Entered Thailand 6th October, 2000
Exchange Rate: 1USD= 43 Thai Baht (THB)
Fuel: 1 Litre = 17THB
Camping: – Didn’t camp, but I doubt camping grounds even exist.
Pension: – 80B single to 570B triple
Road conditions: – Fabulous! Hayabusa territory. (For non-bikers, a Suzuki motorcycle, the fastest production road vehicle available at the time.)
Speed limits: – ?
Border crossings from the west: – Nil. Borders Myanmar, and that is still closed to foreign vehicles. (Edit 2022, the borders might be open now)
Toll roads near border crossings: – Nil.
Food & Drink: – 1L Water 5B, Large Beer 40-100B, 250ml Pepsi 10B, Main Meal 40-100B
Thailand is a great place for a holiday. Very cheap, and very easy, too easy if you stay in the tourist areas such as Bangkok, Pataya or Phuket. I and the other four I have been travelling with off and on had to wait 10 days in Bangkok for our bikes to arrive from Kathmandu (see the Nepal story for details).
Cuan, the South African had an urgent mechanical situation with his Honda Africa Twin to resolve. The bearing behind the engine sprocket was totally stuffed, and had been for the last 3000km (since he noticed it). I had told him that it wouldn’t last another 1000km, but it did somehow. There was about 3mm play at the sprocket, and I am amazed that it lasted that long. Usually as soon as the hard facing is gone from the balls, they turn to iron filings very quickly. To replace this bearing meant splitting the cases. A big job. While it was done, he replaced most ball bearings, the piston rings, and had the valves re-faced. The total cost of the labour was $100US. I estimate it would cost about $500US in any western country.
The work was done by:
259/1-2 Visuttikasat Rd
Bangkok. Ph:+66-2-2829999 Fax:+66-2-2810322
Dynamic do a lot of work on European bikes like BMW and Ducati, as well as big Japanese bikes. Apart from doing good service work, they can supply tyres, chains etc, and supplied me a Michelin T66 front tyre. I still couldn’t get the correct size rear tyre. I could have got a reasonably close road tyre, but I decided to stick with the skinny Indian tyre until I find the right one.
Cuan had to spend almost 4 weeks in Bangkok, waiting for parts from England, and the work to be performed. He reckoned that another few days there, and he would have to become a permanent member of the AA, and he didn’t mean the Automobile Association. Apart from being too convenient a drinking environment, it can get really tiring being solicited by hookers and drug sellers constantly. Ten days is way too long in Bangkok for me, and although I liked it, I was glad to get away.
I had expected to find Thailand a relatively backward Asian country, perhaps like Indonesia, but it is very modern, with a great road network, reliable power grid, clean well appointed guest rooms, orderly traffic (the best since Europe), well signed streets and highways. All in all, a great place to be on a motorcycle. Having said that the traffic is ordered, I did see my first road death of the trip here. In other countries, I had seen lots of recent accidents where you knew they had to have been fatal, including one very nasty looking one in Iran where a petrol tanker and a bus had a head on on a straight stretch of road. The wrecks were still smouldering when I passed, but all the victims had been removed. I learned latter that about 40 people died. Helmets are law here for the rider, but not the passenger.
We flew direct from Kathmandu to Bangkok, and found a suitable guest house by about 9pm. I put all my gear in the room, then went out for a drink. I was sitting by myself at an outdoor restaurant close to the centre of the tourist area near Khao San Rd, when the table next to me struck up a conversation. There were two guys, an Australian, and a black African, as well as a girl who claimed to be a Malaysian. They seemed pleasant enough, and we chatted away for some time. I’d had two beers, I was tired, and felt like going back to the guest house, but they seemed to want to talk some more, so I bought another beer. At some stage, I went off to the toilet, came back and chatted some more, and that was the last clear memory I have until 12 noon the next day. I woke up in an unfamiliar hotel, 1 hour by taxi from my guest house. My wallet and good watch gone. I had just taken out cash from an ATM, and I had Australian and American dollars, as well as my credit cards and drivers license. All gone! I have vague memories of being in the taxi leaving, and thinking to myself ‘this is not good’, but I was unable to do anything about it.
I woke up, with one hell of a headache, and still groggy, but nothing like a hangover. After finding my gear missing, I went downstairs and spoke to the receptionist to try to figure out what was going on. The hotel registration form was filled out by the girl, in Thai so she wasn’t Malaysian. I explained that I had no money, and he didn’t make me pay for the room, and paid for the taxi back to my guest house. This seemed a little strange to me. Maybe he was in on the scam. I spoke to a few others, and some people think that maybe the hoteliers want to play down the crime in the city because it is bad for business. I don’t know, and I guess I never will. I cancelled my credit cards, and went to the police. I had the business card from the hotel, and the hotel room. I gave the police the whole story, but they seemed to find some parts of my story amusing, and didn’t do anything to follow up on it. I don’t know why they wasted two hours taking a report. Maybe just for statistics! While I was giving the report, several others were there with missing wallets, cameras etc. I think the police thought I had a prostitute, and she cleaned me out. From all the stories I have read since, that is one of the most common crimes here. A guy takes a bar girl to his room, they have sex, he goes to sleep, she cleans him out. Some don’t even get that far. Often they get back to the room. He goes for a shower, comes out, and she is gone with everything. I have never had sex outside a relationship in my life. In fact and I haven’t been in a relationship for so long, I figure I only have to wait a little longer to earn my virginity badge back!
One of the rules of travel is to stay sharp at all times, and this is especially true in Bangkok! There are so many people here trying to rip you off, and you can’t pick them. The group I was talking to just seemed to be other travellers, like the hundreds of others I had spoken too along the way.
My guess was that drugs are the motive. Apparently, drug addicts flock to Thailand because of the relatively cheap and clean heroin. Even though it is relatively cheap, an addict still needs a lot of money to feed their habit. There is no doubt in my mind that some form of drug was put in my beer. I talked to a German who said it is called KO juice. He said he had almost been framed for carrying heroin. He is covered with tattoos and body piercing, and probably looked like a likely candidate, but he wasn’t a drug taker, or dealer. I have just read a book called ‘The Damage Done’ by Warren Fellows. He is an Australian who spent 12 years in Thai jails for drug trafficking. The story is quite shocking, and the brutality of the Thai prisons is inexcusable. Murders, bashings, mental torture and starvation were all standard practice. The fact that anyone would risk taking drugs here shows just how desperate they are. The severity of Thailand’s legal system against drug taking is common knowledge. Enough of the negative side of Thailand.
One thing you will see plenty of in Thailand is the incredibly ornate Buddhist temples. They are more prolific that churches in Europe. The next few photos are the Grand palace in Bangkok. This place took my breath away. Just as the Taj Mahal is stunning for its’ simplicity and elegance, the Grand Palace is stunning for being very ornate and intricate. An absolute ‘must-see’ in Bangkok.
Unfortunately, it was still the end of the monsoon season here, and very overcast. These photos don’t really show off the glistening brilliance of the buildings. Most surfaces are covered with mosaics of coloured mirror glass, glazed ceramics, and gold.
We stood there looking at this statue, wondering why he was wearing such a hat. Surely the Thais never wore European hats. It turns out this is Marco Polo. He initiated trade with Thailand too.
We’ve moved on from the Grand palace now. This is the Golden Buddha. over 6 tonnes of solid gold. Worth a mere $65 million for the gold alone. There is almost no security here, but then it would be hard to pick up six tonnes and run away with it.
Finally, the bikes arrived from Kathmandu. It has been over two weeks since we have been on them, and we are all hanging out to get going again. Sam with his BMW R1100GS in the foreground. Peter, a Dutchman who happened to be picking up his Yamaha Super Tenere at the same time, in the background. Peter plans to go to Indonesia on his way to Australia. I am going to try to stay in touch with him to separate fact from fiction. I have heard that bikes over 400cc are not allowed. Worse, they let you in, but not out, until you pay the obligatory bribe of course. Indonesia is not considered a safe place for Australians at the moment because of our instigating the East Timor independence.
On leaving Bangkok, the first thing we noticed was how good the roads are. Wide, fast, safe, well marked. Lots of curves in the hills. It would be fun to have a big sports bike here, though much of Thailand is flat. It is only near Myanmar and Laos that you encounter hills, and even then, you rarely get above 400m.
The bridge over the river Kwai.
I’m sure most people are familiar with this story. What I didn’t find out until I got here was that the story was 95% fiction. The Japanese imposed impossible conditions on the workers, and most died unnecessarily. It is estimated that 116,000 people died making the Burma Railroad, often called the Death Railroad, because it cost more than one life for every sleeper laid.
The curved spans are original. Three spans were destroyed during the war, and replaced with two rectangular spans. All the curved spans were taken from a bridge in Indonesia, disassembled, and reassembled in Thailand to speed up the process of opening up the line. Japan had all it’s shipping supply lines cut by US submarines, and desperately needed to open a land supply line.
I think it is universally known of the plight of the POW’s under Japanese control during WWII. What shocked me was that about 10,000 POW’s died, but over 100,000 Asian labourers died. They were mostly conscripted from Malaya and Indonesia, and included Chinese, Indian, Malays and Indonesians. About one in four POW’s died, but the ratio was closer to two out of three for the labourers. They were basically treated the same, but they didn’t have the support network that the soldiers had built up.
A rare photo of me, sporting my Singha beer T shirt. Buy three beers, get a free T shirt. I should have had a new (though boring) wardrobe, except that they ran out of T shirts. I only have one.
The town by the bridge is called Kanchanaburi. We stayed by the river. This is a floating pavilion, where we enjoyed a few beers at night. Cuan facing, and Horst, kicking back.
Our humble room for the night. Air-conditioned thankfully because the humidity was stifling.
On our way to Three Pagoda Pass(TPP), Myanmar (Burma). We had already established that it was unlikely that they would let us in with the motorcycles, but I wanted to find out for sure. Once there, they confirmed what we had heard, but said that at the Mae Sot crossing further north, we might be able to take the bikes in. I doubt it though. If anyone has taken a bike over, or has heard of someone, please give me the details at: firstname.lastname@example.org The border guard told us in broken English that if we take a motorcycle across here, it would get stolen. Much of Myanmar is out of control of the Government, and bandits are really bad.
River huts on the way to TPP.
At TPP, there was a procession of cars carrying gifts for a temple. These gifts include money stapled around the edge of umbrellas, buckets full of groceries, cleaning products, trinkets etc.
And they say motorcycles are dangerous. I hope there weren’t many people on board here, but the chances are there were.
On the way back from the border, we stayed in Sai Yok. I found this suspension bridge. If you ever want a cheap thrill, try riding across a small suspension bridge. When it gets sway up, and it will, you end up riding from one side to the other, yet in a straight line. It gets a bit scary at times.
The infamous hellfire pass, Burma railroad. This was built with predominately Australian POW’s. The Australian Government has just opened up a new museum dedicated to the Burma Railroad, 17km west of Sai Yok. It is very well done, and although it only opened about a year ago, it was packed with people looking at the displays. The name Hellfire Pass came from when the Japanese imposed 18 hour work days to get the line open on time. The men used bamboo torches at night, and ‘Hellfire’ referred to the hundreds or torches moving around at night, looking like hell.
This is very a very common occurrence, riding through hotel foyers to get safe parking.
A Train used by the Japanese on the railroad, at Sai Yok.
Thais at play in this beautiful waterfall in Sai Yok. It is only a small part of the waterfall. It is much bigger, probably by three or four times.
Chiang Mai, the so called ‘Rose of the North’. They say it has all of the cultural attractions of Bangkok without the hype and traffic. Personally, I think 3-4 days in Bangkok, then head up to Chiang Mai. It is in the hills, surrounded by national parks, great rides, close to the Laos and Myanmar borders, and much cooler than Bangkok. I stayed at the Supreme Guest House for 80THB with shower and toilet. Breakfast of bacon, eggs, tomato, toast, butter, jam, orange juice, tea or coffee for 40B (<$1). They have a book exchange there, but you can borrow books free, while you stay. All in all, a great place to ‘chill-out’, and cheap.
Another good reason to go to Chiang Mai is because there is a great motorcycle shop there called Joes Bikes. Joe Sauerborn is a German, and speaks perfect English. He spent 12 years in Australia, so I think we should claim him as one of our own. They have a big workshop, modern tools including a milling machine. If you have problems with your bike, this is a much better place to have work done than Bangkok.
Apart from being a top guy, he can get parts for just about anything, though from Europe, not locally because the only big bikes here are imported outside the dealer channel. He can also direct you to a great panel-beater where I had a toolbox made for the bike out of 3mm aluminium. It was totally custom made to my design for the KTM, and it cost a whole $19! He also fixed up my panniers which were butchered by a ‘panel-beater’ in Turkey after my crash. They are now better than new I believe. I had him put a 3mm sheet of aluminium on the mounting frame side of the cases, and they fit perfectly again. The lids now seal properly again, which is a relief because we are sure to encounter major rain in SE Asia sometime. We have already been through a few showers, and water did get in.
How’s this for cool! Joe has an open air bungalow style bar in the front of the workshop. Great for a drink after work, or watch some TV. We watched the Australian round of the world 500cc GP series (now called MotoGP) here on Sunday morning. It was one of the best 500cc races I have ever seen. Gary McCoy, the Aussie wildman of 500cc racing put on a great show, and showed his dirt racing heritage with his slides. He couldn’t get it all together, and finished fifth, but not disgraced. Eight riders in a 1.8sec bracket is very unusual in 500cc racing.
Check out Joe’s sidecar. It is a Suzuki GSX1100R motor in a Yamaha XS650 frame, Honda wheels, and who knows what else. A KTM 360 enduro bike in the trailer ready to be delivered to an Austrian friend 90km away.