Thailand is a country with a smile, with beautiful beaches, great culture, delicious food, but above all, a country with beautiful motor roads.
The first time I visited Thailand was in 1983 and since then I visit the country several times with my wife and every time we enjoy the hospitality and nature. This time we take two motorbikes, and we drive from Bangkok to the border with Burma (Myanmar), then to northern Thailand and across Thailand back toBangkok.
Before we start our motor travel, we take a few days in Bangkok for shopping and to acclimatize. We walk thru the LumphiniPark, where the Thai people are doing Tai Chi exercises at 6:00 o'clock in the morning. By subway and ferry on the Chao Phraya river, we visit the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, the Wat Pho. Besides a large golden Buddha there is also the oldest Thai massage school in Thailand, with students from all over the world.
After some culture sniffing we go to the modern Ratchaprasong shopping centre, where we buy two beautiful helmets for just 15 € each. The fit of the helmets is perhaps not perfect, but with some handkerchiefs and a sponge in the inner scale they are fine…..
On the fourth day at the hotel we are picked up by the motorbike owner and we meet our Honda Phantom motorbikes. After some formalities, we are guided out of a busy Bangkok and drive with more than 35 degrees Celsius and a thick layer of smog on the highway to the north. At the city Tak we take exit 105 to the west. The road is winding through rice fields and beautiful hills and brings us in Mae Sot, near the border of Burma. After the re-tensioning and greasing of the chain, we drive to the border and the most western point of Thailand at the Moei river. Once there, we are directly attacked by a number of smugglers, who would like to sell alcohol and hashish. If they see that we are not interested they swim across the river back to Burma.
The next day we drive along the border of Burma and see enormous and crowded refugee camps.
Burma, a number of years called Myanmar, is a military dictatorship and more than 400,000 people in the recent years have fled to Thailand. However Thailand does not officially recognize these refugees, so here they live with thousands in huts made of teak and banana leaves. Where ever you can look, you see the huts close together and people are sitting bored or walk around with big leaves or buckets of water on their head. Once we past the busiest camps we stop at a quiet spot for a drink. Before we have opened a bottle of water, there are suddenly two men out of nowhere admiring our motorbikes. They do not speak English, but with hand gestures they make it clear that they are from Burma and that they are impressed by our "big" motorbikes. Especially the tires that are as wide as their calves are impressive …….
On the road to Mae Sariang the nice tight asphalt changes suddenly in to a dirt track. The first 5 miles are good, until Niek comes uphill in the loose sand on a wet track. The motorbike is drifting away and dive in the sand. While we are lifting the motorbike suddenly we heard out of nothing a Dutch voice behind us to asking if he could help. We are introduced to Hans, a Dutchman who years ago emigrated to Thailand and now is exploringThailand off-road with his Honda motorbike. We drink together some water in the sun and hear that the road will be paved again in about 3 miles. After 3 miles the paved road actually begins and the road winds over 100 km through a hilly landscape and a beautiful dense jungle. In Mae Sariang arrived we decide, because of lack of time, to skip the north-west and go right to the east.
After another 100 kilometers only nice curves, we find a beautiful large house in Mae Chaem for only 12 € per day. We take a nice shower from our terrace and enjoy a magnificent view over the rice fields and the setting sun…..
Today we are going to clime the highest mountain in Thailand, the Doi Inthanon with a height of 2565 mtr. The road on the west side is not more than a country road with climbings of 30%. Even in first gear it is exciting to find out if the Honda will reach the top. The biggest part of the climb is also through a dense jungle, making it every time a surprise to find out what is behind the next hairpin.
Near the top there are two temples build by the Royal Thai Air Force as a tribute to the Thai king and queen. The temples are full of gold and marble and are located in a beautiful botanical garden. Above also shows that on the east side of this mountain, there is a four-lane highway, whit many busloads of tourists arriving daily. There goes our sense of victory of the climb.....
During the descent we have lunch with some chips at the Mae Klang Waterfalls and a little bit later we are driving in to the busy Chiang Mai, where we will stay a few days. We wash our clothes at the hotel and enjoy in the evening a delicious Italian pizza and a cappuccino at Starbucks.
From Chiang Mai we visit including the crafts village Bo sang, and the old city of Chiang Mai, where the motorbike companies are side by side. We get a free chain re-tensioning and see a new Honda Phantom 200cc for sale for an asking price (!) Of 1,800 €.
We visited the Phrathat temple on the Doi Suteph mountain, what is extra fun because of the beautiful curves upwards. Less fun are the 309 steps up to the temple. Normally you have from this temple a beautiful view over Chiang Mai, but today there is only a thick layer of smog to see.
At night we visit the Night Bazaar, an enormous market where you really can buy everything from clothing to valve caps. Also over here the Hill Tribe women in costume, preferably with a baby on the arm, try to sell you the biggest mess like i.e. musical wooden frogs. We eat on the street a nice Pad Thai fried rice and noodles for the already familiar price of 1 € per person including a can of cola. As dessert we take a sweet roti, which is a collapsed pancake filled with for example, fresh banana or chocolate paste.
From Chaing Mai we drive to the south-east and visit the Elephant Conservation Centre. This is the first elephant hospital in the world and regularly there are elephants from Burma and Cambodia that stepped on landmines and are missing a leg. Also there are a number of sacred white (albino) elephants, but they are unfortunately not accessible for us. Short time after the elephants centre we lunch at the forest market of Lampang. Here are next to medicinal herbs also delicious grilled insects, such as crispy locusts whose legs were tied very special. We stick to the fried rice in a plate and run a little later in to Lampang.
For several days I thought the breaking pads of my bike were gone and during some braking for a traffic light in Lampang it seems to be completely true. My front wheel blocks and I slide on the asphalt for about 20 meters. Thanks to the (hot) protective motorcycle clothes I have only one small fire spot on my elbow, but the wind screen of the Honda is in pieces. We pick the pieces together and find after some searching a local Honda dealer, where 10 mechanics directly start the repair. After half an hour they have fitted the windshield with adhesive tape and did change the breaking pads. Total cost € 7.
From Lampang we drive through a beautiful road (101) along the YomRiver to Ayutthaya. The road runs through large paddy fields and the number of cars which we encounter is only a handful. From Ayutthaya, we visit the SukhothaiNational Park, the first capital of Thailand and from 1991 a Unesco world heritage site. The park, including the ruins of a old palace from the 13th century, is so large that you can rent bikes at the entrance, but we prefer off course our own motorbikes.
At night we are surprised by a big party in the city, with plenty of floats, fireworks and music. We install our self in the middle of the street on some small plastic chairs and enjoy the scenes on the streets and some delicious Thai food.
The final return is on the busy A1 motorway to the old airport of Bangkok, where we will meet a guide from to the rental company. He will escort us the last 40 miles in to the busy city of Bangkok. These miles have little to do with motorcycling and looks more like motor survivaling. Here are motorbikes the lowest in the rank order, making both cars and trucks ignoring you completely. Tight driving in formation and many horning is the only thing that seems to work.
In Bangkok we go with our backpacks and helmets with the monorail to the old train station Hualamphong. We conclude our trip with a week on a beach and travel with the train for only 1 € pro person to a luxury resort in Cha-am/Hua Hin. The train is full of locals and a grandmother next to me lays her head on my shoulder and is going to sleep......
Thailand, East meets West.
More info and videos of this trip can be found at www.LifeIsJoy.nl
Do not start the tour in Bangkok but start in Chiang Mai. The connection between Bangkok and the north is a boring highway. The only reason to start in Bangkok is if you want to go driving with a heavy BMW motorbike, which is only available for rent in Bangkok.
Book only a flight and perhaps a beach hotel in advance. Renting a motorbike is easy in Chiang Mai and will cost about 200€ pro week for a brand new 200cc Honda Pantom.
In every town or village you have great hotels where you can stay overnight for 10 € to 15 €. Even in a tourist place like Chiang Mai we paid for a luxury hotel not more than 15 € pp
Food and drink is simply greet in Thailand. In cities you can find for example a McDonald's but much better are the small stalls on the street where you often only pay 1 € for delicious wok dishes.
In the inland not everybody speaks good English but with hands and feet and the smile from Thailand, communication is never a problem.