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Old 07-06-2008, 12:34 PM   #1
dougrender OP
Bike Polo is not a Crime
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Location: Boulder, Colorado
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Two Take Thailand

Enduro northern Thailand, Adventure-Scoot Phu Quoc, Vietnam.

Keywords: Chiang Mai, Singha, trail, wat, pho, beach, Beer Chang, snapper, pad thai, bungalow, guesthouse, Honda Baja, step-thru scooter, beer, pork, chicken, noodles, mud, rain, McGyver, Buddha, island, snorkel, monkey, TSA, farm, coffee, motorcycle, action packer, Jonadda, Cassia Cottage, sun burn, ridgeback, Thapae Gate, land of smiles, Tiger, Saigon, curry, Golden Triangle, David Unkovich, mannypack, Joe's Bike Team, Siam Enduro, Wolfman, Fanta, BeemerBoy, rainforest, Pai, Charlie and Lek's, organic, bamboo, singletrack, pepper.

We've not had a real vacation in 8 years—not since I completed graduate school and we took our belated honeymoon along Thailand's southern beaches. But now, Karen has completed her executive MBA, concluding with a "field trip" to Shanghai. I have no interest in China, but Thailand is just a short excursion away: round two. How better to see the northern country than by enduro?

Checking a pair of Tupperwear Action Packers ensures your helmets, boots, Camelbacks and additional riding gear make it around the world and arrive intact. They are durable, and do not exceed airline "oversize luggage" dimensions, so they fly with no additional charges.

Checking a pair of Tupperwear Action Packers ensures inspection by TSA in Denver, LAX, and the Thai equivalents in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

If you have a choice, I recommend Thai Airlines. They are a step above. Three 3-course meals on the 16 hour trip, plus complimentary in-flight feature films. And beer.

They may confiscate the tiny, foldable scissors in your first-aid kit, but they provide stainless utensils with each meal.

I arrive in Chiang Mai about 8 hours before Karen, and check into our guesthouse. We stay at the Jonadda which is just inside the "old city", near the Thapae Gate, in an area popular with western visitors. It's owned and operated by Panadda and her Aussie husband, John, who is himself an avid rider. Clean, quiet, and a friendly staff that put the "smiles" in "land of smiles"

I spend the day walking the perimeter of the city's moat. It was built in 1296 to repel the Burmese.

First stop, a locals' market. Fried chicken leg! The Colonel never made it like this.

And meat on a stick (drool). What do we get on sticks here in the US? Corndogs? Popsicles?

For dessert, it's roti/rotee. A banana and egg crepe, with sweetened and condensed milk, and sugar.

Wash it down with a Beer Chang.

Thai hazardous cargo. All cooking seems to be done from propane tanks. Heating—not required.

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Old 07-06-2008, 12:56 PM   #2
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Day two.

Karen's arrived and it's time to explore Chiang Mai for a day before we leave on the bikes.

But first, curry for breakfast. Don't give me that "western breakfast" bullshit. I'd vacation in Des Moines if I wanted scrambled eggs and toast. Jonadda has the best coffee in town, and excellent food.

Back to the locals' market. Street sausage! I wanted to make a "moose cock, 25 baht" joke here, but my mom might be reading.

We rent a 100cc step-thru scooter from Mr. Beer, and explore Chiang Mai. Someone should have warned me that these things have GP gear patterns—presumably to leverage their high performance capabilities. I spend the first 10 minutes stuck in 4th gear.

Awesome wats (temples)

Back to the locals market for lunch. What makes you think this food is hot?

It's the Budda's birthday. Show the appropriate respect.

The Budda was born on the first full moon in May. 35 years later, on the same full moon, he became the Budda. 40 years later, on the same full moon, he died. We celebrate him on this day.

If you really want to honor him, release some caged sparrows (good luck), a few turtles (long life), some small fish (the cycle of life) and some eels/river snakes (protection). This wat is along theMae Ping River, and that's precisely what the faithful have come to do this afternoon.

In the evening, we catch up with the Golden Triangle Rider himself, David Unkovich, at one of his local haunts.

David, a 22 year resident of Chiang Mai, is _the_ authority on motorcycling northern Thailand. He's written books and published what all agree are the region's definitive maps. I'm carrying them in my mannypack in this photo. [David Olson, check the GoFisch shirt!]

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Old 07-06-2008, 01:22 PM   #3
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Day 3

Time to saddle up.

I've rented bikes from Joe's Bike Team, just a few blocks from the Jonadda. I've selected Joe's because his enduros have good tread left on the tires, he keeps them all covered and protected from the weather, and they have intelligent upgrades like aluminum bars and solid handguards. He has a well-equipped shop in the back, so it's clear he looks after the bikes personally.

This is the part where I should mention our guide, Tommy.

I exchanged emails with Walter Fenske, who runs Siam Enduro, an enduro tour group, out of Chiang Mai. I identify with what he's written on his home page: "Most tourists don’t see the real Thailand. They stay in tourist hotels, they visit tourist markets, they eat tourist foodIf you want everything just like home, stay home!. This is Southeast Asia, and things are different. If you don't enjoy new experiences in a quite different environment, then you're much better off spending your holidays in your home country." Ride on, my brother!

This sounds like our kind of guy. But our situation is a little irregular: we've arrived during "low" season, and I don't want all the accoutrements of a fully "packaged" and "supported" tour. I really just want a guide who knows where he's going.

Walter's not in the country. He recommends I contact one of his Thai rider/guides directly, Tommy.

Tommy's a regular TAT guide and moto tours with Siam Enduro are just one of the things he does. It's low season, so he's available. We exchange an email and in typical easy-going Thai style, he agrees that we can have a fun trip together and that when I arrive in-country we can meet over a beer to plan a route and all the other particulars. Friends who have likewise travelled Thailand re-assure me that this represents a firm commitment in Thailand.

This it Tommy, and engaging him turns out to be the trip's best decision. I'll admit here that a guide was my wife's idea, and it worked out brilliantly, though had we had a guide with less personality, it would not added as much to the trip as Tommy did.

He's more than just an intelligent rider with particular knowledge of the north—he's easy going, enthusiastic and has an outstanding sense of humor. He's way more than just a guide, and having him with us for 5 days really infused the trip with character. Walter, if you read this, Tommy's worth a lot more than whatever you pay him—probably a lot more than what I paid him, too!

Tommy's riding a Honda TLR250R, by the way. It's a perfect fit for his stature. This is the best resource I could find on the bike One of those odd gems that never makes its way across the Pacific to the states. I'd pick one up in a heartbeat if it were available: aluminum frame, trials motor and tranny, ultralight etc.

Karen and I are on Baja 250s—Honda XR250Ls, I believe, with electric start. They are not unlike farm implements in their "excitement" factor, but, like farm implements, they start, turn, stop and re-start predictably as requested and give us no problem whatsoever.

Oh yeah, what's your bag? Wolfman, you say? We are both carrying Wolfman tail packs that I picked up this past winter at Moto Gear Outlet. I actually bought them from Eric himself, told him that we'd rely on these in Thailand.

Made in Colorado. Sewn by Laotians, oddly enough. Worked great.

We leave all non-riding essential back at Jonadda, and only carry what we need. In truth, it could have been streamlined. We didn't need the enduro jackets we packed, for instance. It did rain on us, and we got wet, but we didn't get particularly cold. And then we dried out. No jacket required. Long sleeved shirt. Packed it, never wore it.

Tommy is travelling even lighter—but he doesn't have any tools or spare parts, as we'll see later.

The first day is arguably the most intense: we're on strange bikes, trying to follow Tommy out of a crowded city (that drives on the left hand side) into remote country. Traffic flows are not _quite_ like what we have in the US, but Karen manages to stay focused on Tommy's rear wheel, and out of danger, and into the outback.

Nearing our lunch stop, we pass an elephant.

They were historically worked in the "timber" industry, but have since largely become tourist attractions. However, their unreal size makes them impressive sights wherever you encounter them.

We're on pavement until lunch, where we stop for what proves to be a typically low-key, high-flavor meal along the roadside.

Noodle soup with meat and meatballs.

We're soon on a dirt road that's not on my map. It's not been travelled recently by anything larger than a scooter, as evidenced by deadfall blocking anything other than a two-wheeler. It's not raining, though it has recently, and it starts to get slippery.

BeemerBoy, American Robert living in Chiang Mai, refers to this as the "Thailand's red-death clay", or something equally menacing. It's indeed really slippery.

We make it through and emerge on the other side to a view of the rainforest thru which we've been travelling

We return to the road and head into Doi Inthanon National Park, passing near Thailand's highest point, (2565 meters, 8400 feet). It pours rain on us. But it's not chilling, and we ride thru, drying off on the other side.

We arrive in the un-touristed town of Mae Chaem. Karen and I get an A-frame bungalow for the night, Tommy stays in the guesthouse.

By now Tommy has pegged us as adventurous eaters, and we give him the go-ahead to order dinner for us. It's awesome.

Despite our fatigue, we're kept awake throughout the night by the intensity of noise generated by various frogs, reptiles and insects. From inside our A-frame, it's deafening!

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Old 07-06-2008, 01:43 PM   #4
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Day 4

Thai breakfast includes rice soup.

Mae Chaem is blanketed by clouds in every direction, but as soon as we crest the first ridgeline, the day is bright and clear. We're on pavement passing thru forest and expansive agricultural areas.

There is a lot of "slash and burn" agriculture/grazing land going on, but who am I to judge. My country laid siege to an entire continent.

We get back on dirt.

And soon we're riding into another rain storm (did I mention that the reason it's "low season" is that it's "wet season"?). It's pouring beyond these trees.

Tracks in the road literally turn into rivulets of runoff.

The rain lightens up, but it's still slick. Tommy does a little nip and tuck. And suddenly we have a problem.

This is Tommy's first time leading a tour individually. I've previously assured him that I'm travelling with all kinds of tools and spare equipment (the same stuff I ride with in Colorado on any given Sunday) and that we'll need no looking after. So it's not Asian resourcefulness that saves the day, but Yankee preparation and ingenuity.

I should probably add a needle nose pliers to my kit, as I have to open a C-snap-ring with a ballpoint pen and screw-driver blade.

We're ready to roll again, and it's at this point that Tommy informs me that I'm like that TV mechanic—the one who can fix _anything_. "McGyver???" "Yes, you McGyver!!" We never tire of this joke for the next three days.

Doug: Hey, Tommy?
Tommy: Yes?
Doug: You owe me a beer now.
Tommy: Yes!!

We've covered many kilometers already today, and soon we are at our lunch stop.

And it's time to fill up the small tank on Tommy's bike.

We "slab it" (beautiful two lane pavement, winding along a river bed) into the northern town of Pai, which David Unkovich has described on his map as "chill out town". If you're European or Aussie on extended break, and trying to stretch your pounds/dollars as far as possible in northern Thailand, this is your hang out.

"the other beef" along the roadside.

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Old 07-06-2008, 01:59 PM   #5
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Adventure eater -- I love it! I'll undoubtedly enjoy this one.
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Old 07-06-2008, 02:09 PM   #6
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Day 5

Karen should _not_ have drank that water at the market two days ago, and she's feeling it. So Tommy and I head out on our own for half a day.

We're heading north on pavement towards Soppong. The pace is a little quicker and it's clear to me that Tommy is enjoying the day. What's not to enjoy?

Not far from the Burmese border, we come to a military check point.

Tommy: [to Doug] Do what I do, say what I say.
Tommy: [to the army guys] The guns and drugs are back at this farang's guesthouse.

Many northern tourists come to the north for a "trek", which includes a tour of an "authentic hill tribe village". Let me tell you, in three days, I've already passed thru more "authentic" hill tribe villages than you would ever reach by foot. And only the very old and recent mothers are home—because everyone else is out working the land all day!

Many of the hilltribe people still wear very traditional clothing—which is quite striking. I saw a number of them, but didn't feel right singling them out for a photograph. But I did catch this woman selling vegetables at an evening market in Pai.

Tommy has a friend in Pai who has an organic farm, as well as an organic restaurant.

We had two outstanding meals at "Charlie and Lek's"

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to grow such beautiful lettuce?

Lek, Tommy and Charlie

Lek invites Karen into the back to see the kitchen.

And Charlie takes us on a tour of his farm.

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Old 07-06-2008, 02:32 PM   #7
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Day 6

For breakfast, it's curry, again, plus meat on a stick, both purchased from street side vendors. According to Tommy, most Thais eat breakfast and lunch from markets or street vendors, then purchase a few fresh dinner ingredients from evening markets and prepare their own dinners at home.

We're on the fourth day of riding, which is probably the best, because we follow a two track deep into the forest,

cross a bridge over a small stream, and it suddenly turns into genuine single track.

Tommy's only come this way once before, and we take a few wrong turns.

You may have noticed that all the hill tribe villages have electricity, and that, shockingly, some of the homes have not only satellite dishes but solar panels, as well. These here, not so much. The single track dead ends at their home (see below, Phu Quoc singletrack).

Tommy gets us back on track, and soon we are entering a small village.

The map does not indicate it, but there is a bridge across the river. Albeit a rather basic one.

It's lunchtime. The Mae Taeng river is roaring just below us.

We spend the night in Mae Taeng, which honestly does not have much to offer, other than an interesting market and this bright dog, who is determined not to be left behind.

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Old 07-06-2008, 02:33 PM   #8
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Great photos! I spent 18 months in Thailand in 73/74 wonderful country. Singha beer in cans, oh the inhumanity.
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Old 07-06-2008, 03:00 PM   #9
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Final day of Riding

The final day heads north for a short offroad loop (the loop we wanted to do was "impassable" due to recent rains, according to Tommy's sources in Mae Taeng).

We pass near Thailand's third highest point, Doi Chang Dao, 2175 meters (7135 feet).

"Tommy, show me where we've come and where we are."

Lunch time.

Noodles "plus".

Karen has observed that this noodle dish is ruddier in color than others we've had, with a slightly different character. She asks, thru Tommy, about the dish's ingredients and preparation. And the Iron Chef secret-challenge ingredient is…

…chicken blood!

Would you like to venture a guess which part of my arm was sunburned on this adventure?

The adventure winds down. We head back into Chiang Mai.

We're sad to say goodbye to Tommy.

Starting in Chiang Mai in the lower right of this map and making its way in a clockwise direction, this was our route.

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Old 07-06-2008, 03:03 PM   #10
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Gorgeous Thailand

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Old 07-06-2008, 03:05 PM   #11
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Final day in Chiang Mai

We spend a final day scootering around Chiang Mai—safety third . We have "paid forward" Karen's helmet and goggles to Tommy (he does not have his own gear but has been borrowing it—but now he has his own helmet, goggles, elbow pads and knee/shin pads).

We take a longtail boat up the Ping River. Note the 3 cylinder, water-cooled Suzuki's "direct air injection" carb. It must have a fuel pump as it's not gravity fed—the "remote" tank is a 5-gallon plastic container on the boat's floor.

Is that a distributor and points?

I have no idea the purpose of the rusting barges along the shoreline. Kudos to you if you can identify their function. Some kind of dredging equipment? I know that this river is not navigable.

More lovely wat-tage.

Budding Chiang Mai entrepreneur. I paid way more than I should have for a necklace strung with flowers.

I don’t' want to go into this. Just accept it as a truism.

Evening "food court".

We met Beemerboy, Robert, on our final night in town. I had a good picture of him with his girlfriend, but I'll be damned if I can find it now.

Robert, if you make it to Colorado this summer, you are welcome to my XR600.

A final tasty breakfast at the Jonadda.

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Old 07-06-2008, 03:09 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by dougrender
And Charlie takes us on a tour of his farm.

cool...a ninja gardener!!!

great pics.
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Old 07-06-2008, 03:23 PM   #13
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Section Two: Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam.

You've probably never heard of Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. It's off the very southern coast of Vietnam, in the Gulf of Thailand. It's technically closer to Cambodia than Vietnam. There it is. The shape is reminiscent of South America, though only ~30 miles north to south. Reportedly similar in size to Singapore, but home to only 85,000 residents to Singapore’s 4.5 million.

If you have heard of it, it's likely that you've heard that the Vietnamese government intends to make it the Vietnamese equivalent of Cabo San Lucas or other government-driven destination resort communities: to put it on par with with Ko Samui or Phukett as a serious SE Asian resort destination. Until that vision is achieved, it remains a secluded, sleepy, over-grown (not-over-run) island gem—in the best possible sense.

You can take a ferry from the mainland (if the sea is not too rough), but the only flights originate in Saigon. And these are the turbo prop variety.

So it's Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Saigon for us.

Leaving the Saigon airport, the first thing I notice that distinguishes driving in Saigon from driving in Chiang Mai is _not_ that the Vietnamese drive on the right, same as us 'mericans. It's that we're not even out of the airport grounds and our taxi has already used his horn no fewer than three times.

Honk! I'm behind you!! HOnk honk!! I'm coming around you! Ho Hon Honk! Look at me, here I am!! Hon-hon-hon-hooonkkk!! Make way, I want to come thru!

This goes on for half an hour. I'm terrified because the majority of traffic in this city of 5 million is scooter traffic. "Please don’t kill anyone while I'm in your cab", I think to myself.

Welcome to Saigon.

I'm actually only in Saigon between 9pm and 5 am. I don't see it in the daylight. Karen took this picture on the return, but it captures the spirit accurately.

Josh69 has a definitive collection of "The Streets of Vietnam". Check it out at If it's not bolted to the floor, it's in transit on a scooter.

Vietnam Airlines.

One of the many great things about travelling southeast Asia is that you require so little diversity in your wardrobe. You can't get away with that in say, Colorado. While not riding, I never needed anything other than a short sleeved T shirt, shorts, and sandals.

We actually go in for pretty comfy accommodations on Phu Quoc. AC, stocked mini fridge (now short a few Tiger Beer), full-service front desk. Cassia Cottage. It's a _bit_ (a lot) more than the $7 to $8/night guest houses we've been frequenting in Thailand, but there's not much middle ground here. You're either in a nice place like this, or pitching a tent in the woods and walking into town. There's nothing that caters to the "backpacker" crowd.

We spend time in the surf and the pool, and rent step-thru scooters on three different days to explore the island's perimeter. The Vietnamese insist on wearing their helmets, unlike the Thai.

There are miles and miles of singletrack on Phu Quoc, but invariably, after a few hundred feet or a few kilometers, they all dead end either at someone's home, or at the beach (as pictured below).

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Old 07-06-2008, 04:00 PM   #14
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Fishing and farming remain the major occupations here.

Squid is the commercial catch, and each night the horizon is lit by a formation of squid boats, their outriggers of lights illuminating the sea.

Working the sea is always a demanding lifestyle.

Pepper is the commercial crop. Plantations dry the peppercorns on tarps in the sun.

There's plenty of subsistence fishing and farming as well, which means that we (continue to) eat well!

Spring rolls and fried squid.

Grilled fish on the beach.

Our friend Chris from LA has met us here. She's about to take a stab at hot-salt snapper.

We encounter many children on the island. They are all excited to see the foreigners on the scooters.

"Hello! What's your name? Where you from?" are just syllables they've learned to recite, and the answers echo hollow in their ears, but they each repeat them with the same enthusiasm.

Young entrepreneur selling postcards.

Other travelers frame the town's streets.

Interestingly, the café chairs face the street—better for observing the action, I guess.

Refrigeration is not as readily available here, but I'll do whatever you require of me to enjoy a beer.

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Old 07-06-2008, 04:12 PM   #15
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Special delivery. "Cassia Cottage, bungalow 3, please".

Miles of coastline.

One welcome waterfall.

Fresh squid.

Beachside lunch courtesy of Coleman and Heineken. You'd never think something cooked inside a cardboard box on a plastic picnic table could taste so good. That's because you're a close-minded xenophobic fuc*…

...sorry, I didn't mean you, I meant those other assholes. Sometimes I get carried away.

The adventure-scooter part. Where would SE Asia be without the 4-stroke step-through? Everyone in SE Asia owns a scooter. I cannot speculate what they did prior.

You can reach some very out-of-the-way places on scooter. Here we've travelled back to Aspen, Colorado and this monument to Hunter S. Thompson.

We take in a day of snorkeling.

Irresistible Pho.

Cooling off in the waters.

Crowded, over-rated beaches.

Street market. Final night. Accosted by young thugs.

Final meat on a stick.

Were I a betting man, I'd bet against the government's forecast schedule for development here. We traveled the islands entire perimeter. It has perhaps 3 bulldozers, 5 graders, a handful of backhoes and 4 steam rollers. And most are on private assignment. Furthermore, there are no transport vehicles capable of moving such equipment. You want it where? At 3 MPH, that will be 2 days.

Moreover, as best I can determine, there is no port that can accommodate a vessel capable of delivering such major equipment in one piece (save a military port). I’m guessing the heavy equipment already here was shipped in pieces and assembled on the island.

And yet, don't wait. If you have the time and means (time being the more difficult to come by at the island's rate), make your way to this sleepy pearl as soon as possible--before the flights and hotels are overbooked—well before it de-evolves into a Phukett.

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