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!!


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