Tue Perth to Singapore
We’re up at 4am. It’s weird but across Australia we’ve been staying in hostels, usually 6 to a room and we’ve developed a new non-verbal method of communication that we all understand when we arise. You’ve heard of ‘body language’, well this is ‘bottie language’ and we’ve all formulate an agreed vocabulary that saves us the usual ‘morning mate etc. Only trouble is, a couple of others and I overdosed on vegetables last night and we’re having trouble keeping our voices down this morning. The only downside of this method of conversation is the disagreeable ‘morning breath’. Anyway, we check out of the hostel and get to the airport and fly to Singapore. We all arrived safely but one of my bags didn’t, never mind, it’s only got my leathers and boots in, nothing important. I’ve spent some time in Hong Kong but I’d forgotten about the heat and humidity. God knows what it’ll be like riding here in leathers. Later we go for dinner at the yacht club (not as posh as it sounds) where one of the riders is a member and watch a spectacular tropical storm plus thunder and lightening go across the straight between Singapore and Malaysia. That weather should be a laugh to ride a bike in too.
Sat Singapore to Malacca 180
Got the bikes from the freighters yesterday and this morning we’re OFF. Out through the traffic to the boarder with Malaysia. At least they drive on the left here which makes life easier. We clear customs at Singapore and cross the causeway to the Malaysian side. There are so many motorbikes going to and fro across the boarder that they have special lanes for them. We spend a pleasant 30 minutes sniffing the gentle aroma of 2 stroke engines and bake in our leathers. Forget the F-Plan diet, this is the ay to loose weight. Sit in black leathers in 30 odd degrees and 80% humidity on a black air cooled motorcycle and hey ho, all your fat turns to water and deliciously dribbles down the insides of your clothes and out at the cuffs, job’s a good’n. Anyway, across the boarder and there is instant culture shock. After the organised cleanliness and control of Singapore comes the motoring chaos and anarchy that is Malaysian driving. We drive down to a fishing village built out on the water on stilts. The drive is incredible. There are motorbikes everywhere, and trucks buses and cars going in all directions. It quickly becomes apparent that road markings are to be ignored completely. Double white lines are really tram lines for motorbikes, and speed limits are all minimums instead of maximums. There seem to be three lanes of traffic in each direction, but only one lane is marked on the road. Add kids, goats, cows, chickens, dogs driving buses, bulls driving bulldozers and random bicycles going against the traffic in the verge and you have a typical main road. You quickly end up driving like they do though and it becomes more fun. On returning to the bikes from lunch, I appear to have my first puncture, bugger. At first I think the kids have let the tyre down for a laugh but after torturing a couple, it appears they didn’t and I do have a flat. It’s always a pain on a bike with no spare wheel but I use the puncture kit then sweat blood pumping it up again in the heat. Time to fill up. How much, are you sure? Blimey, £2.50 to fill up. 20p a litre, what a rip off. We spend the rest of the day playing dodge the accident up to the hotel. I call them hotels, but most the places we stay are very low rent hostel/backpacker places, definitely not somewhere I’d stay given a choice. This place is ok though, clean (not all have been) and comfy.
Sun Melacca to Cherating 240
Up and back into the melee again. We take the motorway but miss the exit and go cross-country instead which turns out better. The heat and humidity here make it an exceptionally green and unpleasant land. There are huge expanses of very thick palm trees here producing palm oil and the road we’re on winds it’s way through the plantations on the hill. I’m driving along and see something in the road ahead. It’s a monkey, then suddenly there’s another, then it’s just like someone has got a bottle full of monkeys and they’re pouring them out and the road becomes a monkey motorway. Just as quickly they’re gone and into the dense undergrowth. I subsequently see loads along the sides of the roads but they seem to have more road sense than most other Malaysians I’ve seen so far. We zap over to the east coast and find our accommodation in a wooden hut amongst the palms 100ft from beach on the South China Sea. How nice does that sound? Well this is the other end of the hotel scale. The huts are falling to pieces and by the smell of it inside, the maid ran out of cleaning fluid and decided to purchase new cheapo pissoir scented ajax instead, The beds are very basic indeed and it’s really really bad. We sit outside but there are creepy crawly things everywhere. In fact they’re not creepy crawlies at all, more like thumpy bumpys. They’re all huge and scary and weird colours. Some of them have tattoos and a couple are driving big 4x4s with dark windows. They seem to be throwing a party in the hut next door. I think about going in but the bouncers on the door are 3 ft tall with big bulging blue eyes and they’re obviously pissed out their heads so I decide to pass. I go to cool off in the sea but immediately get stung on the neck by a jellyfish which is impressively painful for such a small creature. In the absence of anything else, someone cuts a papaya fruit and rubs it on the sting which helps a bit. (But it has to be unripe one mind)
Mon Cherating to Georgetown 470
I wake up after having a night of weird nightmares, mostly about being attacked by a broccoli headed monster that I have to beat off with towels and a pillow. It’s probably connected to the heat and the sting. I’m worried that like superman, I’ve been stung by a mutant jellyfish and I’m going to turn into tentacle man’. I’ll be able to swish from building to building using my huge glistening tentacles and leave stinking globules of sticky snot in my wake, nice. Out for a gentle drive along the china sea coast amongst the palms, wooden houses and shit for brains motorists before heading inland to cross the mountains back to the east coast. This road is probably the best we’ve done so far from a motorbiking point of view. Big long wide corners aplenty and you soon forget you’re doing 100mph with your body inches from the tarmac. Sounds blasé but it’s just after this many miles you tend to forget you’re on a bike at all. Obviously that’s not good though, especially when you come to a stop and forget to put your feet down. As we descend the mountains the heavens open. It’s the end of the monsoon season and you get very wet very quickly but then dry out over the next few miles. It’s the quickest way of washing your clothes though. Get to Georgetown over what used to be the longest causeway in the world at 12km. Georgetown is an experiment on how many motor vehicles can be packed into a town simultaneously, it’s just manic. We just push our way round with scooters splating onto our visors like little bugs. The scooters round here all seem to have at least 3 and sometimes even 4 people on board, some sitting side saddle. It’s another low rent hotel with only cold running water and no facilities but we’re used to that by now.
Tue Georgetown to Ratchaburi 640
Across the boarder in Thailand. We drive up through Thailand and it’s even more chaotic than Malaysia, it’s amazing. We see people getting their driving licences by the sides of the road. The procedure seems to be that you bend over and an official whips out a spade and smacks every last ounce of sense out of you then hands you your pass certificate. Petrol is still only £1 a gallon so it’s cheap motoring. Now then, the most dangerous things you can do in reverse order of dangerosity are 4th: stick a hungry rat with a liking for hot dogs down your pants, 3rd: wash your hair in new Eau de Tuna Head and Shoulders shampoo then stick your head in a sharks mouth, 2nd: Go up to Mike Tyson and tell him that you think he’s gay, and in 1st place, Drive at night in Thailand. It’s truly incredible with only 50% of the traffic having lights, 30% of it animals (who never switch their lights on) and 25% of it on the wrong side of the road. It’s a lottery who gets to their destination in 1 piece but luckily we all manage and arrive unscathed. We pull into the town and it’s another chaotic ensemble of shops stalls and restaurants with no road signs and no road names. These places are not small and are like rabbit warrens with streets going everywhere. Finding the place we’re staying is often the most difficult task of the day. One of the teams regularly just gets a taxi and follows them to the destination but sometimes either nobody speaks English or they don’t know where the place is either. We’re lost (again) so I ask a bloke for directions. He immediately gets his phone out and starts ringing around then just shouts ‘YOU, FOLLOW’ and gets on his bike, fag in mouth and we’re off. This bike has no indicators and the bloke shows no mercy as he flies through the traffic with 4 big bikes trying to keep up/dodge traffic/avoid death behind him. At one point after reaching top speed he gets his phone out and starts making more calls. We stop at various places to consult his mates then arrive at a concealed entrance to our destination. The bloke won’t accept any money, just waves and he’s off. The Thai people are generally very nice and as helpful as can be. It’s something to do with their religion about their attainment of Nirvana or something I think. We should try it in the UK I reckon. The guest house is really weird. A YHA place, it’s like the builders originally got the plans wrong and forgot to build en suite bathrooms because all the rooms have ‘outside facilities’. You step out a door from the room into a lean-to structure like an old French toilet with panels from 18in to 6ft and windows with shutters at about ‘privates’ level. Some of us work out that the holes have shutters but not everybody. I sit on the bed, something is wrong. The bed appears to be made of concrete. This is the hardest bed I’ve ever sat on, it’s ridiculous. The Thai people are so small and light they barely break the surface tension of water (all their swimming pools have the water 3 ft below the edge plus they have to wear special sharp shoes to pierce the surface) , they’d never make an impression in this bed. Still, probably does your back good.
Wed Ratchburi to Phitsanuok 350
Everywhere you go you see hundreds and hundreds of scooters and little motorbikes. The average number of passengers seems to be three, with 4 not an uncommon sight. I don’t know what the minimum age is but you see school kids going on them in 3’s, the girls sitting side-saddle. Most of the women seem to ride side-saddle which is a very difficult thing to do, especially when you’re holding a child/box/basket/spare tyre for a tractor. Their bikes skills are exceptional, their road manners deplorable but they all seem to do it and get away with it most of the time. During the day we begin to notice the flooding in the fields, it looks pretty bad, then we cross a huge bridge over a river and see the surreal scene of a town half submerged. We go past houses flooded to the top storey then turn down the road towards our destination but some men warn us the water is too deep across the road. We drive up for a look anyway but the water looks deeper and deeper. People have moved onto the road and are using boats to get possessions out the houses. What a bloody nightmare for these people, just living on the road until the water subsides. There is a huge damming exercise going on with sandbags everywhere. We try another road but that has been washed away with road signs all bent over by the water. We go back across the river and try another tiny road that has now become the main route for all traffic. It’s an eerie experience as the side of the road is barricaded for miles by sandbags up to a couple of feet on one side so we’re driving along below water level. One break in the wall and we’re all buggered. There are families playing in their front gardens, swimming that is, up to their necks in brown river water. There are temples looking like they’re afloat totally surrounded. The flooding goes on for miles and miles and through several towns, some pretty major, what a bleeding nightmare. We count ourselves lucky to arrive at a reasonable hotel (for a change) and have 10 of us have to eat a meal prepared for 25, nice. ‘Just one wafer thin mint’ comes to mind’ and I waddle my bloated stomach across town.
Thuanuok to Nong Kai 470
Day tracking north and the scenery begins to change. It’s been pretty flat but now it’s getting hilly and we go through some of those mountains you see where there is not 1 square inch that’s not covered with something green. It’s amazing how dense the greenery gets up here. We’re heading up to where Burma, Laos and Thailand meet around the mighty Mekong river. It’s absolutely twating with rain like only the tropics can do. Riding the bike it’s like having small pebbles thrown at you the raindrops are so big. In the morning we scream up through the showers into the mountains and over yet some more fantastic mountain roads. The weather changed from wet to dry constantly keeping you on your toes. We get alongside the Mekong and it’s a seriously large river. Fast flowing and brown with earth it must be 100’s of yards wide with Laos on the other side. I pull alongside some of the other riders who are stopped on the side. Someone has just seen a headless torso float past. “Oh yea, pull the other one” I think but he has some pictures to prove it. A fully clothed body with no head, lovely. The boy on the bank was shouting “he dead he dead”. No Sh*t! Must be the local doctor I reckon, to be able to make a diagnosis that quick. The Laos boarder is only across the water and some nasty things happen I’m sure. I prefer to think that the poor bloke had been born with a unique genetic deformity that meant he had a loose head. He must have just gone too fast round a sharp corner and WHOOOPS his head just rolled off and he fell in the river. Anything else is to nasty to contemplate. We reach the hostel on the banks of the river and sit under rush huts splatting mozzies before taking a sunset cruise on the river. An hour upstream, then down the banks of Laos before docking. The price 30 bart, 50p, bargain. The sunset, rubbish unfortunately but good to be there anyway. The hotel, hot and humid, and no AC either. All the toilets up here are Muslim ones too. No toilet paper, just a rubber hose. Just use your imagination.
Fri Nong Kai to Bangkok 520
One of the riders has a major problem with his bike so we decide to blat to Bangkok a day early to get him to the dealers ASAP. Just a long blat through the rain to arrive in Bangkok in the middle of the Friday rush hour. This place is simply indescribable. It’s like someone has filled every spare inch with cars, then got a huge box of scooters and poured them in all the gaps. The place is absolute chaos. Riding a big bike here is an exercise in slow speed control and most of all, luck. You have scooters and bikes everywhere going in all directions, some piled 10ft high with luggage and others with entire families. I’m passed by (amongst others) a 125 with two on the saddle and a seven year old on the tank. The driver could not see past the child and was driving along with his head on one side, MAD. Some of the luggage is piled so high that it’s a wonder how the hell they load them. We go out for a ride to eat on a 3 wheeled tuk tuk in the evening. Going down one side street we see a shape in the darkness puling out behind us. Is is a lorry, is it a car, no, it’s an elephant. As it pulls out we see a little red light swinging on it’s tail, forget what I said about animals forgetting to put their lights on. As we drive, we’re passed by a family. Mother with babe in arms, father then son on the tank, blasting through the chaotic traffic, no helmets, no protection, bloody scary and it’s not unusual.
We’re told the traffic will be better today because it’s Saturday. We hire a tuk tuk to follow to the bike dealers but it’s still a traffic super nightmare. 11 miles in an hour, and a pint of sweat expired for every mile. We all sort our bikes then have to track back across town to meet a local bike club turning up at the hotel. Spend the evening eating on the street outside the hotel amongst the backpackers and general melee that every Bangkok street seems to be.
Sun Bangkok to Chumpon 440
Now getting out of Bangkok is not easy, in the same way that covering one eye, tying one hand behind your back then skipping with a rope is not easy. There seem to be no road signs anywhere and you have to navigate by the sun which is damm near impossible when it’s almost directly overhead and the shadows are so short. By pure luck (and the fact that I recognised something from my tuk tuk ride), I pick the correct road which immediately turns into an expressway and we’re out, fantastic, great super smashing. The air is instantly much cleaner and (relatively) fresher too. What I wouldn’t give for a lung full of clean fresh morning air at the moment. Every evening when you arrive you have to scrub the dirt out of your face and neck. It looks more like you’ve been coal mining than motorcycling. Every I take the leathers off at night I look like I’ve got the opposite disease to Michael Jackson and I’m turning black with stain from the sweat and my leathers. Today the rains are playing havoc with the traffic and it’s slow going. We approach a pickup and see little animals climbing about. They’re monkeys and they’re swinging about in the bars of the truck totally oblivious to the 80mph breeze and the instant death that awaits any mistake. They’re used to get the coconuts out of the trees and are probably on their way to work, poor things. They look healthy enough though and very clean. Arrive at Chumpon and it’s another weird hotel in the middle of a typical Thai town. Raw food (especially fish) being sold on the pavements and dirty buildings everywhere. We go to out room and there is a female voice singing in the shower. Eh, wrong room? Turns out it’s the maid washing her hair when she was cleaning the bathroom. She was female, but just barely.
Mon Chumpon to Georgetown 440
Rain, rain, sunshine, rain, more rain then some more rain and lightening for good measure. It’s raining all over Thailand and it’s causing problems for riders behind us. Bangkok is seriously geared up for heavy rain and it take a lot to cause problems. The Bangkok drainage system can cope with 90mm of rain a day Yep, a day, that’s seriously heavy rain. Today they get over 100 with a high tide and the roads are instantly 18in deep with floods throughout the city. For a while, the rivers through the city are 2.1m above sea level. It seems amazing but the traffic infrastructure still operates with all the traffic lights etc still functioning as normal. Some of the riders get trapped in the city and loose a day. Still, they went down to Pataya for a tottie feist so serves them right. Cross back into Malaysia and back to Georgetown over the 12km causeway and to the same converted railway station hostel/slum we stayed in before.
Tue Georgetown to Melacca 300
You look on the map and you just see a motorway all the way down,but the reality is so much more. There are books one the best roads in the world and apparently this road features in the top 10. The motorway climbs winds and weaves through some simply magnificent scenery with rocks just jutting up like they’ve been pushed up from underneath with a giant pencil. Shear sided and often quite square they’re mad to look at. The motorway also has lots of 70,80, and 90kph signposted corners which are like red rags to a bull. To keep the maths simple we calculate the mph equivalent using a ratio of 1:1 then add 10 for ‘fun’ and rush around them like a squadron of low flying aircraft, muchus funus and adrenalinus maximus. The guide book says don’t go to Malacca on a Tuesday. It’s Tuesday and I can see why. 90%of the town is closed, never mind.
Wed Malacca to Singapore 150
Short squirt across Malaysia and into Singapore, bureaucracy capital of the world. We’re the last out of Malaysia and all the other riders have run off without paying a required fee. When we turn up there are 50 security men, 20 customs officials, 3 tanks and an F15 fighter circling overhead. We ‘accidentally’ cross the boarder without going through passport control and find ourselves going over the causeway to Singapore, DOH. We cut across the central reservation and head back to the Malaysian boarder as the F15 homes in and the first tank shell lands in the water to our left. We shoot up the special ‘coaches only’ isle and are approached by two men, running. They have guns, we have 100bhp. I accidentally let the clutch out and WUFF we’re back through the Malaysian boarder again, without going through passport control (again) and we’re quickly out of range of the gunfire behind us. We stop at a garage to respray the bikes and then to a hairdressers, tattooists and plastic surgeons to get a new identity before driving back through customs correctly this time, That was close. Get across to Singapore and freight the bikes into their boxes for their last journey by air to Istanbul cos they will not let us take them to India. We fly to Madras tomorrow to ride India by Enfield, wonderful. I’m just off to get my bum sewn up as I writeNext Page