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From Les

Kuala Lumpur, 29th August 2008  (Quick update)

   Well we made it to Kuala Lumpur in one piece and took a taxi to our pre-booked hotel. The view from our hotel window is stunning and rich in vivid contrasts. In the distance we can see the famous Petronas twin towers and a beautiful domed mosque. In the foreground just under our window are squalid slums with washing draped all over the garbage-littered streets.

We have arrived in a monsoon storm and as we walked across the tarmac we huddled under the little bit of protection from umbrellas. I was wet up to my knees but it was warm rain and within minutes we were steaming. The taxi whizzed us the 75-km to the city and the edge of Little India, our home for the next couple of days. There has been a lot of building work along the way, brand-new posh housing estates which appear to be empty with grass growing on their roofs. Some of the high risers in the city are magnificent but the noise from the tatty open-fronted shops is almost deafening with loud "Bollywood" music.

The smells and dress code is muddled as there are so many nationalities all living together in this jumble of humanity; Malaysians, Chinese, Indian are all living in this area on the edge of Little India and China Town. A huge concrete monorail transports bullet-shaped torpedoes of mankind above our heads amid a constant stream of small bikes, taxis, busses and cars. So far I haven't heard too much honking and hooting though the taxi ride here was a bit of a white knuckle ride as he quickly switched lanes for no apparent reason.

We haven't been able to trace the bike which is a real problem. We were given false info by the shipper in OZ and, as we have changed the clocks again, putting ours back 1½ hrs, the offices are closed so we can't kick butt!

It's a bit of a culture shock after the familiarity of NZ and OZ and for a while we though "what the heck are we doing here?" but were very tired. We were up 7am on Weds morning and haven’t slept since flying overnight with a 6-hr stopover in Singapore with uncomfortable seats. It’s now 5.30pm on Thurs, 8pm OZ time, so we are feeling a bit sensitive. The staff at our hotel are very helpful though and the room basic but clean.

Will keep you posted

Love to all, Les.


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; September 2nd 2008.

   Here we are in a hot and humid Malaysia, a new continent and our 21st country, if we count Singapore were we had a 5-hour stopover and actually left the terminal building! Today is my birthday and the third one I’ve had on the road so we really pushed the boat out and bought two silk shirts for £4 at the market!

The Australian leg of our trek was an endurance test to say the least. In the 2½ months we covered 11,844 miles and chewed up two rear bevel drive bearings! But it was a blessing in disguise really as we finished the Aussie leg nicely by meeting Cam, Kath, Vicky and Snapper. My final Australian treat, or should I say challenge, was to ride Cam’s Triumph Rocket 3 trike! Our bike had already been dispatched to the freight handlers and I needed to get back to the airport to collect our air waybill from Hellemann’s, the logistics company who were handling the flight of the bike to Kuala Lumpur. Cam, my new best friend, stepped in and let me take his beautiful Triumph trike. How many people would you lend you’re their bike? And to a virtual stranger who’s never ridden on three wheels before, well just once, but that was a works car! It was an experience to say the least. There I was riding along with an open-face helmet, shorts and a T-shirt, the only things missing were the `Cam` beard and tattoos up my arms to complete the, “bad ass, mother f***er” image I’ve been striving to achieve for years! Anyway, I returned the bike in one piece but couldn’t get rid of the grin on my face for ages but I still prefer my two wheels, mainly because I haven’t got the beard and tattoos! -- Thanks Cam.

At Darwin airport I made a big mistake and forgot to take the puncture repair kit out of the tank bag I was carrying onboard the plane. It contained compressed air cylinders and a metal spike to push the rubber plugs in with. I also forgot to remove my sewing kit scissors and a bottle opener; they were all seized and disposed of - my own stupid fault! The magnets built into the base of the tank bag also created some interest once again!

Our 0055hrs flight left on time and in 4½ hours we landed in a hot and humid Singapore. Here we had a five hour stopover before catching our connection to Kuala Lumpur. This consisted of a short walk outside the terminal building and a couple of quick catnaps The terminal building in Singapore is one of the most beautiful in the world and is beautifully decorated with several different types of orchid lending it that classy touch.

After whiling away the hours, in what felt like a night-shift, we boarded our nearly-new Air Asia Airbus 320 and fell into its comfortable leather seats in Economy Class. A short time later we took to the sky for a short 50-minute flight to Kuala Lumpur. As we came in to land at KL all we could see for miles was innumerable hues of green. Not the red and brown of the outback we’d come to know of late but lush green vegetation, the reason for such lush growth was soon apparent. As we left the aircraft and stepped out onto the tarmac we were handed an umbrella because it was throwing it down with rain! We had landed in the middle of a hot, wet and humid tropical monsoon - what a fantastic welcome to Malaysia.

We took a taxi with its very chatty driver for the 50-mile ride to the city; we were well pleased as the fare only cost £10! On the way we passed the famous Sepang race track which hosts not only the Moto GP but also the FI as well. Our journey continued along a beautiful motorway through forests of palm-oil trees, rolling hills and eventually into the city. We made our way through the suburbs of neat new housing complexes in close proximity to a few run-down places and into the center with its skyscrapers and “state of the art” architecture. In the ‘Little India’ district we found our hotel, the ‘Cititel Express’ and were made most welcome by the friendly staff. We enjoyed a comfortable twin economy room with en-suit with breakfast for only £27 - a real bargain if you ask me. From our window we had a fantastic view. In the distance we could see the famous ‘Petronas Twin Towers’ and other amazing skyscrapers which dominate the downtown scene. In the foreground we could see mosques and hear the wailing of the calls to prayer echoing around the city several times a day. We could also see street markets and slums, it was surreal – we were observing the complete spectrum of human existence through just one window! Later we had the first of many hot and spicy meals in the hotel restaurant invariably followed by a short walk. Stepping out of the air conditioned hotel and onto the street we were immediately hit by the heat and humidity. The Indian people of the neighbourhood look at us and smile when you make eye contact, and if you stand still long enough, you’ll be asked, “and where is it you’ll be coming from sir”? The ladies wear beautiful coloured saris and head scarfs. We walked straight into the hustle and bustle of a street market and the call of its vendors selling their wares. The acrid smell of decaying vegetation mix with the intoxicating smell of curry and spices and the odd beggar just completes the scene - I love this place already.

The following morning, after a great night’s sleep, we take a taxi back to the airport to collect the bike. The driver dropped us at the Malaysian Airlines, ‘Mas Kargo’ terminal, which like every other airport is separate to the passenger terminal. At the security office we hand in our passports in return for an ID badge and a wristband, I didn’t know there was a gig involved!

In the stifling heat we walk to the `Mas Kargo` central processing office, CPO where I explain what I’ve come for and hand over my air waybill, in return I get a few more pieces of paper. I guess it must have been the blank expression on my face that made the charming woman hand over the “Idiots guide” to claiming back your cargo!

I then backtracked several hundred metres to the Customs main office and hand over my wad of papers and get a few stamps and signatures, then it was back to the 3rd floor of ‘Mas Kargo’ for a personal declaration form. Next it was back to the Customs office with my Carnet duly filled in and stamped, the final signature coming from the customs boss on the sixth floor, a beautiful woman in uniform and scarf. Then it was back to Mas Kargo CPO and pay the handling fee of £13.57, the only payment made this end. From here I made my way to the Import Release counter where I pick up a delivery order for the bike!

Like an expectant father I once again anxiously awaited delivery of my child, and then she arrived hidden in a curtain-sided aluminium box. The curtain is undone and there she is, just as I had left her a couple of days before. I sign yet another form then suddenly remember that I’d left Les sitting in a waiting room somewhere in the complex, now where was it? Twenty minutes later I find her patiently waiting. I don’t think she realised she’d nearly been lost in the bowels of `Mas Kargo` never to be seen again!

Anyway, I push the bike out of the box and, with several people watching my every move; I reconnect the battery, fix the mirrors back on and fire her up - what a beautiful sound. But the paper chase isn’t quite over yet. We ride to another Customs office where the officer compares the carnet details with the bike and endorses the form. I’m then told we can’t leave as everyone’s at prays for an hour, but at least I can wait in the customs building where they’ve got air con. Fortunately for me I find another customs officer who must have been giving prays a miss today and he tears off their section of the carnet and at last we’re free to go and we ride out into the traffic.

Riding appears to be easy here as we’re now on the left-hand side of the road and the roads seem in good repair. We stopped for fuel and find that petrol only costs 40 pence a litre for premium unleaded - happy days!

Using our Garmin Etrex, (thanks boys), we find our way through the city in the rush hour where little motorcycles and scooters overtake everywhere; I really have to work the mirrors! We head back to the hotel where the bike is safe in the underground car park for the time being.

We’ve arrived in KL during their Independence celebrations, and as such, a lot of businesses are closed until Tuesday. We also had to move from our economy room to a superior one at £23 per night but we’re now on the 8th floor with an even better view of the city - see the pictures.

We were here for five days and during that time we intended to fully explore this amazing city, using the mono-rail to whisk us into the glitzy city centre and explore China Town with its noisy, bustling markets and colourful people.

We got up early to watch the Independence Day parade with several thousands people jostling for a look as marching bands, soldiers and tanks rumble down the street. Emergency services and several civilian organisations in colourful uniforms march by, the whole display must have lasted for about an hour. Hundreds of Malaysian flags flutter proudly as several F18 or F16-looking jets scream down the high street followed by helicopters dangling flags beneath them. All in all it was a very impressive display by a proud nation.

In the afternoon we signed up for a tour from the hotel stopping at several touristy souvenir outlets. But the interesting stops were to the Batu Cave Hindu Temple with a huge golden figure at the entrance and over 200 steps for us to climb in the humid heat. This was followed by a visit to the KL tower and a lift to the observation platform, at 421 metres it’s the world’s fourth tallest and wow what a view!

With everyone back to work on Tuesday we venture to ‘Sunny Cycles’, a motorcycle shop used by travellers where we meet the Sunny, the owner, who unfortunately can’t help us with insurance but will sell us a pair of Bridgestone Trailwings cheaper than we can get them back home - we’ll be back! Sunny then directed us to the Automobile Association of Malaysia office in the city centre where we get 1-year third party insurance for £20! By way of celebration I then get my birthday treat - a burger at the `Hard Rock Cafe` in Kuala Lumpur.

The final stop is to Auto Bavaria, the BMW dealer in town where we meet Sahran, the bike salesman. He was another very friendly and helpful chap who will sell me another bevel drive bearing for only £46, I paid over £100 in Darwin! After a coffee and a chat we caught the mono-rail back to our hotel.

Tomorrow we are back on the road again. The plan is to explore south and central Malaysia, get some beach time on the east coast, then back across the mountains to KL for tyres and a bearing before heading north along the west coast towards Thailand, but as always we remain very flexible!

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 2nd September 2008

   Suddenly we are right back in the midst of a busy mass of multi-cultural and colourful people.

We said our sad farewells to Cath, Cam, Vicki and Snappa in Darwin and were transported by shuttle bus to the airport. Along with our fellow, mostly Asian travellers, we were shoe-horned onto a budget flight to Kuala Lumpur via Singapore. At Singapore we had to go through customs and received an entry and exit visa stamp that we hadn't expected, that clocked up our 20th country.

We arrived at Sepang National Airport, 75kms from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital city around midday. Fortunately we had booked a hotel room for a couple of days while we arranged the release of the “Old Girl” from customs. We endured yet another white-knuckle ride in a taxi which took us to the ‘Cititel Express Hotel’ with its amazing views of the Petronis Twin towers and the shanty towns with tin shacks housing many families in the area.

Immediately the combination of the humidity, heat, smells, colours and noise surrounded us and I felt that tingle of anticipation and excitement stirring in my belly - this is more like it! We have been leading a fairly sheltered life recently and now we are getting back in the mode for more adventure and new experiences.

The Asian food is also a new experience. It is generally hot and spicy, rice or noodles in chilli fish paste and curry sauce. We have decided to work our way through the menus and, considering a meal with soft drink is about £2.50, we can afford to make a few mistakes along the way. We have visited a few “hole in the wall” eateries and have been greeted like long-lost friends. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful and seem to really appreciate our pathetic attempts at “Terima kasih” or Thank you as they always reply ”Sama-sama”, ”You are welcome”.

Somehow we have timed our arrival with the huge annual (since 1957) Independence Day Parade which is held in the streets surrounding Merdeka Square. The speeches and Air force fly-by began about 8am on Sunday morning but we arrived just after 9am in time for the amazing parade of marching bands and troops. It was a very impressive sight, not just the continuous stream of different uniforms but the huge number of people who turned out to line the streets and wave their flags. Although KL has an eclectic mix of Malays, Indians and Chinese, amongst a host of other nationalities, everyone seemed united in their pride of the Nation.

Doing the “tourist thing” we booked onto a sightseeing tour for the princely sum of £10 each and it was well-worth every penny. First we visited the Royal Selangor Pewter centre where we watched skilled women sculpting goblets by hand and were shown the largest tankard in the world which could hold 615 gallons. Our guide told us that the Malay's, (a tee-total nation), say that BEER means “Before Enjoy, Eventually Regret”!!! Fair comment!!

Next we visited the Batu Caves which house Hindu Temples in the hills just north of the city. To get to the caves you have to pass an enormous golden statue and then climb the 272 steps dodging monkeys and slippery fruit peelings till you reach the cave entrance. The cave itself opens out to a cavern containing dripping water, stalactites, a sacred cow, cat, shrines and temples. The aroma of damp earth, burning incense sticks and rotting vegetables, which I presume have been left for the sacred cow, all mingle in the hot steamy atmosphere which has a tendency to steam our spectacle lenses. The heroes of the day have to be the men who work as a team and carry people in wheel chairs up the steep steps, encouraged by other visitors along the way.

Exhausted after our climb we were then taken to 4, yes 4 factory outlets!! We declined the leather goods, watches, and even passed on the beautiful hand-painted Batik fabrics but when we had been force-fed about 10 different types of chocolates our resistance was we had to make a small purchase.

We were completely surprised when our guide said that there was more to come and that he had kept the best till last just as the skies opened for the daily rainstorms. We were squeezed into another shuttle bus and arrived at the bottom of the KL Tower which was once the tallest building in the world, but at 421mtrs it is still the 4th tallest telecommunications tower in the world. The lifts whiz us up to the dizzy height of 276 mts and opened out to a wonderful 360 deg views of the city. Wow!!! What a view!! My fear of heights was dispelled for a while as I tried to find where we are staying in ‘Little India’ area of the city - I am so much braver than I used to be!

Malaysia has a public holiday on Monday but it seems that the market and street stalls are still open, as are many of the shopping malls. We took a look in the Golden Triangle area where all the expensive shops such as Versace, Prada, and Gucci, to name just a few are located. Encouraged by all this high street fashion, and the fact that today is Nick’s birthday, we have treated him to 3 new shirts costing a total of £7.18p from a local street stall, now that’s what I call a bargain! To celebrate, we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and then felt guilty about spending so much money but you only get one birthday a year and once you are over 50 one is just one too many!!

We now have bike insurance cover for the next year in Malaysia so we are safe to begin our exploration of Malaysia starting first thing tomorrow morning.

Until next time, Lesley

Kuantan, East Coast Malaysia; Saturday 13th September 2008.

    One of the wonderful things about travelling are the people you meet on the way. There we were minding our own business and having a great time riding through the Malaysian jungle when we had a problem. As a result of that problem we have now made long-lasting friendships and found new best friends! Although the problem upset me at that particular time the resultant friendships soon camouflaged that disappointment. Sometimes good can only to be found on the other side of misfortune and without these problems these friendships would have been very unlikely.

We left Kuala Lumpur on a hot and humid day after battling through the traffic and millions of small motorbikes. I found myself overtaking and undertaking with all the urgency of a race track, and that was them - not me! Finding our way onto Highway E8 east we wound around some beautiful bends on a well-made dual carriageway through the jungle. It was then that we discovered our first hint of a problem as the bike momentarily cut out; but, before I had lost too much speed, she fired up again. My first thought was perhaps the old girl was feeling a bit hot and bothered like me and this was only a mechanical protest. We eventually stopped and had a look but could detect nothing obvious. Well what did I expect, with all the high-tech electronics this bike is fitted with!

We rode off the dual carriageway and onto Route 2 which is a more rural single carriageway. We rode on through several small towns looking for somewhere to stop for lunch which proved difficult as most roadside restaurants were closed for Ramadan; September being the fasting month for Muslims. After stopping at a garage for snacks the two Muslim girl assistants, dressed in beautiful saris and head scarves, must have realised our predicament and gave us a box of dates to bolster our meagre lunchtime supplies of crisps and biscuits!

A little further on we spotted our first roadside wildlife, monkeys were daintily pick up something edible and checked us out as we rode by. The going was slow on the back road due to heavy traffic as it avoids paying tolls on the motorway. Fed up with the slow pace and incessant smoke we found our way back onto the E8 as motorcycles don't pay tolls. We rode the last few miles into Kuantan, a small fishing port on Malaysian east coast.

We've just ridden 194 miles across the peninsula from the straights of Malacca on the west coast to the South China Sea in the east. In Kuantan we found the ‘Mega View Hotel’ beside the river and from our 9th-floor balcony we enjoyed great views of the sea on one side and the beautiful blue and white mosque in the town centre on the other. A double en-suite room with breakfast cost £21.60; That night we feasted on some Indian culinary delights, all served on a banana leaf, and for the two of us with soft drinks, it cost just under £4.

After a filling breakfast the following day we loaded the bike and rode off into another hot and humid day; well we tried to! After a few hundred metres the bike cut out and we coasted to a stop in the outside lane at some traffic lights. After several failed attempts to start it we eventually pushed it to the roadside and then to a nearby service station where I carried out the normal breakdown checks. There was plenty of fuel in the tank so I took out the spark plugs and found a hint of a spark on one side of the engine but nothing on the other. Gone are the days of a ‘quick fix’ on this bike due to the modern technology used in its engine management, 8-gauge wire and Duck Tape won't help me here! A friendly Chinese gentleman pointed us in the direction of a BMW car dealership, how lucky was that? Leaving Les to guard the bike I walked the couple of hundred metres to Auto Bavaria, one of a chain of seven BMW car dealerships in Malaysia, and as luck would have it, the only one on the east coast; Here I meet Cyril, the head of after sales and our saviour for the day. James, the branch manager, was also very helpful; he was a kind, deep-thinking man of Chinese decent. After explaining our predicament Cyril checked the store for spark plugs with no success so we jumped into his car and check out a couple of local bike shops. Sadly the plugs proved too much of a challenge so we returned to Les who's sitting in the shade patiently waiting once again, bless her. Cyril drove Les back to the shop and I had the joy pushing the fully loaded bike against the traffic flow across traffic lights. Thankfully there was no drama; pushing a fully-laden bike must be a pretty usual sight here and everyone gave me plenty of space and time but I was soaked to the skin due to the humid heat by the time I arrived back at the shop. The mechanics went through everything I'd previously checked, I also checked the notorious side-stand cut-out switch but with no diagnostic equipment for the engine we ground to a halt. Cyril apologetically stated that the bike will have to go back to KL where the Motorad, (BMW bike service department) have the specialist diagnostic gear. With that he arranges a pickup truck for the next morning and kindly invites us to stay with him for the night, what a gentleman! That night, in an effort to drown my sorrows, Cyril plies me with beer and kebabs at a beach-side bar which possibly wasn't a good idea as I hadn't had an alcoholic beverage since we landed in Malaysia - enough said!

The following morning, after a breakfast of pancakes and curry sauces, (Roti Canai), we loaded the bike onto the back of the pick up belonging to Calvin and headed back across the country to KL. I promised Cyril we would keep in touch. This little glitch in our plan cost us £144 and took a hot and sticky 4½hours.

We arrived at Auto Bavaria's Motorad dealership at Glenmarie on the outskirts of KL and met Gary, the head of motorcycle after sales. He suspected right away that it was the ignition pulse generator; basically the electronic ignition which apparently is a regular fault here due to the tropical humidity. Fortunately they had one in stock, but unfortunately as the weekends was upon us, they can't do anything until Monday so we had to find somewhere to stay. In an incredible turn of fortune I was approached by Nazri, a customer and friend of Gary’s who had been listening to our predicament. In an unbelievable act of generosity he tells us “You can stay in my apartment, I'm not using it at the moment”.  That’s 2 saviours in as many days; it bodes well for the rest of our trip through Asia. While we unload some clothes from the bike, Nazri goes to collect his daughter Sabrina from school. We then all drive in his convertible BMW car to his apartment with pool and great views of KL on the eighth floor. Nazri also has a couple of BMW bikes so we're one big happy BMW family, some working and some not!

Nazri is Malaysian, a devoted, kind and generous Muslim who also happens to be an `Airbus 319` pilot. Sabrina is a cleaver ten year old who speaks perfect English and, if she takes after her dad, is also destined to be successful in life. We spent a pleasant weekend at the apartment being collected by Nazri and Sabrina and shown the sights of KL and meeting some of their friends.

On Monday we got a very pleasant phone call from Gary; the bike is fixed and it was the ignition pulse generator after all so we arranged to pick it up on Tuesday and resume our tour with Nazri & Sabrina.

Our final treat with Nazri was to have dinner with his parents who live 1-hour away in the country. Mr and Mrs Elias greeted us dressed in beautiful traditional Malay dress and were very kind and generous in welcoming us into their home. We sampled some delicious traditional Malay food as Mr Elias related tales of living through the Japanese occupation and the days of the British Empire. We listened intently to his stories for hours and fortunately he had nothing but praise for the British colonial days. At about midnight we took our leave and headed back to the city.

Next day I wake to find I have picked up a cold and sore throat which in this climate could take some time to shake off but I must soldier on. We picked up the bike which is now running sweetly again. The bike workshop here at Auto Bavaria Glenmarie is well equipped which makes it strange that it doesn't feature on the BMW website as a Motorad dealer? Gary tells me that it was the ignition pulse generator as suspected, parts and labour cost £252.72 and I also picked up another spare bevel drive bearing - just in case!

We had a great three-day stay in KL and met some fantastic people but it was time to explore this beautiful country which has already gone to the top of my list of favourites.

After a short ‘shake-down’ ride southeast down the coast we stopped at Melaka and found the Hotel Tropicavlle where we stayed a day in an effort at shaking off this cold which is dragging me down a bit! Our exploration of the town revealed its exciting history being governed by the Dutch, Portuguese and the British in the past, mainly due no doubt to the prominent position of its trading port. Here, as everywhere in Malaysia, a very cosmopolitan mix of Indian, Chinese and Malay exist, they are all friendly, helpful and always have a smile.

As we load the bike the next morning the hotel staff came out to chat and wave us off. We headed southeast again along a new dual-carriageway which took us to Muar and Batu Pahat where we headed inland through jungle and forests of palm-oil trees to Kluang. It’s exciting observing the varied wildlife here in the tropics, I just missed hitting a 2-foot lizard crossing the road and monkeys nonchalantly sit and watch us ride by. We stopped for a drink and took shelter from the hot sun in a bus shelter. In the silence we listened to the dense jungle talking to us with so many animals and insects all making their presence heard.

We stopped the night at Mersing, a touristy seaside town and departure point for several island tourist locations. The ‘Hotel Seri Malaysia’ enjoys a nice location close to the beach and must have been a beautiful building in its heyday but sadly it seems a bit run down now.

Next day we followed Route 3 northeast along the coast and rode through small rural villages with wooden houses on stilts and passed beaches of light sand and palm trees until we returned to Kuantan and the Hotel Mega View. As it was the weekend we decided to stay a couple of days. I phoned Cyril at Auto Bavaria BMW and used their workshops to do an oil change. Unfortunately the cold is still with me but now with an added problem of an attack of `Bombay Belly` and have had to spend a day in the room and very close to the toilet. By way of compensation I listen to the magic of Malaysia from our 9th floor balcony with the calling to prays, the hustle & bustle of the markets and fishing boats. Hopefully I'll be better tomorrow.

Oops, excuse me - I've got to go - AGAIN!!!!!   Nick.

From Les

Kuantan, Malaysia; 13th Sept 2008

   Already Malaysia has become a very special place for us ... or maybe it's the wonderful people we have met in our very short time here? Nothing seems to be too much trouble and everything is dealt with in such a calm, gentle and patient way.

We made it to Kuantan on the east coast using both the highway and the old main road routes through small towns and villages. The sharp rugged hills covered in palm trees and other tropical plants are so fresh and vibrant with shiny leaves which are frequent washed clean by the warm rain. We are now seeing monkeys at the side of the road instead of Kangaroos.

We stayed in the ‘Mega View Hotel’ on the riverside with balconies which gave us our first sighting of the South China Sea and the beautiful spires and turrets of the Masjid Negeri Mosque in the town centre. The plan was to ride north along the coast until we found a nice spot on a beach for a few days R&R time but the “Old girl” had other ideas!

So there we were sitting in the middle of a 4-lane traffic light junction with no spark in the engine! The old girl had failed us! It was a bit embarrassing really, all loaded up and looking as though we meant business and having to push her the wrong way down the busiest road in town to a nearby garage. It was either the embarrassment or the heat that gave us our red faces – I’m not sure! Cyril from the nearby BMW garage came to our rescue, taking us to lunch, arranging an appointment with BMW in KL, transport for us and the bike to KL, somewhere to stay and then took us out to relax in the evening.

The following morning, after Cyril had taken us for breakfast of Roti Canai, Malaysian pancake with curried sauces, I stood back and watched the men, (8 at one point) loading the old girl onto the back of a car transporter belonging to Calvin. He then drove us the 4½ hr trip to KL whilst juggling 3 mobile phones at the same time! Some of the trip gave me flash backs to the “Chicken busses” in Mexico, however I am happy to report we arrived safe and sound.

Garry had been warned of our arrival at the incredibly plush BMW HQ and, with the aide of Geoffrey the mechanic, the old girl was whizzed into the lift to the 2nd floor bike hospital. While discussing the problem with Garry we got chatting to another customer who offered us a bed for the night as it was by then 5:30pm on Friday evening. Our knight in shining armour turned out to be Nazri, a single father of the lovely 10-yr old Sabrina. Nazri took us to his apartment which was undergoing renovation but was perfect for us. He then took us to meet Garry and friends for the Break-fast meal as Muslims fast between 05.15am and 7.19pm or sunrise to sunset. Once again we were introduced to a vast array of culinary delicacies, but better still, more insight into the Muslim and Malay culture.

As the bike could not be worked on till Monday, Nazri said that we could stay until then and offered to take us out to see some of the sights of Kuala Lumpur. We visited the National Monument with its beautiful statues and gardens, then the Museum before heading out to the most amazing shopping plaza, all decorated with Pyramids, sphinxes, elephants, deer and tigers. The lights all around the area were so vibrant and colourful. We then took a ride out to the purpose-built Government Office complex with its wide roads, magnificent Mosque and parliamentary buildings.

We got the call from Garry on Monday afternoon that the bike was running and we could collect it in the morning. Nazri once again offered to be our chauffer although he is rather more used to piloting an Airbus carrying V.I.P's than conducting guided tours. Nazri invited us to dinner at his parent’s home an hour or so from KL as his father would be very interested in meeting us. His father, Mr Elias spoke wonderful Queen’s English, putting us to shame. He told us many wonderful stories about his life in Malaysia. Nazri's mother is a quiet, gentle, smiling lady who provided us with some real home cooking Malaysian style and I believe Nazri when he says his Mum is the best cook in the world.

I was really sad when we said our farewells to Sabrina and Nazri. Over the weekend we had spent quite a lot of time with them and were becoming good friends, we were often overwhelmed by their generosity and kindness towards us, a heartfelt thank you to all who have helped us and given us their friendship.

The ‘old girl’ runs like a dream once again so we headed south to Melaka, a port with a chequered history since the 14th century. Because of its ideal position for re-supplying trade ships it has changed hands many times from Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British. The ‘China Town’ area has narrow streets with ancient buildings and as you walk by the tiny shops and houses a huge range of intoxicating aromas envelope you. We visited the Maritime museum housed in a replica Portuguese ship, the Flora de le Mar, and for a few seconds wondered why we had been issued with a plastic bag with our 50p entrance fee. In Malaysia it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a house, temple, mosque and now - museums. The sight of a mass of sandals and shoes by the front door doesn't mean a “shoe sale” it is a sign of respect.

It has become warmer in the 100-miles further south we have ridden so we are glad to be on the move with the natural air conditioning. Unfortunately Nick is under the weather with a sore throat, swollen glands and fever but the urge to continue to the east coast takes over and we find ourselves in Mersing where we walked along the beach into town. At lunchtime we stopped off at a busy stall for rice and chicken and it was obvious that they were not used to visitors like us. The customers tried very hard not to stare and if you did catch them looking they flashed a quick smile. Just as we were leaving the nominated spokeswoman asked us where we were from as all the customers were interested. When she told them heads began to nod and smiles became wider ... these people are so friendly.

We are now in Kuantan again, staying in the same hotel room where, hopefully, Nick will begin to feel better. The coastal villages on the way reminded me of the Costa Rica Caribbean villages with all the houses on stilts. There have been several sightings of monkeys, large lizards, goats, cows and a rat, unfortunately monkey seems to be the main “road-kill” animal in the tree-lined areas here.

Since we have been in Malaysia we have had a bit of a roller coaster ride, the “highs” of experiencing new cultures, experiences, sights and meeting new people and the “lows” with bike problems and Nick being unwell. The one consistent thing has been the incredible kindness, generosity and beauty of the Malaysian people - I am really looking forward to discovering more.

Until next time, Lesley.

Pinang, Malaysia; 27th September 2008

   After a couple of days in Kuantan I had recovered my composure and didn't need to remain within sight of a toilet anymore! It was time to move on once again - but not too far.

We'd fancied a bit of beach time so we headed north on Route 3 to Cherating. Cherating is a popular beach-holiday destination and this is reflected in the abundance of hotels, cabins, cottages and inns dotted along the coastline. Mind you, the approach from Kuantan isn’t very encouraging as you have to pass through an industrial area with massive chimneys and big stainless steel containers with miles of piping, best not ask what's being made here! We made a few enquiries re accommodation and found there was something for everyone; a very basic cabin on the non-coastal side of the road for only £8 per night. A basic cabin on the beach was £16 night, a hotel room with breakfast was £23 a night; or really push the boat out and have an all inclusive Club Med resort for £117! Well, we chose the `Suria Great Western Cherating Beach Resort`,  at £23 a night for 2 with breakfast. We had a lovely pool and a 100-metre walk to a long golden beach which we had to ourselves, except for some at the posh ‘Club Med’ end who dragged themselves from the bar to check out the ocean! The unusual thing was that this was the busy season and yet we were sharing this big hotel with only another two couples! We spent two days swimming in the South China Sea, briefly lying in the sun and enjoying the restaurant’s food until we were fully fit and ready for the road once again; you can have just too much of a good thing - can't you?

The plan was to ride up the east coast to the north-eastern point then south down the middle of the peninsula and back towards Kuala Lumpur where I had some new tyres waiting for me.

On another hot and humid day we headed north on Route 3 which hugged the coast and later filled the bike with premium unleaded at only 43 pence a litre - try not to cry back home! The road was busy with lorries, cars and motorcycles all battling for space. It’s so hot and uncomfortable that I wish I could ride in a shorts and a T-shirt! We are riding along with our jackets unzipped in an effort to get some ventilation, and my thick `Hood` armoured denim jeans are just too much for this tropical climate but they do provide that essential protection we need - I'm sweating cobs! A short time later we get a headlight flash from an oncoming lorry and find a police check around the next corner, nice to see the warning system works here too!

After riding through jungle, palm-oil plantations, coconut palms and past some industrial units sharing space with water buffalo we arrive at Kuala Terengganu, which is a departure point for boat trips to the offshore tropical islands. After visiting a very helpful tourist information centre,  we find the `Batu Burok Beach Resort` where we get a comfortable room for £10;

Next day we headed north on Route 3 to Bandar Permaisuri then Route 4 to Machang. The road started flat with gentle bends on busy jungle roads but gradually became hillier with rocky outcrops which made our progress even more interesting. We passed our first crash scene, car-V-tree, the tree looked okay but the car was a mess as people stood and stared at the carnage. In the strength-sapping heat we passed paddy fields and rubber plantations. Riding along the east coast for the past few days we've observed the recurring sight of many wooden shacks built on flat land and set back from the road. In the small communities there are many places to eat but all were closed due to the festival of Ramadan. The thick green jungle and the relentless heat and humidity started to get to us and we could feel ‘burnt out’!

We’d seen a few police road checks in Malaysia so far but today it was our turn as we were stopped. The policemen were very professional in checking my passport and driving licence and they were genuinely curious about our adventure but it was too hot to chat for long!

At the small grubby town of Gua Musang in the central northern area of the country we found the ‘Hotel Fully Inn’ We we’re now surrounded by massive rock formations which seemed squeezed up and formed vertical strata lines. From this town you can catch the jungle train south towards Kuala Lumpur.  In the stifling heat we walked around the block and gazed into a dirty stream where we saw a 5-foot lizard swimming upstream. All very interesting indeed but it was now so hot that we had no option but to return to the air conditioning of the hotel to cool down!

We passed another milestone for the trek today as the bike registered 77,000 miles for the adventure so far, but the miles aren't passing as quickly as they did when we were tackling the vast and seemingly endless roads of Australia!

The following day it was more of the same on a busy Route 8 south, but at least we were now being treated to a few more hills and gentle bends. We stopped for some bananas and oranges at a roadside stall just south of Raub. A short time later we found a small road sign pointing to ‘Fraser’s Hill’ so we pull off, ate our fruit and carried on along, what turned out to be, a spectacular ride. “What luck”, I thought; we had found a small, well-surfaced lane with tight bends and at last it was time to play!  We climbed steadily, and thankfully it also became somewhat cooler. At a place called ‘The Gap’ we turned off towards Fraser’s Hill resort, passed a gate house and headed onto a single-track road. From this road we looked down onto a beautiful misty jungle view several hundred feet below. As we climbed higher to the resort town of Fraser’s hill we were struck by just how ‘British’ it all looks! Here we found the ‘Silver Park Resort’ and treated ourselves to a self-contained apartment for £28; . At 4,300ft, this hill-top resort was developed by the British so they could escape the heat and humidity, and for me it was just in the nick of time. Then guess what? Les started complaining about getting cold - you just can’t win!

We later shared a buffet dinner with chatty students of the School of Islam who were breaking their Ramadan fast.

After another excellent breakfast of rice, noodles, sausage and coffee we started our descent from our hill-top paradise the next morning. In 6-miles we descended 1,569 ft to the gatehouse then onto the wider 2-lane Route 55 to Peretak. We were now dropping another 3,534 ft in 19-miles, passing a reservoir and back into the heat!

From Kubu Baharu we followed Route 1 towards Kuala Lumpur but turned off for the Genting Highlands after only a few miles. We now found ourselves on another interesting and well-surfaced road which gently climbed through the jungle. Sometimes I think I really could do with a bike that’s a bit more sporting, or maybe even lose the load from the back! All too sudden the fun stops and we find ourselves on a dual-carriageway which is heaving with traffic all heading to the Genting Highlands Resort! Mind you, a lot of fun could be had weaving in and out of the traffic and negotiating the tight bends as you climb into the cooler air. Road-signs indicate several hotels and a theme park along the way. Several thousand feet up on top of this hill there is what appears to be a “Disney-type” theme park with hundreds of people getting on and off waiting busses. We never did intend partaking of the “theme park touristy thing” but just came up for the view which this altitude offers on a fine day. We couldn’t see too much in the low cloud so after a coffee at ‘StarBucks’, (yes they're everywhere, inc Kentucky Fried Chicken), we made a sharp exit and rode back down which wasn’t quite so much fun as there speed humps at every bend!

On the way back down we found the ‘Hotel Seri Malaysia Genting’ and got a double room with breakfast for £21, just in the nick of time too as the clouds became black with thunder, lightning and heavy rain.

Next day my trusty Garmin Etrex hand-held satnav came in useful once again as I had the co-ordinates for `Sunny`s Cycles` in Kuala Lumpur dialled in, there was no need for a map today, I just followed the compass heading. Mind you, this can be a bit hit and miss as we tried to follow the roads going in the direction the compass pointed us to. Eventually we got there and met Sunny, the owner, a very helpful and kind Chinese Malaysian. We had a pair of Bridgestone BattleWing tyres fitted for £160; we would probably have paid that for the rear tyre on its own back home! The old Metzeler Tourance rear tyre had covered 6000miles and still had a couple of mm left. The front had covered 19000 miles and could have gone a bit further I thought! While at Sunny’s we meet another local world traveller on an ageing R80GS and exchanged some notes of routes and places to see. A friend of Nazri also turned up on a new naked BMW 1200RS. Before leaving we punched in the co-ordinates for Nazri`s apartment, only this time it was more challenging. We now found ourselves on the wrong side of a dual-carriageway and couldn’t find a way to cross, all the time we could see the apartment block which was not too far away. Just when I thought all hope was lost I saw some mopeds taking a short cut through the sewer tunnel under the motorway so I followed them. We found Nazri and his friend and enjoyed an exciting blast through the traffic to the BMW Motorrad dealership at Glenmarie where I picked up a sticker and bade our farewells - always the hardest part of travelling!

We headed north along Highway E1 towards Ipoh where we peeled off at Tapah and followed Route 59 into the Cameron Highlands; “Wow” is the only word I can use to describe it. Thirty miles of switchbacks through the jungle and passing small indigenous villages as we slowly climbed into the cool air. I’m so pleased we had new rubber to enjoy the ride; they were now scrubbed in nicely! We saw our first tea plantations as we neared Tanah Rata and, with the help of the `Lonely Planet` guide, we found the ‘Hillview Inn’ at £16 a night. It was a beautiful hotel painted white with dark exposed timbers which looked very ‘Old World British’ in design. This place is spotless, shoes are left at the door and we have a 1st floor room with a balcony looking out to the bike below. It was so nice that we treated ourselves to a couple of nights and took a ride to the highest point in the Cameron Highlands at Gunung Berinchang. On our way up we passed through many tea plantations until we got to the top on a narrow track where, at 6,666ft we had spectacular views across the jungle canopy and the surrounding hills.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped off at a “potentially special” place for me – “The Smokehouse Hotel”. My mum and dad met in Singapore back in the early fifties. My father was a young pilot officer with the RAF and my mother taught Forces children. They married in Singapore and had their honeymoon here in the Cameron Highlands. The ‘Smokehouse Hotel’ was a favourite with the military stationed out here as they could escape the heat and humidity for a few days. Could this be the place it all started? Mum and Dad returned to the UK and I was born - say no more!

Riding 330 miles today in this heat was too much but it started just as spectacularly as when we arrived in the Highlands. I was treated to more great roads which weaved in and out through the hills heading north and passing acres of market gardening and hillsides covered in plastic. We have seen hundreds of old battered-looking Landrover Defenders and many are still going strong. Apparently they are bought from the army and used in farms for transporting produce from fields to Lorries on the roads. We found a dual-carriageway heading east to Gua Musans and I enjoyed some fast sweeping bends with not a soul around, we then head north on a nice small rural road to Jeli, which brought us close to the Thai border. We have passed many logging trucks in this area, old articulated trucks, some of which have some broken down and one even crashed in the ditch! On Route 4 from Jeli to Gerik we passed a warning sign for elephants on the road but sadly didn’t see any. For 200-miles we had been treated to exciting bends and good roads but the last 100 were difficult in the extreme, the traffic now became heavier as we neared the west coast and our mood sank. We began looking for somewhere to stay and couldn’t find anywhere, tempers got frayed! Eventually we arrived in Butterworth close to Penang Island and found a ‘Travel Lodge’ at only £16 with breakfast. After a shower and cool-down things are fine once again - as always!

From Butterworth we had a short ride over a bridge which brought us to Penang where we rode a clockwise circuit of this small island. The island is only 28square kilometres and was once an important port for the British East India Company during the ‘Hey Days’ of the Empire. It is now a favourite holiday destination for the locals. At Batu Feringgi at the northern end of the island we found the ‘Sri Sayang Resort Service Apartments’ and have a self-contained apartment on the 26thfloor with a balcony looking out to sea; four nights for just £67!

We will stay here for the weekend and leave for Thailand on Monday the 29th September, which will have given us a month and just under 2000 miles in Malaysia.

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Pulau Penang, Malaysia; 27th Sept 2008.

   Nick made a good recovery and we were able to travel the 50 miles along the coast road to Cherating, a beach resort area with accommodation ranging from exclusive, fully inclusive to tired wooden beach-side shacks. We stayed somewhere in the middle at a Best Western hotel with a lovely pool and easy access to the empty beach, breakfast included with newspaper for under £23.

We spent a couple of days lounging about reading, walking on the beach but we both feel the need to move on as we have spent rather a lot of our time stationary lately.

The Malaysia peninsular is really quite compact and would probably take about 10 hours to cover the length and we know for a fact that it takes 4½ hours from east to west! Our local map may be lacking a bit in detail so we have tended to keep to the roads shown on the map so far. The east coast, particularly in the northern area, is mainly populated by the Muslim Malays and we found that the further north we rode the fewer roadside stalls and eateries were open. Ramadan, the fasting month is taken extremely seriously here. Just before sunset families congregate at restaurants and sit with loaded plates in front of them until the signal is given and fasting is over. Many hotels offer the Ramadan Buffet which offers 7-8 different main courses with the obligatory rice, and many other sweet cakes, jellies and pastries. Brightly-coloured drinks are served, many milk-based but appear in bright pinks, yellows and greens. Coffee and tea is served milky and sweet as the fasting also includes drinking. We were talking to someone the other day and they said that they were beginning to feel tired and weak and fasting continues till the end of the month. It is amazing that so many people on such a large scale are happy to endure this discomfort in the following of their religion.

After passing several large industrial areas and petrochemical sites we stopped off at Kuala Terengganu, the largest city on the east coast. The city didn't do much for us but we were treated to a lovely sight on a nearby beach. It had been yet another hot sticky day and the coolest place was where the breeze blew gently from the sea across a large sandy beach. Several groups of families and friends were gathered, many sitting in the shaded areas on the beach. In the centre of the sand was a colourful group of girls sitting in a circle chatting happily. They were all wearing the traditional head scarves and long skirts covered by long sleeved long tunic/shirts (Baju Kurung) and made such a pretty splash of colour. I went over to speak to them and asked if I could take a picture of them and after a few giggles they agreed and smiled for the camera, (see the gallery). Later in the evening, after Fast had been broken, the park and beach area became busy with people promenading, children playing in the cooler air just as we had seen in Central and South America. Even the “rude boys” were out with their shiny cars with big spoilers. These are familiar sights throughout our travels so far.

Malaysia feels quite small and compact. There are no vast distances between towns and villages and there seems to be a lot of housing development projects under way at present. Generally speaking, on an approach into town there are a few stalls selling fruit and the ‘presently closed’ roadside cafés. Next we enter the world of the “moped repair” as everyone seems to possess a small bike. There are row upon row of small “hole in the wall” garages with strings of old and new bikes all under 250cc in different states of repair. Groups of males are often watching the mechanic at work and probably giving plenty of advice. Once this area is cleared the hardware shops and clothing stalls appear. Often there are long 2-storey buildings which house lots of individual small outlets on the ground floor and housing above with colourful advertising boards and washing on display together. Next comes the electrical appliances and motor car section followed by shopping malls and mosques and then it's back out through several sets of traffic lights with their countdown numbers like the ‘stop and go’ lights on a race track. All the small bikes congregate at the front and creeping forward in anticipation and then … it’s a mad race. We have noticed that some of these small bikes have a little something extra as many have come whizzing past us on both sides and taking us by surprise. Most of the town’s main streets are clean and tidy but sadly the backstreets and countryside seems to be littered with plastic bags and all manner of rubbish

We were on our way heading diagonally across the country to K.L, (again) to get new tyres when we decided to follow a thin yellow road on the map which looked as though it was heading towards a hillier jungle area. What a treat! Miles and miles of twisty switchback, uneven cambered roads, jungle forest with trees and bamboos that were over 50ft tall and enveloped by creepers, we had the road almost to ourselves....this is more like it! It was also getting cooler ... yippee!!!

Okay, so I moaned a bit about the cold in OZ and NZ but here it is soooo hot and humid, there is little or no escape and it can become quite draining and exhausting after a while. The discomfort when we get of the bike, (with its built-in air conditioning) and into the still air is unpleasant as every item of clothing sticks to you like a second skin and sweat oozes from every pore in your body. We have to be careful that we don't dehydrate, I definitely do not want to camp in this weather as it doesn't get much cooler at night.

The twisty climbing road took us to Fraser Hill, a cool, quiet and rather English-village-style resort with very few visitors. It was a real treat to be away from the busy roads for a while. The next morning we retraced our way downhill passing several cyclists torturing themselves on a Sunday morning run. We had been told that the Genting Highlands were also worth a visit. From a distance you can see green-covered hills but we were disappointed when we discovered that the area had been turned into a very busy theme park and casino with other entertainment judging by the fleet of coaches and full car parks. There was no scenic view as the cloud had enveloped the area and we just made it to a hotel half way down before the thunder and lightening and heavy rain began.

We had a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur, (our 3rd visit) for tyres at Sunny’s and catching up with Nazri and his friend and then we headed north along the motorway in our own ‘Motorcycle Lane’ towards the Cameron Highlands. As soon as we left the motorway we began the climb into the hills on narrow and incredibly twisty jungle-surrounded roads. Small villages of wooden houses on stilts can be seen in the occasional cleared area and the road’s edge is littered with small wooden fruit stalls. As we near the top at Tanah Rata we got our first view of the famous tea plantations clinging to the side of the steep hills, it's very beautiful here. We found ourselves a really nice hostel, the ‘Hill view Inn’ with friendly owners and we make this our base for a couple of nights.

When Nick's parents stayed here in 1954 on their honeymoon I imagine it was totally different and much nicer. Today many new hotels and resorts have taken over along with the usual tourist traps from butterfly parks to strawberry farms. It is still very beautiful and we were fortunate enough to have the viewpoint at the highest peak to ourselves to enjoy the views of the endless tea plantations and jungle-clad hills.

The Island of Penang is a popular holiday destination on the west coast, so from the Cameron Highlands, we took another recommended route to the north which passed very close to the Thai border on several occasions. Warning signs for elephants appeared but sadly we had no sightings. The route was very long and twisty all the way till we approached Butterworth where it got hot, sticky and a bit tense between us for a while until we found somewhere to stay and cooled down into the air-conditioning once again.

Having ridden around the tropical Penang Island we found a high-rise apartment in Batu Fereinghi, not far from the main city of Georgetown. We are high enough to get a nose bleed and vertigo but have a great view of the sea. Last night as we walked towards the village, a family of noisy monkeys were doing what monkeys do and were crashing through the undergrowth, swinging from tree to tree and feasting on the foliage. Nearby, others had just raided one of the rare rubbish bins and were eating what looked like fruit from a plastic bag. They seemed very unconcerned about our presence; after all it's their home.

Suddenly we are in the midst of fellow tourists, many from Europe and Australia by the sound of the multitude of accents. It's the first time on our trip that we have stumbled into a top tourist destination and we have temporarily become a “package holiday maker,” which although I do not particularly enjoy, I will take it as a bit of a reality check. Having said that, “Reality is a nice place to visit but I wouldn't like to live there”. That seems to sum up my feelings of the moment.

We will be spending this weekend doing chores, checking maps and guidebooks in preparation for our next country ... Thailand here we come!!

Till next time, Lesley



Phuket, Thailand; 6th October 2008

   I was reading a local Malaysian newspaper and was fascinated to discover how the local police deal with their everyday problems here. They had been tracking down and monitoring an armed gang of bank robbers so they set up an ambush at their next job, then shot them all. Got to save with the paperwork - way to go boys!!!

But on a more worrying front we also discovered that pirates are still at work in the seas around here. Not many miles away, Somalian pirates recently held a Malaysian ship to ransom. The Malaysians paid a several million-dollar fee to have their ship back; perhaps they should let the police deal with it?

Anyway, time to move on as Thailand was calling loud and clear.

We had spent one month in Malaysia and covered just under two thousand miles. On a wet day we left Penang Island by crossing over the long bridge to Butterworth and onto the mainland. From here we splashed our way through the warm rain as we headed north on highway E1 to the border town of Kayu Hitan and on to Radang Besar.

Our procedure at the Malaysian/Thai border was to follow the ‘Motorcycle’ signs to the Malaysian immigration exit booth; we didn't even have to get off the bike! Our passports were stamped and we rode a few meters undercover and out of the elements and I parked the bike. After asking an official for the customs office to exit the bike I was escorted to an office on the other side of the road. After a short wait an official arrived and, after a little help from me, we completed my ‘Carnet’ exit paperwork, it would appear that ‘Carnets’ are not a common document here!

Next we rode the five hundred meters through no-mans-land to the Thai side. They looked busy with queues of people all trying to get in. I was ushered to one side and parked the bike once again undercover and out of the heat. We could see several booths all marked by signs stating “Immigration” and all with queues of 15-20 people. We could also see they all had their immigration cards in their hands and after a quick look around we found the immigration enquires office. We completed our cards and got into, what we thought was the shortest queue, the official then decided to close and have a break! We eventually had our passports stamped with a 30-day visa which is the norm for Thailand. I was then sent over the road to the customs booth where somehow I managed to jump another long queue and handed my Carnet over to the official. I pointed out the bike parked nearby, which he briefly looked up at. Without filling anything in, he tore out the entry section of the Carnet and filled in the important counterfoil section I needed. I tried to get him to complete the form correctly but he wouldn't have any of it and waved me off! I didn't have a reference number and he hadn't filled in the entry point for his exit colleague when we try to leave Thailand, we’ll see what happens when we try to leave in a month’s time! Pleasantly, no money was asked for during the whole process. Fifty meters away there was an insurance broker, so for 320 Bhat, about £5.12 I bought one month’s worth of insurance for the bike! Nearby I also changed the remainder of our Malaysian Ringets and we were off into country number 21 on our adventure so far.

It still raining heavily and we had our waterproof leggings on. I questioned our sanity as we were sweating so much that we might just as well be soaked by the warm rain! We followed HW4, a good quality dual-carriageway to Hat Yai. Right away we could detect the obvious differences between the 2 countries. There were many pickup trucks, which seemed a popular form of transport here. The collectivo`s, (taxi), are converted pickup trucks with bench seats for the passengers and they brought back fond memories of South America. There were also hundreds of little motorcycles carrying as many people as they could take! Some riders were even trying to keep the rain off with an umbrella!

We stopped under the cover of a bus shelter and checked our map and it wasn't long before someone stopped and gave us directions. At Phatthalung we were searching for somewhere to stay so I asked at a service station. The smiling girls working on the pumps pointed us in the right direction. Most people speak a little English here which is handy as, at the moment, all I can say is “Hello” and “thank you”! I left them and had only ridden a short distance when I had to stop at a set of traffic lights and realised I had stopped in the wrong lane! One of the same girls ran to catch up with us and pointed us in the right direction - what lovely people.

We found a nice motel in a backstreet for 600 bht, about £9.60. Soaked through we hung our clothes up in the fervent hope that they would be dry by morning.

The following morning was as dry as our clothes but it was also hot and humid outside. Still on HW4 we headed west to Trang where we found a back road which took us through some small quaint villages. We stopped for some breakfast at a roadside shack and ate some hot spicy fish, mixed vegetables and rice while caged song birds sang for us; it was such a nice way to start the day I thought. A good smooth road brought us back to the busy main road towards Krabi, Phang Nge and eventually to Phuket Island.

We had passed through jungle, palm trees, paddy fields and rubber plantations. We were struck by how nice, neat and tidy many of the houses were; some were wooden while some were built using brick and concrete, everything seemed so clean and tidy. Teams of road-workers armed with strimmers trimmed the neat grass verges. Fairly new-looking pick ups could be seen taking the family's prize bull for a drive in the back of the truck. We also saw song-birds in ornate cages with embroidered covers being carried on motorcycles; I had my own song-bird on the back!

We followed the busy main road onto Phuket Island and into Phuket Town itself where we battled our way through the heavy traffic and, once again, small motorcycles were coming at us from all directions.

After failing miserably at finding economy accommodation we pulled into the posh-looking ‘Phuket Town Inn’ where a double room was £17 a night B&B. We stayed here for two nights to get our bearings and adjust to another country. We usually find that when we are riding around a new town on the bike and looking for somewhere to stay it is quite difficult to find a suitable location. But when we're walking around the city later on we find several which we didn’t see from the saddle, and many at a much better price!

We had arrived in Phuket Town during one of their biggest annual events - the “Vegetarian Festival”, where most of the stalls only supply ‘veggie’ dishes and very tasty they were too.

Contrary to common belief, Thailand appears far from poor and a high level of disposable income seems apparent as there are many new cars and motorbikes on the road. I've never seen so many motorcycle shops with sparkling new bikes out front for sale; mind you they're all under 150cc! A new Honda 110cc would cost £825 or a CBR150R for just over £1000! All major car manufacturers are also represented here with glitzy showrooms dominating the high street. The roads are excellent so far and petrol is only 45pence a litre, everywhere is just so clean and tidy.

We managed to obtain Thai Sim cards for our phones and have signed up with, “Happy” call provider, an appropriate name I think in the ‘Land of Smiles’.

In order to escape the heat we wandered into a shopping mall where we found a Mac Donald’s with its very welcome air conditioning!

We've now moved from a Muslim country into a predominantly Buddhist one with its glittering Temples and many large ornate Buddha which appear to be watching our every move.

After a day in the city we moved south by hugging the east coast as best we could then north along the west coast of Phuket Island. After checking out a few beaches we settled for ‘The Heritage Hotel’ on Karon Beach.  It was not the cheapest at £14.28 for a double room with breakfast but it was fairly new, clean and comfortable and had a welcome pool on the roof!!

All the beaches here are very touristy and commercialised and the short walk around the village requires fending off salesmen of one sort or another. I was initially surprised by the amount of white-skinned European-looking people here; they very nearly out-number the locals! With the turquoise Andaman Sea, light golden beaches, a perfect climate and everything much cheaper than back home, I'm really not really surprised to find there's such a large ex pat community here in Phuket.

We meet Pico and his beautiful Thai wife, Saow. Pico had been following our adventure on the web and had been in touch by email. We spent a pleasant day following Pico and Saow on their Honda Silver Wing combination and visiting quiet secluded beach-side restaurants. The day climaxed with a superb dinner at a French restaurant tucked away in the back street close to where Pico lives at Rawai in the south of the island.

We've spent four days soaking up some sun, swimming in the warm sea and exploring this beautiful, hilly, jungle-clad island dotted with expensive villas. Perhaps we'll put our name down for one. It was only four years ago that the Tsunami hit this bit of paradise causing death and destruction but there's no sign of it now. They carried out a good job of reconstruction and, for some people, life seems back to normal.

It’s now time to head north and explore the rest of the ‘Land of Smiles’.

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Karen, Phuket, Thailand; 6th October 2008.

   The border crossing was easy and surprisingly fast considering the volume of people travelling between Malaysia and Thailand to be with their families for the end of Ramadan celebrations. The immigration area was thankfully undercover and we were able to get rid of our sweaty waterproof trousers and stay dry even though the skies had once again released a downpour of refreshing rain.

There was now a subtle difference as we changed countries; instead of the Muslim Mosques of Malaysia we were now enjoying ornately decorated Chinese and Buddhist temples. About 95% of Thai people are Buddhist with 4% being of the Muslim faith. Very few women wore head scarves now, most women preferring T-shirts, shorts, jeans or skirts. Where previously we had seen stalls selling looms of beautiful materials and scarves we now saw jazzy T-shirts.

The area around the border was predominantly farming land with acres of paddy fields and forests of rubber plantations with small collections of wooden houses on stilts. Pickup trucks suddenly became very popular, often stacked high with produce and people. Local transport is back to the “collectivo” type bench-seated trucks heavily laden with people and their goods traded at the frequent markets. Huge bulls were being transported in the rear of pickup trucks and enormous piles of over-hanging bamboo are tied precariously front and rear.

The small bike definitely appears to be the main mode of transport here in Asia. I believe that the wearing of a crash helmet is compulsory but it appears as long as 1 (of the up to 5) passengers wears a helmet then they are okay! Even when a rider has the luxury of riding solo (which is rare) he seems to forget he is alone and is still perched on the very front 2 inches of the seat. Wicker baby-chairs have also been adapted for the smaller passenger and we have often passed the family with at least 2 of the children fast asleep safely wedged between parents or Grandparents. No one seems to be at all concerned about the safety issues as they whiz through the busy traffic.

We stayed on the famous Phuket Island, the largest island in Thailand. It was very busy and touristy but we had a couple of nights in Phuket Town where we enjoyed some of the festivities of the Annual Vegetarian Festival which lasts for a week. Apparently it is a Chinese celebration based around 5 of the town’s temples. Each day hundreds of people line the streets to participate in the celebrations. We struggled to understand why large groups of people would inflict so much pain and discomfort on themselves as they run across hot coals in bare feet, beat themselves across the body and backs with, what looked like, axes and then applied extreme, (and I mean extreme) body and face piercings, and all in the name of Vegetarianism??? The constant explosions of fire crackers and jumping jacks thrown around the streets added to the confusion and pollution but some of the vegetable dishes were still very tasty. The whole event is televised and shown on local TV stations.

On the west coast at Karon we based ourselves at the quiet end of the crescent-shaped beach and pretended we were on holiday for a few days, exposing ourselves to the hot burning sun and swimming in the clear turquoise sea. We also met up with Pico and his Thai wife Sao who have been following our adventure for a few months now. We enjoyed following him on his SilverWing with sidecar, which was a real head-turner. We also enjoyed the tastiest meal of tender pork and their great company - thanks Pico and Sao. It is sad to say that not only have I seen the first pigs in Asia but we have eaten them. We rode back to Karon at 11pm wearing only shirts, light trousers and sandals just like the locals do but still feeling just a little vulnerable.

Tomorrow, once again, we will look totally over-dressed in our boots, jackets and “Hood” jeans as we head north to continue the exploration of the “Land of smiles”

Until next time, Lesley

Chiang Mai, Thailand; 18th October 2008.

   From Phuket we headed north up the west coast on Highway 4 and passed many tourist resorts where lily-white westerners could be seen wobbling around on hired motorcycles in shorts and T-shirts - lucky people! We found ourselves riding on smooth tarmac through jungle and tree-covered hills and enjoyed lunch in a roadside shack, the roof of which was covered by banana leaves. We were joined by a couple of Swiss pedal cyclists who are on their way south having cycled around Southeast Asia in this heat - respect indeed!

Our route took us from Takua Pa to Ranong where for several miles we hugged the border with Myanmar, (Burma), a no-go zone for us on the bike; apparently it is difficult enough even getting in as a foot tourist.

While passing through the busy traffic of a small town I had a car suddenly cut me up. I had to tap on his door with my boot just to remind him I was there. My method of stirring his attention, while unconventional back home seems pretty well accepted here; size is the important factor. In the Buddhist faith death is an honour but I'm not ready to try it out just yet! We also have to be very careful in bends; everyone here cuts the corner, not just by a foot or two, but by most of the carriageway so left-hand bends have to be taken with caution!

We caught up with a small bike being ridden with gusto by a local lad who gave us a sporty demonstration around some tight and technical bends while dragging his flip flops as he scraped around the corners! We stopped the night at Chumphon on the east coast after finding the 'Morakot Hotel’ in the centre of town for only £6.27. It was clean and comfortable with air conditioning and the bike was safe undercover. On another hot and sticky day we had covered too many miles for these conditions!!

Next day we jumped onto a busy dual-carriageway, the Hw 41 and headed north and along the narrowest section of Thailand with Myanmar (Burma) laying claim to the thickest section of this Isthmus. We turned east at Kui Buri and headed for the quite coast road and passed Laem Sala Beach and through the National Park of Khao Sam Roi with its beautiful white beaches and palm trees.

At the little fishing village of Pranburi Beach we found the small family-run restaurant, the `Khun`, run by a lovely couple, Ek and Ae,  They also had some rooms out the back for only £8. After a delicious fish dish in the restaurant and a couple of beers we sat on the beach and watched pink-looking dolphins cruise up the estuary as the sun sets, it was a perfect end to the day. Today we covered another thousand miles on the trek, our total now stands at 79,000 miles for the trek so far.

Another long, hot and sticky day followed as we rode north on Hw 4 through the flat lands, marsh and paddy fields. Highway 4 was a dual-carriageway busy with heavy traffic which all appeared to be heading for Bangkok. For the most part the road was a good combination of tarmac and concrete but then became quite rough on the nearside lane where it was being damaged by heavy traffic.

Cruising at 60-65mph has returned an overall of 60mpg on the old girl but she seems to be burning a little more oil, perhaps it’s the hot weather?

We rode on and eventually found our way to Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai. Using our ‘Lonely Planet’ guide we found the ‘Sugar Cane Guest House’ and rented a room on a boathouse for only £8.70 - Looking upstream from the deck of our boat we could see the famous bridge which formed part of the infamous ‘Death Railway’ which was built by prisoners of war and others during the Japanese occupation in WW2. A visit to Allied War Cemetery revealed that out of the one hundred thousand prisoners used during the railways construction over 15,000 died. Walking around the cemetery I was surprised to see so many soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment, our home county. It was a sad moment of reflection to realise they were all were so young.

Next day we rode on through more flatlands, swamp and paddy fields which took us up the dual-carriageway north to Suphan Buri, Chai Nat, Nakhon Sawan and on to the city of Kamphaeg Phet. Here we found the ‘Hotel Navarat’, and just around the corner, the TT Bar owned by an Isle of Mann TT fan - ex pat Nigel and his Thai wife. Surrounded by photos of the famous Joey Dunlop on the walls, we sat with Nigel and another ex-pat Paul and sipped a couple of cold beers and feeling quite at home!

The riding during the last couple of days has been quite boring, but this is all about to change! We headed north towards the town of Tak where we turned off the dual-carriageway HW1 and headed west to Mae Sot on HW105. We enjoyed 54 miles of sweeping bends on a good road surface which led us up into the mountains and some pleasantly cool temperatures! We stopped at a big roadside market and enjoyed the colour, smells and bustle before heading back onto the rollercoaster ride!

During our travels we have observed the end result of a few crashes over here, but sadly today we actually witnessed our first. A pick-up truck was overtaking around a bend on the wrong side of a solid yellow line and tried to return to his correct side but clipped the front of the vehicle he was overtaking; there was then a lot of skidding and crunching of metalwork before they came to a stop. Fortunately there were several locals around to help so we rode on taking our experience with us as a salutary lesson to always expect the unexpected here.

While riding along the border with Myanmar we were most fortunate in finding ‘Lucy's Guest House’ in a backstreet of the little town of Mae Sot and got a comfortable en-suite double room for £3.45! We walked around the grubby little town and visited the market. It was fun watching Les squirm at the sight of skinned rats on skewers ready for the BBQ! There were also many scruffy children begging on the streets, a sight we hadn't seen for some time. Sad to say but we are also back in the land of stray dogs and crap on the foot path - when you can find one. Although we are off the beaten track and in a relatively “out-of-the-way” place, there are still quite a few western visitors here, some of whom are voluntary workers with aid organisations. There is a major refuge problem here with people coming over the border from Myanmar, (Burma) seeking asylum.

That night we lay in bed with only a fan creating a cooling breeze and listened to the night sounds of chatting Thai people, dogs and crickets, while in the distance the rumble of thunder sends me off to sleep.

In the morning we headed along HW105 north from Mae Sot and hugged the Myanmar border and through several military checks, one of which we were stopped at. The friendly soldier spoke perfect English and after asking only a couple of questions he sent us on our way. We later rode past a large refuge camp near a small town; the wooden houses with banana-leaf roofs nearly covered the side of the hill. I could see an EU Aid Workers van pull into the compound and was quite tempted to stop and see if we could lend a hand. We have a mixture of emotions here. Les was feeling sorry for the people and even having a quite sob to herself - bless her. I, on the other hand, was praying that we didn’t break down as I'm sure we'd be stripped in minutes!!!

This road was brilliant as we climbed up into the jungle which ran within sight of the border much of the time. The road surface was good and devoid of heavy traffic and we enjoyed the contrast of the noisy hustle/bustle of the town as we stopped and listened to the intoxicating sounds of the jungle instead. At a small village in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a small shop to buy drinks and a packet of biscuits. I shared the biscuits with the family as we watched an old lady make a broad brimmed hat. After 98 miles the road struggles to retain its identity as a good biking road as the jungle tries to reclaim it with rampant grasses encroaching onto the road surface. Having said that, the road was still nice and quiet and we stopped for another leg-stretch and a drink. Mind you, we were soon reminded that we were not that far from a different world across the border as we heard the sound of gunfire nearby, thank goodness they missed! Time to move on!!!

After a fantastic ride of 158 miles in six hours we pulled into Mae Sariang and stopped at the ‘Garden Hotel’ which was a little scruffy but at only £6.80 it was fine.

Next day we continued this fantastic ride through the mountains and jungle. The road number changed to the 108 but the ride was more of the same, it was 'smiles for miles'. The road surface was a bit crumbly in places but on the whole was not too bad. We arrived into Mae Hong Son and found the 'Palm House Guest House' close to a lake. The Wat (Buddhist temple) was also just a short walk away from the town centre -  Mae Hong Son is just another touristy place and packages can be bought from the several travel agents in town. There is something for every tourist from jungle hiking, elephant rides and even white-water rafting while monks in their orange robes with alms bowls in hand are hoping for some food for the day, something is just not quite right?

Next day we had another fantastic ride along the 1095 from Mae Hong Son to Pie. The road climbs and descends over jungle-covered mountains; the switch backs tests my arms and Les's nerves on the descent! Oh I wish I had a sports bike!

Today I thought the humble cow had it in for me as, on several tight corners, I had to change position to avoid cow pats. Then a cow, which was tethered by a rope from a ring in its nose, pulled the rope taught across the road in front of us! It brought back memories of Guatemala when kids pulled a rope across the road then asked us for money - little rascals!

We arrived into Pai and found the ‘Phichai House’ guest house. There was just so much choice here; nearly every other place had rooms for rent, “why?” Well, in the 70's, Pai started out as a hippy destination and several enjoyed the cooler mountain setting so much that they stayed. As a result it’s very touristy but with its Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist cultures it still has a very laid back charm. We spent a pleasant evening eating bangers and mash, sipping a couple of beers and listening to a live jazz and blues band, we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in fact in Thailand!

Leaving Pai we followed HW1095 southeast to Chiang Mai. The first 60 miles was brilliant as we climbed and descended over the mountains. It was a great road surface and according to the sticker I bought, there are 762 curves in 136 kms. I feel for the people in the bus, how boring! This section of road must go down as one of the best motorcycling roads in the world, I'd like to do it again but I don't think Les's nerves could take it!

We eventually joined a dual-carriageway, the 107 into Chiang Mai. Using information gleaned from the “Horizons Unlimited” website, and with the help of my trusty Garmin sat-nav, we found the 'Jonadda' guest house in a backstreet and in the middle of this old moat city. We had a comfortable double room with en-suite for only £6 night so decided to take a rest here as we haven't had a day off the bike for nine days. 'Jonadda' is owned by John, an Australian and his Thai wife Panadda. John is a keen biker and has a Suzuki GSXR under wraps out the front of the house. He runs package guided tours for motorcyclists around this fantastic northern end of Thailand. Check out -

We also meet Keith, another British biker from the Isle of Mann who visits Thailand for a few months at a time, mainly for the great biking roads and the cheaper cost of living.

I explained to John about our uncomfortable saddle which we have sat upon for 79000 miles and how the 'Airhawk' inflatable cover has a puncture; it wasn’t long before John ran us to an upholsterer nearby who's going to fix it for me. I'll let you know how we get on.

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Chiang Mai, Thailand; 18th October 2008

   I would like to quote the words of a not particularly good song,” The Heat is On!” Every time we stop the humidity hits us and we have to drink as much fluid as we can. Hydration is a bit of an issue at the moment as we are perspiring 24/7 and air conditioning units in hotel rooms add to the dehydration, but we do need the air con just for a while, (enough of this whining)!!

As we strolled along the very quiet Pranburi Beach watching pink dolphins on the Gulf of Thailand, south of Bangkok, the peace was shattered by small boys running around in the twilight brandishing sticks and playing chase. There were no adults around to supervise or to confiscate the sticks which would surely endanger life, or at the very least remove and eye. It was a case of children being allowed to use their imagination and find their own boundaries and limitations through good honest play, not something learned through computer games.

Throughout South America we watched children and families at work and play. At times we were amazed at the responsibilities put upon young children in the rearing of their siblings and day to day running of their family's small holdings. However, when these children were free of their chores they played happily with whatever was at hand. Hours could be spent with an old cycle tyre, plastic bottle on a piece of string and of course a decent stick. No one ever appeared to get hurt and most importantly there were very few rules. The same applies here in Asia although city dwellers are slightly more restricted.

On the subject of Rules ... Health and safety rules do not seem to exist here either. Pavements are uneven and disappear without any warning, holes appear without warning where the pavements may have been, the list is endless. We saw a group of men, some barefooted, some in flip flops climbing a tall tower to extend the bamboo pole scaffolding across a road bridge. No hardhats, steel-toe-capped boots, safety harnesses, cones, lifting gear, warning signs etc. The workers were balancing as though on a trapeze wire without a safety net ... it wouldn't happen back home!!! Then I began wonder what would happen if a group of indigenous people from the High Peruvian Andes or folks from the hill villages in Thailand visited the UK for the first time. They would be amazed at the complicated list of rules and regulations we have to abide by before attempting such a task? I am sure they would also be horrified if not mystified by our use of the moped. Surely the moped, small motorbike or pedal cycle was not designed to transport as many people as possible with their belongings from A to B. The towns are filled with motorcycle taxi's which transport people who often sit side-saddle balancing their goods for the market. It really does make me wonder who has the right idea. I often think that the combination of our cultures would be very interesting and maybe ideal.

I have been travelling through a bit of an “emotional minefield” the past week or so, (maybe it's the dodgy hormones?) I felt rather uncomfortable in the “Farang”, (foreigners) resorts of Phuket, hoping that the locals didn't put me in the same category as the majority of tourists in the area. Several times we have been embarrassed by loud, rude, ”white skins“ and their demands, always wanting something for nothing and not giving a thought to the waitress who earns less a month than they are spending on their next beer or ice-cream!

A walk through the pristine War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai sent shivers down my spine when I saw how many lives were lost generally, but noticeable from the Norfolk regiment. The ages on the small plaques ranged from 20 to 27 years, the same age as our two lovely sons, another wake up call; even the gentle rocking of our houseboat on the river that night didn't assist the broken sleep caused by a head full of thoughts.

The roads and scenery became more interesting as we headed for Mae Sot, a very busy border town a short distance from Myanmar, (Burma). There was a real mixture of races and cultures but once again they were all busy going about their business, buying and selling their produce at the markets and trying to make a living. For the first time I saw some children that looked as though they had walked off the film set of “The King and I”. They had beautiful almond-shaped eyes and very different from the Thai/Chinese we have been used to. There was a surprisingly large number of fellow ”white-skins” in the town . Lusy, our host, told us that they were the NGO and Volunteer workers from the Refugee camps further north.

The road following the Myanmar border was wonderful. Nick was happily smiling at the twisty narrowing roads encased by vibrant green jungle. We had been told to look out for the refugee camp but I wasn't prepared for what we saw. A huge town of bamboo and banana-leaf huts had been erected with hardly a space between them. The houses followed the contours of the hills and were fenced off from the road. Washing hung on porches and it was so busy with people getting on with their unsettled lives. I was reduced to tears on the back of the bike at this totally gut-wrenching sight. The people we saw on the roadside seemed happy enough but looked at us with a hint of suspicion, and they are the “lucky ones”! How strong must their will to survive be as they make the best of what they have? But it is thinking of those that have been left behind that is more upsetting. My total admiration and respect to all those people who are working within the NGO (Non Government Organisations) and volunteer programmes within the camp and surrounding areas. I felt a very strong calling to stop and offer my assistance but do not have the skills that are really needed, mainly medical staff, construction specialists, teachers and health care advisors. I can only pass on the word.

An overnight stop at Pai acted as a soothing balm to my unsettled thoughts. Even though this small town by a river is a tourist hot spot it has maintained its “Hippy Era “ambience. Stalls were set out in the streets in the evening where local crafts were displayed for sale and delicious smells invaded the air as delicacies where being cooked over burning coals. The atmosphere was relaxing and for the first time in ages I felt as though I could let down my guard and enjoy a wander without having to fend off someone trying to sell me something

The Thai people are hard working but always seem so cheerful. Unfortunately in the cities, like here in Chiang Mai, some have been adapting a “Milk the cash cow” system. Several scams are running usually involving very smartly dressed Thai English speakers who wish to strike up a conversation. We have come to the conclusion that the questions, though appearing quite innocent, are well planned. “Where do you come from”? Translates into “How gullible are you”? “How long have you been in Thailand”? Translates into “Have you been here long enough to have been warned about our latest scam”? Etc Etc. Depending on your replies their story will quickly adjust to give you something in common. For example, we realised we were being followed and knew what was coming next so stopped to look in a guitar shop window. Our stalker casually stopped to gaze into the same window as we had expected and started “the” conversation. He then went on to tell us how he longed to buy his daughter a guitar as she had played her old one so much it was broken etc etc. And then he begins to get whiney and pushy, as expected. I am sure many tourists could be very intimidated into parting with their cash thinking they were doing their own charity work but we have become hardened to it. I find this a very sad situation.

We are now in Chiang Mai, a city where the centre is enclosed by a water-filled moat and a Wat, (Temple) on almost every street. We try our best to use the local Thai-owned hotels and restaurants wherever we stop but we are struggling to find anywhere here that doesn't have some “Ex-pat” involvement. Only Thai people can own businesses here so many men from UK, Australia and Europe have come to Thailand to marry a Thai girl and open guest houses or restaurant. The £ or Euro goes a lot further here. Not all these marriages are made “in heaven” and certainly many end in “Hell”. We heard of one guy whose wife regularly threatens him with a meat cleaver. It sounds as though Thai families are very close, tight-knit communities with constant access to mobile phones and contact with other “ex-pat “wives. We are told that no man is safe, the wives always know where they are ... usually in a bar!

John (an Australian) married to (Panadda) a lovely Thai lady are our hosts for the week. John took us out in his motorcycle combination to a nearby saddle repair/makers shop and we hope to be collecting our new, comfortable, Harley “hand-me-down” saddle on Monday so we can be “comfortably” back on the road again on Tuesday. Panadda directed me to her hairdressers, sending one of the girls to translate for me, where I had 15 minutes of the most wonderful head massage/shampoo before I parted company with a good 3-month worth of hot sticky hair. Since then John has been calling me George!!! Try as I might, I just can't get this grey cut out!!!!!

We have another couple of days and nights to wander around these narrow streets and investigate the markets that run day and night. Our stomachs have enjoyed a few “Western” meals such as the legendary “All day breakfasts” which have been a bit of a break from rice and curry, garlic and chilli with everything - three meals a day. We have rattled around the streets in the early hours in a Tuk-Tuk with Keith from the Isle of Man and tomorrow we are going to watch the Motorcycle GP from Malaysia on the Irish bar's widescreen TV. It's good to do ordinary things for a change, it gives my restless thoughts a break.

Until next time, Lesley



Luang Namtha, Laos; 25th October 2008.

   Whilst in Chiang Mai we managed to get a few jobs done, met some very interesting people and prepared for our next country - Laos.

It has taken nearly 80,000 miles before we've managed to instil some degree of comfort in our bike’s saddle! Gone are the tack-on, tatty looking but practical Air Hawk saddle covers. I wasn’t too perturbed mind you as mine had a puncture anyhow! John, from the 'Jonadda' Guest House took us in his sidecar to a hole-in-the-wall upholster situated in the back streets of Chiang Mai where we met the “artist with foam plastic”! He had a big project on at the moment rebuilding several 'tuk tuk' seats but would fit us in asap. To make things easier he produced the saddle off a Harley Davidson. He would then sculpt our existing foam saddle and bond it with the Harley one to create something really special and which would suit our requirements perfectly. Les had always wanted to be able to see more scenery over my shoulders. We would now have something unique - a “King and Queen” saddle on a BMW GS - A first perhaps? We collected the saddle after a couple of days and wow! It was now much taller at the back for Les but I fear she'll now need a step ladder to climb onboard! The stitching and general workmanship of the saddle was brilliant, but more importantly, it used softer foam which should be kinder to our backsides, and all for only 800bht, about £13.55!

We later met ‘Mr’, David Unkovich in a small bar. David, an Australian who's lived in Thailand for several years and has published a map covering Lao, amongst others, had just returned after several weeks in the country gleaning information for his guide book. He had just got off his Honda Africa Twin for dinner when we arrived. In between mouthfuls of dinner he passed on valuable information on this little-known country we were about to explore. He was a mine of very useful information and a great bloke to talk with. Check out the site at for more information.

Always in search of live music, we visited the 'Guitar Man' bar in Chiang Mai and enjoyed an entertaining evening listening to our host. John was playing guitar and singing with his band as they played a selection of rocky, bluesy numbers while we quaffed a few beers and tapped feet and fingers in harmony!

We both liked Chiang Mai a lot, as did many other ex pats who have settled here, most with Thai wives on their arms. Because of this obvious multi-culturism I wasn't too surprised to see volunteer English policeman with small Union Jack badges on their uniforms and working with the local community.

With the obvious benefits of a comfortable city, a BMW bike dealer and some of the best motorcycling roads we'd seen in a long time, this could be a place to return to for a long-term stay at a later date; and with a studio apartment costing only £144 a month, it was also very tempting.

We spent a pleasant six days here now but Laos was beckoning and it was once again time to move on.

Winding our way north on Highway118 to Chiang Rai we found to our pleasure that the saddle was excellent. Gone is that bum-numbing feeling of sitting on a board, now we're riding on a cushion. The only problem is that Les now has to engage in a gymnastic exercise to get onto her much-taller saddle! I now have a definite ridge to push the back of my bum into, a comforting feeling much like the hump on a racing bike!

Just north of Mea Chan we turned east onto the 1016 and followed a bumpy, pot-holed rural road through beautiful hilly countryside which ran alongside the mighty Mekong River and south to the border town of Chiang Khong. Here we found the riverside 'Baan Pak Pon' guesthouse where we had a room for £5. With the aid of modern technology we phoned our boys and Eddie whilst the sun set and the lights from Laos twinkled invitingly across the Mekong, life doesn’t get much better than this.

The following morning we rode to the ferry terminal to cross the river into Laos. The ferry terminal was interesting in that it had a muddy riverside bank for foot passengers and a crumbling concrete slope for vehicles! The Thai immigration exit was easy enough; a quick exit stamp in our passports and hand in our departure cards. Mind you, the queue was long with backpackers and local tourists wanting to cross the Mekong on the narrow boats to connect with a slow boat downstream. Next door was the Customs Office where I handed over my carnet to exit the bike. The official looked blankly at the booklet but after a bit of pointing and going through charades of stamping and signatures I gained the important stamps and signatures where I needed them! We are happy to report that the Thai border procedure was completed in one hour and no money changed hands. I then found the ferry organisers sitting in the shade who told me that for 500 bht, about £8.33p, they'd get us across the river. I watched as a few barges had unloaded returning empty petrol tankers from Laos. I asked again about our crossing only to be told that my barge was coming later! Another barge arrived with even more lorries and the deckhands waved us aboard, but the man I had employed said “No”, I was beginning to think there was a bit of a scam going on here! A short time later a small barge arrived and, together with one other car, we boarded after descending the slippery concrete slope and climbing the equally slippery metal ramp onto the deck. Fifteen minutes later we were riding off and into Laos, our 22nd country on the trek so far.

Border formalities differ from country to country and finding the necessary offices sometimes proves quiet difficult, especially when there are no signs. Once we landed at the Laos town of Houei Xai I rode up the slope from the river, under the barrier and parked on the left of the road in the shade. I have found through experience that when there is no sign and I ride under an obvious barrier it usually draws some attention. True to form, a man ran across the road and pointed us to an office he wished me to visit. Here we found a scruffy man who looked at our passports asked for 100 bht, about £1.60p and issued us a receipt - I haven't got a clue who he was or what it was for! He then pointed me to the police office. A smart policeman checked our passports and gestured that we had to go to the neighbouring town where the passenger boats land for immigration but the bike had to be processed here. I found the Customs Office after being bounced from one office to another with no one appearing to know what to do with me. I ended up back in the first office I had visited and I handed over my carnet. I had heard that not all countries would accept this document and Laos was one of those who had their own procedure but, to my surprise, the official took the carnet and once again with my help we completed the form at a cost of 200 bht, about £3.30p. I then returned to the Police office where details were written in a ledger and we were all completed in half an hour.

We then rode on the right hand side of the road to the next town and the passenger immigration office. We found their office no problem and completed our entry cards, visa application forms and handed over a passport photograph. A few minutes later we had a full-page and colourful visa stamp in our passport and parted with $35 US, about £20 each for the privilege; mind you, it was not over yet. We had to visit another hatch where we had another stamp in the passport showing date of entry and, more importantly, our exit date - we only had one month. It may sound an overly complicated and bureaucratic border-crossing procedure but we were processed quite painlessly, and more importantly – stress free.

A short time later we escaped the fierce midday heat and enjoyed lunch while we pondered over the fact that we had just completed 80,000 miles and had arrived in our 22nd country in just under two years and four months! I looked across our plates of fried rice at Les and pointed out that fact to which she said, “And I'm having a lovely time”. We were both having the time of our lives!

Until next time, Nick.



Vientiane, Laos; 5th November 2008

   After completing the Thai/Laos border formalities we had lunch and hit the road into Laos PDR, (Peoples Democratic Republic) - our first communist country!

We had good reason to cheer as we crossed into yet another country. Even after two years and 22 of them it still gives us a buzz and a sense of achievement and anticipation of what is yet to come. Our first surprise came as we left Houei Xai and headed along Route 3 towards Luang Namtha. Here we were in one of the poorest countries in the world and yet the road was brilliant with smooth tarmac which gently wound through hills and jungle. Having said that, there was obvious damage due to landslides and we did find a few sections where half the road was missing!

I later found out that the Chinese have many interests in Laos, mainly rubber plantations and even hydroelectric power is being considered as a future project. They appear to have pumped a lot of money into the country’s infrastructure.

We're now riding on the right-hand side of the road which takes a bit of getting used too as we haven't ventured onto this side for some time! Another interesting fact as we ride across Northern Laos is our close proximity to four other countries, namely Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), China and Vietnam. This is so amazing that I have to pinch myself to confirm it’s not just a dream! I remember reading about these places at school and now we're here.

We rode through rural villages with wooden houses and dirt floors and children playing naked in muddy puddles. Chickens and healthy-looking dogs all wander around ignoring each other.

When children see us riding through their village they invariably shout, “Hello”, which sounds like, “sabatdee” in Lao. A sea of smiling faces is usually accompanied by furious waving as we smile and wave back; I don't think I have smiled and waved so much in ages!

We passed a few guys chopping at huge bamboo trunks with machetes. On their back I saw a modern looking military assault rifle, they also wave which I thought was a good sign, I also saw one of the ‘old faithful’ AK47's. I later found out that there are a few problems between several different tribes in the area and the guns were for protection and possibly a bit of hunting!

In Luang Namtha we used our trusty Lonely Planet guide and found the 'Zuela Guesthouse’ and the friendly English-speaking owners. In a beautiful wooden building we had a great room on the second floor for only 60,000 Kip, about £4! We decided to spend a few days here and formulate a bit of a plan before heading south. The following morning we were woken by what sounded like Chinese music being played over a tannoy system in the town. It was later followed by some governmental broadcast and then the power went off for the day!

There appears to be a lot of building going on in town. There appears to be no shortage of money as we observed several new pick-up trucks and of course many small motorcycles, the girls on pillion somehow managing to ride with a child strapped around her front and holding an umbrella to shade her from the sun!

We hired a couple of pedal cycles late in the day and headed out into the country following a local map along a route suggested by our landlord. After cycling through some beautiful countryside of rice paddy fields as far as the eye could see we turned off onto a small dirt track which should lead us to a main road and back to town. A short time later it became gloomy as the sun suddenly went down. We passed through remote rural villages and were met again with a friendly “sabadees” and even an English “Good Evening” which came as a bit of surprise! After riding a couple of miles through the jungle we came to a river. From the other side we only had a short ride back to town but one small problem stood in our way; the river was wide and deep but there was no bridge. Now looking somewhat perplexed a few of the local kids came to see us and figured out what we wanted to do. One little girl about six or seven years old beckoned me to follow her and her friend. While she ran around the banks of the river I saw a bamboo raft tied to the riverside. This little pint-size tot striped off her clothes and made for the raft. I was not only worried for her but us as the river had a strong current. I somehow managed to tell her that it was okay and we'll go back the way we came. The fearless gesture of this little girl trying to help a couple of ageing tourists nearly had me in tears, a moment I'll never forget.

Anyway, things went from bad to worse. It started raining as we cautiously retraced our way back along the jungle track. Here we were in a third-world country cycling through the jungle in the dark and its raining; not the most sensible thing to be doing! But, having met several of the friendly Laos people, I wasn't unduly worried, I still felt safer here in the jungle than doing the same back home. Les was great, other than the odd, “What on earth are we doing?” She navigated her bicycle down the muddy track faultlessly. One and a half hours later we arrived back safe and well to the guesthouse but were soaked to the skin, but what a buzz of excitement! We were a couple of happy wrinklies in their fifties who should have known better, it was high time for a Lao Beer!

Another amazing thing happened to us while here in Luang Namtha. I saw a couple of backpackers looking at their map so I went across to see if I could help. They turned out to be a couple whom we met in Southern Argentina over a year ago; it really is a small world! Over dinner we caught up with each others travels.

We spent two days here but could so easily have spent two weeks but it was time to move on.

Next day we headed northeast on the 13B to Na Teuv, then southeast along the 13 to Oudom Xai. This turned out to be great road winding through the beautiful jungle-covered hills and small mountains. For the most part the road was in good repair but there were a few bad sections with pot-holes and short sections of dirt. Through every village we were met by kids all waving and saying hello. In the scruffy town of Oudom Xai we found the 'Say Lomyen' guesthouse which was equally scruffy but, at only £3.33p a night, it was perfect for our needs. We found out that in this area there are many voluntary organisations working with the local farmers trying to stop the cultivation of opium poppies and teaching them to grow something else. This illicit trade coupled with the obvious drug addiction problem placed an enormous strain on the community which could account for the rather run-down looking town.

At a nearby restaurant we met a Portuguese cyclist who we'd briefly spoken to in the last town. He was slowly cycling down through Laos alone and having a great time. The following day we met him on the road again, this time sat outside a village store with a can of Coke and a cigarette. Having just cycled over a steep relentless climb I was amazed to see that he still had enough energy left for a smile!

We headed south along the 13 to Pak Mong then the small rural road to Nong Khiaw on the River Nam Ou where we met Texan Mike on a rented trail bike. It wasn't long before we were surrounded by the village kids and out came our inflatable globe. Les carried out an impromptu geography lesson with the kids who all stood quietly and listened.

We spent another day on the twisty mountain roads using third and fourth gears most of the day. Fuel costs 65pence a litre here and, with ATMs and banks in most large towns, access to money hasn't been a problem. At 15,000 kip to the £, you tend to get a pocketful rather quickly, fortunately it is all paper money - no change!

In Nong Khiaw we found the 'Sunrise' guesthouse by the riverside. It was a very basic bamboo hut with a double bed, mosquito net and an en-suite which consisted of a shower and “hole-in-the-floor” toilet with a container of water to flush with. It was rustic, basic, comfortable and fun. At only £2.66p a night who's complaining? The restaurant over the road supplied delicious local food and was full of western tourists most of the time.

We walked up the lane a few kilometres to a massive cave where the locals took shelter during the bombings in the Vietnam War. The original bamboo ladder built in 1964 was still in situ but now there is a good staircase leading up to the mouth of the cave.

Back on the road next day we retraced our route on the 13 south and followed the River Nam Ou where the road flattened out and the riding became somewhat easier.

We passed fields where the rice was being harvested by hand with a sickle while a water buffalo wallowed in a muddy field as an elephant lethargically walked by with its mahout on its neck. “What a scene” I thought, it looked like something straight out of 'National Geographic' magazine.

In the UNESCO protected World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, we found the 'Lonely Planet recommended’, 'Cold River' guesthouse on the River Khan which is a tributary to the Mekong River only a few hundred meters away. Here we had a beautiful double room with en-suite and a balcony looking across the river for £5.33. We also enjoyed an unlimited supply of drinking water and bananas! The very friendly owners also had a restaurant serving the local Lao dishes and the delicious Lao beer which I'm developing a worrying fondness for! With the bike safely under cover in the secure car park everything was perfectly relaxed so we decided to stay a few days. The bike needed a good wash anyhow so I took it to a petrol station with a car wash with the intention of washing it myself - but oh no! For only a couple of pounds a team of lads sprung into action and, with a soapy wash, rinse, blow dry, we were ready to go in minutes!

Luang Prabang surprised me with the amount of western tourists in town. We even found restaurants owned by foreigners, the whole place was very touristy. Nestling among the many restaurants in the high street were travel agents arranging tours to several interesting sights in the area. As a result of a visit to the 'Tiger Trail outdoor Adventures' office,  the following day I made a new girlfriend! She weighs in at over a ton and stands twelve foot tall. She was a beautiful Asian elephant with an unpronounceable name I met at the elephant park project where retired logging elephants come to be looked after. We took an hour’s ride on her back, sat on a two-seater side by side wooden seat with our mahout sitting on her neck as she ambled through the jungle and waded through a river. I'd never before stood so close to such a massive animal as I fed her some sugar cane at the end of the ride; perhaps too close as I nearly got knocked over by her massive ear flapping. The gentle touch of her trunk as she felt for the food from such a powerful beast was unforgettable; not to mention getting slobbered on!

We are now in a county where restaurants and bars shut at 11.30pm to give their staff time get home before midnight when the loosely-enforced curfew starts and where the minimum wage is only 8000 kip, about 53pence a day. With the average yearly wage at only £350 it is truly thought-provoking.

Back on the road again we headed south on the 13 to Phou Khoun then east on the 7 to Phonsavan. We rode through even more spectacular green mountain scenery. Several areas were treeless revealing postage-stamp size fields hanging onto the sides of the steep hills. Leaving the hills behind us we found ourselves in even more treeless flatlands planted predominantly with grass and low shrubs. We had now arrived at Phonsavan in the province of Xieng Khuang. Once again, with the help of the Lonely Planet guide, we found the 'Kong Keo' guesthouse which was rustic but comfortable -  In town we visited the, 'MAG' office, the Mines Advisory Group with their HQ in England; here we found some horrendous statistics. During the Vietnam War years 1964 to 73, Laos, and particularly this area, was the most heavily bombed nation in the world per capita with at least two million tonnes of ordinance dropped on them. About thirty percent of these didn't explode which to this day is still killing and maiming people regularly. So as you could imagine the good people from MAG have their work cut out. Visit their website at - 

On a happier note, we also visited 'Site 1' of 3, of the 'Plain of Jars', several acres of massive stone jars between 1-3 meters tall and weighing a tonne. It is not known exactly what they were used for or how they were spread over such a large area. The most feasible explanation is that they were funeral jars into which remains were placed, a bit like stone coffins; but this is only a theory. While we walked around the site we were constantly reminded to keep between the marker posts as only this area had been swept for mines!

From Phons Avan we retraced our steps to Phou Khoun and had a play with a very sportingly ridden 650 Honda with a French couple on tour. Stopping for lunch in a village we found out they had hired the bike here and had come from India, our next country, there they had toured on a Royal Enfield!

Leaving the cool of the mountains we descended south along the 13 to the heat of Vang Vieng, a centre for water sports and extremely touristy. We stayed at the 'Dokkhun 1' guesthouse where the receptionist and maid were totally uninterested in us. I think this just reflected the town’s money-oriented touristy nature with neon flashing lights and the “Kiss-me-quick” hat type of thing! Not my cup of tea.

Next day we carried on south along the 13 and rode to the country’s capital city, Vientiane. As we drew closer to the capital the road surface became surprisingly worse and with the recent rain we had several muddy sections to negotiate and slowly paddle our way through.

In Vientiane on the banks of the Mekong River we found the ‘Lonely Planet recommended’ 'Syri 1' guesthouse. It was tired and tatty looking but fine for a couple of nights in the capital. Vientiane is a strange city, a border town with Thailand on the other side of the river and it reflected this border town character rather than a neat and tidy capital with a certain degree of pride in its appearance.

Today we clocked up 81,000 miles for the adventure so far in the two years four months we've been away. I’m not sure if it’s the weather or this gloomy town that has got me down, or is it just me? But at the moment I’m feeling a bit burnt-out and tired. Perhaps I'm giving an ageing mind too much mental stimulation too late and it is time to be heading home and have a rest? We started this 'Global Trek' with a simple ambition to ride a motorcycle around the world but it evolved into something so much bigger. I personally feel that we could forget our universities and higher education until we are much older and travel the world while you are still young. With an open and flexible mind, it has to be one of the best forms of education available – the University of Life.

Well dear reader it’s not over yet, we still have a long way to go, but perhaps we'll push on and “Head West Young Man'. I think it’s time to go home, but on the bike of course!

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Vientiane, Laos; 5th Nov 08

   As with many other cities, Chiang Mai is one that gently begins to open up, but only if you are patient. First impressions were not good, too much pollution, too many ”Farangs” and a bit on the tatty side but after a few days of wandering around the narrow streets and into the numerous day and night markets the place begins to reveal itself. Every time we go out we see something different and discover a whole new labyrinth of paths and alleyways with yet more cafés, massage parlours and eateries. Tuk-tuks and small bikes are ever present. Our enforced wait for our new saddle and then torrential rain for endless hours kept us in Chiang Mai for longer than we had hoped but it gave me the opportunity to be pampered with a hair cut including head massage, pedicure and manicure. John and Mac at the Guest house were very friendly as was Keith from the Isle of Man who is a regular visitor and happily rides around Thailand exploring, not bad for a 70 going on 30 year old!!!

The new seat on the bike is great! When we see our reflections in windows I look to be the same height as Nick and I can now comfortably see over his shoulder. However, it's a bit of a climb to get to my elevated King and Queen Luxury throne, I think I need a ladder.

Lao is calling so we head to the Northern border at Chiang Khong hoping that the wonderful scenery will be repeated on the other side of the Mekong River. En route Nick had a bit of a head-banging session on two low doorways on consecutive days and now sports a crisscross of red cuts on a purple dome, and I had to administer first aid for the first time on the trip.

Crossing the Mekong River was entertaining as we watched the tourists bob about in the long boats crossing fingers as they went. We were told that we could cross in one but we declined, with all our weight we would sink like a stone.

If you ever win a game show or competition and are asked which currency would you like the prize money in....DO NOT choose Lao Kip!!! At around 15,000 to the £ it's not worth the paper it’s printed on. We didn't get up to our 15 times tables at school so I have my handy notepad currency converter at hand.

As soon as we rounded the first few bends on the road to Luang Nam Tha I felt that I would really enjoy Lao, albeit one of the poorest countries in the world. The peaked high hills are green with forests although there is evidence of some logging (mainly by China). The streams flow clear from the hills till they reach the muddy rivers. Wherever there is a flat spot in the valleys there are rice fields and crops of vegetables. Along the roadside are many hill tribe villages. The homes are bamboo structures on stilts which have palm and banana leaf roofs and the surrounding earth is brushed clean of rubbish and plants. The people are so friendly and the smiles can easily out-smile those we saw in Thailand - the “Land of smiles”. Flocks of children run to the roadside to wave to us and shout hello. They are brown-skinned, black haired with huge white toothed grins but from many different tribes. Many of the younger toddlers are naked and the others wear T-shirts and shorts. The women sitting on their high balconies wave when they see us and point us out to the children. We haven't waved and smiled so much to anyone since we were in South America but we're a bit concerned about what would happen if and when we stopped at a roadside shack for a drink. Any concern was banished when we stopped to speak to a fellow traveller. Within seconds we were surrounded by children and mothers. It was my turn to give the geography lesson, inflating the plastic globe and pointing out the country flag stickers to show our route so far - Another priceless encounter.

The road hazards suddenly changed from other reckless drivers to children running to see us, dogs resting in the middle of the road, puppies chasing hens and chicks, water buffalo and calf plodding along the road and elephant poo, to name but a few. Poor Nick has probably missed some wonderful sights because he has to concentrate much harder.

We eventually arrived in Luang Nam Tha where many tours are based on the tribal village visits. But we had our own little hill tribe village visit, by pedal cycle, finishing in the dark during a rain storm and along a very muddy dirt track to a river with no bridge. A small voice from a small shape in the gloom saying in perfect Queens English “Good evening”! What an unforgettable experience!!!!(Nick will tell you more) We had a surprise chance meeting with Ruth and Rick from the UK whom we met in Puerto Natales, Chili back in Nov/Dec 07. Their wonderful trip is almost at an end but we managed to spend some time exchanging stories and future plans.

Whilst staying at Zuela guest house we had been chatting to a couple of researchers who have been studying the hill tribes. Apparently, on advice from other “countries”, the government has ruled that the villagers must come down from the hills and live by the roadsides as it would be easier and cheaper than building roads to them. Sadly, in removing these forest dwellers from their natural food sources and environment, many have died from malaria or water-borne illnesses and infections. The water is pure and unpolluted in the hills and mosquitoes do not exist there so the people have no immunity to these illnesses. There is now also some underlying friction between many of the 20+ tribes that now have to live in close proximity to those with differing tribal cultures - Is this progress??

Once again we have been touched by the generosity of those who have very little. As we pulled over for a leg stretch on a quiet piece of road, a man and his mum appeared from the bushes carrying large sacks. They gave us a sample of 2 different vegetables but refused to take payment, they must have thought us in need of nourishment. Talking of nourishment, the people and children we have seen so far have all looked very healthy and fit. Not one could “pinch an inch” of fat. The combination of the natural unprocessed food and exercise makes many look fitter than athletes. However, in some regions, poor health education means that many children die of malnutrition. The children often walk over 3 miles to school and they still have the energy to work and play until dusk. There are few cars on the roads, mainly trucks and buses so people have to walk many miles a day often carrying large heavy loads.

At the quiet village of Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou River the scenery changed to dramatic limestone rocks that towered over us. In the morning the cloud and mist hovered over the rocks making it quite mysterious. A wander through the village led us to Tham Pha Tok, a cave where the villagers hid through the heavy bombing during the Vietnam War around 1964. It is now peacefully surrounded by rice fields which are almost ready for harvest.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage city on the banks of the chocolate-coloured Mekong River where some of the buildings do actually remind us of France. At every turn of a corner you can see the bright orange of a novice monk’s robes as they make their way to and from school or to one of the many ornate temples that appear on almost every corner. At night a road is closed for the market displaying endless stalls of tempting local crafts which are really testing my willpower. My conscience (Nick) reminds me that I have no room in my pannier and no home to return to, so I resist...this time!

The young Novice monks often join the temples aged from about 14yrs and can stay for a month or for the rest of their lives. It is an honour for any family to have a son in “robes”. Many stay as Novices to gain an education and often if there has been a death in the family a son will become a novice during the bereavement period. On a couple of occasions it has been suggested that some adults have had a close brush with the law will take sanctuary within the temples, publicly asking for forgiveness and don the orange robes instead of serving a prison sentence.

One of the highlights during our stay was an elephant ride through a jungle area, splashing through rivers high upon this magnificent animal’s back. It was here that I had to remind Nick that he couldn't take one home as a souvenir, a photo will suffice!!!

There are many charitable organisations based in Luang Prabang mostly directed towards the children of Laos. All are very worthy causes and include books for young children, and aimed at helping the many street kids. Our attention had also been drawn to the alarming number of deaths and injuries caused by the huge amounts of unexploded ordinance which litter the countryside. It has been estimated that it would take 100 years to clear the most heavily bombed nation in the world of these devastating hidden killers. At least 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on the country between 1964 and 1973 and it has been estimated that up to 30% did not detonate. About half the country’s rural areas are still affected which makes farming difficult and very dangerous. The Mines Advisory group (MAG) is doing its best but people are still dying, check out -

Moving on before I really get on my ‘soap box’... Thanks to MAG we were able to visit the Plain of Jars near Phonsavan. A really unusual scattering of large stone pots estimated at over 2000 years old. They litter a hillside engulfed in mystery and are of unknown origin. Once again the workmanship was incredible for objects of that age.

It is supposed to be the end of the “Wet season” but unfortunately there has been an unexpected very wet spell just as the rice was ready to be harvested. The peasant farmers were out cutting the rice crops by hand through driving rain in the hope of salvaging as much as possible. In some instances the rice grain has become mouldy because of the wet conditions. Already newspaper reports tell of great concerns for this year’s harvest which could have quite devastating repercussions for the locals.

Vientiane, the capital city, is a great disappointment. I had hoped that we could take a few days of “down-time” as we are getting very tired. A combination of physical tiredness and mental/ emotional overload has left us a bit jaded. Two years is a long time to be travelling as we have been doing, taking in as much as we can of the countries we have passed through. Maybe we have “peaked?” Or maybe it’s the depressing surrounding of the past few days and city life. We will just have to take it day by day as usual because we just never know what’s around the next bend and who we will meet next....and that’s what has been the most stimulating and exciting part of the journey so far.

Until next time... Lesley



Siem Reap, Cambodia; 13th November 2008

   As often happens, just as we left a particularly uninteresting town, things seem to improve as we pass through the suburbs, and the same can be said for Vientiane. Away from the touristy city centre there appeared to be a whole new sub-culture – the locals at work - the real life of Laos’ capital. They toil away in the “hole-in-the-wall” workshops, where for a few pennies; you could get almost anything repaired. They are the grass-roots of any civilisation, the real pulse of a country and that's what I like, not the false smile put on for the tourist, life here just goes on.

On another hot and sticky day we headed south along Highway 13 which followed the mighty Mekong River, which also formed the border with Thailand. What a change from HW13 to the north of Vientiane! This road was a wide, 2-lane highway with good tarmac, and for most of the ride towards Thakhek, not a pot hole in sight! For the first time in ages we found ourselves cruising along at 65 - 70 mph and even having to use sixth gear - now that's a novelty!

We passed through countryside where farmers were driving their single-axle, rotavator-engine powered vehicles which were either full of people or produce. I also reflected on the fact that we haven't seen many birds since our arrival in the part of Asia. There were no birds in the hedgerows and none sitting on power lines at the roadside, yet there appeared to be no shortage of butterflies! Was it Agent Orange that killed them off or perhaps ruined their food supply, or maybe they have all been eaten? Answers on a post card please!

In the corner of my eye I caught sight of a snake slithering across the road in the shade of a tree. It was huge; at least 5-foot long as I drew closer and accidentally ran over its tail. Well, by its tail I mean the last six inches of its body. It was like running over a plank of wood. I leapt into the air and out of the saddle, unplugging my communication lead as I did so; Les wondered what the heck was going on. This time I didn't stop to take a closer look because, no doubt, I had possibly really pissed it off and if one thing gives me the shivers, it is snakes!

In Thakhek we found the 'Southida' guesthouse a short distance from the Mekong River. I had the bike washed at another car wash and then we enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant owned by an American. While here we checked out the car ferry from here to Thailand but decided to carry on a bit further south in Laos and cross via the 'Friendship Bridge at Savannakhet. This proved to be the correct choice as we had the quickest border crossing to date. With a new bridge spanning the Mekong River, new terminals built in the last couple of years and hardly anyone around; we breezed through in super quick time. On the approach to the administration buildings they cleverly swap you to the other side of the road as we will now be riding on the left again in Thailand. The immigration and customs offices are clearly signed. Our passports were stamped and we paid 20,000 kip, about £1.33p departure tax! It was then over to the customs office with my carnet which was duly stamped, although I didn’t think they weren't too sure what they were doing but nonetheless they were all very friendly. Then it was over the river and into Thailand. Here we had to fill in our immigration cards and had our passports stamped again, this time with a 30-day visa. The customs officer only took the carnet and used it to print out their version of a temporary importation certificate and duly stamped it. Without further ado we were through and into Thailand for our second time in half an hour. A few minutes later at the border town of Mukdahan we were drinking coffee with a bank manageress who also changed our remaining Kipps into Bhats and gave us a bank jacket, she was so friendly.

Back in Thailand we enjoyed the air-conditioned cool of the 7/11 stores attached to many of the petrol stations. We then followed HW 212, a brilliant, fast and smooth road all the way to Ubon Ratchathani, where with the help of a local, we found a hotel in the centre of town with WiFi, air con and a fan, and all for only £5 - happy days!

Our original plan was to ride down the complete length of Laos and cross into Cambodia but apparently the border isn’t geared up for foreigners on foreign-registered bikes so we've been told to cross into Thailand then into Cambodia. As a result of this information we followed HW226 west to Surin where there is a nearby crossing point.

The ride towards Surin took us through some very familiar countryside. We could so easily have been in the Breckland Fens area of Norfolk, England - my home county. The only difference being is that here the harvest is in full swing and it’s not wheat but rice. There are teams of people wading through the paddy fields armed with sickles and cutting the rice by hand. In stark contrast we also observed in the next field a combine harvester on caterpillar tracks scything through the crop with gusto.  Another interesting observation was that the birds are back and sitting on telegraph wires and flying around without a care in the world - the picture is at last complete!

We arrived into the small town of Surin which was swarming with small motorcycles and pedal rickshaws. We stopped to check the map when Dean turns up on a little Honda. Dean is an Australian who has lived here with his Thai wife for a few years and he kindly took us around a couple of hotels and we settled for one in the town centre. Dean informed us that there is a big ex-pat community here in Surin and they appear to frequent a bar close by! We also heard that we were a week too early for a big annual elephant festival! – Ah well.

Our bike has now clocked up a total 96000 miles which includes the mileage before we left home. All things considered she’s not doing too badly but is due for a service. On the strength of this we decided to stay an extra day here and get it done. Just around the corner from our hotel I found a Suzuki dealer and an oil shop a few doors away. The friendly and helpful Suzuki Technician, Precha let me use their workshop to change all the oils, oil filter and fuel filter. I always have difficulty getting the sump guard back on and in fact ran out of time as the shop was closing so I replaced it back at the hotel! There's got to be an easier way! The following day I completed the service with valve adjustments and adjusted a spoke! Everything else was okay.

Next day we were back on the road once again and heading south to the border with Cambodia. We were now travelling on a lovely smooth tarmac road which led us to the very quite rural frontier post at Chong Jon. The immigration and customs forms were signed and we got our Thai exit stamp and handed in the temporary import form, the official also stamped my carnet!

Next we had a short ride across 'no-mans-land' to the Cambodian side at O Smach. Here we had to get our visas, which were full page stickers in our passports and which cost us £12 each, and that was after waking the visa man up in his hammock!  Across the road we got our stamp for one month. Just down the road we found the customs office where I coach the officer into stamping the appropriate sections of my carnet and we're through!  Across the road I spied a money exchange and considered it a good idea to change the last of our Thai bhats into Cambodian reals, this proved to be unnecessary as everyone here asks for American dollars anyhow!

From the border offices we could see a short section of concrete road then a bumpy dirt road through a rubbish tip. Oh my word, this is the main road south!  For the next six hours and 100- miles we rode on one of the worst tracks since South America. Imagine a dirt track which has been carpet-bombed and you've got the idea. We also had several muddy river crossings. I wasn’t sure if it was my riding skill or just sheer luck but Les only had to jump off once when I got a bit out of control! Fortunately the rivers we had to cross were all reasonably shallow as we traversed them over several rickety bridges; the locals would gather and charge you a few cents to cross - bless them!

Ox and carts are a common sight here and everyone appears to fish in the muddy roadside rivers. As we pass little villages of wooden shacks and primitive lifestyles it is clear we are back in a relatively poor country. Anytime we stopped for a rest or to buy a drink from the track-side stalls in the villages we were usually surrounded by happy, friendly, and inquisitive people. Once again we found that the people with very little are some of the friendliest and most generous we encounter.

Back on the track I had more close encounters with several long snakes as they slithered across the road in front of us, making my toes curl.

Eventually we hit the main Highway 13 which runs from Bangkok through to Phnum Penh, Cambodia's capital. Considering the importance of this main road I was surprised things didn't get much better and the traffic became even heavier. Closer to Siem Reap there was clear evidence of road construction so perhaps one day! Covered in dust and totally spent we rode into Siem Reap and with the help of the 'Lonely Planet' guide we found the 'Shadow of Angkor' guesthouse in the middle of town and next to the river - It was a perfect setting and our timing was also perfect as our arrival coincided with the annual water festival boat races. 20-US Dollars got us a twin en-suite room with air con and fan and a balcony looking across to the river and down into the busy road filled with colourful people below us.

While in town we made time to see some of the boat races. It was an amazing and colourful spectacle as we watched long and narrow boats with teams of twenty paddling furiously for the pride of their village as crowds of people look on and cheer. Street kids in grubby clothes collect used cans and bottles and it nearly breaks my heart to see them eating the leftovers from others. I have to remind myself that I’m from a different culture or perhaps a different planet as I observe woman beggars carrying deformed kids and several mine victims begging for small change. On the other end of the scale, we did meet several people who were really trying to make something of their tragic situation by selling postcards and books.

Close to our guesthouse we met a guy called Top Vanna who had lost both his hands in an explosion caused by one of the many unexploded land mines which still litter the country. Rather than turn to begging he got himself a cart and now sells books to visiting tourists. Needless to say we've now replenished our reading material and have even got our next 'Lonely Planet' guide for India! He was a great bloke and an inspiration to anyone who thinks they might have a problem!!

The main reason for staying in Siem Reap was to visit the world famous 'Angkor Wat' temples. So, hitching a ride in a moto-rickshaw, we took the short trip to the massive temple complex of Angkor. This amazing site was built between the 9th and 13th centuries and was, at that time, the capital of the Khmer empire. My favourite temple was 'Ta Prohm', of  'Tomb-Raider' fame with trees slowly oozing over and engulfing the ageing buildings – as hard as I looked I couldn't find Lara Croft though!

Tomorrow we head west along the horrendous dirt road, leaving Cambodia and back into Thailand and towards Bangkok. But tonight, whist I sit on our balcony writing this piece and occasionally glance down onto the busy street full of happy people in a festive mood, I can't help but reflect on the bloody history this country has had - and in my lifetime too! It was secretly carpet-bombed during the Vietnam War. From 1975 - 1979 it was under the control of the Pol Pot regime. At the hands of the Khmer Rouge, two million Cambodian people died with many untold thousands, if not millions, mentally scared. Looking down from my vantage point you couldn't tell of the horrors of the past, thank goodness. And I say again - you think you've got a problem?

The roads might be challenging but when you meet the grass-roots people it makes it all worth while, we will be back again one day.

Until next time.  Nick.

From Les

Siem Reap, Cambodia; 13th November 2008

   On 5th November the contingent from the USA sat huddled around the TV at the hostel in Lao watching the election of the next US President, some were more interested than others. I wondered just how many of these tourists even cast their vote before heading off on their travels. I detected the odd disappointment but strangely no outright jubilation and celebrations as I had expected. Time will tell no doubt, but there is wide scope for many improvements.

Fortunately for us the heavy rain we experienced in Vientiane, Laos occurred during the night but sadly it is causing even more problems for the farmers at rice harvest time. As we left the city we could see huge pools of surface water in the fields, on the roads and also on the vast construction sites where the Chinese are helping the financing and the building of the new stadiums for the 2009 SEA (South East Asia) Games.

Once clear of the Capital city it struck me that there appears to be a great North /South divide within this country. The roads became wider and virtually devoid of pot-holes, the houses became far more substantial with many constructed using bricks and mortar. Schools are larger and grander and their uniforms are neat and tidy.

We are riding into the flatlands now which enable people to spread themselves about more, unlike those in the hilly North who live in the raised bamboo huts which cling precariously to the side of the mountains in the swirling clouds. Once again there are rice (paddy) fields as far as the eye can see. In the north the ‘dry’ rice grown on the hills and is only harvested once a year whereas the ‘wet’ rice crop in the flat, and often boggy, south has 2 harvests.

As we head south we often ride alongside the mighty Mekong River which is gradually becoming wider. All along the river banks vegetables are grown in fertile soil which slopes down to the water’s edge. The roadside stalls are filled with small dried fish hung from bamboo stalks trying to tantalise the passers by. Pork is becoming more popular and we have seen many Vietnamese pot-belly pigs around the villages; I wonder if they realise they too will be dried and hung out as tasty morsels to accompany the sticky sweet rice so popular in the south.

We have been told that we will not be able to enter Cambodia at the most obvious border but will have to re-enter Thailand and cross a border from Thailand. It's a bit of a pain but ... remaining flexible at all times ... we stopped off at a surprisingly nice port - the border town of Thakhek. It was very quiet and laid back with a large temple overlooking the river. We enjoyed watching the sun set across the Mekong to Nankhom Phanom, Thailand. Even though the ferries ran regularly during the day we weighed things up and decided to continue further south and cross at the 2nd Friendship Bridge which was recently opened and took us from Savannakhet to Mukdahan (Thailand). It turned out to be a very good call and the new modern immigration areas on both sides were not only very friendly but efficient and empty thus making this the fastest border crossing to date. Within an hour of arriving at Lao passport control we were sitting in a Thai town in the company of the lady manager of the Bank of Ayudhya drinking sickly sweet coffee and exchanging a fistful of Lao Kip for Thai Bhat - What a result!

Within seconds it is obvious that Thailand is financially so much better off than Lao. It almost comes as a bit of a culture shock as we ride smoothly along the pristine dual-carriageways through smart industrial areas and into towns and cities with busy shopping centres with “Tesco Lotus” and “Macro” superstores and the inevitable 7-11 stores at almost every garage. Just then I also remembered one of the most frustrating things about Thailand ... the signage. Thai written word is very flamboyant and squiggly and does not appear to resemble any letters we know and understand. The frustration grows even more intense when trying to understand road signs and menus or trying to find that elusive guesthouse or hotel. Fortunately, when it comes to toilets, there is usually a picture of someone wearing a dress! I wonder which one the “Lady boys” use?

From Thailand we could, in theory, cross into Cambodia by about 4 borders that would issue us an on-the-spot visa. Rather than cross at the main busy route between Bangkok and Phnom Phen I suggested we try the quieter crossing south of Surin at Chong Jom. I had read in the Lonely Planet guide that the road was challenging in places and that experience was necessary when tackling these roads so I had full confidence in the “Pilot/Captain” - Will he ever forgive me I wonder? “Yes”, it was remote. “Yes”, it was quiet, and “Yes”, now I know why!!!!

Once the formalities were completed and we entered our 23rd country we ran out of tarmac about 15mtrs from the passport checkpoint, now a red sandy, potholed track stretched out before us. “This was “No Joke”, we had just over 60 miles of the most difficult riding conditions we have ever had through remote countryside strewn with unexploded ordnance; we really should know better by now. Nevertheless our spirits were uplifted when we realised that once again the locals are some of the friendliest people we meet on our travels. At first there is a look of surprise and amazement when they see us and then the shouts, whistles and huge smiles ... thank goodness!

This road was dreadful and I will cut this journey’s description short as reliving it is a little painful as we encountered 4 huge snakes, 9 river crossings. 2 man-made rickety bamboo bridges, about 15 proper bridges, one very rapid “get off” by me while Nick miraculously kept the bike upright, and 6hrs of eating dust and dirt as we bounced along from pothole to pothole until we eventually reached the main trunk road.

This stretch of main road is the busiest in the whole of Cambodia as it leads to Siem Reap, the center for visits to the stunning Angkor Wat and surrounding temples, the road surface is in a dreadful condition. The last 4 miles into Siem Reap is asphalt and the rest is ... yes you guessed it; a dusty, sandy, pot-holed dirt track which carries a vast amount huge lorries, endless tour busses and us! We decided to stay a couple of days in Sien Reap and incorporate a visit to Angkor Wat then return to Thailand and asphalt heaven.

For the 3rd time on the trip we have actually arrived in town during a festival. The 1st occasion was on the 3rd day of our adventure when we fortuitously arrived in Montreal, Canada during the Jazz festival. The second was “Fantasy Fest” in Key West Florida, (a scary experience). The river-boat races here are held for 3 days along the river just outside our guesthouse and the streets are buzzing with locals and tourists. The air is filled with all kinds of music from good bands to terrible karaoke and the roadside is filled with stalls selling anything you could possibly want to eat, and many things you definitely wouldn't want to! The racing attracts around 50 longboats which have been hand-carved and painted and are manned by about 11 oarsmen to propel them along a short stretch of river. It is the end of the rainy season here and the river is at its highest level, hence the annual celebrations. This occasion is a fun-filled event for many; however we also observed many sad and sorry situations which left us feeling helpless and saddened by the abject poverty in this country. Small grubby children were collecting discarded empty water bottles from the ground and the bins in the hope of earning a few cents. One small 4-5 year-old boy had gathered so many bags of bottles that he could hardly hold them, but he did manage to keep a slice of waffle tight under his arm. Again we were faced with the inevitable question, how can we help? We feel that giving money only encourages begging and will not help the situation in the end, instead we feel happier in donating surreptitiously by buying snacks, fruit and small objects from the young vendors and those disabled by the deadly mines.

Our day trip to the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayou and Ta Phohm was a real treat. The vastness of the site is incredible but the buildings in various states or ruin meant our camera was in great demand as there was a photo-opportunity at every turn among so much history and legend. Mind you, fending off the endless sales line-ups of postcards, tour-guides, silk scarves and musical flutes became exhausting but we managed and it was well worth the special ‘off road’ biking experience. And now we have to do it all over again back to Thailand.

Until next time, Lesley

PS Sorry boys, we didn't manage to find Lara Croft for you!!

Stop Press, Eddie writes that the Thai PM and his cabinet have been forced to resign, the stalemate seems resolved and airports will be open within the coming days but could take weeks to clear the backlog.



Bangkok, Thailand; Tuesday 2nd December 2008.  

   Before we left Siem Reap I bought a 'Lonely Planet India’ guide from Top Vanna, our UXB victim who was trading from his stall just outside our guesthouse. When I un-wrapped it I found it was only a photo copy, maybe this explains why it was so cheap! It was of good quality all the same, except it appeared to have been photocopied from a second-hand version and included the comments and underlining from its original owner. You just have to love these people for their endeavour all the same!

In preparation for the dirt roads I let the tyres down 10PSI and gave the after-market air filter another clean. This is foam 'Uni Filter’ which I bought in Australia and it is great. It has two filters in its construction, a narrow foam sock fits inside the intake funnel and acts as a pre filter, and then the air passes through to the main filter. I wash them both in soap and water; dry them off and re oil, which is quite frequent in these hot and dusty conditions.

The tarmac road west out of Siem Reap wasn’t too bad as we departed but then quickly deteriorated as we hit the dust and dirt for the next 37 miles, which we covered in just over an hour. After this section we were back on tarmac to the border town of Paoy Pot. Suddenly the road was terrible once again as we bumped over piles of rubble and rubbish to get to the Cambodian Immigration office where we were stamped out of Cambodia then back-tracked to the customs office. With no one else waiting we were told that the 'Boss', who apparently is the only one who can stamp my carnet, is sleeping as its ‘siesta time’ and wouldn’t be disturbed for an hour or two! So, parking the bike under his window, I got out my electric pump out and pumped the tyres up now that we are back on tarmac. Ha ha, the buzzing of my pump seemed to get his attention and I was summoned up stairs, oops! Not to worry about though as he wearily stamps the bike out, probably pleased to get rid of us and then goes back to bed!

On the Thailand side we took our place in a queue for Immigration and eventually get a 1-month visa stamped in our passports. We then had some fun with a police check point where I had to fill in a couple of forms and leave copies of passport registration and insurance. The only insurance I had was from Malaysia but they accepted it anyhow. We then made our way to the customs office. Here I decided not to use the carnet as we were planning to fly out from Bangkok. I imagined that getting the carnet stamped here would just create problems so decided to wait for them to issue a temporary import certificate, but this created a bit of a problem. They couldn’t figure out how I'd been in and out of the country three times and that this was the first import certificate. I didn’t mention the carnet as I felt it would only just confuse the issue!

The whole border process took 4-hours to get the paperwork in order and we rode through the border town of Aranyaprathet and into Thailand once again. Whilst I was dealing with the customs office, Les had phoned through to the guesthouse in Bangkok where we planned to stay that night only to be told that we wouldn’t get into town as there was a state funeral and all the city center roads were closed. It was time to implement ‘Plan B’.

We rode west to the town of Sa Kaeo and spent the night there. Next day we headed south on route 317 which followed the Cambodian border to Chanthaburi and the Gulf of Thailand where we catch a glimpse of the sea for the first time in ages. We rode east along the coast towards Pattaya and stopping at the seaside resort town of Jumtien Beach where we find the 'Summerbeach Inn', a comfortable hotel at £10 a night with the bike safe in its car park.

We have now covered 82,000 miles, 132,000 klms for the trek so far. We have also had one of our best fuel consumption figures at 60 miles per gallon, 22 kilometres per litre; not bad considering the old girl has now done 96,612 miles in total!

We spent the weekend here in Jumtien, which is a very touristy resort town with hundreds of western ex-pats and tourists. The town appears to be a little Germany!

I seemed to be going down with ‘man flu’ and by Monday I was feeling pretty rough. Contrary to our rule of staying put when we feel ill, we rode on into Bangkok keen to arrange our flights out.

On our ride towards the city I jumped on a toll road which was great and not very busy at all. In fact, Les observed there were NO motorcycles using it; they are normally all over the place! At the first toll booth we created a bit of a commotion but they let us through. At the second toll booth they jumped up and down and directed us to the side. I presumed that, like Malaysia, bikes are free and ride around the barrier to avoid a toll. No such luck here! On hearing a shout from behind I thought it was best to keep moving so I did! At the third toll booth the alarms went off and we're busted!! Well not quite, the policeman beckons us to the side and points out that motorcycles are not allowed on the toll road then helpfully leads us on his ‘high-powered Police pursuit bike’, a Chinese 125cc, against the flow of the dual-carriageway and down to the underpass, pointing us towards Bangkok's center. Thankfully they were all very helpful and no money passed hands!

Bangkok is famous for its traffic jams and associated pollution but we just followed our trusty Garmin sat-nav co-ordinates. As we waited in the queues of stationary traffic with my engine off, Les was following the map and we found our guesthouse in the old part of town without too much fuss in the Khaosan Road district. We have a very nice en-suite room with air-con for £10 a night in the middle of a popular tourist area of the city. The bike is safe in the courtyard so we feel happy and will be here for a week or so while we sort out our Indian visa and air-freight for the bike. Well, that’s what we thought!!!

On our first day we took a taxi to the Indian Embassy where, for £50 each, we apply for our visas, they will not be confirmed for five days and you don't get your money back if they're refused!

So with that in mind there was no point in booking any flights just yet. We also spent some time researching freight-forwarding companies in town and came up with a couple of options. I emailed a few and we even visit one but we can't confirm a date until we get our visas!

With swollen glands on my neck and feeling like s**t I confine myself to the room. Being able to buy antibiotics over the counter here is great and I stock up via the helpful chemist next door.

I eventually recover to some degree but then poor Les gets it. Thankfully we are in no hurry and we really do want to have a look around Bangkok before we go; but we have a problem!

The people of Thailand are in dispute with their government and are doing something about it. While not wanting to get onto any political soap box, here is my resume. One Prime Minister gets involved in some fraud and corruption; apparently he bought a premier British football team! He goes to court with his wife and is found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment but he does a bunk! Apparently, after a failed attempt for political asylum in the UK he's now in business in Dubai but wants to return. A relation of his is made Prime Minister and the Thai people understandably don’t like this, so 'The Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy' (PAD), in their yellow T-shirts take over Government House forcing the government to flee while the police and army appear to do nothing. There also have been the report of grenades going off and people being killed but at the moment it is a generally peaceful demonstration. We had been here eight days and have had our Indian Visas approved and made a provisional booking with a freight-forwarding company for the following week but the political situation deteriorated. 'PAD' took over the airport which forced all flights to be cancelled and causing thousands of tourists to be stranded here in Bangkok, and still the police and army do nothing!

We have now been here over two weeks and the situation hasn’t improved much. They are slowly flying people out from a military airport south of Bangkok and people are taking busses and trains to Chiang Mi and Phuket which have international airports. Others are heading to Malaysia and Singapore to fly home.

Once again, we have a plan 'B'!  We will ride back down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and sort out our shipping to India from there. I've already had a couple of promising leads with our friends there and we have had other offers of help. Of course we are very fortunate not to be in any rush, although we have to keep an eye on our Thai visa as it is valid for only for 1-month. Watch this space!

Until next time, from the front line!  Nick.

Stop Press

Eddie writes that the Thai PM and his cabinet have been force to resign, the stalemate seems resolved and airports will be open within the coming days.

From Les

Bangkok, Thailand; 2nd December 2008

   We spent the last evening people-watching in Siem Reap, Cambodia from the safety of our hotel balcony. The scene was buzzing and the streets filled with locals enjoying the festivities and music at the end of the annual boat races. It appears to me that there is no fashion code as such here. Women and children alike are often seen out and about in colourful pyjamas, day and night, and the male youth in particular are very fond of copious amounts of hair gel. Mopeds pass by with 3 or 4 passengers squeezed onboard, which seem the norm, and on several occasions I spotted 6 passengers and an assortment of balloons! I am sure the party atmosphere lasted way into the night but I managed to get to sleep quickly with my earplugs firmly wedged in as we had a big day ahead of us.

We had asked one of the locals if rain was likely on the day of our departure as the roads would become terrible. He slowly looked at the sky and said, with a lazy smile “Not till February”. Excellent!!

Once again scare-mongers had told of the road being even “worse” as we get closer to the Thai border but it was “Same Same” as the locals say, just dirt and dust, ruts and holes and it took us 3½ hrs to cover the 100 miles to the border crossing at Paoy Pot. This is the busiest border post between Thailand and Cambodia which is why it took 4 hours to get through. Most of the time is spent waiting in passport control queues with bus loads of tourists all hot and bothered after their cramped journey. We also had to wait for over an hour while the Customs man had his after-lunch siesta which was really frustrating as we only wanted a stamp on the bike’s papers which would only take a second. Several uniformed customs men watched us and I felt that they could so easily have made the mark, but no, only the sleeping boss can use the stamp.

I telephoned a hostel in Bangkok to reserve a room for the following day and was told that Bangkok is closed for the weekend and that the only way to gain access is by boat. 10 months after the death of the King’s sister, the extravagant funeral ceremonies will be taking place throughout the city, hence the road closures. So, remaining flexible ... we decided to head for the south coast and follow close to the Cambodian border till we reach the sea at Rayong. The bike is still caked in Cambodian mud and looks out of place with all the pristine mopeds and Lexus 4x4's. We found a nice room in a hotel with a view of Jumtien Beach, a very narrow strip of sand covered in sun beds and brollies. As it’s the weekend the folks from Bangkok come here to get away from it all as it's only 3-4 hours from the city.

Nick began to develop cold symptoms but said he was feeling well enough to ride into Bangkok where we could get our Indian visas and shipping organised. I'm so glad we made the move as the following 4 days he was really unwell and had to resort to a course of antibiotics and decongestants. Medications are freely available over the counter here which is great.

On route to Bangkok we found ourselves on a very nice toll highway. Our internal alarm bells began to ring when the toll booth attendants looked shocked that we were there in the first place. There were also no other bikes to be seen. The first stop we paid 30bhat and passed through the car barrier after someone took the registration number of the bike. The second and third toll sent attendants into arm waving frenzies which we chose to ignore. At the 4th and final toll alarm bells did actually ring and we were flagged down by one of Thailand's finest, a motorcycle cop in tight shirt, snug trousers and shiny boots. After taking our details and showing us a map and wagging a finger at us he signalled us to follow him on his bigger than usual bike. Doing as instructed, we rode head on into 4 lanes of traffic, executed a “U” turn to get to an exit lane and eventually found ourselves in queues of traffic, coughing and belching out fumes. Oh yes, this is Bangkok as we remember it!!! Nick’s hand-held GPS lead us directly to Lamphu House where fortunately our telephone booking had been honoured and here Nick took to his bed with aches, pains and a bit of fever. Could it be chicken flu, Malaria or Dengue fever? It did cross our minds but the kind pharmacist next door happily announced that it was just a virus/infection that many people have here due to the change of seasons.

The medication has kicked in and Nick is thankfully on the mend. Unfortunately, I now have the virus and realise how ill Nick must have been feeling over the past week. At least we are in a comfortable hostel, which is a quiet haven only metres from the hustle and bustle of the old town tourist traps.

Our Indian visas have been issued so we now have another full page stamp in our passports. We are a bus, or tuk-tuk and sky-rail, ride away from the huge shopping and commercial area of Siam Square which is rapidly disappearing beneath tinsel and lighting displays wishing shoppers a Happy Christmas and New Year - Is it that time of the year already???

Bangkok and Thailand are going through a period of political unrest. There are daily demonstrations by PAD (Peoples Alliance for Democracy). We had been making progress in our plans to fly the bike to India until ... On 25th Nov they closed the airport and an estimated 300,000 tourists from around the world found themselves stranded as their flights had been cancelled. The Police and Army are standing idly by and there have been reports of a bombing or grenade killing a couple of security officers in the early hours of the morning. Even with the closure of both airports there was a constant flow of backpackers for the first few days as they arrived by bus and train from places like Cambodia and Lao, they were probably totally oblivious as to what lay in store for them. Initially there was a certain amount of panic with people urgently trying to work out other means of getting out of town. It is good to read the morning papers for an update and often they tell us where the next demonstration will be so we just avoid that area. The centre of town seems quite unaffected by all this political unrest ... shopping goes on as usual with the addition of special “Airport closure sales”! Those travellers who are left have resigned themselves to an extended stop-over and with the Government now intimating that it will pay 2000 bhat (about £34) per day to those with an airline ticket it has alleviated some of the stress. The local stall and hotel owners however are very concerned about the lack of business and what they see as a serious loss in the tourist trade for the future. With an estimated 60% of Thailand’s economy is based on export of such goods as flowers and silk with no way of getting them out of the country at this time, I am sure many businesses will suffer hugely in the long term.

So once again, “remaining flexible at all times” we have decided to take a detour and will head south once again. We have heard that even if the airports are opened soon it will take at least a further 3-4 weeks to clear the backlog of passengers and freight and to be quite honest ... I don't really fancy being here for Xmas.

Our stay in Bangkok will be our longest break from riding in 2 years. Maybe our current illness is a subtle way of our ageing bodies telling us to take a break. Lamphu House has been the ideal place to rest, meet interesting people, relax and read; we have both been getting pretty tired lately. In the next few days we will visit some more places of interest and stroll around some of the backstreets into the real heart of the city, enjoying the relaxing time before we head to KL, Malaysia and then on to India.

Until then, Lesley

Batu Ferringhi, Penang Island, Malaysia; 21st December 2008

   We spent 22 days in Bangkok, Thailand. Not only did this enforced stop create a 'Globaltrek' record for remaining in one place for any length of time, but it was also our second period of trek-stopping illness we've both had; the last occasion was about two years ago in Ecuador.

I arrived in Bangkok suffering the symptoms of flu, but after a visit to the chemist, and armed with some antibiotics, I managed to recover quickly only to have Les pick it up also and she was then confined to the room for a time. As if this wasn’t bad enough, my own symptoms returned again, this time accompanied with aches and pains. By this stage I was thinking malaria or dengue fever, which we'd heard so much about in the tropics. So off I went to a nearby clinic where they took a blood sample and carried out a few tests only to find that I was okay after all. Although this was a relief it still didn’t answer the question as to what was wrong with me. But, as quickly as it came, the fever left me, although by this stage I was feeling a bit of a fraud!

Meanwhile, poor Les was suffering with similar symptoms. We sat around the guesthouse, occasionally chatting to the other guests and generally feeling sorry for ourselves.

Fortunately, 'Lamphu House' is a great place to feel under the weather in, being smack-bang in the middle of Bangkok old town. The guesthouse has a quiet garden restaurant and sitting area with trees to shade you from the sun. We could sit and read in relative peace while just down an alleyway you could find yourself back in the throngs of holiday makers. There are plenty of places within walking distance, parks to sit in and people watch, which is one of our favourite pastimes. The river is also only a block or so away and one is never short of a place of interest. We also came across a building occupied by “Riverside”, a TV or radio station which had broadcast something the 'PAD' people didn't like, it now has a few bullet holes in its windows, perhaps that accounted for the gunfire we heard overnight?

We eventually collected our visas for India, which turned out to be in the form of a handsome sticker taking up a whole page of our passports. I have also located a couple of freight-forwarders who will fly the bike to India for us. As we're not feeling 100% we decided not to book anything just yet but take a more detailed look around the city; this proved to be the wrong decision.

We visited the National Museum which was crammed-packed with antiquities and so much history to read up on that I felt giddy and not really in the mood to absorb so much culture. On a more leisurely note, we partook of an exciting ride in a boat-taxi downriver to Chinatown where we lost ourselves in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways packed with busy market stalls selling everything one could imagine. The sights and sounds of the colourful people and perfumes of exotic spices are intoxicating and only heighten our ambition of getting back on the road ASAP to find even more exciting places to visit.

One of the nice things about this area is that there aren't too many westerners. This might sound a bit snobby I know but I'm finding the streets in the Khaosan Road district slightly oppressive as singlet-wearing, tattoo-covered backpackers fill the streets. I know I’m sounding middle-aged but I prefer, for the most part, mixing with the locals and I look upon Chinatown as my sanctuary!

We later found some backstreets where cars were in the process of being systematically dismantled by mechanics covered in oil. One was sitting on the floor, spanner-in-hand with an engine on his lap! There was even a VW Beetle repair shop with a beautifully reconditioned and shiny flat-four engine sitting on the footpath waiting for a buyer; I had one of those cars years ago. If you are a scooter fan then this is the place to be with Lambrettas and Vespas in their hundreds still going strong - or should that read “wrong?”

We wound our way into a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and enjoyed some spicy noodles for lunch then headed back to the river and enjoyed a water-taxi home.

Whilst staying at Lamphu House we've met some very interesting people and one memorable character was a German guy called Johannes. Most mornings we ate our breakfast together while Johanna picked out the news highlights from the local newspaper. He was a strong-willed and focused lad in his late thirties, his catchphrase being, “No compromise”. He appeared to have his life all mapped out and worked hard in the European Alpine resorts during the winters, then enjoyed the rest of the year in he tropics where the Euro goes a long way. With his help I managed to change the tunes on our ageing MP3 players and even download some interesting stuff from his huge hard drive library.

One evening we spotted another BMW GS riding down our street and later found its owner to be Sandy. Sandy is an American guy working with the UN here in Bangkok and we sat chatting at a bar before he headed home after work. We met again several times before he had to go on a mission to Burma. Before he left he directed me to a backstreet BMW parts shop nearby where I stocked up on spark plugs and filters.

It was the King of Thailand’s birthday and part of the celebrations was a firework display and our vantage-point for this fun-filled evening was a traffic island in the middle of a normally busy dual-carriageway in the city centre. Thousands of people gathered around as vendors sold flags and food. Suddenly a police motorcycle escort team flew by and the roads were closed and a convoy of stretched limos wafted by. What surprised me more was that everyone went so quite, there was no flag-waving or cheering - as if he wasn’t there! I thought for a moment that perhaps the old King, who by the way is the World’s longest-reigning monarch, and had been ill himself? Perhaps he caught it off me and died? Why was everyone so quite? Then the fireworks were set off. For a good ten or fifteen minutes the mortars, set just the other side of the footpath, blasted spectacular fireworks into the sky above us causing us to hold our hands over our heads to protect us from the glowing embers as they fell. I don't thing these would be allowed back home!

At this time we were still stuck in Bangkok. The Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy, (PAD), still have control of the airport where the police and military appeared to be waiting for a peaceful resolution and just let the protesters get on with it. Meanwhile the country lost millions of Dollars through lost trade and tourism.

Our visas for Thailand were close to running out so, even with the airport eventually open and the backlog slowly clearing, it still didn't leave us enough time to arrange flights so we implemented plan 'B' and headed south back to Malaysia. I must say I was slightly annoyed because I hate having to backtrack. If we hadn't been ill and there hadn't been a demonstration closing the airport we'd be in India by now. But this is what makes travelling so exciting; you never know what's going to happen next!

We had a leisurely 3-day ride back to Penang Island and Batu Ferringhi and clocked up 83,000 miles for the trek so far. The hotel we stayed at last time we were here was full as we've come back in the middle of a national holiday. Last time we were here during Ramadan and Les remembered Mr Ashok, the owner of the hotel shop, telling us he also had a guesthouse called ‘Shalini’ close to the beach and not too far away. So after a phone call we were given a nice double en-suite room fifty meters from the best sandy beach. We were so fortunate in finding this little place and it ticked all our boxes. It had an abundance of small restaurants to satisfy our hunger, and thankfully, it was also where predominately local Malay people were holidaying and as such was not spoilt by tacky tourism; having said that, there was still plenty to do here. We had jet skis, boats, parascending, the beach, horse rides and quad bikes. And all the while the blistering sun beat down on those brave enough to lie in its full glare. The sun made the sand so hot by midday that people could be seen sprinting from shade to shade! For some people the noise from the bistro opposite, which goes on till late, might be a bit intrusive, but for the passing backpackers it was only a short stagger home. One long-term resident was John, an Englishman and good all round interesting character. He’s been here off and on for over forty years but had to reluctantly go home to his family in a freezing England for Christmas.

We are both feeling much healthier now and have started a fitness campaign by running down the beach before breakfast, and before the sand gets too hot.

We're going to spend Christmas here on the beach, New Year in the Cameron Highlands, then down to Kuala Lumpur to fly the bike and us to Calcutta, India early January.

Life can't get much better than this.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Wrap up and keep warm!!!!!!!

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Batu Ferringhi, Pulau Penang, Malaysia; 20th Dec 2008

   Seasons Greetings and best wishes for the New Year!!

Firstly ... Congratulations once again to Zoe and Jamie. This time they have produced a son, Elliot, a brother for Maddy. Well done guys, we look forward to seeing you in June.

Bangkok airport has been re-opened to coincide with the King’s birthday; the Prime Minister has been removed from office and they were about to appoint a new one, the 3rd in as many months. Sceptics say that there will be no real change as the country’s economy and tourist trade plummets. The streets were almost deserted which in a way is nice for us. We had plenty of room to stroll around the narrow alleyways and streets of China Town where you can buy almost anything at a fair price. Much of the merchandise is sold in bulk to the many street vendors, the glitzier and tackier the better. By and large we have managed to resist, except for a couple of T-shirts to replace our tired old ones. Bangkok is rather like Venice, being settled on water it is easy to move around the city using the various types of boats that take you along the main river and into some of the smaller canals; it is also cheap! Yesterday I saw a sign which surprised me ... The boat company was announcing a drop in the price of fares as the price of fuel had fallen ... where else would you see this??

The slump in tourism has also affected the hotels and now several places are advertising “Pay one night and second night free” and a 20% discount on meals at the almost deserted eateries. When European Universities broke up for the Xmas break there was a sudden influx of “white skins” on a cheap trip on their student loans but other than that it is quiet. Unfortunately, within the tourist hubs, there is a certain type of tourist that makes us cringe and shrivel with embarrassment as they argue with stall holders and tuk tuk drivers over a few pence! The cheap booze and drugs which are easily accessed in the streets only adds to the more irresponsible behaviour which often finds us apologising for a stranger’s behaviour ... goodness I sound a real prude!

Part of me has enjoyed our enforced break, especially when we had new books to read and interesting people to talk to. We were lucky enough to be close to one of the King’s birthday celebrations, a massive firework display. The mortars and fireworks were so close you could feel the rush of air as they took off and then had to duck and dive to miss the falling debris ... the best display I have seen in years. We are still not feeling really fit and well but must be back on the road soon as the visa runs out on the 13th Dec. So it was south to Malaysia to start the clock ticking again.

We were about to leave as Nick was feeling so much better when he went down with a bone-aching fever which resulted in him having blood tests for Malaria and Dengue fever, which thankfully both proved negative. Once again our departure was postponed for a few more days until the 10th December when we eventually got back on the poor neglected bike.

On our first day back in the saddle we covered 318 miles!!! We had been a bit concerned about getting out of central Bangkok but the route was easy and straight forward, thank goodness. Even though I was still not feeling too well it was nice to be out in the cleaner air of the market gardens, rice fields and waterways. Nick commented that even though the country is in turmoil life appears to be still going on as usual for the locals, almost as though this was the norm here.

The further south we rode we began to see the palm oil trees, pineapples and banana trees with the associated roadside stalls ... this is more like it. We really are not city folks!

Nick was really enjoying being back on the bike but I was suffering. I hadn't felt so ill in years but we had to get to the Malaysian border by the 13th and we always try to give ourselves a day in hand just in case! The border crossing was so easy. It took 45 mins to complete the formalities both sides and we were back to the smooth roads and road signs that we could actually read. Since our last visit and the falling £pound we had to recalculate with 5.4 Ringitts to £1 instead of 6RM or 53 Thai Baht that we had been working with in Thailand.

We decided to stop on the island of Pulau Penang. Fortunately it now the school holidays and we remembered Ashok and his wife Looi, a shop and hostel owner we had met on our previous visit. We are now staying at their family guesthouse “Shalini's”, opposite the beach in Batu Ferringhi and here we will stay until after Christmas. It is the ideal place to rest and recuperate. We have even begun a fitness campaign which gets us walk/jogging along the beach first thing in the mornings. Depending on what end of the beach we go we can either enjoy watching the jet skier, para-gliders etc or we can join a few locals in the peaceful and quiet area. As we are back in a mainly Moslem country I am often woken by the call to prayers from the nearby mosque at 5am. It also amuses us to watch the fully dressed ladies and children splashing and swimming in the sea, head scarves and all.

So far we have only ventured out once on the bike when we visited the local butterfly park. It was wonderful to see these amazing colourful insects and reptiles. We spent time trying to find the brother of the large brown spider we found under the toilet seat a few days earlier. Reminder to myself ... Always check under the lid in future!!!

We will think of you all, wherever you may be, as we sit under a palm tree on our beach this Christmas. Thank you for joining us on our adventure. We now only have 6 months left of this trip when we return to UK for a while.

Our latest pictures are in our Thailand & Malaysia albums

Wishing you a Happy New Year, till next time, Lesley



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 15th Jan 2009

   A belated Happy New Year to you all, wherever you may be.

This Christmas, (08) was spent on the beach at Batu Feringgi,on Penang Island, Malaysia where we relaxed and spent valuable time with Denise and Melvin who were fellow lodgers at our hostel.  The men folk decided that they were in need of a traditional roast dinner to celebrate and I admit I was quite pleased to have a meal without curry or rice in one shape or form. We carried out some research in the village and were horrified at the prices quoted. In the end we resorted to catching a bus to the nearest big town, Georgetown where we succumbed to “Shenanigans”, Yes sadly, an Irish pub similar to all those in the UK and the Americas. I do believe the thick pint of Guinness lay heavy on our men folk as they are now seem used to the locally brewed light fizzy beers.

We ventured out on the bike several times as the road, although busy, is full of challenging twists and turns. I am sure Nick would love to play with the boys on their mopeds as they whiz by on either side of us. They have probably been doing this since they were old enough to hang onto the handlebars in front of their parents. It would never happen back home, but once again the children here seem to far more alert and independent.

After our beach break I began to feel more relaxed and rested. We have walked and jogged miles along the beach, made new friends, watched the locals at work and play until our internal batteries were re-charged. Our laundry is now fresh and the panniers have been sorted and re-organised ready for packing. Our tyres had been checked and we were both ready to get back in the saddle to explore some more. We headed for Kuala Lumpur via the Cameron Highlands and those wonderful biker roads that are almost deserted and punctuated with signs telling us “Beware Elephants”.  It's Smiles for miles!!!

Okay, so some times things don't go as planned!!!  The lovely twisty roads to the hills were awash with torrential rain. Water was coming from every direction, cascading down the hillsides sweeping red soil and stones in its path. Some of the market garden stalls were almost underwater and the only vehicles that looked as though they would cope were the old jeeps used in the tea plantations. This was serious rain!! We were fine to begin with but soon the growing leaks in jackets and leggings began to bring a nasty chill and by the time we reached Hill Lodge in Tanah Rata we were totally drenched and chilled to the bone. What a contrast from Penang! On the strength of this we headed back towards KL to dry out and try to sort ourselves out. 

The twisty jungle road from Tanah Rata to the main trunk road reminded us that we had been living in an environment totally different to that of the indigenous folk. Dogs lying by the roadside are the first indication that someone lives here. On closer inspection you can see little trails and pathways zigzagging their way up the steep forested hills and the occasional glimpse of a bamboo hut on stilts clinging to the hill side. City life and country life are at different extremes, almost too difficult to comprehend.

We rode to Port Klang with the view to research shipping the bike. Once again I was struck by some strange bug that kept me in bed for a day, and once again people have suggested that we are suffering from exhaustion.

We found the comfortable Pijangga Homestay hostel, in the Golden Triangle of KL City. Our hostel was so central being within walking distances to all the points of interest such as China Town, Little India, KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers and off course the endless shopping malls and designer clothes; the City Malays certainly know how to shop!!

We have managed to catch up with a few of the folks we met before and have benefited in particular from our friend Rosman's experiences of motorcycle travel across the world. We have had time to re-access our situation and have come to the conclusion that we are both very tired after 2½ years, 83,000-miles, 24 countries, approx 40 border crossings and too many different beds to even begin to calculate. On the strength of this we have decided to bypass India, Iran and Pakistan on this occasion and we will now ship the bike to Istanbul, Turkey and home from there. It has been a tough decision to make but we feel that we really would not do these countries justice at the moment. Once we have had a break back in the UK we plan to ride through these countries when we are fresh.

Nick has almost worn out the laptop, how did we manage without one for 1½ years? He has used it constantly for contacting various shipping agents. Even now we have many emails toing and froing with weights, measurements, dates and prices for our planned shipping. Just to add even more spice to the adventure, our Visa Credit card has just been blocked permanently by someone inadvertently pushing a button back in UK!!!  So we await card replacements due in the next 10-days!  ATM machines in Malaysia only allow us to withdraw 300MYR, or £58 at a time and our shipping bill has to be paid in cash!!!

From now on it looks like we’ll be eating naan bread or roti (Flying bread) with dahi and curry sauce which is cheap. As soon as we have shipping dates confirmed we will update you all.

From Les

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 15th Jan 2009

   A belated Happy New Year to you all wherever you may be.

This Christmas, (08) was spent on the beach at Batu Feringgi,on Penang Island, Malaysia where we relaxed and spent valuable time with Denise and Melvin who were fellow lodgers at our hostel. The men folk decided that they were in need of a traditional roast dinner to celebrate and I admit I was quite pleased to have a meal without curry or rice in one shape or form. We carried out some research in the village and were horrified at the prices quoted. In the end we resorted to catching a bus to the nearest big town, Georgetown where we succumbed to “Shenanigans”, Yes sadly, an Irish pub similar to all those in the UK and the Americas. I do believe the thick pint of Guinness lay heavy on our men folk as they are now seem used to the locally brewed light fizzy beers.

We ventured out on the bike several times as the road, although busy, is full of challenging twists and turns. I am sure Nick would love to play with the boys on their mopeds as they whiz by on either side of us. They have probably been doing this since they were old enough to hang onto the handlebars in front of their parents. It would never happen back home, but once again the children here seem to far more alert and independent.

After our beach break I began to feel more relaxed and rested. We have walked and jogged miles along the beach, made new friends, watched the locals at work and play until our internal batteries were re-charged. Our laundry is now fresh and the panniers have been sorted and re-organised ready for packing. Our tyres had been checked and we were both ready to get back in the saddle to explore some more. We headed for Kuala Lumpur via the Cameron Highlands and those wonderful biker roads that are almost deserted and punctuated with signs telling us “Beware Elephants”. It's Smiles for miles!!!

Okay, so some times things don't go as planned!!! The lovely twisty roads to the hills were awash with torrential rain. Water was coming from every direction, cascading down the hillsides sweeping red soil and stones in its path. Some of the market garden stalls were almost underwater and the only vehicles that looked as though they would cope were the old jeeps used in the tea plantations. This was serious rain!! We were fine to begin with but soon the growing leaks in jackets and leggings began to bring a nasty chill and by the time we reached Hill Lodge in Tanah Rata we were totally drenched and chilled to the bone. What a contrast from Penang! On the strength of this we headed back towards KL to dry out and try to sort ourselves out.

The twisty jungle road from Tanah Rata to the main trunk road reminded us that we had been living in an environment totally different to that of the indigenous folk. Dogs lying by the roadside are the first indication that someone lives here. On closer inspection you can see little trails and pathways zigzagging their way up the steep forested hills and the occasional glimpse of a bamboo hut on stilts clinging to the hill side. City life and country life are at different extremes, almost too difficult to comprehend.

We rode to Port Klang with the view to research shipping the bike. Once again I was struck by some strange bug that kept me in bed for a day, and once again people have suggested that we are suffering from exhaustion.

We found the comfortable Pijangga Homestay hostel, in the Golden Triangle of KL City. Our hostel was so central being within walking distances to all the points of interest such as China Town, Little India, KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers and off course the endless shopping malls and designer clothes; the City Malays certainly know how to shop!!

We have managed to catch up with a few of the folks we met before and have benefited in particular from our friend Rosman's experiences of motorcycle travel across the world. We have had time to re-access our situation and have come to the conclusion that we are both very tired after 2½ years, 83,000-miles, 24 countries, approx 40 border crossings and too many different beds to even begin to calculate. On the strength of this we have decided to bypass India, Iran and Pakistan on this occasion and we will now ship the bike to Istanbul, Turkey and home from there. It has been a tough decision to make but we feel that we really would not do these countries justice at the moment. Once we have had a break back in the UK we plan to ride through these countries when we are fresh.

Nick has almost worn out the laptop, how did we manage without one for 1½ years? He has used it constantly for contacting various shipping agents. Even now we have many emails toing and froing with weights, measurements, dates and prices for our planned shipping. Just to add even more spice to the adventure, our Visa Credit card has just been blocked permanently by someone inadvertently pushing a button back in UK!!! So we await card replacements due in the next 10-days! ATM machines in Malaysia only allow us to withdraw 300MYR, or £58 at a time and our shipping bill has to be paid in cash!!!

From now on it looks like we’ll be eating naan bread or roti (Flying bread) with dahi and curry sauce which is cheap. As soon as we have shipping dates confirmed we will update you all.

Until next time, from hot and steamy KL,



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 21st January 2009.

   We had a great time over Christmas sharing a traditional Christmas dinner with our new friends Melvin and Denise from the Isle of Sheppey. We later wandered around the small village of Batu Ferringhi on Penang Island and chilled out on the beach. We even managed a dip in the, somewhat suspect, sea; a pity really as this beautiful tropical seaside location has a sea the colour of tea, quite similar to the colour of the North Sea back home! But we're told it’s not pollution just the muddy sea bed in this area!

The bike has also came out to play recently as we cruised around the island and visiting its many sights. The roads here lend themselves more to a sports bike but we managed it with gusto on the old girl all the same!  We liked it here so much that we stayed for a New Year’s party which was being held in a bistro on the beach and just over the road from our guesthouse, the setting couldn't have been any better.

After being stationery for three weeks we departed and rode over the six-mile bridge, the longest in Southeast Asia, I'm told, and back onto the mainland at Butterworth. We stopped the night at Ipoh then climbed up into the Cameron Highlands once again. We are often told that it’s never the same when you return somewhere special and this was certainly the case here. We had come this way to tackle another recommended twisty route up into the highlands but today bad weather stopped play. We rode through a monsoon and landslides washed mud and debris onto the road which made life on a bike very difficult to say the least. We arrived unscathed but looking like a couple of drowned rats into the town of Tanah Rata. I wouldn't have been surprised if the receptionist at the 'Jurina Hill Lodge' had said, “Sorry we're full”, but no, we scored a room and stripped off at the door!

I had wanted to visit a tea plantation for some time so we stayed a day hoping that the weather would improve, but no. All the while it was just cold and wet outside, and yet we were in the tropics; it was so unfair!

From the cold of the highlands we descended a great twisty road back down to the heat at sea level. It was so much warmer that we took our fleeces off and rode on to Malaysia's west coast and then south to Klang. All the while I was harbouring this romantic notion of finding a ship moored along the quayside and ready to whisk us and the bike to India, but alas, no. It’s a sign of the times to observe harbour security guards preventing prospective hitch hikers getting anywhere near a boat!!

We had planned to stay one night in Klang but unfortunately Les fell ill again and we ended up having to stay an extra couple of nights. It’s strange that Les and I have been virtually joined at the hip for the 2½ years we've been travelling together. For the most part we got on very well, except for the odd upset which everyone experiences from time to time. But a strange thing happened whilst I sat on my own in a restaurant next to the hotel. Les was poorly and stayed at the hotel but I missed her like mad, it just didn't feel right without her with me! Am I a sentimental old fart or what?

This latest bout of sickness made us review our situation. When we were both ill in Bangkok we were told, “You're both tired, listen to your body”. We are tired, even after 2 separate 3-week breaks in quick succession. Everyone who knew India had told us that you’d have to be on top of your game to survive there, and clearly we were not. Unknown to us until now, those 2½ years on the road had taken its toll and, coupled with fatigue, our health had gone downhill somewhat, and with it, any short-term craving for new adventure. It that case we have decided to bypass India, Pakistan and Iran and get to Turkey where we could easily ride home through Europe.

We had known that unfortunately Pakistan and Iran were out in any case due to our timing, and that winter in these countries would make riding through them impossible, although we’ve since been told we could have taken a train! So the plan was to get back to Kuala Lumpur and arrange shipping to Istanbul, Turkey ASAP.

After a day in bed Les was fit enough for the short ride to KL where, after battling through the traffic, we found the 'Pujangga Home-Stay' in the Golden Triangle area of Bukit Bintang, in the district of central Kuala Lumpur -  We have a nice double room with shared bathroom, breakfast, endless coffee and free WiFi internet access for £14 a night. The bike is also safely locked up in the entrance courtyard. The staff here are all very friendly and we are surrounded by eateries from all cultures; all in all, a perfect spot to plan our next move.

I'm not a city person, as I've mentioned before, but the centre of KL with its skyscrapers and acres of glass and stainless steel is like walking around a beautiful abstract sculpture.

We caught up with Rosman, a Malay and fellow motorcycle over-Lander who we bumped into on our last visit to KL. We exchanged opinions, experiences and received valuable help and advice from someone who'd actually ridden to Europe from Malaysia recently; what better guidance could we get?

Now felling somewhat better we immersed ourselves in a bit of local culture by attending a concert given by the Malaysian Philharmonic. We sat enthralled as they played some Dvorak, Shostakovich and Barber – all moving stuff, visit their site at -

Anyway, we've been here two weeks now. After numerous emails containing prices for air and sea freighting for the bike we chose Wilhelmsen Ships Services, where Alvin and Wishnu have been very helpful arranging things for us -  Strangely enough, we began our adventure with this company who shipped our bike from Southampton to Halifax, Nova Scotia in June 2006 so it’s fitting they also do our last transfer. We duly delivered the bike to Port Klang yesterday, the 20th where she had to be crated. The ship sails to Istanbul on Wed 28th, which should take about 27 days; all for about £600, although I haven't had the bill yet!!

We will stay here in KL for another week until the ship sails just in case there's a problem. It’s also prudent to stay as we have some new credit cards being sent over after our old ones were mysteriously blocked! When we've got them, and the ship has sailed we will leave for pastures new. Rather than flying direct to Istanbul and the cold of the winter we are going to have some more beach time on a small island just up the coast from here. We will return for a stage of the Tour of Langkawi cycle race which finishes in KL with a stage around the city centre -   We will then fly out about the 19th Feb giving us just over a week in Istanbul to explore before the bike arrives, now that sounds like a plan to me.

Until next time, Nick.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 14th February 2009

   We've now been in Kuala Lumpur for a total of four weeks and have attained the honour of being the longest staying guests at our hostel. Even in the little Indian restaurant at the bottom of our road they know what we want before we ask. We always get a smile as they shuffle around from dawn to dusk serving their delicacies.

We now feel reasonably integrated with KL and know where to go for the things we need. The mono rail can take you from one end of the city to the other efficiently, from where we can catch a train to other locations. The buses are plentiful and taxis are also relatively cheap so moving around without our own wheels isn't really a problem.

We find we can happily live here for around £20 a day per person which covers food and accommodation. Even with a daily infusion of 'StarBucks' coffee we can still remain within budget!

One of the disadvantages of remaining in one place for any length of time and becoming well known, is your wardrobe, or to be precise in our case - the lack of one!  In the hot and humid tropical climate I would change my shirt at least twice a day, sometimes more. We have to wash them out and quickly dry them ready to be used again; my five shirts are getting well used!

Another disadvantage of staying put for so long appears to be a tendency to withdraw into oneself more. Now that we've had a reasonably good look around KL, we find ourselves instead sitting comfortably in our room being entertained by the laptop with its free internet connection and borrowing the odd DVD from the hostel library. As a result we’re not gaining much interaction with the other travellers, but some times this is not as bad as it seems!

One thing lacking in this city are parks where one could just sit and people-watch. There are a few but they are a good walk away from us, which is a shame as you'd find us there more often.

During the first three weeks I arranged the bike’s shipping with 'Wilhelmsen Ship Service' here in KL, where the ever-helpful Alvin Chang was constantly e-mailing me with developments. He wasn't even worried about prompt payment. So, finding more cash in our pockets than usual, we headed off to enjoy this beautiful climate some more before heading to the cold of Istanbul. We packed up our wardrobe of well-washed clothes and decided to cat-walk them elsewhere!

Kevin and Ann, whom we stayed with in New Zealand, had now moved to Singapore and invited us to stay. So, making like real backpackers, we caught the bus south.

Crossing into Singapore was so easy without the bike, we only had to visit the immigration office for a stamp then it was back on the bus. At the bus station we were met by our friends and taken back to their penthouse apartment overlooking a massive pool, we felt like royalty, we were being transported from rags to riches!

We already had had a good look around Singapore in 2005, so this time, other than a little explore of China town, we just stayed pool side or walked around the affluent neighbourhoods where Porsches in the driveway were ten-a-penny.

Singapore is a well organised, disciplined and squeaky clean country. All well and good for appearances and tourists but I feel it negatively contributes to an overall lack of character. Kuala Lumpur on the other hand is a little grubbier and rough around the edges but has that distinct lived-in appearance which instils the warm character we strive so hard to find in major cities around the world. Bangkok is just plain grubby with so much life in its streets, but a good chance you could die falling down a hole on the footpath. Depending on how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to step, these cities have all got something unique to offer the visitor.

We had a pleasant five days with Kevin and Ann where we dined on Ann's great home cooking.  I could now understand where Kevin got his well fed appearance from! After a week we both felt quite rested and much fitter after all the eating and swimming, we were now ready to push on.

We next caught the night bus to Lumut, which is two thirds the way up Malaysian peninsula west coast. Here we caught the ferry to Pangkor Island and the village of Teluk Nipah, where we stayed at the, 'Sunset View Chalet'. We had a lovely large cabin for only £12 night with en-suite, a/c and a fan. We were also only 100-meters from the lovely white sandy beach, crystal clear sea and plenty places to eat. We kicked back for another relaxing break until the weekend when all the locals came to the beach to play.

We are now back in our usual room at the, 'Pujangga Homestay' hostel. The boys here missed us, and the Indians at the restaurants nearby, particularly the chef, were pleased to see us return.

I later met Alvin from the shipping company and paid my £700 bill for shipping the bike to Turkey. Using the internet, I also arranged some insurance for the bike from 'Carol Nash' back home in England to cover us as we progress through Europe.

On Sunday the 15th we watched the final stage of the Tour of Langkawi cycle race, which finishes the week-long race with a city centre, 80k stage at the bottom of our road.

We fly out of Malaysia in the early hours of Wednesday 18th of Feb and will be in Istanbul by lunchtime the same day.

Feeling as one of the locals now, I encourage you to come and visit Malaysia one day. You might just like it and not want to leave as I do; I know its going to be difficult for me!!

Right, it’s Sunday the 14th of Feb here and I've got to buy a rose and take my girl out to dinner, yip you've guessed it, it’s time for another curry!!!

Happy Valentine's Day girls.

Until next time, Nick.

From Les

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Friday 13th Feb 2009

   I must apologise for such a long gap between updates, I have no excuse I am afraid, in fact we have been busy doing nothing much in particular ... for a change!

Nick’s endless emails and phone calls to shipping companies paid off and the bike is currently at sea somewhere between SE Asia and Turkey. As I type this, Nick will be handing over the banker’s cheque in exchange for the ignition key and the Carnet de passage (bike’s passport) and then we will be ready to leave KL on the 18th of Feb.

The guys at the hostel have been great and have made our stay here very comfortable and relaxed. We have walked for miles around the city, taking in the contrasts of wonderful glitzy, glassy buildings surrounded by street vendor’s stalls and tired- looking buildings. I am not a city lover by any means but I am enjoying KL; this city is a real cosmopolitan muddle. There are certain areas such as China town and Little India that live up to their names but the rest of the city seems to have little pockets of communities dotted about and generally there doesn't seem to be much racial or religious tension.

We have favourite our places for our Roti breakfast and the thick sugary Kopi (Coffee), and just along the road they serve a lovely tandoori chicken set dinner. I realised the other day that I haven't eaten a meal with a knife and fork since Australia in August 08; it's either a spoon, fork, or your right hand only. Occasionally we have ventured out for a pizza and, even sadly, a Mc D's when the spicy food got too much. There are even KFC outlets everywhere which serve mashed potato instead of chips!

Once the bike was on its way and our new credit cards had arrived we realised that we had a month to kill until the bike arrived in Turkey. It didn't take us long to decide to stay here in Malaysia in the warm tropics rather than to suffer your coldest winter in years in Europe as we waited in Turkey for the bike to arrive. So we formulated a cunning plan and contacted Kevin and Ann, (previously from UK and NZ) who had recently relocated from NZ to Singapore. The bus trip to Singapore was a whole new experience for us and quite enjoyable, however the scenery was basically acres and acres of palm oil plantations. The border crossing was easy and consisted of us just hopping off the bus to be stamped out and a short bus ride to be stamped in and have luggage checked. Within minutes we were being greeted at the bus stop by Kevin and Ann.

We had a lovely time with the Normans. We took in some sight-seeing, Ann took me shopping while Nick stayed at the apartment and trawled through Kevin’s music collection. We swam in the pool, ate good food, relaxed, reminisced and enjoyed their great company and luxury accommodation. We had a great few days, thank you.

While on the bike we were unable to visit the many small islands off the Malaysian coast so we decided to have a few days on Pulau Pangkor, about 4 hrs north of KL. We took the night bus from Singapore to Lumut, the ferry point and access to the island. We arrived after a 9-hr coach ride in the pitch black and had to wait a couple of hours for the ferries to start running. After the hustle and bustle of Penang Island, where we spent Xmas and New Year, this little island was so laid back and lazy. We found our home-stay tucked along a side road hidden by colourful bougainvillea bushes and backing onto jungle, the curved sandy beach was only 100-mtrs away. Even during a busy weekend it was still fairly quiet. Huge trees hung over the beach providing us much needed shade and the water was clear, warm and very inviting. Once again we could watch the local Muslim families enjoying the beach while fully dressed. The westerners, including ourselves, on the other hand are all stripping off to gain a bit of a tan while the locals are sensibly covered for skin-preserving reasons and religion. Every evening people gathered to witness the sunset across the water which is a truly wonderful sight. As there are no bars or clubs and the small food and souvenir stalls were closing so the people disappeared into the darkness until the next morning. I also took advantage of the down time and read 3 books!!!

We are now back at Pujangga Homestay amongst friends in KL. The clock is ticking and we have only a few days left here in SE Asia before flying out to Istanbul, Turkey to be reunited with the bike. I now feel much fitter and generally healthier, ready for the final stages of our big adventure and the ride through Europe to home. Already we are discussing further adventures including Pakistan, Iran and India which we are sadly missing this time.

I have enjoyed my stay in SE Asia. Each country is very different. The contrasts between Singapore in the south to Laos in the north are immense. It would be impossible to generalise but all I can say is that wherever we have been we have always felt safe, never threatened. The generosity of the people, who have very little, again has been heart warming. If I get another chance I would like to explore more, particularly in Laos and Cambodia, where the people somehow remain cheerful and welcoming despite their chequered history.

Until next time ... hopefully from Turkey, Lesley

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