January 29, 2005 GMT
Top End and Tobruk Mice
This part of the Northern Territory is called Top End (which accounts for the name of my motel, as that's definitely not a description of its facilities).
Look at a map of Australia, and locate the NT; it's the big bit in the middle of the top half. The largest-scale road map you need is 1:3.5M, which shows absolutely every road and track on a sheet of A4. The entire population is no more than 200,000, of which just 71,000 live in/around Darwin. Darwin is around the size of Thatcham, and is a rather charming little seaside town.
I'm amazed that here is my first encounter with Tobruk Mice (apparently it's that time of year). Let me explain: when John first saw a 3-inch cockroach in Tobruk he thought it was a mouse as he reckoned it was impossible for such a beast to grow that big. Well, the first thing I saw in my bathroom was a 2-incher, so the second thing I did was acquire my own personal can of roach spray. Works, too. Actually, it's not a bad hotel really, and as it's the low season (The Wet) it's empty.
A far cry from my last night in Singapore - I indulged myself and spent a night at Raffles - well, it's one of the most famous hotels in the world, so it had done be done, didn't it? You really, really don't want to know the size of the bill. There are no rooms, only suites: dining room, parlour, bedroom, dressing room and bathroom. Oh, and a bellpush in every room to summon your personal valet (a very nice young man). The radio is a Bose Wave; the cold-water flask and ice bucket are solid silver; a pot of tea or coffee arrives about three minutes after you order at any time of day or night and is complimentary (as are the roses and enormous bowl of fruit). It was, well, rather nice really.
I've been informed by the shipper that the ship is due in on Wednesday, but I probably won't be able to get at the bike until Thursday or even Friday (bum); and then it's the paperwork for Customs and registration, and Quarantine which may be more difficult. The Aussies are paranoid about organic stuff coming in - I even had to declare my Digestives at the airport, and although I jet-washed the bike in Singapore they'll probably insist on it being steam-cleaned.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:48 PM
January 25, 2005 GMT
Saw an advert on the MRT train: "Nearly 4 houses are broken into every day". Apart from incredulity at this apparently almost invisible crime rate, I have to ask what they class as fractionally broken into.
Steve Davies (BMW R1150RT - silver, of course) and his wife took me out on the town on Saturday night. Had a great time, culminating in one of the hookers on Orchard Road (I think, but can't remember clearly) propositioning Steve and me as she thought I was a bloke. Well, I *was* wearing one of my very floppy T-shirts and had just had a No.2 haircut. She took a lot of convincing, and I ended up having to lift my shirt for her. Said hooker, Steve, Jenny and I were practically rolling on the ground in agony we were laughing so much. You had to be there,
Treated myself to a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. Expensive, of course, but these things have to be done and someone has to do them.
I've learnt a bit about getting cheap flights, as well. In the process of sorting out a flight to Darwin to meet the bike, I consulted both human travel agents and the web. Most of them came up with the same solutions:
a) Direct with Qantas for S$1800
b) Indirect with Singapore/Garuda (incorporating 8 hours overnight in the transit lounge at either Bali or Jakarta or a mixture of both) for around S$700
c) Indirect with Royal Brunei (incorporating 8 hours overnight in the transit lounge at Brunei) for around S$700
Hmmmmm, have you ever spent the night in a transit lounge? Let alone one with absolutely no facilities, never mind a chair. There were other suggestions, like going via KL (there's a shuttle from here to there, and the bus is pretty good).
So I went to the Qantas website and found a completely different direct flight for S$1200, which is still a lot for a five-and-a-half-hour flight but more tolerable than the other alternatives.
Tomorrow night I'm singing for my supper at the Clubhouse (which just happens to be on the premises of Performance Motors which is the BMW dealer here). So I spent yesterday morning at Ai Ling's flat sorting the pix on to one of those USB pluggy things, and I've bought a world map and scrawled on it with marker pen. Hope there's some beer.
Then I fly to Darwin on Thursday night after spending a night at Raffles (there go my savings).
Singapore has been the most expensive country so far - everything except taxis and public transport costs much more than anywhere else, including Japan. Having said that, a perfectly OK hotel room + breakfast can be had for around 30 quid a night (like at the one which poached me).
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:28 PM
January 22, 2005 GMT
Shipping the bike to Oz has been remarkably painless so far. I rang Angie Ong at Megastar Shipping to tell her I was on my way, and when I got there she already had the paperwork ready.
Two days later I went to the PSA office to get my security pass, then on to the godown on the dock. Got the carnet stamped, then rode into the warehouse, strapped riding kit on to the seat and collected the delivery note. No crating or anything. Back to the shipper to get the Bill of Lading and pay. The bill was basically in USD (hurrah), and I paid in S$ so it worked out at about 200 pounds (just have to pay about 25 pounds for wharfeage in Darwin). Simple.
Apparently the Aussies are paranoid about phytosanitary arrangements (look it up), so I've jetwashed the bike so it's cleaner than it's been since I left the UK. I suspect they'll still insist on steamcleaning, though. We'll see.
Anyway, the ship (the Venture, which looks a bit of a rustbucket) is due in Darwin on Feb 2nd.
Went for a lovely rideout the other evening - Ai Ling was on her Ducati Monster, and Martha (who's in the SGP National Rowing Team) was on her Suzuki DR650. We had a great ride around the jungly countryside bits of the island - did nearly 100 miles, if you can believe that (SGP is considerably smaller than the IoM).
Around 11pm Martha started feeling a little chilly and put a long-sleeved shirt on, so I offered her my heated vest. She tried it on and was completely gobsmacked. Well, it never gets below 20C here. Ever. Your reflective riding kit is decorative stuff embroidered on a nice cotton twill short-sleeved shirt (or maybe long-sleeved for late at night).
Singapore is surprisingly green. There's even a fair chunk of primary rainforest here, and places where you have to avoid the monkeys. Within the City itself there's a lot of green - it's certainly not a concrete jungle, whatever it may look like from photos.
Ai Ling's flat is under the flight path to the air force base, and currently there's a constant stream of C130s and similar planes coming in with aid which is then redistributed to smaller planes to take to Sumatra. The flat is also across the road from the BMW dealer :-)
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:26 PM
January 19, 2005 GMT
Tomorrow morning I'll ride the bike into a container at the port, and in theory I can collect it in Darwin on February 2nd. All very painless.
The BMW Club here are very friendly and helpful. Ai Ling invited me round to her flat so I could upload more pix on her broadband link, and it turns out we have exactly the same tastes in music. We've also been to the Singapore Swimming Club (she's a member) which is frightfully colonial and all that.
Riding in SGP is great. Although you can't actually go very far before you fall into the sea, at least it makes it impossible to get completely lost, and some of the roads in the parks around the reservoirs are pretty nice (so long as you avoid the monkeys). I've gone native, of course. I wear helmet and gloves, but to be honest the thought of wearing much more than a T-shirt in this heat and humidity practically makes me faint on the spot. The one-way system is rather impenetrable, but you can always find your way around in the end. The only fly in the ointment really is the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP); all vehicles (including bikes) have a unit which accepts your Autopass card, and when you pass under a gantry on the way into the city centre between certain hours the money is automatically deducted from the card. I don't have one of these gadgets - just the card which I top up at any 7-Eleven to pay my S$4 a day to use the roads in general. This means I can't go into the city centre on the bike and have to be a bit careful which bit of one-way system I'm on, but isn't really too onerous.
Yesterday morning I nipped over to the hotel across the road (it's a couple of rungs up the ladder from mine) to make a couple of photocopies and send faxes. The Desk Manager enquired as to the terms at my (then) current hotel, then offered me a much better room at the same price and including breakfast. So this morning I checked out of the Sloane Court and checked into the Garden. I've never been poached by an hotel before.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:23 PM
January 16, 2005 GMT
How to get your Bike into Singapore
1. Check into hotel in Johor Bahru (JB).
2. Take taxi to insurance office, which has moved.
3. Fill in even more interminable form than usual and give them money.
4. Be told that because of yesterday's blackout the computers have been down and there's a backlog of work and they can't issue the certificate until tomorrow morning.
6. Claim that you will incur serious bodily harm from Singaporean motorcyclists if the paperwork isn't in order tomorrow morning.
7. Get vague promise of a certificate at 3pm this aftenoon.
8. Spend ages finding a taxi back to the hotel.
9. Watch the Dakar.
10. Ring insurance office and confirm certificate is available.
11. Get taxi to insurance office to get certificate, and ensure it (the taxi) waits (on a double yellow line).
12. Take said taxi to Singapore taxi stand.
13. Negotiate price to the Singapore AA office and return.
14. Go to Singapore AA.
15. Hand over:
Insurance policy and certificate
Carnet de Passage
UK Driving licence
International Driving Permit
Completed interminable form
A promise (cross my heart and hope to die) that I'll go back with the Bill of Lading from the shipping company
16. Receive in exchange:
International Circulation Permit
Er . . . that's it
17. Resume taxi mack to Malaysia.
17. Walk to hotel from Singapore taxi stand.
18. Consume several large G+Ts.
19. Affix ICP to inside of screen. Crookedly. Next to Russian one.
PS And it *still* took two hours to get from Malaysia to Singapore, despite completely correct paperwork and a very helpful Customs official. But I had company as four members of the BMW Club of Singapore came across to escort me on to their premises, so to speak.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:20 PM
January 14, 2005 GMT
Half of Malaysia was blacked out yesterday for around three hours. Great fun when I arrived in Johor Bahru - no traffic lights (just policemen with whistles) and the hotel chaotic.
I hadn't realised how narrow the straits are - it's less than half a mile across the causeway. I'll be taking the second link tomorrow (west of here) - the SGP guys say it's much easier because the tolls are much higher so most people use the original causeway. Of course, bikes don't pay tolls. Looks like I'll have to try to get the mandatory insurance today, otherwise tomorrow will be even more of a nightmare than promised. Insurance? Don't think I've had that since Russia.
Malaysia and SGP have UK-type 3-pin plugs and sockets; all the hotels I've been in have provided adapters in the rooms for RoW plugs, which I've never seen in a UK hotel (or never looked, anyway).
Petrol is about 20p a litre here; it's subsidised, and they're trying to cut down on smuggling because they don't see why foreigners should have the benefit of the subsidy. I'll just keep my head down and pay cash.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:18 PM
January 12, 2005 GMT
Gee, it's SO Historic
Melaka (or Malacca) is a charming little place. There's loads of British, Dutch and Portguese colonial stuff, and I'm staying in a guest house in Chinatown, which is full of old shophouses and temples.
Up the hill is the ruin of St.Paul's Church, where St.Francis Xavier used to preach and where he was buried for nine months before being exhumed and taken to Goa.
The average humidity here is 82%, which basically means that as soon as you go outside your shirt is sticking to you and you end up as a puddle on the pavement.
The bustling port of Melaka
The Singaporean chaps have advised that 10am on Saturday morning is a very good time to cross the causeway to Singapore, so I'll go to Johor tomorrow and stay a couple of nights there. Still looking like I'll have to airfreight to Oz direct.
Great sadness to hear of the death of Fabrizio Meoni on the Dakar. But my chum Charlie Rauseo is still hanging in there and running 70th overall (he's the guy whose bike I had in my workshop before last year's Dakar).
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:17 PM
January 09, 2005 GMT
I'm awfully impressed with Malaysia.
I've checked in to the Marriott in Kuala Lumpur, and the security card for the hotel car park is specifically for motorcycles and designed to hang on the handlebars or mirror stalk.
On the motorway, there's a sign showing an umbrella and a bike by most bridges and in some other places. This means you are officially allowed to come on to the hard shoulder and behind the bridge support to either shelter or get into your wetties. There's a small gap in the Armco for this purpose, and hard standing provided. In the absence of a bridge there are shelters.
There's no toll for bikes, of course, and a neat little go-round is provided at each toll plaza.
Petrol is around 20p a litre.
Roads are rather Spanish, driving verges on the Italian, and it's odd to ride through tropical jungle where the wildlife drowns out the noise of your tappets.
Instead of being pasted on to the ceiling, the arrow pointing to Mecca is discreetly taped inside a drwaer, and prayer mats are available from Reception.
As I rode down through Thailand (route 4 is the only road) I passed through the narrowest part - just under 11km from the east coast to the Myanmar border. I passed lots of Red Cross trucks, and there was a positive jam of them at the Phulet/Krabi turnoff; and there were still more further south, heading for Phnangna and Malaysia en route to Indonesia.
A number of people have mentioned that thay thought it was rather in bad taste for people to continue their holidays, surfing and sunbathing on Phuket island. Well, what would you do? You've just started your holiday, you can't go home as flights are full of injured and bereaved, you can't do much to help as you'll only get in the way of the professionals; so, sit in a hotel room feeling sorry for yourself, or carry on your holiday? As well as that, the only income most of the
locals have in the affected areas is from the tourists, and if you don't spend your money there they're going to be even worse off than they are already.
Malaysia is full of Landies, mainly S3s but a fair number of Defenders and later, especially in the mountains.
Thurs 6th - Bang Saphan N11 12.506 E099 32.372
Fri 7th - Hat Yai N07 00.405 E100 28.177
Sat 8th - Tanah Rata N04 28.260 E101 22.753 altitude 4721ft
Sun 9th - Kuala Lumpur
Last night at Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands was great. The road winds for 30 miles, rising from sea level to nearly 5000 feet, through tropical rainforest and, higher up, the tea plantations. Stunning ride there and back (notwithstanding the fact that it was pissing with rain yesterday afternoon). Another one to add to the list of the WGBRs.
And as you approach KL on the motorway, you come over the crest of a hill and there are the Petronas Towers in front of you. Screech to halt, pic.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:14 PM
January 05, 2005 GMT
Traffic light Grands Prix
A wonderful feature of the traffic lights at some of the intersections here in Bangkok is the countdown timer. Nice to know how long you have to get through that green light ahead. But the timers work on red as well (possibly because the phasing can be up to four minutes). You can imagine the result.
Had a slight conundrum when I donated my armful of blood. I had to fill in the usual form (not much different from the UK one), and one of the questions was "Have you been to a malaria area in the last 3 months?". Hang about, Thailand *is* a malaria area. What's all this about? Apparently Bangkok is not regarded as a malaria area. "Have you been bitten by a mosquito?" What do you think? Mossies everybloodywhere. I took advice and ticked the No boxes.
Oh, and thanks for the oil advice - I thought it was probably perfectly OK, but I like to check when I come across something outwith my experience. Interestingly, lots of locals use straight 40 or 50 grade in their engines - no need for multigrade here, really; on a cool midwinter's day like today the temperature can drop as low as 25.
I have to tell you a story about Bruce and Sonja (the people I'm staying with). They're American and have lived in Bangkok for ten years, and before that in various exotic places around the world. They had a summer biking holiday in Wales a couple of years ago, and took their bike gear with them to wear. They have wonderful 'airflow' suits which are basically made of holes with armour attached, and jolly comfortable in this climate. And wondered why they were freezing.
So this morning I reassembled the three-dimensional jigsaw of my panniers and remounted them and the topbox on the bike. All I have to do now is retrieve my laundry from Taptim (not as easy as it sounds - she'll insist on ironing everything, which will then get horribly creased when squashed into the drybag).
Tomorrow I head south towards Malaysia and Singapore. It's not far, really: 1500km to KL and another 300 to Singapore (plus a reportedly excruciating border crossing). I'll not be going directly, of course, as there's stuff I want to see on the way, but the roads are good and I can take my time.
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:10 PM
January 04, 2005 GMT
So, looks like my plans for domination of the universe have been scuppered yet again.
According to the chaps in Singapore, all the Indonesian ferries have been suspended both from there and from KL. Which is a bit of a bummer as Sumatra would have been my first equator crossing and I really, really wanted to do it on land.
Monkeys in a Thai National Park
The upshot is that the only way I can currently get to Australia is by sea- or air-freighting the bike either from KL or SGP. I have some decent recent info in the from Horizons Unlimited, so my preference is air from SGP. We'll see how it pans out.
Meanwhile, I'll probably leave BKK in the next few days and head south towards Malaysia (if Bruce and Sonja will unchain me, that is).
Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:08 PM