From Singapore to Mae Sai - Summer 2001 - LONG

May 17, 2003
The best laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay. I had originally intended to go to Nepal via motorcycle for my summer vacation but it seems that Myanmar (Burma) objects to foreigners traversing their country. So my next thought was to go to Nepal by air and see Nepal and hot air balloon over the mountains and do some trekking. My travel agent called me on Friday (due to leave on Monday) to inform me that there was a transport workers strike in Nepal and I had best not go, as I wouldn’t be able to get around. So Change 1 Mod 1. I decided to take a motorcycle trip through Northern Thailand and then just go the 25km you are allowed to go into Burma. Go over to Laos and ride into Laos a bit and then back to Singapore. Well some of that happened.

Monday I started packing early (for me 11am is early) and things got interrupted and such so I didn’t get away until 5:15pm. Not the best timing as the Malaysian workers were also trying to cross the causeway home after work and through immigration etc. Oh well nice LONG, HUGE crowd of motorcycles within which my 1200cc 145 hp Yamaha VMax dwarfed the little 90cc bikes. I headed up the Malaysian interstate (nice wide 4 lane limited access highway). Finally figured out what the signs that looked like a tube of toothpaste warning were for, seems that it is supposed to look like a wind sock and the warning is for high winds. Got close to Kuala Lumpur around 11pm and decided to find a place to stay for the night (if you don’t know the area you may want to consult a map of Malaysia and Thailand for places and names). Asked at a gas station and was told to get a good room in Shah Alam a suburb of KL. Got to Shah Alam and couldn’t find anything (I neither read nor write nor speak Bhasa Malay) stopped at a closing gas station and with gestures got directions to a hotel. Checked in smallish room, aircon worked, US$12 for the night.

Woke up had breakfast and on the road by 11ish, had a little trouble finding my way back to the highway. Headed toward Thailand again. Got to the border latish afternoon and started dealing with the cross border stuff. Found out the last time I was here they had not properly filled out the leaving forms for the motorcycle so it was legally still in Thailand so had to pay a US$60 fine. Got Thai insurance got bike imported passport stamped, money changed etc. I am mildly sunburned at this point as we are talking about VERY close to the equator here with little clouds (rainy season starts in 2 weeks – more about that to come) and little if any shade. At this point I have come 888km (sign saying that leaving Singapore and 8 is a very propitious number in Asian superstition) or around 550miles. Headed into Thailand on the now 2 lane, not limited access highway, past places not much more than wide spots in the road with names and people living there, one could hardly call them towns. Into Hat Yai, known as the first town of any size into Thailand (and also where Malaysian men go for cheap sex). Motored right past as I was trying to get to Northern Thailand. About 60km up the road it became dark and the bugs were so bad in the low lying area near the rice fields that my glasses were getting clogged by dead bugs and I couldn’t see so I went into Phattalong to find a hotel. Found a police station and with gestures (most people in Malaysia speak some English, not so in Thailand) got that I was looking for a hotel. Policeman led me to a nice hotel and I checked in, no hot water but the aircon worked and the bed was reasonably comfortable, US$8 for the night. Went down for dinner and found a restaurant in the hotel. Sat down and proceeded to attempt to make the waiter understand I didn’t want any chili’s in my food and wanted it NOT hot and spicy. I had previously discovered that saying no peppers is a waste of time as pepper is the black stuff. Chili is the hot red things. I was pretty successful and had a nice meal of chicken in spices. Just as I was finishing a British couple showed up and I asked them to join me. She is 28 and he is 24 they aren’t married and been touring Thailand on public transport for 2 months without speaking Thai at all. They plan on going to Australia and settle down when their money runs low. Had a nice conversation and went to bed around midnight.

Damn, Thailand is hot and dry with no shade past the southern farms and rice fields. Spent the day heading north. Discovered that no passing markers on the highway are merely suggestions. Also discovered that the breakdown lanes on the side are for local motorcycle and small trucks to come toward you in your lane going the opposite direction slowly and that many of the small bikes headed your way are also in that breakdown lane. It means they jump into your path occasionally. If the oncoming traffic wants to pass they just pull out and flash their lights to let you know to get out of the way in your own lane . Motorcycles are how people get around in Thailand. They dream of a 250cc bike so a 1200cc like mine is so far out of reason everyone wants to talk to you and see the bike. Whole families will be on one bike and I mean 3 people is common 4 you see pretty often, 5 is not too uncommon and my highest count is 7 on one 90cc bike. I have seen a father with wife and 4 kids moving along, but not at any speed. The bikes are used to pull huge loads in a wagon. Many times you will see a woman on a bike sitting on a 2 inch diameter pole which has a basket on each end full of vegetables or some such. Men will go up and down the highways with huge loads of cargo stacked on the bikes, and I mean 10 feet high. It is amazing. The other way they get around is small pickup trucks with a canopy on the back, these guys run more or less regular routes and you can get a ride for 10 baht or so down the road. You just tell him where to stop and get off and pay him. Around 4pm they are full of school kids in uniform headed home. The Thai government has also placed rest stops about every kilometer along every highway. There are small buildings with a couple of benches and a place to pull in a small bike. They have a roof and are there to take a rest or get out of the rain. I used one this day as I had gotten VERY dehydrated and hadn’t realized it. I stopped for a rest and took a long time. I finally realized I was in heat shock and got on the bike and rode up a km or 2 and found a place to buy some water. I drank about 2 liters of water and was fine. After that I made sure to drink at least a half-liter of water at every gas stop and sometimes a whole liter to keep hydrated.

Next morning I left Phattalong north and spent the day in the southern peninsula of Thailand. Only really got off the correct road once when there was some construction and it wasn’t clearly marked which way to go. Went about 20km out of the way and had to come back. I stopped for fuel (VMax doesn’t hold but about 10 liters of fuel which takes me about 100 miles). In answering the ever-present question of where I was going a guy told me I was on the wrong road. He turned around and led me 20km back to the right road and wished me well. Thai people are, for the most part, super nice. Other than that it was a mostly uneventful hot day. Had 2 other small events happen first was a real idiot in a BMW who thought he was very important and kept trying to push me aside because I was running slightly slower than he. He finally got around me and then stopped 5km later. Second event was when I got to Nakhon Pathom around 8pm and was looking for a hotel. First one I found was Thai truckers mostly and no aircon rooms and they kept saying they were full also. Pulled into a gas station and one of the guys there was a real jerk kept poking me in belly and saying go back to the Thai hotel. Finally found a really super 4 star hotel for 800 baht (US$18) and had a shower and sleep.

One of the reasons I stopped in Nakhon Pathom was just outside of town is a road change and Thailand is notorious about not marking their road intersections well or often. The map showed highway 321 going North a short distance East of town. In the morning I headed out and never did see the highway at all. It seems the map is wrong and the road goes North about a kilometer West of town. So I kept going and ended up in the Bangkok traffic. For those of you who don’t know Bangkok has the worst traffic problem in the world. People regularly plan on 2 – 4 hours to get across town. Instead of turning around I found a guy who spoke sufficient English to give me directions to get on the circle road around the city and headed North. Well it only took me 2 hours to get out of town, as I was able to ride in the breakdown lane on the motorcycle, damn I hate Bangkok traffic. No real problems finding the correct road today as I only needed to stay on Highway 1 until Lampang so the navigation was easy. South of Tak it started to rain so I put on my rain suit and of course, North of Tak it quit. Just at Tak is the road to Mae Sot (about which more later) and a lovely ride through the mountains and an entry point for Burma. Met a nice Romanian man while taking off the rain suit who emigrated to Australia and then found someone to run his cab company so he could live in Tak. Why Tak I have no clue, as there is no expat community there and nothing I could see that was of any cultural, historical or other interest. Left Tak up through the foothills and arrived at Lampang just after dark. Road change (well marked for a change) to Chiang Mai at Lampang. Found the first turn off, but missed second one so got a tour of downtown Lampang before finding the road to Chiang Mai through the mountains. I wish it had been daylight as it seemed to be a nice road all twisty and nice sweeping curves. With the power of the VMax it was no trouble making time on mountain roads throughout Thailand. Most of the mountain roads are 3 lanes wide and the up traffic has the 2nd lane.

Got in around 8pm and got directions to the hotel where my friend Irving was staying. The gas station attendant said cross the bridge and take the first left. So I crossed the bridge and the first road was one way against me. Remembering that Thai’s just go down the street on their motorcycles I figured that was the correct street (and I was right). With my wide bike and large panniers carrying my luggage I decided against bucking traffic. I went to the next street and turned left right through Chiang Mai’s famous night market. This is a market that opens at night and sells tourist junk mostly. The locals shop at a different night market across town. The street doesn’t run exactly parallel to the one with the hotel on but I figured it out and got to the hotel. Having traveled about 600 miles this day and another 1200 or so the previous days I was VERY sunburned, in a filthy T-shirt, dirty pants and looked like a refuge from a weird movie, but the hotel welcomed me and gave me a room in the 5 star hotel for 1600 baht a night. I parked the bike put the panniers in the room, called Irving and went down for an excellent meal.

The next day Irving was moving to a much more reasonable hotel, the Hillside 4. As I didn’t know how to get there, he hired a Tuk-Tuk to take him and I followed. A Tuk-Tuk is a 3-wheeled sort of motorcycle but it is run by a mixture of LPG gas and oil in the cylinders. They are ubiquitous in Thailand and get their name from the sound they make when running. The driver sits in a single seat in the middle of the front while the passengers (not usually more than 2 or 3) sit in a bench seat in the back. The Hillside 4 is a large hotel with serviced apartments. They clean it 4 or 5 days a week and you get a fridge, wet bar and a lot of room. Irving is/was looking for a place to spend 5 months a year and semi-retire. This place is 600 baht a night or around US$3,000 for a year in advance with discounts if you provide your own fridge, television etc. We took a tour of the town and a local mall. That evening we saw The Mummy Returns (not sure of it being subtitled in Thai added to or detracted from this BAD movie) and I don’t recommend it.

Next day I was trying to find the old friend of a guy I know in Indonesia who runs a motorcycle tour company in Chiang Mai. We made the rounds of motorcycle rental places and repair shops and found David’s number at a German guy’s establishment (Joe). He repairs bikes and has lived her some time. He had a VMax in the shop that someone had removed the black anodizing and polished the aluminum and painted most of the rest pink! What an abomination!! It was in because the owner had an argument with his wife and road off in anger and directly into the side of a car parked in front of the end of his driveway. I highly recommend David as a guide if you want to tour the mountains of Northern Thailand. He told me where to buy copies of his book and map of the best trips and loops around the mountains. We arranged to meet for drinks after dinner at a bar that night. David came on his Honda 750 Africa Twin and his friend Barry came in a car. Barry owns a small engineering firm in Australia and does some consulting for the Thai army. We drank and discussed traveling through the mountains and how lovely the ladies are and other such things. I indicated that I was headed to Mae Sai as it was on the border with Burma and wanted to see Burma. Barry told me the border was closed as Mae Sai had been shelled about 4 months previously by the Burmese army. Seems they are fighting the Shan (a country they took over 50 years ago or so) and they decided that Thailand was helping the Shan (they probably were there is no love lost between Thailand and Burma and there are Shan in Thailand). So the Thai’s shelled the Burmese army and killed about twice as many Burmese as they had killed Thai. So the border was closed for a while until the new President of Thailand, Thaksin Shinowat (sp?) reopened it. Barry had some pictures of Mae Sai empty of people during the shelling when he had been there consulting. Barry also told me about some places to meet Burmese and/or Chinese girls in Mae Sai and where I should stay. Irving and I headed home latish.

Next day I took a ride into the hills near Chiang Mai and saw some nice temples (Wat in Thai) and waterfalls. In the afternoon Irving and I went for a traditional Thai massage, 1200 baht (read Traditional Thai Massage as Soapy which is a NICE tradition). We met Barry and David that night but Irving went to bed early, I stayed up with them in a bar and watched the Formula 1 race.

Next day Irving left for Singapore and I headed out to Mae Sai. I asked him to call my boss in Singapore and let him know I was going to take 4 or 5 extra days vacation as I had lost a few due to sitting in Chiang Mai and nursing a sunburn on top of a sunburn. The road to Mae Sai runs through Chiang Rai and on the way to Chiang Rai there is a nice mountain road. Along the way were 4 different stops by the police for document checks. I asked and discovered there is such a huge problem with refugees and girls that have come to Thailand illegally to work in the sex industry (and just to get jobs) that they put these up to check documents of anyone heading South in Thailand. I also discovered that the way the girls get South is that they pay the police about 4 times the bus ticket and then are taken South in police vans bypassing the check points. So much for stopping the problem, but I suppose it reduces it. Rainy season had started so I got some rain going into Mae Sai. Nice trip though and easy mountain run. This is where I learned an important lesson; if you see a large brown mound in the road it is likely dung. If it is fairly fresh (definitely will be early in the morning) then all they do is splat when hit. If it is not fresh and there is a crust on the outside then they more explode than splat . There is also a section here where the road is being upgraded through the mountains from 2 to 3 lanes and for about 10km it is dirt or gravel. (NOTE: this is now repaired by 2004.)