Saturday, November 30, 2013

32. Phitsanulok - Sukhothai (UNESCO World Heritage Site - Phitsanulok

135 km

After yesterday's long-distance ride I went only on a short round-trip to visit the 700 year old remnants of Thailand's former capital, Sukhothai. The city remained the capital until it was succeeded by Ayutthaya in the 15th century. There are numerous large brick ruins, both of Buddhist temples (Wats) and the actual palaces still to be found. The campus is surrounded by a fence, there is a small fee of course, yet more sites, ancient walls, and water-filled moats can be found surrounding the actual historic park. To visit those, nothing serves better than a two-wheeled vehicle, a bicycle is romantic, but using the motorbike is great. (One is allowed to enter the park by motorcycle, not by car.)

One should not expect Angkhor Wat, Cambodia, when visiting the Sukhothai Historical park, however a visit is very worthwhile when in north-central Thailand, also because of the site and is history's importance for today's society.

A somewhat weird and spooky experience is the visit to the Wat of the "Diamond Eyes", Luang Pho Petch, not even four kilometers further from the historical park. It is a small, very tight entrance which leads to a chamber secured by a heavy steel door and lock. The monk needs to come and unlock the gate to reveal the sight to the Buddha image with the "diamond eyes". These have been replaced a long time ago by synthetic stones, the entire Buddha is said to have survived three theft attempts. The visit is for people who do not suffer from claustrophobia since you need to squeeze through a very narrow door, actually more like a gap in the brick work, on your way in and out.

I only found this place because it was in my NOSTRA GPS data base. On the internet people are complaining that the monks try to impose a hefty visitor fee on you for showing the inside of the sanctuary; the monk who showed me the Buddha camber did not ask for money.

The ride to and fro is uneventful, divided ("boring") four-lane roads, no overturned busses or trucks since the road is straight as a die. Yes, the mountains are behind me.

Wat Luang Pho Petch, Sukhothai

Friday, November 29, 2013

31. Chiang Saen - Phitsanulok

495 km

Chinese river freighter, most likely picking up rice.

After five lazy days in quiet, dreamy Chiang Saen while watching the Mehkong river flow by and the lake's water lilies grow  I needed to get some riding done, long distance style. Of course there were suggestions to follow scenic mountain roads through sparsely populated valleys and across dramatic ridges but I wanted to "eat some asphalt" today before turning northbound again soon to follow the Mehkong. This river road will be very scenic and not a thoroughfare, today the riding was most on excellent roads, Asian Highway 2 (AH2) and Thai highways 1 and 101.

Not much can be reported from today's trip except for the fact that now, since the rice harvest is almost completed, farmers have the habit to put the harvested fields on fire; the air is filled with thick smoke, the blue sky is sometimes hidden behind a grey curtain which makes breathing difficult.

One also has to watch out for the long lines of parked pick-up trucks heavily loaded with rice near the entrances to the processing plants.

 I will stay another day in this bustling town since I do a quick detour from here to the ruins of Sukhothai tomorrow, a one hour ride, one way.

30. BMW Motorrad and Globalization

Just off the press

A few days ago BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle branch of Bayerische Motorenwerke AG announced that they will built a new motorcycle manufacturing plant in Thailand. The reasons are twofold: 1. Demand here in Southeast Asia, especially the more wealthy Thailand for the larger, Enduro-type bikes from BMW has soared in recent years, despite their enormous price tags. The Thai government being ever more creative to seek additional income has just raised the tax on foreign manufactured motorcycles to, I believe, 100%, which turns my BMW R1200 GS ADV into an item in the range of a Mercedes Benz C-class Sedan, U.S. price. To counter this, BMW builds a plant here to circumnavigate the tax. It will be only the third motorcycle plant BMW owns, Berlin being the home manufacturing plant, one in Brasil (this country is a huge market with very strong growth as well), and now Thailand.

I also learned from Ian today, the British vintage motorcycle enthusiast from Chiang Saen, that the "new" Triumph company now produces all but one of their motorcycles in Thailand, in three manufacturing plants. These are going exclusively into export. The Triumph Bonneville, for example, somebody in Illinois or Indiana buys from the dealer in Terre Haute, was made here.

Globalization, of course, isn't a concern for the fabulous shoemaker in Chiang Saen. As promised he had my Kevlar/Carbon/leather German GENSLER gloves fitted with new leather palms, my Enduro boots have a thick, sturdy leather top now, and he fabricated two wonderful covers for my GPS, made of the best leather. These are a replacement for the plastic cover my friend Jeff made which was a little worn.

It goes without saying that my muddy, dirty boots -I didn't had the time to clean them before they were dropped off at the shoemaker's- also received a thorough cleaning and waterproofing treatment. In terms of service by small town craftsmen Thailand is amazing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

29. Rainy Day

Chian Saen Lake

A perfect day to give the motorcycle a well deserved rest and keep the cover on.

Instead, I took a kayak to explore Chiang Saen Lake which is directly at my door steps.

The morning hours were comparatively cool, however the humidity and my rain gear ensures that one is soaking wet after about 30 minutes of crossing the lake. You have to imagine the absolute quietness, no distant car noises, no indices of civilization. Instead you here ducks, frogs, water hens, and other birds and water foil, and the noise you generate yourself.

However, what amazed me the most on the lake are two phenomena, and please excuse my ignorance, I am a lay persons observing all this in wonder, and no expert in such topics whatsoever. I am also entirely incapable to provide the correct scientific lingo:

1. The lake is populated by large patches of "floating islands", which I can move around with my paddle, if they are small enough. They have turf on top, looks really like a patch of lawn, flowers and little plants, yet they are not connected to 'terra firma'. 

2. The other fascinating aspect are water lilies.

Years ago I met several times Professor Wilhelm Barthlott from the University of Bonn, who discovered the so-called "Lotus-Effect", a truly astonishing piece of  nano bio-engineering with fascinating consequences for future surface technology.

Please read below:

However, I was not familiar with the fact that it also can be observed on the large, floating leafs of the water lilies in a lake such as this one. Morning dew, unpolluted, pristine water, collects on the leaf and forms large bubbles which don't 'wet' the top surface of the leaf. See the photographs I took this morning.

Another fascinating aspect of the leaf is that it is 'tethered' to the bottom of the rather deep lake; a 'life line' connects the plant to the ground for the transport of nutrients and to keep it physically in place. I am fascinated by this!

Taking the kayak out to explore the lake.

Large floating islands.

I can push them with my paddle and they will move.

Water hen, I believe.

The big dew bubbles on the leaves.

The nano structure of the leaf surface (under an electronic microscope it looks like a field of golf balls) prevent the water from wetting the leaf.

Tethered to the bottom of the lake.

The rest of the day was spend checking my equipment and getting some repairs done.

Here in town lives a true craftsman, a shoemaker and leather repair shop. He needs to repair my DAYTONA leather boots who were damaged in yesterday's little mishap.

The boots feature a rubber surface on top to allow for better grip for up shifting. This rubber piece gave way, something needs to.

The town shoemaker looked at it and was not happy. He will now replace the rubber with heavy duty, black leather, on BOTH boots he said, of course. He doesn't like rubber.

Since my leather gloves show also signs of disintegration due heavy use and high humidity, he replaces the leather on both palms as well. Amazing. He will be done tomorrow evening, since I will leave on Friday morning.

Watching the river pass by.
There is always something interesting to see.
People are crossing with little water taxis from the Laos side to here freely, back and forth.
The current is strong.

The shoe maker and his wife.

Left of the green dust pan are my gloves, the leather replacement parts are already cut.

It may not be your style, but these are hand-made shoes, entirely.
They would set you back in Munich, Germany, around 2000+ Euros, or a thousand British pounds in London.