Putting the extra mile in…

(James) We were keen to get away early the next morning (our overly ambitious thinking being that we might get down to Pattaya whilst Darren was enjoying a lie in), but inevitably various distractions, such as photo sessions with the hostel staff for their website (ah, the life of the Thai z-list celebrity!!) meant that it was 11am by the time we got on the road. Bangkok’s sheer size meant that it was just going to be a case of heading southeast through the city until we saw signposts we recognised. Our progress through the city wasn’t exactly rapid despite Bangkok’s 21st century infrastructure. We’d already marvelled at the integrated transport system here (we don’t get out much!) which makes any other city we’ve ever been to look antiquated. The city has a developed system of water taxis that wind their way at speed through Bangkok’s maze of waterways, and underground runs a clean and efficient underground metro system, but it’s what’s above ground that is so impressive. The same road system of elevated multiple lane highways that had so amazed us upon our arrival continues throughout the city, and that includes the very centre. So as you walk down the main streets of downtown Bangkok, there is often a series of pillars running down the centre of the road that supports the city’s ‘sky train’ rail system (the best way to get around the centre of the city) and above that might be another sky train line (if it’s a junction), an actual high speed train line, or a four lane express road. This utterly brilliant system means that any major road in the city can have 4 different forms of transport running along its axis on 4 different levels, none of which get in each other’s way. This is the way an integrated transport system is supposed to work, and the result is that despite the sheer size of the city, the streets are fairly calm (you hear nothing from the multiple lane roads running overhead), it’s quick, simple and cheap to get about, and the only smell to hit your nose is that of delicious Thai food being cooked at any one of the countless street food stalls – western cities, take note! (Em: You can only imagine how many times I had to hear James rhapsodising about the ‘integrated transport network’ so be thankful to only get the geek-fest once!)

Anyway, I digress… My point is that we expected to make great progress out of the city and estimated that just two hours might be a feasible arrival time in Pattaya if the traffic gods smiled on us. Of course, they didn’t and we found that one man-made problem prevented a quick escape. Once out of the centre, the city has numerous 4 lane (in each direction) highways interlinking with each other. Above these run elevated multi-lane toll expressways, and to the side run dual carriageways. We knew that motorcycles weren’t allowed on the toll roads but had been assured that we could use the fast ground-level highways below. Not so, it turned out and we were relegated to the side roads which were made all the more lethal by the fact that people would pull up to a stop in the inside lane, and the outside(fast) lane was also the exit lane for those coming off the highway! Not ideal, and more than once we found ourselves diving onto the highway to avoid the carnage and put a couple of easy but slightly illegal kilometres under our belt. Eventually we were out though, and once in the open countryside (where the rules always seem to be more lax) we sat on the highway and, boring as it was, devoured the distance to Pattaya as quickly as we could arriving at about 2pm, expecting to find an excited Darren either waiting to show us a hire bike he’d found or sitting on one he’d already hired (he’s quite impulsive!!)

What we actually found was a fairly depressed Darren sitting on a bench on a fairly depressing beach promenade. He wasn’t the bringer of good news, and over a cold drink we sat and listened incredulously as he told us that he’d been to dozens of the bike places that lined the sea front and at each had been told that he could hire any of the big capacity bikes with one condition – they weren’t allowed out of the city limits!…. We could barely believe what we were hearing, I mean, what’s the point of hiring a one litre touring motorcycle that can’t actually tour! Apparently they don’t allow people to leave the city as if a customer breaks down, they might have to drive all the way to collect the bikes! We were stunned and even checked ourselves, assuring an shop owner that if we had a problem we’d sort it our ourselves so that either way he’d be getting his bike back just as it was before  – but he wasn’t having any of it. Our promise of not needing breakdown/accident support  should have been enough but it wasn’t. The reason, we guessed, was that the dealers simply didn’t need to take the risk as Pattaya has been completely taken over by  the new breed of wealthy Russians. These Russians, as we quickly saw, like to throw their money about (nouveau riche darling!) and were happy to pay significant sums to hire a racing spec superbike or a fully equipped Harley -Davidson and just pootle up and down the tacky promenade in first gear. Either way, it was all a bit pathetic and we quickly decided that the best thing was to get out of there and head north to Chiang Mai in the north where we knew there would be plenty of bikes  to rent for touring. (Em: this was all very frustrating as we could have just gone there from Bangkok in the first place instead of having this farcical trip south to Pattaya. We also had to break it to Darren that it looked like we would have to work a visa-run trip to Laos into our itinerary… Darren’s potential time on a bike was rapidly diminishing!) Darren booked himself a bus back to Bangkok and a flight (being the flash git he is!) north to Chiang Mai and we agreed to meet him there in two days time. I mention this, because at some point (and I don’t know when) we all decided that Chiang Mai was about 600km to the north so Em and I based our two day rendez-vous on this distance.

Anyway, not so early the next morning we said goodbye to Darren and headed off, fully expecting to cover about 300km (to the half way point) in good time and, just as expected, our progress was excellent. Such great progress in the morning meant we were ahead of schedule – the downside being that, contrary to our usual habit, we’d had to keep going whenever we’d seen things of interest along the way. We consoled ourselves with a good hour long stop at a really cute roadside restaurant where we ate several beautiful dishes (Em: banana blossom salad, yum!), whilst fish for other diners was being taken straight from the pond next to our table. All was going really well so in the afternoon we decided to come off the boring fast roads and get back on to the more interesting rural roads where we’re much happier. This was also a chance for us to get our first glimpse of the kind of riding we could expect in Thailand – and, certainly going on first impressions, we agreed that Thailand was going to continue to impress. Throughout our trip we’d witnessed a fairly steady decline in driving standards (great for both of us, but particularly Em as it meant we were never going to get thrown in at the deep end) that had culminated, you won’t be surprised to hear, in India. Nepal had provided a marked improvement, but Thailand was another level and we spent the afternoon riding through beautiful countryside on smooth roads with minimal traffic, traffic which, when we came across it, was considerate and predictable. Perhaps our standards and expectations have dropped but in our experience this was better than we remembered riding at home to be like! We also came across our first working elephants as we had to stop to allow an elephant and its calf being guided across the road by a mahout, presumably heading home after a hard day’s work!

With dusk approaching we pulled over for a break, somewhere near Chai Baden, and agreed we’d better start looking for somewhere to stay. We were a tad concerned as, to our knowledge, we hadn’t passed a single hotel all day and we’d left it a bit late to start looking (normally we know what time it starts getting dark and when to start thinking about stopping for the day but this being our first proper day on the road in Thailand we were a bit clueless). Having got back on the bike we pulled back onto the road but had barely got into second gear when we passed the entrance to complex we’d inadvertently been stopped next to. It  looked suspiciously hotel-like, so we popped in and true enough it was. However, it looked pretty smart, and thus, would clearly be out of our price range. Still, at least they might know of somewhere nearby. They did know indeed,  and agreeing that they were more expensive, began giving us directions. Out of interest we asked what their double room cost and when the answer came back we dropped our bags without looking at each other and began filling in the registration book. 400 Baht (less than £8!) for a, quite frankly, luxurious room!

You might recall I mentioned earlier that we’d somehow assumed that it was a 600km trip from Pattaya to Chiang Mai. Assumption is something we never ordinarily do (it being the mother of all f***-ups) but on this occasion, and for whatever reason, we did. And we were about to pay the price for it. We were chatting away with the ever friendly Thai staff at reception whilst filling out our registration forms and talking about what we were doing (it seems they don’t get too many foreigners passing through on bikes!), explaining that we were trying to get up to Chiang Mai to meet our friend. One asked how long it would take us to get to there and when  we replied that we hoped to get there the following evening they looked concerned and suggested that perhaps we might get there the day after that but not before. When we asked what they meant, they told us it was 1000km to Chiang Mai! (Rather than the 300km we thought we had left!) Now, we’re used to hearing people trying to be helpful and giving us woefully inaccurate directions but still, when someone gives you a figure that’s so utterly different to that you expect you can’t help but at least sit up and take notice. Still, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it other than worry about potentially making Darren spend another of his precious riding days not actually riding. (Em: we had already wasted at least three days with the Pattaya palaver…)

The following morning we were up and ready to hit the road early just in case we had indeed got the distances wrong (a quick look at the map suggested that it might be just a bit further than the expected 300km but without knowing how twisty the roads might be, it was still up for conjecture). We hadn’t gone 4km when a passing car beeped at me and indicated that my rear tyre was low and, having pulled over, a quick inspection revealed a nail embedded deeply into the tread. After more than 25,000km of often dreadful ‘roads’ without incident, I finally had our first puncture of the trip! Before leaving Bangkok we’d made the decision to leave those bags deemed unnecessary (those carrying sleeping bags and roll mats) in storage at the hostel so I’d be able to carry Darren’s luggage and save him carrying extra weight. We’d forgotten that we’d been storing our spare inner tubes in the bottom of our camping bag so, sods law, not only had we had a our first puncture of the trip, but we’d had it on the only occasion that we hadn’t been carrying a spare tube or repair kit!! There  was little we could do but re-inflate the tyre and see what effect the ‘slime’ (a puncture prevention goo we inserted in our tyres before leaving the UK which had so far performed faultlessly) would have in slowing the leak; after all who knows how long I’d had the nail in my tyre? We sent a text message to Darren asking him to bring the inner tube with him from Bangkok (as he was flying, he wasn’t leaving until later that morning) and got back on the road, trying to make up for the time we’d lost at the side of the road while Em kept an eye on my tyre. (Em: turns out Darren didn’t get my text until after he’d arrived in Chiang Mai… whoops!)

We rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent pounding out as many kilometres as we could just in case we were indeed looking at a much bigger distance than we’d assumed. Confirmation came at lunch when we got chatting with a local policeman who wanted photos of us and the bikes and he told us that we were still about 400km away from Chiang Mai  - not ideal given we’d already covered 250km! (our normal daily limit). It’s fair to say that our lunch stop was considerably shorter after hearing the news and, not being able to bear the idea of keeping Darren waiting around on his own for yet another night, we agreed that we’d keep going regardless of how late it got. One way or another we were getting to Chiang Mai today!

We continued to keep up a fairly ruthless pace only stopping for fuel or when Em occasionally started to fall asleep (Em’s ability to fall asleep on the back of my bike used to be unnerving enough, but on long motorway runs she still manages to do it which scares the life out of me!) With evening approaching, we were still over 100km away from Chiang Mai when a drink stop revealed that the tyre had deflated itself by about 50% so, having donned our headtorches, we set about re-inflating the tyre and got back on the road. The slime in our tyres had proven great on our trip to date; it works by instantly filling any hole in our inner tube and, having plugged the hole, solidifying to prevent further air escaping. It works well until the hole causing the puncture reaches a certain size. With the slime having kept the tyre inflated all day, our hopes were high as rode off once again into the night but, like a teenager having sex, it didn’t  last long and some 30km later I felt the tell tale signs of a deflating rear tyre. A quick inspection in the dark revealed ejected slime sprayed all over the underside of the bike –  we’d lost as much air in the last 30km as we had throughout the rest of the day. Clearly the hole in the inner tube had become a tear, and it was now just a case of re-inflating and hoping for the best. With the tyre pumped up once more, we set off again with Em stationed close behind me to monitor the situation. 25km later and just 30km short of Chiang Mai, we had to pull over yet again and repeat the procedure whilst Em stood waving a torch about to alert passing cars and trucks of our presence at the side of the road. Heading off this time, we hoped we might be able to limp into Chiang Mai but it wasn’t to be and 15km later we found ourselves sitting at the side of the road once more. That, fortunately, turned out to be our last stop (as if our day hadn’t been long enough, each tyre stop had cost us at least 20 minutes) and we finally staggered out of the rural darkness and into the bright lights of Chiang Mai. Having quickly found the central moat around the centre of town, we located our hostel where we saw a relaxed Darren sat, cold beer in hand (bastard!),waiting for us. We unloaded the bikes, had a lightning shower (always easy to do when the water’s freezing!) and went straight out for dinner and a much needed drink where we toasted (me with a beer, Darren and Em were on some pretty girly cocktails!)(Em: er, I think you’ll find there’s photo evidence to the contrary…) the end of a long day and the start of Darren’s riding holiday. We’d ridden more than 650km in a day, stopped for maintenance to a puncture five times and, just as the locals had told us, covered 1000km from Pattaya to Chiang Mai. Surely we’d sleep like babies!…..

7 Responses to “Putting the extra mile in…”

  1. Katie says:

    Sooooo jealous! We loved Thailand – I still crave the real chicken coconut soup concotion I had pretty much every night for 60p when we were there!
    Hope you guys are ok and still having a whole heap of fun……
    Miss you, see you soon xxxxx

  2. julian says:

    What an EPIC day. You guys deserve a few days relaxing on a boat! X

  3. Martha says:

    Wow sounds like those drinks at the end of the day must have tasted good!! Long, long ago (like on day 2 or something) I would have crumpled into a crying heap and got on the next available flight home! You are very inspiring! And anyway, with your philosophy of ‘it’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity’ in mind – at least you got to test out the limits of the ‘slime’! Hope you have some fun times coming up soon (ah shame you have the parents visiting but nevermind…)

  4. Jess says:

    Yes Appletini! Stickers are looking good too.

    This evening I am writing about the advantages and disadvantages of new and old media in marketing communications.
    Your life. My life. Sigh! (All is good really!)

    MISS YOU! xxxx

  5. Mary says:

    I asked for (and was given) a large world atlas at Christmas so I could follow where you are!!
    Enjoying keeping up with the adventures and the cliff-hanging ‘opportunities’, not to mention the great pictures.

  6. Mama/Kate says:

    Gosh! have only just read this one (along with the next one) and I’m speechless, yet again. Having heard it all from the horses’ mouths, seeing it in print really makes me appreciate your persverence and stamina all over again. I’m with Martha on this kind of hellish experience.

    BTW, I’m loving ‘ Assumption being the mother of all f***ups’!

  7. richardsracingmad says:

    Bad luck with the puncture.

    I’m amazed it was your first one!!!

    I think there are arguments for and against Slime. Against: you don’t realise you have a puncture, till its too late! For: It got you home.!!

    Are you using standard, Heavy Duty, or Ultra Heavy Duty inner tubes.? If you are running around 30psi, no less than 25, you should be fine with the standard ones…

    Lets hope for another 25000Kms before the next one…and don’t forget your inner tubes!

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