Sangkhla Buri to Umphang, 2 day ride through the jungle...

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by mikehohman, Feb 23, 2010.

  1. mikehohman

    mikehohman Ol'Timer

    Rob Hiekel and I spent the weekend riding from Sangkhla Buri to Umphang, completing the "missing link" between these two towns. My photos and trip report follow. Hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed the ride! I think Rob will be posting some pix and notes as well, and maybe a vid or 2...

    BREIF NOTES
    (I hope to expand later…)

    Day 1, Friday, Feb 19:

    Rob left Bangkok early and went ahead to secure our paperwork to enter the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a World Heritage Site. I worked the morning, and left Bangkok at noon, meeting up with Rob in Kanchanaburi Town. We then rode the rest of the way up to Sangkhla Buri, arriving at the P Guesthouse about 7:30 or 8:00 PM. The last 40 km into Sangkhla are twisties, and it was fun to try this in the dark...

    Jack and his new wife Fa (married the week before on Valentine's Day) came to meet us at the Guesthouse. I met Jack on my previous trip to Sangkhla. He is a young Karen man from Jae Kae Village, now living in Sangkhla, and he's an offroad motorcycle enthusiast with some serious skills. He told us that his dirt bike was broken (the rear sprocket was almost completely smooth...) but that he would be joining us anyway, on a Honda Wave 125...

    We watched the fireworks from a Mon festival across the reservoir and then went to bed early.

    Day 2: Saturday, Feb 20th.

    We met Jack at the 7-Eleven, stocked up on water, hit the PTT to fill up on Gas, and then departed for the trailhead just short of Ban Sane Pong. We presented out permission papers to enter the W.S., paid the entrance fee (200 baht per person, 20 baht per motorcycle) and we were off on the adventure, heading out of Ban Sane Pong about 9:00 AM.

    The track basically follows the Songkaria river from Ban Sane Pong to Gosedang and then on to Thilaipa, all Karen villages. It's double track, with numerous fords of the river, with plenty of single track "shortcuts" to avoid some crossings, and several foot bridges built by villagers. An absolutely beautiful morning ride, through the jungle, eventually arriving in Thilaipa in time for lunch. A challenging ride, but nothing too tricky, except for a couple of slippery, rocky river crossings.

    After lunch and a bit of a rest it was on to Puchu village, where we arrived about 3:00 PM. The track here continues to be mostly double track, and pretty much follows the Burmese Border.

    Having gotten to Puchu by 3:00, we decided to press on to Ban Suriya, which is basically a farmhouse just across the border into Burma and not far from the point where we crossed the Suriya River. The track here is still double track, but is rarely traveled by any four wheeled vehicles, and cuts through incredible bamboo forests. Jack took several "short cuts" as well. The tracks were completely covered by dead bamboo leaves, really, very beautiful, but slippery…

    Getting close to the river, Jack stopped, scanned the jungle, and decided it was time to turn off the road and head directly into the jungle. No track. Just forest, and up a steep hill to a plateau and then across two streams. This section proved quite tricky, but we managed, and after criss-crossing an overgrown field, we eventually found a double track through high fields that took us into Burma and over to the farmhouse, arriving just before dusk.

    We spent the night here at the farmhouse. An old Karen woman made us a delicious dinner of rice, vegetables, and a little fish soup.

    In total, about 8 hours of hard riding, and about 100 km of dirt for the day.

    Day 3: Sunday, Feb 21:

    Up with the roosters at first daylight, we had a nice breakfast of fried eggs, vegetables, and rice, and then headed out early about 7 or 7:30. It’s not far to the river, but it’s all single track, an excellent, excellent ride down to the river crossing, which is about 1km into Burma. A sharp bank leads down to the river’s edge, where there was a raft to ferry our bikes across the river to the North Shore. Once across, we continued on, all single track, over a steep mountain and then down into the valley of Lay Tung Ku village.

    Lay Tung Ku is a very old, maybe 300 years, traditional Karen Village. It is really very charming, although we didn’t spend much time exploring. We did stop by the Lay Tung Ku waterfall, which is very impressive. Jack also took us round to see a sacred shine of the Karen people that houses some huge ancient elephant tusks with carvings of the Buddha…

    Leaving Lay Tung Ku, it’s not far on to Peung Kleung, a border village where the road starts again, 1288, that goes on to Umphang. However, it’s completely single track to Peung Kleung, and it’s over a very steep mountain, which definitely gave us a challenge. We managed to reach the summit and then roll down the other side and eventually roll in Peung Kleung about 12:30.

    About 4 hours of riding for a total of maybe 20 km, most of it single track over steep mountains…

    We had a wonderful lunch in Peung Kleung to celebrate, said goodbye to Jack (he was getting his motorcycle fixed and then heading back to Sangkhla…) and then rode the rest of the way into Umphang, arriving just after 4:00 PM. Shower and massage at the Garden Hut Guesthouse and then off to dinner, and early to bed.

    Day 4, Monday, Feb 22:

    On the road by 6:30 AM. 650 km for me, from Umphang to Mae Sot, then Tak and on into Bangkok, arriving back at home at 4:30 PM. Rob had a few km less on his day’s trip up to Chiang Mai. The road from Umphang to Mae Sot, or the first 100km of it anyway, is truly of the world’s majestic highways. I had such a blast in the mountain twisties, enjoying the scenery as the sun came up. And the ride from Mae Sot to Tak is also a LOT of fun. What a great way to close out the journey, although Tak to Bangkok is really lame…

    An AWESOME, AWESOME experience. We never would have made it without Jack, so a HUGE thanks to him for showing us the way, and for such wonderful hospitality from the Karen people along the way.

    Anyway, pictures are worth 1000 words, so here they are: (captions ABOVE the photos)

    Map of the trip. Highway 323 from Bangkok up to Sangkhla Buri - 115 km of dirt tracks (and wilderness) from Ban Sane Pong to Peung Kleung, then back on Road 1288 to Umphang
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    We arrived at the P Guesthouse in Sangkhla Buri about 7:00 PM Friday night. They were having a Mon festival across the reservoir at the Pagoda
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    Departing Highway 323 for Ban Sane Pong - the journey begins... Look how clean my bike is (and me!)
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    Checking our papers at the Forest Dept Checkpoint entrance to Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.
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    Rob making our first river crossing, leaving Ban Sane Pong on Saturday morning. There were many "bridges" like this on the way to Thilaipa, one or two that barely held our weight..
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    We crossed this section of the Songkaria river without a bridge. Shallow though, and beautiful... the track mostly follows this river for a ways.
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    Me crossing a river... damn, where is the exit point?
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    Rolling into Thilaipa about lunchtime on Satuday, Jack and then Rob.
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    Another bridge crossing, outside of Thilaipa
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    Water wheel used to mash grain. Outside Thilaipa. Note kids playing in the river.
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    One of several log bridges we had to cross. This one was pretty sketch.
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    Rob close to the Border Patrol.
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    600m to the Burmese Border and the Thai Border Patrol Police checkpoint. We did not stop by to say Hello... why look for extra trouble?
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    Up a hill in the forest...
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    Rob pointing into Burma. According to our GPS maps (later confirmed by a local) those stumps left and right mark the Burmese Border... Jack told me, "Don't worry. No Burma Army here..."
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    Arriving at the small farmhouse where we spent Saturday night. 500m inside Burma and maybe a 20 minute single-track ride to the Suriya River (Suriya means "sun" in Thai)...
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    Farmhouse where we spent Saturday night. It's a workhouse, not really someone's hut. And there were several people staying there that night... an old Karen woman made us dinner (and breakfast), rice, fried vegetibles, some strange type of cucumber, and fish soup... Delicious.... No electricity for many many miles. The stars were incredible!
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    Where we slept Saturday night. Under the watchful eye of Jesus. The Karen people are Christian, and foreignors have been to this village before, but only missionaries..
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    Young Karen girls crushing rice to make rice meal to feed the ducks and other farm animals. This one is human powered... My wife is from a small village south of Roi-Et, and said she did this when she was a girl...
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    Jack and the Suriya River raftman
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    Rob with my bike on the raft. The raftman came with us from the River all the way to Peung Kleung
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    Crossing the Suriya River by raft
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    Jack coming across the river
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    Landing on the North side of the river. Note the bamboo cross..
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    Single-track past the river
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    It's all single-track from the river to Lay Tong Ku
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    Single-track "tunnel" through the jungle..
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    On the road outside Lay Tung Ku
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    Waterfall at Lay Tung Ku
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    Sacred tusks of the Karen people, about 250 years old. They are carved with images of the Bhuddha. I wonder what the Christian missionaries think of these..
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    With some Karen young people outside their sacred shrine - note topknots
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    Nice single track between Lay Tong Ku and Peung Kleung
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    Single-track through the jungle
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    Wipe-out! There is some seriously steep parts just before Peung Kleung
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    Arriving back on the road at Beung Kleung. We made it!!
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    At the border crossing at Peung Kleung with Jack and the raftman
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    Lunch in Peung Kleung. This young lady speaks Thai, Nua, Lao, Karen, Mon, and Burmese (but not much English... :) )
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    Lunch in Peung Kleung
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    On the road from Umphang to Mae Sot
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    On the road from Umphang to Mae Sot
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    On the road from Umphang to Mae Sot. A village nestled in a valley. This road is truly one of the world's most majectic highways..
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    Here are some ideas for future rides:

    First to do it in 1 Day
    First to do it solo
    First to do it in Rainy Season (likely impossible)

    Anyone who can hit that trifecta would be godlike...

    I also think is would be seriously fun on a mountain bike, if that's your thing....

    Hope you enjoy the post!

    Mike
     
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  3. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    Mike
    Your photographs are only excelled by your feat in doing what was thought by many to be impossible.
    Indeed it may still be for the unwary riding without Jack.
    Bravo to the three of you!
    Rhodie
     
  4. Bert on the bike

    Bert on the bike Ol'Timer

    Great job!! You guys did one of the last routes thought impossible but you guys proved everybody wrong. My respect. Great pictures and report.
     
  5. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Mike & Robert
    :shock: :shock: Sensational stuff. I for one would have said NO it can't be done, but you've proved us all wrong.
    An amazing trip out there in the wilderness.
    What a feeling that must have been reaching the tarmac again & arriving in Umphang.
    I'm glad you all made it home safely & in one piece, for it could go seriously wrong out there.
    Congratulations & thanks for this special contribution.

    AND I must say gents, note the bikes - 1 x Honda Dream, 1 Kawasaki KL:X250 & 1 Chinese 250. No real high performance world championship winners. Just 3 good reliable simple bikes. :) :)
     
  6. LivinLOS

    LivinLOS Ol'Timer

    Now that is adventure report.. Well done !!

    Love the fact that a little wave comes along for the trip.. Great report and superb photos. Impressed !!
     
  7. Noel Akers

    Noel Akers Ol'Timer

    Great effort guys and excellent pics. Proves that the combination of good research , steady pace , determination and reliable bikes works in pretty inhospitable country.....but you need all factors.
    Imagine this will kick off a bit of a pilgrimage !?!? Nice to be the first ones.
     
  8. bigjohn

    bigjohn Member

    First of all, congratulations on the completion of an epic trip. I am envious!
    However going into Burma without permission or prior approval seems very risky to me. Im not sure that was very wise, however you made it and I take my hat off to you guys for that.
    Again, congratulations!

    P.S Do you think I could make this trip on my Cagiva Elephant, also would it be possible to not stray over into Burmese territory?
     
  9. TonyBKK

    TonyBKK Ol'Timer

    Awesome report and great pics! You guys RULE!!! :mrgreen:
     
  10. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer

    Mike and RH,
    Absolutely hats off to you for making this excusrion!!! It has been eyed over the past two seasons by a few of us, but unable to see a path through on Google earth, great job for pulling this one off :D . Not only did the riding look top notch but half the joy of offroading over here is the contact you make with the remote villages. Looks like you had both in spades.

    The riding looks fantastic!!! So was the total dirt mileage about 120 KM's or so(understanding that the second day looked the crux :wink: with the tight singletrack)?

    Love the fact RH took the Chinese bike. Robert I reckon you have the most countries visited on a Chinese bike,
     
  11. Ally

    Ally Ol'Timer

    Brilliant report & the photos are exceptional. Well done.

    This will indeed open the route up for more folks to ride and appreciate that stunning wilderness.

    Thanks for taking the time to capture your ride & share it with us.

    Ally
     
  12. Fishenough

    Fishenough Ol'Timer

    What he said! :D :D :D
     
  13. Sylvie

    Sylvie Ol'Timer

    oh my gooddddddd those bridges :shock: :!: :!:

    FANTASTIC RIDE, AMAZING PHOTOS !! I am SUPER JEALOUS !!! :D
     
  14. mbox999

    mbox999 Ol'Timer

    This report is some of the finest!!!....we all heard/read/been told that it was impossible to go that route...but you proved us different!!!
    great stuff & happy trails,

    mbox
     
  15. Fishenough

    Fishenough Ol'Timer

    Keep coming back to this report - your pictures are fantastic and I keep showing them to other people.

    The last three are incredible scenery pictures; I took pictures from the same point, as the second to last picture, over a month ago and it doesn't look anywhere near as good.

    And now I really want a large, framed picture of me and my bike on a bamboo raft! :D
     
  16. rhiekel

    rhiekel Ol'Timer

    Thanks for writing this up Mike. This was a truly amazing trip, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Except for the few crashes of course........I highly recommend this route. Be sure to take a friend who is not afraid to help you drag your bike through the rough spots.....

    Here is a video of Mike crossing one of the endless streams.


    Here is Jack punishing his Honda dream on a stream crossing. Was funny to see him crossing with the exhaust underwater.....I like this video, where it shows him carefully studying where the deep water is.


    Be sure you are sitting down for this one. It is some single track, made blurry by the camera handlebar mount on a bike that is not afraid to vibrate...


    Ok links now fixed, I mistakenly set them to private. They are now public.
     
  17. rhiekel

    rhiekel Ol'Timer

    This was wipe out number one for me. It was sort of amusing. One minute we are cruising along a pretty good dirt road, and thinking we are pretty near the Suriya River. Next thing I know, Jack cuts off from the road and heads straight into the jungle. No, not single track. This was no track. There is a quick navigation conference, and Jack is insistent this is the correct way.
    So it is up a steep hill at an diagonal. As I had a street tire on the front of my bike, it would simply not hold on the hill. So here is the result. I went down, and the bike sort of came after me. As there was bamboo lying everywhere, I was just happy not to have been stabbed.
    [​IMG]

    At the top of the hill, Jack then beats his Dream across this stream in a pretty impressive bit of riding.
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    The view over my bars of the same stream. Hey Jack, are you SURE this is the way???
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  18. rhiekel

    rhiekel Ol'Timer

    Google earth would not show the path, as the bamboo covered it up.
    Think I am in a tie with Franki on Chinese bike countries, at four each.
    I have no choice but to claim Burma..... :)
    I look forward to the Muppet version of this trip next year !!
     
  19. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer

    RH - One thing I'm surprised is how green everything still is along the trail despite the lack of rain for a couple months. It looks stunning!! Loved the video of the singletrack and your enthusiastic enjoyment at the end of the video clip. It's what riding is all about :D .

    Erm - now I see the tracks you gents rode I can see why Google Earth is useless for sussing out Jacks intended path, haha. Were there other trails visible to explore in the areas you were riding?
     
  20. TonyBKK

    TonyBKK Ol'Timer

    Awesome! Too cool that your guide did this on a Wave! :mrgreen:
     
  21. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    Just met up with Jack in S'buri.

    What he had thought were just two mad farangs
    wanting to go to Mae Sot the hard way has turned into
    bikers calling the GH he used to work at.

    He tells me he is willing to guide those interested in making this trip.
    But it is for him, a 4 day trip, so he is looking for a modest payment
    for his services and costs.

    For those wanting to make this ride without him
    using only GPS tracks could turn out to be a foolish 'saving'.

    Those interested can reach him on 0854254434.
    Or by email on [email email=jarunsaksri1@gmail.com]jarunsaksri1@gmail.com[/email].
    But phone would be best.
     
  22. daewoo

    daewoo Ol'Timer

    Noice work sorting that out Rhodie,

    Great work Mike and Rob...

    just one thing...

    It seems to me that the Wave seems particularly upright in comparison to the big tough farrang dirt bikes... what's the story :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

    Great work, and great report,

    Daewoo
     
  23. mikehohman

    mikehohman Ol'Timer

    After taking another look at the photo, I believe Daewoo’s comment is accurate. That Honda Wave does seem quite upright...

    As I recall, when Jack arrived on the scene, he said:

    "Silly Falangs. Jungle tracks are for Karen on scooters!"

    Actually, I think he set us up. He had been leading all morning, but at the bottom of the hill, he said "Uh, this part is a little steep, why don't you go ahead...?" Some cruel joke between him and the raftman....

    In all seriousness, Jack was most excellent! After wiping-out, both he and the raftman helped us get the bikes upright and around the tight steep parts and back on the trail in the right direction. It's only 20-25 km from the river to Beung Kleung, but even Jack did insist on taking the raftman with him, saying that he could never make it back to the river alone...

    -----

    Thanks everyone for all your nice comments. Much appreciated!! I am really thrilled that I was able to make this adventure, and still a little surprised it worked out… Not possible without Rob, Jack, Rhodie, and a lot of dumb luck and good timing.

    I actually met Jack myself before meeting Rhodie. I went to Sangkhla Buri for the first time in December...(see photos here: http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/klx-from-bangkok-to-sangkhla-buri-and-back-t6808.html)... to enjoy the area and see what I could find out about the journey to Umphang. I was having a drink at the P Guesthouse, when I went out to the parking lot to get something off my KLX. And there was Jack, sitting on it!

    So, we got to talking, and one thing led to another, and the topic of Umphang came up. He said he had traveled that way before, and that there was a group of Thais that had come up last season to ride the area (and were coming again at New Years). He showed me some photos and vids on the net and said he would love to go on the ride sometime. Jack's a real offroad enthusiast, and he actually went and got his dirt bike to show me. Here is a photo: It’s a 1987 2-stroke Kawasaki…

    [​IMG]

    So, we planned a trip for late January, but my dirtbike friend David (“Dirty” from this board) had gone back to the States, so I didn’t have a friend to go with. This seemed like a trip not to make alone. So, now for the 2nd piece of good luck: A couple weeks after getting back to Bangkok, Rhodie contacted me in response to my post on GT-Rider about the first trip. So then we got to talking about the trip to Umphang, he had met Jack as well several months before, and he agreed that it would be better to get a small group together. Well, Rhodie seems to know every rider in Thailand, and he suggested I come along to the KTM Launch at Central World in late January. There he could introduce me to some people keen to make the trip.

    So, off I went to Central World to meet Rhodie. 3rd piece of good luck: After a while Rob showed up, Rhodie introduced us, and mentioned the trip. Rob has something like 20 years experience offroad riding throughout Asia, reminds you of MacGyver, and is 6 foot 5. Clearly, the ideal riding buddy… I asked Rob if he were interested, and I believe the conversation went something like this:

    M: Hey, would you like to try a trip from Sangkhla Buri up to Umphang? I got a guide…

    R: The missing link? Yes.

    M: When can you go?

    R: Anytime, just tell me when…

    Rob’s friend Joe had arrived from Hawaii, and they planned a trip to Cambodia for early Feb, so we decided on the weekend of Feb 12-13 to head to Sangkhla. All was set, but then I came down with Dengue Fever (not recommended, very painful) and was in the hospital for several days. I couldn’t join, so Rob and Joe set off without me, but (4th piece of luck, for me anyway!) were turned around at the Forest Checkpoint outside Ban Sane Pong. So back to Bangkok/Pattaya they came. Rob called, explained the permissions we needed, and asked if I could join on the 19th for another try (Joe was heading to Laos). Feeling better from the Dengue, I said sure, and on Thursday, wrote up a letter requesting entry to the Wildlife Sanctuary. I got it translated into Thai, and then on Friday, Rob tracked down the right people to issue our permission slip. (5th piece of luck, I sure wasn’t expecting to get the paper – we spoke with the office and were told emphatically that it takes 2 weeks, and anyway the “boss” is on holiday).

    I sent an SMS to Jack on Friday morning, but didn’t hear from him until we arrived in Sangkhla Friday night. We were not sure if he could come, since his bike was broken, but he came down to the guesthouse with his wife, and said he would come along, on the Honda Wave. The 6th piece of luck, as Rob and I would have gotten hopelessly lost in there…

    The stars really aligned on this one….in a haphazard kind of way… good to have this board to share our experiences and meet each other...
     
  24. burnjr

    burnjr Ol'Timer

    A great report there Mike and some brilliant pictures :D :arrow:
     
  25. BignTall

    BignTall Ol'Timer

    Mike,

    I did a couple rides with Dirty when he was here. This was after his leg fracture and knee problems.
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    Sorry to see him head back to the states. He would of loved this ride I'm sure!!!

    Glad to see the good luck show itself for you on this ride. I'll be back over in April and around for awhile if you'd like to hook up and explore.

    Once again a fantastic ride report :D !![/img]
     
  26. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

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