THAILAND 2010


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If you have been following my blog, this part will be familiar to you. Other than some minor editing and a few pics, these are the same as my posts. They will seem a little out of order at times, that is because I would write little bits when I could get to a computer, and not always in the same order as events happened.


Thailand


THAILAND days 1-3 - Published on November 23, 2010

I arrived at Chiang Mai, Thailand on Sunday 11/21 more or less on time in the early morning. Over 40 hours of travel. Slept in the airport in Bangkok prior to departure from there. It’s pretty warm here, but not unbearable.

Made it for a festival. Lots of fireworks and glowing balloons, to be shown later.


A lot of hot air balloons ready to go.



About ready for release.



Plenty of lights of all kinds.

Sunday and Monday I wandered around trying to find the right bike. The right bike for me for the trip planned would be something a little bigger than the common mopeds and scooters that you see everywhere here. A 250 CC dirt or road bike would have been just right. But then, if anything is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. As I will explain later when I have tons of time to type, I chose a Kawasaki 600 CC EN-6R or something like that. It is made here in Thailand. It is not quite a full on sport bike, but plenty close, with ABS and a luggage rack. Suits me just fine.


A big bike in this country.

I spent most of Monday looking at lots and wats of wats… er, lots and lots of lots…… no uh, a crap-load of Wats, which are religious temples. Also wandered all over the local historic area, met a couple of American Thai style boxers who were also bikers, got slightly drunk and just plain wore myself out.


One of many Wats.

Today (Tuesday) I picked up the bike from Mr Mechanic (who is a woman….Same Same), rode some awesome roads, met some elephants and saw two dead guys. #1 dead guy was a local on a small motorcycle that had a bad meeting with a truck, # 2 dead guy was a tourist that decided to drown at a water fall near here.


The rider unfortunately did not make it.

Bad Ju Ju. Maybe I will go out and get a Thai Foot massage to get rid of the bad demons. Oh, wait, that would never work, I am ticklish as hell.

Tomorrow I will head out on what is called the Nan Loop, which will bring me out towards the Laos border and the Golden Triangle, which used to be Opium central (lotsa $, hence the Golden but is currently more of a tourist $ gold mine). That trip is normally a 5 day trip, but I travel faster than the average tourist, but I also plan on taking side trips. There is a two day loop from Chiang Mai that I may incorporate into the trip. My current plan is to be in Phuket (Pronounced Puget, as in GET some POO for fertilizing the garden, you have a dirty mind) by around the 5th of Dec and go out on a dive boat for 4 days.

Anyone want more info of this area for motorcycling, they can go to GT-Rider.com



Thailand day 4and 5?

Whatever day number it is. Anyway, yesterday I went from Chiang Mai along some amazing motorcycle roads to Nan in the eastern part of northern Thailand. More or less due east of Chang Mai. I definitely chose the right bike for the job, what a hoot.

Today (Thursday) I rode north and did a loop on even better roads. Stopped a few places and all. Saw a cobra crossing the road. Decided not to stop and chat. (OK, it was a harmless rat snake, but everything looks like a Cobra at these speeds). Stopped in Pua. Tomorrow I head up Chiangkhong, followed by Mai Sai the next day. At least that is the plan of the moment.


Details - Published on November 26, 2010

I am currently in Chiang Khong near the border with Laos, right on the river.

Spent 500 Bhat for a hotel, about $16. This is twice what I have been paying, and I know that I am paying too much because at the end of the day I just don’t have the energy to quibble over a couple of dollars. It is a very nice room though, with A/C and should be very quiet.

DEAD GUYS

I mentioned I saw a couple of dead men the other day. The first one was about 15 miles into my ride. If I read the arm waiving or of the truck driver correctly, the bike passed someone just as the truck was moving away from some side of the road workers. The bike hit the truck FAST in the right corner. (Remember, they drive on the left here). The bike went under the truck’s wheels, the biker smashed into the truck and hit the road hard. He was wearing a helmet which is unusual around here, but it was one of the really cheap ones that are often seen. It split into many pieces. The helmet helped keep the head intact, but that was about it. He was resting peacefully when I went by, but there was no doubt that he was gone already. You can see the pic of his bike in my slideshow.

The second dead guy was on the same trip, a couple of hours later. I was walking to see some falls. They were really not worth the walk unless you planned to swim, as many people were. I saw the EMT’s running down the path, and later saw them carrying the guy away. He was a young white man, maybe late 20's, but he was obviously dead as well. I spoke with a couple that had talked to witnesses. We could not determine what caused him to drown, but none of the locals knew what to do, no one had CPR training. His girlfriend was there with him on the way out, but I don’t know if she was there when he died. Another tourist had come upon the scene and went in and pulled him out. Like I said, no one there knew what to do.

ELEPHANTS

The elephants were happened upon by accident. I passed a small bed and breakfast that looked like it might have great coffee. It was closed, but I saw an elephant out in the field. I rode down the driveway and saw a bunch of them. I spoke with a man that was running it, or at least a part of it, I could not understand everything he said. He told me that his king wants there to be more wild elephants in Thailand. Their flag used to have an elephant on it, and they would like to bring them back. I think he said there were 1,500 wild ones now, and he thinks it should be more than double that. This place raises them. You can see one that is pregnant here:


This little lady is pregnant. Due in about a month.

She is due in about a month and is HUGE. I saw the baby move from back where I was standing. If you look closely, you can see what is probably the biggest natural breasts in Thailand. 8^)

If you want to ride an elephant to some falls that are near by, you have to clean the animal so that you don’t aggravate their skin. If there is anything between the blanket you are riding on and the animal, it causes problems. They do not put any seats on them, only a blanket.


If you want to ride, you gotta work.

THEIR KING

While at the elephant farm, the guy told me that His King was so smart. They always refer to him that way as in “My King is so smart” and never refer to him as… Him. Well, his king was so smart because he figured out that if you put Poo from the animals (including elephants) on the fields it would help the plants grow. Poo was the guys word, I don’t know what his king called it. I think Poo was the only nice word to describe it that he knew. Crap would not have worked as Krhap or something like it is a word that is used at the end of many sentences. If their king says let there be elephants, the people make elephants. Their king says Poo, there is poo. There is something to be said for a beloved monarchy who has good ideas. Sure makes it easy to get the populace to do the right thing.

LIGHTS

The colored lights that you saw is part of a week long celebration. The ones in the sky are small hot air balloons that you buy from a vendor, light the wax and cardboard fire puck, and release when it gets hot enough. If you are adventurous, you can attach fireworks. These things are released all over the country. They go up (usually), then cool and float to earth. I don’t know why the country doesn’t just burn up. I saw some burning in trees (one pic at least). My pics were done at the moat. If I walked down to the river I would have seen thousands. I saw some pics from another traveler. He said, and his pics confirmed, that they let them go in waves. The first wave especially they try to let go at once. The whole sky is lit up with a blanket of these. As it was, the pics don’t do them justice. There were times when the entire sky was littered with these things, both burning and ones that were falling from the sky.


Balloons littering the night sky. Littering being a good word, as they do find their way back to earth eventually.

They also do a similar thing with candles in the river. I have both read and been told contradictory reasons for why they do this. Good luck, to honor the dead, to honor the river and the sky…… Whatever the reason, it sure was fun to watch. The people sure do enjoy it.

ROADS

These are some of the best motorcycle roads I have ever been on. There was one section today that I was told had 1,100 curves in it. I believe it. It is like just one big curvy road. These roads in the mountains are VERY narrow though. Fortunately there is very little traffic, and most of that is mopeds and motor scooters. The trucks that are occasionally on the road are small as well. Most of the time my bike is by FAR the fastest thing on the road. Helps with passing when needed, but speeds are kept down for safety. There are occasional surprises, such as sand and snakes. Speaking of snakes, I don’t know if the snake I saw was a cobra or not. It was long and dark brown, and resembled a cobra, or a thousand other snakes. It took up one whole lane and part of another. Not very big in diameter though. I would have gotten a picture, but it was a blind corner and no safe place to pull off or even to stand.

I would have to say that these are some of the best drivers I have ever seen for such a rule-less style of driving. Well, OK, that rule-less, just fewer rules than I am used to.

Rule #1 – Might makes Right – The biggest vehicle has the right of way. ALWAYS.

Rule # 2 – If it fits, you can put it there - Sure makes getting around in the city during rush hour easy on a bike. In many places bikes are not even expected to stop at lights. We get to use the bike lane. The one cop I have seen on this trip so far yelled at me (well, as close as a Thai can get to yelling) for stopping at a red light. I guess I was not supposed to. No one else was.

Rule #3 – Vehicles drive on the left. Most of the time – And when they don’t, see rule #1

Rule #4 – Vehicles pass in blind corners. It’s a matter of pride. – If this seems dangerous, re-read Rule # 1.

Rule #5 – No one really WANTS to damage their vehicle. – Which means that even if you do something really stupid, people will almost always avoid you. But, for when they don’t, see rule #1.

Rule # 6 – Bikes filter to the Front of the Que, it’s just the natural order of things. - That’s front of the line for you Americans.

All in all, I really like the way they drive. They (and I) do things that in the US would guarantee a crash and lawsuit. Since everyone drives this way, no one is surprised. If you decide to drive the wrong way on a one way street because you missed your stop, No Problem. People make way. You need to pull into traffic? Just go. As long as you stay to the left, they will avoid you. (just remember #1) Riding here is NOT for the Feint of Heart.

There are NO cops. I did find a military guy today. I came to a fork in the road. I should have just taken it. Instead, while I was looking at my map, a guy comes up to me (it was an inactive checkpoint) and asks if he can help. No English of course. Fewer people speak it out here in the more isolated regions. I show him the map, it has route numbers on it, and town names, just not the ones on the signs. This is a fork remember. I pointed to the route number I wanted. He pointed in three directions, and waved his arm in circles….. Then went into a detailed dissertation of his recommended route. It was like asking a Texan for directions. Even though he doesn’t know the place you are looking for, and even though you don’t understand a word of the Texan drawl, you get detailed directions. Anyway, I went in the direction he last pointed. It was the wrong way. I had remembered that I was finally back on my more detailed map, which had more town names on it so I was able to figure it out for myself.


A relatively straight section of the road.


Thailand day… uh same same - Published on November 29, 2010

OK, I don’t know what day it is. I think it is Monday. I am in Mae Hon Song in the western part of Northern part of Thailand. Great roads, great scenery, hard to make good time. This bike is great, but needs a MUCH firmer seat. Kawasaki could learn something from the bed manufacturers. I have slept on concrete that had more cushioning.

This is some awesome riding. Did I mention that already?

Here’s some bits I put together over the previous days when I could get a few minutes on a computer…… Damn. I just killed a mosquito. I am sure it was loaded with Malaria or Dengue fever or Japanese encephalitis. Something. Oh, wait, it is night time. I think it is the malaria skeeter that I have to worry about at this hour.

MEDICAL

I got booster shots for Typhoid and rabies. Rabies just because, well, I got the original series of shots way back when due to a planned excursion that never happened and can’t see any reason not to keep it updated. Typhoid because it is highly recommended by my travel doctor.

My doc gave me Cipro, a heavy duty anti-biotic. Three LARGE pills amounts to three doses. Each dose will cure one case of amoebic dysentery. I have never needed anything like this before, and doubt I ever will, but it is good insurance.

Malaria. Taking malaria prophylactics is a huge controversy in the traveling world. There are a number of choices of drugs, some with severe side effects and some without. The travel doctors will recommend one or another depending on where one will be traveling, as some are no longer effective in some areas. Some of these meds can be VERY expensive. On a long trip, these can become cost prohibitive. In most cases, simple precautions to avoid mosquito bites is enough. There are enough other diseases that can be acquired from mosquitoes and ticks that it is always a good idea to avoid getting bitten. Of course, if it bites, it will find me, even if no one else gets so much as a bug buzzing around their head. Most of the diseases cannot be prevented with meds, and many are not even curable. You get them, and hope they go away without killing you. So, did I take Malaria meds with me? My doc said that with where I was thinking about going and what I might be doing, that I really should. If I was on a longer trip, then I might not have. On a short trip such as this, for me, the small risk of getting malaria are outweighed by the severity of the sickness and the ruining of the trip. Since the pills were not going to cost me much of anything, and the drug was one of the ones with no real side effects, I chose to go with it. Minimal negatives, minor positives.

In the past I have had shots/drugs for Hepatitis A, and a few other things. For the area I was going to, Japanese encephalitis is recommended, but it takes a month or so to become effective so I did not get it. Cholera is not an issue, and most other diseases are not big in this area. Frankly, most people coming to this area do not bother getting any shots or meds. They are really not needed. But, nothing wrong with being cautious I suppose.

PROSTITUTION

Prostitution, if I read correctly, is legal here. There are many Thai Massage parlors, but that is for a fairly public massage, not porn. A deep tissue and manipulation massage, along with the ever popular foot massage. I don’t know if it is better than a chiropractor, but it is probably more pleasant. Considering the beds here, probably a good idea to get a massage every couple of days. As for the Sex, well, that is not as obvious. There are bar girls if you go to the right bars, but I don’t. There are ladyboys, if that is your taste (these are boys that dress and act as girls) that is certainly NOT my taste. From what I am told, whatever your tastes, you can satisfy them, but minors are off limits. HIV is rampant here. Might as well drive your bike into the front of a truck. I have seen a lot more obvious sex for sale in the US, where prostitution is very much illegal. I suppose if you want it here, it would be easy to find. Frankly, I think anything is easy to find if you have enough money anywhere in the world. Especially AIDS.

LANGUAGE

I have a lot of trouble with the language. I just don’t have the ear for it. It does sound nice though, it has a nice melody. As with many languages, gender is a factor in speech, but in Thai, it is the gender of the speaker that changes how things are said. A man will end a sentence differently than a woman would. I don’t know about LadyBoys.

Even though I don't get the language, communication is not very difficult. Simple things are easy to communicate. That is not the case everywhere one travels.

MOPEDS/SCOOTERS

Mopeds and scooters have got to be the perfect vehicle. People ride these things FAST down these mountain roads. They pack them full of products going to or from the market. Trailers and side cars are attached in a variety of ways. There are repair people EVERYWHERE. In tiny remote villages there will be a shop with a row of newish machines, and another shop with rims hanging up, and another doing welding on them. Animals, family, pets, baskets, almost anything will be strapped on. They are small and can be fit anywhere (what rule was that?). Everyone has one. If you see a rice field filled with workers, you will see bunch of mopeds parked there. Grampa on the back, driven by the granddaughter, who is holding the great grand kid, and the family dog is in the basket up front. Probably a kid standing on the floorboards. Maybe mom is sitting side saddle on the back, in front of Grampa. In the city, they are amazing. Watching a bazillion of them, pilots talking on cell phones, everyone going in different directions, never a crash. So far, I saw the one crash aftermath with the death, and another where a truck inexplicably rear ended a car on a mountain road (minimal damage) and that is it. Why there is not continuous carnage on the roads I cannot explain. There are a lot of deaths, especially people on scooters, I just did not see them.

Additional Driving rule: NEVER try to keep up with the 15 year old that just passed you on his scooter. These are his roads, and he is not afraid to die. If you think being passed by this kid is embarrassing, imagine the embarrassment if you crashed trying to keep up…..

RIP-OFFS

Twice I have received drastically incorrect change for purchases. Once, I got 356 Baht of gas, gave the guy 500 baht, and got 356 baht back. I did not realize it until later when I counted my change again. Usually, when I buy something I know that I should get, say 140 and change back. I knew something was wrong, but since I had enough, I forgot about it. The second instance happened today. I went to buy water. I only had a 100 B bill and thought the girl had said 10 B for the water. That is rather high, as it should have been 7, but this is a border town after all. (30 baht is $1) She came back and gave me 70 B change. She thought I wanted to buy the whole package of liter bottles. Once I got through to her that I only wanted one, she gave me 30 baht back and a bottle. Now, my public education may hamper my math skills, but I think she just gave me a free bottle of water. I finally was told that a bottle is 5 B. So I gave it to her and she looked very confused. I think she thought I tipped her. Now, I suppose I could blame this on the fact this is a somewhat underdeveloped country and that their education system may not be up to par, but I have had similar things happen in the US. Actually, it happens quite often when using cash in the US.


Back in Chiang Mai - Published on December 3, 2010

Rode south to Mai Sot, some great views, some great roads, some roads very rough. Mai Sot was just another crappy little city. All cities suck. I have never found one that I liked. A few have small areas that are nice, but as a whole I don’t like them.

I ran into a couple of Harley riders from Sweden. Broken down. Helped them get the bike in the chase vehicle. They run tours, where they transport people and their Harleys to wherever, and run a tour. These are seriously long tours in interesting places like Thailand etc. The breakdown was a result of a modification, as usual. The bikes were older (Shovel Heads) although there really was nothing Harley about the S&S engines and other mods. The breakdown was due to a blown bearing in the steering stem. The bike was raked out by using an insert that allowed the bearings to be at a different angle. The top insert was turned, which may have caused the bearings to tighten and fail, or may have been caused by the bearing failing. Whatever. They were in good hands, having locals along in a truck to make the ride easier. The box of spare parts was bigger than my bike.


A broken down Harley in Thailand. Not something I expected to see.

From Mai Sot I went down to Um Phang, to see some waterfalls. In Mai Sot a guy at a restaurant said that you get rides to the waterfalls, or drive out there. I went there, but got there in the afternoon. The ride down was great, but a bit rough. When I got there, while trying to find the recommended hotel, I asked a few tour companies about trips to the falls. They had none going at that hour. Most of the tour companies were closed. At the hotel, I inquired about a ride out there. They said the road was closed to motorcycles. True or not, I don’t know. The only way to go there was to hire a car. The amount was the same no matter how many people went. it was something like $45 US. To see water falls? I don’t think so. But, that is why I came here. OK, I spent the money. I thought I was getting ripped off, but what the hell. It turns out that the price was pretty decent, I suppose. The ride was on a VERY rough road. It took over an hour and a half to get there. A street bike could do the ride, (If they let you) but I would not recommend it. Especially if it was wet, then I don’t think it would be possible. The falls were pretty damned nice, but not nice enough for me to make a special trip down here, and to spend that much money. Oh Well, it’s only money. But my hiring a car Solo was a good thing. We came across a Thai family that was going to the falls in a truck they hired. Their truck broke down. The truck I was in was nice, fairly new and had air conditioning and a back seat, plus two rows of seats in the back. We all fit fine. I gave up my seat to the ladies. It was a man, his wife, his two daughters, and a few other ladies that I never did figure out who they were. They were very sad for me traveling alone. I think one of the women was discussing whether I would make a good husband. I don't think I passed was up to their standards. They helped me out at the falls, showing me paths that I did not know were there so I could look at the falls. All in all, I would not do the entire trip to this town just to do the falls, the roads were too rough. There are lots of other treks one can go on here, and if one was to plan a multi-day trip, including rafting, hiking and the falls, then it would be worth the hike. I am glad I forked over the money for the truck, as since I was in town, it was sort of worth it.


The falls were pretty spectacular.



This is part of the family that adopted me.



The falls were pretty nice.



A very nice truck I hired.

The next day I rode to Mai Chaem via Tak and some big dam. The roads from Mai Sat to Tak were very fast, nice and curvy with decent scenery. I did not want to do the rough riding north of Mai Sat again.


The biggest dam in Thailand?.

In Mai Chaem I tried the recommended guest house, but it was full of Harley Riders, as there is a “bike Week” in Chiang Mai this week. They have lots of bike weeks, but this one is more for big bikes and a lot of people come from all over the world. I lucked into one of the better deals I have found. About $9 for a very quiet place, very clean (most are) with a great restaurant. In the restaurant there was some Thai Guy that ordered enough food for a family of ten along with American whiskey (very expensive). He thought it was funny that I only ordered one meal. He also thought it was funny that I was reading a Booth. He said it was funny that all Farang read booths. I am pretty sure he meant Book, but we will never know.

Today, my last day with the bike, I rode some great roads (OK, most roads here are great) and some crappy city stuff. Rode up to the highest point in Thailand, and met a Loas couple from Las Vegas, then went to a temple overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. Funny to watch all the white backpackers with their girlfriends on the back of scooters, trying not to crash. The road up was awesome, with two lanes on the uphill side. That makes three lanes for the locals (and me) to use. The backpackers were looking pretty pale by the time they got to the top.

Tomorrow I go to Khao Lak, in southern Thailand to dive. Hopefully the weather improves, as I have been told that it is rainy down there.

I will, of course, give excessive details later, but basically I find northern Thailand to be mostly wonderful, easy to get around in, the people are nice to you, and the roads are mostly outstanding. Frankly, it was so easy, I found it about as easy as traveling in the US. A lot cheaper mostly, but easy.


Karen Hill Tribes - Published on December 3, 2010

In Mae Han Song I met an Australian and we discussed whether it made sense to visit the Karen Hill Tribe Village that was nearby. There is often a debate about this kind of thing. This village is a refugee village from Burma. They are very poor. The Karen tribe are also known as the Long Necks, as the women wear a series of metal rings on their necks, in increasing numbers until they get married. The cons are that supposedly the tribe is paid to keep up this tradition for tourists. This being somewhat disfiguring, not to mention they often file their teeth into points. The pros (for them) are that you pay a rather large sum of money to see them, and your guilt almost always makes you buy something at a rather high price, just to get a picture with one of the women. We discussed and discussed, and when we walked away, neither of us knew if we were going to go there. In the end, when I got to the village, the other guy was there. We did a quick visit, took our picture with a women, and left, not knowing if we should feel guilty or taken. The visit, in the end, cost more than a very nice guest house here.


Not how I would want to see my culture advertised.



The obligatory photo. Somehow seems wrong to do this.

On the way up there, I found out just how slippery wet elephant poo can be. There were numerous water crossings covered in the stuff. No embarrassing slip ups (downs?) though.


The last thing I wanted to do was use my horn. I was afraid it would scare more of the crap out of them.



Someone must have used their horn, because there was a whole heck of a lot of crap here. WET crap.



Not a type of warning sign that you see a lot of in America.


Home again - Published on December 13, 2010

I have been reprimanded for not letting all know what has happened since my last post. I will write up something pretty long soon, but for now, a VERY quick summary of the rest of my trip.

I went back to Chiang Mae, then flew to Phuket and got a ride up to Khao Lak in southern Thailand. Did a 4 day live aboard SCUBA trip to the Similan Islands. World class diving there. Then a day of local diving.

The trip home was brutal. Made do I guess, but it sure would be nice to have a Star Trek Transporter.

I left Khoa Lak Saturday at 5pm local, 5am EST, got a ride to Phuket, then a late flight to Bangkok, then an early flight to Tokyo, then New Jersey, then Boston, for a van ride to Nashua, NH, then a car ride home, arriving about 10:30 PM Sunday, that is 41.5 hours travel time door to door. Then I was up at 5:30 AM for work. THAT is why this post is short.

All in all the trip was great. Will post the rest of my pics, and a big story in a few days. Will let all know here.


Bits and Pieces - Published on December 19, 2010

OK, I lied. I said I would just write one big story to finish this up, but I am still publishing these little bits. I have not had much of a chance to write anything. Here are a few things that I wrote earlier that I did not yet publish. Not sure when I will write up more, or if any of it will be worth much.

NO HANDS VOLLEYBALL

In Thailand, they play a game that is similar to volleyball called Takraw, but played with the feet and a light rattan (Palm Tree) ball. I watched a game played by some college aged guys on a concrete court. The ball is a little smaller than a volley ball and a LOT harder. The net is at about the height of the top of their heads. Imagine spiking the ball with your feet, while your opponent uses his feet to prevent the spike. There were some amazing acrobatics, flips, twists, everything, and no one hit their head on the concrete. Impressive. I never did get a video of it, but here is one on YouTube that really describes the game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15asVgf66KI

FOOD

The food is pretty simple to order for the most part, if you are in areas that cater to tourists. There are usually menus in English, although with the mis-spellings and wrong word usage, sometimes it does not help. Twice already I have ordered a type of curry, but enough for two people. OK, only about $3 for the lot, but still. The Thai people are worried it will be too hot for us Americans. Although there are a few ingredients that You might want to spit back out if you don’t like hot, I did not find these dishes to be hot. Aromatic to the extreme in some cases, but not hot. There are so many interesting smells with their accompanied tastes that it is almost confusing. Not like the Thai food I have had in the US. In Tourist friendly joints, the food can be almost boring. In restaurants that serve locals, the food is pretty darned good. There are usually markets that can be the best places to eat. They can also be the best place to go if you want to lose weight. Wander around the market only if you have a strong stomach. Various innards and heads, and bottled this and dried that. Some of these things can have…. interesting smells. Along with these smells (not bad, generally) can be the sewers that are used to get rid of waste from the market. Then, there are sometimes raw sewers nearby. If this sounds bad, it really isn’t as bad as I make it sound. The smells don’t tend to be strong, and generally the markets are pleasant. But, if the site of a pigs head is going to make you retch, be careful which part of the market you go to. For me, there is one spice or spices that they cook with here that I can’t identify. The spice tastes fine. When it is VERY strong smelling when cooking, which only seems to be at street vendors it is less than pleasant to me, but not bad. BUT…. For some reason, when it is mixed with an assortment of market smells, it turns my stomach. ONLY if mixed with the other smells. I have a strong stomach, but the nose is funny. There is a Mexican dish served in many restaurants in the USA called Fajitas where the meat is still sizzling on the platters when it comes out of the kitchen. This also turns my stomach. I love to eat it, and it smells great once it stops sizzling. Odd.

I have not tried any of the more unusual foods at the markets mainly because the only times I have been there, I was either looking for a full meal (night markets) or really not yet hungry (day markets). There are a few things I would like to try. A few different kinds of jerky, or dried meat. Chicken wings on a stick. Sausages, of unknown origin. And a whole array of things I can’t identify. Those are always a trip if you speak none of the language. Especially with a culture where the people really believe in being nice. I suppose I could order a bar of soap thinking it was a sausage or something, and the people would smile and let me eat it if that is what they thought I wanted to do.

I ate with a couple the other day. A Canadian living in Florida with his Thai wife. We shared some dried guppies, or whatever they were. We also had some crabs that looked a bit unusual Tasty enough, but very little meat. A net calorie loss I think. I was also taught how to eat one of the foods I have tried a couple times. It turns out that the more aromatic and chewy bits in the meal I was not supposed to eat. This is tricky because sometimes the bright red things are the hot items, and sometimes it is the boring bland white looking things. Good to have a tutor.


Dried and spiced Guppies, or whatever. One of my favorite snacks. .

OTHER TRAVELERS

I have actually met few motorcycle travelers, which is weird since the Golden Triangle and Northern Thailand is a very popular place to take motorcycle vacations. I have met a few ex-pats living in Thailand, who ride, but few current travelers. I did meet a German who had some fascinating stories. His website has some great pictures http://bernhardaufreisen.blogspot.com But the words are in German (blogger will translate for you). He crashed his BMW in India, bad… And rebuilt it over three months there. I tried to get him to write for VagabondJourney.com thinking he is more qualified for writing motorcycle travel articles than I am, but he declined. I was hoping to get at least a couple posts from him.

One ex-pat I met was from Holland, if I remember right. He invited me and the biker from Austria to his home to drink beers or whatever. He had lots of interesting stories but when he got on the topic of what is wrong with America, politics and all, we found ourselves diametrically opposed. We saw the same problems, but were I saw causes (too much Government involvement) he saw solutions (more government involvement). Hard to have a conversation when differences are so vast, so we changed the subject.

There was a Bike Week in Chiang Mae which had a bunch of Harleys as well as other big bikes show up. Many were here from Malaysia, as it is difficult and expensive to buy and own a big bike in Thailand.


Doing what bikers do everywhere. Hang around, drink and talk bikes.


VIRUS - Published on December 20, 2010 in Uncategorized. 0 Comments

While staying at a guest house in Chiang Mai, I received my first virus. I had decided to use my camera’s flash memory to store a few programs that I use to edit photos and such. It seemed like a good idea. Normally when I upload photos to the web, for back up or to display publicly, I slide the switch on the memory card to lock. This hopefully protects the data on my card. The programs I had on the card required me to have the switch in the unlock position. This was why the problem was allowed to happen. The next time I used the computer to upload pics, I had errors and could not read the pics from that computer. I eventually gave up on the computer and went to an Internet cafe. The anti-virus software on that computer told me I had a suspicious program on my card and it would not allow me to run any programs from that card. I looked at the files. In every directory (folder) on that memory card that I had accessed, there was an executable file with the file name being the same as the directory name. I never ran these files, so did not cause any problems, BUT……. I could have. I have no idea what the files would have done. I suspect it would have just replicated itself, and installed itself in such a way that these files would then be installed on the next users storage. The risk here is that often times the name of the file you would normally run is the same as the directory name. This would be a very easy to miss, if it were not on a photo card where there should just be photos.

Fortunately, no harm was done to my photos, my card or anyone else’s computer. From now on, I will NOT keep anything except photos on my memory card. I will also not run any executable from any flash card on a public computer. If I want to use my own programs, I will copy them to the public computer, and run them from there. Why any public computer would allow me to load, or even run an executable is beyond me. This is a huge security risk.

Public computers are not exactly the safest way to access the Internet. It is much better to have your own computer. This still does not guarantee security, but it helps. There are few things I will do on a public computer. I will only log into sites that I would not be too upset if they got hijacked. Frankly, any time you use the Internet, you are at risk. You can reduce this risk, but never eliminate it.


LANGUAGE Revisited

I have a bit of a problem with certain things about language. I do not expect a country to learn English just so I can travel easier. It is their country, they should not be expected to learn a foreign language if they do not want to. But there are certain places where people really should know one of the more universal languages (English, French, Spanish) For example, airports. Here is an area that is likely to have people that do not speak the local language. You would think that the people in the airport shops would have a better handle on languages. For example, I go into the airport, which looks like any big airport anywhere in the world. I try to order a Starbucks coffee. Just a plain coffee with half caffeinated, half decaf. At a Starbucks, this should be easy. No way.... The language barriers were too great. No understanding of English. No ability to figure out what I was trying to say. Finally had to get the supervisor, who spoke a little English and understood what I wanted. The supervisor tried explaining it to the woman waiting on me, but finally gave up. And this was in the BOSTON airport. A similar thing happened in Thailand, but the person there figured out what I wanted even if he did not speak any English.


SCUBA DIVING THE SIMILAN ISLANDS

SCUBA diving the Similan Islands is awesome. The only practical way to dive them is on a live aboard SCUBA boat. This is where you rent a cabin on the boat, and live there for a few days to a week or more. There are speed boats that go to the islands in a day, but it is expensive, and you only get two dives a day. If you really like to dive and only have one or two days, that might be worth it for you, but I recommend a live aboard. I lucked into getting on the Dolphin Queen through Similan Dive Safaris. www.similan-diving-safaris.com/ I say lucked into for a number of reasons. I had a limited schedule to dive. This was one of only a couple I found that were scheduled to go out when I could reasonably make it. I made my reservations through a third party organization, that I knew nothing about. I knew nothing about how best to dive there. This dive boat turned out to be one of the best values in the area. Normally one has to rent a room. The room costs the same whether it is one person or two, and it is expensive. This boat had the option of renting a bed in a 4 bed dorm room. For a dive adventure, this was downright cheap. I was a little worried that I would get what I paid for (low price = low quality) but I had no reason to fear. This was one of the best operations in the area. It had a reasonable number of divers, plenty of dive masters, plenty of crew. I spent 4 nights on the boat. The weather was cloudy much of the time, and some rain, but it was a very comfortable trip. Leave the dock at 5pm or so. Head towards the islands while having dinner. The next day, dive at 7am, 11am, 3pm and 7pm. Repeat for 3 days, with the boat moving from island to island. On the 4th day of diving, there are two morning dives, then a boat ride home, getting back in the late afternoon. In between there is food. More food. Rest and relaxation. Talking and making new friends. I was worried that it would be too crowded and I would not have enough time alone. That was not the case. I could always find someone to talk with, but I could also be left alone if I wanted. There were plenty of places to hang on the boat where you were more or less alone.

The diving was great. I saw a Sea Snake (the 3rd most poisonous snake in the world), I was pretty close up before I realized what it was. It was not until after the dive that I found out they are not normally aggressive under the water. NOWWWW you tell me. Under the water there is just about every kind of sea creature you could want. Eels galore, turtles, crabs, shrimp, nudibranch, sea horses, you name it. The only things we did not see, were Whale Sharks and Manta Rays. The whale sharks have not been being sited at this time and the Manta Ray's eluded us. Better luck next time.

When Neptune puts me in charge of protecting the reefs, the first thing I am going to do is outlaw cameras. I may make an exception for professional photographers, but they will be followed by someone carrying a shock pole, and if they touch the reef, or harass wildlife, they will get a serious jolt. I have seen more damage done by any one so-called experienced diver with a camera than by all the beginners I have ever seen. Having a dive buddy with a camera is worse than having no dive buddy at all. Not only is your dive buddy not paying attention to you in case you need help, but they are not paying enough attention to what they are doing, putting themselves in danger that you may have to help them out of. The absolute worst are the people with too much money. The ones with the huge, incredibly expensive camera outfits. It is like they forgot how to swim or something.

After we got back from the live-aboard, I wandered around the town of Khao Lak. Nice enough for a tourist town, but not my style. I decided I needed another day of diving, so I took a trip to do a wreck dive. This was fairly shallow, and really just an artificial reef. The wreck part was not all that interesting, but the marine life on the wreckage was great. LOTS of eels, lion fish, scorpion fish etc. This trip was taken on one of the long tail boats. These are magnificent boats. They seem to be perfectly adapted to the open waters here, as well as the crowded ports. It was also the only time I got a bit of sunburn. Although I was under a canopy, the time in between my dives I was on the side of the boat with no shirt on Just enough to get a burn. Damn it...


The hang out area, one of a few.



The kitchen area, library, TV room, beer storage, etc.



A turtle came around to look at us, and to eat the bananas we were throwing to them.



This is a similar boat to the live aboard we were on. It is hard to get a photo of a boat you are on.



These are all the divers and the dive masters/guides.



This is a long tail boat. They come in all kinds of sizes, some look home made, some are pretty sophisticated. They all have a motor with a long tail which has a prop on the end. The whole motor/tail combination rotates left-right and up-down. I was able to go for a ride in one of these for one of my dives. It had one of the more interesting flex couplings I have every seen. Home made I think. For those of you that are not engineers or techies, a flex coupling probably holds no interest to you.


EXPENSES

For the most part, traveling in Thailand is rather inexpensive. Not everything, but if a person was smart, they could travel all over Thailand, skipping the big tourist areas in Southern Thailand, for very little money. Even some touristy things such as trekking (hiking, elephant rides, or other excursions) can be done on the cheap. Of course, if you are going to rent a motorcycle, and also spend 4 nights on a boat diving, you will still be spending a decent chunk of change.

Being that I was on a relatively short trip, spending a decent chunk was not out of the question. I recorded some of my expenses. The total cost of the trip was $4,470.65 for the 21 days I was out. This included the rather expensive last minute air fare of $1,367 flight to Bangkok, plus an additional $400 for the rest of my transportation costs. A frugal person could have taken shared transportation or buses in many cases if they were trying to save bucks, especially if they have plenty of time to plan. For example, getting from Khao Lak to Bangkok can be done very inexpensively by taking an overnight first class bus. Due to limited planning time, I ended up spending $40 on a taxi and $80 on a flight to get there, sleeping in the airport on the way.

SCUBA is expensive anywhere. Thailand is no exception. A day of diving (2 dives), with equipment, Nitrox (different air mix) and lunch will cost around $100. That is about how much I would have paid for a single day of diving in the Florida Keys last year. The live-aboard alone was $643 for 4 nights accommodation, 14 dives, rental gear, dive guides plus pretty much all the food you could ever want to eat. This is rather cheap for a live-aboard.

Food is very inexpensive. A good meal can be gotten for around $1 almost anywhere. Decent restaurant meals at small restaurants can be gotten for double that. Adding beer can raise the price rather quickly, as much as $3 for a 22 ounce beer in a restaurant, half that in a store. There is something wrong with paying as much for one (large) beer than you pay for your meal. Other alcoholic drinks are also fairly expensive relative to other costs.

As with most places, trying to live like you do at home will make the costs a lot higher. An American breakfast (eggs, meat, coffee) will run you about $3 sometimes more. The price didn't vary much, but what you got did. Anything from one egg with a small piece of ham, to a meal with 3 eggs, lots of fruit, two kinds of meat, and french fries. The coffee adds a lot to the price. In some places, a good American Breakfast without coffee is about $1, but it is almost $3 if you want real coffee. Good coffee is NOT inexpensive in Thailand (or most of the world) even though it is grown here. Now, if you want to eat like the locals, you can eat cheap. Eggs cooked on the an open charcoal grill like hard boiled eggs. Plus some Rice Soup, and maybe a dumpling with Pork. A pretty good breakfast, for less than a dollar.

Bottled Water is VERY cheap, compared to the US. Around $.20 for a quart. Less sometimes.

Tuk Tuk to airport in Chiang Mai $3.50 Cab was $5 and not as quick or as fun.

The average price for gasoline was $1.31/Liter or about $5/gallon. My average MPG = 48.1

As mentioned before the bike rental cost $417.65, since I rode 1,836 miles, that is $.23/mile not including gas. That is pretty much what I would expect to pay for my own bike, long term, so it is a pretty good deal. One could spend less than half that, if they chose a different bike.

Although I kept my trip fairly simple, conversations with others showed me that many things in Thailand are inexpensive. My take on it is that if the bulk of the cost was labor, it was cheap. If it required gasoline, or imported gear, it could be a bit more expensive.

Hotels were running around $8 for a very basic room. These could be gotten for a lot less if you were going to spend more time there. A basic room is a room, with a bed or two, and a bathroom. Maybe a couple of chairs and a table. Now, the quality of the accommodations varies wildly, but the worst I stayed in was still pretty good. If you want to spend twice that, you could get a room with air conditioning, and nicer sheets, maybe a TV (in Thai), and a view. In areas with lots of tourists, and few accommodations, you could spend twice that if you were not careful, but you would not have to. In places like Khao Lak, a beach resort area, you could spend $35 on a very basic room. A little searching and bargaining and you could probably cut that by 40%, or better, just get a better place in a better location. Or, if you really want to splurge, you can get a room in a very nice resort on the beach (with views of banana trees) for $60. Food in these areas are also more expensive, about twice the cheaper places in northern Thailand. As always, the more time you have to travel, and the more time you are willing to spend bargaining, the better you will do. Mostly, when I travel, I spend almost no time bargaining. It just is not worth it to me for the few bucks saved. I will go from hotel to hotel to find the place I like the best, but price is only a small factor. Even if I got a room for half price, I might only save $4. Now, when I travel in the USA, I ALWAYS bargain for a room. Getting just a 25% discount can be $20 or more. In the USA I have gotten $70 rooms down to $30 Them's some REAL savings.


VAGABOND JOURNEY ARTICLE
HOW TO RENT A BIKE

Please visit Wade's Site at: How To Rent a Motorcycle It's a good site to wander around in.

The typical traveler world traveler, who plans on seeing the world by motorcycle, will use his own bike. This requires shipping the bike from place to place, dealing with crossing borders, insurance, potential losses due to theft and crashing, storage. This is the only practical way to see all of the world on a motorcycle.

What if one does not insist on seeing everyplace by motorcycle? What if one only has a limited vacation time, or only wants to see the best parts of the world by motorcycle, and use public transportation for the rest? For such a traveler, there are other options to shipping a bike all around the world. The rider can rent a motorcycle, or buy a motorcycle, selling it when they leave the area. In this post, I will only talk about renting, as I have no experience in purchasing a bike (legally) in a foreign country, and each countries laws are so different I would not even attempt to generalize. I will use my recent trip to Northern Thailand in many examples.

First, let me say that if you are not an experienced motorcyclist, you have no business riding a motorcycle in a country that is not your own. Each country has it's own rhythm to driving, and it's own hazards. Learning what these are while riding an unfamiliar bike and learning how to ride is a recipe for disaster. Now, as with all warnings, you can take it or leave it. Many people set off on world tours with minimal riding experience. I have read stories of people getting on a bike for the first time just before their 'round the world trip. Ted Simon, of the book Jupiter's Travels is one such person. So you choose your own level of acceptable risk.

One thing to remember, riding a motorcycle in many parts of the world is..... challenging, invigorating, and scary as hell.

There are many places around the world where you can rent (hire) a motorcycle. In some places, it is difficult, if not impossible to get a bike with an engine larger than a 125cc. A scooter is a common rental in many countries. Which bike is right, depends on you, your size, your experience, your preferences, where you plan to go, what you plan to carry. Whether you get a Enduro (dirt bike, dual sport) or a large touring bike is a question best answered by you.

If you are planning on staying relatively local to where the bike is rented, and going out for day rides only, then a bike similar to what the bulk of the population is riding is probably a good choice. A recent trip to Northern Thailand is a good example. Here, most people were riding scooters, either the step through kind, or those that were more like motorcycles. These were generally 125cc or less. A 125cc scooter will go as fast as you need to go, although not necessarily as fast as you want to go. Being common, there are places that will repair any issues pretty much anywhere. Even in the smallest towns, that did not even have gas stations there were scooter shops with newish looking machines lined up out front. You will see larger bikes, ridden by ex-pats or the richer locals. There is nothing wrong with using a larger bike, although if you plan on mostly riding around a city, you will find a big bike somewhat impractical.

As for rentals, you may have many choices. The easiest way to rent a bike is to take an organized tour that provides a bike, hotels, guides and a chase van with all your luggage and maybe your partner, if your partner gets tired of sitting on the back. This is also the most expensive. In so called western countries, bikes are available in many sizes, but they are generally fairly expensive. Even in the USA you can rent bikes. Harley's, BMW's, Sport Touring, Sport and dirt bikes are available in many parts of the country. In less developed countries (I hate that phrase) the options may be more limited. Generally just the size limitations mentioned above, but also sometimes country of origin. In Thailand, larger bikes that are not produced in Thailand are hard to come by due to the huge import duties on such bikes. Fortunately, some bikes are manufactured in Thailand. For example, the bike I chose was a Kawasaki that is now built in Thailand. That makes it much less expensive, therefore more affordable. If you had the money, you could rent almost any bike in Northern Thailand. The bike I rented was a Kawasaki ER-6N 650cc naked sport bike. This was, for me, the ideal bike for the trip I planned. OK, I could have listed a dozen different bikes that I would have considered "Ideal", but this was the best choice of the ones that were available. The bike cost me $38/day for an 11 day rental with the so-called insurance. Note that the insurance is just an agreement between the rider and the rental company that limits how much you would have to pay if the bike was seriously damaged or stolen. It is worth it to me, you make your own choice. For half this money one could rent a fuel injected 250cc dual sport motorcycle that will go anywhere, and have plenty of power to get around. There are some countries where for under $10/day you can rent a small motorcycle. My next trip to Thailand I am likely to explore more of the back roads and unpaved road areas, therefore a dual sport would be ideal. In some areas, a small dual sport (enduro) is the largest that you would want to rent.

Renting a motorcycle is generally very easy. You show up, show your passport and drivers license and give cash. Depending on the country, you may need to leave a credit card, and may be required to have an international drivers license with a motorcycle endorsement. You may just need to leave a deposit. In Thailand, it is typical to be required to either leave a very large deposit, or your passport. As with prices, what you leave is negotiable. Before leaving any kind of deposit, find out from local riders what is considered normal.

Finding a bike to rent is easy. The motorcycle communities around the world are pretty tight knit and helpful. You can get country specific info, and often the forums are broken down by area. One of the better forums for Northern Thailand is the www.gt-rider.com site. If you insist on a specific bike, you may need to make a reservation. In some western countries, a reservation is required. The most important thing about renting a bike is not so much the bike choice but rather the bike condition, so making a reservation may not be the best way to go if you have a choice. On my Thailand trip, I did not make a reservation. My preferred choice was a specific dual sport bike. I walked from rental agency to rental agency looking at the bikes available and talking to the shops. The only bikes of the type I wanted that were available for the entire time I wanted to rent it for were in fairly bad shape. Due to the condition of these bikes I could get them for a decent price, but my time schedule was a little tight and I did not want to spend a day or two waiting to be picked up if something went wrong. There were other similar bikes in better shape, but I just did not feel as comfortable on them. The prices shown for the bike I eventually rented were way too high, but negotiations brought the price down to a level I was comfortable with. The bike also came with an ABS braking system, a luggage rack and I insisted on the one with brand new tires. It turned out to be a good deal all around. Doing a little research before arriving will make the negotiations easier as you will know what is reasonable and what is to be expected.

When you pick up your bike, look closely for any damage or other issues. If the bike is not right, don't take it until the issue is resolved. In Thailand the specific bike I was shown had worn tires. I asked for another. This one had been dropped lightly on both sides. The shift lever was slightly bent, which with my big feet meant that shifting might get uncomfortable over time. I asked for this to be fixed. Before leaving, I photographed every bit of damage that I could find on the bike, along with the license plates and other identifying information. I was sure to show the damage to the rental agency and note it on the agreement. You want to ensure you know what needs to be done in the event of a breakdown, crash or theft. Photograph the rental agreement as well. It is a good idea to go on a shakedown ride before taking a long trip. This gives you a chance to find any problems with the bike before you get too far away and will help you familiarize yourself with the bike and driving in the region.

Gather as much information as you can. Spend a lot of time on the local forums where you can find information on when and where to go, events, dangers, best roads, maps, rules, everything. You may even make a few friends and possibly find a riding buddy for your trip.

As for Northern Thailand, the end of November into December is probably the best time to go weather wise. The roads are uncrowded and a lot of fun. Maps and routes can be purchased that are specific to motorcycling traveling. Chiang Mai is the best location for renting bikes, as it is close to some of the worlds best motorcycle roads, and there are a lot of choices. The style of driving in Northern Thailand is brisk, and not for the feint of heart, but it is well worth the effort. The #1 driving rule in Thailand is might makes right, the bigger vehicle will never give the right of way to a smaller vehicle. You will stay alive if you remember this. You are small and insignificant and won't damage the other vehicles very much in a crash.


The rider of this bike hit a truck head on, with disastrous results. The rider was a local.



This was an excellent bike for the well maintained paved and very curvy roads of Northern Thailand.



The larger bike may be a great choice for longer travel, but it is hard to beat these scooters for day rides.



Not all warning signs are clear.



The rider of this BMW is on an extended 'round the world tour. This may be one of the best bikes ever made for a world motorcycle tour.



Even in a world of scooters, there are some local BIG bikes, as shown by this 1300cc Honda.



Riding a big bike, wearing safety gear may make you very popular with the kids, even if they are not quite sure what to make of you.



There may be hazards that you don't have where you normally ride.



Some warning signs really should be headed.



Some hazards don't have warning signs, such as this wet elephant poo. Probably because someone blew their horn.



Bikers doing what bikers do everywhere. Drinking and talking about bikes. Thailand is no different.


DAILY JOURNAL

Below is my journal, lots of details. I do this for me, to remind me of the trip and what I did. Interesting or not, here it is.

2010-11-08

I found out I can take a fair amount of time off from my job if I plan the days right. I plan to go to Thailand. From what I have been able to gather, it is fairly easy to do this trip without much planning, but it takes a day and a half to get there, so taking a one week trip is a BAD idea. It should take a few days to recover from the trip, so it makes no sense to go for only a short time. I plan to explore the northern part of Thailand, mostly around the Chiang Mai area, on Motorcycle. I am hoping to dive the last week of my trip, but this might end up being difficult to schedule.

2010-11-20 - Sat - Chiang Mai

Well, I got here no problems. I left my house at 2:00 AM on Friday, leaving Boston at 7:30 AM, stopping to change planes in Newark (yuck) and then to Tokyo and on to Bangkok Thailand at 11:45 PM on Saturday. I slept a few hours there, then continued on to Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand by 8:00 AM on Sunday. I finally got to my hotel at 10:00 am. 10am Sunday in Thailand is 10pm Saturday at home. So, from the time I left home to the time I got to my new temporary home it was 43 hours point to point. Brutal.

-The trip went over Alaska.

-Before I left, I weighed my luggage. My Checked Bag = 23.5#, My Carry On Bag = 13#, and what I was wearing when I got on the plane was 15# - Total weight, including what I was wearing = 51.5# Weight of bag stored on bike while riding, about 30#, since I was wearing my helmet and other riding gear.

2010-11-21 Sun - Chiang Mai

-I arrived in Chiang Mai at the Jonadda Guest house at 10am. Mostly I hung out, talked with a few people about renting bikes. By night time I was spent. I was talking to a couple of guys from Germany. They told me about the festival that was going on. They told me about how many hot air balloons really go up at one time. They recommended I go by the river to watch. I went back to my hotel and fell asleep outside. My snoring woke up and I looked in the sky. The stars were way too bright. The sky was filled with these hot air balloons. I got off my butt and went to the moat, which is not at the river, but there was plenty going on there. Quite a site, lots of locals and tourists sending up balloons.

2010-11-22 Mon - Chiang Mai

-The bikes I was looking at were running around 700 Bhat for a 250 CC enduro to 1500 Bhat for a 650 Versys. That is around $24 TO $50 per day. These prices were with insurance, with is just an agreement to reduce damage and theft liability.

-I was looking for sandals, as the ones I had were too heavy and I wanted thin, easy to transport ones. I was having trouble finding ones big enough for my size 11.5 feet. I stopped at a store that had Tiva Sandals that fit me. There was a guy who I assumed was Chinese there looking at the same thing. He was told they were $25. He bargained them down to $20 and left to get some cash. The saleswoman did not seem happy with the guy from the start. I don't know if he came back. I asked and was given the price of $8.50 and bargained down to $7. These were genuine Tiva's. I know because they said Tiva on them. Must have been real. $7 was a decent enough price for them. I put a bunch of miles on them over the 3 weeks and they did not fall apart until they got wet. Still usable, just started coming apart.

-The beds at the Guest House were rock hard. I like a hard bed, but these were ridiculous. I found out as I traveled that beds this hard were pretty standard.

-I stopped in a Yamaha shop to look at the R1 they had on display. In the US this bike goes for around $14,000. In Thailand it was $33,000. Ouch.

-Looked at Lots of Temples. LOTS of temples, also called Wats.

-An Australian guy I know gave me lots of help planning and gave me a name of a former student of his that lived in Chiang Mai. I met Art, an Engineering Student, and had a good talk. He offered to help me find a bike, but I had already found one.

-At the Kafe, a local hangout for motoryclists, I gave up half my table to a biker who was waiting for a buyer for his bike. He a friend of his had some great stories about boxing, as they both studied Thai boxing and did quite a bit of competing. Both were Americans.. They gave me good advice on the country.

2010-11-23 Tue - Chiang Mai - 84 miles

-I picked up the bike, from Mr. Mechanic (A women). I went on the Samoeng Loop, which is a great day ride from Chiang Mai and also took a little extra trip out to a cave so that I could walk around on some wet bat Guano.

-15 miles into the ride I came upon an accident where a local slammed into the front of a truck. The man did not survive. He had a crappy helmet that just came apart.

-At the elephant farm, the guy running it mentioned that he recognized my boots. This was especially surprising as only the lower part of my boot was showing and this particular model has not been made for at least 6 years, maybe more. It turns out he had been a supervisor for a Timberland Factory in Thailand.

-He gave me a tour of the place, talking to me about the farm and Thailand.

-Later on at the Mae Sa waterfall I saw the emergency crew going out to the falls. Later I saw them carrying a dead guy back out. He had drowned. He had a girlfriend with him.

-I got my first taste of Rush Hour in Thailand on a bike. What a blast. Screw the rules. Well, I would if there WERE any rules.

-I found the air quality in the city surprisingly good. I was told that during the HOT season it can be pretty bad. I was also told that many of the cities get really bad when the farmers start burning their fields. In some parts of the north this was already happening. Not bad, but when it gets bad those that can head south to the beach.

-Some parts of Chiang Mai are kind of like the Main drag of Key West with all kinds of useless junk for tourists. Not as bad though.

-At a restaurant there was a singer with a guitar singing all kinds of English songs, 60's and 70's music. I don't think the singer spoke English, but he parroted the songs pretty well, but the mispronunciations were pretty funny.

-I met a Serbian man there. He was pretty good to talk to, but when he found out I had gone to Serbia, he was shocked. He could not believe I got out of there alive. He said ALL Serbians hated Americans. He said I bombed his country. I explained to him that "I" did not bomb his country, my government did. He said Clinton was my president. I said I did not vote for either Clinton. He said he held no hatred of Americans but ALL his countryman did. I agreed with him that I was lucky and left it at that. No one wants to hear that their country is not as dangerous as they believe it to be.

2010-11-24 Wed - Nan - 198 miles

-The ride out to Nan was Awesome. Great curvy roads. Good scenery. I stopped at the Kluea Salt works, one of the oldest salt works in the world. They take water from a well and dry it out with a wood stoves.

-The place that was recommended as a "best deal" was fancy as hell and full. They wanted $25 for the cheapest room. I found another place with a room with great ventilation and good screens in a nice place for $9.

-I ate dinner at a street stall, talking with some guy who is going to school to be a nurse. Afterwards I saw some guys playing what I later found out was a traditional Thai game that is similar to Volley ball but no hands are allowed. Quite a site to see.

-In Nan I met an Austrian with a BMW GS. An old air head. He had totaled it in India, and spent 3 months fixing it in India. He is on an extended trip, 'round the world or whatever.

-I also met an ex-pat from Holland or Austria or something. He brought us back to his place where we drank the local whiskey filtered through activated carbon. It was not bad. We also had various attempts of his to replicate foods that were native to his home that he could not get here. He was living in Nan. He was interesting. A very smart man, but with VERY strong opinions about the US and their politics and businesses. Most of his opinions were the polar opposites of mine, so there was not a lot of discussion, more of a voicing of opinions.

-We stopped at a 7-11 for beers or whatever. I tried a drink called Siam which is a cheap rice beer that has between 6 and 8% alcohol. It is rather bland, compared to Saki, but it was cheap, about 1/3 the price of beer. The 7-11's are pretty good in that the prices are fixed, the quality is known and it is air conditioned. No surprises. Mostly junk food, but still.

2010-11-25 Thu - Pua - 135 miles

-At breakfast I saw what a woman was feeding her kids. I tried to ask if they were Yams. I got an answer of yes, then a few minutes later I had a Yam sitting on a plate in front of me. Her kids had plenty, and did not even finish what they were given.

-While riding I saw the Austrian on the BMW GS but was not able to get his attention.

-At one point, there was a sign saying go right to a rest area. I went right. I ended up going down a steep gravelly road. ABS does not work very well on this kind of crap. It gets the job done, but you lose some of your control.

-There was a sign to a waterfall. I thought it might be a good trip. The road went from great twisty pavement, to dirt, to steep uphill bad dirt. Eventually (miles) I came upon a path leading into the woods. It was a long walk, into the middle of nowhere. The waterfall was not very large and did not have much water.

-All the restaurants use either tiny little sheets for napkins, which are too small to do any good, or they use toilet paper, which sticks to my beard and falls apart.

-At dinner, I ordered a meal. The hotel staff did not think I would like my choice (too hot?) so they ordered for me. This was a fancier hotel than any others I had stayed at. It was a popular restaurant with the local people with money. It was only $15 for the room including breakfast.

-In one of the temples, there were these coin operated prayer generating machines. Put a coin in, it says a prayer for you.

2010-11-26 Fri - Chiang Khong - 179 miles

-I stayed at the Port Side Hotel in Chiang Khong on the Mae Khong river. Good value. Nice place. The town was very busy in the day time, but at night it was dead. A little dark, and only a few places open to have dinner and drinks.

2010-11-27 Sat - Mae Sai - 69 miles

-At the Golden Triangle, I stopped in the House Of Opium, which is a privately owned place in town. Well worth the $1.80 to get in. There is a place run by the Government outside of town called the Hall of Opium that I decided not to go in to. It was $8 and large, but from what I could find out, it was not really worth the time.

-Getting into Mae Sai, I accidentally got into a line that went directly into the market, where people were setting up. Even the scooters could not get through. It was hot and smelly.

-In Mae Sai I found a very quiet place outside of town that had a restaurant, the Mae Sai Guest House. The bungalows were nothing special, but compared to how loud and smelly the town was, it was great. It was right on the river a short wade across from Burma. I met a Canadian man (Jason) from Florida with his Thai wife Pat. Pat had walked to Burma and brought back some interesting foods including dried and spiced Guppies or some such thing. They shared their food with me, and we had a great meal and conversations.

-It actually got pretty cold at night, so there were no skeeters out. I met a young couple from Texas. Had some good conversations.

2010-11-28 Sun - Fang - 96 miles

-Got a late start due to a long talk at breakfast with the Canadian couple.

-Stopped at the Doi Tung Royal Gardens and Villa. Not bad. Then I stumbled upon a Chinese Tea Company called 101 Teas. Because of lack of communication, I ended up getting a free tea tasting, lots of teas. At the Royal Gardens there was a Honda ST1300 and a CBR 1100 Blackbird, one of the fastest production bikes made.

-Today I was stopped at a checkpoint, the first (and only) one that bothered to stop me on this trip. They did a little searching, and really checked out the bike. Very friendly. I probably could have gotten a photo with the guards and their guns, but I tend to not want to hang around too long at road blocks.

-near the tea company, is a town I think was called Doi Mae Salong. There were a lot of choices of places to stay, and it looked pretty interesting, but it was too early. I decided to go farther. That was a mistake in that the place I had to stop was not very interesting.

-I stopped in Fang, which was a pretty generic town. I got a nice enough room, and I found some street food that was rather good, but Doi Mae Salong would have been much better.

2010-11-29 Mon - Mae Hon Song - 202 miles

-The road out of Fang sucked at first. I found a roadside restaurant, which may actually have been closed. Somehow we worked out that I wanted breakfast, and about what I wanted. Good breakfast, very cheap. After this, the road got very good nice scenery and curves.

-Met a Swiss guy and his Thai wife at a coffee shop. This area actually has coffee shops with real coffee. Coffee is grown in this area. I was given some good advice.

-On the road I met an Australian couple on a newish Goldwing. They are from Malaysia. They also gave me some good advice.

-This was a nice town, with a tourist area, good western shops, and plenty of places where the locals go. You could take your pick. The recommended place was full, and other recommended places I tried were not really what I wanted (Mosquitoes), so I found a place in town.

-I was talking with a British motorcyclist, had some good conversations. We discussed whether going to see the Karen Hill Tribe was a good idea, as they were refugees, and there was rumors that the Government paid them to keep up some of the Long Neck traditions, that are considered by some to be disfiguring to the women. We never did come to a conclusion.

2010-11-30 Tue - Mae Sat - 268 miles

-I stopped at the Karen Hill Tribe. The British biker had arrived two minutes before me. The road out was a trip, with fantastic curves and scenery, water crossings, and wet elephant poo. It was a weird experience (and rather expensive) and I am still not sure if it was a good thing to do or not.

-Much of the road into Mae Sat was rough. In some places very rough. It may have been more sensible to spend more time in the northern areas than to come this way.

-I met a couple of Swedish bikers on Harleys. One was broken down due to some mods the guys did to it.

-Mae Sat was a busy town, and hard finding a cheap decent place to stay, in an area that I would want to stay in. I eventually found a Hotel, which was more than adequate and safe for the bike.

-At dinner I met a couple of young Canadian girls that were there teaching English and a German guy, and a few locals. Good talking to all of them.

2010-12-01 Wed - Um Phang - 117 miles

-At breakfast, the Australian who ran the restaurant helped me plan. I was wondering if it was worth going to Um Phang for the Waterfall. He helped me find a hotel there, and told me it was well worth the trip to the falls.

-Much of the trip down was great. Some of it was very rough. When I got there, I found out bikes were not allowed up there. No tours were going out and the only way to get there was to hire a vehicle. If I had realized all this, I would not have come down this way, but in the end it was worth it. We picked up a family when the truck they hired had broken. Had some good conversation. They showed me a few things about the falls, trails etc, and made it a more fun trip. The company that they hired the truck from sent another out for them, so the trip back was not as interesting.

-The place I stayed at was nice enough, and not too expensive. I was the ONLY guest. They were going to be full (over 100 guests) the next night.

-For dinner I ate at a roadside restaurant. Cheap. Met a Thai guy working for an NGO (non Governmental Agency) at a UN refugee camp teaching them sports. Good conversation. I tried stopping at a bar on the way back, but not only was I the only patron, but even the bar girls were not there at first. Once I realized what kind of bar it was, I left.

2010-12-02 Thu - Mae Chaem - 364 miles

-Some parts of the ride were awesome. Higher speeds, curves and good scenery. Stopped at a Dam, supposedly the biggest in Thailand. Pretty good.

-tried the recommended hotel, but it was full of bikers. Harley riders. There is a bike week in Chiang Mai. I ended up staying at Pongsara Resort. Had an interesting time at the restaurant talking with locals.

-Everyone is very sad for me traveling alone, except a few people that seem to think I am weird.

-There was a wedding next door with bad karaoke. And a place across the street. The restaurant I was at had bad Karaoke on the jukebox. Taped, crappy karaoke.

2010-12-03 Fri - Chiang Mae - 124 miles

-Went to the highest location in Thailand. Also went to the Wat on the Hill overlooking Chiang Mae. Some great roads, some great scenery.

-On the way back to the hotel I got a bit turned around. I found the moat area, which is where the hotel was, but I had trouble getting into the area where I wanted to be. I was dead reckoning, so I didn't expect to find the hotel immediately. Then I saw a bike that looked familiar. It was the owner of the hotel I was looking for. He guided me into the place, which I was close to, but it could have taken me forever to find.

-There were some loud Harleys at a bar near where I was staying. It turned out to be the ones that were staying at the place last night that I could not get into. Bikers doing what bikers do, drinking and talking bikes. Had a good time.

2010-12-04 Sat - Khoa Lak

-Flew down to Phuket then taxi to Khoa Lak. Stayed at the Khao Lak Banana Bungalo's. Overpriced, but that is common when you call for reservations.

-Drank beer on a park bench on the main drag, then back at the guest house with some French and an American.

2010-12-05 through 09 Sun through Thu - Live Aboard

-The diving was great, the boat was great the people were great. All in all great diving.

2010-12-09 Thu - Khao Lak

-Stayed at a resort on the beach this time. There were some bikers there. 1% ers, with one guy with a tattoo of 81 his shoulder. They were German. They were probably in their 50's maybe even 60's. Their Thai Girlfriends looked 16 but were probably upper 20's. Fun to watch the group.

2010-12-10 Fri - Khao Lak

-Went on a dive to a wreck near by. Not a big wreck or anything, but plenty of fish.

-Afterward, I sat in the pool at the bar. The weather was all over the place, rainy, cloudy, sunny, hot, cool, and it was changing rapidly.

2010-12-11 Sat - Bangkok Airport

-Compared to the rest of Thailand, this place is very expensive. Almost as expensive as home. Not as expensive as a tourist area back home, but expensive for here.

-There is a place recommended by the dive shop called the Happy Beach Bungalow. It looked good, and is close to the beach, but not on the beach. Probably a good deal.

-I stayed at the Nangthong Bay Resort, which was around $60. Very nice place, and if you want High end this seemed like a good choice. Since the Tsunami, there are a lot of new resorts.

-I spent the day at the hotel, had a few beers and sat in the pool until the rain got too heavy. Took a taxi to the Phuket airport, then a plane to Bangkok, where I slept for a while. Then the long trip home.