We get to the Laos border just before it closes. Paperwork is simple, $37 on the spot visa, 10 minutes, $4 insurance, $3 temporary import docs, done. Its starting to get dark but you can immediately see the living standard has dropped through the floor and into the mud. Real povery with people in dusty roadside dwellings, bathing in the streams and seemingly without a penny to their name. Really sad. Guilt twists its knife in my back as I ride past and away. Some of these people have absolutely nothing. There are worse places to live, it’s warm and they all look pretty healthy but christ, what a life. This time next week I’ll be back in the UK. No escape for them though. We’ve got some nice bamboo bungalows tonight. $35 a night. I don’t know what the average wage is out here but I doubt its much. Go out to the night market to eat and it’s full of young travelers doing their thing. Why some of them insist on like such dirty raster haired munters is beyond me. Bloody yoofs!
Today it’s time to split and run south alone. The others are spending a couple of weeks in Laos and Thailand but I’ve got to be back at work so I’m expediting. Going to Luang Perbang tonight, a UNESCO world heritage site. GPS says 300km and I ask a local “how long? 3 Hours?” “10 hours” is his reply. That’s not what I was expecting, or wanted to hear. If I can give one piece of travel advice it would be “always listen to the locals”. He says the road is very very rough. The first 100km is lovely and smooth through the mountains but it’s like a 100km piece of ribbon squashed into a 40km space. So incredibly tight and twisty it takes 3 hours.
Incredible road, with too many good views to choose from. Then you meet the rough stuff. Up and down through the mountains again and its the worst kind of road, 100 year old tarmac. Well about 30% is tarmac and the rest is holes and gouges where the earth has moved and broken everything up, and often littered with rock falls. It’s nothing we’ve not seen before and the bike knows exactly what to do but it’s very slow and frustrating, especially when you don’t know when it’s going to end. Answer, another 100km. After that I’m given a real treat for my efforts. Just me, a long valley and the meandering Mekong river sweeping together in perfect harmony as the sun puts on it’s colorful bedclothes and starts to climb under the covers on the horizon. Get to Luang Perbang between 5 and 6 so not too bad and there is a wonderful colonial style hotel waiting with a cool drink and fresh white linen. Down to walk along the river and through the night market. Buy some animal parts for the kids – there are enough here to build a whole one – then back to stare at the insides of my eyelids.
Going out through the capital today. Got to be a good road right? Not right. Beautiful, stunning, indescribably lush scenery with wild alien mountains seemingly driven straight out from under the ground to stand proud wearing little cloud hats. They’re in the flippin way though and they’re not conducive to road building. Round and round and up and down we go again. I’m in a hurry but the camera is trying to climb out the tank bag every couple of minutes so I have to take it out for some exercise. Eventually get to the main artery road to the capital.
This HAS to be better, doesn’t it? Well, it’s straighter and wider and flatter but it’s rife with huge holes, real rim breakers. Especially as it’s encouraging you to go faster. Bastard. Shiiiit. Bolllllooooxxxx. Titwank. You don’t see them till it’s too late and the bike crashes through. My bike is like a badly beaten wife. Constant, relentless abuse. It’s terrible. Poor old girl just shakes, rattles and prepares herself for the next punch. I come across some road menders. Bloke with a watering can full of hot tar pours some in a hole, they throw in some loose stones, then they just carry on. That should last a good 5 minutes. Later the sky starts to look really broody. Like it has something it really has to do. Then it rains. 0 to 10 in the blink of an eye. Two naked kids run along the road absolutely pissing themselves laughing. I don’t bother with waterproofs, it’s going to get dry in no time and its nice to get cool for a while. Get to Vientiene quickly and out of Laos in a tick. Over the Mekong on the ‘friendly bridge’ and into Thailand. Last time I was here I was going round the world and there was a headless body floating in the river. Good times… Fecking hot now and all my docs are wet with sweat but get through pretty quick. Nobody knows anything about insurance so I’ll have to be careful. Down I go to Udon Thani . It’s weird to be doing high speed… well… 100kph… after all the recent crawling about. Into town I go… Starbucks.. EMERGENCY STOP. OMG. God I love coffee. Did I mention that? What a treat:) All the other muck like KFC, Dairy Queen etc is here, and to be ignored. I even saw billboards today with diet pills and slimming drinks advertised. I hope the Thais aren’t letting themselves go, western style. That would be a real shame. You can get really cheap accommodation here but I’m giving myself £30 a night and you can get some really lovely rooms for that. Tonight it’s the “Lion King” hotel – king size bed, beautiful and clean and modern with super friendly owners and not a Simba in sight. I’d recommend it.
South today. It’s not too far and I want to keep off the expressway if I can. I’ve not been here for years and it’s a lot different to how I remember it. More western certainly. All the western trappings are here, I wish they weren’t. I know, I fall for the traps too. Two Starbucks yesterday. I enjoyed them but I could certainly live without it. TBH, I think I’ve come south too quick, I needed to surface into westernization much more gradually. I’ve got the Biker Bends. I just need to turn around and head north back into Laos or preferably China. I’m really just not ready for this yet. Central Thailand is quite flat and dull. Lots of fields of rice everywhere. Up in China the harvest is in full swing but down here they apparently can do 4 crops a year. Its so flippin hot down here too. Last night I drank two pints of milk, two Starbucks and two bottles of orange juice and I still didnt pee. Today is the same. Lots going in, none coming out. I see a lorry loaded with pink squeeling pigs stopped by a pond. The driver and his mate are throwing buckets of water over them much to their obvious delight. At least they’re getting some relief anyway. Take the expressway for the last 60km – it’s chaos unsurprisingly. Over/under/round they go to get past. Cars 2 cm apart at 100kph. There are the inevitable accidents and queues. I just try and chill and let them do their thing, thne overtake them all when the traffic stops. There are scooters everywhere with delicate Thai’s dressed in EU safety approved shorts, T shirts and flip flops as usual. I just can’t look. Beautiful bodies just waiting to get ruined.. Tonight is another lovely room for pennies. You can see why the brits come here to live.
I want to dip my feet in the Gulf of Thailand so I’m heading south to Pattaya. Pattaya is a place I’ve heard a lot about so it will be interesting to see it for myself. It’s a ‘resort’ town, or at least that’s what you read. That’s one side of it, everyone knows the other side. So today is a day of indulgence. I’ve assembled a collection of twisty tarmac treasures as this will probably be the last chance this year to enjoy a brisk dry run in the sun. I’m not a fast rider by any means, I’m more of an endurance specialist. I can let my brain ride on autopilot at about 80% and I can just relax and think and just drift along with the bike. No stopping, no shopping, no popping off the bike to take pictures, just ride. It’s very hot and humid and motion is the only option. Get near Pattaya and it all gets flat and boring, reminds me a bit of Florida with the noisy concrete surface. Get to Pattaya and I’m impressed by just how low rent it is. Much worse than I was expecting. Jesus what a place. Everyone and everything is for sale as far as the eye can see. Fat old ‘farangs’ cruising up and down looking for someone to straighten out a few of their wrinkles for a few minutes. Many have Thais in tow. You can’t walk anywhere without people shouting all sorts of offers at you or maaaasssssaaaage for a few quid. There are some seriously freaky looking people about, lots obviously still carrying the X-Guy chromosome. Some of the ladyboys are stunningly beautiful and it would be difficult to tell without a urine test. That is, do they sit down or still stand up. Some of them though, they just look like they’ve ripped of their bits and strapped on some tits. The sewers round here must be awash with discarded male body parts. There are lots of young couples here too though, and families. There are all the usual resort things going on amongst the oozing and squirting fluids. Paracending, water sports (careful), diving (now I’ve already warned you once) and fishing. Maybe that’s what the fat old bald white blokes are here for? I hire an armed escort to take me up the road for dinner and back. It’s the safest way. I could really do with the cast iron trousers that the guide was wearing! Another lovely hotel though right near the beach. Pattaya is a very interesting place for sure:)
A day to relax and unwind before I put on my number and running shoes, get on the rat costume and rejoin the race. Spend the morning sitting in Starbucks enjoying a supermegafuckoffventimax latte. It comes in a gallon bag and is administered intravenously. Watch the weird world go by and what a funny old world it is. Lots of youngsters, lots and lots of foreigners, many of whom I wouldn’t expect. Indians and Pakistanis, Japanese, europeans of course. Young families with kids share the space with the white sharks and their prey. Deals are done, two become one for an hour and then they’re thrown back into the water ready for someone else to catch.
Talk to some of the older men though and maybe it’s not so sexcentric as it first appears. Obviously there are the creepy old pervs who probably have always had to pay for it but there are lots of well dressed, fit and healthy older men with younger, maybe 40 something Thai women who say they just want some uncomplicated feminine company. They seem to treat the ladies with respect, introducing them, including them when you talk, and just being gentle and kind with them. It’s undeniably a financial arrangement of some kind but if both parties get something out of it then who am I to criticize. I spend the afternoon sitting on a deck chair with my feet in the gulf and let the toxins wash out. Quick dip and it seems to signal the end of the trip. The most southerly point.
I get back to the hotel and the concierge wants to show me something on the bike. He points to the back tyre. Bollocks, there is a nail going into the tread and coming out the sidewall. Don’t know how long that’s been there but I’m not going to be able to fix a puncture like that so I’ll leave it in. It’ll be fine, probably..
Up early and out, onto the expressway to Bangkok. Shouldn’t take long and I need to get the bike to the shipping agents. 30 miles in I come to a toll booth. I’m looking for the little motorbike alley but can’t see it. Someone is pointing animately so I go over and stop. “Police” he says pointing in the direction of three blokes legging it over to where I am. Bloke No.1 has a right stop on and points to the side of the road. “License”. Shit – I’ve got no insurance, what’s this about? Give him my license. He see’s it and the plates and seems to start to calm down a bit. Motorbikes aren’t allowed on the expressways here it seems. Nobody has stopped me so far! I didn’t see the signs obviously… He tells me to exit at the next junction and sends me on my way. Ok, that was easy. Someone has stopped just past the booths and waves me down. He’s a Thai and has an 1150 like mine and wants to show me some pictures. He gives me alternative directions, good bloke.
OK – now it’s heavy traffic. I miss a junction and have to make a U-Turn. A straightforward one in a proper central divide. I stop. I watch a big black 4×4 roll up behind me. Make that roll up my behind as the bike lurches forward towards the traffic. I think he hit a pannier so his plastics will have come off worse. He waves sorry, opens his door but I can’t be arsed and just ride off. 35km from Bangkok, nearly there now. Nice fast dual carriageway, maybe 20 minutes. Phut, phut, phut, fuck. The engine stops and I cruse to a halt. My mind is already organizing pick up trucks and working out costs and times before I come to a halt. The fuel gauge is showing 2 bars but it feels like I’ve run out. My fuel gauge never shows completely full – it always misses the top bar, probably because I’ve bent the float at some point with my ham fisted mechanics. I’ve noticed though the last few fill ups it HAS shown full. My guess is that all the abuse and off road shaking has bent the float the other way and now it won’t show empty. Over the rough ground it was all over the place as it tried to work out an average. Anyway, 35 degrees, leathers, a mile pushing a fully loaded GS up a slight incline to the nearest garage.
When I get there I’m light headed but luckily I still have about 25% of my bodyweight left. The rest is left as a big human snail trail of sweat along the road. Petrol in, off she goes. Beast!! Raid a 7 eleven for life giving fluids and off to the shippers in Bangkok. These places are always a bitch to find but some kind bloke in a furniture shop hops in his car and leads me there. It’s literally 300 yards away – lazy sod!
Strip the old girl down and dismantle for shipping. “I’ll see you at home. Thanks. Thanks a lot old girl” and give her a friendly slap. Taxi to the hotel near the airport. I’m seriously dehydrated again and my tongue feels fat and furry. They have a free drinks dispenser and I get some odd looks as I dispense with the glassware and just lean my head back and press the lever with my nose to empty the entire contents. No I squelch like feet in wet wellies when I walk but I do feel a whole lot better. Hopefully my wee will stop looking like Tango very soon.Down the local night market for my final supper and a sad walk in the dark to sleep.
Next day, 10 mins to the airport and attach the reality bungee to drag me back, another trip over. Like all good things, it has to come to an end so now its time to reflect, relax, and watch the re-runs on my in-head video player. Russia, I really liked Russia. I like the language barrier and their attitudes, I even like their mental driving. Kazakhstan was bleak and bland in large parts but the people were great and the feeling of space was delicious. You need contrast and there was none greater than the sudden beauty of Kyrgyzstan. What a revelation that was. Lovely people, absolutely stunning scenery and relatively primitive for travellers. I’d love to go back to China, especially out in the remote areas and the south. Alien food and not a scooby’s what anything says or means. Talking in pictures and gestures and expressions. The west was interesting but not that attractive but I enjoyed it more and more as we went south and I was really sad to leave. Laos, beautiful again and very relaxed, I could certainly spend a lot more time there though the country is very small. Thailand, nice, but too hot for me and loosing that foreign feel.
As for my beautiful old trusty friend, the GSA, what can I say? It’s had more abuse on this trip than ever before. All the instrument bulbs are blown, the speedo cable has snapped, the entire instrument binnacle is flopping about and sounds like the castanets in a mariachi band (even though I cable tied it to the frame somewhere in Kazakhstan) , the fuel guage is fubar, both front fork seals have given up, I’ve lost numerous bolts, there is a big nail through the back tyre, the front headlight is smashed and the bike looks like it’s been dragged through a war zone by behind a tank. It’s done 120k now too. Put in the key, press, go. Every time without fail. There is absolutely no way the other bikes on this trip will still be alive and kicking like my old GSA even in the unlikely event they ever match it’s mileage. What an incredible bike that is. That bike will die with me.
Reality beckons, but I can only take so much before I need to rip off the rat suit again and disappear into this wonderful world’s highway system. Life is short and getting shorter all the time. The past is easy to deal with but the future only ends one way and that scares me. I just have to plan as much as possible before the end. Some people seem to arrive at deaths door really early and just sit about waiting for years. I don’t plan to arrive a moment before the last and final call. I’ll just set the saveometer to max and start searching my dreams for the next fix. An adventurous lady biker I know has suggested a loop of the Amazon….