All posts for the month December, 2015

230km ride today, including a 120km side trip (return) to Muang Sing that started and ended in Luang Namtha, before we started our 110km ride towards Oudom Xai in earnest.

Our morning started with a 7:00am wake-up call from the iPad, followed by a flurry of packing and loading of the bikes, ready for an 08:00am departure – our first destination “Lai’s Place” – the small restaurant down the side street that we ate at last night, and would return to today for breakfast.

Karen had a mango with a sticky rice pancake, the rest of us had Lai’s “Lao Omelette Surprise” – tasty and filling, with all sorts of interesting edibles in it. After a quick refuelling stop we were ready to head off to Muang Sing about 09:00am, taking the twisty mountain road that leads there. The first 15km of the road was quite chopped up with the road surface ripped away and replaced with a clay base. The sky was grey and threatened rain, and I was concerned that if it did start raining then we’d have difficulty retracing our steps as the clay quickly turns to a very slippery mud, but after a quick chat with Aad and Mike we decided to push on all the way to Muang Sing.

The narrow road twisted up and down along the mountain sides, following a river. We slowed down at one point as the road ahead was blocked by cars – a little people-mover van had slipped off the road into a deep gutter and people were trying to get the van back onto the road. Just a short distance further on an ambulance passed us heading towards the accident, but we hadn’t seen anyone injured in or around the car when we rode slowly past.

Just south of Muang Sing the road left the mountains and dropped down to the paddy fields, with little wooden houses built along the roadside a clear sign that we were approaching the town. We rode into Muang Sing and I stopped out the front of the old two storey building that was Tailu’s Restaurant & Guesthouse, but when Karen questioned a guy out the front he just mumbled incomprehensibly. Directly across the road we saw another building labelled Tailu’s Restaurant, but the man there said that the restaurant was no longer open. Oh well – I’d enjoyed a delicious banana pancake and Lao coffee here five years ago but it wasn’t to be today.

Mike spotted another small restaurant a little further up the busy main road of the small town, but when we rode up there the ‘Doof Doof’ music blaring out was that loud it was almost deafening, so we went a bit further again to a small Chinese restaurant and enjoyed some nice spicy minced beef and rice, along with a cup of hot tea.

Our early lunch over, and Karen having completed her rescue mission that involved picking up a big beetle that was slowly trudging down the road and risking getting squashed flat and relocating it to the tall grass on the other side of the road, we remounted and headed back to Luang Namtha. The return trip seemed to pass by a bit quicker – the road had dried out a bit and we could ride with a bit more confidence.

Just out of Luang Namtha we stopped briefly so Mike could check his GPS and then we headed east along Route 1 towards Oudom Xai. I spotted a water buffalo and its calf in a paddy field just near the edge of the rural road, but I was a bit slow in stopping the bike so Karen could get a good photo of it, nevertheless upon checking the photos later in the day she has snapped it quite well. The first 40km of the road took us out to Nateui and the open road allowed us to set a good pace.

Beyond Nateui the road started a bit more twisting and turning and narrowed a bit, so more concentration was required – validated by some of the missing sections of road that we had to skirt around to avoid.

We arrived in Oudom Xai around 4:30pm and made our way to our guest house that was a bit set back from the centre of town, dropped off our soft luggage and then rode back to Souphailin’s Restaurant back on the other (northern) side of the bridge, for an early dinner. I’d eaten a few times at Souphailin’s when I’d passed through Oudom Xai years ago, and this small, quaint and quirky place is listed in Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in town. Souphailin recognised me from the previous trip, (despite my long hair and beard now) and we settled down at one of the two outdoor tables located on the verandah surrounded by tall plants.

Karen wasn’t feeling hungry so she just had some mashed potato whilst Aad and Mike shared a delicious vegetarian dish of fried vegetables with pineapple and peanuts, and I had a traditional northern Laos dish – chicken cooked in banana leaf. Desert was banana in caramel (Mike), and Aad helped me finish a bowl of mango with sticky rice and coconut milk.

Riding back to our guest house in the dark gave both Aad and Mike a chance to test their new spotlights in the darkness, and they were very impressed. Aad had been quite impressed with the auxiliary headlights – the spotlights – on our BMW and had bought and fitted lights to his Triumph and Mike’s Yamaha in Chiang Mai. During the day these LED’s are much easier to see than their standard headlights, and at night they are great as well.

And so ends another great riding day in Laos. Great roads, great company, great food – it’s like a food safari over here 🙂

This post will be a brief account of our two down days in Luang Namtha – Friday 18th and Saturday 19th December. In my rough plan for Laos Saturday had been earmarked for the short 60km ride through the Nam Tha National Park to Muang Sing, but it was raining quite consistently on Friday into Saturday morning and Aad had a bad headache from Friday morning that he couldn’t shake, so we opted to have a second off-bike day.

Friday morning – our first morning in Laos – started with a simple pre-breakfast of tea and Nutella on Digestive biscuits at our chalets, before I led the four of us to the local markets so we could have a look around. The markets were fascinating – a photographers delight, and it was great to see Aad, Mike and Karen take such interest in the local produce for sale. Karen and I bought some mandarins and mangoes whilst Aad and Mike bought some grapes. The range of vegetables and fruits available was astounding – both in colour and variety – and everything looked so fresh as if it had just been plucked or dug up that morning. We saw large fungi the size of dinner plates, chillies, basil, tiny apples. Aad and Mike were the first to see frogs for sale, sitting patiently in plastic basins, and also a dead cat being sold by some people selling some roots.

The largely covered markets were organised into different sections – vegetables and fruits, rices, live animals (fish, eels, chickens), meats, clothing, etc. A large dining area consisting of trestle tables and chairs was surrounded by women who displayed banana leaves piled high with noodles and greens ready for reheating and serving.

We watched one man carefully examine a big rooster from every conceivable angle as he decided whether or not to purchase it, and a lady gave us a small disc – maybe 6cm in diameter – of pressed curry paste (perhaps ???) that had a very strong after taste to it !!! Nearby I saw a woman selling some vegetables – on her table she also had a headless snake coiled up, and a blue kingfisher for sale.

Some of the sights in the market were a bit confronting for us all, but it was a special experience for us as well. We walked on a few blocks past the local motorcycle markets and a very noisy electronics store that was blasting out music from giant speakers so loud it felt like it would make your ears bleed, and out onto the main road and in the direction of the main part of town.

I was looking out for a cafe I’d been in on my last trip but couldn’t see it down the side streets so we stopped at the Bamboo Lounge Restaurant – set up as a training venue for local people to help them learn both hospitality skills and English, with profits directed towards buying books for the local school. We enjoyed a late breakfast and I savoured my Lao coffee – coffee with sweetened condensed milk, whilst the others had a hot chocolate each.

After our meal we strolled up the main street, taking in the sights and sounds. We heard a collision between two small motorcycles – a local rider and a foreigner had collided. Neither of them were seriously injured, so after checking on them we continued on our way. Skid marks on the road showed that the local rider had dropped his bike and slid across the centreline into the path of the oncoming rider.

I took our merry band up to the Luang Namtha Museum – this had been closed on my last visit. Aad headed back to the chalets whilst the rest of us went into the small musuem. Initially it was locked up but a young lady opened the door for us, charged us our small entrance fee and then watched us as we spent an hour or so walking around the single room that was the Musuem. Items on display included old brass drums recovered from temples in the area, traditional clothing of the various local tribes (both male and female variations), wooden implements such as fish and eel traps, crossbows, baskets – all the way up to ox ploughs, as well as rifles and other weapons used by the French and other colonising forces, and local militia weapons and home-made rifles used in the fight for independence. One display board showed photographs of local industries – rice growing, fishing etc, and another board showed photos from significant municipal events such as meetings with foreign dignitaries.

We walked back to our chalets, where Karen and I spent the afternoon catching up on a few chores – in the evening the two of us returned to the Bamboo Lounge for a dinner of wood-fired Hawaiian pizza and a bacon carbonara, whilst Aad and Mike tracked down a couple of hamburgers a bit further down the road.

Saturday morning we weren’t in a rush as we had already decided to not ride to Muang Sing today and instead we’d booked a third night’s stay at Taidam Guesthouse in Luang Namtha. Mike boiled some water and we had a cup of tea, and then we headed down to the Bamboo Lounge for breakfast. All of Luang Namtha was without electricity this morning – we were told that power would be off til 1:00pm. We had a pleasant breakfast of crispy bacon, bread (as the electric toaster wouldn’t work) and eggs, and sat on the comfy lounge chairs watching daily life go by outside and chatting about nothing and everything.

Late in the morning we headed back to our chalets for an afternoon of Big Bang Theory episodes from Season Nine and then blogging (Vince) and sorting photos (Karen). We had thought about having an afternoon ride out to Muang Sing today but it was still drizzling and Karen’s broken arm is giving her a lot of pain this afternoon so it was decided that it would be better for her to rest today as tomorrow we need to push eastwards on to Oudom Xay. It’s about 4:00pm now, Karen is still working hard on her photos and I’m starting to chill to a bit of Pink Floyd on the iPad. It’s been a quiet but pleasant day – a chance to rest and relax. Tomorrow is Oudom Xay and Souphallin’s Restaurant – the best chef in northern Laos and the best chicken curry and Laos Whisky – I can’t wait 🙂

The closest border crossing into Laos from Chiang Mai is the Chiang Khong – Houei Xai crossing over the Mekong River via Friendship Bridge IV, with the Thai Immigration & Border Control station a few km south of our guesthouse. It had rained overnight and a pool of water had collected on the lightweight tarp Karen & I cover the BMW with, and as a consequence her Airhawk seat was soaking wet in the morning.

After a breakfast of banana and honey on pancake plus a hot coffee, we all headed off, stopping first at the big Tesco’s to get a few supplies. Karen and I had fun photographing Aad and Mike as they unwittingly parked their bikes in a ‘lady only’ parking area, before we gleefully brought this to their attention.

Exiting Thailand wasn’t too difficult – we were directed into a building where an officer inspected our passports and papers and then informed us that we would need to pay for a police escort vehicle to take us across the bridge. Outside the office and under the big covered area other staff inspected our passports and paperwork – taking a close look as we had overstayed both our original visa expiry date and the export date for our motorcycles, but as we had extended both of these before they had expired we were stamped out without any grief.

A blue and white police vehicle had us follow him up the road and through a cross-over that changed us from riding on the left hand side of the road over to the right hand side in preparation for riding in Laos, before we followed the police over the bridge and up to the Laos immigration buildings where our escort left us 500 baht poorer.

On the Laos side of things we first filled out our visa on arrival application forms and queued at the adjacent window to then pay our visa fees – US$30/each for Karen and myself on Australian passports and US$35/each for Aad and Mike on their Dutch passports.

Once we had our 30-day visas, we then had to visit two booths – a Customs booth that prepared computerised forms for the importation of our bikes and charged US$7 each for the completed paperwork, and then a ‘Personal Car’ booth that filled out a form in duplicate using carbon paper that listed everyone in our little group and vehicle registration numbers, and then charged US$20 for this (for 3 bikes) which all seemed a bit odd …..

We were then summonsed by a tourist police officer to come and talk to him in his office so we all four marched in and took a seat, answering a few simple questions (had we visited Laos before, where had I been, where we we going this time) before the police officer got to his point by telling us that recent changes to laws in Laos meant that foreigners could not bring motorcycles into Laos or ride around without a tour guide upfront and a tour vehicle behind us, on pain of a US$2,000 fine, all brought about by a speeding Korean rider who had injured himself and some locals in a high speed crash in a village. At this point we all started to jack up and where ready to ride back into Thailand when the officer said that for our small group of three motorcycles we should have no problems, but larger groups would be fined. It was all starting to sound a bit dubious but when he agreed that we could proceed on our way into Laos without a guide we thanked him kindly and left his office as quick as we could.

Outside and on our bikes we got going straight away, and straight away we were riding into the rain. We’d seen the dark grey clouds over the Laos mountains as we approached the border crossing but had hoped that the rain would hold off – it wasn’t to be however and the drizzling rain quickly chilled us. Not long after leaving the border crossing – perhaps only 10km or so – I pulled over at a small roadside food stall and we sat down to an early lunch of Lao noodle soup, fresh greens and Coke, whipped up by a lady over a small brassiere whilst a few young boys stared at us intently from behind their mother’s legs. The rain slowed whilst we enjoyed our hot lunch and it had stopped raining when we started riding again.

We had a 180km ride from the border to our destination for the day in Luang Namtha, and it was a full-on adventure ride as the rain picked up again. Neither Karen nor I had the inner linings in our jackets or riding pants and we were quickly chilled to the bone. The road was very twisty through the mountains with some quite steep ascents in places, and it was hard work concentrating on the wet and slippery road as I got colder and colder. Mike and Aad were both suffering from the wet and cold as well, and I had the advantage of having heated grips and a high windscreen that deflected some of the wind and rain. Aad needed to stop and swap his summer gloves over for his winter gloves – his hands were freezing when I felt them.

My initial hope was to complete the ride in one shot, but fairly early on I realised that we’d need a break to try and get some heat back into us and have a bit of a rest from the heavy concentration, so about 140km out of Luang Namtha the distance markers I saw to Viang Phouka – about 70km away – seemed like the perfect place to stop and regroup.

The road was generally in good condition, but it did throw up enough potholes and other obstacles that you could never take your eyes off the road. A section of unsealed red earth had been turned into a muddy bath by the rain, and very quickly our bikes and ourselves were covered in mud that splashed up as we rode through.

Arriving in Viang Phouka I crossed the bridge over the river and followed the GPS and waves from locals pointing us down a series of muddy tracks towards a non-existent cafe, so we returned to the sealed main road, recrossed the bridge and stopped just up the hill at a restaurant Karen had spotted as we entered town. They couldn’t provide any hot drinks but we ordered a large bowl of rice and a large plate of meat, onions and green vegetables to share – anything hot to try and get some heat back into us.

The rain stopped whilst we sat on our concrete benches under cover and ate our second lunch for the day – it was about 3:00pm by now – and the road started to open up a bit so we could press on a little faster than the tighter mountainous roads we’d encountered earlier in the day. With that said we didn’t top 75kmh in the day and always slowed down when entering the many villages along our way.

The villages we passed through were fascinating – often just wooden buildings built up on stumps, with chickens and pigs running around outside, and young children who would turn and wave at us as we passed them by.

I didn’t have the GPS coordinates for our guest house in Luang Namtha, so a few km out of town I waved Mike into the lead and we followed him along a few backstreets and then down a muddy and rocky track that eventually led to our Taidam Guesthouse. Our wooden chalets overlook some paddy fields and fish-filled dams, and were freezing cold inside, but at least we could get out of our wet riding gear.

We walked back into the local streets looking for dinner but it was getting dark and most places were closing for the day. A feint ray of light was coming out of the Chill Zone Beer Bar so we went in there – still cold as the bar had open walls that let the cold wind blow through it – Aad and Karen shared the warmth from a small brassiere as we all shared our combined dinner that consisted of fried cashew nuts, chips, fried rice with chicken, and pork with fried garlic. Whilst the other three had a soft drink to wash down their meals I had a bottle of Beer Lao to celebrate my first day of riding in Laos on this trip and to pay homage to the Laos Beer Drinking Team – as it was Kevin’s inspired suggestion to come ride in Laos back in 2011 that added fuel to my interest in riding overseas.

I’ve been frozen to the bone today – as has Karen, Aad and Mike, and the riding has been quite hard in the wet and slippery conditions, but I’m thrilled to be back in Laos and can’t wait to take Karen further into Laos and show her the places and people here that really impressed me four years ago. Laos – bring it on !!!!

We had hoped to travel to the border and cross into Laos today but an early email from Aad (Art) let us know the weather forecast was not good for today (clearing tomorrow) and as we had sent our wet weather gear home from Chiang Mai we thought a down day would be in order. In addition, Aad had twigged to a space problem with their laptops – with Vince now providing Mike with GoPro footage every day, and then with Aad now using our spare GoPro they were accumulating video much faster then they had anticipated and it was pushing their laptop storage capacity to the limit, so they needed to make more space available.

Aad and Mike jumped on their bikes and rode down to Tesco’s to get some supplies whilst Karen and I walked down the main road, passing a brightly painted tour coach parked on some vacant land. We made our way to Cafe Lao in time for lunch, removing our shoes as requested by the sign outside and sitting at a low table on the verandah, ordering the spring rolls and Lao noodle soup. The spring rolls (not fried) were delicious, served with two small bowls – one with a dipping sauce in, the other filled with crushed nuts. The Lao noodle soup was accompanied with a bamboo pot full of basil and lettuce leaves – Karen immediately ripping the leaves and dunking them into the soup bowl, which tasted delicious. We had a slow and leisurely lunch, then caught a tuk-tuk down to Tesco’s and did some shopping for ourselves before going back to our guesthouse for an afternoon of light chores.

Towards sunset Mike joined us for another stroll into town, firstly however we walked down to the banks of the Mekong and looked across the water to Laos on the eastern side before walking back up to the small ramshackle shops, squeezing between the narrow aisles jammed with multi-packed products and looking for a few supplies for our dinner.

Dinner was almost a repeat of yesterday – a joint effort involving our MSR Dragonfly cooker and Aad’s Coleman stove whipping up a combination of baked beans, two-minute noodles, eggs, tomatoes and onions.

The rain had held off for the day – whilst the grey sky had threatened rain for a lot of the day it had been quite dry. Late in the evening however it started to bucket down – not an auspicious sign for tomorrow but we’re now a day behind and we can’t stay here in Thailand indefinitely so tomorrow we ride …. hopefully !!!!

After breakfast at the Areeya Phuree Resort, Thaton, Mai Ai, we set off for Chiang Khong….we planned to try to stop off to visit one or two Karen long Neck (Paduang) Hill Tribes along the way, as I was intrigued to learn more about my namesakes that I first encountered at Lake Inle (Myanmar), at a weaving place.

I had done a bit of research, and the information I had said that it was free to visit the village as they hoped tourists would purchase their handicrafts ……which is how they make a living, basically being illegal immigrants from Myanmar! Several things I read said it did seem a bit exploitive, but was like something out of National Geographic and tourism supported the community. When we arrived we were immediately hit up for 300THB each to go down into the village. Whilst we did not visit the actual Akha village there were many of them with stalls as we entered the Karen Long Neck Village…..mostly with wares that were mass produced and we had seen in Chiang Mai markets!

The Akha are an indigenous Hill Tribe who live in small villages in the mountains of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) and are famous for weaving and embroidery, much like the Karen People. They came from China originally in the early 20th Century but due to civil unrest in Laos and Myanmar there are now over 80,000 Akha living in Thailand in the North (Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai). The headdresses worn by the women were quite ornate and spectacular. Akha women define their age or marital status with the style of headdress worn. Girls wear a child’s cap until around 12 years old when they change to a girl’s cap. After puberty they will start to wear the “jejaw”…..a heavily beaded sash that hangs over the front of her skirt so it doesn’t fly up when windy. Around 15 or 16 they begin to wear an adult headdress. Each Headdress is unique and decorated by their owner using items such as silver coins or beads, monkey fur, dyed chicken feathers and colourful threads …..very creative!

Moving on to the Karen Village, it was not really a village at all, but a series of stalls each one housing an individual Karen Long Neck child, girl or woman…..Vince said it reminded him of the “Starting Stalls” in Kalgoorlie which he had seen on a school tour. The girls and women seemed sad and few smiled, some just sat, others weaved or wound cotton threads for weaving. I admired their weaving and complimented them own their handiwork as I spoke with them individually….one girl did eventually smile….but I was hard pressed…..not even when I bought a scarf from an older woman was there a smile! Vince and I both felt so uncomfortable that we cut the visit short and went back to the ANIMAL. Mike and Aad (Art) had abstained, they wanted to try the next village ….thinking it may be the one I had read about… we rode there…..Vince and I stayed with the the bikes this time and Mike went to check it out….it was even more commercialised than the previous one, so none of us went in.

Traditionally, the Karen People live in bamboo houses up on stilts, Animals such as pigs, chickens, and buffaloes live underneath.They are skilled farmers who practice crop rotation, hunt for game with spears and crossbows, and use tame elephants to help them clear land. Karen women are skilled in sewing and dyeing, Chiang Mai Karen long neck & Chiang Dao Cave Tour like to settle in foothills, and live in bamboo houses raised on stilts, beneath which live their domestic animals: pigs, chickens, and elephants.

The Paduang are a subgroup of the Karen People and sometimes Calle the Long Necks or Giraffe Tribe, other subgroups doesn’t wear the rings. It is a myth That the rings actipually elongate the wearer’s neck…..if this was true they would be paralysed or die. It is just a visual illusion. Their mythology says it prevents tigers from biting them! Some say it is to make them unattractive to slave traders, other that it is a sign of beauty to attract a husband.

We set of this morning around 9.00am and arrived at Sawadee Homestay (550 THB including breakfast) around 2.30pm. After a brisk shower (no hot water) we went for a walk looking for a suitable place to eat, or purchase items to cook. In the end we opted for cooking and poor Vince had to cook and clean up due to my broken arm…..I did what little I safely could, handing him things etc….but the Dragonfly can be a bit dangerous with its open naked flame so he was pretty much left too it! It makes me feel useless….I always like to pull my own weight so my broken arm is quite burdensome. After dinner we caught up on chores ( downloading photos, video, answering emails, blogging etc).

Tomorrow is a big day for us….we intend to cross the border into Laos….Vince loved it when he was there last time and is excited to share the places with me now……we can’t wait! Laos….we’re coming for you!!!!

After a two-week hiatus in Chiang Mai to allow Karen’s broken arm to heal a bit it was fantastic to get back on the bike today and clock up a ride. I’d purchased a copy of GT-Rider’s “Golden Triangle” map a few weeks ago from Book Zone in CM – I’ve already got a copy of this map at home but I hadn’t brought it on this ride as space was limited and I was already carrying a dozen maps or so – and with Aad and Mike we’d looked at a route that deviated from the 107 – the main road connecting CM to Tha Ton and instead veered north through the mountains along the roads 1178 – 1340 – 1249.

Karen and I were a bit slow in getting ready for breakfast at 7:30am today – with her injured hand I had to do a lot of the packing and carrying etc, and so breakfast was closer to 08:00am and we finally rolled down the Panda House driveway about 08:38am, with Jenny (aka Panda Lady), our hostess and her sister waving madly at us as our three bikes coughed and spluttered into life. Karen had made a gift to Jenny of the blue love heat cushion she had  been given in hospital as thanks for her concern and kindness.

Aad gave Karen a boost up onto the back of the BMW – she’s still got her injured arm bound up in a cast and will need to continue wearing that for the next four weeks. With the zip we had inserted in her jacket arm she was able to easily slide her arm into the jacket, however she discovered later that morning that with a little bit of jiggling she could slip her arm into the jacket without using the new zip – all good – at least we were ready to deal with getting the jacket over the cast if necessary.

Traffic wasn’t too bad as we made our way north out of CM, but we were all glad when we turned off the main road and picked up the country road that led towards the mountain, leaving behind the roadside businesses, houses and small industrial sites and replacing them with open fields and rolling hills.

We stopped at a servo about an hour into the ride – we’ve loaned a GoPro video camera to Aad and he wanted to check to see how it was working, and Karen needed to take some tablets for the pain, something she hasn’t needed for a week or so but the exertion of getting on and off the bike etc and adjusting to riding with a broken arm had been a bit gruelling for her.

A short while later we stopped again – Aad thought he’d spotted a roadside stall selling fresh coffee so we pulled over, but it turned out to be a very basic store that had very little to offer, so Karen and I shared some water from one of our water bottles off the back of the bike, and Aad and Mike shared a bottle of warm Coke they had found lying round in the store. Aad bought a small pack of nondescript nibblies that we shared as we chatted under the shade of the lean-to out the front of the store.

It wasn’t too long later that we stopped again, and again so Aad and Mike could check their cameras. I moved the BMW off the road and into the shade, and Karen and I bought some small and sweet bananas for morning tea that we shared with Aad and Mike – 1 baht for a banana. As we pulled out of the car park about 10 or so motorbikes rode past – we stopped at a lookout a bit up the road and had a brief chat with some of the riders – they were friends from Ireland who had come over to Thailand and Laos for a couple of weeks riding. The rider Karen and I were chatting with was on his sixth overseas ride this year, having already visited Morocco (twice), Norway and South America.

Pushing on we started to enter the mountain range proper, the road climbing very steeply. We’d seen warning signs on our “Golden Triangle” map and the road was very steep in places, but Karen and I both agreed at the end of the riding day that they weren’t the steepest roads we’ve ridden – that dubious honour would go to the Torr Road in northern Ireland where the road was that steep I was struggling to keep the front wheel of the bike down on the ground even with all of my weight over the front.

The sky was a lovely blue colour without a cloud to be seen, and the temperature a pleasant 23 degrees or so, fantastic conditions for riding. Karen and I sat behind Mike, whose bike seemed to struggle up some of the steep inclines at times – later in the day he said that his gearing was too wide to enable him to easily climb the hills and he was having to work hard to keep the bike going. The BMW meanwhile just ate up the road – hairpins were first gear jobs but otherwise we could motor along quite swiftly.

“What goes up must come down” is the saying, and eventually we crested the mountain range and started dropping down the steep descent towards the plain below. I had a sneak preview of my GoPro footage this evening and usually it’s difficult to gauge the incline or decline in video but the video I filmed on these steep descents gives us almost a helicopter view above Aad and Mike as we followed them down the steep and twisty mountain road. I was grateful that the road was dry as it would have been a challenge in wet weather.

Down on the flat Mike pulled into a servo to refuel and we all followed, quickly refuelling before parking our bikes out the front of the adjacent ‘Maple Coffee’ cafe. Parking is often a bit of an exercise for me – searching for some ground with just the right slope so that I can park the heavy BMW on enough of a lean that it won’t stand up and fall over to the right, but not too much of a lean that I can’t get it upright again. If I misjudge the slope I usually need to reposition the bike, and here I needed Mike (usually Karen’s job) to give me a bit of a push so I could reverse the bike into the parking bay and get it to lean over properly. With that said Aad was struggling as well in the same spot – he needed to use his wooden chock to lift up his Triumph.

Bikes safely parked, we joined Karen inside. I had a semi-decent coffee served in a dainty tea cup, and Karen had some insipid lemon tea served in a shot glass. Our choice of cakes were no more successful, but Karen had a cuddle with a giant teddy bear on the couch where we were sitting and that made her a bit happier.

30km down the busy road we had just joined saw us arriving in Tha Ton, our destination for the day. Mike led us to the riverside retreat we’d booked – a two-room bungalow we were all going to share (1,600 baht total, inc breakfast). The bungalow was quite basic inside – a rickety bamboo four-poster double bed on a raised platform overlooking the sitting area, whilst the second bedroom was just a little alcove off to the side, separated by some bamboo screens that didn’t extend all the way up to the ceiling.

After unpacking and sorting a few things out, Karen and I went to the resort restaurant where we struggled to place an order for two chicken curries with the nice lady looking after the resort, ending up with one chicken and one pork curry, which we ate overlooking the Kok River that flowed past the dining area. Aad and Mike fancied home cooking tonight so they fired up their Coleman stove and had noodles and hotdogs, spiced up by Mike.

After dinner and chores, Karen and I watched the end of “Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides” – a movie that has taken us three goes to get through, and then it was time for bed. Tomorrow we head towards the border crossing into Laos with a side trip out to a village to see some local tribes, and the following day it should be entry into Laos and the start of a new phase in our adventure. Yippee !!!!!

A week or so ago we’d spotted two posters in a bike shop promoting two different bike events coming up in Chiang Mai as part of the Chiang Mai Bike Week, but attempts to find out more about Bike Week were both frustrating and less than completely successful. With that said, we eventually ascertained that there was an event being staged at the International Convention Centre on Saturday evening, 12th December, so about 5:45pm we grabbed a tuk-tuk and took the 8km ride out to the centre to see what “The True Return” was all about.

“The True Return” poster we’d seen listed a number of partners, including BMW, KTM, Triumph, Touratech, Klim and GoPro, as well as a large number of motorcycle groups including the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Immortals, Hells Devils, Mongols, etc etc so it promised to be an interesting event.

We arrived at the Convention Centre about 6:15pm, originally overshooting the entrance gate, but our tuk-tuk driver quickly sorted that out and got us back to where we needed to be. The Convention Centre was a fair bit out of town so we arranged with our driver to stay at the bike show and wait for us for 90 minutes whilst we browsed around the outdoor displays, so he could then run us back into Chiang Mai, and that was a good move as we’d still be walking home otherwise.

A large banner over the entrance to the display area welcomed all riders, and an adjacent sign indicated rules that applied – no brawling, no knuckle-dusters, no hand-guns. The show had just opened up when we arrived but already it was quite crowded with people bustling along the aisles and stopping to admire the bikes on display. By and large the show was dominated by custom chopper displays, but manufacturers like Benelli, Suzuki, Ducati, Yamaha and even Husqvarna had displays on as well.

Whether it was cruisers, sports bikes or adventure bikes on display, the common thread between most of the displays were the scantily-clad girls dancing and gyrating in front of the bikes, or sprawled across them like a seat cover. It was a bit distracting trying to check out the bikes in these conditions, and it certainly didn’t encourage a close inspection of the bikes.

The motorcycle groups also had tents set up, with their banners proudly on display, and some of them selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. One group had a colourful collection of wildlife paintings on show – somewhat incongruent but quite eye-catching. Another group was displaying jewellery items, including a ring that had won an award for best display at the show. An information card next to the ring explained the importance of Buddhism in the Thai culture, and the importance of trees in Buddhist traditions, with the ring fashioned to symbolise a tree wrapped with an orange cloth – one of the most important aspects in the life of Thai men, all of whom are entitled to become a monk if they so wish.

Quite a few riders had parked their bikes inside the display area and these impromptu displays were as interesting as the organised displays – the Vintage Bike Club had a great assortment of old BSA’s, a Matchless, Triumphs and old BMW’s, and in other places blinged-up Harley’s and old Hondas reborn as rat bikes attracted as much attention as the latest bikes for sale.

The logo for the Chiang Mai Bike Week was very cool – a big elephant’s head, and Karen and I were keen to track down the souvenir stall so we could get a t-shirt each. I couldn’t find a t-shirt that fitted me, but when we got home I was happily surprised to find a Bike Week sticker in Karen’s carry bag – so that’s now on show on our top box 🙂

Karen quite liked the funky old trucks on display as well – restored and customised, these trucks looked really cool with their big cabs and low-loader tray backs. A big black Dodge coupe with a massive supercharger sticking out of the bonnet was also good to see, but beyond these cars we didn’t stroll down the rest of the Classic Car Show section of the display as our time was a bit limited and we wanted to see all the bike stuff.

We spent a couple of minutes watching an artist hand-painting a design on a helmet for a customer, and Karen snapped a few photos of the girls dancing in front of the bikes as the blatant sexualisation of the bike displays came as a bit of a surprise to her – we couldn’t imagine BMW in Perth for example would be so overt, but we are in Thailand and different standards apply here I guess. We passed one really tall old guy – an expat – with dreadlocks that reached down almost all the way to the ground. In another part of the show a barbers shop had been set up and people were queuing up for hair cuts and beard trims.

Most of the displays had loud music and zany light shows to accompany their dancing girls, and a band was also performing for people sitting down at long tables adjacent to the food area. The ninety minutes we’d asked our tuk-tuk driver to wait passed by quickly and it didn’t seem that long before we had to join Aad and Mike back at the entrance to the show, ready for the ride back to Chiang Mai. I could quite easily have settled in for the evening and enjoyed the music and bikes, but we also wanted to go to the open-air food markets in downtown Chiang Mai (they are closed on Sunday evenings) so our tuk-tuk dropped us there and we enjoyed a steak and mashed potato (Karen) and curry from Yummy Curry (Aad, Mike and myself). Crepes for desert and a quick tuk-tuk ride home had us back at Panda House about 10:00pm. I had hoped to watch ‘The Boat That Rocks’ on the Mac but Mike couldn’t find it on his laptop, and Karen and I were both tired so we were in bed soon and trying to sleep whilst the bimbo backpackers that have invaded Panda House the past few days killed their ukulele’s.

Vince enjoyed his Thai cooking class so much at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre, that he wanted to go again…..this time having me try cooking and he would be my helper! So at 9.30am, after breakfast, we were collected and taken to the cooking school. Some of the staff (Art, JJ and Kaew) recognised us from last time and thanked us for coming back again.

It was a full house today with lots of people doing the full course. Over the course of the day we met some really interesting travellers….a couple from Denmark, Nick (Pakastani Chef) and Liv (his Danish girlfriend) who are set on ending up in Sydney on a residency visa…… a fun group from England…Tom who is getting married next year and works raising funds for a charity, Ben and Tanya (archeologist) who have just moved to Fife in Scotland……. a group from gorgeous people from Germany….Leslie and Dennis and their friend Julie, all Architects, who have quit their jobs to travel for 6 months in South East Asia….. a couple of Aussies from Melbourne, Georgette and Ari, who at psychology students and David – an Aussie from Newcastle, who is here for a week whilst his wife does a hypnotherapy course…… the USA were also represented with Jeremy, Tatyana and Ben, all in IT and Mo from France in the Champagne region, who works for a US Insurance firm in Geneva. There were some other people there also but we didn’t get a chance to know them. I estimate at least 20 – 25 people….all three work stations were operating.

We decided to make different dishes from the last time so I made Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha Gai), Massaman Curry Paste (Namprik Gaeng Masaman), Massaman Curry with Chicken (Masaman Gai), Fried Cashew Nut with Chicken (Gai Pud Met Mar Mooung), Chicken Satay (Kai Satay) and Fried Banana with Thick Coconut Toffee (Glooay Tord) and Ice Cream. I have to say that my soup, whilst tasty, paled into insignificance compared with Vince’s Tom Yum Goong from last time. My Massaman Curry (Masaman Gai) was a hit….on par with his Kieow Wan from last time and we were divided on the Fried Cashew Nut and Chicken (Gai Pud Met Mar Mooung)…..Vince really liked it, I was not so fussed. The appetiser of Chicken Satay (Kai Satay) was delicious and the Fried Banana (Glooay Tord) and Ice-cream was really good! We were stuffed by the end….so much so I didn’t have any dinner, although Vince still manage some dinner at Panda House with the boys.

I was awarded my certificate for the day and it was another wonderful experience in Chiang Mai. We joked that now we can open a Thai restaurant – with only 6 dishes on the menu! LOL

Tues 8th Dec…..I’m glad to say that we collected our gear last night and my jacket was a success thanks to Lucky ( the tailor) who would not even give us an actual price for our mending and alterations….so Vince decided 3000THB (A$120 approx) would be fair ….given he didn’t charge us last time for his labour. He seemed quite pleased. So I now have a zipper in my right arm of my Dryrider so I can fit my cast through!

Breakfast was with the boys….then I retired upstairs to work on my gallery problem whilst Vince and Aad (Art) went to execute a cunning plan …… buy dirt bike pegs with metal teeth….then take them to a workshop to be machined to fit the BMW pillion footpeg bracket…..they were successful in their mission! They look pretty savage compared to the rubber ones I’ve had previously that keep coming off, leaving smooth metal underneath…..but at least I won’t be sliding around when we are going up or down hill…..and that’s got to be good…..especially with only one working arm now to hold on if needed…..every bit helps! The boys were most pleased with themselves and it was very kind of Aad (Art) to help us out with his mechanical expertise and problem solving! BMW don’t make them, Touratech only make them up to the 2013 model and our ANIMAL was born in 2014……so necessity is the mother of invention…..patent pending Aad (Art) Schram!

Lunch was at Panda House (I am so over it …same old same old after almost a fortnight ……but the boys seem to like it…its cheap!) then Vince was captive to the MacBook Pro working on making a Pakistan Video. I checked out cast decorations on the Internet as Mike has inspired me to consider it for my new cast tomorrow.

In the late afternoon we went for a trip to the local 711  for ice-cream! Then we went for a walk back to some bike shops……ho hum …..that’s what happens when 3 biker boys get together! We stopped off at déjà vu Tatoo to ask if they draw on casts…I wanted a Thai Elephant and a Tiger……they don’t !

We all headed to the Mexican place, Miguel’s, for dinner…..I was a bit wiser than last time and said to hold the jalapeños and asked for the spicey salsa on the side for my Nachos……much better not having to poke my tongue out like a dog to cool it down! Vince had his usual 3 Amigos!

I had quite a lot of pain today…..I stopped my analgesics yesterday and I was fine but today was not a good day…….by night time I agreed with Vince, my resident legal “drug” dealer, that  I should take something so I could sleep.  We watched the remaining half of the Blues Brothers on the laptop before calling it a night.

Wed 9th Dec….Vince insisted, after the testosterone filled day yesterday, that it was a “girly pamper day”. We all went out for breakfast to the Walkin Cafe….it was unremarkable but noisy as it was on the corner of two busy roads. Whilst there we saw a parade with lots of military uniforms and bands. Most places don’t open in Chiang Mai until 10.00am, so after breaky the boys went off to do chores and Vince and I had a walk around. We sat a while outside Macdonalds until 10.00am. I finally got that pedicure and manicure (400THB) I have been chasing for the past few days and Vince went to look at some bike shops…..still chasing gloves!

Lunch was back at Panda House and we pottered doing chores around the hotel until dinner. We all went for a walk in the evening and Vince and I dropped in for a Fish Spa….(60THB for 15 min)….it was a bit weird and very ticklish for Vince…but all good fun. We couldn’t convince Aad (Art) and Mike to join us but they looked on from outside finding it most entertaining.

Dinner was at “Art’s Cafe” which we found quite apt and the food was delicious….Spaghetti Bolognese for me and Lasagne for Vince…..I know …why Italian and Mexican when you are in Thailand….but we have been here about a month now, so a change is good!

Vince and I had a relatively early night and only watched about half of James Bond – Diamonds are Forever on the laptop before turning it off to go to sleep!

Thursday 10th Dec……. To tell the truth I was a bit anxious going to Bangkok Hospital (Chiang Mai) this morning, but as it was a public holiday at least there was little traffic out at 9.00am as our Tuk Tuk sped along. The last time I was there I was in excruciating pain, the knocked me out and did unspeakable things to me, and when I woke up I was in even worse pain…..all for my own good apparently! Being an ex-nurse I am well aware of things that can go wrong, knowing I live under Murphy’s Law doesn’t help, and being a born worrier …it was all a bit much! But my wonderful husband, always positive….helped reassure me and cheer me up!

Bangkok Hospital runs like clockwork and I was X-Rayed and in to see my specialist in almost lightening speed. He was very pleased with my X-Ray’s….healing as expected. He was also very impressed with my stitches….as my skin had almost grown over them…..this made them a bit difficult to come out…but he assured me I am “like a Thai”…..they heal fast…..apparently Westerners don’t…I’m the first he has seen that has and he was very complimentary…..fantastic! I was surprised that I didn’t get the full cast I was expecting….the Surgeon just put my split cast back on saying that’s all I need….and I can now remove it only to shower. In hospital previously, the Physio came and gave me a long plastic glove with a type of flange at the enterance ……making it waterproof… I had been using that but it was a bit of a mission getting my arm and cast in and out even with Vince’s help. The skin under the cast was pretty awful and peeling, so being able to have a proper shower will be a treat.

We had to collect some corrected paperwork (They listed the cause as a motorcycle accident….when it was a fall in a campground) and sort out the bill at the cashier (2389 THB around A$100) fully covered by World Nomads… have to love them! I sure do!!!!!!

I am cleared to travel now but we need to go to Bangkok Hospital (Udon Thani) for follow up on 7th Jan 2016. Which means we will need to go from Vientiane (Laos) about 100km, cross the border into Thailand again and then go back to Laos…..thank goodness for Visa on Arrival at the borders! My surgeon here will transfer all my records etc and make the arrangements, all going well that should be that! If things are no yet ok at that point it will be a further two weeks in a cast…but we’ll cross that bridge if we need to. For now it’s all systems go!

We arranged to meet the boys for burgers at Central Festival….where we also went to Svensons for Icecream……I’m going to end up the size of blimp at this rate! The boys shopped for a GoPro camera housing and in our search I was seducd by a batman minion! Minions are an inside joke between the 4 of us (instigated by young Mike) on a daily basis, and I have a thing for Batman…..well if I’m honest it’s Batman and Woolverine from X men! Vince encouraged me to find out how much….590THB… we said yes…..but when they came back with the box it showed 790THB….I told them not to worry I’d leave it….suddenly it was 590THB again….. just for me! Vince is now busy trying to work out how to mount it to the ANIMAL…..Marmalade (our Ox mascot) is thrilled to have a little brother (hehe).

Dinner was back at the Mexican restaurant,  Miguel’s, the boys love so much….with the second half of James Bond  watched before bed!

We are pretty much stuck in Chiang Mai until at least the 12th Dec…my Orthopaedic Surgeons appointment is the 10th and we want to wait a day (11th) to be sure my new fibreglass cast fits okay and is comfortable as I will be wearing it for 6-8 weeks! So that leaves the target date of the 12th for our movement onwards.

Chiang Mai is a great place to be stuck, if you have to be stuck anywhere!  Here’s a bit of a run down on how we have filled in our time so far:

Sat 5th Dec Father’s Day in Chiang Mai so a lot of places were closed but we still managed to go to a bike shop as Aad (Art) and Mike wanted spotlights (they so like the ones on the ANIMAL) and Vince wanted replacement pillion footpegs and summer gloves. I was taken along for  excercise and “decoration” – oh and I have a credit card and can remember the pin, unlike my darling husband. The boys were successful in their quest…unfortunately not so for Vince…..but he will keep looking….he’s no quitter!

We walked past the American Consulate and admired the paintings on the walls before stopping in at a local coffee place where we really started throwing around the dream idea of merging into a joint tour company ( Nomadica ). Dinner was at the open air market where we had first discussed our fledgling ideas to join together a few nights ago (3rd Dec)….and tonight we continued but we changed our thoughts on the name of our multinational company (European HQ and Australian HQ) …..”Ready 4 Adventures”……..we were born ready! Domain name registered….Logo and T-Shirts to come! LOL

Sun 6th Dec After breakfast Vince had a lesson from Mike on iMovie and backed up his video… takes time as we have so much. I worked on the website galleries….a recent software update has detached many galleries and I am having to weave my way through the 232 gallery quagmire!

Vince and I caught a tuk tuk to get some lunch (Burgerking) and treated ourselves to a Thai Massage (250 THB) each…mine with hot stones (600 THB)….it was quite rough at times with the girl up on the bed with me pushing and pulling, using her bony fingers and elbows…cracking the synovial fluid in all my joints …..the warmth of the oil and stones was the only solace for me. I made sure she didn’t touch my injured arm! When I saw Vince he was drinking green tea and looked shattered. Although he had a seated massage it was done by a woman with a wrestlers build and he said he felt broken! Guess they do things differently here!

Dinner was at a nearby Mexican place were the boys enjoyed the “spice and heat” and the entertainment I provided in hanging out my tongue to try to cool it down and wiping my running nose from the chilli! Vince had a “Beer Lao” and as I was wearing my Ride Lao T-Shirt insisted that a photo be taken of my chest and his beer! It’s a boy thing apparently!

Mon 7th Dec – We woke up late ( a bit before 8.00) still recovering from our Thai massages from yesterday….Vince says he feels like he has been hit by a truck. We broke with what has become tradition and had breakfast elsewhere instead of Panda House. Vince and I wanted to go to Rider’s Corner but the boys wanted to have a Thai breakfast …so we went our separate ways  for a change. Vince and I had a leisurely English Breakfast and read some of the riding magazines for inspiration – we both dream of travelling forever!

Back at our hotel the boys were out on their bikes (Fitting their lights at Piston Stop) and Vince worked on his video editing….. so I worked on updating our website and photos.

At some point today I hope to get a pedicure, but I don’t like my chances….. and we need to go a pick up our riding gear from the Tailor his evening as it should be altered….great stuff!