Welcome to our blog! Our plan is to ride the Honda Transalp from Paris, France to Sydney, Australia beginning in April 2005. We expect to be in Sydney in a year or so, give or take a few months. Along the way we hope to meet some people and have a bit of fun, but more importantly learn a little more about the world and ourselves.
We expect to visit the following countries along the way: France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran or the Central Asia 'Stans, Pakistan, India, Nepal or Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia & Australia.
This blog will be our travel diary throughout our journey. We will try to keep it updated as often as we can, hopefully at least once a week. Thanks for visiting!
Dave & Erika
The advantage of an airplane is that it saves you a bunch of time and gets you across Nepal to Thailand when you are not allowed to take your big bike into Myanmar. The advantage of a motorcycle is that you don't have to check your lighter and manicure scissors as potential weapons of mass destruction before boarding. There are actually a few other advantages to motorcycle travel as well.
After months of awe when shops offer more than a dusty shelf of tinned sardines and vodka, Bangkok blows us away. Feast your eyes on freeways! Drop your jaws at shopping malls! Gawk at people everywhere! Wonder why not a one of them is sweating a drop in this stultifying muggy heat! Dripping impolitely, we scramble aboard the air-conditioned Sky Train, which will be used until the bike can be retrieved from the airport. Someone in Nepal, shipping the bike on Saturday, forgot to mention that airport cargo is closed on Sundays and Monday is a Buddhist holiday.
The traffic is so bad in Bangkok that the Sky Train will come in handy even after the bike shows up. Whizzing along its elevated tracks feels like being a kid on some futuristic ride at Disneyland with wall-to-wall skyscrapers rushing forward at every bend. At the same time, curly temple roof corners and market sellers' umbrellas peek out through the concrete. Both of us visited in Bangkok over 20 years ago; neither remembers so much development.
Right side, left side, right side again. Side of the road one drives on, that is. Cruising over the Mekong River via the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge, you're on the left. But as soon as you touch Lao soil, it's over to the right. This should make driving a familiar breeze since that's the way we do it at home. But we've been driving on the left for so long now that it takes a minute to get used to switching back. We'll find out later that ours is one of the last motorcycles allowed across the bridge at this time due to some mysterious bureaucratic reaction to who-knows-what. This apparently happens from time to time.
Laos immediately feels more sparse and poor than Thailand. It's not far to the capital, Vientiane. We're barely sure we've entered it, as the broad streets are rather nondescript and virtually empty of cars. Near the riverbank is a smaller, pleasant neighborhood centered on one of many gracious temples (wats). Its guardian makes sure all are behaving properly within.
There is a small children's festival taking place, which we stroll through while snacking on pounded dried squid with spicy vinegar sauce. Rather, Erika snacks on pounded dried squid with spicy vinegar sauce while Dave looks for something else to eat. He'll be happy to learn that baguettes are common due to France's history in Laos and will enjoy their legacy with eggs daily for breakfast. Some of the older people here still speak French. Erika keeps forgetting to try to use hers.
Electronics and dried medicinal fungus sit side by side at the large covered Morning Market. Got all the medicinal fungus we need, but Dave finds a calculator.
The young monk is also more interested in modern amenities.
The Lao doctor told Dave to stay off the bike for a month so his fractured collarbone (incurred during The Pakse Bovine Encounter) can heal properly. Dave's been bearing up like a trooper; but unable to do much of anything for the last week, he's starting to go bonkers. His second favorite thing after feeling wind on his neck from the seat of a motorcycle is feeling breeze of the air conditioning from the heart of a shopping mall. So after a week's rest in Pakse, Laos we're heading via bus and plane back to Bangkok. While border crossings from inside passenger vehicles are less than ideal, this one will have to do given the current circumstance. One last meal at the napkin-strewn feeble-fanned cafe with great coconut noodle soup, one last view of the Mekong beyond old town Pakse rooftops, one last longing look at the bike from which we'll be separated for the next 3 weeks, and it's off to Thailand again.
March in Thailand and Laos ain't no cool and breezy picnic--even the dust pants, dehydrated and paralyzed in a stagnant haze. Half an hour shuffling through customs is only good in that it makes you appreciate the air-conditioned bus. Otherwise, being on a bus is sending Dave into fits of antsy fervor to be back on the bike. Erika on the other hand kinda likes the cushy seats.
We arrive in Ubon Ratchathani at dusk and indulge in some excellent international-chain pizza. Ubon looks modern in that bland mid-sized-Thai-city way, especially compared to much less developed Laos. Erika's camera kicks the bucket, leaving her fingers twitching uselessly at scenic spots. She borrows Dave's until the next shopping spree in Bangkok.
We're making one last foray into Laos to pick up the bike after Dave's collarbone's three week recovery in Thailand. Back on the plane to Ubon Ratchathani, back on the bus through customs into Laos, back on the bus some more into Pakse. Jerome at the Pakse Hotel has generously allowed us to store the motorcycle even though we never actually stayed there. In appreciation and self-indulgence we treat ourselves to a decadent couple nights' lodging at the Pakse. As if reuniting with the motorcycle wasn't heaven enough for Dave.
It's April 5. This marks the one year anniversary, more or less, of the trip's inception. According to original plan, right around now we'd be heading back home. In reality there's a long way to go. Adding in an extra month to more fully explore Pakistan, an extra 3+ weeks to recover from various and sundry minor illnesses, and an extra month to recover from the fractured collarbone has put us a quarter year behind schedule. We have to skip Cambodia but still plan to travel through Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. That's gotta be another 8000 miles. Dave never loses inspriation, but sometimes Erika questions whether she has the energy to keep on going. Sometimes it feels like she doesn't; but she doesn't intend to quit, either.
We stroll through town, checking out the indoor market near the famous Pakse hospital and watching people loading stuff on buses bound for elsewhere.
You wonder where they're going and what kind of lives they lead. There's so much you can't understand when you don't speak the local language. You can only wonder, making up stories about fishermen wrestling with sea monsters as you savor your last Lao dinner on the dusky Mekong.
It's a short ferry rideacross the river from Thailand into Malaysia. Since it is Friday afternoon, most everyone in this Muslim country is praying. If they're not praying, they're certainly not hanging out at the customs office. We're anticipating a long wait for someone to return but somehow manage to locate an official who runs through all the usual border-crossing routines.
While majority-Buddhist Thailand's southern corner was largely Muslim, this corner of Malaysia reveals a surprising number of Buddhist temples. Some are full of people celebrating Songkran, the Buddhist New Year. We don't get cleansed with any roadside water dousings though. Eastern Malaysia is more conservative than other parts of the country as evidenced in peoples' dress and religious sensibilities. Signs are written in Arabic, Chinese and Bahasa Malaya. It's nice to see Latin script used in Bahasa Malayan signs after dealing for so long with the mysteries of written Thai, Lao, Hindi, Nepali, and other indecipherables. Even though we still have no idea what any of it says. The three predominant groups in most of the country are Indian (not an Arabic speaking nationality), Chinese and Malay.
As a typical tourist, you enter a country via the largest city's airport. Traveling by road, we cross borders via some pretty obscure places. Don't tell the people who live in those places we said that. We've never heard of Kota Bharu but it's actually the capital of the state of Kelantan. This large city boasts numerous museums and attractions but they're all closed Fridays. The night market is open so we head over, still hungry after a restaurant noodle dinner. Dave likes to go to the Chinese places since they're the only ones that serve beer.
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