Thursday, October 31, 2013

3. Hua Hin to Surat Thani

458 km

I like to ride in a country where the traffic police salutes you when you pass by on a big BMW motorcycle!

Departure in Hua Hin.

The ride goes along Highway #4, and later #41, south. It is actually a pleasant way of riding since the divided highway is lined with eucalyptus and pine trees which provide some shade. The median is also often planted with trees. The only drawback is that my tires are not the right choice for these good roads. The bike feels wobbly, steering and handling is less than precise. This doesn't mean at all that I wish I would be on dirt roads or gravel!

The ride is uneventful until I get into a traffic jam with literally hundreds of stopped big trucks, pulled to the side, the drivers eating on tarps next to their vehicles. I can easily bypass them until I get to the police checkpoint. The officer who speaks some English explains that the highway is closed because of the protest of the rubber farmers. And then I start noticing the riot gear and shields laid out nicely on the closed road. 

I have to get off the highway and a nice, yet time consuming ride through great scenery begins, with date and rubber plantations, nice little houses in a serene setting. At each little crossroad you see a few police in riot gear, and sometimes also military. 

The detour took me about one hour. It was worth it. Some 30 miles south from where I left I can enter the highway again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2. Bangkok-Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province

Distance: 242 km

It takes about 2 hours to get out of Bangkok traffic, even after the morning rush-hour. But Bangkok's traffic is pretty intense all day long, as previously mentioned. On my way down to the southern provinces it also didn't make things easier that as a motorcyclist, one is banned from using the (elevated) toll roads; they are reserved to cars, trucks and busses. My German friend Stefan alerted me to this fact, thanks Stefan. He had to pay a substantial fine when he was caught using the express roads. 

This stop-and-go traffic with red-light phases which last up to four minutes, in 95 degree heat, and in one of the most polluted cities in the world is something to remember fondly.

Endless construction zones with snarling traffic.
The new extensions of the Bangkok Skytrain stretch to the outskirts of the city along my route.

First, I had the GPS programmed to avoid toll roads AND highways, which allowed for some interesting rural road cruising, through the shrimp-basin production areas of Samut Songkhram and other areas. But after a while I deleted the avoidance setting "Highway", took the major artery south, the #4 road, which is in essence a 6-8 lane highway all the way to Hua Hin. 

Arriving at the coast, Hua Hin, the summer residence of the Thai monarchy.

The splendid Centara Hotel, formerly the Hua Hin Railroad Hotel, of 1926.
(No, I didn;t stay there.)

Landscaping art at the Centara Hotel park.

Arriving in the evening at Hua Hin.

A professional foot and neck massage is in order.

And a Singha beer.

Finally, some last images taken in Bangkok on a stroll through Lumpini Park on my last day before heading south, sleeping cats, and the salon providing the Best Haircut, period.

Morning gymnastics, Lumpini park.
Free open-air gym, Lumpini park
Sleeping Monitor Lizard (Varanus), maybe 8 feet long, directly next to the foot path. They appear to be friendly, at least when asleep.

Another big one, also maybe 7 feet long, got him/herself a big fish for breakfast out of the park pond.  He had to struggle quiet a while to swallow the fish to a third of it length. When I came too close, he took his meal with him into the pond.

Sleeping cats on park benches.

The fabulous hair salon:
The girl to the right, short hair, is a true artist. What a delight to watch her cut hair. Amazing.

Tomorrow back on the road down south.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Trip

The Trip: Thailand

1. Bliss.

OK, I understand that this is somewhat hard to fathom for somebody who is not a motorcycle rider. 

But the feeling to lay eyes on the motorcycle which was travelling the high seas of the Pacific (total travel time from Chicago: September 11 to today) after two month is just incredible! Even more exciting is to unwrap it from its crate, and get going through crazy Bangkok traffic!

One step at a time:

After being notified by the shipping company that the crate will arrive on Tuesday, 10/29, I couldn't restrain myself any longer yesterday (Monday) and called on day ahead. Maybe there was a chance that the bike was already there.

8.00 a.m.: It was pretty much impossible to communicate in English with the shipping company staff, I needed the help of the Thai receptionist who called again on my behalf. But even he had to give up after a while, it was just not possible to get a clear answer whether the bike is at the warehouse. Thais try to avoid confrontational language, and being somewhat harsh in a conversation of that kind is "not polite", frowned upon, and simply not an option. However, the truth is that you couldn't get a result either.

9.00 a.m.: After a while I found a taxi driver who was willing to travel that far outside of downtown AND turn the meter on. Off we went.

9.45 a.m.: After passing hundreds of trucks, thousands of shipping container sites of all major global shipping companies we arrived at at the offices of the NYK Lines warehouse north of Suvanahbumi airport. It still took 45 minutes travel time, despite using the toll road, from Sukhumvit.

NYK Lines, warehouses, Modul 6, Lat Krabang

10.30 a.m.: From there I was sent to the Customs headquarters where several very nice female officers tried to figure out how to proceed with my case. After some discussion and clarification the Customs machine went into low gear and the paper trail started to flow, maybe a tad slower than, say, a glacier in the Alps would move. Everybody was very friendly but I should have been warned by the presence of a ping-pong table in the middle of the Customs office, with a bucket of table tennis rackets and balls where waiting customers could bridge the time and have some fun until their paper work was ready. I didn't play table tennis, but I used all the rubber stamps in the "Formality Prep Area) (Total: 12) to stamp one of my not-so-essential forms. Quiet impressive and a nice souvenir. Of course I don;t know what the stamps mean.

Customs stamp shangri-la.

The blue table on the left is the ping-pong table.

11.45 a.m.: Back by taxi to the warehouse, a short 15 minute drive. I even made it there before lunch break, and thought I am one lucky guy.

11.55 a.m.: Too early! I had to visit three Custom officers in the shipping company's OWN Customs office, who, -rightly so-, decided that it is lunch time now, and the office is closed.

1.00 p.m.: From here on out it was a breeze: Clearing Customs, getting all the forms, truck clearance forms for gate security, paying the warehouse ticket ($0.80), getting the motorcycle out of the crate (done by staff: Thank you! You saved me a lot of trouble and sweat in 90 degree weather, 90% rel. humidity!), walking back to shipping company's cashier office, paying handling, wharfage, and storage fees ($12).

THE crate: Looks as good as when it was built in Chicago!

Everything fine: No damage, salt water residue, prefect!

The friendly staff at NYK Lines.
3.30 p.m.: After about 40 minutes to reconnect the battery, mount the windshield and checking the bike everything looks ready to go. 

Stress pure: Key into ignition: Will it start? YES, WOW, what a relief! Applause and smiles by the staff!

The warehouse staff surrounding me doing all these exciting things have a ball, one last picture and I dive into Bangkok traffic!

What an amazing feeling to be back on the bike after such a long time.

Good that I have a GPS on board (Thailand is the only country on this trip for which I have GPS data and coverage), I plug in the request for the nearest gas station which seems to be fairly close, off it goes. Of course the fuel, except for a small amount to get me out of the container terminal, had to be drained prior to shipping.

And I run out of gas!

I hail a cab which drives me some 8 miles to the nearest station (I would NEVER have made it there with the remaining fuel!), an empty 6-liter-engine oil canister gets rinsed quickly by the attendant with gasoline and changes hands for 30 US cents. topped off with gas and the cabby takes me back to where I left the bike.

First things first: I need to get now gas.

Nice Esso gas-station attendant.

The air girl checking the tire pressure.

Everybody loves forms, here are the ten essential ones to get the bike into Thailand.

5.00 p.m.: Pulling into the parking garage of my apartment building. WOW! Great!