Spicey food and Hill Tribes.
We fly from Kathmandu to Bangkok (Thailand) and the motorbikes come in the same plane. The next morning we go to the cargo department. Some smart guys in front of the customs come to us and want for handling and 3 day storage a fee of US$ 140! No way dudes. We ignore these guys and go to the custom information office and they help us to find the right offices. After 6 hours, 7 different offices, 20 stamps and much more signatures our bikes are released. We only paid 1000 Baht (22 US$) for 2 bikes for customs clearing.
Compared to the previous countries the traffic in Bangkok is organized. Everybody follow the normal traffic rules and nobody is horning. There are riding a lot of 125 cc motorbikes. Brightly colored, big disc brakes and high exhaust pipes, they look like Grand Prix racers. The Thai look at our big DR's when we stop aside them at the traffic light and play with their throttle. When the light jumps to green everybody sprints away. We too. Harald is gaining and passes a few "racers". He arrives at third at the next traffic lights. Not bad for his first race... A lot of motorbikes are parked near the sidewalk and guys with orange or red jackets are waiting here. These are motorbike taxi's and it is the fastest way to move around in Bangkok. Udo is thinking about a new job...
We apply for visas for Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, which takes 8 working days. In the meantime we do some sightseeing in Bangkok and surroundings. Khao Sar area, where our guesthouse is located, is lively and touristic. There is a continuous street bazaar going on where real fake Nike, Oakley, Rolex, Cartier and many more brands are sold for a cheap price. But also second hand dentures. At one of the food stalls we buy Pat- Thai. This are spicey fried noodles with vegetables. Delicious!
On a rainey sunday morming we take a bus to Dammoen Saduak. This is a floating market where women with funny straw hats sell their groceries. One boat is a floating kitchen and we watch how the woman is preparing the food in a big wok. She puts it on a plastic plate and a customer takes it. A floating take away...
In Bangkok are more than 300 Wats. These are Buddhist temples, some are small and others are big complexes. But all are decorated with mosaic mirrors and gold and dozens of Buddha's where the Thai offer money, food, flowers and incense.
On empty highways we ride up to the north. In the hilly north at the border with Myanmar (Burma) live a dozen hill tribes. These ethnic minorities have all their own languages, customs, clothes and spiritual believes. They live in huts made of bamboo and leaves. The women of the Akha tribe wear hats with embroidaries and silver ornaments and they smoke pipe. The most interesting hill tribe we visit are the Padong. They are better known as "Long Necks". The women wear white shirts with blue decorations and have brass rings around their neck. These massive rings push their shoulders down, so it looks that they have a long neck. It was used to protect the women against tiger attacks, as tigers attacks usually at your neck. This tradition is nowadays kept, despite the women are obstructed in their movements and sometimes they have problems with breathing. It start at teenager and every year a new ring is added. The more rings, the more prestige the woman has.
Laos & Vietnam.
We cross the Friendship bridge, leaving Thailand and entering Laos. The good road along the Mekong river takes us to the mountains in the east. It is a surprisingly scenic landscape. Black eroded mountains popping out of the green jungle. In a little village, where the wooden houses are build on poles, a woman is grinning grains and an old man is smoking a bamboo pipe. Little kids are playing around. We on our modern, but 13 year old bikes, stop in this medieval looking village. The inhabitants look at us but pay no attention to us. Like if every day two Dutch motor bikers are passing... We only spent a few days in Laos and go on to Vietnam.
Leaving Laos gives us no problems but entering Vietnam at Cau Treo the customs have a lunch break. After three hours they finished their lunch and finally they come to us. But before they stamp our papers they do a thorough check of our luggage. Everything has to go out of our boxes...
In the first hour that we are riding in Vietnam we heard more horns then in one month in Laos and Thailand. They drive like nuts here. School kids, in uniform, ride their bicycles in five lanes. Little motorbikes and bicycles zig-zag across the road without looking and stop in the middle of the street. The side of the road is used as a market and grass is spread out to dry, making the roads narrower. This makes it more dangerous for us when we have to escape to the road side for coming trucks and buses.
Knock knock, who is there? It is one o'clock in the night when somebody is banging on our hotel door. It is the police that want to check our passports. A bit sleepy we walk down to the reception and the police officer is shouting at the clerk and to us. What did we do wrong? OK, without a shave and bath everyday and with dusty clothes from traveling, we don't look at our best. And putting our bikes inside the hotel lounge was allowed. So, why treat us like criminals? The clerk has to go with our passports to the police station and we can go to sleep again. The next morning we receive our passports back but nobody could tell us why they checked us. We guess it is from the controlling communism in the past. The clerk made his excuses, but he has nothing blame. We go to the market to get breakfast.
We rent a boat and take a our in Halong Bay. More than 2000 limestone formations covered with trees pop out the sea as little islands. Some islands have caves with stalagmites and we visit them. For the Vietnamese these rocks have a sacred meaning. It symbolize a mother dragon with kids that defend the country when it is in danger. For us it is spectacular to see how so many rocks rises fom the sea.
Following a part of the Highway no. 1, that goes from Hanoi in the north to Saigon in the south, we get a good impression of Vietnam. The whole country looks like one big rice paddy. Thousands of men and women, with the typical straw hats, stand up to their knees in the water, planting rice. Dozens of limestone rock formations are spread in the rice fields at Hoa Lu. The canals along the rice fields are used to get to their houses that are build near the rock formations. People live here peaceful and quiet.
Dark clouds gather together and some minutes later the rain is pouring down. For 3 days and nights it keeps raining. We take our shelter in Hoi An, a little city with a lot of French colonial houses. But due to the heavy rains the streets are flooded and we stay in our hotel.
After 3 days we pack our bikes because we want to move on. But people from the hotel say that the roads are flooded and that it is impossible to go. We will try and see. After a few hundred meters the road is blocked and we have to make a detour of 40 kilometers to reach highway 1. The highway is build on a dyke, so there must be no problems. But after 10 kilometers we approach a traffic jam. We ride to the beginning of the jam and see that the road is flooded for 300 meters. A smart boy use his boat as a ferry to bring bicycles and motorbikes to the other side. We will give it a chance. Slowly we ride in the water. The current is strong and we have to concentrate to stay on the road. In the deepest part water waves over the fuel tank and Udo swallows some of it. Luckily the engines keep running and we are glad that we made it. Two days later we read in the newspaper that the water level rise with more than a meter in Hoi An and that 7 people were drowned. We just left in time...
As soon as we enter Cambodia we notice that it is a poor country. At the Vietnamese side the custom buildings are quite new, here in Cambodia they are in poor condition. But the customs are friendly and helpful. Within a half hour the paper work is finished and the officer says "welcome to Cambodia" and wishes us a enjoy full stay.
One kilometer after the customs office the pavement ends. A dusty gravel road leads us along the rice paddies. A little boy sits on a big, black buffalo and takes it for a walk. He waves at us with a big smile. Other kids "swim" in a pool that it covered with water plants. When we stop along the road to make a picture, we see everywhere kids coming and they all have a smile and say "Welcome". This makes it pleasent to travel here. In a little village we stop and buy two coconuts. The woman cuts the top and put a straw in. Really refreshing. Many people sleep in their hammock in their shop between the merchandise.
The morning sun shines over the rice paddies and the palm trees wave in the wind. A dust cloud of twenty meters hangs behind the bike. Carefully we zig-zag around the potholes. Wooden bridges are in poor shape or not existing. Or too narrow. Then we have to go through the river and the locals give us a push to help. Several times we have to cross rivers. Deep tire tracks from trucks make it difficult to maneuvering through the river. But it gives no real problems. The people use old bicycles or little motorbikes and they are over loaded with bags of rice, chickens, pigs or baskets. If they don't have their own transport they jump on a pickup truck. Twenty people or more loaded in a pick up, their faces covered with a krama (a checked scarve) to protect against the sun and dust. We call this "carpooling".
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. About 80% of the people is working in the agriculture and all oil and consumer goods have to be imported. Incomes come from rubber export or (illegal) tropical wood. And Cambodia is still recovering from 2 decades of war and violence. It was involved in the Vietnam war and because of that the country is scattered with landmines. They advise us not to stray off the marked roads and trails. Even to make a pee at the road side can be dangerous...
The most horrible period was from 1975-1979 when the genocidal Red Khmer, under the regime of Pol Pot, tortured and butchered 2 million people to death. At the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek (near Phnom Penh) mass graves of 17,000 people are found. More than 8,000 skulls, sorted by age and sex, are exhibited in a memorial stupa. Speechless and sadly, with shivers through our spines we wander around these killing fields. How can people do that to each other???
Before sunrise we kick on our DR's and ride to Angkor Wat. These world famous temples were build by the Khmer kings between the 7-13th century. Over 100 temples in an area of 200 km2 are found here. It was the administrative and religious centre of the Khmer empire that stretches out over a large part of South East Asia. French archeologists started in 1908 to cut away the jungle which covered the ruins. We walk over a long avenue made of rock bricks to Angkor Wat, the most spectacular temple. The silhouette of the five towers become visible in the morning sun. When the sun rises the temple reflects in a little lake. Beautiful. When we take a closer look at the ruins we discover that there are thousands of figures carved in the walls. Scenes from 12th century Cambodian life, gods and kings and characteristic Khmer-heads are situated on the gates. Some parts of the temples are collapsed, others are still partly covered by the jungle. The whole day we walk around to absorb it. It is the most impressive historical monument that we've ever seen.
Thailand & Malaysia.
Tigers and Travestites.
The border formalities at Poipet (Cambodia – Thailand) are easy and quick. The Thai custom officer is too busy with his lunch. So we have to fill in our carnets and then he will stamp and sign it. He is also not interested to see the bikes. Good. Could not be al the border crossing like this? Back in Thailand we go to Ayutthaya, the old capital until 1767. Nowadays there are still a lot of ruins to see from that period, like Wats and Buddha´s.
Heading south the landscape changes from rice paddies into palm oil and rubber plantations. The rubber trees are standing in line and have a little bowl attached at about 50 cm above the ground. They cut open the bark above the bowl and the white rubber juice is dripping into the bowl. We ask a men who is working at a plantation why our tires are black if they are made from white rubber juice? Confused he looks at us but don´t know the answer...
In KhaoSok National Park we pitch our tent along a river and we try to remember when was the last time we camped. It seems weeks ago, too many hotels and guesthouses. We make ourselves a dinner and some coffee and go to sleep. With the sounds of the jungle as background music we fell asleep within minutes.
The next morning we get up early to make a hike. There are tigers living in this park and we hope to see one. Khao Sok N.P. has one of the last remaining tropical rainforests in Thailand. It is warm and humid and within 30 minutes walking we are soaking wet. A narrow trail winds through the dense jungle. Some parts are very steep and we grab the roots of the trees to pull us up. We hear ribbons screaming and butterflies are circling above our heads. Harald find a leach on his leg but he has already eaten. He torch the bloodsucker with a lighter. After a long day of hiking we saw only some lizards, a snake and a lot of ants. Then the next morning we see a tiger. It is on the tiger balm that we use on our legs to diminish the muscle pain...
The island Phuket is famous for its beautiful beaches and is therefore very touristic. On a deserted beach we find a spot to put up our tent. At night we make a nice campfire and dream away with the waves in the sunset. In the morning two fishermen pass by and catch our breakfast.
The beach cities are packed with hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Macho beach boys with their sun-BBQed bodies and fresh tattoo´s try to impress the Thai girls. Only dressed in shorts and slippers they make wheelies with the rented motorbikes and try to make burnouts. When we stop they make fun of us because we wear our helmets, motorbike jackets, gloves and jeans. But when we cruise along the boulevard of Kata Beach with our mud covered and fully loaded travel-DR´s we have much more attention than the show offs. We are cool!
We stay here a few days to relax on the beach, do some sea canoeing to the limestone rocks and caves and make a boat tour to Koh Tapu, better known as James Bond island. This typical shaped limestone island became popular when they shoot the Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun" here.
In Kata we meet our Danish friends again who are also traveling around the world. The first time we met them was Leh in India and later in Nepal. We go out together to a bar and share our adventures. Then a beautiful waitress comes to us and asks with a heavy voice "What do you want to drink?" Astonished we look up and then we see that it is a travestite. When we study the other waitresses we see that they all are travestites. This is also Thailand...
On the road to Malaysia we pass through a dramatic landscape. From the dense green jungle, white limestone rocks rise into the air, like big zits. When we ride close to them we feel little. We cross the border to Malaysia in a blink of an eye. Over a 13.5 km long bridge (the longest in S.E. Asia) we arrive in Georgetown on the island Penang. A few days we are busy to look for a freight company that can ship our bikes to New Zealand. Then we need a whole day to clean the bikes to get rid of seven months dust and mud. The next day we go to the forwarder and crate our bikes. In four hours time we take off the aluminum boxes, front wheel, steer and manage to make a package that stays within 3 cubic meters. In three weeks it will arrive in Auckland, New Zealand. Until then we take a deserved holiday... But we will miss our mates...
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