Hi guys, Just thought I'd kick off my first post with this report of how I got on going to Bangkok from Chiang Mai. It's already on my website but I've reproduced it faithfully for all to see here. Some of the terminology will seem strange but it's there to give the website an 'out-there' quality and protect the names of the innocent wink.gif Here it is: The day prior to setting out all our kit was getting ready and prepped at the High-On-Thai Workshop at the Pitstop. It was a late night before the last adjustments and tweaks done to the bikes were finished. I was heading southwards, Bangkok was to be my destination of choice for some well earned R and R and to gather some materials. With the others setting out to Isaan, and the northern borders I was on my own for this one and would have no assistance in case of trouble. But that's ok cause I always travel better solo and having to rely on myself. This time I'd be taking no chances, toughened leather jacket and and hard armour on my elbows, gloves and padding on my knees. With all my backpack and case shouldered the weight was about 12 kilos. This is ok, but any more and you will start to fatigue quickly. Wearing a mask is another wise decision. The air quality on the roads, even in the countryside can turn nasty when the toxic brake pads/discs start getting hammered along with the stinking diesel engines. So a good quality air filter was another bit of vital kit I packed. The drawback is that for long periods of use you'll get a bit of air-starvation when wearing a full-face helmet, so expect some headaches. Part 1 Setting off from Chiang Mai At 7:30 am I was up and ready. As I pulled away from my living quarters the trip got off to an ominous start, a gloomy, mean looking thai man I'd never seen before was sat nearby against a pillar. He just kept looking at me and wouldn't stop staring, like he was in his own place somewhere. Strange folk some of these Thais. I nodded but no reply so I roared off and left him to his own world. By about 8 I was on the superhighway heading around Chiang Mai towards Lampang. I passed a petrol station after a while but despite the petrol prices being near rock bottom the price was still in the 23 - 29 baht range. Much higher than last year. Times are definitely tougher now and even the famous thai smile may be waning a bit. The road after the city traffic died off was a blast you could just rip the throttle and blast on by the slower cars with ease. All the gear does weigh down your shoulders a bit but once you lie down onto your tank the strain disappears. This means you're a bit more tunnel visioned for all-round visibility though, so after a while it's a good idea to straighten up a bit to look around and see what's going on around you. You can still do your lifesaver checks lying down at the handles but it's a bit more arduous when fully loaded. After a while the highway took on a series of turns, it got fairly twisty for a while with some really good offsets and challenges for getting your lean-on. These two pictures were taken at the end and after this it was pretty easy going again. The Elephant Hospital - An Interlude I'd completely forgotten that the much trumpeted elephant hospital, established by royalty no less, lay on my path to Lampang. Once I approached the sign I wasted no time checking it out. As I probably wasn't going to be returning for quite some time I figured it would be worth a look, if nothing else but to say I'd visited the place. It's actually split into two areas - The Elephant Conservation Center and the Elephant Hospital. I turned off the highway and took a right, a left then another right onto a gravel track taking me to the latter. I didn't want to have to de kit and mooch about here though, the place was pleasantly deserted, but a free roving elephant stood gracefully nearby, by the time I'd turned around to get some photos though, a Thai lady came strolling out (see above photo). Hardly the smiling type she reeled off in gobbledygook english. When I raised my visor she then switched to machine-gun thai! From what I could gather of both ramblings she inexplicably mistook me to be looking for the other elephant center. She then suggested that only people (I think she meant farang!) as part of a tour guided party were welcome at the hospital. I replied I was just traveling and not part of any travel company. In fact I made it known by my demeanor that I was my own man and didn't do the tourist thing, but still in a polite way of course. At this she turned on her heel and skulked off. Most unusual behaviour! Perhaps that strange man I saw by the pillar has indeed weaved some jinx on me! This little adventure might getting even more surreal! Here's a photo of the elephants, not a very good one I'm afraid but I wasn't hanging around. Lampang By about 9:30am I was in Lampang, a good way to describe it is a large town / small city with a bustling crossroads, from the crossroads the city spreads out along the road with smaller soi's and roads leading off. The roads aren't very wide though and you need to watch out a bit in rush hour as the traffic is fairy aggressive. I rested the for the rest of the day here. A big dilemma for any rider whose on the move somewhere is always the riddle of how far in one day you should travel. For me it's variable and depends on a few things though. As a writer I depend on getting the stories together and getting them onto a medium before they fade away and this day was no exception. The hotel I rolled into was about 450 baht a night and was just about worth it. I went out to roam and found that the locals do like to stare and look upon the farang as a curious entity indeed. I saw one english teacher, and (so far) that's it for other farangs. Some cool views in certain areas Is this the builders wanting to give the building some dystopian edgyness or is it a fire-escape... Thai Style??? Who can tell!? The monsoon cometh! Well, not a real monsoon this was more of a heavy shower, it lasted about 45 minutes. Then it was back to the nice and sunny weather we all know and love. The Farang Factor : Not a single one spotted! That was pretty much it for Lampang, the night scene is so-so, with the usual kareoke and cafe-restaurant-bars. End of Part I Part II It was an early start again and the roads were fairly quiet pulling out of Lampang. Once I'd joined highway 1 the way south is pretty straightforward, a few curves here and there while you leave the higher ground behind. A long way till Bangkok, but all the more for interesting things on the way. The next stop off would be the provincial city of Tak. Never even heard of the place to be honest so it'd be interested to see what it has to offer. Last of the big mountain ranges. I saw a big trucks trailer collapsed down the side of the road, a few crowds surrounded it, but I had no time to stop and the police were already in attendance. There didn't look to be any casualties thankfully. Further and further down the highway I go. You're typical police checkpoint, they are all over the place when you get away from cities. Make sure you throttle back when coming to these, don't be powering through at more than 50 - 70 kph, otherwise they get annoyed. Although they occasionally check vehicles, bikes don't usually get stopped. The rain wasn't just gonna disperse it was a case of literally letting the cloud pass in the distance until I could move forward. It's worth mentioning that when there's rainfall the lane which is (usually) the 'slow' car lane (the center lane) doesn't have as much water puddles as the narrow bike lane does. The best lane is the 'fast' lane, the right hand lane. Hang a right-hand turn here for Tak, or left if you want to swing on towards Sukhothai. Head down here then take a left, depending on which part of Tak you want to go into. If you go straight on the river lies in your way though. From there you can hang a left and proceed down the market road of Tak. Thailand usually has a lot of choice for places to stay but here in Tak this whole concept is turned on its head. The municipal size is small and so is the urban density. Not much traffic but also not much going on. Finding a place to stay here is a nightmare if you want cheap digs. My shoulders were burning and the heat was on again as I roved the small city for somewhere to rest for the night. After over half an hour I even tried what looked to be the palatial hotel massage complex (knowing they usually have rooms for rent) but with the gates barring entry, it was now closed. With that plan binned even the local whorehouse looked appealing. I found a large place with an open plan lobby, it wasn't a hotel though and the inhabitants mentioned a hotel with a vague pointed gesture and giving it an incomprehensible thai name. I asked how far but for some reason the thai folk here don't do distance so off I went again, almost ready to bed down in the restaurant if need be. The search was over soon enough though, I found a Hotel by the Ping River, the only hotel in town for that matter! It had replaced the deserted hotel pictured earlier. They wanted the princely sum of 1000 baht per night, which I knew was bs, after several friendly haggling's the price was at a more reasonable 550 baht. A laughing policeman nearby chuckled at our whimsical exchanges then got back to his paper. I thought it was kinda cool having a policeman just hanging out in the hotel, it gave it a sense of purpose and, I suppose more of an excuse for the high prices too. I'd gambled on the rains coming again by about 12:00 pm and was happy to be in a hotel all sorted for the night for about 11:00 am. I wasn't far off, 45 minutes later the heavens opened for about an hour, cooling everyone down as they scurried to shelter! As I wrote up this report two chunky thai women, more than likely dykes, sat nearby and were gabbling away with farang this, farang that juxtaposing itself into the conversation. Even though we white folk have been wandering the lands of Thailand for hundreds of years now, we are still looked upon with a somewhat skewed stance, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Time and time again I notice this in Thailand, I don't think times change thai mentality on this matter. The rain came again and it was interesting to see that olde style tuk tuks are in fashion out here. This was another fly-in visit, I was planning on hitting the road again pretty early tomorrow. There are some things to peruse while staying here though. The main thing in town is the broad market road that dominates the town. In times gone by the river would of brought in the various wares, now it's mainly the roads that bring them. Tak Market Road It seems the financial crisis is now hitting the mainstream, even in remote provincial Thailand: I saw a few of these birds in cages for sale, I'm not a bird-watching kinda guy but I think the Thais buy these for good luck. Honey Shop The Great Galt brought the whole honey thing to my attention and I've of walked past these seemingly innocuous bottles otherwise... Honey bottles like the ones pictured are prized by thais. The bees and honey quality are considered superior to the ordinary stuff in the supermarkets. You only see this stuff in the provincial cities and towns normally so it's worth a look-in. Saw this out-place-statue at a posh looking house just down from the market. This looks to be Ganesh, the Hindu god of prosperity! There must be an Indian family living nearby. Hopefully Ganesh'll spin some luck if I play my cards right! The Farang Factor : Hardly any, just a couple and a foursome who didn't look like they were hanging around for long. Part III Setting off... Another early start, but my good fortune at avoiding the rains had ran out. A relentless rain was pouring down when I awoke, by the time I'd had breakfast and finalised my gear the rain was nowhere near stopping. In fact just by glancing at the sky alone I could see it was a lasting rainfall. So it was a choice between waiting it out, or just riding hel_l for leather and getting to the next city. I considered for a moment staying on another day but the city, for its size, was hardly worth exploring as it was no bigger than a large English village in reality. So I squared my shoulders for the task ahead and gamely chucked the backpack on my shoulders, The primary shoulder strap decided to part company! Out came the gaffer tape and a prayer or two to the traveling gods. With the secondary strap I gambled on it holding for the next leg of the trip. This wasn't going to be a long distance road marathon leg though, just a short blast to the next city of Kamphaeng Pet. Into the Jaws of Rain Now I'd liked to of got some shots off of to show what the next 2 and a half hours was like. Alas my wonder camera, marvel of technology that it is, isn't rain-proof and even for you guys reading my tales I can't risk a screwed up camera at 18k a pop. The whole experience was, to say the least, 'somewhat uniquely exquisite' in a 'one-of-a-kind' way. It was not unlike some some roving explorer journeying into the unknown with nearly everything getting thrown at you! My leathers got soaked, as did all the pockets, as did the trusty thai army boots, I'd lined the main compartment with a cheap poncho that basically tore apare when I tried stretching it over the leathers. It made a good seal and kept the water out there though. My laptop, was damp but not soaked thoroughly. My foot ended up with a near-popped vein cause of the vibration from the clutch lever and the cheap thai boots I'd used. Road Lore: A neat little trick is to shoulder the laptop (arm and head through) first. Then put your backpack on and ensure it 'sits' on top of the laptop. As long as it isn't more than a 75 litre capacity it shouldn't sit too high above your head. This will allow the laptop to rest on the seat behind you supporting the weight of the backpack. As well as taking a good 50-70% of the load weight off your shoulders it means that the rain will not directly be landing on your laptop (as you'll be moving forward, through the rain), and will hit the backpack instead. Where the Highway becomes the Holeway... The journey was arduous but not suicidal, if the rain got too heavy and dangerous finding road shelters along the way wasn't that much of a quest. The road had plenty of damage and wear and tear though. It seems like the highways agency has either run out of money for this area or the ground is unstable. There were the usual potholes AND subsistence affected road patches. We're talking great big patches of up to 2 - 3 square meters here not the wee small ones common to Thailand. These sort of patches and potholes that will throw a rider clean off if you hit them wrong. The ground shift had caused vast areas of the Highway to be pockmarked and cracked with them. The best way of describing them would be 'cracked and sunken-in' sections. After about 5 miles of them I grimly mused that the way to Kamphaeng Pet wasn't so much a Highway, but a Holeway and I've marked the route map accordingly! The added kicker was that the rainy conditions I was riding in the holes were almost perfectly camouflaged until you were nearly on top of them. You'd be riding, weaving and dodging past them while a convoy of big trucks and lorry's would power past hitting them willy nilly. The water explosions were kinda cool to watch the first few times, until one came your way and hits you like a train. I nearly got knocked off the first time this happened. After a while though a rider pulled ahead of me, he knew the road as he dodged nearly all the road holes and I was thankful as using him as a guide as the holeway stretched away into the distance. I got through the treacherous highway relatively unscathed when the holeway became highway again. The rain gods weren't finished with me though, the next blast of weather was light hail, amplified by the speed I was traveling at meant a stinging lashing for a good few miles. I withstood that and the next batch was even greater hail! This was a ninja-test alright and thankfully when it ended, so did the rain (mostly). So despite my grim forecast of a lasting day of rain I was thankfully wrong and the clouds soon cleared after about 2 hours of vile weather. I got a bit drier when the sun came out but not by much. Kamphaeng Pet Compared with Tak this place is a real city, plenty of roads and density for things. I got lucky and sighted some lodgings within a minute of arriving. It was a fairly small and cheap kamphaeng pet hotel for 190 baht per night. It was rough and ready but clean enough. . Once settled in there I got all my things out to dry and sourced another backpack pronto. Incidentally this city was where I had my first (and hopefully only) near-miss of the trip. Just a crazy pick-up driver who, inexplicably, wouldn't give me an inch of space for doing a U-Turn despite tons of signaling and careful positioning but this is Thailand! The Ping River runs all the way past Kamphaeng Pet and makes for a decent walk early morning and in the late evening/night-time. Cruising about the streets I could see a more than a few nightspots, several run by farangs. Putting it several rungs above Tak in that respect. There are a lot of one-way systems though and they take a while to get used to. At The No-name Hotel I allowed for 2 days to get my gear dry and replace broken and knackered bits of kit. I got a brand new gear back, a mighty 75 liter thing with twin reinforced steel strips in. The seller was helpful in modifying so it could be shouldered and not give a biker grief. The twin reinforcing strips are a good modification BUT they can puncture the stitching so take a hacksaw blade and trim them accordingly if they poke too far through the sleeves. The second night I got talking to a farang called Nigel who runs the a moto GP-styled bar. He's a gregarious enough chap, who was upset that his sign wasn't done right. He then explained that he was certain the cheap and cheerful lodgings I was residing in was a full blown knocking shop! After a good 5 minutes of bantering it seemed that the ajoining bar/restaurant annex certainly was suspect! On my way back I peeked in the door. Yep, girls and guys doing the prelude thing. I ducked back before I was grabbed and yanked in to join the party. Could of had a dance, but it was a pretty bottom of the barrel kinda deal. I checked my gear, the boots were dry (ish) but the leathers just would not dry! I went to the bathroom and contemplated another night at the secret bordello when the biggest cockroach I'd ever seen scuttled about inside! That was the last straw for me, I don't mind if they are doing their thing outside in the streets and scavanging about at the vendors stalls, but in the room its something else. Damp leathers be damned, I was leaving the next morning and that was that! smile.gif The Farang Factor: Quite a few, and they are a fairly quirky bunch! Part IV After navigating out of the tricky one-way system onto highway 1 again the new backpack I'd bought was giving me some grief, so after stopping and re-adjusting the whole load I was ready. Going long-distance with a bad load on your back is a no-no, the discomfort and distraction can be lethal in the wrong set of circumstances. The Highway after Kamphaeng Pet, as you can imagine from the route map above, very boring. The 'Holeway effect' continues to a lesser extent but as long as you don't hammer it and keep to under 100 kph (on a bike) you should spot them in time and evade them easily. Thailands road to nowhere, it just goes on and on... Some nice views here though, away to the west. Getting closer to Bangkok now. After the Nakhon Sawan checkpoint I'll probably go for a couple more rest-stops and then make the final fling into Bangkok. Hang a left turn up ahead and this will get you on the road to Nakhon Sawan. Nakhon Sawan One of the first sights you'll see of Nakhon Sawan is this hill temple in the distance overlooking the city. The hill and temple dominate the landscape. With the river on one side and the hill temple on the other, it's hard to get lost in this city. At the river market and pier. These boats will get you to the other side of the Chao Praya river in no time. These little thai terrapin creatures would cost an arm and leg back home in the west. I asked how much and was told 40 baht for the small ones and 50 baht for the big one! The Farang Factor: Just one with his eldery thai woman blitzing some emails off in a cafe, and that was it! End of Part 4. Part V Was a bit late in getting up for the next leg, but traffic wasn't too bad and I was out of the city for about 10am to get the next leg underway. I make no attempt to disguise the fact that I am getting fatigued now. A days rest here and there is not enough for a protracted bike tour if you want to eliminate fatigue. It's not a physical fatigue, but more of a mental one, wishing the trip was over etc. The constant starting and stopping in the next city, finding hotels and seeking out the unknown, the unpacking and re-packing of gear, getting the trip reports and photos sent up to the editor for checking and then uploading. I still enjoy the buzz and adventure, but the action-factor does start to drain your energy banks over a period of time. I was tempted to settle in to Nakhon Sawan for a few months to get some reports done and take in some R and R. But the call of Bangkok is stronger I guess. However, I agree with the other expats that Highway 1 is a boring highway and this too is a factor. Compare to the challenging twisting mountain routes of Chiang Mai Province Highway 1 is a walk in the part. It's too easy and the mind gets bored easily. For all that though I did this trip 4 years ago from Phitsanoluk on a Honda Sonic and it was a lot tougher back then than it is now, partly cause I was a rookie for knowing the routes and ways compared with now. The weather is still threatening the odd shower but typically it stays overcast in the morning till mid-day, clears a bit, then in the afternoon for about 3 hours it's a bit of a downpour. Like most of the other cities I've been to now there are these banner things, there looks to be a celebratory event in Mid November. Only one or two hotels in Chai Nat, although listed on the maps as a city, it really is only town at that. About 2 cyber cafes and zero bars or nightlife. I'm glad I'm only staying one night. The Farang Factor: Didn't spot one.