February 13, 2003 GMT
Out of Asia

Sitting contemplating my pleasantly sweaty navel in the Indonesian touristic vacuum otherwise known as Bali, South East Asia has left me with decidedly mixed emotions. There have been many high points, but these are tainted by the disappointment of missing both the Golden Triangle and Laos when the second cylinder head stud popped out on the way to Chiang Mai.

Can this guy clean a bike or what! If you're heading to Aus, it's well worth checking out Melaka for that all important pre-quarantine bike wash.


First indication of trouble came in the form of an astonishingly loud death rattle from the right hand cylinder head whilst driving the beautiful road that winds its way North through Thailand alongside the Burmese border. I hoped that either the head needed re-torquing or that the tappets had gone badly out of adjustment, and wouldn’t contemplate another stud problem. Front brake pads were getting low anyway, so I abandoned the wiggly stuff before reaching the (in)famous Mae Hong Son loop and picked up a main road into Chiang Mai.

German Jo at Jo’s Bike Shop was extremely helpful and allowed me space to checkout the bike. Two of the head studs were loose, so I torqued them all down to 35Nm and reset the tappets. The exhaust gasket had also collapsed, so the Coca-Cola company provided a lightweight aluminium replacement. With the rattle now eliminated and the silencer silencing, the bike was cleaned to perfection by one of Jo’s beautiful assistants. You just don’t get staff like this at Birkenhead’s All American Hand Wash.

The following night, I met up with David Unkovich and Greg Frazier at the Kafe. David is pretty much the authority on motorcycling in Laos and the Golden Triangle, whilst Greg has written many books and articles on round the world touring. Seemed like a good place to pick up some local intelligence… What I didn’t account for was that Greg had been leading a bunch of Americans around the area on enduro bikes, and these guys were real thirsty. Apparently I held my own and talked the legs off the lot of them! Cheers Jim and company (in the unlikely event that any of you are sober enough to read this).

As luck would have it, my old school friend Rupert Smith was in town and it was great to finally visit him, his wife Noi and their baby Tara in their home. Obviously a night out followed, accompanied by chap who makes saxophones out of bamboo. And they work too, but he’s since rejected requests from Porsche to produce pistons from the large diameter growths.

I wanted to give the BMW a shakedown run and make sure that the problems were fixed before heading into Laos. So, Rup hopped on the back with a ridiculous helmet and we headed off to spend the night in the small town of Pai. It’s a really nice town and a great run out, but half way there the rattle returned with a vengeance. It was so loud that Rup actually woke up and I finally knew my plans for Laos were scrap. A quick peek under the rocker cover confirmed that the second exhaust stud was indeed going AWOL. We limped the bike back to Chiang Mai and stuck it on the next night train back to Bangkok. This was not an easy thing to do, and I got comprehensively ripped off doing it. But that’s another story.

Africa Twin riding Maarten (last seen in Islamabad) was enjoying breakfast at the Bamboo Guest House as the BMW rattled into view. We were soon joined by Belgian Transalp pilot and good egg, Phillipe, who I had run into earlier in Chiang Mai. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their many tales of complete and utter reliability from their Hondas. Phillipe’s even caught on fire and still ran.

I must just mention the public transport used on the river North of Bangkok. They’ve got these long thin speed boats that seat about 10 people. And there’s a massive un-silenced diesel engine nailed on the back. The driver and co-pilot wear crash helmets as these things hammer down the river, exhausts glowing in the dark and spitting flames. I swear they are doing well over 40mph and the noise is louder than a 747 on full throttle. It’s eerie to watch them rocketing down the river into the dark and wonder what would happen if, heaven forbid, one hit anything.

Eventually the bike is fixed, so I load up and make my way South towards Singapore. The boat that will take my bike to Darwin is due to leave on the 11th Feb, and I must be there on the 7th to clear the paperwork. News also reaches me that Adrian will be back on the 2nd Feb, but it will be impossible for him to make the boat, and I just can’t wait until the next one at the end of Feb.

I press on and get as far as Krabi, where the beaches were used for ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ or ‘Dr. No’ or something. I never did find out as I spent my time there trying to find the cause of the disconcerting backfire that had developed over the previous 500 miles. Coca Cola’s exhaust gasket material must have melted in the heat, so I got some slightly thicker gauge metal from a Porsche chassis and made yet another new gasket. As Rupert would say ‘TIT’ (This Is Thailand)!

Next up was Malaysia and a two day stop-over in Kuala Lumpur. At the tail-end of Chinese New Year, the city was clean, peaceful and quiet; a pleasure to explore in fact. I even took in some traditional Malaysian dancing and joined the other tourists at the Petronas Towers. But what’s the point in visiting the world’s tallest building and only being allowed halfway up? Apparently, the architects didn’t think it would be the tallest and so didn’t bother with any observation areas. Oh well, the KL tower just across the road is actually higher as it stands on a hill. So I went up that.

It might be the end of Asia for my road trip, but Singapore’s quite nice too. Not the cheapest place to buy consumer electronics anymore, and the beer can be steep at up to 5 quid a pint, and the only hotel room I can afford resembles a glove box. But, look around and there is great, cheap food everywhere, old colonial buildings are fabulous and there’s a great bar in Little India where they have absolutely no respect for opening hours.

However, nothing is ever simple in Asia and the shipping agent for my boat changed at the beginning of February. When I arrive at the port to put the bike into a container, I discover that the new people have never loaded a bike and that the ship’s captain wants it to rot in the salt spray on deck. Some nonsense about a potential fire risk. Of course I don’t want the bike rusted to its constituent elements in the South China Sea and insist on an enclosed container. One becomes available after only 6 or 7 hours, so I steal some ratchet straps and secure the bike myself in the 40 degree heat. I hope they’ve not been missed, but that load of steel pipes did look a little precarious afterwards.

Next day, I throw away my first parking ticket and fly out of Singapore to Bali for a four day break from motorcycles. Rather than get bored and just stew in the heat, I immediately enrolled on a PADI scuba diving course and have just completed the first day as I write this epistle. In one short reef dive, I saw two sea snakes, poisonous stone fish, poisonous lion fish and two ruddy great eels. The plan (Ha!) is to finish (hopefully successfully) the diving course by the 15th when I have to fly straight out to Darwin in time to pick up the bike. We shall see….

Posted by Sean Kelly at 01:04 PM GMT

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