Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Seeing Thailand by Motorcycle- an adventure on the road

We had decided that hiring big bikes and taking a tour was to be a big part of our trip this time and with some research Carol found a company called Thai Moto that was offering a pair of Kawasaki ER6N bikes fora good price. On our arrival we were greeted by a smiling chap with an Eastern European accent and a friendly manner. He called the owner Vitaly and told us to try a couple of bikes for comfort, which was a good idea because I found that the ER6 seat did not fat my colossal fat arse! However when I sat on a CB500f I found a perch that fitted my backside almost as well as my customised seat on my precious Sylvie. The ER6 while being half the size of Carol's ZRX Noreen, is still a very capable bike and with the modified exhaust it has the growl of a much larger machine. The CB500f is a little machine, it handles with the ease of a smaller bike while having enough power to be enjoyable.

The cost of the two bikes was 30 000 Baht with a deposit of another 30 000 Baht, an amount that equates to roughly £1200. We handed over the cash and were given the keys to the two bikes, which was a bit of a bugger because we had borrowed Marie's bike to get to the shop from the hotel. Well I say hotel, but what we had was a single room bungalow, with a bed and a fan on the most glorious beach you have ever seen. The polished tile floor was cool to the touch and the bed divine. There are a couple of rough edges, but otherwise this is the tropical paradise that many seek but never find.


We got the bikes back by making a couple of trips and with them parked up outside the hotel we retired to the bungalow once more and then for a dip in the sea. There was not a great deal to see on the sea floor, but the water was cool with out being cold and the sand felt soothing on my feet, paradise found, sorry Milton! Swimming with Carol was once more a delight and the shower afterwards put the cherry on the top of the Paradise cake.

The following day was Songkran, the Thai new Year and what this means is that the whole nation gets out on the streets and has a giant water fight. There are water pistols, hose pipes and buckets of water being thrown about. You would not think that riding bikes on such a day would be a good idea, but it was so much fun I would do it again with in a heartbeat. After a kilometre into our journey we were both drenched but in the heat of the day it was not only cool, but soothing to the skin. The only downside being the water got into our radio sets and even now days later, it is still buggered! When we stopped for fuel, I purchased a water pistol that had a back pack mounted water tank and Carol had her small water pistol filled up, ready for battle on the road once again. The sense of fun was everywhere, but there was one dirty trick being played by some of the water throwers, ice cold water from a tank filled with crushed ice and this would be poured down our backs, causing a small squeal of laughter as the water trickled into the most intimate of places. It was an experience not to be missed and the smiles of the local people as we joined in made the event a very special day for us both, even if it did take several hours to dry out!

Koh Samui to Kao Sok

A couple of days later we hit the road on the start of our trip to Phuket (pronounced Poo-Ket and not fuck-et!), local Thai drivers were up to their usual maniacal tricks and as usual the minivan drivers being the worst offenders. It is these antics that make the roads of Thailand so dangerous and the accident statistics prove it, the roads in Thailand are the second most dangerous in the world. Red traffic lights are treated as optional, sudden lane changes are performed with no warning and if some one wants to drive on the piece of road we occupy, they will have a damn good go at it! We had more than a couple of scares, some of which felt like brushes with death as minivans pushed us into the verge or simply tries to run us down. There is no malicious intent, just no consideration for other drivers, tail gating is common practice and speeding is almost compulsory. More frightening again is that the locals and the tourists will choose to ride 125cc bikes and scooters with no protective gear at all and even while wearing flip flops! Bike helmets are carried in the baskets on the front of the bikes and with bare knees and hands, the thought of what happens should one of the riders go sliding down the road is simply horrifying. Thankfully after a couple more near misses we arrived at the ferry port on Koh Samui and bought our tickets. five hundred Baht for us and two bikes is more than reasonable and it makes us realise just how expensive public transport is back home.

The ferry journey was smooth and not once did I want to throw up despite my not taking travel sickness pills. I am usually pretty bad on boats and have even felt sick on a Kayak, so this was a bonus for me. The pair of us sat on the car deck and even managed a little snuggle as we made the crossing, mind you we also sat there just incase the bikes got unstable if the swell rose, but they were fine and we just enjoyed a quiet crossing with every one else crammed onto the passenger deck. The ninety minute crossing was to use a cliché, "plain Sailing" and we docked exactly on time, a thing that the State Railway Thailand could learn a thing about. Driving off the ferry were several large trucks, a few 4x4 pick ups, a couple of scooters and finally us, hitting dry land with our wheels and the start of our epic journey got the heart racing. It was about 170 miles to Kao Sok and the lodge and we expected the roads to be difficult due to them being mainly the Thai equivalent of our A-roads, but they were pretty clear for much of the journey and we made good progress.

We pulled to a stop when the conditions changed. Five hundred meters ahead of us it was raining, we could see the boarder of the rain and it was strange to see it sat in one place like it was, a defined line between weather. So as we pulled on out wet weather gear, we lamented the end of the dry easy riding. Fortunately in Thailand, the rain is warm as is the wind so riding in the rain was really nice and we even managed to cool down enough to really start enjoying the weather. After the long hot summer, the road had taken on a greasy sheen and as the rain fell, the grease lifted and the roads started to feel a little slippery in the corners, but even this was OK, the Thais really know how to make an interesting road.

The rain forest is beautiful, but as we shot along the road the most obvious thing to see was the destruction of the natural rain forest as it was pulled up, burned down and then replaced with palm oil trees or rubber trees. It is so sad to see first hand the degradation of the rain forest, the soil stripped of life and left to blow away as dust, there is also litter everywhere, it seems that the Thais have no issue with dropping a plastic bottle in the rain forest or anywhere else come to that. There is so much beauty here and it is being ruined by inappropriate agriculture, rubbish disposal and a lack of care for the environment. To really make a difference, the whole of the Thai people would need to be educated in waste disposal, a challenge I would gladly undertake.

Our arrival in Kao Sok was a blessing and as soon as I got off my bike I felt the peace and tranquility of Mr Bao's resort, well apart from the scream of the cicadas, the half retch half belch of the toads and the chattering of the squirrels. I love the lodge so much, it feels like a part of my soul has decided to stay there and once I am there, I feel nothing but joy, love and happiness, a weird and conflicting thought process for a Goth.

Kao Sok to Phuket

Leaving the rain forest is always a heart ache, the beauty of the Lodge and the peace of the days there just seem to make life substantially better. Once on the road we settled into the rhythm of the journey, with only one hundred and three miles to go on relatively good roads, it looked like an easy day, even the rain was gentle on us and provided a little cooling to the heat of the day. Almost as soon as it fell though it was dry again and roads were easy for the most part.

The biggest challenge of the day was once again the other road users, Thai minivan drivers are notorious maniacs and the stress of dealing with them slowly builds up until all we can do is pull over and take a break from the ride. There is a big culture here for car customisation and being nearly pushed off the road by a Honda with wide wheels, barely fitting tyres and a rear wing the size of the tail on the A380 we flew in on, is hardly a pleasant experience. But as we drew closer to Phuket, the near misses just got more frequent and more dangerous. When two minivans boxed us in and then tried to push us into the Armco barrier, enough was enough and simply opened the throttle on the bikes, the engines roared and sped into the distance, only to be chased by the speeding vans. One does wonder what it takes for a Thai person to learn to drive because changing lanes with out looking, tail gating and bullying other road users out of the way are very common practices. Driving here is dangerous, but it does not have to be this way, but how do you affect every driver and make them understand the dangers of their actions?

Phuket is lethal, the driving there is the worst that I have ever seen and frankly the stress of riding through the heavy traffic was starting to make me feel very anxious indeed. On several occasions we simply had to pull over for our own safety and once off the bikes we needed a few minutes to get our breath back. My shoulder pain had increased to the point of almost agony and my hand and wrist had fused into one hard bony claw. The heat was also intense and combined all of this was enough to make me want to cry into my helmet, but Carol's reassuring voice through the radio kept me going. Then finally we reached out journeys end and we simply had to locate the hotel...

Oh yeah right, just find the hotel, book in and get some rest. Such simple words, but when your hotel is new and no one really knows where it is, stopping and asking for directions just gets blank stares and a shake of the head. It is not like they have a great big sign nailed to the wall outside our room is it! Thankfully the sign was a glowing beacon, a sign from the Gods that our journey was at an end we could rest safely in a bed so comfortable and huge, even Carol, Jasper my cat and I together would not fill it up! As we booked in and got our room key I noticed a tiny kitten sat in the hotel garden, a tiny black bundle of fur sat on the cool stone floor. I could not help but pick her up for a cuddle and as I did so, she started purring and went to sleep on the palm of my hand. I desperately wanted to take her home, but as a street stray, who knows what parasites and diseases she could be carrying.

Finally we checked into our room, the air conditioning was on, the place was cool and the shower was so inviting as to be palatial. The stresses of the road melted away with the grime we had picked up along the way as the clean water soothed our skin and painful insect bites.
After a hard day in the saddle, we were at last safe and comfortable, well until we wanted to go for a walk, but that is another story.