Thailand to Malaysia
Today was the day that we were originally due to arrive in Singapore, which is really making it feel like we are right at the end of our trip. But we still have a couple more countries to go. After the previous day’s rest, we were ready to be on our way, and after breakfast, we were on our bikes by about 8:30 and heading off towards the border. The landscape is still lush green jungle and towering hills looming over the road, with very few towns along the way. After driving about 100 km, I noticed that there was some white smoke flowing from Dad’s bike. Thinking that it may be some of his strapping that was resting on the exhaust pipe, I pulled alongside him to have a closer look. But when I saw what it was, I frantically motioned for him to pull over. His whole engine was belching smoke, and when he stopped, we could see that there was oil everywhere. This was serious stuff, as we had never had any engine problems up until this point. We wheeled the bike into the shade and began to strip off the seat and tank to have a better look. Upon inspection of the engine, it seemed that a couple of the bolts had rattled loose, and if that was all it was, we would have just been able to tighten them and be on our way. But the reason for them being loose was that they had stripped their thread in the engine mounting, which meant that we wouldn’t be able to tighten them in to seal the engine.
(For people who are unfamiliar with bikes or engines, that roughly translates as: “Sad face. The bike is broken, but not too badly.”)
After talking through several options, we decided that all we could do is tighten the bolts as best we could, and seal the thread with a special gasket sealer that we were carrying. Hopefully that would last for the next couple of days, and if not, then we would have to look at a more serious repair.
Meanwhile, Shan and Kath, who had been standing near the bikes, had been greeted by a local woman who managed to entice them back to her house on the other side of the road (which took a confusing 15 minutes to cross, since it appeared she was waiting for a gap of no less than 2 km between vehicles before deeming it safe to move over to the other side). After about half an hour of very stilted conversation, they were brought coffee and sandwiches by the son, who kept an unselfconscious grip on parts of his anatomy the entire time they were there. After that, everyone just seemed to sit around watching TV, making for a fairly awkward but very enjoyable morning nonetheless, especially with the father wandering around in just a sarong. Several visitors popped in, some of them just to stare.
Once the sealant had set, we topped up the bike with oil and took it for a test run: good as new. At least for now, anyway. With just 50 km to the border to go, and the rain just starting to set in, we were keen to be on our way into Malaysia.
We arrived in a torrential downpour, but this was quite welcome in the sweltering heat, and to our total amazement, we were whisked through customs and immigration in about ten minutes. We’ve never been through any border post that quickly anywhere on the trip, and very soon drove through to the Malaysian side. There, our luck ran out a bit, as everyone was on lunch break. But after half an hour, once they were back at their desks, it was the same story, just blisteringly fast efficiency. The one noteworthy point was the six fingered customs man (as in six fingers on each hand), and it was quite hard not to gawp at these two tiny extra digits protruding from the side of his little fingers, complete with fingernails.
And after fifteen minutes, we were through and on our way. Almost immediately, the road began to climb and we were presented with a stunning vista of jungles, mountains, farmlands and villages. Our plan was to get as far as we could today, and as it was only 2:30, we were intending to stop a few hundred kilometres down the Western coast.
That is, until Shan noticed she couldn’t really turn her front wheel all that well while passing through one of the small towns. Flat front tyre. We pulled over to investigate, and saw that somehow the lining that sits between the tube and the wheel rim had snapped, and was flapping all over the place. Well, at least this is something we know how to deal with. And so it was the usual toolkits out, wheel off, tyre off, etc. We had no rubber to make a replacement with, and so she ended up using ever faithful duct-tape to cover the rim. Unfortunately, the process of changing the tyre and lining the rim had to be repeated a number of times, since the spokes, which were sharper than we had thought, kept deflating each newly mended and inflated tyre. In addition, the tyre repair kit had run out of patches, so it was with some trepidation that we inflated the tyre for the third time. Happily, we seemed to have got it right, and once more we repacked the bikes, and started off, with the notable exception of Dad’s sunglasses which flew off from his shirt collar where he had placed them, but were only noticed a few kilometres down the road, necessitating a thorough sweep of the road, which lasted another half an hour, until their grisly remains were finally found , by Shan scratched and missing an arm. By this time it was starting to get late, and it was just a question of trying to find the closest hotel. We made for the coast, and found a decent place for a reasonable rate, although it was a bit of a cheek that the manager tried to charge us extra to park the bikes in front of the hotel, claiming that it would cost an extra R25 per bike for “security”. We quickly disabused him of this notion, and went to our rooms to shower, change, and recuperate underneath the air conditioning.
That evening, we made forays out into the street to find SIM cards, ATM’s, and food, which included some fantastic chicken satays, essentially small kebab with peanut sauce, and some fish which turned out to be far too fiery for John’s delicate palate. With nothing much else to do in town, we were back in the hotel relatively early, and soon asleep.
It seemed almost unreal to actually be able to take a day off from travelling. It’s not that we haven’t had breaks; the last few months have been riddled with delays, but always they have been because of some problems with the bikes. But today was the first time since Khartoum in Sudan that we’ve been able to just stop for a day because we wanted to, and weren’t racing the clock.
We had arranged with the manager of the hotel the previous night to go for a snorkelling trip out to one of the islands off the coast, and so after an alfresco breakfast, we followed the manager down to the pier, where three fishermen (or two fisherman and a friend, or three friends, or just some guys he met that morning, it was never really made clear) were waiting for us. We loaded the packed lunch that had been prepared at the hotel, and headed out to the islands. The sky was looking somewhat tempestuous in the distance, but overhead, it was all blue skies. The sea was quiet and featureless, apart from the occasional flying fish, and once or twice a hat, swept off the head of one of the unwary travellers.
At one of the larger islands we stopped for about ten minutes and had a swim while someone ran off to find some snorkelling equipment, and when he returned, we cast off for a small island a few hundred metres away. This section of the Thailand coast is world renowned for it’s crystal clear waters and stunning marine life. So it was with some puzzlement that when we put on the goggles and swam out into the water, we found ourselves in water murkier than an ANC disciplinary hearing. Oh, there were rocks, and many shellfish, with razor sharp edges, but that was pretty much it, and after about twenty minutes, we called it a day, and headed back to sit on the rocks to enjoy the meal, where the prawns in the salad gave us our only glimpse of sea life for the day. After about an hour, the storm clouds that had been interesting features on the horizon were bearing down on us, and so we quickly packed up, and bundled ourselves back into the boat. Back at the main island, one of our guys ran off to drop off the snorkels and goggles, and Shan, Kath and I took a quick walk into the village, where we saw in a single street a wedding procession, a prepubescent biker gang, a large dead monitor lizard (they taste so good cuz they EAT so good) and crowd of kids playing pool using pieces of bamboo, elastic bands for the side, and marbles, and several other great glimpses into life in the village.
With the clouds still threatening rain above us, we jumped back into the boat, and made for the mainland. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and lolling in the pool, until we were summoned for supper, which turned out to be a serious seafood spread involving huge crabs, a mountain of prawns, and several types of fish. We only just managed to defeat this cornucopia of food, and the next few hours were spent down in the restaurant chatting and listening to some dusty old CD from the 60’s, with some songs that EVEN DAD AND JOHN had never heard of, so, you know, old! With less than two weeks to go, it would hopefully be straight riding through Malaysia, and then on to Singapore.
Last night was actually the first time that we had slept right at the East coast of a country, so with this one chance to see the dawn, we woke up at 5:30 and headed down to the beach (literally a journey of 20 steps). The sky was still the colour of a dark bruise, but gradually lighted, catching the clouds in a magnificent display of colours. The sun finally peered over the horizon just after 6:00, giving us the signal to head back to grab another hour’s sleep.
We were up again for breakfast about an hour later, with bacon on the plate for the first time since we’ve been on the road. Once we’d finished up, we were soon packed and ready to go, and the manager escorted us out onto the highway on his bike. It had been a really great stay, just another reason to sometimes leave the guide books and internet forums behind and just look for a place yourself.
The riding in the morning was pretty easy, with thick jungle on either side for most of the way, and the occasional hill rising vertically from the jungle, its sheer sides and thickly covered top making it seem like a giant had simply shoved up a wedge of the land from underneath.
Around mid morning, as we were riding along at about 110 km/h, Shan turned her head to look at something at the side of the road. As she did, the front visor caught the wind, and one of the mounting points ripped off completely, leaving Shan to be blinded and mildly throttled by the strap as the helmet fought to pull itself off her head. We quickly pulled over, and I went back to pick up the part that had flown onto the road. A thorough inspection revealed that it was pretty easy to fix, and John soon McGuyvered it back into full working order.
Which was when we noticed that one of the mountings on Shan’s new hybrid shock absorbers had broken.
Now, this is not a catastrophe, and what we needed to find now was a welder who could stitch it all back into shape. We had pulled over next to the gate of a big factory complex, and so we thought we might as well see if there was anybody there who could help us. As it turned out, we hit the jackpot. Just inside the gates, Dad and Shan came across two guys busy doing some serious welding. When we brought the bike over to them, they could quickly see what needed to be done, and once we had the wheel off, they happily set to work fixing it. While they worked, two little kids sat watching the whole thing. Shan entertained them by letting them play with the camera. When the guys were done, they wouldn’t even accept payment, but just waved us on our way.
Continuing on our way, we passed through some of the larger towns, and while waiting for Dad to get through a traffic light, we noticed that we had stopped right under the sign of a Kawasaki dealership, the first that we had seen since leaving South Africa. For an Asian bike, Kawasaki’s have been surprisingly scarce.
Around the middle of the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Palian peninsula, where we started looking around for accommodation. I had been particularly keen to see some of the islands in Thailand made famous by innumerable movies, and this area had looked like our best chance of seeing some. While driving along, we startled a large monitor lizard, at least a metre long, which scuttled off into the bushes.
When we got to the road running along next to the coast, we saw a decent looking hotel and stopped to enquire about rooms. Kath took it for the team and went with the manager, who took her on a tour that lasted about 15 minutes, and had her back to the bikes muttering under her breath. Meanwhile, Shan and Dad had taken the bike further up the road to look at a second option, which was cheaper, but not quite as nice, and required some serious Pictionary skills to be able to communicate. Somehow, the guy didn’t even understand when we were asking for the price, apparently stumbling over the sign for baht, the Thai currency. In the end, the deciding element was the swimming pool, and we settled into our nicer, only slightly more expensive option.
After dumping our bags in the room, we made straight for the pool, and floated lazily around for almost an hour, while in the pool next door, four foot aquatic monstrosities lurked in the murky depths. Over the edge of the pool, we could make out limestone islands rising straight out of the sea, picture perfect.
After heading back to the rooms to relax for a while, we decided to take a walk down to the pier, a few hundred metres further down the road, to see if we could find some food. We arrived just as the sun was about to set, and while we enjoyed a meal of kebabs, and salad, we watched as the sun and the clouds created whole landscapes in the sky, even tricking us for about fifteen minutes into thinking that there was a pyramid shaped island in the distance. Unfortunately, with the dark came the mosquitoes, and we beat a hasty retreat back to hotel.
John hadn’t eaten with us, and so he went to the hotel restaurant to order some food, and I, basically a stomach on legs, decided to get a snack of cashew chicken. The lady who took our orders seemed to find herself incredibly hard done by, and would sign loudly and disconsolately at each enquiry into the menu. Due to some confusion, John ended up getting both a fish dish and a plate of chicken and rice, which we happily helped him to finish off, and the rest of the evening was spent playing darts and reading on the Kindle. Occasionally we would glance up to see faces at the window, looking to see if we were gone, so that they could lock up the restaurant. Finally, our feeling of guilt at keeping them from their sleep were to strong, and we made our way to our room to get some for ourselves.