Leaving China is a simple affair, but getting in to Laos and Thailand is a lot more complicated nowadays.
About two months before we left the UK, Thailand announced that it was going to require foreign vehicles to obtain new permits in order to enter. It’s all because of the mental Chinese drivers. The Chinese drive through Laos and into northern Thailand, whereupon they continue to drive like complete and utter fucking maniacs just like they do at home. They all too frequently don’t have insurance, invariably they crash and kill people, then they skip back to China and avoid prosecution. The Thais have had enough. Once the Thais introduced the new measures, it was only a matter of time before Laos did the same.
Obtaining the permits has been a long and protracted process, mainly due to the fact that the authorities seem to have introduced them without any thought, and are requiring all sorts of unobtainable letters from foreign embassies. Trying to get any sense out of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is like trying to squeeze blood out of air. It’s just completely impossible to get anyone to take any responsibility for anything or answer any question at all. I could save the UK billions and billions of pounds by just putting Sarin into the FCOs air conditioning. I doubt very much if anyone in the whole wide world would notice the difference, ever.
In the end, to satisfy the Thai’s requirement for headed notepaper and official wax stamps I had to spend £200 getting a letter ‘legalized’ by a notary agent and send it out. That gives you a lovely wax stamp and some ribbon too. I think it probably means sweet FA to the Thai authorities but it eventually satisfies their need for documentary bling and they finally issued the permits and insurance about a week before we got to the border. To get into Laos is easier, but invariably, a lot more expensive. You now need a guide with a van, a ‘government tourist officer’ and a policeman to travel with you. They don’t restrict your movement and you only see them at the start and end of the day so it’s really just money for old rope.
The guide is waiting for us as we exit China and takes us through the border. It used to be sooooo simple, but nobody really knows what is supposed to happen with these new rules so he blags his way though the barriers and off we go.
Laos is the home of the colour green. It’s just soaked in it. Everywhere you look is some shade of it. Deep and dark shiny leaves to light and bright rice plants and everything in between. It’s as if someone just spilt a big fuck off pot of green paint on Laos when they were painting the planet.
Destination tonight is ‘over the mountain’. Last time I was here the road was tight and twisty and as slippery as a 2nd hand car salesman but the guide tells us the whole thing has just been resurfaced and it’s fine. I take that with a pinch of salt though. Laos hasn’t got two turds to rub together so the road has probably just been coloured in with a black felt tip pen and left as it was underneath.
Get to the bottom of the hill though and he’s right. Somebody has raided the piggy bank and bought an 80 mile strip of the world’s finest and most sticky tarmac then had it expertly laid by an expert roadologist. The result turns out to be the best road of the trip. A truly memorable and remarkable ride in probably the poorest country we have come through.
From the moment The Bitch puts her front wheel on the surface I can feel her mood change. I know exactly what she wants. She is in the mood for hardcore tarmac sex. Who am I to argue with that?
For the the next 40 minutes the mountain is alive with the rise and fall of The Bitch’s purrs and screams as she tears and claws at the tarmac, throwing her head back and wiggling her arse. Faster then slower, then faster and faster still until with a final loud long wild howl she reaches the climax… of the mountain.. and I stop to take some pictures of the view while she smokes a fag and makes tiny ticking sounds as her body slowly returns to normal temperature.
Pictures taken I mount The Bitch. She doesn’t want to play any more. At all. Ever. I turn the key and my heart sinks. Here we go again.
FUCK. First the bloody desert and now up a bloody mountain in Laos. BITCH. I really hope the ride up wasn’t her last breath on this trip. I do all the usual. Both keys. No. Play with all the settings. No. Move the bike. No. Put it on the centre stand. No. Threaten to burn her alive and piss on the ashes. Yep. Suddenly it decides to start again. I really really don’t need this. The others are at a cafe now on the mountain top so I leave The Bitch running for 20 minutes and have a cold drink to keep me from kicking 7 bells of shit out of it.
The rest of the ride down the mountain is just punishment. I bump and grind her hard into the corners, jerk her back by her hair on the straights, bend her right over and stuff her head down between her knees on the brakes. I just spank and thrash her mercilessly until I get this anger out of my system. She’s whining and screaming and shouting but I’ve had just had enough. She’s got to learn her lesson.
By the time we get off the mountain we’re both completely spent. I gently withdraw and dismount and walk away on wobbly legs to take some pictures while she murmurs quietly to herself under a tree, stinking of oily sweat and eau du gasoline, looking at me with contempt. BITCH.
We’re staying at a little resort on the river tonight. Take a junction off the main road and immediately the road turns to shit again. All rough and loose. We come to some more roadworks, just for a change. There is a bulldozer in the road and everyone is sitting waiting in the heat with their engines off. Mine is running. Let The Bitch sweat.
We approach the village where the resort is and it looks like a complete pit. I’m thinking this might be the end to the perfect bloody day. A broken bitch bike and a rat infested damp hotel with piss and chips for dinner and turd on toast for breakfast. I’m ready for it. Here we go. I pull into the little resort, get off the bike and wander to reception expecting the worst.
See. It’s an absolute shit hole…. well apart from the infinity pool, cool riverside rooms, really fine dining and well stocked bar it is… an absolute nightmare. The riders are not in agreement with me and though and they proceed to strip all the facilities bare before going to bed very well exercised, fed and watered. It’s such a beautiful beautiful place that some of the riders insist they’re not going to leave. No extra charge I tell them.
Next morning. Put in the key. Stare The Bitch in the eye and turn. The second you turn the key you know if it’s going to start or not and this time it is immediately making all the right noises. Press, yes. I wonder how long this will last though.
We’re going to Luang Prabang today. Lovely breakfast. Turd on toast was on the menu as I suspected but I chose option 2 of a full english, cereal, fruit, coffee and a neck massage instead. It rained in the night and I suspect the road out might be a bit the worse for wear this morning. Yep…
The recent crasher is still hobbling badly so I walk his bike through the mire. Another rider bins it trying to go round the edge. Its a few arse tensing miles then we’re back on the better road and heading south.
Then the heavens open for a couple of hours. To call it rain would imply that there are raindrops but this tropical stuff is just like riding underwater. I don’t bother with waterproofs as my leathers are all white with sweat salt and need a wash anyway. Get down to Luang Prabang and a nice hotel directly on the night market.
A day off, a trip on the Mekong and an afternoon watching the world go by in the rain.
We’re going to exit Laos at Muang Ngeun and there is a rough road directly west from here but apparently its a real shitter. The bikes are really knackered now and the Africa Twin has properly blown a fork seal. There is oil coming out all over the brakes and wheel and it leaves a puddle every time we stop.
We decide that discretion is the better part of valour and that it would be better to backtrack over the mountain and stay on tarmac. It’s a lot longer route but nobody is complaining at having another go at some tarmac sex.
Except The Bitch that is. We’re half way through another spanking and I stop to catch my breath. Fatal mistake. She’s gone cold on me immediately. No response. I’m pressing all the buttons but she’s completely turned herself off. After 10 minutes fiddling I decide to coast back down the mountain and find a suitable drop to chuck her over. A few miles down the road I try again and she starts up again. I’m about to have a real sense of humour failure about this. I can feel it. This is going to end badly…
I keep the engine running the rest of the day whenever I can. I have to play petrolette a couple of times though. Stop… fill…. spin the barrel… fire… starts. WTF is up with this BITCH. They’ve hidden the hotel again up a very steep gravel track and bikes are binned once again as they struggle up the tight loose switchbacks. Not a bad place again though…
The Africa Twin rider phones a Thai Honda dealer to see if he can sort out some fork seals. “We would have to order them in sir. I estimate they would be here in 4 months”. What?
Laos is such a lovely place. I could spend a while here. It’s not far to the border from here, just an hour through yet more of this…
The Muang Ngeun border is a sleepy little place with a couple of pole barriers and hut. Quick stamp and we’re out. The guard lifts the pole and I ride into nomansland. Pole comes down and someone has left something behind so we all stop and wait. OK. Here we go. I wish this trip was like “Wayne’s World” where I could create alternative endings. I wish I could press the button, scream down the road and spend 8 days flying round Thailand. That would be my preferred ending. But instead I get a different one….
The Bitch is dead again. I’m 10ft into nomansland and she’s not having it. I’m almost sure I can see a smirk on her face. I wonder if Lucyfer sat on her in Saratov and infected her with her evil genes. I do all the usual, including the threats, but this time she’s not having any of it. After about 15 minutes I decide to get a tow up to the Thai border and see what happens there. We get a strap, put it footrest to footrest and off we go. Man that’s fucking scary. Not something I want to repeat in this lifetime. We get to the Thai border and start on the paperwork. It’s so hot that my leathers are soaked through with sweat and the paperwork looks like a watercolour painting as droplets send the ink oozing in every direction. We have the permits with us but I think they don’t know what to do with them so they use the usual “computer broken” excuse to divert us to a customs building 60km further on.
I walk back to The Bitch whereupon I find one of the other riders has decided to pull all my connectors apart and spray them with WD40. WTF! “Why would you do that to someone’s bike without asking?” I’m sure he was only trying to help but when I reconnect everything and turn the key, I now get no gear/neutral indicator on the dash either. Fucking brilliant. Thanks for that! The immobiliser is still cutting in too so there is fuck all chance of it starting.
This is such a horrible feeling. I’ve never had a terminal failure on a ride before and it’s like someone has cut off my lifeline. I’m going through Plan A/B/C in my head trying to sort out a possible solution but it’s looking grim. One of the riders says there is a Ktm dealer in Nan where we’re going tonight. I’m not holding out much hope but I guess there is a chance. Anyway, there is a man with a truck hanging about and I ask him to take the bike to Nan. Load The Bitch up and I’m on 4 wheels. Fuck Fuck Fuck.
Me and The Bitch are definitely not on speaking terms.
Get to the Nan ‘dealer’ and it’s just a bloke in a shed with a screwdriver and a Ktm sticker in the window. That’s not going to work. Take the bike to the hotel and negotiate a price for the driver to drop the bike at the freight agent in Bangkok. I tell him he can tie a piece of rope round her tits and drag her all the way down the bloody road behind him for all I care. He needs to stay at a hotel tonight, and tomorrow too and I could nearly have bought another 1190 at this rate. Eat a depressing dinner and make some alternative plans for the next week.
Next morning the truck comes to the hotel to collect some luggage from the others that they want sending to Bangkok. I climb up on the back, insert the key, twist and… you guessed it… the immobiliser clears. It still won’t start of course because it doesn’t know WTF state the gearbox is in… if only he’d left the bloody thing alone….
Too late to worry about that though. The other riders get going and I spend a sad morning organising a hire car. In the space of 12 hours I’ve gone from a Ktm1190 adventure to a Nissan 1200 Misadventure. Bollocks.
By now I’m too depressed to write. I almost too depressed to breath. I make my way up to Chiang Mai for a couple of days to consider the most painless method of suicide. Maybe death by massage…
I don’t want to get back in that bloody tin can. Just the thought of it makes me want to hire a heavily armed SU27 from a friendly Russian, fly to Europe and pile as much ammunition and ordinance as I can right on top of the Ktm twat whose decision it was that their adventure bikes should have a fucking stupid bloody wanky game over trip ending shitting immobiliser. I just want to atomise the twat.
I go to the chemist and get a dozen 500g Mogadon tablets to try and dull the pain. Get in the cage and continue. First to Sukhotai..
Down to Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
The bridge over the river Kwai…
And finally to the shippers at Bangkok where The Bitch is waiting. Sitting in the corner. Waiting for a spank. Bloody thing.
Drop all the bikes off and do the paperwork and we’re away into the city. 2 wheels to 2 legs. Ready to split. The Australian rider and the Victory Vision are continuing south to Singapore and the other Victory went into Viet Nam from Laos. Now just the sad part. The party is over and it’s time to go home.
It’s been a great trip with some incredible roads and scenery. We’ve been fortunate to all make it through without too many incidents I reckon. I could have gone very badly wrong on any number of occasions. Lots of the riders have been down, a few of them more than once. Our kit is bruised, the bikes are battered and The Bitch is dead but we’re all still here to tell the tale.
Get on the plane home. 18 hours to fly what it’s taken 66 days to ride/dri… driv.. I just can’t bring myself to even think about it… Back to normality in the UK. I know from experience that it will be a shock to the system for a while. I’ll expect every bugger to just pull out in front of me, and I’ll expect every journey to contain at least 2 near death experiences. That’s normal though. It always takes a while for normality to slowly drive the experience further and further back into my memory and away from the everyday shit happening in front of my eyes.
Despite The Bitch letting me down, I do love that bike. It’s got something indefinable about it. Most metal doesn’t have soul but I reckon every Ktm is a reincarnated fighter or soldier or warrior or something.
Anyway, I’ve been in contact with a local Ktm Exorcist and I’m hopeful that they will be able to drive out the swarm of demons living in her electrics. I’ve told him I want to watch as she spins her head round and round and vomits black blood all over him. I want her to scream. I want The Bitch completely and utterly exorcised forever. After all, she’s going to have to go back and do it all again next year.