This was a ride concept hatched by Andrew and I after some discussion about how many days riding and where we could get to during the post-Christmas/New Year period. And as we'd both planned to be in KK for NY - hence the coining of the Last/First ride of the year...so we planned a route up to Loei through Khao Kho - some sightseeing in PHRK National Park - NY in KK, and then?...we'd work the rest out along the way... Day 1 Planned to meet at 6.30. I arrive at 6.31 and accused of being late. We later discover it's Andrew's time is fast. Get onto Rangsit and bit of traffic. Andrew nips in and out of traffic like a snake and I drop behind. Soon he drops back and I take over so we can manage the pace and I don't get dropped. Uneventful run to Petchabun and turn off to Khao Kho with a stop for fuel and a Coffee. Lovely road and we start to enjoy some twisty and I get to scrub in the new tires (Diablo Rosso). Which feel very good and I can actually feel that they are softer than the Angel's. I thought I wouldn't be able to tell, but I can. We stop for great lunch snack and a coffee overlooking the valley and hills of the highlands. Lovely and cool. Cold in fact and we try to warm up a bit. We plan to meet with John at the turn off to the 2216 and ride the rest of the way to Loei together. I start to think along the way that this road is not quite as good as I'd remembered. And wonder how the rest of the trip will turn out. It's funny sometimes how different circumstances make you perceive things differently. Just goes to show how experiences and perceptions are the sum of their parts and no two days are ever the same. We all get stopped by the pigs on the final short leg into Loei and Andrew is the unlucky one to get nicked for 200 baht for travelling at 120. Top speed for the day was 211 so I guess it's not too bad. For us two. Tiger's fuming. Confused. Can't baffle them with bull so tries to blind them with science. I guess they skipped class that day cos it don't work and he's in the queue with the great unwashed. Oh dear. Few beers outside the Hotel, walk to the restaurant and decent but slightly pricey Thai meal and a few beers. Off to bed. Early start planned but with morning fog a potential issue we plan to see how it looks at 7 in the restaurant. Day2 Meet up for breakfast at 7 as planned. Andrew is late. But that’s Ok. Cos heavy mist or fog is surrounding the town. No point riding our favorite roads in the fog, is there? John moves his FZ1 just in time to avoid an unwanted washing – despite the assurances from the washers that it would be OK – see John’s bike across the road. We have a lazy breakfast of porky rice and plastic, American breakfast with extra helpings of stuff and eventually head off about 8. Visibility poor. Heavy mist, cold and damp. The two British folk love it and disappear off ahead. My smoked visor ices up and I slow down trying to clear it. Finally it gets better as we approach the better open twisties and I start to enjoy the ride up to the gas stop. We fuel up and head off to our mutual parting point near Nakhon Thai. Mission is to get into and enjoy the PHRK Nat Park and have a good look around. After some enquiries at entry point, we cherry pick a few sights to see and head off. Lovely road through there overall. Few rough spots but nothing we can't handle. First stop is baby heads rock fields. It was rough going but the Sidi up to the task. We snap a few pics after bribing the locals to get out of the way for just a minute. Have an ice cream, buy some souvenirs, smirk at a dog or two, perve a bit and head off up the road to visitor centre. It's interesting to review the history of the park. Andrew fails to unlock a milf’s iPhone, which is very embarrassing for him and we press on to other sights. I stop at air raid shelter. Looks too daunting holding helmet with boots etc to climb down. Pissweak I know. We also stop at the much revered “water wheel” – but we need to walk to that too – the walk to the baby head rock field took it out of us – and I think the altitude is also playing a part. And then we just head on to the lookout for good break. Noodles, chicken drink and lots of looking. Bird watching. Lovely view. Andrew confesses he's been there before but forgot what it was called. Back down hill. Andrew starts to ride "conservatively". I go past and wait at exit junction. 20mins later he arrives and would later complain of slippery road. Finally hit 203 and Andrew gets revenge taking over and nipping past some traffic while I get stuck. I don't see him again. The 203 is probably mile for mile one of the best overall roads in Thailand. It's long and varied and some parts are truly great. Really enjoy the ride and despite us both getting stuck at various points with parades and traffic, we arrive at the hotel only a few minutes apart. Or Andrew is being polite. We both have stories to tell of moments but we arrive safely and wolf down a bunch of beers. Little moment with the restaurant next door. Dinner at Chris's. Flirt with the teenager working there. Plan to see how the morning looks before deciding to go north around river or back over 203 to kk for New Year. Day 3 We plan to meet again at 7am – and manage it – to find again the town surrounded by the morning mist/fog stuff. But it doesn’t look quite as bad as the previous morning – so we decide to head north – towards the border and take the scenic run along the Mekong all the way to Nong Kai – where we will then break for the south and our final destination of Khon Kaen for the day. We should make this with time to spare and may even to be able to take in some secret sois around Udon – or at least a back road here or there – along past Ubonrat Dam for the final run in to KK. Well, at least that’s the plan. We get out of town, and quickly realize that not only is there a bit of fog about, a) it’s almost freezing, b) visibility is Sweet FA – even with clear visor….and c) it’s fucking cold. Did I mention it was fucking cold? Andrew leads for a while, riding a bit slower than usual thank fuck – because I can’t see shit – even with the clear visor now up – face and eyes taking the full effect of the morning frost, and the faster we go, the colder it gets. He pulls over about 7 kays up the road and I wonder what’s wrong – poor little Brit is so cold he needs to add some more layers! I can sympathise, but decide to harden-the-fuck up and press on knowing he will eventually catch me anyway – he’s wearing his Oakley’s (Ducati model – snigger) – with visor up and contacts on to protects his peeps – I have visor up and literally feel like I’m riding nude into a blizzard. I can actually feel the small droplets of mist stinging my eyeballs. Bones start to freeze – onset of arthritis imminent. Nips like bullets. Then about 2 kays up the road it starts to clear. I snigger and give myself a quiet pat on the back for battling on, like a true Ozzie underdog and being rewarded for my hard-man initiative. Then it deteriorates again and I feel like a silly cunt. Oh well. Better to have thought you’ve won and lost than to never have thought you’ve won at all….isn’t it? Something like that… Not much more to say – it was bloody slow and cold going all the way to the river – and for about 40 kays along it – and there were often patches where we’d get a sunny spot, then speed up, round a corner, and it’d be cold again, forcing us to slow down. We were still bloody cold when we finally reached Nong Kai and stopped a few times along the way to have a piss, thaw out a bit and generally take a short break. It was not so much the cold as the poor visibility really. Finally we get to Nong Kai – have a great and well-deserved lunch and a nice coffee by the river – thanks to the lovely sweet eyed Cat for making out coffees so nice – even if they were a bit…yes, you guessed it…cold! We’d pretty much had enough when we decided to leave Nong Kai and certain family and conjugal arrangements needed to be made in KK pronto – so we decided to just fill up and blast down the highway to KK. I think we made pretty good time, and got there around 2.30 from memory. We all met later in the evening for a good night of food and entertainment – only to be spoiled by a last minute decision to go to Central Plaza for countdown – which turned into a disaster because everyone in the whole entire world had decided to go there too. Anyway – a little countdown, some kisses and cuddles and then in to town to hunt for somewhere to go out – it was hopping – I’ve never seen KK like that. Too busy really – we’d had enough, tired, shitty and probably a bit horny, we called it a night around 2am. Day4. A lazy lay day – some social visits here and there, culminating in a hastily polished-off last half of the whisky, and then a few more beers and BBQ at the Kosa. Off to bed at a reasonable hour and we also decide that our way back to Bangkok will be along the 12 and 203 to Loei – avoiding the road works through some back roads, and then the final day ride will be back down the 203, along the 12 to Khao Kho, through it and out onto the 21 back home. We feel mildly uncomfortable with this, as it seems to be doubling up on roads – but really, we didn’t want to experiment with little country scratchers, and wanted 2 days of quality to finish. We sign off on that then. Day5 Lube chains with the invaluable Singer oil – Andrew’s chain has been clattering away like a medieval torture wagon since day one – he confesses to cleaning it with brake cleaner before the trip and was very impressed with how clean it became – black stuff coming straight off. We debate whether the black stuff may have also been the actual o-rings themselves – and agree that perhaps it could have been – but the chain has done 38,000 k anyway – so who cares? The Singer works wonders, nonetheless. It also flings off all over the place performing it’s secondary duty of delivering a protective coating to anything within 500 metres or so… I stash the precious bottle of fluid in the Multi’s cupboard for future use. We head off a bit later around 9am and it’s not long before we notice there’s a lot more traffic on the road today, 2nd of January. As we detour from the 12 and eventually get onto the 101 – we’re happy to be heading north – as there is a shit load of traffic heading south. We have a fairly uneventful run – re-connecting with the 12 before it gets twisty and as usual enjoy a great and fast rollicking run. Bit of traffic – but I can see Andrew loves it – and it’s a challenge to keep up – looking through the long sweeping corners – making sure nothings coming the other way – and overtaking as many cars as possible. One mini-moment when I look through and decide to go – only to see a lunatic bus emerge from the woods coming the other way and I hit the picks and pull back in. Head out with lean on and half a dozen cars with a bus coming the other way. Not good. Another mini-moment – Andrew goes around the outside on a left hander, when a pick up coming the other way decides he’s like a good portion of the road – Andrew gets his knee down man-handling the Tiger back out of harms way – the crowd goes wild and knickers and bras are discarded from pick up trucks as far as the eye can see. It really was something to behold. Thoughts of Robot and a little chubby starts to emerge… We stop at Lomsak for a nice early lunch. There’s a serving wench there with the most gorgeous skin I think I’ve ever seen – truly a porcelain doll. We have some polite banter and she shows that she’s got a great personality to boot! After some man-type discussion, we start to guess her age – Andrew thinks she’s no more than 17. I suggest she’s at least 19 and has been using expensive hi-protein beauty products since birth. I pluck up the courage to enquire and we are both shocked to find out that she’s actually 24 and has 4 children. Little pantser!!! Hot. With the 12 dispensed with , we get psyched for the 203 in to Loei. Just a couple of days ago, I had been chatting with John about a certain section of a road around there with just open sweeping corners we can see right through – John thinks I’m talking about the 203 – but it’s been a little while since I’ve done the first part of it, so can’t really recall – let’s face it – how many great roads are there up there…? Heaps! Once into the road, John’s comment it recalled and confirmed – this truly is a magic piece of tarmac. Sure, there are better single or short strips of roads up and around the north – but I think it’s had to beat the 203 for length, variety and overall quality – call it a great “bang-for-buck” road. We have a rippingly great run into Loei – it’s getting late as we arrive and there’s a bit of traffic – but overall it was a top run. Some corners are compromised with the traffic – for me at least, Andrew dispenses with that with ease. We arrive in Loei knowing we’ve made the right decision to come back this way – and in anticipation of the ride tomorrow. We throw down about 30 beers each – go to Chris’s Pizza joint and are amazed at the transformation of Loei from just a few days ago – the place is hopping with people – all the bars are busy, there’s “stuff” all over the place – and we almost throw caution to the wind, but the reality of tomorrow’s ride back to BKK is there – and we know there will be traffic – and we absolutely must make the most of the day ahead. We rock out for a while, and break hearts by leaving the bars early. On the way back, we start talking about Mel Gibson for some reason – I forgot it at the time, but I think it was as funny as fuck – maybe Andrew can chime in? I’ve forgotten again – something to do with his birthday on the 3rd of January…? Day6 Fear of the fog…we pray to Jesus that there will be no fog – and to our delight, there is only minimal fog. Clear Visors and away around 7.15. Mission is the 203 again and through Khao Kho – and back the the 21 for the anticipated hell-trip back to Bangkok. The 203 this morning is SUBLIME. Almost no traffic, the sun is pretty much at our backs and the wind in our faces as we plunder all she has to offer. Truly a great run through there and one to remember. We have such a great run we don’t really stop til we get to Khao Kho – then have a well-deserved break at our favourite hill-top nosh shop. There’s a bit of traffic about – mainly on the 12 to the turn off point, but wow – what a great ride. We bugger off and realize that now we are on the homeward leg – the run through Kho Kho heading back to the 21 is a bit busy by now and not as free-flowing as it could have been. Most cars however seem to be able to move over a bit – but as usual a few ignorami here and there. Once onto the 21 – we just make the best of it. Not a bad run all considered. Stop for fuel at a PTT heading south – packed to the rafters. A PTT 500 metres down the road has almost no one there. Something to remember next time. There’s a few spots where the traffic snarls up and we need to lanesplit or use the hard shoulder – but nothing too bad really. Most of the snarls are caused by the rubbernecking drivers trying to catch a glimpse of some of the other carnage on the road. Once we get back to Bangkok – it’s still surprisingly quiet – I guess we eventually bludgeoned our way to the front – we just seemed to be constantly catching bunches of traffic – you know what it’s like. All in all, this was a great trip – and even though there was some “dead –space” riding across to KK and back – It was a pretty good loop overall. Thinking about it since the return, I think the best overall 4 days riding one can do with BKK as the start and end point is up the 21 then across to Khao Kho – then the 203 to Loei. Then across and up to Nan – and then back again more or less the exact same way. That’s 4 days, and about as good as it gets if you need to depart and return to Bangkok – I can’t really think of better top quality/quantity stuff closer to Bangkok. Can you?