Tuesday, December 10, 2013

40. Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) - Pattaya

320 km

The ride from Korat to Pattaya is an interesting one. It provides three distinct riding experiences:

1. Straight, two-lane roads in a flat countryside, with moderate traffic and small villages to cross;
2. Beautiful, "high-speed curvy roads" in a forested mountain area, excellent road conditions, four-lanes throughout;
3. Incredibly bad four-lane roads, deep depressions in the lanes caused by heavy trucks, called in road builder lingo "channels" or "ruts".

But let's start in Korat.

On my way out, a motorcycle rider who was stopped next to me at a red traffic light, asked how I managed to get a Illinois registered bike into Thailand. He was on a big Kawasaki cruiser, and lives in that city since April this year. Since we had to stop at the red lights of about four subsequent intersections we had some time to chat. He was a nice fellow and seemed to like living here.

Not much is to be reported from the #1 type section of the route, these flat, straight Thai roads are now very familiar to me, one has to keep the eyes open especially in villages for stopped vehicles on passing lanes, dogs which sometimes shoot out from a little road-side business or house, turning trucks on four-lane roads, and rarely, for debris lying on the road. The typical road check points can be found as well.

Here is a quick summary of what to encounter in terms of checkpoints in Thailand:

a) Border Police, a para-military force, originally: first line of defense against attacks from Vietnam, dark-green or camouflage uniforms, only in the border regions, Laos, Myanmar;

b) Highway Police, dark maroon uniforms;

c) local Police, in villages, uniforms varies, sometimes plainclothes, armed, others dark-brown uniforms;

Local Motorcycle Police

Local police, on private bike.
There is also "fake police", impersonators, who involve in crime against Thai nationals and foreigners. Police badgets, helmets, uniforms acn be bought freely, no questions asked. It is a thriving business. I would like to buy a Thai motorcycle cop uniform and helmet, alas I don't look not enough genuinely Thai.

d) the military, Royal Thai Army. In terms of this riding segment "Korat-Pattaya", you may see the Royal Thai Army 3rd Infantry Battalion Flying Group facility on Google Earth, directly on my route, south of the city. The 3rd Battalion is the army's main helicopter flying unit.

On an average day I have to go through 5-10 of those, however I am never stopped and can bypass the long car and truck queues.

When I get to the actual stop, whoever is in charge salutes me, or shows a thumbs up sign, never stopping me.

Artfully loaded.

Sometimes when I pass an "interesting" moving vehicle I have to speed up to get ahead, stop, get the camera out, and wait for the "attraction" to pass me. It's fun.

The best part of the ride passes through Thapan National Park, where the winding four-lane road allows for high speeds (watch for stopped 14-wheelers, plus trailer, behind corners) and an awesome riding experience, Typically the road is in very good condition and the BMW is the fastest vehicle on the hill.

But the fun changes soon into despair when the road gets closer to the area of the immense agglomerations of Thai logistics centers, warehouses and factories which stretch almost some 100 km inland from the coast, and the container terminals around the big harbor in Laemg Chabang, south of the Bangkok metropolitan area. (This is where my bike arrived from Los Angeles.) Here the asphalt roads are badly damaged by the heavy lorries, deep channels are carved out of the asphalt due to a combination of heavy load and high temperature. This makes passing on the bike a true adventure. Traffic is very heavy.

I arrive safely in Pattaya, and the last 30 km are like riding on a highway around Chicago in the summer time, in rush hour traffic. You know what I mean.

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