making sure to stay off the expressway, courteous of the local police. Now that’s what I call diplomacy!

Two weeks can go by very quickly, especially when I am staying in my mate Ken’s hotel on Lamai beach in Koh Samui.
I had to get back on the road, so it was a quick flight back to Bangkok and a 9 hour ride of 850 odd k’s back to Chiang Mai, along the boring 4 lane highway 1 and into the best bike riding area in Asia.

I eventually caught up with my two riding mates, Dave Unkovich (D1) and Dave Early (D2), who had just got back from an epic 6 week ride through LAO, so we had some wild stories to exchange. Remember, I left them in LAO when I carried on south through CAMBODIA.

D1’s Africa Twin had to be towed back to CHIANG MAI with some electrical gremlin, stopping him from riding his beloved stead. It didn’t stop D2 and I, so after a health check for the bikes from Joe’s Bike Shop, it was off on a day ride to the highest mountain in THAILAND. This is supposed to be a leisurely ride of around 200k’s, so after a hearty breakfast at the KAFE in CHIANG MAI it was the usual 10am kickoff (gentleman’s hours of course).

Well it did end up as a very casual ride as predicted, it was a great feeling to ride the twisty roads again in Northern Thailand. The dramas began as we were just about to leave the national park. Dave stopped at a dirt road, with a sign in Thai and English, pointing to a “cave”. Dave mentioned that he had often passed this track and wondered what was down there, so off we went, down this gravel track, that prior to our LAO adventure, we would have been very hesitant to take.
This time it wasn’t the bikes that give us dramas, it was the track up the mountain that we weren’t prepared for, straight up through the bamboo and into the bloody clouds, we just kept walking, straight up for about an hour, with no water, both of us were about to give up, with me constantly checking my pulse rate, this was really hard work.
Just as we were about to give up, we got to the top of the hill, then surprise, the sign pointed down the other side! So off we went following the near vertical decent, straight into an eerie cave with stalagmites and stalactites hanging from the huge cavern which was around 30m high and cut into the mountain for about 100m.

An exhausting walk back to the bikes, and a quick ride to the nearest café for a couple of litres of fluids, then head back to Chiang Mai, for a shower and a nap, talk about stupid ideas, from now on I will stick to riding my bike.


The 2nd DECEMBER, and a quick ride to MAI HONG SON.

The usual suspects take off to spend a few relaxing days riding through the mountains, near the Burmese border, we spent the night in Pai, with its recycled hippy community and headed for MHS the next morning. D1 and D2 were in front of me going around the twisties, we were just relaxing, enjoying the beautiful winter weather, when about 8k out of MHS, I rounded a bend, and in front of me lays D2’s, TDM Yamaha, lying under the front bumper of a truck.
Many thoughts go through your head during emergencies like this, is your mate ok? What if?... Then I see D1 in front of me, waving me down, I immediately stop, and expecting the worst, look up the road and to my amazement, standing next to the truck was D2, he just walked away, one lucky bastard.
His weekend ride now cancelled, D2 arranged a pickup truck to get his bike back to Chiang Mai and straight to Joes Garage. He caught a flight back to CM the next day, D1 and I just kept to our schedule and finished our ride, there wasn’t anything we could do.

The 10th DECEMBER, and CHIANG MAI BIKE WEEK.

I have been to many bike shows over the years in OZ, the usual Harley posers, the outlaw bikers, with all their intimidating black leather riding gear and colours, telling the world of their tribal tendencies.
Also I expected the usual entertainment, you know, wet tee shirts, strippers, heavy rock bands, etc.
WRONG! The Thais and resident expats certainly turned up in all there regalia, their custom bikes were over the top and a credit to their owners. They were also dressed in there mandatory denim and black leathers, with colours.
The difference is that their behavior was beyond reproach! Bloody gentlemen, no biker moles, just beautiful Thai girls, out for a bit of fun.
The entertainment was a cross between funky dancing and traditional Thai dancing, all performed by fully dressed beautiful young Thai girls, very tasteful, and the food was great.
Full credit goes to the organizers, police and major sponsors, I enjoyed a great weekend.
The Thai’s really do things differently than us foreigners!

I am flying back to OZ for XMAS to see my family and friends, planning to continue my journey next January, leaving Doris in the capable hands of the BMW Dealer in Chiang Mai.



Posted by Tom Forde at 11:01 PM GMT
March 07, 2005 GMT
22-02-05 -INDONESIA - SUMATRA


Yesterday I put Doris on the SS MITRA UTAMA, a 60ft timber hulled tramp steamer that ply’s its trade between Penang in Malaysia to Belawan in Sumatra, Indonesia.
The forwarding agent in Penang was recommended by my fellow traveling companion from Laos, Simon, who is now in America with Suzy, his wife who are about to complete their around the world ride.
If you are ever in this part of the world get in touch with CAKRA FORWARDING AGENCY in Penang. 187 2nd Floor,Lebuh Pantai 10300. Ph. 2618419.

Getting back to Doris, it took about half an hour to get her cleared through customs and checked into the warehouse on the dock, the whole process on the Malaysian end was very painless for a total cost of $85Aust and about $3Aust for the wharfies, who looked after Doris, attaching the appropriate rope slings to her and hoisted her effortlessly onto the little tramp steamer that will get her to Indonesia, which should take about 19 hours.

Unfortunately, I can’t get on the little boat, I have to use the fast ferry from Penang, which takes around 6 hours, so it’s only the second time in nearly 12 months that I have traveled separately from my bike.
Penang is a funny place to stay, I have been here for 4 days and have had enough time to ride around the Island, go to a couple of beaches and have a look at the night life. My conclusion is, that unless you come here on a package deal, you know, luxury hotels, pools etc, and are oblivious how the island works, you will think you had a good relaxing holiday in a tropical paradise.
If you do it on a budget, and stay in a guest house, in the middle of China Town, you then understand the amount of influence the Chinese community has on Penang, they are like the worker ants in a giant nest, working and living on top of each other, with a constant din that goes on for 24 hours a day. Were the Indians are the money lenders and the Muslims, seem to blend in and are not as conspicuous, other than the noisy wailing from the mosques and of course, the veiled women.
I won’t be disappointed in leaving Penang, the place is so oppressively hot, much the same as Melaka, were I stayed on my way up. Although saying that, it must have been a hell of a place 100 years ago.

22-02-05
Well, you can’t say I wasn’t warned about the corruption on the docks in Indonesia, I caught the 9.30am Hydro Ferry to Belawan, Indonesia as planned, the ferry was chock a block full of Indo’s going back after a few days of shopping. The boat flew over the 270 odd k’s in 5 and half hours and got into Belawan at 1.30pm (Indo time).

The immigration is as chaotic as any Asian port, with all the Europeans singled out and made to pay the $25US for a 4 week visa. Total confusion arose, when 3 young American backpackers, 3 hippy Germans complete with a 5 year old daughter and myself were herded off to a little kiosk to be processed and given our clearances, the trouble was the yanks only had travelers cheques and the Germans only had loose change in a number of currencies and also refused to pay for their daughter, being the only seemingly normal person amongst this motley lot, I promptly paid the visa cost and was on my way.
Well, so I thought, as soon as you leave the comparative safety of the terminal, you are immediately confronted with a myriad of taxi and bus drivers, really in your face, touting their services, combined with the afternoon heat, it’s all you need when all I wanted was to find Doris and get on my way.
I was fronted by a young guy called SALOMO, he spoke excellent English and noticed that I was carrying a motorcycle helmet, and enquired if I needed some help in getting my bike, as he had helped Simon and Susie a few months before. These blokes are pretty sharp.
So I engaged him to find Doris, and then get me to the Freight Forwarders, this he did, in his beat up old mini bus, I paid the small sum of $3Aust to the Freight Forwarder, who happened to go to school with SALOMO, then it was off to the wharf to get Doris.
So far so good, then the inevitable shit happened, the foreman demanded close to $30Aust to release my bike, I first laughed at him, and told him he can do better than that! (After all, the Malaysian wharfies only asked for $3Aust) After a deliberation with his wharf mates, he came back with his counter offer, exactly the same as the first! This time I have an audience of about 10 hardened little Indo buggers, so I give in and paid him.
As soon as I kicked over Doris, a shit load of water spewed out of the exhaust, shit I have blown a head gasket, then I looked at the dash, my $2 compass that has survived since leaving Oz, was broken. That’s it I thought, I turned off Doris, dismounted and approached the ogling throng in a way only a half crazed Irishman can do! Were is the foreman? I demanded, he turned around in the crowd just as I screamed insults at him, and thrust the broken compass in to his hand, immediately demanding compensation!
It did the trick, he new he ripped me off, so giving me back $5Aust making him look good in front of his men.
This little altercation over, I asked SALOMO to find me a hotel and decided to have a good nights sleep and leave the morning for Lake Tobo. Hopefully someone was having a little joke with Doris, and put water down the exhaust, she is running ok at the moment.
You can contact SALOMO on 08126052651, Port Belawan, good bloke, and only charged me $10Aust for the whole afternoons work.
Next morning, I crossed my fingers, checked Doris’s oil and fired her up, no signs of water, no condensation. Great let’s get out of here!
Straight out onto the 4 lane highway, and towards MEDAN, until I got to the toll gates! Were I was ordered to turn around and told in uncertain terms by a policeman, “no motorcycles allowed on toll way”. I then suffered the undignified process of joining the great unwashed crowd of Indonesian back road traffic on a road from hell that on the toll way would have taken 20 minutes; I was subjected to an hour and a half of the worst road and traffic conditions so far on my travels.
Finally I fought my way on to highway 25, the mighty Trans Sumatra, no more than a 2 lane bitumen country road, I filled up with fuel and I was off on a reasonable ride to Lake Toba.

What a great tourist destination, the 2nd largest fresh water lake in the world, nestled a 1000m in the mountains. There is an island in the middle called SAMOSIR ISLAND, you get there on a vehicle ferry and takes an hour. I stayed in a great guest house on a peninsula called TUK TUK. I spent 2 days here, circumnavigating the island and just checking out the natural sites it had to offer. Thougherly recommended.
Alas, I have to keep going south, so I caught the 10am ferry to the mainland at a small resort town called PRAPAT, which has a bank with an ATM, but no money!
Bugger!
Straight down the goat track they call a highway for about 200k’s at a moving average of 30k/h, not much fun, considering the vagaries of Indo traffic, lots of mini vans in dilapidated condition going very slow and stopping anywhere they wished, and even slower Vespa’s with sidecars, used as taxi’s, combine this with the heavy, smelly diesel trucks on some of the worst roads in Asia, and you have the recipe for a very uncomfortable ride indeed.
I arrived in a small dirty backwater town called PADANGSIDIMPUAN around 4 in the afternoon, and looked for a decent hotel, this would have to be up there with the dirtiest towns I have stayed at in all of Asia so far, and the accommodation was no better. But I needed a room and a shower, at around $12A it was a total rip off, there was a thunderstorm approaching so I really needed to get Doris undercover before the downpour.
The bathroom consisted of a squat toilet, a leaky concrete water container with a bucket that you used for a multitude of uses, including your shower, cleaning your teeth and flushing the toilet. Typical backpacker crap, but at $12A? At least the bed was clean.

An early morning start and I set a course for BUKITTINGI, about 290k south. The road winds through the mountain range and presents a beautiful landscape, sometimes rivaling North Thailand, only diminished by the lack of rules that constitute driving in Indo. Therefore your concentration level is way up there; especially through the villages which are dotted along the road, basically they look all the same and are just dirty, smelly road blocks with the inevitable market centrally located with gridlock consequences. Good for playing chicken with the slow moving trucks.
You also have to watch the pedestrians, as the road is only 6m wide and the houses are around 6m away from the edge, you occasionally get a local who is not really concentrating on what he is doing, and walks straight on to the road, unfortunately the guy I encountered had a 6m piece of bamboo balanced on his shoulder, with 3m sticking out across my lane of road, fortunately the other lane was empty.
I even rode across the Equator without realizing it, about 50k north of BUKITTINGI.

I made good time on the twisty road and arrived in BUKITTINGI in around 5 hours; this town has a real lay back feel to it. I stopped off at a café in the centre of town, ordered a coffee and immediately started up a conversation with a Dutch guy who comes here twice a year and stays at a lovely little lake called MANINJAU. John recommended a hotel close to town for $10A a night, what a difference to the previous night! Total security for Doris, I locked her up in the hotels foyer, and really friendly staff too.

Because most of Indonesia is Muslim, I thought I was ready for the usual morning and afternoon indoctrination that this faith loves to indulge in, Oh no; I was totally off by about 100% the noisy barrage of intruding noise begins at 4am, lasts for 2 hours and is totally intrusive to these sometime Christian ears! It begins again at 6.00pm with the most monotonous drone I have ever endured; at least I could find a bar for a bit of reprieve. I personally don’t know how anybody gets things done in this environment, perhaps they don’t, the guys just sit around, drinking tea or whatever and the women seem to do most of the little work that appears to happen. With this observation, I don’t think the West has anything to worry about, especially productivity!
The next day John invited me along to have a look at his Chinese mates bikes, so off we went for a short ride to Johan’s place, (funny name for a china man) anyhow Johan lives in the typical 2 story buildings you see all around Asia, the ones with a shop with a roller door down stairs and a flat above. Arriving at the said abode, Johan greets us with a huge grin from ear to ear and opens his garage door.
To anyone who is into bikes it was Aladdin’s cave! Sitting along one wall was 3, 250cc BMW’s ranging from 1953 to 1958, with the later dressed with a home made sidecar, moving further along you come across a 1938 500cc NORTON, then a 1933 MATCHLESS. Christ! They are all in mint condition.

Johan was going for his usual Sunday ride, and of course he asked us along. The big surprise was he asked us to take all the BMW’s for a ride because they haven’t been used for a while! Of course we said yes, so off we went, following Johan in the BMW outfit on a cook’s tour of BUKITTINGGI.

The next morning I a woke to the usual drone from the mosque, it was raining lightly, so I packed up Doris, put on the wet weather gear for the first time in 4 months, and headed for PADANG on the west coast.
The 90k ride goes through some great mountain scenery and often crosses a defunct railway that the Dutch build in the colonial days. PADANG is a sea port and quite busy, as Indonesia is devoid of Road signs, I had to rely on my GPS to find the coastal road that will eventually get me to Southern Sumatra.
The road is only a secondary road, about 6 metres wide but good bitumen. Even a cruiser could manage this road. It hugs the coastline for about 50k then heads inland through the mountains, its twisty and pretty challenging, with the usual obstacles you expect in Asia, except with the worst drivers on the Planet!
This road rivals some of the scenic routes I have taken in Northern Thailand and Laos, however I could only manage a moving average of around 50k/h. so the 400k run to a little village called MUKO MUKO took me 8 hours.
I found a little hotel called the WISMA TERATAI, its run by a family of very nice people, who asked me to have dinner with them and generally made me feel at home. They were totally fascinated with my digital camera, they never seen one before!
Ask for Ian, he’s the father of the clan and a great host.
I was planning to head south to BENGKULU, an old British colonial fort, about 250k’s south and spend a few days there, Ian reckons I would be better going past there and staying overnight at MANA, which is on a new coastal road just finished in the last 2 years, which doesn’t show up on my map, so we will see what eventuates tomorrow.

1-03-05

I awoke at around 5.30am not to the screams of Islam but Mother Nature’s answer to whatever man can muster, the loudest thunder clap I have ever heard, it must be something to do with the tropics because it literally got me out of a very tempestuous dream, and I had ear plugs in! Anyway, Ian offered breakfast, so not wanting to offend mine host, I sat down to a fried egg and some rice washed down with strong black tea, Ian ate with his right hand fingers and I with good old spoon and fork. They use there left hand to wipe their bottoms you know.
I followed the storm south for the next 410k, on a road that you could only describe as having as many curves as a Bangkok Bar Girl. It makes the Mai Hong Son Loop seem like a ride to the corner shop. The only thing good about this road is that an Aussy construction company, called Transfield built all the new bridges across the rivers. It’s obvious the Indo’s built the approaches, because they are totally stuffed, and usually have a dirty big pothole waiting for you as you exit the bridge.

So far I have done over 800k of twisty, sometimes diabolical coastal country road, without a single straight more than a kilometre long and I have still about 400k to go.
I eventually got to a little town called MANNA, found a guest house in the centre of town for $7A, complete with the usual Indo bathroom, and right now I am trying to dry all my riding gear out, because I got pissed on for the last 120k, at an average speed of only 50k/h its bloody hard work.
So far the road kill stands at 2 chickens that I decapitated with my front wheel, a small parrot that tee boned my helmet, one small goat that I run over with my rear tyre and a large pig, that someone else hit, thank Christ it wasn’t me.

The next morning I am about 420k to my last destination, a called BANDAR LAMPUNG, it is the gateway to Sumatra, if you are coming from Java with an airport and cargo port, you get the vehicle ferries from BAKAUHEN, about 90k’s south.
The road hugs the India Ocean for most of its 320k south, then heads inland through a mountainous national park.
With longer straights and fewer villages, you can average a much higher average speed, sometimes the road meanders inland to avoid mountains etc, and again the scenery is awesome.
I was really enjoying this section of the ride, only about 160k to go; it’s only 11.30am and as a bonus, very little traffic. I was at that time glad I took Ian’s advice.

You know the feeling, when you turn a corner on a great ride and all you can see is gridlock traffic. You come to an abrupt stop, then wait a moment, get your senses in order, then consider your options, turn around or deal with the problem at hand and try and forge ahead.
Well I had the same problem, except in front of me, wandering up a mountain at the beginning of a nation park is the most disgusting quagmire of brown oozing mud that I have ever seen, churned up by the bogged trucks and slow wading motorcycles. The mud was about 12” deep, with trucks in both directions trying vainly to navigate the sticky slush, this horrible cake mix was about 100m long, with the only vehicles getting through were the little Asian motorcycles, these little buggers will go anywhere.
It was now midday and the sun was overhead and the temperature was rapidly on the increase.
What to do? I thought, just then a local bloke waded over to me and beckoned me through a recent trough gouged out by a 4WD.
Stuff it, I gunned DORIS, through the ruts, she was up to the task, until the ruts got too deep on each side and my bloody aluminum boxes were dragging through the mud, acting like great bloody brakes! I come to an immediate stop, about 20m from the end of crap. I just slung my leg off the bike and left DORIS wedged in the goo.
A couple of Indo truckies came to the rescue and gave me a push for the last 20m.

You beauty, out of the shit and on my way again, still climbing on a rutted out gravel road, I turned another corner about 1k from the last, and in front of me was an even bigger mud hole than the last, and this time only pedestrians and small bikes were getting through.
I decided to strip Doris down, and wade her through, and then walk back through the foot thick mud to get my gear, this plan worked, just keeping DORIS in first and using her good amount of torque from the big 650cc single, she just plowed her way through.
Then I walked back the 200m or so to get my luggage, this took 2 trips and I was totally stuffed when I finally loaded up Doris, and continued heading southeast.

Disaster again hit as I navigated this road I dubbed SATINS DUNNY, I come to yet another quagmire, the third so far, I was so tired, I just gave DORIS a gut full in first and hoped for the best. Half way though, the back tyre lost traction, and with the weight of my boxes, gravity took over and DORIS, doing her best imitation of a water buffalo having a mud bath, fell on her side.
I was total stuffed, it takes 2 people to pick up this bike fully loaded, so I just sat there, covered from head to foot in shitty Sumatran mud, waiting for an Indo bike rider to give me a hand. Then suddenly there was a thunder clap and the heavens opened up with buckets of tropical rain rapidly filling all the ruts in the sticky mud, then turning into little streams running rapidly down the mountain.

At this point I thought I could be sleeping in the jungle for the night. Throwing the bike cover over DORIS, I just sat under a nearby tree, waiting for the rain to stop and hoping the Cavalry arrives before dark. I decided to walk back down the road to see if I could fetch some help, I passed a sign with a picture of a tiger on it and something written in Indonesian, I later found out it said “do not stop on road at night, tigers about”.
The Cavalry eventually arrived in the form of 2 young Indo’s on bikes, they gave me a hand to get DORIS upright and soon I was on my way, covered in all sorts of crap towards BANDAR LAMPUNG.

Doris’s management system was handing the situation a lot better than mine, I was totally exhausted, I arrived at the first shit hole at 11.30am and it was now 3.30pm, a full 4 hours to go 30k, and I had another 130k or so to my destination, on a bike that was now on reserve and seriously needing a hose down before hitting any bitumen at speed.
Ah ha! A river crossing with kids washing their bikes, there must have been about 40 of them lining the shallow pebbly shoreline.
I did a youie and headed under the bridge to the now screaming and astonished teenagers, most of them totally naked, washing their little Asian bikes in the river.
I just rode DORIS, straight into the river until the water was about a foot deep, put the side stand down and jumped straight into the water, I just laid there, fully dressed in all my riding gear, helmet, jacket, boots everything was soaked, but I didn’t care, I just lay there watching the mud gradually dissolve and depart from my very tired body.
I was then confronted by about 20 young teenagers, many naked, offering to wash my bike… for a price.
A half an hour passed and I was still laying in the water, however I did manage to get my helmet and jacket off, and the kids were well on the way to getting the heavy mud off DORIS. I exchanged about $2A with the kids and took off toward my destination for the night, a very soggy 130k run, I eventually had to refuel at the typical corner shop establishments that are dotted along the road, as there are very few petrol stations.

I booked into an excellent hotel for $22A a night, put a cover over the bike, had a shower, and hit the sheets totally exhausted. Without a doubt, SUMATRA’s roads are the worst I have encountered so far, if the Aussies hadn’t built the bridges over the many rivers that this coastal road traverses, it would take you weeks to get down the coast.
I have decided to spend 2 days of recovery in BANDAR LAMPUNG and give DORIS a thorough going over before catching the ferry over to JAVA.
I have done a total of 2630k’s in SUMATRA, at a moving average of 55k/h.

VERDICT: Real potential for experienced adventure motorcycle riding, on REAL trail bikes only! A minimum of local language advised, the people are usually friendly, but reserved and shy, the food is so so (not close to Thai food). And everything is cheep. Shit I wish I was 20 years younger!


Posted by Tom Forde at 06:09 AM GMT
March 28, 2005 GMT
4-03-05 - JAVA to EAST TIMOR


After giving Doris a thorough check over after the horror ride of a few days before, it was a high speed run from my hotel room in BADAR LAMPUNG to the vehicle ferry terminal at BAKAUHENI on the southern tip of SUMATRA.
The guide book I have with me describes the road as a scenic drive through the countryside; I think someone has been eating magic mushrooms! Hey, you can’t see anything for the bloody diesel fumes, the whole place is so polluted, you are screaming for oxygen every time you manage to get clear of the ponderous lorry convoys and the kamikaze bus drivers.
I managed to do the 90 odd k’s in an hour and a half, just making the 9.00am ferry that would take me to MERAK in EAST JAVA. At the speed I was traveling I knew I was taking a considerable risk, due to the traffic conditions, but no one at the hotel knew about the current ferry timetable, the only info I had was it leaves every 2 hours, is that a 9.00am or a 10.00am departing time? No one new, so I gambled for 9.00am, shit it’s the first time I’ve won anything since my kids went to primary school.
The one accident I saw on the road was a fully loaded bus, just off the ferry, head butting a house on the left side of the road, the front of the house was destroyed, and there appeared to be the remains of a smaller bus upside down on the other side of the road, no ambulances, no police, so it must of just happened.

The ferry crossing took exactly 2 hours as advertised, and so far I was pretty impressed with the transport system in Java, especially at a grand cost of $5A. That was about to change! I could even see Krakatoa on my starboard side, I was really impressed!
We disembarked at 11.00am and I was now on JAVA soil after over a week in SUMATRA, I wonder what the differences will be?
Almost immediately the traffic was moving a bit faster, great! There is more traffic, not great! And there is another bloody toll road, no bikes! Shit I have to flow along with the great unwashed again on roads that the Indonesian government deem roadworthy. It began almost immediately, the sight of little green and sometimes blue, minibuses all over the place, just stopping at will, with no indicators, just nothing, not even brake lights, holding the whole of Indo’s highway system to ransom for a R1000.00 fare, (about 10c US) when they stop to pick up customers, the whole highway system stops.
This was the driving conditions I was faced with, sure the road conditions were better, but JAVA has at least 4 times the traffic of SUMATRA. I had my first night penciled in at a place called BOGOR, which the guide books describe as a sleepy mountain town. It’s obvious who ever wrote this, traveled by train and not road, the town itself is a dirty little country town, with the only redeeming factor of being famous for its botanical garden. I did however find a great little guest house run by 2 crazy sisters who are half Arab and speak very excitable English, they even put Doris in their garage for safety and arranged a massage from a little Indo lady who resembled an EWOK! Give the WISMA GUEST HOUSE a look, good value.
Saturday morning, 8.30 am, and it was off East to my next designation on the south coast of JAVA to a surf spot called PANGANDARAN, it was a good days ride of around 350k, I estimated about an 8 hour ride. I really underestimated the average road speed I could maintain, the traffic congestion is the worst I have ever experienced, the ultimate gridlock, nowhere to go, and all because of those little green and blue bloody taxi buses. I was very concerned at the wear on DORIS’s clutch by the time I had traveled 85k’s I had been in the saddle for 4 hours, there was no way I was going to get to my destination at this speed.
Just as I was getting used to navigating my way around the taxi buses, I become gradually aware of another menace on the road, the local ROSSI look alike imitators, on anything from a clapped out Vespa to a piped 125cc Super Racer, these guys will buzz you at a very close range, on 1 occasion, I kicked a guy over to my left and behind a truck that I was about to pass (he tried to pass between me and the truck).
Another rider then come out on my left, braked and run into my left Pannier, then pissed off, I caught up with him, pulled along side and give him a thick ear for his trouble, the last incident occurred when I was in such a shit fight of a traffic jam, that I seen a gap and gunned it, some guy coming from the opposite direction, tried to cut across me, he braked, and my right pannier ripped off his front mud guard. I just kept going. Then as I was negotiating the same traffic jam, I miss judged the gap size that I could fit through, and took out a green minibus’s left taillight with my pannier, revenge is sweet!
Some guy approached me at a service station, while I was filling up, he spoke good English, and we kicked off a conversation, you know the type, were are you from, what’s your name, how much does the bike cost, were are you going, I am bloody fed up with this shit, especially in Indo, they are not as polite as the Thais. Then he come up with the ultimate question, what do you think of Indonesia, well, sometimes I am not known for my tact, I give him the usual response, friendly people, good tourist potential, and the worst fu…ng drivers in all of Asia, driving on the worst managed fu…ng road system in the world!
His response was calm and swift, “you should come here on Ramadan, its quiet then! No way am I going to organize my holidays around some religion. Bloody Muslims!
By 4.00pm I had only reached a town called TASIKMALAYA, about 130k short of my initial destination, it began to rain heavily, so I gave in, found a hotel and decided to leave for the ocean tomorrow. I can’t even relax with a couple of whiskies! Bloody Muslims!
This is the worst fuel consumption I have achieved since leaving Australia almost a year ago, and the second worst moving average, only bettered by CAMBODIA.
The hotel was surprisingly comfortable, and doesn’t get a rate in the travel guide, so the buggers haven’t stopped everywhere! Because Java is such a large Island and the few tourist spots of interest are few and far between, I had to average nearly 400k a day on the shit road they call highway 25, next stop was YOGYAKARTA, funny name for a town, I thought. Well, it’s within reach, so at a blistering average of about 60k/hr, I got to YOGY at around 4.00pm, you guessed it, afternoon rain again, I found the local railway station, and using it as a landmark, I tried to get myself orientated, and find myself some lodgings, GPS compass set, map out, I was totally involved in the science of navigation, when a young bloke on a bike turns up and says, “you need a hotel?” I said “yep”, well follow me!
Off I went following a little 80cc Yammy through peak hour traffic, give me a break! We eventually got to a little hotel, right in the middle of the arty part of town, (YOGY is the rough equivalent to CHIANG MAI..Indo style) the young bloke done me a favour, the management spoke English, and the place even had a pool, all for $10US a night, including breakfast, what was the catch? It was next to a bloody Mosque, 4.00am screaming again! Except for the early morning human rooster calls, I could spend a bit of time in YOGY, unfortunately I could only afford 2 days, because of the restrictive 30 day visa, so once again it was off down the mighty Highway 25 to a recommended stop over on the way to BALI, called MT. BRONO, an active volcano approximately 3000m up in sky. Shit there is a lot of activity under the ground in Indo! I made the turnoff in around 6.5hrs, with a surprisingly decent ride, except for the usual Carbon monoxide poisoning from the pollution belching out of the trucks and busses, I only got run off the road twice.
The road up the mountain was absolutely fabulous, is this Java? Or am I in some 18th century European country, this would have to be the most scenic part of Indo I have seen so far, its right up there with Lake Toba in SUMATRA. You just keep climbing, 3000m in around 18k, small European type villages are placed delicately along this beautiful little road, the whole landscape is totally rural, with most of the villagers working the land, much the same way that they have done for centuries.
They have a different look about them too, they are short and stocky, much the same as the Moungs in LAOS, except the young woman have the most beautiful complexion and faces I have seen so far in Indo.
Then you start to smell the Sulphur, it begins to get stronger as I ride even higher into the clouds, even Doris sounds different, gasping for more oxygen as we rise. Then you see it, you are confronted with a scene straight out of the PLANET OF THE APES, a huge open plain, about 500m deep with an active volcano right in the middle, letting off a ominous plume of white steam. Boy, this looks bloody dangerous! It was now 4.30pm, so I settled into a great lodge, built right on the shear cliff overlooking MT BRONO.
The next morning I wanted to get to BALI, about 180k away, so up at 6.00am, with an outside temperature of 12 degrees C , was off down the track on Doris to confront this huge beast of nature. You can actually ride along the black sandy base, most tourists take a package ride in a 4wd bus, but my bike will do nicely, good for a few photos too.
You have to park in a designated area, where all the hawkers converge on you selling the usual tee shirts and crap. Its about a kilometre walk to the summit, or you can hire a horse, what the heck, I hate horses, they are one animal on the planet that I have a healthy mistrust for. Anyway I’m short on time, if I want to make the ferry to BALI, so up I go into the saddle, and “Thomas of Java” is immediately created! The young horse handler walks in front of you guiding his trusty sure footed stead up the narrow path, leading to the summit, sore on the bum, but saves the legs. He waits for you to come down, and then gets me back to Doris in no time, I was even starting to enjoy my little equestrian adventure, when my little horse started to pig root another of his kind, just as I was dismounting. Give me a motor bike anytime!
Saying goodbye to the Mountain, it was off on the final section of highway in Java, thank God! The same usual shit confronts you as you make the Easterly turn onto highway 25. I was making good time, then around 25k from the ferry wharf at Ketapang, the heavens opened up and I got totally drenched in buckets, right through the last bit of tropical rain forest in East Java, the foliage was so dense, that the GPS couldn’t get satellite cover. No sooner had it began, it stopped, the sun came out, the ferry was about to depart, and I could see BALI beckoning, about 1 hour across the narrow straight.
Total kilometers traveled: 1600k at an average moving speed of 46k/hr. with a top speed of 116k/h.

BALI, THE FABLED ISLAND OF AUSSY PARTY ANIMALS.

The road down to DENPASAR has the best surface, so far in Indo, its about 120k’s to the beach resort towns of KUTA and LEGIAN, so I settled back and decided to cruise into town at a very leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery. The first thing I found in BALI, the motorcycle riders are even more ferocious than in Java, if you sit on a leisurely pace, your space is immediately invaded with every description of little bike you can imagine, even the young girls were giving me a bad time! Stuff this, back to highway mode, knock back a cog, GIVE ME WARP SPEED SCOTTY! Leaving the poor little buggers in Doris’s exhaust note, I had to ride offensively all the way to Legion Beach, which, meant reasonably hard riding, with your finger constantly on the horn. Consequently by the time I got a cheap hotel on the beach at Legion, poor Doris had blown a fuse!
I can really pick the time of year to travel, BALI is now celebrating its Hindu New Year, and you would think that would be a time for a good party, especially here in Party Animal Town. Not the Balinese, they close the whole Island down and lock all the tourists in their hotels for 24 hours! Give me Thailand any day, and I complained about Thailand’s 1.00am Bar Curfew! Shit I haven’t had a whiskey and soda since arriving in this godforsaken country!
KUTA and LEGION are really just a cheap holiday for Aussies and Euros, it reminds me of a rundown Surfers Paradise, it’s obviously not the real BALI, but I can’t really comment on that matter, because I’m locked up in my bloody Hotel!
Since getting out of BALI, INDONESIA has revealed a few surprises to say the least, first of all, I thought riding for a 100k’s or so through the BALI landscape would reveal some of her hidden charms, not so, maybe I was on the wrong side of the island, who knows, anyway Bali just wasn’t my cup of tea. So it was off to the ferry wharf at Padangbai, to catch the 10.30am ferry to LOMBOK.
You should never assume things will go your way in Asia, I rode for 2 hours on the congested roads to Padangbai, through the usual kamikaze bike riders, that I have become used to in Indo, only to be confronted by a crowd of around 100 bike riders milling around the ticket box trying to get their tickets to Lombok, it was only 9.45am, plenty of time to get a ticket in a civilized way. No, not in Indo, push, shove, elbows flying in every direction, I thought to myself, “I’ll just be patient and wait for the crowd to die down.”
That worked fine, at precisely 10.15am I paid my money to the uniformed ticket man. “One motorcycle and one person to Lombok please”, he replied “24,000R”, with my ticket between my teeth, I ride over the short distance to the embarkation ramp, to join the hundreds of other bikes and pedestrians with an assortment of farm animals, chickens hanging by their tied legs, piglets in string bags, perched over some old ladies shoulder, you know, the usual sights that you become accustomed in Asia, plus the most tenacious hawkers this side of Vietnam, selling anything from cigarettes to DVD’s.
We waited patiently for the ferry to disembark all of its cargo, then waited and waited….
Then a little guy comes up to me and says “one hour late!” So we waited and waited…then finally it was time to leave, you beauty, I rode up to the armed guard who was checking the tickets and he immediately asks, “Motorcycle bigger than 100cc? You must pay double,” pointing to the ticket box, so back to the ticket box I ride, the one I visited 2 hours earlier. If you think I was getting pissed off by this time you weren’t wrong.
We finally got on our way to Lombok, with smooth seas and some interesting scenery, except there was no were to sit, the ferry was chock a block full, people were sleeping in the walkways on makeshift ground sheets of newspapers, curled up with children, farm animals and numerous domestic pets, It was a long 4 hours.
The ferry arrived in Lombok amidst a heavy tropical storm, great, it’s 4.00pm and I have to find a bloody guest house on some god forsaken island that I have never been too.
Oh well, let’s get on with it, following my GPS in the general direction were I knew Senggigi Beach was, I finally passed a few resorts, then I recognized the sign, “Batu Bolong Guest House”, this establishment was recommended by an Aussy bloke from Darwin who I had met previously a few nights before in Bali, he reckoned his mate owned it, and would look after me.
I did a youy, drove through the entry,( remember it was raining and I was soaked to the skin), I asked to see a room, and before you know it, I was sitting on the first floor balcony of my own waterfront bungalow, overlooking the ocean for $20A. I was a little puzzled with the info that my drinking buddy from Darwin gave me, so I asked the reception who owned the Guest House, it was definitely not an Aussy, but she did inform me of an Aussy bar next door.
Ah ha! That night as I watched the ever increasing lights of the fishing boats gather on the horizon, loud music accosted my ears from next door at the Aussy Bar, it was INXS! Shit I haven’t heard them since that Michael fellow docked himself. “I have to go an investigate this,” I said to myself, there is life in Lombok after all. Bloody oath there was, I approached the entry to the bar with a little trepidation, but once I turned the corner I was confronted by a brightly lit bar, decorated in a way only an Aussy could do. Sitting around it were about 10 of the roughest and course bastards you would want to meet, all speaking a language I could understand.
The first greeting was one that’s universal down under, “how ya goin ya ol bastard”, I was in friendly territory for the first time in 6 weeks. The night just got noisier and noisier, everyone passing on insults after insults and consuming as much alcahol as my mates back home. In the group was the owner, an Aussy bloke in his late fifties, who has been married more times than you can count, and has had countless businesses in Asia, from Trucks in East Timor to bars in Thailand. His offsider, Mick, was a big Yank from New Gearsy, whose father was an Irish seaman and his mother was a Scot, he run away from the draft in 1969, joined a biker gang and eventually ended up in the South Seas. The rest of the motley crew consisted of construction workers from Perth and fishermen from Darwin, including my new found mate from Darwin, Beachy, who had just arrived that afternoon.
It was the first time since Thailand, 6 weeks previous, that I had had a big night, so what a bunch of Aussy piss heads to get mixed up with.
The booze was running freely and as the night progressed, someone mentioned that the local disco was raging, so off we went, we were the oldest there, but it didn’t matter, the local women just wanted to dance and play pool with us, against a backdrop of loud Indo rock and roll, dim lights and gyrating bodies. The place closed at 2.00am, and since my bungalow was next door to the bar, I called in for a night cap, to my surprise, so did most of the crew, just listing to louder and louder music and drinking more booze, except the owner had gathered about 6 young local girls, I didn’t ask, I just paid my bar bill and politely said good night, after all it was an 8.00am start for SUMBAWA, the same morning.

16-03-05
It was 6.30am, and feeling a bit seedy, I ate a quick breakfast, packed up Doris and headed for the ferry terminal that would take me to SUMBAWA. I arrived there just in time for the 10.00am ferry and got to Poto Tano, 2 hours later. I think I will return to LOMBOK, next time with my 8ft surfboard!
I had a full tank of juice, so following my map; I headed down the mighty Trans Sumbawa highway. The road meanders around the coast, hugging the extinct volcano’s and mountain peaks that make up this comparatively dry island. It’s almost 400k from west to east, were you end up at a little fishing village called Sape. This is where you catch the ferry to FLORES. I didn’t expect to do it in one shot, considering my previous experiences with Indo’s roads and traffic, but surprise, surprise, the western road was in good order and made good time, then through the centre of the island, were you ascend into the mountains through twisty roads and endless villages, with the road gradually deteriating as you descend through the mountains towards the east coast.
It was 3.00pm and I had 180k to go, “bugger it”, I thought, lets give it ago, I found myself gradually rising into the mountains, with some spectacular scenery, with the road getting ever increasing steeper and twistier, shades of the roads in North Thailand! It began to rain lightly, and with fading light I rode into Sape, and by 7.00pm in complete darkness I arrived at the ferry wharf, only to find out that the ferry to FLORES doesn’t leave till 4.00pm the next day and takes 8 hours! I found a Losmen next to the wharf, for $8A and rested, let’s see what tomorrow brings.


17/03/05 – Saint Patrick’s Day
I find myself writing this Diary update at 7.00am in an Indonesian Restaurant, having a breakfast of fried eggs, rice, orange juice and black tea. I am waiting for the ferry to the island of Flores, in a little fishing village on the Island of SUMBAWA, called Sape.
What a place to spend this holy of holier days! Miles away from anywhere, and I am the only white bloke within 500k’s. The guy that owns the Losmen, were I am staying, suggested that I wile away the time while waiting for the ferry on a deserted island. He arranged a boat to drop me off and later pick me up, so supplied with enough water, off I sailed in an old noisy timber boat. Promising to pick me up before 2.00pm, so here I am accompanied by a flock of goats and some very inquisitive monkeys, which are eyeing me off suspiciously from a distance, preferring the shade of the rocks and trees, I wonder if they will knock off my gear if I go for a swim!
It’s going to be a long day, the ferry doesn’t leave to 4.00pm then it’s an 8 hour voyage to Labuhanbajo on the west coast of FLORES. At 3.00pm I waited patiently at the ferry ticket office to purchase my ticket, no surprises, Doris is over 100cc, I have to pay double, then the surprise, the ferry is delayed, its having some repairs done.
A walk out to the wharf reveals the familiar shower of sparks and brilliant light from an oxy welder, they are patching up the front access ramp. Meanwhile all the pedestrian traffic embark, so presumably they get the best seats, the rest of us finally get aboard at 9.30pm, only 5 and a half hours late!

18-03-05
The ferry finally docked after a horrendous 8 hour voyage to Labuanbajo, on the west coast of FLORES, it was a night voyage, so I missed seeing the fabled Islands of Komodo, oh well next time.
With some sleep degradation and an empty stomach, I jumped on Doris and headed for the east coast, quite aware that my 30 day via was running out and it was still a long way to go to Dili in East Timor. I had to get to ENDE, a port on the South side of the island and where the ferry leaves for KUPANG in TIMOR, and its about 300k non stop.
Within about 10k of my journey, I was fully aware of my average traveling speed, the road was rapidly rising and twisting through magnificent rain forests and towering volcano’s, that’s all very well if you have the time, but I haven’t, bloody visa.
I was averaging 40k an hour, so I elected to stay the night in a mountain town called Bajawa, 15OO metres up in the cool air. Nice place to stop off, cheap hotel, except you get an early morning wake up call from that human Moslem rooster again, shit don’t those buggers sleep!
I made my way through the mountains the next morning, and arriving at ENDE, (an appropriate name for a town) I again try and locate the ferry wharf. I finally find the place, why do the Indo’s make all their roads in towns, one way! To confuse foreigners, that’s why. Anyway, after a number of conflicting stories about ferry times, different towns, you name it, these Indo’s will tell you anything, they are just bloody annoying sticky beaks, volunteering all types of bullshit, perhaps just to make them feel good, I don’t know. Anyway I found a shipping company and the guy, who spoke good English, informed me the ferry leaves on Monday at 10.00am. Shit a 3 day wait in downtown Ende!

21-03-05
It’s funny how you meet some characters on your travels, I was having diner at the “SAFARI HOTEL”, (a reasonable standard by Indo standards, at $8A a night, I wasn’t complaining,) when a immaculately clean 1150cc BMW GS adventurer turned up with a spotlessly clothed rider aboard, I immediately thought he must be a rich local, with the obvious omission of any luggage. The guy was talking to the hotel owner in Indo, he eventually approached me, while I was in the restaurant having diner, after spotting my bike.
It turns out he is a rich Indo from JAKARTA, who is on 14 day “ADVENTURE RIDE” from JAKARTA to FLORES, with 6 of his also rich mates, all on $20,000A bikes, now don’t get me wrong, anybody who does that ride and back in 14 days needs a medal, until he informs me, he has also a full backup team of 2 pickup trucks, one with a qualified mechanic and heaps of spares and also the forward vehicle, which contains all their luggage and runs in front of the group with flashing lights and police type sirens! After comparing me and a fully loaded DORIS, the guy looked at me in a very puzzled way, I think he and his mates wanted to impress me, I said goodbye and headed for the ferry to TIMOR. Rich Asians have a very peculiar idea on what riding motorcycles are all about.
As there is no vehicle ramp to access the ferry at ENDE, your bike needs to be manhandled over the gang plank and through a narrow opening in the side of the ship. You have to pay the wharfies an exorbitant amount on top of your ferry ticket for the privilege. Just as I was sorting out DORIS, and bolting on my panniers, (she wouldn’t fit through the hole fully loaded) 2 more trail bikes arrived, get carried through the ships side opening with relative ease, and end up beside me, and at once complaining to me about the cost of the wharfies, as I set the precedent, little did I know that I paid double the going price of 50,000R,
The 2 guys are French, and have lived in BALI for the past 12 years or so, they make a living traveling through Indonesia on their 125cc trail bikes, buying and selling artifacts to dealers in France. They have even been to BURMA, dealing in precious stones, and around 2 years ago they bumped into my old mate David Unkovich on a trip to Northern LAOS. Both their bikes had a lot of functional, but primitive homemade improvisions, designed to ride as lightly loaded as possible, it made DORIS look like a bloody pack mule. As they say each to their own. True adventures, they were off to the East TIMOR border in the search for some primitive tribal artifacts. Talk about a contrast with the group I met earlier. Their age, 40 and 54, beats a mortgage and an office job.
The voyage to KUPANG in TIMOR took 15 hours, the ferry arrived in the right time, but we left 3 hours late, at 3.30am we disembarked and I immediately headed for the Indonesian Border, as my 30 day visa was on its last day. DILI was 430k away, with no sleep on the ferry, (I lay beside my bike, on the steel vehicle deck and using the bike cover as a ground sheet) it was going to be hard long 9 hour ride, with about 3 hours in the black jungle night. I arrived at the INDONESIAN/EAST TIMOR border around 11.00am, a quick stop for immigration and Carnet stamping then I was almost ready for my final ride to DILI, when at the EAST TIMOR customs shack (and that’s all it is) a friendly armed soldier asks to inspect ALL your luggage, so another half hour goes by, while 2 armed guards go through every bit of clothing and equipment that I carried on DORIS. Always asking the same bloody questions that are universal in this part of the world, “what is this?” “How much?” “Where from?” Shit you get fed up with this crap.
It is the first time I have had my entire luggage searched in all the border crossings I have crossed in 12 months of riding, and ironically into one of the poorest, they also sting you for $30US entry visa, one of the most expensive in Asia.
EAST TIMOR is one of the poorest countries I have visited so far, yet everything is in US Dollars, courtesy of the good old UN and the dozens of NGO’s, that are attracted through necessity or otherwise to these “emerging countries”. Just look at CAMBODIA and the consequences of over charging and exorbitant costs after the UN had gone.
Luckily for me I had sent an email to SDV Logistics in East Timor, about shipping DORIS to DARWIN, I knew that a ship was to leave on the 24/03/05. They are the shipping agent for PERKINS SHIPPING and are very helpful. So DORIS is now in a container ready for a 36 hour ship cruise to DARWIN. I am sitting at DILI Airport waiting for my flight to DARWIN.
BEWARE, EAST TIMOR IS EXPENSIVE!
Cost of shipping motorcycle from DILI to DARWIN: $260US, in comparison, from DARWIN to SINGAPORE: $180A.
Cost of a plane ticket, one way from DILI to DARWIN: $313US, in comparison, SYDNEY to BRISBANE: $120A
Cost of one shitty hotel room, with a clunky AC and no ventilation: $15US
Cost of a can of coke: $1.50US.
Fact: It has cost me more to get me and my motorcycle from DILI to DARWIN than from CHIANG MAI to DILI, including fuel, accommodation, ferry tickets and food!
Total kilometers covered from leaving EAST JAVA to DILI (not including ferry crossings, 5 in total, with an accumulated time of 30 hours.): 1619 km’s at a moving average of 51km/hr. with a top speed of 106k/h.


Posted by Tom Forde at 12:19 AM GMT
April 22, 2005 GMT
24-03-04 - BACK TO AUSTRALIA

It was a really weird feeling as I sat in the small twin engine plane on my way to DARWIN. With a few whiskey and sodas from the cheerful air hostess, the memories from the last 11 months came flooding back. Nine ASIAN countries and close to 40,000k’s, were has all the time gone? Shit, I could have ridden to Europe.
The highlights and lows? The costs? Would I do it again? What does the future hold? Have I changed? Probably more importantly, how will I finance the next adventure, and when and were will I go? All these questions were raging through my head.
Before I new it, the lights of DARWIN appeared below. The small airplane’s wheels slammed into the runway, and with a slight slew to the left, I was back in my home country. It was 6.30pm and dark, as usual getting through Customs and picking up my luggage was a breeze (unlike Sydney, were I seemed to get picked on by the dike, female Customs Officers). Finding a taxi, it was off to the Golf Course Motel, were I stayed on my way to Asia,11 months earlier, for $40A a night, surprise, inflation is alive and well in OZ, its now $110A. Taxi! Find me a cheap Motel! I ended up finding a motel in Mitchell Street, in the middle of town, for $60A.
The following morning, it was off to PERKINS Shipping to enquire about DORIS, God all mighty, I forgot about Easter! All these religious holidays! I guess I should have done my homework, so now I have to wait in DARWIN for the holiday to finish and organize the release of my bike.
Time goes slowly in a strange town, especially on a public holiday like Easter, Darwin was practically deserted, there were a few overseas tourists, but as the official dry season hadn’t begun, it was conspicuously devoid of Aussies.

Finally the Tuesday after the Easter holiday dawned, you beauty I can now get my bike out of customs. As usual the Aussy Customs and Quarantine Departments are pretty efficient; however I didn’t expect to pay the QD, a sum of $75A for the privilege to let me know my bike was clean! I met up with the Customs guys at 2.30pm; there was 2 officers, a young woman in her 20’s and her superior, whom I had met at the office earlier. We all jumped into the Customs car and headed off to where Doris was waiting. The first thing I noticed was a ring of white salt, about 25mm wide, surrounding her, asking the officer what it was for, he answered,” just in case you brought some Indonesian snails with you,” I replied, “ thank God for that, I thought it was another bloody religious ceremony.’
By this time the younger officer was diligently checking my Carnet off against the bikes frame and engine numbers, the trouble is she couldn’t find the engine number, I asked her would the rego papers do? Her immediate answer was, “No! I must check your engine number in case you got a new engine in Asia, therefore you would have to pay import tax.”
Not trying to offend the young lady, who was obviously very serious about her job, I replied, “why would I swap over a perfectly good engine, that’s still under BMW Warrantee, with a dodgy Asian copy? Even if I could find one!” Hearing this conversation, the older officer calmly looked under the motor and asked,” what was that number again?” “Oh, here it is right next to the sump plug, just sign the Carnet and we can go home.” He gives me a wink and off they went, and I was left with a signed Carnet and a bike ready to ride south. That guy must have good eyes, because there is a bash plate covering the sump plug.

It was now 3.30pm, I had arranged with the local Honda dealer to use some his equipment to change the oil in Doris, and obviously I bought the oil from them. This done it was back to the Motel, and begin packing for an early start in the morning.

Tuesday, 29th March.
It was an early rising at 6.00am, I started packing up Doris for the 4000k ride to Brisbane, the first thing I noticed was my bike cover was partially pulled away at the rear. A closer inspection of the bike revealed about half a dozen cuts diagonally across the tread and a puncture wound, like the point of a Stanley knife into the tread below the cuts. Luckily the tyre was still inflated. Next to the bike beside the wall was 3 empty beer cans and a couple of empty bourbon and cokes.
This is in a Secured car park, under lights and supposedly guarded! In almost 12 months of riding through Asia, I have never experienced any security problems with my bike. Welcome back to Australia!
I made an expedient ride out of Darwin and headed straight for DALEY WATERS, about 500k south. I had some pleasant memories from there on my ride up; I wonder if old Knocker is still living there in his old bus? Sure enough, no sooner had I pulled up and walked into the bar, a big hand grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “ Were ya been?” A few beers with my old mate, a good cold shower, and I was ready to reacquaint myself with this very unique pub, it still attracts a disproportionate amount of characters compared with other places I have been in OZ.
You don’t realize how big this bloody country is. How flat and how boring it is to ride from Darwin to the Queensland coast in the East. The side winds you encounter as you head East across the Barkly Highway has to be believed, I sat at around 120k/h with the bike at a constant 5 degree lean, (from the vertical, I am definitely not Rossi!) The resultant fatigue, combined with the heat and boredom really takes it toll, and with 6 to 7 hours in the saddle, I had enough so it was always a search for a reasonable caravan park around 2.00pm in the afternoons to rest my weary bones.
I have also noticed the definite rise in the cost of living in Aussy since I have left, $1.45 for a litre of Premier Fuel, come on! Also a year ago, I could get a good cabin in a caravan park for $40, now its $60, gee, I hope my real estate has gone up that much!
Because this years wet season was not as severe as the previous, the number of Kangaroo road kills are way down, but the cattle kills are way up. The smell of death invades your nostrils every couple of k’s, and as you approach the carcasses lying on the side of the road, an immediate waving of wings surprise you as you rapidly close in on the carrion gorging themselves on the raw meat, often than not you have to take evasion methods to miss running head on into a very large eagle or hawk, trying to gain altitude with a full belly.
The number of road trains are down too, perhaps because I am a month early and the cattle roundup hasn’t began. Mum and Dad of the SAD’s club (SEE AUSTRALIA and DIE) are in fewer numbers too, maybe they leave later, with their expensive 4WD’s and Caravans, in convoy, meandering north, just like the predictable migratory patterns of the Sperm Whales, who swim up the East coast around Easter, who knows.

I had to get to Brisbane in six days as I had an interview for a new job, doing around 700k a day from Darwin to Brisbane is not what I call fun. The old saying “it’s the journey, not the destination”, doesn’t ring true on this direct route, probably the most boring I have encountered in 12 months.
As I got closer to the Queensland border, the amount of SAD’s grew ever larger, it must be the start of the great immigration north, a lot of Victorian registered vehicles, probably getting out of the cold weather.
I finally got to Brisbane at lunch time and immediately rode to Morgan and Whackers, the local BMW franchise, to book Doris in for a service and a general health check up. The foreman immediately booked my bike in and nonchalantly told me, “mate, we are real busy, can’t fit you in for 3 weeks!” Shit I’m glad I’m not a world traveler!

Well it’s all over until next time, now were is that map of South America?
I took 6 days to get to Brisbane, nursing Doris all the way, total distance, 3437k, max speed 130k/h, moving average 100k/h. The tyres I replaced in Chaing Mai, 12,000k have seen better days as have the brake pads. Interestingly the chain and sprocket set I purchased from the Aussy company “Chain Gang”, and had installed at the same time, come through with flying colours, not needing any adjustment, despite the hammering Indonesia gave the bike.

Posted by Tom Forde at 03:32 AM GMT
 



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10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!


What turns you on to motorcycle travel?


Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!


New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.


Books & DVDs

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All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.


Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

Story and photos copyright ©

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Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
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