its a bit late for
this but I haven’t written a single word for the past 2 months, and as I now finally feel as though I’m
firmly on the road again It might be worth a little update.
Betsy was late into
Penang, predictably, so we were not reunited until the 8th of December. The time between the 13 of November and the
8th Dec is a bit of a blur. Suffice to say
that I had a lot of fun, first in KL, then Penang, then Langkawi, Koh Lipe and the same in reverse
again. Hi to Colin, Ned, Lucie, Svetska, Anna and Kelly - what an awesome few weeks!
I was excited to get B
back, and was itching to fix all the injuries she’d picked up in the last few months of our trip.
Namely, a disintegrated shock bushing from a little incident in Mongolia, headstem bearings badly worn, a
leaking clutch actuator rod seal, worn mastercylinder seals, (oh dear… the couple in the room next door are
having sex… itunes to the rescue!), a broken subframe and badly worn rear sprocket.
All this took a little
more than a day, and may have been much longer had it not been for the helpful tool store just down the road
from the banana hostel in Georgetown, Penang along with some good advice from my brother…
“hi how are you? um,
how do I get the lower bearing off the headstock?”
So with Betsy in her
best shape for 6 months, my spare set of tyres safely stored at the Love Lane Hostel, and me feeling rather
shithouse after 4 weeks on the booze we set out the following morning.
Day 1 back on the
road, I had the wind in my hair, a full tank of fuel and was really feeling it… really feeling a rather
severe weave in the bike at speed. Ho hum, I thought, must have gotten the adjustment in the headstem
bearings a little off. Pull over, tools out, loosen top triple clamp and try to take a little preload
off. No improvement.
Pull over again,
scratch head, swear, kick tyres… hmmm that rear one is a little flat! Limp to closest petrol station
and check it… 12 psi. Would be Ok on sand but not the highway. I figured it must have a leak but
thought she’d get me to Koh Lanta where I would have time, cold beer and some space to fix it
IDIOT!! 10km down the road the weave started again, this time worsening rapidly until it finally came
off the bead almost throwing me down the road. So now I was on a big highway, with only a small verge
which was being used by all the scooters anyway, trying to get Betsy onto the centre stand, then it started
Taking deep breaths
and trying to remain calm I started trying to recruit someone to help me get her onto the stand. About
5 minutes, 20cm of rain, and 30 scooters passed before one stopped and finally I had the rear wheel off to
inspect the damage.
When I fitted the
latest set of pirelli’s in Japan, I put the original ultra heavy duty tube back into service instead of the
light duty spare that had gone in last time she got a flat. In doing so I had much trouble trying to
get the tube to sit nicely in the tyre, it seemed to be a size or two too big, and kept folding. I
tried and tried eventually thinking I’d gotten it right, but of course I hadn’t, and it went in with a fold,
which when run a little flat got really hot, eventually burning a hole the size of a 20 cent piece in the
WOW I thought as I
compared the heavy duty tube to the normal one, that tube was really quite
a lot bigger…how the hell did that happen? and then FU<K! as it took over 600 pumps of my new
miniature handpump to get a little air into it. Disgusted with this sad start to my day I threw the
mess back together and rode to the nearest petrol station to finish filling it. FINALLY MOVING
As I headed off down
the highway I could see another storm front approaching, and should have taken a cue from all the little bike
riders making a beeline for any scrap of shelter, noooooo I thought, I’ve ridden across the Congo, I’ve
crossed the Sahara and seen snow on the Road of Bones, I’m NOT SCARED OF A LITTLE RAIN!
As it turns out I am
quite scared of the rain, especially monsoonal rain that saturates you in about 5 seconds, and renders
visibility to a little less than 0m. Unswayed but shitting my pants I pressed on, figuring that I was wet
now, and not particularly cold so what the hell.
This strategy paid off
as I was soon out of the rain and we travelled about another 150km before the telltale weave started
again. Not again I thought, a quick check of the gps showed no petrol stations within 20km so there was
nothing for it but to pull over, peel off a failed repair, clean it as best I could, patch it again, pump my
miniature bike pump 800 times (34psi) and remount rather unhappy.
200km further… weave
WTF!! 3 Repairs in one
day, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!
This time there was no
way I was going to do battle with the miniature pump again so I turned around and headed for a petrol station
back down the road. BUM BOW! Tyre flat, more weaving, off the bead again.
Wheel out again, tyre
off, Tube out. 3cm long tear.
Too pissed off to even
contemplate trying to patch it again, I put the spare front tube into the rear, pumped it up real tight
thanks to a passing Thai man in a ute who took me to a tyre repair bay for scooters. I had heard that
you can put a front tube in the rear in an emergency, but I still had another 130km to get to a birthday
party in Koh Lanta, and having battled Betsy the whole way I was starting to think I’d miss it and end up
camped by the side of the road while Ned and Kelly drank sambucca without me.
So I went slowly,
finally arriving just in time to catch the last ferry and arrive safely at the Ting Tong Bar on Koh Lanta,
where Betsy stayed untl the 29th of December, and
Ned and I ran the biggest bar tab ever seen on the island in a single night. I then went island hopping
from Koh Lanta (quiet) to Koh Phi Phi (party!), Phuket (filthy), back to Phi Phi for a cool Christmas, and
finally back to Koh Lanta where Betsy was faithfully waiting for me…
I managed to find
another rear tube, diameter ok but only a 100 instead of a 140, and seemingly made from cigarette paper, but
it will have to do until I get to BKK. I also fixed the torn tube and have it as a last resort too
should things go horribly wrong with the tally ho tube.
From Koh Lanta we rode
across the Thai peninsula to the Don Sak ferry terminal and made the 2 hour journey to koh samui
without incident (albeit a little more rain just for something different). We stayed there for 4 nights
and partied the night away on Koh Phangang for new years which was a lot of fun!
Leaving there I got a
message from my friend Jessica staying at the Kha Sok national park to come visit, so made the 200km ride
back across the peninsula and hung out there for a couple of nights to wind down a bit after all the
shenanigans of the past months.
This morning we took
off again and managed 500km smoothly arriving at a small town near a Burmese border post at about 8pm.
Tomorrow morning we’ll apply for an extension for Betsy’s permit from the customs office at the border, and
then ride to Bangkok (BKK) where I have some more friends to meet up with before riding to the north of
Thailand to mark the end of the temporary detour and the start of the long ride home.
Mum will be
Sitting in the customs
office in Khoh Lug… this morning I rode 20km out to the Burmese border post which was quite interesting in
itself, the ramshackle buildings and hawkers there reminded me a little of some of the better organized posts
in Africa, albeit more friendly. Unfortunately they couldn’t help me with the extension, and pointed me
to the local customs office back in the town I just spent the night in, so here I am. On arriving I
asked about the extension to which they eagerly said yes and asked for my documents, which they now
have. I don’t actually think I’m going to leave here with anything but a long delay and a cup of
coffee, still it’s better than nothing J
Which brings me to the
main issue concerning me at the moment. Betsy. She has been such a good girl for the whole trip,
really only letting me down when I’ve treated her really badly, like jumping her a metre off the ground in
Mongolia, or heading onto the frozen road of bones with a flat battery, but alas bikes are people too and she
is tired. Over 60,000km travelled and I hate to say it but I think she might be
She was dropping some
oil for a month or two from the clutch actuator shaft seal, but when I replaced it there was still oil
leaking from somewhere. I took a better look and now can see it draining out of the airbox… how does
oil get into the airbox you ask??? Good Question! (Yesterday in a 550km run she lost almost half
a litre). Oil in the airbox tells me there is too much crankcase pressure, which can really only come
from piston bypass. i.e. badly worn or a cracked ring, or worse still a problem with a
She has a big heart
does Betsy, so we will press on with the intention of following the planned route through Thailand, Loas and
Cambodia, but another 15,000km might be asking a bit much. I guess we’ll see. The big orange
motorcycle has served me well, and of late has even been quite good company J Other than the
oil loss you wouldn’t know she’s sick at all, still fires in the mornings, albeit with some choke even though
it’s stinking hot, and runs like a dream the whole time.
Now it’s one hour in
the customs office and after much shuffling of paper, turning on of ancient computers (does anyone still use
windows 95??), walking to and fro, more serving of coffee and now iced water, and assurances that all is
progressing without problems, but still no result. I told myself that if I get out of here by 11am that
will be ok, otherwise I’ll just push off and deal with it when I try to leave the country. Now I just
need to get my passport, rego paper and temporary import document back!
Hey would you believe
the Customs Wireless Network is unsecured!!?? Sent to you care of the Khoh Lug Customs
Well the temporary
import extension took 2 hours but at least it was done in the end, it took all that time to put a stamp on my
form and a signature.
The ride north to
Bangkok was… busy. Imagine scooters riding on the verge at 40km/hr (often in the wrong direction),
trucks in the left lane at 80km/hr, and most of the rest in the right lane at anywhere between 90 and
150km/hr. Then add the people on the road, the scooters crossing in places you would never expect and
many of the trucks having no lights.
I was pretty glad to
arrive in Bangkok in one piece, and even though it took me 2 hours to travel the last 5km (bikes not allowed
on motorways in BKK), I arrived feeling pretty good about things. I spent a couple of days there,
catching up with some French friends, looking for replacement tubes and oil, and then pulling betsy apart to
fit aforementioned tube and try to solve the oil loss problem… unsuccessfully, although that might just be a
valve in the breather line that is no longer working… fingers crossed!
I found a nice bit of
kerb across the road from my hostel that was level and wide enough to work on and started to pull her
apart. What I didn’t realise was that every bit of nice flat wide kerb in bkk is used by someone for
something, so pretty soon I had 6 tuk tuks parked around me with inquisitive drivers wanting to know all
I got along really
well with these guys, and was invited to eat lunch with them, catfish, rice, red curry paste and some fresh
chilli. It was awesome, and when the guys at the hostel told me all about the 25 temples they’d seen
that day I felt rather lucky to have been able to hang out with the tuk tuk drivers instead.
Fast forward 2
I’m riding on the
highway about 150km north of Bangkok and pull over to fill with fuel and make a phone call. I remount
and hit the starter… nothing. Fuck. Battery is dead. I have about 500km to do today so this delay
is unwelcome. I find a taxi driver with a set of jumper cables and soon have betsy running again.
The seals on top of the battery have been losing acid though, this should have set off alarm bells but my
haste to cover the miles for the day blinds me.
Another 20km tick by
and without warning Betsy dies, must be something electrical because the GPS immediately tells me auxillary
power has been lost. I pull off the highway and manage to bump start it again while still rolling, but
it wont do much other than idle. I’m tearing off my gear and trying to find the voltmeter Barton gave
me, finally I find it, locate some wire I stored for a rainey day and check the charge on the battery, it
reads 20V and with a rev almost 30…
Voltage Reg has
died. OK I have spare so I set about cutting the loom to bits to fit the non genuine spare.
Meanwhile a taxi pulls up to see if I am ok. He speaks no English and me no Thai but we manage ok
nonetheless. Half and hour passes as I splice the new reg in, and then get another jump start to fire
She starts for a
moment, but dies quickly and wont go again. I look at the taxi driver and make the “dead bike” mime, he
nods in understanding and does the “what are you going to do now?” mime. I respond with the “I have no idea”
He ponders this for a
moment and eventually fishes a tow rope from the boot and shows it to me. It’s really short but under
the circumstances will have to do, apparently there is an Autostop about 20km down the road that might be
useful. The rope is not long enough to get around the headstock so we tie up the bike by the forks and
try to tow it a short distance but the force through the steering make it too hard to control and I narrowly
miss a fall.
passes on a DRZ400 and stops for a look. Dave has a tie down that I use to better attach the bike from
the headstock to the tow rope and we repeat the tow, this time successfully. The taxi tows me to the
autostop where another guy in a BMW M5 stops, he rides a 1200GS (it’s no time for petty disagreements so I
don’t hold this against him for now), as he negotiates a lift for betsy and me to chiang mai. Its going
to cost about 4500 Baht.
Bloody hell! I
think, I can live for a fortnight on that much money. Hold on a moment, let me try to get her to run
before we resort to that. Phone call to Paul. Some good advice. The fuel pump is not
ticking so I bypass it, then get another jump start…
Put put put
“YEAH BABY! BACK
IN THE RACE!!!” I had thought the voltage spike may have fried the ecu so I’m thrilled to hear her roar
back to life J
Being a carburettored
bike, the toom will run without the fuel pump, just as long as the tank is over half full, so Dave and I head
to the closest large town in search of a bed, a battery and a fuel pump. We find only one of those so
eat some dinner and go to sleep.
Next morning I’m
informed that I wont find a battery in this town but I should in the next one, satisfied that I’m ok to keep
moving , Dave heads directly to chiang mai while I look for a pump and battery. I find a Kawasaki
dealer in ??? who are happy enough to let me use their brand new workshop for the rest of the day, they send
out guys looking for a battery for me while I diagnose a short circuit in the accessory
but they do eventually find an automotive fuel pump that will do the trick, $15. I spend the next 2
hours fabricating a bracket for it, and fitting it, only to then find that it still doesn’t run. I
panic starting to think that I’ve misdiagnosed the problem, the mechanics watching me think I’ve misdiagnosed
the problem too...
I did try to connect
the old pump directly to the battery and it wouldn’t run so I’m pretty sure something else is up, I repeat
the test and confirm the old pump is fried, eventually I work out that the relay to the pump is also
Did I mention that
there was also a short circuit killing the accessory fuse? It was coming from inside the gps
Oh, and every single
globe on the bike is gone are well..
In total that’s a
voltage regulator, a battery, a fuel pump, a relay, a headlight, both tail lights, the brake light and the
charger for the GPS that have all failed.
I swap some
relays and the new pump fires into life. Phew I mutter and hit the starter again. Betsy fires for
a moment, there’s a cheer, but then she dies and won’t go again. I’m starting to get upset. It’s
almost 5pm so I need to get out of this workshop… The mechanics watching sense this and leave me to my own
devices for the moment. Quickly I check the lines on the fuel pump to make sure I have it connected the
right way and am relieved to find I have it backwards.
I switch the hoses and
hit the starter again. Dead battery. FUCK!!!!!!!!!!
The guys fetch a
battery and I jump it, this time betsy fires and runs normally. I put the voltmeter on and see the
charge doing what it should, breathe a sigh of relief and pack up thanking the guys for their
10km down the road the
voltage starts to drop, 12.5, 11, 10.5… FUCK IT!!!!!
I wanted to get to a
town 200km away that night to meet some friends but it isn’t looking good. I turn around and head back
to town in search of a components store where I found a cheap 9Ahr battery earlier in the day. Betsy
makes it there and they are still open.
I fit the new $12
battery and hit the starter. Betsy will now only just hold charge in the battery, so long as the
headlight is off or the fans are not running. I’ve been working hard all day to get moving again and
now really just want to get the fu<k out of there, so I pull the fuse for the headlight and push
The voltage holds at
about 13.6V. Then it gets too dark and I have to stop to put the headlight fuse back in.
Fortunately with the dark it’s also colder so the fans are no longer cycling and I can continue in the dark
for the last hour, finally arriving at Sukothai at around 8:30pm. I bump into the guys I originally met
in Langkawi and pretty soon have a cold beer and a room. It’s amazing how much better you feel after a
The next day I explore
the historical sites and then make tracks for Chiang Mai. The 330km ride is lots of fun, it reminds me
of the ride down the highway through the jungle in Gabon, nice.
I spend the next two
days scouring Chiang Mai for parts. I find a new voltage reg from a cbr900 that will cut and shut into
the ktm loom. I find a yuasa 12Ahr battery. I find another fuel pump (the cheap one I bought has
failed already), I find some universal relays that the ktm plug fits into, I find new headlight bulbs and
taillight bulbs too. Everything but the GPS charger but I can charge that off the laptop so all is not
That was the last
couple of days, tomorrow morning Dave and I are riding to Pai, hopefully with some offroad planned for the
coming days. Betsy is running ok again, the new Honda regulator and Yuasa battery seem very happy
together. The new pump ticks like it should. The relay does too.
It’s not really bike
zen but it’s close. From Pai onwards I’m actually headed closer to home than further away, so I’m
technically on the home stretch now…
I wonder if we’ll get
Sitting in a bar in
Pai. The last 3 days have been spent riding from Chiang Mai to Pai along some remote mountain passes,
some of the riding reminded me of the better roads in the congo, little single track riding, some water, a
little mud, lots of fun!
Dave came up with a
plan to ride these little tracks instead of taking the main road, and a great guy called Phil who runs the
Riders Corner bar in Chiang Mai was nice enough to take us out to an MX track where the owner shared some way
points with us to mark the main turns in the tracks, and we eventually set off at about 12pm. (Did I
mention that my GPS died shortly after this…, well it did. The wheels are really falling off
The ride to Chang Dao
was hard enough to be fun, but not so hard that i thought I’d fall anytime, mostly first thru
3rdgear, single track, sometimes dual, and quite dry. We arrived at about 5pm, checked into
the chiang dao inn and headed out for a beer and a feed.
At dinner we met Luke,
another MX guide in the area, who pointed out a few good roads from there to Pai, with the warning that there
were 2 water crossings along the way, about waist deep… Tired but happy we crashed for the
The next morning we
headed out of town again, and the riding was more of the same from the previous day, there was some tricky
soft loam that ended at an excavator trying to reattach it’s broken track blocking the road, we waited a
while before skirting around it, the cheeky driver of which thought it would be funny to almost knock me off
the bike with the bucket… yeah heaps funny.
Then we arrived at a
water crossing. Quite deep and fairly long, ending in what looked like a walking
“Dave are you sure
this is the right way” I asked remembering Lukes words from the previous night (“It’s all dual
track, if you get single track you’re in the wrong place”)
“well the GPS says we
are in the right place” Dave assured me…
“Go back, go
back! The other way, here too deep, too difficult!” Yelled one of the hills
“Dave are you
Ok then, I took off my
boots and pants and went in for a look. It was quite deep but not prohibitively so, although the
current was moving pretty fast. I was a little worried but not about to let on…
“what do you think?”
asked a slightly worried Dave
“no problem!” I
I went in first
paddling my way across with Dave downstream of me steadying the bike. It went smoothly enough, and pretty
soon we had betsy parked safely on the far shore and waded back across the get Dave’s DRZ across. He
still looked a little worried but went in anyway and we got across without any problems.
On the far side the
tribes school teacher told us that there were more crossings close by, just around the corner actually, back
across the same river… WTF!
“Dave are you SURE
this is the right track?”
“ummm actually it
might not be, I think we should have taken that right back there…”
We dried, put riding
gear back on and made the 100m ride back to the next river crossing to cross back to the road
More of the same and
with some help from the tribesmen to get up the steep bank, both bikes were back on the road about 200m from
where we had initially left it.
“Well that only took
about 2 hours”
Another 200m of riding
and we were back at another crossing of the same river, again…
This one was in two
parts, the second of which was quite deep, almost up to my waist and moving really fast. Dave went in
first this time and I could hear the motor making all sorts of hissing noises as it went underwater but
pretty soon we were out the other side. Phew.
Betsy went through
next and this time we rode the 100m to the next crossing without suiting up again.
“this one last one,
this one deepest” said the tribesman
“you need help from
villagers, you give small money for help”
“how much?” I
Much debating in
“too much” I
“but they are poor” he
“so are we” I say
matter of factly
More talking in
“ok we do ourselves
then” I say bluffing…
Dave looks really
worried but backs me up.
We walk through to
check the depth and I’m concerned about the current and the depth, but more that that there are big rocks all
along the bottom. This is going to be really hard.
“I’ll go first, we’ll
both walk it through ok?”
“ok” says a concerned
I remove the boxes and
the tank bag, put it in gear and enter the water with about 8 of the tribesmen looking on. Then just as
the tyres get wet the tribesman comes forward again
“they want help you”
he says slightly agitated
“yes ok ok
We now have 8 wiry
Thai’s surrounding the bike, I’m laughing inside now, remembering Ali’s boys lifting betsy onto a truck 2m in
the air… with this much help we could carry them across without even getting them wet!
The water is moving
really fast and it drags the bike off track downstream a little, but the guys push and push, virtually
carrying it up the steep bank on the far side. One down, one to go.
“you ok dave?” I
I grab my camera as
the Thai guys carry the rest of my gear across the river for me, good service I muse.
Dave’s bike is a
little lower than betsy, and a little lighter so the water pushes it further off line, Dave is having
kittens, the bike stalls…
“keep going” dave
“start it again mate”
We keep moving and at
one point Dave stumbles but the bike keeps moving,
“slow down” he
But it keeps moving,
it’s on a sharp angle from vertical but the tribesmen have a good hold on it, Dave is pulling the brakes to
slow them but the wheels are off the ground so it keeps moving and before long it’s safely on the shore,
almost dragging Dave and I behind it.
We’re both puffing a
little from the exertion, meanwhile the tribesmen haven’t even cracked a sweat.
“are you ok for me to
give them 500?” I ask dave
“totally” he says
We take some pics and
load up again, the tribesmen have assured us that the rest of the road to Pai is in good condition, no more
water. I’m wondering how this could be possible as we’re back on the same side of the river as we
started on but take it in good faith and we say goodbye.
We’re now pretty late
in the day so I’m wondering if we’ll make it to Pai. Then we reach another river crossing… the same
Not in any mood to
fuck around, I pull my boots off and go in for a look, it’s the deepest yet, and moving fast but the bottom
“lets get on with it
I go in first and it
turns out to be ok, the far bank is really steep but I’ve got my race face on, so when Dave suggests we push
it up I start the engine and say I think I’ll try to ride it out.
“how are you gonna do
that, it’s really steep?”
First gear, lots of
throttle and Betsy surges forward out of the water, hits the bank and stalls.
I restart and gas it
up again, this time she bites and runs up the steep embankment, I park and walk back to get Dave’s bike
I’ve been keeping an
eye on the intake of the drz as it’s relatively low compared to Betsy’s, and with this being the deepest
water yet there is a chance of submerging the carby completely, but there’s no other way forward so in we
The current is strong
enough to make hard work of keeping the bike straight, then in the deepest part of the crossing I see the
crankcase go underwater, then the starter and then the carby too. It’s hissing and spitting water all
over but still running, we move a few more metres before it stalls.
Dave hits the starter
and it turns but wont fire and is making a strange noise while cranking.
“hop off and we’ll
push it the rest of the way out”
Thankfully the bottom
is flat and with 2 of us we quickly get it out of the deep part of the river, the motor has water pouring out
“come on DRZ, we’re
almost there, don’t let us down now” I say encouraging the little Suzuki a little
She fires almost
immediately (bikes are people too), we cheer and get her up the bank where a few locals have assembled.
They say “stopan” over and over pointing in the direction we are headed, I’m worried this may mean we need to
cross this frikking river again, but then one of them does the bridge mime, fantastic!
We ride for another
30mins as it starts to get dark, eventually arriving in a little town about 55km short of Pai, where we
debate the option of pushing on in the dark, we agree that it would be nice to get there today and keep
moving, but when we pass a sigh welcoming us into the Baba Guesthouse, the dark, wet suits and cold night air
conspire to change our minds and we detour into the guesthouse to rest for the night.
That night we ate
dinner at the local cowboy bar, where we drank with the local policeman who was totally smashed, a local
soldier, the cook and waitress from the restaurant and some other curious locals, eventually settling by a
small fire to warm and dry our suits.
We loaded up in the
morning and were about to set off when a lady working at the guesthouse invited us to breakfast explaining
that the $8 we’d paid for the night also included brekky, we followed her to a decking overlooking the valley
we were in only to find instant coffee, but no food or menu.
Dave speaks a little
Thai so he started saying food, then breakfast, then eggs, all of which was completely lost on the poor woman
trying to understand us. Without thinking too much about it, I reverted back a few months into Russia
where the word “yaitzer” along with a chicken mime was usually enough to get some eggs.
I flapped my arms like
wings, made clucking noises, and scratched the ground with my feet before squatting down and making more
desperate groaning and pushing noises. Then with a “POP” I reached around behind me and retrieved an
imaginary egg, showing it to the lady. Then I reverted to being a human again, cracked the egg and made
The thai woman was in
hysterics, barely able to walk she said “eggs” over and over as she shuffled away to the kitchen, before
briefly returning still laughing hard just to share the joke again, Dave was in fits
We arrived in Pai a
couple of hours later thankful that we’d decided not to try that road in the dark. It’s 10am now on the
17th of January, I think we’re leaving here today
headed for Mae Hong Song via some more offroad tracks.
Hi to all back home,
and my apologies for the lack of content lately.
Mule out. xoxo.
January 24th 2011
my room in Viang Vien, very weary.
We left Mae Hong Song that morning not sure how long it would take to do the 225km offroad to get
back to Chiang Mai, the road climbed really quickly to the top of a mountain ridge, and seemed to stay very
high for most of the day, but the riding was straightforward and there were no water crossings so we made
good time on the dual track dirt roads, arriving at a big village around mid morning.
The lovely thing about this type of riding in Thailand is that while it’s remote, there are always
people around, and in Thailand where there are people, there is usually food, good food.
We sat down and did the ‘we will eat anything’ mime, which resulted in a soup with noodles, pork
balls and some bean shoots, it was delicious and cost about a dollar each.
The rest of the day was more of the same, except for the last 50km which was all sealed, the road
(like so many that I have ridden on this trip) is in the process of being converted to tar, lucky for us they
only just started working on it so we had fun in the dirt for most of the day.
On arriving in Chiang Mai I was a little surprised to see my rear tyre losing knobs and wearing
really fast, only 3500km on it and it was ¾ gone… the new set of tyres I have waiting in Penang are still
about 5000km away so this is a problem.
Phil (from the Riders Corner
Bar) rides a ktm 990 adventure, and has a mountain of spare parts for it stored at the hotel, also including a
J I pondered it while I went off to
buy a new gps and decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of continuing on the rear I had, so bought the tyre
from Phil and fitted it that evening.
A couple of friends we made in Istanbul in June last year, Emily and James were in Chiang Mai at the
same time, so we spent the evening catching up on stories from the road, of which there were many given that
we’d arrived in Thailand having taking very different routes,
them down the Karakorum highway and me via Mongolia and Russia.
You can read about their adventure at http://motoventurers.com/
I spent the following day modifying a bicycle mount to fit the new gps to the bike, and wiring in
the charger power supply, before taking a short ride with Emily and James, and another friend Juan into the
hills around Chiang Mai. It was early in this ride that a
pheasant (similar to a chicken) flew out of the verge, and kamikaze style dive bombed me, glancing off my
helmet and spiraling into the bush in an explosion of feathers and screeching. Bewildered, I went back to see if the bird was hurt.
The chicken was nowhere to be seen, but I did find my brand new gps sitting on the road. Bad news. It turned on but the
screen was damaged and didn’t display properly.
What are the chances? Really, a frikking chicken
breaking my gps mount and killing a new gps, on the first day I use it. If it didn’t happen to me I wouldn’t believe it myself.
Next day I went back to the store and explained it to Eric from Eagle GPS in Chiang Mai, who I don’t
think believed me…
“it’s almost impossible to believe”
Either way, he sold me
another new one, knocked half the price off the mount and sent the broken one off for repair to
Let it never be spoken of again.
I left Chiang Mai that afternoon hoping to make the Laos border, and after an event free ride of a
few hours (chickens included) I pulled up at the northern border post and found a guesthouse
($5!). There I bumped into a Canadian by the name of Thomas
(Roger) and his wife Vanessa onboard a 1200GS, who run tours in Laos, and were crossing the border the next
morning. Thomas ended up being much help in working out how to
get the bike customs cleared in Laos (don’t bother), and finding the well hidden immigration desk on the
banks of the river.
“where are you hoping to get to today?” asked
“Vang Vien would be nice, but if not then Luan Prabang”
“Gee there’s no way you’ll get to Luan Prabang today, I think Oudom Xai might be a more realistic
target” suggested Thomas (about half way to Luan Prabang)
“Oh… really? But it’s not that far is it? 500ish km?” I asked
“yes but the road isn’t much good, some dirt and lots of turns”
Well he was right about the road, it had some gravel and not a single bit of straight anywhere to be
seen, I think it may be the first time ever that I have gotten sick of turning corners while riding, imagine
doing 500km in 6.5 hours on a road that rides like the tighter sections of the Great Ocean Road back
About half way there I was on one of the gravel sections accelerating between corners with a bus on
the opposite side of the road coming towards me, as it neared I made out the outline of another bus also
coming towards me, overtaking the first one… on my side of an already narrow road!
I braked as hard as I could knowing there was no way I could stop in time, and aimed the bike at the
right hand edge of the road (in Laos they drive on the rhs) where there was a high kerb and then a 30cm deep
drain between the kerb and the mountain side.
The rear of the bike was stepped right out as I sailed towards the bus, who by now was braking hard
too, as it neared I braced for the inevitable impact. Moments
before it happened, the driver swung the bus back across behind the first one, so I slid down into the v
shaped gap created as the front of the bus swerved but the rear of the bus was still lagging on the
right. The gap narrowed as I slid down past the row of windows
and my bar end kissed the rear corner of the bus as it went past, having given me just enough space to
squeeze between it and the kerb without falling off.
I think that’s the closest I’ve come yet to a really serious accident, and was a little nervous for
the rest of the day as a result, and happy to finally step off the bike in Luan Prabang, where I found a
guest house that even fed me dinner for the grand sum of $7.
At the guest house I met a lovely Canadian lady by the name of Anne Marie, who had been volunteering
in the area after spending some years teaching kids in an international school in
I’d planned to get up early the next day to arrive in Viang Vien (240km) by mid morning, and as I
wheeled betsy out of the parking lot I mused to myself that even Paul would be proud of me being on the bike
Betsy on the other hand
seemed to want to sleep in because after cranking for an instant she refused to turn again.
Sigh. There goes my 7am start…
There was some fuel dripping from an overflow line, and the way it stopped sounded (along with my
even increasing paranoia about the likelihood of Bets betting me home) had me thinking there may be something
in a barrel (fuel oil or water), so I set about trying to remove a spark plug to see what was
This needed a trip to the local Chinese market to find a 3/8th extension and a ratchet…
Anne Marie was returning from an early morning walk so she came along too, and then insisted on even paying
for the tuk tuk – I know you’ll be reading, THANK YOU!
We didn’t find a ratchet but I did get some bits I thought might do, and returned to try
again. The bits didn’t help get a plug out, so before returning
to the market I double checked the hypothesis…
Put it in 6th, on the centre stand and turn the rear wheel, very hard to do, but it did
turn a few times which killed my hydraulic lock theory. OK it
must be the starter then…
I tried to bridge the terminals on the starter relay and still nothing happening… confused now I got
out my multimeter and started checking voltage but nothing seemed wrong, so I tried to bridge the relay again
and this time it cranked. PHEW!!
I think with all the movement around the voltage regulator repair a couple of weeks ago, one of the
terminals on the relay worked itself loose, and over time generated enough heat to melt the relay which
eventually gave up. Remembering what we did with Paul’s bike
when the same thing happened in Rep. of Congo, I moved the relay to the outside of the bike, retightened the
terminals, and am now starting it with a coin until I can find something to replace it
So my 7am start turned into a 9am start, and when the guys at the guest house asked me if I thought
I’d make it to Viang Vien that day I was a little surprised by the question.
“of course, it’s only 240km…”
“yes but the road is very narrow and many many corners, the bus takes 7 hours for the
I got my kit on and rolled out of the parking lot, steeling my resolve for another day of hard
riding, and quickly understood how it would take a bus 7 hours to make the 240km trip. It was literally a series of 25 and 40km/hr bends the whole way there, one
after another, with no respite at all, I’d thought the previous days riding was hard but this was another
I was really sore by the time
Viang Vien rolled into view, and was glad to see some friendly faces on my arrival and then spend the rest of
the day floating down the Mekong with good company, in a truck tube with a beer in hand
I did the same again today, and plan to leave here tomorrow morning, assuming Betsy is well rested
enough too. Now it’s time for bed, Goodnight all.
Sitting in an internet café in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, waiting for a GPS map to download…
35% complete, remaining time 1hr and 10mins… sigh.
Tubing on the Mekong is certainly an experience, I wouldn’t bother going again, but am glad to have
seen it for myself, yet another circus created by us wealthy westerners in an otherwise very poor
country. I really wonder what the locals must make of it all,
they barley have the money to buy their seeds for each years crop and here we are buying beers like our lives
depend on it, floating down the river for no apparent reason…
So I left Vang Vien this morning, glad to be getting out of the circus and with a loose plan to
catch some friends in Vientiane before heading into the mountains in a couple of days enroute south to
Cambodia. I managed to find a starter relay (from a car) that I
think I can get to work on the KTM until I find a genuine replacement somewhere, (if I find
Vientiane is very small for a capital city, will spend a couple of days wandering around before
hitting the road again.
Hi to all back home, (download 44%
Sitting in bed in the hotel in Paksong, 10pm.
In the last week I have had
some interesting things happen. I picked up a passenger, Lucie, a
cute French girl I met in Langkawi a month or two ago (hi Lucie
J). We ran over a snake who reared
up to try to bite Betsy on the way past, and later that way we were shot at by someone with an
AK. No kidding.
Yes we were shot at. I think whoever it was must have
been only trying to scare us because they missed, but the trail of bullet strikes running parallel with the
bike and only a couple of metres away did the job of scaring us very well.
Lucie had been travelling with a friend for a few months, but has found herself alone for a week so
I suggested that she might like to get to know Betsy… so I sent some luggage forward and we are now 2 on the
bike for the past week.
We spent the first day trying
to find a helmet for Lucie, which given the volume of bikes in Laos I assumed would be simple, but it turned out
to be a little harder than you would think. We started out looking
for somewhere to buy a helmet, where would you go to buy a helmet? A bike shop??
The guys at the Honda dealer looked at me as though I was an idiot when I asked about a
“No helmet here. Only bike”
“ok… where can I buy a helmet?”
“no helmet here”
An hour later we found a shop that stocked a good array of helmets, mostly “Index” and “Real” brand,
(rip offs of Shoei and Arai respectively). But they only stocked
one size, “Large”.
People from Laos are not very big, actually they are quite small so this was a surprise, in a store
that stocked over 100 helmets, they claimed not to have a single Small helmet…
Finally they produced a solitary MX helmet, small size, which turned out to be the most expensive
one in the shop… $65. Great…
That solved we pushed off at about 2pm and stopped in Thabok for the night, with a plan to go see
some waterfalls and a Paleolithic period ruin later the next day. We drank a few beers and ate a bowl of noodle soup for dinner, that meal
that has become the bane of my existence in Laos. Like Banana
and Avocadoe in the congo, Noodle soup is all we have been eating since arriving here… it’s not that it’s
bad, but it all tastes the same, and it’s all you can get without doing an elaborate mime involving a
chicken, which then results in Noodle Soup with chicken!
Next day we rode out to the
waterfall, about 15km away on a little track, being the dry season there wasn’t much water but it was still
really cool to hang out at it with the jungle surrounding us, it felt very Indiana Jones
We saddled up and continued north towards another interesting site about 200km away, along a road
that the map indicated was a “restricted area, may not be accessible”, although I had a plan B to skirt
around a slightly longer road to reach the destination should the area truly be
The road there was mostly dirt and there were lots of trucks on it making life interesting at times,
but a couple of hours later we arrived at the mine where the aforesaid trucks were being loaded. There was a bus station where the mine workers were waiting for a ride
home, so I pulled up to inquire about the road.
One of my favourite mimes is the “you will be shot at with a machine gun if you go that way”
complete with the rat-a-tat-tat noise, so I could only just keep a straight face when a man put on the
performance of his life to stress the seriousness of the situation to Lucie and I.
If I’d been with Paul at that moment we would almost certainly have agreed with the man that we
should turn back, and then just push on until someone with a gun told us to turn around. However Lucie was really impressed with the mime and not up for being shot
Unfortunately plan B was also regarded as a no go zone, and the road for plan C was flooded which
left no alternative but to turn back. Bugger. Disappointed but resigned to this course of action we retreated back down
the dusty road to once again do battle with the mine trucks.
I was only about 5 mins back that way that as we exited a bend there were a series of puffs of dust
that sprayed up to the left of Betsy, in fast succession, EXACTLY the way it looks in a movie when someone is
being shot at.
“WTF was that??!!”
I turned to look at Lucie to see whether she had any more reasonable (less dangerous) explanation
for what that might have been but the look on her face said it all, then as I looked back at the road there
was another burst of fire that sent dirt spraying as a series of bullets struck the dusty road off to the
left of the bike again.
I didn’t need any more convincing to get going, so for the next few minutes it was back to the pace
we road across Mongolia at, only this time with a passenger, continually scanning the mirror for any glimpse
Lucie is tiny, so the extra weight on the back of Betsy didn’t bother her (Betsy) too much, and we
managed a pretty fierce pace for a while before I buttoned off and eventually pulled up.
“so what did you think that was” I ventured to ask
“I know what it looked like, like a machine gun!” Lucie responded in a thick French accent with a
slightly manic tone about it
“yeah I thought the same thing, but why?”
“I don’t know, but I cant think of anything else that would make that happen!!!!”
We checked each other for bullet holes and then set off eager to get to the next town before dark,
which we only just managed with the last half hour in the fading light.
The town had a big guesthouse with maybe 20 rooms, but no guests, and a huge restaurant that could
have sat 100 people, we were the only people there though. Laos
is like that in many places, it’s hard to understand how it all works.
The next day we rode back to the main highway (no 13) and made our way south, stopping for some
dried fish along the way…
The fish are caught on the Mekong, then salted and dried in the sun, before being hung out on the
highway for sale to passing motorists. We originally stopped for
a photo but decided to try some, and were lucky to be invited to sit with a family who cooked the fish on
their small fire, and gave us some sticky rice, chilli and sauce to eat with it, Delicious!
11/2/11 – Now really behind here, so this will be a rather brief account of the past
We made it as far as Vieng Kham that evening, checked into a guesthouse and ate some food, agreeing
on a plan to ride to Thakhek offroad the following day. Lucie’s
guidebook mentioned this loop as something that people are starting to do in Laos in an effort to get away
from the tourist sites, they hire scooters and do loops away from the highway and then return the scooters a
few days later. I figured if they could pass the tracks on
scooters then Betsy should be no problem 2 up.
So the next morning we rode from Vieng Kham to Lak Xao, stopping to admire some scenery from the
viewing points along the way, pretty stunning. At Lak Xao the
road turned to crap, really broken up tar, actually more broken than tar, really rough
That continued for about 30km before we hit a reservoir created for a hydroelectric plant, when the
road became really nice piste and I got to stretch betsy’s legs a little.
“I only get a bit nervous when I feel the back of the bike moving sideways when you accelerate
really hard” lucie commented when we stopped for lunch… noodle
We arrived at Thakek that night, and having enjoyed the loop off the highway we decided to try
another one the next day, down to Xeno and then east to Phin before heading south along a road with “broken
bridge” marked on the map.
Being dry season I had hoped it would be possible to ford the river, but one look at it and this
idea went out the window, it was really wide and deep. There was a small canoe on the bank who offered to
take us across for 100,000 kip ($13), a huge sum of money in Laos (a night in a guesthouse is normally
50,000), but the canoe was really small so I thought better of it.
By the time all that had transpired it was getting on so we had to really push on to make it back to
the highway and down to Pakxe that night. There is a bit of
elevation change in Laos, we spent the previous night cold at about 1400m, so when the highway dipped below
200m and the temperature really warmed up. 30km short of Pakxe
with the afternoon warming we went past a little roadside food stall and I decided to stop for a beer and
some food. The owner was really friendly and we sat and chatted
about where we had been in Laos, before doing the last half hour to Pakxe.
There was another loop east
of Pakxe so the next morning after catching up on emails and coffee we headed out to explore some of the Bolaven
Plateau. The following 3 days we rode to Pakxong, Beng and then
back to Pakxe, stopping at more waterfalls than I can remember, swimming at a few and getting really dusty on
the dirt tracks in the area, Lucie (aka Dusty) was getting along well with Betsy so it was a really fun few
days, and I think we’ll travel together again in Cambodia when I get there.
At one waterfall some enterprising locals had installed a system of channels forcing water into
gutters which were directed to propellers connected to electric generators which whirred away day and night
providing electricity to the local village. Homegrown Hydro has
a whole new meaning!
The biggest of the falls was Tad Lo, where we stayed overnight. Fascinating to see the Lao people fishing in the river, everyone from 5
year old kids to grandmothers, all scouring the river for some sort of food. There was even a toothless man fly fishing with a rod made from bamboo and
a bit of line attached to the end, when he pulled in one really big fish his smile was
The morning after we got back to Pakxe I went downstairs at the hostel to find Dave’s drz parked
next to betsy, and with Lucie planning to head off with her friend again, Dave and I decided to try some of
the more challenging roads in the area. We rode south to Thang
Beng and then east to Attapeu along “highway 18”.
This turned out to be a dirt track with about 6 genuine river crossings along the way. We rode 4 of them feet up, but walked the bikes across the other two which
had some big enough rocks to make a fall likely.
We arrived at Attapeu just before dark, the 110km ride having taken all day, and as we started
looking for somewhere to stay I saw 3 guys on hired XR250’s that Lucie and I had met at Tad Lo a few days
earlier. They were good fun, so Arnaud, Roberto, Marcus, Dave
and I decided to hang out for the evening, starting with a few too many beers, and ending with yet another
meal of noodle soup.
Sore head next morning.
From Attapeu we headed a little east then north along a road marked on the map as “unknown status”,
usually this means hard going, but in this case it was a newly constructed dirt road through the mountains,
that took us all the way north to somewhere near Sienglong, before reverting to a crappy dirt track once
again for the descent to the plains.
It was really fun riding, switch back after switchback, good enough to maintain some speed, but hard
enough to need to maintain concentration on. Until we arrived at
another construction site for a new highway. The track led into
a wall of rocks, which had us off the bikes looking for some other way around…
But the excavator working there just pushed some rubble into the road creating a rough ramp for us
to ride up, and we bumped and bounced our way up into the construction area, and then down onto the newly
formed road behind it.
It had been a hard days riding and we were pressed for time to get back to Pakxe that night, so I
was happy enough to see the faster piste extending out from there, but a few corners later I rounded a bend
to see a serious car accident that will be hard to forget anytime soon.
One of the construction cars had overturned rounding a bend, one man was dead, squashed under the
car, (we could only see one of his feet), another was covered in blood and laying motionless next to the
wreck, and a woman and child were both laying nearby, also critically injured. There was no one else at the scene. Dave and I tried as best we could to alert the construction guys that there
had been an accident just nearby, but unbelievably no one seemed to care, and they actually seemed amused
that we did. A couple of cars and trucks passed the scene,
slowed to take a look and then kept moving along their way.
It was a really difficult
moment, we went from camp to camp trying to get some help, only to see an ambulance headed past us in that
direction about 20mins later.
We are just so lucky to live in a developed country where a helicopter evacuation is just a phone
call away. Enough about that.
To top off what had had already been a pretty tough day the last 2 hours were in the dark, on a dirt
road in the process of being sealed, so it was really broken up and covered in thick dust. I fell off a couple of times because I couldn’t see the surface of the road
for all the dust, thankfully I got away with a sore ankle and some bruises.
We arrived in Pakxong in the same guesthouse Lucie and I had stayed in a few days before, covered in
dust but happy to be there finally. We drank a few beers to settle the nerves before collapsing into
The following day we rode from Pakxong to Don Det at 4000 Islands, putting the bikes on a canoe to
cross the Mekong. Shortly after arriving we bumped into Marcus,
Robbie and Arnaud again, and also Lucie and Mylene so we spent the night trading stories, eating pizza and
having one or two beers.
Yesterday the 3 Amigos headed back to Pakxe to return the XR250’s, and Lucie, Mylene, Dave and I
went for a short trip to see the Mekong rapids/waterfall a few km down the road.
Having successfully bashed up
my panniers once again, today’s job was to get them straight again, do some washing, clean out my helmet, catch
up on my journal (and this web log), and generally regroup before
the ride into Cambodia tomorrow, (where I hope the Laos customs don’t give me grief for not doing any paperwork
for Betsy when I got here).
I’m writing this sitting in my hammock, a beautiful view of the Mekong to my right, a Beer Lao in
hand. Life is pretty good.
Hi to all back home, Happy Birthday Beechy!