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  1. #21 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
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    Ride Update – Vang Vieng to Pakxe...and the jungle!

    Before I begin this ride update, I would like to remind everybody that when riding in ovens (a.k.a. one-piece riding suits which you are afraid to open the leg vents on since the one and only time you did you crashed and got road rash on your knee which then got infected and was swollen for a week and a half) through 40 degree weather, it is always important to keep yourself hydrated.



    This message was brought to you by Sponsor (a Thai electrolyte drink of which we drink at least 3 a day) and eggs (of which we average about 4 per person per day).

    Now on to the fun stuff.

    Departing from Vang Vieng after a few quiet and relaxing days found us having two of our longest rides almost back to back. Deviating from Route 13, we skirted around the capital city of Vientiane to make it to the Kong Lor caves, about 450km away. And this time we did it right. We woke up at 7am and were out of there by 9am. We stopped once every hour and a half, making good time. We ran into TWO other groups of BMW-mounted adventure riders! We should have arrived before sunset at around 6pm. It just felt right.



    Gotta get your stretch on.

    Things just never work out though, huh. The last turn we had to make down Route 8 to get to the caves was marked as 30km on the map. It wasn't. More like 60. The town was named Ban Khoun Kham in Lonely Planet. It wasn't. It was called Nahin. The guest-house recommended in the book was “just on the west-side of town!” It wasn't. It was 40km down the ever-darkening road and with no signs. What a nightmare. We ended up riding into the steepest mountain roads so far of the trip, and came away at over 510km on the day.

    So at 9pm, we stumbled past the nearby hydroelectric dam's workers' barracks and into a quaint little guest-house. Too bad it turned out to also have an hourly room rate that we weren't aware of until the walls started shaking at midnight. Pete, always the one for a quick one-liner, still cheerfully said, “At least I couldn't hear you snoring, breh!”

    Unfazed by the previous night, we woke up the next day to ride the 90km round-trip to explore the Kong Lor caves.



    For those of you planning on making it to Laos, this excursion is a must. Over the course of several thousand years, the Hinboun River has tunneled its way underneath a mountain, connecting two villages on either side via the 7.5km waterway. Supplies are still ferried back and forth between the two villages every day from the Ban Nahin side...



    ...through the enormous 70 meter high and twice as wide caverns, past the stalactites and stalagmites (they ran a generator so we could see, otherwise all you have is your and the boat man's head lamps to see)...




    ...and out the other side about 35 minutes later.



    It was a great day with a lot of smiles and amazement. On the way back to the guest-house, we came across a giant, wandering herd of 30-40 water buffalo that just needed to cross the road right in front of us.



    And the next stop was for the children getting off school; some crammed onto school-buses made from welding a cart onto a large power tiller, the older ones weaving around on their hand-me-down scooters, and the younger ones riding their bicycles.



    We met an ex-Buddhist monk named Ae near our hostel and chatted about all things Lao until the wee hours of the morning. The next day would be a long one as well, as we were hoping to get all the way to Pakxe in Champasak, another 450km or so south. It turned out to be an extremely uneventful ride, with no problems, no delays, no nothing. We arrived at around 6pm and repacked all our belongings in anticipation of spending 3 days in the surrounding jungle swinging from trees, ziplining over 120 meter waterfalls...



    ...and playing some impromptu rock-bocce atop those waterfalls.



    The Treetop Experience was a great time; we made some new friends and got some amazing video. I have never ziplined before, and on the second day we were already hootin' and hollerin' across a 420 meter wide valley. After the 3-day session, it was good to get back to warm food and cold beer, though, and we are extremely excited about the next stop: Thailand!

    More coming soon! Please click forward to www.greatrideforward.com to read the blog entires, view pics, and hopefully soon watch some video. The up-to-date route can be seen on Google Maps here.
    Last edited by GRF_Hans; 03-05-2011 at 05:47 AM.
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  2. #22 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
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    Ride Report - Pakxe to Bangkok


    We left Pakxe mid-morning with high spirits in anticipation of the border-crossing into Thailand. We arrived at the Lao border checkpoint at around noon. It turned out that when we crossed into Laos from China, they had forgotten to issue a temporary vehicle import form for our motorcycles, and this caused a slight delay while we tried to explain that to the officers. Otherwise, however, the entire process took only about an hour. We paid 100 baht (about US$3) for each bike and the visas into Thailand were free.




    Departing the border-crossing shooting for Buri Rum meant we would have about 350-400km on the day. With the energy level still high from the excitement of crossing into Thailand, it took us a full minute or two to realize that we were driving on the wrong side of the road. We had lapsed on the fact that Thailand is left, and the oncoming traffic made sure that we never forget it!


    Buri Rum seemed to be a relatively quiet town with a large night-market. We drove through almost the entire city and spent about an hour looking for a guesthouse before settling down for the night, anticipating to get to Bangkok the next day. During breakfast the next morning, though, Peter recommended that due to his previous experiences in Bangkok, it would be wiser to spend a night near the city and then drive in outside of peak hours. Thus we settled on Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of the Thai kingdom.


    We ended up getting lost on the way over due to our inability to read maps and signs on the road, and wound up pulling in at 8pm or so. We had taken the wrong highway out of Buri Rum and wound up 30km or so north of the actual city. The Thais that we asked for directions kept directing us to the nearest town in the Ayutthaya province, instead of Ayutthaya the city. Finally, after a 20 minute negotiation with a convenience store owner, she ran off and grabbed presumably the only English speaker in the town. He was then kind enough to draw us a map and 40 minutes later we were there!




    Ayutthaya is a city with a very rich history; located at the convergence of three rivers, the island served as the capital from 1350 to 1767 before being sacked by the Burmese. The cultural and historical relics scattered throughout the island, some looted, some destroyed, were all quite amazing to see and we ended up spending two days there to fully take in everything.




    This was a probably 12 foot tall Buddha statue at Wat Mahathat, and the pigeon crapped on his golden scarf a second after this photo was taken.




    The iconic Buddha head at Wat Mahathat. The tree has been growing around it for decades.




    The entryway into Wat Ratburana, seen through the ruins of the old prayer hall. They used to store gold relics under this towering structure in a swampy, narrow basement until it was looted in 1967 or so.


    The next stop was Bangkok, and the trip was supposed to only take an hour or so. Ayutthaya sits but 70km to the direct north of Bangkok, so we planned to arrive into the city between 1pm and 2pm in order to avoid the rush-hour traffic. And it seems that whenever you have a decidedly easy day ahead of you, everything goes wrong.


    Twenty kilometers outside of Bangkok, Pete flatted his rear tire. Thankfully, due to congestion, it was at low-speed (about 40km/h) on the highway. We spent about thirty minutes on the side of the road inspecting his tube to make sure everything was alright, thinking that it would just be a minor puncture that we could seal. However, we couldn't find the source of the leak. Then our hand-pump broke in half and cut Pete's hand. Finally, Pete pushed the bike to the nearest car tire shop. All this under the 43 degree sun.




    By this point, since we had been unable to inflate the inner-tube, it was now completely shredded. Using one of the spare tubes, we were able to get back on the road.




    The whole ordeal only delayed us 2 hours or so...just in time for Bangkok rush hour.


    Bangkok was one of the places I was most looking forward to on this trip, having heard of all the amazing sights and other tourist attractions. We stayed near Rambuttri and Khao San roads in a very backpacker friendly area of town and proceeded to get scammed for the next 3 nights. What a horrible city. Maybe we are just too naïve, but now I know never to trust anyone with anything in that city.


    Despite having to pay ridiculous prices for food and entertainment, I guess it was still a good time. We got the chance to see some Muay Thai boxing at the famous Lumpini stadium...



    ...which was fun despite the inordinate amount we had to pay for tickets. In other news we also got our bikes serviced and they were in the shop for 3 days. We purchased new Michelin Sirac dual-sport tires...




    ...along with getting a (supposed, but more on that later) full inspection, oil change, and my rotten front suspension replaced.




    Needless to say, we were incredibly excited to get out of that place. After managing to get threatened by a tuk-tuk driver with a knife over 10 baht, pushed around by a TV executive at a nightclub for talking to one of his girls (which was actually one of the friends in our group from Singapore...), and then hit with a 2400 baht bill for a bowl of Tom Yum Gong at a scammy restaurant, I had had enough. Next stop, Prachuap Khiri Kahn...anywhere but Bangkok...




    I never recommend night riding except when you're trying to get the hell out of Bangkok.




    More coming soon! Please click forward to www.greatrideforward.com to read the blog entires, view pics, and watch some video. The up-to-date route can be seen on Google Maps here.
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  3. #23 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
    Moto Scholar moilami's Avatar
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    Thank you very much of the report. I feel privileged to be able to read and watch pictures in it. Big time respects also for doing it with china bikes!
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  4. #24 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
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    This is a fascinating trip -- thanks for sharing. What I'm very curious about is how you can get around in Laos and Thailand with the local Suzhou (China) plates. When you cross borders, do they issue you any temporary plates from the countries you're traveling to? Or is just filling out paperwork at the borders, i.e. import certificates. I'm surprised about Thailand, as I figured for sure they would insist on registration plates. Also, how do you plan to get back into China? I heard about a guy who rode his bike out of Yunnan and he reported on his blog that the border officials said he couldn't bring the bike back over the border to the mainland. The general consensus is that riding through SE Asian borders is a cakewalk on a motorcycle, but getting in and out of China is the hard part. Anyways, kudos on this excellent adventure and can't wait to read more. If the border formalities are as easy as they appear on your trip, then I might just do this myself.
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  5. #25 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
    Senior C-Moto Guru euphonius's Avatar
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    Yes, I'd like to hear specifics about China border crossings on a China-plated bike. I know lots of Chinese who have done this, but I've never gotten details about the actual formalities at the border.

    thanks a great vicarious ride!

    cheers
    jkp
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  6. #26 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve_R View Post
    What I'm very curious about is how you can get around in Laos and Thailand with the local Suzhou (China) plates. When you cross borders, do they issue you any temporary plates from the countries you're traveling to? Or is just filling out paperwork at the borders, i.e. import certificates. I'm surprised about Thailand, as I figured for sure they would insist on registration plates.
    The border crossings as of yet have been cake. The Boten crossing in Laos actually forgot to issue us the import forms and that turned out to not even be a problem on the other side...which was nice since there have been so many horror stories about that.

    The Thai crossing was relaxed as well, and they actually asked me to translate all the documents into English for them. I guess I have a trustworthy face? Hahaha.

    We've just met with a group of guys here in Chumphon who frequent Cambodia and say it's a nightmare. No idea what to expect there, some say it's simple, some not.

    Vietnam I will have to go through a fixer. Just got the price quote back from him too...and it's gonna be expensive.

    Will definitely let everybody know how it pans out.

    Also, how do you plan to get back into China? I heard about a guy who rode his bike out of Yunnan and he reported on his blog that the border officials said he couldn't bring the bike back over the border to the mainland. The general consensus is that riding through SE Asian borders is a cakewalk on a motorcycle, but getting in and out of China is the hard part.
    I've started to hear this more and more...and it worries me. When we left Yunnan, I asked a few officials and they said no problem, and we did see a huge amount of Chinese motorcades in Laos, albeit no motorcycles. If anybody knows anything about this it would be much appreciated. Otherwise I'll let you guys know when I get there! Hahaha
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  7. #27 Re: Great Ride Forward - Yunnan and SE Asia 
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    Hi Hans, i enjoyed reading this instalment just as much as the last ones!

    I love forums like this, it's really great that people like you post reports of your adventures for others to read. I feel like i should be paying to read this stuff, especially accompanied with such excellent photography! Thanks again for sharing!
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  8. #28 Article in the Huffington Post Travel section 
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    Hey guys, just got an article published in the Huffington Post Travel section. Thought I'd put the link up here. Give it a read here.

    Also would like to thank everyone again for all the support! There's a new ride report coming up tomorrow so stay tuned for that.
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  9. #29 Ride Update - Bangkok to Patong 
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    Ride Report – Bangkok to Patong

    Some good stuff this time.

    The last report left us booking it out of Bangkok at midnight, riding southwards towards the fabled beaches and islands of Phuket. It had never been the plan to ride at night, but the repair shop took longer than expected so we did not get to leave town until around 7pm, just in time to hit rush-hour and then get lost. We didn't pull up to Prachuap Khiri Khan until 3am.

    However, the next morning was pleasant. When we finally woke up and stumbled groggily outside, we were treated to the first shot of the amazing Prachuap Bay.



    We were able to ride the bikes out onto a long pier extending into the bay and get some gorgeous shots. The atmosphere was perfect. The water was a deep bluish-green, and with all the brightly colored guesthouses and hotels scattered along the beachfront coupled with the planes flying overhead it made for a very picturesque moment. It was then that I realized just how much I was looking forward to getting south.

    After the photoshoot, we started off on Highway 4 down towards Phuket. Pete and I had both been talking big the previous night about how we were “gonna one-shot that no prob,” and it seemed to be a plausible goal for that day (yeah, right...700km??).

    Anyways, the highway is pretty much a boring, throttle-lock endeavor up until Chumphon, where the road splits with one direction going westwards towards Myanmar and then Phuket, and the other a continuation of the 4-lane highway down to Krabi. We obviously chose the more interesting route and instantly the road narrowed to 2 lanes and the traffic dwindled. Awesome.

    Right around sunset we came upon a river where we saw some workers bundling up bamboo that they had obviously just floated downstream from the opposite bank.



    Knowing that we were riding right along the border with Myanmar, we stopped to take a pic and started talking with one of the workers.

    “Sawadeekhap. So...that's Myanmar over there, huh? We could just swim over there.”
    “Yes, sure! No problem! Myanmar!”
    “But we're American.”
    “Ah, good. Me Thailand.”
    Having watched Rambo 4 as 'research' prior to this trip, I knew that Myanmar isn't exactly the safest of places, so I asked,
    “...they'd probably just kill us, right?” followed by a rifle-firing motion.
    “Ahh...yea...true...forgot. Maybe no swimming,” and a cackling laugh to go along with it.

    Very reassuring.

    Despite our inflated talk from the previous night, we ended up stopping in a town further down the river called Ranong. After a very serious 5-second deliberation, we decided to spend one day there, because why would you pass up the chance to go to Myanmar?

    The next day we took a 15 baht tuk-tuk to the Ranong port, cleared Thai customs, and eeny meeny miny mo'ed a boat out of the huge, swarming mass of ferries to Kawthaung, Myanmar.



    It was quite a delightful ride over, with views of some beautiful golden temples on the Myanmar side. Once we arrived, we quickly walked over to the immigrations booth. I had known that we would be using a lot of US Dollars in Southeast Asia, so I had come prepared. The Burmese entry stamp would cost $20 for the two of us and I handed over two $10s.

    And that's when we ran into the first problem. The officer looked me right in the eye, and I knew there was something wrong.

    “Not crispy.”

    Now, I don't know if Myanmar has a deal with the US where new bills are shipped over hot of the presses, or hidden somewhere in the jungle is a warehouse where people use steam-cleaners and irons to smooth out old bills, but that was the predicament I was in.

    “Not crispy?” I said, “What does that even mean?”
    “You must give crispy.”

    'Coincidentally,' one of the fixers hovering around just 'happened' to 'know somebody' right 'nearby' who could 'help.' I scurried over to readily exchange my wrinkled $10 for a crispy one.



    I handed the money-changer the $10 note.

    “You give me $5 more,” the man said. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Or maybe I could.
    “Oh what the hell... You're serious aren't you?” Total disbelief. This had to be a ruse.

    The immigration official was obviously taking kick-backs from this guy and they were probably just circulating the same crispy bills day after day, and after some serious bargaining I ended up paying 13 slightly wrinkled dollars for 10 crispy dollars just to get the stamp. I walked away shaking my head. All was not lost, however, because we scored some of this:



    Now how many of you can say you've had Myanmar beer before? Totally worth the trip, in my opinion. The excursion turned out to be nothing more than a beer-run, but coincidentally the visa extension also turned out to be useful.

    A quick boat ride back.



    The next day started off with a lovely breakfast before we hit the road to Phuket. We were in high-spirits, and you know as soon as we are in high-spirits something bad is going to happen.

    About 150km outside of Ranong, with 180km left to Phuket, it all went to hell. I experienced the sudden loss of power akin to running out of fuel or frying a spark-plug. At the side of the road, I pulled the plug out and it was completely melted. Bad sign. After changing the plug, it still wouldn't start. Tried the kick-start and it was jammed. Alright. Then tried to jump-start on the hill, figuring that may get it going. Nope.

    By a very happy coincidence, the motor managed to blow up in front of a resort. It was the only help within 25km in either direction. After deliberating with the staff of the restaurant, we came to the conclusion that it was my piston that had melted. Well that's no good...it's Sunday and none of the shops in the nearest town were open.

    Pete and I decided that we would need to get to Phuket, where there would inevitably be a shop. An English couple dining at the resort knew an avid motorcyclist down in Phuket and gave him a ring so we at least had a rough idea of where we were going. One of the resort employees also had a relative who used to work as a taxi driver in Phuket who just so happened to now live in the area and was available to drive me there in his pick-up truck.



    I must have done something right in a prior life, because it all seemed to work out too well, although poor Pete would have to slog it out for another 2.5 hours behind the truck while I took advantage of the A/C and got a nap. All was fine and dandy until we pulled up in Phuket on the Bypass Road where the repair shop was supposedly located.

    Turns out it was a giant Harley dealership. And it was closed. Damn. What to do...what to do...

    The driver was getting antsy as it was getting late, but since he didn't speak English, we pulled over at the first travel agency we saw to get a little translation assistance. The wonderful woman behind the counter helped me out. After I explained the predicament to her and we wasted a bunch of time wondering aloud about what we should do, the light bulb over her head went off.

    “I have an uncle who runs the biggest bike repair shop in Patong, 8km away.”
    “Are you sure it's not a scooter shop? I will probably need some serious work done...”
    “Oh yea, it's where all the dirtbikes and BMWs in Patong go for service.”

    Wow! I was on a roll today. If only there was a casino nearby. She made a call, informed me that he was closed for the day but would rush over to the shop and meet us.

    We rolled up through the insanely windy mountain road into Patong.



    The uncle greeted me and we got the bike parked inside his shop. He told me to come back in the morning and we could take apart the engine. We found a nice little hotel about 10 minutes' walk away from the shop and then promptly drank 'a few' beers. After an exhausting day, it was quite welcome.



    Definitely didn't realize how Muslim southern Thailand is. Definitely a funny contrast seeing the ladyboys pouring into the streets with prayer announcements blaring in the background.

    I woke up and stumbled over to his shop at 10am the next day. He had just arrived as well, and after exchanging pleasantries we got to disassembling the engine apart for inspection.

    An hour or so later, my heart sank. When we were taking the carburetor off, we found some metal shavings. I knew it was bad, but nothing prepared me for when we took off the top-end and I saw this:



    Holy crap!



    At least now I know what was jamming my piston.

    Cracking the cases led to even more pained expressions.



    The shrapnel was everywhere; I had literally exploded this piston into a million pieces. This would not be fun/cheap/quick/enjoyable at all. The uncle and his friends (more on them later...) laughed the whole time, but assured me it would be alright. Despite all this and a cracked sleeve, it was all fixable. You see, if there's one thing the Thai and Chinese motorcycle industries are known for, it's copying. This Shineray is a Honda knock-off. Thailand also has their own Beng Thom Honda knock-off. Parts wouldn't be an issue. It would just take some time to assemble everything.



    Guess we're gonna have to wait it out. Can't complain about being stuck in paradise for a week...
    Last edited by GRF_Hans; 03-12-2011 at 12:23 PM.
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  10. #30 Re: Ride Update - Bangkok to Patong 
    grumpy old sod jape's Avatar
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    Great tale, getting better! Not because of your mishap of course ... I once watched a village 'workshop' in Bali create a piston from new, pouring metal, probably aluminium I guess, into a mould, shaving it, sanding it, re-assembling it all in a few hours. For a Mercedes Taxi I had hired for a trip into the back blocks. The usual deal, friend of the brother of the sister-in-law of the hotelier. All fixed, a few bucks, dinner I bought for everyone and off they went. I decided to stay over and visit around because the village was actually a silver jewellery-making village, where they got the casting skills I suppose. I hope your story turns out as well .... but I wa samazed at how no one can be bothered to get grumpy or angry, they just settle down and fix it. I wish I had that patience, in shā' Allāh.
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