Goodbye Chiang Mai :(

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We finally left Riders Corner this morning, very sad to say goodbye to Dotti and Nana, we hope to see you again one day!
When I went downstairs with our bags Dotti looked at me and then the bags and then buried her face in her hands like a little kid crying ūüôĀ
It was a really nice place to take a pause, but now we’re off again, direction India. 
Today we rode 370km to Mae Sot, the Thai side of the border, and in the morning we meet our guide for Myanmar at 8am in no man’s land. 
Fortunately the 4 tyres I sent here on a bus a few days ago were waiting at the bus company office when we got here in the afternoon, so tomorrow I ferry Sal and two tyres to the border and then come back for the other two. Should be an interesting day…

We have Visas!

The second most tedious thing about travel is getting visas, especially in this part of the world where it all needs to be done in advance, or worse still needs to be done before you leave home, but is only valid for a few months (which is not long enough).

In the order that we got them…

1 Pakistan
Our passports were sent home with Paul who printed forms and sent them to the embassy in Canberra, then Dhl’d them back to us in Thailand.  Technically this is not allowed so don’t tell anyone!

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2 India

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3 Myanmar

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4 China

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We were nervous about this last one as we needed proof of  residence in Thailand to apply for it here. Which just means a copy of our Thai visa, but as these passports were in Aus when we arrived here, we used our EU passports to enter Thailand, so the Thai visa was in a different passport…

“Maybe you need apply in other passport”
“But our Pakistan visa is in this one, so we’ll be using this one for China too”
“Ahhh I see…” Long pause, followed by a non committal “OK then, come back Friday”

So that’s it for a while, we still need Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran but they will need to wait until we reach New Delhi.

Xoxo

Passing time in Chiang Mai (happy birthday Dave)

Coffee Villa, it's like a villa... that has coffee.  Clever no?

Coffee Villa, it’s like a villa… that has coffee. Clever no?

I’m sitting in a place called Coffee Villa, which is 100m down the road from the KTM shop on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, wasting a bit of time as the place doesnt open until 10:30am.  Coffee villa is a very modern looking coffee shop, with quirky decorations and well dressed baristas that would fit right in on King William Rd back home, complete with the $3 cost of a cup of coffee (usually $1 over here).  I’ll be here for an hour, so might as well do some blog.

Nothing too amazing to add right now, we’re just passing our days here in Chiang Mai, soaking up the great food and hospitality of the locals, and counting down the days to entering Mynmar, which we have booked for the 25th of January.

Myanmar doesnt allow foreigners to travel independently with their own vehicle, so you need to engage a tour operator to accompany (babysit) you on your travels.  As we’re on a bike, this means we need someone in a car to meet us at the border, help us get into the country and then travel with us for the 4 days we have to cross the county.  The destinations for each night are set in advance, and the schedule is pretty tight.  It’s a shame because if it weren’t for this we’d stay much longer, but it is what it is.  Hopefully with the new government things may change for the better.  As it stands we have about 2-300km to ride each day we’re there, and one day of 670km!  Which may not seem so far in a first world highway sense, but in Myanmar that’s going to be a very long day.  So the 25th… that’s another 6 days…

Once we returned from the Little Motorbiker Tour (as I’ve since named it, Sally being the “good little motorbiker”), we worked out that we could also apply for our Chinese visas here in Chiang Mai, which is a bit of a bonus, because everything here is really easy.  For example, we went to the Myanmar embassy in the afternoon to apply for those, and the friendly security guard told us that the embassy was closed after 12pm, but he gave us two application forms, and also told us we needed photos, a copy of our passport, some money and that it would take three days.  So the next morning we returned with those things, no lineup, no rude embassy staff, no corruption, just give the forms to the nice lady at the counter and come back in three days.  Lovely.

Contrast this with my experiences applying for visas in other Asian countries, that usually involve big crowds jostling for position, people yelling and screaming, hours in lines, rude officials, endless paperwork and no guarantee of actually getting the visa.  Not lovely.

The Chinese one was more or less the same as Myanmar, we went to see if the embassy was actually where google said it was (you can never be sure!), and were geetted by a nice security guard who gave us the forms and some instructions.  Next day we returned, took a number from the ticket machine (such a great idea at an embassy!) and waited our turn.  5 minutes later our number was called (in 5 different languages!), we went to the counter (and were actually asked for the ticket), where the polite girl at the counter told us we also needed hotel bookings and a detailed daily itinerary typed on a letter…  OK, so back to the guest house, email the tour company (China is the other country that doesnt allow independent travellers with their own vehicle without an escort), who then sent us hotel bookings (in Chinese so we couldnt read them).  I typed up a couple of letters and we went down the road to a camera place to print it all off.  This morning we returned at 9am with fingers crossed that all would be ok (as we only have until friday here so today is the last day we can apply), and it all went smoothly.  Hopefully on friday it’s just as easy.

Other than that I’ve been working on the bike, and organising tyres and other spare parts for the rest of the trip. It turns out that tyres for stupidly big offroad bikes are not available anywhere else we’re going until we reach Turkey (about another 20,000km from here).  So… I have 2 sets coming from Bangkok, (hopefully arriving here today), along with a new chain, inner tube and front sprocket.  All that will be put on a bus to the Myanmar border (Mae Sot) where we’ll collect them and somehow get it all across the border and into the guides vehicle to take them across Myanmar to India – at least the guide will be useful for something, but a US$2160 courier service is pretty steep!!

Once at the India border we may fit one pair and carry the other pair across, or we might get both sets across to India and courier one set to a hotel on the other side of India, then carry the second pair as far as the current tyres will last before putting them on… are you keeping up?  It’s a bit complicated.  Anyway, the important part is that we will have good tyres for all the offroad parts of the journey.

Last Friday I did the long overdue major service on Betsy, this includes : flush and replace fork oil, change engine oil and filter, set valve clearances (actually just checked them this time as they were all fine), rebuild the rear brake master cylinder, replace a banjo bolt in the rear brakes, wash and reoil the air filters, change spark plugs, change passenger grips, and bleed the front and rear brakes.  All that took about 10 hours.

Still to do is : replace front sprocket and chain, replace the front headlight plug, try to fix the fuel warning light (which no longer lights, hence running out of fuel a week ago), beat dents out of the panniers after Sally fell of the bike twice,(oh yeah?! And where were you when this happened Dean?!) and possibly get a crack in one pannier tig welded (again!).  None of this is very pressing so it may or may not actually happen.

10:38am now, so I need to run.  Happy birthday to my mate Dave back home, hope you had a good one, and aren’t too hungover today!!

xoxo

Back in chiang mai…!

We have ridden about 1000 kms on roads ranging from three lane highways with high speed traffic and country lanes with various suicidal animals, to tight windy roads with hair pin turns up and down steep hills. The people were lovely, the scenery has been beautiful and I feel, the drivers have been very accommodating considering my obvious lack of experience!

There was a close call with a cat that ran in to me and also a bad gear change that reminded me of an accident where I wrote off my Torana in 1995, but all is well! Despite being agnostic, I still found myself thanking someone or something every night I made it safe, unscathed and alive at our destination 😬

Sleepy Sal

Another long day in the saddle…

looking a little tired af the end of a long days riding

looking a little tired af the end of a long days riding

 

and another passed out rider…

starting to make a habit of this

starting to make a habit of this

 

It’s not all hardships though, the north of thailand is great bike country, great food country and lovely people all around. ¬†We’ve been though some amazing places, some rather tricky riding, and some highway too. ¬†Tonight we stopped just 25km short of Chiang Mai, ate some dinner and even found Sal a glass of red wine to go with it.

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Tomorrow we ride into town to collect our passports from DHL (thanks Paul!!). then visit the Indian and Myanmar embassies before I start 2 or 3 days work on Betsy to get ready for the next stage of our trip.   Looking forward to getting my hands dirty!

xoxo

PS if anyone wants to leave a message, you can click on the little baloon on the top rhs of any post, it’s changed since I updated the layout of the site and I dont know if anyone (i.e. Mum) knows how to do it anymore :)) ¬†We always love to hear from you (Mum) xoxo

Shattered…!

Yes it’s true… I don’t know how Dean does it every day… 200 Kms and I can barely keep my eyes open! I now have a new respect for Dean and understand why he can be a little slow mentally after an 800 km day 😉 I also understand why he always has a desperate need for a beer as soon as we arrive at our destination…. I’ve never wanted a beer as much as I did at the end of today despite being freezing!

Day two of riding and no falls or scratches yet! The long curvy roads with no traffic are fun but the tight hair pin turns over and over and over again get a bit tiring and hard, especially when I forget if I have to tap up or down to go down gears!

The road has had my full concentration but from the rare glances I’ve had at the scenery it is really beautiful up here! Tomorrow we are riding up to the border where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. It’s called the golden triangle and its known for its opium production over the years. The government is trying to encourage the production of coffee instead of opium these days so there are coffee shops galore up here – a nice change from the 3 in 1 coffee (80% sugar, 10% coffee, 10% powdered milk) sachets we have been living off for the last 5 months!

Time to go to bed now…. It’s 8pm 😁

Caution, Elephants on the road…

would you realy expect to see one???

would you realy expect to see one???

Well it’s certainly nice to be in Thailand again! ¬†Without casting aspersions on the entire Lao population, it’s impossible to ignore how much more friendy¬†the Thai’s are – immediately after crossing the border.

While in Laos, a friend (hi Deb!!) had a little fall on her motorbike on a busy street, and not a single person offered to help her, even when she was struggling to pick up the bike, people just watched from a distance.  Compare this to us running out of petrol on our first day in Thailand and having a stranger lend me his motorbike to ride to the closest petrol station to fill an empty container which he also loaned me.

And it’s not about language, or wealth, or exposure to tourism, the Thais are just really generous and helpful, whereas in much of Laos, as another traveller said¬†“if feels like they hate us here”. ¬†(I must say though, that the north of Laos is very different to the rest, many small ethnic minorities in the mountains, that were really friendly and welcoming, and¬†if you consider¬†the 2,000,000 tonnes of bombs dropped on Laos it’s not surprising that they’re not so warm to foreigners…).

Thailand also has food other than Pho, which if you’ve been reading, you’ll know makes me happy!

Enough of that, we crossed the border a few days ago, more low level corruption, this time on the Thai side, (they’re not perfect!), where we were asked for 20baht for something I couldn’t work out, then another 200 for¬†something else… as usual we asked for a receipt, which caused a stir, and the boss of customs¬†came over and ripped up the forms we’d just spent ten mins filling in and threw them in the bin before handing us new ones. ¬†He angrily¬†explained that¬†if we didn’t want to pay, we had to fill them in ourselves…

“WE JUST FILLED THOSE IN OURSELVES!!!”

“oh, you did… not him?” ¬†pointing to the guy behind the window who had asked for the 200 baht (who was now standing there unseccessfully trying not to look stupid)

no, we just did it, WHY DID YOU TEAR THEM UP??!!”

Cue very embarassed border official, instantly apologetic and thus forward very helpful and curteous.  Funny.

We spent the night at the border eating not-pho, before riding to Chiang Mai the next day, and eating some more not-pho. ¬†Not-pho is my new favourite food ūüôā

Last night Sally and I celebrated 4 Years I love you (see previous post with same title) by eating wood fired pizza (aka not-pho) and drinking a litre of red wine, it’s been so long since we ate western food, it was really a treat ūüôā

Today we picked up the little honda that we’ve hired for Sally to ride around northern Thailand, and we made about 150km, mostly on tiny little mountain roads to end up in a small town called Chiang Dao (north of Chiang Mai).

During the ride, the road I’d chosen to ease Sal into riding, degenerated from a nice hilly road, into a tiny concrete path, and eventually a dirt road… Which was not part of the plan. ¬†We stopped to decide whether to turn back or not, but¬†the first car that came past also stopped to see if we needed some help (love the Thai’s!). ¬†He explained that there was only about 1km of this dirt road, before the concrete path resumed to take us back to a normal road another 15km onward.

I was going to ride the dirt part first to see how broken up it was and then¬†come back for Sal, but the friendly Thai man was still waiting to see if we were ok. ¬†He judged the look on Sal’s face quite well (fear), and offered to ride her bike for her to the end of the dirt part. ¬†“Thank you so much!”

Most people in SE Asia are born already riding motorbikes, so even a sandy dirt road on a bike with road going tyres is pretty easy for them, and we followed him for a few minutes, while his wife followed in the car.

Cop coon cup!!!  (thank you in Thai), he waved goodbye with a friendly smile and we were off again.

Now with Sal in front and me following, we wound our way along the path, which turned back into a road (phew!) that followed a river, really pretty. ¬†Rounding one of the corners, I saw Sal brake and straighten up, then swerve onto the wrong side of the road… I was¬†about to hit the call button on the intercom when I also had to brake and swerve… to miss an ELEPHANT!!!!!!!

this is not the elephant we saw :0)

this is not the elephant we saw :0)

Yes a frikkin ELEPHANT walking down the road. ¬†We both passed swearing and staring at the enormous animal, which seemed completely oblivious to us, ambling down the road. ¬†I think we were both in a bit of shock as we didn’t even stop for a picture, sorry.

Anyhow, we arrived here for another lovely lunch of not-pho, and are about to go check out the night market that was being set up when we were eating.

Hi to all back home xoxo

Quick Update from Cambodia

Cambodian street food - fried insects... yummy!!

Cambodian street food – fried insects… yummy!!

Here we are in Siem Reap, we’ve come here as some friends have offered us a place to leave the bike while we fly to the Phillipines – Thanks to Sue and Peter!!

After the last update we took a couple of days to get to Bangkok, spending the night in what ended up being a dodgy hotel upstairs from a prostitute pick up bar, fortunately for me, it was Sal who found this one, so no blame on me for a change.

The lovehearts painted on the walls were a nice touch though.

From there we headed to the downtown area in¬†Bangkok where we found a nicer place¬†with a secure park outside for Betsy, and spent the next few days looking for new tyres, some other spares, a gps repair centre… and a hairdresser.

The street food in Bangkok is always a highlight, and we spent a few nights cruising the streets in a tuk tuk, hanging out in a blues bar, and just soaking up the sights and sounds of that enormous gritty city.

We rode to the border with Cambodia in a day and exited Thailand, avoiding the unexpected border scam of trying to convince you to buy a visa for Cambodia at a non official office.

We arrived on the other side an hour after the Cambodian Customs office had closed for the night, and were told to come back at 8 to get our paperwork done for the bike. ¬†We couldn’t work out whether they meant 8pm or 8am the next day, but as we were sitting across the road eating dinner anyway, I went back in at 8:30 just in case there was someone there.

Of course the office was empty, but as I was walking out laughing (at the idea of anyone coming back in at 8pm!), a car pulled up with two drunken customs officers inside. ¬†They weren’t there to work, only to pick up a car after a ‘party’ of some sort, but one of them smiled and invited me into the office, turned on the lights and the computer again and got the temporary import done for me. ¬†I cant think of too many places in the world where that could happen.

We spent the rest of the night drinking $2 Margaritas before a long hungover ride into Siem Reap the next day.

I’d forgotten just how friendly and smiley the Cambodian people are, they’re accustomed to seeing foreign people so they dont stare, but will still sneak a little look at us¬†sometimes, especially when we’re on the bike. ¬†Then it just takes ¬†a little nod to say hello and they light up with big beautiful smiles.

We’re off to the Phillipines tonight so the next update will be from there ūüôā