All posts for the month November, 2015

It’s early morning now on 27th November here as I look out the window of our sixth floor room in the Bangkok Hospital, Chiang Mai (BCM), and the sun is just starting to peek out from behind the clouds. Karen is sleeping nearby in her hospital bed after a long day yesterday and six hours in surgery and recovery early this morning.

What ??

Yep – you’ve read it right – Karen has injured herself – her wrist, specifically – and she’s just had surgery on it to fix the damage.

Backing up a bit, yesterday morning we were packing up our gear after our second night of camping with Aad and Mike in the Salawin National Park, 8km out of Mae Sariang, when Karen slipped over and landed on her right wrist, breaking her forearm in the fall. She was clearly in a lot of pain, and my first look at her right wrist showed a massive deformity – normal forearms shouldn’t flop around like that. Aad grabbed our first aid kit out of our top box and I applied a simple sling using a triangular bandage after Karen refused to be splinted – she may be a good part-time ambulance officer but she makes a lousy patient at times !

A local man – possibly a park ranger – came running up and using sign language he confirmed our need to get Karen to a local hospital via a car, so he organised another man and his wife to take Karen and myself to Mae Sariang hospital, whilst Aad & Mike started to pack up the rest of our camping gear.

The lady who accompanied us to hospital was able to get medical assistance to Karen quickly – and we were fortunate that the female doctor we saw in the rudimentary but overflowing hospital could speak good English. X-ray’s proved what we had already surmised – a broken radius and ulna. A splint was applied – this caused Karen a lot of pain, and the pain relief administered did nothing to ease Karen’s discomfort.

The doctor explained that her hospital didn’t have the necessary equipment to perform the required surgery on Karen’s arm, and recommended that we go to Chiang Mai. With no ambulance available locally to transport patients, and an estimated six-hour trip for an ambulance to come from Chiang Mai to collect Karen and return her to Chiang Mai she decided to travel there on our motorbike – what a brave girl she is!

Aad had come to hospital at this stage, so we left Karen in the care of the hospital staff and returned to the campground to get our bikes, and then we were back at hospital. Mike helped Karen onto the back of the BMW, and then we were on our way. At this stage it was 11:45am, and the accident had happened at 08:30am.  Aad & Mike needed to refuel their bikes before they followed along behind us, but the big BM had enough fuel to get us the 200km to Chiang Mai without stopping.

We had a good ride to Chiang Mai along Route 108 – the southern section of the Mae Hong Son Loop. We didn’t speed – there was no sense in compounding one accident by having another one – but we didn’t have any traffic to contend with and we got into a nice rhythmic flow and ate up the miles without any distractions. Karen was as good as gold on the back – resting her arm on the softbag and her chest – she rode without a jacket as I didn’t want to try and pull it over her arm, and she didn’t complain once about the pain.

The GPS led us straight to the Bangkok Hospital and they were already expecting her as the Mae Sariang hospital had sent through her x-rays, and the orthopaedic surgeon had already decided on the required course of action – screws in both broken bones, or wire if the screw doesn’t hold.

Another round of x-rays, finally some effective pain relief (morphine), paperwork, admittance to our room (very nice – a standard room but it’s like a hotel room), and then the long wait for surgery – originally estimated to commence at 9:30pm approx, but delayed til 11:15pm as the surgical screws needed to be flown up from Bangkok.

Aad & Mike joined us at hospital, before checking in at the Panda House Guest House, where we had stayed last week. Originally I thought Karen would be discharged overnight but the surgeon has said she needs to stay in hospital for three days minimum, so Aad has canceled our room at Panda House as I can sleep here in Karen’s room. Aad had returned to hospital in the evening via tuk-tuk on the promise of riding the BMW from hospital to Panda House as I was going to accompany Karen in a taxi, but he went away empty-handed – he’ll get his chance on the bike next week I’m sure!

Beyond that I’ve been in touch with our travel insurance company – World Nomads – and I’d recommend them to anyone planning an overseas trip. Very efficient, very quick, very caring, and to get an email from them this morning confirming that our medical expenses will be covered is a welcome relief.

And that pretty much sums up yesterday and early today. Stay tuned for more instalments!!!

I had suggested a few days ago that we could lighten the burden of shifting camp every day by staying a couple of nights in one place, and so today over a breakfast of instant oats we all agreed to have a rest day here in the Salawin National Park. we had stayed just the one night at the campsite just out of MHS  – there was no shade or shelters there to protect us from the burning sun and the ponk from the toilets was quite blah so it was an easy decision yesterday to move on, but Salawin was quite nice – Mike had located a thatch-covered area that had a table and few chairs, and power to charge our electrical equipment from.

Karen did some work on her blogs and photos, I looked at some maps and around midday Mike and I rode back to Mae Sariang to get some food for lunch and dinner, returning also with some ice creams that fortunately didn’t melt in the midday heat.

In the afternoon I was bushed as I hadn’t slept well the night before, so I lifted our air mattresses out of the tent and set them up underneath a fan in the covered area, and as we snoozed Aad and Mike saw a 2m long snake slithering nearby us in the dirt just to the side of the concrete pad we were sleeping on. Karen was freaking out a little bit at this when she was told about it, and later that afternoon she saw some snakes swimming in the dam that our tent overlooks, so no wonder she dreamt of snakes later that night.

Dinner was cooked under the fluro lights of the covered area – noodles and baked beans – this time Mike was the chef, and Aad did the dishes.  Karen and I were still tired and so we were in bed early – maybe 7:30pm – but it was pitch black outside and the air again wasn’t moving, so again I pulled back the tent fly to encourage some air flow. It’s fascinating lying so close to the jungle and listening to all the animal calls at night-time – a truly beautiful experience. Give it a go sometime !!!

Footnote from Karen: Today was Loi Krathong, one of the most vibrant and stunning festivals in Thailand. On the 25th November, people all over Thailand float their Krathong (small floating boats made from banana leaves with candles to make them into lanterns) down a river to pay respect to Buddha and seek forgiveness from the goddess of water for any misdeeds against her. The Doctor I saw in Mae Sariang told me she went to it……she goes every year!

Karen has the t-shirt already and now she just needed to ride the fabled Mae Hong Son Loop to earn the right to wear it – so on Monday 23rd November we (and I include Aad & Mike in that ‘we’) left Chiang Mai headed for Mae Hong Son via Pai – i.e. via the anticlockwise approach to the loop. Our destination that first evening was a campground in a national park approx 35km out of MHS.

We stopped first at a big Tesco’s in Chiang Mai so we could stock up on essentials – Aad and I watched over the bikes and chatted whilst Karen and Mike went food shopping, returning with bags of marshmallows and other essential items. From there we headed north up the 108 before turning west and making our way towards Pai. I’d read on Trip Advisor that the road from CM to MHS via Pai was all ripped up and undergoing reconstruction – and we did have some long stretches of unsealed road to ride, but nothing too difficult. With that said – some of the unsealed inclines were very steep, and having been wet down by a water truck they were slick and slippery. By and large the new Karoo 3’s did a good job of hooking up in the thin veneer of mud over the road, but I think I’m a die-hard TKC-80 fan and anything else is less than 100% confidence-inspiring. (Karen is not a fan of the new tyres….she doesn’t like the singing noise they make!)

After one particularly long stretch of slippery mud and crap we stopped for a drink and a chance to let the idiot car drivers pass us by, before remounting and heading north to Pai. Arriving in Pai we crossed the infamous Tai-Pai bridge – not the original one built by slave local labour at the behest of Japanese occupiers during WWII as the Japanese burnt that down when they later retreated, but another one built (after a flood I think). The bridge was a bit touristic with lots of tourists walking the bridge and taking their selfies, and on the far side (western side) of the bridge there was a long line of stalls selling t-shirts and sun-glasses and other useless rubbish. On the upside there was also a small restaurant over there as well so we repositioned the bikes and then settled into a lunch of steamed rice, curried meat (chicken?), and spicy chicken mince, which only I ate as everyone else found it too spicy, all washed down with EST Cola – the local version of coke. After lunch Karen succumbed to Aad & Mike’s collective charm and let them both jump onboard the Animal (though not at the same time) to try it out for size.

The road between Pai and Mae Hong Son was a definite improvement over the morning section, with no major roadworks to contend with, and arriving in MHS we stopped at a servo so Aad could get some fuel for his Coleman stove, and to stock up on water. We then backtracked a short distance before taking the 35km diversion out to our campground – a challenging ride up a very steep and winding sealed road. At one stage Karen and I were stuck behind a small taxi truck, and when the driver finally indicated that he was pulling over and we drew alongside him to overtake the knob then aimed straight for us – what a tosser, and thank goodness for the roll-on power of the 1200.

The road up to the campground at Paangxu Ng, N19.49895° E97.90546°, Pang Tong Under Royal Forest Park 2 (Pang Ung) was a delight to ride – tight switchbacks that rose so steeply we seemed to be lining up for a near-vertical moon-shot. Eventually we crested the mountain and rode along the ridge through a dense forest before entering a rustic village that lined the road and terminated at the entrance to the national park. The road into the park followed the contours of a tree-lined lake, but there were so many tents already set up that we pushed on a bit further and ended up camping on a patch of grass opposite the Visitor Centre and near the toilets – and that was a bit of a mistake as they were noisy and smelly.

We pitched our tents as darkness fell, and cooked a simple meal of noodles and baked beans (Karen and I have been carrying those baked beans since Pakistan, and Hienz 57 Varieties they definitely were not). It was a hot night and I ended up pulling back the fly halfway to try and catch some airflow. We’d already struggled with the lack of moving air – it had taken us ages to inflate our trendy thermorest neoair mattresses without any wind to catch in the inflating bag, much to Aad’s entertainment.

The following morning – 24th November – was my birthday, and as I said to Aad, I couldn’t think of a better birthday present than to go riding with Karen and friends, so we packed up our gear – saturated with condensation so we had to lay that out in the sun first to dry off before we packed it away, had a delicious breakfast cooked by Karen – pancakes and croissants with Nutella, and instant oats, and then headed down the steep mountain bound for Mae Sariang, about 200km south.

Arriving in MHS we refuelled quickly and pushed on again, stopping an hour or so later at a small roadside stall that appeared to sell coffee – a birthday treat for me – but the only coffee available was cold coffee in a tin can that tasted like sweet crap, and the strange cola they sold didn’t taste much better.

The 108 south of MHS is a rider’s delight and the Mae Hong Son Loop deserves its place in the Road Rides Hall of Fame. With new tyres on the bike and the engine absolutely barking as it lapped up the never-ending corners, the BMW felt right at home here. Mike was determined to not fall behind too far and he’d creep up in the corners, but the big Beemer would just scream out of a curve and disappear in a warp-speed flash of light on the short straight sections.

We stopped mid-afternoon as Karen was feeling a bit nauseous – the curves were relentless and the whiplash-inducing dynamic mode I was using wasn’t helping, so we pulled over looking for a place to get a drink and have a pit-stop (Khun Yuam I think). Even Mike was feeling nauseous from the curvy roads. I confess to being that pumped with the exhilarating ride I didn’t have time to get sick. Aad guided us to a steak and coffee place where Karen ordered steak and pepper sauce and the rest of us had a chicken hamburger and fries, with cold drinks bought from the local 7-11 as the coffee place could only supply hot drinks – my first real coffee in weeks – Mmmmmm !!! Karen looked for some mince in the 7-11 but couldn’t find any so we pushed on to Mae La Noi and stopped again, again not finding any mince for dinner, and compounded as I managed to drop the bike in the rocky carpark when I lost my footing. No damage done except bruised pride – the bike is heavy and when it passes that point of no return its too heavy to fight, and the best thing to do is just let it go. Still – no photos were taken so maybe I can deny that it ever happened hey 🙂

[EDIT – I didn’t realise at the time, but Karen – who wasn’t on the bike when I lost my footing with the bike – was waiting with camera poised and managed to snap a photo – so now I can’t deny that it happened…]

Arriving in Mae Sariang we located our third 7-11 for the afternoon and pulled in there, a bit more cautiously on my part. Mince still couldn’t be found, so we got some ham and cheese and drinks, and then headed 8km west to the Salawin National Park, arriving close on dusk. We paid our 100THB/head camping fee plus 20THB/bike fee, and then the ranger jumped on his scooter and rode just a round the corner from the boom-gate to show us to our camping spot – a narrow dam wall/embankment that separated a small dam from a lake below on the lower level. The dam wall was just wide enough for our tents, but the spot was near the toilets, and the campsite was deserted – much to our liking.

Dinner was a joint effort and consisted of spaghetti and ham and a spaghetti sauce, with marshmallows for desert. The perfect end to an almost-perfect day – I haven’t dropped the bike in ages and I should know by now that carparks can catch you out – silly me for getting tired and sloppy.

Saturday 21st November 2015

We had planned to go to Tiger Kingdom (home of conservation for the Indochinese Tiger) yesterday, but our friend Aad (Art) was still unwell, so we postponed until today. We were up for breakfast around 7.00am and our taxi truck (rot daang or ‘red truck’) came to collect us at 8.30am for the 12km journey out to the Mae Rim District (51/1 Moo 7, Rim Tai, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180). Our driver would wait for us and bring us back on the return trip at our convenience for only 500 THB in total.

The park is open from 9.00am – 6.00pm and we wanted to avoid the heat of the day. We arrived at the park and looked into our options….there are individual tickets and package tickets…..Vince and I wanted to make the most of our experience and go for the top package…..TAKE ALL (smallest, small, medium and big cats!) for 2280 THB each person. But there is a height restriction on the Big Cats…you have to be at least 160cm tall….and I am only 149cm… I could not go in with the Big Cats as they would have me for lunch! A bit disappointing but I don’t have a death wish. I told Vince he could still go and I would watch from outside but he refused…..saying “we’re a team and we do it together or not at all”. So we went for the Take 3 Package instead (1530 THB each). We decided to also get a professional photographer for each cage at a total of 1000 THB including CDs and USB.

After sorting out and paying for our tickets we had to wait to be escorted into the Park and into the Tiger Zone. There were lockers (locker 19 but padlock No 39) where we could leave our belongings, other than cameras which were permitted. We started with the smallest cats….and had to wash our hands first and take off our shoes to protect them from any germs, as their immune systems are still developing. First we met “Laddie” a little male who was just four months old. He was a little tart bag rolling on his back and wanting his tummy scratched….so soft and cute. We all took turns one by one to get up close with him…..the excitement on Vince’s face as he stroked Laddie’s tummy was obvious. Next we were introduced to little “Opal”, a female also four months old. We were instructed to put our head on her tummy and the keeper put her paws around our necks……a truly unique moment in my life……I was worried I would be too heavy for the little cub….but she was the ideal furry pillow! There were a couple of other cubs in the enclosure but our keeper took us past them through into another enclosure with two little 3 month old girls, Yoki and Mocha. We didn’t get to touch Mocha, but Yoki was soon awake and up on a low table for us to be photographed with. The tigers sleep a lot during the day as they are most active at night and early morning. Yoki kept looking into my face and Vince said it must be love at first sight….and we secretly sized her up to see if we could take her in a pannier! She was just gorgeous, and even licked me a few times….but the keeper stopped her….as they discourage licking because it leads to the natural cat behaviour of biting and scratching.

Next it was off to the small cat enclosure. Here we met “Hello”, a seven month old female, and I got to put her huge back paw against my face. Next we met “Andy” a 9th month old male…..very majestic, who let me play with his tail and rub his back! Absolutely beautiful. We completed our visit to this enclosure getting to know “Rickshaw”, another seven month old female with a preference for tummy rubs. I am actually allergic to cats….and although I had taken some medication before we went I started to react badly with redness, itching and swelling on my hands, arms and neck……so it was a wash off at the sink and a pat try to calm things down……I was determined I wasn’t missing out on this once in a lifetime experience even if I had to suffer a little.

We had a bit of a wait to get into the Medium Cat enclosure….as there was only one photographer. Whilst we waited, Vince took some photos of the action happening in the Big Cat enclosure, where our friends, Mike and Aad (Art) were inside.

Inside the Medium Cat enclosure all 4 of the tigers were 14 months old. We met three of them in turn, “Coconut”….an absolutely magnificent male, “Penguin”, a female with a love of cool, wet places that resulted in us having to sit with her in wet spots…..but so worth it! Our final encounter was with with another female, “Micky”…..whose unbelievable muscle structure was most impressive as it rippled under our hands. It’s amazing how quickly they grow. We were in this enclosure without any other tourists and it was a magical experience. The 4 tigers prowling around freely with us in between…..a little alarming at one point, when I felt like I was being stalked as one of them came silently from behind me as I patted Micky….the size of their paws alone meant one swipe and you would be in serious trouble! Although these tigers are hand reared they are still wild animals.

We had a walk around the park and saw two small cubs playing, one was a white tiger. We gazed for ages at a huge Siberian Tiger….Vince nicknamed “Cuddles”……just out of this world…in terms of sheer power and majesty! Honestly, you wouldn’t stand a chance! We also saw an African Lion and an adult white tiger.

The medical centre had one little baby boy Tiger, “Boon”, just 1 month old who was being treated for splayed hips. He was so cute….we were not allowed to touch him but we could observe him from behind a fence……his little calls were quite demanding of his keepers.

Back at the main entrance area we picked up our photographs and headed for some lunch at the restaurant, after which we got back into our taxi truck and back to Panda House Hotel. We were floating on cloud nine…..what a great experience and privilege to walk with the beasts!

We had a bit of a rest and checked out our photos before heading to the night markets, a spectacle of colour and interest, where I bought a pair of black Fisherman Pants (129 THB) as they were so comfortable when we wore them at the Elephant Camp the other day. Vince, Mike, Aad (Art) and I walked along taking in all the sights and smells. We came across an open eating area with stalls all around, something for everyone. We had dinner there listening to some live music….all quite Westernised….and before we knew it time had slipped away and it was time to head back home to the hotel. A wonderful day had been had by all.

After all the fun and frivolity of yesterday with the Elephants (although we did do some chores in the afternoon)… was a designated “Chore” day! So after breakfast Vince and I took a long walk to try to find the “Local Market” where we would search for a tailor to try to mend my adventure riding jacket zip. I was a bit reluctant to walk, as every muscle in my body ached and I felt like I had been hit by a Mack Truck – from riding Magnum yesterday, but we were assured by the hotel reception it was only 5 minutes away…. after a half hour or so, and checking with several locals along the way that we were headed in the right direction, we eventually did arrive at the Market.

The only problem was I had suddenly developed an immediate and urgent problem….terrible cramps doubling me over and an obvious need to find the nearest tuk tuk and get back to the hotel toilet….that said I was torn because I really wanted to find a tailor and get my zip fixed….but it was no good….if I didn’t want an embarrassing situation I needed to get back to the hotel pronto! So close and yet so far! Vince commandeered the nearest tuk tuk and we were on our way….I raced up the two flights of stairs, ignoring the pain and distregarding my aching muscles, and just made it in time. I was going nowhere for sometime!

We had spent the evening of the 17th clearing out and cleaning our panniers and soft bags to send some gear home…..10.7kg in total! So the plan was to go to DHL and sent it home to Vince’s brother Ken (he is our official 2upadventures home support crew and we couldn’t do without him – long live Ken our guardian angel). As I was feeling less than special…Vince would have to make this journey on his own….but young Mike came to the rescue and said he would go and help carry stuff….Aad (Art), who was also under the weather with tummy issues, stayed with me at the hotel for company….and in case either of us died or needed an ambulance! (of course this is an exaggeration but we did feel like we were dying!). It cost us about 5000 THB (around A$200)….not cheap! Vince also wanted to get some maps so they boys had stopped off at a few bookshops along the way.

By mid afternoon I was feeling better….still not fantastic….but at least I didn’t have to live on the toilet. So Vince and I thought we would give my jacket another shot…..I decided a new strategy was to research a tailor, get an address and jump in a tuk tuk…I was not willing to walk this time…..just in case! Vince agreed and before we knew it we were on our way to His and Her Tailors, 150 Changklan Road, Chiang Mai 50100. Most tuk tuk rides are about 100THB and this was no different. At this very upmarket custom tailor they were sad to tell me that they did not do alterations or mending but redirected me a few doors down to New Moda International Fashion, 150/1 Changklan Rd……another custom tailors and also upmarket. The gentlemen there (owner John Moda and his assistant) were most helpful in my request for a very strong zip to be fitted, and sent for someone else (Lucky) to see if it could be done….when the Lucky arrived and saw my jacket his first words were “Oh my God!” ….not bad for a buddhist! He immediately looked at Vince and asked if he rode motocross….when Vince laughed and said “It’s not my jacket, it’s hers” pointing at me, I thought the guy was going to faint! We explained about our trip and where our travels had taken us…..and we discovered that both John and the Lucky were both from Myanmar, we talked about how much we enjoyed Inle Lake and Bagan. The Lucky had regained his composure and assured us he would like to help us in this very unusual request for a metal zipper, but that it would be expensive….1000 THB ($40)…to which we said fine go ahead and Vince paid in advance. Before we left they wanted photos with me in my jacket….so we obliged.

After leaving the tailors we decided to get an ice-cream (as it’s very hot here during the day) but along the way we came across a row of massage places….and as both our bodies were feeling the effects of our elephant adventures yesterday, Vince suggested we both get massages. They were advertising a special – Foot, Head, Neck, Shoulder and Back massage for 1 hour for just 250 THB ….so in we went ….and a hour later we floated out the door feeling much better. We decided to forego our icecream and head back to the hotel, via tuk tuk, to catch up with our friends.

Back at the hotel poor Aad (Art) was still feeling unwell, but hungry. Vince and Mike had spotted a little Italian place on their DHL escapade…..yes I know, I know…..why would you have Italian in Thailand….but sometimes you just need a change! So off in yet another tuk tuk and we were soon having a lovely dinner. Vince and I both had lasagne, he had a beer and I had a cocktail called “I love You”….it was a tenth of the price of a glass of wine (1400 THB) at just 140 THB. The tuk tuk ride on the way home was nothing short of spectacular… you need to know that when 4 of us fit into a tuk tuk (called Taxi’s here) there is generally the three boys in the back and me perched precariously on a tiny little seat next to the driver ( I’m the only one of us who can fit there)….this guy had been grazing on good pasture and was rather rotundas…so it meant that I was practically hanging half out of the vehicle. Couple that with the speed of Stirling Moss and the bravado of James Bond and you have all the makings of a great car chase… we dodged and weaved in front of mainstream traffic, through narrow back alleys and side streets, and to my total disbelief, across a tiny wooden foot bridge over a river….when he saw the look of astonishment on my face he just laughed and revved the engine more! The situation was not really helped by Vince’s boisterous, encouraging onward calls from the back…..this is how we die! But again my fears were unfounded as we arrived safe and sound….if not a little “shaken but not stirred”… the Panda House Hotel.

18th Nov 2014

I was so excited when I woke up this morning…..around 6.00am… we were going to see the Elephants at Woody’s Elephant Home about an hours drive from Chiang Mai. We were to be picked up at 7.30am from the Panda House Hotel…but the driver had a bit of bother finding us so was 15 minutes late. We initially were sitting in the very back (as the rest of the minibus was full) but we started to feel ill, so when we stopped at the Eco Resort, to pick up 3 English Backpackers, we moved into the very front with the driver….a little squashy but better than throwing up!

After a quick stop off to get some hands of bananas for the elephants, it took about an hour and a half to get to the Camp where we got to meet 5 Asian Elephants, Magnum (20 years old and the only boy – elephants live to about 100 years), Cookie, Bang Bang, Mona Lisa and Jumbo. Magnum is the father of little Bang Bang, whose mother is Cookie. There were 9 people for the 5 elephants, Vince and myself rode Magnum, 2 German Girls were on Cookie, a middle aged French couple were on Jumbo, the three English Girls had to split up, with Natalie (a trainee dental nurse) and Emma (a midwife) on Mona Lisa and Ellie (Criminologist) on Bang Bang.

We met the elephants briefly and then were ushered uphill to a hut where we could change into T Shirts and Thai Fisherman Pants. We then returned to the elephants where we fed them bananas. They really loved these and we even got to put them straight into their mouths….their tongues are like velvet….so soft! Some of them got a bit cheeky and at one point I couldn’t get the bananas of the stalk quick enough and had three trunks intertwined all coming at me…..Trunk Attack!!!! LOL

We were given a little bit of training on how to mount and dismount our elephants as well as some basic commands in the Karen Hill Tribe Language…..which is used with the elephants. When you get on you have to say something like Yo Kha….Su, Go is Bye and Stop is Dah. We were also shown how to countersteer behind each ear (push right to go left and push left to go right).

We mounted Magnum…with Vince on the back and me on the front….so I was the rider on the way down to the lake, and we swapped over on the way back. It was a bit hard to get on for me….although Magnum was very accommodating to my commands letting me hold his ear and lifting his leg for me to climb up…the distance between the top of his leg and his back was longer than my body length so hoisting myself the rest of the way across his broad tummy and back was a bit of a mission…but I made it in the end with a bit of a push up from the Mahout. We set of and I was told to put my two hands on his head as we rode….my arms are not that long so I was stretched forward into a racing bike position….so Magnum is a GT racing model! It was very exciting and a bit scary at the same time….as he was such a huge elephant, much bigger than the others, so it was a long way down if we fell. On the flat was great but going down some of the steep hills, especially where it was rocky and very uneven, I felt that I would fall over his head….but Magnum is obviously an off road model and just as sure footed as our own ANIMAL!

At the edge of the lake we were stopped by someone on a small motorbike….it was the owner wanting to check on Magnum’s tusk….the Mahout told me that he was under the vet, his tusk was being treated and they just wanted to check on it before he went into the water. We were the last elephant in the line to get into the water and being so tall we didn’t even get wet. I was feeling a bit cocky as I saw the others getting drenched and I thought we might get away with just wet feet, if anything….I was wrong…..about half way into the lake Magnum suddenly submerged his head…..fine…..but then he submerged all of him and we found ourselves wet to our middles…….it was all good fun! Many of the elephants took the opportunity to empty their bowels and we soon found ourselves surrounded by floating time bombs! Apparently this first lake is the elephant toilet! We exited and walked a little further until we reached the second river were the elephants would play and have a bath. Once in the river we dismounted and I was given a brush…..Magnum lay down and we washed him….he was like a big puppy dog… I washed his ears he flipped them up for me to wash behind and he loved it…..just like our dog Cebar back home! When we had finished doing one side he simply rolled over and we did the other. In between he occasionally filled his trunk with water and washed us! It was a privilege for us to interact with such a majestic animal in this way….a wonderful lifetime memory. One of the other elephants…….Cookie or Jumbo I’m not certain which….was lifting the girls up in her trunk and our guide beckoned for me to come and join in…..unfortunately my legs were not in the right position – or too short I’m not sure which…..but I ended up falling backwards into the river……unhurt….totally soaked and laughing my head off! So a new strategy was developed and I was told to stand in front of the elephant with my legs apart….the next minute I was hoisted high up into the air with an elephant trunk between my legs……amazing! I loved it….they are so strong and yet so gentle…..a very special moment. They offered for Vince to have a go but he politely declined. Bathing complete we remounted Magnum…this time with Vince on the front and we headed on our journey back to the Camp. In all we actually rode the elephant for about and hour or more, the front (neck) was definitely more comfortable than the rear (spine).

Back at the camp we dismounted and said our fond goodbyes to Magnum and the other elephants and were introduced to another two elephants, a Mother (Rian) 23 years and her Baby (Happy born NY) 11 months. She was tethered to her mother as the Mahout explained that Happy likes to run off and bang into things with her head and they needed to protect her from herself. We peeled bananas for her, as the older elephants can have them unpeeled but the baby couldn’t.

Next went back up to the hut to change into our normal clothes. When we came out they had prepared a lunch of traditional food for us….delicious…especially a potatoe curry dish that was out of this world. There had been a professional photographer taking photos and for 800THB we could get them on a USB Drive…..during lunch they were displaying a selection of the photos from everyone and we decided to buy ours.

We had a wonderful time and by about 1.30pm we were back at our hotel. Mike and Aad (Art) were waiting for us as we were all going to go to immigration to try to extend our limited 15 day visa from the border which was quickly running out. First we stopped off at a shopping centre to collect Mike’s Laptop that was having screen problems, then we went to immigration, where the staff told us we needed to go to another shopping centre as it was just a short stay extension….back in another tuk tuk we found the place and within an hour…..lots of paperwork to fill in, photocopies of passports and visa stamps and a set of photos (on a blue background and of a differing size to any we had) all needed to be done and 1900THB each and the deal was done….another 30 days granted! Next we were off to BMW to collect a spare set of rear brake pads and replacement footpeg rubbers that we had ordered yesterday, then across the road to yet another shopping centre (the 3rd for the day) for something to eat at KFC and desert at Cold Stone. We had a bit of a look around but bought nothing. On the tuk tuk ride home we stopped off at the T Shirt place where I had ordered some custom designed T Shirts (2upadventures) for Vince and I at the huge cost of just 180THB each (about $7 including the TShirts and printing)….they looked awesome!

Back at our hotel we were starting to feel quite stiff and muscle sore allover…..apparently riding an elephant is not so gentle on the body after all! A truly unique and amazing day.

With 44,977km on the clock – 33,677km of which has been chalked up so far on our ride from London – today it’s time for a full service by the BMW guys at Barcelona Motors in Chiang Mai. The last on the bike had been performed in Chandigarh, India by the Triumph mechanics as BMW India had refused to use the genuine BMW spares I’d bought at BMW Innsbruck and BMW Ankara, instead insisting that I order the parts from India and pay in advance. Fuck them basically.

Initially I’d had some difficulty in getting into email contact with Barcelona Motors Chiang Mai, but an email to Germany helped resolve the issue, and from then on I’ve received nothing but great service – both via email and in real life – from them.

Also, with 9,000km wear and two repaired punctures in the rear tyre it was also time to replace our Continental TKC80’s with new tyres. The website includes a list of bike tyre and service shops in Chiang Mai and the Piston Shop came up with some good reviews, so a few phone calls and emails to Nat there had lined up two new Metzeler Karoo 3 tyres.

After a late breakfast – bike shops in Chiang Mai don’t open early – Karen and I rode the few km out to Barcelona Motors, both feeling a bit naked as last night we’d dropped off our riding gear for washing and so we didn’t have our usual protective gear on. The GPS led us directly to the BMW car showroom, with the Motorrad section tucked away on the end, a small display of new bikes including the R1200GS Adventure, XR1000, Nine-T R, F800GT, and a fully-faired R1200RT.

Once we’d overcome some confusion regarding the service booking and the associated language difficulties, the bike was taken away into the workshop around the back. I followed close behind, keen to watch what was being done to the bike. BMW have switched away from Castrol Power 1 Racing oil to their own branded 5W-40 oil after experiencing some issues with the Castrol oil, I learnt after discussing oils with the mechanic.

New differential oil was required as well – Karen watched the mechanic with interest injecting the new oil into the swing arm using a large syringe. We had new front brake pads installed as the old pads had done 23,000km, but the rear pads were only half worn with about 18,000km on them, so they were reinstalled and I ordered a spare set of rear pads that I can carry with me.

As the service was being wrapped up Karen and I took the opportunity to walk across the road – somewhat indirectly as we were facing a tunnel and needed to walk to a nearby bridge – to a large shopping centre on the other side, the Central Festival. Karen was impressed with the large Christmas Tree outside….it’s the first we have seen and somewhat unusual for a predominantly Buddhist country. We wandered around inside for a while, somewhat amazed at the brand name stores located inside – it was if we had been suddenly relocated to a large shopping mall in the USA. We grabbed some crackers and cheese from a gourmet grocery store and munched on those outside in the shade before crossing back to BMW and collecting the bike, first ordering a set of pillion footpeg rubbers, as both of Karen’s footpeg X have been devoid of rubbers for ages now and it’s difficult for her to maintain her footing, especially on steep descents. This is the second time we’ve had to get new rubbers to replace the originals – so these are a definite weak point in the bike. I should look at getting some serrated metal pegs similar to the rider’s footpegs (NB Karen is not keen on these)

From BMW we followed a GPS route out to Denchai Trading – a large camera and electronics store that had sourced a new Olympus TG-4 for Karen and put it aside awaiting collection. We were pleased when we received the camera as it has some nice improvements over the previous model and should piss all over the Nikon AW-130 we’ve been using for the past two months.

Just around the corner from Denchai is the Piston Shop, so within a minute we were riding the bike up into the cramped service area ready for its tyre change. I was surprised to hear that Aad and Mike were still at the shop working on their bikes as I thought they would have finished hours ago, and we walked out the back into the rear yard to find them just finishing up their services. Both the guys looked hot and they explained that the Piston Shop had no water, so I walked to a local 7-11 store and got them some cold cokes and Pringles, whilst Karen went next door to a printing shop and organised a couple of custom ‘2upadventures’ t-shirts for us.

I returned to the Piston Shop just in time to see our BMW being reversed out of the service bay, new Karoo 3’s fitted and ready to ride. Aad & Mike were very appreciate of the cold drinks as they looked absolutely parched, even though the Piston Shop guys had kindly set up a sun shade for them to work under.

Karen paid for the tyres and we bought two repair kits for tubeless tyres as I had used up all of my worms and glue, but later that afternoon when I opened up one kit I realised that it didn’t include rubber cement, so I’ll probably return the kits to the shop and sort out something else.

In the evening the four of us went for a walk to the Rider’s Corner – I’d seen a sign to this place when riding into Chiang Mai the other day and a few bikes parked out the front including a KTM 990 so I was keen to see what the place was all about, and I was blown away almost when I walked up to watch a guy fitting bark busters to a CRF250 and realised that it was Sheldon of “Ride For Smiles” blog fame. Karen and I had met Sheldon in Germany at the Horizons Unlimited meeting, and had enjoyed his boisterous company and huge smile. Working with Sheldon on the bark-busters was a riding buddy of his – Andrew – who is riding an F800GS from Sweden to Australia.

I went inside to get a scrap of paper to write down our email addresses as Andrew offered to send us some details about flying our bike back to Australia and I bumped into Philip – the English owner of Riders Corner, and also owner of – one of the great online forums dedicated to riding here in SE Asia. Riders Corner is like the Thai version of the Ace Cafe, and it was great to chat with Philip for a while, before we all – Karen & I, Aad & Mike and Sheldon & Andrew – grabbed a table and sat down for dinner, drinks, and a couple of hours bench racing and bullshit about bikes and riding.

Catching up with Sheldon, Andrew and Philip at Rider’s Corner was a great finish to a busy but successful day of getting bike stuff sorted, and now we’re ready to go riding again and explore northern Thailand. Bring it on – I can’t wait !!!!

16th November. 200km approx.

Sleep was a bit difficult last night, with tiny little ants walking over us in the tent and the hot night air refusing to circulate, even though I’d pulled back half the tent fly to open up the tent a bit, so when six am came around and it started getting light enough to see the trees outside it was a pleasure to wake up and greet the day.

Karen whipped up a pot full of instant oats which we flavoured with honey, cooled with UHT milk and shared with Aad and Mike, and also a plate of fried tomatoes and baked beans, whilst on Aad’s Coleman cooker we boiled the water for teas and coffees.

Bikes packed – we were the last to get ready as I’d spent 10 minutes or so getting out my 12v compressor and bringing the rear tyre pressure up to the required 42psi – we left the campground in the early morning heat. The road out didn’t look half as challenging or as impressive as it did last night when we rode in under cover of darkness, and it wasn’t too long before we stopped at the junction with the main road and waited briefly for Aad and Mike to join us, as they were a bit behind having stopped along the way to take some photos.

We turned north and followed the 105 up to Mae Sariang. Conscious that we had about 200km to ride today and had no more gear to repair any new punctures with we took it easy on the ride, trying to dodge the few potholes we saw on the road. At Mae Sariang we turned right – east – and joined the southern section of the famed ‘Mae Hong Son Loop’. The road condition was perfect for riding – beautifully cambered corners, smooth consistent surface, and a bright yellow centre line that was easily visible, and with minimal traffic we had a blast on it.

Aad had given me the route to load into my GPS, but some glitch had caused the map layer containing the road network to disappear so all I could see was a pink line that I needed to follow and the blue triangle that represented the bike’s current location. In discussion later Aad recommended unloading the Open Street Maps of Australia and India and reloading SE Asia, and that solution worked.

Despite the need to protect the rear tyre I couldn’t resist the temptation to change the ride mode to ‘dynamic’ as the twisty road just beckoned to be ridden fast, but today I tried to be a little more subtle with the throttle, and I must of at least partially succeeded as Karen didn’t pick up immediately on the change in behaviour, but gradually it became apparent to her that we were on a charge. To Mike, who was riding behind us, the up-shift to dynamic was blatantly obvious – a flick of the switch and two gear changes later and we’d disappeared from his sight. I do love our bike!!!

We stopped at a small servo to refuel – the first petrol station we’ve encountered in ages that included a little shop selling drinks and snacks, so we all enjoyed an almond Magnum ice cream and some Pringles, washed down with some Coke.

Back on the road it was twisty curvy riding again, up and down along the mountains. Aad had said at the refuelling stop that he was hanging back as he wasn’t riding at his optimum today, but when I got delayed by a cement mixer truck at some roadworks and Aad snuck ahead on the inside he just bolted away, enjoying the road that now followed the contours of the brown river flowing on our left. The road rose and fell and cambered left and right through the myriad of curves like a roller coaster, water on one side and cliff edge on the other.

Eventually our riding playground gave way to some light industrial plants, signalling the start of the commute into Chiang Mai. The traffic became denser and slower, and soon we were passing through built up commercial areas, squeezing our wide bikes through the narrow gaps near the curb reserved for scooters. Entering the city of Chiang Mai we saw quickly how the city is laid out in a square shape surrounded by a water filled moat. I pulled back so Mike could lead us to our destination – Panda House Guest House – as my GPS wasn’t showing me enough detail to navigate by.

A few twists and turns along the one-way streets that ran adjacent to the moat and before long we snuck down a side street and arrived at Panda House. I was particularly elated as we’d succeeded in making it to Chiang Mai without any further tyre problems. We unpacked the bikes, carried our gear to our second floor rooms, and enjoyed the air-conditioned coolness that welcomed us as we opened the door.

After a bit of a rest we went for a walk to the Piston Shop – they’ll be fitting the new Karoo 3 tyres to our GSA tomorrow, and Aad arranged with Nat – manager of the shop – to bring in his bikes tomorrow so they can fit the new rear Avons that have been sent from the UK to Chiang Mai in four days for them, and also so he can service the bikes. Nat was very helpful and he offered Aad every assistance he required.

From the Piston Shop Aad and Mike went straight back to the Panda House to meet their contact who had received the Avon tyres for them, whilst Karen and I stopped at a hotel we walked past and had dinner there. We did pass on a message for Aad and Mike to join us for dinner if they wished, and they did start walking to meet us but as we found out later they discovered a cheap street restaurant and ate there – 190 baht for the two of them, drinks included.

Back at the Panda House we said goodnight to Aad & Mike and retired early to bed – we hadn’t slept well the previous night in the tent and we were both quite tired. Tomorrow I need to take the bike into Barcelona Motors for the service and then Piston Shop for tyres – so another busy day ahead of us!

Sun 15th November. 200km approx.

The plan today was to get off our collective backsides and ride approx half the distance between Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, aiming to camp overnight in the Mae Ngao National Park, just 20km south of where Route 105 runs through Mae Sariang and then becomes a 200km section of the Mae Hong Son Loop – the magical 2-3 day loop to the west of Chiang Mai that is famous for its 1,864 corners.

We – Karen & I, and Aad & Mike needed to get off our backsides as we had settled in at the Hop Inn Hotel in Mae Sot, which had allowed us to recover both from the exhaustion of the past 10 weeks or so, and also a short bout of illness that I’d succumbed to – first a fever that just came out of nowhere and hit quite hard, followed by stomach cramps that lasted a day or so. Yesterday had been an improvement for me over the previous two days, and today I was good to ride.

We also needed to get going as whilst we’d had the chance to rest, relax and recuperate in Mae Sot, our allotted 15 day visa allowance was being rapidly chewed through and we weren’t making any forwards progress. Not only did we need to get to Chiang Mai to kick off our Mae Hong Son Loop ride, but there were things we needed to do in Chiang Mai that would take some time (bike service and new tyres), and there are many other famous & scenic rides radiating out of Chiang Mai that we wanted to experience.

The route we’d selected to take us from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai wasn’t the quickest as we wished to avoid the main highway as much as possible, but it promised to be more scenic as it ran straight north up from Mae Sot, hugging the border with Myanmar in many places as it entered Thailand’s western mountains.

After packing the bikes and having a light breakfast featuring the nice hot chocolate drink, we were all ready to go. The first section of the road was commercial in nature, but quickly the built-up area started to start away and be replaced by cultivated lots of land, which themselves soon gave way to the jungle bush.

The road was good, the sky was blue, the temperature a pleasant 25 degrees C – and we had an awesome ride. I switched the bike across to ‘dynamic’ mode – something I haven’t made much use of to date – and instantly it felt as if we were rising a different machine – no longer the tame, well-behaved animal that we’ve grown accustomed to, but an absolute beast that reacted instantly to throttle and brake commands, snapping out of corners as the power came on and braking sharply at the lightest touch on the front brake lever. I was loving the responsiveness and unbridled power of the machine but Karen was somewhat less than impressed as she could sense the rear end sliding through some of the perfectly crafted corners we were shooting through.

We had a few short stops in the morning – a police check post that just wanted to see our passports (most checkpoints have either been unmanned or they have made no effort to stop us as we’ve approached so we’ve just ridden through slowly), a fuel stop, and just a short while later we stopped at a tyre repair place so Mike could pump up his tyres as they were a bit low.

The countryside was lush, green, serene, and beautiful to ride through. We pushed on steadily, enjoying the road that in most places was smooth and well-formed, easily coping with some older sections of road surface that were showing signs of age and repairs. Out in the lead at one stage I created a hill to see a family of six cows lined up across the road, so I stopped quickly and put the hazard lights on, with Aad and Mike a few seconds behind and giving them enough advance warning to just avoid the hazard – the 1200 can pull up very quickly when called upon.

Around midday we came to a long section of rough unsealed road that twisted and climbed up the mountainside but even that was blissful to ride – standing up on the pegs and leaning the bike in, body out in the curves that dipped and snaked. A short section of tarmac appeared but this quickly showed major signs of determination with large potholes in it, and this was more demanding to ride across than the unsealed section.

Out in front I crested another hill and slowed to assess a very steep downhill section when the tyre pressure alarms started to freak out on the dashboard – the red warning light wasn’t inviting and I could see that the pressure in the rear tyre was plummeting towards zero in the space of a few seconds. I stopped completely and flagged down Mike to tell him we had a puncture, and Karen alighted so I could get the bike down to the bottom of the steep hill and onto some flat ground where we could take a look at the problem.

The downhill section was quite rutted and covered in gravel, and I walked the bike down with a combination of clutch and brake, Aad & Mike walking alongside ready to catch any slips as the bike squirmed around with a completely deflated rear tyre, but the front braking action was just superb, never once invoking a slide on the steep, loose surface.

Down on flat ground I rolled to a halt, and Aad slipped a plank of wood he’d found under the centre stand before we all helped to get the bike up onto its stand. The damage to the tyre was easy to see – a slash between the blocks. We were carrying our spare (but very well used) front and rear tyres – though the spare rear still had a puncture in it that we’d picked up at the temple of 8,000 Buddha statues in Myanmar and hadn’t repaired.

We’d stopped in a small valley, a rice paddy field on one side and lush jungle with the sounds of a waterfall on the other side. The road level was a few metres above the paddy field, and a small hut made from concrete blessed blocks stood a short distance away, adjacent to the small river that flowed under the road and which fed the waterfall on the other side.

I lifted out our puncture repair kit and 12 volt compressor and set about repairing the puncture, with Aad looking on closely as he’s never used one of these kits to repair a tubeless tyre – and then he laughed when I told him I’d never used this before either. The kit is simple to use – ream out the hole using the reaming tool, lather up one of the worms with rubber cement and then use the insertion tool to drive the worm into the hole. Let the glue dry, trim off the excess worm ends that protrude from the hole and then reinflate tyre via compressor.

And so our repairs would have been simple except for the fact that rather than a small puncture the tyre had been slashed – probably by one of the last potholes we’d encountered just at the top of the steep hill – and one worm wasn’t sufficient to fill the hole. Neither was two worms, and neither was three worms, and this was starting to look problematic as my repair kit only had five worms to start off with, and had also found another puncture near the slash and repaired that with a worm, so we had one worm left and diminishing confidence that we could repair the tyre.

By this stage Karen and Mike had settled into their chairs, sitting under the shade of a nearby tree that rose up from the field below us – and were quite enjoying watching Aad and I work on the tyre. We had a look at the spare tyre I was carrying – whilst the block had been slashed by the shard of glass we’d picked up at the Buddha temple from inside the tyre we could see that just a small puncture had actually pierced the tyre, so we reamed that from the inside and plugged that with the last worm we had, and then Aad removed the rear wheel from the bike and set to work swapping the tyres over.

Mike got some detergent from his pannier and we used that to get the repaired the onto the rim, and then we hit problems as we couldn’t get the bead to reseat. My little 12v compressor couldn’t generate enough pressure to reseat the tyre, so we ended up removing the wheel from the bike and trying a few tricks – like winding a strap around the circumference of the tyre and compressing the strap, but all of our attempts were fruitless, and we couldn’t reseat the tyre and inflate it.

From our GPS and trip meters we knew that the tyre repair shop that had helped Mike in the morning was 84km south, and Mae Sariang was about 50-70km north. Cars and light trucks were passing us reasonably frequently as we worked on the side of the road – covering us in dust as they drove past and providing entertainment as many of them struggled to climb the steep hill we’d come down a few hours earlier, but assistance came in the form of a young man on a scooter, who had stopped to watch us briefly a while earlier and had then disappeared, unbeknownst to us, into the besser block shack in the paddy field we were stuck next to.

With few words of English but clearly obvious hand signals – I was summoned to his scooter, along with the uncooperative tyre and rim, which he placed in front of him on the scooter. I grabbed my helmet, climbed on the back of the Honda Wave 100cc scooter, and we attacked the steep hill, bouncing and skating up the rough rocky section.

Half way up the hill my right foot slipped off the footpeg and the footpeg retracted, so I had to stick my leg out straight to avoid having it driven into the ground, and it was a very precarious and action-packed ride, but the rider seemed to know where the smoothest line to take was, and we continued to make forwards progress up to the crest of the hill where I tapped him on the shoulder and got him to stop so I could find the footpeg again. He passed me the wheel and I held that between us as we started the descent on the other side, negotiating the ruts and bumps as we headed down.

We bounced and bumped along the off-road section for a few km til we came back to tarmac, and around the next corner we pulled off the road into a little scooter workshop. The mechanic there only had an ancient foot pump to offer and whilst we tried that it still couldn’t pop the bead back on the tyre, so he instructed my helper to take the wheel further down the road – either 10 km or 10 minutes or 10 hours (I couldn’t understand what the unit of ’10’ was), whilst I was given a chair to sit and watch the mechanic at work on the steady stream of machines arriving at his rural workshop. I was a bit concerned at sending off my wheel in the hands of someone I didn’t know, but two-up plus wheel on the 100cc scooter was making it almost impossible to climb the steep mountain hills, and it made more sense to lighten the load on the little machine.

In the hour or so that it took my helper to return with the wheel successfully fitted with the reinflated and seated tyre I watched the mechanic work quickly and efficiently work on his scooters, and grabbed a refreshing Coke from the store adjacent to the workshop. Tarpaulins laid out in the yard were covered in rice and nuts, and as the sun started to drop ladies gathered up the dried produce and filled up sacks with them.

When my helper returned I grabbed him a beer and paid his fuel cost as he refilled, and then gave him a small gift of appreciation. He arranged for me to return to our stranded bike in a dual cab ute along with the wheel and some cold drinks I’d bought for Karen, Aad and Mike, and he followed behind on his scooter.

The sun was almost gone by the time we got back to the bike, and Aad quickly refitted the wheel to the bike whilst Karen snapped a couple of quick photos of our helper and his scooter. Bike reassembled and repacked, we headed off towards the campground in the Mae Ngao National Park, about 20km north of our location.

The tyre pressure alarm went off again – the recommended pressure is 42psi and it had only been inflated to 29psi, but at least the worm repair was holding and we weren’t loosing any air. The bike was squirming on the soft tyre so we just rode along at a slow pace, trying to protect the tyre.

Darkness fell quickly and the lights on the bike lit up the road extremely well, highlighting the curves and twists in the jungle road. We turned off the main road and headed down the track toward the campground, a further 5km of riding. Riding into the camp a man jumped onto a scooter and led us to a spot where we could pitch our tents next to the river.

In the darkness we pitched our tents and then went up to the nearby shelter and started cooking dinner. Karen had bought some steak in Mae Sot and she cooked that to perfection, whipping up some mashed potato and carrots and and a pepper gravy. Meanwhile Aad and Mike shared hotdog sausages and baked beans in their one-pot dinner. A hungry dog came by and Karen gave her some steak.

The air was very still and hot, and Mike and I grabbed some cokes and water from the campground store. Dinner over and pots washed and dried up we retired to our tent, struggling to get to sleep in the heat but weary from our long day. It had taken five hours from puncture to getting back on the road, but we had dealt with the situation as best we could and we’re happy to have arrived at our intended destination. Part-way through the night I got up and pulled back half the fly, uncovering the tent and trying to get a bit of cooler air into the tent. Sleep finally came, brought on by the relaxing sound of the river water rushing by. A great day’s riding – despite our puncture and unintended halt along the way.

10th, 11th, 12th and now 13th November

I think the original plan was two nights in Mae Sot, but that was extended to three nights and then four as last night I was sick with a fever and Aad was very tired, so we’re staying put here in Mae Sot again today and will head upcountry tomorrow.

Karen has located some accommodation in Chiang Mai, and we’ll camp for a couple of nights on our way there. In Chiang Mai I’ve got a service arranged for our bike as there’s a BMW Motorrad shop in town, and I’ll get new tyres to replace our worn TKC80’s. Unable to locate any Continental tyres we’ll be switching across to Metzeler Karoo 3’s – an unknown quantity for me but hopefully they’ll do a good job. I do like the TKC80’s as they are very confidence-inspiring – very predictable and forgiving.

Karen has also tracked down an Olympus store who has been able to source a new digital camera for her – a TG4 – the model we’ve been trying to get our hands on since her old TG3 died somewhere in India. The Nikon AW130 we bought as an interim solution just doesn’t cut the mustard – it’s slower shutter speed and darker lens doesn’t capture sharp images from the back of the bike as we’re riding along, and our photos are our only souvenirs as we don’t buy any momentos along the way, so we’d like to get some reasonable photos at least.

The past few days have been relaxing, off-bike stuff. Karen has caught up with her 31-day backlog of uploading photos and attaching them to old posts, and that’s been a massive job – taking two days and evenings to complete. I’ve been trying to track down tyres and doing some forwards-planning for the next parts of our trip – Laos, Cambodia, and back to Thailand again. We’ve also started to look into the logistics of flying the bike back into Australia, and Ivan from Bikes Abroad is helping us with that.

Breakfast is included at our nice little Hop Inn Hotel – an egg on toast, with a few tinned sausages on the side and some salad. There’s a coffee machine in the breakfast area that also makes nice hot chocolates, and they go down very well.

We had planned to go see 007 last night but I was feeling exhausted – I didn’t realise it at that stage but I was just starting to get sick – so we all ordered pizza except for Karen who had mushroom pasta, and we all ate our dinner in our room, watching the last Moto GP of the season on tv, as Mike had been able to download it a few days ago.

We had gone to Tesco’s around midday yesterday – we caught a taxi there and a three-wheeled trolley-motorcycle contraption back to our hotel as the sun was blistering. Lunch was KFC and then – to Karen’s absolute delight – desert was an ice cream sundae at Swevenson’s (or something like that). We did a bit more shopping for our upcoming camping trip, but it’s that hot here that it’s perhaps unlikely we’ll be camping out too much.

So in a nutshell all four of us – Aad & Mike, Karen and I – are relaxing and recovering from the hectic riding schedule we’ve endured over the past month or two. It’s been great to not have to pack up the bike every morning and move on every day. With that said I’m sure we’ll be looking forwards to exploring the back roads of NW Thailand from tomorrow onwards, once we are all a bit more rested.