Day 371 to 379 – Kuala Lumpur to Mae Sot, Thailand

Packing up the gear and leaving Kuala Lumpur was a great feeling. Finally free. Back to exploring instead of sitting around worrying. The fueling issue might crop up again and force me back, but at least I’d be able to fix the damn thing then.

I made it up to Penang without any issue though, except the clutch cable suddenly becoming very loose. I thought it had snapped at first but it worked fine once I adjusted it. I took it as a sign that it was about to snap properly and ran around Penang the next morning trying to find one. No luck though. There was a Kawasaki place on the way out of town though and I stopped and found a cable for another bike that looked like it might fit. Maybe a stupid purchase but I didn’t fancy being stranded with a snapped clutch cable with no options.

Spoiler alert! 4 Months later and the clutch is still fine, and I’m still carrying an emergency cable that’s actually for a Kawasaki KLR. Stupid worries.

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Penang is a weird combination as an old colonial town

Thailand was a legitimate worry though. Two years ago Thailand changed from completely open and easy to enter for overlanders like me, into extremely expensive and paperwork heavy. It’s still not entirely clear why, but overlanders have either had to pay up or avoid Thailand, which is not an easy task if you check the map. It’s the reason I shipped from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur, avoiding the issue of Thailand and seeing South India in one go.

I really wanted to visit Thailand, it had been one of the main markers on the trip that I was excited for. There were reports from other travellers that it was possible to cross the border from Malaysia in the south without any of the paperwork, the new rules still weren’t being enforced. It was worth a shot, if I got turned back I’d still be in Malaysia and able to just carry on with the trip. Liam and Owen had been through a few days before, getting denied at one border and succeeding at another so I headed for that one.

It was still a close call. When I arrived a guard immediately took a liking to me and the bike and adopted me. She guided me around, taking me to a few people to figure out what paperwork is needed. Then I got put in a room to wait while they all decided what to do with me. Not as bad as it sounds, free water and biscuits and chatting to some of the guards.

Eventually they came and told me “No, not possible”. Bugger. OK, engage all charm and innocence. I proclaimed my ignorance and that I just wanted to visit lovely Thailand and was told I could enter here, how was a poor traveller like me supposed to know about all these complicated rules. They didn’t actually know about the new rules, they just knew they weren’t supposed to use the old ones, so there was a lot of confusion their side too. That worked in my favor. One of the customs guys said he went backpacking in Europe sometimes and knew the struggles of borders. He wrote me out an entry slip under the old rules and the other guards looked the other way. Bingo.

The passport officer was the complete opposite. I left the “Address in Thailand” section of the form blank and he handed it back to me. Explaining that I didn’t know where I would be staying that night he barked “Put address or go back to Malaysia!”. Well, if you put it like that. I had to resist every urge to write “123 street street” guessing he wouldn’t have a sense of humor. Just swallow it and do as you’re told, just get in.

That also nicely sums up the kind of people I met in Thailand, completely open, helpful and happy people, and then the people who saw you as a dumb tourist, in their way, usually to be gouged for as much cash as possible.

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Hello Thailand!

That was it, I was in Thailand! The first town, Hat Yai, left a lot to be desired though. A popular spot for Malaysians to hop across the border and find themselves a Thai girl for the night. Some streets were packed with scantily clad girls outside empty bars all excited to see some tall white money like me walking along. Not a great first impression Thailand.

From there a two day run up to Phuket passing through Krabi. Through a lot of rain, getting soaked and then drying immediately after in the heat. The steam clouds rising from the jungle in some spots were absolutely stunning. Coming over a little rise and looking out over miles wilderness steaming in the heat, raising clouds to rain on me again later. Some of the thunderstorms too were scary. My first sighting was at night, the sky off in one direction was flashing constantly, I had no idea what it was, too fast and irregular for a casino or event, too silent for a thunderstorm, but nope. It was so far off it was silent but so powerful it lit the sky every second. I decided I didn’t want to be caught in one of those. It looked like an action movie climax setting, improbably large and fast lightning.

Phuket was somewhere I had been planning to come since deciding to do the trip 2 years ago. It was a favourite spot of my Nana and Grandad’s for years, one resort saw them back at least 5 times. When he died some of the family scattered his ashes on his favourite spot at the beach. It was so surreal being there, I’d been hearing about it for years as this far off spot in a different world, now here I was sitting at his favourite spot watching the sunset.

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I couldn’t stick around long though, there’s a reason Phuket is not a popular spot for overlanders, in fact it’s somewhere to completely avoid at all costs. Full of holiday resorts and 19 year olds getting drugged up and “finding themselves” travelling in Thailand. It feels like where travelling goes to die. Don’t get me wrong, a resort holiday there would be lovely if you’ve got cash, 2 weeks in the sun with all the comforts you want, but if you want to see the world you’re almost taking a step backwards by being there. I felt dirty by the time I left, I needed some adventure to tip the scales back.

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The run up the west coast helped with that. Hours and hours of pretty roads. On and off torrential rain for a bit of a challenge and the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen. I had to stop by the side of the road multiple times to take a look, it changed every few minutes. I caught my first glimpses of Myanmar too, the main road skirted close to the river that divides the two countries and I could snap some photos; still wondering if I should have paid up and crossed it, rather than see South India.

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Hi Myanmar, maybe one day

A very long day got me up the thinnest part of Thailand, not without some challenge though. The torrential rain did not stop for 3 hours. I tried to sit it out in McDonalds to no avail. I was soaked to the bone and the riding was getting hairy. I couldn’t see a thing, the rain didn’t clear off the visor quick enough but having it open up would blind me. I was riding on instinct at times, catching glimpses of cars between droplets and predicting where they’d be for the next 20 seconds when I might get a glance again. Then a near disaster as I was filtering between some parked cars and traffic too quickly, a car door swung open, I managed to swerve not to hit the handle bars but my pannier caught it hard. I swung to within millimetres of a lorry and managed to stay upright. I looked back and the guy was staring at me, he’s not hurt, I’m not stopping. It will always be the foreigners fault, doesn’t matter what happened, there’s no benefit in me stopping if I’m fine.

When I arrived at the hostel in Kanchanaburi, soaking wet, Liam and Owen were waiting for me, I changed and showered quick, and we headed to the bar. So nice being back with the brothers, on the road this time instead of stuck in KL. They’d had a similar experience to me and felt the need for some adventure in Thailand. So far on the trip I would never purposely look for adventures, they usually find me easily enough when I’m trying to avoid them anyway. In Thailand though everything had been very easy and straightforward. Nice boring highways, easy food, no exploring to be done, not only is every side road mapped out, there’s a hotel there too. We decided to head out to some waterfalls off the beaten path a bit, after asking some around, it was a tourist sight, but much quieter and some dirt roads to get there.

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Photo shoot stop

We certainly got what we asked for, it started out boring and well worn paths. £6 for entry into a waterfall, no thanks. Another £6 for a cave? Nope. Getting a bit frustrated. We carried on further out and found another falls, free and very nice for a wander and a dip.

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We took the long way back, wanting to explore some more, and got more than we bargained for. The road turned to dust and dirt which was fun for a bit. Then we sat out some heavy rain by a little shop in the middle of nowhere. It poured for about 30 minutes solid. Liam ran around playing with the kids that lived at this stall, all so happy to see some foreigners, and bored as hell.

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Liam being a Ninja on the right

When the rain let up we tried to set off and had some troubles just getting the bikes out of the bit of mud we’d left them parked in, 2 of us nearly falling just trying to push the bikes backwards out. In the rain the road had turned to hard packed clay, with a soaked layer on top, it was like ice. Any camber in the road would send you sliding down that way with no control at all. It’s pretty terrifying when the bike just slides a foot to the left from underneath you and you can’t do anything about it. In fact if you try to do anything about it, you fall. I was lagging way behind the guys, I’m not confident off road at all, and I had road tyres on, I was really struggling.

They slowed a little too when Liam fell, he sped up a bit feeling more confident and hit a bad spot, the bike slid out and he came down hard on his side. I struggled to even stop to go help on the slippery ground, finding a spot to get the side stand down and get off. It wasn’t as bad as it looked though, he’d smacked his knee on a rock jutting out the ground but nothing was broken on him or the bike.

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Liam nursing his knees and Owen checking the damage. None really.

After seeing Liam fall, the most experienced of us, I was even more nervous and stiffened up on the bike, the worst thing you can do. It wasn’t long before I came off, I was going so slow by that point though it was almost a stationary pirouette. I ended up sat on the side of the bike barely touching the floor, exactly like the one way back in India, it gave us a good laugh. I didn’t come off clean as clean this time though. I had decided to wear shorts in the heat and the handle bar gouged a nice cut in my leg on the way down. My other leg rested on the engine a second too long and left a nice burn on my calf. The most pathetic crash in the bad conditions.

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This isn’t how you do it is it?

Liam and Owen came up with the idea of letting the tyres down a bit to help with traction, but didn’t voice it because we had no way of pumping them back up again. When I revealed I’d brought my pump along in case of punctures they both laughed, they hadn’t thought of a pump and I hadn’t thought of letting them down. Once we’d done that it was much easier, the bike wasn’t quite so squirmy and there was some room for saving it when it did.

We cleared the mud got back to the main road and found some petrol and pumped the tyres back up. Great success, everyone alive, now just to get back to town. We’d not quite realised how far we’d come though and when we saw it was going to be about 2 hours to get back there was a collective groan. It was already getting dark and then started raining. Riding in the dark is dangerous at the best of times, in the rain it’s deadly, you can’t see a damn thing. The visor get’s covered in drops of rain that light up with the headlights. It took us about 3 and a half hours to get back. Knackered. Adventure achieved.

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We had a much slower, touristy day the next day, visiting Hellfire Pass. A very sobering walk down the old train line laid down by prisoners of war in World War 2. The audio tour guided us along, explaining various innocent looking sections of rock and the hell it took to move them to pave the way for the rails. Dinner looking on the bridge over the River Kwai was a very apt end to the day. The trains still regularly run across it which was a surprise to us, especially because the bridge was packed with tourists walking along it. The train hoots as it approaches and everyone steps to the side as it squeezes through.

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Squeeze up as the train comes through

The brothers had been expecting to cross to Myanmar the next day, that’s why I’d rushed a little bit to meet up with them in Kanchanaburi to see them off. Some problems with others in their tour group meant they’d been delayed though so they decided to join me on my plan up to Pai and loop around back to the border in a few days.

The next day was a loooooong slog. Flat, straight, boring highways for mile after mile. The weather stayed good so it was just a case of sitting on the bike and killing miles. Liam ended up mounting his phone to his handlebars and watching the Australian football live. I was lying back on the bike, keeping the accelerator on with the tip of a finger to rest my back a bit. A little bit of excitement when Owen got a puncture, me and Liam sat by the road with the bikes and had a picnic while Owen took the wheel to be repaired. The left over grapes came in handy to keep us entertained later on, trying to throw them into Liam’s helmet while riding along at 70mph, we were that bored.

The windy mountain road provided a bit of fun for me for the last hour, a little race track, but we arrived in Mae Sot beat. The Turkish couple Liam and Owen would be crossing Myanmar with were in town too though and we had a nice night out chatting with them over some beers.

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06/05/18 to 14/05/18

Day 371 to 378

 

One thought on “Day 371 to 379 – Kuala Lumpur to Mae Sot, Thailand

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