Go West!

(James) With all of our official legal obligations now met, we were all up fairly early so that we, and more importantly, Darren could finally begin riding for the sheer fun of it and not to actually get somewhere. Our plan was to retrace the route we’d ridden days earlier back along the Mekong river to get to Nong Khai, albeit at a more leisurely pace, before heading south towards the small town of Loei, and then west towards Thailand’s western frontier where we’d be able to run north along the lesser used roads  by the Burmese border. Although we were still keen to get some good mileage under our belts so we could maximise Darren’s riding time, it felt good to suddenly be riding once again without a target or deadline and we were able to stop in for photos at temples and other points of interest along the way. Our early start combined with a fast empty road meant that we had reached Loei by early afternoon, so we stopped in for lunch at a roadside café that had a one dish menu. Normally, this lack of choice might be a problem, but fortunately this being Thailand it really doesn’t matter as you’re pretty much guaranteed that whatever you’re given, it’ll be delicious, and today was no exception (the fact that with drinks we only paid the equivalent of less than a pound each always makes things taste that little bit sweeter!). Although we were so stuffed that all we really wanted to do was go and have a nap, we set off after lunch in anticipation of 200km of almost continuous bends on the road to Lom Sak and, just as before, we had an absolute blast.

The only lowlight of the day came later in the afternoon  when, having finally reached the main road heading west, I had a run in with the local fauna. Anyone who’s ridden a motorcycle will know that sometimes when on a straight road like a motorway, your eyes instinctively focus on an insect (normally a wasp or a bee in Europe)that’s flying along directly in your path. It might be 100 metres ahead but for whatever reason you just lock on to it. Even if you’re a new rider, the reason is abundantly obvious – it’s going to hit you square in the face. There’s nothing you can do about it, and changing lanes won’t help, it’s just one of those things. Well, my eyes had focused in on said insect, in this case a particularly large butterfly (the big butterflies here have a tendency to not only hurt you through the high speed impact of their bodies in your face but add insult to injury when their abnormally large wings then slap you in the face too!), and I was bracing myself for the inevitable. Bizarrely though, I wasn’t the only one who had noticed this particular flying insect. Unbeknown to me, and outside of my peripheral vision, a hunting bird had locked onto what would surely be a meal big enough to satisfy it for several days to come and was positioning itself (in from the direction of the sun incidentally) for an attack. So, as this particularly impressive butterfly was flying along minding its own business and, perhaps, one might imagine, congratulating itself on how spectacularly large and attractive it had become, it could hardly be blamed for failing to notice not one, but two larger (but no less attractive, ahem..) predators, one intentionally, the other not so much, honing in on it. The question, and one that all three (totally unaware) parties involved could not possibly know the answer to, was which two participants’ paths would intercept and who would continue on their way unharmed. As fate would have it, the answer was all three and none. In what was something of a photo finish, the bird reached the blissfully unaware insect milliseconds before me, earning itself a pretty decent meal in the process. It counted for nought though as, in the instant after its victory and whilst it was probably just about to give itself some sort of avarian high-five, and certainly before it could have even had a chance to swallow its prey, the supremely unaware and ironically, the winner of this particular race collided, at full tilt, with me, or more specifically with my neck, proving once and for all that in the natural scheme of things, the victor doesn’t always reap the spoils – there’s always a bigger fish. Either way, it was a shock for me (one can only imagine the shock for the other two protagonists!) as said bird had a significantly bigger impact than the insect I had braced myself for. Suffice to say it bloody hurt, and I dealt with the resulting pain in a typically manly fashion (picture quivering lower lip, moist eyes and child-like snotty nose ) by calling on some of the not so inconsiderable range of expletives in my repertoire and then pulling over to the side of the road to ensure that bird and butterfly weren’t in my jacket (fortunately they weren’t) and to check for any sign of blood or injury much like any professional footballer but, as is normally the case with footballers, there was nothing there!…

With evening rapidly drawing in we found ourselves back near Khao Kho and so stopped in to see if we could stay with the same lady we’d stayed with before but sadly, and despite having only been open for about 5 days (you might recall that we were her first guests) she was full. We were naturally disappointed but she seemed borderline suicidal, even offering to let us stay in her house (for an even higher price) to make up for it! We declined and having said goodbye, found somewhere else to stay nearby, where we had an early night, but not before enduring an hour of comedy, when we went to a fairly large capacity restaurant, where as the only customers we spent 20 minutes trying to get across that we wanted to eat, something that bizarrely, the owners really struggled to comprehend (still, it offered an explanation as to why it had no customers!) The following morning were up early one again to bash out the miles that would put us near the Burmese border, or at least Darren was; we’d forgotten to set our alarms! Still, a quick turn-around saw us up and ready in 10 minutes, which would have been great  but for error number two of the morning – Darren had moved his bike without removing the padlock that was acting as a disc lock (to prevent someone riding off on it). The lock had somehow managed to wedge itself between the fork leg and the brake calliper and was not going to be moved with brute force. Riding off with a disc lock still on is something that most new motorcyclists do at some point and is normally very embarrassing and very expensive to fix, so it was a relief that Darren had learnt this lesson whilst just wheeling the bike around in a quiet location. In the end we had to get the tool kit out and remove the calliper before the lock freed itself, and luckily there was no damage to the bike so we could finally get on our way, but not before we stopped at a bizarrely out of place and kooky, yet undeniably cool American-style roadside café. The café was just metres from traditional thatched roofed Thai huts set on bamboo stilts, yet strangely,  neither  seemed particularly incongruous, working in harmony with each other; indeed, Em remarked that ‘harmonious’ might be the word that describes Thailand and Thai people better than any other. Being a western style café it actually offered western style breakfasts (something that, after 8 months on the road, we really miss) so we found some seats sitting on a veranda overlooking beautiful rolling hills and ordered food over proper mugs of tea and coffee. Our plates, when they arrived, had us in stitches. The dishes were just as described (fried eggs, sausages etc) but on a scale we’d never really seen before. Anyway, we enjoyed what may well have been a fried chaffinch egg and a matching Lilliputian sausage and on still empty stomachs, hit the road.

It might not appear so on the map but route 12, which runs east to west from Lom Sok to Mae Sot, is a series of frustratingly boring long straights, frustrating mostly because the countryside around us wasn’t that flat. Still, looking at the positives, boring as it was, we were making excellent progress. Our boredom was only broken by our first sighting of a big snake, or rather a big ex-snake. As we were riding along I had to take evasive action to avoid a large python in the middle of the lane. It must have been at least three metres long and was really thick, thick enough that had one of us hit we’d have known all about it. It had obviously only just been hit as it had just one tyre track through the middle of its length. I watched  in my mirrors to see that Em and Darren also dodged it and was relieved to see that they did. I slowed down to allow Em to draw up alongside me where we remarked on the size of the snake and she advised me against pulling over to go and take a photo (Em: we were on a three lane highway!), but when Darren pulled up alongside and I went to congratulate him on missing such an obstacle, his reply was ‘what snake?’ Apparently  he hadn’t  actually seen the enormous reptile taking up 90% of our lane! I wasn’t sure whether I should just be thankful that he was so totally focused on the road, or be worried that he’d failed to see such a huge obstacle. Darren just seemed gutted to have missed it (though I suspect he thought I was having him on!)

By mid-afternoon we had reached the junction where our road met with route 1, the main north-south road in Thailand. For us, this marked the point where our day of straight roads ended and we would enter the hilly country that marks the Thai-Burmese border, and with hills comes nice twisty roads! As the hills closed in on us, so too did the clouds which, with every passing kilometre, began to look more menacing. Given the deteriorating weather we decided to keep pushing on and, just as the first drops of rain began to fall, we rolled into the frontier town of Mae Sot. We really lucked out with accommodation, finding a beautiful teak guesthouse, and after a shower we sat together in big comfy chairs under an awning catching up on our admin and drinking tea as the rain finally carried out what it had been threatening to do throughout the afternoon. We were the only tourists staying at our guesthouse but that’s not to say it was empty. The remaining rooms were taken up an eclectic mix of NGO workers and volunteers who it turned out worked with Burmese refugees or on Burmese human rights issues. Chatting with some of them, we were invited out to a charity event they were holding at a bar in the town and so, with our jobs done (or almost done in the case of our blog – we were starting to fall behind at this point!) we went to the event, which it turned out was to raise awareness of those Burmese refugees who, having managed to escape from what, I think we can all agree, is a pretty horrific and hard to defend regime in Burma, were now not being recognised as refugees by the Thai government. Quite how anybody can question the validity of someone trying to escape from Burma is beyond me and it must be to the shame of the Thai government that Mae Sot is seen by those Burmese who now call it home as the largest prison camp in the world because, given that they are not recognised by the Thai government, and given that they clearly are now not recognised by the Burmese government, they find themselves in a sort of international stasis where they are people without a country or any (bar the local NGO’s) representation. There was a live band playing and plenty of beers so we all had a great, if a little sobering, evening (how can you not when you meet a man who was a political prisoner in Burma for over twenty years?!) before one at a time, deciding to call it a night and head back through the rain to our guesthouse. Darren, those of you who know him won’t be surprised to hear, was the last home……..

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5 Responses to “Go West!”

  1. darren says:

    Do you remember the white caravan with the GB stickers on it at the cafe? Fantastic pics and thanks for the honoury slot in the middle of the blog. Although I don’t recall losing any knife throwing competition to James!

  2. Motoventurers says:

    Well, you’re getting on now, your memory’s probably not what it used to be!…

  3. Jackson says:

    motoventurini.

    Great stuff, hope the neck’s OK James. yes i hit a pigeon once on the bike. Forget all the rural roads where it might have been more likely, because it was on the M1 at quite a pace…..luckily the fairing took the impact.
    please keep going so I can come out at some stage and travel a bit with you. Must have been awesome for Darren.
    You have inspired me to pull out my albums and blogs from trips i did 2000-2001. Nice to have an evening of nostalgia after so long without looking at them.
    Anyway,I don’t know exactly where you are now as i know you’re behind on the blog but reliving my adventures has brought to mind some recommendations:

    Laos: Vang Vieng for climbing, river tubing and chilled vibe. Perhaps overrun by gap year backpackers now?
    Further south the “Plain of Jars” and surrounding frontier like towns. Horrific agent orange aftermath and watch out for land mines.
    Right in South near Cambodia, Don Det – super friendly, relaxing, big waterfalls and the irrawaddy dolphin

    Vietnam – believe you’re already covered it? Did you go to the hill tribes near the Chinese boarder in the North?

    Angkor – as well as “Wat”, most amazing temples were Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei and the Bayon one.

    Malaysia – Perenthian islands were barefoot paradise. I imagine they might have developed a lot in the last decade though.

    take care
    Jackson

  4. Motoventurers says:

    Hi Jackal,
    Glad we’ve set you off on a nice trip down memory lane! Thanks for the tips on Laos and Cambodia – should be heading that way in the next few weeks once my new passport has arrived in Thailand. BTW, each time we move to a new location we update the tabs on the right-hand side of the page so, even though the blog’s a bit behind, you always know where we are (you can also track us on our route map which is also pretty up-to-date!)
    You MUST come out at some point – shame you’ve been too busy with your winter sports recently as northern Thailand is simply amazing for riding. Still here for a few weeks if you can sort something out…!!
    xxxx

  5. Sami says:

    Hi guys!
    Great to se that you have managed to get so far.
    Love all the wonderful images. You guys are truly an inspiration. I expect that this adventure will be placed on the book, preferably translated in Swedish:)
    Best wishes
    Sami

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